The Cincinnati Bengals are coming off one of the most embarrassing losses in team history and are set to host their first game of the 2023 campaign on Sunday, as they face the Baltimore Ravens at Paycor Stadium.
The offense couldn’t get anything going against the Cleveland Browns in Week 1 and are looking to get back on track to avoid not only losing the first two games of the season for the second consecutive year, but they’re looking to not start the year in an 0-2 hole in the division.
Here are five matchups that could change the outcome of the game on Sunday.
Joe Burrow vs. Joe Burrow
We’re about to find out what kind of player Burrow is. I mean, I think we already know, but we haven’t seen Burrow lay an egg quite like he did in Week 1. He completed only 14 of 31 passes for 82 yards without any touchdowns or interceptions. He couldn’t hold on to the ball in the heavy rain, and he and his receivers, especially Tee Higgins, weren’t on the same page.
Everyone has bad games, but the greatest are able to shrug them off and go out the next week like nothing bad has ever happened. What kind of player is Burrow? Will he hit the field running after a bad performance, or will he be shaky again?
I think we all know it’s the former.
Mike Hilton vs. Zay Flowers
It has kind of been a running joke that the Ravens haven’t given quarterback Lamar Jackson the necessary weapons to help him win games. Outside of tight end Mark Andrews, Jackson has been surrounded by a sub-par receiving corps. This offseason, they not only brought in free agent Odell Beckham Jr., but they also selected slot receiver Zay Flowers out of Boston College in the first round.
In Week 1, Flowers led the Ravens with nine catches for 78 yards. Mike Hilton, the Bengals slot corner, will face Flowers often. Much of what Hilton does well is against the run and blitzing off the edge, but when he is in man coverage, he’ll need to stick by Flowers’ side as it’s clear the young receiver has already earned the trust of Jackson.
Lou Anarumo vs. Lamar Jackson
Jackson is one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, and when he’s healthy, he’s capable of taking the ball all the way to the end zone, through the air or on the ground, every time he touches it. There aren’t many players who can stop Jackson one-on-one, so it’s up to Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo to stop him.
Anarumo, affectionately known as “the mad scientist,” has devised plans to limit Patrick Mahomes, as well as some of the other great quarterbacks in the NFL, and while Jackson has a winning record against the Bengals, the defense he’ll face on Sunday, helmed by Anarumo, will certainly have something up their sleeve to make sure they limit for former MVP.
Bengals linebackers and safeties vs. Mark Andrews
Tre Flowers used to be the tight end specialist for the Bengals. He left after the 2022 season in free agency and left the Bengals without the guy who covered the elite tight ends the team faces every year, like Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews.
Andrews missed Week 1 and will be making his season debut against the Bengals on Sunday, and it will be interesting to see if Anarumo has picked a Flowers replacement or if a combination of linebackers and safeties will cover Andrews, one of the most talented tight ends in the league. Limiting Andrews could be the difference between winning and losing in Week 2.
Zac Taylor vs. Ravens defense
In Week 1, it was clear early that Burrow didn’t look quite right. What did look right was running back Joe Mixon, who ran with a tenacity we didn’t see very much in 2022. However, Mixon only carried the ball 13 times.
Hopefully, Burrow looks like Burrow on Sunday, and taking the ball out of his hands is unnecessary. However, if his calf still isn’t 100 percent, or if he isn’t quite on the same page with his receivers yet, it would be nice to see Taylor feed Mixon and establish the run game.
Every game doesn’t have to be a Burrow game. As long as the end result is a win, I’d be happy to see an old-school Mixon game.
Bonus: Tee Higgins vs. Everyone
We all know what Tee Higgins is. He’s a true No. 1 receiver who happens to play on one of maybe two teams where there happens to be a wide receiver who’s better. The only other player I’d say is better, other than Ja’Marr Chase, is Justin Jefferson. Watching him not have any catches in Week 1 was painful.
I’d love to see Higgins have a touchdown and over 100 yards receiving in Week 2. Then I’d love to see the Bengals extend him for a few more years.
What? A fella can dream!