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Cincinnati bearing strong resemblance to last year’s Ravens

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2016 script for the Cincinnati Bengals should sound familiar to the Ravens.

A heartbreaking playoff loss the previous January.

The departure of a popular offensive coordinator and the loss of several key free agents.

A difficult early-season schedule that included four of the first six games on the road.

And a growing list of injuries.

At 3-6-1, the Bengals find their season all but ruined without a miraculous turnaround. The injuries to Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard felt like the final nails in the coffin last Sunday, but consecutive post-bye losses by a total of five points have dropped Cincinnati out of serious contention in a mediocre AFC North.

It all sounds a lot like the Ravens’ circumstances a year ago that resulted in a 5-11 season, the franchise’s worst in nearly a decade. At the same point last year, Baltimore was 3-7 and already out of playoff contention.

“We haven’t won close games,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve had opportunities in the fourth quarter of football games. We’ve had leads. We’ve had opportunities, and we haven’t closed the games out.”

Of course, the Bengals’ woes guarantee nothing for the Ravens, who haven’t made things easy on themselves all season. Three of their five wins have come against the two worst teams in the AFC — Cleveland and Jacksonville — and just one of their victories has been by more than one score.

And don’t forget about that five-game losing streak against the Bengals, a drought dating back to the 2013 season. The Week 16 rematch with Pittsburgh is the most crucial game remaining on the schedule, but two games against Cincinnati — Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium and then the regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium — will be critical in determining the Ravens’ fate.

“We have to find a way to beat them,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If we do not start beating the Bengals, then we are not going to win any division championships. That is especially true this year. To me, the whole thing goes through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. We are going to have to win a couple other games, too, but it is the division. This is a division game. It is as simple as that.”

Starting fast is a goal every week, but the Ravens are facing a team that has one victory — against the winless Browns — since late September and will be without its best player. If ever there were a time for Baltimore to come out of the gate trying to step on the neck of an opponent, Week 12 is it.

The Bengals are down and know they likely need to win out to have any chance of extending their string of five consecutive trips to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens know they need to win these next two home games — including next week against Miami — to keep pace with the Steelers and put themselves in good position for a brutal final quarter of the season that includes road games at New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.

On Sunday, the Ravens can’t afford to give hope to a struggling team that still has some talented players on both sides of the ball.

“We want to continue to build and get better,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, whose 19 career interceptions against the Bengals are the most he’s thrown against any team. “I think it is huge to get going just to get our crowd in it and to get everybody excited — to get our guys excited. These guys have played us well. We have not beaten them in a long time. It is definitely going to be a tough game, but early on will be a big part.”

We know this is a flawed Ravens team expected to once again be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, but their problems don’t run as deep as those of the Bengals, whose penalty-riddled collapse against Pittsburgh last January now looks like the moment their window of opportunity slammed shut. Baltimore is trying to show its own window is still open despite going 10-16 since the start of last season.

There’s no excuse not to beat the struggling Bengals if the Ravens want to be taken seriously the rest of the way. A loss would drastically change their outlook for their five remaining games.

Peppered with questions from the Baltimore media this week about how the losses of Green and Bernard impact his struggling team, Lewis said the Bengals still plan on showing up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. No matter how Cincinnati might look right now, the Ravens can’t afford to take their AFC North rival lightly.

“Five straight is five straight. Numbers don’t lie,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They have kind of had our number. We are going to see what we can do to change that.”

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Playing Willy Wonka in America for a week for the German man who saved my wife’s life with bone marrow

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Nestor Aparicio

Now that it’s taken me a few days to recover from my mystery surprise vacation, it’s time to come clean on how all of the elements of the #NielsInTheUSA tour came together during his epic, whirlwind week of travel across the continent in search of Dirk Nowitzki.

The more we posted pictures from various places and with many friends, celebrities and people involved in Jenn’s fight for her life in battling leukemia, the more questions folks had about the journey.

All of it was a secret for him. It was designed that way because he told us he loves surprises. It was also his dream trip to America – the first time he’d traveled outside of Europe.

It all began with his initial letter, which we received on August 7, 2014 – just 42 days after he anonymously donated his bone marrow to Jenn from Germany that saved her life on June 26, 2014. Read the letter here: http://wnst.net/wnst/jennstrong-receives-the-greatest-life-and-love-letter-ever-written-from-germany/

WARNING: If you do not click on the above link and read the letter, you’ll miss the whole point of everything you’re about to read and you’ll never understand what you witnessed in pictures earlier in November. Please read it before you proceed…

(Yes, really!)

