5 Keys for the Ravens against the Bengals

1. Establish the running game. This isn't as much of a guaranteed cinch for the Baltimore Ravens as it might appear at first blush if you only factor in that Jamal Lewis is the NFL rushing leader and the Cincinnati Bengals' run defense is ranked 18th in the league. While Lewis rushed for 101 yards on 19 carries during the Ravens' 34-26 loss at Cincinnati in mid-October, he's one of four backs to surpass the 100-yard barrier against Marvin Lewis' pesky defense.

2. Contain Chad Johnson. A cousin of receiver Keyshawn Johnson and cornerback Samari Rolle, Johnson talks big and backs up his verbiage. He ranks first in the AFC with 1,105 receiving yards, projecting to 1,473 yards for the year. He ranks second in the AFC with 71 receptions, a 95-catch pace. He has nine touchdown catches, his fourth coming on a bounce off safety Ed Reed's shoulder pads for an 82-yard score. He claims he can't be covered by any defensive back. When asked if he looked forward to playing against Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister, he began giggling and said: "Of course, my baby, McAlister, baby!" 

Dick Vitale impressions aside, Johnson might have met his match with the newfound poise that McAlister has been demonstrating in shutting down the 49ers' Terrell Owens and the Rams' Torry Holt, among others. He has the requisite size, upper-body strength and athleticism to run with Johnson. Bengals quarterback Jon Kitna has thrown nine touchdowns with no interceptions in the last three games. This may represent the toughest and truest test for the secondary since opening the season in ugly fashion against the Steelers. If McAlister shuts down Johnson, it could help Baltimore win the AFC North and cement his Pro Bowl candidacy. 

3. Tackle Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson. In 13 games against Baltimore, Dillon has rushed for 739 yards for only a 3.4 average per carry. All three of his 100-yard games against Baltimore happened on the road. Limited by injuries for two months, Dillon is supposedly at full strength now and has a solid caddy in Johnson, who has rushed for 691 yards and five scores. Both stocky runners benefit from the rumbling lead blocks of 5-foot-11, 265-pound rookie fullback Jeremi Johnson. Behind centerpiece linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens' fourth-ranked defense is 10th in the NFL against the run, allowing 101.9 yards a game. The Ravens haven't given up an offensive touchdown in 12 of their last 15 games. 

4. Throw the football to Marcus Robinson. Anthony Wright has connected with his former University of South Carolina teammate for five touchdown passes in the last six quarters. Why disrupt this type of chemistry, especially against an undersized, nondescript secondary? 

5. Avoid penalties and turnovers. Baltimore seems to be learning how to avoid these two disabling maladies. Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

Ravens Insider Top Stories