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NFL Week 12: 5 key Bengals to watch for against Rams

These five players will be key to the Bengals recovering from a two-game skid.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If the 2015 NFL regular season were Super Mario Kart, the Bengals hit a banana peel in Week 10 and spent Week 11 trying to catch up to the pack. While it wasn't the devastating red shell of death for the season, injuries are mounting and the primetime curse continues to persist, despite a solid showing from the offense in a loss to Arizona.

This week brings the St. Louis Rams into Paul Brown Stadium. While a home game against a sub-.500 team is almost exactly what the doctor would prescribe to a team attempting to bounce back from consecutive losses, this Rams team is a formidable opponent. Yes, they have the worst passing attack in the NFL (leaving a clearly concussed quarterback in the game certainly doesn't help), but they have an incredible featured back in Todd Gurley. This bodes well for an ailing secondary that will be without Darqueze Dennard for the remainder of the season while Adam Jones recovers from a foot injury.

Alternatively, the Rams' defense features a stellar pass rush that ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks with 30 on the season. This is an issue for the Bengals. In 2015, Andy Dalton has struggled against pressure. That pass rush has helped St. Louis give up 229 yards passing per game, good for 9th in the league, despite having mediocre overall talent in their secondary. Their star-studded front seven has been as mediocre as mediocre gets against the rush, ranking 16th in rushing yards allowed per game.

1.) Jeremy Hill

While the stats may not agree, Hill looked better against the Cardinals last week. While he still isn't playing as well as Giovani Bernard, it was good to see him being a net positive after some of the struggles he has endured thus far. Nonetheless, he will remain important as the season progresses. While being able to employ a power running game in the cold almost seems archaic in today's NFL, there's no doubt that it will greatly benefit the Bengals down the home stretch of the regular season. Since Hill was able to somewhat rebound against a stingy Cardinals defense last week, it's not inconceivable that he could have a good game against the talented Rams defense. If Hill out-gains Todd Gurley, the Bengals should be able to win comfortably.

2.) Andre Smith

Big Smitty has been one of the biggest disappointments for the Bengals this year. As bad as it is to say, the often hurt right tackle hasn't always proven beneficial when in his starting role this year. Rushers have been able to speed around him with scary consistency. Smith's strength has always been in the run game. However, big maulers like him are usually cornerstones to a great power run game. Whatever the reason is, the Bengals have not had a great power run attack with Jeremy Hill yet this season. We will need to hope for a turnaround game for Smith, as the aforementioned St. Louis front seven can absolutely feast.

3.) Rey Maualuga

The Rams offense has one good thing: Todd Gurley. Rey Maualuga does one thing well: Stop the run. This isn't quantum physics folks. If Rey plays well, it'll go a long ways toward a Bengals victory.

4.) Kevin Zeitler

Zeitler might have the most unenviable position on the Bengals' line. To his left is a known weakness in Russell Bodine. To his right is the underperforming Andre Smith. To compound issues, stud defensive tackle Aaron Donald will frequently be in his area. If Zeitler can find a way to neutralize Donald while giving help to his linemates on Sunday, he'll deserve all of the praise that we could possibly heap upon him.

5.) Ryan Hewitt

If Jeremy Hill returns to his 2014 form at any point this season, Hewitt will play a pivotal role in it. The combination of Andy Dalton's struggles under pressure and the immense pressure that the Rams can bring on every play places a high priority on being able to run the ball. An effective running game will make a Bengals victory nearly inevitable. Hewitt's ability to pop out and give Dalton an option under pressure could also be key.