Team Report - Ravens - Friday

Big plays could determine the biggest game of the season in the AFC North. When the Baltimore Ravens (7-5) play host to the Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) for first place outright in the division, the team that can extend the defense should gain separation in the standings. To score on the Bengals, the Ravens likely will have to go over the top rather than through the middle.

Although the Ravens would prefer to ride the league's second-best rushing attack, they anticipate Cincinnati using all of its effort to stop it. In the last meeting, the Bengals placed eight, nine and sometimes 10 players in the box to slow down Jamal Lewis, the NFL's leading rusher. The one defensive alignment had four linemen and four linebackers as Cincinnati went with only one safety. That means the Ravens have to capitalize by throwing the ball deep to expose the Bengals' vulnerability. Unlike rookie Kyle Boller, quarterback Anthony Wright has shown consistency in throwing downfield. In nine starts, Boller had 11 passes of 25 or more yards. In three starts, Wright has connected on six throws of 25 or more yards.

That's why he doesn't think the Bengals will use the same philosophy. "They might try it. I don't know how long they'll stay in it," Wright said. "The last couple of games, we've been trying teams and not slouch teams. I don't know how long they will stay in it. Who knows? They might come out and try it. If they do, we're going to take advantage."

The Ravens defense has stressed the need to contain Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna and his big-play receivers Chad Johnson and Peter Warrick. In the last meeting with the Ravens, Kitna threw touchdown passes of 45, 82 and 21 yards. Outside of the Cincinnati game, the Ravens have done a sound job in limiting big plays, surrendering 18 passes of 20-plus yards in 11 games. But to stop the Bengals, the Ravens know they must stop Kitna, who is having a Most Valuable Player-type season. "He's one of the hotter quarterbacks in the league right now," linebacker Peter Boulware said. "He is the spark plug behind that offense right now."

SERIES HISTORY: 16th meeting. The Ravens have won six of the last seven at home and nine of the last 11 overall. The last meeting was lost by the Ravens, 34-26, on Oct. 19 in Cincinnati. The Bengals converted three first-half turnovers into 17 points and held off a late Ravens rally. After rookie Kyle Boller directed a game-opening touchdown drive, he fumbled twice and was intercepted once.

--Ravens coach Brian Billick has tried to downplay the return of Marvin Lewis back to Baltimore. Two years before taking over as Bengals coach, Lewis was the defensive coordinator for the Ravens from 1996 to 2001. In the Ravens' 2000 Super Bowl run, Lewis directed the Baltimore defense that set the record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season (165).
"This will go on and on," Billick said. "He is going to be there a while, and hopefully I can last here a while. Each time that it happens, it will probably diminish a little, like the Baltimore-Cleveland thing. It is now just down to two storied cities having it out with one another; it is about football, which is good. This will get there too, obviously the affection that the people of Baltimore have for Marvin, yes, that will add another layer to it."

--If Anthony Wright wins this game, he likely wins the quarterback job for the rest of the season. "As long as Anthony continues to produce at this level and we continue to vie for a playoff spot, Anthony will remain the quarterback," coach Brian Billick said. "He's earned that for now. Anthony is managing the situation very, very well right now." In three starts, Wright has completed 55 percent of his throws for 608 yards. He has six touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 85.8. "Personally, I really don't have anything in mind except winning the game on Sunday," Wright said.

--The Ravens are attempting to win a team-record fifth straight game at home. The Bengals are trying to sweep a three-game road trip for the first time in team history. Billick said the odds favor his team. "Playing on the road is tough," Billick said. "You hope that it's part of the equation when you have three on the road. You hope that's part of the cumulative fatigue that you're talking about in the NFL that makes it so tough to win on the road."

--Wade Richey has 13 touchbacks on the season and is the primary reason why the Ravens lead the league in kickoff coverage, with opponent's averaging the 25-yard line to start drives.  "The kickoffs we've come to expect," Billick said. It is the strength of the Ravens against the weakness of the Bengals, who are last in the league in kickoff return average (25.3). Brandon Bennett's longest return for the Bengals is 44 yards.

 --When the Ravens lost to Cincinnati earlier this season, they also lost a pre-conceived image of the Bengals. "Going in the first game, our mindset was, 'It's going to be the same old Bengals,'" linebacker Peter Boulware said. "Now, our mindset is, 'This is a great football team.' It's not a team that you can beat by not doing anything. You have to go in there and be prepared, focused. Hopefully, if we do that, we can come out on top."

