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The rivalry between the Ravens and Steelers is discussed, debated and dissected ad nauseam.
By many measures, including the words of several Ravens players, it’s the biggest rivalry in the NFL today.
But the Ravens have a different message this week: Don’t dismiss Bengals-Ravens.
“It’s a bloodbath,” Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano said. “That’s what it’s going to be.”
Sunday’s game against Cincinnati matches up two of the top defenses in the NFL with first place in the division on the line.
“It’s an AFC North rivalry,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “All these games are played [physically]. They are all tight games between all the teams. They’re fiercely combated and they’re physical, hard games to play.”
The games between the Bengals, Steelers and Browns are tough, and the style in the AFC North is recognized as a brand of football from an old era, where good defense and running the football are a necessity more than a luxury, and the cold-weather games in November and December are where the division champ in is decided.
“We kind of take pride in that in this division,” Harbaugh said.
Cincinnati’s brings a dominant, yet hobbled, defense to Baltimore.
The Bengals starting cornerback Leon Hall went down for the season with a ruptured achilles tendon last week, and starting defensive end Carlos Dunlap is questionable with a hamstring injury.
Even if the defense has some new faces, the Ravens are facing a group that is ranked in the top-five in the league.
“They are a good defense, and they are going to have guys out there that are ready to play,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “They are going to run their scheme, and it’s going to be our job to put a little pressure on those guys out there when we have the chance.”
Cincinnati’s defense ranks second in the NFL against the run, and getting a strong push up front is key for them to have success.
“The main thing is to stop the front-four from getting pressure and not creating lanes to run the ball in,” Flacco said. “I think if we do that, then we are going to do a good job. These guys have done a good job all year and in the past of playing well up front against us.”
The Bengals, just like the Ravens, are big up front on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati’s offensive line averages 331 pounds, and they like to push defenses around to clear holes for their running game.
They are also one of the best in the NFL at protecting their quarterback, and their game is built on being strong and physical up front.
“They like to bully guys,” Ravens defensive tackle Naloti Ngata said. “We’ve got to make sure we stop that.”
Cincinnati’s offensive line may have a tough time clearing out the Ravens front seven on Sunday, as Baltimore’s defense ranks third in the NFL at stopping the run.
Getting the running game established is a focus for the Bengals each week, especially with a rookie quarterback, and they have shown a commitment to the run even if they don’t pick up big chunks of yardage.
Cincinnati ranks fifth worst in the NFL in yards per carry average (3.8), but they are 10th in the number of rushing attempts per game, demonstrating their focus on pounding the ball on the ground.