The Cincinnati Bengals’ offseason was conducted with beating the Baltimore Ravens in mind. That 49-13 loss from 11 months ago still stings, and a defensive overhaul was conducted with the intention of flipping the script.
This is why Cincinnati’s defense has the spotlight on them in Baltimore, despite Joe Burrow making his debut against the reigning AFC North champions. Here are the players and matchups we’re most interested in.
Now that the is some semblance of stability (for now) at right guard in Alex Redmond, we can turn some of our focus to the other guard spot. Jordan has had the luxury of playing between the Bengals’ two best offensive lineman and having the other two positions in a constant state of foulness. He himself has not exactly played like the player the coaching staff has hyped him up to being through four games.
Jordan’s still just 22 years old and at this point, he just might not be a consistent starter yet. But if Redmond turns in another decent outing and Xavier Su’a-Filo is ready to come back, Jordan’s job could be in jeopardy. He needs to play a lot more consistent, starting this week.
The Matchup: Calais Campbell — Campbell lines up all over the Ravens’ odd front, but he’ll be used inside on passing downs. The lanky long-time veteran is a tough draw for most guards. Jordan will have a lot asked of him here.
The return is finally here. Atkins is set to make his season debut against a team he knows far too well. This time, he won’t face future Hall of Fame right guard Marshal Yanda, as Baltimore is playing their first season since Yanda’s retirement.
It’ll be interesting to see how much Atkins plays in his first game back. Considering he got in one full practice this week, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo may not be ready to have him play his regular workload. A point of emphasis from this offseason was limiting how much Atkins was on the field in order to keep him fresh for the second half of the season. Does that change slightly because Atkins hasn’t played in four weeks? We’ll find out on Sunday.
The Matchup: Bradley Bozeman — The Ravens will have a backup at right guard, but Atkins typically faces the opposition’s left guard for most of the game. Bozeman has played his best football of his young career this season at left guard. Atkins has his work cut out for him right out of the gate.
The headlining story was that Carlos Dunlap is no longer a starter at defensive end for Cincinnati’s defense. The other angle to that narrative is that Lawson has stepped his game up to now be featured in a larger role. This will be Lawson’s fourth start of his career, but the first one not due to injuries ahead of him on the depth chart. It’s a big deal regardless of the fact that Lawson has been playing over 50% of the defense’s snaps every week this season.
This won’t be a cake walk for Lawson, though. The Ravens have two tackles in Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown that can more than hold their own in both phases of blocking. But this is his opportunity to establish himself as a core member of this defense.
The Matchup: Ronnie Stanley — Lawson will rush from both sides this game, but he’ll face Stanley more than Brown. Stanley is the superior pass blocker out of the two anyways, so Lawson’s success against him has more value.
The last two weeks have not been great for Davis-Gaither. He’s been asked to drop in coverage for the vast majority of his snaps, so any mistake against the pass will be amplified compared to the snaps where he was mistake-free. The Ravens have an explosive passing game that features more vertical concepts than horizontal, and the latter got the Bengals and Davis-Gaither in trouble last week.
Logan Wilson’s return should help Davis-Gaither this week, but he needs to improve if he wishes to stay on the field and keep Jordan Evans and Markus Bailey off of it.
The Matchup: Mark Andrews — The NFL’s most underrated tight end has converted 10 of his first 12 receptions into first downs this season. He’s a dangerous weapon inside the hashmarks on seam routes, and on third down, we’ll probably see Davis-Gaither carry him up field in coverage.
Through four weeks, Bell has been practically invisible on the Bengals’ defense. That’s good because he hasn’t made many mistakes, but a lack of impact plays has also been evident. A crucial stop on a two-point conversion was by far Bell’s best play of the young season last week. Less than 40% of Bell’s tackles this season have been stops for Cincinnati’s defense.
Bell’s lack of meaningful production hasn’t been due to improper utilization, though. He’s been a true box safety and has occasionally lined up in the slot. Expect to see Bell in the same spots against Baltimore.
The Matchup: Lamar Jackson — Bell staying home as a force player will be so critical for the Bengals contain Jackson as a runner. He may not finish with a tackle on the reigning quarterback, but he was signed to help combat offenses like this one.