Sizing Them Up
The Bengals come to Baltimore off a 2-2 preseason, but they've typically thrived in season openers under head coach Marvin Lewis, owning a three-game winning streak in campaign kickoffs.
This purple against orange rivalry is historically marked as offense (orange) vs. defense (purple), and the Ravens will have to make sure the trio including quarterback Carson Palmer, receiver Chad Ocho Cinco and receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh don't get off to a hot start.
All three of the stars sat out of last week's preseason finale with injuries, but all will suit up on Sunday. Palmer fractured his nose in game three, Ocho Cinco sustained a shoulder injury in game two and the Bengals have been monitoring Houshmandzadeh's tender hamstring since the start of training camp.
Getting past their aerial attack, the Bengals are confident that running back Chris Perry can take over for the recently released Rudi Johnson. Perry, 6-foot, 224 pounds, did not play at all last year after sustaining a dislocated ankle in 2006. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry in the preseason.
Cincinnati is coming off a year where they were porous on defense, finishing 27th in the NFL by allowing 348.8 yards per game. To shore up that unit, the Bengals hired veteran defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer and signed defensive end Antwan Odom, a pass-rushing beast. Cincinnati will also rely on Keith Rivers, the rookie linebacker out of USC. Rivers, who was the ninth-overall selection in the draft, led his unit with 18 preseason tackles.
Dustin Dow of the Cincinnati Enquirer *writes that the upcoming campaign is critical for Lewis, the former Ravens defensive coordinator who is entering his sixth season as a head coach.
"Once considered a Coach of the Year candidate for returning the Bengals to the playoffs, Lewis now must show that he can weather some misfortune and adversity, and recapture the momentum he built during his first three seasons on the job."
Mark Curnutte, the Enquirer's Bengals beat writer, points out the switch to fullback for Daniel Coats, a former tight end, because Jeremi Johnson was put on Injured Reserve.
"The Bengals on Wednesday placed five-year starting fullback Jeremi Johnson on the season-ending injured reserve list. He sustained a knee injury in practice Monday and underwent surgery Wednesday morning."**
Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com reminisces with former Appalachian State safety Corey Lynch. The last time Lynch played a collegiate game was against Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
*"Now he sees the same quarterback in his NFL debut as he did in his college finale in Sunday's opener in Baltimore as Flacco gets the start for the Ravens. Lynch won't start, but he played well enough on passing downs in the preseason that he could play some on third down if needed." *
The Dayton Daily News' Chick Ludwig notes the development of second-round draft pick Jerome Simpson of Coastal Carolina.
"Simpson led the club in receptions (11), yards (157) and yards-per-catch average (14.3) in the preseason. But he hopes the best comes later when critics *– who called him a draft "reach" – eat crow."*
Offensive - Since we only have preseason stats to rely on, we'll pick Ocho Cinco, who lit up the opposition last season with 93 catches for 1,440 yards and eight scores. He is one of the premier deep threats in the game.
Defensive - Give the star to Rivers, whose 18 preseason stops led the team. He is a high-character guy that is emblematic of the Bengals' re-vamping of their defense.
Simpson has shown promise in the preseason despite not having a big-time collegiate football pedigree. He led all Bengals wideouts with 11 grabs for 157 yards and a 14.3-yard average per catch.
With Chris Henry sidelined because of a four-game suspension, Simpson has every opportunity to earn Cincinnati's third receiver spot.
Ocho Cinco vs. Ravens CB Chris McAlister
It's no secret what Ocho Cinco can do on the field – he won't stop talking about his exploits. But while McAlister stops short of firing barbs back at the loquacious receiver, there is always a good battle between these two. Johnson got free for five catches for 95 yards and a score last year in his only meeting with McAlister. C-Mac is nursing a sore knee, but should be ready to play Sunday.
Bengals LT Levi Brown vs. Ravens LB Terrell Suggs
The two former Arizona State Sun Devils always have a friendly feud running when they meet twice a year. Five of Suggs' 45 sacks have come against the Bengals, and he will need to up that number to mount a pass rush to close the pocket on Palmer. The Ravens could be without safety Ed Reed in the secondary, which means things need to be pressed up front to cut down on their cornerbacks' cover time.
Ocho Cinco on playing the Ravens:
"We have the most physical division in the NFL. For us, for one, this is a division game and it's very important. Two, from an offensive standpoint, playing against the best defense in the NFL – hands down – it lets us know where we are as an offense. It lets us know where we are and what we need to work on.
"If you're able to move the ball, especially run, if you're able to run on a defense like this, it really lets us know where we are in the running game, which is really our focus this year."
Lewis on Perry's return to health:
"I think that Chris has always been a guy that we've used on all three downs, and we feel like he has that versatility. We've used Chris as a wide receiver and lined him up as a wide receiver against opponents when Chris has been healthy.
"Chris has just had a career thus far when he hasn't been able to play for 16 games. So, hopefully, this will be his breakwater point, his breakthrough point, where now he can do that."
With a rookie quarterback starting in Joe Flacco – and potentially a starting rookie running back in Ray Rice – the Ravens' offensive line is going to have to post a stellar performance, and I believe they will.
Think about it… Jared Gaither is going to be riding the high of starting a new left tackle regime in Baltimore. Adam Terry is now fighting for his job with the signing of right tackle Willie Anderson. And, the three guys in the middle (Jason Brown, Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs) have played next to each other all offseason.
If that group can win the battle in the trenches, Flacco's day is going to go a lot smoother. As a rookie from a small school, Flacco is still a little slow processing defenses, so he's going to need all the extra time he needs to pick apart a suspect secondary that finished 2007 ranked 26th in the league in passing yards allowed (230.4 per game).
Ed. note: These aren't necessarily the beliefs of the Ravens organization.
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