Another AFC North battle is set for this Sunday as the division leading Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens (3-5) who are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.
The Bengals are coming off a tough overtime loss to Miami and have a defense that has been besieged by injuries most recently losing All-Pro talents in Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. Can the talented Bengals offense shoulder the load as they move forward?
The Ravens issues with being able to run the football haven’t been solved yet as Ray Rice continues to have one of the worst seasons of his career. The offense usually starts slow while the defense statistically holds opponents close before faltering in the fourth quarter. What can the Ravens do this week to get back in the playoff conversation?
(Discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
Let’s take a look at some of the key match-ups this weekend:
Ravens Center Gino Gradkowski vs. Bengals Defensive Tackle Brandon Thompson
In his first-season as the starter Gradkowski has had his fair share of struggles adapting to life as an NFL center. This week he’ll get a break in that he won’t have to face one of the top Defensive Tackles in the game in Geno Atkins who suffered a season ending ACL injury in Miami. Instead he’ll most likely match against reserve Brandon Thompson who certainly won’t command the double teams that Atkins would have.
Baltimore’s offense continues to be one dimensional due to lack of production as they average close to the bottom of the league in yards per carry. If Gradkowski is to prove that he deserves a full-time job next season he needs to pick up his play. This weekend would be a great place to start.
Ravens Cornerbacks (Corey Graham/Jimmy Smith) vs. Bengals Wide Receivers (A.J. Green, Marvin Jones)
The Bengals boast a very dynamic aerial attack and while most fans know all about the ultra talented Green, more are starting to realize that Jones can be equally as proficient. In the past four games, Green has 26 catches for 501 yards and 2 touchdowns while Jones has 6 touchdowns over that same span.
Meanwhile the Ravens corners have had their struggles and with both Smith and Graham listed on the injury report this week and Lardarius Webb clearly not the same this season as he’s been unable to jam receivers as he used to this has to be a big concern for this Sunday. The corners will need to be physical to disrupt the timing of the routes while the pass rush must wreak havoc up front to get Andy Dalton off his spot.
Ravens Wide Receivers (Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown) vs. Bengals Cornerbacks (Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones, Terrence Newman)
Last week against Cleveland, the Ravens used more Shotgun formations with three receiver sets to spread the field. Expect to see more of that this week as it helped spring some plays especially for Brown who had two touchdowns against the Browns.
Injuries will also predicate that the Ravens push the issue on the outside as the Bengals best cover corner Leon Hall is out. The use of No-Huddle should also help keep Cincinnati from being able to get fresh subs on as well.
Ravens Running Back Ray Rice vs. Bengals Inside Linebacker Vontaze Burfict
Ray Rice is on pace to rush for 600 yards this season. Wow. Let that sink in. So of course while the hope is that he can see some daylight in the blocking schemes maybe the better answer might be getting him matched up on a linebacker in space.
Burfict proved many scouts wrong who tallied up his red flags in the draft and thought that he’d be a sure bust. Instead he’s become a tackling machine. However one flaw in their linebacking corps is their coverage ability which got exposed in Miami. The Ravens should be patient and on blitzes could find open space over the middle. Perhaps slipping Rice out on angled screens could get Rice back into the offensive picture.
Ravens Outside Linebackers (Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil) vs. Bengals Quarterback Andy Dalton
Dalton has continued his steady progress as an NFL quarterback but he remains a streaky player. When he’s on and in rhythm he can be dangerous with the many weapons at his disposal. However he can be forced into poor decisions as his multiple turnover game against the Dolphins will attest.
The Ravens pass rush has been one of the bright spots of this season and they’ll need not only their two best rushers in Suggs and Dumervil to play well but getting creative up front with stunts to confuse the Cincinnati offensive line will also help limit the flow of the Bengal offense.