Ravens @ Bengals: Who has the edge?

Street Talk Ravens @ Bengals: Who has the edge?

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Ravens Offense
Total (17) Rushing (25) Passing (11)
Steve McNair carries heightened expectations into his second season under center in Baltimore. While he’s an accurate passer and a strong leader, his age and arm strength are growing concerns.
Running back
The Ravens are banking that their $40 million investment in running back Willis McGahee was a wise one, and that he can breathe life into a dormant running game despite a lackluster preseason.
This shapes up as the Ravens’ most talented receiving corps since the days of Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander and Eric Green, featuring Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, emerging young receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams and well-preserved veteran Derrick Mason, a former Pro Bowl selection moving into the slot this year.
Offensive line
By installing tackle Adam Terry and guard Chris Chester on the right side, this is a more athletic, younger line even with first-round guard Ben Grubbs in reserve. Center Mike Flynn remains entrenched in the middle, and left guard Jason Brown possesses blocking and leadership ability. All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden has been dogged by a lingering turf toe injury. This could be the final season of a Hall of Fame career.
Ravens Defense
Total (1) Rushing (2) Passing (6)
Defensive line
With underrated, gritty nose guard Kelly Gregg and defensive end Trevor Pryce coming off Pro Bowl worthy seasons, the veteran component of one of the best three-man lines is in heavy supply. Massive second-year defensive tackle Haloti Ngata has been a revelation, though, collapsing pockets with his 6-foot-4, 340-pound girth.
This is one of, if not the, top linebacking corps in the league, including perennial All-Pro Ray Lewis in the middle, intense Pro Bowl injury replacement Bart Scott and two-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs. Team officials are confident that undecorated and unheralded Jarret Johnson will be an above-average replacement for departed All-Pro Adalius Thomas.
The NFL’s top-ranked defense led the league with 28 interceptions and five returned for scores last season as safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry and cornerback Chris McAlister had banner seasons. However, veteran cornerback Samari Rolle got picked on regularly and has vowed to regain his confidence and form after a rough, injury-plagued campaign.
Special teams
Matt Stover is an 18-year veteran and the second most accurate kicker in NFL history (83.8 percent), connecting on 28 of 30 tries last season. Punter Sam Koch has a strong leg, averaging 43 yards as a rookie. Incumbent return specialist B.J. Sams and rookie speedster Yamon Figurs are expected to divide punt and kickoff return duties. Special-teams ace Gary Stills should have made the Pro Bowl last year when he set a franchise record with 44 special-teams tackles.
Bengals Offense
Total (8) Rushing (26) Passing (6)
Carson Palmer is one of the top passers in the NFL, in rarified Peyton Manning, Tom Brady territory. He also tends to have the Ravens’ number ever since an epic comeback victory he engineered in 2004 in Baltimore that sparked his genesis as a quarterback.
Running back
Rudi Johnson rarely gets his due credit, but he really should. Hard-nosed and rugged, Johnson has rushed for 1,309, 1,458 and 1,454 yards over the past three seasons, including exactly a dozen rushing touchdowns per season. He doesn’t usually fare well against Baltimore, though, combining for just 124 yards in two games last year.
The Ravens always have to be wary against Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a potent tandem that has haunted them for years. Lately, Johnson has been contained with help over the top from Ed Reed, but Houshmandzadeh is coming off a 10-catch, 106-yard, one-touchdown outing at Pro Bowl corner Chris McAlister’s expense. Chris Henry will be missed.
Offensive line
Offensive tackle Willie Anderson is dealing with a foot injury that sidelined him during the preseason, and Marvin Lewis has been mum on whether Levi Jones or Andrew Whitworth is starting at left tackle against Terrell Suggs. It will probably be Whitworth. Meanwhile, Cincinnati will miss Pro Bowl alternate guard Eric Steinbach, who signed with state and division rival Cleveland.
Total (15) Rushing (8) Passing (16)
Defensive line
Robert Geathers is the most explosive athlete among this undistinguished group, but end Justin Smith is the hardest worker. He plays with a non-stop motor. Defensive tackle Domata Peko is a player on the rise.
This is an athletic, albeit unaccomplished group. Middle linebacker Ahmad Brooks has vast potential, but needs seasoning. Redskins castoff LeMar Marshall is starting outside opposite Landon Johnson. Neither player is over 230 pounds. With Odell Thurman’s season-long suspension and David Pollack breaking his neck last year, Brian Simmons hasn’t been adequately replaced.
They’re beginning to turn the corner here, literally, with first-round picks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph representing new blood outside. Former Maryland star Madieu Williams is the ace, though, as a hitter who swarms to the football.
Special teams
Shayne Graham is an elite kicker, but he’s nursing a hip injury. Punter Kyle Larson is extremely solid. The return game sorely misses Antonio Chatman. Can Tab Perry and Skyler Green get the job done?
Edges: Quarterback: Cincinnati; Running back: Cincinnati; Receivers: Cincinnati; Offensive line: Even; Defensive line: Baltimore; Linebackers: Baltimore; Secondary: Baltimore; Special teams: Baltimore.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and Ravens24x7.com. He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors. 

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