The Ravens are set to take on the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium (Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET).
*BR.com offers a look at Baltimore's next opponent. *
2009 Rankings* *
Total Offense – 13th (345.3 ypg) Total Defense – 21st (341.3)
Rush Offense – 9th (127.7) Rush Defense – 5th (88.0)
Pass Offense – 18th (218.1) Pass Defense – 30th (253.3)
Points Per Game – 15th (23.3) Points Per Game – 6th (18.3)
Sizing Them Up
This Bengals seem to be proving each week that they are an elite NFL team when healthy under head coach Marvin Lewis.
They currently stand atop the AFC North with a 5-2 record, and of course, they defeated the Ravens earlier this year for one of those wins.
Cincinnati has been getting it done with what could be considered a classic Ravens-esque way of playing – with a stout defense and a physical rushing attack.
Running back Cedric Benson is averaging 102.9 yards per game this year, good for second in the league. He is living up to his status as the fourth-overall pick in 2005. Behind a very physical line that employs a zone blocking scheme, Benson gashed the Ravens for 120 yards in Week 5, the first time Baltimore had given up a 100-yard rusher since 2006.
But if teams pay too much attention to Benson, quarterback Carson Palmer is one of the NFL's best at throwing the deep ball. He has four receivers to target, all of whom can make plays.
The biggest threat is Chad Ochocinco, who leads the team with 39 receptions for 573 yards. He is joined by free-agent addition Laveraneus Coles, the rangy Chris Henry and Andre Caldwell, who caught the game-winning touchdown the last time these two rivals met.
Defensively, coordinator Mike Zimmer has rallied the troops to stop the run first, and then allow a pair of first-round draft picks at cornerback in Jonathan Joseph (2006) and Leon Hall (2007) to make plays. Both Joseph and Hall have three interceptions.
The Bengals' linebackers are talented, as well. Veteran Dhani Jones paces the club with 43 tackles, but young former USC 'backers Keith Rivers and Rey Maualuga are fast and big hitters on the edges.
What's Up?* *
My counterpart, Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, writes that the Bengals will miss defensive end Antwan Odom, the team's sack leader.
"With right end Antwan Odom's team–best eight sacks erased from the team total of 17 by a torn Achilles, the Bengals are trying to exert the same kind of pressure from the front four with a slightly different cast."
Joe Erardi of the Cincinnati Enquirer covers Caldwell's thoughts about having a bigger role in the absence of former Bengal receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
"The man who has filled Houshmandzadeh's role as a go-to guy for the Bengals is very glad to be here."
The Enquirer’s Chick Ludwig says it's time to play rookie offensive tackle Andre Smith.
"Smith, who participated in hitting drills on Monday for the first time since suffering a broken bone in his left foot on Sept. 1, needs time to refine his technique, digest the playbook and get in football shape."
Offensive – Benson is the mid-season MVP of this offense. The Bengals are really running over people this year, and it's thanks to Benson's renewed dedication to the game. He stands at fourth in the league with 720 rushing yards after only seven games.
Defensive – In the Bengals' most-recent win against the Chicago Bears, Hall notched two interceptions for 48 return yards and four passes defensed while ranking second on the team with six tackles. He has been clutch, regularly playing in single coverage.
WR Quan Cosby
The rookie Cosby is fourth in the NFL with a 13.1-yard average on punt returns. A rookie free agent, Cosby has had only one fumble, although that came in Baltimore.
Ravens LB/DE Terrell Suggs vs. Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth
The Ravens had so much success last week against the Denver Broncos because they were able to get after quarterback Kyle Orton early. But, a lot of that pass rush came from linebacker Jarret Johnson. Suggs only has 2.5 sacks on the season, and he will need to step up his game against the mauling Whitworth to pressure Palmer more.
Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Bengals CBs Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall
Back in October, when the Bengals came to M&T Bank Stadium, Mason was held without a catch. The Ravens' leading receiver vowed that he would not let that happen again. Cincinnati has two excellent cornerbacks in Joseph and Hall that will make it their duty to see that it does.
Lewis on what he takes from the Ravens' last game against Denver:"Well, that they're a good football team because they beat a team that was obviously hot, that hadn't lost, that had been finding a way to win games. The Ravens did a nice job of controlling the offense throughout the football game and being opportunistic and scoring points and making Denver one-dimensional."
Palmer on what he sees in LB Jarret Johnson when he's watching tape of the Ravens: "He doesn't get lost to us. No. 95 shows up on film, and I've been playing against him for, I think, six years now. You know, a lot was made when they lost Adalius Thomas, and they said, 'You know, he's going to be tough to replace.' Well, they found their guy. They replaced him. They knew what they were doing when they let Adalius go because they knew that Jarret was a great player and he could do that. He's not a guy we overlook, he's not a guy we underestimate. He's a guy that we have to know where he is on the field at all times, because he can do everything. He can rush the passer, he can come up and stop the run, he had a big sack the first play of the game last week, and he can also get out in pass coverage and move around for such a big guy. So, he's not a guy that we'll ever overlook or take lightheartedly, because we know he's a really good player."
Still think the Ravens' loss to the Bengals last month was a fluke now that Cincinnati is sitting pretty at 5-2? This is a good team, one that is playing hard and fast and can beat a team in many ways.
Most outsiders would immediately cite Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco as the identity of this Bengals offense. I would say they are the personality. The identity goes to Benson and the Bengals' offensive line.
No longer is Cincinnati flinging that ball all over the field. They are jumping on Benson's back to open things up in the passing game, which is why it is imperative for the Ravens to stop the run first.
Talk about an identity of a unit. That's Baltimore's.
The Ravens can start another streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher by shutting down Benson on Sunday. He ended it, and he can continue it.
Then, it will come down to a rejuvenated secondary and pass rush to make Palmer uncomfortable and make plays on Cincinnati's receivers.
As far as quarterback **Joe Flacco** and the offense goes, it is less clear what coordinator **Cam Cameron** will do. He has a stable of weapons at his disposal. We haven't seen **Willis McGahee** recently, but who knows when his next week will come. **Todd Heap** is pitching in here and there. Derrick Mason obviously had a rough game in his previous meeting with the Bengals.
That is a positive for the Ravens. They can be as unpredictable as they please on offense, and get back to what they know best on defense.