You’ll be glad you did…

***

German law states that donors must wait two years before they can be introduced to a survivor. We knew in August 2014 that Jenn would have to survive and thrive for the next 22 months in order to meet him.

As many of you know, Jenn’s leukemia returned last September and she needed her still-anonymous initial donor to once again give his lymphocytes to save her life on Nov. 19, 2015. This was our best shot to cure her cancer through an awful process known as “graft vs. host disease,” which she has spent much of this calendar year experiencing most of the gruesome aftershocks of her survival last winter.

On the afternoon of June 30th, we received an email from our John Hopkins transplant coordinator with the name of the angel who saved her life.

For two years we only knew that he was male, from Germany and 21 at the time of his donation of bone marrow to save a stranger’s life in America. All he knew was that it was a 41-year old woman in America he was trying to save with his blood.

His name was Niels Domogalla, now 23, and he lives in Witten, Germany. Despite having his email address, Jenn and I dove onto the internet and she found him on Facebook within 30 seconds.

She friended him. I friended him. We both began to write short letters of introduction but before we could finish them he had already friended us both back and had commented on our walls.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon in America. It was 10:30 in the evening in Germany.

And, so, a unique friendship was berthed.

And what, exactly, do you say to a person who saved your life?

 

***

 

It didn’t take us long to realize that this was a special and unique young man in Germany. First, he really was concerned about the quality and the grammar of his English. He speaks parts of four languages and his English is about 96% perfect, which is better than …

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Coaches beware: pictured is one of the ultimate coach killers  - Matty Melting Ice Ryan

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NFL Quarterbacks who are “Coach Killers”

Posted on 13 August 2016 by Dennis Koulatsos

Coaches beware: pictured is one of the ultimate coach killers - Matty Melting Ice Ryan

Coaches beware: pictured is one of the ultimate coach killers – Matty Melting Ice Ryan

There are a handful of NFL quarterbacks that seem to have all the physical tools to get the job done, but for some reason have never put it all together.  They look like a duck, walk like a duck, even quack like a duck – but they just can’t swim.  More often than not they sink straight to the bottom, and in most cases they’ve cost their coach and his coaching staff their jobs while they get to keep their’s.

QBs that quickly come to mind are Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Ryan Tannehill, and Jay Cutler.  They’re in a league of their own.  There is a second tier of QBs that includes Andy Dalton, Tony Romo, and Sam Bradford.  RGIII may eventually get in to this second tier, but then again he is attempting to jump start his career at the Factory of Sadness known as the Cleveland Browns.  I don’t know if any QB could be successful in that awful organization.

Let’s take a little closer look at all of the aforementioned QBs. Matthew Stafford has been through numerous head coaches.  He’s been handed several #1 overall draft pick wide receivers, decent offensive lines, and a plethora of other offensive weapons.  Heck, even Megatron – Calvin Johnson – had enough and decided to walk away from the game during this past off-season.  Blessed with a gun for an arm, there are times that he can’t hit water falling out of a boat.  I’ve never been able to put my finger on it, but there’s definitely something wrong with this guy.

Matt Ryan is another one.  Fortunately for Joe Flacco, the comparisons between the two stopped right after Big Joe won a Super Bowl.  Just look at the weapons he’s had – Tony Gonzales, Julio Jones, Roddy White – just to name a few. If not for an ill-advised time out by the Seahawk’s Pete Carroll, Matty Melting Ice would still be looking for his first playoff win. The clock is ticking on Ryan’s career, and he is running out of time to prove his growing critics wrong.

Jay Cutler has a habit of throwing the ball to defensive backs and oftentimes in bunches.  Jumping Jay has also been surrounded with weapons, who all – to a man – have lots of uncomplimentary things to say about him once they’ve escaped Chicago.  If I was coaching Da Bears, I’d put this cat on a pitch count, and never have him throw more than 20 times a game.  In fact, I’d bring back Ted Marchibroda’s offense from the 80’s – run, run, pass, punt.  You laugh, but it’s superior to pass, pass, pick, play defense.

