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Game Day Preview: Ravens at Bengals


The Bengals open the 2010 home slate today at 1:00 PM as the division rival Baltimore Ravens invade PBS.  Cincinnati is licking their wounds after sleepwalking into a 38-24 shellacking by New England last week.  Baltimore is coming off an impressively tough performance in winning what resembled an MMA brawl in New York versus the obnoxious Jets. A Baltimore victory would give them a big two-game plus the tiebreaker edge over Cincinnati just two games into the season.  A Bengals victory on the other hand, would even the score in the division, and allow the striped crusaders to regain some self confidence lost on the grassy pitch in Foxboro last week. 

Cincinnati won both match-ups last year in memorable fashion.  The ‘Cardiac Cats’ won in the last minute in Baltimore in week 5, 17-14, then followed it up with a 17-7 victory at Paul Brown Stadium in week nine.  While Cincinnati went on to win the AFC North division, The Ravens snagged a wild-card berth, and went deeper into the postseason than the Bengals.  Both teams made big improvements to their rosters since, with both franchises adding proven players to their offensive arsenals.  The Ravens are a darling amongst NFL insiders to make the Super Bowl, and are the prohibitive favorites to win the division.  Cincinnati finds themselves, again, underestimated and disrespected.  This is best, as they proved again last week that they cannot handle the hype of success. 

These two teams know each other well as division rivals.  There shouldn’t be many surprises from either side.  Baltimore will look to shut down the Bengals offensively with their powerful defense, while establishing the running game with their stable of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain.  However, they will certainly want to exploit what looked to be a confused Bengals pass defense and slow pass rush, particularly with their shiny new toys in Anquan Boldin and ex-Bengal T.J. Houshmandzadeh. “Housh” is expected to have an expanded role due to concerns regarding the availability of Ravens TE Todd Heap, who was last listed as questionable. 

The Bengals will likewise want to shut down the Raven attack with an improved showing from their defense, which is looking to redeem themselves after last week.  They’ll also want to establish the running game with Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, while looking for opportunities to spread the field with Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley, Jermaine Gresham, and Chad Ochocinco, who had 159 yards and a score last week. Benson is getting a lot of publicity from the Baltimore media, being the only back in Ravens franchise history to record back-to-back 100-yard games against them in the same season. Ray Lewis and company are likely sick and tired of hearing about it by now. 

I look for the Bengals to continue to play conservatively and work to establish Cedric Benson from their own goal line to about their own 40.  However, to avoid a repeat of last week, they’ll need effective short passing to Shipley, Gresham, and the backs on third down until they get into more comfortable field position. From there, look for them to loosen up with a bit of the no-huddle, 3-receiver sets.  I also expect them to have Bernard Scott on the field for much of the game, as they look to take greater advantage of his game-breaking capabilities.  One thing learned last week was that the Bengal offense is most effective when they are able to dictate personnel packages to the defense, and spread the field for Carson Palmer.  So far, T.O., Shipley, and Gresham have served their purpose in why they were acquired in the offseason: they have allowed Ochocinco to get more opportunities against single coverages.  I expect Palmer to have a better day against Baltimore than Mark Sanchez did last week, and for the Bengals to be able to produce 3 offensive touchdowns.

On defense, the Bengals must do better against the run than last week, but what they need to focus on even more is their pressure packages.  Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer admitted that he was timid in his play calling last week, and that he’d be more aggressive, particularly with his blitz packages.  For the Bengals to win, they’ll need to contain Ray Rice, and bring much more pressure on Joe Flacco than they gave Tom Brady.  They must do a better job of getting the Ravens into 3rd-down situations, and stopping them. I expect an improved performance all around as Zimmer regroups his charges, simplifies the game plan, and seeks redemption. 

On special teams, the Bengals have yet to show the type of explosiveness in the return game that was evident in the preseason.  I look for us to see some of that today as Adam Jones, Quan Cosby, or Jordan Shipley will get an opportunity to change field position.  Coverage teams will need to improve and Mike Nugent will need to do a better job on kick-offs. 

The Bengals will be hungry for redemption, and while Baltimore will no doubt want some measure of revenge for last year’s sweep, they are working at a disadvantage.  They are playing their second straight away game, have one less day to prepare, and are a bit more beat up.  The Bengals have done well against the Ravens in recent years, with Marvin Lewis compiling a record of 9-5 against the team he helped to the Super Bowl in 2000. Never go against a wounded animal that’s been cornered, particularly when they are this talented.  I see the Bengals taking a hard-fought victory by about 10 points, 27-17. 

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