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Five Things To Watch: Bengals at Ravens

WR Ja'Marr Chase runs the ball during the Texans-Bengals game in Week 10 of the 2023 season at Paycor Stadium on Sunday, November 12, 2023.
WR Ja'Marr Chase runs the ball during the Texans-Bengals game in Week 10 of the 2023 season at Paycor Stadium on Sunday, November 12, 2023.

The Bengals travel to Baltimore for an AFC North showdown with the Ravens on Thursday Night Football. The game airs at 8:15 p.m. on Prime Video as well as on WCPO-TV (ABC Channel 9) in Cincinnati. Here are five things to watch:

1. Bengals seek more explosive plays

Quarterback Joe Burrow has proven himself as one of the NFL's top deep passers since he entered the league in 2020, and Cincinnati would benefit from hitting some downfield shots against a Baltimore defense that allows just 173.1 passing yards per game (fourth in NFL).

The Bengals showcased their explosive potential in Week 10 vs. Houston, as Burrow hit on 64-yarders to Ja'Marr Chase and Tyler Boyd in the second half. The launch to Chase was Burrow's 19th career touchdown pass of 40-plus yards and Ja'Marr's eighth scoring catch of 50-plus yards — both of which lead the league since their respective rookie season.

In Week 2 against the Ravens, Cincinnati's longest passing play was a Burrow rollout and quick throw to Joe Mixon, who turned up field for a 32-yard gain. Thursday night may call for Burrow testing the Baltimore secondary and looking for some of his standout wide receivers on deeper routes.

2. Emphasis on the run game

AFC North matchups have earned a reputation for their physicality, and Thursday figures to be no different when the Bengals' defense meets the NFL's top-ranked rushing attack. The Ravens are churning out 154.9 yards per game on the ground, and back in Week 2 they relied on 178 to lead the way to a win at Paycor Stadium.

After taking on some of the league's best rushing offenses early in the season, Cincinnati held opponents to an average of just 89.3 rushing yards in Weeks 6-9, all resulting in Bengals wins. But after the Texans came into Paycor and ran for 188 yards, defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo's unit will need to lock in on a pivotal area of the game.

On the other side, the Bengals' past two road games have seen them record their largest rushing totals of the season. Cincinnati ran for 93 yards in Week 5 at Arizona, led by 81 from Joe Mixon. In Week 8 at San Francisco, Mixon averaged 5.4 yards per carry and the Bengals finished with 134 total. Part of that output came from Burrow's season-high 43 rushing yards that included designed runs and scrambles.

The Bengals operate the most pass-heavy offense in the NFL, but if they can get contributions on the ground and find a balanced run-pass split, it could lead to extended drives that help even out the time of possession.

3. Turnover battle

Cincinnati has been one of the league's best teams this season when it comes to forcing turnovers, but the Bengals also have done a sound job of taking care of the ball offensively. They have 18 takeaways compared to just eight giveaways, good for a plus-10 differential that is tied for tops in the NFL. The Bengals have won the turnover battle in seven of their nine games, collecting a 5-2 record in those instances.

The Ravens boast a stingy defense that has 10 interceptions this season, including at least one in each of their last five games. Safety Geno Stone leads the NFL with six picks, among the most notable being his red-zone interception on Burrow in the third quarter of Week 2 that not only took away points from the Bengals, but set up a Baltimore touchdown drive. Offensively, quarterback Lamar Jackson has thrown five picks this season, with three of them coming during Ravens losses.

Seventeen of the 28 Bengals-Ravens matchups since 2010 have been one-score decisions. If Cincinnati's opportunistic defense can get the ball back for an offense that rarely coughs it up, it will be in strong position to come away with a crucial divisional victory.

4. D-line aims to limit Jackson

Lamar Jackson poses a unique challenge for every NFL defense, something Lou Anarumo is no stranger to. The former MVP is once again showcasing himself as an elite dual-threat quarterback, completing a career-best 70.3 percent of his passes while also averaging 5.2 yards per carry with five rushing touchdowns.

One area in which the Bengals can make Jackson more one-dimensional is by cutting off easy throws near the line of scrimmage. On passes between 21 and 30 yards, his completion percentage dips to 35.3, ranking 21st in the league. Jackson has yet to complete a pass of over 31 air yards this season.

Since the start of the 2022 season, Cincinnati has held opposing QBs to the third lowest completion percentage in the league (60.3) and the fourth lowest passer rating (81.1). After giving up 356 passing yards to C.J. Stroud and the Texans in Week 10, the Bengals secondary will be seeking a bounce back performance in Baltimore.

5. Riding Chase on the road

Since Week 3, Ja'Marr Chase ranks tied for first leaguewide in receptions (59), fourth in receiving yards (751) and tied for fourth in receiving touchdowns (five). Much of that production has come on the road, beginning in Week 5 at Arizona when he set a team single-game record with 15 grabs for 192 yards and three scores. Chase then followed up in Week 8 at San Francisco with 100 more yards on 10 catches with a fourth-quarter touchdown that helped put the game out of reach.

Though dealing with a back injury last week, Chase suited up against Houston and gritted through for a team-leading 124 yards. He was not listed on the injury report this week, but with Tee Higgins and Andrei Iosivas declared out, Burrow may be looking to feed his star wideout early and often.

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