For the second time in three years, the Cincinnati Bengals are in London, England for a regular-season matchup. As was the case in the eventual tie against the Redskins back in 2016, this upcoming clash against the Los Angeles Rams brings about an interesting coaching relationship.
The current NFL darling, Sean McVay, is beginning to plant significant roots in the league’s next promising coaching tree. One of the blossomed branches is a guy heading up the Cincinnati Bengals in Zac Taylor.
The Bengals’ front office seemed particularly intrigued by the Rams and McVay’s innovative offense, as Taylor was one of two guys from L.A. in which the team had interest (Rams quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator, Shane Waldron, was the other). Cincinnati selected Taylor to be the successor to Marvin Lewis, in hopes that he would rejuvenate Andy Dalton, A.J. Green and Co.
Unfortunately, The Queen City friendly foe known as Murphy’s Law made a reappearance with its trademark impeccable timing. Ol’ Murph waved the magic wand on the injury front and spotlighted the coaching inexperience (as well as the compounded inability to collect a staff earlier in the offseason because of the Rams’ Super Bowl run), all the while laughing at the team’s 0-7 start.
Simply put, the Bengals aren’t doing many things well right now. The defense is keeping them in games from a points perspective, but an atrocious run defense and the lack of creation of turnovers has them partially to blame for the winless start.
The offense is crippling the team as well, be it by the run or pass. Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard combined for 14 carries and two net rushing yards last week against the Jaguars, while Andy Dalton threw three interceptions on back-to-back-to-back fourth quarter drives.
Cincinnati’s offense continues to woefully misuse the running backs and tight ends, contributing to their overall red zone ineffectiveness. But, as it goes with almost any offensive unit, the line is downright putrid, given its being littered with backups, has-beens and never-were’s.
Worse yet, is that the Bengals either make the same or new, maddening mistakes as every week passes. Instead of seeing noticeable growth under a new, inexperienced staff, the team looks stuck in neutral—or reverse.
Meanwhile, on the other sideline, if “the Super Bowl hangover” is real, the Rams have exuded signs of it in 2019. Ever since their explosive offense was stifled in the Super Bowl by Bill Belichick’s Patriots, Los Angeles has been an up-and-down team in need of a spark.
Todd Gurley hasn’t looked the same since being diagnosed with an arthritic knee, while the league has seemed to get a little bit of a grasp on McVay’s offense. Before traveling to Atlanta last week, the Rams were 3-3 and questions about their viability beyond their two-year run of 2017-2018 were plentiful.
It seems as if that needed catalyst arrived last week in the form of defensive back, Jalen Ramsey. Los Angeles gave up two first-round picks for the star defender, but his impact has been immediately felt.
In his first week of action after his back miraculously healed up (sarcasm font), Ramsey helped the Rams dominate the Falcons to the tune of 37-10. He only had four tackles, but the entire team seemed to have been boosted by the high-profile addition.
In consecutive weeks, the Bengals won’t be forcing A.J. Green to face-off against Ramsey since their now-infamous 2016 dust-up, as the star receiver is still recovering from the training camp ankle injury. Joining him is offensive tackle Cordy Glenn, who is also coming off of a tumultuous week-and-a-half with the Bengals.
Some people will look to the mentor/mentee matchup this week and note that the winner will be the one who runs their similarly-styled offenses with greater efficiency. While true, it may also come down to another creative factor: which coach can throw effective, yet unfamiliar plays at the other.
And, in the case of the Bengals, unexpected big plays from special teams and/or in the form of turnovers are usually propellers to springboard a struggling team to an unlikely win. In terms of the former, Brandon Wilson has been stellar in the kick returner role in relief of Darius Phillips and Alex Erickson and could be a contributor for the third week in a row.
All facets, ranging from roster health, overall talent, coaching prowess and momentum hover in the Rams’ corner. It’s why Los Angeles is a 13-point favorite this week.
But, with Cincinnati going 8-4 against spreads lately, their essentially being in five of their seven losses late this year, or just simply “being due”, peripheral signs linger around Cincinnati this week. Yes—I’m aware of those closing in on me with the straightjacket after putting that in writing.
Maybe it’s that eerie London fog, the time difference, or the inner fan that wants some form of a fairy tale, but something strikes me as this week being an odd one. Even though 2019 looks lost for the Bengals, it would be fitting if Taylor got the win against his former boss.
Bengals 24, Rams 23