Scouting the Enemy: Bengals preseason Week 3 chat with Ramblin’ Fan

Cincinnati Bengals (Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)
Cincinnati Bengals (Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports) /

In anticipation of the Cincinnati Bengals’ preseason finale with the L.A. Rams on Saturday, we sat down with Bret Stuter, Site Expert for Ramblin’ Fan, FanSided’s Rams site.  Bret gave us the inside scoop on what we can expect to see from the Super Bowl Champion Rams (dang, that one still hurts to say).

Everything you need to know about our upcoming foe is below.

1. On a scale of 1-10, how concerned is the fan base with Matthew Stafford’s elbow injury? 

Curiously, the fans’ reactions do not reflect the concerns of NFL pundits or analysts. The L.A. Rams knew when trading for veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford that Stafford had seen more than his share of the NFL’s wear and tear.

The Rams’ solution is to manage his workload. What he overdoes in games, the Rams practice algorithm will simply cut out from practice the following week. While the Rams do not view that as the ideal solution, it’s likely as good as it gets for now.

There could be some relief if the Rams’ rushing attack can recover from a disappointing season. But those hopes have been tempered so far because the Rams are banking on the restoration of running back Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr., plus the introduction of rookie running back Kyren Williams. All have recent injuries, so the likelihood of getting significant yards on the ground feels rather optimistic.

Stafford’s competitive spirit will not trigger any opportunity to bench him if the game’s outcome is still in question. The Rams did benefit from two “blowouts” last year, allowing [them] to send out backups in the fourth quarter to close out games against the New York Giants and the Houston Texans. I don’t see the Rams having many, if any, opportunities to close out games this year with reserves. So I look for the Rams to watch Stafford’s practice snaps.

2. With the Rams losing Von Miller to the Buffalo Bills this offseason, where is the outside pass rush going to come from? 

While much was made about Von Miller’s pass rush, Miller was simply picking up where the L.A. Rams outside linebackers left off. To open the 2021 NFL season, the Rams had a series of injuries to OLB Justin Hollins, Terrell Lewis, and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo.

Even starting OLB Leonard Floyd suffered an ankle injury that he played through all season. Comparing the Rams “pre-Von” sack numbers to the Rams “post-Von” sack numbers, the Rams were actually a better pass-rushing team before Miller arrived.

But Von Miller showed his true value for the Rams through the playoffs. As long as the Rams can stay healthy on the edge, they have a very formidable pass rush. Leonard Floyd, Terrell Lewis, Justin Hollins, and second-year Chris Garrett will likely form a rotational quartet. The Rams may elevate rookie Daniel Hardy to add to that rotation. Plus the Rams get much of their pass rush from their down linemen in Aaron Donald, Greg Gaines, and A’Shawn Robinson.

3. Make the case for Cam Akers.  Why should fans believe he can be the first running back to ever make a Pro Bowl after suffering an Achilles tear? 

Forcing the debate over the LA Rams’ restoration of running back Cam Akers to a potential Pro Bowl season will take someone far more gifted than I am to have a chance of being persuasive enough to make skeptics a bit more optimistic. So I won’t try to bang my head against that brick wall. But I will point to some facts that suggest that the Rams may be onto something this year.

The Rams have not had a runner break the 1,000-yard mark since star running back Todd Gurley managed to do so in the 2018 NFL season. Despite the lack of a star running back, the Rams have continued to be successful and actually won Super Bowl LVI despite a rather pedestrian-rushing offense. The Rams’ offensive formula has been reworked with the trade of former QB Jared Goff [and picks for] veteran Matthew Stafford.

Stafford does not seem to need a strong running game to win games. Rather, he simply needs enough of a running game to threaten the defense and slow down the pass rush. The Rams may not be churning out 200 yards per game on the ground, but the running backs can keep defenses honest.

As a case in point, the 2022 offense is similar to that of the 2020 offense. In both instances, the Rams appeared to have huge question marks over their ability to run the football. What occurred in 2020 is the Rams’ ground game excelling due to the triple threat of Cam Akers, Darrell Henderson Jr., and Malcolm Brown. This year, simply replace Brown with rookie Kyren Williams, and a similar opportunity exists for the running game by a committee to enjoy similar results.

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4. With Van Jefferson battling a knee injury, who are the primary candidates to win the #3 receiver job?

Thanks to a battered wide receiver roster from 2021, the LA Rams actually entered this season stocked at wide receiver. Returning this year are three rookies: Tutu Atwell, Jacob Harris, and Ben Skowronek. While the Rams did not draft a wide receiver, the team is pleasantly surprised by their undrafted rookie WR Lance McCutcheon.

The Rams are a bit protective [of] their projected starters, and as soon as Van Jefferson fell to injury, the team immediately announced that Tutu Atwell would not be competing for [them] in preseason games. That pretty much is the “advance to GO, collect $200” card that puts Atwell in the WR3 slot for now. But Atwell is certainly a more limited role type player than Skowronek, who can block very effectively, and Harris, who is a much larger target on routes.

Some speculate that the Rams will dial up specific receivers for offensive series depending on what defenses are throwing at them, and that makes sense. The Rams have the ability to generate deep threats, creating separation, moving the chains, or making contested catches depending on which receivers take the field.

5. What starting positions are up for grabs this year?  Anyone we should be watching for in this preseason game?

The LA Rams tend to bench starters to avoid the risk of injury to players in the preseason, and that holds especially true for the team in the final preseason game. But on the flip side, that means that the Rams will be featuring bubble players at nearly every position in the contest, and with a Rams roster restocking players at a 30-40 percent clip, there will be plenty of roster spots up for grabs in this one.

The Rams are rather settled on offense, but there is plenty to battle for in terms of skill players. And the offensive line will likely carry no more than four reserves. So far the team seems to be set with offensive tackles A.J. Arcuri and A.J. Jackson, and versatile offensive lineman Tremayne Anchrum. So a fourth inside offensive lineman would be something to look for.

Rookie running back Kyren Williams will finally get a chance to play a preseason game. The Rams are very interested to witness how well he runs, blocks, and catches passes in this one.

The Rams have an abundance of defensive backs, and all are competing for a chance to stick with the team’s 53-man roster. Look for Derion Kendrick, Cobie Durant, Terrell Burgess and Russ Yeast.

Must Read. 4 Bengals who have played themselves on the final roster. light

Bonus: What is your prediction for the Rams-Bengals preseason matchup? For the Rams season this year? 

The LA Rams have been a bit competitive in preseason games this year, so I’ll predict a win for the Rams by the score of 30-26. For the season, the Rams have a tough schedule, but I believe that they are in a much better place. I will expect the Rams to put up a 13-4 season, and make an effort to win a BYE week as the NFC’s top-seeded team.