Tale Of The Tape: Baltimore Ravens At Cincinnati Bengals
- QuarterbackThe Ravens picked the wrong time to come up with their worst game of the year, as they got hammered at home by the Patriots and no longer are in control of their playoff destiny. They need to beat the Bengals and they also need either the Dolphins or Chargers to lose. Joe Flacco (MCL sprain) was not mobile enough against the Patriots and he could not exploit New England’s defense.The Bengals clinched the AFC North with their runaway victory over the Vikings. They can earn the No. 2 seed if they beat the Ravens and the Patriots lose in their season finale. Andy Dalton is coming off a superb game in which he threw for 366 yards with four TDs and no interceptions. Dalton lacks consistency and if he gets off to a poor start, he can have a tough time recovering.
- OffenseThe Ravens have been far too one-dimensional this season. They have never been able to establish their running game, and that has increased the pressure on Flacco and the receivers. At this point, Bernard Pierce seems a more viable option than Ray Rice. Wide receiver Torrey Smith has game-breaking ability and is very tough after the catch. Tight end Dennis Pitta is one of Flacco’s favorite targets.The Bengals have gotten good production from all-purpose running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis as well as speedy rookie Giovanni Bernard. That strong ground game has made it much easier for wide receiver A.J. Green, because defenses must respect the Cincinnati running game. Fellow wideout Marvin Jones has long arms and can make the tough catch in traffic.
- DefenseThe Ravens normally play a tough, hard-hitting game on defense and they are regularly capable of intimidating some opponents, but they also have some problem areas. The Ravens rank ninth overall on defense, but they struggle against faster opponents. That could be an issue against Bengal stars like Bernard and Green. Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs are both solid pass rushers.The Bengals have been a steady defense all season, even though they lost star defensive tackle Geno Atkins shortly after midseason. The Bengals rank sixth overall and they rely on the speed and aggressiveness of linebacker Vontaze Burfict for their consistency. Unsung defensive end Wallace Gilberry is an effective pass rusher.
- Special TeamsThe Ravens are almost always going to get an excellent effort from their special teams. They have not given up any explosive punt or kickoff returns this season, while Tandon Doss is capable of giving head coach John Harbaugh a big play. Justin Tucker is one of the best placekickers in the league.The Bengals regularly do a fine job of covering punts and kickoffs, but they will have an occasional lapse. They have not been able to do much with their own return specialists. Placekicker Mike Nugent is slightly above average, while Kevin Huber is one of the most dependable punters in the league.
The Bengals have absorbed many beatings from the Ravens over the years, and they would like nothing better than to hit them with a shot between the eyes that knocks them out of the playoffs. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor