Here is my 6-pack of things to look for in today’s Ravens – Bengals game
- Give Joe time: With a rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco, a hurt if playing at all running back in Willis McGahee, a backup rookie running back in Ray Rice, and still a questionable offensive line, I expect the Bengals will throw everything they can at Joe Flacco early until he can beat the pressure. The Bengals linebackers coach Jeff Fitzgerald is the former Ravens linebackers coach, and knows the players on offense, especially the line. It will be huge today for Lorenzo Neal, and LeRon McClain, to pick up the blitzes and other schemed the Bengals will throw at Flacco. The offensive line will have to hold up, the offense can not afford to have to have Todd Heap or Dan Wilcox stay back on every play to help pass protect.
- Keep drives going: This is going to be a huge part of what the Ravens offense will have to do today. The Bengals defense is not that great, and it will be key to keep them out there as long as possible. By having long sustained drives, not only does it keep the Bengals defense on the field, it keeps the Ravens defense on the bench, and more importantly keeps Carson Palmer and that high powered offense on the sidelines. Mark Clayton told me this week that the one big key for them is to convert on 3rd down and not get in 3rd and long situations.
- Find Ben Utecht: As much as the Bengals wide receiving corp gets talked about, and rightfully so, the off season addition of Ben Utecht was a big pickup for the Bengals. Ben will be a big part of what the Bengals will do today. He may not finish with 100+ yards or three touchdowns, but he will be the guy to come up with some key catches for the Ravens. He will become to Carson Palmer what Dallas Clark is to Peyton Manning. A guy who can line up almost any where and make that big reception for them. He will also cause match up problems for the Ravens defense.
- Get to Carson: With Kelly Gregg doubtful for this game, and Haloti Ngata still nursing a knee injury, it will be key but a little harder for the Ravens to get pressure on Palmer. Terrell Suggs will have his hands full with his former Sun Devil friend Levi Jones. Trevor Pryce will be a key to getting after Palmer and applying the pressure. Palmer will stand in the pocket and make you pay if you do not get to him quick enough. The linebacking corp of the Ravens can not be overly aggressive because that is when Ben Utecht and Chris Perry will hurt them in the passing game. Ravens have to get to Carson, hit him, knock him down, and not let him get comfortable in the pocket.
- Don’t play their game: It is no secret Chad Ocho Cinco loves to talk trash while he is on the field. TJ Houshmandzadeh can also do some good trash talking. Ocho Cinco has already made it known that he is going to be yelping at Dawan Landry and Bart Scott all day. Scott, Landry, and Chris McAlister, can not afford to let the talk get the best of them and get penalties for late hits. This is a game that Cinco, and Houshmandzadeh, will play with the Ravens and try to get them to retaliate.
- Special teams has to be special: It would be huge for the Ravens offense today if the special teams unit can give them a short field to work with. With a rookie quarterback, and injuries on the offense, the last thing they need is to have to be trying to go 60-80 yards ever offensive drive. On the other side of the coin, it will be huge for the special teams to force the Bengals to have to go 60-80 yards. The Bengals have the weapons that given the short field they will make you pay quickly, or get in position for Shayne Graham to give them points.
Final prediction: Bengals 27 – Ravens 20