Lamar Jackson, Ravens Aren't Taking the Bengals Lightly

QB Lamar Jackson

It began with his first NFL start and took off with his spinning 47-yard touchdown run. Lamar Jackson has made some memories against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Baltimore has won all five games in the AFC North rivalry since Jackson took over, and the Ravens have done it quite convincingly the past couple seasons. Over the past three games, Baltimore has won by a combined score of 114-19.

But don't think Jackson is on cruise control this week as the Ravens get set to kick off their AFC North slate Sunday against the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

This is a whole different Bengals team, sitting at 4-2 and second place in the AFC North, with a defense ranked No. 8 in the league in yards (331.0 per game) and No. 5 in points (18.5).

"You can't overlook anybody in the NFL – no team in the NFL," Jackson said. "[If] you're doing that, you might as well [not] even play football."

Jackson has been particularly dangerous as a runner against the Bengals. He's posted more rushing yards (442) against them than he has versus any other team in the league.

Cincinnati responded this offseason, making a couple big-time additions with 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive end Trey Hendrickson and former Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi. Hendrickson is among the league's sack leaders so far with 4.5. The Bengals also have high-priced defensive tackle D.J. Reader back after he spent much of his first year in Cincinnati on injured reserve.

"Sound defense. They're flying around," Jackson said. "They've bumped the defensive line up, linebacker corps, secondary. They look pretty good on film. They look great on film."

It's not just on defense that the Bengals have improved. While free agency was where they spent money, they continued to draft on offense and now have one of the most talented groups of skill position players in the league.

Cincinnati spent the No. 5-overall pick on wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, adding him to a receiver corps that already had Tee Higgins (the 33rd-overall pick a year ago), and Tyler Boyd.

Chase's 553 receiving yards through his first six games is the second-most in league history since the 1970 merger, only trailing Anquan Boldin. He's been particularly dangerous as a deep threat, averaging 24 yards per attempt on his deep routes, Head Coach John Harbaugh cited.

"Chase has added a lot of juice to their offense," cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. "It's actually been really surprising. He's really made the NFL look pretty easy."

While Chase has been grabbing the headlines, it's the man throwing him the ball that makes the engine run. After being the No. 1-overall pick last year, Burrow's rookie season and hot start was derailed by a midseason knee injury.

The Ravens beat Burrow up in his M&T Bank Stadium debut last year, sacking him seven times, causing two fumbles, and picking him off once. It was perhaps the worst game of his young NFL career so far. But one of Burrow's signature traits is that he'll take punishment and keep coming back firing.

"He'll stay in there and take a hit. He's not one of those quarterbacks that are scared to get hit," Humphrey said. "The other thing is that when he throws the football deep, he lets it fly. … He's very confident. That's one of the things I've seen since college. Joe's just one of those quarterbacks that picks his guy over yours. He does that very often."

The Bengals can also beat teams on the ground, as running back Joe Mixon ranks fourth in the league with 480 rushing yards.

Last week, the Ravens defense shut down the Chargers' rushing attack to put second-year quarterback Justin Herbert in a lot of third-and-long situations, then hit him with blitzes. It will be tougher to do the same against Cincinnati's rushing attack.

Add it all up, and this isn't the same old Bengals that the Ravens have whipped in recent years. It's a new challenge against an old rival.

Harbaugh said that sometimes he'll have to talk to his team about not overlooking an opponent that is struggling or they have beaten before. Not this week. Harbaugh said the team's leaders were already saying what he wanted to hear at the beginning of the week.

"The whole team is one of the best teams in the National Football League right now," Harbaugh said. "There's no question about it – just watch them play. They've done a great job across the board."

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