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Week 12 Rams vs Bengals game preview: Setting records straight

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After two disappointing losses, the Bengals face an oddly-critical matchup against the St. Louis Rams at home this week. Will Cincinnati take out its anger on a team they rarely face?

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Twenty-four days.

That's the amount of time the Cincinnati Bengals have gone without a win after starting the season a franchise record-setting 8-0 in 2015. While the two consecutive primetime games against the Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals, respectively, didn't look easy, at least a split of the two seemed certain--especially with the team coming off of a three-touchdown win against Cleveland.

A perfect storm of questionable play-calling, familiar stumbling on national television and penalties--both of their own doing and head-scratching observations from officials--have hovered over the orange and black the past three and a half weeks. With the 4-6 St. Louis Rams heading to the Queen City, many believe the clouds will part and the Bengals will be the ones throwing down the thunderbolts this Sunday.

Perhaps if Cincinnati had been victorious in one or both of the previous contests, the masses would be screaming "trap game". But, with the sour taste in Bengaldom's collective mouth, it's now bordering on a "must-win". The Pittsburgh Steelers either keep treading water or slowly gain ground on Cincinnati in the AFC North race, while the New England Patriots machine keeps chugging along and the Denver Broncos seeming to find an answer to the question of it there is life after Peyton Manning. If the Bengals want to secure the division, a postseason bye and the January home game(s) that come with those feats, they simply can't let the L's continue to pile up.

Years ago in the old AFC Central, Jeff Fisher, along with many other head coaches at the time, had the Bengals' number. He used the late Steve McNair and running back Eddie George to pound Cincinnati in his long tenure with the once-Houston and Tennessee Oilers and, subsequently, the Titans. The 'stache that has roamed the sidelines for two decades as the leader of professional football teams in now in the mid-west trying to instill hope in a Rams franchise that might be moving back to Southern California.

After taking the Titans to the Super Bowl XXXIV against these Rams, Fisher hasn't taken St. Louis to the postseason in his three-plus seasons there, nor have they had a winning season. He has re-built the team since their Kurt Warner/Marshall Faulk glory days, but a variety of issues keeps standing in their way of taking the next step. Age catching up to critical players, poor draft decisions and a never-ending quarterback carousel has led to a lack of stability under Fisher's watch.

Seven different quarterbacks have thrown passes for the Rams since Fisher arrived in 2012, largely due to Sam Bradford's inability to stay healthy. This offseason, Fisher and Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly swapped quarterbacks, sending Bradford to the City of Brotherly Love and Nick Foles to the state with the arch. Foles was immediately given the starting job, in the hopes he would re-gain his 2013 Pro Bowl form, and the Eagles hoped it would be a mutually-beneficial deal while giving Bradford a change of scenery.

Unfortunately for both teams, Foles and Bradford have been riding the pine of late, with both experiencing issues that have plagued them in their respective careers: ineffectiveness and injury. Fisher handed the reigns to Case Keenum, an uber-productive college quarterback, and the result was a last-second loss to the Baltimore Ravens in his first start of 2015. The Rams now back under Foles, most likely, now travel to Cincinnati to face a far more formidable and angry Bengals team.

Taking the pressure off of Keenum on offense is rookie standout, Todd Gurley. Once viewed as a Heisman Trophy candidate while at the University of Georgia, a devastating knee injury prematurely ended his 2014 campaign and many thought it would hurt his draft stock. But, St. Louis saw enough talent and rehabilitation progress to select the former Bulldog at No. 10 overall.

What's transpired since his brief stint as inactive the first two weeks has been 775 rushing yards, five scores and 5.0 yards per carry average. After garnering four straight 100-yard games in Weeks 4-8 ( a bye week included), St. Louis went 3-1 and seemed to have found their plan of attack. However, Gurley has had just 200 rushing yards and 3.3 yards per rush the past three games--all losses.

The other major form of assistance backing Keenum is the Rams' formidable defensive line. Chris Long, Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers and Robert Quinn give opposing offensive lines and quarterbacks nightmares because of their aggressiveness and ability to disrupt the backfield on any given down. They are so deep up front, in fact, that former first round pick, Nick Fairley is a backup player who rotates in and out. Remember when the Bengals courted Fairley this offseason in an attempt to complement Geno Atkins? Neither do I.

If you're counting the top-five defensive tackles in the NFL, Donald and Atkins are definitely in the group. Ironically enough, both have eerily similar skill sets. Even though the knock on both of them largely revolved on size, both make up with that shortcoming with a high-motor, knowing how to win with leverage and sheer tenacity. Donald and Atkins both excel at blowing up run plays and sacking the quarterback, so Bengals center Russell Bodine, as well as guards Kevin Zeitler and Clint Boling better have spent an insane amount of time in the film room this week.

Speaking of the Bengals' offensive line, they have excessive work to do this week, and not just because they're facing the five-headed St. Louis hydra this Sunday. Through the first month-plus of the season, the group was incredibly stout, giving quarterback Andy Dalton the time needed to throw his way to an NFL MVP nomination. In the past two weeks, the Bengals have allowed eight sacks of Dalton--four per game. In that respect, it's a miracle Dalton has only thrown one interception and Cincinnati has lost both games by a combined seven points.

While Gurley will be the guy everyone will be watching on the Rams squad, focus will also be placed on the two exciting Bengals running backs, Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Last year, Hill was the star while Bernard struggled, but it has flip-flopped in 2015, with Bernard getting massive chunks of yardage on the ground and as a receiver. He seems renewed with being healthy and the chip on his shoulder from losing the "starting role" to Hill, while the second-year back out of LSU has seemed to hit the dreaded "sophomore slump".

Week 12 against the Rams and their aggressive front would be a great time to get Hill revved up and get the Cincinnati offense hitting on all cylinders. It's definitely a cliche, but, hey, it's the NFL. The Rams are split right down the middle in rushing defense (No.16, for those who don't want to use math), so opportunities could be there. While the spark plug, Bernard, will definitely be of use on Sunday, grinding the clock and pounding the St. Louis defense would be a great way to take away any hope they might have for an upset.

If you gauge the team's mindset after two straight losses, maybe look at Dalton's response to J.J. Watt's postgame comments a couple of Monday nights ago, as well as the bitter taste to losing to Carson Palmer last Sunday night. Playing football when angry is dangerous--it's a fine line to walk between intense focus and reckless abandon. Each side of the line will likely dictate the outcome of this Sunday. Will the Bengals pound the Rams when the sun is out and less eyes are on them? Or will the snowball continue downhill, as momentum has cruelly done to the Bengals over the years?

At 8-2, we'll give Cincinnati the benefit of the doubt. I figure it's an unexpected nail-biter, or one of those contests the networks flip over to another game that is actually a close contest.

Rams 17, Bengals 35

AC -- Reminiscing of the awkward and sarcastic shoulder rubs from Cardinals fans last Sunday night.