Bengals defense will cause trouble for Ravens

Problems continue as Ravens can't solve 4-3 defense, suffer lapses on special teams

November 14, 2011|Mike Preston

The Ravens are now winless in three attempts against the 4-3 defensive alignment this season, and it won't get any easier Sunday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

Regardless of their record, the Bengals have always caused a lot of problems for the Ravens' offense. This season, the Bengals have one of the best defenses in the NFL, so it's a bigger challenge than usual for the Ravens.

The Ravens ran up 323 yards of total offense Sunday in their surprise loss to Seattle, which also plays a 4-3. But the Bengals are a lot better at it. Cincinnati is ranked No. 5 in the league in points allowed (18.2) and yards per game (304.2) and second in rushing at 86.8 per game.

The Bengals have good cornerbacks, but they have a hard charging, aggressive and athletic defense line led by ends Robert Geathers and Michael Johnson and tackles Geno Atkins and Domata Poko. The key for the Ravens will be getting to middle linebacker Dan Skuta, and solving the Bengals' two-deep coverage.

"We know that we have room to improve," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, "and we have a couple of good games coming up in a short amount of time, and we have to be able to rebound and come back strong and it starts with Cincinnati, and they've been playing really good football."

Special teams adjustment

If the Ravens really want to make a serious improvement to their team, it needs to come on special teams. They have struggled in three games.

The Ravens have had trouble covering kicks and punts. They also have some problems with penalties, and against Seattle Sunday David Reed fumbled two kickoffs and the Ravens had a low snap on a field goal.

It's ironic with the special teams failures because head coach John Harbaugh has spent a good part of his career coaching special teams.

It reminds me of Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and former Ravens head coach Brian Billick.

Billick was supposed to be an offensive guru, but never built a good one here in Baltimore. Until this season, Lewis, who specialized in defense, never had a strong one in Cincinnati. Maybe before the end of the season, Harbaugh can change his fortunes.

Rice needs the ball

Hopefully, things have cooled down over in The Castle. Ravens running back Ray Rice wasn't happy with just five carries against the Seahawks, and there had to be some meetings of the minds Monday.

Harbaugh, who was supposed to be more involved in the offensive planning, needs to take Cameron aside and order him to give one of the game's top playmakers a few more touches, especially in a game that really never got out of hand.

Where's that No. 2 receiver?

OK, what's the real story with receiver Lee Evans?

He was supposed to start opposite Anquan Boldin this season, and hasn't played since the season opener because of a high ankle sprain.

Evans practiced twice last week, causing speculation that he might play Sunday. He didn't, and the Ravens need to be up front about when he might return. Rookie Torrey Smith has played well in Evans' absence, but he still drops too many passes.

He reminds me of former Ravens receiver Michael Jackson when he first came into the league. Jackson had all the physical talent, but had problems with hand placement when it came to catching the ball.

Sometimes, it just doesn't look easy or natural for Smith to catch a ball, and he almost dropped the game-winning reception at Pittsburgh. It might be confidence more than hand placement or anything else.

Coverage trouble

Seattle did a nice job of throwing underneath the Ravens' coverage to its backs and tight ends and I wonder if more teams will attack the Ravens in that manner.

There is speculation that if you're going to beat the Ravens you have to throw short passes, and get their linebackers one-on-one in coverage. That's true, and the best of the starting four is Jameel McClain.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has made progress in that area during the past two seasons, but both Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnson are vulnerable.

It's on Harbaugh now

Regardless of the outcome for the remainder of the season, the Ravens still have the best team in the AFC as far as personnel. It's just that Harbaugh has to find a way for them to become more consistent.

Very few teams can match the Ravens in athleticism or depth. Now, it's just a head game for Harbaugh and he has to find a way to win and for his team to succeed.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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