Ryan Tannehill is a coach killer in training.  He is still young on the job curve, but I’ve seen nothing from him to indicate that he’ll ever develop into a an NFL QB worthy of his draft position and his huge new contract.  Selfishly I really like him, because as long as he is under center, we’ll all be able to easily obtain discounted tickets to Dolphins home games.  It’s always a great trip to Miami in the winter, and Ravens fans do a great job of taking over the stadium (cue the Ravens Seven Nation Army chant).

Which brings us to Dalton, Bradford and Romo.  The first two have won exactly the same number of NFL playoff games as you and I,  and the last one has a knack for throwing an interception at the absolute worst possible time. There are throwers and there are field generals, and all 3 of these gentlemen most definitely fit in the former category.

By the virtue of his dismal playoff record, Dalton used to have a monkey on his back.  Now that monkey has grown into an 800-pound gorilla, one that he cannot shake off until he gets that elusive first playoff win. It is inexplicable – and at the same time defies logic – that he has a future Hall of Fame receiver like AJ Green and can’t hit him when it counts.  Coach Marvin Lewis is extremely lucky he gets to work for one of the cheapest owners in the NFL, or he would have been gone a long time ago.

Bradford’s career has been marred by injuries, but even when healthy he has not shown that he is anywhere in the elite category.  Somehow Jeff Fisher (6 playoff wins in 22 years – but that’s going to require an entire separate article dedicated to his record) survived Bradford’s tenure with the Rams, and hopefully his Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson can do the same.  Pederson was smart enough to draft an insurance policy in the form of Carson Wentz.

Tony Romo “led” the Cowboys to a 12-4 record two years ago.  The Pokes saved Romo from himself by running DeMarco Murray into the ground, 400 plus times.  By drafting Ezekiel Elliott and signing free agent running back Alfred Morris, they’re hoping the same formula works as well as it did in the past.  Of course that will cause Dez Bryant to squawk, but then again if he didn’t then they would be the Dallas Cowboys.  ‘Merica’s Team.

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BALTIMORE, MD - NOVEMBER 20: Coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens (L) and coach Marvin Lewis of the Cincinnati Bengals shake hands after an NFL game at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens won, 31-24. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

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Bengals bring much continuity to Baltimore on Sunday

Posted on 23 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have stumbled out of the 2015 gate with a pair of losses following an offseason filled with change while the rival Cincinnati Bengals have steadily plugged away with a 2-0 start to take the early lead in the AFC North.

Their well-documented postseason failures aside, the Bengals have returned 21 of 22 starters from a year ago and have had the opportunity to settle in with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, both in their second year in those posts. It’s the kind of continuity that the Ravens likely envy as they just began their fourth straight season with a different offensive coordinator and seemingly replace important players on both sides of the ball every offseason.

Head coach John Harbaugh raised a few eyebrows with his praise for the Bengals during his Monday press conference, but the reaction reflects the heavy attention paid to the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason while Cincinnati largely flew under the radar.

“I do believe it is the most talented team in the league,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve seen that over the years. We have great respect for them, for their coaches, [and] the way they play. Obviously, it starts with A.J. Green, but the whole cast of characters there on offense is very talented and gifted.”

Cincinnati certainly wishes for the Ravens’ success in January after first-round exits in each of the last four years, but the Bengals have won four of the last five meetings between the teams, including a season sweep a year ago. They also matched Baltimore with 40 regular-season wins from 2011-2014, one more than Pittsburgh’s 39.

But unlike the Ravens under Harbaugh and the Steelers under Mike Tomlin, 13th-year head coach Marvin Lewis is feeling heat over the Bengals’ failure to simply earn their first playoff victory since 1990, let alone win a Super Bowl to match their AFC North rivals. For that reason, continuity only goes so far if the Bengals don’t break through this season.

“We’ve been able to continue to grow our guys from the ground up, and that’s an important part [of] the program here,” Lewis said. “We’ve been fortunate to have coaches and so forth in place, but the main thing is — hopefully, throughout this whole thing — you’ve got to keep getting better as a football team.

“Continuity is not very good if you’re not good enough.”

The questions begin and end with fifth-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who is off to a strong start in 2015 with five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Despite being named to two Pro Bowls in his career, Dalton has never inspired enough confidence to make you think he’s capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl. In the Bengals’ four playoff losses, he’s thrown one touchdown and six interceptions.

