Ravens vs. Bengals preview: Can Baltimore’s offense start faster in Week 2?

Published 9/15/2023 5:30 a.m. EDT

The Ravens have a very familiar opponent for their first road matchup of the season. Maybe a bit too familiar?

Baltimore heads to Ohio for an AFC North clash with the Cincinnati Bengals, marking the third time it will play them in four games, dating to last season. The last two matchups, like Sunday’s, were on the road at Paycor Stadium. Those two games ended in losses.

Of course, the most recent matchup is the one engraved in the minds of Ravens fans and players themselves — for the wrong reasons. The Ravens lost that contest in heartbreaking fashion in the AFC wild-card round after Sam Hubbard’s iconic fumble return touchdown. They’ve been asked about it often this week, and it’s hard not to see how much they’re looking for revenge.

“The ending to last year, that was low-key mid,” Ravens safety Kyle Hamilton told reporters Wednesday. “Obviously, we want to win a Super Bowl every year, and [it was] a pretty mid result last year, but this year we’re trying to make it a W.”

One big difference about this matchup versus the other two: Lamar Jackson. The Ravens quarterback missed the wild-card game and regular-season finale against the Bengals due to injury. He is healthy now. The Ravens obviously have a new offensive system, too, that they’re still working through. Against the Texans in Week 1, it started slowly, recording an interception and putting up just one touchdown in the first half before flipping things around in the second.

“I would just say we were just off,” offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Thursday. “I would just say that it’s a work in progress. The best thing we have is another opportunity to correct it [and] fix the things that are controllable. What’s controllable? The things we do every day in practice. The things we design that give our players a chance, so we don’t have the drag. There was too much drag. For us to score what we scored and yet played not like we’re capable of ... I anticipate we’ll play a lot better.”

If the Ravens are hoping to end their losing streak to the Bengals, a faster start on offense will be key. They’ll have to produce that without running back J.K. Dobbins, who is out for the season with a torn Achilles, plus potentially Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews (quad), who has been limited at practice all week. The Ravens will incorporate a mix of Gus Edwards, Justice Hill and Melvin Gordon to make up for Dobbins in the backfield. Isaiah Likely will get his second consecutive start if Andrews is ruled out.

On defense, the Ravens are fighting through injuries, having lost starting safety Marcus Williams for “a while” due to a pectoral injury. That’s another blow to their secondary after Marlon Humphrey underwent foot surgery in August. Burrow and the Bengals’ loaded receiving corps look primed for a bounce-back after an embarrassing Week 1.

The Bengals, who have been favorites to win the AFC and even the Super Bowl in recent years, are coming off one of their worst performances since their rise to prominence. That came against another AFC North rival, the Cleveland Browns, when they lost 24-3. Quarterback Joe Burrow had the worst performance of his career, throwing for a career-low 82 yards and completing just 45.16% of his passes. That’s a big fall from his Pro Bowl season last year, when he threw for 279.7 yards per game and completed 68.3% of his passes.

Here’s our preview of Sunday’s matchup.

Players to know

Joe Burrow

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You already know who Burrow is. He’s one of the most impressive players in the game and among the new crop of star quarterbacks leading the next generation of football. Burrow is on this list, though, because he’s recovering from a calf injury he suffered in training camp that sidelined him for a month. He started Week 1 against Cleveland, but there’s no doubt his name and injury make him somebody to monitor.

Geno Stone

The Ravens are counting on Stone to fill in for Williams on the back end alongside the second-year star Hamilton. Stone, a seventh-round pick in 2020, has been thrust into this role before and figures to give the Ravens a solid starter in Williams’ absence.

Patrick Mekari and Sam Mustipher

Jackson will be down two key offensive linemen against a Bengals defensive unit that finished seventh in DVOA in 2022 under coordinator Lou Anarumo. With left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) and center Tyler Linderbaum (ankle) missing practice Wednesday and Thursday, Mekari and Mustipher figure to fill their respective voids if they’re ruled out. Mekari can play any position on the offensive line and was once considered an option for the starting left guard job. Mustipher was elevated from the practice squad this week, signaling there’s a good chance he’ll be the one snapping the ball to Jackson.

What’s at stake

For the Bengals: Cincinnati had one of the worst starts to a season a Super Bowl-contending team can have. It was dominated by the Browns and is certainly motivated to show that a Week 1 dud was just that and nothing more.

For the Ravens: When talking to Ravens players this week, you could sense they’re itching to go back to Cincinnati after the brutal wild-card loss last season. A win in this matchup on the road may remind folks the Ravens are right there atop this division.

What people are saying

“We know how good they are. We’re getting ready to play the game. It’s going to be played this week, not the one that was played last week by either team. The same thing goes for us. You never stay the same. We’re getting ready for next week, and I’m sure they’re doing the same.” — Ravens coach John Harbaugh when asked if he throws out any of the Bengals film from Week 1.

“Well, you know, I was on the other side already, so I know what it’s like in the AFC North – definitely tough, physical football. So I can’t say that I don’t know what it’s like, because I’ve been on the other side and seen it. But [I’m] just excited that this is a very important game within the division. We always used to say, it counts for two. So we’ve just got to [do] very small things – know what your assignment is – and do your role to the best of your ability, and everything else will handle itself.” — Odell Beckham Jr. on his emotions heading into his first divisional matchup with the Ravens.

“Nobody is panicking in here. Week 1 doesn’t define anybody’s season. Obviously, [we were] not very good out there. Anybody that watched saw that. But we’ve been in this spot before, we’ve come back stronger and had a great year, so that’s what we’re going to do.” — Burrow after Sunday’s loss to the Browns.

By the numbers


Offensive DVOA: -42.9% (31st)

Defensive DVOA: 8.0% (21st)

Special teams DVOA: -10.4% (28th)


Offensive DVOA: 3.3% (16th)

Defensive DVOA: -26.2% (5th)

Special teams DVOA: 1.8% (13th)

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