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Ravens News 12/24: Sudden Changes and more

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NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens’ Don Martindale on depleted defense: ‘I don’t know if we are playing football or the Squid Games’ - Ryan McFadden

Defending Bengals WR Ja’Marr Chase

Martindale said he doesn’t plan to implore the same defensive scheme he used to combat Packers receiver Davante Adams on Bengals rookie Ja’Marr Chase, who made eight catches for 201 yards and a touchdown in his first matchup against the Ravens.

“To sit here and have you think that we’re gonna run the same plan against Ja’Marr Chase like we did Davante Adams and [Packers quarterback] Aaron Rodgers, we’re going down the wrong street,” Martindale said. “Like I said last week Davante Adams is a two top receiver in the league and he’s not number two.”

The Ravens held Adams to six catches for 44 yards and touchdown by implementing a defensive package called “17 Bulldogs” that involved a ton of double coverages. Rodgers said it was one of the most interesting defensive schemes that he had seen “in a long time.”

Martindale said the Ravens will have to do something different because Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow is not Aaron Rodgers and the Bengals have three talented receivers and tight end C.J. Uzomah.

“Aaron Rodgers is a Hall of Fame quarterback and I don’t think we’re ready to buy a gold jacket for Joe,” Martindale said. “But it’s going to be a tough challenge because you know of the three-headed monster they have a wide receiver and everybody sleeps on [Uzomah].”

What do they have left? Ahead of biggest game of season, Ravens trying to piece together a defense - Jeff Zrebiec

Safety

What they have: Brandon Stephens, Anthony Levine Sr.

What they don’t: Clark, Stone

What they could add: Like at cornerback, the Ravens have three practice-squad safeties: Tony Jefferson, Jordan Richards and Blake Countess. If Clark or Stone don’t return, Jefferson, who played nine snaps against the Packers, is the favorite to start alongside the rookie Stephens. Richards likely will be elevated, if for no other reason than his special teams experience. The Ravens are without a ton of special teams snaps if Board, Welch and Stone are all forced to sit. Countess can play both cornerback and safety, so he offers versatility.

Concern level: High. The Ravens have faith in Jefferson to step in, but they’re still hurting for quality depth along with a potential signal-caller for the defense. Clark has done that role for much of the season and Stone filled in with it admirably well Sunday. If both of them can’t play, Martindale might be forced to have Stephens, a rookie third-round pick who didn’t play much safety at all before arriving in the NFL, wear the green dot. Not having enough speed on the back end to match up with the Bengals also projects to be a major concern.

Three Keys To A Ravens Win Against The Bengals In Week 16 - Bo Smolka

Create turnovers.

Nothing helps the offense more than a sudden-change play by the defense, but those have been too infrequent this season. The Ravens’ turnover ratio of minus-9 ranks 29th in the league, and they went five games without an interception. Their total of six interceptions is tied for second-fewest in the league.

The Ravens did intercept Burrow in the previous meeting (by Marlon Humphrey), and they scored a defensive touchdown against Burrow last year when his former LSU teammate, Patrick Queen, returned a fumble 53 yards for a score.

If there’s an ‘X’ factor in this game in that regard, it could be linebacker Odafe Oweh. The Ravens rookie has been quiet recently, with no sacks or quarterback hits in the past three games. But he has forced three fumbles this year, including one that essentially sealed the win over the Kansas City Chiefs, and if the Ravens’ defense comes up with a game-changing play, there’s a good chance that Oweh will be involved.

NFL picks against the spread - Sheil Kapadia

Baltimore Ravens at Cincinnati Bengals (-3) | 1 p.m. ET Sunday, CBS

This is another game that could see line movement before kickoff depending on who’s at quarterback for the Ravens — Lamar Jackson or Tyler Huntley. Baltimore began the season 6-1 in one-possession games but has now lost its past three by a total of four points. It’s impressive how competitive they’ve been, despite being so banged-up.

The Bengals, meanwhile, find themselves in first place in the AFC North. Last week’s game wasn’t pretty, but they left Denver with a 15-10 win. Cincinnati rolled to a 41-17 win against the Ravens in Week 7, but overall these are evenly matched teams, and I give Baltimore the coaching edge.

The pick: Ravens (+3)

Week 16 NFL game picks: 49ers out-bully Titans; Browns knock off Packers at Lambeau - Gregg Rosenthal

Baltimore Ravens 23, Cincinnati Bengals 20

Choosing the Ravens at this stage of the season is not about what’s logical or who’s available. They are a weekly reminder of what they are not, barely able to field a legitimate roster lately, and yet they are still there late in every game, ready to break hearts again. The Ravens lost to the Bengals 41-17 when they were relatively healthy, so of course they’ll win this rematch to stop the bleeding because it’s 2021.