There’s something to be said about peaking at the right time in an NFL season. Week 7 might be a bit too early, but the Cincinnati Bengals need to play their best football in order to takedown the Baltimore Ravens on the road. This team certainly has grasped the curiosity of the NFL, but a win against the AFC North leaders would grab the league’s undivided attention.
Here are a few players who will need to play spectacular in order for that to happen.
The first four games of Burrow’s career were far from perfect, but it wasn’t until his fifth game that he looked like a true rookie. The Ravens completely stifled him in Week 5 last year and roughed him up in the process. He was sacked seven times and turned the ball over twice on 39 total drop backs. His knee injury came a month before he could play the Ravens again, so potential revenge had to wait over a year.
Matchup to watch: Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston
The scheme hasn’t changed, but the personnel has. Baltimore’s edges are occupied by a wily veteran in Houston and an upstart rookie in Oweh, with the latter being in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Houston has been much more consistent as a pass-rusher, winning on nearly a quarter of his reps against true pass sets, per Pro Football Focus.
It’s been a minute since Boyd had a signature outing vs. the Ravens. The sixth-year slot man has been hot and cold this year from the perspective of the box scores, and he’s coming off a one-reception for seven yards game last Sunday. If the Ravens know what’s good for them, they’ll put their focus on stopping Ja’Marr Chase. Boyd will have chances to take advantage of the spacing that comes with that.
Matchup to watch: Tavon Young
Not everything has changed with the Ravens’ defense. Young is intimately familiar with Boyd. The two have squared off frequently in this rivalry as both entered the league in the same year in 2016.
Last year’s loss in Baltimore was especially hard for Reader, who left the game on a cart with a torn quad that ended his season. Reader has come all the way back from that injury and is currently playing the best football of his career. He’s been one of the very best run defending defensive tackles through six games, grading out as PFF’s second-highest in that category. He’s also flashed against the pass, but his work stopping the run is where he’ll be counted on the most in this game.
Matchup to watch: Kevin Zeitler
Well hello, old friend. Zeitler has made a habit of facing his former team since leaving Cincinnati in 2017. The only season he did not was in 2019, his first with the New York Giants. He had a near perfect game in pass protection when the Giants beat the Bengals in Paul Brown Stadium last season. Considering who the Bengals were playing at defensive tackle last year, he’ll have much more of a challenge against Reader and Co.
Akeem Davis-Gaither and Mike Hilton
All of Cincinnati’s defense will have to contain Baltimore’s rushing attack, but these two will be critical in fulfilling that task. Davis-Gaither is Lou Anarumo’s third linebacker in their Ravens-specific scheme. He’ll be running lateral all game long, trying to force Lamar Jackson back upfield. Hilton will be in attack mode from the slot to accomplish similar force tasks. These guys may not finish with plenty of tackles, but if their teammates do their jobs, they’ll be able to force Jackson into stops.
Matchup to watch: Lamar Jackson
Jackson’s arm deserves major respect. That said, his presence will force defenses to play 11-on-11 defense every snap. When he looks to run, he can take drives over. Playing with your hair on fire is the only possible counter.