Twelve Ravens Thoughts ahead of wild-card clash in Cincinnati

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With the Ravens aiming to survive and advance in Sunday night’s wild-card playoff tilt at Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson breaking his silence about his knee injury only confirmed what had become obvious with him missing Sunday’s game. We’ll have ample time to discuss the unsettling offseason questions regarding his future, but being without your star quarterback for the playoffs just stinks, plain and simple. 

2. You know a once-promising season has turned dark when Tyler Huntley being able to throw passes in practice qualifies as good news. You hope taking off Week 18 will do the trick for the backup quarterback and his tender right shoulder ahead of his first career playoff start. 

3. After holding Joe Burrow to a season-low 5.12 yards per pass attempt last week, the Ravens will welcome back Marcus Peters, who missed three games with a calf injury. It’ll be interesting to see how his emotional presence factors after the chippy Week 18 and comments we’ve seen from Cincinnati. 

4. Gus Edwards being able to log limited practice on Thursday was a promising sign for his chances of passing concussion protocol ahead of Sunday night. Any path to a chance for victory figures to involve grabbing an early lead and leaning harder than ever into the running game. 

5. Per Sharp Football, the Bengals ranked 24th in the NFL in yards per play (4.9) in Week 5 and 29th (4.0) last week while averaging 5.6 yards per play against everyone else this season. This Ravens defense can make a lasting impression if it can stifle heavy favorite Cincinnati again. 

6. After not putting much stock into last week, I’m interested to see what each team saved in their game plan. Greg Roman said, “Did they empty all their stuff against us, or did we all empty all the stuff against them? You have that whole cat and mouse game.” 

7. The Ravens finished third in red-zone defense while Cincinnati was fifth in red-zone offense, but how the red zone shakes out with the opposite units will be pivotal. A woeful 30th in red-zone offense, Baltimore must score touchdowns inside the 20. The Bengals finished tied for ninth in red-zone defense.

8. Though Football Outsiders ranks the Bengals fifth in overall coverage efficiency against tight ends, Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar combined for 152 receiving yards last week and Mark Andrews caught eight passes for 89 yards and a touchdown in Week 5. Andrews needs to be a monster on Sunday night.

9. The Ravens have had success using two-high looks against Burrow, but Football Outsiders ranked them 31st in efficiency against deep passes (16 or more yards through the air) and the Bengals squandered some big-play chances last week. Baltimore’s pass rush must exploit the weak right side of Cincinnati’s offensive line.

10. It was quite a week for Roquan Smith. If a $100 million contract weren’t enough, he was voted team MVP by the local media, won AFC Defensive Player of the Month, and watched alma mater Georgia win the national championship on Monday night. Not too shabby. 

11. For full disclosure, I voted for Marlon Humphrey as Ravens MVP after the Pro Bowl cornerback had another superb season. Per Pro Football Focus, he played the NFL’s most coverage snaps — by a wide margin — without allowing a touchdown. Smith was also terrific upon arriving in Week 9.

(Presenting the Ravens MVP and media Good Guy on Wednesday)

12. Sunday will mark the Ravens’ 15th road playoff game since 2008, the most in the league over that span. John Harbaugh’s eight postseason road victories are the most in NFL history, but securing a ninth without his starting quarterback will be a very tall order. 

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