The Ravens return to M&T Bank on Sunday riding a three-game losing streak and hoping to avoid a four-game skid for the first time since Head Coach John Harbaugh arrived in 2008.
They welcome the AFC North leading Cincinnati Bengals to town, in a game that will have critical implications in the division race. The Bengals (6-3) currently hold a 2.5 game lead over the Ravens (3-5), but Baltimore would get right back in the hunt with a victory.
Despite the sub-.500 record through the first half of the season, the Ravens still control their own destiny in the division. A loss, however, would put the division crown at an improbable distance with seven games to pay.
Matchups To Watch
CB Lardarius Webb vs. WR A.J. Green
The Bengals'* *explosive target is among the best receivers in the game, and the Ravens will have their hands full in trying to limit him. With Jimmy Smith (thigh) and Corey Graham (calf) currently battling injuries, the responsibility to defend Green could likely fall to Webb. Green (6-foot-4) has a significant size advantage over Webb (5-10), so the Ravens cornerback will have to rely on his speed and cover skills to run with Green.
OLB Terrell Suggs vs. LT Andrew Whitworth
Suggs leads the Ravens with nine sacks on the season, but he has a challenge this week in matching up against Whitworth. The Bengals left tackle has developed into one of the game's best, and he has limited Suggs in previous matchups. Suggs has one sack against the Bengals in his last four matchups.
RB Ray Rice vs. MLB Vontaze Burfict
Establishing the running game has been a problem all season for the Ravens, and they will face another tough front in the Bengals. A key part of Cincinnati's defense is Burfict, who leads the NFL with 90 tackles. The middle linebacker out of Arizona State was initially linked to the Ravens in mock drafts when he entered the NFL last season, but he ended up going undrafted and has* *blossomed in Cincinnati. Keeping Burfict away from Rice will be critical in the Ravens finding success on the ground.
Keys To The Game
Get Off To Fast Start
A problem for the Ravens this season has been slow starts by the offense. In their eight games this year, the Ravens have scored a total of just 16 points. They have consistently played from behind, and never had a lead during their current three-game losing skid. Striking early would bring some energy to the home crowd and could also help the offense get into a rhythm.
Spread Out The Bengals
Harbaugh indicated earlier this week that the Ravens wanted to spread out their opponents and go with more of a shotgun, spread offense. The approach is quarterback Joe Flacco's preference, and he has command of the offense in their no-huddle attack. The offense has shown glimpses of breaking out in their last two games, but has not been able to sustain drives and score points consistently.
Avoid Costly Mistakes
A message from Harbaugh and some key players over the last couple of weeks has been that "more games are lost than won in the NFL." Mistakes like turnovers and penalties often decide the outcome of games, and the Ravens have to minimize those to get a win on Sunday. If the Ravens can play turnover free and also minimize the drive-killing penalties on offense, then they could put themselves in favorable position to pull off the win.