I sat down and talked to Scott from SB Nation's own Cincy Jungle site. In our first weekly edition, we ask each other a few questions for our respective fans to gain a better understanding of our opponent.
Q1: Andy Dalton just received a nice new contract. Yet questions surround his ability to take the team to the next level. Are fans on his side completely or is there some unrest with his lack of playoff success?
A: Fans are very split on Andy Dalton. He has his supporters, but he also has a very large (and vocal) set of detractors as well. His supporters point to his record (30-18), 3 playoff appearances, 80 TDs and the fact that he already holds the franchise records in terms of single season TDs (33) and yards (4,293). His detractors point to the fact that Dalton has struggled in big games, specifically the playoffs (1 TD and 7 turnovers). And both are correct. I am somewhere in between, but I agree with the contract. It gives Andy his money up front (which he has earned), and allows the Bengals to get out of the contract after two years if he performs poorly. Most importantly, the escalators are tied to postseason success. The better he does in the playoffs, the more money he gets. No one will debate the validity of his contract going up if the Bengals make a deep playoff run.
Q2: For Sunday’s game, what should the Ravens attack on defense? Where is the weakness to exploit?
A: The Bengals offense is very good and will be a handful for any team, but there is a potential weakness - center. The Bengals will be starting a rookie center, Russell Bodine. The coaching staff loves Bodine and his strength, but he has had issues in the preseason with shotgun snaps and lets face it, he is still a rookie center. Playing in Baltimore, with Haloti Ngata at NT, is tough for any center, especially a rookie center making his NFL debut. I would expect to see Dalton making most of the protection calls on Sunday, not Bodine.
Q3: For Sunday’s game, where should the Ravens’ focus be with the Bengals offense?
A: Stopping the run. The Bengals will play two backs on Sunday: Giovani Bernard who is extremely quick and elusive and can run routes (and catch) like a WR; and Jeremy Hill, a 6’1" 238 lb rookie 2nd round pick from LSU who has looked great in the preseason. Hill is powerful, but can also catch out of the backfield. If the Ravens can shut down the run game and make Dalton beat them, they have the advantage. If, however, the Bengals get the run game off the ground, it opens up the playbook and will make the Bengals WRs and TEs even more difficult to cover.
Q4: Who is the player Ravens fans haven't heard about that we should watch out for?
A: I would say the rookie Jeremy Hill. Bernard will get the bulk of the touches, but Hill is a complete back and a prototypical "Bell Cow" type back. He is big (6’1" 238 lbs), fast, has good hands and can not only run defenders over, he can also make them miss.
Q5: As you know, Ravens fans have experience with Hue Jackson, now the OC for the Bengals. How good is Hue Jackson’s offense going to be this year and is he bringing any unique wrinkles to the game that could cause problems for the Ravens?
A: I believe that the loss of Jay Gruden and promotion of Hue Jackson was a positive. Jay Gruden’s offense was "cute" and had Dalton averaging 37+ passes per game in 2013. That won’t happen under Jackson. Jackson will feature more of a power running game and quick hit passing attack with timely strikes down field. The one wrinkle that teams will likely see more out of the Bengals in 2014 is a faster pace offense. Dalton does well with the uptempo pace and I look for Jackson to use more of it than Gruden did the past 3 years.
Q6: What are the keys to a Bengals victory?
A: Turnovers. It sounds cliche, but it is true. Dalton is 2-4 against the Ravens (including 0-3 in Baltimore) and 28-14 against the rest of the league. The reason? Turnovers. Against the Ravens, Dalton has 6 TDs and 11 INTs (3 TDs, 7 INTs in Baltimore). Against the rest of the league, Dalton has 74 TDs and 38 INTs. No other team has picked Dalton off more than 7 times. If Dalton starts completing passes to the home team on Sunday like he has his last 3 trips to Baltimore, the Ravens will win. If not, I think the Bengals win.
Q7: What are the keys to a Ravens victory?
A: Stopping the run...which would lead to the aforementioned turnovers. If the Ravens can make the Bengals one dimensional and get pressure on Dalton, that bodes well for them. All quarterbacks play worse under pressure, but Dalton particularly. If the Bengals can’t use the run game to keep the Ravens defense honest, Dalton has shown a propensity to force passes and will give the Ravens defense an opportunity to make a play on the ball.
Q8: Where do the Bengals finish in the AFC North in 2014 and how do the Bengals finish the season (miss playoffs, postseason one and done, SuperBowl)?
A: I believe the Bengals defend their AFC North crown. I believe it will be a tight 3 team race between the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers, but in the end, the Bengals are the most talented and well rounded team in the division (top 10 offense, top 5 defense).
Q9: The ravens are favorites to win this game. Why should they be? Why shouldn't they be?
A: The home team always gets 3 points and currently, the Ravens are a 1 to 1.5 point favorite, so Vegas is saying the Ravens have the advantage based on the game being in Baltimore...and for good reason. As I mentioned above, Dalton has been terrible in Baltimore (0-3) and combined with the fact that the Ravens have a solid defense and what should be an improved offense, there is good reason for the slight edge. In a vacuum, I would say the Bengals would be favored because of their balance on both offense and defense.