Bengals vs. Ravens: Three Matchups to Watch

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Sep 20, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) takes the field against the San Diego Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Matchup 1: Andy Dalton vs. Ravens Defense

The Red Rifle has been spectacular thus far this season, completing 41 of his 60 passes (68.3 percent completion) for 483 yards and five touchdowns. Dalton’s passer rating is an impressive 120.3; he hasn’t been sacked, thrown an interception or fumbled the ball. He’s looked great in wins over both Oakland and San Diego, blowing out the Raiders (he was our Silent Standout in that win) and slinging the ball all over the Chargers defense in a less-lopsided Week 2 win.

Taking on a Ravens defense that has been somewhat vulnerable against the pass, Dalton enters the game throwing a career-low 30 passes per game yet averaging 241.5 yards passing per game (nearly 30 yards per game more than he threw for in 2014)–now that’s efficiency. Hue Jackson has done a great job constructing an offense that doesn’t necessitate Dalton taking over and slinging the ball all over the field like he was once forced to do under former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. In Jackson’s system, Dalton’s yards-per-attempt, completion percentage and touchdown percentage are all currently at a career high, and he hasn’t even turned the ball over once.

Sep 20, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) celebrates throwing a touchdown to tight end Tyler Eifert (not pictured) in the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 24-19. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Dalton completed 46 of 66 of his passes against Baltimore in 2014, throwing for 567 yards, a touchdown and an interception. In these two games, Cincinnati’s leading rusher (Giovani Bernard in both games) ran for less than 50 yards against a stout Ravens defensive line led by Haloti Ngata–who has since been traded to the Lions. We’ll get to the running game in a bit, but the point is that Dalton was forced to sling it on Baltimore’s defense. And if Baltimore can stop the running game, Dalton will be forced to sling it again.

This game is a huge chance for Andy Dalton to prove that he’s more than just a mediocre quarterback; he’s one of the AFC’s top signal-callers and has an arsenal with whom he can connect. A.J. Green has been relatively quiet aside from a beautiful catch against San Diego; he needs to have a huge game against the Ravens this week. While he missed the Bengals’ second win over Baltimore, A.J. Green caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati’s Week 1 win in Baltimore last season. Against a vulnerable Ravens secondary, it’s time for Green to show that he’s back to being an elite receiver.

The bottom line: This is a huge game for Andy Dalton, as he has a chance to both knock out the Ravens with a win and demonstrate that he truly is an improved quarterback rather than just a guy on a hot streak.

Next: Establishing a Running Game

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