The numbers heavily favor Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow's passing game Sunday night in Baltimore (8:20-Cincinnati's Channel 5) against the Ravens' last-in-the-league pass defense after he set an NFL record against them last year throwing for 941 yards against one team in one year.
In five career games (including playoffs) against bottom-five pass defenses, Burrow is 5-0 while averaging more than 316 yards and it's the first time in his career he faces the last team.
(Burrow needs 361 to break the NFL record for yards in a three-game span against the same team held by Pro Football Hall-of-Famer Dan Marino against the Jets from 1988-1989.)
But Burrow knows the Ravens also lead the NFL with ten turnovers and only one of the secondary starters (safety Chuck Clark) played last Dec. 26 when Burrow lit the skeleton secondary for a Bengals-record 525 yards at Paycor Stadium.
Burrow is particularly eyeing safety Marcus Williams, the Ravens' big free-agent signing from New Orleans, with three interceptions. The Pro Bowl cornerback tandem of Marlon Humphrey (two) and Marcus Peters (one) also has three, although Peters (quad) didn't practice Wednesday and Friday, went limited Thursday and is questionable.
"Their whole secondary has been playing really well for them," said Burrow despite the numbers. "(Williams) is a rangy safety that you have to be aware of where he's at when you are throwing the ball down the field, because he is getting involved in some plays that a lot of safeties just can't. "
What isn't questionable is Peters leads the NFL with 32 interceptions since 2015 and has three of them against three different Bengals quarterbacks in Burrow, Ryan Finley and Brandon Allen, including a pick-six of Finley.
"Marcus has always taken chances. He's like all good corners. They educate guess. If they do that right they tend to come up with huge plays," said Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan. "I still remember the pick-six they had against us (three) years ago. Finley threw an out route and he just sat right there, waited for it, jumped in front of it. I've seen him do that to a lot of people. Marlon had a really nice pick against Buffalo early (last week). The guy came on an out route and Marlon kind of jumped in front of it. He felt the release. Just really smart players.
"They've got great awareness of route concepts and route distribution. They know they can take advantage … We have to be mindful of where their guys are at. I think Joe has a very good feel when corners' eyes are on him. He's got a really good perception when they're looking to jump things."
In last season's first game in Baltimore, Burrow and rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase had their coming out as a combo. Burrow threw for 416 yards with Chase getting 201 of them as Humphrey struggled.
According to Next Gen Stats, Humphrey allowed the most yards ever by any one player in coverage in a game with 227 yards coming on seven catches and two for touchdowns. On Wednesday, he kept telling the Ravens media he wouldn't talk about last year.
"Shoot, we're still trying to grow-up. We're last," Humphrey said of the new secondary. "I was just in the cafeteria this morning; I look up there … The cafeteria will humble you. You've got the Good Morning Football, NFL Network, Stephen A. (Smith) … It's humbling to look up there and be like, 'Dang, we've got Marcus Peters – ball-hawk – we've got me, Marcus Williams – dog – Chuck, all these guys [that are] great players.' But we're still trying to come together.
"The numbers don't lie. So, as much as that sucks to say, it just … To me, it's unacceptable; I feel like it falls on the weight of my shoulders. So, I really want to get that number down."
The five-turnover blot in the opener is an outlier. Burrow hasn't thrown a pick in the last three games and seven in the last eight regular-season games.
"You've got to protect the ball, that's the main thing. I know I say that every game, but they lead the league in (takeaways) right now with 10," Burrow said. "If we can limit those turnovers I think we'll be able to move the ball up and down the field. They do a great job of getting pressure and getting tips at the line of scrimmage and capitalizing on those opportunities. We're going to have to protect the ball, run the ball well and can't get behind like we did the first two games.
"Their secondary capitalizes on the ones you throw them. They're going to catch it. The defensive line does a great job of getting their hands up if they don't win immediately on the rush. They're going to sit back and try to tip the ball to create turnovers. That's a big part of it. You've got to get the ball out quickly, but always be aware. You've got 6-9 Calais Campbell with his big mitts in the passing lanes sometimes and you've got to be aware of that."
CHASING JA'MARR: Early in the week Chase said he was both frustrated and complimented by the constant double teams. He said he was left one-on-one a couple of times in the Thursday night win over the Dolphins and Burrow missed him, but not the last one. It paid off in the 36-yard go route that was the big play in the clinching touchdown drive, reinforcing his belief that, "I've got be patient. I've got be ready because I could get the ball at any time.
"(Burrow) said he took that because the safety was cheating to the middle of the field," Chase said. "The whole night the safety was on the hash or in the split on my side. Once he saw that that he took advantage of the opportunity."
Basically, when Burrow sees one of his guys one-on-one, he's gunning it down there because he has so much faith in them.
"I mean, most of the time," Burrow said of how much he expects Chase to get doubled. "And so when you do get your one-on-one opportunities, you have to take them because you're not going to get a lot throughout the season or the game, you might get one or two, so when you do you have to take them."
