The AFC North leaders, your Cincinnati Bengals, travel to Maryland to face the 0-2 Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. This is a very tough matchup despite the standings and the fact that the John Harbaugh led team is coming off an ugly loss at the hands of the Oakland Raiders in Week 2.
Cincinnati's offense has been hard to stop so far, and the injury to Terrell Suggs has left a void hard for the Ravens' defense to fill. At least the Ravens' offense came back to life last Sunday, after struggling mightly in Denver. It will be the Ravens' home opener and they will be desperate to avoid their worst start in franchise history. The Bengals could give them a blow with a divisional win that could also be crucial come December.
Let's take a look at who Cincinnati should be more aware of when they take on the Ravens this weekend. We focus in on the Ravens' game against the Raiders, as the Bengals played them in Week 1. We also stayed away from the obvious: their quarterback, Joe Flacco and their star linebacker C.J. Mosley.
1) Steve Smith Sr.
Right now, the loss of Torrey Smith in free agency is hurting the Ravens. Joe Flacco does not have a reliable deep threat - yet - and Breshad Perriman, their first round pick in the 2015 draft, is sidelined with a knee injury until October, at least. What has not changed is Smith Sr. He was an absolute beast against the weak Raiders' secondary, and feasted on their zone coverages off play action fakes:
He also attacked on one-on-one matchups in the edge:
Here he is on a pick play (and I know this was an incomplete pass that should have been a touchdown, but it was not his fault at all):
Despite not having anyone drawing attention on the opposite side, he makes up for it with reliable hands, toughness and savvyness. He is a great route runner and was impressive in Week 2. He had 10 catches for 150 yards, moving him up to the No. 17 on the all-time receiving list. It was just an outstanding effort by the former Panther, who at age 36 said it would be his last season on the field.
Adam Jones will have his hands full on Sunday, but I'm sure he is really looking forward to facing him.
2) Elvis Dumervil
With Suggs down, the Miami native has to become a three-down outside linebacker, instead of a pure pass rusher. He was ineffective against the much maligned Raiders' offensive line, but Courtney Upshaw was even worse. Still, Dumervil managed to notch up four pressures to lead the Ravens' defense, and had a couple of good plays, also drawing a penalty. He has a phenomenal first step that Andre Smith has to account for. Baltimore is desperate for some pass rush and Dumervil is the guy who is going to give it to them. Anything he can provide will be key, given how badly their secondary was beaten up by Oakland's receivers.
I have some doubts, after watching him play, that he can handle an entire game like he did in Oakland, where he looked tired at some points and did not play the run with full effort.
Cincinnati should punish their lack of rotation there, even though this week they signed veteran journeyman Jason Babin to fill in for Suggs.
3) Crockett Gillmore
The second-year tight end was big in the o.Co Coliseum. He had two touchdowns and changed the entire Raiders' defensive game plan after the first half. In the opening quarter Baltimore was able to do this - and it triggered the Ravens to pull the old Bill Belichick trick with the eligible receiver:
After the halftime break he was even triple-teamed and Flacco had to go all Steve Smith Sr. in the third quarter. The Ravens want to go get their tight ends involved in the game after losing Pitta for the season and drafting Gillmore in the third round in 2014 and Maxx Williams in the second round this year. The Bengals linebackers will need to be aware of the Ravens tight ends or Crockett could make the Bengals pay. This is very important because most of the throws in the Ravens game against the Radiers came off play action fakes, so Cincinnati has to stop the run early and often to minimize this risks.
Gillmore is also the only big red zone target the Ravens have, even though they tried in their second drive to score with fades to Smith and Aiken.
4) Justin Forsett
He is not a one-year wonder. The former Seahawk, Colt, Texan and Jaguar was key for his team and had a couple of big third down conversions. His success also allows Flacco to go for the play action fake much more often, opening the field for his receivers. He had 68 yards on 15 carries against Oakland behind their zone blocking scheme and was one of the biggest stories in the NFL last season.
In the fourth quarter he kept his team alive and gave them a great chance to wrap up the game - even though Marc Trestman might disagree.
5) Marshal Yanda
What a nightmare awaits for Yanda and fellow offensive lineman Rick Wagner on Sunday: Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. Yanda also happens to be one of the best in the NFL at what he does, and was good against Dan Williams and Khalil Mack in Week 2. A four-time Pro Bowler, one-time All-Pro, two-time second-team All-Pro and three-time PFF All-Pro, Yanda is still at his prime, and will have to be on top of his game against the Bengals' four front. If Eugene Monroe is back on the left side, the Ravens will deploy with an elite offensive line anchored by their right guard.