Ladies and gentlemen, your Cincinnati Bengals are officially in the win column.
Last week, Joe Burrow earned his first career win, Joe Mixon had a career day, and the offensive line had an inspiring performance in the victory over Jacksonville. The defense created turnovers and generated key stops, and the team played some of the most complementary football I’ve seen from them in quite a long time.
In the mire of a 2-14 season like 2019, it almost felt mischievous when Cincinnati held leads in ballgames. Like Andy Dalton and company were getting away with something they shouldn’t have been. And perhaps they were. But that feeling is fading, and fading fast. Against Jacksonville, Cincinnati took the lead early in the third quarter and never looked back, scoring on six straight possessions. It almost felt, dare I say, expected and normal.
However, there are no such expectations this week, as the Bengals are in Baltimore for a divisional matchup with the 13-point favorite Ravens. There’s a ton to talk about as Cincinnati gears up for the reigning league MVP, but before we get into the game preview, let’s catch up on some Bengals news/content from the week.
Watch of the Week: Joe Burrow Mic’d Up
NFL Films had Joe Burrow wired for sound last Sunday and captured some awesome stuff from his first career win. Just when you think you couldn’t like the guy anymore, you get something like this:
Plus, a little extra from the Bengals’ Twitter:
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 8, 2020
Joe Mixon named AFC Offensive Player of the Week
After a career day that saw him rack up three touchdowns, running back Joe Mixon was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. He’s the first Bengal to win such an award this season, and the first since Carlos Dunlap took home AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors after the Bengals beat the Jets last year in Week 13.
— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) October 7, 2020
Read(s) of the Week:
- Andrew Miller, a writer for AllBengals.com, shared his experience at Paul Brown Stadium last week. If you are anything like me, you were wondering what it must have been like to actually be in the stadium for Joe Burrow’s first career win. Fortunately for us, Miller provides a first-hand account.
- If you’re worried about the Bengals’ inability to hit the deep ball this season (Burrow is 1/21 on passes traveling 20+ yards in the air), give this Paul Denher Jr. piece from the Athletic a read. He reviewed all 21 of Burrow’s incompletions and reached a few conclusions that will leave you feeling encouraged.
Quote of the Week:
This one comes from rookie linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither, who had this to say when asked about Lamar Jackson’s highlight reel run versus the Bengals last season:
Bengals LB Akeem Davis-Gaither on Lamar Jackson's highlight TD against the Bengals last year: "I've seen it quite a bit. I'm tired of seeing it."
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 5, 2020
Us too, ADG. Us too.
And with that, let’s get into this week’s divisional matchup. Bengals/Ravens talk coming just as soon as I eat some Hamburger Helper…
We had a healthy taco conversation before today's Bengals zoom call with WR Tee Higgins.
Tee Higgins with a couple of big bombshells:
1. He does not like tacos.
2. His favorite food his Hamburger Helper.
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 8, 2020
Hamburger Helper!! Sorry not sorry! Lol.
— Tee Higgins? (@teehiggins5) October 8, 2020
Four things to know
1. Lamar Jackson missed several practices this week. The reigning league MVP missed both Wednesday and Thursday with a knee injury and illness, raising questions about his availability for the game today. Despite it being the first time in Jackson’s career he’s missed consecutive practices, he’s going to suit up and is 100%, according to head coach Jim Harbaugh.
Ravens’ QB Lamar Jackson missed practice today due to a stomach ache and Wednesday due to a knee injury, per league source. Neither is expected to be significant enough to sideline him for Sunday’s game against the Bengals, per source.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 8, 2020
2. Carlos Dunlap isn’t happy. The 11-year veteran expressed his frustration Thursday upon finding out he had been stripped of his starting spot. The Pro Bowl LE sounded off in a press conference, calling Zac Taylor and staff out for not communicating the decision to him prior to posting the depth chart.
Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap said it appears he'll be primarily be used an edge rusher on third down against BAL. He is not very happy about it.
Dunlap: "It appears we have a good game plan but I would like to be a part of it."
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 8, 2020
“That’s crazy, right?” Dunlap said. “I mean, you would think common decency would be something like that. I mean, it’s not like I’m injured or anything. I’m not nursing anything. I’ve been blessed. Eleven years in the game. But I understand business, and evidently, this is the business they want to do.”
Carl Lawson will start in Dunlap’s normal place, but that doesn’t mean he won’t frequently see the field Sunday.
According to a source, Carlos Dunlap is listed as a starter in some defensive packages but not others. His name didn’t appear originally on the team’s whiteboard at left defensive end. The team had Carl Lawson’s name as starter. #Bengals
— Tyler Dragon (@TheTylerDragon) October 8, 2020
Through four games, Dunlap hasn’t been at his best. According to ESPN, he’s ranked 46th among 82 qualifying defensive ends in edge rush stop win rate and 29th among 58 defensive ends in pass-rush win rate. Perhaps the move was warranted due to his play, but from a purely relational perspective, it seems like a poor way for the Bengals to treat someone who has been one of the best defensive linemen in the franchise’s history.
3. For as much as Joe Burrow has struggled to complete deep balls, he’s the league’s best when it comes to intermediate passes. Pro Football Focus has him completing 30 of 44 passes in the 10-19 yard range, a mark that equates to a league-best 68% completion clip. Part of the deep pass struggles have been overthrows and drops, but we can’t overlook the types of defenses Burrow has faced.
