As the Cincinnati Bengals savor their 2-0 start, they get to the meat of their schedule with their first divisional game of the year this Sunday. In the Andy Dalton era, the Bengals have split the series with Baltimore at 4-4, with Cincinnati getting the sweep last year, even with a slew of injuries.
Throughout Marvin Lewis' tenure as Bengals' head coach, defense has defined the series. Whether it's a lack thereof, or big turnovers to swap the momentum, weird plays have defined the outcomes. Still, it's the individual one-on-ones that end up having a huge impact on the scoreboard. We take a look at some of the biggest individual clashes of Sunday afternoon.
Andy Dalton versus Will Hill:
The Bengals' quarterback has had his share of ups-and-downs against Baltimore, and he might be facing similar adversity on Sunday. Dalton is on one of his best two-game stretches of his career, but has been prone to streaks--both positive and negative. Hill has had a renaissance in Baltimore after off-field issues derailed his career with the Giants, but he's still no Ed Reed. Cincinnati's signal-caller will have his full arsenal at his disposal this time around, and Hill will be on the lookout for deep balls to Marvin Jones and chain-moving throws to Tyler Eifert.
Brandon Thompson versus Justin Forsett:
Even though the Bengals swept the Ravens last year, Forsett had some good runs in limited action. He's found a home in Baltimore's zone run-blocking scheme and his short stature combined with his quickness gives defenses headaches. Both Pat Sims and Marcus Hardison will be unavailable for the first of the two divisional showdowns, so Thompson will need to show up big after not being activated for the first two games. Perhaps the resurgence of Geno Atkins and the return of Michael Johnson will take pressure off of the fourth-year defensive tackle, but he'll need to be on his toes against the versatile Ravens running back.
Marshall Yanda versus Geno Atkins:
It's Pro Bowler against Pro Bowler here. Atkins seems revived from the knee injury he suffered in 2013, posting two sacks and multiple disruptions in just two games. Yanda is a savvy lineman who will do what he can to negate Atkins' skill set. With Sims seeming to be out, the workload will be on the defensive tackles who are active. Atkins is the key to what the Bengals do up front, so if Yanda is able to negate his impact, it could be a long day for the Cincinnati defense.
Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith versus A.J. Green:
The Bengals' Pro Bowl wide out hasn't dominated in the two games as expected, but he is always a threat. Green has eaten the Ravens alive in his career, be it on pretty deep passes, tipped balls and/or Hail Mary's, so the Ravens defense is on watch. Hue Jackson loves to mix things up, so Green will undoubtedly line up outside and in the slot. Webb and Smith had a tough day against the Raiders' wide receivers, gaining multiple penalties and ultimately giving up the game-winning touchdown. However, Green is a different animal and could see big play opportunities on Sunday.
C.J. Mosley versus Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard:
The second-year linebacker has impressed, but he isn't Ray Lewis. The Bengals have a formidable rushing attack, with Hill gaining the tough yards and touchdowns, while Bernard gashes a defense for big gains. Last week, No. 32 had fumbling issues, but luckily Bernard stepped up with the second-best rushing day of his career. It's always tough to run against the Ravens, even if they're 0-2, so Jackson will need to create a formula that works for Cincinnati. Mosley is a tackling-fiend, as evidenced by his 133 total last year, so Hill and Bernard will need to break open-field tackles, should they get the opportunity.