Week 1 against the Bengals will be a good measuring stick for the Ravens defense. The unit enters the regular season after an up and down preseason where they’ve shown flashes of dominance at times, and concerns and vulnerabilities at others.
The front seven will be tested by one of the most dynamic young playmakers in the game, Giovani Bernard. His quickness and ability to change direction could be a challenge for a front seven made up largely of a combination of first-year starters, and experienced, but older veterans.
The linebackers will have their hands full with a talented tight end duo that includes Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert.
But the biggest X factor for the Ravens defense will be containing perhaps the most talented young receiver in the league, A.J Green.
Green was a thorn in the Ravens’ side in 2013. In Week 8, he amassed 151 yards on eight receptions, including a 51-yard touchdown catch on a last-second hail mary that sent the game into overtime.
The Ravens did a better job containing Green in week 17, holding him to just four catches for 61 yards. However, one of those catches was for a 53-yard touchdown that put the Bengals up 7-6 and drastically shifted some early momentum the Ravens had after a strong start.
Keeping Green under wraps will likely fall on the shoulders of Jimmy Smith, as his size matches up best with the tall and athletic pass catcher. Smith has emerged as a one of the league’s top young corners after 2013, when he shut down the likes of Brandon Marshall, Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon.
But it’s not solely up to Smith to prevent Green from having a big day. Generating a pass rush will be equally as crucial if the Ravens hope to contain him. If Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil can keep Dalton uncomfortable for four quarters, the threat of Green getting behind the Ravens secondary significantly decreases.
The Ravens caught a break as the Bengals #2 receiving threat Marvin Jones will miss the first several weeks of the season with a broken foot. Behind Green their biggest receiving threat in week one will be Mohamed Sanu who had 455 yards and two touchdowns in 2013. Needless to say the secondary will be paying a lot of attention to Green, and he will likely see a lot of double coverage.
Keeping Green contained is perhaps the biggest X factor to the Ravens walking away with a win in Week 1. If they keep him under 100 yards and limit him to seeing the end zone just once, the chances of starting the season on a positive note are far more likely.
If he gets behind the Ravens secondary and Andy Dalton has time in the pocket, it could be a big day for Green and his fantasy owners, but a disappointing start to the season for the Ravens.