Ravens coach John Harbaugh summed up his team’s season-opening opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, as one that can’t be overlooked.
“The Bengals are a formidable (foe),” Harbaugh told reporters. “They are talented in every area, from the quarterback, the weapons on offense - really at every position - and a tremendously physical offensive line. (Their) defense is pressure defense; it gets after you from every angle. (They are a) very young, athletic team. I think they are one of the most talented teams in football.”
Behind a potent defense that ranked in the NFL’s top 10 in fewest yards and points allowed, the Bengals went 9-7 a year ago to make it three AFC North teams in the playoffs - along with the Ravens and Steelers.
Cincinnati boasted a defense that was as balanced as you could find - ninth against the pass, 10th against the run - so it’ll be hard to predict whether Baltimore will rely more on Ray Rice’s legs or Joe Flacco’s arm in Game 1.
Pro Bowler Geno Atkins anchors a strong Bengals defensive line. Plus, Cincy added veteran defensive back Terrence Newman to the secondary, so it could still be quite a unit.
Although the Bengals’ offense didn’t rank nearly as highly as the defense, it owns some dangerous weapons.
Cincinnati finished 18th in scoring offense and 20th in total offense last year, but benefited from the emergence of rookies Andy Dalton at quarterback and A.J. Green at receiver.
Dalton completed 58.1 percent of his passes for 3,398 yards, 20 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Green made 65 catches for 1,057 yards and seven touchdowns.
That led Harbaugh to recently call the 6-foot-4 Green one of the best wideouts in the league.
“Incredible athleticism. I’ve read it and I truly believe it - watching him play on tape and watching him in pregame. You throw a ball anywhere near him and you don’t think he’s going to be able to catch it, and he finds a way to go grab it,” Harbaugh told reporters. “He’s got an amazing catch radius. He’s big, tall, long. He can get behind the defense very quickly.
“He’s not their only weapon. Obviously, (tight end) Jermaine Gresham is a tremendously talented guy. They’ve got good running backs, (including the newly signed Benjarvus Green-Ellis). It’s a very talented group.”
So as the season gets under way, the Ravens could have their hands full on both sides of the ball.