In relation to preseason expectations, this season has been a huge disappointment for both the Rams and the Bengals. Both teams have great weapons on offense, improving defenses and the potential to trade blows with anyone in the league.
St Louis started the season on a downhill slide, losing their first 8 games and watching key players go down like fans at a Brazilian soccer match. For those keeping tabs on the Rams' offensive line shuffle, last week saw the 17th line combination and there's still 4 games to go. However, through all that adversity, the Rams are 1 botched snap away from winning their last 4 in a row. Winning 3 of 4 against subpar competition may not be anything to write home about, but it is essential for Scott Linehan if he hopes to secure another year on the sidelines.
The Rams offense has shown a propensity to score quick and often in their last couple of games, but the real obstacle to overcome is holding onto that lead and finishing a game. With the help of Oshiomogho Atogwe and Steven Jackson last week, the Rams look like they're getting closer to becoming a complete and balanced football team.
The Bengals are coming off a disappointing loss after being defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers 24-10 last week. The Bengals still had an outside shot at the playoffs prior to that game, but they'd need to run the tables and get some help if they hope to achieve that now. With the Rams, 49ers, Browns and Dolphins left on their schedule, it looks as though (on paper) they could finish 8-8 and squeak in with alot of help from other teams. Their first task is to fend off the aggressive defense fielded by the Rams and the extremely unpredictable playcalling of their coach, Jim Haslett.
The big question in St Louis is if Marc Bulger is 100% ready to lead the offense after passing a neuro-psych exam today. With Gus Frerotte on the bench with a partially torn labrum, the Rams will rely on Brock Berlin to take over should Bulger suffer another injury.
KEYS TO SUCCESS:
1. Get after Carson Palmer.
The Rams simply cannot allow him to sit back in the pocket and pick apart their secondary with passes to his excellent group of receivers. Palmer is essentially immobile, so Haslett must find ways to penetrate the line and get some licks on him. Once Palmer gets pressured, his timing is thrown off and he tends to lose accuracy, sailing balls over receivers' heads. His receivers also tend to get frustrated, and when that happens, Cincinnati's vertical attack suffers.
2. Finish the Game
In recent games, the Rams have jumped out to early leads, only to completely melt down in the 2nd half. Two weeks ago they led Seattle 19-7 at halftime, only to allow the Seahawks to score 17 unanswered points in the second half. Last week St. Louis took a 21-0 lead against Atlanta but let the Falcons back in the game. Without some late game heroics, they could have been on the losing end of that one. The Rams must convert on third downs, wear the Bengals down with a heavy dose of Steven Jackson, and take advantage of some one-on-one matchups with wide receivers Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce.