The Bengals will be the number one seed in the AFC if they win on Sunday in Baltimore.
It'll be much easier said than done since they're facing the 5-1 Ravens. Baltimore is a 6.5-point favorite heading into the showdown at M&T Stadium.
Both teams are coming off dominating performances.
The Ravens beat the Chargers 34-6 last week. Their defense held Los Angeles' explosive offense to just 208 total yards.
Baltimore’s offense capitalized with three touchdowns by separate ball carriers. They had 38 rushing attempts for 187 yards. Lamar Jackson added 167 yards and a touchdown in the air.
The Lions scored garbage points in the fourth quarter to keep the Bengals' defense from putting up a goose egg in Detroit. They held D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams to 2.06 yards per carry, while Jared Goff barely reached 200 yards passing on 42 attempts.
Cincinnati’s offense had five plays for 20+ yards or more. They scored on all five of those drives that had at least one of the chunk plays.
Let’s take a look at the matchups between the AFC North foes.
Joe Burrow vs. Ravens Defense
Joe Burrow’s performance this season is catching the eye of many, while drawing comparisons to many legends, including Joe Montana.
Burrow ranks first in completion percentage (78%) and yards per attempt (12.9) against man coverage. He is second in quarterback rating (149.1).
Explosive plays continue to be a dynamic part of the Cincinnati offense. Burrow has eight passing touchdowns of 20+ yards. Four of those scores have been 30 or more yards to Ja'Marr Chase.
Baltimore’s pass defense ranks in the bottom-half of the NFL. They have allowed 1,664 yards in the air, averaging 277.3 yards per game.
Despite the early season miscues, the secondary had their best performance of the season against the Chargers. Justin Herbert completed just 22-of-39 passes for 195 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
Marlon Humphrey and DeShon Elliott led the charge for the Ravens. Elliott had his first career interception, two passes defended, and one sack.
Humphrey shut down any Chargers receiver near him, allowing just two receptions for 19 yards on 7 targets and a -9.3 target EPA.
Herbert credited the Baltimore defense for disguising their looks and bringing variations of pressures to disrupt the rhythm of their offense.
Burrow should expect to face the same thing this week. He has thrived in pressure situations this season. Against the blitz, Burrow is tied for fewest turnover-worthy plays and second in passer rating (136.8) according to Pro Football Focus.
Bengals Offensive Line vs. Ravens Defense
Jackson Carman returned to practice Thursday after recovering from an illness that sidelined him in Detroit. The right guard is expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday.
The interior of Cincinnati’s offensive line has been labeled as a weakness throughout the season, but Quinton Spain has quietly been reliable at left guard.
Spain has not allowed a sack and just four quarterback hurries. He's the 11th best guard (75.1) in the NFL according to PFF.
The Spain-Jonah Williams duo on the left side continues to cushion Burrow’s blind side.
Baltimore is going to blitz and blitz some more. They have blitzed in 32% (fifth-most in the NFL) and pressured opposing quarterbacks on more than 25% of their dropbacks.
Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston have provided the pressure from the outside. Oweh has three sacks, eight quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, and 13 total tackles. Houston adds two sacks, five quarterback hits, three tackles for loss, and 11 total tackles.
Calais Campbell has been the Ravens’ best defensive player this season thus far per PFF. The defensive end has a grade of 87.9 through six games.
At 6-8 and 300 pounds, Campbell has tormented offensive linemen throughout his career. He does not have a sack this season, but Campbell has been heavily double-teamed or caused corruption along the offensive line to allow another Raven to capitalize on the play.
Bengals Skill Players vs. Ravens Defense
A balanced attack has been the Bengals' offense’s M.O. with 175 passing attempts vs. 162 rushes. Cincinnati had 246 passing attempts and 164 rushes after six games last season.
Joe Mixon is second in rushing attempts (111) and fourth in rushing yards (480). Mixon is averaging 4.3 yards per carry. He is tied for tenth in total scrimmage yards.
