All seems right in the birthplace of Babe Ruth. The Ravens are back in first place and the Yankees are playing for the American League pennant. The Bengals would love nothing better than to spoil Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) by blowing into the Inner Harbor and throwing the AFC North into chaos.
While dining on chowder and crabs, the Bengals.com Media Roundtable doesn't see a lot of waves being made. The Cincinnati contingent anchored this week by Paul Dehner, Jr., The Athletic's senior writer who documented so many of former Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's struggles against Mike Zimmer and Paul Guenther, and Richard Skinner, the digital sports columnist for Cincinnati's Local 12 who had a pre-game chat with Colts legendary quarterback Johnny Unitas before the last Bengals-Colts game in Baltimore, see current Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson having a big day.
Mike Preston and Jeff Zrebiec have charted the Ravens from Marvin Lewis to Josh Bynes and even though this isn't exactly Marvin's defense (it's not even John Harbaugh's defense), they see a home victory. Preston, a Baltimore Sun sports staffer for 36 years who began his column in that 2000 season Lewis' record-setting defense led the Ravens to the Super Bowl title, thinks this defense could decide Sunday's game by putting heat on quarterback Andy Dalton and preventing the Bengals from taking shots at the Ravens decimated secondary. Zrebiec, who covered the Ravens and Orioles during 18 years at The Sun before becoming a senior writer at The Athletic, sees your basic AFC North slugfest decided by Baltimore's time of possession.
Let's go around The Table. As always, visitors and the alphabet first:
Unless Andy Dalton gets super hot, they can't beat them. The one thing the Bengals can do is throw the ball and that's where the Ravens are really weak. They have to get to Dalton and get him out of rhythm.
The Ravens pound the football. They've got two straight-ahead runners in Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards. They don't go outside the tackles, unless that's Lamar on an option play. They let you know this is what we're going to do. We're going to pound the football and come straight at you. Once they do that, the play-action game opens up. If that doesn't work, Lamar gets outside and that opens up the play-action game and the passing game. For a team that's pretty limited in scope, the running game is pretty wide ranging because they can hit you and attack you in many ways.
The Ravens' losses in the secondary just keep building up. They lost nickel back Tavon Young for the year. Cornerback Jimmy Smith won't play this week. They lost safety Tony Jefferson for the season. Off the field leadership-wise, it's a loss. But on the field they can overcome that one. One of the keys to this game is the Ravens linebackers. They couldn't cover and teams could run straight ahead on them. They brought back Josh Bynes off the street and he started three days later at middle linebacker against the Steelers and played well. That allowed them to move Patrick Onwuasor back to his natural spot on the weak side and they played better.
THE EDGE: The Bengals have one strength and the Ravens can beat you many ways. That's too much for the Bengals to overcome. RAVENS, 28-14
The feel I get from the national perspective is this might be kind of a mismatch. I wouldn't be surprised if it's a one-possession game down the stretch. I know Marvin Lewis isn't here anymore and the Bengals frustrated the heck out of Joe Flacco and the offense and this is a different Ravens offense. I get all that. I'm not expecting a lopsided game at all. A few weeks ago the Ravens needed a couple of late defensive stands to beat the Cardinals at home. With how the Ravens defense is, I don't think they'll be blowing out anybody. They blew out the Dolphins in week one, but the Dolphins are in a different league as we know.
I would give the Ravens the edge only because they can control the game with the running game. The Bengals' struggle stopping the run has been well documented and the Ravens have the No. 2 running attack in football and they can hit you in a lot of ways. Even if you stop them between the tackles you have to deal with Jackson kind of coming around the edge. The Steelers were the only team that has kind of contained of them and the Ravens still did OK. No one has really shut them down yet and I don't know if the Bengals can deal with that. That tips the scales for me.
THE EDGE: The difference will be the Ravens can control the clock and pound out some first downs late. RAVENS, 26-20
Actually, it's fairly simple. The league's (No. 2) rushing offense vs. the league's (No. 31) rushing defense. This team has trouble on the edges and Lamar is going to be able to exploit that a little bit. We've seen the Bengals get hit over the top with some free runners and that's been sort of a staple as well for the Baltimore offense.
The Ravens defense is susceptible They're beat up. I don't know that we've seen if this offense can truly take advantage of that yet.