But those postseason shortcomings haven’t stopped the Bengals from topping the Ravens in the regular season as they scored a combined 50 points in their two wins in 2014. In preparing for Cincinnati for the 39th time in franchise history, the Ravens will see the same faces who have given them plenty of trouble in recent years.

“It is surprising to see that in the salary-cap era,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “They have that continuity and they’ve been able to have a lot of success with that core group of players. That presents a challenge for you. You have to understand they’ve been running a system for a long time and now that system has been allowed to take the next step because they’ve been able to keep that group of players together for so long. That only makes them better, so we have to be prepared for everything they throw at us on Sunday.”

More troubling than the Bengals’ offensive success against Baltimore is how effectively their defense has frustrated Joe Flacco over the years. The eighth-year quarterback has thrown an ugly 18 interceptions in his 14 career games against Cincinnati, more than twice as many as he’s thrown against any other team over the course of his career.

In a pair of losses last season, Flacco threw three interceptions to just one touchdown. On Sunday, he’ll see virtually the same defense that will also include returning defensive end Michael Johnson, who spent 2014 in Tampa Bay.

“They play aggressively, they have good corners, they have a good front, and they get after the passer,” Flacco said. “They have a group that has played together for a pretty long time now. They feel confident with each other; they know what they’re doing.”

The Ravens are clearly desperate for a win as they don’t want to fall to 0-3, a hole that only three teams have escaped to make the playoffs since 1990.

Standing in their way is a team that’s received plenty of criticism in January but has matched them blow for blow in the regular season over the last several years. The Bengals would love nothing more than to extend Baltimore’s early-season nightmare while maintaining a strong start of their own to 2015.

“It’s not often there is an opportunity to go up — after three games — by three games on a team in your division,” said Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who has led Cincinnati with 153 receiving yards to provide another offensive weapon. “We’ve definitely noticed that, and we want to go in there and play well and get a win.”

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Ravens escape Bengals despite offensive slumber party

Posted on 10 November 2013 by Drew Forrester

There are two ways to look at Sunday’s 20-17 Baltimore win over Cincinnati.

Season saved.

Or, torture extended.

Honestly, I’m thinking we’re a lot closer to torture-extended than saving the season, but that’s why they play the games.

I’ll just ask the question directly instead of beating around the bush:  This Ravens offense can’t possibly be good enough to win six more games between now and New Years, right?

I don’t see how it can happen.

They can’t run the ball.  Anywhere.  And the passing game, while decent enough at times, just can’t prop up a one-dimensional offense like the one the Ravens are utilizing these days.

Now, this takes nothing at all away from the overtime win over the Bengals.  A loss by the Ravens – after being up 17-0 – would have been about as disappointing as The Hangover 3.  And, with the win, the season and hopes for a rebound in the second half are alive and well, despite the offensive ineptness.

A win IS a win, no matter how many times we’ve heard that over the years.

And, we’ve heard it a lot.

But, it’s true.  The standings will reflect that Baltimore won on Sunday to improve to 4-5 and the Bengals lost to fall to 6-4.  Bellyaching about the team’s offense – like I just did above – won’t change those facts.  Lamenting about James Ihedigbo’s mental error on the game’s final play of regulation won’t alter the outcome, either.

I assume Bengals fans might want to wring Marvin Lewis’s neck for a series of bizarre decisions throughout the afternoon, but none will be talked about more than his decision to take the overtime kick off and give the Ravens the choice of which end zone to defend.  It essentially flipped the field on Cincy in OT, as they elected not to try and kick a 50 yard field goal into the windswept end and instead went for it on 4th and 2 from the Baltimore 33 yard line.  When the Bengals lost 11 yards on the play, the Ravens got the ball on their own 44 yard line.  Even a bad Baltimore offense can scoot the ball along 25 yards without coughing it up, which is exactly what happened to give Tucker his 46 yard game-winner.

Lewis will regret not punting on 4th and 2.  And he’ll be questioned about taking the ball to start overtime and giving the Ravens the easy end of the field to work with, wind-wise.  That said, neither of those elements dwarf his team’s biggest problem on Sunday:  Andy Dalton stunk up the joint.  If he’s a championship quarterback, I’m the lead singer for Alice in Chains.

