Can Flacco Shake off the Rust?
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has been sidelined for most of the preseason with a back injury. He will have to get comfortable pretty quickly in order to move the ball against a Cincinnati defense that looks to be much improved. Flacco has speedy veteran Mike Wallace and the young Breshad Perriman returning at receiver. The Ravens also added the dynamic Jeremy Maclin at that position. With Dennis Pitta no longer with the team, Nick Boyle moves into the number one tight end spot. This could be the most difficult adjustment for Flacco who has historically liked to feed the ball to his tight end, particularly in the red zone. If you said “who?” when you read the name ‘Nick Boyle’ you are not alone. Boyle has a mere 24 catches in his NFL career. Flacco will need to get comfortable with him quickly. Danny Woodhead will split time at running back, but likely be on the field in most passing situations. He has made a name for himself as a dual-threat rusher/receiver during the course of his career. Woodhead is dealing with injury concerns of his own. After coming off a season ending ACL injury in 2016, he is currently rehabbing a hamstring pull.
Can the Bengals Offensive Line Get the Job Done?
The Bengals failed to address their need on the offensive line this off-season, so look for this to be a continuous headline throughout the season. Cedric Ogbuehi did not look good at left tackle in the pre-season. At right tackle Jake Fisher looked okay, but he is not a great pass blocker. Now with Terrell Suggs and an impressive Ravens’ front seven coming to town, it is time to see what this offensive line is really made of. Ogbuehi and Fisher will both need to step up their game. Hopefully the Bengals will scheme to help Ogbuehi and Fisher as much as possible.
Can the Ravens Secondary Cover the Bengals Passing Threats?
While the Ravens defensive front is strong. They struggled against the pass in 2016 ending the year ranked 24th in the league. The Bengals have one of the most talented receivers in the league in AJ Green and a healthy Tyler Eifert at tight end is one of the biggest threats in the league at that position.
On the injury front, the Bengals will not have their 1st round pick, the receiver with record breaking speed, John Ross. Nevertheless, Green, Eifert, and Tyler Boyd are likely to give the Ravens’ secondary fits.
The Long and Short of It
The Bengals defense and offensive line play the most important part in this one. The defense cannot allow Flacco to get comfortable and must be stingy against the run. The offensive line must protect the quarterback long enough for him to take advantage of the Ravens’ secondary. They will also need to open up holes for Joe Mixon and Jeremy Hill to make plays on the ground.