In preparing for Sunday’s 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 Bengals suffered a trouncing 24-3 loss to the Browns in Week 1. But a box score can tell us only so much. So, can you go into detail as to what caused such challenges for the Bengals?
Unfortunately, the way both of the rosters for the Bengals and Browns are constructed heavily favors Cleveland when they face-off. The Bengals’ offensive line is showing improvement, but they have consistently been lost against Myles Garrett and the Browns’ pass-rush.
Additionally, Cleveland’s corners stack up extremely well against the talented Bengals’ receiving core. They’re physical and have noses for the football, leaving the Browns’ brain trust confident in one-on-one alignments. It has worked, as evident by Cincinnati’s big three wideouts (Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd) combining for just seven catches for 59 yards, with Higgins having a very uncharacteristic zero catches on eight targets. The offense’s inefficiencies caused the otherwise solid defense to crumble to Nick Chubb down the stretch, with three-and-outs and a lack of overall sustained drives putting them out there far too often and for way too long.
Throw in poor weather, Joe Burrow self-admittedly not being back to 100% from the calf injury (perhaps playing with a lack of comfort planting/cutting on the leg with wet surfaces) and Zac Taylor’s Bengals being notoriously sluggish in season-openers (1-4) and last Sunday was the perfect storm. Still, these are nothing but excuses at the core of what’s mentioned here, as Cleveland simply used their respective stars (Garrett, Nick Chubb to make more plays than the Bengals.
2. A group oft-talked about for the Bengals is the offensive line. Now, their first test this season was a strapping pass rush unit in Myles Garrett and Za’Darius Smith, but what can you tell us about the five-man unit. Where is it strongest? Weakest?
Last week, it was Orlando Brown, Jr. who posted the best (and somewhat-respectable) Pro Football Focus score of the unit, where he really only let up one pressure to Garrett. The rest of the unit’s scores were not very good, though some were higher on Jonah Williams’ first pro start at right tackle when looking at the film snap-by-snap instead of from a mile-high view.
Despite the poor scores last week, this group definitely has the potential (and should reach it) to be the best unit Burrow has been behind in his career. As the 2022 season went on, the unit sporting four new starters began to gel and play better down the stretch. And, even when the unit lost Williams and Alex Cappa for the postseason, they had an outstanding showing against the Bills in the snowy Divisional Round.
The strongest has to be Brown, Jr., given his track record and play last week, with veteran center and right guard Karras being not far behind. Williams is a wild card, as he can be a serviceable NFL tackle, it’s just that he’s transitioning to the right side for the first time since his freshman year at Alabama. There is a lot of promise for second-year left guard Cordell Volson, but his inexperience, small school pedigree (North Dakota State) and ups-and-downs thus far, making him the guy with the most long-term questions.
3. If you were the Ravens’ offensive coordinator, where would you attack the Bengals’ defense? What areas do you see they could find success, and which players/groups/things should they avoid?
This is a tough question, given the current state of the Baltimore offense because of accrued injuries last week. And, as mentioned above, the Bengals’ defense looked pretty stout from top-to-bottom last week.
Chubb getting over 100 rushing yards (again) was more a by-product of the offense consistently putting the defense in a bad position, than overall poor run defense performance. Cincinnati had some potential question marks in the secondary with young, new faces, but they stepped up in a big way. New starting second-year corner, Cam Taylor-Britt, played well, allowing just two catches Sunday. Second-year safety Dax Hill had a heady interception in his first career start, off of a tipped pass from second-year defensive lineman, Zachary Carter.
Linebacker Germaine Pratt had a solid game, notching 11 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble, while Trey Hendrickson had a higher pressure rate than Garrett to go with three tackles and a sack. Still, if I were Todd Monken (a guy who was in consideration for the Bengals’ head coaching gig in 2019), I’d just let Lamar Jackson be Lamar, as basic as that sounds.
Deshaun Watson also struggled throwing the ball last week, but he did have some nice runs, including a touchdown scamper, so No. 8 should try to find some room if/when guys aren’t open. And, depending on Mark Andrews’ health, Jackson should utilize he and other talented Baltimore tight ends in the passing game to both potentially try and exploit Cincinnati’s youth in the secondary and find footing in the ground game after the J.K. Dobbins injury.
4. Who are two Bengals players (one offense/one defense) Ravens fans should pay specific attention to in this game that aren’t household names?
On offense, I’d go with backup running back, Trayveon Williams. Given the lackluster performance from the passing game last week, Burrow’s calf, Baltimore’s ability to pressure the quarterback and Cincinnati actually faring decent with limited carries by backs last week, I think they try to run it a bit more in Week 2. Now, Williams only had two carries last week, but I think that changes, as will the Bengals’ desire to use him as an additional pass protector (he’s the best of the running back group at that facet).
On defense, safety Nick Scott might be a guy to watch, if the Ravens opt to go with the tight end-focused approach on defense. He may be either tasked with that coverage, or his safety-mate Dax Hill will get that call, leaving him responsible for other highlighted duties. I’m also curious if/who defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo uses as a potential “spy” on Jackson this week.
5. The line for this game, according to DraftKings Sportsbook, is Bengals -3.5. What are your thoughts on this line?
This is an extremely hard call. The Bengals were -2 last week and we saw how that one played out, plus we’re not sure how close to 100% Burrow’s calf is, nor what the exact game plan may be because of it.
By my count, Joe Burrow is 6-3 coming off of losses in his last two seasons, with the record being 3-1 last year, so that bodes well for a cherry-picked stat. Their offense can’t possibly play worse than it did last week and with it being both a home opener and urgency being high so as to not fall to 0-2 overall and in the division, my sense is that they’ll come to play.
Still, Burrow is also just 1-5 through the first two weeks of the season from 2020-22, pointing to them being notoriously sluggish out of the gates. I think they’ll squeak an ugly one out this week, but take the under on the spread.