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5 Questions with the Enemy: Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown

We sit down with the contributor over at SB Nation’s Baltimore Ravens site to get the skinny on this week’s matchup.

The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are set to square off for a huge matchup early in the season. The Queen City will be rocking as “The Jungle’s” home opener verges on “must-win” territory.

To help preview the big game, we tapped Kyle Barber of SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown to get the scoop.

1.) AC: Unfortunately, the Ravens suffered a multitude of injuries to varying degrees last week. We know the sad situation for J.K. Dobbins, but what’s the outlook for guys like Ronnie Stanley, Mark Andrews, Marlon Humphrey, and the others in recovery heading into Week 2?

KB: The outlook isn’t positive heading into Week 2 for the majority of Ravens. We’ve yet to see Humphrey participate in practice since undergoing foot surgery. Safety Marcus Williams won’t be on the field either after suffering a torn pec. So, the two best players in the Ravens’ secondary are out.

It’s unlikely we see left tackle Stanley and center Linderbaum after they suffered a knee sprain and ankle sprain, respectively. It’s unclear if Andrews will be back in time. When asked if he’s playing on Thursday, he said, “God willing.”

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2.) AC: What are both the short and long-term plans for the running game with the injury to Dobbins? Is it simply a lot more work for Gus Edwards? Or will Lamar Jackson be getting an uptick in rush attempts? A free agent/trade acquisition?

KB: The Ravens have a hearty stable of running backs available, fortunately. As you mentioned, Edwards is a guy that will likely see more snaps. However, it would appear the Ravens, or at least Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken, is more fond of Justice Hill. He appears to fit the more spread offense he enjoys running. Hill’s expertise in pass blocking could give him the edge, too.

I don’t expect the Ravens to pursue a free agent. If these two aren’t enough to get it done, they have veteran Melvin Gordon III on their practice squad, whom both Head Coach John Harbaugh and Monken are fond of. They also have undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell, expected to return from injured reserve after Week 4, and his speed will be complementary in this offense.

3.) AC: The Ravens’ defense had five sacks on C.J. Stroud last week, and they came from all kinds of different players and schemes. Is the Ravens’ pass rush that much improved (it was already pretty good), or was it the combination of a rookie quarterback in his first start, not a great Texans team, and the wild card that is Week 1?

KB: I think it’s fair to say the Ravens’ pass rush has improved, but I’m not ready to claim they have dominant edge rushers or anything of such nature. I’d chalk it up more toward a rookie quarterback going against a Ravens defense in Week 1.

This team loves getting after inexperienced quarterbacks, and they always come prepared in Week 1. That said, the edge rusher unit, which I had pegged for concern, looked adept at generating pressure. But that’s against a Texans offensive line that was down a couple of their better players.

4.) AC: In our five questions for the Ravens’ side, you asked me about what I feel Baltimore’s plan of attack should be on offense to counter Cincinnati’s defense. I’m going to be lazy and flip that same question on you, asking with Brian Callahan, Joe Burrow and Co. should/could do to exploit anything in Baltimore’s stout defense?

KB: A month ago I’d be recommending the Bengals pick on a depth cornerback with one of the top-end receiving threats the Bengals boast. After all, it’s hard to match defensive back depth with the trio of receivers the Bengals have. But now that Humphrey and Williams are (expected) out, I’d emphasize it more.

Drum up ways to get the outside guys the ball and in one-on-one situations. The Ravens’ strength of the defense now lies with their interior rushers and the inside linebackers. Do your best to avoid Roquan Smith and the interior pressure and get the ball out quickly to exploit the cornerbacks.

Not to say the Ravens have practice squad guys out there like we’ve seen in these matchups before. They added numerous free agents this offseason, including Ronald Darby, Rock Ya-Sin, and Arthur Maulet.

Darby looked solid last week, and I have some real confidence in him. However, Ya-Sin didn’t play until late in the contest last week, and Maulet was inactive. We’ll see if that remains.

As I mentioned, avoiding Smith, Patrick Queen, and the interior defensive line would be wise. On rushing plays, you’re going to need to maybe power it outside the tackles and get a tight end or a guard to skip straight into the second level and remove Smith or Queen from breaking through. Going after the young edge rushers like Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo could be an area, as they just don’t have the nuance of experienced defenders against the run.

Overall, the strength of the Bengals' offense lies in their receivers and quarterback more than any other area. Feed them, and good things tend to happen. Especially when two stars for the Ravens’ defense are on the sideline.

5.) AC: DraftKings has the line at Bengals -3.5 currently. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? How do you see this one playing out?

KB: I’m not confident in the Ravens leaving with a victory. The Bengals are a tough matchup. Add in they’re without Stanley, Linderbaum, Humphrey, Williams, and possibly Andrews, and they’re on the road? I think the Bengals keep a 5-point distance that is challenging to overcome with the protection struggling against a Bengals team that loves to get after the Ravens.

Our thanks to Kyle Barber of SB Nation’s Baltimore Beatdown. You can check out my other conversation with them here with another five questions.