The Baltimore Ravens made a handful of roster transactions on Saturday, January 14, 2023, ahead of their Wildcard matchup with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, most of which involved the wide receiver position.
For the second time this season, second-year wideout Tylan Wallace is headed to injured reserve with a hamstring injury. He was already ruled out on the final injury report after being a limited participant in practice on Thursday and sitting out on Friday. In 9 games this season, the 2021 fourth-rounder recorded 4 receptions on 7 targets for 33 receiving yards but primarily played on special teams where he made a solo tackle.
Taking his place on the 53-man roster will be defensive back Ar’Darius Washington who was out of standard elevations and had to be signed to from the practice squad in order to be able to play this week.
The 2021 undrafted free agent recorded a pair of solo tackles in his three regular season game appearances. His role will likely consist of playing special teams primarily but he could see some playing time on defense at cornerback since the team will need more depth with Brandon Stephens ruled out for the second straight game with an illness.
The team has also elected to elevate wide receivers Andy Isabella and Binjimen Victor from the practice squad for this game as well. This will mark the third final standard elevation for both players and while Victor will be playing primarily on special teams, Isabella could see his role on offense grow even more.
He has mostly been used as the decoy on jetsweeps but got his first touch as a Raven in Week 17 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on a handoff on one such play for a 1-yard gain.
Top 3 Ravens Storylines for Wildcard vs. Bengals
Will the defense limit Joe Burrow again?
In both of the regular season meetings between the two AFC North rivals, the Ravens defense held the Bengals’ Pro Bowl quarterback to under 220 passing yards and just one passing touchdown to one turnover. They will need to follow up those impressive performances with an even more stingy performance the third time around that may have to include forcing multiple turnovers and perhaps even scoring on defense at least once if their offense struggles to get going.
Will the offense pull its weight this time?
The Ravens haven’t scored 20 or more points since Week 12 in a 28-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That will likely need to change if they want to give themselves the best chance of advancing to the divisional round. While they’ve still managed to move the ball with consistency at times with starting quarterback Lamar Jackson out of the lineup, their inability to regularly finish drives in the red zone with 7 points instead of settling for 3 had plagued them for most of the season no matter whose been under center.
Keeping the ball on the ground and pounding the rock down the Bengals’ throats will be essential to their offense’s success. Expect a heavy dose of running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards early and often in this game. The Ravens rested Dobbins in the Week 18 matchup between these two teams and Edwards left early and was ruled out with concussion but will be available for their first playoff game.
According to NFL Network insider Ian Rapoport, the Ravens are going to pull out all the stops on offense and plan on deploying both Tyler Huntley and Anthony Brown in a two-quarterback system with Jackson out again this week.
Huntley participated in all three practices leading up to the game and even though he threw the ball in two of them, the third-year pro is still dealing with tendonitis in his throwing shoulder. Brown made his first career start in the season finale and after a rocky first half, he showed a lot more poise and played much better in the second half.
It remains to be seen what kind of rotation they might use if they indeed plan to use both signal callers but one way could be having Huntley start the game and run their traditional offense that includes designed quarterback runs that Brown isn’t as proficient in.
If the Ravens get into a situation where they need to air the ball out more than expected because the Bengals have a good answer for slowing down their run game, the undrafted rookie could be called to alleviate some of the stress on Huntley’s arm.
Keys to pulling off the upset
The Ravens are entering this game as nearly 10-point underdogs in most betting markets and many are not only counting them out but have already penciled the Bengals into a spot in the divisional round. However, they have a chance to shock the world if they can execute a few key aspects of the game while avoiding others.
First and foremost is avoiding turnovers on offense after they gifted their rivals a pair of short fields that they turned into touchdowns and a strip-sack that resulted in the ball being recovered in the end zone for another score. All three plays occurred before halftime and allowed Cincinnati to build what would be an insurmountable lead. The Ravens will need to play as close to mistake-free football so they can give themselves the best chance to win.
Second is forcing some turnovers of their own so that they can give their struggling scoring offense more opportunities to put up points and fewer yards to travel while stealing precious possessions away from their opponent. Burrow is hard to corral for a sack, has one of the quickest releases, and fastest times to throw in the league so forcing him into mistakes is rare but doable. They’ll need to be able to consistently bring him down when they lay hands on him on blitzes or traditional rushes and even if they can’t pick off one of his passes, punching the ball out of one of his intended targets is just as clutch.
Key Ravens & Bengals Matchups to Watch
The third meeting between these two bitter rivals will feature several pivotal matchups between players on both sides that will be looking for redemption, to prove themselves, or assert their will over a particular opponent again.
Ravens Cornerbacks v Bengals Wide Receiver
With Marcus Peters expected to make his return to the starting lineup after being rested last week and missing the previous two games with a calf injury, the Ravens will have both of their three-time Pro Bowl cornerbacks at their disposal for the first time since Week 15. Their ability to matchup up and limit the impact of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins on the game will be paramount to both slowing and potentially shutting down the Bengals’ offense. Neither player recorded more than 86 receiving yards in either of the first two meetings.
Ravens Tight Ends v Bengals Secondary
Given how lackluster their wide receiver position is without Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay despite the encouraging signs veteran Sammy Watkins has shown since he rejoined the team, the passing game needs to flow through the tight end position. After fourth-round rookies, Isaiah Likely and Charlie Kolar combined for 152 receiving yards on 12 catches in Week 18 with three-time Pro Bowler Mark Andrews sitting out, it is clear that with all three of them in the mix along with fourth-year pro Josh Oliver, they are the most dangerous pass catchers on the team.
Tyler Linderbaum v DJ Reeder Pt. II
The Ravens’ standout rookie center has already established himself as one of the best run blockers at his position in year one with the fourth-best run-blocking grade of all centers according to Pro Football Focus. Last week was his first time facing the Bengals’ elite run-stuffer and once again, he more than held his own against one of the league’s best.
Ravens Pass Rush v Bengals O-Line
The biggest mismatch that the Ravens and first-year defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald will look to exploit in this game that could tip the scales in their favor is on the right side of the Bengals’ offensive line. Their rivals had already lost starting right tackle La’el Collins for the season to a torn ACL and in Week 18, starting right guard Alex Cappa went down with a serious ankle injury that will make him miss this game.
That means that the Ravens’ potent pass rush will be primed and poised to generate a lot of pressure that will hopefully lead to sacks, incompletions, or perhaps even turnovers whether they come via interceptions or strip sacks resulting in fumble recoveries like rookie David Ojabo did on the first of his career.
Ronnie Stanley v Trey Hendrickson
On the other side, the Ravens All-Pro blindside protector will be seeking some revenge over the Bengals’ top pass rusher who beat him for a sack towards the end of the first half in Week 18 that resulted in a forced fumble that his teammate Joseph Ossai recovered in the end zone for a pivotal touchdown.
That score essentially made their lead insurmountable as it would’ve been difficult for the Ravens’ offense to put up 20 or more points with so many key pieces missing as a result of rest or injury. Their battle on the left side will be one of the fiercest in the trenches of the game.
Greg Roman v Lou Anarumo
This game will ultimately come down to which coaching staff makes the best adjustments and particularly on the offensive side for the Ravens and the defensive side for the Bengals. Down to his second and third-string quarterbacks, Roman will need to stay ahead of and keep Anarumo and Co. on their toes with creative yet simplified play calls to move the ball and get it into the end zone most importantly.