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4 storylines heading into Rams vs Bengals

With Joe Burrow’s injury looming, can the Rams stop the outside run and shut down the Bengals offense

NFL: SEP 17 49ers at Rams Photo by Kevin Reece/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams travel to Paycor Stadium to take on the Cincinnati Bengals in a Week 3 primetime Monday night game. Going into the season, many did not expect the Rams to be a contender in the NFC, giving them only two nationally televised games, so this will be one of the few chances this year for LA to show what they can do on a national level.

These are some of the main storylines, I believe, are most important heading into a pivotal game for both teams, but specifically the Bengals. Once considered a Super Bowl contender, they now risk going 0-3 to start the season with a loss to LA.

Joe Burrow’s calf injury

After tweaking his calf early in training camp, Burrow unfortunately re-injured it again in the fourth quarter of a 27-24 divisional loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Bengals head coach Zac Taylor had no clear update on Burrow through Sunday and right now he is currently listed as questionable for the game.

Super Bowl LVI - Los Angeles Rams v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

Burrow is being considered a game-time decision, so we may not know anything until kickoff. However, the Bengals did sign A.J. McCarron as an additional backup quarterback, giving a hint that Burrow may not play. If Burrow is not available, Los Angeles would face Jake Browning, who has never started an NFL regular season game.

Even if Burrow can play, the Bengals offense just hasn’t been great this season, with the fourth year QB only completing 56.9% of his passes for 304 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Kyren Williams is now the unquestioned starter in LA

Kyren Williams will be the known starter heading into a game for the first time in his short career. While Williams did get the start last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it was a surprise after Cam Akers was a healthy scratch and eventually traded to the Minnesota Vikings a few days later.

Rams vs 49ers in Inglewood, CA.

Williams comes into Week 3 (before Sunday’s games) as the leading scorer in the NFL with three touchdowns on the ground and another through the air receiving. This bodes well against a Cincinnati defense that gave up 206 yards rushing against the Browns, and another 178 vs the Ravens, as well as letting up 765 yards of total offensive yards to the two opponents.

Williams has the opportunity to show that head coach Sean McVay’s trust in him to be the guy is warranted after the Rams were somewhat criticized for their return on Cam Akers, which was a swap of late round picks in 2026.

Can Los Angeles get some edge pressure?

The Rams have been actually pretty solid against the pass, but their run defense, specifically on the edges, has been lacking. This could be a “get right” game of sorts for LA, as the Bengals have struggled in the run through two games. Cincinnati running back Joe Mixon, who was almost cut before reworking his deal this offseason, has 115 yards rushing through two games with no touchdowns.

Los Angeles Rams v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Rams rookie Byron Young looks like a player who could develop into a solid starter on the edge, but many questions remain about Michael Hoecht, the starter on the opposite side. Hoecht, who was on the defensive line last year, has been moved to outside linebacker and, so far, the transition has been rocky.

It doesn’t help that he’s been dropped into coverage more than any other edge rusher in the NFL through two games, something that he’s still probably getting used to, allowing five catches on five targets against him. On the plus side, he has not allowed many yards in those five catches, only giving up 41, alluding to them being easy completion, check down type plays.

Hoecht showed some real flashes last year rushing the passer and could develop into a solid outside linebacker with more experience in the position. The Bengals should be a slightly easier matchup on the interior than the Niners, as they don’t have George Kittle and Christian McCaffery.

Can Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell continue their success

Puka Nacua and Tutu Atwell have been fantastic surprises through two weeks. With Kupp’s potential return looming, can these two sustain their high level of play until, and even past, his return?

Nacua has more receptions than any other rookie ever through two games with 25, but it has already been taking a toll on his body as he was questionable last week and listed the same against the Bengals. Like last week, Nacua is expected to play, but will need to learn how to take hits better if he’s going to continue his high rate of receptions.

NFL: SEP 17 49ers at Rams Photo by Kevin Reece/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Given the success of Nacua, I feel like it’s been lost a little bit just how well Atwell has been playing also. After a quiet first two years in the NFL, Atwell has become the number two guy to Nacua, with 196 yards receiving, and both possibility could jump over Van Jefferson on the depth chart upon Kupp’s return.

The Rams go into the game as the number two scoring offense, only behind Miami, and the number one red zone scoring offense. The Bengals thus far have been decent against the pass, having faced the Ravens and Browns, but perhaps not a passing quarterback of Matthew Stafford’s caliber or weapons who have played as well as Atwell and Nacua.

If those two receivers can make it three-for-three in productive games this season, it will go a long way towards proving that they will continue this hot streak for the long haul.