NFL Game of the Week Spotlight: Inside the Baltimore Ravens-Cincinnati Bengals
This Sunday, Ray Lewis and the Baltimore Ravens take on Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and the Cincinnati Bengals in an AFC North division battle. Last year the Bengals beat the Ravens in each of the the two meetings between the divisional foes.
This week, the Ravens are coming off of a defensively strong victory against the highly hyped New York Jets, winning 10-9. The Bengals are coming off of an embarrassing loss to the New England Patriots, in which their defense was shredded by a high powered offense led by Tom Brady and Wes Welker.
This is BleacherReport's Zoom in Game of the Week, and this slideshow will preview the game, giving insights to the key individual player matchups, as well as describing what both teams need to do to win this important division game.
Will Joe Flacco Improve on Last Week's Sub Par Performance?
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After a stellar 2009 season in which Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco passed for 3,613 yards and 21 touchdowns, there are high expectations for him this year, as the team added veteran Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin in March, and recently added T.J. Houshmenzadeh, another versatile and imposing receiver.
Last week against the Jets highly acclaimed defense, Flacco completed 52.6% of his 38 pass attempts, throwing for 248 yards, but couldn't manage any touchdowns and didn't throw an interception. The Jets put the pressure on, and Flacco fumbled on the first play of the Ravens opening drive.
This Sunday, Flacco will face a strong defense that has a very talented secondary in cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall.
If he hopes to improve on last week's performance, Flacco needs to utilize his newly acquired receiving weapons along with tight end Todd Heap and Derrick Mason as well as finding Ray Rice out of the backfield, who caught 78 passes last season, leading all Ravens receivers.
Can Carson Palmer Follow Up His Great Play Against The Patriots?
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Like the Ravens, the Bengals also loaded up on receiving weapons this offseason, selecting tight end Jermaine Gresham and wide receiver Jordan Shipley in the draft, in addition to signing Terrell Owens prior to the preseason.
Palmer put up great numbers last week, completing 34-50 attempts for 345 yards, tossing two touchdowns and an interception.
The Ravens have a stingy pass rush, however their secondary is depleted due to all star safety, Ed Reed, being placed on the Physically Unable to Perform list, sidelining the playmaker for the first six weeks of the regular season.
Carson Palmer connected with Chad Ochocinco 12 times for 159 yards and a touchdown, as well as utilizing the speedy rookie Jordan Shipley. Shipley caught five passes for 81 yards, including a 51 yard gain.
Both Teams Can Use The Spread Formation to Their Advantages
With the Ravens receiving corps consisting of Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmenzadeh, Derrick Mason and Todd Heap, along with the Bengals featuring Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Jordan Shipley, Andre Caldwell, and Jermaine Gresham, we can expect to see a ton of the spread offense.
But which team will be able to capitalize?
The Ravens specialize in getting Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata to get after the quarterback, but if the Bengals go to a four wide receiver set, the Ravens will have to decide whether to continue to attack Carson Palmer, or drop back into coverage.
The Bengals can create some obvious mismatches, and exploit Tom Zbikowski, who is filling in for Ed Reed, as well as Ladarius Webb who is returning from a knee injury.
The Ravens have the personnel to employ three and four wide receiver sets, but we could see them catching the Bengals defense off guard by utilizing draw plays with Ray Rice if the Bengals are playing pass defense.
To me, whoever can create the most mismatches in the passing game will have the upper hand in this matchup.
Will We See Ray Rice and Cedric Benson Return To Last Years Play?
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Ray Rice exploded onto the scene last season, and was a nightmare for opposing defenses. The former Rutgers standout rushed for over 1,300 yards, scoring seven touchdowns, while averaging 5.3 yards-per-carry. He was additionally a threat in the passing game, catching 78 passes for 702 yards.
Last week, Rice managed just 41 yards on 21 carries, and caught two passes for 19 yards. The Ravens need to remember that they made their postseason run last year riding on Rice's talents out of the backfield, and get use a balanced attack while getting him the ball. My prediction is that Rice will have a much better game on Sunday than he did against the Jets.
Cedric Benson looked equally bad as Rice last week, managing just 43 yards on 15 carries, but did score a touchdown. Last season, Benson rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored six touchdowns.
The Bengals run a balanced offense, and need to use Benson early in order to open up downfield plays via play action later on in the game. The real question is whether there are enough balls to go around in Cincinnati to keep Batman and Robin happy, while sticking to their roots.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh Returns To His Former Team
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After spending the first eight seasons of his career as a Cincinnati Bengal, T.J. Houshmandzadeh returns to Cincinnati as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, a division foe.
Before Terrell Owens came to town, Housh' was the star No.2 receiver opposite Chad Ochocinco, catching over 500 passes for just under 6,000 yards in his days as a Bengal.
Last season, Houshmandzadeh was a member of the Seattle Seahawks, where he made 79 receptions for roughly 500 yards, however he was recently released only to sign with the Ravens just weeks ago.
Housh still is a great No. 2 receiver, and it will be interesting to see how he is welcomed back by the fans in Cincinnati.
Key Matchup No. 1: Ravens DE Haloti Ngata Vs. Bengals LT Andrew Whitworth
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Haloti Ngata, the star defensive end of the Baltimore Ravens made three tackles and a sack last week against the Jets, and is a dominating presence on the line of scrimmage.
This week, he will be lining up against Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, due to last season's high draft choice Andre Smith still not being able to crack the starting lineup.
Ngata is strong, powerful, and athletic for a man of his size, and will prove to be a tough matchup for the seventh year tackle Whitworth.
Key Matchup No. 2: Ravens WR Anquan Boldin Vs. Bengals CB Jonathon Joseph
Last season, Johnathan Joseph was a stud for the Cincinnati Bengals, racking up almost 70 tackles, while making six interceptions. This week he will line up against one of the best wide receivers in the National Football League, Anquan Boldin.
Boldin caught seven passes for 110 yards in his debut as a Raven last week, and has had five 1,000+ yard seasons as a member of the Arizona Cardinals.
Boldin is a huge, tough, and extremely physical wide receiver, and Johnathon Joseph will be in for a test of strength and toughness in this matchup.
Key Matchup No. 3: Batman and Robin Vs. Ravens Cornerbacks
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The Ravens are without their star safety in Ed Reed, and their starting cornerback Ladarius Webb returning from a knee injury.
Terrell Owens and Ochocinco combined for over 20 receptions and 200 receiving yards and a touchdown in their first game together, and will be no easy assignment for any cornerback...especially one that is dealing with knee issues.
Fabian Washington and Chris Carr of the Ravens will also be used often in nickel and dime situations, considering the surplus of receiving talent the Bengals have on their roster.
This will be a pass-heavy game in my opinion, with two great receivers against two good cornerbacks.