Carlos Dunlap tweeted it Saturday, now it's time for him and his Cincinnati Bengals teammates to do it. "Headin' to St. Louis for a short business trip" read Dunlap's message. That's precisely the attitude the Bengals need going into today's game against the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.
Football is an emotional game, much more so than other major sports. At times, however, that emotion can get in the way of results. Such was the case when Cincinnati clearly lost focus early in Pittsburgh and went on to be blown out by the Steelers. Such is the case today as the Bengals try to rebound from a gut-wrenching last second loss last week to the Houston Texans.
It can't be emotional today; it's all business.
Cincinnati is on the road in week 15 playing a 2-11 team who themselves checked out emotionally a few weeks ago. There will be very little electricity in St. Louis today, save for that which keeps the lights on and powers the popcorn machines. These young Bengals can't afford to get caught in a lull.
The Bengals also can't carry the disappointment of last week's loss with them this week. Yes, it's a game they should have won, and it very well might cost them a trip to the playoffs. It most certainly will bring an end to their season if they're not focused on the game they have at hand.
To that end, every good business trip has an agenda. Here's what Marvin Lewis needs to have on the "to do" list for his charges:
1. Score touchdowns in the red zone. Mike Nugent had four field goals last week. That's great for Nugent, but when he ends the drive, it leaves four points on the field. The Bengals have failed to score touchdowns in their last six red zone possessions. With big targets like AJ Green, Jermaine Gresham and Jerome Simpson and a powerful back like Cedric Benson, that shouldn't be happening.
Two things are hurting the Bengals in the red zone: penalties and poor interior line play. Last week a false start took a first and goal at the one to the six. That makes a big difference. They're also getting very little push from their guards. Either Nate Livings and (now) Mike McGlynn are going to have to improve, or Jay Gruden may want to think about using more spread sets in the red zone, similar to what the team did on the go ahead touchdown in Jacksonville when Bernard Scott scored on an inside counter play out of the shotgun.
2. Finish plays on defense. The past few weeks have seen the potent Bengals pass rush get close only to let the opposing quarterback escape and make positive yardage. Last week TJ Yates got away from the rush and scrambled 19 yards for a first down to keep the game winning drive alive. Not coincidentally, that tendency has coincided with the absence of Carlos Dunlap, the team's best pass rusher. Dunlap will be back today. The Bengals are also facing a quarterback, Kellen Clemens, who has been with the team all of three weeks and is making his first start as a Ram. He's no Cam Newton. The Cincinnati front seven will have to make the play and take Clemens down when they have the opportunity.
3. Play 60 minutes. Prior to last week, the second quarter had been a nightmare for the Bengals all season. Cincinnati ranks in the upper half of the NFL in points scored in every quarter but the second. There they rank 30th. It cost them in Baltimore, and in Pittsburgh. Last week, the Bengals seemed to have changed that trend. They outscored the Texans 10-0 and took a 16-3 lead into the locker room. The only problem was they decided to take the fourth quarter off. Houston ran 27 plays to the Bengals 10. They piled up 140 yards on two drives. The Bengals managed 22 yards. The Bengals might even be able to win today without their "A" game, but if they want to continue on to the playoffs, they need to put a 60 minute effort together. If it's not today, it might not happen this season.
Despite the events of the past few weeks, the Bengals have to pleased to still be fighting for a playoff spot as the season draws to a close. They're in a position, however, where they have to take care of business or go home. The St. Louis Rams are a struggling team with nothing to play for except pride. The Bengals need to make it their business to take that away from them early in the game, do their job, and get back to Cincinnati to finish it out. Bengals 31, Rams 10.
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