For the third time in the 2022-23 NFL season, the Baltimore Ravens will play the Cincinnati Bengals, and these two teams have a score to settle.
The Baltimore Ravens (10-7) enter the matchup as the AFC’s sixth seed, the same seed they earned during their 2012 Super Bowl run.
The Bengals, winners of the AFC North and the AFC’s number two seed, have earned home-field advantage and recently dominated the visiting Ravens.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson will not be playing for the sixth consecutive week, and the team is hopeful that backup Tyler Huntley can play as he is dealing with multiple injuries on his throwing arm.
Despite the bad news at the quarterback position, there is some good news. Running back Gus Edwards, who left early in Week 18 with a concussion, has cleared concussion protocol and is expected to play. In addition, veterans Marcus Peters, Calais Campbell, Kevin Zeitler, and other key players will also take the field on Sunday night.
The Bengals are also relatively healthy with only guard Alex Cappa listed as out, and they are carrying momentum from the end of the regular season.
They happen to have some anger fueled at the Ravens in particular:
Along with Smith’s fighting words, Gus Edwards shared a similar sentiment stating, “We’re going to let our pads do the talking.”
Despite losing a week ago, missing their starting quarterback, and losing three of their last four meetings against Cincinnati, the Ravens come into this game properly motivated. Head coach John Harbaugh is no stranger to the playoffs and will have the team prepared for the moment.
Ravens-Bengals is squaring up to be a physically brutal matchup
The moment may be large, but the Ravens have a great counter to the Bengals’ strengths. The Bengals, one of the league’s best teams, boast a roster centered around quarterback Joe Burrow.
The Ravens, on the other hand, can boast about their run game and hard-nosed defense. With both running backs healthy, Huntley and the Ravens can continue to run the ball and find their targets to help move the chains.
First downs will turn into a priority as the time of possession will most likely dictate the game. In addition, turnovers cannot occur; after incurring two interceptions early on in Week 18, the Ravens felt the dire consequences of their sloppy actions.
With this said, the Ravens’ strategy is abundantly clear. Play stout defense and run the ball!
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has come under scrutiny for his play-calling, but this is where his specialty comes into play. His run-blocking schemes have led his offenses to rank among the top in the league nearly every season.
Both J.K Dobbins and the aforementioned Edwards embody talented and dangerous ball-carriers; to boot, the Ravens also have Justice Hill and Kenyan Drake, who have both played well when given opportunities. This will allow the Ravens to rotate players and feed their backs the ball.
On defense, leaders like Calais Campbell, Roquan Smith, Marcus Williams, and Chuck Clark will be consistently communicating on the field to place everyone in position. Stopping the run game early and making the Bengals one-dimensional will be the goal here.
Entering this Wild Card matchup, Edwards’ quote really does ring true: the pads will do the talking. The offensive and defensive lines must be strong. The Ravens must play free and fly to the ball.
This is, after all, what the team has been waiting for: a chance for redemption. Even without Jackson, the Ravens under Harbaugh’s leadership have never been a pushover and definitely won’t become one on Sunday night.
If the Ravens’ season ends this week, many fans may not be surprised. One could still feasibly consider their 2022 season a success — in spite of Jackson’s injury, the Ravens found a future cornerstone piece at linebacker, gave young players valuable reps, and made the playoffs.
The only thing left is for the team to go out, defend their reputation, and be physical. It’s time to use those pads and win the game.