Establishing the run has opened up the passing game. Two of Burrow’s three touchdown passes against Detroit were on play action passes and 32% of his attempts were play action, resulting in seven completions for 128 yards and two touchdowns.
Chase could be shadowed for the first time in his young career this week. Humphrey praised the receiver this week.
Chase won his third Rookie of the Week award for his performance against the Lions. He's averaging 20.5 yards per reception with a catch of 34 or more yards in each game this season.
If Humphrey does shadow Chase, it will be his first true test. Humphrey shadowed Mike Williams on 11 of his 15 routes (73%) before Williams left with an injury last week. He allowed just one reception on two targets for 1 yard.
However, Humphrey is a better matchup against Tee Higgins than Chase. Should Humphrey line up against Higgins, expect Anthony Averett to go against Chase.
The Ravens shut down the Chargers’ top two receivers. Williams had two receptions for 27 yards. Keenan Allen added five catches for 50 yards.
Baltimore’s run defense has been stout. They have allowed the third-lowest rushing yards (492) and 82 yards per game.
Campbell not only has been a nuisance in pressuring the quarterback, but he has been a brick wall in the run game. Through six weeks, Campbell has a run stop rate of 41%.
Patrick Queen was limited in practice this week, but he's expected to play Sunday. He's tied for the most tackles on the Ravens (25), but the former first-rounder has shown inconsistencies throughout his young career at the position.
Advantage: Tie (If Baltimore’s Week 6 shows up, advantage Ravens)
Lamar Jackson vs. Bengals Defense
Jackson is 5-0 as a starter against the Bengals. He has racked up 902 pass yards, 442 yards on the ground, and 10 total touchdowns (8 pass, 2 rush).
Jackson is the epitome of a dual-threat quarterback. He is leading the Ravens in both passing (1,686) and rushing (392) yards accounting for 82% of Baltimore’s yards.
His accuracy has been deadly through six weeks: 80% of Jackson’s throws have been on target.
Jackson’s completion percentage (67.5), yards per attempt (8.7), and average depth of target (9.9) are all single-season highs for him.
Explosive air plays have added another dimension to Baltimore’s offense. Jackson has 26 passes of 20 or more yards (tied with Matthew Stafford for fourth-most).
Let’s not forget about Jackson’s ability to use his legs, of course. Jackson leads the NFL with 6.1 yards per carry.
He is detrimental to opposing defenses when he can make a broken play into positive yardage by moving out of the pocket to allow a receiver to get open or take the ball on a scramble.
Per NextGen Stats, Jackson has had an average of 3.07 seconds to throw. That is the second-most in the NFL behind Zach Wilson.
Usually, when a quarterback holds onto a ball for three seconds or longer the pressure amounts and turns into a negative EPA on average. Jackson has been able to do the opposite and create positive plays.
The Bengals know the key to winning is containing the special talent. Below is how the defense has fared against considerable dual-threat quarterbacks this season:
Justin Fields *not complete game
- Passing: 6/13, 60 yards, 1 interception
- Rushing: 10 attempts, 31 yards
- Passing: 38/58, 318 yards, 2 interceptions
- Rushing: 1 rush, 5 yards
- Passing: 17/24, 204 yards
- Rushing: 8 rush, 36 yards, 1 touchdown
Jackson is on his own level, however.
Jessie Bates and Vonn Bell have been instrumental in containing explosive plays. Cincinnati has given up the ninth-lowest rate of explosive passes at 8% this season. The team is 19th in explosive run rate allowed (11%).
Ravens Offensive Line vs. Bengals Defense
Baltimore placed Ronnie Stanley on injured reserve this week.
Alejandro Villanueva has played left tackle for Stanley since the All-Pro went down with an ankle injury at the start of the season. Villanueva (82%) is fifth among tackles in run block win rate.
Former Bengal Kevin Zeitler is fitting in quite well on Baltimore’s offensive line after signing with the team in the offseason. The guard has a 95% pass block win rate thus far and has been a key contributor in opening running lanes for the Ravens’ rushing attack.
