Coming into this season, the Bengals were believed to have one of the NFL's best offensive lines, as they represented an elite line the last two seasons.
While the offensive line started off the season strong, it's been been anything but during the past six games, as the line has allowed Andy Dalton to be sacked 17 times and pressured on countless other occasions. This, after the line allowed just two sacks in the first four games and 21 in all of 2014. At this rate, the Bengals will allow 30 sacks this season, the second most they've allowed since Dalton became the starting quarterback in 2011.
The Rams have 30 sacks this season and the Bengals' struggling offensive line will face them this week. The Rams have the fifth most sacks of any team this season after notching 40 in 2014 (13th most), 53 in 2013 (third most), and 52 in 2012 (tied for first). Simply put, the Rams have annually been one of the league's best defenses in terms of sacks under head coach Jeff Fisher.
But the man really responsible for the Ram's defensive dominance this season is the defensive tackle who many compared to the Bengals' own Geno Atkins going into the 2014 NFL Draft. That man is Aaron Donald, who quietly has become not only one of the best defensive linemen in the game, but is also a Defensive Player of the Year candidate this season.
Donald is up to seven sacks this season after getting nine in 2014 and is coming off a big game against the Ravens, for which Pro Football Focus graded him the best interior defensive lineman of the week. Donald accounted for 10 tackles and a sack as he was destroying the Ravens' game plan. He's frequently in opponent's backfields and disrupts a game as much as any one defender in the league.
However, there's more to the Rams line than Donald. Robert Quinn is one of the game's best pass-rushers off the edge when he's healthy. In eight games this season, Quinn has notched five sacks after notching 40 from 2012-14. He also has 15 forced fumbles over his last 40 games, including three this season.
But injuries to Quinn's hip and back kept him out of the Week 11 loss in Baltimore and the Week 9 loss at Minnesota. He was originally listed as questionable going into Sunday, so there should be a good chance he plays this week. In addition to rushing from the left side opposite Andrew Whitworth, Quinn will occasionally line up over the guard and rush toward Clint Boling this week. Boling played well to start this season, but he has been struggling in recent weeks.
Fellow defensive end Chris Long is no slouch either. He has 53.5 career sacks, 33 of which came from 2011-13. He has just three in 12 games over the past two seasons. Injuries have plagued Long as of late, and a knee injury cost him four games before he returned this past week. He still has enough left in the tank to take advantage of a struggling Andre Smith at right tackle and get some pressure on Dalton.
What makes the Rams even harder to defend is they often blitz one or multiple defensive backs on obvious passing downs. Defensive backs Mark Barron, Lamarcus Joyner, Maurice Alexander, and T.J. McDonald all have at least one sack this season. Still, it's the defensive lineman who've accounted for 22 of the team's 30 sacks this season.
As much as the Bengals offensive line has struggled as of late, they're about to get maybe their biggest test of the season if the Rams' defensive line is at full strength.