Here's a storyline for you.
The Baltimore Ravens have generated just three quarterback sacks in the last four games. Andy Dalton has only been sacked three times in the last five games. When written with such friendly words and receptive ears, one would logically conclude the reasonable premonition that Baltimore's pass rush will have no impact this Sunday. But trends tend to be burdensome in the NFL, because using generalities to forecast how a game will play out is like predicting Ohio's weather. Sure it's sunny and 50 degrees today, but it'll probably be something else entirely tomorrow.
Two reasons account for Cincinnati's successes in pass protection recently.
The reconfiguration of the offensive line, placing Anthony Collins at left tackle, who hasn't allowed a sack in nearly 300 passing plays this season, initiated it. Now you're sliding Andrew Whitworth, named as a third alternate in the 2014 Pro Bowl, to left guard. You've enhanced both positions and Andy Dalton has finally found peace inside the pocket, just outside the chaotic mess of stunts, bull-rushes, swims, rips and foul-mouthed defensive players.
Two, there's no time. According to Pro Football Focus, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is releasing the football faster than any quarterback in the NFL. On every attempted throw, Dalton is releasing the football, on average, by 2.23 seconds.
How important is the pass rush (or how much more important than usual) for Baltimore?
"It’s huge. They have weapons all over the field," Ngata said of Baltimore's need to pass rush, via the Baltimore Sun. "Their offensive line has been playing really great this year. We've just got to put pressure on Andy Dalton and try to make sure that he doesn't find open receivers or make correct checks."
Baltimore made it work last time.
When the Ravens hosted Cincinnati in week 10, Baltimore generated five quarterback sacks. The first three sacks ended possessions and forced Cincinnati to punt. Yet, even with Dalton's quick deliveries, Baltimore won't change anything.
"You don’t ever pull back. You've got to force him to get the ball out of quick. We sacked him five times last time," Harbaugh said via the Baltimore Sun. "We don’t ever pull back. There are different coverages. There are things where you can show pressure and it’s simulated pressure and things like that. We can put hit calls on receivers. There are different ways of covering guys. We’ll do all of that, but you have to force the quarterback to do one of two things: either get hit or have a quick outcome to the play. … We’re all for the ball coming out quick. If it doesn't come out quick, we have to get to him."
Terrell Suggs leads Baltimore with 10 quarterback sacks. Elvis Dumervil, who is listed as questionable this weekend, has 9.5, including three against the Bengals last month. However an ankle injury has slowed him down. He missed the game against Minnesota in week 14. Dumervil played against the Lions and Patriots, but only participated in 34 and 28 defensive snaps respectively -- both are below his usual totals.
With a win and a loss by the Chargers or Dolphins, Baltimore secures the sixth and final playoff berth. Cincinnati, on the other hand, has something to gain as well. A win secures the No. 3 seed, which can improve to a first-round bye if Buffalo beats the Patriots in New England.