The Baltimore Ravens have emerged from the first six weeks of their 2021 odyssey with a conference leading 5-1 record. In Week 7, they will meet their first divisional foe of the campaign with first place in the AFC North at stake.
Cincinnati has ascended to contender status this season. New personnel on defense has transformed one of the worst groups in the league into the fifth most efficient stop unit. In pervious meetings, Lamar Jackson has run through the Bengals but he will need to continue orchestrating a versatile attack to overcome Cincinnati this Sunday.
On the other side of the ball, positive game scripts have allowed the Bengals to balance increased rushing volume with deep balls to outstanding rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase. With Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati is one of the few teams who possess the receiving talent to match-up favorably against Baltimore’s shorthanded secondary, but they may not have the luxury of dictating tempo in this contest. The Ravens explosive offense is fully capable forcing the Bengals to chase points, preventing them from staying patient with Joe Mixon on the ground against Baltimore’s stout run defense.
Chase, the fifth overall pick in the draft, has not yet faced a lockdown corner of Marlon Humprey’s caliber and Higgins will be tested by the physicality of Jimmy Smith and Anthony Averett. The Bengals have schemed around a porous pass blocking unit by devising an offense that allows Joe Burrow to release the ball quickly. Ball-out-quick assaults from savvy quaterbacks have nullified Coordinator Martindale’s aggressive blitzes in the past when the Ravens have not been able to adequately cover the outlet values.
The slot battle between Boyd and Tavon Young will be pivotal in this AFC North contest. Boyd has been under utilized lately with just five catches for 31 yards on eight combined targets over his last two games. He has traditionally performed well against the Ravens. Boyd’s career stat line is 37 receptions for 480 yards and two scores with 6.7 average targets in ten career meetings.
After a long injury layoff, Young has recently rounded into form. His 54.9 passer rating allowed on throws into his coverage is by far the best mark of his career. Tavon has also recorded two pass breakups, one interception, four tackles for loss, four pressures and two sacks on 11 blitz attempts. However, he has struggled at times against Cincinnati, including a 2018 outing with 80 yards and two touchdowns allowed.
Complementary players often provide the difference when familiar opponents square off. Young’s man coverage ability can help the Ravens defense maintain their fifth best (32.8) third down conversion percentage. Yet if Boyd can uncover, Burrow will have options to evade Baltimore’s pass rush, likely inserting the Ravens into another fourth quarter dogfight.