We spoke with Nathan Beaucage of Baltimore Beatdown to get his thoughts on the Bengals and Ravens matchup. You can also check out our answers to Baltimore Beatdown's questions here.
Q: It is only Week 3, but with the Ravens starting 0-2 and the Bengals 2-0, does it feel like this is a must win game for the Ravens?
A: Absolutely. An 0-3 start would be dreadful, and it could potentially turn into 0-4 the week after when the Ravens face the Steelers. With the AFC North likely only sending one team to the playoffs, on account of a tough schedule, divisional games mean everything. There is no doubt in my mind that the result of this game shapes the Ravens' destiny for 2015.
Q: After playing very well Week 1 in Denver, the Ravens defense played very poor in Oakland last week. What went wrong in Oakland and how much of the defensive issues can be attributed to the loss of Terrell Suggs?
A: I don't know what happened. It was a pretty bad showing in all components. No pass rush and subpar coverage really did the Ravens in. While it's easy to blame the players for this one, the play calling from Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has really had us scratching our heads for years now. With his conservative 'bend but don't break' defense plaguing a team filled with playmakers, many are calling for him to go. If he doesn't turn it around, I'm absolutely in agreement with that.
As for Suggs, not even he could fix our defensive woes last week. On paper, the team certainly has the guys to fill in for him. We've yet to see that happen on the field, but the team certainly has plenty of pass rushing talent, with or without Suggs.
Q: Joe Flacco had his best season in 2014 with Gary Kubiak calling the plays. How has Flacco looked under Marc Trestman's system? And how does Trestman's offense differ from Kubiak's?
A: Well first of all, we aren't 100% sure what Trestman's system looks like. Week 2's offense was in stark contrast to Week 1's, so we need a few more weeks to really see what Trestman is installing. It's important to note that many were calling for Kubiak's head last year after his offense started off really bad, so it's a wait and see game.
The Trestman scheme we've seen so far is pretty similar to last year's scheme under Kubiak. That was expected, since Coach Harbaugh and Trestman made it clear that they weren't reinventing Kubiak's wheel. The staples of Kubiak's offense, the play action, short passes, and somewhat conservative play calling are all there. What's noticeably missing so far is the deep ball and run game. Last year's offense was stellar due to Justin Forsett's ability to keep defenses honest. This year, the team seems determined to not give it to Forsett. It's headache-inducing to say the least. I hope this offense has evolved even more coming into Week 3, but I remain skeptical.
Q: What are the strengths of the 2015 Ravens? And, what areas of this Ravens team concern you?
A: All of the strengths that we thought we had haven't shown up. That top 5 offensive line? They're on the side of a milk carton. The beastly pass rush? They showed up, but stayed home last week. As for glaring weaknesses, it's by far the wide receiver group. I doubt most NFL fans could name a Ravens receiver other than Steve Smith. The other guys beside Smith have been okay, but nothing fantastic. The Ravens really need Breshad Perriman on the field before teams will respect the pass game.
Q: The Ravens have finished third in the AFC North the last two seasons, but have been picked by many to make it to Super Bowl 50. What is different about this Ravens team which makes them a Super Bowl pick by so many?
A: The Ravens blew two 14-point leads last year to lose to the Patriots in the AFC Divisional Game, and this was with the worst secondary known to mankind. I think it's fair to hypothesize that they could beat the Colts in the Championship Game too if they didn't blow those leads. So when you consider that a lot of the AFC contenders had big question marks surrounding them this offseason, like the Patriots, it's pretty easy to see why the Ravens, who seemed pretty stable this offseason were a popular Super Bowl pick.
Q: On Sunday, the Ravens win if...
A: They score more points than the Bengals.
While the Ravens obviously have to do that, it will be a tall task to accomplish. For the Ravens to win, they need to field Week 1's dominant defense, and Week 2's prolific passing offense. The team simply can't win if one unit sucks. No more conservative defense, no more offensive line woes, and absolutely no mistakes.
This Bengals team is the toughest one in years, and it doesn't help that the Ravens have had recent troubles against them. If Baltimore wants to win, they have to be on their A-game.
Q: On Sunday, the Bengals win if...
A: The Ravens field this crappy conservative defense again. Every third down it seems, the Ravens play very loose and allow their opponent to gain a first down on a simple short route. It's infuriating, and both the Broncos and Raiders took advantage of it. The Ravens have allowed an above-average amount of third down conversions, and need to stop drives early on the all-important third down. If the Bengals can exploit this just like the last two opponents, it will be a long day for the Ravens.
Q: What is your prediction for Sunday?
A: Week 1, I was pessimistic. A realist if you will. We weren't going to win that game, and I was right. Week 2, I was cautiously optimistic. It was a game we should've won, but the Ravens always mind-bogglingly drop a game they should not have. It's an annual tradition.
Week 3 is a whole different story. I'm going full purple-tinted glasses, which isn't normal for me. The Ravens are pumped and pissed, and this sold-out Baltimore crowd is going to propel this team to victory. Even though the Bengals might look better on paper, paper burns when Joe Flacco drops the straight fire with a 300+ yards, 3 TD performance. I'm calling this one a 28-14 victory for the Ravens. No regrets.