The Cincinnati Bengals travel to face the AFC North’s top team this week as they still seek their first win.
Cincinnati has three losses by four points or less, and those could have been the difference between first and last place. Instead, the Bengals are stuck alone at the bottom of the division at 0-5, while the Baltimore Ravens sit at the top at 3-2.
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The teams clash for the 47th time Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium with the series between them tied at 23 wins apiece.
Here are five storylines to watch heading into the first of two matchups this season:
1. Stopping Lamar Jackson
The league’s top running quarterback will pose problems for a Bengals team that last week struggled against another mobile quarterback, as Kyler Murray rushed for 93 yards against them in a 26-23 win for Arizona.
Cincinnati has struggled against the run overall, allowing 167.6 rushing yards per game and ranking second to last in the league in that category. The Ravens have the second-best rushing attack at 192.2 yards per game, and they have scored a league-high 32.2 points per game.
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Last week, the Steelers didn’t stop Jackson on the ground but they did limit his damage overall by sacking him five times. The Bengals are hoping if they can defend against the run, they can get their pass rush going again. They have just six sacks this season and four came in the opener at Seattle when they limited the Seahawks to 72 yards rushing.
2. Reshaping the offensive line
The Bengals are down to their fourth and fifth left tackle, as Cordy Glenn remains out with a concussion and Andre Smith suffered a left ankle injury last week. First-round draft pick Jonah Williams, who was expected to be the starter this season, underwent shoulder surgery over the summer.
John Jerry has come off the bench in four games and will start Sunday, according to Taylor, but guard Alex Redmond also has been working out at tackle since returning last week from suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He hasn’t played tackle since sophomore year of high school but is currently the only other backup option at tackle.
The Bengals saw some improvement in the pass protection last week, allowing just one sack, and fortunately the Ravens don’t have as strong of a pass rush as in past years.
While the left tackle spot has been a revolving door, the Bengals also are making a change at left guard. Billy Price will start ahead of Mike Jordan, as Taylor wants to try something different to get the offense going. In the one game he started when Jordan was out with a knee injury, the Bengals saw some improvement in the running game and then he was right back to the bench the next week.
Cincinnati didn’t get its offense going well enough to score touchdowns last week until the final two drives.
“We haven’t had success on offense,” Taylor said. “It’s not one person by any stretch, but we’ll look at Billy at guard. We’ve always had a lot of confidence in him. We have a lot of confidence in Mike Jordan too, but this is something we want to look at this week.”
3. Faster tempo?
The simple solution to the Bengals’ struggles on offense would seem to be just to take the final two drives from Sunday’s loss to Arizona and replicate them. Cincinnati had a fast-paced tempo those possessions and quickly fell into a rhythm as Andy Dalton completed eight of nine passes those drives, including touchdowns to Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate.
The difficulty in trying to play that way the entire game is that it only works as long as you keep having positive plays, Dalton said. Otherwise, “it’s a good way to play football,” he added, but Taylor said it needs to be a mix of both styles.
“We’re just trying to find the best mixture as we go on the road,” Taylor said. “You see that in a lot of games. You see a lot of low-scoring first halves, and then all sudden there’s a big points explosion at the end. A little bit is the urgency of being down. Obviously, you’re pushing the tempo and throwing the ball more. The defense is a little more tired at that point as well, so the pass rush isn’t quite what it was in the first half. You have to find that balance of, ‘When do we want to use our tempo, when do we want to push the ball down the field and what are the right moments to do that?’ It was a long game, and we felt like we had success, but it’s something we certainly evaluate every week.”
4. Close games
The Bengals and Ravens have a recent history of playing close games. Since 2010, 13 of the team’s 18 meetings have been one-score decisions, by eight or fewer points, including the last meeting in Baltimore during week 11 of the 2018 season when the Ravens won 24-21.
Cincinnati won the matchup at home last year on Thursday Night Football, 34-23. While the teams split games last year, the Bengals have won three of the last five meetings and nine of the last 13. It hasn’t been an easy series for the visiting team – the Ravens lead 15-8 in Baltimore, and the Bengals lead 15-8 in Cincinnati.
5. Other notable injuries
Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap has been declared out with a knee injury, ending his streak of 115 games played. The last one he missed was the 2012 home opener against the Browns. Ryan Glasgow injured his thigh last week and is out, and Kerry Wynn (concussion) and A.J. Green (ankle) remain out as well. Shawn Williams, who played through a thigh injury Sunday, is questionable.
The Ravens just have cornerback Jimmy Smith listed as out with a knee injury, but tight end Mark Andrews (shoulder), wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) and linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle) are questionable. Andrews and Brown are the team’s leading receivers.
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