That's exactly what Humphrey is seeing on film.
"Joe Burrow, what he does best, to me, other than most quarterbacks, is he just thinks, 'My guy is better than yours,'" Humphrey said. "And whether you're covered or not, it's just like the ball is coming up and it's there, and his guys come down with those passes a lot, honestly. So, you've got to defend it … You've got to know they're going to make some plays, obviously, [but] you've just got to end up trying to make more."
SOMEONE'S GOT TO EAT: That's Chase's mantra. They don't have enough defenders to suffocate him, Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins. The numbers are all over that.
The Bengals wide receivers are top five in several NFL in several categories: 58 catches (tied for eighth), 815 yards (4), six touchdowns (tied for fifth), 43 first downs (tied for first), 298 yards after catch (5).
SHOWTIME: NBC knew what it was doing. It's Burrow's first appearance on Sunday Night Football with a 2-1 prime time record, his lone loss in a division road game in Cleveland in his second start. He's averaged 317 yards in those games, highest among all players with at least three prime time starts since the merger.
Meanwhile, Baltimore's Lamar Jackson is 6-1 in his career at home in prime time for the best prime time home winning percentage by a quarterback in this century.
Burrow, 1-1 vs. Jackson, is a fan.
"I love watching him play. It feels like every couple of minutes he makes a play that makes your jaw drop," Burrow said. "You look at the defense, like, 'What are we supposed to do with that guy?' I think he's really improved throwing the football down the field. He's one of the premier players in our league that I love watching, because I can't do everything that he can do.
"When you have a guy like that I think it's good for the league. You have people like me that win in a certain way and then you have guys like him and (Patrick) Mahomes and Josh (Allen) that win in a different way. It's just a great time for the league to have players like that. Quarterbacks that have such varying skill sets that every game you watch them is a little different. I think that's great for the league."
JAWING JA'MARR: Chase doesn't mind talking a little good-natured trash on the field. He thinks, in the end, it's harmless. "I know we get in trouble for it," he said, "But it lets you bring out your personality."
Burrow had said during the summer that he enjoyed it when the Ravens gave him the business and he reiterated it this week.
"We know what kind of team they are. They're a really good team," Burrow said. "It's going to be a tough divisional rival game. That's part of football. Talking smack. That's what I love about the game. I have a lot of friends on that team that I went to college with, played with. It's all love at the end of the day, but it will definitely be intense."
Keep an eye on Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen.
"I love Patrick. He was my locker buddy at LSU so we talked all the time," Burrow said. "I got into a couple scuffles and that kind of bonded us a little more, so I love Patrick, love talking to him after every game."
SHOT-GUN TAKE: The state of the Bengals run game is, well, it depends on who you ask. Head coach Zac Taylor says it's improving and the statisticians say running back Joe Mixon has 2.7 yards per carry.
But Callahan, like his head coach, sees a light at the end of the tunnel. For one thing, after trailing by double-digits in the first two games, he thinks in the last two weeks they've been back to how they like play. Which is to say, not as much Burrow in the shot-gun and more of him under center so they can better execute play-action as they seek a mix of the two.
To open last Thursday night's game with a nine-play touchdown drive, they went shot-gun seven times. When they led, 20-15, and were trying to put the game away in the last three minutes, Burrow was under center on four of the five plays. In the second half, they were a nice mix with 16 shot-gun snaps and a dozen under center, compared to 19 and 12 in the second half.
Remember, Burrow was never under center until he got to the NFL.
"We put a ton of emphasis on it over this offseason to find more ways to get more comfortable with it," Callahan said of under center. "It's what every quarterback prefers. Most like to be in the gun because they can see everything. Every quarterback I've been around is usually like that, but going under center was an important part of the offseason. To be more comfortable with those things. We worked it a bunch in training camp …. I feel good about the direction we're going and I think Joe is, too."
SLANTS AND SCREENS: With a career record of 14-15-1, Burrow is looking to get to .500 in the regular season, to 3-1 against the Ravens, 5-6 in the AFC North and 7-8-1 on the road ….
Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is 14-14 against the Bengals. He's 28-14 at home against the AFC North with five of the losses coming to three different Bengals quarterbacks in Burrow, Andy Dalton, Carson Palmer. He's 4-2 against Zac Taylor. Dalton is the only quarterback to win back-to-back games in that stretch in 2014 and 2015 …
Baltimore had two big players declared out of Sunday's game, No. 1 wide receiver Rashod Bateman and No. 2 rusher Justice Hill. Hill, the older brother of Bengals rookie safety Dax Hill, didn't even tell him anything this week. On Friday, before Justice was declared out, Dax said he told him he was day-to-day. Dax said they still plan to swap jerseys after the game …
It looks like former No. 1 Ravens pick, Bengals tight end Hayden Hurst (groin), is going to play even though he didn't practice two of the three days and is listed as questionable. Taylor also said he feels positive about wide receiver Tee Higgins (ankle), limited the last two days and also is questionable …