First place in the AFC North is on the line between the Bengals and Ravens on Thursday night. Before last season, the Bengals hadn’t lost to the Ravens at home since New Year’s Day of 2012. Now they look to start a new home streak against their division rivals and start the season 2-0.
To help preview the game, we caught up with Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown to get his perspective on how the Ravens’ match up with the Bengals.
Patrick Judis: The Ravens made a few big name acquisitions at wide receiver during the offseason by bringing in Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV. Then on Sunday we saw all three of those guys get touchdowns, and the ball get spread fairly evenly through the group. Do you think Joe Flacco will continue to spread the ball out, or do you think he has a favorite among the bunch?
Kyle Barber: After watching this offense throughout the entire training camp and preseason, I can confidently state Flacco doesn’t necessarily have a prime target. This offense has a structure to it, and Flacco utilizes these receivers to their strengths. Crabtree is capable of big-time catches and chain-moving routes.
John Brown performs a wide variety of routes to not only sprint straight up-and-down the field but finding space from sideline to sideline. For the slot receiver role, Snead is to find holes in zone coverage to cut up the defense for small chunks of yardage.
It is also understood Flacco loves throwing to his tight ends. Because of this offensive structure, he doesn’t need a favorite, as he has weapons for all types of scenarios.
PJ: Baltimore had six sacks against the Bills, and Cincinnati clearly had issues along the right side of their offensive line in Week 1. Who are some guys Bengals’ fans should be worried about getting pressure right in Andy Dalton’s face?
KB: Matt Judon is the name to fear if the right side of the offensive line is shaky. He’s continued to develop into an outside rushing force. Also, watch for Za’Darius Smith and second-year linebacker Tim Williams. Smith is in a contract year and they’re shuffling him outside and even at the three-tech spot to give him more reps. Both produced a sack against the Bills. Another player to watch is Michael Pierce. He didn’t tally a sack last Sunday, but PFF ranked him fourth among interior defenders for Week 1.
PJ: As of right now, the Bengals look like they will have all their offensive weapons on the field for Thursday Night Football. Outside of A.J. Green, which offensive player do you think will give the Ravens the biggest issues.
KB: My list of worries: A.J. Green, Adriel Jeremiah Green and Green, AJ. Not because the other weapons on the Bengals’ roster are bad, but because of Green’s punishing late-game heroics in seemingly every matchup against Baltimore.
On a real note, I’m nervous about Tyler Eifert. The Ravens struggle to cover tight ends and the Bills never took advantage. Eifert could gash them big if the linebackers and safeties can’t figure him out. Also, Andy Dalton. Somebody is throwing all these passes to Green and Tyler Boyd...
PJ: The Ravens seem to overhaul their roster every offseason. Who is your favorite newcomer to the team, and which player do you miss the most from this offseason?
KB: John Brown is electric. Yes, he utilizes his speed, but he’s not only explosive in nine-routes. He’s using his acceleration and top-end running in comebacks, in’s, out’s and double-moves. It’s hard for a cornerback to defend a player when the receiver is both changing direction and shifting gears.
I’m looking over the 2017 roster and finding nobody I really miss. I did like Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson, but I don’t miss them. The Ravens needed to get younger and the wide receiver room needed changing.
PJ: The Bengals have won seven of the last nine games against the Ravens. Including Week 17 last year when they ruined Baltimore’s chances at the playoffs. How do you think the Ravens will be able to reverse their fortunes on Thursday Night?
KB: Offensive production is the difference-maker for Thursday night. Far too often, Baltimore either hangs in games or leaves the door open for the opposition due to the lack of scoring. They kick field goals and the game becomes a one or two-possession game in the fourth quarter.
That’s why Week 1 meant a lot. Flacco, in the sideways rain, scored 40 points before exiting the field midway through the third quarter. If they can move the chains and put touchdowns on the board, the defense will get enough rest to create pressure and force turnovers, which is the recipe for winning in the NFL.
Thanks to Kyle Barber for taking out some time to answer our questions. You can find more of his and his fellow writers thoughts at Baltimore Beatdown.