Game Preview: ‘All The Marbles Are At Stake’

The Ravens will either be atop the AFC or in third place in their division after Sunday.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Saturday, November 19th, 2011 at 1:29 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink, Week 11 vs Bengals

At the beginning of the season, a November home game against the Cincinnati Bengals probably wasn’t one too many people had circled.

After all, the Bengals were coming off a 4-12 season. The Ravens were 12-4.

But due to Cincinnati’s resurgence, and Baltimore’s difficulty beating losing teams this season, Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium suddenly has huge significance.

If the Ravens win, they’ll have a 7-3 record that would put them in first place in the AFC North and atop the entire conference. They would hold tiebreakers over Pittsburgh, Houston and New England.

But if the Ravens lose, Baltimore would stumble into third place in the division and be in a dogfight just to make the playoffs amidst a muddled AFC pack.

“All the marbles are at stake right now,” linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. “We win this game and we’re in control of the whole AFC. So this is a big game for us.”

Perhaps it’s a good thing for the Ravens.

They’ve fared well in their premier matchups this season, particularly those at home. They swept the Pittsburgh Steelers and toppled the New York Jets and Houston Texans at home.

Their defeats have surprisingly come in Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle – all losing teams at the time Baltimore played them.

“If you want to make it to the playoffs and you want to have some home field advantage, you’re going to have to start winning some games, especially against another division opponent,” cornerback Chris Carr said.

“If [the Bengals] win this, then they’ll be first place in the division and who knows how the wild card goes.”

3 Matchups To Watch

LB Terrell Suggs vs. LT Andre Whitworth
Suggs and Whitworth have had some clashes over the years. Last year, a tussle lasted after the whistle and Suggs’ helmet was ripped clean off his head. Whitworth is one of the best left tackles nobody knows about. Suggs is looking for his first sack since Week 7 against Arizona, as Baltimore’s sack numbers have dipped recently.

LB Jameel McClain vs. RB Cedric Benson
If, in fact, Ray Lewis is out for Sunday, McClain will have additional run defense responsibilities. He’ll have the job of slowing down a back that has hurt the Ravens in years past. In 2009, Benson put 120 yards and a touchdown in Week 5. A month later he notched 117 and a score. Last year, the Ravens held him to 78 and 53 yards, respectively.

WR Torrey Smith vs. CB Kelly Jennings
Jennings appears to be the player who will step in for injured cornerback Leon Hall. He’s fast, but can sometimes have trouble tracking the deep ball and hasn’t seen a ton of time this season. That vertical game is Smith’s specialty, so look for him to break open the top of Cincinnati’s defense.

3 Questions To Answer

What will be the run-pass ratio?
It’s been the topic of the week in Baltimore. Running back Ray Rice had five carries in Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw the ball 52 times. The Ravens want to get Rice the ball, but they aren’t going to force the run if they don’t think it’s going to be successful. If Baltimore can get out to a good start, that will give the ground game a better chance.

Can the Ravens win the turnover battle?
The Ravens lost the turnover battle in four of the past five games. That’s a -6 turnover ratio during that span. Facing a rookie quarterback in Andy Dalton, who is fresh off throwing two interceptions to the Steelers, the Ravens defense is looking to get its hands on the ball.

Who will be the kick returner?
We know David Reed won’t be returning kicks on Sunday. But there’s a host of other players who could get the job: from wide receivers Torrey Smith, LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss to cornerbacks Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb and safety Tom Zbikowski. Whoever it is, holding onto the ball will be top priority.

Team Rankings

Total Offense – 340.7 (15)
Rush Offense – 99.0 (22)
Pass Offense – 241.7 (11)
Points Per Game – 25.0 (9)

Total Defense – 284.7 (3)
Rush Defense – 90.3 (3t)
Pass Defense – 194.3 (6)
Points Per Game – 16.9 (3)

Total Offense – 312.1 (24)
Rush Offense – 104.7 (20)
Pass Offense – 207.4 (23)
Points Per Game – 23.6 (15t)

Total Defense – 304.2 (5)
Rush Defense – 86.8 (2)
Pass Defense – 217.4 (10)
Points Per Game – 18.2 (5)

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