Media Roundtable: Green-Dalton Bengals finally get home cooking in opener

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Not only can you go home again, you can open there and for the first time in their seven NFL seasons wide receiver A.J. Green and Andy Dalton get to do that Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium against the Ravens.

So the Bengals.com Media Roundtable has become a bunch of homers for the first PBS opener since 2009, when former Raven Brandon Stokley conspired with fate and Kyle Orton for Denver to beat the Bengals in the last 11 seconds on a ridiculous 87-yard tipped pass.

The Table is playing it a lot straighter than that in making it a unanimous call for the hosts.

 Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun has been watching the Ravens offense all year and can't see how they mix up enough chemistry to win. Alex Marvez, talkmaster of NFL Sirius Radio, thinks the home opener means something and that Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther won't allow Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to peel off the rust from sitting until this week with a bad back.

Paul Dehner, Jr., of The Cincinnati Enquirer thinks his first game as a father will be the mother of all slobberknockers with the Bengals defense and kicker Randy Bullock getting the last word, while Channel 12 sports columnist Richard Skinner thinks the Ravens' depleted skill set on offense won't have an answer for the Bengals' pass rush.

Let's go around the table.

ZREBIEC

The Ravens could struggle offensively. Flacco never plays well against the Bengals. The cover two. He hasn't figured it out after all these years. He has 10 more interceptions against the Bengals than against any other team. That's just amazingly significant. It's been a big talking point all week. They haven't won there since 2011.   

Flacco is going into it with what? Three or four practices and two walk-throughs? He's never thrown to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin before. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman isn't 100 percent. Wide receiver Mike Wallace is OK, but they just don't have young, athletic guys on offense. They've relied on older receivers and haven't been able to develop younger ones.

They came in talking about running the ball, but they haven't shown the inclination to do that yet. They haven't run the ball since 2014, the last time they made the playoffs. It's just been tough to evaluate any skill players on offense because back-up quarterback Ryan Mallett was  playing with backups on the offensive line with left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda missing much of the preseason, left guard Alex Lewis out for the year, and right tackle Austin Howard not coming in until the first week of camp and he had to lose some weight.

Flacco got hot and won the Super Bowl, but I think people here realize what he is. He's fine. He's solid. But he's not going to carry you.

They upgraded the team speed of the defense in a huge way. It's going to be a top defense, but I don't know if it's going to be dominant. They don't have any real ball hawks.  Safety Eric Weddle kind of is, yet while they've got a lot of really good players they don't have an elite, take-the-game-over player.

Cincinnati Bengals feature Bengals All-50th team banners in Paul Brown Stadium

But they're good and they're faster and more athletic. They upgraded about four or five spots.  They've got some young pass rushers on the outside replacing the aging Elvis Dumervil with Matthew Judon and Tyus Bowser, the second-round pick who is extremely athletic. They also got Tim Williams, the third-rounder backing up Terrell Suggs.  Even along the front nose tackle Michael Pierce is quick for a big guy.  When they signed veteran safety Tony Jefferson and drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey, they also got faster in the secondary.

The only question mark on defense, really, is the retirement of Zach Orr at linebacker.  They've got Kamalei Correa, a second-rounder from last year who is fast but has other questions.

THE EDGE: BENGALS, 20-13. I think the Ravens defense will play pretty well. Their first unit didn't give up a point in the preseason and that doesn't mean much. But they did pass the eye test as far as being quicker. I just don't have any faith in the Ravens offense. For the last couple of years they've put the defense in some bad positions. If it was a home opener in Baltimore, I'd probably lean to the Ravens. The defense and special teams are going to have to carry the offense early.

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In one of the matchups of the game, Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (70, with T.J. Johnson) tries to prevent Terrell Suggs from adding to his Ravens' record sack total.

MARVEZ

Affecting Joe Flacco is the No. 1 key for the Bengals to win this game. Joe may have some rust. The Bengals showed in the preseason they've got some rookies who looked solid rushing the passer. It's not like Joe has this incredible complement of wide receivers, either. He's barely worked with Jeremy Maclin and never played with him in a game before.

Defensively, Marvin and Paul know how to study. You'll see a lot of Greg Roman concepts by the Ravens senior offensive assistant and I expect them to be more conservative.  I don't think Joe Flacco throws more than 22 times, unless the Bengals open a big lead and I'm not sure I really see that. When he drops back the key for the Bengals is to make him uncomfortable because of his long layoff.

