This game reminds me of a certain Paul Rudd gif. You know the one.
“Look at us. Who would have though? Not me.”
Nearly midway through the season, and the Cincinnati Bengals are playing the Baltimore Ravens for the top spot in the AFC North.
It won’t be easy, but the Bengals have a real shot. Here is what they need to do to bring a win home from Baltimore.
Bengals and Ravens playing for the top spot in the AFC North pic.twitter.com/YvO9YAedXj— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 21, 2021
Joe Burrow’s “welcome to the NFL” moment came at the hands of Wink Martindale and the Baltimore Ravens’ defense last year. For the first time in his young career, he looked like a rookie. They threw a number of defensive looks at him, that he had never seen before, and the offense couldn’t get much of anything going.
Despite taking seven sacks, Burrow being Burrow, he started to look comfortable towards the end of the game. You could tell he was figuring it out, but it was much too late. It left Bengals’ fans hungry for the rematch. What could the highly-intelligent Burrow do against this defense in Round 2? Unfortunately, he didn’t get to see the Ravens again in 2020.
How much has Burrow and this offense grown in a year?
Can they win a chess match with arguably the best defensive coordinator in the NFL?
Is Ja’Marr Chase the X-factor they need to put the Ravens defense on the ropes?
These are the big questions heading into the Baltimore game. If this year’s offense can matchup with the Ravens’ defense, we are in for a treat this weekend.
Protection and Blitz Pick-Up
The offensive line problem remains a looming shadow over the Bengals’ offense. Although Jonah Williams and Quinton Spain have held down the fort on the left side and Riley Reiff has been a massive upgraded at right tackle, the other two spots have been an issue. Trey Hopkins has not been himself and Jackson Carman has shown promise, if not consistency, beside him.
This isn’t just about the offensive line, though. The Ravens run a complex defensive scheme and will send pressure from all angles. The entire offense, including Burrow and the running backs, needs to be on their game mentally. They need to understand how the protection works and their role within it.
They need to keep Burrow clean and upright so he can go to work against the Baltimore secondary.
How good is this defense, really?
They played pretty well against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, but Davante Adams still put up crazy numbers.
Going back a year, they actually played pretty well against Baltimore early in 2020. True, Lamar Jackson was coming off an injury, but John Harbaugh commented after the game that he didn’t have an answer for how the Bengals were playing them.
Baltimore’s offense is different this year. Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins are out, and the passing game has played a much larger role. Of course, the Bengals’ defense is also very different.
Containing Jackson in both the run and the pass game is the key for this defense. He likes to get the ball to Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews. The defense knew that last year and bracketed them when they ran vertically. Now the Ravens have a rookie receiver in Rashod Bateman who is an added threat, so it may not be quite as simple.
This will be a real challenge.
Win the Turnover Battle
For everything good that Joe Burrow has done, he is throwing too many interceptions.
For everything good the Bengals have done defensively, they don’t create nearly enough turnovers. In fact, outside of Logan Wilson’s impressive four interceptions, they only have two turnovers this season.
The Bengals have a turnover differential of negative-two. They aren’t going to beat the Ravens like that. They need to win the turnover battle this Sunday.
If you want to beat the Baltimore Ravens, you can’t waste time or opportunities.
They need to come out of the gates strong, but they need to keep it up for four quarters. They cannot give the ball right back to Lamar Jackson and company with a three and out or a turnover.
The Bengals won’t be able to make the mistakes they made last week and still go into halftime up by ten.
The defense can’t have breakdowns in their gap responsibilities, coverage, contain of the quarterback. They have to make the Ravens earn the yards they get. They need to prevent big plays and continue to play well in the Red Zone.
They need to be at the top of their game from start to finish.