Ravens vs Bengals: Previewing the Week 11 contest between the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens, looking at the players to watch, keys to the game and more. The past few games have proven that the 2018 Cincinnati Bengals are far away from being included among the elites this year. They’ve given up 500+ yards in three straight games, while allowing 133 points combined to the Kansas City Chiefs, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and New Orleans Saints.
Despite the terrors the past few weeks have brought them, these Bengals are astonishingly still in the thick of the playoff race, and while they can’t keep up with the best teams they’ve done enough to beat every non-elite challenge thrown their way.
That includes this week’s opponent. In Week 2, the Bengals scored four touchdowns with ease in the first half against Baltimore before holding on for a 34-23 victory. Can they do it again?
Here’s the keys to whether the answer will be in their favor.
Can Cincinnati’s Linebackers Make A Positive Impact?
Cincinnati’s linebackers have been abysmal for much of this season. Some of that is due to lacking physical attributes (Preston Brown and Vontaze Burfict are among the slowest starting linebackers in the league). A major part is due to injuries, which have stricken just about everyone who has had snaps there this year.
What this has all left Cincinnati with is a bunch of questions and exploitable holes all across the heart of the defense as we enter this game. Burfict is in the midst of his worst season to date. Vincent Rey has aged out of any effectiveness. Nick Vigil is definitely still out, and Brown may be joining him on the sideline.
Who else is even left? Nobody to be inspired about: a raw 2018 third-round draftee (Malik Jefferson), a 2017 late-round draft pick (Jordan Evans) and three undrafted free agent pickups (Hardy Nickerson, Brandon Bell, Chris Worley). Some of the currently injured guys may be available, but expect the guys here to have a big role against Baltimore.
The lacking play of the linebacker position has been dreadfully apparent in Cincinnati’s recent losses. The Chiefs and Saints especially showed off how easily the middle of the field was able to be attacked with their talented running backs catching passes out of the backfield and leaving Cincinnati’s men in the middle in the dust.
For this game to go in Cincinnati’s favor, they’ll need to keep Baltimore’s cadre of backfield options in check; do that, and Baltimore’s offense will be forced into a bunch of long down-and-distance situations.
Will Baltimore D’s Weakness Be Exploited?
There is a lot to like about Baltimore’s defense. They are high on practically every regular and advanced metric you might want to check: fewest yards per play allowed, secnd-lowest total yardage allowed, fewest yards per play allowed, tied for third-fewest 20+ yard plays allowed, fouth-best third down percentage, fifth in Football Outsiders’ Defensive DVOA — and the list goes on and on.
No defense is perfect though, and even the best units have areas to exploit. That rings true for Baltimore as well, and though it may be a somewhat difficult issue for opposing teams to attack at times it leaves the opposition a huge target.
I’m speaking of course of the deep ball. The Ravens don’t give up much easily, but there is a clear reason only three teams are lower in terms of variance in their performance. Big passing plays can quickly make up for lesser failings of an offense, instantly affording an offense huge chunks of yardage and easy scores.
Baltimore really has struggled in this area. They are 23rd in DVOA against deep passes in general this season, and in the bottom third of the league on deep passes to both the left and right side of the field. That right side is a particular sore spot: only three teams have been worse at covering the deep right side of the field.
Cincinnati won’t have A.J. Green to exploit that, but second-year receiver John Ross he has the sort of speed to live in that area all game, and while few of them have actually produced this year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has plenty of receiving options he can rotate in and route to that area.