Injured Players Are Key: Ravens vs Bengals

Baltimore Ravens What to Look For
Jimmy Smith

In a key AFC North battle, the 3-5 Baltimore Ravens will host the 6-3 Cincinnati Bengals tomorrow. The Ravens are coming off a 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns last Sunday and the Bengals are coming off a 22-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Halloween. Currently, the Bengals sit in first place of the AFC North with a two-game lead over the second-place Browns and a 2.5 game lead over the Ravens. If the Ravens win this game, it could spark a second-half resurgence for the struggling team, but if they lose, it would make it very hard for them to bounce back and win the division.

1.  Injuries
This week’s injury report features key players from both teams being out, doubtful, or questionable. Also, there are multiple players that have recently suffered season-ending injuries.

Jimmy Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with the Ravens, they have three starters listed as questionable (S James Ihedigbo, LB Daryl Smith and CB Jimmy Smith) and a key backup as well (nickel CB Corey Graham). Also, the Ravens placed starting left guard Kelechi Osemele on injured reserve this week with a back injury.

All four of these questionable players were limited at practice on Friday which is a good sign. However, they still could not be ready to play on Sunday. Losing any of these four players would be a significant blow to the Ravens’ defense. Ihedigbo has had a great start to the season, Smith has been all over the field from his middle linebacker spot and the Ravens lack cornerback depth behind Smith and Graham. (Over the last few weeks, the Ravens have only had one other cornerback on the roster, Chykie Brown, but they activated Asa Jackson this week after he served his eight-week suspension.)

For the Bengals, starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is out with a knee injury, backup linebacker Michael Boley is doubtful, rookie sensation Giovani Bernard, a running back, is questionable and starting tight end Jermaine Gresham is also questionable. Out for the season are star defensive tackle Geno Atkins (torn ACL) and star cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles tendon).

The injuries to Maualuga and Boley at linebacker means that Vincent Rey will get the start at middle linebacker. This will be just his third start in his career (fourth season) and his second in as many weeks. Against the Dolphins last week, he had five tackles and he has 17 for the season.

Bernard will probably play though on a limited basis as the Bengals won’t want to risk injuring his ribs even more. This means BenJarvus Green-Ellis will probably start and see most of the workload. The Ravens will need to be ready for the electric Bernard when he comes in though.

If Gresham can’t play, it will be a big hit to the Bengals offense as they love to run two tight end sets with him and first-round pick Tyler Eifert.

Lastly, starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth missed last week’s loss with a knee injury, but didn’t show up on the injury report this week.

2.  Joe Flacco vs Andy Dalton
Or better known as the battle of inconsistent quarterbacks, Flacco and Dalton will face off tomorrow.

Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory last season with a historic playoff performance. He tied Joe Montana’s record of 11 passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in the a single postseason. Also in the playoffs, Flacco passed for 285 yards per game and had a quarterback rating of 117.2. In Super Bowl XLVII, he went 22-of-33 for 287 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

This year though, has been a whole different story. Playing eight games, he has thrown for 2,167 yards (271 per game), 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 79.3, a career worst. He is also on pace to thrown a career high in interceptions (18) which is well above his career high of 12, which he has done three times.

Dalton has led the Bengals to the playoff in his first two seasons in the NFL, but there has been talk that he isn’t good enough to take a team all the way to a Super Bowl. This season was viewed as key for him to take the next step. So far this season, when he has played well, the Bengals have won; when he hasn’t played well, they have lost. In their six wins, Dalton has thrown 14 touchdown passes and four interceptions. In their three losses, he has thrown two touchdown passes and six interceptions.

His inconsistency was on showcase in October. In the Bengals first four games (all wins) he threw for 311.5 yards per game, 11 touchdowns (including five in one game), one interception and had a passer rating of 112. After being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month, Dalton went 32-of-53 for 338 yards, zero touchdowns, three interceptions and had a passer rating of 55.4 against the Dolphins on Halloween. He was off target all night long and one of his interceptions was returned for a touchdown. He was also sacked for a safety in overtime which won the game for the Dolphins.

Both of these quarterbacks have been inconsistent recently. Whoever plays the better game, will probably lead their team to victory.

3.  Fast Start
Other than their week one game against the Denver Broncos, the Ravens have struggled to score point in the first quarter and the first half of games this season.

In their last seven games, the Ravens haven’t held a lead at the end of the first quarter. The reason? They have scored 16 first quarter points and average 55.7 yards in the first quarter according to ESPN.

As you would expect, the Ravens’ opening drive of games are lacking as they have gone three-and-out five times and have not scored a touchdown. In fact, they have only scored one time on an opening drive — a field goal against the Dolphins in week five. Even worse, the Ravens’ offense has only scored one touchdown in the first quarter, and that was in week one.

When the Ravens don’t score first, they have trouble winning games. Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 41-8 when they score first and 16-23 when they don’t.

This season, the Bengals have scored first six times and have won five of them. In the games when they don’t score first, they are 1-2.

Looking at these stats, it is fair to assume that the team who scores first will win this game. With the way the Ravens are playing this season, that will probably be the Bengals.

4.  Stopping A.J. Green
As the NFL’s leading receiver, Green is one of the best receivers in the league and is backing that up with his performance this season.

His stats are near the top in the league in many receiving categories: 57 catches (tied third), 862 receiving yards (first), 104 targets (first), five touchdowns (tied 14th), 10 catches of 20 plus yards (tied eighth), 95.8 yards per game (fifth) and 38 first downs (third).

Since entering the NFL in 2011 as the fourth overall pick with Dalton (35th overall), Green has been Dalton’s favorite target and has put up big numbers. Last season, he caught 97 passes for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns.

With an average of 9.6 targets per game in their 40 career games together, Green is clearly Dalton’s favorite receiver. This season, Green is seeing 11.5 targets per game which is a full target more than last season, despite additional coverage from defenders and better secondary receivers for Dalton to throw.

When Green sees more than 10 targets this season, the Bengals are 2-3 — and one of those wins was in overtime. This shows that Dalton forces the ball to Green more when the Bengals are losing — which isn’t a good thing. When Green sees less than 10 targets this season, the Bengals are 4-0, as the ball is getting spread around more.

If the Ravens are able to limit Green, they will likely see the bad Dalton, not the good one. With Smith and Graham, the number two and three cornerbacks, listed a questionable, this could be a tall task. Especially as Lardarius Webb, the number one cornerback, is having a rough season.

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