Perhaps a change of scenery will help the Cincinnati Bengals when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in London's Wembley Stadium on Sunday. The Bengals (0-7) and Dolphins are the only NFL teams that have yet to win a game this season while the Rams (4-3) are hoping last week was a sign of things to come.
Cincinnati has come close a couple of times, with four losses decided by no more than six points, but is still seeking its first victory under first-year head coach Zac Taylor. The offense has felt the absence of wide receiver A.J. Green but the lack of a running game has been a bigger issue. It's been the opposite for the other side of the ball, however, as the Bengals haven't been able to stop any team from running on them.
Los Angeles is above .500 but it's a far cry from what everyone expected from the defending NFC champions. The Rams got off to a 3-0 start that quickly turned south with back-to-back-to-back losses to the Buccaneers, Seahawks, and 49ers. Jared Goff has been inconsistent, Todd Gurley has been OK but nothing like the force he was last season, and turnovers on offense have been a problem. The defense is full of star power (and just added some more) but also has given up some big numbers on more than one occasion.
This will be Cincinnati's second game played in London. The Bengals and Redskins tied 27-27 in Week 8 of the 2016 season. The Rams are 1-2 across the pond, with their first appearance taking place in 2012 when the franchise was in St. Louis. Two years ago, Los Angeles shut out Arizona 33-0 in Twickenham Stadium. Sunday's game will be played in historic Wembley Stadium after the first two London games this season were held in brand-new Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
Cincinnati vs. Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. ET
Where: Wembley Stadium (London)
Spread: Rams -13
Three Things to Watch
1. Will either team get going on the ground?
Last season, Todd Gurley and Joe Mixon finished third and fourth, respectively, in the NFL in rushing with each going well over 1,100 yards. So far this season, the duo has combined for 565 yards. Neither is on pace to even break 800 yards on the ground. Gurley has missed one game and the questions about the health of his knee just won't go away. Meanwhile, Mixon is averaging three yards per carry, has yet to have a run that's gone for more than 18 yards, and is still looking for his first rushing touchdown after recording eight in 2018.
As a team, Los Angeles has fared better running the ball but that's not saying much considering Cincinnati is dead last in the league (53.1 ypg) in this category. The Rams have gotten some contributions from backup Malcolm Brown and rookie Darrell Henderson, but if this team wants to be viewed as a legitimate threat to get back to the Super Bowl, it needs Gurley to return to his 2018 form when he produced more than 1,800 yards from scrimmage and league-high 21 touchdowns (17 rushing). Again, workload has been a factor, as he's had no more than 18 carries in any game and missed the Week 6 loss to San Francisco because of a thigh injury. But he posted a season-high in carries last week (averaged just 2.3 ypc) so the hope is that he will be able to handle another full workload this Sunday. After all what better way to get "healthy" than against the league's worst run defense?
2. Which QB's game travels best?
While no one is expecting Jared Goff or Andy Dalton to put up numbers similar to Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers, it's not a stretch to say that the two should play better than a rookie and a handful of backups. But that's where Goff and Dalton stand right now as they have posted passer ratings (83.3 for Goff, 77.9 for Dalton) that have them both behind Kyle Allen, Mason Rudolph, Teddy Bridgewater, Gardner Minshew, as well as Case Keenum, Marcus Mariota, and Joe Flacco (among others).
Goff has thrown for plenty of yards (1,995, sixth in NFL) but he has been responsible for as many turnovers (7 INTs, 4 fumbles) as touchdowns (9 passing, 2 rushing). He's also completing just 62 percent of his passes. Goff's numbers are still better than Dalton, who is struggling with accuracy (60.1 percent) and interceptions (8, tied for third most). Dalton definitely misses wide receiver A.J. Green, who has yet to play this season because of an ankle injury suffered on the first day of training camp. Green has returned to practice on a limited basis but he is probably a long shot to play on Sunday. Green also could be on the move as trade rumors swirl around the seven-time Pro Bowler.
Statistically, the two pass defenses Goff and Dalton will see on Sunday are somewhat similar, but there are two glaring differences. The Rams get after the quarterback (19 sacks) while the Bengals have had trouble generating much pressure (9 sacks). Second, Los Angeles has the two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Aaron Donald and just added another All-Pro, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, to the mix. Cincinnati doesn't have the star power to match up on either side of the ball so the advantage in this QB duel clearly goes to Goff. It's just a matter of him making the most of the opportunity. On the other side, Dalton needs to find a way to make plays without the self-inflicted mistakes to give his team a chance of hanging around.
3. LA's newest Ram(sey) on defense
Speaking of Ramsey, the former Jaguar made an impact for his new team right away, as he took on the challenge of covering Atlanta's Julio Jones last Sunday. Jones posted a game-high 93 yards on six catches (nine targets) but Ramsey made him work for those yards and kept him out of the end zone. Ramsey also caused a fumble by Falcons running back Devonta Freeman that even though he recovered, still put Atlanta behind the chains. Los Angeles went on to post a convincing 37-10 victory on the road.
With Aqib Talib on injured reserve and Marcus Peters traded to Baltimore, the Rams needed help in the secondary and there was no bigger name available than Ramsey. After saying he wouldn't be traded, Jacksonville finally relented and while Ramsey still has a contract situation that will need to be addressed at some point (and could result in him ending up with another team), he seems to have fully embraced this fresh start. That's a bad sign for the rest of the teams on the Jaguars' schedule.
Traveling overseas is not easy on any NFL team so I'm not expecting the Rams to be clicking on all cylinders on Sunday. It would be nice to see another step forward from Todd Gurley, whether that is in the form of a big play or increasing his workload and yards per carry average at the same time. Los Angeles also needs to see more consistency and mistake-free play from Jared Goff, who needs to take advantage of facing the league's worst defense.
The Bengals haven't thrown in the towel on this season yet and I don't think they will go 0-16. But they are simply outmanned and outclassed in this one, although it wouldn't surprise me if Zac Taylor's familiarity with Sean McVay (Taylor was a Rams assistant under McVay the previous two seasons) allows the student to show the teacher one or two new things.