What key areas must the Ravens attack if they are to beat the Bengals on Monday?
The Ravens are again trying to be the AFC North champions, while the Bengals are hoping to upset the order of things in the division, take control of it and put together their first back-to-back winning seasons since Marvin Lewis became head coach.
So how can Baltimore prevent that from happening? Here are the three keys to a successful attack on the Bengals.
Make Them Run, Then Stop the Run
Cincinnati is trying to fix that area of their offensive attack, but it may take some time for that to happen. Their interior offensive line isn't what they hoped it would be this year, with rookie guard Kevin Zeitler, newly signed center Jeff Faine and replacement guard Clint Boling in place instead of a Zeitler-Kyle Cook-Travelle Wharton trio.
This group of linemen have only been working together for a short time, which gives the Ravens defense a distinct advantage. Further, Bengals running back Bernard Scott won't be playing, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis getting the majority of the carries as a result. With fewer backs to prepare for, the Ravens will have an edge in stopping the Bengals on the ground.
The Bengals are a more effective passing offense than a running one, so if Baltimore can consistently shut down their ability to pass the ball, via pressuring quarterback Andy Dalton and keeping their receivers constantly covered, they'll be forced to run right into the Ravens' hands.
Four of their seven losses came at the hands of the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that can be attributed to the defenses both teams fielded—and more specifically, to the pressure they put on Dalton.
Though Baltimore gave up a total of 605 passing yards to Dalton in those two contests last year, he still only completed 51.7 percent of his passes and threw no touchdowns. Though Dalton's a year more experienced and likely far less wary of the league's top defenses, last season proved that he is susceptible to pressure. The more the Ravens can intimidate him, the more success they'll have.
And it's not just limited to Dalton. The Bengals offense is rife with rookies and young players who are still adjusting to the speed and physicality of the professional game, particularly their receivers. The Ravens defense need only come at them with their trademark aggression to throw them off.
For the Ravens to overcome this, they'll need a heavy dose of the no-huddle, and considering what we've seen throughout the preseason, it looks like they're capable of executing it well.
This year, the Ravens offense seems to be more in the hands of quarterback Joe Flacco than ever before. In the third preseason game, not only did we see him operate out of the no-huddle, we also saw Flacco calling audibles at the line and taking command of the passing game completely.
If Baltimore can recreate the effort successfully on Monday against the Bengals, they'll catch the defense off guard and, more importantly, not allow them to substitute personnel on their defensive line.
The Ravens need their offense to neutralize the most effective aspects of Cincinnati's defense, and running a fast-paced, no-huddle attack is the ultimate key to doing so.