The Ravens’ 34 – 23 loss to Cincinnati last Thursday was a gut punch, to say the least. Baltimore was riding high, with fans and pundits alike suddenly expecting a memorable season. I was one of those fans, and it’s clear now that my knee-jerk reaction was a bit too hopeful. To that point, though, I feel it’s safe to say that any uber-negative reaction to the Week-2 loss would be an overreaction, as well.
Paul Brown Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Ravens in recent years. Though they shut out Cincy in an impressive Week-1 win last season, they’ve struggled to score, much less win, against the Bengals when on the road. For the first half, this game was no different. Andy Dalton came out firing, the Ravens looked sluggish, and AJ Green went nuts, scoring 3 times in the first half. On offense, Joe Flacco threw a horrendous interception and the ground game couldn’t get going for the second week. It was disgusting to watch (and what made it worse, I was watching with my friend – a Steelers fan).
But the second half was slightly different, and even though they ultimately lost the game, the Ravens ended up outscoring the Bengals 23 – 20 after the first quarter. There’s no question the team came out flat, but I credit some of that to playing away from home on Thursday night. Many had this loss factored in and still had the team making a playoff trip, so I won’t panic just yet. Looking ahead, though, it’s critical that they bounce back in a big way this week against Denver.
The Broncos are 2-0 yet again, and they offer a somewhat similar threat to what the offense struggled with in Cincinnati: a pass rush. With Von Miller and rookie Bradley Chubb bearing down on the tackles, it will be imperative that Flacco gets the ball out of his hand quickly every time he drops back. The Ravens simply can’t afford Joe Cool to be rattled; if he is, there will be turnovers.
On offense themselves, the Broncos are so-so. Actually, they’re kind of similar to the Ravens with relatively average wideouts and a decent running game. Undrafted rookie Philip Lindsay has burst onto the scene and could pose a threat to a defense that has recently struggled to contain shifty backs over the middle. Look for Kenny Young to have a big role in countering that.
In my preseason predictions, I had this game being low scoring and close, and I still think it’ll end that way. This week is one of those swing games that could determine the outcome of the season, and I think Harbs will have his men ready to take one step closer to January football with a win. The game may be early in the year, but it will prove important later in the year. Luckily, Baltimore fans will look back on it happily, as the Ravens squeak out a 20 – 16 win at M&T Bank Stadium that is fueled by a Kenny Young pick-6 and two Justin Tucker field goals.