“It is never fun to start with a team like the Bengals with all those weapons,” the Ravens outside linebacker said Wednesday. “When you start with a team that is good like that, that is explosive like that, it is going to be hard for teams to match that week to week.
“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.”
Suggs’ trepidation is warranted. Although the Ravens and Bengals are deadlocked at 21 wins apiece in their annual series, Cincinnati has won six of the last seven and seven of the last nine games.
The Ravens’ troubles against their AFC North rivals have not escaped the players, who have far too often been on the wrong end of those results.
“They’re a division opponent, and they’ve played us tough,” right guard Marshal Yanda said. “They’ve played better football than us there, and we haven’t done the things we need to do to win. We were talking about it, and in 2011, we ran the ball well. I don’t think we gave up any big plays, stuff like that.
“[Quarterback] Joe [Flacco] played well, too. Just playing winning football on all three phases, not turning the ball over, penalties on the road is another big one – just all those factors.”
There does not seem to be one common thread in the team’s losses to the Bengals. On the one hand, the Ravens rushed for less than 100 yards in five losses. On the flipside, the offense did not reach the century mark in its last two wins and ran for 206 and 107 yards on Dec. 30, 2012 and Oct. 26, 2014, respectively, but those totals still did not lead to success.
Similarly, the defense surrendered at least 350 yards in five losses. But Cincinnati persevered on 189 and 292 yards on Dec. 30, 2012, and Jan. 3, 2016, respectively, and the Ravens won on Nov. 10, 2013, and Nov. 27, 2016, despite giving up 364 and 325 yards, respectively.
And then there are the struggles that Flacco has had against the Bengals. He has been intercepted 21 times (10 more than any other opponent) and thrown just 16 touchdown passes in 17 career games against Cincinnati. He also has been sacked 35 times, which is the second-highest total against any other team.
While acknowledging that Paul Brown Stadium “is a tough place to play,” Flacco will rely on a simple formula for Sunday.
“You have to forget about all of that,” he said. “When you walk into the stadium, you can’t be thinking about all the bad times you have had there. You have to completely wipe those out of your mind and go in with an open mind and act like you have never seen this place before and it is brand new to you, and when we win this week, it will be a whole new feeling as to how that stadium feels when we walk in it.
“Yes, you have to make sure everybody blocks out the bad feeling you have had about that place, because obviously, when you walk into your home stadium, you feel at home. When you walk into places that you have won, you probably feel more at home. You have to make sure you feel that way when you walk into this place, too.”
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis took a diplomatic approach when asked about his team’s recent run of success against the Bengals.
“I know it’s going to be a very physical game, very close,” the former Ravens defensive coordinator said during a conference call. “They’re well-put together, a physical football team, well-coached. We just have to play to our very best. That’s what I explain to our guys each and every time and the way it’s going to unfold. We’ve just got to keep chopping wood and keep hanging in there.”
Since he was drafted by the organization in 2011, cornerback Jimmy Smith has enjoyed only one victory in Cincinnati. He said there’s a strong sense of familiarity when the two sides clash.
“It’s like fighting your brother,” Smith said. “We’ve got to go out there and compete. We have to out-execute them.”
The Bengals used April’s NFL draft to add running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver John Ross to an offense that already includes wide receiver A.J. Green, tight end Tyler Eifert, and quarterback Andy Dalton. Strong safety Eric Weddle revealed that the team has been watching film of Cincinnati for the last four weeks.
“This is an important game,” he said. “It’s not just the beginning of a new season and new aspirations, but we haven’t won there in five years. We know the problems and the matchups they present towards us, especially when we play there.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he did not get a sense that the players are placing extra importance on Sunday’s game.
“I don’t think the guys think too much about that,” he said. “I think they’re focused on playing this game this Sunday and trying to find a way to win this one to be 1-0 this week.”
Suggs pointed out that winning the season opener is pivotal for both teams. So is there one thing that the Ravens need to overcome to beat Cincinnati?
“I don’t know,” he said. “We’re going to figure that out.”