Cincinnati's weekend is as important as it gets. Players with injuries that might sit out in week five, will suck it up this weekend because a loss means the season is over. And every player has to believe that if they contribute to the cause, they're going to help Cincinnati beat the Baltimore Ravens to earn their place in the playoffs this year.
There are generally millions of keys to every game that teams need to win. We pick five.
Dominate The Running Game
Remember at one point in its history when Wheel of Fortune didn't have the constants during the bonus round, giving contestants the letters R, S, T, L, N and E? That's sort of the same thing here. Dominating the line of scrimmage is basically the most obvious point of any key to a game, we have to label it a constant, one of the letters you're given before trying to solve the puzzle.
More specifically however is the battle of rushing offenses.
Ray Rice rushed for over 100 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals for the first time in his career earlier this year during week 11 this year -- after failing to reach 90 yards rushing during his first six career games against Cincinnati.
Cedric Benson on the other hand dominated the Ravens in 2009 for a combined 237 yards rushing and two touchdowns during Cincinnati's 2009 sweep of the division; which has been the only season Benson has been more than useful. In his most previous three games against the Ravens, Benson is averaging 2.9 yards/rush on 59 carries.
Win The Second Quarter
There's a sense of obviousness we admit when saying that the Bengals have to score more points than their opponent to win a football game. However the story of Cincinnati's template goes like this. Score a lot in the first quarter, and then get badly beaten in the second.
Through their first 15 games this season, the Bengals have scored 80 points in the first period. Yet their lead is routinely wiped out by the second quarter, where opponents have scored 125 points -- roughly 42% of the points allowed this season. Alternatively the offense has scored only 18% of their total point production in the second quarter.
Containing Ravens Wide Receiver Torrey Smith
Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith registered 165 yards receiving on six receptions the last time he faced Cincinnati's secondary. Smith accounted for four of Baltimore's six biggest plays in week 11, including receptions that went 49, 38, 28 and 22 yards.
No single Bengals defensive back was to blame due to different schemes and where Smith lined up. Adam Jones allowed Smith's 28-yard reception whereas Nate Clements allowed a 49-yarder early in the second quarter.
Making Joe Flacco Uncomfortable In The Pocket
If you discount Geno Atkins' production against the Baltimore Ravens in week 11 (quarterback sack, three hits and an added pressure), the Bengals defense generated only three hits and two pressures on Joe Flacco.
As a result the Ravens quarterback completed 63% of his passes for 270 yards passing, two touchdowns for a quarterback rating of 105.5 -- second-highest of the season and second-highest in his career against the Bengals.
Protect The Football
A novel concept we know exists in the world of common sense. The last time the Bengals faced Baltimore, Andy Dalton threw three interceptions and over the course of Cincinnati's previous two games, Cedric Benson has fumbled the football five times, losing two (both against the Cardinals).
Cincinnati hasn't won a game this year in which they've given the football away three times or more. They're 3-5 when turning the football over twice and their record with a negative turnover differential is 2-4.
The Bengals offense can be efficient when they want to be, but have no room for error.