Ravens vs. Bengals Game Preview: Monday Night Lights


The last time the Ravens were on Monday Night Football, former linebacker Bart Scott had a meltdown and threw a referee's penalty flag into the stands.

Baltimore lost to the undefeated New England Patriots, 27-24. It wasn't the franchise's finest hour, and was one part of why a new era was ushered in with Head Coach John Harbaugh.

Now the Ravens are back under the Monday Night Lights for the first time since then.

And it's a chance to show the nation just how far this team has come in four years, now respected as a perennial Super Bowl contender by many pundits.

"Where do we start?" Harbaugh said to open his first press conference this week. "Monday Night Football – that's kind of a big deal. Very excited about that."

Harbaugh envisions a frenzied M&T Bank Stadium. And he expects his players to be feeding off the exhilaration of being on the national stage as well.

"It's sort of like that refreshing feeling, like the first day of school when you want to wear your new clothes," Rice said. "That's what Monday night is. You put on your best outfit and you're ready to go.

"A lot of great players are made on Monday night. Those are the ones that are remembered."

3 Matchups To Watch

WR A.J. Green vs. CB Lardarius WebbGreen is "maybe the best receiver in football," according to Harbaugh. The second-year player lit up the league last year, but didn't do much against the Ravens. An injury kept him out of the first meeting, and he had just two catches in the second game. The Ravens could match up Green's 6-foot-4 size with cornerbacks Cary Williams or Jimmy Smith. But if they're going with the best versus the best, it would be Webb – at least in two-wide formations.

DT Geno Atkins vs. C Matt BirkOne of the best pass-rushing defensive tackles in the league that often gets overlooked, Atkins logged 7.5 sacks last year. That includes six tackles and a sack at M&T Bank Stadium. Don't be surprised if Birk gets some help from Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda in blocking the 6-foot-1, 300-pound Atkins, who has a tremendously quick burst off the snap.

RG Kevin Zeitler vs. DE Pernell McPheeZeitler's a first-round pick who the Ravens were interested in. Now they'll have to go against the big Wisconsin mauler. However, it may be the Ravens' avenue for getting a pass rush. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth is a wall, and this will be a tough test for Zeitler considering McPhee (6 sacks) can match his strength and is explosive.

3 Questions

Who's starting?After months of mystery about who will start, the first regular-season game is the big reveal. The spots to watch are on the offensive line, particularly at tackle. Rookie Kelechi Osemele said he expects to start, which suggests Bryant McKinnie will not. Also, who won the cornerback battle between Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams?

Will the Ravens deliver a strong pass rush?Baltimore logged just six sacks in four preseason games, tied for the fourth-fewest in the league. The Ravens said they're not worried and that Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees has some tricks up his sleeve. Monday night will be the true, first test.

Will the secondary hold up?The Ravens were exposed on the back end by Atlanta's Matt Ryan and Julio Jones and Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. The Bengals have a solid combo too in quarterback Andy Dalton and Green. Baltimore's corners said they weren't as aggressive as they would be in the regular season, so we'll see whether the tough preseason is a thing of the past.

3 Things For A Win

Get off to a quick startIf the Ravens' no-huddle offense gets going early, it can easily snowball into wearing the defense out (see the Jacksonville game). But if it comes out of the gates slowly, it could force the defense into an early hole. Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron stressed the importance of a fast start and strong finish.

Control the line of scrimmageThe Bengals and Ravens are similar in the trenches. Both big, both very physical. This battle has often come down to who asserts control over the other. Baltimore exposed the Bengals on the ground last year, and will be looking to be efficient in picking up big gains with Ray Rice once again.

Beat them over the topThe Bengals used to give the Ravens fits with their Cover-2 defense. Then Torrey Smith entered the picture and was able to break the top off Cincinnati's defense with two big games against the Bengals. If the Ravens can hit him again, it will open up so much more underneath for wide receiver Anquan Boldin and the tight ends.

2011 Rankings

Total Defense – 288.9 (3)
Rush Defense – 92.6 (2)
Pass Defense – 196.3 (4)
Points Allowed Per Game – 16.6 (3)

Total Offense – 338.7 (15)
Rush Offense – 124.8 (10)
Pass Offense – 213.9 (19)
Points Scored Per Game – 23.6 (12)

BengalsTotal Defense – 316.3 (7)
Rush Defense – 104.7 (10)
Pass Defense – 211.6 (9)
Points Allowed Per Game – 20.2 (9)

Total Offense – 319.9 (20)
Rush Offense – 111.1 (19)
Pass Offense – 208.8 (20)
Points Scored Per Game – 21.5 (18)

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