The Ravens are coming off a statement win last week, but the intensity will hit another level Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium when they kick off their AFC North slate against the Cincinnati Bengals.
It's a key divisional game with the Ravens (5-1) in first place and the Bengals (4-2) right behind. The AFC North is known for its physicality and defensive lineman Justin Madubuike is stoked for the matchup.
"There's definitely more hostility in the air," Madubuike said. "I hear they're talking about how what they're going to do, and 'this and that,' and we're just going to talk with our pads and our helmets. That's how we roll over here. [There's] definitely hostility, and it's going to be a bloodbath, for sure, and we're ready for it."
Much of Baltimore's defensive game plan will focus on Joe Burrow, the Bengals' second-year quarterback who was treated rudely by the Ravens in his only game against them last season. During a 27-3 victory at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens sacked Burrow seven times and forced him to fumble twice.
Cincinnati's offense is much better this season and this will be the Ravens' first look at rookie wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase, who ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (553) with five receptions covering at least 40 yards. But Madubuike hopes the Ravens get so much pressure on Burrow that it gives him little time to connect with Chase.
"He gets the ball off pretty quick and he has great targets like Ja'Marr and all that stuff," Madubuike said. "But we just stick to what we do. We pressure him, we make him uncomfortable early and he kind of just gets in a panic mode. That's when we got him. We're just going to stick to that plan."
Nick Boyle Has Solid First Week of Practice
Tight end Nick Boyle, who has been on injured reserve all season (knee), finished his first week of practice and looked good, according to Head Coach John Harbaugh.
Boyle originally returned to practice Sept. 1, but after two sessions, the decision was made to place him on injured reserve. The time for more rehab apparently helped Boyle make significant progress and he was cleared to begin practice Wednesday.
Harbaugh did not offer any specific timetable for Boyle's return to game action, and the Ravens have a bye in Week 8.
"He looked good," Harbaugh said. "He practiced this week, so that's where we're at."
The Ravens hope to get other players back after the bye. Veteran defensive end Derek Wolfe (back/hip) has been on injured reserve all season, but Madubuike said Wolfe has returned to team meetings.
"He's going to be coming back pretty soon," Madubuike said. "He's in meetings and stuff like that, and we're glad to have him back pretty soon."
Burrow's Weakened Voice Will Be Tested at M&T
Burrow has dealt with voice issues since being poked in the throat Oct. 10, and team doctors have placed him on voice rest during practice for the second straight week.
Being heard in Detroit wasn't a problem for Burrow in Week 6, as a quiet crowd saw the Bengals roll to a 34-11 win. However, the atmosphere in Baltimore on Sunday will be much louder, which could pose a problem for Burrow as his teammates try to pick up his cadence.
At first, Harbaugh wasn't buying the possibility that Burrow's voice might be an issue. He pointed out that the Bengals will often be in silent count anyway.
"I've given that zero thought, and I really don't care," Harbaugh said. "But I think it's an interesting question for you to ponder."
Then Harbaugh was asked if he wanted Sunday's crowd to be even louder than usual.
"That'd be great. Absolutely," Harbaugh said. "OK, now you know what? Now I'm getting interested. That's a very good point."
Bengals Head Coach Zac Taylor said his players would prepare as if they won't be able to hear Burrow in the huddle.
"Those guys gotta be locked in in the huddle and really intent, looking at his lips, because it's going to be noisy on Sunday," Taylor said via ProFootballTalk.
Could Offensive Line Be Next Move for Khalil McKenzie?
Practice squad defensive lineman Kahlil McKenzie could be the next Ravens player to find success switching from defense to offense.
Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard has done it, beginning his career as a defensive tackle. Now Harbaugh believes McKenzie has the potential to be an offensive lineman, and he has plenty of NFL experience in his family to give him advice.
His uncle, Raleigh McKenzie, is a former NFL offensive lineman and his father, Reggie McKenzie, was an NFL linebacker and is now a senior executive with the Miami Dolphins.
Harbaugh says McKenzie will begin taking practice reps with the offensive linemen.
"He actually has played on the offensive line in his career – in college and a little bit in the NFL, in some of the practice places he's been," Harbaugh said. "His uncle obviously was a pretty fair offensive lineman. He even told me his dad kind of thinks he should be an offensive lineman. So, we're going to start working him over there a little bit – cross training him. We've got some time with him. He played already on the defensive line this year, so we might need him there. But that's a thought – absolutely."