Another key is what the Bengals can do between the tackles in the running game. Can they be respectable up front? Three, four yards a carry? I like Baltimore's safeties but I don't think the corners are All-American world beaters and this is where the Bengals could have some success. Having A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert back is so significant. And creative ways to use Joe Mixon out of the backfield combined with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.

It's feet to the fire time for the offensive line. It's long been a Bengals' strength. Now there are questions. Guys have to answer that bell against the No. 1 defense in the preseason and one of the top last year. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams is so athletic. I saw him doing handstands at the Super Bowl and walking around on his hands. On that type of weight, that's nuts.

If the Ravens reach the 37-yard line with kicker Justin Tucker, it's like you can pencil them in for three points. I talked to Marvin on Sirius and he was very effusive in his praise for Randy Bullock. But he also pointed out that Randy missed that field goal at the end of the preseason. Let's not forget that was one of the big things that kept the Bengals out of the playoffs last year. Have they truly solved that problem? That's a legitimate question because it's probably going to be a close game.

THE EDGE: BENGALS, 19-15: Playing at home will make a difference. Guys are excited about that. Andy has never opened at home. I worry for the Ravens' sake that Joe Flacco isn't going to be truly ready. I'm big on this Bengals team making a play-off run this year. It hurts not to have Tez. It hurts not to have Adam Jones, but I still think they can overcome it and have a good year.

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 Randy Bullock opposes the best in the game Sunday.

DEHNER, Jr.

Yeah, it is kind of the unknown opener. They Ravens have got a bunch of guys that have been out. No one knows what their offensive line is going to be. No one really knows what the Bengals offensive line is going to be.  It's about half uncertain, half certain on both sides. We know Baltimore's defense is going to be really good. They proved it in both the preseason and what they've done in the past. But nobody knows about that Baltimore offense and no one knows how the kids on this team are going to do. Like all openers right? All openers are eye-openers. Use that.

I don't know that having an opener at home maters.  This team has been kind of the same home and away over the years. It's what's been good about them. They've done a good job staying even keel and being pretty much the same team no matter when and where they play. Outside of prime time, of course. I think it helps like it would on a Sunday in November.

If you look at the strongest thing out there it is probably Baltimore's defense.  However, they don't have A.J. Green. Nobody knows that better than Baltimore. He's just destroyed them over the years. Early in the season the Bengals will need the wins to look a lot like the wins last year and that was A.J. just taking over as they try to get on the same page.

The Bengals are so young in kick coverage and they've got the kicker, who knows? Everything has been good. I remember Mike Nugent had a great preseason last year, too, and he ended up having a poor year. All these North games, evenly matched teams, come down to special teams.

But you know what, though? You look at this first week and we'll hear so much about how it's only one game and it's a long season. When we look back on this in January, there's a good chance we're looking back on Houston and Baltimore as the two games that swing it because you're talking about two teams that probably trying to get a Wild Card.

THE EDGE: BENGALS, 13-12.  Randy Bullock at the gun. Just a slog. One of those they fight and scratch for points. Baltimore is tough, but they find a way to get just enough. And, of course, it ends on the kicker in the clutch.

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One of Cincinnati's summer games is predicting how many carries Joe Mixon gets as a rookie.

SKINNER

The Bengals have had their number here the last few years. I can't see any reason why they won't have their number again his week. I truly think Baltimore might be one of the three worst teams in the AFC. They helped themselves in the back end, but with older guys. You have an offensive line completely in flux. The quarterback says he's ready, but he doesn't sound overly confident that he's ready and he's an aging guy. Honestly, Steve Smith was still making plays for you last year and you lost that. This is going to sound silly. They may be worse than the Browns.

If the Bengals were playing the Steelers, it would be the same question about the offensive line. It's a big matchup but not because of what Baltimore may have. We just don't know what we have in the Bengals' front five. I thought they did pretty well in the preseason. There were moments left tackle Ced Ogbuehi seemed overmatched, but I thought as the preseason went along I noticed him less and less. The first team gave up two sacks and one of them right guard Trey Hopkins looked like he got lost on a stunt and OK, it's early, but I thought he developed pretty well. At least from what you saw in training camp you don't go, 'Oh gosh, you're in big trouble.' I think you go in saying, 'All right, I just need to see it in real competition to know if I can believe it or not.' Bengals fans are holding their breath. Is it going to be a team that gives up four, five six, sacks a week? I didn't see that in the preseason.

