When the Cincinnati Bengals face off against the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday Night Football, it’s not an exaggeration to say that Cincinnati is already playing for any control of the AFC North. Were the season to end today, the 5-4 Bengals would be the AFC’s eightth seed, while the 7-3 Ravens are the AFC’s second seed. Baltimore already beat Cincinnati 27-24 in Week 2, and the Bengals currently have an 0-2 record in the division, so it’s fairly important for Zac Taylor’s team to get on the good foot here.
The primary matchups are fascinating. Joe Burrow versus Mike Macdonald’s shape-shifting Ravens defense, and Lamar Jackson against Lou Anarumo’s multiple coverages and looks? It’s all heaven for football dorks.
But if there’s one thing the Bengals had beat address, it’s their run defense. Through the first 10 weeks of the 2023 NFL season, Cincinnati has allowed five yards per carry this season; only the Denver Broncos are worse. Furthermore, against the Bengals’ defense, a league-high 29.8% of opponent runs have gone for first downs. Only the Broncos and the New York Jets have allowed more rushing yards per game than the Bengals’ 136.9, and their 31 missed tackles against the run also leads the league.
That’s a very bad matchup for a Ravens offense that can kill you with the run in multiple ways. It’s odd, because the Bengals have good defenders at all three levels, and everything else is working. Cincinnati currently ranks 16th overall in Defensive DVOA, and 11th against the pass, but their rank of 29th against the run tells the story.
The Bengals have allowed 33 runs of 10 or more yards this season, and three of them came in Week 2 against the Ravens. Justice Hill, Gus Edwards, and Lamar Jackson have all been effective rushers in Todd Monken’s offense this season, and each of them had a big run against the Bengals.
Here’s Hill defining the edge on an 11-yard carry with a few missed tackles for good measure.
Edward’s 20-yard run was pure power out of heavy personnel, and once again, the Bengals weren’t ready for it.
And Jackson got 10 yards on this QB Draw before he gave himself up.
These days, the guy to watch out for in this matchup is undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell from East Carolina, who is officially a big play waiting to happen.
Mitchell has just 12 carries this season, but he’s gained 172 yards and scored two touchdowns, giving him a ridiculous 14.3 yards per carry average. And this isn’t just a straight-line speed guy — Mitchell has averaged 11.67 yards after contact per carry, and he’s forced nine missed tackles on those 12 attempts.
The Cleveland Browns’ defense is quite a bit better than Cincinnati’s, but that didn’t stop Mitchell for breaking off this 39-yard run last Sunday…
…and breaking free for 32 yards on this screen pass.
In this week’s “Xs and Os with Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar,” the guys get into why Cincinnati’s run defense has fallen off, and what they can do about it.
You can watch this week’s “Xs and Os with Greg Cosell and Doug Farrar,” featuring all of Week 11’s biggest matchups, right here:
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Author: Doug Farrar