NFL Week 17: 10 Ways to Win for the Cincinnati Bengals over the Baltimore Ravens
The new-look Bengals came into 2011 without fan fair and much disrepair.
Two rookies, one a promising receiver, the other considered to be subpar for an NFL quarterback came onto a scene that looked like a train wreck.
Gone were the top two receivers from the prior season and a disgruntled starting quarterback refused to play. If there was a team prior, it was one of individuals, and blame was being squarely laid upon ownership—particularly Mike Brown's shoulders.
Fast forward to Week 17 of the 2011 season, with a rookie piloting the offense (Andy Dalton) utilizing his No. 1 wing man (A.J. Green), the Bengals have emerged from the "I's" to the team.
Week 17 will set up 2012 (possibly even a playoff berth). The stakes are certainly highest against the Ravens.
Defining the team in the NFL, in the AFC North, starts on New Year's Day 2012.
Here are the 10 points the Bengals must cover this week in order to defeat the Baltimore Ravens...
Andy Dalton Needs To Be on for 4 Quarters
Andy Dalton has had a stellar rookie campaign, and 2012 will see young Dalton inherit the title of veteran (albeit second-year veteran). In order to punctuate his first-year campaign, nothing will say victory as much as a win over the Ravens.
Though Dalton cannot carry the team alone, he will need to create plays with his feet as well as his arm.
In order to create with his arm, he will need a variety of receivers to live up to the billing of this playoff-implication game as follows...
While A.J. Green may be the new face of this receiving core, the fact of the matter is that the Bengals are down two starters from the wideouts at the beginning of the season (Jordan Shipley and Andre Caldwell).
Against the fourth-ranked NFL passing defense of the Ravens, expect A.J. Green to be blanketed, which means Jerome Simpson will get more looks along with Andrew Hawkins, untested rookie Ryan Whalen and Brandon Tate will all have to contribute.
Furthermore, the short game will need to be created more with the tight-end play of Jermaine Gresham, Colin Cochart and Donald Lee.
Yet, the success of any air game relies on another type of attack to balance the offense...
As good as Baltimore's pass defense is, the pass is actually the Raven's weakness.
On the ground, Baltimore is second only to one (the San Francisco 49ers) in the NFL against the run. Average yards yielded on the ground this year by the Ravens—91.8.
Enter the Bengals.
Cedric Benson has two plus-100-yard games both coming in 2009 when the Bengals swept the division with six victories.
Fast forward to 2011 and you have two touchdowns on 15 carries for 41 yards in the losing effort back in mid-November. Touchdowns are a promising sign, but the dip in yardage certainly is troublesome.
Add five fumbles in the last two games (two in the last game that were both scooped up by the Arizona Cardinals) and what you have is a run game on the decline.
Bernard Scott is a backup option, so is Brian Leonard, but neither performs up to the standard necessary by the standard of being the preseason focal point to carry the offense through the season.
If the Bengals expect to perform well through the air, Cincinnati will need to have Baltimore on its toes by living up to the reputation it was expected to have by this point in the season five months ago.
Stop the Run...
The Bengals will need the defensive line to step up in a big way and stop Ray Rice and the No. 18 rushing offense in the NFL.
Make Flacco Flake out
The Bengals can unnerve Flacco early and often by getting in his face with plenty of pressure and hits.
Sacks will help rattle him so getting to Joe early and often will pay dividends throughout the game.
Take Advantage of a Key Injury
While Ray Rice is the Ravens' decided favorite (No. 1 running back and second target for passes), No. 1 is Anquan Boldin who is decidedly out until the postseason.
Concentrating a linebacker on Rice (102 targeted passes versus 106 for Boldin) while guarding against the dangerously tied-for-88-targets duo of Torrey Smith and Ed Dickson will be key to the Bengals' efforts.
Smith and Dickson have seven and five receiving touchdowns, respectively, so these are the finishers for drives (Rice and Boldin have three a piece through the air) and clear threats through the air.
Control the Clock
Time of possession must favor the Bengals. In the NFL, who has the ball the most will generally bring victory.
The offense needs to create long possessions early to wear out a top-flight defense by creating long, sustained drives that result in touchdowns.
The Bengals were doing a great job early on avoiding costly mistakes. The second half of the season has seen both sides of the team slip back into somewhat undisciplined ways.
Pre-snap penalties are the biggest sign of lack of discipline and freebies to the opponent. The margin for error at the top of the league is razor thin, and these are the type of items that push a team onto the wrong side of the razor.
Being confident and cool under pressure is what it takes to get to the next level. Nothing like a make-or-break matchup to further the disciplinary education of this up-and-coming Cincinnati squad.
Marvin Lewis needs to manage the clock, support Mike Zimmer with a program he had a hand in building and motivate Jay Gruden to continue with ramping up the offense's aggression.
Clock management is key, and the Bengals' coaching staff (particularly Marvin Lewis) needs to continue to build on managing the momentum of the game.
Call timeouts when in trouble and regroup accordingly.
Considering this is only the second sell-out in 2011, the crowd will need to be loud and boisterous to give the Ravens offense fits and the Bengals defense an adrenaline rush.
The offense will feed off of the "twelfth man" chanting "Who Dey!"