The Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) are coming off of a tough road loss against the Miami Dolphins (4-4). The Bengals find themselves hitting the road again this Sunday as they head to M&T Bank Stadium to take on the Baltimore Ravens (3-5).
Despite the Ravens' lackluster record, they remain an extremely difficult team to beat at home—especially for the Bengals. Cincinnati has not come away victorious when playing in Baltimore since October 11, 2009. The Ravens currently lead the all-time series 19-15.
The Bengals must improve upon the performance they delivered against the Dolphins in Week 9 on Thursday Night Football if they are to get back on track. After all, a win here would allow Cincinnati to put a stranglehold on the AFC North.
Some things worked well against the Dolphins last week, and some didn't. With a 10-day break from Week 9 to Week 10, the Bengals have plenty of time to make the necessary adjustments to create success in this divisional battle.
A few of these adjustments are quite obvious.
Fill the Void Left By Geno Atkins
The torn ACL suffered by Atkins during Thursday's game was completely tragic. The team's best defensive player and sack leader was placed on season-ending injured reserve on Monday, according to Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk.
MRI confirms torn ACL for Geno Atkins. Brutal for Bengals.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 1, 2013
Atkins marks the eighth Bengals defender that has had his season end early due to injury in 2013. All of these losses have been devastating to Cincinnati; however, none as meaningful as this.
Adjusting to life without Atkins will not be easy for the Bengals. After all, they currently have two inexperienced second-year players in Brandon Thompson and Devon Still behind starter Domata Peko. The Bengals attempted to sign Christo Bilukidi—a former Oakland Raiders draft pick—but his contract was voided by the NFL, according to Mike Wilkening of Pro Football Talk.
Later, the Bengals signed second-year player and former seventh-round draft pick Kheeston Randall, according to Joe Reedy of the Cincinnati Enquirer. It is still uncertain how much he will be able to contribute this season.
This leaves Cincinnati with a large problem. Last week, Lamar Miller had his way with the Bengals front seven once Atkins left the game. Miller ran the ball 16 times for 105 yards and averaged 6.6 yards per carry. The dangerous Ray Rice of the Ravens cannot be afforded the same opportunity.
The Bengals must decide when to transition defensive tackles so they are able to play to their individual strengths over the course of the game.
During this fourth-quarter run, Miller takes a delayed handoff and runs right at the heart of the Bengals defensive line. Peko and Thompson are playing the two interior positions:
Once Miller gets the ball in his hands, a double team has already been placed on Peko, rendering him ineffective. The inexperienced Thompson attempts a bull rush and is easily swept aside, opening up a huge lane for Miller:
By the time Miller gets through the hole, both defensive tackles have been completely taken out of the play:
The result is an 11-yard gain and an easy Dolphins first down:
Now, watch the play in its entirety:
This play was not completely on the defensive tackles; however, it goes to show how the front seven must be more cautious than ever to remain in position. One bad tackling angle could be devastating for this Bengals defense against Rice in Week 10.
Increase Giovani Bernard's Carries
This is a simple strategy that should be a part of every game plan that the Bengals coaching staff puts together. Unfortunately, it has not worked out that way in 2013.
Head coach Marvin Lewis and Co. continue to utilize veteran running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis as their primary ball-carrier. That would be completely fine if the distribution of carries between Green-Ellis and Bernard were close to even. That has not been the case.
During Thursday's contest, despite a dazzling performance, Bernard only received nine carries to Green-Ellis' 21. Yes, the Bengals are attempting to keep Bernard fresh; however, that will end up being a moot point if there is no postseason in Cincinnati's future this year.
Getting the ball in Bernard's hands in absolutely crucial for Cincinnati to continue winning. These backs' statistical comparison over the course of the 2013 season says it all:
Despite 50 fewer carries, Bernard has been able to find a greater amount of success over the course of the season. His threat as a receiver makes him even more formidable. Through nine games, Bernard has caught 30 passes for 267 yards and two scores.
Getting Bernard the ball should be the Bengals' first priority going forward.
Marvin Jones is the No. 2 Wide Receiver
After the last couple of weeks, it has now been solidified that Jones is absolutely the best complementary wide receiver to A.J. Green. Jones has shown great route running, sure hands, reliability and explosiveness throughout the year. He has also built a great rapport with quarterback Andy Dalton.
The Bengals coaching staff must treat Jones like a true No. 2 wide receiver going forward and look to create ways to get the ball into his hands. Last Thursday, Jones had just seven targets from Dalton's 53 passing attempts. That makes him third in the pecking order behind Green (19) and Mohamed Sanu (9).
Take one play from Cincinnati's matchup against the Dolphins for a perfect example of Jones' growing skill set. Jones is split out wide and will run underneath of two clearing routes run by Sanu and Green:
The Dolphins cornerbacks are taken further from the line of scrimmage and open up a huge space for an easy reception:
However, Jones is not done. He sheds three would-be tacklers and finds his way into the open field:
Jones heads up the sidelines and uses his great speed to beat all of the defensive backs to the corner of the end zone for a score:
Now, watch the play in its entirety:
Unfortunately, that play was called back due to a holding penalty on tight end Jermaine Gresham. Still, it is a clear demonstration of what Jones is capable of accomplishing when given the opportunity. He is simply a game-changer.
Due to Sanu's wavering reliability—he currently has a negative-5.1 overall rating, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required)—Jones should be depended upon more than ever going forward.
1st time this year Marvin Jones ran more routes in a game than Mohamed Sanu. 41 routes run to 38 of Sanu.— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) November 1, 2013
Dropped passes have been haunting the Bengals of late, and getting the ball into reliable hands will be the best remedy for Dalton and the offense.
If the Bengals can incorporate these key adjustments heading into their matchup this Sunday against the Ravens, the chances that the Dalton-led Bengals could find their first ever win in Baltimore become greatly improved.
All screen shots courtesy of NFL Game Rewind.