I’ve been waiting eight and half months, 36 weeks, 252 days, 6,048 hours, 362,880 minutes, 21,772,800 seconds, etc.
No matter how it’s calculated, I’ve clearly been looking forward to September 7th at 1:00 p.m. ET since the Ravens last played on Dec. 29 in Cincinnati. Though the 2013 season ended earlier than Ravens fans have grown accustomed to, 2014 brings renewed playoff aspirations to the city of Baltimore.
In addition to my weekly NFL blog, Callie’s Picks from the Sideline, which you can find here, I’ll be posting The Baltimore Breakdown every weekend before a Ravens game. I’ll analyze how the Ravens’ offense matches up against their opponent’s defense, how the Ravens defense compares against the opponent’s offense and any injuries for both teams that will have an impact on the starting lineups and potential game outcomes.
Both teams are starting their regular seasons with fairly good health. All 53 Ravens participated in practice this week.
After missing most of training camp and all of the preseason, it remains to be seen how prepared Lardarius Webb (back- questionable) will be for live action, but he is slated to start. His fellow secondary members Jimmy Smith (chest) and Asa Jackson (ankle) have also missed significant time this preseason but practiced fully all week and were not listed on Friday’s final injury report. Webb, Smith, and Jackson are the Ravens’ top three corners, so they need to be at their best to match up against Bengals’ wide receiving threat A.J. Green.
The only other Ravens besides Webb on the injury report is running back Bernard Pierce, listed as probable to play with a concussion that he suffered in the third preseason game.
The Bengals had a longer injury report this week. Notable players listed were linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hamstring – heat related), tight end Tyler Eifert (shoulder), and offensive tackle Andre Smith (concussion), who all still participated fully. Aside from the two players in running back Rex Burkhead (knee) and wide receiver Marvin Jones (knee) who have already been ruled out, no key Cincinnati players are in danger of missing action on Sunday.
Ravens Offense vs. Bengal Defense
One storyline in Baltimore this offseason has been hiring of new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. Will his West Coast offense with zone blocking and running schemes cure last season’s offensive ineptitude? The other major headline, Ray Rice’s 2-game suspension, opens the door for more questions too. Will the fragile Pierce, coming off a concussion, be able to handle the bulk of the carries during Rice’s absence?
In comparing the Ravens’ offense against the Bengals’ defense, there is room for concern along the offensive line. Of the five starters, two, right tackle Rick Wagner and center Jeremy Zuttah, are new additions from a year ago, two, guards Marshall Yanda and Kelechi Osemele, are returning from injury-plagued 2013 seasons, and one, left tackle Eugene Monroe, is learning a new offensive scheme for the second time in one year. It may take a while for the unit to fully gel. The Bengals boast a strong defensive line and pass rush with Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, and Burfict, Cincinnati may prove to be too much for the Ravens’ offensive line to handle this early in the season.
The Baltimore receiving corps has taken a huge step forward with the addition of Steve Smith and the reemergence of a healthy Dennis Pitta, but the Bengals defense, in my opinion, has the edge over the Ravens offense.
Ravens Defense vs. Bengals Offense
The huge news from Cincinnati this summer was the contract extension for quarterback Andy Dalton. He has never won a playoff game, but the Bengals organization is banking on him to improve his consistency and production. He is missing Jones at wide receiver, but Green provides a strong, reliable target for Dalton in a weakened Ravens secondary.
Baltimore’s pass rush declined considerably in the second half of the 2013 season, so a big priority for Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome has been to upgrade the defensive line. Brandon Williams is the new starter at nose tackle in his second year, and rookie Timmy Jernigan is a capable role player in the defensive line rotation. Fellow rookie C.J. Mosley, who starred during the preseason, will start in tandem with veteran linebacker Daryl Smith, and the two should contain the Bengals’ tight ends sufficiently.
Those players, combined with a healthy Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Elvis Dumervil, should spell trouble for a young and relatively inexperienced Bengals offensive unit.
If the Ravens’ injury-riddled secondary can limit Green, the Ravens defense holds the edge over Dalton and the Bengals’ offense.
The Ravens and Bengals appear pretty evenly matched on paper. The Ravens, however, hold a slight advantage on special teams. With kicker Justin Tucker entering his third season as a Raven, his strong leg and long range on field goals is beneficial to Baltimore should they stall on the Bengals side of the field. M&T Bank Stadium has been an extremely difficult place for the Bengals and Andy Dalton to play over the years (Cincinnati’s last victory in Baltimore came in 2009), and I don’t think that will change on Sunday.
Put money on this (or don’t because I could be wrong): Ravens 27, Bengals 23
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