Andy Dalton, quarterback
Dalton's career stats against the Ravens are abysmal: 51.7 percent completion percentage, four touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 53.6 (his worst against any team). Against the Ravens' 3-4 defense, Dalton's bad habits reared their ugly heads. He forced throws into tight coverage, held onto the ball too long for sacks, and stared down receivers.
Fortunately, Dalton has faced 3-4 defenses this entire preseason and been very impressive. In 65 snaps, which is about a normal NFL game, Dalton has a 70.6 percent completion percentage, 372 yards, one touchdown, and more importantly zero turnovers. He is throwing accurately and quickly to the correct receivers. His pocket presence has improved and his deep throws are on the money.
Dalton does have a few other things going for him. Tyler Eifert said that he is "100 percent" after missing most of the preseason with a nagging shoulder issue. Gresham and Eifert have not been on the field at all together in the preseason, so the Ravens have no idea what Hue Jackson's two tight end offense will look like. Tight end screens and throws down the seam could be very successful.
Additionally, the Ravens' top three corners have been banged up this preseason. Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Asa Jackson have combined to take only 39 total snaps the entire preseason. As they shake off the rust, A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu, and Dane Sanzenbacher should be able to gain separation for some easy catches.
Maybe Green will present the "challenge" that starting safety Darian Stewart is looking for. Green had no problems running by the Ravens' safeties in week 17 last year.
We'll see which Andy comes out to play this Sunday. A solid showing would go a long way in changing the national narrative on Dalton this year.
Russell Bodine, center
I don't like picking the same player on back-to-back weeks, but Mr. Bodine has forced my hand. The Bengals media (1) (2) seems to think that Bodine will be matched up against Haloti Ngata for most of the game, but this isn't true. The real matchup is against the second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams, and it's not much better for Bodine.
Williams has drawn very favorable reviews in the preseason. After the third preseason game, John Harbuagh said, "he was dominant, absolutely controlled the middle of the line of scrimmage." He also earned a +4.3 grade for run defense, while Bodine earned a -5.4 grade for run blocking this preseason.
In other words, the 305-pound Bodine will be tasked with steering and pushing the 335-pound Williams.
In pass protection, Bodine has looked good enough against normal four man rushes. However, defenders have slipped through the gaps on stunts and Bodine has been blown back by linebacker blitzes. If the Bengals struggle to run the ball , they will end up in third-and-long situations, where they will certainly see exotic blitzes and stunts (and Bodine will see the athletic freaks like Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty, Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, etc... get a running start straight at him)
Of course, Bodine will also have to make these tricky protection calls with 71,000 Ravens fans screaming their heads off at M&T Bank Stadium.
With all these things going in Bodine's head, he can't forget he is snapping to a quarterback that is 6'2", not 10'2".
Emmanuel Lamur, strong side linebacker
For a defender expected to play every down, Lamur has had a quiet training camp and preseason. He didn't allow much in coverage, which is his forte, but his run stopping ability remains a question mark. If he doesn't get hurt, he'll get over 1,000 snaps this season to answer that question.
He looks much thinner than his fellow starters Burfict and Maualuga. He doesn't take on blocks with as much physicality. He's also missed two tackles this preseason, allowing Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer to spin off of him.
He did look good as a pass rusher in the preseason, recording a sack and two hurries in only eight pass rushing snaps.
Obviously, he's a young player without much game experience, as linebacker coach Kevin Burke reminds us.
"You forget there’s some stuff he hasn’t seen and he hasn’t been through," Burke said. "As a linebacker you have to see a lot of things. Run fits and schemes that are happening live and in real time and it builds muscle memory and he doesn’t have some of those experiences. He looks at you. You can see him go through the process and then you remember he hasn’t been through that before. We have to coach him up. He’s responded well the last few weeks. He’s a unique athlete."
That unique athletic ability will certainly serve him well as he covers tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels. This is where he thrives. Lamur is taller than both of these players and can run faster than both of them too. They'll have to make catches with Lamur in tight coverage.
Lamur will be also tasked with covering the Ravens' running backs out of the backfield. Shutting down Flacco's check down options will lead to sacks and bad throws.
Terence Newman, cornerback
Happy 36th birthday, Terence Newman. According to my research, Terence Newman is now the oldest cornerback on a roster in the NFL (Champ Bailey was cut by the Saints last week).
He can certainly still play cornerback. He's technically sound and knows this defense very well. In training camp, he and Adam Jones recorded the most pass breakups, Newman's two interceptions in the preseason were both due miscommunications between quarterback and receiver.
You can bet that the Ravens are licking their lips after they saw the tape of Cardinals' receiver Michael Floyd beating Newman on a go route for a would-be touchdown that was barely overthrown by Palmer. Newman can probably keep up with Steve Smith, but not Torrey Smith. I would be shocked if they didn't try a few deep throws to Torrey Smith down the right sideline throughout the game.
There aren't many weaknesses on the Bengals defense, but Newman's long speed is one of them.
Jeremy Hill, running back
I almost went with the one of the pass rushing defensive ends (Carlos Dunlap or Margus Hunt) who are going up a new set of offensive tackles in Ricky Wagner and Eugene Monroe. However, I went back to the offensive side of the ball with an impact rookie.
The run blocking won't be clean in this game, not against this front seven. That's why it's so important to have two running backs who can make unblocked defenders miss.
If the blocking isn't there for Gio Bernard (like what happened in week 17 with 13 carries for 22 yards), there shouldn't be a drop in production when the team goes to it's other back. With two backs who should average over four yards a carry this season, that means fewer third and long situations and less pressure on Dalton.
Hill has also shown he can be a factor in the passing game. He has surprising speed for a 238-pound back, as he showed on a 40-yard screen during the preseason against the Colts. He has looked good enough in pass protection, too. A sack on Jason Campbell in the Colts game looked like a miscommunication on the protection call, so we don't know who's fault it really was.
If the Bengals have the lead in the fourth quarter, they will probably turn to Jeremy Hill to run against a stacked box to close out the game.