The Ravens are facing virtual elimination on Sunday, as the Cincinnati Bengals have a chance to dash Baltimore’s playoff hopes. It was a season that was supposed to be different. The Ravens started out with three wins and just one loss. The offense was rolling, and scored with ease, as the defense dominated. Everything was going great for the Ravens until Baltimore hit a downward spiral. The Ravens dropped four out of five games since the first four, and are now on the verge of being all but eliminated from the playoffs. A loss to the Bengals would make the road to the playoffs almost impossible to traverse. A win, however, will put the Ravens right back into playoff contention. For Baltimore to secure a critical victory, there are three key areas the Ravens must win.
Offense Must Take Advantage of 32nd Ranked Bengals Defense
The Ravens have the rare opportunity of playing the worst defense in the National Football League. Since the two team’s last meeting in September, the Bengals defense has been torched nearly every week. In five out of seven games, the Bengals gave up over 30 points, the only two exceptions being the Steelers who put up 28 points, and the Dolphins who put up 17. The defense hit rock bottom last week when the Saints dropped 51 points on the Bengals. The complete meltdown of a once prominent defense convinced Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis to make a change. He fired his defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin, and took over the defensive play calling himself. The Ravens need to take advantage of the shuffle and assert offensive dominance.
Ravens Ground Game Must Emerge
To assert the offensive dominance, the Ravens must see the emergence of the run game. The quarterback situation is up in the air. Any of the three quarterbacks on the roster could make the start on Sunday, but the doubtful designation to Flacco makes it difficult. Flacco is the most refined passer on the roster and led the Ravens offense when it was at its best. Now, he is likely to sit out with a hip injury. Most indications point to Lamar Jackson starting for the Ravens on Sunday, but Baltimore could turn to the more polished Robert Griffin III as well. Whoever starts at quarterback, it’s clear that the passing game will be unreliable, and the Ravens will need Ty Montgomery and Alex Collins to hit the gas this week.
Lamar Jackson Must Be Decent
Assuming that Lamar Jackson gets the starting nod on Sunday, he will need to play decent football. Jackson struggled mightily in the preseason, and concerns about his passing abilities have not gone away. The Ravens will likely keep Jackson limited in his duties on Sunday, and try to keep him as a game manager. Jackson will be counted on to run the ball, and make some throws. If Jackson can limit mistakes and take the yards given by the defense he should be alright. Jackson may end up running the ball more than throwing it, which may be best for the Ravens. The Ravens run game is best when Jackson is on the field, and the Bengals have had issues stopping the run all year.
This game is a toss-up. I am typically an optimist when it comes to the Ravens, but without Joe Flacco steering the offense, this game will be difficult for Baltimore to win. The Ravens will need to find success in the three key areas outlined. If the Ravens miss on even one of these, Baltimore will fall. Ultimately, I think the Bengals will get the edge here, although I could see the Bengals defense basically giving Lamar Jackson free yards on the ground. It will be a close, low scoring affair, with a Cincinnati advantage.