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Week 17 Doomsday: Ravens-Bengals Preview

flacco green

 

The Ravens have their work cut out for them. Win, and have a solid chance of getting into the crapshoot that is the NFL playoffs. Lose, and hit the links. Although we can sit here and talk about what chances the Chiefs and Jets have of knocking off the Chargers and Dolphins respectively, none of it (barring a miracle) matters if Baltimore can’t pull out a W on Sunday. They face off against the AFC North Champion Cincinnati Bengals, who can lay claim to having one of the top defenses in the league.

The Ravens may have beaten the Bengals in a 20-17 OT thriller at home last month, but the victory was far from convincing. It’s hard to say you deserve a win when you only gain 189 yards offensively and turn the ball over 3 times. Particularly when you go scoreless for the last 35 minutes of regulation. In order to play in week 18, they’re going to have to find a way to replicate this success on the road against a team still fighting for a playoff bye. My blood pressure is going through the roof just thinking about it. Here are your key factors for a Ravens victory:

1. A.J. Green vs. Jimmy Smith

 A.J. Green is going to be a key factor in any game he plays in. The good news is Smith handled his last matchup against a Pro Bowl receiver fairly well, keeping Megatron scoreless and under 100 yards. Historically, Green has had a relatively quiet career against Baltimore. However, the bad news is Green put up 151 and a touch against the Ravens earlier this year, with the score and a large chunk of those yards coming on that devastating Hail Mary at the end of regulation that I’d prefer not to discuss any further. Smith has the size and physicality to match up well against Green, and he can’t really be faulted for what James Ihedigbo’s dumb ass couldn’t bat down.

2. Jim Caldwell vs. Bengals Defense

The Bengals come in ranked 5th in the NFL in total defense, ranking 6th in both passing and rush defense. Balance is generally the sign of a great defense. Flacco threw for 140 and Bernard Pierce led Ravens rushers with 31 yards on the ground in Week 10. Fucking abysmal. Caldwell’s job might not be on the line given recent success (see Bowl, Super), but it’d be in his best interest to find a weakness in this Cincinnati defense during film study this week. It’s also critical that his offensive line keeps Flacco on his feet, because I’m not as confident about that left knee as he seems to be. The last thing they need is the fate of this season resting on Tyrod Taylor’s shoulders/legs, especially after last week’s debacle.

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3. Get to Andy Dalton early and often

The Ravens were able to get to Dalton 5 times in their first meeting, and were able to pressure him into 3 picks. These mistakes were critical in building a 17-0 first half lead. Marvin Lewis and OC Jay Gruden have shown a reluctance to be aggressive early with Dalton, often gauging which version of the erratic QB has shown up before moving forward with an offensive gameplan. Ravens DC Dean Pees needs to be aggressive early, as Dalton has historically been mistake-prone against the blitz. Art Jones may be questionable, but  there’s no reason why a unit with Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Elvis Dumervil shouldn’t have the QB on his back more often.

4. Special Teams

It goes without saying that special teams has been a strong point for the Ravens not just this year, but in their entire franchise history. This game features a pair of top 10 defenses, and could very well come down to one turnover or key special teams play. It’s well documented what Justin Tucker and Jacoby Jones bring to the table. John Harbaugh has been known to have a few tricks up his sleeves as a former special teams coordinator, but has had cold feet since attempting a fake FG in last year’s Super Bowl that thankfully no one remembers. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see him try something new if his offense has trouble putting points on the board.

Alright, it’s about that time. Let’s fire away…

Why you should feel shitty about Sunday: Flacco’s knee. Rice had 18 carries for 30 yards in Week 10. Ravens are 2-5 on the road this year. The Chiefs have nothing to play for. The Jets are the Jets. Bengals running game has improved in recent weeks. Flags. Bengals are undefeated at home. If we lose, we have the Orioles to look forward to.

Why you should feel great about Sunday: Flacco gets it done on the road in big games. This team has heart. Dalton is 1-4 all time against Baltimore. Justin Tucker. The Dolphins put up a whopping 103 yards against the lowly Bills last week. Second best 3rd down defense in the NFL.  Ravens are 9-0 all-time after losing by double digits.

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