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5 Bengals to watch for against the Ravens

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Wide receiver Tyler Boyd needs to keep his hot streak against the Ravens alive without A.J. Green.

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Cincinnati Bengals Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A lot has happened in the days following the Bengals destruction at the hands of the Saints this past Sunday. Former defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been relieved of his duties, and Hue Jackson, who’s title is, well, a little less official, has been brought in to help head coach Marvin Lewis help him run the defense.

Thankfully, we’re at the end of the week and we get to look forward to a very winnable game against a division rival. Here are the five players to key in on when watching the Bengals take on the Ravens.

Andy Dalton

During the last month for the Bengals, all eyes have been on the defense. Meanwhile, the Bengals quarterback hasn’t exactly been carrying his weight.

The Bengals’ offense remains in the top third of the league in scoring, but everything else has been porous. They’re 21st in passing yardage, 25th in rushing yardage and 25th in total yardage. Their per play rankings aren’t quite as bad, and that’s because the offense has been stalling. That has been evident when you look at Dalton inside and outside the red zone.

Simply put, Dalton has been a bottom-tier quarterback this season when the play doesn’t take place from the red zone. Once he arrives there, he elevates to another level.

Dalton has long been known as an efficient passer inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, but the discrepancy is too big to ignore. Without A.J. Green, we saw how inept Dalton looked against a weak Saints pass defense. Green will not be present for this game either, and he can’t struggle like he did last week if they expect to win.

Tyler Boyd

Boyd against the Ravens has recently become must-see TV. We all remember his heroics in Week 17 of last season, and he followed that performance with another 90-yard game along with a touchdown back when the two teams met earlier in the year. By now, the Ravens know to respect Boyd for who he is.

“I know they don’t have A.J. (Green), but I think Boyd, in the past two games, we didn’t really give him much respect, and he’s definitely showed us we should,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said earlier this week. Clearly Boyd has earned respect in that locker room, and without the true Ravens-killer Green playing alongside him, it will be interesting to see how effective he is this time around.

Geno Atkins

Following the Bengals’ Week 5 victory over the Dolphins, Atkins had racked up sacks five and six on his season and the Bengals were an AFC North-leading 4-1. Since then, Cincinnati has fell to 5-4 and Atkins has been stuck at six sacks. The All-Pro pass-rusher hasn’t been able to get a quarterback takedown in over a month now, and he was barely noticeable in their losses to the Steelers and Saints in Weeks 6 and 10 respectively.

Atkins is still generating solid production, but the expectations for him are at a level where that production is relatively underwhelming. Part of the Bengals’ defensive struggles has been their lack of a pass rush, and not having Carl Lawson to wreck havoc on the edge for the rest of the year hurts. But Atkins needs to play better nevertheless, and against a solid Ravens interior offensive line is as good of a place as any to re-ignite his season.

Hardy Nickerson

It’s looking like Preston Brown will miss his third game of the season with a knee injury that has kept him out of practice this week. Despite his obvious incompetence, Nickerson remains Brown’s backup at MIKE linebacker and will fill in for accordingly for as long as Brown is out. Hopeful it’s just for this game.

Nickerson actually didn’t play too bad in the first meeting with the Ravens back in September when Brown missed his first game, but that was the exception rather than the norm. Regardless, Nickerson’s situation has likely improved with Marvin Lewis officially taking over the defense. The connection between the Bengals head coach and the son of his former player from the 90s is well known now, and Nickerson will continue to get chances when starters go down in front of him.

Shawn Williams

In the days leading up to that Week 2 game on Thursday night, Williams’ name was in headlines regarding his hit on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck’s helmet in their Week 1 matchup. Williams was ejected from that game, and had a quick turnaround to play the Ravens, and did he ever show up to play.

Williams finished the game with six solo tackles (five of them being stops), an interception and a strip-sack on quarterback Joe Flacco. His incredible performance essentially put the nail in the Ravens’ coffin despite their efforts at a second-half comeback, and his value as a defensive captain to bounce back from a shortened debut was proven.

Of late, that value has been tested. While his teammate Jessie Bates has sent shockwaves through the Defensive Rookie of the Year race, Williams has been awfully quiet recently while the rest of the defense has seemingly fallen apart. No matter who the quarterback for the Ravens ends up being on Sunday, Williams needs to put together a solid game to get the Bengals’ defense back on track.