For the second straight year, the Cincinnati Bengals head into Week 3 with a zero in the win column. This is as close as you can get to a 'must-win' game this early in the season, as the Bengals have never made the playoffs once in franchise history since starting a season with three straight losses.
With the struggles of both the offense and defense-- paired with the fact that it's not a sure thing (as of my writing this) if Burrow will be suiting up for this Monday Night matchup-- a win in the White Bengal alternates is far from guaranteed.
Their opponent is a familiar one, one that stings to go up against. The Los Angeles Rams, Super Bowl LVI champions. Aside from a preseason game last season, this will be the first time these two teams face off against one another since that fateful night, both squads looking quite different than they did 18 months ago in the battle for the Lombardi.
So, who are the two new faces and one painfully recognizable beast that could spoil the Bengals' first primetime game and cause them to start 0-3 for the first time in the Joe Burrow era? Let's find out.
The Bengals know just as well as the rest of the league how good three-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald is. He managed to get a pair of sacks on Burrow plus the game-winning play on fourth down in the last time these two teams faced off in the Big Game.
While he may not be as dominant as he was then-- as he missed six games last year with injury and only finished with 5.0 sacks in the 11 that he did play-- you still can't count out the veteran defensive tackle in his 10th season.
No matter who is back there, whether it be Burrow, Jake Browning, or even Will Grier, the offensive line has to show up. Thankfully, they've looked slightly better to start this year than they did at the beginning of the 2022 season, even holding a solid Ravens' front seven to zero sacks. Can they replicate that performance and give whoever's under center more time to make something happen?
Well, that all starts with how well they defend against Aaron Donald. You can make the argument that he's past his prime, but to completely write him off would be ludicrous. In Week 1 against the Seahawks, Donald recorded half a sack, four tackles, and a QB hit in a Rams victory. Their loss against the 49ers, however, he went missing and the only stat he'd record would be a single QB hit.
Will the Bengals' offense win in the trenches and minimize his impact like the 49ers did? Or will he bounce back? We'll have to see, but if the elite pass rusher has another dominant performance against the Stripes, Cincy will likely be staring at a 0-3 hole by Tuesday morning.