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Ravens vs. Bengals scouting report for Week 16: Who has the edge?

The Ravens are dealing with several injuries and COVID-19 cases as they prepare for a high-stakes rematch with the healthier Cincinnati Bengals. Here’s who has the edge in each phase of the game:

Ravens passing game vs. Bengals pass defense

With star quarterback Lamar Jackson still out with an ankle injury and his impressive backup, Tyler Huntley, having tested positive for COVID-19, the Ravens will start Josh Johnson, a 35-year-old journeyman signed less than two weeks ago. He is 29-for-45 for 334 yards, three touchdowns and one interception this season, most of which came in a 317-yard showing for the New York Jets against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9. His career record as a starter is 1-7, with none of those games more recent than 2018. In a bit of good news, wide receiver Sammy Watkins was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday. Tight end Mark Andrews is coming off another monster game with 10 catches on 13 targets for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns. Andrews (85 catches on 122 targets, 1062 yards, 8 touchdowns) has a real chance to set single-season team records for receptions and receiving yards. Left guard Ben Cleveland and right tackle David Sharpe held up well filling in for Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips, respectively, in the team’s 31-30 Week 15 loss to the Green Bay Packers. Ravens blockers will need to hold up better against defensive ends Trey Hendrickson (13 sacks, 22 quarterback hits) and Sam Hubbard (7½ sacks, 17 quarterback hits) and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (7 sacks) than they did in the first game this season against Cincinnati, a 41-17 home loss in Week 7. The Bengals got good news Saturday, activating starting cornerback Chidobe Awuzie (2 interceptions, 12 passes defended) off the reserve/COVID-19 list. Cincinnati ranks 26th in pass defense, so it can be attacked if its pass rushers don’t get home.

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EDGE: Bengals

Bengals passing game vs. Ravens pass defense

Second-year quarterback Joe Burrow went off for 416 yards and 3 touchdowns in Cincinnati’s Week 7 blowout in Baltimore. Burrow rates quite differently by different analytics; he’s the top-graded quarterback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, but just 17th in ESPN’s QBR. He has completed 68.7% of his passes and averaged 8.4 yards per attempt but has thrown 14 interceptions and taken 44 sacks. The Bengals, particularly rookie Ja’Marr Chase, killed the Ravens with yards after the catch. But Chase has not gone for more than 77 yards in a game since he piled up 201 in Baltimore, and he caught just 1 pass for 3 yards in Cincinnati’s Week 15 win over the Denver Broncos. Tee Higgins succeeded the rookie as Burrow’s most productive target with three straight 100-yard games from weeks 12 through 14. Then, veteran Tyler Boyd took center stage against the Broncos (5 catches on 6 targets, 96 yards, 1 touchdown). So it’s not as if the Ravens can put disproportionate focus on Chase as they did with Green Bay’s Davante Adams in Week 15.

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The Ravens will start a very different secondary from the one Burrow torched two months ago. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is gone for the year, and the Ravens are waiting to see whether safety Geno Stone and cornerbacks Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith will return from the reserve/COVID-19 list. Tavon Young’s (concussion) status is also up in the air. The Ravens struggled to slow down Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers with their collection of backups and practice-squad call-ups. They could also be without one of their top pass rushers, Justin Houston, who went on the reserve/COVID-19 list Monday. Fellow outside linebacker Pernell McPhee joined Houston on the list a day after he was designated to return from knee surgery. Odafe Oweh and Jaylon Ferguson could be asked to take on significantly greater workloads if the veteran edge defenders are unavailable. The Ravens are also awaiting word on defensive end Calais Campbell, who missed the Packers game with a hamstring injury. Despite their injury and COVID woes, the Ravens have not allowed an opponent to pass for more than 290 yards since Burrow did it.

EDGE: Bengals

Ravens running game vs. Bengals run defense

Latavius Murray played a larger role against the Packers than he had for several weeks and responded with one of his best games (7 carries, 48 yards) as a Raven. Devonta Freeman (462 yards, 4.3 yards per carry) has been the more productive back overall. Huntley might not be on Jackson’s level as runner, but he scrambled to great effect (13 carries for 73 yards, 2 touchdowns) as the Ravens rallied from 14 down against the Packers. Jackson (12 carries, 88 yards) was the team’s only effective runner in the earlier loss to Cincinnati.

The Bengals rank fourth in the league in run defense but placed starting defensive tackle D.J. Reader and reserve defensive end Wyatt Ray on the reserve/COVID-19 list Saturday.

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EDGE: Bengals

Bengals running game vs. Ravens run defense

Joe Mixon ran for 59 yards on 12 carries in his previous matchup with the Ravens, but the Bengals have relied on him more down the stretch, giving him an average of 22.4 carries over their past five games. Mixon has averaged 4.1 yards per carry in his career and 4.2 this season, so he’s more of a steady pounder than a breakaway threat. Backup Samaje Perine has averaged 4.5 yards per carry in limited duty and played one of his best games (11 carries, 52 yards) against the Ravens.

Since that humiliating loss, the Ravens have held opponents under 100 yards rushing in five of seven games, and they lead the league in run defense. Linebacker Patrick Queen made 13 tackles against the Packers as he continued his rise after a difficult start to the season.

EDGE: Ravens

Ravens special teams vs. Bengals special teams

The Ravens rank first in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA. Justin Tucker has made 29 of 31 field-goal attempts and made his fourth straight Pro Bowl and sixth overall. Devin Duvernay also made the Pro Bowl as a returner, with a 14.4-yard average on punts and a 24.6-yard average on kickoffs. But he is dealing with an ankle injury that limited him against the Packers.

The Bengals are no slouches on special teams, ranking seventh in DVOA thanks to solid work from rookie kicker Evan McPherson (24 of 28 on field-goal attempts) and punter Kevin Huber. They have not been as good on returns, with an array of players averaging 7.2 yards on punts and 20 yards on kickoffs.

EDGE: Ravens

Ravens intangibles vs. Browns intangibles

This is a pivotal game for both teams. The Bengals know they could take a commanding lead in the AFC North with a home victory, and they’ll be eager to double down on what Burrow called a “big statement” performance in Baltimore. Coach Zac Taylor can’t match John Harbaugh’s record of success, but he has a far healthier team as the Ravens continue to patch their roster together in the face of season-ending injuries and COVID-19 positives.

The Ravens have lost three games in a row by a combined four points. No one can question their will to compete. But Harbaugh’s recent decisions to go for 2 points in game-deciding situations indicate his understanding of how depleted they are.

EDGE: Bengals

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Prediction

The Ravens are close to must-win territory, and they’ll go into this high-stakes matchup without many key players and with uncertainty about the availability and condition of others. If the Ravens had anything close to a healthy roster, they would be the better team. But they don’t. Bengals 24, Ravens 20.

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