“We’ve played some good DBs that haven’t allowed big plays over the top,” Burrow said. “And we’ve been hitting the intermediate part of the field very, very well. You know, something like 90 percent completion on intermediate, something crazy like that. So we’re attacking a lot of different areas of the field.”
Play to your strengths, they say. It’ll be interesting to see how defenses respond and what kind of big plays Burrow can create as more tape of him gets out and defenses adjust their game plans.
4. Per Zac Taylor, Geno Atkins is back in the lineup.
Three matchups to watch
1. Ravens rushing attack vs. Bengals defensive front
Baltimore led the league in rushing in 2019 and is at it again in 2020. So far they’ve rushed for 160 yards per game thanks to their four-headed-monster. There’s obviously Lamar Jackson, but then in the running back room you have three talented guys in veteran Mark Ingram, third-year man Gus Edwards, and rookie JK Dobbins. Any one of those guys can break off a long run on a given snap, which is a matchup nightmare for the Bengals and their porous rushing defense that allows nearly five yards per carry. Corralling ballcarriers is always an important task, but it will be even more so this afternoon.
2. Tyler Boyd vs. Marlon Humphrey
One of the league’s best slot WRs goes up against one of the league’s best slot CBs this afternoon, in what might be the most competitive positional battle of the game. Tyler Boyd has been fantastic this season, establishing a strong rapport with Joe Burrow and catching 28 (T4-most in the league) of his 33 targets.
On the flip side, Marlon Humphrey has been targeted 34 times in coverage, a mark which ranks first in the league, but allowed just 23 receptions. The slot is typically known as the easiest position for a wide receiver to get a free release and gain separation, so the fact Humphrey has forced 11 incompletions is impressive.
3. Mark Andrews vs. Bengals coverage
Mark Andrews is a problem. He led all tight ends with 10 receiving TDs in 2019 and has rolled it over into 2020, with four TDs in just four games. He’s a matchup nightmare for most teams, but especially the Bengals. Who will it be manning him up? Linebackers such as Logan Wilson or Jordan Evans? Maybe slot corner Mackensie Alexander? Perhaps safeties Vonn Bell or Shawn Williams? Any way you slice it, Andrews is the superior playmaker.
Despite that being the case, Cincinnati has done a solid job of containing tight ends this season, limiting the position group to an average of five receptions for 64 yards. That’s not necessarily flukey either, as they have faced the talented likes of Hunter Henry, Zach Ertz, and Dallas Goedert. However, Andrews is better than all those guys, and he’s on a much more dynamic offense. He’ll get plenty of opportunities to continue his dominance today.
Two names you’ll hear
1. Patrick Queen, Ravens LB
Joe Burrow’s former LSU teammate was the 28th overall pick of the 2020 draft and is beginning to put together an impressive rookie campaign.
He went viral after making an incredible one-arm stop on the goal line last week and leads the Baltimore defense in tackles with 33.
Back on my diddy? pic.twitter.com/VoCWQGhja3
— PQ™? (@Patrickqueen_) October 5, 2020
You’ll hear Queen’s name because of his college connection with Burrow, but also because he’ll be around the ball constantly. He’s still adjusting to Baltimore’s pass coverage schemes, so if the Bengals are looking to exploit a weakness of his, they’ll continue to attack over the middle with short and intermediate passes like they have all season.
2. Josh Bynes, Bengals LB
In his 10th career season and first with Cincinnati, Bynes has brought vocal leadership and veteran savvy to a linebacker room that’s been lacking such characteristics for a long time. He signed with the Bengals in free agency after revitalizing his career as a Baltimore Raven last season.
He’s familiar with Lamar Jackson and Baltimore’s impressive offense attack and should be instrumental in keeping the defense alert today.
Through four games in 2020 he’s recorded 27 tackles and one sack, and it’s clear he’s had an impression on the defense.
Bengals DB Jessie Bates said LB Josh Bynes gave "a hell of a speech" last night about overcoming adversity. Made an impression on the locker room.
— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) October 4, 2020
One way the Bengals can win
Maybe this section would be more appropriately titled “One way the Bengals can cover.” After all, the Ravens are one of the few teams that we can realistically picture hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in February. On the other hand, the Bengals are a work in progress. But they may have the most important ingredient in turning a team around: a franchise QB.
And it’s the franchise QB that represents a way Cincy can pull off what would be the league’s biggest upset this season. Joe Burrow is going to have to lead scoring drives. Every. Single. Time. Stopping the Ravens is a task many teams fail to accomplish, and we can’t expect the Bengals to find the solution today. They’ve just got to put points up every time they touch it. I might even recommend going for every fourth down regardless of field position. And if we’re making wishes, a special teams TD would sure be nice.
Burrow and the Bengals got a taste of that type of offensive dominance last week, scoring on six straight possessions and keeping punter Kevin Huber on the sidelines the entire second half. Baltimore is a more vaunting opponent, but we can’t say Cincinnati doesn’t know what it feels like to get in a great offensive rhythm.
At the end of the day, it’s the NFL; anyone can win on any given Sunday. Baltimore is just over 2,600 miles from Hollywood and the Bengals may not have a Dennis Quad or Al Pacino, but that doesn’t mean they can’t pull off some movie magic this afternoon.
Kickoff’s at 1 p.m. on CBS. Let’s go!