Now that everyone from the Ravens players down to the fans has finally put the New England game in the rear-view mirror, the suddenly dangerous Bengals come to Baltimore in a game for the AFC North lead.
Very few people could have predicted Cincinnati’s early rise to the top of the division, and the good folks in Vegas seem to think Cincy is a pretender, as they have the Bengals as a 8 1/2-point underdog.
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 week, the Ravens went to the air a lot against the Patriots, and came very close to pulling a tough game out of the fire. QB Joe Flacco cooly drove the Ravens the length of the field in the final moments, but a dropped pass stalled the comeback. What have the Ravens learned from their mistakes last week?
Offensively, the Ravens in my opinion, were out of balance against the Pats. Running the ball only 17 times, despite Flacco’s success passing the ball, put Baltimore into a shootout game with a team that likes to see the scoreboard numbers turning.
The balance needs to return this week as the run game should keep the Bengals from rushing the passer consistently. If the Ravens stay in a primarily passing offense, Cincy D-line will pin their ears back trying to pressure Flacco out of the pocket and into mistakes. They have sacked the quarterback 12 times (8 times alone by Antwan Odom).
If Baltimore can control the line of scrimmage and take huge chunks of clock off each time it has the ball, the better chance the Ravens have of coming away with the victory. The Bengals are suspect defending runs on right tackle and end (5.24 and 5.54 average yards per run for opponents, respectively).
The O-line has to keep Flacco upright (he was hit 10 times last week and sacked twice) and open the holes for Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain. First down is the key as Baltimore is third in the NFL in first-down yardage (6.95 yards per play). Rice is the only NFL leader in first downs (fifth overall with 20) who has an equal number rushing and receiving (10 each).
The Baltimore defense is worth watching, but not for the usual reasons. The group has struggled against the pass because of not getting a push on the opponent QB and haven’t been the best tacklers in the open field. The Ravens struggled against RB Darren Sproles in San Diego when he got to the outside after making catches. Cincy is no longer a straight-ahead run team that the Ravens could stop with their strength up the middle. Cedric Benson will carry the load again for Cincinnati (tied for fourth in the NFL in rush yards), but the Bengals like to bounce runs to the outside (especially to right end, where they lead the NFL in plays to that area).
QB Carson Palmer has spread the love around to nine different receivers in the first four games. Chad Ochocinco has caught 17 passes for 258 yards and three TDs to lead the way. He’s threatened to make the Ravens defenders “kiss the baby,” but the bigger worry is Palmer’s penchant for finding open receivers underneath on third down, especially against a heavy rush. Ed Reed will need a big day against the Bengals receivers and Palmer. Ray Lewis will also need to stay out of traffic intended to slow him down to make plays.
PREDICTION: This will be a much-tighter game than the oddsmakers would have you believe. Marvin Lewis’ group is legit, and the Ravens will scrap for a home victory. Points will be surprisingly hard to come by, as I expect the Ravens to go back to a more grind-it-out style on offense. A better pash rush by the Ravens will lead to a pair of turnovers, and it will be enough. Ravens 24, Bengals 20.
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