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Ravens vs. Bengals Key Matchups: Justin Madubuike primed to dominate

This heavyweight divisional bout features key battles between specific players, units, and coaches.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Michael Owens/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens will be staying at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 11 for the final game of a three-week homestand. They’ll face off with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday for the second time this season. The Ravens are favored to win this AFC North matchup against a Bengals team that also lost on a last-second field goal at home in Week 10.

However, games aren’t won on paper or decided by betting odds. There are some pivotal matchups between individual players, units, and coaches that will go a long way in determining the outcome of this contest.

Below are a handful of those key battles that could prove to be deciding factors in Week 11.

Mike Macdonald vs. QB Joe Burrow

For the past season and a half, the Ravens defensive coordinator has been more than just a thorn in the side of the Bengals’ franchise signal caller, he’s been his kryptonite. The two games in the 2021 season injury-plagued season, where Burrow threw for a combined 941 passing yards and seven touchdowns against the Ravens’ ravaged secondary, seem like a distant memory.

Since Macdonald has been designing and calling the plays for the Ravens’ defense, they have gone up against Burrow four times including the playoffs and limited him to an average of just 215.75 passing yards with five passing touchdowns, two interceptions and sacked him nine times. Macdonald is a deceptive mastermind when it comes to dialing up and disguising pressures and coverages by showing one look pre-snap and doing something else entirely once the ball is snapped.

He constantly disrupts the timing between Burrow and his targets by clogging passing lanes with dropped defenders and schemes others unblocked for near-instantaneous pressures. Expect more of the same from a highly motivated unit coming off a rough loss and who will be looking to bounce back with the whole nation watching in their first primetime game of the season.

Ravens rushing attack vs. Bengals run defense

After being held to a season-low 106 yards on the ground in their Week 10 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore will be looking to get back to playing bully ball in the trenches this week against a Cincinnati run defense that has struggled stop the run all season.

Against the Houston Texans, who still rank in the bottom five of rush offense, the Bengals gave up their second-most rushing yards in a single game this season with 188, the bulk of which came from veteran running back Devin Singletary who racked up a game-high 130 yards on 30 carries.

Cincinnati has given up the seventh-most rushing yards (1,226) in the league through the first 10 weeks and is allowing the third-most yards per game (136.2) and the second-most yards per carry (5.0) on the ground. They’ve been going up against a Ravens’ run game that still ranks first in the league in total rushing yards gained (1,549) and rushing yards per game (154.9) and is second in yards per carry (4.8).

While veteran Gus Edwards will undoubtedly get his fair share of carries as the starter, this would be the perfect week to finally let undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell get loose and see what he can do with an expanded role. On Monday, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh alluded to as much in his press conference and Thursday will be a great opportunity to let their explosive new weapon shine in primetime.

Ravens pass rush vs. Bengals o-line

Cincinnati doesn’t have multiple members of their starting blocking unit listed on the injury report like Baltimore. However, they remain a liability nonetheless with their inconsistency when it comes to establishing the run game or providing Burrow with comfortable pockets.

Going against the most productive pass rush in the league, the advantage in the trenches on both passing and rushing downs will belong to the home team. The Ravens currently league the league with 39 sacks in 10 games and have recorded at least four in four of their last five games.

A key matchup to watch for on the edge will be former Ravens offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. going up against Odafe Oweh, who the team drafted with the pick they got in exchange for trading Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs in 2021. Oweh has come on strong since returning from an early season ankle injury with a sack in three of his last four games. He is the kind of explosive edge rusher that has given Brown Jr. trouble during his career.

A clear mismatch along the interior is defensive tackle Justin Madubuike going up against Bengals guards. Veteran right guard Alex Cappa was absolutely ragdolled by Texans defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins, who finished the game with a whopping three sacks and 11 pressures after only having one sack in six games prior to Week 10.

Madubuike recorded at least half a sack in a franchise record seven consecutive games and currently leads the Ravens and all interior defensive linemen in the league with a career-high 8.5 sacks. The rising breakout star is primed to dominate this game up the middle which is the fastest way to disrupt and pressure a quarterback.

QB Lamar Jackson vs. Bengals pass defense

As bad as Cincinnati got gashed on the ground this past Sunday, Texans’ rookie quarterback CJ Stroud was able to further cement his lead in the Offensive Rookie of the Year race and even enter the league MVP conversation after carving them up with his arm. Of the 544 yards of total offense they allowed in Week 10, 356 of them came through the air. The second overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft completed nearly 60 percent of his passes, averaged 15.5 yards per completion, and finished with a passer rating of 87.1 despite throwing an interception.

In the first meeting between the Ravens and Bengals in Week 2, the Ravens’ two-time Pro Bowl signal caller had one of his most impressive outings throwing the ball. He went 24-of-33 for 237 passing yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, a completion percentage of 72.7, and a then-season-high passer rating of 112.8.

Since then, Jackson has become more consistent as a passer while the Bengals secondary has given up an average of 312.25 passing yards in their past four games, including a pair of 340-plus-yard passers. While the Ravens still came up short to the Browns this past Sunday, an aspect of the game that was working well for them was making big plays through the air. Going up against a struggling Cincinnati pass defense with a bevy of talented pass catchers that have been heating up suggests that Jackson is poised for a big night throwing the ball.

CB Brandon Stephens vs. WR Ja’Marr Chase

With Ravens’ three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey unlikely to play on a short week with a calf strain and Bengals No. 1B wide receiver Tee Higgins likely to miss his second straight game with a hamstring injury, this will be the premier matchup to watch for on the outside. Stephens led the charge that limited the two-time Pro Bowl wideout to five receptions on eight targets for just 31 receiving yards in the first meeting between the two teams in Week 2.

In that game, it was Higgins that had a strong outing with Chase neutralized and he led the Bengals with eight catches on 12 targets for 89 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. However, neither of those scores came with Stephens in coverage, as he still yet to give up a touchdown during his breakout season but has recorded his first two career interceptions and is yielding career-lows in opposing passer rating (68.6), yards per target (6.3), and yards per completion (10). According to PFF, he has gone 427 coverage snaps without allowing a touchdown this season.

Chase battled through a back injury last week and barely practiced but still managed to haul in five of his six targets for 124 receiving yards and a touchdown. Stephens matches up well with his fellow third-year skill position player physically, which should make for some entertaining and intense battles when they find themselves one-on-one under a national spotlight on Thursday night.