BENGALS RT ANTHONY COLLINS VS. RAMS LE CHRIS LONG
This only happens if Andre Smith (ankle) doesn't play and it didn't look good Thursday when he didn't practice after going limited Wednesday. Of course, Long (ankle) didn't go either and while he's played in games he's barely practiced the past few weeks with a nagging ailment.
As one wag put it this week, the true matchup of this game (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) is Bengals trainer Paul Sparling vs. his Rams counterpart as both teams grapple with injuries. The Bengals are outpatient compared to the Rams emergency room crisis, which has claimed 10 cornerbacks, much of the offensive line, and possibly starting quarterback Sam Bradford.
The injuries hit both clubs right where it hurts. Long is the St. Louis MVP and he may very well be matched up against a player making just his second start of the season in Collins. The depleted Rams secondary has to find a way to deal with Cincinnati's most dangerous offensive player in wide receiver A.J. Green and the St. Louis offensive line is facing seven/eighths of the Bengals front rotation with their best pass rusher, Carlos Dunlap, looking like he's going to play.
Long has been immense for the Rams this season with one more sack (12) than St. Louis has losses (11). Those in St. Louis believe he's having a Pro Bowl season despite the horrid record in this his fourth year. It's the first season at Long's most natural spot of left end and he's on a tear with sacks in six of his last seven games that included three in the upset over the Saints and two weeks ago against the 49ers.
Collins drew solid reviews in his first start of the season and 17th of his career last week in holding Brooks Reed sackless in a season he has set the Texans rookie sack record. This is going to be a different deal against a premier sack ace indoors on the road, but this isn't Collins's first rodeo. His first NFL start came at left tackle in Pittsburgh in a game he fended off NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison and he's been improving ever since.
Now Collins is headed into free agency, so he's got a lot riding on this one. It has been said this is a "cash register game" for him.
An AFC scout breaks down the matchup that may or may not be:
"Collins is a solid pass protector. It's his strength, but I think they're going to have to give him help against Long simply because he hasn't played much this season.
"It is a good matchup of excellent athletes. Long is Justin Smith-like, but he's a lot more athletic than Justin and not as brutal. He uses his hand well and he's got quick hands and feet. He's got that same type of effort. An effort guy like the guy the Bengals played last week in Connor Barwin, but he's more advanced than Barwin. He's playing end as well as anybody in the league right now.
"Collins is a very solid player. Agile. Good reach and he has some length. He's not as developed as a run blocker. He needs to work on his strength there. But he's a starting-caliber player who has skills that should serve him well with an athletic guy like Long.
"Certainly it is a big matchup for the Bengals. They have to hold up against Long in order to allow Green to exploit the decimated secondary."