Don’t Beat Yourself
The Bengals are one of the worst teams in the NFL. They’re winless on the season, are led by a lame duck QB and are virtually guaranteed a top 5 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. The Ravens go into Sunday’s game, according to most sports betting outlets, as at least 10-point favorites.
The only way that the Ravens lose this game is if they beat themselves. It’s that simple. On offense, that means cleaning up all the mistakes and not allowing the Bengals to hang around. Last week, Lamar Jackson turned in his worst game of 2019. While he ended the game completing 67.9% of his passing attempts, he only managed to throw for 161 yards and one touchdown. That stat line is made worse by the fact that he threw a season-high three interceptions, and was sacked a season-high five times.
The Bengals are mostly without talent on the defensive side of the football. What recognizable names they haven’t lost over the years are older and noticeably slower.
Cornerback is one position that is not completely devoid of talent in Cincinnati. Dre Kirkpatrick and William Jackson III are talented players on the outside and could make life difficult on throws to the sideline. Jackson just needs to be careful with the football and not try to make any miraculous plays. If the Ravens can keep the game plan simple and win the turnover battle, they should find themselves winning a comfortable game on Sunday.
Get the Run Back on Track
I have to give the Steelers credit where credit is due. The Pittsburgh defensive line was phenomenal against the Ravens’ league-leading rushing attack in Week 5. The team of Watt, Dupree, Tuitt and Heyward worked together to hold Mark Ingram to a measly 2.3 yards per carry on the day.
Against the lowly Bengals defense, the Ravens have to get their rushing attack back on track. The Bengals are allowing a whopping 167.6 rush yards per game in 2019. Only the Miami Dolphins, whose standing in this statistical category is certainly not helped by their Week 1 contest against the Ravens, are allowing more. Cincinnati’s best defensive lineman (Geno Atkins) is best known for his pass rush ability and their linebacking corps is largely unheralded.
Having a successful day on the ground against Cincinnati is about more than getting a win. Getting the rushing attack back on track is about solidifying the foundation of the offense before tough contests against Seattle and New England.
Get the Playmakers Involved
It’s clear that Eric DeCosta had a plan when he finally took the reins as the General Manager of the Ravens this offseason. He made free agent moves and trades unfamiliar to Ravens fans who are used to an organization led by Ozzie Newsome. One of DeCosta’s early goals was clearly to surround his new franchise QB with weapons. DeCosta decided to use some of his draft capital to add those weapons and for the first time in years, the Ravens have players in their offensive arsenal dangerous enough to score from anywhere on the field.
Rookies Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin and Justice Hill are high-level athletes. Brown reportedly runs a sub-4.3 second 40-yard dash. Hill had the best vertical jump and 40-yard dash of any RB at the 2019 combine. Boykin, the slowest of the group, blew up the combine with the best vertical jump of any WR and a 4.42 second 40-yard dash.
The Ravens need to start using their athletes.
The screen game has been noticeably absent from Greg Roman’s play calling. A slip screen to Hill or a bubble screen to Brown could keep defenses on their toes and result in some long touchdowns. A jet sweep run to Hollywood would give him a head start on his way around the edge and could be combined with the threat of a Jackson run the other way to scare defenses with misdirection. Boykin has all the tools in the world (length, speed and jumping ability) to be a dangerous jump ball WR on downfield shots.
On Sunday, Roman and the Ravens offense would do well to call some plays that get their playmakers involved and force opponents to prepare for an additional set of plays for the rest of the season.
Shut Down Tyler Boyd
The Bengals current depth chart at the wide receiver position is one of the worst in the NFL. In theory, Cincinnati has done more than enough to set themselves up for success at that particular position. Unfortunately for them though, injuries to superstar A.J. Green and former first-round pick John Ross have sent them to the lost and found looking for pass catchers.
If you haven’t Googled it at this point, chances are that you know exactly one Bengals WR expected to be active Sunday. 2016 2nd-round pick Tyler Boyd is a future Pro Bowl player who signed a four-year, $43 million contract extension with the Bengals last offseason. Boyd is currently 8th in the NFL in receiving yards and plays both outside WR and in the slot.
