Five Baltimore Ravens Players to Watch vs. Cincinnati Bengals
Ravens vs. Bengals: 5 Baltimore Players to Watch in Week 17
The Bengals have already clinched a playoff berth and a home playoff game as they won the AFC North division title with a win last week and a Ravens loss. Baltimore needs a win or else they are virtually eliminated from playoff contention as they'll need a lot of help from the remaining Wild Card contenders in order to pull off the impossible. Even with a win, the Ravens no longer control their pathway to the playoffs without a little luck; but that's how their 2012 Super Bowl run was fueled, and they certainly don't want to be another victim to that dreaded Super Bowl hangover.
When these two teams faced off in Week 10, Baltimore dominated for the entire first half going into the second act with a 17-0 lead. They never improved it and even gave up a Hail Mary touchdown pass to A.J. Green to bring the game to bonus football where the leg of Justin Tucker provided another win for the Ravens.
So what did the Ravens learn from that game?
First and foremost they had to learn that they can beat a quality football team, but this time it's going to be a much tougher task as the Bengals are undefeated at home this season. Even with the win, the Ravens did it the Ravens' way and found a way to make what could have been a comfortable win into a dogfight until the bitter end.
Second, Andy Daltoncan be a very turnover-prone quarterback, and the Ravens need to constantly keep the foot on the gas pedal in terms of pressuring him. Baltimore hasn't had a lot of success getting after the quarterback in recent weeks, and this is an offense where if you give Dalton time he's going to make you pay. That being said, even with time Dalton has a history of making bad misreads and inconsistent play similar to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, and his roller coaster ride nature tends to keep teams in games when they probably shouldn't be in them. The front seven must have a tremendous impact for the Ravens this game as they have been average at best in recent weeks.
Third, despite their injuries on defense, the Bengals are still a capable force in stopping both the run and the pass. Sure, the Ravens aren't a high-powered offense through the air nor on the ground, but the Bengals are sixth against the run and pass this season.
If the Ravens are to win on Sunday, several players must be difference makers at their respective positions or else Baltimore will be playing golf with 20 other NFL teams much earlier than they anticipated for the first time in six years.
5. Jimmy Smith
Jimmy Smith stood tall last time when facing the Bengals holding A.J. Green to one target and zero receptions. The guy who has probably seen the most remarkable career turnaround in recent memory will have to be huge for his club once again.
4. Lardarius Webb
While Smith has performed above and beyond expectations, Lardarius Webb has been a little more inconsistent as it seems like opponents are picking on him more with his counterpart being so successful in 2013. He remains one of the best tacklers on the team, but No. 21 must be big if the Ravens hope to keep the score at a reasonable number for their struggling offense.
3. Gino Gradkowski
Center Gino Gradkowski has struggled almost all season long, and this won't be an easy test for him to pass. While Geno Atkins isn't trotting out for the Bengals anytime soon, the Ravens need him to hold his ground and keep Flacco upright in a game where running the football will likely be at a premium for Baltimore.
2. Dennis Pitta
Dennis Pitta's impact was felt in his first game back, but it hasn't been as groundbreaking for the offense as most had anticipated. No. 88 will have to be clutch on third down and in the red zone if his team will have any chance to beat the Bengals.
1. Joe Flacco
Joe had one of his worst starts as a pro last week, and it appeared as if his knee brace was affecting the way he traditionally played the game. Baltimore can't count on Ray Rice like they have in the past, so Flacco will have to play like a $120 million quarterback Sunday or at least manage the game enough to keep his team in the hunt.