Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages, Baltimore Raven football is back. Oh those words get me out of bed in the morning; I could almost sing them at a high pitched, awkward tune. Enough about me, this is about football, more specifically the Baltimore Ravens versus the Cincinnati Bengals. Let’s look at five keys to victory for the Ravens to overcome the Bengals.
1. Stop A.J. Green
“I’ll take ‘Obvious Statements’ for 300, Alex.” Over the course of his career A.J. Green has burned the Ravens for 21 catches, 334 yards, and two touchdowns (one of which was the infamous Hail Mary from last year). The saving grace for the Ravens is the fact that their secondary will be healthy and they will be able to play the correct matchups for him. Another thing that will help the Ravens is Cincinnati’s number two option, Marvin Jones, is sidelined for the first five weeks with a foot injury. However, Cincinnati’s offense is littered with weapons and they still have Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, Jermaine Gresham, and Giovanni Bernard to defend. You can expect the team’s best Cornerback, Lardarius Webb, to be matched up on Green, but his small size (5’11”) is a huge disadvantage against the 6’4” wide out. My guess is the Jimmy Smith (6’2”) will be the one to cover him in one-on-one scenarios.
2. Contain the Backfield
Giovani Bernard is a headache for any defensive coordinator, but now Cincinnati has drafted Jeremy Hill to complement him. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Hill will be a wildcard playing in his first regular season game. On the other hand, Bernard left his mark on Baltimore last season with 80 yards rushing, 13 receptions, 88 receiving yards, and one receiving touchdown. Bernard is almost impossible to contain, it will be a real challenge for the Ravens to do, but if they can limit what he does it will be a crippling blow to Cincinnati’s offense.
3. Keep the Defense on their Heels
Face it; Cincinnati’s front seven is stacked. Carlos Dunlap, Geno Atkins, Domata Peko, Vontaze Burfict, and Rey Maualuga are all average or better. With that front seven, it will very hard to run the ball consistently and keep Joe Flacco safe. That is why the Ravens need to get them winded as quickly as possible, either by running the hurry up or holding on to the ball as long as possible. This will also be a huge blow to their secondary; Terrence Newman, Adam Jones, and Reggie Nelson are all 30 years old or older. While they may be professionals, they aren’t exactly young and will not benefit from staying on the field very long.
4. Spread’em Out
Two of Cincinnati’s biggest weapons on defense lie in their Linebacking corps, Rey Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict. They Ravens will need to go with multiple receiver formations in order to keep Burfict and Maualuga off the field. This will be very easy for the Ravens as they have ample depth behind Torrey Smith and Steve Smith in Jacoby Jones, Marlon Brown, Deonte Thompson, and Michael Campanaro. Unfortunately, having Dennis Pitta on the field will warrant one of them to be there as well. Avoiding short throws over the middle and making sure the edge is sealed on running plays are the only ways to keep those two out of the game.
5. Make Andy Dalton Pay for his Mistakes
Over the past three seasons, Andy Dalton has thrown 11 interceptions in six meeting with the Ravens. The Bengals are most likely going to try and beat the Ravens by throwing the ball and picking on the duo of Matt Elam and Darian Stewart. Dalton is bound to make a mistake during the game and the Ravens need to capitalize on them. In 2013, the Ravens finished 20th in both takeaways and points off takeaways. Takeaways are not only important for the Ravens to win this game, but to bounce back from last year. They can prove this game that they can bounce back.
This is a divisional game and it is going to be good. I hope I’m on the edge of my seat coming into the fourth quarter, purely for entertainment value. But these five topics that I mention will make or break the game for the Ravens. Flawless execution of these five key will equal a resounding victory.