Cinncinati, the arch nemesis of quarterback Joe Flacco. The Bengals, the second most hated NFL team by Baltimoreons. That is who the Ravens will face this Thursday. Seemingly every year, the Bengals make life hard for the Ravens. Whether it be a late touchdown by AJ Green, a defensive trouncing, or a season-ending 4th and 12 play, the Bengals always seem to get the last laugh. This year, Baltimore gets a chance to avenge the many difficulties that the Bengals have thrown at them, with a week two game on Thursday night in Cincinnati. Despite the Ravens struggles in Cincinnati, Baltimore knows that this game provides an opportunity to take sole possession of the division early. Whether or not the team does take possession, depends entirely on the performance on Thursday night. Here are three keys to a Ravens win on Thursday night.
Shutdown A.J. Green
For far too long, A.J. Green has gotten his way with the Ravens. Green is the thorn in the side of the Ravens that refuses to be removed. Green is a freak of an athlete. He is a tall, lean receiver that can make almost any catch anywhere on the field. Whether it be a simple check-down or a hail mary pass, Green will be there to catch it. In order to win on Thursday, the Ravens have no choice but to stop A.J. Green from dominating. Without Jimmy Smith, the prospect may be difficult to do, but the Ravens have confidence in Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr. Humphrey, now in his second year, is quickly becoming a solid cornerback, while Carr provides a veteran presence in the secondary. Both of these players will be called to go against Green at some point on Thursday night.
Stuff Joe Mixon
As the Bengals passing attack is neutralized by the prevention of A.J. Green’s spectacles, Cincinnati will turn to running back Joe Mixon. The second year running back rushed for 96 yards and one touchdown in the Bengals’ opening game. The Ravens prevented LeSean McCoy from running well in Baltimore’s season opener. The defense will need to do the same to Joe Mixon and the Bengals. In order to stop a running back like Mixon, the Ravens will need to see the defensive line and linebackers put high priority on him. This may cause other receivers and tight ends like Tyler Boyd and Tyler Eifert to get open, but Baltimore should be able to bank on the secondary to contain these two players. If the Ravens can shut down Mixon, remove a very integral part of the Bengals offense, handicapping Cincinnati for the game.
Continued Offensive Success
Joe Flacco played his best football since 2014 on Sunday. The Ravens offense skyrocketed to success in the first half of the game against the Bills. In that half, the Flacco threw for three touchdowns, and no interceptions. He completed 25 of 34 passes, but when adjusting for drops, his completion rate would be around 90%, per Pro Football Focus. Flacco also spread the ball out to his receivers well, keeping the Bills defense confused and unable to pick up on tendencies. The Ravens need more of the same from the passing attack on Thursday, but also need to see the rushing attack improve. Against the Bills, Alex Collins struggled to establish his presence. With weather in Cinncinati looking better than what it was like in Baltimore last week, Collins should have an ample opportunity to do so. If the offense can continue to score at high rates, the Ravens should be able to compete with the Bengals
Whether or not the Ravens will defeat the Bengals will depend upon these three keys. Unfortunately, I do not believe the Ravens will be able to check off all three items from the list. It will be difficult for the Ravens to shut down both A.J. Green and Joe Mixon, let alone one of them. While I think the Ravens offense will continue to shine, I think the Bengals will be able to outscore Baltimore in a heated matchup. I predicted last week that the Ravens would likely split the series with Cincinnati this year. I think the Bengals will pick up a win at home to start the series. The final score will be 31-30.