Truthfully, from the first whistle until Green’s miracle grab on the final play, the Bengals had zero business even being in the game.  They were disjointed, undisciplined and largely more interested in accumulating penalty flags than points throughout most of the afternoon.  It wasn’t until Baltimore’s offense fizzled in the final two minutes of the game that the visitors even had a breath of life.

If ever the Ravens grabbed victory from the jaws of defeat, Sunday’s game did just that.

And that’s after they allowed the Bengals to meander their way back into the contest when it looked like they weren’t all that interested in doing so.

That’s what happens when your offense can’t put teams away.

And that’s how it goes when you’re playing with fire defensively, knowing any small mistake can put your team behind the eight ball.

The Ravens outplayed the Bengals on Sunday.

It wasn’t an ass kicking or anything, but the Baltimore defense manned up all afternoon and put John Harbaugh’s team in position for a relatively easy win.

Then, the Baltimore offense stalled.

Again.

And the whole thing got a lot closer than it needed to get.

This Ravens team – as a whole – just doesn’t appear to be all that good.  But, they’re 4-5 and still alive in the race for an AFC playoff spot.  A win in Chicago next week and they’re still very much in the thick of things.

Let’s see if the offense makes the trip to Soldier Field.

If it doesn’t, we won’t be crowing about “a win is a win” this time next Sunday night.

 

 

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Bengals defense curls up and says “please don’t hurt me” in 44-13 drubbing

Posted on 10 September 2012 by Drew Forrester

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis strolled into his post-game media press conference at M&T Bank Stadium on Monday night and didn’t look all that concerned about the battering his defense took in a 44-13 drubbing at the hands of the Ravens.

I must have watched a different game than he did from the sidelines.

“We weren’t bothered by the (Ravens) no-huddle, we just didn’t make any plays,” he claimed.

I guess that’s one way of trying to justify a game with no turnovers created, which the Bengals defense didn’t do on Monday night.

From my vantage point, I saw a Bengals defense unprepared for the next play in front of them.  Time and time again, the Bengals failed to put any pressure on Joe Flacco and the 5th year quarterback picked them apart with ease, going early and often to a host of pass catchers, including Jacoby Jones and Anquan Boldin, who caught a 2nd quarter TD pass.

It all started off magically for the Ravens.  The season’s first offensive play for Baltimore was a 52-yard completion from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith, a sign of things to come for the rest of the night.  The victim was Leon Hall, who took his fair share of humiliation on Monday along with the rest of the Cincinnati secondary.  Flacco looked polished, assertive and hungry, picking apart the Bengals with throws both across the middle and deep down the field.  It was, Lewis hopes, perhaps a case of opening night nerves for the visitors, but the Ravens offense moved the ball at will throughout most of the evening.

Interestingly enough, the Cincy offense rattled off three consecutive long drives in the second and third quarters, going for 76, 79 and 81 yards en route to collecting their 13 points.  It’s rare that a Ravens defense allows three drives of that nature, but Baltimore wasn’t exactly the ’85 Bears on Monday night, as they put little outside pressure on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and didn’t stop the run with the kind of regularity we might have expected.

(Please see next page)

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Join us for WNST Purple Roadtrip to Cincinnati (Dec. 29-31)

Posted on 27 April 2012 by WNST Trips

Ring out the 2012 season and year with us as WNST presents a two-night trip to Cincinnati as the Baltimore Ravens take on the Bengals on Dec. 30 in Ohio.

Our trip departs on Saturday, Dec. 29 and will arrive in Cincinnati in time for you to enjoy the downtown entertainment district.

All WNST Purple Roadtrips are sponsored in 2012 by our friends at Jiffy Lube and Miller Lite. Not only will we be again enjoying ice cold Miller Lite on all trips we’ll be giving you a 15.70% discount to use at Jiffy Lube this season to keep your car or truck going.

Everyone who goes on a WNST Purple Roadtrip this fall saves money on their next oil change in Baltimore!

We will be staying two night at Millennium Hotel downtown where plenty of bars, restaurants and shopping are nearby.

WNST will host a Saturday event along for all WNST Purple Roadtrip travelers.

Trip includes:

Roundtrip airfare on Southwest Airlines (leaving BWI on Dec. 29, returning on morning of Dec. 31)

Three nights deluxe accommodation at Millennium Hotel in Cincinnati

Upper deck game ticket for Bengals-Ravens

Party admission for Saturday’s WNST Purple Pep Rally

COST:

SINGLE: $999

DOUBLE: $899

TRIPLE: $849

QUAD: $799

Simply click on ADD TO CART below…

How many in your room?

