Coming off a performance against the Cleveland Browns that was not statistically dominant, the Baltimore Ravens will look to build momentum for a play-off run and put together a good performance against a defense that has had their number the last 3 games. You could argue that the Ravens shut down the offense once they got a lead, or that the weather was not conducive to an explosive attacking offense. The problem is that the Ravens have rarely showed an ability to put teams away on offense this year. For stretches the offense looks crisp and versatile like we expected at the start of the season. On the other hand, the Ravens seem to lack a killer instinct on offense and the ability to deliver a knock-out drive late in a game. Enter the Cincinnati Bengals at 4-11, armed with a defense that no one considers special, yet they have had the Ravens number the last three times the teams have met. I cannot put my finger on the reason why the Bengals have shut down the Ravens offense like few other defenses have recently, but I do know the Ravens need to break the trend to win this game.
On the Ground: I expect the Ravens to come out run heavy on Sunday. Not only have the Ravens been more determined to run the ball well over the last 2 weeks, but they are also facing a run defense that allows just over 116 yards per game at a clip of 4.5 yards per carry. The Ravens offensive line appears to be playing with more of a chip on their shoulder. The unit has taken a lot of criticism in recent weeks as the run game struggled and the yards per carry average dipped. It also appears that the line has been helped by more patient backs and better timing in the run game. The Ravens had success running the ball in week 2 against the Bengals to the tune of 4.7 per carry, but they did not stick with the running game in attempting only 20 carries by running backs. Ray Rice will be the focal point of the Ravens offense on Sunday and frankly the ability to get Rice going will have a huge effect on how well the Ravens can attack the Bengals secondary.
Through the Air: A lot has been said about Joe Flacco’s inability to throw the ball well against the Bengals secondary. Flacco’s 4 interception performance against the Bengals in September was, perhaps, his worst game as a pro. Since that time, Flacco has been picked off only 4 more times. Flacco has put that performance behind him, but many still question whether he can effectively attack a cover 2 zone defense. According to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron those assertions are “ridiculous,” and “there’s nothing to back it up,” but until Flacco can put up a big game against Cincinnati’s zone, the criticism will stick. One of the things that has given the Ravens trouble against the Bengals defense has been Cincinnati’s ability to get pressure on Flacco from their front four. Getting pressure without blitzing allows Cincy to drop seven in coverage which means the passing windows behind the linebackers and in front of the secondary get tight. The Ravens ability to attack the cover 2 will depend on a running game that forces the Bengals to play their LB’s closer to the line of scrimmage and the offensive lines ability to protect Flacco, forcing the Bengals to bring more pass rushers.
Run the ball, mix in play action and the Ravens should move the ball well against the Bengals. If the Ravens can execute this game plan we could be in for the first complete offensive performance in some time. Who knows, maybe we even see the Ravens open things up this week. What do they have to lose?