Pre-snap read: Ravens-Bengals

November 20, 2011|By Matt Vensel

On Sunday afternoon, the Ravens will attempt to bounce back from a deflating road loss -- yes, another one -- against the Seattle Seahawks last week. And they might have to do it without their emotional leader. Ray Lewis is questionable for this critical game against the 6-3 Cincinnati Bengals. A loss could put the Ravens on the brink with the 8-1 San Francisco 49ers coming to M&T Bank Stadium on Thanksgiving.

Here are five storylines to watch Sunday at M&T as the Ravens look to improve to 7-3 on the season:

1. The run/pass ratio: Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Monday bristled at reporters who questioned the team’s use of running back Ray Rice in the loss to the Seahawks. Rice got five carries then took the high road afterward by declining to speak to the media to ensure he didn’t say something he would regret. While Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron may not regret getting away from Rice last week -- they said the situation called for all that passing -- they will if they don’t get him involved going forward. The Ravens aren’t at their best when Joe Flacco is throwing 50 passes a game.

2. Ray Lewis’ wonky toe: When Lewis missed Wednesday’s practice, it was assumed the Ravens were just giving the 36-year-old a day off. But then his mysterious toe injury showed up on the injury report, and he made no cameos in practice the rest of the week. Harbaugh said that Lewis will be a game-time decision on Sunday, meaning that the linebacker’s string of 57 consecutive regular-seasons starts is in jeopardy. “If he doesn't [play], we're going to miss him,” fellow linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “But I think we'll be fine.” The Ravens are 14-16 all-time without Lewis, and they really need a win Sunday.

3. Rattling the rookie: The first half of Andy Dalton’s season was statistically among the best that a rookie quarterback has ever had. The second-round draft pick out of TCU has thrown 14 touchdowns in nine games, which is the most by a rookie since the 1970 merger. And Dalton has done relatively well when it comes to protecting the ball, a big reason why the Bengals are among the NFL’s best at limiting turnovers. But the Steelers pressured Dalton into a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions in their win last week. The Ravens should do the same, especially with his go-to guy, A.J. Green, unlikely to suit up.

4. Kickoff returner wanted: A nasty bout of fumblitis has cost David Reed his job as the team’s kickoff returner. His two fumbles in the first half last week led to six points for the Seahawks and killed any chance for the offense to build early momentum. Lardarius Webb, Torrey Smith, LaQuan Williams and Chris Carr are all in the mix to replace Reed, though Harbaugh admitted that Webb is his preference.

5. Cincinnati’s double-whammy defense: Last season, the phrase “Cover 2” was like dirty words after Flacco threw four interceptions in a Week 2 loss to the Bengals. This year, it is the 4-3 front that has the offense running in place and the fans around here cussing. Bad news, Baltimore: The Bengals use both. The Cover 2 isn’t as big of a concern as it was a year ago because young tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta have helped open up the middle of the field for Flacco. However, the 4-3 has posed a challenge for Rice and the Ravens’ offensive linemen, who haven’t yet figured how to block it.

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