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Week 12 Rams vs Bengals: Best player matchups of game

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Cincinnati tries to right the ship after two consecutive losses, as they welcome in the Rams to The Queen City. Though St. Louis' record isn't all that impressive, they have the talent to frustrate the Bengals on their home turf.

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When the Bengals started of the 2015 season with an 8-0 record, things looked pretty solid in Week 10, as they prepared to face the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football. The outcome went awry and Cincinnati has yet to recover two weeks later.

Now, a similar scenario presents itself in the form of the St. Louis Rams, who currently sit at a very mediocre 4-6. Their offense is in turmoil, for a variety of reasons, but still presents problems for opponents. However, their defense, led by a fierce front four and opportunistic defensive backs, are in the spotlight this week against the Bengals' No. 7-ranked offense. Both areas provide interesting individual matchups to keep an eye on this week.

WR Tavon Austin vs CB Dre Kirkpatrick:

The Bengals have a lot of good cornerbacks, but none who are those elusive true shutdown guys. It seems as if they will be getting Adam Jones back this week, as he practiced Thursday and Friday, but eyes will be on Kirkpatrick. While each corner likes to man their respective side of the field, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther does have his defensive backs change up who they cover throughout a game.

In his first full year as a starter, Kirkpatrick has had his ups and downs, with the latter being more prevalent. He played pretty well in the loss against the Texans, but had one of his worst days as a pro just a week later versus the high-flying Cardinals offense. He has yet to force/retrieve/create a turnover this year, after being such a big-play guy in limited snaps in his first three seasons. It will be a test of athleticism against athleticism when Kirkpatrick lines up against Austin.

The former top-ten pick hasn't lived up to his billing in his three seasons with the Rams, logging no more than 40 catches and four receiving touchdowns in a season. However, it hasn't been all his fault. A quarterback carousel and lack of true help around him has made the early part of his career fizzle out after so much promise, coming out of West Virginia. Still, he's on pace to break both of those career-highs this year and with Cincinnati's secondary looking suspect at times, he could find creases.

TE Lance Kendricks vs SS George Iloka:

St. Louis has two quality tight ends in Kendricks and Jared Cook, but the same quarterback troubles have hurt their stat lines as they have with Austin. This year, Cook has been the yardage guy, while Kendricks has been St. Louis's red zone threat with two touchdown receptions. Both are threats and Iloka will need to be on high-alert if the Rams trudge down into scoring territory.

Like Kirkpatrick, Iloka has had a subpar season after a breakout 2014 campaign. His counterpart, Reggie Nelson has five interceptions on the year, while Iloka has zero. The fourth-year safety's play has been more steady than Kirkpatrick, but to truly put down a lesser opponent, guys like Iloka will need to both make big plays and shut down offensive players he'll be tasked with shadowing.

DT Aaron Donald vs C Russell Bodine:

We continuously try to mix up the players on this weekly feature, but sometimes glaringly obvious players have to make the list more frequently than others. Bodine, ever the whipping boy of Bengals fans, has a gigantic test this week against Donald. The Bengals' entire offensive line was fantastic throughout almost all of their first handful of games, allowing Andy Dalton the time to create his MVP-type season. However, pressure issues from all over the line have led to the past two losses.

Some have been one-on-one issues on the outside from Andrew Whitworth, Andre Smith and Eric Winston, while inside blitzes have utterly confused the interior of the line, including Bodine. Donald is a player exactly in the mold of Bengals' defensive tackle Geno Atkins: smaller, great motor and active against both the pass and run. Bodine will be at least partially responsible for containing Donald and hopefully using his brute strength against Donald's impeccable technique and use of leverage.

S/LB Mark Barron vs RB Jeremy Hill:

Call it the dreaded "sophomore slump", if you want, but Hill doesn't look to be the same guy who dominated almost every team he faced over the final 10 weeks of 2014. Whether it's the increased bulk in his legs they asked him to put on this season, a lack of holes up front, the limited use of Ryan Hewitt at fullback or the uptick in production from the passing game, Hill is averaging  just 3.3 yards per carry this season. Week 12 would be a great time to get Hill going by using the Rams' aggressive front to gash them.

If he does get past that formidable St. Louis front, Hill will be greeted by Mark Barron, a former top-five pick who is looking to resurrect his young career with the Rams. Jeff Fisher uses more of a college look with his defense, opting to throw out three safeties, allowing Barron to use his run-stopping prowess, while also providing the flexibility of having a more able pass defender than linebackers. Should Hill crack through the first line of the Rams defense, he'll likely be greeted by the 6'2", 215-pound Barron to determine whether it's a sizable gain or not.

RT Rob Havenstein vs DE Carlos Dunlap:

After gaining the league lead in quarterback sacks through the first half of the season, Dunlap has been awfully quiet in the team's last two games--both losses. He's combined for just one tackle and zero sacks, allowing quarterbacks to take advantage of an inconsistent pass rush. Dunlap got in Carson Palmer's face a couple of times last Sunday night, but hasn't had the impact that was felt through Cincinnati's unprecedented 8-0 start. Pressuring the young and possibly-skittish Case Keenum under center will definitely be part of Cincinnati's game plan.

Havenstein is the gigantic rookie center St. Louis drafted this year in the second round out of Wisconsin, and while their line doesn't get the fanfare of others, he has helped pave the way to Todd Gurley's success. It will be size against size here with Dunlap sitting at 6'6", 280 and Havenstein towering at 6'8", 320 pounds. It won't just be about sacks with Dunlap on Havenstein, either. No. 96 will need to continue to be a good all-around defensive end by helping out in the run game and he'll need to shed blocks to do so. It is worth noting, Havenstein is questionable to play after not practicing all week.

LB Vontaze Burfict vs RB Todd Gurley:

Some thought this would be a redshirt year for Gurley, who suffered a gruesome knee injury to end his Heisman Trophy hopes. After starting off inactive this year and coming back in Week 3 against Pittsburgh, Gurley has 775 rushing yards and five touchdowns. However, the past three games, Gurley has just 200 of those yards at a 3.3-yard per clip. Have teams figured out how to clamp down on him?

Since Burfict returned to the Bengals from his own PUP list stint, teams have averaged just over 87 yards on the ground against the defense in those four games. Burfict, while not wreaking havoc with turnovers, has been a big key to the stout defense, making sure everyone is lined up correctly. Burfict is beefy, but Gurley provides both size and speed, so No. 55's sure tackling will be sorely needed on Sunday afternoon.