The Baltimore Ravens open their season at home against AFC North division rival Cincinnati Bengals. For the Ravens, missing the playoffs for the first time under head coach John Harbaugh with an 8-8 record in the 2013 season, has their focus back and they are looking to put their frustration on the rest of the NFL.
“Not making the playoffs, doing what we did last year motivated us,”Ravens outside linebacker Pernell McPhee noted via baltimoreravens.com. “I’d rather be in a position coming off another Super Bowl, but we understand the position we’re in. We put ourselves in that. We know what we want to do. The thing is, we just want to go out there and do it.”
While the Ravens aim to start off the season on the right foot, the team will have to do so without pro bowl starting running back Ray Rice. Rice is suspended for the first-two games by the NFL for his incident with domestic violence.
The Ravens over the last month have been preparing without Rice and that means all of the load in the running game will go to Bernard Pierce, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Justin Forsett.
Going into the game against the Bengals, if the Ravens are going to win, their offensive line has to control the line of scrimmage. The Bengals have arguably the best defensive tackle in the game in Geno Atkins. Atkins has the ability to be a game wrecker by himself in the running game and most especially in the passing game. The Ravens newly acquired center via trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Jeremy Zuttah will have his hands full with Atkins off the bat.
Other storylines on offense includes Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco who is coming off the worst season of his career with 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions with a career-low 73.1 passer rating during the 2013 season.
With the addition of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak in the offseason, the Ravens look like they finally have balance in the passing game whether it may be from short, intermediate and deep passes. The offense allows Flacco to make quick decisions to avoid getting hit and sacked often. During the 2013 season, Flacco was sacked 48 times which was the second most in the NFL.
“It's kind of the way I teach to read,” Kubiak noted via baltimoresun. “We teach guys to go through progressions with what their feet are doing, not necessarily what their eyes are doing. It's been a point of emphasis. We have to get the ball going out quicker, cut down on the sacks, all of those things. Joe's bought into it. He's been really good.”
Flacco feels energized in the offense and believes the offense provides a direct approach where there is a direct answer right in front of him.
“Everything definitely has a nice bit of freshness to it,” Flacco noted via baltimoresun. “It makes things exciting, and it focuses you in because it's all new. But I like it. Everything in this offense is black and white. There is a right and there is a wrong. That makes it very easy for me to go out there and operate. I know exactly what to do. I know what option is right. There are not three options that are right. There is one, and the others are all wrong.”
On defense for the Ravens, the unit looks to be as healthy as they have been in a long time.Ravens starting cornerback Lardarius Webb is the only question mark as the veteran is a game time decision against the Bengals due to game conditioning according to CBSsports Jason La Canfora.
Outside linebackers in Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are ready to go for the Ravens and the team will get their first look at rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley in a real game. It will be a fun matchup to see Mosley with his speed go up against Bengals running back Giovani Bernard.
On the Bengals side, quarterback Andy Dalton will be entering his fourth season in the league and a lot of pressure is on him due to a recent contract extension given to him by the Bengals which is worth up to 115 million over six years. Dalton has yet to win a playoff game in his career and many are wondering if he can ever live up to his contract. The Bengals are the defending AFC North champions. However, if the Bengals can't win a playoff game again this season, the Bengals will have a lot of questions to answer going forward.
In the passing game it won't be easy for Dalton to start the season as Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones will be out against the Ravens with a broken foot. Jones during the 2013 season had 51 catches for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. With the absence of Jones, expect the Ravens roll coverage to A.J.Green early and often. Green in five games against the Ravens has 21 receptions for 334 yards and two touchdowns.
The Ravens and Bengals have met 36 times in their history with the Ravens leading the all-time series 20-16. Dalton is currently 0-3 on the road against the Ravens and Flacco is 5-1 in his career at home against the Bengals.