Ravens fans may also remember Boyd for a certain TD catch against the Ravens to end the 2017 season.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 10, 2019
If the Ravens can shut Boyd out on Sunday, Andy Dalton and the Bengals are going to have an extremely difficult time getting anything going in the passing game. Having Marlon Humphrey follow Boyd to limit his production will go a long way towards forcing Cincinnati to try to run the football against the Ravens.
Figure Out Strong Safety
One surefire way to put a damper on a win over your hated division rival is to have one of your starters suffer a season-ending injury. Late in the Week 5 win over the Steelers, starting Strong Safety Tony Jefferson suffered a non-contact injury that tore his ACL and may cause him to miss time into the 2020 season.
While special teams captain Anthony Levine may help fill in at Jefferson’s spot, the main options to be the season-long starter are Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott. Both former 6th round picks, Clark and Elliott are versatile players who the Ravens are lucky to have ready to step up to the plate. Clark, who was recently called the smartest player on the team by Earl Thomas, is dangerous coming forward and has used his well-above-average football IQ to make plays on the ball in the past.
Elliott, a fan favorite, has good ball skills for a Strong Safety and has played well in limited time as a dime LB in 2019.
It’s never a good time to lose a starter to injury, but I can’t imagine that the Ravens could’ve asked for a better week to experiment with their replacement options. Whether it’s Clark or Elliott that eventually wins the starting gig, Wink Martindale needs to use the Bengals game on Sunday to test out different personnel groupings and begin to develop a better understanding of what the Ravens secondary will look like for the remainder of the 2019 season.
Work on Communication… Again
Losing Jefferson for the season is about a lot more than losing his box score contributions. Jefferson, a leader in the locker room, is also the most recent keeper of the infamous “green dot” for the Ravens defense. The “green dot” is literally a lime green, dot-shaped sticker fixed to one player’s helmet to indicate which player is in communication with the defensive coordinator via a microphone in his helmet. The player with the dot is receiving calls and instructions from the defensive coordinator and relaying them to his teammates.
With Jefferson out, the Ravens have to find a new player to communicate the calls and get the defense aligned. Before Jefferson wore the dot, it was Peanut Onwuasor’s responsibility. The Ravens could go back to Onwuasor, but he’s dealing with an injury and miscommunication issues on defense while Peanut was wearing the microphone, were the reason that Jefferson was handed the reins in the first place.
Earl Thomas seems like another option because of the position he plays, but he’s still learning the Ravens complex defensive scheme and might be better if he’s allowed to focus on his job.
Almost unbelievably, the best choice to wear the microphone may be ILB Josh Bynes. Although Bynes has only been with the Ravens for a week, he’s a respected veteran who understands the defense and plays at a spot on the field where it’s easy to communicate with all levels of the defense.
Whatever the case, the Ravens need to figure out who they’re comfortable with being the mouthpiece of the defense moving forward. They can’t afford to backslide into the communication problems that plagued them in the first quarter of the season.
One-on-One Matchup to Watch
Bengals RT Bobby Hart versus Ravens OLB Matt Judon
The Bengals offensive line is an absolute mess. The 11th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, Jonah Williams, is out for the entire season. 2018 1st round pick Billy Price was drafted to play center, but will get the start at LG this week. Price is taking the place of 2019 4th-round pick Michael Jordan, who is being benched. When you really dig into the situation, mess might be a nice word to describe it.
The weakest link along their patchwork line might just be RT Bobby Hart. Hart, a former 7th round pick, was horrible for Cincinnati in 2018 and then signed one of the most head scratching three-year contracts imaginable. Matt Judon is looking to cash in on a big deal himself this offseason and gets the benefit of squaring off against Hart on Sunday.
With a big performance, Judon could help his team towards a victory, add a few sacks to his stat sheet and earn a little more bargaining power for when the time comes to sign a new deal.