Cincinnati Bengals @ Los Angeles Rams - Week 8
Week 8 sees a return of football to London as the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams do battle at Wembley Stadium. This game looks to be a massive mismatch with the NFC Super Bowl representative and 4-3 Rams facing the 0-7 Bengals. However, while the result may not end up being close that does not mean there are not fascinating things to watch out for in this game. In this article we will break down those things that you can look out for whether you are in the stadium, or watching the game on the BBC or Sky Sports.
This season we here at the touchdown want to help you understand more about what you can expect or are seeing if you choose to watch the full game on Sky as opposed to Red Zone. You can check out the superb piece by Tyler Arthur about how to see what the QB is seeing from your couch here. Each week I will be taking a look at the stats from this season and last, and helping you understand what to expect on Sunday.
Using these numbers, we will try and get a feel for how the teams might attack each other. What elements will be crucial in deciding the outcome, and what might be a bluff? Additionally, each week we will look at those all-important third down and Red Zone numbers. Along with turnovers they are the most crucial statistics in the game of football. Prolong drives and score touchdowns when you get inside the 20 and you stand a good chance of winning. Settle for punting and kicking field goals and you are fighting an uphill battle.
Let’s take a look at our Week 8 5 pm contest at Wembley Stadium.
Offensive line struggles
This game has the makings of a defensive struggle in large part because of the troubles of the two offensive lines. The Bengals offensive line currently ranks 29th in the league overall, 30th in pass protection and 20th in run blocking. However, the Rams are actually worse, ranking 30th overall, 32nd in pass blocking and 29th in run blocking. Only one tackle on either team ranks in the top-32, Andrew Whitworth (20th), but not one guard ranks in the top-50 at the position. The Bengals at least have their centre, Trey Hopkins, who ranks eighth at the position, but it is a grim picture overall.
Those offensive line woes manifest themselves in many different ways for these offenses. The Bengals offense ranks bottom-10 in the league in points for, total yards, turnovers, fumbles lost, TD passes, net yards per attempt, interceptions, rushing touchdowns, rushing yards, scoring%, average time per drive, average yards per drive and average points per drive. Meanwhile. the Rams have struggled for efficiency offensively, ranking 17th in net yards per attempt and 19th in rushing yards per attempt. For the large part their offense has managed to overcome the woes of their offensive line, but this was a dominant offense last season, which has been reduced to middle of the road in 2019.
Let’s dig into the running and passing games of both teams a little more to see what we can expect on Sunday.
Inefficient running games
Last week was not a good one for Joe Mixon, and he put up an impressively bad number in efficiency rating. Efficiency rating is calculated by taking the total distance a running back covered and dividing it by the amount of yards they gained. Therefore, a lower number is better, and the best backs average an efficiency rating of around three. Well, last week Mixon had an efficiency rating of 72.19, meaning he covered 144 yards for just two yards of actual gain. The next highest efficiency rating last week? 6.92 by Melvin Gordon.
Unfortunately that was not just a blip for Mixon, who has the fifth highest efficiency score this season (4.72). Last season he ranked 12th best in the league at 3.55. The concerning element is that Mixon only sees 8+ defenders in the box on 5.95% of his carries. To be seeing a loaded box nearly 20% below the highest numbers in the league and only be averaging three yards per carry is a major red mark for Mixon.
The Bengals have rushed for 100 yards in a game just once this season and are now facing a defense which has allowed just two 100-yard rushing games against them all season. All of this would suggest that you should not be expecting a lot of production from the Bengals running the ball this weekend!
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams run game was the crowning jewel of their offense ast season, but this year tells a different story. After ranking in the top-20 in terms of efficiency last season, Gurley is now among the worst in that category. After averaging 3.65 last season, he has risen to 4.56 this year. That comes despite only facing 8+ defenders in the box on 20.7% of his carries (17th in the league).
That is where the offensive line comes in. Gurley has been unable to make decisive moves this season and pick up yards. He averages three full seconds behind the line of scrimmage on carries, which ranks for the fifth worst. That lack of ability to break through the LOS has left him averaging the 16th worst number this season in yards per carry.
