Cincinnati will take on the Ravens this Sunday at 1 p.m. in a road game in Baltimore where the Bengals hope to maintain their control of a key piece of real estate -- the middle of the football field.
In the home-opening win against the Chargers and the season-opener at Oakland, the 2-0 Bengals did a good job asserting themselves where it counts, in the trenches.
There was a certain level of physicality to the offensive and defensive lines that was apparent in both games.
“I thought it was important for us to win the middle of the field. That was my thing all week," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "From the line of scrimmage to the goalposts, and I thought we did a good job."
Lewis said the middle, and his team's play there, was a big key to the winning outcome against visiting San Diego.
"That was key in the game; that we defended the middle of the field, that we took care of the middle on offense. A.J. (Green) scored down the middle, Marvin (Jones) scored down the middle." the coach said. "Those were things that we had to control on both offense and defense, and I think we did a pretty good job at that.”
But controlling the middle doesn't necessarily mean you own the field, according to the coach. More has to be done.
“We also had to make plays on the perimeter. And there we lacked a little bit," Lewis said. "We let runs scoot out there, and gave up two touchdowns on the perimeter. Those are some things we have to do better. That was all part of the plan during the week that we are going to have to react, control the middle, and win on the outside.”
The coach said the interior pass rush also is an essential ingredient to maintaining the middle.
“Quarterbacks tend to step through the pocket. If they don’t have that ability or are jostled around, then his eyes aren’t down the field," Lewis said. "When his eyes aren’t down the field, you have a chance to get there. That’s important, that you don’t give up certain lanes.”
Timing is everything.
“The quarterbacks having to hold on to the football; they have to hold onto the ball a split second more, and we’re doing a good job in coverage and mixing coverages, disguising coverages, we have to keep doing that," the coach said. "Those are key elements to having the quarterback maybe reload more for one-tenth of a second, and then you have a chance for the rush to get there. The guys rushing are doing a good job."
In that light, Sunday against Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will pose a challenge.
“He’s very good at it (reading plays and schemes)," Lewis said of Flacco. "He’s going to dissect you as best he can every play. We have to react; eventually they’re going to snap the football, and be in position to make plays."
Lewis said it will take a village: "You don’t stop the run with the four guys in the middle. You play pass defense with all 11. It never comes down to a particular group, unless a guy blows an assignment. If you want to play great defense, you play great defense with all 11 guys.”