Joe Burrow has been nightmare fuel for Ravens’ defense

Last year, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow torched the Baltimore Ravens. On Sunday, he’ll try to do so once more.

In one game, the Cincinnati Bengals went from cuddly creature to ferocious feline.

It was in Week 7, on the road at M&T Bank Stadium, facing the Baltimore Ravens.

Cincinnati entered 4-2. Baltimore was 5-1, threatening to run away with the AFC North.

Sixty minutes later, everything changed. The Bengals won 41-17 and ultimately captured their first division title of the Zac Taylor era. Baltimore regained its footing to win two straight before injuries capsized them, finishing 8-9.

Now, Cincinnati and Baltimore meet on Sunday Night Football, the winner guaranteed at least a share of first place in the division.

For the Ravens to win and get revenge, they’ll need to do something they couldn’t do in either matchup last season: stop Joe Burrow.

Across the two Bengals’ wins over Baltimore in 2021, Burrow combined for 941 passing yards and eight touchdowns. The yardage figure represents 20.4 percent of his entire output last year, in only two games.

While the Ravens’ Week 16 defeat to Cincinnati is understandable considering the crush of injuries — corners Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters were both out; Peters missed both clashes — allowing 525 passing yards in any circumstance is atrocious.

This year, both Peters and Humphrey are healthy, but it hasn’t mattered much so far.

Baltimore’s pass defense ranks 23rd in net yards gained per pass attempt (6.8), last in passing first downs allowed (66), T-5th worst in passing touchdowns against (8), last in air yards allowed (743), fifth-worst in yards after catch (569) and worst in total passing yards against (1,261).

This isn’t only a secondary issue. The Ravens have struggled to generate a pass rush, checking in 27th in pressure rate (19.3%) and T-18th in sacks (8). As a whole, the defense hasn’t tackled well, with only the Houston Texans racking up more missed tackles than Baltimore’s 30.

What’s worse, these numbers are against the quartet of AFC East quarterbacks, who save for Josh Allen wouldn’t be considered prolific. Yet Tua Tagovailoa threw for six touchdowns in a wild 42-38 comeback win over Baltimore, while Mac Jones and Joe Flacco averaged 300 passing yards.

Enter the Bengals, who have arguably the league’s best trio of receivers in Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd, along with a quarterback who over his last three games has six touchdowns and zero turnovers. The offensive line has quietly been much better when not facing T.J. Watt and Micah Parsons like it did the first two weeks, allowing only three sacks over the last two tilts, both wins.

In last year’s Cincinnati coming-out party, Burrow threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns, with Chase accounting for 201 yards on eight receptions and a score. Boyd and Higgins are relatively kept in check, totaling 101 yards and zero touchdowns, while Joe Mixon didn’t register a target. It was now-New York Jets tight end C.J. Uzomah who went off for 91 yards and two touchdowns.

Under former defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, the Ravens predictably and continuously blitzed Burrow. And Burrow, who was excellent against added pressure, destroyed them. It will be interesting to see if Baltimore holds back some under new coordinator Mike Macdonald, with the Ravens currently ranking 11th in blitz percentage at 27.6 percent.

In an ideal Baltimore world, the front four can finally create pressure while the ultra-talented secondary of safeties Chuck Clark and Marcus Williams, along with Humphrey and Peters, can limit downfield throws and nab a turnover or two. Of course, while the Ravens’ defense have created a league-high 10 takeaways, they’ve done little else right with the ball in the air.

For Baltimore to beat Burrow, it’ll need to find a new formula.

Without one, the Bengals will take the Ravens down, with an aerial show leading the way.

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