In preparing for Sunday’s primetime matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, Cincy Jungle’s Anthony Cosenza and I sat down for a small Q&A for one another’s publications.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1. The additions the Bengals made along the offensive line was the talk of the offseason. But in the first two weeks, the Bengals allowed 13 sacks. The past two games, however, protection appears to have held up well, allowing only three sacks. Was it chemistry that improved, scheme or something quarterback Joe Burrow has done to allow fewer sacks?
It’s been a little bit of everything, honestly. Those first two games really made the Bengals go back to the basics, adapting from an over-aggressive mindset, wherein they always seemed to look for the big play.
Make no mistake, the new additions up front have not been a cure-all yet from what ailed them last year. La’el Collins appears to have a lingering back issue that is disallowing him to get back to dominant form, while rookie left guard Cordell Volson has taken his lumps. Right guard Alex Cappa came over from the Buccaneers and he’s been relatively steady, while new center Ted Karras has been the most consistent of the bunch.
In terms of passing and sacks allowed early on, it had to have been a combination of a lack of chemistry, Joe Burrow playing his brand of “backyard football”, hanging on to the ball too long and defenses giving them a lot of “Tampa 2” looks to take away the killer big plays. Cincinnati has transitioned to a more patient offense, taking short and intermediate plays to Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Hayden Hurst, only to then pop the occasional deep ball to Higgins or Ja’Marr Chase.
2. The Bengals rushing offense appears to be struggling a bit, ranking No. 28 in DVOA per footballoutsiders. Where are things not clicking that may be a part of the issue?
Everywhere. The line still hasn’t gelled, Joe Mixon is either getting hit in the backfield, or occasionally missing the open lane when it is there and some are noting predictable run play-calls in obvious situations.
Still, while Hurst has been a good addition to the offense, this may be a little bit of an area wherein C.J. Uzomah (now with the Jets) provided quiet help last year. He did a lot of dirty work in the form of chip blocks, double-teaming with tackles and the like because of the line’s lack of abilities last year. Hurst and the rest of the Bengals’ tight ends aren’t as adept in that area, apparently, and that may be a bit of an issue all-around.
3. On the flip side, the Bengals defense is No. 7 in DVOA. What have they done well that could give this Ravens offense fits? Who and what stands out?
Quite frankly, Cincinnati’s defense has done a great job at keeping other teams out of the end zone. Be it by sacks, turnovers and/or just getting off of the field on third down (that’s been the biggest thing), Lou Anarumo’s defense has stepped up in a big way this year.
For reference, Cincinnati is just allowing an average of 17.5 points per game this year, and that includes a pick-six thrown by Burrow in the opener. The secondary has disallowed big plays, while the run defense has been pretty stout.
There are two caveats here, though. Arguably their best defensive player and run-stopper extraordinaire, D.J. Reader, is out over the next handful of games after suffering a knee injury against the Jets. Additionally, Cincinnati has played against four backup quarterbacks these first four weeks to varying degrees of playing time. Lamar Jackson is going to be a HUGE test for this unit on Sunday night.
4. Who are two players (one offense, one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game that aren’t ‘household names?’
On offense, I’ll say Samaje Perine, the backup running back to Mixon. No. 28 is a star and when he gets going, he’s one of the best backs in the league, but he can be feast-or-famine in stretches. Right now, he’s in the “famine” category, and while Perine didn’t get a lot of touches last week, you can go back to the final drive against New York a couple of weeks ago and see how and when he can be effective.
Perine is a North-South, one-cut runner, who also helps out as a pass-protector and receiver, depending on the situation. If things aren’t moving in the right direction with Mixon on Sunday night, Cincinnati may opt to give Perine more looks and, while he doesn’t pop the big runs, he could churn out consistently-positive yardage.
On defense, I’ll say to watch Josh Tupou. He’s massive at 6’3”, 340 pounds and will be tasked with assuming a lot of duties left vacant by Reader’s absence. Tupou is a good rotational and niche player, but given what Baltimore likes to do in the ground game, he’s going to be a key guy to the success or lack thereof by the Bengals’ defense on Sunday night.
5. The Ravens are three-point home favorites in this primetime matchup, according to DraftKings sportsbook. Do you believe that’s a fair line? Where would you put the line?
What’s the old rule of thumb: “When it’s a coin-flip game, the spread is plus-three for the home team”? I think this is totally fair, in terms of the betting line. Both teams are 2-2, with both losses being of the inexplicable variety, they’re division rivals and it’s a primetime game. This is exactly where I’d put the line and probably where I see the point differential being, in terms of the victor this Sunday.