1. The Need for Speed
The suspense is killing Ravens fans and observers. Will the Ravens unveil a fast-break style offense on Monday Night Football? Or will offensive coordinator Cam Cameron fall back into his proverbial first down handoff relapse with Ray Rice?
The answer should be the no huddle, but with Cameron, it’s always a tricky question. For months, the Ravens have prepped to install an offense tailored around No.1 gunslinger Joe Flacco – and the Bengals are the perfect test.
Cincinnati comes into this game limping in the secondary. Top cover corner Leon Hall is coming off an Achilles tear, while corners Nate Clements and Terrance Newman might not have the pure foot speed to keep up with Baltimore’s speed demons. Staying in spread formations to get to Newman and Adam “Pacman” Jones on early downs should be on the agenda in a big way on Monday.
2. Interior Wall
For Flacco, being able to pass with success hinges on how well his interior linemen hold up. The Bengals front line slowed down considerably at the end last season, but they always seem to harass Flacco. The main culprit is Geno Atkins – a terrific one-gap DT who made his first Pro Bowl last year.
The Ravens struggled with keeping Atkins from penetrating and disrupting the pocket last year. Along with Atkins, the line will have to be able to pick up stunting ends that loop around from outside to inside. The Bengals use a heavy rotation, and the ends and tackles are equally adept at pushing the line backward.
3. Lost in Space
While Cincinnati’s linebackers are more athletic than they’ve been in the past – Thomas Howard remains one of the fastest WILLs in the game – they still might be outmatched against the Ravens slot receivers and underneath targets.
This includes Anquan Boldin as the primary slot receiver, along with a combination of Dennis Pitta, Ed Dickson, and Rice coming out of the backfield. Getting any of those pass catchers matched up one-on-one with the Bengal linebackers will prove to be a favorable mismatch.
The Bengals may play soft to protect against the deep ball early, so there could be space for Flacco to attack in the seams and in the flat area.
1. Throw it to the “Other Guys”
If anyone is a fan of the NBA, they are familiar with Shaquille O’Neal’s consistent allusion to “the other guys.” These would be the non stars of a team showing up and being able to make plays to help their team.
In Cincinnati’s case, the same could be said about “other receivers” showing up aside from the elastic A.J. Green. Green is a freak at the receiver position—a game changer who can snag any jump ball or tight rope the sideline for a clutch reception. The Ravens will undoubtedly keep shell coverage on him at all times, with Ed Reed potentially shadowing his every move.
The Ravens will force the hand of Andy Dalton to use his other targets. This was a challenge last year with Jerome Simpson on the field. However, with Simpson gone, it will be up to players like Brandon Tate and Mohammed Sanu to show up.
2. The Tallest Other Guy
One of the “other guys” that the Ravens may not have an answer for is tight end Jermaine Gresham. In two games against the Ravens last season, Gresham caught eight passes for a combined 120 yards.
Gresham has been able to get behind the Raven linebackers, especially down the seams. Keeping a safety to help the linebackers over the top will be difficult given the attention that Green should garner. This is a game in which the backers will have to be at their best when they turn and run with Gresham, and linebacker Brenden Ayanbadejo may be called upon heavily as the Ravens go-to cover LB.
3. Deceive Dalton
In 2011, the Ravens made significant adjustments to Dalton from game one to game two. While Dalton threw more picks in the first matchup (3 interceptions), he didn’t hit on as many big plays in the rematch, and overall, the Ravens kept his yards per attempt in check (5.3).
Baltimore did a better job with their disguise in that game, and they dialed back on the blitz to force Dalton to throw the ball underneath. While Dalton doesn’t have the strongest arm, he can be quite successful on deep completions, especially with jump ball mavens like Green and Gresham at his disposal.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to keep Dalton guessing all game. The former Patriot coordinator specializes in “bluff blitzes” where the blitzers will crowd the line, only to drop off into coverage and jam the passing lanes at the snap.
Overall, the plan should be to blitz less and drop defenders into coverage.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week
A.J. Green versus Lardarius Webb
Realistically, Webb could be one of many corners that the Ravens throw at Green. However, Webb is the best deep ball defender the Ravens have. He’ll need to be on top of his timing and ball skills against a receiver that seems magnetized to the football. Green can track and snatch it as well anyone in the league, and he has the ability to be a one-man wrecking crew for the Bengals.