It’s the playoffs, what more needs to be said?
This was when the Cincinnati Bengals of old would max out on anxiety, and the fear would trickle down to the fanbase and everywhere else. Wild card weekend was the final stopping point for three decades for this franchise. The run they embarked exactly a year ago has made this part of the schedule just another weekend in the journey.
The notion that the postseason is a whole new ball game rings true no matter what metric or historical evidence you bring to the table. Win streaks entering mid-January are rendered borderline useless once you enter survive and advance territory. Yes, you absolutely want to be playing your best football as the regular season closes, but as Vonn Bell stated, a 12-4 record is just the ticket to get in.
Records are now reset, and the Bengals are right where they want to be. This club embodies the charismatic and big-moment-embracing nature that quarterback Joe Burrow exudes in his every action. The results aren’t always pretty, but you never suit up for a do-or-die game feeling outmatched with No. 9 leading the charge.
That brings us to a second-straight matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, who should feel objectively outmatched if they’re preparing to go out there without Lamar Jackson once more. But Jackson doesn’t play defense, and that’s where the Ravens can hang their hats as a playoff team.
In a way, playing the same team twice in a week’s time is almost as comforting as it is nerve-racking. Every perceived disadvantage has an equally advantageous flip side. Film study becomes more streamlined as their most recent performance came in the very game you played in. Past tendencies can be compared to the freshest film possible to discover which cards where indeed being held close to the chest.
Essentially, whether or not both teams showcased their full playbook, the familiarity they have with each other creates a net zero sum in regards to preparedness. When the season’s on the line, there’s no sense in doing anything that isn’t a strength of the personnel you have. The top-two teams in the AFC North are acutely aware of what makes each other dangerous.
In two games vs. the Ravens this season, Burrow has been blitzed a grand total of six times, per Pro Football Focus. He completed four of six passes for 86 yards and a touchdown to Ja’Marr Chase. Blitzing Burrow is such a well-known losing proposition that the Ravens rarely bother, and when they do, the pre-snap appearance looks nothing like what comes afterwards.
This will be the challenge for a Bengals offensive line that has a new right guard-right tackle tandem. The Ravens can disrupt Burrow’s timing and rhythm with well-disguised and simulated pressures, and perfectly-timed blitzes. It’s their only chance should Burrow’s accuracy bounce back to standard levels after he missed a handful of throws he’s accustomed to making last Sunday.
Here are a few plays from Week 18 that have surely been discussed in meetings this week.