Losers of their last three games, the Ravens will look to bounce back against the Bengals on Sunday in a game with major implications for the division. Baltimore will likely be without quarterback Lamar Jackson once again this week as well as a myriad of other key players.
Here are some of the key matchups for Sunday’s AFC North showdown.
Ja’Marr Chase vs Ravens’ cornerbacks
The No. 5 overall pick made quite a first impression in his first meeting with the Ravens earlier this season when he torched Baltimore’s defense for 201 yards and a touchdown. That was when the Ravens still had All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the lineup, who has since been lost for the season with torn pectoral. Baltimore could be without several other cornerbacks this week as Jimmy Smith and Chris Westry have yet to be activated from the Reserve/COVID-19 list. Slot corner Tavon Young returned to practice fully Thursday after leaving the previous game with a concussion.
The Ravens faced the Packers last Sunday without those three aforementioned players and were able to limit superstar wide receiver Davante Adams to 44 yards through a combination of different coverages. The downside of that was giving up 98 yards to wide receiver Marques Valdes-Scantling. If Baltimore does not devote similar treatment to Chase this week, then he will likely make them pay. However, if they do, then wide receivers Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins present matchup nightmares for the Ravens’ other cornerbacks if Smith and Westry remain sidelined.
Trey Hendrickson vs. Alejandro Villanueva
Defensive end Trey Hendrickson has proven to be a phenomenal free agent signing for the Bengals this season. Hendrickson currently has a sack in the last 10 games this season with a total of 13 for the year. On Sunday, he will have the chance to boost that number against left tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
Villanueva has struggled in pass protection, to say the least, in his first season with Baltimore, allowing nine sacks for the year — second-most in the NFL according to PFF. With Huntley behind center in place of the injured Jackson, the Ravens have adopted a quicker passing attack which has helped the offensive line. Continuing to get the ball out quickly will be vital to protecting Villanueva against one of the NFL’s elite pass rushers. Chip blocks and double teams from players such as tight ends Nick Boyle and Eric Tomlinson should be expected as well to help slow Hendrickson on passing plays.
Mark Andrews vs. Jessie Bates III
Tight end Mark Andrews has cemented his place as one of the league’s very best at his position and is fresh off of consecutive 100+ yard games. Like with Jackson, Andrews has been Huntley’s go-to weapon in the passing game — something that will likely continue on Sunday.
According to pro-football-reference.com, Cincinnati has allowed the ninth-most yards to tight ends this season with 872 as well as six touchdowns. All-Pro safety Jessie Bates III will certainly be tasked with covering Andrews frequently on Sunday. While Andrews did get the better of him on a few occasions in their last meeting, the star tight end was held relatively in check with just three catches for 48 yards in Week 7.
Joe Burrow vs. Don “Wink” Martindale
Quarterback Joe Burrow had his way through the air against Baltimore earlier this year. Despite being sacked 44 times this season — second most in the NFL — the Ravens only notched one sack on Burrow in their previous matchup. Burrow was prepared for defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s patented blitzes, making Baltimore pay when sending extra players on the rush.
Martindale has dialed back his aggressive tendencies in certain games this season, most notably against Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers. With even less starters in the secondary now, Martindale will have to decide whether or not blitzing the second-year quarterback will present too much risk on the backend if a rusher is unable to get to Burrow quickly enough. On the other hand, allowing Burrow to have all day in the pocket would surely yield similar results against the current crop of defensive backs the Ravens are fielding.
Martindale needs to bring his best on Sunday in order to throw Burrow off his game, otherwise Baltimore will likely find themselves in another shootout.