Ravens coach John Harbaugh won’t let anyone in Baltimore overlook the Bengals this Sunday.
The Ravens are fresh off perhaps the most impressive win of the NFL season thus far, a 17-point win over the Patriots on Sunday Night Football and are now 6-2 and firmly in the driver’s seat in the AFC North.
This week, however, is a complete reversal of last week, a win over the formerly 8-0 Patriots at home. Now, the 0-8 Bengals are on deck at with a rookie starting quarterback.
Baltimore will see if it can avoid a major upset on Sunday in Cincinnati at Paul Brown Stadium. Kickoff is at 1p.m.
“You want to make a big win matter?” Harbaugh asked. “Then you have to follow it up with a win. If you follow it up with a loss, you've just negated the win. You might as well not have won the game. So, we don't want to throw that away.”
On paper, the matchup is about as one-sided as possible in the NFL.
The Bengals rank 32nd in total defense, yards per play and rushing yards and aren’t much better offensively. They are 25th in total offense and are 29th in yards per play and points per game.
On the other side, the Ravens are second in total offense, fifth in yards per play and first in rushing yards.
Then again, that’s on paper.
“What would last week’s win mean if we go out there and just lay an egg?,” Jimmy Smith asked. “Nobody wants to do that. It doesn’t take any extra motivation to want to go out and win a game. We know what we’re here for. It’s only better if we win. We don’t want to lose. That sucks.”
With Lamar Jackson at quarterback, who is gaining MVP traction throughout the league, the Bengals defense is in some trouble.
The last time the two played, a 23-17 victory for the Ravens on Oct. 13, Jackson ran for 152 yards and threw for 236 more in a game that wasn’t as close as the score would indicate.
But a major difference from last game is that Ryan Finley, not Andy Dalton, will be making his first NFL start.
“He’s going to represent some challenges, because obviously, if they’re letting him play in front of Dalton — and we know the kinds of problems that Andy has given us and the type of quarterback he is — it’s going to be a great challenge,” defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “We’ve watched college tape on him. We’ve watched preseason tape on him.”
Finley, an NC State product, is looking to give the Bengals a spark on offense that hasn’t been there for a majority of the season.
“Well, experience is going to help with all the times I've faced rookies, but you just can't go in thinking like, ‘Oh, this is what it is,’” Earl Thomas said. “You just have to go play the game. You have to play the gameplan we came up with. Trust the calls, whether it be a pressure or man coverage or anything.”
Cincinnati won’t have wideout A.J. Green, however, meaning the Ravens won’t have to worry about one of the NFL’s best wideouts burning them.
Especially without Green, facing a rookie quarterback against a winless team, the margin for error for the Ravens isn’t much.
But a win would only further the Ravens status as one of the NFL’s best.
“I feel like we're very, very focused,” Martindale said. “We understand. We'll see what happens once we get out there, but I feel like we're going to go out there and challenge. And we're going to try to dominate, as well.”
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