The Bengals are used to playing without Vontaze Burfict. I don't completely agree with people who said Adam Jones began to show his age a little last year. I wasn't one of them. I thought Adam had a pretty decent year. But I thought what you saw of William Jackson in the preseason, 'OK, let's see what he can in do in the regular season,' because I thought he did a really good job.

To me it comes down to the Bengals pass rush. What they've done in the offseason, now when you go your nickel looks you've got legitimate pass rushers out there. You've got a lot of different combinations. I like what they've done with end Michael Johnson in the middle. It gives you a chance to put someone with his length and speed; you can rotate whoever you want. Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson.  Mix and match those guys. I think that makes you a better pass rushing team. You're playing a quarterback that's not very mobile and an offensive line having issues. You get them in a lot of third-and-longs on Sunday and I think the Bengals pass rush has a field day.

THE EDGE: BENGALS, 27-16. I just think Baltimore, offensively, is going to have a hard time getting much sustained. They keep talking about a better running game, but I have to see it to believe it. You've got a QB that hasn't played in the preseason and the offensive line … I think the Bengals get off to a very comfortable start.

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  Tyler Boyd is one of the more improved Bengals.

THE BOTTOM LINE

You really have to say it's the most anticipated opener at home in the Green-Dalton Era since it is the first one in their seven seasons. But it's going to be decided by the kids and the grizzled defensive coordinator. Like the kids up front on the offensive line and on the defensive line and a rookie like running back Joe Mixon. And a defensive coordinator like Paul Guenther, who seems to always have his way with Jersey Shore golf partner Joe Flacco.

Look, no one runs the ball on Baltimore. But if they can manage something like 85 yards on 30 carries, that may be enough to keep the behemoths off Dalton and Green. All they need is a shot. When Eifert got hurt on the ninth snap of the season in Baltimore, Green saved them with 131 yards. When Eifert couldn't play in last year's opener in New York, Green grounded the Jets on 180 yards. When they were both available in the 2015 opener in Oakland, they rolled up 33 points. Eifert didn't have a catch in Green's monster 224-yard game in Baltimore in '15, but just his presence made it possible.

(Think it means something that Green and Eifert are back together again? In the three games they played together last year, they averaged 26 points compared to 20 for the season.)

Also, keep an eye on slot receiver Tyler Boyd, one of the most improved Bengals. The Ravens' top two slot corners are out and No. 3 safety Lardarius Webb is expected to get the call and Boyd may be able to excel in that matchup.   

But with left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and right tackle Jake Fisher making their second and fourth NFL starts at those spots respectively, you can't jack it up there 30 times against a speedy and accomplished Ravens defense. They'll have to put all hands on deck in the running game and that's why we're assuming running back Jeremy Hill is still here. If you're committed to the run, three backs are a necessity and not a luxury and they take the heat off the line.

Flacco just returned to practice this week after missing all of the preseason with a herniated disc and that's just not a great way to prepare for Guenther, even if his band of rushers are green as the PBS turf. Flacco is not only 1-4 against him, but he's thrown just four touchdowns while getting picked off six times and barely averaging six yards per throw.

Of course, the thinking is we'll see a different Flacco. No doubt they'll max protect and pound the football. After all, the man has a bad back and has no chemistry with his new top target, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. Although Guenther has to be gun shy of Maclin and the 148-yard game he had at PBS in '15 for the Chiefs.

The Ravens have been emphasizing the run and for good reason. The passing game may not click until October. And the Bengals are still feeling around for a stopper in Domata Peko's old nose tackle spot

Pat Sims, the old war horse who was here the last time they opened at home when they held Denver to 75 yards rushing and two field goals for 59:49, is looking to bottle his magic against the run. But he'll need help off the bench with tackles taking their first NFL snaps in Andrew Billings and Ryan Glasgow.

And they'll have to be as stout as Baltimore because of kicker Justin Tucker. They don't want to find themselves in a game like last year at PBS, when they threw it 48 times, ran it 20 and got beat, 19-14, because Tucker hit three bombs from 52, 54, and 57.   (Note: Baltimore ran it 30 times for 92 yards. If the Bengals do that Sunday, they'll win, 19-14.)

A visual look at the 2017 Bengals roster.

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