OWINGS MILLS – The image of bruising Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson busting through an arm tackle and rumbling upfield for a touchdown definitely hasn’t been dissolved from the Baltimore Ravens’ memory bank.
Honestly, how could it?
Benson’s 28-yard touchdown jaunt, bolting through the outstretched arm of outside linebacker Antwan Barnes, was one of the key moments during the Bengals’ 17-14 victory Oct. 11 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Benson wound up powering his way into 120 rushing yards, emerging as the first back to eclipse the century mark against the Ravens’ vaunted run defense since Dec. 17, 2006.
One month after snapping that 39-game streak, Benson is about to encounter a defense determined to shut him down Sunday during a pivotal AFC North road game.
“He squeezed through some holes, some very tight holes,” Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Then, his offensive line did a great job of creating some big holes for him. Sometimes, they creased us.
“Like I said, he had a good day. They had a good day as a team. We just have to do our part and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
The Ravens didn’t seem to recover from their setback against Benson for a few weeks.
One game after Benson ran roughshod over the Ravens’ traditionally stingy defense, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson gained 143 yards, including a 58-yard run, on 22 carries.
The Ravens got back to business against the Denver Broncos during last week’s 30-7 win, holding rookie runner Knowshon Moreno to 39 yards.
“It goes back to the principle of winning,” Suggs said. “When you defend the run pretty good, you’ve got a good chance of winning the game. That’s what we did last week.
“We defended the run pretty good. We are just going to try to get our consistency to snowball and get back to what we do best, and that’s play good defense.”
Still, the Bengals seemed to figure out something against the Ravens.
They did a solid job of sticking their blocks, and Benson cut back against the grain for extra yardage.
The Ravens also didn’t do a good job of avoiding bunching up as some players overcompensated for breakdowns by trying to do more than they’re supposed to do in terms of their defensive assignments handed out by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
The result was bigger holes that compounded the problem against Benson.
“It’s just due to them blocking us better than we got off blocks and him running better than we tackled,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And they did a better job than we did playing, coaching, all that stuff.”
For the season, the Ravens rank fourth in the league in rushing defense.
They’ve allowed 87.6 yards per contest.
The Bengals have built a strong running game, averaging 127.7 yards per game to rank ninth in the league in rushing offense.
Benson has provided the formerly pass-happy Bengals with a rugged, hard-nosed presence.
“A little bit more of a power running game with some explosion,” Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer said. “Just that AFC North mentality from a running back where you’re going to run people over. You’re going to make your own hole sometimes, and you’re going to break arm tackles.”
Discarded by the Chicago Bears after an unsuccessful tenure after being drafted in the first round out of the University of Texas, Benson has resurrected his career with the Bengals.
The 5-foot-11, 225-pound former Longhorn has already gained 720 yards and scored five touchdowns in seven games.
“He’s having a really good year,” Suggs said. “This is probably his breakout year, his best year yet and he wants to keep that rolling.”
Benson rushed for a career-high 189 yards against the Bears during an emotional 45-10 win.
He averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
“I’ve been watching Cedric since he was at Texas,” free safety Ed Reed said. “He’s more than capable. You’ve got to make sure you know where he’s at.”
Operating behind the Bengals’ physical zone-blocking scheme, Benson ranks second in the NFL with a 102.9 rushing average per game.
He’s on track to rush for 1,645 yards for the season.
“Cedric Benson is running a scheme that he really excels at,” Harbaugh said. “The Bengals have been running the inside and outside zone since Icky Woods and Jim McNally and Sam Wyche in the 80’s. That’s kind of been their thing, and they’re running it as well or better than anybody in the NFL right now.”
The Ravens are extremely motivated after being exposed against the Bengals a month ago.
Now, they’re intent on issuing a convincing rebuttal on Sunday in a big rematch with major division implications.
“They probably did us a favor,” Suggs said. “They humbled us a little bit. We came off a disappointing loss against New England, and we thought we would just bounce right back.
“We kind of took that game for granted. We just have to do our part and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.