Week 3 will give us a rematch of Super Bowl LVII as the Cincinnati Bengals are hosting the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football. The Bengals hope to get the better of the team that beat them in that year's championship game.
A lot has changed with these two teams since that meeting. The Rams, in particular, look very different. They might still have Sean McVay as their head coach, Aaron Donald as their elite pass-rusher, and Matthew Stafford as their quarterback but otherwise, this current roster is a lot of no-name guys.
The Bengals' roster doesn't look vastly different but right now, they're 0-2 and struggling for consistency on offense and on defense. They're in a must-win situation now and with Joe Burrow's status for this game in doubt, it could be difficult to avoid an 0-3 start.
To get insight on the Rams for this game, I reached out to Bret Stuter, the site expert over on Ramblin' Fan, FanSided's site dedicated to the Los Angeles Rams. The biggest thing that jumped out to me from what he said is that Puka Nacua is a big part of the Rams' success so far and he's only a rookie. Bengals fans know all too well how much impact a rookie receiver can have. Can Nacua be that for the Rams?
So far this season, the Rams rookie wideout has 25 catches for 266 yards and is averaging 10.6 yards per catch. The Bengals secondary was shaky in the Week 2 loss to Baltimore so Nacua could have a big game this week.
Check out my conversation with Bret below.
Q: What were the expectations for the Rams entering the season and do you think they've lived up to those in the first two weeks? Why or why not?
Bret: LA Rams fans knew when the Rams front office was willing to trade veteran defensive back Jalen Ramsey, and outright release veteran inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, that this was going to be a different type of season. When the LA Rams made their first pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, they had more open slots in their 90-man roster than signed players. Under those circumstances, expectations were a bit tempered.
Still, the Rams coaching staff made great hires, like RB Coach Ron Gould, and DB Coach Aubrey Pleasant. The hope for this Rams team was to weather some difficult games early in the season, but continue to improve as the season wore on. On paper, the Rams appear to be a 5 or 6-win team. But with the LA Rams' success over the years, and a recharged Sean McVay back at the helm as the LA Rams head coach, the resiliency of Rams fans still had enough to buoy their hopes to a nine-win team. So far, the Rams are living up to those expectations, and may even be a bit ahead of schedule.
Q: What has been the Rams' biggest strength so far? What has been their biggest weakness?
Bret: The LA Rams have surprised opponents with the success of their passing game, which should not come as a big surprise. Veteran quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing at his healthiest since joining the Rams in 2021, and it shows. With no true NFL star receivers suiting up on the Rams' offense, Stafford has quietly crept to the third-best NFL passer in just two weeks' time. Of course, he has to throw to someone, and the early success is due in large part to ex-BYU rookie receiver Puka Nacua, who has shattered NFL rookies by catching 25 passes in his first two NFL games for 266 yards.
The LA Rams' biggest weakness this season has been the inexperience of their defense. While they can step up and play incredibly well (the LA Rams defense held the Seattle Seahawks to 0 points and just 12 yards in the second half), they have allowed 43 points over the other six NFL quarters. This Rams team needs to find more consistency on defense if the team is to generate any success this year.
Q: Who is the biggest X-factor for the Rams in this game?
Bret: The biggest X-factor for the LA Rams in Week 3 is running back Kyren Williams. While he has only rushed 29 times for 104 yards, he has scored four of the five LA Rams touchdowns so far this season. So far he has rushed for three touchdowns and caught the only touchdown pass thrown by Matthew Stafford this season. (The other touchdown was scored by the controversial running back Cam Akers). While he may not get 100 yards rushing in a game this season, as long as he continues to score one or two touchdowns per game, the LA Rams have a fighting chance of winning.
Q: Aside from Joe Burrow (if he even plays), who are Rams fans worried the most about in this game?
Bret: The Cincinnati Bengals, whether or not Joe Burrow is able to suit up for Week 3, will likely lean more heavily into their running game. In both games played so far this season, it is clear that a team that is committed on offense to running with the football can give the LA Rams defense problems. Despite the loss, the Seahawks were able to average 4.7 yards per run against the Rams' young defense. The 49ers were even more effective, rushing for an average of 5.7 yards per run. With the Rams seemingly unable to shut down opposing runners, Bengals feature running back Joe Mixon could cause this young Rams defense a huge number of problems on Monday Night Football.
Q: The Rams will win this game if _____.
Bret: The Rams will win this game if they can control the Time of Possession, win the turnover battle, and record more quarterback sacks than they allow.
Q: Give us your score prediction.
Bret: The Cincinnati Bengals are truly desperate for a win, as they have lost two consecutive games to AFC North division rivals. And we know that the Bengals have had the game circled against the Rams as a chance for retribution after losing Super Bowl LVI. Still, this is a more physical and unpredictable LA Rams team. While the Bengals could open with an emotional surge, I don't think that the Rams young players wilt from the challenge. Actually, I believe that will serve to make this team even more determined.
I can see this game going into overtime, and the Bengals winning this on a field goal. But I would not be the least bit surprised if the Rams use the heartbreaking loss to the 49ers to come back stronger than ever. Still, I'll go with my first instincts: Bengals 33, Rams 30
Thanks again to Bret for taking the time to answer my questions! Be sure to check out his work over on Ramblin' Fan.