Flying with the Flock: Ravens vs. Bengals Preview
FLYING WITH THE FLOCK: RAVENS VS. BENGALS PREVIEW – This is an organizational gut check. If the Ravens lose at home, wearing all-black uniforms in primetime, facing their most hated rival, the season will be in jeopardy. That may seem harsh, but they need this win to have a realistic shot at the division.
Bad Mood Bengals
It’s a tough time to face the Bengals. A week ago, they seemed destined to climb out of their annual early-season slump, but a shocking loss to the Texans has them sitting just above .500 at the bottom of the division. Cincy will be reeling, feisty, and desperate, a scary thought for a team oozing with talent.
Joe Burrow’s costly turnovers hurt the Bengals last week, but I wouldn’t bank on back-to-back stinkers from the elite quarterback. But the Ravens should be healthy, talented, and motivated enough to repel even the most dominant Burrow performance.
No Tee Party
In these teams’ week two matchup, the Bengals’ comeback efforts were almost single-handedly propelled by Tee Higgins. The fourth-year wide receiver caught eight passes for 89 yards and two scores.
Higgins’ being sidelined with a hamstring injury means the pressure to carry the load at receiver falls in the very capable hands of J’marr Chase. Though Chase gave the Ravens a beating of historic proportions in his first game against them, the superstar receiver has been kept in check in the Mike MacDonald era.
Chase had a 90.7 PFF grade facing man coverage entering week 10, but the Ravens won’t give him many one-on-one looks. Baltimore runs zone at a 70 percent clip, and on the rare plays they do dial-up man coverage, odds are Chase will have a safety over top of him.
Ravens Run Defense
In an uncharacteristic development, the Ravens have been average against the run. They’ve allowed 4.1 yards per carry – 17th in the NFL this season.
The Browns, in particular Jerome Ford, gashed the Ravens on the ground last Sunday. Cleveland has shown the ability to run on anyone (second in yards per game), certainly at a higher level than the Bengals who rank in the bottom five of both yards per rush and yards per game. For years, people have lamented Cincy’s noncommittal relationship with running the ball.
Joe Mixon is a solid running back and appears to have regained some burst from early in his career. Mixon’s 3.9-yard average ranks 26th in the league, but it’s misleading. The Bengals rarely get under center, which limits the creativity of the run game and decreases the likelihood of big gains.
Mixon is a chain mover, ranking third in first-down rushes this season. He impacts the game running inside zones out of the gun in short-yardage situations to sustain Cincy’s drives. It’s not a flashy role, but Mixon is effective in it.
Deep Ball Difficulties
If there’s one area for improvement on this Ravens offense, it’s the vertical passing game. Lamar Jackson has struggled to connect on deep passes, frequently sailing low-trajectory passes over the heads of his receivers.
If Jackson isn’t able to give his receivers a playable pass, he at least needs to learn to underthrow rather than overthrow them. NFL refs give away PI calls on underthrown passes like they get paid on a per-flag basis.
If Jackson can start hitting these passes, this offense will become unstoppable. Imagine a world where defenses have to worry about the 4.3 running back in front of them and the 4.3 receiver behind them. Oh, and Jackson isn’t bad with the ball in his hands either.
It’s hard to call a regular season matchup a legacy game, but this one is big for Lamar Jackson. The former MVP has been forced to watch the Bengals’ last two division championships from the sideline.
This is the first time since 2020 that he’ll have faced the Bengals twice in a season. And with arguably the best-supporting cast he’s had in his career, Jackson must find a way to win this game to set the Ravens up for the brutal stretch ahead.