Facing a battle for the lead of the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens will need to bring out their defensive supremacy, while showing the Cincinnati Bengals that their offensive explosion this season is not a mere fluke. While the offense has put points on the board in record numbers, the defense has surrendered them in numbers that normally would be for twice the number of games they've already played. While that might not change like it did against the hapless Cleveland Browns, the Ravens will have to win the turnover battle to put a Baltimore 'beatdown" on the Bengals.
(More on "How To Beat The Cincinnati Bengals" after the 'Jump')
This is not the "Bungles" team that we saw last year, when the Ravens easily swept both games from them. Cincinnati has greatly improved a defense that was better than most people thought last year. A healthy Keith Rivers plus the addition of rookie Rey Maualaga has made the linebacking corps more like the Ravens' group that Cincy coach Marvin Lewis used to rule over. The addition of Roy Williams at safety helps their already good set of cornerbacks. The health of Carson Palmer plus an offensive line that should get even better when they see the return of first round pick Andre Smith in a short time. When Palmer gets time to throw, he has a solid group of receivers led by some guy with a number for his name.
So what do the Ravens need to do on both sides of the ball to win this battle for first place of the division? Not much, just "play like a Raven" pretty much sums it up. Let the offense continue to move the ball, but put a little more emphasis on the run game than they did in New England, where they showed they could gobble up huge chunks of yardage at will. Throw the ball to keep the defense off of the line and when they creep up to put eight in the box, the air it out to make them pay.
Defensivlely, keep the Bengals out of the end zone. Bend but don't break between the 20's and force Cincy to kick field goals when they get into scoring position. Shut down the run game as usual and put lots of pressure on Carson Palmer, both with four rushers as well through a mix of stunts and blitzes. Don't give Palmer time to set up with deep drops and make our DB's look any worse than they've been already. Allow Ed Reed to provide help and start his run of picks that he did late in 2008. No long plays on offense for Cincinnati, much less Special Teams.
Speaking of Special Teams, we should get a needed boost from rookie Lardarius Webb, who will take over the kickoff return duties from Chris Carr, who has looked less that average since his arrival here. Carr will continue to return punts for now, but something tells me that once Webb gets confidence returning kickoffs and has some needed success, he should take over the punt retuning duties as well.
With these thoughts in mind, and played out on the field, the Baltimore Ravens should be able to expose the Cincinnati Bengals' early success as one that could have easily been 1-3 or even 0-4, more than the one that currently sits at 3-1, soon to be 3-2.