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Ravens’ karma trending in wrong direction for meeting with Bengals?

Posted on 28 December 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No matter which way you look this week, it’s impossible to ignore the signs of bad karma as the Ravens prepare for the most important game of their season and, perhaps, in the regular-season history of the franchise.

There was the organization’s decision to delay the mailing of playoff tickets until next week. It’s clearly a financially-prudent choice, but it doesn’t exactly scream confidence in the Ravens winning in Cincinnati when looking from a superficial level.

The Bengals then announced they sold out Paul Brown Stadium for Sunday’s showdown at 4:15 p.m., eliminating the potential for a listless atmosphere such as the one in which the Ravens played in Cleveland earlier this month. Poke all the fun you want at the two-for-one deal the organization offered its season-ticket holders, but there will be 65,000 fans in attendance, even if several thousand make the trip from Baltimore to support the Ravens.

Of course, putting the interesting — but inconsequential — footnotes aside, the Ravens are dealing with a plethora of injuries as wide receiver Anquan Boldin has already been ruled out, leaving behind a passing offense that struggled to find its way against the Cleveland Browns last Saturday. Marshal Yanda, their Pro Bowl right guard, is dealing with rib and thigh contusions, leaving his status up in the air against the fifth-ranked run defense in the NFL.

And, yes, the Ravens own a 3-4 record on the road this season. It’s the reason why they covet the AFC North title, a first-round bye, and a guarantee of a second-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium, where they are 8-0 this season.

The Ravens want the home cooking, but they may need the time to allow their bodies to heal even more.

“When you get that bye, you’re able to play fresh throughout the whole game, and it makes a big difference, a huge difference,” running back Ray Rice said. “Needless to say, this week is a playoff game. It’s big for them, and it’s even bigger for us.”

Treating this one as a playoff game is a common theme shared by many in the Ravens’ locker room this week. The notion of this one being bigger for the Ravens than it is for the Bengals sounds great if you’re peering through purple-tinted lenses, but it goes against all reasonable logic.

Regardless of what happens on Sunday, the Ravens know they’re playing another game; the Bengals own no such luxury. And for a Baltimore team that’s struggled to maintain focus on the road throughout the season — often faltering in weeks that followed a significant win — it’s a concerning circumstance.

With so much emphasis on winning a championship with veterans such as Ray Lewis and Ed Reed in the twilight of their careers, are the Ravens too focused on the big picture of Indianapolis to pay close attention to the necessary stops along the way?

“This game pays off, if we can this this game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “But, whatever happens, we’re going to play the next game, too. So, our focus is on this game. You can’t play games in the future, and you can’t play any games in the past.”

The head coach said it himself. The Ravens still have outs if they lose on Sunday, even if you don’t like their odds having to go on the road for the fourth consecutive postseason.

Meanwhile, the Bengals’ opportunity to make the playoffs diminishes significantly with a loss in what’s turned out to be a remarkable season under head coach Marvin Lewis. Cincinnati is that desperate man with nothing to lose, the one you don’t want to meet in a dark alley.

Rookie Andy Dalton demanded the Ravens’ attention after throwing for 373 yards and a touchdown in Cincinnati’s 31-24 loss in Baltimore last month. The Bengals possess three dangerous weapons in tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receivers A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson for Dalton to target.

It falls short — in both height and statistics — of the Chargers offense that humiliated the Baltimore defense in a nationally-televised game two weeks ago, but it’s similar enough to raise concern if the uninspired Ravens show up like they did in road performances at Tennessee, Jacksonville, Seattle, and, most recently, San Diego.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 November 2011 by Luke Jones

With a share of the AFC North lead in the balance, the Cincinnati Bengals travel to M&T Bank Stadium to take on the Ravens in the teams’ first meeting of the season.

Both right on the heels of 7-3 Pittsburgh, the Bengals are trying to rebound from a tough defeat to the Steelers while the Ravens want to erase the hangover from another loss to a sub-.500 team after falling in Seattle last week. Baltimore also hopes to avoid losing consecutive games for the first time since Oct. 2009.

