WEMBLEY, England - Sunday's mirror offenses reflected the Rams' lethal deep passing game and the Bengals' new-found running attack as wide receiver Cooper Kupp's 65-yard touchdown catch off a double reverse flea flicker gave Los Angeles a 17-10 halftime lead at Wembley Stadium.
When running back Joe Mixon caught a one-yard flip after quarterback Andy Dalton's fake of a jet sweep handoff, the Bengals were tied at 10 with 5:18 left in the first half and it was courtesy of a running game that had 81 yards at that point after coming into the game averaging 53.
After Dalton went deep on third-and-one and from his 45, head coach Zac Taylor went 2-for-2 on fourth downs when Mixon pounded for three behind center Trey Hopkins and his guards. Mixon then rambled for 13 behind right guard Alex Redmond and on the next snap, with lineman Michael Jordan reporting eligible, running back Giovani Bernard squirted out from behind left guard Billy Price and made a bevy of Rams miss for his longest run of the year, a 25-yarder.
With Mixon churning for 53 yards on 10 carries, the Bengals had their earliest offensive touchdown in weeks. He also helped Dalton pull into a tie with Bengals legend Ken Anderson. With Anderson looking on from his Wembley seat, he saw Dalton throw his 197th touchdown pass.
But the Bengals just couldn't cover Kupp. Moments after tying the game, the Bengals saw the Rams run a double reverse flea flicker that started on a flip to Kupp. It ended up with Kupp catching quarterback Jared Goff's pass downfield and the play was compounded when cornerback B.W. Webb fell down. That allowed Kupp to finish a 65-yard touchdown play that put the Rams ahead, 17-10, with 3:57 left in an astounding half he finished with five catches for 165 yards.
The Bengals crept into field goal range on their next series, but got sacked out of it when Dalton hit the deck on linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo's hit.
Still, it's as crisp as the Bengals offense has looked early since the opener. Dalton was 15 of 19 in the half for 141 yards and a 115.1 passer rating. And he had to be because the Bengals couldn't get near Goff and he torched them for 273 yards on those same 19 passes. He hit 13 of them, four of them for at least 30 yards.
On the Bengals' first series Dalton fired two big completions, a 27-yarder to tight end Tyler Eifert for his longest catch of the year on third-and-long down the seam beating safety Taylor Rapp. Then he got wide receiver Tyler Boyd for 22 working out of the slot against cornerback Nickell Roby-Coleman on fourth-and-two on a nice back-shoulder fade that Boyd swiped from Roby-Coleman.
But this is why the Bengals are 30th in red-zone offense. Dalton took a coverage sack on first down (Dante Folwer got him from the right) and on third-and-five Hopkins was called for a false start. After their 21st trip inside the 20, they were stuck at 33 percent on seven touchdowns when Randy Bullock hit a 28-yard field goal on the first play of the second quarter. No points but they did take the ball away from the Rams for 6:44.
The defense had a great shot to back up the Rams after a big kick-off tackle by LaRoy Reynolds and were facing a third-and-six from the Rams 12. But, again, they just couldn't cover Kupp. He was wide open over the middle for 32 yards. Then on third-and-eight he went for 23 over the middle again with Goff getting no pressure. Then Goff found wide receiver Josh Reynolds matched up on rookie middle linebacker Germaine Pratt in the slot and he beat him long for a 31-yard touchdown to put the Rams up, 10-3 with 10:43 left in the first half.
At that point the Bengals had stuffed the run (six carries for 16 yards, 10 for 35 for the half) and Rams wide receiver Brandin Cooks was gone with a concussion on the first series. But they couldn't get heat on Goff and while they tried to funnel help to the corners, Kupp killed them underneath. With 11 minutes left in the half the man had four catches for 101 yards while Goff was sitting unscathed, nine of 12 for 181 yards.
The Bengals changed strategy with a couple of double tight end sets on that first series, but after a holding call on defensive tackle Aaron Donald and a 13-yard run by Mixon to the right perimeter, they went on a three-and-out. They tried a flip to Mixon (for three) and a run to Bernard up the middle (for three) out of a couple of heavy formations and on third-and-four they went mult- wides. One of the receivers was Eifert, split wide, and Dalton tried to hit him on a slant and the play was broken up. But the more use of double tight ends and linemen seemed to give the run game a lift.
View photos from London as the Bengals square off against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8.
PRE-GAME NOTES: Left tackle Andre Smith got the call against the Rams Sunday at Wembley Stadium, so it's assumed he'll be in the Bengals starting lineup for the first time since he injured his ankle and missed the last two games.
Also back for the first in two games and expected to start was left end Carlos Dunlap (knee), giving them eight defensive linemen and they needed them all against the Rams running game. Backup left end Carl Lawson (hamstring) was out for the second straight week.
Alex Redmond got his second straight start with right guard John Miller (groin) out. As expected, slot cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hamstring) was out, joining starter Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), out for the second straight week. With Smith back, third quarterback Jake Dolegala was back on the inactive list.
So was wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle), but if you go by looks, the next time we see him could be the next game of the season, Nov. 10 against the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium. Green appears to be going into the bye cutting and running at a good pace, judging by Sunday's pre-game workout administered by Bengals rehab chief Nick Cosgray.
As he left the field, Green joked to receivers coach Bob Bicknell, "Give me 20 snaps," and Bicknell joked back, "I'd keep you out there."