Bengals at Ravens: 5 things to know about today’s game

The Cincinnati Bengals are looking to build off their first win, but the oddsmakers didn’t leave much room for optimism heading into Sunday’s game at Baltimore.

Cincinnati (1-2-1) entered the week as 14-point underdogs against the Ravens (3-1) and the spread only slightly improved with news that Lamar Jackson was dealing with a minor knee injury and illness this week. Jackson was a full participant in practice Friday but remains listed as “questionable” on the injury report, which seems to include anyone that missed practice time.

Much of the buzz around the AFC North matchup centers on both team’s quarterbacks, but there are plenty of storylines to watch going into the 1 p.m. kickoff. Here are five things to know:

1. Containing the quarterback

Jackson is expected to be ready to go Sunday, and he will be the focus of the Bengals defense, which rebuilt this offseason with teams like Baltimore in mind.

The Bengals have struggled the last two years against mobile quarterbacks, and Jackson was the 2019 league MVP for a reason. He’s hard to stop but if Cincinnati can contain him and force the Ravens into their passing game, the defense has a chance. Baltimore’s passing game ranks 31st in the league with just 180 yards per game, and wide receiver Marquise Brown might not be at his best. He was limited Wednesday with a knee ailment and was listed as questionable for the game even though he was a full practice participant Thursday and Friday.

“We have to be sound in our techniques, sound in our responsibilities, who does what and that’s what it’s going to come down to, our keys and focus and locked in and doing your job on the plays and stuff like that,” said linebacker Josh Bynes, who played for Baltimore last year. “Being sound and communicating really well. … Lamar is going to make plays, he’s going to do what he does. But we cannot let whatever happens dictate what we do the next play and carry it on throughout like that.”

Cincinnati is trying to account for Jackson’s speed, it seems, by going with Carl Lawson and Sam Hubbard as the starting defensive ends, pushing veteran Carlos Dunlap into Lawson’s old third-down pass rush role. Dunlap expressed displeasure with the move, particularly how he was informed by a newly posted depth chart Thursday, rather than through conversation with coaches, but Zac Taylor stood by the decision Friday.

2. Bengals get a boost

Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins is expected to make his much-anticipated season debut as he returned to full participation this week. Cincinnati has been short on the defensive line with Mike Daniels out with an elbow injury, and if Atkins looks anything like his former self, he could make a big impact.

“It’s a major impact,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Geno is a premier defensive tackle – has been. Has been in that system for many, many years. They play the same basic system that they’ve played for years and years in terms of their front. And he’s unique. So, it’s a big factor.”

Nose tackle D.J. Reader also could benefit from Atkins' return as he’s been looking forward to playing next to the veteran pass rusher since he joined the team this offseason. Reader said Baltimore’s offensive line is a “physical group” that works well together and will be a “big challenge” for the defensive line, especially in the run game.

3. Burrow staying patient

Cincinnati has seen a lot from rookie quarterback Joe Burrow, who became the first rookie to throw for 300 yards in three straight games last week. The one thing still missing is the deep ball he was known for completing at LSU, but he’s under no pressure to change what he’s found working and this might not be the week to worry about it so much.

Baltimore ranks ninth in opposing yards per completion average, limiting teams to 9.9 yards per catch, and the Bengals have been efficient in mid- and short-range passes, completing about 90 percent of intermediate passes.

The Ravens are known for their blitzing and Burrow expects even more of that as a rookie.

4. The Wilson factor

The Ravens haven’t forgotten about how good Brandon Wilson can be in the return game after he ran one back for a touchdown against them last year.

Wilson ranks third for average kick return at 30.33 yards per attempt, and he’s returned six kicks for 182 yards with a long of 45 yards. Field position – or even a special teams touchdown -- could be a big boost for Burrow.

Special teams have been a pleasant surprise this year for the Bengals with Randy Bullock among the field goal and touchback leaders as well and Kevin Huber still among the best punters in the league. Huber is eighth with 47.9 yards per punt, while also recording four touchbacks and seven punts inside the 20.

5. Injury concerns for both teams

Joe Mixon showed up on the injury report again this week but with a different problem than the chest issue that sent him to the hospital the night before Cincinnati’s win over Jacksonville last weekend. Mixon is questionable with a shin injury that made him limited Thursday and Friday.

That would be a big blow for the Bengals' offense, which played a complete game last week with Mixon rushing for 151 yards and two touchdowns to keep some of the pressure off Burrow. Running off some clock with an effective running game would be helpful to the defense that will be chasing down Jackson all day.

The Bengals also could be missing cornerback Mackensie Alexander again with a hamstring issue and wide receiver John Ross is doubtful with an illness, although he’s been inactive the last two games anyway as a victim of depth in the receiver group.

For the Ravens, tight ends Mark Andrews (thigh), defensive back/linebacker Anthony Levine (abdomen), wide receiver Chris Moore (thigh/finger) and cornerbacks Marcus Peters (thigh) and Jimmy Smith (knee) are all limited after limited participation Friday, and a bunch of others who were limited earlier in the week but practiced Friday also are listed as questionable.

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