Despite going through a number of changes in the offseason, the Bengals have provided plenty of problems for the Ravens over the last two seasons. Cincinnati has won three of the last four meetings, with the only Ravens win coming in an ugly 13-7 final in the regular-season finale last year.

The Ravens lead the all-time series, 16-14, and are 10-5 in games played in Baltimore. They are also looking for their seventh straight win at M&T Bank Stadium and 15th in their last 16 games at home. Their only loss over that stretch came against Pittsburgh in a Sunday night game last December.

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Here’s what to expect when the Bengals and Ravens meet on Sunday …

1. The Bengals will use Cedric Benson as their workhouse to keep the Ravens defense on the field as long as possible. Some concern has been raised over the Baltimore run defense after it’s allowed more than 100 rushing yards in three of the last four games, but the Ravens remain tied for third in the league in rush defense and have allowed only 3.3 yards per attempt, best in the NFL. That said, opposing offenses appear content in grinding it out on the ground as was the case with Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew, Arizona’s Beanie Wells, and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch last week. With rookie quarterback Andy Dalton making his first trip to Baltimore against the sixth-ranked pass defense in the league, the Bengals will use Benson as much as they can. Defensive leader Ray Lewis is very unlikely to play on Sunday, so the front seven will be more vulnerable than normal with either Dannell Ellerbe — coming off a hamstring injury — or the undersized Brendon Ayanbadejo filling in at the inside linebacker spot next to Jameel McClain. Cincinnati would like to give Benson 25 or more carries, and an early lead would go a long way in accomplishing that.

2. Ray Rice will get double-digit carries, but most of his damage will come as a pass catcher. After carrying the ball only five times in last week’s loss to the Seahawks, critics have been screaming for Rice to be more involved in the offense. Of course, three turnovers in the first 35 minutes of the game didn’t exactly help the Ravens in controlling the tempo. Offensive Cam Cameron has plenty of pressure on him to feed the ball to Rice early, but Cincinnati’s second-ranked rush defense won’t make it easy for the star running back to get his yards. Other than an early rout of the St. Louis Rams, the Ravens haven’t been able to run against four-man fronts all season, so it’s difficult to envision that changing against Mike Zimmer’s talented defense. However, the Bengals have been vulnerable in underneath coverage, so Rice should be able to exploit their outside linebackers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard for nice yardage as a receiver out of the backfield.

3. As has been the case in previous games between these AFC North foes in the John Harbaugh era, the team that wins the turnover battle will win the game. Of the six games played between the Ravens and Bengals over the last three seasons, the team that’s committed fewer turnovers is 4-0. Giveaways have become a problem for the Ravens as they’ve committed at least one in their last eight games and have two or more in six of their last eight. Baltimore is 2-3 when losing the turnover battle this season, and coaches and players talked most of the week about their need to take better care of the football. Winning the turnover battle is a simple principle obeyed by successful teams, but the Ravens have only done it once in their last five games. They’re 3-2 over that stretch, but that trend is unlikely to continue. Cincinnati’s 13 takeaways are tied for seventh in the AFC and their plus-3 turnover ratio is tied for 10th in the NFL. The Ravens’ 18 takeaways rank fourth in the AFC, but their pace has slowed considerably with just four forced turnovers in their last five games.

4. Ed Reed will break his eight-game interception drought with an important second-half pick of Dalton. With Lewis expected to miss his first game since the 2007 season, Reed becomes the elder statesman of the Baltimore defense. The Ravens have several veterans to try to fill the void of Lewis’ leadership, but they would surely benefit from a big play by the free safety, who’s been very quiet since sustaining a shoulder stinger in the loss to Jacksonville on Oct. 24. The Bengals will try to keep their offense moving on the ground, but Dalton will have to try to make a few plays to beat the Ravens in their home stadium. Rookie phenom receiver A.J. Green is unlikely to be available, meaning the Bengals will lack a deep threat to consume Reed’s attention in the backfield. That will allow him to freelance a bit more, making him especially dangerous against an inexperienced signal caller. Reed will bait Dalton into throwing an interception in the second half, setting up the Ravens offense on a short field for a key score.

