Baltimore Ravens' scouting report

NICKEL PACKAGE 1. Will the Baltimore Ravens' secondary be able to keep up the good work? One week removed from a strong performance against the Denver Broncos marked by sound coverage and crisp tackling, the job just got even tougher for the Ravens' defensive backs today against the Cincinnati Bengals' vibrant passing game.

Led by quarterback Carson Palmer, the Bengals have a dangerous downfield presence with wide receivers Chad Ochocinco, Andre Caldwell, Laveranues Coles and Chris Henry. Palmer has completed 61.7 percent of his throws for 1,608 yards, 13 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Palmer is 7-3 against Baltimore all-time and engineered a game-winning drive during a 17-14 win over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium last month. Ochocinco leads the Bengals with 39 catches for 573 yards and five touchdowns. Not to mention his outspoken style on the airwaves and the Internet.

2. Will the defense stop running back Cedric Benson?
Benson uses a rugged style to pile up yards, becoming the first opposing running back in 40 games to rush for over 100 yards against the Ravens during the last meeting. The Ravens have lost both games this season when they've allowed an opposing runner to hit the century mark. Benson is too strong and powerful to bring down with an arm tackle. The Ravens feel like they've fixed their problems and are back to business as usual at stopping the run.

3. Will Derrick Mason catch a pass?
Mason was shut out last time against Cincinnati, something that has only happened one other time during his five-year tenure in Baltimore. If the Bengals use double-coverage techniques on Mason again, that might be a mistake given the emergence of Kelley Washington lately on third downs. It's a safe bet that Mason will be more involved this time.

4. Can the Ravens avoid penalties?
The Ravens were flagged 10 times during the loss to the Bengals. That included three infractions on the Bengals' game-winning drive. The Ravens often wonder if they're getting a fair shot from the officials. This game could be an interesting litmus test to that theory. Some of the flags are questionable, but the Ravens have to adjust to how the game is being called nowadays.

5. Will Joe Flacco take control?
The Ravens' quarterback has been careful with the football all season, throwing just five interceptions out of 250 throws for a two-percent interception percentage. However, he threw a season-high two picks against the Bengals last month. He has yet to throw an interception during the subsequent two games against the Minnesota Vikings and the Broncos. That's a streak of 54 passes without a turnover. Flacco typically makes sound adjustments to coverage schemes that he's seen before.

KEY MATCHUP
Baltimore Ravens WR Derrick Mason vs. Cincinnati Bengals CB Leon Hall

The last time Mason squared off with the Bengals' secondary he didn't catch a single pass. Bracketed between a cornerback and a safety, Mason got frustrated and the Ravens didn't challenge the Bengals by distributing the football elsewhere downfield. It's unclear if the Bengals will employ the same or similar strategy during this pivotal AFC North encounter. If they do, quarterback Joe Flacco has done a better job lately getting the ball spread around to his targets. The no-huddle offense could also be a big factor in possibly getting Mason some breathing room. Hall is a big, strong cornerback with sound cover skills. He's not as fast as the Bengals' other starting cornerback, Johnathan Joseph. Both players have intercepted three passes. Mason has caught 30 passes for 42 yards and four touchdowns.

KEY MATCHUP
Baltimore Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Cincinnati Bengals RB Cedric Benson

Benson is having a career-best season, on pace to rush for roughly 1,650 yards. And he became the first running back in 40 games to gain 100 yards against the Ravens' defense. He rushed for 120 yards during a 17-14 win last month. That included a 28-yard touchdown run when he busted through linebacker Antwan Barnes' arm tackle. Lewis is determined to halt Benson in his tracks this time. Lewis has the speed and tackling ability to stop Benson. However, the Ravens need to do a good of positioning and not overcompensating for any breakdowns. They'll need to excel in pursuit and at open-field tackling to corral Benson. The Bengals are 3-0 this season when Benson rushes for 100 yards. The Ravens are 0-2 when they have allowed an opposing back to eclipse the century mark.

THREE DOWNS WITH ...
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco

1. On his ability to improvise: ""I usually just go back and laugh about it. I try to make myself feel good about it, but it's probably pretty frustrating for the defense because they had that play stopped really."

2 On if the noise affects him: "It's noisy, but at the same time, when you're out on the field you're not really paying attention to it. You're just operating as you normally would. That's another thing that we do a pretty good job of doing, is handling the noise.

"I think that's partially why we play pretty well on the road. You've got to give our offensive line a lot of credit for that because they have to listen to all the calls and communicate between each other about all their calls."

3. On knowing when to take a sack: "There are times you take sacks because you never want to force something downfield. You want to be able to throw the ball away, but, at the same time if you can't do that, then you don't want to make a bad decision downfield.

"I took a sack in this past game, but it was more because I kind of just got stuck in the turf. I really should have escaped on it, but I got stuck and just decided to go down and take one. I'm not necessarily somebody that likes to take one, just because it doesn't reflect well on your offensive line, and you want to keep those guys going as much as possible.

THREE DOWNS WITH ...
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer

1.On Greg Mattison vs. Rex Ryan: ""I think it's just a different mentality. Same players, same mindset, same goals, but just a few different looks. They play a little bit more sound, I think.

"Guys aren't just kind of running all over the place and trying to make plays and have opportunities. Guys are staying within themselves and within the defense and really playing really good."

2. On changes in the Ravens' defense: "Not really. A little bit more pressuring. I know they felt like they kind of found something new, or found the way they're going to play now. But really, it wasn't a whole lot different.

"Some of the same looks, some of the same pressures, a little bit more here and there. Why change what works? Just because you lose a couple of games, you don't want to throw everything out the window.

3. On Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson "He doesn't get lost to us. No. 95 shows up on film, and I've been playing against him for, I think, six years now. You know, a lot was made when they lost Adalius Thomas, and they said, ‘You know, he's going to be tough to replace.'

"Well, they found their guy. They replaced him. They knew what they were doing when they let Adalius go because they knew that Jarret was a great player and he could do that. He's not a guy we overlook, he's not a guy we underestimate."


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