The last three times the Baltimore Ravens have played the Cincinnati Bengals, they have won by 35, 24 and 36 points. To say coach John Harbaugh’s team has dominated their division opponents is understatement, as Baltimore has won five consecutive meetings dating back to 2018.
So why have the Ravens spent much of the past week talking in such glowing terms about the Bengals?
Well, it’s a different team and a new day in Cincinnati. The Bungles have remade much of their roster and are getting much different results now.
The Bengals seem to be for real.
Quarterback Joe Burrow and receiver Ja’Marr Chase have become an explosive deep threat combination, averaging 20.5 yards per completion, which is the second-highest average in the NFL among combos with more than 10 connections.
Defensive end Trey Hendrickson has 5.5 sacks, which is among the NFL’s top 10. Cincinnati’s defensive unit is top 10 in yards allowed and, more importantly, No. 4 in points allowed.
These Bengals are worthy of respect. And the Ravens, who host them in the OutKick Game of the Week on Sunday, are giving them their due.
So ask Baltimore defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale what he thinks of, let’s say, Chase and here come the plaudits:
“I think if he came out of a lab,” Martindale said, “it’s [somewhat of a] mix between DeSean Jackson and Odell [Beckham Jr.]. It’s one of those guys that stands out, and you say, ‘Oh man, he’s going to be a great one,’ and he’s already making great strides.
“Everybody wanted to talk about his preseason, when he had the drops; well, I haven’t seen any of those. He’s going to be a really good one. And let’s [not] forget about [No.] 83 [Tyler Boyd], either. We all know 83 and know where he’s at, because he’s having a great year, as well. And all of them – 83, [No.] 85 [Tee Higgins], the tight ends.
“As soon as you start worrying about all the receivers, the tight ends showed up. And let’s talk about [Joe] Mixon: 70% of his yards come after first contact. Tell me, is he a hard runner? Yes, he’s a hard runner, and he’s a problem to deal with.”
Yeah, but what about quarterback Joe Burrow? The Ravens last week humbled streaking Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert in a 34-6 whipping. Can they do that to another 2020 first-round pick?
“A big thing that I see is he’ll stay in there and take a hit,” cornerback and University of Alabama product Marlon Humphrey said of Burrow. “He’s not one of those quarterbacks that are really scared to get hit. He’ll take off and run, as well, and another thing is, when he throws the football deep, he really lets it fly.
“He’s not one of those quarterbacks that kind of halfway throw the fade, kind of throw the fade out of bounds, kind of like, ‘If my receiver catches it …’ He really puts the ball in a position where his guy can make a play, and he’s very confident. I think that’s something that I noticed when he was beating up on Alabama.”
But what about Burrow?
“I think that he’s playing at a really high level – as well as he should be – with the weapons he has around him, and that’s the reason they drafted him where they drafted him at,” Martindale said. “You’re just seeing a lot of hard work and detail in the offseason from Joe [Burrow]. And I think, a year away from his last game, when we played him and everything else, they’re a completely different team.”
The Bengals defense obviously is going to work to stop Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. But in doing that, they have to try to take away tight end Mark Andrews, who is Jackson’s favorite target so far.
Andrews understands he faces a defense that’s improving.
“They’re going to be good, man,” Andrews predicted. “Every time we play a division game, at the end of the day, it’s going to be physical [and] it’s going to be a good game. They fly around. They’re a physical team.
“Up front, it’s going to be a handle to block. So, we have to be on our Ps and Qs this week. Obviously, [it’s] a huge game this Sunday at 1 o’clock. [I’m] expecting the ‘[Ravens] Flock’ to show up.”
The Ravens are an easy team to appreciate.
They lead the NFL with 17 players on injured reserve but have won five consecutive games. The team this week announced left tackle Ronnie Stanley would be out for the season, but Alejandro Villanueva, signed to play right tackle, has moved to his more familiar left side and is flourishing.
The Ravens, you’ll recall, lost their No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 running back when the season began and replaced them with veterans.
And now other teams have called them to ask about the availability of any running back.
“I just think our guys, we keep faith,” Harbaugh said. “We do a good job of that, and guys step up. Those two things, that’s what has happened. Guys have kept the faith, and guys have stepped up and played well – that’s really what it boils down to.”
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