THE EDGE: Baltimore is going to run it down their throats and I don't think the offense has enough firepower yet to keep up with them. *RAVENS, 28-20 *
The good thing you have going for you is Baltimore is coming off that win in Pittsburgh and human nature being what it is, they see the Bengals at 0-5 and they feel, hey, this is a lay-up game for us. That happens in this league and its danger time for teams. I don't think it's dangerous enough for the Bengals to win. It's hard to pick this team to win a game until you see them win a game. Until they can stop people from getting to the perimeter on them, whether it's a quarterback, whether it's a jet sweep, whether it's a running back, I think teams just keep doing that and doing that. I think Jackson has improved a little bit as a passer, but I think everybody got over their skis in week one after what he did against Miami. If the Bengals could somehow play with a lead, I'd love to see what box you force them into, but it's hard to see that.
The Baltimore defense isn't as stout as it has been and you look at the teams they've beaten. They beat Miami, Arizona and Pittsburgh and those teams have two wins. Both over the Bengals. The Ravens' resume isn't exactly overly impressive. Their offense has taken a step forward for sure, but this is not the Baltimore defense that we all usually expect. It's just not as good. I thought it was interesting at the end of last week's game when the Bengals took a couple of shots down field and hit the home run with Tyler Boyd. Maybe you just have to trust the process and say, you know what, no matter what the personnel is we just have to run our offense. I get the process of not doing that early and protecting your tackles and trying to get a running game going. But maybe those last two drives made the light bulb go off.
THE EDGE: The Ravens are still good enough even if they have a letdown to win. I know the Bengals have been close in three games and you could argue they could be 3-2. But they're not and I don't see the first win in Baltimore. It's just too tough of a place. RAVENS, 23-17
THE BOTTOM LINE
Watch a Bengals-Ravens game in Baltimore. The Bengals have had a 24-point fourth quarter (2004), a tying Hail Mary (2013) and the Miracle Of Tyler Boyd's Bluff (2017) on that great route setting up his fourth-and-12 winning TD on the season's last snap that knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs.
If the Bengals pull the upset, they'll be just two games out of first with ten to play and six of those are at The Paul with road games in Oakland and Miami.
Lewis always seemed to have his old team's number when it was least expected with a 19-13 record against Baltimore.
But these numbers are so rational, aren't they? The Bengals haven't stopped the run for the last three years and no one has come close to stopping the Ravens' ground game this season that is so terrifying in its versatility. And The Table sat down before the Bengals revealed on Friday that they'll be without left end Carlos Dunlap (knee).
Dunlap has been in the last 13 Bengals-Ravens sets and with his streak of 115 straight games at an end, that's right where the Ravens figure to send Jackson. The end. Even with Dunlap in there teams have run the ball on the Bengals' perimeter and the inability to stop the run has made it so easy on the young quarterbacks.
Jackson looks like a whiskered veteran with one start against the Bengals already under his belt in a 119-yard rush day. Sunday the Bengals get Jackson in his 13th NFL start after getting San Francisco's Jimmy Garoppolo in his 12th, Kyler Murray in his fifth and Mason Rudolph in his second. The Ravens aren't big on the jet sweeps that have hurt the Bengals, but Jackson likes to play-fake and throw back the other way and that will test a Bengals defense that has grappled with misdirection.
Still, as vulnerable as the Bengals secondary has been to wide-open big plays, the Ravens have allowed six passes of at least 40 yards, second most in the league. Three of the Ravens' secondary regulars are out and middle linebacker Josh Bynes is getting his second start 11 days after being on the street for 11 months. That move put leading tackler Patrick Onwuasor in his natural spot on the weak side, but he didn't practice this week (ankle) and is questionable.
If you look at how the Bengals ended last week's game down 23-9 with two drives spurred by the deep ball, that may be a glimpse of how the Bengals come out Sunday. But they're also down to their fourth left tackle in John Jerry and a running game that began to stir last week is the best way to protect Dalton on one of the NFL's most hostile fields.
In very un-Raven-like fashion, Baltimore is 21st in total defense allowing six runs of last 20 yards. But estimable run-stopper Brandon Williams still has enough of a presence in the middle that they are ranked 10th vs. the run.
The last two drafts have addressed the Ravens need for offense, but except for safety Earl Thomas they've relied on role players to fill the departures of last year's No. 1 defense. Suddenly, the Ravens start four undrafted free agents and four players drafted in the fifth round or later. When the Bengals open in nickel (and this includes Carl Lawson expected to start in Dunlap's spot), they have 10 players drafted in the fourth round or before.
So this one may come down to the two most banged up positions on the field, the Bengals decimated wide receivers against the Ravens limping secondary. The Ravens know well the Bengals have hurt them before.