Battered Bengals brace for Baltimore
Lamar Jackson is about the last guy the Cincinnati Bengals' porous defense needs to see.
But the NFL schedule-maker has shown one of the league's four winless teams no mercy, so Cincinnati will have to figure out a way to keep the Baltimore Ravens' explosive second-year quarterback under wraps when the AFC North rivals meet Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
There were - and still are - skeptics regarding Jackson. The jury is still out for some on his ability to read NFL defenses like a pure passer, but the Ravens aren't asking him to be Tom Brady or Drew Brees. They've tailored the offense to fit his skills and, so far, it's working out beautifully.
Jackson has completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 1,271 yards with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions in Baltimore's 3-2 start. For good measure, he's added 308 yards rushing, which leads all NFL quarterbacks, and has a shot to finish with 1,000 yards on the ground.
What's more, there are things he can clean up. All of his picks have come in the last two games, when he's also taken nine sacks.
"I need to do a better job of placing the balls where my receivers can get them, and we won't have any conflicts or results with the other defenses catching interceptions," Jackson told reporters this week. "I just have to do a better job of getting out, not trying to set sack records for our offensive line."
Playing the Bengals (0-5) tends to keep a quarterback upright. They have just two sacks in the last four games and rank 31st against the run. Facing an opponent which is second in the NFL in rushing and leads it in scoring doesn't look like a great matchup.
Cincinnati certainly flunked a test last week against a quarterback similar to Jackson. Arizona rookie Kyler Murray threw for 253 yards and ran for 93 in a 26-23 win, the Cardinals' first in five games. Now it has to deal with a more explosive runner who has taken serious strides as a passer.
"You've got to respect him throwing the ball and know what he can do running the ball," Bengals defensive end Carlos Dunlap said. "You've got to honor both of them and last week, we didn't do a good enough job against Kyler."
To add to the defense's problems, the Bengals' offensive line is beaten up.
First-year coach Zac Taylor said Wednesday that a new starting left side of the line is a possibility against Baltimore. Rookie left guard Michael Jordan has been replaced by Billy Price and left tackle Andre Smith (ankle) is unlikely to play, with John Jerry getting the call.
Cincinnati is being crippled by a chronically evolving offensive line. The shuffling due to injuries has led to the Bengals' offense managing only 16 points per game, 29th in the league. Quarterback Andy Dalton has been under siege almost from the jump, and hasn't had A.J. Green (ankle) yet this year as a security blanket.
Wide receiver John Ross (16 catches, 328 yards) went on injured reserve after a Week 4 loss in Pittsburgh. Running back Joe Mixon, who bagged 1,168 yards last year, had only 149 yards in four games before picking up 93 last week.
--Field Level Media
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