The Ravens (0-2) are returning home Sunday for a matchup with the Bengals (2-0) that will begin a critical three-game stretch against division opponents.
Here are five things to watch against Cincinnati:
Which Defense Shows Up?
The defense did its best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impression the first two weeks of the season. The unit absolutely shut down Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Week 1, keeping their potent scoring attack out of the end zone. It was a different story against Oakland, where Derek Carr shredded the defense for 351 yards and three touchdowns. Head Coach John Harbaugh and Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees both challenged the group this week, saying they had far too many missed assignments, missed tackles and even lacked energy. Whether the Ravens get the Week 1 or Week 2 performance from their defense against Cincinnati will go a long way in determining the outcome.
Where Does Pass Rush Come Front?
The pass rush was almost nonexistent against the Raiders last week, as the only sack came when Carr scrambled out of the pocket and tried to pick up yards on the ground. Losing outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was certainly part of the equation, but the group has to find ways to generate pressure even without the veteran defender. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is expected to lead the charge in that area and he's seeking his first sack of the season. Getting pressure on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton won't be easy because he has yet to be sacked this year, but Pees will likely look for ways to dial up some creative blitz packages to keep him from getting comfortable.
More Fireworks from Steve Smith Sr.
The 36-year-old wide receiver sure didn't look his age last week against the Raiders, hauling in 10 passes for 150 yards. Smith is the Ravens' biggest playmaker, and he came up with some huge late-game moments last year against the Bengals. Smith hauled in a long go-ahead touchdown against Cincinnati in Week 1, but the Bengals matched it with a touchdown pass to A.J. Green. Smith also had a game-winning touchdown wiped off the board because of a questionable pass interference call in Week 8. Smith and the Ravens would love some more big plays like that again this week, as long as they produce a different final result from last season.
Protection On Flacco
A big difference in the first two games is the kind of protection the offensive line provided quarterback Joe Flacco. He was under duress all game against Denver, but didn't get sacked once in Oakland. Flacco threw for 384 yards and two touchdowns last week when he had time in the pocket, and the Ravens need to keep him upright in the backfield again. The Ravens made a concerted effort to take more shots down the field against Oakland, and protection from the offensive line allowed them to have some success. Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman said he wants to take even more deep shots, and that will require the offensive line to be on its A-game.
Establish Running Game
Baltimore's running game has been quiet early in the season. Starter Justin Forsett has 111 yards through the first two games and backup Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen have combined for 69 yards. The offensive line hasn't provided huge holes for the running backs, but the Ravens are still committed to finding success on the ground. Baltimore's offense starts with the ground game, and AFC North games are often decided in the trenches.