Dev's Battle Plans: Bengals at Ravens

Every week, long time Ravens Insider site staffer and all-round Ravens guru Dev Panchwagh will break down the Ravens' strategy for the upcoming game. This week the Ravens host the Cincinnati Bengals.

Offensive Keys:

1.) Using play-action on first-down: Against Pittsburgh, the Ravens did a nice job of passing the ball more often on first down to set up manageable conversion situations on second and third-down. The Ravens essentially used the pass to setup their running game.

Against Cincinnati, the Ravens should expect to see eight defenders in the box on first-down, as the Bengals will guard heavily against the Ravens attempt to batter Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor into the front seven of the Cincinnati defense. If the Bengals drop a safety into the box, they will leave themselves vulnerable against the play-action passing game. Using play-action, especially on first down, may be even more effective because the Bengal safeties have been caught out of position at times when defending the pass. The Ravens need to be able to score touchdowns to beat the Bengals, so they should try to take their shots down the field on first down off of the run action game.

2.) Testing the Bengal linebackers: Although the linebacker rotation of Landon Johnson, Odell Thurman, Brian Simmons and David Pollack has been solid, the Ravens must test these linebackers in the passing game because it will be hard for the Ravens to establish big plays in the passing against the Bengal cornerbacks. Of the four linebackers, Pollack is potentially the weakest link. Pollack has terrific skills as a pass rusher, but he is learning how to play off the line as a linebacker, and has yet to develop a feel for dropping into coverage. Where Pollack lines up should give the Ravens an idea of what type of attack the Bengals want to use. There won't be too many times when Pollack is brought into the game to drop into coverage. If he lines up at linebacker, he will be rushing the quarterback off of the left or right edge. The Ravens should try to establish a two-tight end passing attack and use Daniel Wilcox and Todd Heap as targets in the passing game against the Bengal linebackers.

Additionally, the Ravens can take advantage of the linebackers' aggressiveness when they come on blitz plays. The Bengals will use the blitz to try to get after Anthony Wright, and when they blitz their backers, Wright should be able to complete passes to his hot reads who will creep into the gaps that the blitzers vacate at the snap of the ball.

3.) Grinding: Ultimately, the Ravens offensive success will depend on how well they run the football. The Bengals have a solid secondary which is hard to crack and if the Ravens are forced to pass the ball too often, ball hawkers like Deltha O'Neal or Tory James will pick off one or two of Wright's attempts. Additionally, the Bengal front seven will cause pressure and collapse the pocket.

As was the case against the Colts, the Ravens also need a strong running game in order to keep the Cincinnati offense off the field and out of rhythm. The key to getting the running game going is to be efficient passing the ball on first-down in order to open up running lanes and get the safety out of the box. The Ravens also need to be able to stay in the game or control the score of the game heading into the fourth quarter in order to use Taylor and Lewis to wear out the Cincinnati front seven. Given the size mismatch that the Ravens have going for them up front, the Baltimore offensive line should eventually be able to get a significant push against the undersized Cincinnati defensive line.

Defensive Keys:

1.) Nickel and Dime: Last week, the Ravens' sole emphasis on defense was to stuff the Steelers' rushing attack. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan usually crammed the line-of-scrimmage with eight defenders to force Ben Roethlisberger to complete passes on the outside.

The Ravens will need to use the opposite approach against Carson Palmer and the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals can spread out defenses using three-wide sets and the Ravens need to account for the potential that Cincinnati will come out slinging the football. On first-down especially, it will be important for the Ravens to have the right defensive personnel in the game to be able to defend the pass. The use of nickel and dime packages should be prevalent. The Ravens could also tinker with using Quarters given that they will be without Ed Reed for a second week in a row. Using more defensive backs to protect against the Bengals' passing attack is also a good way of pressuring Palmer into completing tighter throws to his receivers, as his main targets (Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh) may have to deal with defeating double coverage all afternoon long.

2.) Forcing Rudi to the edges: The Bengals will try to establish Rudi Johnson up the gut, but teams have had a tough time cracking the Ravens' defensive line up the middle. Even without Ray Lewis last week against Pittsburgh, Willie Parker and Jerome Bettis had a tough time gaining yards up the middle, and had to bounce their runs towards the edges. While Johnson has the ability to cut in order to get to the perimeter, he does not have the speed to out-run linebackers and safeties once he gets near the sidelines. The Ravens' goal should be to force Johnson to cut-back to the edges because he is harder to tackle when he is able to lean forward, using his squat build to break tackles and gain yards after contact.

3.) Collapsing the middle of the line: In order to fluster Carson Palmer, the Ravens have to get a solid performance from their pass-rush, especially the defensive tackles. Maake Kemoeatu and Kelly Gregg have to be able to gain penetration and push the interior of the Cincinnati line backward. In addition, Ryan should experiment with cross blitzes up the middle, which will test the Cincinnati line's ability to pick up the blitz. The bottom line is that the Ravens have to get pressure up the middle of the line in order to force Palmer to move left or right to avoid the rush. Palmer should not be allowed to move up in the pocket.

One-on-one match-up to watch: Chad Johnson versus Chris McAlister

Dev Panchwagh is a long-time member of the Ravens Insider staff.  Talk to him about this article on the RavensInsider message boards where he posts under the super-secret ID 'dev21'.

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