The Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals square off in the debut of Monday Night Football in 2012, and if the defending AFC North champions are going to open the season with a victory, then the key to that win lies in the newest wrinkle in Baltimore's game plan.
The Ravens have implemented an offensive attack in the preseason that actually owes its roots to the team they face Monday night, as Baltimore has instituted a no-huddle offense reminiscent of the "sugar huddle" used by head coach Sam Wyche's Cincinnati Bengals teams of the late 1980s.
The new scheme paid dividends in the exhibition season, with starting quarterback Joe Flacco completing 75 percent of his passes, for over 250 yards, in the team's "dress rehearsal" against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Flacco, who ran the no-huddle extensively while at the University of Delaware, has taken well to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's hurry-up offense, and the fifth-year pro recently told Albert Breer of the NFL Network that he's ready for the Baltimore offense to receive as much respect (and fear) from opponents across the NFL as the team's vaunted defense:
I hope it is different. We've never really had a top offense here. That's just the way it's been. But we have the talent now. I'm not saying we're gonna score 50 points every game, but that's our goal. If it doesn't look different, I'll be disappointed.
If the Ravens do come out firing against the Bengals, there's ample reason to believe they'll be successful.
Cincinnati possesses a formidable defense of its own, but the secondary was exposed somewhat in last year's playoff loss to the Houston Texans.
The Bengals attempted to address that deficiency in April's draft by selecting Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick with one of their two first-round picks, but a knee injury will sideline the youngster tonight.
Without Kirkpatrick the pressure will be on Cincinnati corners Leon Hall and Nate Clements to contain speedster Torrey Smith and veteran Anquan Boldin, and while both defensive backs are capable players, Clements is on the down slope of his career, and Hall is returning from a torn Achilles.
If the Ravens can get the Cincinnati defense back on its heels through the air, then that will only serve to open up running lanes for star tailback Ray Rice, who is a very dangerous offensive weapon in his own right.
That all adds up to a recipe for offensive success, and the more points the Ravens put up, the greater the odds of a big Baltimore win get. The Bengals are a grind-it-out, ball-control football team. They're not built to match teams score for score in shootouts, even with a star receiver like A.J. Green.
If the Ravens can force Cincinnati to abandon its offensive identity, then it plays right into the hands of that vaunted Baltimore defense, even without the services of defensive end Terrell Suggs. The Ravens could simply pin their ears back and come after Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, and that's how you force mistakes, especially from a young quarterback.
It may seem strange, but for one night at least, it may be time for the Baltimore offense to set up the defense after years of the opposite being the case.
It is the year of the Mayan apocalypse, after all.