Battle Plans against Cincinnati

Offense: Three Offensive Keys to Victory: 1. Get an early lead: The Bengals are not a team that handles pressure very well. This season, when opposing teams have gained a substantial lead on Cincinnati, they have won every time by at least one touchdown.

Obviously, the Bengals are not built to make comebacks. Corey Dillon is the center piece of their offense and when he's running well, Jon Kitna feels more at ease with throwing the ball around, especially when defenses consider him an after thought.


When they are down, the Bengals are prone to making mistakes in heavy doses.  


For the Ravens, even without Chris McAlister, they would matchup extremely well against a pass happy Bengals offense because they can breakdown their pass protection using different blitzes from different angles, and they can force Kitna to make critical decisions with the pocket collapsing around him.


Quite frankly, the Ravens don't fare well coming from behind themselves. The Ravens faced a deficit going into halftime five times this season, and they lost all five of those games.


2. Unleash the beast: Grabbing an early lead and running the ball well go hand in hand like peanut butter and jelly.


With or without a lead though, the Ravens must make a solid commitment to giving Jamal Lewis 30 touches on Sunday through the passing and rushing attack. He's certainly rested, after only netting 24 carries combined against Pittsburgh and Atlanta.

And you better believe that he's also chomping at the bit to run over somebody.


If the Ravens can impose their will Cincinnati's front seven early and often, Jeff Blake can then use his play-action fakes to hold the safeties and linebackers in position, allowing him to throw passes down the seams to Todd Heap.   


3. Take care of the football: It may seem like an elementary key to the game, but it needs to be stated emphatically.

Atlanta and Pittsburgh, turnovers foiled the Ravens' chances for winning both ball games. Overall, the offense has turned the ball over eight times in the last three games, and the Ravens aren't a good enough team to overcome those mistakes.


They need to clean their act up this week, especially considering that keeping Cincinnati in this ball game and giving them confidence is just begging for trouble.


Simply put: the Ravens absolutely, positively, unequivocally, cannot give the Bengals' offense any freebies.


Defense Three Defensive Keys to Victory:


1. Blitz and blitz some more: Mike Nolan used a contained pass rush against Michael Vick and the Atlanta Falcons' offense, while also mixing in some blitzes off the edge using his safeties and linebackers.


This week though, he must not take any prisoners. Blitz up the middle and off the edge. Use your linebackers and safeties at the same time. At all times, make sure to use at least five pass rushers on every passing down. And oh by the way, use plenty of stunts and loops and one sided blitzes, especially off the left side, forcing Levi Jones, a talented rookie, to make a decision on which blitzer to pick up.  


The Bengals' pass protection, which has been leaky all season, needs to be tested no matter what the cost. If Kitna beats the Ravens throwing the football with a chaotic pass rush in his face all game long, so be it.      


2. Watch the deep passing game: When Kitna is given time to operate; he's a dangerous foe to face because he's got a lot of weapons to throw to.

Yes, these are the same receivers that have as many drops as they do catches in some ball games. Yes, these are the same receivers that don't like going over the middle to snatch passes.


However, Westbrook, Warrick and Johnson are about as talented as any trio in the NFL from a pure physical standpoint.


That was illustrated last Sunday, when Houston played a lot of press coverage against the three, and subsequently gave up big plays in the passing game all day long.


Conversely, the Ravens will continue to use their cover 2 scheme, which will make it tough for the Bengal receivers to slash through the secondary for any deep gains.


However, that does mean that the middle of the field should be open. The Ravens though, will take their chances and give that part of the field up.


3. Against Dillon, flow to the ball: When Corey Dillon is at his best, he's breaking tackles left and right in the open field and at the line of scrimmage.


The 230-pound back is a load to handle up the middle and he's a force off the edge because he shows great patience, allowing the cutback lanes to open up.


The Ravens probably don't stand a great chance to completely stymie Dillon, if it comes right down to it. However, they can hold his rushing total down by wrapping him up once he advances the ball some. Defenders must flow to Dillon, making sure that if he breaks one tackle, he won't break another one just as easily to gain five more yards then he should have gained. Once Dillon gets into a rhythm, like any tailback, he is just impossible to handle.

The inability to control Dillon was a key reason for the Bengals staying in both games against
Baltimore last season. He's their heart and soul on offense and if you can frustrate him, the rest of the players will wilt.


Two battles you have to watch:


Lorenzo Neal versus Edgarton Hartwell and Bernardo Harris: When it comes to isolation blockers, Neal is the king. There are few lead blockers in the game that can take on a linebacker one on one, lay him on his back and keep moving through the crease to pound more defenders out of the way. It helps that Neal is a compact player who invites contact and isn't afraid of any player. Hartwell is coming into his own at the inside linebacker position, and he's a physical player himself. So far, despite only weighing 250-pounds, Hartwell has shed blockers extremely well and can locate the ball carrier through a clutter. Harris is slower than he once was, but he's still decent at holding his own at the point of attack. This battle will literally be won by the last man standing.


Jonathan Ogden versus Justin Smith: Against Patrick Kerney, Ogden gave up a couple of hurries and a couple of sacks, plus an assist on that touchdown that Kerney scored in the first half to give the Falcons the early lead. Clearly, it was one of the few bad games in Ogden's career. Things don't get much easier against Justin Smith; an emerging pass rusher who gave the Ravens fits in Cincinnati last year. Smith has the complete package as a pass rusher, especially since he has added a few moves to enhance his game. Ogden will need to keep his balance and flush Smith to the inside, where he can use his strength and reach to keep Smith at bay.   

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