While we are only heading into Week 2 of the 2018 NFL season, Thursday night’s showdown between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens offers up the chance for one of these teams to take an early 2-0 grip on the AFC North division, especially after the Week 1 tie between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns.
If the Ravens are looking for further motivation, they need only rewind to Week 17 of last season when the Bengals dramatically ended their playoff hopes with a late touchdown.
Here are some questions to keep in mind as the action unfolds in Cincinnati:
How will the Baltimore passing game fare against a stronger defense?
The Ravens’ 47-3 rout of the Buffalo Bills last Sunday told us more about the Bills’ glaring weaknesses than it did about John Harbaugh’s men. That said, Joe Flacco prospered with his revamped receiving corps. Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead all scored touchdowns in Week 1.
The Bengals’ defense presents a much tougher challenge, and it will be interesting to see if Flacco can still move the ball down the field consistently.
Can AJ Green and John Ross get the better of the Ravens’ secondary?
The deep ball is a valuable weapon for Cincinnati, with Green and Ross capable of burning cornerbacks. Baltimore can counter that with solid cornerbacks and the elite Eric Weddle roaming at safety.
Dalton will need to be selective in taking chances for long completions. He found Green for a 38-yard score last weekend but also threw an interception. And the Ravens’ defense is a step up from the Indianapolis Colts’ unit.
Will the Bengals be able to run the ball effectively?
Those Dalton deep shots will have a better chance if Joe Mixon can find gaps in the running game and keep the Ravens off balance. Baltimore limited LeSean McCoy to just 22 yards in Week 1 but the Bengals’ offense includes far more threats.
Mixon was a key factor in Cincinnati’s win in Indianapolis on Sunday, rushing for 95 yards and a touchdowns and adding 54 receiving yards. He can expect a heavy workload again on Thursday night.
Is Alex Collins going to be the lead running back for Baltimore or will it be more of a committee?
The lopsided nature of Sunday’s victory meant it was hard to tell how touches might be distributed in the Ravens’ backfield. Collins will continue to get the first shot but it will be worth watching how much Javorius Allen features on Thursday night.
What role will Lamar Jackson have in the Ravens’ Week 2 game plan?
Jackson, Baltimore’s electric backup quarterback, was brought in for a few plays on Sunday, even before subbing in for Flacco once the score got out of hand. Those plays largely fizzled out but the Ravens are clearly going to find ways to involve Jackson and capitalize on his athleticism.