Preview: Ravens Battle the Bengals for First Place in the AFC North
The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals square off at M&T Bank stadium, as first place atop the AFC North division standings is at stake. This will be the Ravens first divisional game of the year. The Bengals defeated the Steelers in week three at Heinz field 24-10 for their first AFC North division win of 2021. While the season is still young, both the Ravens and Bengals know the importance of divisional wins. The Ravens currently sit in first in the AFC North just one game ahead of the Bengals, and a win by the Ravens could be very important when it comes to tiebreakers later in the year, as well as creating an early lead allowing the Ravens to control their own destiny as they pull away from the rest of the AFC North.
Both the Ravens and Bengals are coming off blowout wins against the Chargers and Lions respectively. While blowouts among division rivals are rare, mostly due to familiarity. The Ravens have won five straight against the Bengals, including a 49-13 Ravens victory in 2019. Since taking over as the starting quarterback, Lamar Jackson has never lost to the Bengals, and will look to make it six straight against the Bengals on Sunday.
Ravens Run Game
The Ravens run offense in 2021 has not been equal to that of the previous two seasons where the Ravens rushed for over 3,000 yards in 2019 and 2020. The injuries to the backfield has been a topic of discussion since losing both J.K Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill to season ending injuries, and that can be a large reason for the lack of dominate rushing performances through six weeks. However, Lamar Jackson’s progression as a passer and offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s new passing schemes has forced defenses to now choose on how they want to stop the Ravens, instead of solely focusing on stopping the run.
The Ravens will be without running back Latavius Murray as he sprained his ankle last Sunday against the Chargers. Murray’s injury gives way to Devonta Freeman, Le’Veon Bell. and Ty’Son Williams who was a healthy inactive last week for the second time this season. Williams is the only running back out of the three that has over 100 yards rushing for the season. Even with Murray being out, the Ravens will look to run the ball as they have had recent success against the Bengals rushing the football. The Ravens rushed for a historic 404 yards against the Bengals in the regular season finale last season. Lamar Jackson has also been successful against the Bengals using his legs, as he averages 87 yards per game against the Bengals in his first five games as the Ravens starting quarterback.
Stopping Ja’Marr Chase
Bengals Rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase has been putting the leagues defenses on notice through six weeks as Chase ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards with 553. Chase has deep threat ability and his 20.5 yards per catch average ranks him second in the NFL only behind Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III and his 22.3 average. Through six games Chase has over 50 yards receiving in every game, going over the 100 yard mark twice.
The Ravens defense will have their hands full as they look to stop not only Chase, but fellow Bengals receivers Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd. The main focus will be on Chase however and the Ravens secondary must limit his big play ability. Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey is likely to get several chances at Chase in an attempt to take Burrow’s number one receiver completely out of rhythm.
The Ravens have outscored the Bengals 161-57 in the last five meetings between the two teams. However, this Bengals team looks to be much improved as they have improved there defense and continue to add playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. The Ravens defense has struggled all season to stop opposing offenses, but seemed to find their stride last week against the Chargers, as they held a top five offense to just six points. Sunday will be another test for this Ravens defense as they look to stop a Bengals offense that averages 344 yards a game, headlined by quarterback Joe Burrow and sensational rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
Sunday’s matchup will be a tale of two halves. An improved Bengals offense will make some plays early, behind the arm of quarterback Joe Burrow making for a close first half. The Ravens on the other hand will look to run the ball early as they wear down the Bengals defense. Utilizing the run early will open up the passing game for Lamar Jackson in the second half, as the Bengals will have no answer in stopping the Ravens offense at any point on Sunday. The Ravens defense will make the needed adjustments as they bring more pressure in the second half. Burrow will be forced to get rid of the ball quicker, forcing him into errant throws and one interception, that will ultimately allow the Ravens take full control and pull away. While I see the game being close in the first half, the Ravens will never be in danger of falling behind as they win comfortably 34-20, their sixth straight win as they take control early of the AFC North division lead.
Line: Baltimore -6.5
All-Time Record: Baltimore leads series 27-23
Last Meeting: 1/3/21 Baltimore 38-3