Ravens at Bengals: 5 storylines to watch in Sunday’s game

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

CINCINNATI — The common theme around the Cincinnati Bengals locker room this week was that “nobody is panicking” after an abysmal performance by the offense led to a disappointing loss in their opener at Cleveland.

Cincinnati went 0-2 to start last season, the same words were uttered, and the team still made the AFC Championship. However, the Bengals all recognize a similar start this time, with the first two games being against division competition, would put them in quite a hole.

That makes the Week 2 matchup against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at Paycor Stadium that much more important.

“Good players always bounce back,” Bengals receiver Ja’Marr Chase said. “There’s always a saying, you’re going to get yours more than you get got. So, it’s just about how you respond to it.”

The Bengals are facing the Ravens for the third time in 2023 after ending the 2022 regular season with a 27-16 win Jan. 8 and then knocking Baltimore out of the playoffs in the wildcard round the next week.

Here are five things to know going into Sunday’s matchup.

1. Offense has to be better

Joe Burrow threw for a career-low 82 yards last week and has to get the offense back on track quickly after missing all but two days of training camp before making his return to the practice fields Sept. 6. Chase said getting on the same page with communication will be the key, but Burrow and the receivers have built a strong connection over the past few years, and that shouldn’t be a big issue.

The Ravens have been a tough team defensively, holding the Bengals to three of their lowest six yardage totals last season, and their different blitz packages make them a tough matchup. Burrow has been pretty good against the blitz in the past, but the way Baltimore can sustain drives make possession time low for the opponent, accounting for lower scores and yardage output.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said they need to take advantage of every opportunity on offense because “possessions are so precious” against the Ravens. In the playoff game last year, Cincinnati had just three possessions in the first half.

“They do a good job playing complementary football,” Taylor said. “They play to their strengths. They’ve always had a really sound defense. They limit the explosives. They can create explosives with their offense with all the talent they got. The kicking game they always do a really good job. Those are some of the challenges.”

2. Adjusting defensively

The Bengals have done well limiting Lamar Jackson in recent matchups; however, it’s a little more difficult to predict what Baltimore’s approach will be under new offensive coordinator Todd Monken.

Jackson only ran six times in the opener against Houston last week and it seems there is more focus on throwing the ball with new weapons Odell Beckham and rookie Zay Flowers. Still, the Bengals know what Jackson can do with his legs and it all starts up front with the defensive line keeping him in the pocket and forcing him into pressured throws.

“There’s always that unknown there of things they got in the back pocket, obviously with a guy coming from -- he’s been in the NFL but coming from college to the NFL is always tough to sort out, but I think our guys have done a good job combing through it and have a good plan in place,” Taylor said. “And then again just got to be ready to react as you go, over the course of the game, especially early in the season.”

3. Injuries taking a toll for Ravens

The Ravens have five key players out, four of them because of injuries suffered in the opener. They lost running back J.K. Dobbins to a torn Achilles and will be without safety Marcus Williams for several weeks because of a torn pectoral also suffered last week. Three others also have been declared out because of previous or new injuries: Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (foot), center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle) and tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) will all miss the game. Humphrey also missed the opener last weekend.

Those are all starters. Tight end Mark Andrews (quad), who did not play last weekend, is listed as questionable but was a full participant in practice Friday so he appears on track to return.

Meanwhile, the Bengals got through their opener pretty healthy and should have all their starters ready to go Sunday; however, Chris Evans (hamstring) and Markus Bailey (knee) are listed as questionable and defensive end Joseph Ossai (ankle) also is questionable after missing the opener.

4. Better field position

The Bengals didn’t have much of a field position advantage in the opener, and that could be another big factor Sunday, especially knowing how big of a leg Justin Tucker has as one of the best kickers in the league.

Rookie punter Brad Robbins had a rough start to his NFL career on a rainy day in Cleveland, but said he learned from the experience – which he got plenty of last weekend with seven punts in the first half alone.

“In all facets, I feel like I need to be better,” Robbins said. “We’re in the AFC North. I’m not going to say anything about the conditions. This is what I signed up for. This is the division I want to be in. I’ve played in plenty of conditions in college. It’s time to call on that and be productive in that environment.”

With Evans questionable, punt returner Charlie Jones practiced taking kick returns this week and could be the next man up. Trayveon Williams also has taken kick returns in the past.

5. Brotherly battle

With Dobbins’ injury, the Ravens will lean on Gus Edwards at running back but likely also will call more on Justice Hill, which means Bengals safety Dax Hill could be put into positions to try to stop his older brother.

Dax Hill, now a first-year starter, played just 20 snaps over three games last year against the Ravens, and Justice Hill saw limited action outside of kick returns in 2022, so this could be the first matchup where the two brothers are both more involved. Justice Hill was a fourth-round pick of the Ravens in 2019.

Justice Hill told media in Baltimore his younger brother took a lot of losses against him growing up, until he got a little bigger, but they were always “super competitive.”

“We had a basketball hoop in the front yard, so it went down out there,” Justice Hill said, according to transcripts sent by the Baltimore media relations department. “We were competing at everything, whether it was a board game, basketball, football, anything. It’s not going to be anything new out there.”


Ravens at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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