Keys Against The Ravens: Bengals Wide Receivers Must Step Up

SEATTLE - OCTOBER 30: Andre Caldwell #87 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs the ball against the Seattle Seahawks on October 30, 2011 at Century Link Field in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

As we gear up for Cincinnati's game against the Baltimore Ravens, we'll be posting five keys for Cincinnati to win this Sunday. The first of five begins now...

Wide Receivers have to step up. Through nine games this season, Bengals rookie wide receiver A.J. Green accounts for 32.4% of the team's total passing offense and 40% of the team's passing touchdowns. After suffering a hyperextended knee against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell combined for three receptions during 12 targeted passes. As one insightful philosopher once explained, "holy crap, that's awful." Though Jermaine Gresham (touchdown), and Andrew Hawkins (team-leading five catches and 56-yards receiving) did their part, Simpson and Caldwell are likely your starting wide receivers this weekend with Green listed as doubtful, after failing to practice for the entire week.

We pointed out Jerome Simpson could be a fantasy football sleeper this week, but the truth is Cincinnati needs consistency and dependability out of the fourth-year receiver. Quarterback Andy Dalton has to target Simpson with the confidence that the receiver will fight for the reception. Otherwise as drops are made or routes are incorrectly run, Dalton's confidence in Simpson will lessen, forcing the quarterback to find other options during his checks. And if no one is there, Dalton may force a throw to a more dependable receiver that's facing tighter coverage, convinced that Simpson may run the wrong route or fail to haul in the reception.

Caldwell is in the same boat to a lesser extend. While he's made big plays in the past -- think clutch touchdown receptions in 2009 against the Ravens and Steelers -- Caldwell tends to disappear in games forcing us to wonder if he's even in the game. He is. He's just not that noticeable as he struggles to create separation from defenders while lined up in the slot. Even if Simpson is Cincinnati's greatest threat, Caldwell will have to be a presence in the passing game, forcing Baltimore's defense to take notice.

Gresham will be Dalton's most dependable receiver if Green sits against the Ravens. Even though he sat for two games with an injury, Gresham is tied for second on the team with 29 receptions. He's also the team's biggest and best red zone threat, scoring four touchdowns this season. That being said Gresham needs to be more productive between the 20s, limiting the coverage that Simpson and Caldwell will face. Gresham is currently averaging 8.8 yards/reception (second-lowest on the team amongst players with at least ten receptions).

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