Trey Hendrickson could be in for another big day with his matchup against Villanueva. The edge rusher continues to add a spark to the Bengals’ defense it has desperately missed in recent years.
Hendrickson has 5.5 sacks, 17 hurries, 29 total pressures, and a 22.7% pass-rush win rate.
Cincinnati blitzes just 20% of the time, which is in the bottom-ten of the NFL. They rely heavily on their front four to apply pressure and close gaps in the trenches.
Ravens Skill Players vs. Bengals Defense
Baltimore will be without two of their offensive playmakers Sunday. Latavius Murray (ankle) and Sammy Watkins (thigh) have both been declared out.
DeVonta Freeman, Ty’Son Williams, and Le’Veon Bell will share snaps at running back.
Murray had been the Ravens’ main back heading into Week 7 with 59 rushes for 212 yards. Freeman, Williams, and Bell have 59 touches combined.
The injury to Murray could draw more Jackson-designed run plays and passing opportunities.
Mark Andrews is establishing himself as a top tight end in the NFL. Andrews has 34 catches for 468 yards, and three touchdowns. His 13.8 yards per reception leads all tight ends (minimum of 20 targets) and is tied with Travis Kelce in receiving yards.
Andrews is first among tight ends overall (91.8), receiving (90.6), and run-blocking (81.3) according to PFF.
Marquise “Hollywood” Brown is leading the team with 486 reception yards (81.0 per game). He has five touchdowns.
The receiver is explosive and can open a game at any moment. He’s averaging 3.6 yards of separation which has helped him grab ten 20+ yard catches this season.
Rookie Rashod Batemen is expected to receive more playing time with Watkins out.
Cincinnati is tenth in run stop rate (32%). A large part has to do with Sam Hubbard off the edge. Hubbard is third among all defensive ends and outside linebackers with a run stop rate of 36%.
Hubbard has strong vision and play recognition to read ball-carriers. That paired with his quick lateral movement allows him to break through initial bump-and-run contact to disrupt a rush or get in the backfield.
Logan Wilson added another interception to his resume last week to bring his total to four on the season. The linebacker is currently second in the league behind Trevon Diggs (7).
Wilson’s ability to cover has been highly touted since he came out for the draft. He possesses great awareness when dropping into coverage and can read the quarterback’s eyes. Once a throw or run is made, Wilson’s motor and pursuit can quickly close a play.
Wilson, Bates, and Bell have a tall task ahead of them in covering Andrews Sunday.
Tre Flowers could make his Bengals debut Sunday. Zac Taylor said the cornerback has made good progress since joining the team late last week.
Flowers could battle Eli Apple for the fourth cornerback spot behind Chidobe Awuzie, Mike Hilton, and Trae Waynes (currently on injured reserve).
Evan McPherson vs. Justin Tucker
Justin Tucker is on the Mount Rushmore of NFL kickers. Tucker has made 90.7% of his field goal attempts and 98.9% of extra points.
Come crunch time, Tucker has hit 52 straight field goals in the fourth quarter and overtime: 22 of those kicks have come from at least 40 yards, seven were from 50 yards or beyond, including his 66 yard game winner [NFL Record] against Detroit in Week 3.
Tucker has never missed a kick in the final minute of regulation.
The Bengals hope Evan McPherson will one day reach Tucker’s level of greatness, but he has the edge on Sunday.
Cincinnati has not won in Baltimore since Andy Dalton’s game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd on New Year’s Eve in 2017.
The Ravens have pummeled the Bengals in recent years. Jackson is 5-0 against Cincinnati, outscoring the Bengals 161-57 in those contests.
With a turned over roster, this is not the Bengals team the Ravens are accustomed to with the eighth ranked defense and ability to create big plays on offense.
Confidence is oozing in Cincinnati right now and an upset victory against a divisional team would make a huge statement for this young team.
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