Simply put, the Baltimore Ravens defense was dominant in week 1 against the New York Jets. They limited the Jets bread and butter by swarming the line of scrimmage while controlling the run game, and they rendered a passive aerial assault useless. The stats were as remarkable as the performance. Only 6 first downs allowed, a Jets all time low. The Ravens defense held the Jets to 1-11 on 3rd down and no Jets drive was more than 37 yards. The Ravens did all this with a relatively simple game plan, not many exotic blitzes, or complex coverages. The Ravens played no more than 5 defensive backs during the game and even used S Haruki Nakamora to cover slot receivers in nickle coverage. Simply the Ravens executed their game-plan to perfection.
The Ravens deserve a lot of praise for the way they handled the Jets, but the question remains how much of the outcome was determined by Ravens dominance versus the Jets and Mark Sanchez’ ineptitude? Sanchez was unwilling or unable to test a Ravens secondary that is still a question mark. Rest assured the Ravens secondary will be attacked by Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals. Will the Ravens secondary prove that they are for real? Or will the Ravens need to blitz more heavily to disrupt Palmer’s rhythm? And what about slowing down Cedric Benson and the Bengals ground game? It is rare for a running back to gain 100 yards against the Ravens defense, astounding that Benson did it in both games against the Bengals last year. Let’s take a look at how the Ravens match-up against the Bengals.
Against the Run: The Bengals have a physical and athletic offensive line that gave the Ravens fits in their 2 games last season. They created holes that Benson rumbled through on his way to 237 yards in two games. Benson proved to be difficult to bring down and the Ravens poor tackling led to some big gains at crucial moments. Benson was limited in week 1, but a lot of that had to do with the fact that the Bengals had to abandon the running game after falling behind 31-3 against New England. Though the Bengals line does not seem to be playing as well as they did last year, the Ravens will need a similar effort to Monday night. The problem is that they cannot afford to devote as much man power to the task. The Bengals passing attack is superior to what the Ravens faced in week 1. That will mean the front seven will need to control the line of scrimmage and not allow gaps for Benson. The good news is that NT Haloti Ngata looked dominant and he along with Kelly Gregg, Cory Redding and Terrell Suggs are up to the job. The Bengals also present an opportunity for LB’s Jarrett Johnson, Jameel McClan adn Dannell Ellerbe to step up. Ray Lewis was magnificent in week 1, but he was also very motivated. If Lewis is not on top of his game the other LB’s will need to pick up their play.
Against the Pass: It goes without saying, but the best defense against a passing game often occurs at the line of scrimmage, or more appropriately in the offensive backfield. Simply put, to keep the Bengals talented passing attack at bay the Ravens need to hit Palmer and keep him on the move. Palmer is a strong pocket passer, who senses pressure well, especially against the Ravens. He is more comfortable, and at times more accurate, taking shots down-field than he is working the underneath stuff. The dangerous thing for the Ravens secondary is that the Bengals have both a QB and receivers who can and will work the intermediate to deep passing game. Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens are big and fast. Despite the match-up problems if the Ravens can limit one or the other early in the game it could frustrate them and get them off their game. The Bengals have other talented options beyond their top 2. Rookie Jordan Shipley is a talented slot receiver and Andre Caldwell caught two big td’s against the Ravens last year. Also new to the Bengals is TE Jermaine Gresham. In the preseason, the Ravens struggled to cover TE’s in the deep middle. The Jets did not exploit this at all last week, but look for the Bengals to try. LB Tavares Gooden has emerged as the nickle LB, he along with safties Dawan Landry and Tom Zbikowski will have the responsibility to take away Gresham. I am curious to see how the Ravens defend the Bengals receivers. Fabian Washington and Chris Carr played extremely well against the Jets. I was surprised that Josh Wilson was not used on defense at all, perhaps he is still getting up to speed on the Ravens defense. I would think that Lardarius Webb will be see some time as a nickle or dime corner if he is active this week. I do not expect the Ravens to use Nakamura in the nickle this week, but they could view him as the best option right now because of his knowledge of the defense.
Overall, the Bengals present a much stiffer challenge. They have the talent on offense to be explosive. I felt the same way last year, yet they were not one of the leagues top offenses, especially in the second half of the year. There seems to be a lack of offensive continuity and the Ravens can take advantage of that. I do expect the Bengals to put up 20 or more points, but I feel like the Ravens improved offense will be able to outperform them.