Ravens Defense's First Big Test Is to Pull the Thorn From Its Side

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The Ravens invested a lot of resources into improving their secondary this offseason. They signed free-agent safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr. They drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round.

The defense is riding a wave of hype, and preseason momentum, touting the Ravens as having a potentially historically-good unit.

Now its first big test of the 2017 season is to pull a thorn out of its side.

Sure, Pittsburgh Steelers Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown aren't liked around Baltimore. But if there's one player that most often haunts the nightmares of Ravens fans, it may well be Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green. In recent years, no player has a track record against Baltimore like Green.

"He can ruin a game – he's done it before, especially for us," safety Eric Weddle said. "We have to be on our toes, technically sound, and play good team defense to make sure he's not going to ruin our afternoon."

Entering his second season in Baltimore, Weddle knows about the Ravens' history with Green even though he hasn't personally experienced it. It's obviously something that's come up in meetings or chit-chat with teammates.

In 2013, Green snagged eight passes for 151 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown (off a tipped Hail Mary pass) that sent the game into overtime. Baltimore held on for a 20-17 win. Later that same year, Green caught a 53-yard touchdown in a 34-17 Bengals win.

In the 2014 regular-season opener in Baltimore, Green caught six passes for 131 yards, including a 77-yard game-winning touchdown with five minutes left for a 23-16 Bengals win.

In 2015, Green posted 10 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns in a 28-24 Bengals win in Week 3. He scored the game-winning touchdown with 2:10 left. After that game, Head Coach John Harbaugh vented his frustration.

"One of these days, we'll figure out how to cover A.J. Green," Harbaugh said. "It'd be nice if we did it one time before he retires."

Green was injured and didn't play against the Ravens in either meeting between the two teams last season. On Wednesday, a reporter told Weddle the Ravens won't have that "luxury" this time.

"That's alright. I always wish he was going to play," Weddle said. "You always want to play against the best. I've played against him a few times in my career, and obviously, he's one of the best – if not the best. He's just as talented as they come – route-running ability, playmaking ability. A guy like him, you have to know where he's at all times."

The Ravens have greatly improved their secondary from 2013, 2014 and 2015. Among Green's victims over the years have been safety James Ihedigbo, cornerback Ckykie Brown, safeties Kendrick Lewis and Will Hill.

Now with Weddle and Jefferson patrolling the back end, and improved cornerback depth, the Ravens are better suited to have success against the six-time Pro Bowler. The Ravens' injection of good, young pass rushers should also help take pressure off the back end.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said he has constantly reminded his teammates in the secondary not to get beat over the top by Green, but reminded reporters that he's not just a one-trick pony who goes deep. Green runs good routes and can make plays everywhere.

"I don't think he gets enough credit for that, but we are not fooled over here," Suggs said. "We have a young defense, but we also have a veteran one now. We have kind of seen everything. We know that he is not just going to run deep balls. They are going to give him the ball often and early."

Green isn't the Bengals' only offensive weapon the Ravens have to worry about.

Tight end Tyler Eifert is a handful and the Bengals also have a talented trio of running backs with Jeremy Hill, Gio Bernard and rookie second-round pick Joe Mixon. Speedy first-round wide receiver John Ross (knee) is sidelined.

Add it up, and the Bengals will provide a good barometer for how good the Ravens defense will be after a lot of promising signs this preseason.

"I'm actually tired of watching Cincinnati [tape], quite honestly. We've been watching Cincy for the last four weeks," Weddle joked. "It's going to be a huge challenge. They have weapons all across the field, but we're excited."

"It is never fun to start with a team like the Bengals with all those weapons," Suggs added. "It is good while you are healthy, and it is the first one out, that you get to play a team that has a lot of firepower. We are looking forward to it."

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