The Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are both 2-2 and meeting Sunday night in a battle for first place in the AFC North. The Bengals seek a third-straight win over the Ravens after sweeping them last year with a record-setting passing onslaught from Joe Burrow and company.
The Bengals are a 3-point road underdog at many of the top-rated sportsbooks. But after the Ravens have blown a pair of three-score leads at home this season, are the Bengals really the favorite in this division?
We take a look at what fueled Burrow’s dominance over the Ravens last year and if he can do it again this week in a big spot.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, October 09, 2022 – 08:20 PM EDT at M&T Bank Stadium
Joe Burrow vs. 2021 Ravens
In leading the Bengals to the Super Bowl in his second NFL season, Joe Burrow had his breakout season in 2021. But while there were highs and lows along the way, the two opponents that really catapulted Burrow and the Bengals to the big game were the Chiefs and Ravens.
The Bengals obviously had two big comeback wins over the Chiefs, including the AFC Championship Game, but the Baltimore wins set them up for that success first. In Week 7, the Bengals started to get taken seriously at 5-2 after winning 41-17 in Baltimore with Burrow passing for 416 yards and rookie wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase having 201 yards.
When the teams met again the day after Christmas, there may have been some extra motivation for Cincinnati’s young stars. Prior to the game, Baltimore defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who faced Green Bay a week earlier, basically said he didn’t need to design any special coverage for Chase because he isn’t Davante Adams, and Burrow doesn’t need a gold jacket yet like we know Aaron Rodgers will receive.
Burrow referenced the comments as unnecessary, to which he was right. On game day, Burrow stepped up and threw for 525 yards (fourth most in NFL history) and four more touchdowns in a 41-21 win.
Burrow is the first quarterback ever to have two 400-yard passing games in the same season against the same defense. His 941 passing yards are also a two-game record against the same opponent in the same season.
Martindale was fired after the season ended. Now it is up to new coordinator Mike Macdonald to not make the same mistakes against the Bengals.
How Did Burrow Shred the 2021 Ravens?
Burrow’s historic success against Baltimore was a combination of talent, defensive injuries, blown coverages, and poor tackling, all giving way to big plays:
- Five of Burrow’s 11 completions that gained more than 50 yards on the season came in the two games against Baltimore.
- Two of Burrow’s three completions with at least 50 YAC came against the Ravens.
- Chase’s 82-yard touchdown in Week 7 was a 6-yard throw with 76 YAC, easily the most YAC for any Cincinnati play last season.
- Tight end C.J. Uzomah also broke a tackle from Marlon Humphrey and had a 55-yard touchdown in that game.
- Pro Bowl corner Humphrey was roasted for 227 yards in coverage in Week 7 and did not play in the Week 16 rematch.
- In Week 16, Tyler Boyd scored a 68-yard touchdown right down the seam after the Ravens blew the coverage.
- Burrow’s two deepest completions by air yards (50 and 48 yards) in 2021 both came against the Ravens as well.
- The second-deepest ball was a real “rub it in their nose” type of play with the Bengals up 41-21 at the two-minute warning, and Burrow threw deep for running back Joe Mixon for a 52-yard gain that would have been another touchdown if Mixon kept his feet.
It is worth noting in the Week 7 game in Baltimore, Burrow only had two dropbacks in the fourth quarter, and his last one was a pick in the end zone by Humphrey on third-and-goal. The Bengals led 27-17 at the time. But after the Ravens turned the ball over on downs in their own territory twice, the Bengals ran the ball on six straight plays to cash in two more touchdown drives that Burrow didn’t even have to contribute to.
Tackle better, get a better game out of Lamar Jackson and the offense, and the Ravens can be much better against these Bengals this season.
What Changes This Week?
If you are a Ravens fan, then you are going to care more about last year’s Week 7 results, where the team was healthier, and now you get an offseason of studying the tape on these two games and how the Bengals used Chase. The Ravens will also have Humphrey and Marcus Peters at corner, safety Marcus Williams is new to the team from the Saints, and corner Brandon Stephens is no longer a rookie.
It still may not be the ideal defense to defend Burrow and his three wide receivers, but the Ravens have no excuses of being caught by surprise, marching out an inferior unit due to injury, or giving the Bengals bulletin board material like Martindale did last December.
This season, Baltimore has had some struggles on defense, but it does have 10 turnovers with multiple takeaways in each game. While the Ravens obviously had a meltdown in the fourth quarter against Miami with a 35-14 lead, the defense did not give up a 25-yard pass play to either the Jets or Bills.
Macdonald, the new defensive coordinator, was in Michigan last season when Burrow was destroying this defense. But he was John Harbaugh’s linebackers coach prior to that, and should have some familiarity with playing the Bengals. It is not ideal to throw blitzes at Burrow, but the Ravens had 14 of them in the Week 7 game, Burrow’s most in a game last season. He was only sacked once, though his pressure rate was one of his higher games at 28.2%. It just was not effective pressure.
The Ravens currently rank 27th in pressure rate this year (18.9%) according to Pro Football Reference. Veteran pass-rusher Justin Houston was inactive for the Buffalo game, and the team saw the debut of Jason Pierre-Paul, who played 86% of the snaps on Sunday. This defense is getting desperate for a pass rush, which is a bad sign against the Bengals.
The Game Within the Game
This game could very well come down to whether Burrow has enough time to hit the big plays this secondary can still give up this year despite a new coordinator and better health.
When the Bengals were 0-2 this season, Burrow took 13 sacks against defensive fronts led by the likes of T.J. Watt (Steelers) and Micah Parsons (Cowboys). The Jets and Dolphins do not have that same threat, and Burrow escaped those games with just three sacks taken. Miami only had three pressures last week, allowing Burrow to be too comfortable. He also hasn’t been intercepted since throwing four in Week 1.
But the Bengals are still just 28th in yards per play (4.8) this season. Burrow is only 5-of-18 on throws of at least 20 air yards this season. The Bengals have created two plays with big YAC for touchdowns the last two weeks due to some horrible tackling on Tyler Boyd by the Jets, and Tee Higgins got away for a long touchdown against Miami as well.
Those are the plays Baltimore was giving up to this team last year and that cannot happen again on Sunday night if the Ravens want to take the division lead.
Bengals vs. Ravens: Predictions
Unfortunately for Baltimore, Burrow’s two huge games in 2021 do not look like a fluke. Not when you consider that since 2021, the Ravens have also allowed 400-yard passing games to Derek Carr, Carson Wentz (career-high 402 yards), and 469 yards and six touchdowns to Tua Tagovailoa this year. Even New England’s Mac Jones had a career-high 321 passing yards against the Ravens in Week 3.
My prediction is Burrow will throw for at least 300 yards in this game, but the Ravens can control it by getting a better offensive game out of Lamar Jackson and company, who were shut out against Buffalo after taking that 20-3 lead. Jackson threw two picks in the fourth quarter, including one in the end zone when the game was tied 20-20 late.
Get Jackson, who missed the last matchup between these two, playing at a higher level, and it will limit the opportunities Burrow has with the ball. Jackson was having a fantastic start to this season before a disappointing Sunday finish.
For all the talk about Baltimore blowing these leads, comebacks are not exactly what Burrow and the Bengals do well. Burrow is just 3-11 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities (one-possession deficit), and head coach Zac Taylor is 1-26 when trailing by at least three points to start the fourth quarter.
The Betting Pick
You can take the over in Burrow’s passing yards, but you should also take the Ravens to cover for your NFL picks this Sunday night.
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.