Blog & Tackle: How I see Ravens-Bengals

November 06, 2009 | Chris Pika

It’s been only a few short weeks since the Bengals eeked out a hard-fought victory in Baltimore, and the two teams go again this Sunday in Cincinnati in a key AFC North game.

In going over my notes from the previous game, a lot has changed in just those few weeks. The Ravens seemed to right the ship after the bye week as they got well against an opponent that played right into their hands (more on that later), and Cincinnati suffered a loss to its defensive line that will be hard to replace.

We will review the game in the Sunday Night Purple Haze at 7 pm. Please join WNST hosts and personalities for three hours of Ravens/NFL chat online. Click here to join in (If you don’t know what the Purple Haze is, check out the archives on that page to see what we do each and every week).

Last Sunday, Baltimore faced a Denver team that didn’t take too many shots downfield against opposing secondaries and ran the football up the middle — which the Ravens defended well. Baltimore was agressive on defense, going after the quarterback and stayed in zone defense instead of man-to-man coverage. Offensively, Baltimore ran the football to disrupt the Broncos’ pass rush.

The Ravens were much more balanced than they had been during the three-game losing streak after a 3-0 start. They must stay that way again this Sunday to beat a talented Bengals team.

Cincinnati’s defense was hurt by the loss of Antwan Odom for the season in Week 6 with an Achilles’ injury. His eight sacks led the league at that point, and the Bengals don’t have nearly the push to the quarterback as they did before he went down.

Baltimore ran the football 35 times against Denver, after total rushes of 17, 18 and 18 in the previous three games (Baltimore threw just 25 passes after 47, 31 and 43 in the last three). If the improving offensive line keeps opening holes for RBs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee, Baltimore will do better than the season-worst 27.2 percent conversion rate on third down in the first game. Rice has been the go-to guy, including 23 carries vs. Denver and has become QB Joe Flacco’s hot-read option on short throws.

Cincinnati is about even on runs across the offensive line, except for left end (5.5 yards allowed per carry) and right tackle (4.54 yards per rush). When the Ravens set up the play action to go to wideouts Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, the Bengals are vulnerable. Cincy gives up an average of 13.69 yards deep left (15+ yards) and 14.43 yards deep right. Under 15 yards, the Bengals allow 7.1 yards on passes short left.

The Ravens are third in first-down efficiency in the NFL (4+ yards on first down) at 53.2 percent, behind only New England and New Orleans, and is eighth in average gain on first down (6.06 per play). If the Ravens continue that trend, Flacco can operate on play-action as needed since the Bengals will have to stay home.

The Ravens defense was much improved last week against the undefeated Broncos. Unlike Denver, the Bengals run to the outside — a problem area for Baltimore this year. RB Cedric Benson is fourth in the league with 720 rush yards. When they run, the Bengals have the most success going left (5.8 at left end, 4.7 at left tackle and 6.7 yards at left guard). But they still run the majority of plays to the right, including 40 to right end (second in the NFL). They don’t go up the middle very much as their 28 attempts (29th in the league) would indicate. Discipline in run lanes will be crucial to holding down Benson’s output.

QB Carson Palmer can throw downfield, but the Bengals are in the bottom half of the league throwing more than 15 yards in any direction (31 total pass attempts downfield). Most of Cincy’s passes are short middle (63 plays, third in the NFL for an average of 8.3 yards, sixth in the league). The Bengals mostly throw short right (81 plays). If that holds up, the Ravens zone defense can adjust, and the better tackling shown last week should contain any potential huge gains.

WR Chad Ochocinco sent Degree deodorant to the Ravens defenders, saying in effect (laughingly in Chad’s world), “they stink.” Ed Reed had a big pick of Palmer for a TD, and the Ravens kept Ochocinco from any end zone celebration in the first meeting. More of that effort is needed in this game from the defense.

PREDICTION: Cincinnati will test the Ravens secondary unless Baltimore can get at Palmer consistently. The Ravens need to run as much as they did last week to control the ball and the clock to keep the defense fresh. Cincinnati’s defense played inspired last time after the death of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife. This time, Baltimore has the defensive swagger back (for now). The Ravens need to use their 2008 formula (run to a lead, dictate the playbook on offense and run exclusively in the fourth quarter) to grind out a huge road victory. Ravens 20, Bengals 17.

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