There will definitely be a changing of the guard in the AFC North at some point over the next few years, and tonight’s game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens will tell us a lot about when that changing of the guard will occur.
Can Andy Dalton and A.J. Green replicate last year’s run despite some very notable offensive line issues? Can Baltimore overcome a huge loss on the defensive side of the ball? How big of an impact will both teams’ running attacks have on a game that figures to be more pass-heavy than it has been in years past?
Here are three things to watch for from each squad tonight:
1. Can Andy Dalton and A.J. Green keep the magic alive this year?
Last season, Andy Dalton and A.J. Green teamed up to become one of the most formidable rookie dynamic duos we've seen in a long time. Dalton threw for over 3,300 yards and 20 total touchdowns, and Green finished with over 1,000 yards and seven total touchdowns. Can these guys experience the same sort of Pro Bowl success they had last year now that everyone knows what they bring to the table? We’ll find out starting tonight.
2. What impact will BenJarvus Green-Ellis have on the offense?
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a reliable running back, but it’s too early to say whether or not he’s capable of being a No. 1 option on a team that’s not built like the New England Patriots. Coming off a 667-yard, 11 touchdown 2011 campaign, it’ll be interesting see if he can get his stats back up to pre-injury, 2010 levels.
3. How will the offensive line look?
No Kyle Cook and no Travelle Wharton is going to make a difference. That’s a fact. How much of a difference it’ll make remains to be seen. How the o-line holds up against a formidable Ravens defense will tell us a lot about the sort of year that Dalton and Green are going to have.
1. How will Joe Flacco look?
Baltimore has a really solid rushing attack and likely won’t shift away from it any time soon, however, look for Flacco to air it out a lot more this season. Even though he had a bit of trouble with accuracy last year, Flacco still managed to rack up 3,660 yards and 20 touchdowns. His effectiveness and ability to find open receivers against Cincinnati’s defense will tell us a lot about his mindset heading into what Ravens brass hopes will be a Super Bowl campaign.
2. Can Ray Rice justify his contract?
Fresh off getting paid in a way big, now is the time for Baltimore’s star running back to prove that he’s the best at his position. Last year, Rice racked up 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns on the ground, and 704 yards and three touchdowns through the air. As noted by ESPN’s John Clayton, don’t be too shocked if the latter figures grow over the next couple of months and the first two decline as the Ravens’ offense becomes more pass-oriented.
3. How will not having Terrell Suggs impact the defense?
The Ravens will need a lot of players to step up and replace Suggs’ career-high 14 sacks from last year. Keep an eye on who gets after Andy Dalton tonight – that (those) will likely be the person(s) who will step up for the duration of the season.