The Cincinnati Bengals start off with a difficult task in the first week of the 2017 season, as they host a divisional foe in the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. Even though the Bengals have gone 5-1 against Baltimore since 2014, these games always give us some of the wackiest plays of the year.
Here are some of the biggest individual matchups to keep an eye on this Sunday, as the Ravens travel to Paul Brown Stadium.
Left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi versus edge rusher Terrell Suggs:
The veteran pass-rusher has had a borderline Hall of Fame career and still seems to be very effective. Even though he missed most of 2015, Suggs has still managed to get 30 sacks since 2013. With all of the success he’s had over the years, he was almost-always stymied by Andrew Whitworth on the left side.
Aside from needing to see overall improvement from Ogbuehi in his first year starting at left tackle, he’ll need to keep Suggs at bay Sunday afternoon. If Suggs can get to Andy Dalton, it will not only show the effectiveness the Bengals will be missing from Whitworth in 2017, but will also prove the old Raven still has something left in the tank in his 15th season.
Linebacker Nick Vigil versus tight end Nick Boyle:
The Bengals will be doing a lot of “by committee” approaches this year, as some of their younger players continue to get their feet under them. In limited preseason time, Vigil was effective, showing off the range that drew Cincinnati to him in the third round of last year’s draft.
Even with Vigil’s athleticism, the Bengals have had a hard time finding effective answers to eliminating tight ends from the opposition’s arsenal. He’ll be even further under the microscope against the likes of Boyle, as Vontaze Burfict, the team’s best linebacker, will be out of the lineup with a suspension.
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard versus wide receiver Mike Wallace:
Joining Burfict on the Week 1 suspension list is Adam Jones, who had an off-field incident in January. Even though he’s up there in age, Jones is still a very effective corner in the NFL. Given how the most recent depth chart released by the Bengals looks, it will be Dennard, and not William Jackson III, lining up on the outside.
Jackson and his combination of size and length seem to be a better matchup on paper against Wallace, but Cincinnati is going with experience. Dennard will have to play some of the best football we’ve seen from him since he joined the Bengals, should they want to have a solid shot at winning on Sunday.
Wide receiver A.J. Green versus cornerback Brandon Carr:
To put it bluntly, the Ravens have yet to find an answer for Green. The Pro Bowl wideout has absolutely torched Baltimore recently, including six touchdown catches and three 100-yard receiving performances (one was for 227 yards) against the vaunted Ravens defense.
A.J. Green's last five career games vs. #Ravens:— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) September 6, 2017
Even though he failed to live up to his mega-deal with the Dallas Cowboys, Green is a major reason as to why the Ravens signed Carr. They need some sort of answer to at least contain Dalton’s favorite weapon, and Carr could be the guy. Still, the veteran corner has just one interception over the last three seasons, so he’ll need to make a big jump in performance right away for the Ravens.
Running back Jeremy Hill versus linebacker C.J. Mosley:
Because of the excitement he brought this preseason, one is inclined to think Joe Mixon is the guy to watch here, but Hill is atop the depth chart at the position. In recent matchups, the Bengals have been able to get some gigantic plays in the passing game against Baltimore, but they have struggled getting consistency in the running game.
Though they lost two mainstays on the offensive line this offseason, the Bengals are committed to making the run game work well this year. With three second-round picks invested at the position, the team has a plethora of talent. Mixon might be the best of the group, in terms of making something out of seemingly nothing, but Hill is the big back who is playing for a new contract somewhere in 2018.
Mosley has been a solid pickup for a seemingly-always stout Ravens defense, so he and Hill will clash early and often on Sunday. If Hill can get chunk yardage early on, Dalton and Co. will gain confidence and be able to properly utilize play-action passing.
Kick returner Alex Erickson versus specialists Sam Koch and Justin Tucker:
Erickson exploded on the preseason scene last year after going undrafted and followed it up with a nice rookie campaign returning kicks for the Bengals. This preseason, Erickson didn’t have the same success, whether it was because he was a bit more tentative with sensing his solid roster status, or a lot of new faces helping out on special teams.
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh comes from a special teams background, and it shows. Tucker and Koch are two of the best in the business and will be trying to disallow Erickson to make any plays. If the Bengals’ offense happens to sputter on Sunday, the second-year return man will be a key factor.