Bengals' passing attack will shed light on Ravens' secondary

September 16, 2010|Mike Preston

The Ravens aren't trying to fool anyone. They know they played a second-year quarterback in Mark Sanchez and faced a vanilla passing game in the season opener against the New York Jets on Monday night.

The Ravens (1-0) will be in another stratosphere Sunday in Cincinnati when they face the Bengals (0-1). It's a first-class aerial show.

"Obviously, they know us and we know them, having played them through the years," said Chuck Pagano, the Ravens' secondary coach. "Scheme-wise, we have a pretty good idea of what they are going to do. From a physical standpoint, they have a great group of receivers. They've got an outstanding Pro Bowl quarterback who can make all the throws."

The Jets had no clue how to run a passing offense. In fact, New York's passing game had about as much firepower as an old cap gun.

In Cincinnati, the Bengals have quarterback Carson Palmer and two deep vertical threats in Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco. They have two good possession-type receivers in Andre Caldwell and Jordan Shipley and a promising, fast tight end in Jermaine Gresham.

It wouldn't be such a feared matchup if the Ravens had a proven secondary, but this unit might be the Achilles' heel of the 2010 Ravens. Or it might be as good as it was at the end of last season.

No one knows, but we'll get a clue Sunday.

"I really don't mind it because it's motivation," Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington said of the criticism. "If you can't get motivated, you're playing the wrong position. Corner is definitely a position where you've got to have thick skin and a short memory. So I can deal with it. It's no problem for me."

But the cornerback position has been a problem with the Ravens since the turn of the century, when they started Duane Starks and Chris McAlister. Ever since then, it's been a bunch of journeymen on the back end.

If the Ravens can find the right combinations this season, it puts them in position to close the gap against the Indianapolis Colts, a perennial playoff power that has owned the Ravens during the regular season and postseason.

If the Ravens can slow the Bengals on Sunday, it's a good indication of things to come.

"First and foremost, you've got to get pressure on him [Palmer], disrupt him as much as possible, and then do a good job on the outside in mixing coverages, and not show your hand," Pagano said. "They do a great job at the line of scrimmage getting you to show your hand, just like Peyton Manning does. They pride themselves on knowing what you're in and going from there. We've got a huge challenge."

There have been reports that Owens has lost a step or can no longer get separation. Ravens cornerback Chris Carr disagrees. He also says Ochocinco is still playing at an elite level.

"I've watched him on film, and he doesn't look like he has lost anything to me," Carr said. "He can still go deep on you."

The Bengals love to throw deep, but the passing game is predicated off the running game and play-action. Cincinnati swept the Ravens in two games last season, and in each, Bengals running back Cedric Benson rushed for more than 100 yards.

"It's documented that we struggled against the run in both of the games," Pagano said. "When you can't stop it, then you start adding guys to the box, and that leaves your guys on the outside on an island."

The Ravens' blitzes and disguises were pretty basic against the Jets, but they will mix man-to-man and zone coverages against the Bengals. However, they'll stay in a lot of two-deep coverage to avoid giving up long passes.

Against the New England Patriots last week, the Bengals struggled throughout the first half and trailed 31-3 in the third quarter before losing, 38-24. The Bengals have a lot to prove Sunday.

But so do the Ravens. Because of injuries, they'll be without safety Ed Reed (hip) and starting cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee). They also might be without starting cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee).

But in the preseason, the Ravens played reasonably well. Both Carr and Washington have excellent speed, and both safeties, Tom Zbikowski and Dawan Landry, have played well in run support. The problem, though, might come when the Bengals go to three- and four-receiver packages, and the Ravens might have to put a No. 3 safety on Caldwell.

"By the end of last season, we had good chemistry because our communication was better compared to the beginning of the season," Pagano said. "We've tried to build on that this season because our guys are more familiar with our strengths and weaknesses."

Carr looks forward to the challenge Sunday.

"A secondary wants a game like this because you want to go out there and get some action," Carr said.

Oh, they'll get plenty of it.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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