--With the division title at stake along with revenge for an earlier season loss, motivation will not be a problem for the Ravens against the Bengals. "That's as good as it gets," Billick said. "As a coach, you don't have to worry about focus, energy and passion. They know what's in front of them and they're excited about it. It's going to be a great week."

--Billick said he doesn't anticipate linebacker Ed Hartwell will be fined for inadvertently giving line judge Carl Johnson a concussion during a leaping celebration after Ray Lewis' interception return for a touchdown. "He took a pretty good shot, but there is no misinterpretation for what happened there," Billick said.

--Jamal Lewis continues to lead the NFL in rushing with 1,442 yards, which is 49 more than New Orleans' Deuce McAllister, the league's second-leading rusher.

--In the 36 games that running back Jamal Lewis and linebacker Ray Lewis (no relation) have played together over the last four years, the Ravens are 25-12.

--The Ravens are 25-12 in games played in November and December, the league's fourth-best winning percentage in those months.

--When leading at halftime, the Ravens are 6-0. When they trail by six or more points at the end of the first quarter, they are 0-3.

--The Ravens have scored 88 points in their last two games, which is a franchise record. The previous two-game record was 68, which was set in 2000.

--When the Ravens force multiple turnovers, they are 7-1.

--In five seasons under Billick, the Ravens have a 22-5 record when they produce a 100-yard rusher.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Consecutive home games won, tying the Ravens' longest single-season home streak.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think it's going to be the game that determines who goes to the playoffs. That's how we've got to look at it." Tight end Todd Heap on the importance of Sunday's game between the co-leaders of the AFC North.

The Ravens apparently have re-shuffled their secondary for the last time this season. With Corey Fuller banged-up and showing his age, the Ravens will go with the younger and more physical cornerback combination of Chris McAlister and Gary Baxter. That means Will Demps will start at free safety, where Baxter has played most of the season. These moves were made official by coach Brian Billick at the start of the week. With Baxter at cornerback, the Ravens are 3-1 this season. Fuller will come in for nickel situations to play on the outside while Baxter shifts to nickel back to cover the slot receiver.

--QB Kyle Boller (leg) is out and could begin practicing next week. He expects to return for the Dec. 21 game at Cleveland.
--DE Tony Weaver (neck) is questionable but said he expects to start after missing last week's game.
--TE John Jones (leg) is questionable and could miss his fourth straight game.
--CB Tom Knight (ankle) is probable.
--LB Terrell Suggs (leg) is probable.

GAME PLAN: The Ravens are going to have to make plays deep on the outside to score against the Bengals. In the previous meeting, Cincinnati stacked the box with eight players, which included using an extra linebacker in place of a safety. That leaves the Bengals vulnerable to the downfield throws along the sideline. Quarterback Anthony Wright has shown a good touch on passes of 25 or more yards and has found a rapport with receiver Marcus Robinson.

Defensively, the Ravens will key on slowing down hot quarterback Jon Kitna. The key will be how safeties Ed Reed and Will Demps can keep Cincinnati's big-play receivers in front of them. Another factor will be the amount of pressure applied by the Ravens' pass rush. The Bengals were effective running the ball in the first meeting, when they got blockers to the second level on linebacker Ray Lewis. The Ravens front three has to do a better job of occupying space.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Ravens receiver Marcus Robinson vs. Bengals secondary. Robinson has revitalized the Ravens' downfield passing game with nine passes for 202 yards and five touchdowns. The Bengals are ranked 24th in pass defense and will be without starting cornerback Jeff Burris.

--Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister vs. Bengals receiver Chad Johnson. McAlister is having a Pro Bowl-type year, shutting down the opposition's top receiver for the past six games, a list that includes St. Louis' Torry Holt and San Francisco's Terrell Owens. Johnson leads the AFC with 1,105 yards receiving and has recorded four 100-yard receiving games.

--Ravens running back Jamal Lewis vs. Bengals run defense. Lewis leads the league in rushing but has slowed down recently, cracking 100 yards in just two of his past five games. Cincinnati has allowed a running back to gain at least 95 yards in three of the past five games.

--Ravens kicker Matt Stover vs. Bengals kicker Shayne Graham. Stover has converted 18 straight field goals and is second in the AFC with 109 points. Graham has been equally as accurate, hitting 17 of 19 field-goal attempts with his only misses coming from 54 and 48 yards.

INJURY IMPACT: Quarterback Kyle Boller (leg) is out and will be replaced by Anthony Wright.

--Defensive end Tony Weaver (neck) is expected to return to the starting lineup after missing last week.

--TE John Jones (leg) likely will be sidelined but the Ravens have continued to play well on special teams in his absence.

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