By Ben Butanis
The Bengals compiled 403 total yards against the Ravens in Week 5, including the final 80-yard drive capped off by Andre Caldwell's 20-yard touchdown catch.
Cedric Benson looked like Walter Payton. Carson Palmer was barely touched all day. And the Ravens' defense drew 10 costly penalties, including three on the final drive.
This game is a must-win for the Ravens (4-3). They trail Pittsburgh and Cincinatti, both of whom are 5-2, in the AFC North -- but Cincinatti is 3-0 in the division.
In order to beat Cincinatti this week, the Ravens must:
1. Stop Cedric Benson.
I agree with Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun. Benson's success on the ground really opens up the Bengals' passing game -- something at which Carson Palmer and Co. don't need help. Benson gashed the Ravens defense for 120 yards in the opening contest, the first running back to gain over 100 yards against the Ravens in 40 games. The defense is eager to start another streak.
The task of stopping Benson may be even more difficult this time around. DT Haloti Ngata missed practice Wednesday. Ngata is still recovering from an ankle injury he suffered last week against the Vikings. If he can't go Sunday, Justin Bannan should get the start.
2. Set the tone early: Get pressure on Carson Palmer.
Last week, the Ravens showed they could get pressure on Kyle Orton. Jarrett Johnson hit Orton on the first play of the game, and that set the tempo for the rest of the game. The defense played fast and physical -- for the first time this season.
Palmer isn't a mobile quarterback, and if given time, he will pick the secondary apart. A decent cornerback in the NFL is able to cover a receiver for three seconds; the elite corners can do it for four. The Ravens can't allow Palmer four seconds.
3. Avoid stupid penalties.
Chris Carr's illegal contact penalty. Ray Lewis' unnecessary roughness penalty on Chad Ochocinco. Pass interference on Frank Walker. All three were stupid (albeit questionable) penalties on the Bengals' final drive.
The Ravens are penalized at an alarming rate. Through seven games, they have 53 penalties for 520 yards (averaging 7.6 for 74.3 yards a game).
You can get away with penalties against bad teams -- but teams like the Bengals, Colts, Steelers, and Packers have the ability to make you pay for your mistakes. The Ravens need to start playing smart football -- starting this week against Carson Palmer.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Bengals 20
Notes: Joe Flacco is the Ravens' MVP, according to Kevin Cowherd...Michael Oher's story is making quite an impression in Hollywood...Oher is ESPN's No. 2 Rookie to Watch in Week 8...Apparently L.J. Smith is waiting for his big break...funny, I thought you had to earn your playing time in the NFL...hard to catch a break when you're injured all the time ...The Ravens are 10th in ESPN's Week 8 Power Rankings...The Steelers are seventh and Cincinatti is sixth...Chiefs' running back Larry Johnson is 75 yards shy of Priest Holmes' franchise record of 6,070...but fans have started an online petition to general manager Scott Peoli to bench or deactivate Johnson so he won't break the record...Raiders head coach Tom Cable has spoken with Al Davis about allegations concerning Cable's history of violent behavior towards women...the National Organization for Women wants Cable suspended...There's trouble brewing in Big D between Roy Williams and Tony Romo...No. 2 receiver Miles Austin has 21 receptions for 485 yards and five touchdowns in the last three games...The Titans (1-6) picked up their first win of the season last Sunday, but RB Chris Johnson believes they can finish the season at 10-6...Steve McNair, Jr., son of the late Ravens quarterback, has committed to play wide receiver for Southern Mississippi.
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