Bengals - Ravens: Gameday inside slant

Week 9 in the NFL sees the Ravens (2-5) hosting Marvin Lewis' 6-2 Cincinnati Bengals. We take a quick look at what to look for on each side of the football and what each team needs to do to win.

When the Ravens have the football
Expect a balancing act between the more aggressive passing game offensive coordinator Jim Fassel implemented in a 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers and a cautious style that's mindful of the Bengals' proven ability to take away the football. Plus, the Bengals may be vulnerable against the run. Especially since they allow 125 rushing yards per game and the Steelers pounded them for 221 on the ground on 47 carries in a loss earlier this season. Even though Jamal Lewis is off  to the worst seven-game start of his career with a 55.3 rushing average per game, he may be due against Cincinnati. The Bengals allow 4.7 yards per carry, third-worst in the NFL.

Key matchup
RB Jamal Lewis vs. MLB Odell Thurman

It's a clash between an established 5-11, 245-pound runner with something to prove and a swift rookie linebacker who's eager to build a reputation with his hard-hitting style.

How the Ravens can win
1. Establish the run. Traditionally, Jamal Lewis has his way with the Bengals. He has gained at least 100 rushing yards (948 yards) in all seven of his career games against them for a 135-yard average. Can he reprise his old form? 
2. Be careful with the football. The Bengals lead the NFL with 28 takeaways and a plus-20 turnover ratio. Baltimore is minus-8, and tied for 28th in the NFL.

3. Pressure Carson Palmer. Cincinnati is tied for seventh in the league with only 12 sacks allowed, and the Ravens are tied for 20th with 15 sacks.

When the Bengals have the football
Anticipate an aggressive approach centered on getting All-Pro receiver Chad Johnson into an early rhythm against cornerback Chris McAlister. Quarterback Carson Palmer is likely to also spread the football around because he has such capable skill personnel. Besides handing off to rugged tailback Rudi Johnson, Palmer has multiple options. He can dump off to third-down back Chris Perry (38 receptions), throw deep or short to second wideout T.J. Houshmandzadeh (32 catches) or even rookie Chris Henry (two touchdowns). The diverse talent pool allows offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski to call an imaginative game plan.

Key matchup
WR Chad Johnson vs. CB Chris McAlister

The high level of decibels, speed and skills between these two athletic, brash players is one of the major draws of this AFC North encounter.

How the Bengals can win
1. Unleash Chad Johnson deep. The Bengals' outspoken wideout has 39 career receptions for 621 yards and five touchdowns in eight games against Baltimore. He usually gets the best of Chris McAlister.

2. Pound the football with Rudi Johnson. Johnson is a hard-nosed runner who tends to get stronger as the game wears on. He's gained 681 yards for a 4.2 average this season.

3. Take advantage of Anthony Wright's tendency to throw the costly interception. Wright has thrown interceptions in five of his six starts. Cornerbacks Deltha O'Neal and Tory James have combined for 10 interceptions, and rookie middle linebacker Odell Thurman has picked off four. 

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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