The good news for the Rams offense is that they are facing one of the worst defenses in the league at defending the run. The Bengals have allowed FOUR 200-yard rushing games so far in 2019. They ranks 32nd in average yards per rush. They also rank 28th in rushing touchdowns allowed. If the Rams cannot get Gurley and the run game clicking this week then they are in serious trouble.
Passing game numbers
Given what we have seen about the Bengals run game they need to get something from their passing game this week. However, they have some woes there as well. Their offensive line issues have left Dalton averaging the second lowest time to throw in the NFL (2.44 seconds). For context, Kirk Cousins leads the league with over three seconds to throw. It has also meant that Dalton is having to force throws more. He ranks eighth in the league in aggressiveness, as he attempts to squeeze the ball into tight coverage on 19% of his throws. Those two elements have led to Dalton having a COMP% 4.7% below his xCOMP% (64.8), which ranks as the seventh worst difference in the league.
Another element that has not helped Dalton have been the reliability of his receivers. He has the 11th highest drop% in the league. When you look at his receivers numbers you can see why. Only three Bengals receivers have a catch percentage above 60%, Tyler Boyd, Tyler Eifert and Alex Erickson.
Part of the issue is that without A.J. Green the Bengals do not have a receiver feared by opponents. The cushion given to Tyler Boyd is equivalent to the likes of Julian Edelman, Cole Beasley and Nelson Agholor, who are all possession receivers. The lack of threats has led to Dalton having the third lowest aDOT in the league (6.2), leaving his receivers to do the work after the catch. Unfortunately, he lost his best receiver for that a few weeks back in the speedy John Ross, who had the biggest differential between xYAC/reception and actual YAC/reception.
If you are watching on Sunday expect to see a lot of short, quick passes from Dalton as he rushes to get the ball out of his hands before the Aaron Donald led pass rush gets to him.
Los Angeles Rams
The picture in the passing game is not overly pretty for the Rams and Jared Goff either. Despite having nearly 2.8 seconds to throw, he has struggled to make completions. His COMP% is a whopping 5.1% below his xCOMP% (66.9), which is the fifth worst mark in the league. Interestingly, Goff has had trouble protecting the ball this year despite having the ninth lowest aggressiveness rating in the league (13.8%). The problem is that Goff is just making bad throws. He ranks second worst in the league in bad throw% (22.3). The reason for that is that he is being hurried and hit the third most in the league on passing plays.
The fact Goff cannot get this Rams offense clicking is a major concern given his weapons. No receiver has a higher cushion at the LOS of than Robert Woods (7.7 yards), although that is likely as much about how Sean McVay schemes him as opposed to defenders fearing his speed. Goff also has the second best receiver in the NFL when it comes to separating from defenders on their routes in the form of Tyler Higbee, who has on average 4.3 yards of separation at the point of the catch.
The Rams have one deep threat in their ranks in Brandon Cooks. Cooks has the 14th highest aDOT in the league at 14.5, while no other receiver has an aDOT over 10. However, their biggest weapon this year has been Cooper Kupp, who ranks second in receptions with 51. Between Woods, Cooks, Kupp, Higbee and the other tight end Gerald Everett, the Rams have a fascinating group of pass catchers to watch this week.
Third down and red zone
As always we finish with our look at those crunch plays on third down and in the red zone. Offensively the Rams have the upper hand in the red zone as they score a touchdown on 62.1% of their trips compared to 35% for the Bengals. However, the Bengals offense is among the best in the league in red-zone defense, allowing a touchdown on just 40.7% of trips.
Both teams are very similar on third down conversions both offensively and defensively. Both teams convert and allow conversions on around 40% of third down attempts. It is strange to have two teams with such similar numbers, but it makes it nice and easy. If we see 10 third down attempts this week, we should expect to see four of them converted, regardless of which team has the ball for the attempt!
Image credit: USA Today