Previewing Game 10: Bengals at Ravens
With Joe Flacco likely sidelined with a hip injury, it seems that it is going to be time for Lamar Jackson to see his first start as a NFL QB. There are a lot of people who are very interested to see what the Ravens offense could look like with their rookie QB under center. Indeed, there has been talk across the league since the day Jackson was drafted about when this time would arrive and for better or worse, it looks like that time is now. How that impacts the Ravens and their postseason aspirations is yet to be determined, but Jackson couldn’t have been thrust into the starting role in a more critical situation. At 4-5 the Ravens are in desperate need of a victory, and with Divisional opponent Cincinnati visiting Baltimore, the stakes are even higher.
Fortunately for Jackson (let’s just assume he starts from here on) and the Ravens, the Bengals are in an ugly spiral where they have had historically poor defensive performances after allowing 500+ yards of offense three weeks in a row. Granted, they have played three of the top offenses in the league, but even when adjusting for opponent the Bengals defense stinks. Cincinnati’s defense is rated 26th in the league by DVOA and they have been especially bad against the rush allowing 141.2 rush yards per game and 5.0 YPC while posting the 30th ranked rushing defense DVOA.
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It is certainly going to be interesting to see how the Ravens game-plan for this critical match-up. They have at their disposal one of the most electric playmakers in the NFL at the QB position, so will Marty Mornhinweg and Greg Roman unleash him? We have seen what kind of impact Jackson can have on the game as a wildcat QB or lined up as a WR, but as the full-time starter, it is really difficult to gauge how the offense will look. In the preseason when Jackson took a fair number of reps, the offense looked fairly pedestrian with a few designed rushes mixed in here or there. One has to wonder if the coaching staff has had a plan in place for Jackson just in case the Ravens would find themselves in this position.
Another player who may benefit from having Jackson at QB is Alex Collins. We have seen him take advantage of the strain Jackson puts on defenses several times this season, and I have to think the zone read will be a big component of the offensive game-plan this coming week. The Bengals could be without a number of their defensive starters including LBs Vontaze Burfict, Preston Brown, Vincent Rey and Nick Vigil and the status of CBs Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard is up in the air. With so many defenders sidelined, the Ravens will be in a good position to utilize the running ability of Jackson and Collins. The Bengals are not completely bereft of talent on defense however as DT Geno Atkins and DE Carlos Dunlap are one of the more dangerous pass-rushing duos in the NFL, and the Ravens could potentially be without OTs Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst once again. Outside of games where the Ravens have been up 3 or more scores, Mornhinweg has been hesitant to commit to running the football, but perhaps the stars have aligned for the Ravens to finally embrace the ground game in week 11.
The Ravens defense, while still rated well by most metrics, has also been frustratingly inconsistent from week to week. They have posted a shutout, and held some very good offenses to yardage and scoring totals well below their averages, but they have also let some fairly mediocre teams score 30+ points against them. Perhaps even more telling is the inconsistency of the pass-rush. One week, they go out and set a Franchise record with 11 sacks against the Tennessee Titans, and then manage a paltry total of 2 sacks over the next 3 games, all of which were losses. Part of this may be injury related, as the absence of Willie Henry and Tim Williams has put more of a burden on the rest of the front 7, but players like Terrell Suggs and Matthew Judon have to step up.
I have to hope that a week of rest and the possible return of Williams should help, but there also needs to be a re-examination of what was working so well early in the season, and a real investigation into why have the Ravens not been able to replicate those results. It certainly hasn’t been because of a lack of aggression as the Ravens are the 2nd highest blitzing team in the NFL, but why has that not led to more pressure, sacks, and turnovers? Hopefully, Wink Martindale will be able to figure out what is and is not working and push the right buttons as the fate of the Ravens season essentially hangs in the balance. For better or worse, defense is still the Ravens calling-card, and if they hope to go on any sort of run to make a push for the postseason, the defense is what is going to carry them there.
The Bengals are likely going to be without star WR A.J. Green, who in case you didn’t remember scored three TDs against the Ravens in week 2. This is obviously a huge loss for the Bengals, and it will impact their entire offense if he can’t play. Second year WR John Ross has shown flashes of playmaking ability, but has largely been a disappointment through 2 seasons, while Tyler Boyd has emerged as a reliable pass-catcher for Andy Dalton. The Ravens will have to make sure the speedy Ross doesn’t beat them deep, but if Green can’t go, Boyd will be the main target to worry about. RB Joe Mixon is also a dangerous pass-catcher, and he has some explosive ability in the open field. However, he has not proven to be a very physical runner in the NFL, and the Ravens stout DL should not have too many problems keeping him contained in this match-up.
All things considered, this is a must win game for the Ravens, and I think they will show up and play very well at home. Regardless of who starts at QB, there needs be a game-plan set in place that will take advantage of a flimsy Cincinnati defense. In the end, I think the Ravens defense will set the tone and carry the team to victory, 27 – 13.