The Ravens are dealing with several injuries and COVID-19 cases as they prepare for a high-stakes rematch with the healthier Cincinnati Bengals. Here’s who has the edge in each phase of the game:
Ravens passing game vs. Bengals pass defense
We’re still note sure who will play quarterback for the Ravens as starter Lamar Jackson continues his recovery from the ankle injury he suffered in a Week 14 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Tyler Huntley again performed admirably filling in for Jackson in the team’s Week 15 loss to the Green Bay Packers, completing 28 of 40 passes for 215 and 2 touchdowns with no turnovers. Huntley brought a different style to the offense, attempting just two passes of more than 20 yards but moving the ball consistently with quick throws. After weeks of offensive struggles, the Ravens scored on five of eight possessions and reached the red zone on another. Tight end Mark Andrews produced another monster game with 10 catches on 13 targets for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns. Andrews (85 catches on 122 targets, 1062 yards, 8 touchdowns) has a real chance to set single-season team records for receptions and receiving yards. Huntley used wide receiver Marquise Brown as an underneath target (10 catches for 43 yards) against the Packers while he threw to rookie Rashod Bateman just twice after Bateman surpassed 100 yards in Week 14. Left guard Ben Cleveland and right tackle David Sharpe held up well filling in for Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips, respectively, against Green Bay. Huntley took 1 sack and 2 quarterback hits.
The Bengals gave Jackson far more trouble — 5 sacks, 7 quarterback hits — in their 41-17 victory over the Ravens in Week 7. Ravens blockers will need to hold up better against defensive ends Trey Hendrickson (13 sacks, 22 quarterback hits) and Sam Hubbard (7½ sacks, 17 quarterback hits) and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (7 sacks) to give either Huntley or Jackson time to work. The Bengals could be without their best cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie (2 interceptions, 12 passes defended), who went on the reserve/COVID-19 list last week. The Bengals rank 26th in pass defense, so they can be attacked if their pass rushers don’t get home.
Bengals passing game vs. Ravens pass defense
Second-year quarterback Joe Burrow went off for 416 yards and 3 touchdowns in Cincinnati’s Week 7 blowout in Baltimore. Burrow rates quite differently by different analytics; he’s the top-graded quarterback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, but just 17th in ESPN’s QBR. He has completed 68.7% of his passes and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt but has thrown 14 interceptions and taken 44 sacks. The Bengals, particularly rookie Ja’Marr Chase, killed the Ravens with yards after the catch. But Chase has not gone for more than 77 yards in a game since he piled up 201 in Baltimore, and he caught just 1 pass for 3 yards in Cincinnati’s Week 15 win over the Denver Broncos. Tee Higgins succeeded the rookie as Burrow’s most productive target with three straight 100-yard games from weeks 12 through 14. Then, veteran Tyler Boyd took center stage against the Broncos (5 catches on 6 targets, 96 yards, 1 touchdowns). So it’s not as if the Ravens can put disproportionate focus on Chase as they did with Green Bay’s Davante Adams in Week 15.
The Ravens will start a very different secondary from the one Burrow torched two months ago. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is gone for the year, and the Ravens are waiting to see whether safety Geno Stone and cornerbacks Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith will return from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Tavon Young’s (concussion) status is also up in the air. The Ravens struggled to slow down Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers with their collection of backups and practice-squad call-ups. They could also be without one of their top pass rushers, Justin Houston, who went on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Fellow outside linebacker Pernell McPhee joined Houston on the list a day after he was designated to return from knee surgery. Odafe Oweh and Jaylon Ferguson could be asked to take on significantly greater workloads if the veteran edge defenders are unavailable. The Ravens are also awaiting word on defensive end Calais Campbell, who missed the Packers game with a hamstring injury. Despite their injury and COVID woes, the Ravens have not allowed an opponent to pass for more than 290 yards since Burrow did it.
Ravens running game vs. Bengals run defense
Latavius Murray played a larger role against the Packers than he had for several weeks and responded with one of his best games (7 carries, 48 yards) as a Raven. Devonta Freeman (462 yards, 4.3 yards per carry) has been the more productive back overall. Huntley might not be on Jackson’s level as runner, but he scrambled to great effect (13 carries for 73 yards, 2 touchdowns) as the Ravens rallied from 14 down against the Packers. Jackson (12 carries, 88 yards) was the team’s only effective runner in the earlier loss to Cincinnati.
The Bengals, led by defensive tackle D.J. Reader, rank fourth in the league in run defense, so the Ravens won’t be able to count on grinding them down.
Bengals running game vs. Ravens run defense
Joe Mixon ran for 59 yards on 12 carries in his previous matchup with the Ravens, but the Bengals have relied on him more down the stretch, giving him an average of 22.4 carries over their past five games. Mixon has averaged 4.1 yards per carry in his career and 4.2 this season, so he’s more of a steady pounder than a breakaway threat. Backup Samaje Perine has averaged 4.5 yards per carry in limited duty and played one of his best games (11 carries, 52 yards) against the Ravens.
Since that humiliating loss, the Ravens have held opponents under 100 yards rushing in five of seven games, and they lead the league in run defense. Linebacker Patrick Queen made 13 tackles against the Packers as he continued his rise after a difficult start to the season.
Ravens special teams vs. Bengals special teams
The Ravens rank first in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA. Justin Tucker has made 29 of 31 field-goal attempts and made his fourth straight Pro Bowl and sixth overall. Devin Duvernay also made the Pro Bowl as a returner, with a 14.4-yard average on punts and a 24.6-yard average on kickoffs. But he is dealing with an ankle injury that limited him against the Packers.
The Bengals are no slouches on special teams, ranking seventh in DVOA thanks to solid work from rookie kicker Evan McPherson (24 of 28 on field-goal attempts) and punter Kevin Huber. They have not been as good on returns, with an array of players averaging 7.2 yards on punts and 20 yards on kickoffs.
Ravens intangibles vs. Browns intangibles
This is a pivotal game for both teams. The Bengals know they could take a commanding lead in the AFC North with a home victory, and they’ll be eager to double down on what Burrow called a “big statement” performance in Baltimore. Coach Zac Taylor can’t match John Harbaugh’s record of success, but he has a far healthier team as the Ravens continue to patch their roster together in the face of season-ending injuries and COVID-19 positives.
The Ravens have lost three games in a row by a combined four points. No one can question their will to compete. But Harbaugh’s recent decisions to go for 2 points in game-deciding situations indicate his understanding of how depleted they are.
The Ravens are close to must-win territory, and they’ll go into this high-stakes matchup with major questions about which starters are even available. We have seen them compete with Huntley at quarterback, but he cannot help their tattered secondary defend against Burrow and a deep wide receiver corps. Cincinnati’s defense, meanwhile, gave the Ravens fits in Baltimore. If the Ravens had anything close to a healthy roster, they would be the better team. But they don’t. Bengals 24, Ravens 20.
Source: Berkshire mont