WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
Much of the focus on Cincinnati’s game last weekend versus Pittsburgh was how the rookie tandem of Dalton and Green would fare against the Steelers’ talented defense. The results were mixed. Dalton (1866 passing yards, 14 TD, 9 INT) threw for just 170 yards on 15-of-30 passing, throwing a pair of touchdown passes in addition to his interceptions. However, he wasn’t sacked and the Bengals have allowed just two sacks in their last four games and only 13 on the season, tied for third-fewest in the league. Green (41 receptions, 6 TD) appeared to be on his way to a solid day, but his knee injury limited him to just one catch. However, that grab was a leaping 36-yard touchdown grab over two defenders and he still leads all rookies in receptions, receiving yards (635) and receiving touchdowns. With Green out, fellow first-year wideout Andrew Hawkins led the team with five grabs for 56 yards, while tight end Jermaine Gresham (29 receptions, 4 TD) had four for 23 yards and a touchdown. Cincinnati, which ranks 24th in total offense at 312.1 yards per game, got 109 yards rushing versus the Steelers. Starter Cedric Benson (593 rushing yards, 2 TD) accounted for 57 of those on 15 carries, while Bernard Scott (223 rushing yards, 1 TD) added 38 on seven attempts. Wide receiver Andre Caldwell (29 receptions, 2 TD), who is tied for second on the club in catches, had a career-high seven grabs for 94 yards in a game at Baltimore last season, while Jerome Simpson (26 receptions, 2 TD) made a career-best 12 catches the last time he faced the Ravens.
The Bengals will face another talented defense this weekend in the Ravens, who rank third in total defense (284.7 YPG) and points allowed per game (16.9), and also feature a pair of stars who have put up solid numbers in their career versus Cincinnati. Linebacker Ray Lewis (68 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) has five interceptions for 120 yards in this matchup, while safety Ed Reed (33 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT) has picked off eight passes and returned them 303 yards versus the Bengals. Baltimore did hold Seattle to 327 yards of offense a week ago, but did yield a 100-yard rusher in Marshawn Lynch, who posted 109 yards on 32 carries and picked up some big first downs late in the game. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (41 tackles, 3 sacks) led the Ravens with 11 tackles and inside linebacker Jameel McClain (38 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) had nine. Lewis chipped in eight stops, while pass-rush specialist Paul Kruger (8 tackles, 4.5 sacks) recorded the club’s only sack and 27th of the season. Cornerback Lardarius Webb (47 tackles, 2 INT) is one of three Ravens with two interceptions on the season and has taken one back for a touchdown. Linebacker Jarret Johnson (35 tackles, 2.5 sacks) will set a Ravens record for most consecutive starts this weekend with 74.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Baltimore saw its top weapon in running back Ray Rice limited to only 27 yards on five carries versus the Seahawks, but got the shifty playmaker involved other ways. Rice (559 rushing yards, 46 receptions, 8 total TD) was targeted 10 times by Flacco and caught eight passes for 54 yards. He also threw a one- yard touchdown pass to Dickson in the second quarter, the first of his career, and is averaging 101.7 total yards from scrimmage per game in his career versus the Bengals. Flacco (2306 passing yards, 10 TD, 7 INT) finished with 255 passing yards with an interception and targeted Dickson (40 receptions, 3 TD) 14 times. The tight end hauled in 10 of those for 79 yards with a pair of scores, all career highs. Fellow tight end Dennis Pitta (25 receptions) posted four catches for 49 yards, but Flacco had trouble hooking up with No. 1 wideout Anquan Boldin. After making seven receptions in each of his previous two games, Boldin (43 receptions, 2 TD) ended with just a pair of catches versus the Seahawks despite nine targets. The Ravens are averaging 25.0 points per game this year and their 225 points on the season is the club’s highest total ever through nine games.
The Bengals rank second in the league against the run (86.8 YPG) and fifth in total defense (304.2 YPG), but their 10th-ranked pass defense figures to get a test without Hall. Cincinnati still has a pair of playmakers in its secondary in cornerback Nate Clements (36 tackles) and safety Reggie Nelson (55 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT), while Kelly Jennings (11 tackles) figures to step in for the injured Hall (32 tackles, 2 INT). Cincinnati will also hope that corner Adam Jones can play after he missed last week’s game with hamstring injury. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap (15 tackles, 3 sacks) also missed the Steelers game with a hamstring issue, but that didn’t stop the Bengals from getting a season high-tying five sacks from six different players. End Robert Geathers (15 tackles) led the charge with 1 1/2 sacks, while end Frostee Rucker (20 tackles, 4 sacks) and defensive tackle Geno Atkins (23 tackles, 4.5 sacks) were each credited with a full sack. In all, 12 players have accounted for Cincinnati’s 25 sacks this season. Middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (45 tackles) made seven tackles in his return from a three-game absence caused by a severely sprained ankle, while linebacker Manny Lawson (24 tackles) led the team with 10 tackles. Hall picked off Cincinnati’s fourth pass of the season before his exit.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The first team to blink could be the one that losses. Lewis cut his teeth with Baltimore and since taking over as Cincinnati’s head coach in 2003, the Bengals and Ravens are tied for third in the NFL with a plus-35 turnover differential.
Cincinnati’s defense will be asked to hold serve when Baltimore gets into enemy territory. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff missed twice from over 50 yards last week, making him 1-for-6 in that situation this year. Harbaugh will likely think twice before attempting a long field goal in this one.
Flacco threw and threw and threw last weekend and that trend could continue in this game due to Hall’s injury. Not only will Jennings and Jones need to step up, but so will cornerback Brandon Ghee, a second-year Wake Forest product who was promoted from the practice squad. Safety Chris Crocker could also shift to corner if needed.
Prediction – Cincinnati-Baltimore in November didn’t have too many clubs excited prior to the start of the season, but low and behold it has morphed into a big game for both squads. The Ravens and Bengals are looking to rebound from tough losses last week, though Baltimore may have the most sense of urgency as it tries not to squander its series sweep of Pittsburgh that could be key to a division title. The two teams are getting their first look at each other in 2011, but Hall’s injury and a trip to tough M&T Bank Stadium may be too much for Cincinnati to overcome. Ravens 20 Bengals 17