Rams (1-1) at Bengals (0-2) Monday, Sept. 17 at Paycor Stadium (Field Turf), 8:15 p.m. ET, TV: ESPN, WLWT-TV Ch. 5 (Cincinnati) Chris Fowler, Dan Orlovsky, Louis Riddick, Laura Rutledge. Radio: Dan Hoard, Dave Lapham. WEBN-FM (102.7 FM), ESPN1530, Westwood One Radio Kevin Harlan, Kurt Warner
CINCINNATI — Time for the Bengals to wake up.
They have another chance to hop out of bed and get their first win of 2023. If they hit the snooze button again, they will be putting their season in grave danger.
Meeting for the first time since Super Bowl LVI, the Los Angeles Rams (1-1) visit the 0-2 Bengals on Monday night.
With Baltimore losing its first game in overtime to Indianapolis, there are no unbeatens in the AFC North. Win Monday night and the Bengals will stand just a game out, with 0-3 Tennessee on the docket Sunday in Nashville.
The biggest question of the night won’t be answered until after warmups. While Jay Glazer of Fox Sports reported that Joe Burrow took first team reps in Sunday walkthroughs, the real answer to his readiness and comfort won’t be known until he finishes warmups.
Zac Taylor and his training staff will have to trust Burrow to be honest about how he feels about his right calf in warmups. If it’s fine and he can dance and jump side-to-side, then he will get the nod and start.
“You got to be able to adapt. It’s part of the game. Nobody’s 100 percent healthy out there,” Burrow said. “Everybody’s dealing with something.”
But if Burrow says anything less than “it feels good and ready to go,” Jake Browning will make his first NFL start and see his first NFL action of his five-year career.
As for the rematch of Super Bowl LVI, the Rams have turned over their defensive roster significantly since, with the exception of Donald, the three-time NFL defensive player of the year. Offensively, the Rams still rely on the right arm of Matthew Stafford, who’s been prolific in his first two weeks.
Burrow initially injured the calf on July 27, the second day of training camp and felt a twinge again on the play before his second touchdown pass of the game to Tee Higgins.
“Just feeling better. Not as sore,” Burrow said Thursday. “Time heals. So we’ll see. We’ll see.”
"I'll go out and lay my life out there for him. … He's our guy. … it's set in stone. He's willing to do what it takes." Tyler Boyd on Joe Burrow. Boyd btw thinks Burrow might play Monday. pic.twitter.com/rNYNZhrywE
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) September 22, 2023
The Bengals have started 0-2 for the fourth time in five seasons under Zac Taylor. Last year, they were able to recover and win 14 of their final 16 games before falling to eventual Super Bowl LVII champion Kansas City in the AFC Championship.
“The beauty of this team is we know it’s a 17-game season,” head coach Zac Taylor said. “There’s no overreaction on our end. We’ve got to be prepared for it outside of our locker room, which is natural. This is exactly where we were last year.”
“We’ve done it before,” Burrow said. “Obviously, you don’t want to start 0-2. It’s not what we were planning on, not what you want to do at all. But we’re going to bounce back. That’s what we do, that’s all there is to it.”
This marks the first game for Bengals starting safety Nick Scott against his former team after signing with Cincinnati in the offseason.
The Rams won their opener at Seattle before dropping last week’s home opener to San Francisco, 30-23.
Rookie receiver Puka Nacua had a record-setting day, catching 15 passes from Matthew Stafford for 147 yards, becoming just the fourth player in the Super Bowl era to record at least 10 catches and at least 100 receiving yards in his team’s first two games of the season. He is the only rookie to accomplish the feat and earned NFL Rookie of the Week honors.
“My success will come when the team wins,” Nacua said. “So, I’m excited us for to be able to come back and capitalize when we’re able to win. It was sweet (vs. Seattle). I got things to improve on, but the most important thing is getting that (win).”
Nacua was dealing with an oblique injury all week, not practicing Thursday before being limited on Friday and Saturday. But he is expected to play Monday.
Stafford passed Peyton Manning for the most passing yards by a player in his first 200 regular season games (52,723 yards in 193 games). In the loss to the Niners, Stafford completed 34-of-55 passes for 307 yards.
