In the end, the key to the game everyone talked about for two weeks ended up being just that. The Los Angeles Rams’ defensive line dominated the Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive line. For the first half, it appeared they may survive, but Aaron Donald and Von Miller had different plans in the second half. Unfortunately for Bengals fans, so did the offense.
Bengals’ offensive line couldn’t contain Rams’ pass rush
Once the Rams scored their final touchdown, it was going to be difficult for Cincinnati to march down the field for 7 points of their own. Even with Joe Burrow playing like a wizard behind the offensive line, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Rams’ onslaught.
According to ESPN’s Seth Walder, the Bengals had a 14% pass block win rate, the lowest of any team all season. In the second half, it was apparent Cincinnati couldn’t run any long-developing concepts, and the Rams had crept up to take the quick game away from them.
When the game was in its most critical state on the Bengals’ final drive, Donald looked like an alien. On third-and-1, he discarded a block from Hakeem Adeniji and nearly suplexed Samaje Perine to keep him from converting. Then on fourth-and-1, he lined up on the left side of the offensive line, beating Quinton Spain on the outside shoulder. Burrow attempted a pirouette pass to keep the game alive, but the ball harmlessly fell to the turf.
Burrow was officially sacked 7 times for 43 yards, but the game felt even more lopsided than the Titans’ 9-sack performance.
Bengals must address the line in free agency
They spent significant assets on the defensive side of the ball last season in free agency. Duke Tobin and Co. made the right decision by drafting Ja’Marr Chase to pair with Burrow. Now, however, they need to protect their most valuable asset.
Heck, half the stadium thought he tore his knee up again on one of the final sacks he took. Burrow seems to have an “it” factor, but that won’t matter if he can’t stay upright. Riley Reiff wasn’t the answer at tackle when healthy, and Isaiah Prince surely isn’t a viable option heading into 2022.
They spent significant capital on Jackson Carman, but not being able to beat out Adeniji is an awful sign, given how poor Adeniji has looked all season. Add in the center position and the whole right side should look different in 2022.
Zac Taylor had a good game plan but failed late
I was flabbergasted when I saw Perine in the game on third down instead of Joe Mixon. But passing from gun on fourth down didn’t feel like a good call at the time, and it turns out it wasn’t in the result.
A play-action call from under center felt like a better idea at the time, but both teams had abandoned play-action in the second half. They also almost completely abandoned empty formations, which were effectively built-in protection for Burrow in the first half. He was forced to get the ball out quickly, and more often than not, LA hung in spot-drop zone looks that Burrow could attack.
The Bengals are a young and talented team with money to spend and a quarterback that looks like one of the next greats. But they need to protect him, or they risk breaking his unflappable character.