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Ravens vs. Bengals: Key matchups

Defining matchups

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Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

The Ravens sit at 5-1 and atop the AFC standings heading into Week 7 of the season. Baltimore has yet to play a divisional game, but that will change this Sunday as the Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) in a battle for first place of the AFC North.

Joe Burrow vs. the blitz

Quarterback Joe Burrow has come a long way since his first meeting with Baltimore in Week 5 of his rookie season. In that game, Burrow and the Bengals’ offense was utterly dismantled by Don ‘Wink’ Martindale and the Ravens’ defense. Burrow was sacked seven times that day while throwing zero touchdowns, an interception, and a lost fumble in a 27-3 blowout.

A lot has changed for Burrow though since only his fifth game in the NFL. The former LSU star has played at a high level so far this season, particularly against the blitz — the bread and butter of Martindale’s defense.

According to pro-football-reference, through the first six weeks, Baltimore has blitzed opposing quarterbacks 32% of the time. Whether or not a now more experienced Burrow can handle the Ravens’ patented blitzes this time around will be a major factor in the outcome of Sunday’s game.

Ravens’ cornerbacks vs. Bengals’ wide receivers

Perhaps the biggest strength of Cincinnati’s offense is its talented group of wide receivers at Burrow’s disposal. Burrow already had an impressive receiving corps before this season with Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins, but the team added his former Tiger teammate Ja’Marr Chase with the fifth pick in the draft. Chase has been nothing short of spectacular through with 553 yards and five touchdowns on 27 receptions through the first six weeks of his rookie season.

Baltimore’s cornerbacks will have their hands full on Sunday. Behind All-Pro Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averett rebounded from a disastrous Week 5 performance against the Indianapolis Colts with a strong outing against the Los Angeles Chargers, while nickelback Tavon Young has returned to form as one of the defense’s top playmakers after missing the majority of the last two seasons with injuries.

Trey Hendrickson vs. Alejandro Villanueva

With the announcement that All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley will miss the remainder of the season, Alejandro Villanueva will be a critical player for Baltimore each and every week protecting quarterback Lamar Jackson’s blindside. Villanueva’s performance has fluctuated throughout the season thus far, but he will be needed to step up on Sunday against defensive end Trey Hendrickson.

Hendrickson has so far silenced any critics of the contract he was given by the Bengals in the offseason. Through six games, the former New Orleans Saint has notched 5.5 sacks. Hendrickson should face Villanueva quite a bit on Sunday — an advantageous matchup on paper considering that Villanueva has allowed five sacks this season according to PFF.