Dom’s Preview and Discussion of Sunday’s Bengals vs. Ravens game

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As a Steeler fan I’m so glad this Bye Week is almost over.  I love following the N.F.L, but getting psyched about a week where the Steelers don’t play is tough.  Nevertheless, there is actually one matchup this week that Steeler Nation needs to particularly follow.  Don’t get me wrong, if you want some analysis and discussions about the aforementioned game from the blogs that exclusively follow the Bengals and Ravens, check out the fantastic Fansided blogs “Stripe Hype” and “Ebony Bird.”  Those people really know their stuff and each site should be littered with great analysis and previews from those blogs’ writers.

However, I wanted to write another article on this specific game for those Steelers fans that may not be paying attention to what will be a crucial A.F.C. North game.  So here’s a Steeler Fan’s preview and discussion of the upcoming Bengals vs. Ravens game.  Hit that “Continue Reading” button and let’s get started:

Intro./Status of the A.F.C. North:

As I’ve repeated over and over again, this game affects not only Baltimore and Cincinnati, but the Steelers as well.  If 6-3 Cincinnati wins, they will in turn help the 7-3 Steelers who will remain in 1st place in the A.F.C. North due to the tie-breaker scenario involved with both of these teams so far this season.  This is what all of us in Steeler Nation need to root for: a Bengals victory.  If 6-3 Baltimore wins on the other hand, they will be in a 1st place tie with the Steelers atop the Division due to their tie-breaker over the Steelers.  Regardless of what happens, the balance of power in the A.F.C. North will receive a shake-up when the final gun sounds on Sunday.


Cincinnati Offense vs. Baltimore Defense

If the Bengals are going to have any shot of success moving the football, I feel that Bengals Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden really needs to make a dedicated but tough choice on how to attack Baltimore’s aging but still effective Defense.

While it may not be 2000, Baltimore’s Run Defense is still stout with Haloti Ngata,  Terrell Suggs, and Ray Lewis jumping on every pile to accumulate Tackle statistics (that is, if Lewis plays, word is he might be out for the game and that would be a huge win for the Bengals).

That being said, Cincinnati could try to gamble and rely on their RB-duo Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott to shoulder the load, eat clock, and take multiple beatings to take the pressure off of Rookie QB Andy “Ginger-Vitis” Dalton.  It’s the classic game plan to attempt to thwart any aggressive Defense that is looking to confuse a young QB and capitalize on his mistakes.  Then with the opposition loading the box, hit them with some play-action passes.

Yet Gruden could go with a different strategy if he feels that Benson and Scott may be unable to make an impact.  I mean the Bengals have the League’s 20th Ranked Rushing Offense in terms of YPG and they are facing a Ravens Run Defense that is only allowing 90.3 YPG on the ground (Tied for 3rd).  Sure Cincinnati ran the ball pretty well on the Steelers last Sunday, but Pittsburgh’s Run Defense (especially on Zone Run Plays) has been atrocious all season long and is not of the caliber that Baltimore’s is.  So, unless the Bengals’ Offensive Line can get a decent push on Ngata and the rest of the Ravens’ D-Line it will be tough sledding all day.  And if the Bengals are stuck in Neutral too long, only bad can come from it.

However, Gruden could opt to go a different way on Offense against the Ravens.  As a way to get Dalton settled, Gruden could look to get his Rookie’s confidence up and have him get in a rhythm against Baltimore’s suspect Cornerbacks with short, quick throws to his Backs, Ends, and to his WR’s.  Look for TE Jermaine Gresham to be heavily involved if this occurs and Baltimore must find somebody that can cover what could be Dalton’s “security blanket” on Sunday.  Of course, if A.J. Green is healthy enough to play, he will be an X-Factor and could come up with some splash plays that could kill the Ravens.  But it will be up to Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, and Gresham if Green isn’t in the game.  That’s a matchup that really favors Baltimore in my opinion, and each of those guys must really step-up their game in the event Green is a no-go.

This aforementioned strategy has only one way of succeeding however, and that is “Ginger-Vitis” being allowed ample time to throw the rock even on the quick throws.  Andrew Whitworth and Co. must provide adequate protection against the Ravens’ relentless pass rush.

Sure the Bengals stopped the Steelers from recording a Sack last weekend.  However, Dick LeBeau this season has been content to not send his boys at the QB and the Steelers’ LB’s just haven’t had their typical pass-rushing mojo in 2011.  Suggs could have a field day if the Bengals get behind and Dalton is forced to throw low-percentage and long drop-back passes early in the game.  Cue Future Hall of Famer and best FS in the League Ed Reed to take advantage with some INT’s if this is the case.  Thus, if Cincinnati’s Offense can’t rise to the occasion, and Baltimore’s Defense starts dominating, look for the home crowd to get involved and make it an absolute mad-house for Dalton.

Just an aside, I was thoroughly unimpressed with Dalton last week if I do say so myself.  And although he is a Rookie, he sure is getting quite the attention for playing some ball with a lot to be desired.  He made poor throw after poor throw in his 15-30 day against the Steelers where he threw 2 INT’s, and had trouble thowing downfield (especially over 10 yards) all game long.  The Green TD was a quail that should have fallen as an INT had the Safety with zero ball skills (Ryan Clark) actually known where it was.  Dalton did make two fine throws that afternoon (Gresham TD and the strike to get them inside the Red Zone), and that was about all I was impressed with.  Anyways, if Cincinnati Offense starts to sputter and they need to move down the field in large chunks, I might not count on Andy Dalton to do it against the Ravens.