CINCINNATI — Mike Hilton guessed he has probably faced Lamar Jackson more than any one on the Cincinnati Bengals defense, just knowing how long he’s been in the AFC North compared to most of his teammates.
That experience doesn’t make Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens offense any more predictable going into Sunday’s matchup at Paycor Stadium.
A seventh-year veteran who spent his first four seasons with Pittsburgh, Hilton has played 11 games against the Ravens in his NFL career and six of them were against Jackson. The QB’s dual-threat abilities make him difficult to prepare for, and now the Ravens also have the wrinkle of a new offensive coordinator for the first time since 2018.
“I’ve been in this division for a long time, been seeing him for a long time so obviously everyone knows what he’s capable of but we’ve got to go execute our job,” Hilton said. “We can’t let him make throws. Obviously, everyone knows how he is with his legs and as a defense, you want to make it difficult for him throwing wise. Get pressure in his face, make him throw in tight windows, make him be an accurate passer. We feel good about our game plan going in, we just have to go out and execute it.”
Todd Monken, who served as offensive coordinator for Georgia during back-to-back national championship seasons, replaced Greg Roman as the Ravens offensive coordinator after the 2022 campaign and is still implementing his system with the team’s new weapons like Odell Beckham Jr. and rookie Zay Flowers.
Beckham and Flowers join Rashod Bateman in the receiving corps, which Hilton said is more versatile than in past years.
“They all move around, so I’m expecting to see all of them (in the slot),” Hilton said. “They find ways to get them the ball. ... Obviously they still run the ball well and they definitely take a lot of deep shots, (but) it’s a different offense but we’re excited to go against them.”
The Ravens seem to want to throw the ball more under Monken, but Jackson’s speed and ability to cut and make defenders miss make it difficult to completely change the way he runs the offense.
Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt said the addition of more weapons at wide receiver make it easier for Jackson to throw, and he’s been getting “better each and every year with (passing) techniques.” However, explosive plays with his legs are still the Ravens’ bread and butter.
“It’s different, but when it comes down to the heat of the moment, they will go back to the plays they like to do, they will go back to their core values,” Pratt said.
Cincinnati has limited Jackson under 100 yards rushing the last five meetingsafter he went over that mark in two of his first three matchups. Jackson only managed 58 yards rushing in his one game against the Bengals last year. The Bengals will need to be better against the run than they were Sunday at Cleveland when the Browns ran for 206 yards.
Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo wasn’t overly concerned with the performance, despite it being the second-highest number of rushing yards the Cincinnati defense has allowed since the start of the 2021 season. Sunday would be a good time for improvement.
“You’re never gonna say [we] did well when they get that many yards,” Anarumo said. “They had 40 attempts. We had 25 runs that were four yards or less, and they had 10 runs that gained zero yards or less. They didn’t have any over 20. We had some cut-back issues that we could be better at, and you had the quarterback draw (on Deshaun Watson’s 13-yard touchdown run). We were in zero (blitz), third-down run. That’s my fault, and we had the reverse where we had them pinned before the half and it spits out. Nick Chubb is a great back. He got his yards, but we can certainly be better there.”
Hilton said with Jackson, it starts up front, being able to keep him in the pocket and then applying pressure to make throws more difficult.
Jackson only ran the ball six times in the Ravens’ opening win over Houston, but Anarumo said there were more designed runs for him than it seemed. He just handed the ball off based on the reads, and one game of film isn’t necessarily and indicator of what Cincinnati can expect.
“It’s still a lot of unknowns there,” Anarumo said. “Todd has done what he’s done in the league for a while. He’s done what he’s done in Georgia. I know Coach (John( Harbaugh still has his hard feelings on what he likes to do, I’m assuming. The O-Line coach is still there so they still have all those runs that I’m quite sure that Lamar likes to run. So, we’ve got to prepare for it all.”
Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 1530, 102.7, 104.7