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Ravens counting on defense to slow Joe Burrow, potent Bengals offense

By newadmin / Published on Thursday, 12 Jan 2023 19:24 PM / No Comments / 4 views


How much can an NFL team lean on its defense and survive in the postseason? No franchise knows the answer better than Baltimore, which gave up 23 points in four playoff games on the way to a Super Bowl championship 22 years ago.

That’s a high standard for any team, but the Ravens may need that kind of defense, with the increasing likelihood that they’ll be without quarterback Lamar Jackson, if not backup Tyler Huntley as well in Sunday’s wild-card game against the defending AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals.

Jackson has missed five games with a knee injury and didn’t practice Wednesday, and Huntley was limited as he is dealing with shoulder and wrist issues, so it could even be No. 3 quarterback and undrafted rookie Anthony Brown taking snaps on Sunday night. With either backup or Jackson at less than full strength, the challenge will be for an improved Baltimore defense to keep a potent Bengals offense in check enough to keep a win within reach.

“We have everybody on this team that we need to go up there and get a W,” linebacker Patrick Queen said this week. 

Baltimore (10-7) has lost three of its last four games with Jackson on the sidelines, and while much of the focus is on the uncertainty at quarterback, the Ravens will go into the game with confidence, even as big underdogs.

“We’re going to play with the guys we’ve got out there,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “We’re excited about the guys. We have total confidence in everybody. We’ve got a really good team. You go out there as a team, you play as a team, you compete and fight as a team. That’s what we’ll be doing.”

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The Ravens have won this season with defense and a strong commitment to the run game — they’ve held opponents to 14 points or fewer seven times, second-most behind the 49ers, and they’ve gone 6-1 in those games. A point total like that is ambitious against a Bengals offense that ranks eighth out of 32 teams in scoring. Cincinnati is 0-3 when they fail to score 20 points, including a 19-17 loss to the Ravens in Week 5.

Baltimore did that while forcing only one turnover, holding the Bengals to one first down on their first four drives, then getting key stops in the second half, first with an interception and then a pivotal turnover on downs, getting three stops at their 2-yard line to preserve a three-point lead. They did that with Jackson in the game and getting crucial first downs to help run out the clock, so the challenge is even greater if he isn’t there to make life easier for the defense.

The Bengals-Ravens rivalry is cyclical: In 2020, Baltimore swept both games by a combined score of 65-6, then last year Cincinnati returned the favor, sweeping the series by an 82-38 margin. This year, Baltimore won the first meeting but lost Sunday in the rematch by a 27-16 score.

Where will Sunday’s rubber match fit in all of that? The Bengals are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, bouncing back nicely from an 0-2 start that evened out at 4-4. Since then, they’ve won eight in a row, beating the Chiefs and rallying from 17 points down to beat Tom Brady and the Bucs. Quarterback Joe Burrow, who has 18 touchdown passes against six interceptions in those eight wins, said this time of year is what they play all season to be ready for. 

“It’s do or die,” Burrow said Wednesday. “It’s where you like to be. In those moments is where I kind of make my best plays. It’s where I’m comfortable, and these moments are moments that you remember.”

The Bengals went all the way to the Super Bowl last year and very much seek another trip in the month ahead, but the Ravens haven’t had many moments like that. It’s been a decade since their last Super Bowl win, and they have only one postseason win since the 2014 season, a trend they can reverse Sunday night.

The Ravens defense grabbed headlines already this week in locking up Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith with a five-year, $100 million deal, and regardless of who they have at quarterback Sunday, the rest of the team is eager to show they’re worthy of the postseason, knowing each week they advance is another week they could get healthier at the position.

“This team’s been through a lot,” tight end Mark Andrews said Wednesday. “There’s been a lot of ups, there’s been a lot of downs. One thing we keep on doing is fighting. We keep on getting better, staying true to ourselves. All that hard work we put in, all the incredible players we have takes us to this moment and this opportunity to play in the playoffs. That’s all we can ask for.”

Greg Auman is FOX Sports’ NFC South reporter, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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