5. It won’t be aesthetically pleasing if you’re a fan of offense, but the Ravens will do enough to earn a 20-16 win over Cincinnati. It lacks the high-stakes feel of the Pittsburgh rivalry, but the Ravens and Bengals have played a number of physical, low-scoring affairs of their own over the last few seasons. Joe Flacco will have an easier time against the cornerback tandem of Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings than he had in the past against Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, but the Bengals’ front four does a nice job of creating pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Baltimore will do just enough offensively against a formidable Bengals defense, but the home-field advantage will give the Ravens the edge where they are 4-0 this season. The Bengals are a good team, but they remain a bit of an unknown due to a soft schedule. Marvin Lewis is deserving of Coach of the Year honors, but his young team is not in the same class as Baltimore and Pittsburgh — this season, at least.

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Ravens, Flacco try to solve struggles against Bengals defense

Posted on 17 November 2011 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — For as much difficulty as the Ravens have had in getting past the vaunted Pittsburgh defense in recent years, they’ve faced similar frustration when facing the Cincinnati Bengals.

Having lost three of the last four meetings to Cincinnati, the Ravens have scored just 44 points and committed eight turnovers over that stretch as head coach Marvin Lewis has watched his defense frustrate quarterback Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense. Much has been said about Flacco’s struggles against the Bengals’ Cover 2 defense in the past — his 62.3 quarterback rating in six regular-season games vs. Cincinnati is his worst among opponents he’s played more than twice — but the Ravens point to their talented personnel as well as multiple looks that have given them the NFL’s fifth-ranked defense.

“They’re just a good defense,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “I think you’ve got to look at other quarterbacks that played against them as well. They really do an outstanding job. They’ve got an outstanding scheme, and they’ve got really good players. … We have to play hard in this game. We have to execute. The Cover 2 scheme, that’s gone out the window. I think once everybody realized it wasn’t a fact, everybody realized that it’s just a matter of them having a good defense that plays hard.”

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What else has changed with the Bengals is their personnel in the secondary. After struggling against cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall in the Cincinnati defensive backfield for years, Flacco will not have to face either on Sunday. Joseph, of course, found a new home in Houston via free agency while Hall was lost for the season after suffering an Achilles tendon injury against the Steelers on Sunday.

Nate Clements and Kelly Jennings — veterans in their first year with Cincinnati — will now be expected to hold down the cornerback spots along with the volatile Adam “Pacman” Jones in place of the dynamic duo that haunted Flacco in the past. The Bengals rank 10th in pass defense but have only four interceptions, two of those granted to Hall before he was lost to the season.

“Obviously, you look at that and say, ‘OK, it’s obviously not their starting corner, the guy that they initially would like to have in there,'” Flacco said. “But at the same time, you can’t really underestimate people or try to do any of that. You have to go in there, you have to execute the game plan. Like I said, hopefully we can take advantage of that, just like we hope to every week when we go out there and play against a team.”

In order to find success in the passing game, Flacco expressed more concern with having ample time to deliver the football than trying to decipher different coverages defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer might throw his way at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

The Bengals have accumulated 25 sacks in their first nine games, including 4 1/2 from second-year defensive tackle Geno Atkins. And they’ll offer another 4-3 front, a defensive look the Ravens have struggled with all season. Cincinnati has forced its opponent to go three-and-out on 33 percent of drives, the best mark in the NFL.

“I think they have a front four that is playing really well right now,” Flacco said. “I think the main thing is to stop the front four from getting pressure and not creating lanes to run the ball in. I think if we do that, then we are going to do a good job. These guys have done a good job all year and in the past of playing well up front against us. I think if we eliminate that the way we are capable of, then we are going to have success.”

All eyes will be on Cameron and his commitment to giving opportunities to running back Ray Rice, who was limited to only five carries after the Ravens fell behind by two possessions in the first half of their loss to Seattle. The Ravens have stated all week their need to be more productive in the running game, no easy task against the Bengals’ second-ranked run defense.

In order to move into a tie with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North — the Ravens own the tiebreaker after sweeping the regular-season series — Baltimore will have to display an attitude hellbent on running the football and playing a more physical style on offense, according to the star running back who’s seen his touches fall off this season.

“One thing we are going to do – hang our hats on – going forward, is establishing a run game,” Rice said. “You have to hang your head to it. That’s what the teams – Seattle did it, Jacksonville did it – the teams that want to run the ball, no matter what situation, they are going to do it. We all know this is the NFL; we are going to face top defenses. But at the same time, we have to make them defend the run.”

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