‘The season finale’
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 30 – 1:00 pm – Paul Brown Stadium
Baltimore Ravens (10-5) @ Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
Cincinnati propelled themselves into the playoffs by going into Heinz field and winning a close game; kicking a field goal at the end of regulation to knock Pittsburgh out of the playoffs. The Bengals, a wild-card seed, will be in the playoffs for the second year.
For the Ravens, the offense woke up and the defense played tough. The win earned Baltimore another AFC North division tittle. Much credit has to go to new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who did a nice job of establishing the run game and rolling Flacco out of the pocket. Another key, the play-calling came in quicker giving the offense a much better tempo.
This game both teams stand pat as to their playoff seeding. Yes, the Ravens could move up a spot (3rd seed) if they win and New England losses to Miami. Yet, you have to think both head Coach Harbaugh and coach Marvin Lewis are thinking about going into the playoffs healthy. In other words, this may look like a preseason game after half-time.
CHALK IT UP/KEY MATCH-UPS:
RAVENS OFFENSE VS. BENGALS SECONDARY
Remember opening day in Baltimore, Monday night football? The Ravens dominated and Flacco had a great day passing (299 yards, 2 TD’s). Since then, the Bengals have improved, ranking 10th versus the pass and 8th versus the run; a stout defense. This game will be interesting and important for offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and Flacco. The Ravens offense ending the regular season on a positive note will be important heading into the playoffs. Cincinnati’s secondary with CB Leon Hall, CB Terence Newman and CB/SS Nate Clements provide a real challenge. The good news is TE Dennis Pitta and WR Torrey Smith have been dependable targets. Anquan Boldin might sit this game out having suffered a bruised shoulder last Sunday. The establishment of the run will be key to opening up the passing game. Ray Rice averaging 110.0 rushing yards and has scored seven touchdowns in his last four games against the Bengals.
RAVENS SECONDARY VS. BENGALS WR’S:
While the Ravens have not been the best playing defensive team this year, the secondary now ranks 17th in passing yards allowed. We are seeing players step up after starter Lardarius Webb went down earlier in the year. And Bernard Pollard has missed a few games. I would expect Pollard and a few key players to miss this Sunday, in order to get to full-health and ready for the playoffs. Cincinnati has a talented receiving core in A.J. Green and TE Jermaine Gresham. Last week Green ran a fantastic route and made a reception to put the team in field goal position. Second year corner Chykie Brown, played well last Sunday and he could be called on to help contain WR A.J. Green and company.
RAVENS OFFENSIVE LINE VS. CINCINNATI’S FRONT 4
If you don’t know Geno Atkins, DT then you better, he is a dominant interior lineman. Atkins has 13 sacks on the season and 4 forced fumbles. The Ravens offensive line did not give up a sack last Sunday, which was really important for Flacco. In many respects the Bengals front is similar to the Giants; they rely on their front four to generate pass rush. In fact, the defensive line account for 34.5 of their 47 total sacks as a team. As mentioned Atkins 13 sacks, –DE Michael Johnson (9.5 sacks), DE Carlos Dunlap (5 sacks) and DTWallace Gilberry (5 sacks), DT Domata Peko (2 sacks)
Key: Protecting the interior of the offensive line with LG Marshal Yanda, C Matt Birk and LG Jah Reid
RAVENS DEFENSE/PRESSURE VS. QB ANDY DALTON:
Cincinnati has done a nice job of a balanced offense. Ben Jarvis Green Ellis- has rushed for 1094 yards (3.9 ave.). However, when teams have slowed down the rushing attack of the Bengals, the offense isn’t nearly as effective. This year QB Dalton has been sacked 44 times. So, if the Ravens are able to apply pressure they can perhaps benefit. Lately, the front seven has looked strong; DE McPhee back in the line up and a healthy Ngata sure has helped the linebacking core (Kruger, Suggs, Upshaw).