Previously, on this episode of AFC North nailbiters, the Ravens got past the Bengals, 27-24, for their first road victory of 2023.
This week, the Ravens play the Bengals in Baltimore, where they’ve won 4 of the last 5 games against their AFC North rival. Those five games have been decided by a total of 11 points, though. The Ravens are rightly favored by 3 1/2 points this week, but don’t expect anything less than a race to the finish.
Being that this game is on a short week for both teams, injury reports become all the more important to monitor. Tee Higgins and Sam Hubbard for the Bengals and Ronnie Stanley for the Ravens have all been ruled out. Marlon Humphrey has drawn a doubtful designation, which means he will likely miss this week as well.
Other key players who are listed on the injury report are Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson and Ravens offensive tackle Morgan Moses. Both practiced in full Wednesday and have no game status listed, which leads me to believe they will be active this evening.
When the game kicks off, expect fireworks. Both teams know how vital this game is. Baltimore is, all of a sudden, 2-2 in the division, so given their great start, they need to get back on the track before division losses become a pattern. The Bengals are even more desperate to win tonight, as they are 0-2 in the AFC North and 1-4 in the AFC so far this season. If they lose tonight, the Bengals are in serious trouble of missing the playoffs.
The most dangerous thing in the NFL is facing a team with nothing to lose. Which team is going to “out physical” the other?
Here are three matchups within the game that will go a long way in determining the victor.
Rock Ya-Sin vs. Ja’Marr Chase
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Ya-Sin is likely to face the 6-foot, 201-pound Chase this evening. If that’s the case, it could be a “sneaky good” spot for the Ravens. Ya-Sin is fearless, physical, and capable of limiting Chase. In Week 2, Chase caught five passes for 51 yards. Baltimore’s corners in that game? Ronald Darby and Rock Ya-Sin.
Chase, of course, is always a threat to score, but the fact that he was limited to well below his career average output of 87.4 yards per game last time around is significant. I think he will have a better performance tonight, but still be defended fairly well. Against players like him, you’re generally okay if they catch a few passes as long as it’s not a big play. If the Ravens can prevent another 2021 fiasco, they should be fine.
Daniel Faalele (or Patrick Mekari) vs. Trey Hendrickson
With Ronnie Stanley out, Daniel Faalele or Patrick Mekari are likely to taker over at left tackle. Trey Hendrickson would have the advantage in that case, as he has recorded four sacks in five starts against the Ravens. That said, there are all kinds of ways to scheme against strong pass rushers and edge setters, but the players have to be able to execute.
One small area of good news for the Ravens is that Faalele and Mekari have seen increased workloads already this season, given the injuries to Stanley and Moses. Baltimore has to hope that experience is sufficient to stem the tide of Cincinnati’s pass rush.
This season, on average, the Ravens offense is allowing 2.4 sacks per game and the Bengals defense is recording 2.6 sacks per game. Lamar Jackson may be sacked a couple of times tonight, but can he and the offense avoid being sacked when they’re in scoring range? That is the question.
Lamar Jackson vs. Lou Anarumo
Jackson was blitzed 14 times on 33 pass attempts in Week 2 but was still able to complete 72.7 percent of his passes and gain 7.2 yards per pass attempt. To have that kind of success against such pressure from an excellent defensive coordinator, playing for what was then a brand new offensive coordinator, is very impressive. You have to think Jackson will be even sharper this evening, as he’s more comfortable with Todd Monken and won’t have to fend off Sam Hubbard.
Jackson also gained 54 yards on the ground in the previous meeting between these two teams, which is obviously a number Anarumo will want to lessen drastically.
Look for the Ravens to run some split-zone concepts (offensive line leaving Hendrickson unblocked for the fullback or h-back coming across the formation) or rollout pass concepts to Jackson’s right. Calling those kinds of plays should minimize the Bengals’ strengths and amplify Jackson’s abilities.
I’m predicting a 30-23 Raven win, as well as the following performances from these key players:
Lamar Jackson: 21/27, 255 yards, 2 TD; 6 carries, 50 yards, TD (29.2 fantasy points)
Keaton Mitchell: 4 carries, 33 yards; 4 receptions, 60 yards (9.3 fantasy points)
Ja’Marr Chase: 7 receptions, 62 yards, TD (12.2 fantasy points)
Joe Mixon: 18 carries, 77 yards, TD; 3 receptions 28 yards (16.5 fantasy points)
Born in Baltimore, Mike had long been drawn to sports of all kinds. Growing up watching Cal Ripken play ever day gave him a great example for which to attack every endeavor he undertakes.
When the Ravens came to town, though, that’s when Mike found his passion. Since that time, he’s tried to gain every bit of knowledge he could. Now as a high school coach, Mike is able to take his film study and appreciation of the game to a new level.
To engage with Mike on social media, follow him on Twitter @MikeFastNFL.