Bengals (3-1) @ Ravens (3-1)
The Ravens look to bounce back this week after their bitter loss to the Patriots, with the division co-leader (?!) Bengals coming to M&T Bank Stadium. Cincy came out of the gates this season appearing to be much less Bungle-riffic than last year (much to the surprise of anybody who watched them on HBO’s Hard Knocks this summer). Were it not for a freak last-play touchdown by Brandon Stokely of Denver in Week 1, the Bengals would be 4-0. Incredible, I know. They’ve since knocked off Green Bay (at Lambeau), Pittsburgh, and Cleveland (although they nearly lost to, and then tied, the Browns). These aren’t last year’s Bengals, folks, and the Ravens will have a game on their hands come Sunday.
Of course, the main distraction/storyline coming into this one revolves around #85 for Cincy, Chad Ochocinco. Eight-five, so far this week, has:
- Challenged T-Sizzle to a boxing match;
- Promised that Fabian Washington and Dominique Foxworth would “Kiss da Baby” (85 slang for “its over”);
- Asked his twitter followers if he should start a fight with Ray Lewis in pre-game warm ups;
- Threatened to interrupt Lewis’ pre-game dance; and
- Said that his celebration, should he score a TD, would be an impression of “Ricky Bobby,” from the movie “Talladega Nights.”
Think what you want of Chad, but that guy knows how to stir the pot. The most curious of the above threats/promises is the “Ricky Bobby” celebration. In case you haven’t seen the movie, Ricky Bobby is a NASCAR driver. Bobby crashes his car, and jumps out mistakenly believing he is on fire. In his panic, he rips off all his clothes except for his tighty-whitey underwear and his racing helmet, and runs around the track like an idiot. So, Chad…are you going to run around with nothing on but your helmet and jock strap? Please, spare us.
The only thing you’ll have in common with Ricky Bobby come Sunday is broken bones! (again, I apologize if you haven’t seen the movie)
Part of the reason for the Bengals’ resurgence is the fact that Carson Palmer is back, and Ryan Fitzpatrick is no longer under center. Palmer has not quite played like his old self, but he is slowly getting there. His 75.2 rating through 4 games this season is well below his career average of 88.1, and he is completing only 57.7 percent of his throws. Palmer, though, is a career Raven killer, having compiled a 6-3 record against B’More as a starter.
Another weapon emerging for the Bengals’ offense is RB Cedric Benson, who is running like nobody has since Rudi Johnson’s heydey (who dey?) in Cincy. Benson is averaging 4.4 yards per carry, easily the best of his 5-year career.
Whatever. Nobody runs the ball on the Ravens’ #1 ranked run D, and Benson will be no different. This game, as all Ravens games seem to, will come down to the ability of Greg Mattison’s defense to put pressure on Palmer, and of his much maligned secondary to cover the Bengals talented group of receivers, which also includes Chris Henry, Laverneus Coles, and Andre Caldwell.
The Ravens’ #3 offense will also have their work cut out for them, against an improved Cincinnati defense. Bengals’ DE Antwan Odom is tied for the league lead with 8 sacks, and as a team the Bengals are tied for 4th in the NFL. Not the best news considering the Ravens may be without starting LT Jared Gaither. Gaither, who was carted off the field in New England, said on Wednesday that he expected to be ready by gametime, but did not practice Wednesday or Thursday. If he cannot go, rookie Michael Oher will again protect Joe Flacco’s blind side, and Marshal Yanda will start at RT. Although I personally think Oher can handle any pass rusher in the league 1-on-1, the Ravens will likely give him some help against Odom. Don’t be surprised if Cam Cameron uses less 4-receiver formations this week, instead keeping a tight end in to help block, a la 2008.
All the more reason to…say it with me Ravens fans…RUN THE BALL! Cameron was spouting off some nonsense this week about how football has changed, and running the ball doesn’t mean championships any more and blah, blah, blah. Sorry Cam, but we’re not buying it. That lopsided offense we saw against the Patriots was frustrating to watch, especially with Ray Rice and Willis McGahee both producing like they are. Hopefully the Ravens will show a more balanced attack moving forward. The Bengals are allowing 4.2 yards per rush this season, and heavy doses of Rice and McGahee (and maybe even a dash of Le’Ron McClain?) should be on the menu Sunday, if for no other reason than to keep the Bengals’ pass rush honest.
The Ravens’ special teams are going to see a shake-up this week. After his struggles (which included the costly “krumble”) against the Patriots, Chris Carr will be replaced by Ledarius Webb on kick offs. Webb is an exciting player, a rookie 3rd-round draft choice, who can hopefully inject some life into the team’s return game. He had some issues with ball security in the preseason, so we’ll assume the coaching staff has corrected those problems if they are trusting him on Sundays now – it’s something to keep an eye on though. Carr will still handle punt return duties.
Special teams will also have to cope with the loss of their leader, Brendon Ayanbadejo, who underwent season ending quadriceps surgery this week. The Ravens resigned LB Prescott Burgess, who was a key special teams contributor for them last year and early this season before being traded to make room for TE Tony Curtis.
The Bengals may be a team on the rise, but the Ravens are a team already near the top. They will be playing with an extra edge after feeling like they had a win stolen from them last week. The Ravens will hold serve at M&T Bank Stadium, and take over sole possession of first place in the AFC North through 5 weeks.
Ravens 30 Bengals 20