In the NFL, there are important individual matchups that help to decide each and every game. Whether it’s a position group against another position group, an individual against a position group, or an individual against an individual, these matchups can determine winners and losers. Every week throughout the season, I break down at least two matchups for both the Bengals’ offense and defense against their opponents.
Joe Mixon vs. Ravens Defensive Line
Running back Joe Mixon had himself a day against the Colts in Week 1. Accumulating 149 total yards and one touchdown, he showed himself to be a true three-down back. Mixon finally showed the vision and decisiveness that we saw from him in college. The speed, agility, and power were on display during his runs. He seems to be becoming the focal point of the Bengals offense.
If Mixon is the focal point, this Ravens defensive front will be honing in on him. That is the last thing Mixon and the Bengals want to happen. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams might be the best in the game at what he does, stuffing the run. He can put offensive linemen on their heels and eat up double teams, just like fellow defensive tackle Michael Pierce. Pierce is almost impossible to move in the run game and shows enough mobility to make plays in the backfield. Linebacker Terrell Suggs should be mentioned with this group as the teams RUSH linebacker he spends a lot of time on the line of scrimmage. Big, strong, and plays with a bad attitude, Suggs is a legend in Baltimore and for good reason.
Mixon will have his work cut out for him. His offensive line might not be able to push those Ravens players off the line, which means Mixon will need to create. He is very capable of creating on his own. The question will be how often is he going to be getting hit in the backfield. Williams and Pierce will be plugging everything up between the tackles, Mixon needs to get past them and Suggs. Bouncing runs outside is nice at times, but he needs to break tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage to be successful in this game.
A.J. Green vs. Marlon Humphrey
A.J. Green is an elite wide receiver in about every aspect of the position. Tall, fast, intelligent, and quick with his feet. No matter who he is going up against he should be considered the favorite to win the matchup. He did have some fumbling issues in week 1 but he also caught a 38-yard touchdown. He dominated the weak secondary group of the Colts but may have a tougher matchup against Baltimore.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey may not be the best cornerback on his own team but I believe he is the most talented. A fast, physical specimen that loves to use that physicality in his coverages. He had a standout rookie year for the Ravens in 2017 and is looking build on that in 2018. Injuries to starter Jimmy Smith have forced Humphrey onto the field and he has had his issues but also shown a ton of promise. He may need to use a bit of that promise on Thursday night.
Chances are that Humphrey will spend a lot of time covering Green. Being the most talented cornerback on your team means you get to spend some time lining up across from the elites. Humphrey likes to play in your face, physical football and that doesn’t always sit well with Green. Green is a big receiver but plays more of a finesse game and can get frustrated with physical corners (look at what Jalen Ramsey did to him last year). It will be very interesting to see if Green and quarterback Andy Dalton can take advantage of Humphrey’s youth, or if Humphrey will show everyone on a national stage that he has taken the next step as a cornerback in the NFL.
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Carlos Dunlap vs. Orlando Brown Jr.
Carlos Dunlap is the best all-around defensive end on the Bengals team. Carl Lawson may be the best pass rusher, but Dunlap has him beat by a mile as a run defender. Dunlap is no slouch of a pass rusher though. He uses his 6’6″ and 280-pound frame to overpower offensive tackles on a regular basis. The athleticism in that large body is uncommon, as is the refined technique for being such a good athlete. He showed his tenacity against the Colts by getting a personal foul penalty for bringing his weight down on the quarterback, then flying off the edge and getting a clean sack on the very next play. He is a handful for even veteran tackles.
Rookie starting right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. is no veteran. Brown Jr. has not grown into his massive frame yet. He looked a little clumsy in college but was so powerful with that huge body and strong hands that it didn’t matter. His combine performance was historically bad and his technique was just as bad. None of that mattered as he looked like a very solid starter in the preseason and Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. Sure he had his lapses but he has far outplayed his college tape and combine performance. If Brown Jr. can get his massive mitts on you, game over.
While Brown Jr. has shown improvements over time, Dunlap should still have a field day with him. With how the Bengals rotate their defensive line we may not see Dunlap going against Brown Jr. a ton. They should still see each other enough to make an impact on the game. If Dunlap just had speed and power then I’d give Brown Jr. a chance to win more reps, but that is not the case. Dunlap is a smart player and will know how to avoid the powerful grip of Brown Jr. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco could be in for a long day.
Alex Collins vs. Nick Vigil
Linebacker Nick Vigil had a great game against the Colts. He and the rest of the linebackers struggled in coverage, but that may say more about the soft zone they were forced to play against a cerebral quarterback in Andrew Luck than anything. It seemed like every play Vigil could be found flying to the football like a missile. He is a great athlete that can shoot gaps and find the ball carrier in a hurry. He struggled with the mental aspects of the game last season. Despite his athleticism, he tended to be a step behind on run plays. Those mental aspects looked much improved last week and could lead to another big game against the Ravens.
Running Back Alex Collins is not one of the best backs in the league, he doesn’t need to be. His job is to be productive and open up the offense for Joe Flacco to cut it loose. With that being said, Collins is a very good running back. He has outstanding vision and hits the hole with a violence that should scare any linebacker he meets there. On top of that physicality, he has amazingly quick feet and can make quick cuts out of nowhere, turn upfield, or slash by a defender. Collins has locked down the starting job in Baltimore and is a handful for most linebackers.
Vigil needs to be the one to keep Collins from getting past the second level. Preston Brown is more physical and Jordan Evans may have a better all-around game, but Vigil carries the speed and athleticism to meet Collins in the backfield before he can get rolling. There may be some big collisions between these two on Thursday night and it’s hard to tell who will win. If Vigil can help keep Collins contained, that simplifies the Ravens offense and makes things easier for the rest of the defense.