This is probably the key to the game. Despite a rash of injuries along the offensive line, the Ravens have still managed to pass protect pretty well. Joe Flacco remains one of the least pressured quarterbacks in the league. The Bengals on the other have really struggled to generate pressure since losing Carl Lawson. Their pressure percentage of 23.2% is the 3rd lowest in the NFL.
With Marvin Lewis at the defensive controls, I expect a very risk-averse game plan, and a whole lot of that patented cover 2 shell that has befuddled the Ravens over the years. Cincy’s lack of pass rush will make that a more difficult proposition than it’s been in the past. The trick will be having the patience to find those honey holes in the deep middle of the field.
Go after the Bengal Backers in coverage
Per @PFF Jordan Evans allowed 120 yards in coverage by himself on Sunday. Now, Bengals linebackers have allowed 59 first downs in coverage on the year, the most by any linebacking corps in the NFL.
— Katherine Terrell (@Kat_Terrell) November 12, 2018
The Bengals have been seam-vulnerable this season, partly due to the absences of Vontaze Burfict and Nick Vigil. Jordan Evans is a talented young player in over his head right now and Preston Brown is a downhill player who isn’t nearly as comfortable in space. From simple in or flare routes with Alex Collins or more diverse routes with Ty Montgomery, the Ravens running backs should be heavily involved in the passing game.
I’d also recommend increased opportunities for Mark Andrews versus this duo, as he’s begun to separate himself as the most effective pass-catching tight end of this group.
Diversify the slot
On the final play of the first half last week, Michael Thomas lined up in the slot and ran a dig, getting in behind Evans for a touchdown. A couple light bulbs went off for me. The first was, man the Ravens sure could use a receiver as good as Michael Thomas.
Once I stopped dreaming, the 2nd was based upon usage. While Willie Snead is a solid player with reliable hands and capable of finding soft spots in coverage, the Ravens have other players that could create dilemmas for defenses from the slot. Michael Crabtree’s size is the type of weapon you see more and more teams are starting to utilize inside. John Brown’s speed can challenge the seam so quickly it can either free him to make plays or force defenders to make decisions quicker than they’d like thus freeing up other players to make plays. Chris Moore‘s ability at the catch point has long been underutilized.
The Ravens need to give different personnel looks, especially if they insist on running isolation routes.
Fair share of bluffing
Wink Martindale loves his zone blitz but this week may be the time to scale it back a bit while also using this tendency to his advantage. Andy Dalton has a 124.1 QB rating versus the blitz this season, 4th best in the NFL. The more they can get him comfortable with looks that appear like the pressures he saw in Week 2 but aren’t actually pressures, the better the chances they force him into mistakes.
Challenge this WR group
With no Tyler Eifert and likely no A.J. Green, this is a much less threatening group of pass catchers. Much like many smart defensive coordinators have done over the years versus Baltimore, the Ravens should challenge these receivers to beat press coverage.
Throw in some Cover 2 and Cover 4 looks to challenge Dalton’s patience as well.
With banged-up receiver and tight end groups I’d expect the Bengals to be very motivated to get Joe Mixon and Gio Bernard involved in the passing game. Both are terrific open-field players who would have significant advantages versus most of the Ravens underneath defenders.
It is important that the front-7 guys get their hands on these backs and chip them as much as possible. Dalton is at his best in a quick rhythmic pass game. The more they can do to throw off that timing the better.
Matchup to watch
Tavon Young vs. Tyler Boyd
Young had a rough first matchup in Cincy trying to defend against Tyler Boyd and A.J. Green. He’s rebounded well and has been playing very good football since. Boyd is in the midst of a breakout campaign where he’s 4th in the NFL with 485 yards from the slot. With Green likely sidelined (don’t believe Marvin’s games), he’ll be the main passing game vehicle to points for the Bengals.
Tavon is surely is champing at the bit to redeem himself and his ability to do so will go a long way in deciding this game.