The preseason has not yet concluded and rosters are still in a state of flux. However, forward thinking coaches are already devising their gameplans for Week 1 of the regular season. The Baltimore Ravens will travel to Cincinnati on September 10th for an early season grudge match that could have postseason ramifications.
A Week 1 divisional road win could provide a springboard for Ravens in the AFC North race. Led by Terrell Suggs, Baltimore’s ferocious pass rush will have an exploitable matchup advantage against the Bengals underwhelming offensive line. Cincinnati’s defense will also be shorthanded in Week 1; as starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict as well as starting cornerback Adam Jones are suspended and starting safety Shawn Williams could also miss the contest due to an elbow injury.
Nevertheless, oddsmakers are currently giving the Bengals the traditional home field advantage with a three point spread. The Bengals have defeated the Ravens in six of their seven most recent meetings. If history holds, game breaking receiver A.J. Green could determine the outcome of this important battle between teams with playoff aspirations.
Green has dominated the Ravens lately. He did miss both intra-division games in 2016 due to a pulled and later torn hamstring. But in eight contests against the Ravens over his career, Green has produced 41 receptions for 726 yards and six touchdowns. Since 2013, his average output when facing Baltimore is almost six and a half catches for 121 yards and better than a touchdown per game.
Green is the total package as a receiver - a potent red zone target who can bring down contested passes and a smooth route runner with explosive yards after the catch ability. The best way to get the lanky Georgia product off his game is with physicality. Ravens safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson will surely be looking to punish him whenever possible.
Much of the coverage responsibility will fall on the Ravens top cornerback Jimmy Smith. Smith has played well against other elite receivers over his career. In a pair of challenging matchups as a young professional, Jimmy held Calvin Johnson scoreless on a 43-percent catch rate; and also shadowed Julio Jones, keeping him out of the end zone and below 60 yards.
The Ravens have largely contained dynamic receiver Antonio Brown, holding him under six catches and 65 yards per game through 13 contests, well below his gaudy career averages. Despite a crushing fourth quarter touchdown last Christmas, the Ravens have only allowed Brown to score three times against them, in large part due to Smith’s coverage ability. The shutdown corner also essentially erased Odell Beckham Jr. in the first half before a concussion sidelined Smith, enabling Beckham to destroy the Ravens secondary in the second half of Week 6 last season.
Yet the statistics indicate Green has been Smith’s kryptonite. With the help of fellow press-man corner Brandon Carr, Jimmy is hoping to reverse this trend. If the Ravens can hold A.J. Green below 80 yards and out of the end zone, they will have a great opportunity to begin their quest for the postseason on the right foot with a crucial victory.