Previewing Week 2: Ravens at Bengals
The Ravens week 1 performance went about as well as anyone could have hoped for. There were a few mistakes, but overall it was a dominant effort. For those of you who appreciate the advanced metrics, the Ravens DVOA following week 1 is 2nd best in the NFL, and the Ravens defense is far and away the best in the league by the same metric. Even playing against an inferior opponent, the defense played about as well as could be imagined. They held the Bills without a first down in the entire first half, and perhaps more importantly, it was mostly the unheralded players who were making all of the plays. Two 3rd round picks from 2017, Tim Williams and Chris Wormley both had massive efforts, and rookie LB Kenny Young looked like a future star in the making. We also saw players coming back off injury and playing incredibly well with DE Brent Urban and CB Tavon Young both making a huge impact. There is a lot to look forward to with this Ravens defense if the young playmakers can keep this type of play up.
As good as the defense looked, the way the offense performed may be even more impressive. The Bills are not a bad defensive team, and the Joe Flacco led offense looked like a completely different unit, perhaps because it largely is. All three of the new Ravens WRs caught TD passes from Flacco who looked calm and in control the entire time. Even when the pocket was breaking down around him, the Ravens signalcaller was able to maneuver away from pressure to find open receivers. The offensive line may still be a work in progress, but having a healthy Flacco and real weapons to throw to means they don’t have to be flawless in order for the offense to be effective.
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Looking ahead to week 2 at Cincinnati, the Ravens are going to face stiffer competition as the Bengals carry the 8th best DVOA following week 1. The Bengals have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL led by DT Geno Atkins and DE Carlos Dunlap who have given the Ravens fits for years. This will be a true test for Center Matt Skura as Atkins is one of the premier interior pass-rushers in the league.
It will be interesting to see how the Ravens game-plan to attack the Bengals defense. Will they once again use a pass-heavy attack heavily featuring the TEs, or will Marty Mornhinweg and Greg Roman dial up the run game in an attempt to keep the Bengals pass-rush at bay? Either way, the play of the Ravens offensive line is going to be critical in this one. It’s possible that Kenneth Dixon will be out for this game, so if the Ravens do lean on the ground game it will heavily feature Alex Collins who likely wants to bounce back after 2 fumbles in week 1. The Ravens TEs could have a good match-up in this game as well, as the Bengals lack true coverage LBs and were exploited in week 1 by Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron.
When the Bengals have the ball, their formula will be simple: feed the ball to Joe Mixon and A.J. Green and hope that Andy Dalton doesn’t implode. The Ravens should still have a favorable match-up in the trenches as the Bengals are still a bit unsteady along their offensive line. Brandon Williams dominated in the run game against the Bills, and he will need to put up another strong effort to shut down Mixon. If the Ravens can keep Dalton in 3rd and long situations it will be a long day for the Bengals signal-caller. Even with weapons like Green and the speedy 2nd year WR John Ross, if Dalton is pressured he will make mistakes as we saw last season.
The Ravens pass-rush really came to play against the Bills notching 6 sacks, and while the Bengals may not be quite as helpless as Buffalo up front, the Ravens edge rushers should have ample opportunity in Wink Martindale’s new-look defense. The Ravens defensive coordinator showed creativity both in the personnel he used and in the ways he brought pressure in week 1. With an extremely talented secondary led by 2nd year CB Marlon Humphrey patrolling the back-end, Martindale will most likely throw the entire play-book at Dalton. Humphrey on A.J. Green will be a match-up to watch, but if week 1 was any indication, Humphrey will be up to the challenge.
The Ravens are certainly at a disadvantage having to travel to Cincinnati on a short week, but the road team had the advantage of being able to rest a number of starters in the 2nd half of their week 1 match-up. Generally speaking, road teams don’t do well in these Thursday night games, yet Vegas still favors the Ravens in this one. I think the line-makers know what they are doing, and the Ravens will be able to win a close one due to another strong defensive performance, 20 – 17 Ravens.