The Baltimore Ravens will head into Cincinnati on Thursday night to take on the Bengals in a key week two divisional match-up with both teams looking to get to 2-0 on the season.
The Ravens demolished the Amherst Central High Sch…I mean Buffalo Bills this past Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium 47-3. It was a dominant performance from the Ravens against a far inferior opponent, but the Bengals figure to present a greater challenge on Thursday night in the Ravens’ first road contest of the season.
While many of the Ravens’ starters were able to rest for a majority of the second half during Sunday’s blowout, the Bengals were locked in a nail biter against the Indianapolis Colts in their season opener. The Bengals prevailed 34-23 after outscoring the Colts 24-7 in the second half.
Here’s what to watch for this Thursday night.
1) Can Joe Flacco change the narrative against the Bengals?
Joe Flacco has really struggled against the Bengals throughout his career. Flacco is 9-10 against them lifetime, but his numbers in those games have been extremely concerning. Flacco is throwing for roughly 203 yards per game and has thrown 19 touchdowns with 23 interceptions against Cincinnati. He also has a 60% completion percentage and a passer rating of 72.
It’s even worse for Flacco at Paul Brown Stadium. He is 3-6 lifetime there, averaging 174 yards per game with six touchdowns and 13 picks. His completion percentage drops to 58% and his passer rating drops to 66. He has been a train wreck in The Queen City.
Flacco got off to a hot start on Sunday, going 25-for-34 for 236 yards and three touchdowns against the Bills. It was encouraging to see each of the free agent wide receiver signees in Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead IV catch touchdown passes in the season-opening victory.
The running game was quiet on Sunday, potentially by design and Cincinnati allowed just 75 yards on 22 carries against the Colts in the opener. Joe and his new toys need to deliver for the Ravens to emerge victorious on Thursday night.
2) How does the offensive line perform against a formidable defensive front?
The Bills came into last week fresh off of a 29th-place finish in total sacks last season, tallying just 27. The Bengals finished with 41 sacks in 2017, placing them just outside of the top 10 and tied with the Ravens for 11th in the NFL last season.
In other words, this is a far more formidable adversary for the Ravens’ offensive line. The line held up well in week one against the Bills, allowing just two sacks on the day. Flacco had to move around in the pocket a good bit, but overall the offensive line did a nice job during the 47-3 drubbing.
However, the Bengals boast a pass rushing duo of Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins who are both looking to prove that they were worthy of their contract extensions that they received this summer. Both players got off to a great start notching week one sacks against the Colts’ Andrew Luck. The two have combined for 16.5 sacks in 28 career games against the Ravens.
This will be a key match-up on Thursday night as the Ravens’ offensive line will face their first test of the season against the Bengals. We’ll know a lot more about this unit and their chances to be successful this season after Thursday night’s contest.
3) Will the Ravens take advantage of the Bengals’ offensive line?
This is the number one key to the game on Thursday night. The Bengals’ offensive line is not quite as poor as the Bill offensive line, but it is certainly close.
The Bengals line up former Bill Cordy Glenn at left tackle, Clint Boling at left guard, rookie Billy Price at center, Christian Westerman at right guard, and Jake Fisher at right tackle. The Ravens recorded six sacks last weekend. Their ability to disrupt Andy Dalton and the Bengals offense is the key to success on Thursday night.
While the Ravens do boast a deep secondary, the absence of Jimmy Smith could be felt in this game if the Ravens end up having Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and company out on an island with A.J. Green, John Ross, and Tyler Boyd. Green is a known “Ravens killer” and is one of the top receivers in the NFL. Ross is the second-year speedster out of Washington who disappointed in his first full season but has 4.4 40 speed. And I’d rather not discuss Boyd’s career highlight. (See 4th and 12)
Last season, the Ravens’ defense tallied five turnovers and five sacks in Cincinnati against Dalton and company last season in a season-opening 20-0 shutout win but they struggled in the season-ending 31-27 crushing defeat at M&T Bank Stadium. In that contest, Dalton was only sacked once and the Ravens only forced one turnover.
Look for this unit to dictate the play early and for this to be the indicator of who comes out on top on Thursday night.
Prediction: Ravens 28 Bengals 27
I think the Ravens’ pass rush will win the battle up front but Cincinnati is too talented to shut down completely. Flacco and the offense will do just enough on the other side of the ball to help the Ravens take sole possession of the AFC North lead.
- When: Thursday, September 13, 8:20 pm
- Where: Paul Brown Stadium Cincinnati, Ohio
- Radio: 98 Rock/WBAL 1090 AM
- TV: NFL Network
- Commentary: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Image Credit: Press Box