Following a dramatic finish where the Bengals knocked the Ravens out of playoff contention. Baltimore looks to even the score in a week 2 AFC North Showdown
Against the Colts, this team looked a little rusty in first game action of the season. Some miscommunication, silly mistakes, and questionable penalties forced a 16-10 deficit at the half. What made last week different though, was that the Cincinnati Bengals and coach Marvin Lewis seemed to actually adjust for the second half. Instead of normally coming out with no momentum, the Bengals scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to upend the Colts in Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time in franchise history.
While there were plenty of opportunities for improvement and celebration, the road doesn’t get smoother. Tonight, the defensive-minded Baltimore Ravens come to town for primetime Thursday Night Football. After scoring 47 points against the Buffalo Bills last week, quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens look to take a commanding division lead and hand the Bengals their first loss. Here are some positions to watch heading into this match up.
Bengals’ Offensive Line vs. Ravens’ Pass Rush
The specialty of the Ravens is their tenacious defense. The pass rush for the Ravens features 16 year veteran Terrell Suggs who has become a household name at the linebacker position. Against the Bills, Suggs provided constant pressure and even had a sack. The Raven’s defense posted six total sacks last week, and are also known to have cornerbacks blitz (CB Tavon Young had 2).
The offensive line for the Bengals showed some weak spots for sure in week 1. Right Guard Bobby Hart constantly struggled against the rush and wasn’t able to adjust to the speed of the defensive ends at certain points and even gave up one of the two total sacks they allowed. If he continues to struggle the team could replace him with Christian Westerman,who shined in the preseason, or Cedric Ogbuehi.
Rookie Billy Price and Alex Redmond gave strong showings, and aside from Price making one error due to his foot being caught, they provided decent protection. With the way the Ravens mix up their pass rush and give different looks, communication and moving with your guy is going to be the key to staving off Suggs and company.
Bengals’ Secondary Against Ravens’ Receivers
The Ravens have a dynamic trio of receivers that torched the Bills defense last week. Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown all scored touchdowns and are all downfield threats with their speed. In order to prevent the deep passes, the Bengals’ secondary can’t let them get behind the safeties.
Star corner William Jackson will probably be on Crabtree, so it will be up to Dre Kirkpatrick, Jessie Bates and Shawn Williams/Clayton Fejedelem, depending on if Williams is able to play, to guard Snead and Brown. By preventing the deep ball, the Bengals can force short passes and controlled check downs that can force longer drives and third down situations. This is a key to keeping the Ravens’ offense off the field.
Mixon it Up on Offense
Besides being the all-around best player and workhorse on the field against the Colts (95 rushing yards on 17 attempts with a touchdown), running back Joe Mixon was also one of the top receiving targets besides A.j. Green. Catching 5 passes for 54 yards, Mixon was popular in the screen and short pass situation. Speedy receiver John Ross only had one catch for three yards, but he also caught his first touchdown. The Bengals need to spread the field and get Ross, tight end Tyler Eifert (three catches for 44 yards), and Tyler Boyd (three catches for 26 yards) more pass attempts.
Throwing the short pass to Mixon will be expected and can force third and long situations the Bengals don’t want to be in. While the screen will be beneficial to bail quarterback Andy Dalton out of defensive pressure, getting other receivers involved will be key. Establishing the run with Mixon early will allow that to happen. The Bengals aren’t efficient in third down situations over 5 yards, so this will be key for them throughout the game.
The Lamar Jackson Factor
Selected in the first round of the NFL Draft this year, Heisman winner and backup quarterback Lamar Jackson is a weapon the Ravens will unleash. With the dual threat of his run game and passing ability, I would expect the Ravens will use Jackson in different schemes tonight.
While Flacco is the Super Bowl winning quarterback for this team and starter, he isn’t as mobile as Jackson. In pressure situations, Jackson can take off and easily so leading tackler Nick Vigil and company will have their hands full and their eyes in the backfield.
AFC North Division Showdown
With the Ravens looking like a strong candidate to win the division and looking to avenge the week 17 loss last year, expect them to come out hungry and ready to go. The Bengals can’t start out slow and hope for a second half miracle similar to week 1. If the offensive line can give Dalton just enough time to complete passes and allow lanes for Mixon to break free, they have a shot to win. Both sides of the ball are going to have to step up.
The primetime lights haven’t been kind to the Bengals in the past, but the future is now and this team can definitely compete with anyone. Prediction is Bengals winning 17-14 in a tightly contested battle. Game time is 8:20 pm at Paul Brown Stadium.