The Baltimore Ravens head into Cincinnati to try to return last year's favor by sweeping the Bengals this afternoon after taking the opening game this season, 17-10. In that game, the Ravens' rookie QB, Joe Flacco made his initial appearance in the NFL, and while he ran 38 yards for a score, he did not exactly burn up the Bengals secondary. At the same time, a win is a win in the NFL and it was a great first experience for the first round draft pick out of Delaware. Now, after ten more games, the QB that the Bengals and their fans will see today is a much more experienced and poised QB, although we can't exactly consider Flacco a veteran just yet. Unfortunately, while Carson Palmer was the QB of record in the first meeting between the teams, he will be on the sidelines deciding for some reason, whether or not to return to the field this season rather than go on Injured Reserve and have surgery on his elbow. Now the Bengals QB is Ryan Fitzpatrick and while he has been in the league longer than Flacco, he is pretty much in the same boat as far as not originally being in the Bengals plans at the beginning of the season.
The difference is that Flacco is not only the QB of the present, but the future as well, while Fitzpatrick is just the backup who is stepping in for the injured Palmer until he returns, be it this season or next. Fitzpatrick does not have the arm strength or accuracy of Palmer, but his running ability has given the opponents fits. However, he is risking his neck if he plans to take off on this Ravens defense too often. Based on the injuries to their offensive line, he may not any choice in the matter. Once again, this game should be decided up front on the Ravens defensive line, as if they can get pressure on Fitzpatrick, he will be forced to scramble and throw on the run which should lead to the turnovers the Ravens have feasted on recently.
Conversely, Flacco needs to limit his mistakes and in the Ravens past five wins, he has thrown zero interceptions and at least one TD pass in each game. The Ravens will need to establish the running game and once again, which of the three RB's that end up with the carries and yardage really doesn't matter to the Ravens. The passing game has been surprisingly successful and as long as they don't get greedy, that should continue. It has been nice to see both Mark Clayton and Todd Heap getting more touches than they did earlier in the season, as Flacco is spreading the ball around, although make no bones about it, Derrick Mason is still his go-to guy when he drops back to pass.
The defense should show up as they say, "defense travels well." Whether it be at home or on the road, our defense has played great in every game other than the two losses at Indianapolis and New York. Cincinnati is not anywhere near their class, but they still have two of the better wideouts in the league in 85 and TJ. However, our patched up secondary has been playing well and if we can put pressure on Fitzpatrick, then he won't have the time to let them get open. Hopefully there won't be the big play to hurt the Ravens, be it a long pass or Special Teams mistake.
If the Ravens play anywhere near their level of expectation, this should be an easy win. However, if they do not keep their focus on today, and instead look ahead to the the next two critical games against the Redskins and Steelers, they can be upset. However, I just can't see it and would be devastated if that were to happen as it would severely diminish our playoff chances. Look for the Ravens to overwhelm the Bengals and put a typical Baltimore beatdown on them in their own crib as the Ravens move to 8-4 and stay right on the heels of the AFC North division leading Pittsburgh Steelers.