The Baltimore Ravens (5-2) are back on the road this week as they prepare to play potentially their biggest game of the season at Paul Brown Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals (3-2-1). These are two different teams than the ones that met to start the 2014 season. In that game the Bengals won 23-16 on a huge play by A.J. Green late in the Fourth Quarter to gain the advantage in the season series. Since then Baltimore has continued to improve each week on both sides of the ball going 4-1 and claiming the AFC North lead by percentage points. The Bengals have shown weaknesses after their early Bye Week and have struggled without the injured Green in the offense.
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Here’s what you need to know:
- The Bengals ran just eight plays in Colts territory, had only eight first downs and seemingly never had a chance as they were shutout by Indianapolis 27-0. Cincy was whipped in all phases of the game. Their usually reliable offensive line allowed three sacks and couldn’t open holes in the running game either as Gio Bernard could only muster a meager 17 yards on 7 carries. That put extra pressure on Andy Dalton who was unable to respond and turned in his worst effort of 2014 (18 for 38, 126 yards). This was Cincinnati’s first shutout loss since Week 17 of 2009.
- It seems as if the Ravens are catching Cincinnati at the right time especially offensively. They struggled mightily getting positive yards in the early downs and set themselves up for much tougher conversions on third down. This season, they have converted 62 percent of their third downs of 4 or fewer yards to go, and haven’t allowed a sack or turnover in those scenarios. However they convert just 30 percent of their third downs with 5 or more yards to go, allowing three sacks and throwing two interceptions.
- One thing to expect is for Cincinnati to recommit to the running game using both Bernard and Jeremy Hill. Coordinator Hue Jackson admitted that he only used the run sparingly (11 carries total – sound familiar?) and more rushes would have helped with time of possession and perhaps extending drives.
- The Bengals offense has absorbed several injuries this season with Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, and most importantly A.J. Green. Green’s status for Sunday is the most important piece of information to keep your eyes on for this Sunday. As of a few hours ago Green said that his toe was feeling better but that he was “still up in the air” for this weekend.
- The Bengals defense is starting to look more vulnerable as well, especially against the run. After allowing just 95.5 yards per game on the ground in the first two games, in part because of getting big leads, the Bengals allowed their last four opponents to average 171.8 yards per game on the ground. Part of the problem has been both starting defensive tackles, Domata Peko and Geno Atkins, have struggled against the run almost all season.
- Injuries have hit the defense too. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict left the first quarter of Sunday’s loss after suffering a neck injury and didn’t return.Coach Marvin Lewis said in his postgame news conference that Burfict had a “cervical strain.” Burfict’s neck injury comes after he has already dealt with concussion problems most of this season. He has only finished one game this year — last week’s — after missing parts of four others with head injuries.