Bengals - Ravens: 5 keys to the game

5 keys - RavensInsider's regular weekly article. 5 things the Ravens must do in order to beat the Cincinnati Bengals today at M&T Bank Stafdium.

1. Contain the pass. Heading into today's game against the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, the Baltimore Ravens' secondary is in a potentially precarious situation. They're playing against a top-flight quarterback who has multiple weapons to throw to.

Carson Palmer engineered a 27-26 comeback win in Baltimore last December with three fourth-quarter touchdown passes. He registered career-highs for completions (29), passing yards (382) and completion percentage (80.8).

Since that epic collapse, the Ravens have lost eight of 12 games.

The Ravens, who rank second overall in pass defense, will be without Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed. That could increase Palmer's propensity to throw deep to Chad Johnson, who averaged 130 yards per game against Baltimore last season.

Even if Chris McAlister contains Johnson, the Ravens still have to account for secondary options like T.J. Houshmandzadeh. That's why it's critical to generate a pass rush because Palmer, who sports a 104.1 passer rating, is capable of picking apart a defense if he has adequate time.

2. Tackle Rudi Johnson. Johnson is a powerful runner capable of throttling defenders. He has gained 681 yards and rushed for two touchdowns. However, he has never excelled against Baltimore. The Ravens, who will be playing without All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis for the second consecutive week, have limited him to 179 yards in five career games. Johnson is on pace for 1,362 yards, averages 4.2 yards per carry and ranks fourth in the AFC in rushing and eighth overall in the NFL.

3. Control the football. A dominant time of possession is essentially a requirement to keep the Bengals' explosive passing game on the sideline. That means Jamal Lewis will have to reprise his history of trampling the Bengals. He has seven 100-yard games in seven career games against Cincinnati. This might be the truest test yet of whether Lewis' game has declined as much as his paltry statistics (3.0 rushing average) suggest. Cincinnati's undersized front seven allowed 181 rushing yards in a loss to Jacksonville and 221 in a loss to Pittsburgh.

4. Increase accuracy in the red zone. One of the primary reasons why Baltimore ranks 26th in red-zone offense is quarterback Anthony Wright's errant throws in opponents' territory. In a narrow loss to the Steelers, Wright was 1-for-8 beyond the Steelers' 30-yard line following the Ravens' initial touchdown drive.

5. Throw it to Todd Heap. The two-time Pro Bowl tight end has averaged 14 yards per reception in seven games against the Bengals.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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