The Cincinnati Bengals take on the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night in the AFC North's first divisional game of the season. I've already broken down the ways the Ravens should attack the Bengals in their quest for a win and now it's time to turn the tables and see how Cincinnati can get the best of Baltimore.
Here are the three plans of attack for the Bengals to employ when they travel to Baltimore on Monday.
Neutralize the No-Huddle
The Baltimore Ravens want this year to be the one in which their passing game and quarterback Joe Flacco make the big leap forward. One of the ways they hope to achieve this is by employing more no-huddle, and we saw it often during the Ravens' preseason games.
Chances are, the Ravens and Flacco will rely on the no-huddle to break down the Bengals' defensive front. The Bengals heavily rely on a rotating cast of defensive linemen, with each one having his own particular specialty.
The no-huddle robs the Bengals of making these crucial substitutions and thus may result in the Ravens offense holding a distinct advantage.
There are a few ways to neutralize the effects of the no-huddle. One is to have as many versatile players on the defensive line and swap them out without taking anyone on or off the field. Another is to not allow much to come out of the no-huddle.
If the Bengals can limit its usage to simple checkdowns to running back Ray Rice, the Ravens could be forced to abandon the approach because, first, that's something the Ravens and Flacco do even in normal play-calling and, second, they'll need more than just Rice catching short passes to reliably get down the field.
Stopping the no-huddle and slowing the game down for the Ravens offense should be Cincinnati's biggest defensive priority on Monday.
Mix it Up
The Bengals have seven receivers on the 53-man roster, and though not all of them will be active on Monday, it would be smart for whoever they do have dressed to take the field at one point or another.
The Ravens secondary will need to spend much of its time and attention on A.J. Green, which means ample opportunities for other Bengals receivers to make plays.
Part of the reason the Bengals held onto so many receivers had to do with the fact that there is no clear-cut No. 2 to Green. The battle raged throughout training camp and the preseason, and while Armon Binns and Brandon Tate were thought to be the front-runners, the emergence of Marvin Jones and baffling near-disappearance of Mohamed Sanu has made things a bit less clear.
The Ravens have a very good secondary, made up of safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard as well as cornerbacks Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb, and the Bengals receiving corps is young. In one sense, this youth is a liability—clearly, the combined football experience of these five men far surpasses that of the receivers, but this can also be used to the Bengals' advantage.
The youth and overall relative inexperience of the Bengals' receivers means the Ravens have little to truly prepare for.
They can analyze tape from seasons past, but there won't be much to go on, even for players like Binns (with no career starts) and Tate (who hasn't been considered a receiver since 2010 in New England), who have been in the league for more than a year. They can look at preseason plays, but that provides few clues, too.
If the Bengals can get the ball out to as many receivers as possible and mix up the combination of receivers on the field on any given play, the element of surprise may be enough to outmatch the Ravens secondary.
There's room for more than just two physical defenses in the AFC North; it's not just a Steelers or Ravens monopoly. And quietly, oh-so-quietly, the Bengals have built themselves a pretty stellar defense of their own.
That defense would be well-served to send a message on Monday night: We're here, and we're coming for the divisional title, one week at a time.
Intimidation works, even against veteran offensive players like Flacco and Rice. Not standing down, tackling with physicality and coming back even stronger after giving up a few yards will do wonders for the Bengals' mental game and throw off the Ravens.
Baltimore wants to go no-huddle? Be just as fast on defense. They want to air out the ball? Keep the receivers covered and fight for incompletions and interceptions. Punch the ball out, go hard on every play—these are more than just simple coaching platitudes, they are a way to play the game.
If the Bengals defense can internalize these concepts and execute them against Baltimore, Cincinnati will prove to the Ravens that, no, it isn't outclassed or outmatched any longer.