1. All Part of the “Plan”
The strategy for how to handle the starters for this game has been debated at length all week long. One thing is certain: The offense will and should get plenty of work, especially in the first half of the game. The threat of injury should not affect the coaches’ mindset that this unit needs to build off their sterling performance from a week ago.
Last week, the offense looked just as they did back when they ran the Bengals off the field in Week One. In that regard, the timing of the passing game was fast-paced, and the offense ran its no-huddle attack to perfection.
This is exactly how the Ravens need to come out against the Bengals to lay the foundation for their playoff run. Precision and execution should be the offensive focus against a Cincinnati defense that is much better than it was at the beginning of the year.
2. Off tackle Runs
One of the big change-ups that offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell implemented was a more diverse running game that forced the Giants to defend from the sideline-to-sideline. The backs (Pierce and Rice) were given more leeway to bounce runs off tackle.
With an inside/outside rushing attack, the ground game was more unpredictable. It was also clear that both backs can thrive when they hit the outside lanes.
Caldwell should keep refining the outside rushing attack against the Bengals to tire out their front seven.
3. Anticipate the Double Barrel Blitz
Among the staples of Mike Zimmer’s defensive attack is how he uses his linebackers. They are active at the line, jumping around, and clogging the A gaps to show blitz, only to retreat into the passing lanes. This is the type of action that can cause both the offensive line and the quarterback to guess wrong, leading to free runners in the backfield.
For Flacco, the test will serve him well, as he continues to improve his timing within the pocket. This is the type of game in which intuitive post-snap recognition will be critical.
1. Buzz Under Green
Since A.J. Green’s first game against Baltimore, he has turned in a banner season, further validating John Harbaugh’s earlier praise that he was “the best receiver in football.”
While that proclamation is debatable, Green is certainly in the discussion. What makes him special is his route-running ability. He can get to any spot on time, and once he’s there, he’s got the wingspan and leaping ability to snag the ball no matter where it is placed.
That being said, it will be important for the defenders to squeeze his catching radius, making it tougher for Dalton to fit the ball in a tight window. This will require the backers to “buzz” underneath on intermediate routes, and the safeties to stay deep and converge on deeper routes.
2. Anticipate the Bag of Tricks
With offensive coordinator Jay Gruden running the show, the Bengals have become more unpredictable. They’ve broken out an assortment of trick plays, including receiver option plays and a mix of reverses and screens. In these instances, the Bengals have been able to spring a big play against their opponents.
The defense needs to stay disciplined and aware, especially on first down – which can often be a favorable down to dial up a trick play.
3. Keep Dalton Guessing
When the Ravens have been successful against Dalton in the past, they’ve been able to bait him into making the wrong decision. Conversely, when they have struggled, Dalton has been able to get a bead on their coverages and fronts.
The Ravens have done a nice job of mixing up their defensive movement against the Bengals, and they will need to keep it up this Sunday. In particular, the delayed blitz was a big part of last Sunday’s game plan and should be in play going forward.
Overall, the Ravens have to keep improving their pre-snap timing heading into the postseason.
One-on-One Matchup of the Week
Geno Atkins versus Marshall Yanda
It’s quite possible that this matchup may not materialize considering Yanda’s iffy status for the game. The Pro Bowl guard gutted it out against the Giants, but may be shelved in this affair. Still, if Yanda takes the field against Atkins, it will be a fun battle to watch. Atkins is the best interior pass rusher in football. For a defensive tackle, he has an unreal get off, and uses his hands as well as anybody. Yanda has struggled in spots against Atkins in the past, but he is coming off a tremendous effort against the Giants.
Video: John Harbaugh talks about fighting for the #3 seed