In any given week, a team has a number of facets in which they need to succeed in order to secure a win. Obviously, each team brings a separate set of matchup issues and the like, but the Cincinnati Bengals’ familiarity with the Baltimore Ravens should have them studying repeated areas.
Scott Schulze and I spoke about some of the biggest keys to a Bengals victory on this week’s episode of The Orange and Black Insider, but here are a few more.
Keep Baltimore’s pass-catching running backs under control:
The Ravens have had trouble getting the receivers they’ve added in recent years healthy and acclimated to their offense, which was prevalent in the preseason. Throw in Joe Flacco just returning to practice for the first time because of a herniated disc in his back and issues pushing the ball down the field could surface on Sunday.
Baltimore added the versatile Danny Woodhead this offseason and he should be a nice underneath option for Flacco. The big-armed Ravens quarterback seems likely to either check-down or go deep, so Cincinnati’s defense will need to be ready to immediately wrap-up backs in the passing game.
Stick to the Ravens’ tight ends like glue:
Much like Flacco’s probable preference to dump the ball off to running backs because of possible rust on Sunday, he’ll also likely look at Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams as other outlets for easy completions. Aside from a couple of seasons under Mike Zimmer, the Bengals’ defense has often struggled keeping opposing tight ends at bay.
Making things more difficult for Cincinnati’s defense is the probable absence of safety Shawn Williams, as well as Vontaze Burfict being out serving a suspension, so this is an area the Ravens might look to exploit. Vincent Rey, Nick Vigil, Josh Shaw and others will all need to limit the damage done here.
Pressure Joe Flacco by mixing up looks up front:
One of the most promising aspects of an otherwise underwhelming preseason from the Bengals was their ability to get to the passer. Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson made some great plays this summer and should be nice rotational pieces throughout 2017.
In games where the Bengals have had the most success against the Ravens, they have brought heat on Flacco. Using their stars in Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, as well as kicking Michael Johnson inside on passing downs will be effective. Using Lawson and Willis with those varied looks will be a good strategy on Sunday.
Protect Andy Dalton at all costs:
This is obvious and cliche, but it’s uber-important. In last year’s opener against the New York Jets, the Bengals let up seven sacks and it set the tone for a somewhat-underachieving season from the team’s offensive line for the rest of 2016. With their two best linemen bolting in free agency this spring, it’s imperative the big boys up front have a solid day against a Ravens defense that always seems to know how to get to the passer.
Terrell Suggs has had an outstanding career, but Andrew Whitworth rendered him almost totally useless over the years, so Cedric Ogbuehi will need to pick up that torch. Given the personnel attrition this spring, the first sense of constant pressure may force Dalton to get skittish for the entire game.
A skill player besides A.J. Green stepping up:
While we don’t want to guarantee a big day from the Bengals’ star receiver, his six touchdowns and three 100-yard receiving games during the past five contests against the Ravens point to another huge performance. Still, the Ravens added Marlon Humphrey, Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr to their secondary this offseason, obviously noting what Green, among others, have been able to do against them recently.
Whether it’s one of the three solid running backs, an ancillary receiver, or Tyler Eifert making plays, the Bengals need to properly use their packed stable of exciting pieces. Baltimore will undoubtedly bracket coverage to Green, so if they are able to contain him, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese will need to get creative with other talented pieces.
You can catch the audio of this OBI segment here at SoundCloud.
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