Ladies and gentlemen, with great honor, I am pleased to announce that Baltimore Ravens football is BACK! The Ravens will travel to Cincinnati this Sunday to face their longtime rivals, the Bengals. It’s no secret that the Ravens have struggled against the Bengals mightily. In fact, Baltimore has not beaten the Bengals at home, since 2012. Baltimore will obviously want to snap that streak this Sunday, but will they? Quarterback Joe Flacco just returned to practice last week, after missing the entirety of training camp since July. The offensive line is still untested, and depth has suddenly become an issue at cornerback. To say the least, the Ravens have a few issues heading into their season opener against the Bengals. Here’s how Baltimore can overcome their challenges and win in Cincinnati, along with my prediction for the game.
How the Baltimore can win in Cincinnati
If the Baltimore Ravens want to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals this Sunday, they are going to have to have a combined effort by both the offense and defense. The defense’s performance is arguably much more important than how the offense plays. Year in and year out, the Ravens have struggled to halt the connection between Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton, and wide receiver A.J. Green. Stopping A.J. Green should be Baltimore’s number one priority on defense this Sunday. If Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith can prevent A.J. Green from dominating, Baltimore may have a chance to bottle up the Bengals offense. That is, of course, assuming that the rest of the receivers are unable to provide much production for Cincinnati. Fortunately for Baltimore, Cincinnati’s receivers corps aside from Green is not much better than average. Directly under Green on the Bengals’ depth chart is Brandon LaFell, a receiver who has been mediocre at best for most of his career. There’s also the speedy John Ross, a first round pick from this year’s draft. He’s questionable to play this Sunday. So again, the more Baltimore slows down A.J. Green, the more Cincinnati’s offense will struggle. Baltimore does, however, have an issue in the secondary. Two cornerbacks are probably not going to play. The rookie standout, Jaylen Hill, will not play with a thigh injury, and Sheldon Price is doubtful with a concussion. This leaves only three cornerbacks on the roster heading into Sunday, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Marlon Humphrey. Fortunately for the Ravens, Lardarius Webb is no stranger to playing cornerback and could fill that role for the week.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens will need to find a rhythm, largely absent from last season. Baltimore had one of the worst offenses in the league last year, finding little production on the ground and through the air. For the Ravens to succeed in defeating the Bengals, the offense must establish a productive rushing attack early. Running backs, Terrance West, Buck Allen, and Danny Woodhead, all need to step up in the rushing game. The offensive line also needs to provide adequate blocking for the backs to run. If Terrance West can lead the running backs to a productive game, Joe Flacco should be able to play well. Flacco has always played his best football when the running game could take some pressure off of him. Assuming his back is healthy, Joe Flacco should have no problem throwing the ball around the field. He did miss all of the practice since July until last week, but a 10-year veteran should be well prepared regardless. The only concern for Baltimore’s passing attack is that Flacco is probably not comfortable with Maclin yet, after such a limited amount of time they had of practicing together. Luckily for Flacco, Mike Wallace is back to provide stability among the wide receivers. If the Ravens offense can get moving on the ground, the air attack should come right behind it and lead them to a victory in Cincinnati.
Predicting the Ravens vs Bengals Game
The Ravens are going to enter Cincinnati at a bit of a disadvantage offensive wise. Joe Flacco is coming off a back injury that kept him sidelined for the majority of training camp, and the offensive line has been shuffled repeatedly throughout the postseason. The Ravens don’t even have a true workhorse running back. The Bengals also, traditionally, have a good defense. Typically this would spell disaster on the Ravens, but it won’t this time around. The Bengals will be missing two key players on defense to suspension this Sunday, linebacker Vontaze Burfict and cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones. This leaves the secondary and inside linebackers shorthanded against the Ravens offense. Flacco is both a veteran and experienced quarterback. He knows how to take advantage of missing starters. With one of his best receivers corps in his career (Maclin, Wallace, and Perriman), Flacco should be able to take advantage of the situation. Flacco won’t go without being pressured, however, as the Bengals have one of the better pass rushes in the league. This also coincides with a Ravens offensive line that has been a project for the entire offseason. The running game will be mediocre this game. Again, the offensive line is a project, and the Ravens don’t have an “X-Factor” at running back. Terrance West will probably find himself with around 60 yards rushing to end the game. Overall, the Ravens offense will find their way to scoring 20 points. One touchdown will be scored by Terrance West, and another hauled in by Mike Wallace from Joe Flacco. Justin Tucker will connect for two field goals.
As the Ravens offense battles it out with the Bengals defense, the Ravens defense will dominate the Bengals offense. Cincinnati only has one real weapon on offense, A.J. Green. Baltimore will likely double team him, with Jimmy Smith and one of the safeties (either Weddle or Jefferson). If A.J. Green is contained, Cincinnati has no one else to depend on. John Ross will likely sit out the season opener, and Tyler Eifert has been on and off the practice field with injuries. There’s also Brandon LaFell, who has never been a go-to receiver. Cincinnati’s run game will be mediocre just like the Ravens’. They have three fairly decent backs in Jeremy Hill, Giovani Bernard, and Joe Mixon, but their offensive line won’t be able to stop the Ravens’ front seven. Cincinnati lost some key pieces on the offensive line, and when you couple that with Baltimore’s pass rush and front seven, the Bengals run game shouldn’t stand a chance. Andy Dalton is also going to get hit, a lot, giving him little chance to make big plays happen. Although I believe the Bengals offense will be largely handicapped, they still will find their way to the end zone. Baltimore cannot fully shut down A.J. Green. Eifert and LaFell can make some good plays in the receiving game, and the running backs can find some lanes for good runs. The Bengals just won’t be able to dominate on offense, like they have done in years past. Their frustration will show up on offense, as they will only be able to score 17 points. One touchdown to A.J. Green, the other to Tyler Eifert. Randy Bullock will find his way to making just one field goal.