The Cincinnati Bengals enter week 10 of the NFL season first place in the AFC North, but many questions are left unanswered.
The Bengals (6-3), lost All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the season in a week nine loss to the Miami Dolphins. Quarterback Andy Dalton struggled mightily, throwing three interceptions and getting sacked in overtime in the end zone to end the game. The loss ended a four-game winning streak, but Cincinnati looks to get back on track Sunday when it heads to Baltimore.
The Ravens (3-5), meanwhile, have struggled all season after losing key members of last year’s Super Bowl winning team. They have lost three straight games and now sit third in the division behind Cincinnati and the Cleveland Browns (4-5). Quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco has thrown almost as many interceptions (nine) as he has touchdown passes (10) and running back Ray Rice is averaging only 2.7 yards per carry.
Against the Bengals, the Ravens will face a defensive line that still does not have a clear rotation. While second-year defensive tackle Brandon Thompson will take Atkins’ place in the lineup, rookie defensive end Margus Hunt may get more playing time and even move inside in order to generate the type of pass rush the Bengals have grown accustomed to from Atkins.
Cincinnati’s best cornerback, Leon Hall, is out for the season with an Achilles injury leaving 35-year-old Terence Newman as their most reliable corner. Newman was exposed for his lack of speed when he got beat by Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace in overtime. The play would have been a game winning touchdown catch of 86 yards, but Newman wisely pulled Wallace to the ground resulting in a pass interference penalty and the Dolphins punting shortly after. But he may not be so fortunate when facing the Ravens’ fleetfooted wide receiver Torrey Smith (36 receptions, 701 yards).
The Bengals have the weapons to outscore most opponents, but Dalton must first learn to settle down in pressure situations. Now that the Bengals are no longer feared on defense, Dalton and the offense must step up and take advantage of whatever opportunities they are given in order to leave Baltimore with a victory.
Kickoff between the Ravens and Bengals is scheduled for 1 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.