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NFL Week 12 Bengals vs Rams: 4 thoughts from Bengals' ninth win of season

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We share our biggest takeaways from the Bengals' big win over the Rams in which they improve to 9-2 on the season and clinch a fifth-straight winning season.

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The Cincinnati Bengals came into Week 12 looking to claim their ninth win of the season at the hands of the St. Louis Rams.

They did that and then some with a dominating 31-7 win that was exactly the kind of performance the Bengals needed after their first two losses of the season. Here are our biggest takeaways from this win with just five games now left in the regular season.

1. Andy Dalton Bounces Back from Mini Slump

After a red-hot start over the first eight games, Andy Dalton had his first mini-slump during the Bengals' two-game losing streak. In losses to the Texans and Cardinals, Dalton completed just 57.1-percent of his passes for 512 yards with two scores vs two turnovers (1 INT and 1 fumble).

While they weren't terrible games for Dalton, they definitely weren't his best games either, and it helped put the Bengals in holes they ultimately were unable to come back from. He underthrew and overthrew several passes and didn't give his receivers enough chances to make plays on balls while having several passes that should have been picked off, but the defenders thankfully couldn't make plays on.

But Dalton bounced back very nicely vs the Rams, completing 20 of 27 passes (74.1-percent) for 233 yards (8.63 yards per attempt) with three scores vs one interception and a passer rating of 121.4.

That was the seventh time Dalton has had a rating of 100 or better this season, breaking his previous mark of six times in one season. With five games left, Dalton should hit that mark again and continue to pad what's easily been his best year in the NFL.

2. Defense Played Lights-Out

The Bengals defense also had a nice bounce-back performance after they struggled mightily in the second half of last week's loss to the Cardinals. While no one is mistaking the Rams for a good offensive team, this was just the second time this season they scored seven points or less and the first since Todd Gurley began emerging.

Speaking of, the Bengals made it a point to not let Gurley beat them, holding the talented rookie to just 19 yards on nine carries and one catch for 11 yards. He was bottled up almost every time he touched the ball and never found any rhythm.

As good as the Bengals were defending the run, they were even better stopping the pass and making life miserable for Nick Foles. He finished 30-of-46 passing for 228 yards (4.96 yards per attempt) with three interceptions and no scores while being sacked once and hit 12 times.

The Rams did finish with 345 total yards, but most of them came in the second half when the game was out of reach, and they still scored just once in the whole game. Dating back to last year, the Bengals' defense has held opponents to 13 or less points eight times in 18 games and four times in the past five games this season.

Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has done a great job with this defense, but it certainly helps when you have an elite player like Geno Atkins, who had another sack to make it eight this season. He also got in the backfield and blew up several run plays:

The way this defense is playing, this Bengals team continues to look very scary heading into the postseason.

3. Ground Game Getting Better

Coming into this week, the Bengals had failed to have one player rush for at least 80 yards eight times in 10 games. While a split between Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard has helped lead to that, they still haven't been putting up the kind of yardage they should be.

That changed against St. Louis as Hill racked up a season-high 86 rushing yards as the Bengals finished with 140 yards on the ground, the third-most they've had in a game this year. 30 of those came from a reverse to Marvin Jones, which has been effective play in the past, but hasn't been used as much this season. This was also the third time in four games the Bengals rushed for at least 99 yards.

The passing game was what carried the offense earlier this season, but it's clear the Bengals want the ground game to step in more heading down the stretch.

4. Dre Kirkpatrick Improving

Despite a bad game last week against the pass-heavy Cardinals' offense that makes many defensive backs look back, Dre Kirkpatrick is slowly improving and showing he can be a good cornerback in this league. He finished this game with three pass deflections and now has six over his last three games, his most ever over a three-game stretch.

Kirkpatrick also had three deflections two weeks ago in a close loss to the Texans, a game in which he played well. He's often been a weak link in this defense, but there's no denying Kirkpatrick has improved as the season has worn on.

He's playing more aggressive and getting right into the hip pocket of receivers and defending passes without committing penalties. With Adam Jones and Leon Hall playing well, Kirkpatrick also playing well is the key to the Bengals' pass defense becoming a unit that can go toe-to-toe with any offense in the league.