Preserve and protect

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The offensive line gave wide receiver A.J. Green time to make a 10-yard touchdown catch.

It was another day at the office Sunday for Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's playbook in the 31-7 victory over the Rams at Paul Brown Stadium.

Quarterback Andy Dalton upped his career best passer rating to 105.3 with three more touchdown passes. With his first two-touchdown game since he wrecked the Ravens Sept. 27, wide receiver A.J. Green is tied with Eddie Brown for fourth place on the Bengals' all-time list with 41 touchdown catches. With his first touchdown outside the red zone this season, tight end Tyler Eifert's 12th touchdown brought him ever closer to Carl Pickens' club record of 17.

Eifert is on pace for 18, Dalton is on pace to throw 34 TDs to break his own team record of 33, and the Bengals are on pace to score their third most points of all-time.

But Sunday's game belonged to the guys without the ball when the offensive line held Rams Pro Bowl tackle Aaron Donald to just three assisted tackles. Dalton confirmed what the stat sheet said. No one touched him, never mind sacked him, in a game against the team leading the NFL in generating the most negative plays.

Indeed, the Rams' only tackle for loss came from a safety. The Rams didn't have injured two-time Pro Bowl right end Robert Quinn, but they did have their four other first-round picks on the line.

And they had Donald, who leads NFL tackles in sacks since he was drafted in the 2014 first round. It appeared as if center Russell Bodine helped out guards Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler whenever he could as Donald flopped from side to side during the game.

The Bengals didn't exactly slide to him all the time, said left tackle Andrew Whitworth, but they knew where he was at all times.

"Every team in the league (slides to Donald) and he still has a great week," Whitworth said. "The key is the guards and the center have a plan on how to block him . . . We made sure he knew where he was and made sure everybody kind of knew where he was in protection. I think the guards did a great job against him. I think Russ had him some, too. It was a great job of executing the game plan."

It looked like they were able to handle the rest one-on-one, particularly dangerous tackle Nick Fairley, and that meant they were also able to generate 140 yards on the ground in 31 tries for the fourth most against the Rams this season.

A good chunk of that was running back Jeremy Hill's season-high 86 yards, but both Whitworth and Hill said there were no drastic changes to a running game that has been a concern of late.

"We were able to run the ball efficiently and not put ourselves in some of those situations we've been in the past couple of weeks," Whitworth said. "Where we got third-and-forever. It really helps us . . . we're getting better and better and at this time of year it's important to run the ball."

The grinding in the interior allowed the skill guys to have their days. Green, again, was left shaking his head at Eifert.

"Tyler is leading the world in touchdowns right now," Green said. "It's unbelievable how they let him just run right down the field. If it was me, I'd put three guys on him."

Eifert laughed when told he was now no longer just a red-zone threat after he caught the 22-yard touchdown pass down the seam that made it 17-7 late in the first half.

"That's good. We're making progress then," Eifert said. "It was a perfect ball."

Dalton had enough time back there to pump fake against the Rams zone defense. "The safety was cheating toward A.J.," Dalton said, and the pump froze safety T.J. McDonald as Dalton dropped it over him and in front of cornerback Marcus Roberson, starting for the injured Trumaine Johnson.

But Eifert's biggest play of the game might have been recovering running back Giovani Bernard's fumble early in the third quarter.

Bernard had just finished one of his patented jet jobs and ripped through the maze of a blitz on a 45-yard screen pass when Roberson punched the ball out from behind. Eifert fell on it at the St. Louis 20 and one play later Dalton found Green for an 18-yard TD to make it 24-7 with 7:01 left in the third quarter.

"I was blocking my guy and Gio ran past him. My guy made the play," Eifert said. "I was trailing. Luckily I was in the right spot. Oh yeah, he's fast. You're blocking and all of a sudden (Bernard) is on the other side and you're just chasing the ball trying to get a block or being in there in case he fumbles."

Eifert got a pinched nerve in his neck when his shoulder got scrambled on the play and he could have come back. But with the big lead, they kept him out and Eifert said he'd be ready for Cleveland this Sunday.

That's not the way it was drawn up. But Green's first touchdown, just 5:42 into the game, was. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins lined up to press him split wide to the left. But Jenkins let him go and Green was wide open down the left sideline.

"It was some stuff on film," Green said. "We saw the corner jumping the inside route a lot. Andy just told me to get my eyes around and he's going to give me a chance."

 

Cincinnati Bengals host St. Louis Rams at Paul Brown Stadium in week 12 of the regular season.

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