Two division rivals – moving in opposite directions – clash in Week 3 of the NFL season as the Baltimore Ravens welcome the Cincinnati Bengals to M&T Bank Stadium.
It has been a tale of two seasons for these AFC North Division rivals. In the preseason, both the Ravens and the Bengals were pegged as teams that could make a run into the playoffs. So far, the Bengals have looked the part, starting the season 2-0 with convincing wins against the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers. The Ravens, on the other hand, have been inconsistent and, as a result, have dropped their first two games.
The Bengals have found success early this season on both sides of the ball. After two weeks, the team has accumulated the sixth most yards, primarily on the strength of the third ranked rush offense. Jeremy Hill emerged last season as the lead back and started this season strongly, finding the end zone twice in Week 1. In Week 2, Hill struggled and was replaced by Giovani Bernard, who had a tremendous game, rushing for 123 yards. The plan for the Bengals has been to use the two in tandem and so far the plan has been executed to perfection.
Fifth-year quarterback Andy Dalton is off to his best start ever, completing 68.3 percent of his passes, earning an overall QB Rating of 79.5, both of which will would be career highs if the season ended today (Sorry Bengals fans, it does not). This season, it has been helpful for Dalton to target star wideout A.J. Green less rather than more. Dalton has been criticized for honing in on Green too often and the numbers seem to back it up. In 13 games last year with Green on the field, Dalton threw the ball Green’s way 31.1 percent of the time. Through two games this season, Green has only seen 20 percent of Dalton’s throws.
Meanwhile, the Ravens enter Sunday's matchup desperately seeking more consistency on both sides of the ball.
Baltimore dropped the first game of the season, losing a tight contest in Denver in which the offense struggled but the defense was stellar. In Week 2, the offense picked it up considerably, scoring 33 points. The problem: The Raiders racked up 448 total yards on offense and scored 37 points, winning the game late.
In all, the Ravens rank towards the bottom of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency after two weeks. Running back Justin Forsett has been bottled up so far after a tremendous season last year, managing only 111 total yards and 3.8 yard per carry. Quarterback Joe Flacco has also struggled, notching a QB Rating of 49.1 through two games and throwing 3 interceptions.
To make matters worse, Flacco has struggled throughout his career against the Bengals, losing his last three and throwing just two touchdowns to six interceptions. Raven’s coach Jim Harbaugh dismissed the notion that the Bengals have Flacco's number at this week’s press conference.
“[The Bengals] don’t do anything different than anybody else does,” Harbaugh said according to Pro Football Talk. “They have their own unique style. They have their way of playing. I think they’re very aggressive in terms of their mentality. They’re an attacking, 4-3-type defense. So, it’s not anything that people don’t try to do, but they do it well.”
The difference maker Sunday will likely be the Bengals defense, particularly their front line’s ability to get pressure on Flacco and force the sometimes elite, and sometimes not-so-much, quarterback into mistakes. Cincinnati's Geno Atkins will be a player to watch on that defensive front. The star defensive tackle has come into the season looking healthy and the line has tallied six sacks already through two games, two from Atkins.
When these two teams face off at 1:05 p.m. Eastern Time, expect the trends from the first two weeks to continue and the Bengals to emerge with a victory.