Baltimore Ravens vs Cincinnati Bengals: What Has Changed?


Sep 7, 2014; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) pressured by Cincinnati Bengals tackle Geno Atkins (97) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Flashback to Week 1. The sense of optimism surrounding the Baltimore Ravens crashed as they fell behind 15-0 in the first half to the Cincinnati Bengals. The defense was getting gashed, Joe Flacco looked lost and there was no ground game to be found. Ever since that abysmal first half, though, the Ravens have been one of the best teams in football, while the Bengals find themselves stuck in a rut.

Since then, A.J. Green has struggled with injuries, and the Bengals’ defense has fallen to the ranks of the NFL’s worst. In their first three games, the Bengals gave up 11 points per game. In their three games since, they’ve given up 35.7.

Meanwhile, Justin Forsett has established himself as the Ravens’ top back, Joe Flacco has had several dominant showings and the Ravens’ secondary has magically improved. Things are good in Baltimore.

But the game is not in Baltimore. It’s in Cincinnati, which is why the past few weeks for each team flies out the window.

Regardless, hopefully we can learn something about the Bengals from their past few weeks. Here’s a look at what has changed since these two teams’ last contest.

A.J. Green and Vontaze Burfict have been injured more often than not

Losing their best player on offense and their leader on defense for significant stretches this year has been trying for the Bengals.

More from Baltimore Ravens

Without Green, the Bengals’ passing attack has slowed significantly. Since throwing for 301 yards against the Ravens in Week 1, Andy Dalton has only crossed the 300 yard barrier one other time. In fact, in the past five games, Dalton has the same amount sub-200-yard games than games with over 250 yards (two of each).

Green has only played the bulk of three games, also having a brief seven-rep performance against the Falcons. Ravens fans know how dangerous Green is when healthy. Even though he might play, Green probably won’t be completely healthy, which should help the Ravens significantly.

The Bengals receiving corps outside of Green and Mohamed Sanu is not good, so a constantly improving Ravens secondary should find success.

Burfict has dealt with self-inflicted injuries, as his tendency to lower his head to tackle has resulted in numerous neck injuries. Burfict will probably play, but he has struggled of late and is a huge injury risk. The Bengals are already banged up at linebacker without Burfict getting hurt, so the Ravens can probably exploit that both on the ground and through the air.

The Bengals’ vaunted offensive line has regressed

Kevin Zeitler and Andrew Whitworth have been the only above-average Bengals offensive linemen, and Zeitler has been sidelined for much of the season. This is a surprise for a team that returned four starters from last year’s very good group.

Andre Smith and Clint Boling, though, have regressed, especially in the last three weeks.

Though the group remains solid in pass blocking, they struggle to block for dynamic, if inconsistent, running back Giovanni Bernard.

A possible explanation is starting a rookie center, Russell Bodine. Bodine has been ok, but Ravens fans know the chaos an inexperienced center can cause.

Whatever the cause, the Bengals have not blocked well. The Ravens’ stout front seven can and will take advantage of that.

The Ravens’ secondary is completely different in every way

In the season opener, Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, Matt Elam, Damian Stewart and Asa Jackson were more or less the only options in the secondary. Now, only Smith, Stewart and Elam remains from that group, while the Ravens have added a healthy Lardarius Webb, Will Hill, Terrence Brooks and Dominique Franks, all of whom have offered an upgrade.

Brooks is the coverage safety the Ravens have needed since they let Ed Reed walk, Hill already looks to be a keeper after one week of action, Webb looks healthier every week and Franks… well Franks is better than Chykie Brown was at least. In fact, Brown was a healthy scratch last week, showing just how far the Ravens’ secondary has come.

Dean Pees has taken advantage of the changes, calling more aggressive coverages and allowing guys like Smith and Webb to play man more often. That has added up to a secondary that completely stymied one of the best quarterbacks in the league, Matt Ryan.

Even if A.J. Green does play Sunday, the Ravens have to feel a lot better about their chances to defend him.