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Rams-Bengals takeaways: Margin for error is razor-thin for Matthew Stafford, offense

Rams coach Sean McVay looks on during the second half against the Bengals.
Coach Sean McVay and the Rams dropped their second game in a row against the Bengals on Monday night.
(Emilee Chinn / Associated Press)
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1

The Rams lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 19-16, on Monday night at Paycor Stadium.

What we learned from the defeat that dropped the Rams’ record to 1-2.

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Matthew Stafford is committing too many turnovers

Matthew Stafford throws for the Rams.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws during the second half against the Bengals on Monday in Cincinnati.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Let’s qualify this by acknowledging that passes that bounce off a receiver’s hands, helmet or other body parts and into the arms of defenders typically are not Stafford’s fault.

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But the Rams’ margin for error is minuscule. And Stafford is at the controls of the offense.

The 35-year-old quarterback is still making outstanding throws and has even shown a knack for scrambling.

But this was the second game in a row that Stafford had two passes intercepted, and the Rams lost both.

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The offensive line has become a major concern

Matthew Stafford throws for the Rams.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford throws during the first half against the Bengals on Monday in Cincinnati. Rams left tackle Alaric Jackson, second from right, would later leave the game with a thigh injury.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Wait a second. The subhead on last week’s game review read: “The offensive line has protected Stafford.”

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Well, a lot can change in a week, especially with injuries beginning to pile up a la 2022.

Left tackle Alaric Jackson left the game because of a thigh injury and did not return. Oft-injured right guard Joe Noteboom was out for a time because of a knee issue.

The Bengals, as expected, took full advantage and finished with six sacks.

Second-year pro Zachary Thomas played in place of Jackson and performed about as well as could be expected given his experience.

The Rams defense hung tough against Cincinnati, but the offense failed to reach the end zone until it was too late, and the Bengals prevailed 19-16.

Sept. 25, 2023

Now the question is: How will the beat-up line play at Indianapolis in a short week?

4

Puka Nacua will not catch 10 passes every game

Sam Hubbard tackles Puka Nacua.
Rams wide receiver Puka Nacua is tackled by Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard during the first half.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Rams fans certainly enjoyed his record-setting start, and it was fun while it lasted.

But Nacua’s pace was not sustainable.

Nacua caught five passes for 72 yards, ending the rookie receiver’s streak of catching more than 10 passes and amassing more than 100 yards receiving.

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Nacua made several tough catches, including one he hauled in with his left hand.

His longest reception covered 37 yards.

5

Van Jefferson can be a factor

Van Jefferson wears his helmet after a game.
Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson looks on after the game against the Seahawks on Sept. 10.
(Ben VanHouten / Associated Press)

Jefferson, a fourth-year pro, was supposed to be the No. 2 receiver behind Cooper Kupp, and his prominence should have grown in Kupp’s absence.

Instead, he was the forgotten man.

While Nacua and Tutu Atwell shined, Jefferson stood out for dropped passes and missed opportunities.

But against the Bengals, Jefferson caught a 46-yard pass.

Atwell continued to show his versatility. He caught four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. He also appeared to score on a 24-yard reverse. But upon review, officials ruled he had stepped out of bounds at the two-yard line.

Aaron Donald’s hit on Joe Burrow sealed the Rams’ Super Bowl LVI win, and the Bengals must be well aware of the Rams’ presence no matter who’s at QB.

Sept. 25, 2023

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Aaron Donald will not be shut out two games in a row

Aaron Donald on the field after the game.
Defensive tackle Aaron Donald heads off the field after the Rams’ 19-16 loss to the Bengals on Monday.
(Darron Cummings / Associated Press)

Donald bounced back from a rare no-tackle stat line against the San Francisco 49ers by making seven tackles against the Bengals, including a sack and another tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

The three-time NFL defensive player of the year has 1½ sacks this season, 104½ in his career.

Edge rusher Byron Young and tackle Kobie Turner shared another sack.

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Ahkello Witherspoon stepped up

Ahkello Witherspoon raises his hands after an interception.
Rams cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon celebrates an interception in the fourth quarter against the Bengals.
(Emilee Chinn / Associated Press)

Witherspoon’s fourth-quarter interception of a Joe Burrow pass was the first turnover for the Rams defense this season.

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Unfortunately for the Rams, the offense failed to capitalize.

Witherspoon, a seventh-year pro who signed a veteran-minimum contract, also broke up a pass.

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