The Cincinnati Bengals are reeling. A little more than a month ago they were 6-2 and the talk of the NFL. Now, after narrow losses at Baltimore and at home against Pittsburgh, a return match against the Steelers in which they were blown out and a gut wrenching defeat at the hands of the Houston Texans, they sit at 7-6 and no longer in control of their playoff destiny. What was a dream season has quickly turned nightmarish.
Bring on the St. Louis Rams. The timing could not be better for Cincinnati to play their final regular season road contest at the home of what may be the worst team in the NFL right now. Yes, the Indianapolis Colts are winless, but they're actually still putting up a fight. The Rams, beset by injuries and disappointment, appear to have abandoned any further winning aspirations for 2011.
To say that the Rams' offense is a shell of its Super Bowl days is an understatement. They are the lowest scoring team in the NFL and 30th ranked overall. Quarterback Sam Bradford has battled injuries all season and may not play on Sunday with a high ankle sprain. If he can't go, former Jet Kellen Clemens, signed last week would become the fourth St. Louis signal caller to take snaps this season.
Steven Jackson and Cadillac Williams have also battled through 2011, but have struggled, especially since the Rams have lost three starters off the offensive line. Facing the stout Bengals run defense with a new quarterback probably isn't on their Christmas wish list right now.
The Rams defense hasn't been much better. The Bengals are trying to make do without Leon Hall, but the Rams have lost a total of five defensive backs to injury this season. AJ Green has to be excited about what will easily be the least daunting of all the cornerbacks he's seen this year. The Bengals offensive line still needs to be ready as the Rams can still pressure the quarterback. They rank ninth in the league in sacks this year. Hurting their pass rush though will be the continued ankle problems of Chris Long. He's been soldiering through the past few weeks, but clearly isn't playing full throttle. Former Ohio State star James Laurinaitis anchors a strong group of young linebackers that has been very consistent this year.
The Bengals are in do or die mode from here on out. After last weekend's heartbreak, a matchup with the hobbling Rams is just what they need to gain some confidence. They needn't be overconfident though. It's not like Cincinnati has been blowing teams out. They'll need to convert on their opportunities early and not let the Rams hang around to gain any confidence.
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