A new week presents another huge challenge for Baltimore's secondary.
Last week, the Ravens had to gameplan for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, a matchup made more difficult without top injured corners Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Tavon Young, Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith.
Rodgers threw for 268 yards and three touchdowns, but top receiver Davante Adams was held to six catches for 44 yards and a touchdown, as the Ravens rolled coverage toward Adams in a variety of ways. It was the second-fewest receiving yards Adams gained all season, despite going against a patchwork secondary.
Adams used his cellphone this week to show Green Bay reporters how the Ravens triple-teamed him on some plays, and forcing him to adlib his routes like he was on a playground and "run around in circles."
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale was pleased with the job Baltimore did on Adams, but facing the Bengals presents a different challenge. Quarterback Joe Burrow has three wide receivers he will throw to at any time – Ja'Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd – plus a talented tight end in C.J. Uzomah. Martindale and the Ravens will use their creativity to devise a different game plan for Cincinnati.
"To sit here and have you think that we're going to run the same plan against Ja'Marr Chase as we did (against) Davante Adams and Aaron Rodgers, we're going down the wrong street," Martindale said. "Davante Adams, he's one of the top two receivers in the league, and he's not No. 2, and Aaron Rodgers is a Hall of Fame quarterback.
"I don't think we're ready to buy a gold jacket for Joe (Burrow) yet. But it's going to be a tough challenge, because the three-headed monster they have at wide receiver, (and) everybody sleeps on the tight end, but he's had a great year, as well."
It remains to be seen if Smith and Westry will be removed from the Reserve/COVID 19 list ahead of Sunday's game, and the status of Young (concussion) is uncertain as well. However, cornerback Anthony Averett will likely spend significant time covering Chase, who exploded against the Ravens for a career-high 201 receiving yards in Week 7. All of Cincinnati's receivers are dangerous running after the catch, and the gang tackling will be critical for Baltimore's defense to prevent long plays.
"I think the biggest thing that jumps off from the last game is our tackling – or lack thereof," Martindale said. "I think that you know we've made an effort to improve that each week. We're definitely going to have to be great tacklers of skill this week."
Martindale Proud of Ravens' Top-Ranked Run Defense
The Ravens enter Week 16 with the NFL's top-ranked run defense, allowing just 86.2 yards per game. That's quite a feat considering defensive lineman Derek Wolfe has been lost for the season, nose tackle Brandon Williams has missed four games, and Calais Campbell (thigh) was out last week.
The Ravens have gotten strong seasons from defensive linemen Justin Madubuike and Justin Ellis, and linebackers Patrick Queen and Josh Bynes have been stout against the run. Stopping the run has taken a collective effort that has impressed Martindale.
"I'm very proud of that, because every year, you set up to stop the run," Martindale said. "I know it's a passing league now – that's what everybody says – but I think most of the people would say that they give up big rushing games. I'm very proud of the way we've been playing the run.
"Brandon Williams, he had some time off due to injury, but he's played well when he's in there. Same thing with Calais, he's played the run really well. But it's the other guys, the unsung heroes of 'Jelly' (Ellis] and Brandon and Madubuike who've been in there consistently throughout. They've really worked on their run technique, and they've played it really well."
Stopping the run will be key against the Bengals, led by running back Joe Mixon, who is second in the league in rushing. Mixon and backup Samaje Perine combined for 111 yards rushing against Baltimore in Week 7.
"As soon as you go in there and think that they're going to be pass heavy, then they're going to hand the ball off to Joe Mixon 30 times a game, and he's one of the best running backs in the league," Martindale said. "So, it's going to be a tough challenge for us. We're going to have to play with a light box at times and play coverage, and we're also going to pressure. So, we've just got to make sure that we're guessing right when that time comes."
Ravens Hope Patrick Mekari Can Return vs. Bengals
Injuries have forced the Ravens to juggle starters at right tackle and Patrick Mekari (hand) has missed the past two games. Tyre Phillips has knee injury and left Sunday's game in the first quarter, and David Sharpe, who replaced Phillips, is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
If Mekari, Phillips, and Sharpe are not available, the Ravens would need to find another starting right tackle. However, Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is hopeful Mekari will be back Sunday after he returned to practice last week.
"If we can get Pat Mekari back, that would be huge," Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. "Pat is a great communicator. Pat has played center, guard, tackle and tight end for us. He's a big Swiss Army knife. I don't know if there's a term for that, but he can do it all. We're really excited to get him back."
Roman Wants Better Efficiency on Two-Point Attempts
The Ravens are just 2-for-8 in successfully converting on two-point attempts this season, including recent tries against the Steelers and Packers that failed and led to one-point defeats. It's possible that Baltimore will need points in another key spot this season, and Roman obviously wants the Ravens to be more efficient.
"We definitely want to be more productive. I don't think we're very happy with our production, so that's something that we're certainly working at," Roman said.
Going for two points so often this season has forced Roman to dig deeper into his two-point playbook.
"You have to have a list of them," Roman said. "Generally speaking, it'll come down to one or two, and then you pick one. But you're always going to try to pick the best one."