The Cincinnati Bengals begin the 2017 season just as they ended the 2016 season more than eight months ago - facing the Baltimore Ravens. With this being a new season there is much we don’t know about our team, or the Ravens. Therefore we asked Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown for an inside look at the Bengals’ opponent to open the 2017 NFL season.
Scott Schulze: The last time the Bengals and Ravens faced off, the top rushers were Kenneth Dixon and Rex Burkhead – neither of whom are playing for the Ravens or Bengals this weekend. With Dixon’s suspension, what does the Ravens’ rushing attack look like this season?
Kyle Barber: Baltimore's rushing attack looks much more fine-tuned this season, as opposed to last year. The addition of Greg Roman and Joe D'Alessandris clearly helped build this team to run the football. The rushing attack is back to north-south runs, where Terrance West and Javorius Allen excel. Though multiple offensive lineman have been lost to free agency, retirement and season-ending injuries, the team has enough talent to manage.
SS: For years, the Ravens were known for their tough defense. With Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, and Elvis Dumervil all gone. What are the expectations from C.J. Mosley, the ageless Terrell Suggs, and their defensive counterparts?
KB: The defense will be incredible this season. Baltimore spent big money in free agency, signing safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Brandon Carr and re-signing star defensive tackle, Brandon Williams. The front office also used the first four draft picks on defensive players. I expect to see a familiar Ravens team this year, ground-and-pound offense coupled with punishing defensive play. My expectations for C.J. Mosley: another All-Pro season. He's fast, smart, and his instincts are some of the best among inside linebackers. With such a defensive unit, the Ravens’ front makes his job rather easy, cleaning up rather than chasing down. Sizzle is fighting Father Time every day, but I expect Terrell to produce at a high level. Anywhere from eight to 12 sacks sounds manageable for the pass rusher.
SS: Who was the biggest roster surprise for the Ravens’ final 53-man roster?
KB: Cornerback Jaylen Hill was the biggest surprise player for the Ravens. An undrafted free agent, he wasn't given a contract when the Ravens called him. Instead, he received a tryout and then was called back for camp with a contract. Since then, he made two interceptions and bullied receivers throughout the entire preseason. An absolute blessing for this team, as Tavon Young suffered an ACL tear during OTAs. Hill has helped fill the void as a small, but fast, slot corner.
SS: The Bengals have won six of the last seven matchups between these two teams. What do you see being the difference maker in 2017 for the Ravens to turn this around?
KB: The Ravens can't seem to figure out A.J. Green. Or they figure him out for three quarters, then forget he exists in the fourth quarter. Either way, I believe this changes with the new defensive back group. Eric Weddle, Jefferson, Carr and Smith will keep Green in check, or as much as any team can. I believe the loss of Andrew Whitworth is huge for the Ravens, as he consistently stone-walled Suggs. The free agent losses of the Bengals were in areas Baltimore excelled, which could prove favorable for the Ravens.
SS: The Bengals and Ravens series holds an all-time head-to-head record of 21-21. Who wins this rubber-match Sunday, and what’s the score?
KB: Baltimore is winning this opener. Not because it will be a blowout, because it won't be, but because Cincinnati is playing without Adam Jones, Vontaze Burfict, and Shawn Williams. John Ross is expected to miss the opener also. The Ravens front will pressure Andy Dalton early and often, certainly with the losses of Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. This is a big disadvantage to overcome.
Joe Flacco returning with only a week of practice will keep the offense from producing anything of great value. The game will be a Ravens classic, defense and special teams flipping the field or Tucker kicking ridiculous field goals. The Bengals will certainly put up an incredible effort, as we all know they do, but Tucker's kicking and the defense holds tough for 60 minutes.
Ravens 19, Bengals 10.
Who wins on Sunday?
This poll is closed