The Cincinnati Bengals are playing in London for the second time ever Sunday when they meet the Los Angeles Rams at Wembley Stadium as part of the NFL International Series.
The last time the Bengals were there they played the Washington Redskins to a 27-27 tie in 2016, but now they are hoping the change of scenery can shake things up as they seek their first win under Zac Taylor.
»RELATED: Bengals-Rams preview
Oddsmakers have the Rams as heavy favorites, but there are plenty of storylines to follow in this one. Here are five things to know going into the game:
1. Familiar faces
Taylor will be facing his former mentor for the first time since he left Sean McVay’s staff in L.A. to become the Bengals’ 10th head coach in February, and perhaps his familiarity with the Rams will be an advantage.
McVay hired Taylor to his first staff in 2017 as a wide receivers coach and then gave him the quarterbacks coach role last year when the Rams made a run to the Super Bowl.
»RELATED: McVay believes in Taylor
“This one, when you watch the tape, you have a better understanding of the players you’re watching,” Taylor said. “But at the same time, they’ve already got seven games of your tape, and you can see everybody evolving over the course of the season.”
Taylor has tried to bring the Rams’ offense with him to Cincinnati, so L.A.’s defense should be well-prepared, too.
2. Adjusting to the time change
The Bengals left town Thursday afternoon and were set to arrive in London around 1:30 a.m. Eastern Time on Friday, which is 6:30 a.m. there, and they had a short time to adjust their internal clocks with a practice scheduled for that afternoon.
Taylor said he spent time this week discussing how things would be different there so the players could be prepared, but there was no way to simulate it and no way to try to keep the schedule similar to a regular game week.
“It’s not similar,” Taylor said. “(Players) have to be able to adapt, and it becomes about which team adapts. You see a lot of different styles of games that happen in London. Some of them go one way really bad either way, and some of them are really close because both teams are well-prepared. We have to make sure our guys understand what it’s going to feel like to land at 1 in the morning (Cincinnati time) and go practice. They have to find a way to sleep (on the plane). These are all things that we educate them on.”
Taylor has been to London for the NFL International Series three times before, including with the Rams in 2017 when they beat Arizona 33-0 in a game Carson Palmer exited early because of injury. The Rams are making their third trip in four years.
3. Star-studded defense
The Bengals’ offense will be plenty challenged with guys like defensive tackle Aaron Donald and cornerback Jalen Ramsey on the other side. Those two in particular could make things difficult for quarterback Andy Dalton.
Donald is third on the Rams’ all-time sack list in his fourth season with the team and is considered one of the best players at his position. The Bengals have been better in their pass protection lately, as they’ve allowed five sacks in the last three games following an eight-sack outing against Pittsburgh, but left guard Billy Price or Michael Jordan likely will face a tough matchup with Donald, who has three of his four sacks in the last two games.
Ramsey joined the Rams via trade last week and is considered one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Ramsey has played in just four games this year because of injuries and other issues in Jacksonville, but he had four tackles and a forced fumble in his Rams debut against Atlanta.
“They’re two really good players,” Dalton said. “Both of them are some of the top in this league, not only at their positions but in the game as a whole. It’s a big challenge for us. You watch tape and Aaron Donald is all over the field. Jalen Ramsey has obviously only had one game there, but we know his past and his history. Two really good players.”
4. Same old goals
After another week without a running game, that’s again the focus for the offense. In Sunday’s loss to Jacksonville, Joe Mixon had just two yards on 10 carries, while Dalton was the team’s top rusher with 33 yards.
The Bengals have become predictable – as the Jaguars pointed out in their post-game interviews – in their use of Mixon and Giovani Bernard, who mostly is used on screen plays. However, Taylor keeps talking about utilizing Mixon in the passing game more to help overcome the issues up front with the offensive line struggling to run block.
The Rams rank 19th in run defense with 95.9 rushing yards allowed per game.
Meanwhile, Cincinnati also has to learn to stop the run after another poor showing Sunday. The Bengals allow a league-worst 189.0 yards rushing, and if Todd Gurley gets going, it could be a long night (the game is at night in London). Malcom Brown has been out with an ankle injury.
5. Injuries in tough spots
The Bengals used all their inactives last week on injured players, but they could be getting some guys back, including cornerback William Jackson, who was sidelined by a shoulder injury, and potentially guard John Miller (groin) and tackle Andre Smith (ankle).
That is only a little consolation, though, considering the number of defensive players expected to sit against a capable offense like the Rams. Jared Goff ranks sixth in passing with 1,995 yards, and Gurley is better than he’s shown so far this season.
Cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard and defensive end Carl Lawson are out this week. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee) was limited the first two practices of the week but was a full participant Friday.
On the offense, wide receiver A.J. Green won’t play Sunday and left tackle Cordy Glenn didn’t make the trip to London. Glenn was suspended for last week’s game vs. the Jaguars for discplinary reasons.
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