Ravens - Bengals: 5 keys to the game

Ravens Insider chief writer Aaron Wilson gives us his weekly 5 keys to the game.

1. Capitalize on mistakes: The Baltimore Ravens (7-4) absolutely need a win against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-6) at M&T Bank Stadium today to remain in the wild-card hunt, and intercepting quarterback Carson Palmer is a smart route to take.

Palmer has thrown a league-high 16 interceptions, tossing three in last week's 58-48 shootout win over the Cleveland Browns. He was intercepted twice by safety Ed Reed in the team's first encounter, a 23-9 Baltimore win. The Ravens rank fourth in the NFL in pass defense and are 5-0 this season when Reed intercepts a pass. Baltimore intercepted Palmer three times on Sept. 26 and held him to his season-low passer rating (43.4).

The Ravens need to generate a pass rush. They hit Palmer 22 times the last time they played and sacked him four times. However, Cincinnati hasn't allowed a sack in three of its last four games.

2. Run the football effectively: Even without Jamal Lewis, the Ravens need to establish a semblance of a running game, particularly against the NFL's 30th ranked rushing defense. The Ravens haven't had a running back gain 100 yards since an Oct. 10 win over the Washington Redskins. The offensive line needs to do a better job of opening holes for Chester Taylor. Taylor is averaging only 76 yards in his previous three starts in place of Lewis.

3. Tackle Rudi Johnson: The Bengals' hard-nosed runner is a load to bring down and is on pace for a 1,500-yard season. He's coming off a career-high 202-yard outing. Johnson is a classic North-South runner who gained 98 yards on 23 carries against Baltimore in their first encounter. He gains momentum and strength the more he carries it, so the Ravens will have to tackle better than they did in last week's shoddy display against the defending champion New England Patriots. Especially the secondary, they should still be embarrassed by the way Corey Dillon practiced his Heisman pose on their helmets.

4. Find out if Todd Heap is fully recovered: The Ravens' Pro Bowl tight end could be a major weapon if his ankle is finally right after nine weeks out. This could give quarterback Kyle Boller security he doesn't have with other less sure-handed targets. Heap is likely to make only a brief appearance, but this could help the Ravens significantly as they'll need him during the stretch run.

5. Create field position for Matt Stover: Stover is one of the league's most accurate kickers (18-of-19). However, B.J. Sams has only averaged more than nine yards per punt return just once in his last six games.
 

Aaron Wilson is the chief writer for RavensInsider.Com He is also the Ravens' reporter for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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