5 Baltimore Ravens to Watch vs. Cincinnati Bengals
5 Ravens to Watch vs. Bengals
This is a season-defining game for the Baltimore Ravens and if they fail to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals at the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium Sunday, there may be hell to pay from the fan backlash that will be thrown toward this team's direction. Cincinnati is coming off of a heartbreaking loss to the Miami Dolphins 10 days ago on Thursday Night Football, where the game was ended in overtime on a safety. The extra rest and few days off probably not only helped the Bengals better prepare for the Ravens, but it also probably reminded them of the bad taste left in their mouths after they left South Beach.
Ironically enough, Miami was the last place the Baltimore Ravens were able to win a football game. Baltimore wants to avoid a four-game losing streak and will likely be playing with a "running scared" mentality as their backs are against the wall at 3-5 and just one game out of last place in the AFC North.
This game is going to come down to several factors and players, but one thing is for certain: The team that wins the turnover battle is going to win the football game. The Bengals gave the ball away three times in their last defeat, while the Ravens don't force all of that many turnovers as a team in general with just nine all season.
Something has to give as both of these teams, while both battling defensive injuries, still have plenty of players who can lace them up and wreak havoc on opposing offensives by giving the ball back to their own offense. Here's who I will be watching.
5. Marlon Brown
Marlon Brown leads the Baltimore Ravens with five receiving touchdowns, but it sure doesn't feel like he has been that highly involved in the offensive game plan. Brown is a guy who obviously can't hide from anyone anymore, especially because of his 6-foot-5 height. However, I think he is a guy, much like former Ravens wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who can use his body as opposed to his athleticism to gain separation from defenders. Quarterback Joe Flacco needs to trust him more to catch the ball. In Flacco's defense, Brown has been inconsistent all year, and the Ravens will need him desperately to be successful against a secondary that is without cornerback Leon Hall for the rest of the season.
4. Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith enters this game questionable to play as he battles a thigh injury. Despite the injury, Baltimore will likely suit him up or they will have to as their secondary is a little banged up right now, which isn't good facing the plethora of weapons at the disposal of Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton. Smith's role will be magnified today as the Bengals have a guy in wide receiver A.J. Green who usually can't be covered by just a single corner one-on-one. The Ravens will likely ask Smith to do that when Lardarius Webb moves inside to play the nickel in three-WR sets. It's a tall task for anyone, but if the Ravens could limit Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron to mediocre games, who's to say it isn't possible against Green?
3. Corey Graham
Corey Graham also enters the game as questionable with a calf injury. Graham has struggled this season in his first year as a full-time stater with the Ravens, and teams have been looking his way to expose him. Whether it's Green, Marvin Jones, or whoever the Bengals throw on the right side of the field, Graham has to step up in a big way today to help his defense get off of the field. One play in particular that Graham has struggled with this season is defending the quick slant. It's a hard play for anyone to defend, but stopping that play is how this Ravens' defense can get more three-and-outs to allow the offense chances to put up points.
2. Elvis Dumervil
If the Ravens are going to create turnovers this week versus the Bengals, guys like Elvis Dumervil are going to have to be at the forefront of that movement. Dalton probably won't make three heinous throws again for the second week in a row and while he does make some questionable throws at times, Baltimore's best chance for a turnover today will be via the sack/fumble from either Dumervil or Terrell Suggs. The key for Dumervil is to finish plays as he usually gets to the quarterback, hits the quarterback, but tends to give up a little too early. With the season potentially on the line today, every down is crucial and every hit on Dalton could mean business for the Ravens.
1. Ray Rice
It seems like people everywhere have beaten this point to death, but Ray Rice has to be better in the running game or the Ravens won't go anywhere. It has to be constantly reiterated because it is who the Ravens are. While the rest of the NFL is more pass-oriented and while I understand the Ravens gave Joe Flacco a tremendous amount of money to throw the football on a regular basis, we've seen this year and in year's past. Having Flacco throw 40 or more times usually is a recipe for disaster. The offensive line has been horrid, but if there is any game to possibly get started, facing a Bengals team without Rey Maualuga and Geno Atkins may be the day to start -- I emphasize may because they haven't been able to run the ball all year anyway even against porous run defenses like the Buffalo Bills.