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1) Controlling the clock: Baltimoreâ€™s efficiency on offense will be measured by how well they eat the time on their offensive possessions on Thursday. Simply put, the Ravens must hog the ball. This is the best way for them to avoid a potential shoot-out situation with a Cincinnati team looking to open up the game. While Baltimore has the means to keep pace with the Bengalsâ€™ offense, they donâ€™t want to rely on having to keep pace and play a perfect offensive game.
On the contrary, Baltimore needs to slow down the pace of the game, much like they did in the last meeting against the Bengals nearly a month ago. In that game, the Ravens were able to convert third-and-short opportunities in order to move the chains, and keep the ball away from the Bengalsâ€™ potent offense. In that regard, it will be important for Steve McNair to complete intermediate passes, the kind of passes that net 5-to-10 yards and keep drives going. Moreover, he needs to avoid losing yardage and having to convert plays on third-and-long.
2) Getting the linebackers moving: Cincinnatiâ€™s linebacker unit was attacked by the Ravens in the last match-up using the play-action passing game. The Ravens stuck to a nice combination of running the football, and using that commitment to force the linebackers to bite on run fakes. The Ravens will need to use that same type of game plan to test the Bengalsâ€™ backers, although in a different sequence of play-calling. Still, the name of the game is to get these linebackers to move out of position so plays can be made in the middle of the field.
3) Pass to set up the run: Considering that Baltimore surprisingly attacked the Steelers on the ground on Sunday, and was successful at that, the Bengals may anticipate that same type of offensive attack against their defense and stack the box on first-down. Cincinnati has been gashed on defense at various times this season, but it has mostly been through the air. The Bengals rank dead last in pass defense. They have given up 7.42 yards per pass attempt against offenses this season.
Given how the Bengals like to attack the line-of-scrimmage and take chances in coverage, leaving their cornerbacks on an island to play man-to-man defense, there will be a number of opportunities for Steve McNair to hit on a deep strike or two.
If the Bengals bring their safeties down in the box to stuff the run, the Ravens should use a three-wide, I-formation set to pass against that look, especially on first-down, as the Bengals will be lined up in their base package. If the Ravens pass the ball well enough, that should open up more space for Jamal Lewis to work with in running situations.
1) Controlled Chaos: The 2006 addition: This writer coined the Ravensâ€™ blitzes as controlled chaos last year. Now the Ravensâ€™ Bart Scott has used that as the defenseâ€™s moniker. The name refers to how defensive coordinator Rex Ryan likes to attack an offense. Although it may seem that Baltimore simply brings more defenders on a play that an offensive line can block up front, this is not the case all of the time.
In fact, against the Steelers, the Ravens blitzed just 50% of the time. Most of the time, only four or five rushers attacked the line, but rarely did the same rushers crash the gaps. Different combinations of players, whether they were lineman, linebackers or defensive backs, rushed from different positions and angles. The Ravens can use these combinations because they have versatile defenders capable of playing different positions like Trevor Pryce, Adalius Thomas, Terrell Suggs, Jarrett Johnson and Bart Scott.
It will be up to the line to get to the quarterback on Thursday night, as the safeties and corners will have more pass coverage responsibilities. Against the Bengals, calling six or seven man rushes where the Ravens completely sell out on a blitz is not advisable. Instead, the team should use four players to attack the line, while seven drop into coverage. The idea is to bring different defenders every time and disguise the front so Carson Palmer is not able to identify which players are blitzing and which players are dropping into coverage.
The team must also be cognizant of the Cincinnatiâ€™s potential use of extra blockers to better protect Palmer against a heavy blitz attack. The Bengals will likely line up in tighter sets, especially in third-down passing situations, to pick up the Ravensâ€™ blitzers so Palmer has time to exploit single coverage in the passing game.
2) Deep coverage: A big part of Baltimoreâ€™s success in holding down the Bengalsâ€™ pass attack the last time these teams hooked up stemmed from their ability to negate any big passing plays. Other than giving up a disputed 73-yard pass play against wideout Chris Henry, the Ravens gave up no other pass plays that covered 20 yards or more.
That said, the Bengals are back to firing at will down-the-field. Carson Palmer has gotten into a grove and he has been able to connect with Chad Johnson on a number of explosive, vertical plays. Johnson (who referred to himself as a Christmas ornament in frustration of not getting the football against Baltimore) has put together the second best three-game performance by any wideout in NFL history.
It will be a difficult task, but the Ravens must protect against the big play on Thursday night. The best way to accomplish this task is to play a combination of cover two and cover three schemes, using the safeties to shade the outside corners when the receivers run down-the-field patterns. In addition, the Ravens will need to employ more nickel and quarter coverages, emphasizing the use of extra defensive backs to guard against Cincinnatiâ€™s use of multiple receiver formations, especially on third-down.
One-on-one Match-up to Watch: Willie Anderson versus Trevor Pryce: Although it is hard to pinpoint how many times the two players will go up against each on Thursday night (considering that Pryce rushes the passer out of different locations along the line, including up the middle or off the left side) there should be enough instances when he lines up across Anderson to make this a compelling battle. Although he has lost a step or two over the years, Anderson remains among the elite right tackles in the game, and should earn another trip to the Pro Bowl. He is stout and physical in the running game, and he has the footwork and quickness to dance with speed-rushers. Pryce is no speed-rusher. He uses his strength, hands and quick first step to physically breakdown lineman.
PROGRAMMING NOTE: Join the GAMETIME crew, Ravens mascot Poe, Ravens cheerleaders and other surprises at Della Rose’s Avenue Tavern in White Marsh prior to the Ravens @ the Bengals TONIGHT Nov. 30 at 6:30PM. There will be authentic autographed memorabilia given away and there is a free sign up for a Toyota raffle — the prize being a brand new 2007 Yaris!