BALTIMORE - NOVEMBER 20: Ray Rice #27 of the Baltimore Ravens runs the ball against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on November 20, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Ravens defeated the Bengals 31-24. (Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
WHEN: Monday Night, 7PM
WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore
ODDS: The Ravens are seven-point favorites as if this posting
Cincinnati's offense will be in a precarious position Monday night. The game is played in Baltimore on Monday Night with an energetic crowd giving the Bengals a natural disadvantage playing on the road, additionally fueled by a squad that may feel obligated to pay tribute after Art Modell's passing. The Bengals could find themselves having dug an early hole if they're unable to withstand the early assault that's usually a factor during away games. Once the adversity clears and the game becomes more game-like with the emotional injection that's usually associated in the first quarter fading, Cincinnati has a good chance to win. But this game could be won in the first quarter, as much as the fourth.
WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL
With that being said, we expect the Bengals to establish the rushing game with a handful of early shots down the field, solely to get the Ravens defense thinking about A.J. Green. This could be a philosophy all season, but Cincinnati will desperately need to open Baltimore's defense up.
None of that will matter if the team's other six receivers, with a combined 51 career receptions, fail to take pressure off A.J. Green. Andrew Hawkins will play primarily from the slot, covered by a combination of Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams. Brandon Tate is expected to start opposite of A.J. Green, but Armon Binns figures to rotate frequently.
Last year the Bengals generated 483 yards of total offense against the Ravens during Baltimore's 31-24 win over Cincinnati in November -- it was the most at the time in a span of 72 games. As a team the Bengals rushed for 224 yards against the Ravens defense in both games combined.
WHEN THE RAVENS HAVE THE BALL
Historically speaking the Bengals have contained Ray Rice. Before breaking out last season, Rice failed to reach the 100-yard rushing milestone in six career games against Cincinnati, only generating two touchdowns and becoming rather indifferent to the overall impact of the game. Additionally by containing Rice, Cincinnati's secondary has given Ravens wide receivers fits, evident of Joe Flacco's mediocre numbers.
With six career games played between 2008 and 2010, Flacco has completed 59 percent of his passes, completed four touchdowns and thrown nine interceptions. Despite the struggles by Baltimore's offense, the Bengals have only managed to play .500 ball themselves.
That changed last year. Rice generated his first 100-yard performances against the Bengals (191, 104), doubling his career touchdown output with four scores. Flacco benefited completing 70 percent of his passes with a passer rating of 108.9 in both games last season, sweeping the Bengals on their way to AFC North championship.
FIVE THINGS FOR THE BENGALS TO WIN
+ Andy Dalton has to stretch the field early, with a handful of first quarter shots downfield to A.J. Green. By forcing the Ravens to account for Green, it opens several single-coverage situations and a match-up problem for the Ravens against Jermaine Gresham. Double-coverage means safety help, which means Gresham is likely matched up against a linebacker, often inferior talent-wise to Gresham's athleticism.
+ Cincinnati needs to establish the running game, but incrementally. We figure that the Ravens will focus more on BenJarvus Green-Ellis early, forcing Andy Dalton to use his array of unproven receivers (not including Green) to intimidate them. Without a viable threat opposite of Green, Cincinnati's rushing offense will hit a brick wall all night. And it would be insane for the Bengals to keep pounding the rock if it's entirely ineffective.
+ The Bengals have established a good pass rush against the Ravens, dropping Joe Flacco 15 times in eight career games, including two games with four quarterback sacks or more. Flacco has proven in previous games against the Bengals that if you pressure him, he will throw his share of mistakes with limited escapability.
+ Ray Rice is such a special talent, that when a defense's focus falters, he can critically impact a single-play; whether it's breaking containment on a run or settling within a gap in zone coverage, he can make an impact if he's not accounted for every play.
+ Two strong defenses may dictate a game of field position through special teams. Granted an offense generating a handful of first downs, presents special teams an opportunity to pin the opposition within their own five-yard line, but the Bengals sported one of the league's best coverage teams last year. With defense figuring to play a vital role on Monday night, special teams needs to play their dance to the tune of special teams superiority.