Monday night saw another hand injury to a Bengals quarterback on a turnover. It seemed as though the injury bug was coming back to haunt the Cincinnati Bengals a second time when it was reported that AJ McCarron had sprained his left, non-throwing wrist on the final play of the game against the Denver Broncos last week. Now, McCarron is gearing up to start his third NFL game after the injury, saying it won't limit him this week.
The initial scare was that Cincinnati would be going into Week 17 with Keith Wenning, a quarterback who has never had an NFL start before, let alone a throw during a regular-seaosn NFL game.. It's easy to see why this would cause panic, but when analyzing the matchup against the Baltimore Ravens this week, it is clear to see there is no reason to be distressed, regardless of who plays at quarterback.
When comparing Cincinnati to Baltimore, Cincinnati comes out on top in most aspects of the game. Cincinnati's run game has been superior to Baltimore's this year, as Jeremy Hill has 698 yards and Giovani Bernard had 694, helping the Bengals get to 1,660 yards rushing as a whole. Meanwhile, Baltimore's Justin Forsett has just 641 yards, and the Ravens as a whole have 1,419 yards rushing so far this season. On the opposite side of the rushing attack, the run defense stats do not stack up in Baltimore's favor either. The Bengals come into Week 17 having allowed 1,418 yards rushing this season, which is good enough to rank them seventh in the league in rushing yards allowed. Baltimore, on the other hand, has given up more rushing yards this season than their team has actually gained. The Ravens' defense has allowed 1,516 rushing yards this season. While the Bengals do not have a completely dominant edge in the run game, they do have a clear advantage, and they will need to utilize that to win on Sunday as McCarron plays his third start with a sprained wrist.
The running game is not the only advantage that Cincinnati has this week. When looking at the receiving stats for each team, it is clear that Cincinnati has a deeper group of receivers who should have success against a struggling Ravens defense. The Bengals are averaging 12.4 yards-per-reception, which is more than two yards better than what they have held their opponents to all season, and it is also about two yards better than what the Ravens have averaged all season. Meanwhile, Baltimore has been allowing more yards per-catch than they have been getting, as Baltimore's opponents have averaged 11.4 yards on each catch. On top of that, Cincinnati's receivers have been much better at making big plays and getting in the end zone. The Bengals have had 61 catches of 20 yards or more, along with 29 touchdowns. Baltimore has had 52 receptions of 20 yards or more, and only 20 touchdown catches this season. On the defensive side of the passing game, Baltimore has allowed 28 receiving touchdowns. With a big play threat in A.J. Green out on the field along with other outstanding receivers, Cincinnati should have a good day when it comes to the mismatches in the secondary.
One aspect of the game that is not exactly in favor of the Bengals, but that will still be important to the game, is punting. Getting Baltimore's offense off the field and getting the Cincinnati offense as many chances as possible will be key to putting up big numbers on offense this week. Baltimore and Cincinnati are tied in number of punts forced this season, as both teams have made the opponent punt 73 times Playing into Cincinnati's favor though, is that the Bengals have punted much less than the Ravens. Cincinnati has punted 56 times this season, while Baltimore has punted 70 times. Cincinnati's defense will need to hold strong and get themselves off the field quickly in order to make Baltimore punt frequently.
Cincinnati pulled out a win the first time these two teams met in Baltimore this season but now two different quarterbacks will play this game. Without Dalton, and with McCarron having a sprained wrist, Week 17 becomes less definite for the Bengals than it was before. However, Cincinnati will have home-field advantage, and the depth of this Bengals team will continue to show this week as they will exploit their advantages in the run game, utilize their superior weapons in the passing game, and keep the Baltimore offense off the field to secure a win.