The last time the Ravens played the Bengals, just less than a month ago, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman told Lamar Jackson early in the week to get ready to run – a lot.
The Bengals were having trouble containing the edge and Jackson gashed them time and time again to the tune of a career-high 152 rushing yards.
So, how will Roman and Jackson attack the Bengals' defense the second time around this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, knowing the Bengals will surely adjust? Roman said the self-study process this week had to change.
"They kind of saw what you really wanted to do against them the first time. Is that what you want to do the second time?" Roman said. "Very often in these division games, the second time are very different types of games."
For just the second time in his NFL career, Jackson will see the same team twice in a season.
Last year, Jackson beat the Chargers in Los Angeles in Week 16, then lost to them in Baltimore just two weeks later, which sparked a seemingly never-ending debate that the Ravens' offensive riddle could be solved.
The Chargers adjusted, rolled out a different game plan, and stymied the Ravens offense for much of that wild-card playoff game. The Ravens' miscues, particularly early fumbles, also played a large part. Roman hates the narrative that his offense was "figured out."
This year, the Ravens' retooled offense is significantly better than the one the Chargers faced. Baltimore ranks No. 2 in the NFL in total offense (427 yards per game) and No. 1 in scoring (31.4 points per game).
Nobody – not even defensive mastermind Bill Belichick and his top-ranked defense – has been able to crack the code. It begs the question: does a code even exist?
At least in the eyes of pundits who still point to that Los Angeles wild-card loss, Sunday's game will provide one more test – the rematch test.
"I guess that's a benchmark then," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I realize we're playing them a second time, and we're trying to figure out exactly how they'll play us in what way and trying to be prepared for that. So, we probably are doing that without making the comparison to last year, which we are loath to do."
Jackson also passed a fair amount against the Bengals, completing 19 of 33 passes for 236 yards. He had zero touchdowns and zero interceptions. This time around, Jackson will surely be looking to hit one of his playmakers with a touchdown strike instead of running it in himself.
Asked if he expects many new looks from the Bengals defense, which is healthier than their last meeting and coming off a bye with extra time to prepare, Jackson shrugged.
"I can't tell you. I'm not over there in Cincinnati. I can only prepare over here," Jackson said. "[It's] the same defense."
Jackson Misses Practice Reportedly Because of Illness
Jackson was not on the practice field for the portion of practice open to the media Thursday, which is quite rare.
The injury report will be released later today, but reports indicate that Jackson is dealing with an illness.
Guard Marshal Yanda missed Wednesday's practice because of an illness that Harbaugh said he caught from his kids. It could be coincidence, but Yanda's locker is close to Jackson's. Yanda returned to practice Thursday.
A.J. Green Won't Play After All
So much for all that Wednesday chatter about "thorn in the side" A.J. Green making his debut against the Ravens.
In a surprising twist, Green did not practice Wednesday and did not again Thursday because he's still experiencing swelling in his injured ankle.
It was just yesterday morning when Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor said Green was expected to play against the Ravens.
Greg Roman Is Having Fun With Ravens' Run Game
The Ravens are atop the NFL in rushing, averaging a whopping 204.9 yards per game on the ground. Not even the Patriots' top defense could slow them.
This is exactly what Roman – a coach known for his dynamic run schemes – envisioned.
No team has averaged that many rushing yards over a full season in decades – like back when the Colts were still in Baltimore.
Last year, the Seattle Seahawks led the league with 160 rushing yards per game. This year, the 49ers are in second place with 171.1 yards per game. There's such a large gap between Baltimore and everyone else that it's almost like the Ravens are playing a different sport.
"Yeah, it's cool," Roman said when asked if it's fun seeing people buzzing about Baltimore's run schemes. "Anytime the players execute whatever you're doing, it's cool. It's really cool."
Roman said the Ravens aren't thinking about the records they're setting. "Every week in this league is a new challenge," Roman said.
Last time the Ravens faced the Bengals, Baltimore ran for 269 yards.