Ravens counting on defense to slow Joe Burrow, potent Bengals offense

How much can an NFL team lean on its defense and survive the postseason? No franchise knows the answer better than Baltimore, which gave up 23 points in four playoff games en route to a Super Bowl championship 22 years ago.

That’s a tall order for any team, but the Ravens may need that kind of defense, with the increasing likelihood that they won’t be without quarterback Lamar Jackson, if not backup Tyler Huntley as well in Sunday’s wild-card game against the defender defender of the AFC. Cincinnati Bengals.

Jackson has missed five games with a knee injury and didn’t practice Wednesday, and Huntley was limited as he deals with shoulder and wrist issues, so he could even be the No. 3 quarterback and undrafted rookie Anthony Brown snapping Sunday night. With the backup or Jackson at less than full strength, the challenge will be an improved Baltimore defense to keep a potent Bengals offense in check enough to keep a win within reach.

“We’ve got everybody on this team that we’ve got to go out there and get a W,” linebacker Patrick Queen said this week.

Baltimore (10-7) has lost three of its last four games with Jackson on the sidelines, and while much of the focus is on the uncertainty at quarterback, the Ravens will enter the game with confidence, even as heavy underdogs.

“We’re going to play with the guys we have,” coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. “We’re excited about the guys. We have full confidence in everybody. We have a really good team. You go there as a team, you play as a team, you compete and you fight as a team. That’s what we’re going to do.”

How should the Ravens handle the Lamar Jackson situation?

How should the Ravens handle the Lamar Jackson situation?

Emmanuel Acho, Joy Taylor, LeSean McCoy and David Helman discuss what the Ravens should do with Lamar Jackson moving forward.

The Ravens have won this season with defense and a strong commitment to the run game: They’ve held opponents to 14 points or fewer seven times, second most behind the 49ers, and have gone 6-1 in those games. A point total like that is ambitious against a Bengals offense that ranks eighth out of 32 teams in scoring. Cincinnati is 0-3 when not scoring 20 points, including a 19-17 loss to the Ravens in Week 5.

Baltimore did it all by forcing just one turnover, holding the Bengals to a first down on their first four drives, then getting key stops in the second half, first with an interception and then a key turnover on downs, getting three stops on their 2-yard line to preserve a three-point lead. They did it with Jackson in the game and getting crucial first downs to help run out the clock, so the challenge is even greater if he’s not there to make life easier for the defense.

The Bengals-Ravens rivalry is cyclical: In 2020, Baltimore swept the two games by a combined score of 65-6, and last year Cincinnati returned the favor, sweeping the series by an 82-38 margin . This year, Baltimore won the first meeting, but lost Sunday in the rematch by a score of 27-16.

Where will Sunday’s rubber match fit into all of this? The Bengals are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, rebounding nicely from an 0-2 start that evened out at 4-4. Since then, they’ve won eight in a row, beating the Chiefs and coming back from 17 points down to beat Tom Brady and the Bucs. Quarterback Joe Burrow, who has 18 touchdown passes against six interceptions in those eight wins, said this time of year is the time they play all season to be ready.

“It’s do or die,” Burrow said Wednesday. “It’s where you like to be. Right now that’s where I make my best plays. It’s where I’m comfortable, and those moments are moments you remember.”

The Bengals made it to the Super Bowl last year and are very much looking for another trip next month, but the Ravens haven’t had many moments like this. It’s been a decade since their last Super Bowl win and they have just one postseason win since the 2014 season, a trend they can reverse on Sunday night.

The Ravens’ defense has already grabbed headlines this week by inking Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith to a five-year, $100 million deal, and regardless of who they have at quarterback Sunday, the rest of the team he is anxious to prove himself worthy of doing so. the postseason, knowing that every week they advance is another week they could be healthier at the position.

“This team has been through a lot,” tight end Mark Andrews said Wednesday. “There’s been a lot of ups, there’s been a lot of downs. One thing we keep doing is fighting. We keep getting better, staying true to ourselves. All this hard work we’ve put in, all the amazing players we have, it’s necessary. a us to this moment and this opportunity to play in the playoffs. That’s all we can ask for.”

Greg Auman is the NFC South reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Buccaneers, Falcons, Panthers and Saints. He is in his 10th season covering the Bucs and the NFL full-time, having spent time at the Tampa Bay Times and The Athletic. You can follow him on Twitter at @gregauman.

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