The Baltimore Ravens kick off the 2017 campaign on the road against division foe Cincinnati Bengals, here are the 3 keys to victory:
1. Pressure Pressure Pressure
Most of Cincinatti’s success against the Ravens has come on big plays down the field (See AJ Green). The first key to stopping a big pass play is to not give the quarterback time for the play to develop. With the secondary as stable as its been in years with the addition of veteran corner Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson; combined with the return of a healthy Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle, look for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to send a variety blitzes early and often.
2. Stay Aggressive on Offense
I know Joe Flacco is just returning from his back injury and hasn’t had any time this training camp to get in sync with his receivers, but being too conservative with an already average-at-best run game is not the way to put points on the board. Last years’ leading receiver Mike Wallace was a trustworthy target for Flacco especially on underneath routes. Paired with vertical threats Breshad Perriman and free agent addition Jeremy Maclin there should be a few big play opportunities against a short handed Bengals defense with the suspension of starters Adam Jones and Vontaze Burfict.
3. Protect Flacco
This may be a mainstay for the whole season, which is the only reason why I made it number 3. But it’s perhaps the biggest key of the whole season. Joe Flacco is coming off one of the trickiest injuries in all of sports, the back. All though he has been cleared by doctors and had no setbacks after practicing this week, there is no telling how his back will respond to taking hits. While it is impossible to completely avoid getting hit, the Ravens offensive line must do all they can to keep Cincinnati’s pass rush that features Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap neutralized. A lot of eyes will be on second year player, Ronnie Stanley naturally because he plays the all important left tackle position that protects Joe Flacco’s back side. But the biggest question mark is at the left guard spot where James Hurst will fill in for injured Alex Lewis this season. James Hurst usually plays right tackle or left tackle when Ronnie Stanley is out, but with the last minute addition of former Raider right tackle Austin Howard, James Hurst was moved to left guard.
If all 3 of these keys are executed I think the Ravens win in a low scoring one 13-10.