“(The offensive line) did a great job,” Stafford said. “They kept me clean the majority of the (game).”
The Rams have turned the running game over to feature back Kyren Williams after trading Cam Akers and a 2026 conditional seventh-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings for a conditional 2026 sixth-round pick.
Williams ran for a touchdown and caught another score, marking the first Rams player to score through the air and on the ground since Week 8 of 2021.
As the Bengals wonder about their quarterback, they will be getting one of their best edge rushers back for this game as Joseph Ossai was a full participant and is expected to return from a right ankle sprain suffered in the final preseason game in Washington.
Another big injury for the Bengals is the hamstring issue bothering Irv Smith Jr. The tight end in his first year in Cincinnati is doubtful and will likely be replaced by Tanner Hudson off the practice squad if he can’t go.
Cincinnati on Monday night will wear the fan-favorite “White Bengal” helmet, which features a white base coat and the team’s iconic black stripes. The helmet was introduced last season with the NFL’s approval for the use of alternate helmets, and made its debut in the Bengals’ Week 4 win over Miami that was played in front of a Paycor Stadium-record attendance of 67,260 on Thursday Night Football.
A pair of Bengals legends in former quarterback and 1988 NFL MVP Boomer Esiason and wide receiver Chad Johnson will be inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor at halftime on Monday night. They will become the seventh and eighth members of the Ring of Honor, joining QB Ken Anderson, OT Willie Anderson, team founder/head coach Paul Brown, WR Isaac Curtis, OT Anthony Munoz and CB Ken Riley.
Here’s what to look for:
If it’s Joe Burrow, how mobile will he be? If need be, can he avoid Aaron Donald and slide in the pocket? If it’s Jake Browning, will he air it out for Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins? The Rams have their fifth-best pass defense in terms of yards allowed (150.5 yds/game) through two weeks. But they were also one of five teams through two weeks without an interception. Browning looked good in the final preseason game, winning the job from Trevor Siemian and throwing a touchdown pass to Andrei Iosivas. Burrow has two touchdown passes to Tee Higgins but has completed just 10 passes to Ja’Marr Chase for 70 yards in two games. The Bengals signed AJ McCarron to the practice squad on Saturday, giving them two practice squad quarterbacks and two roster quarterbacks.
As mentioned above, Chase has only 10 receptions so far, and only three of those ten have been for more than 10 yards. Last week, he was held to five catches on eight targets for 31 yards. Chase wants more shots downfield and he wants to get into the end zone. He has completions of 10, 12 and 13 yards.
The last time the Bengals played Aaron Donald, they had Trey Hopkins, Quinton Spain and Hakeem Adeniji on the interior line. This time, it’s Ted Karras, Alex Cappa and Cordell Volson. The Bengals should have more success accounting for the game-wrecker.
Tanner Hudson could get some significant looks in the pass game if Irv Smith Jr. can’t go. Hudson looked good in the passing game against Washington in the preseason finale. He has experience in the Kyle Shanahan system with the 49ers. He has a Super Bowl ring with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers from 2020.
If Stafford is going to throw the ball 50 times again, then the Bengals should have ample chance to get to the quarterback. Here’s looking at you, Trey Hendrickson, Sam Hubbard, Joseph Ossai, Cam Sample, Myles Murphy and Mike Hilton (corner blitz). Stafford has completed more passes (58) over two games than his opponents have attempted (51) and is 58-of-93 passes for 641 yards.
For the second straight season, the Bengals are facing an 0-2 hole heading into Week 3. Unlike last season, the Bengals feel more shaky with the rush defense allowing an average of 190 yards over the first two weeks. That shouldn’t be the issue this week with the Rams, who are averaging just 90 yards a game on the ground. If the Bengals can keep Stafford from connecting on long plays, the Bengals should be able to scrape out 24 points. That should be enough against a Rams team that has been respectable so far, beating Seattle on the road before losing to San Francisco last week. If the Bengals defense is back to form, the Bengals get the first win of 2023.
Bengals 24, Rams 20