Game Preview: Ravens Want To Hit Their Stride

Beyond the playoff implications, the Ravens want to finish the regular season hot.

Posted by Ryan Mink on Saturday, December 31st, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Categories: Ryan Mink, Week 17 at Bengals

There are obvious playoff implications Sunday in Cincinnati.

If the Ravens win, they are guaranteed at least a first-round playoff bye and a home postseason game. If the Bengals win, they’re in the playoffs.

Either way, Baltimore is in the postseason. Beyond that, however, the Ravens want to go in with a bang.

“The way we played in San Diego and the way the second half went last week, we need to come out and have a good game and hit our stride going into the playoffs,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said.

In Week 15, the Ravens were blown out in San Diego, 34-14. They turned the ball over on offense and were burned through the air defensively.

Last Saturday, Baltimore built a 20-point lead against Cleveland, but saw that shrink to just six points after a punt return for a touchdown, dropped passes and a 12-play drive against their defense.

Linebacker Ray Lewis said the Ravens aren’t playing for style points, that wins are the only thing that matter at the end of the year.

“If you can just keep winning, you want your complete game when all the chips are on the line,” he said. “And that can come in the first round of the playoffs, the second round of the playoffs, or the Super Bowl itself. And that’s where you want your best game to be played.”

While all the chips aren’t on the line for the Ravens in Cincinnati, there’s a massive pile of them.

“Teams that win the Super Bowl peak at the end of the year,” Johnson said. “You can look at the way you’re playing now as an indicator of how you’re going to play in the playoffs.”

3 Matchups To Watch

CB Lardarius Webb vs. WR A.J. Green
It’s not a guarantee that Webb will get this assignment, but he is the Ravens’ top cornerback. Baltimore could opt to put rookie on rookie, and line up the bigger, more physical Jimmy Smith opposite Green, who didn’t play in the first matchup. The Ravens know they have to prevent the deep ball to Green.

C Matt Birk vs. DT Geno Atkins
Atkins leads Cincinnati with eight sacks this season and had one against the Ravens in their first meeting. With right guard Marshal Yanda potentially out, Birk will have to step up to help keep Atkins out of the backfield and off quarterback Joe Flacco.

OLB Terrell Suggs vs. LT Andrew Whitworth
Suggs hasn’t logged a sack in the past two games, and has had problems with the 6-foot-7, 355-pound Whitworth in the past. Suggs has 6.5 career sacks against the Bengals compared to 13 versus Cleveland and 13.5 against Pittsburgh. “You don’t see this guy get beat,” Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano said of Whitworth.

3 Questions To Answer

Can the Ravens win on the road?
All four of Baltimore’s losses have come on the road this year. It’s a place they don’t want to go for the playoffs because they play better at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens have won in Cincinnati just once in the past six times, going back in 2008.

Can Lee Evans get on track?
Evans is expected to get his second straight start with Anquan Boldin listed as doubtful. The veteran speedster was shut out against Cleveland, and is feeling the urgency to find a connection with quarterback Joe Flacco before heading into the playoffs.

Play or sit banged-up players?
There are a bunch of injury questions going into this game. Yanda, cornerback Cary Williams, kicker Billy Cundiff, defensive end Cory Redding and even Boldin will seemingly be game-time decisions. The Ravens want them healthy for the playoffs, but also badly want to win the AFC North.

Team Rankings

Total Offense – 338.1 (15th)
Rush Offense – 118.3 (14th)
Pass Offense – 219.8 (18th)
Points Per Game – 23.6 (13th)

Total Defense – 285.7 (3rd)
Rush Defense – 91.8 (2nd)
Pass Defense – 193.9 (4th)
Points Per Game – 16.7 (3rd)

Total Offense – 318.8 (24th)
Rush Offense – 111.5 (18th)
Pass Offense – 207.3 (20th)
Points Per Game – 21.9 (18th)

Total Defense – 314.2 (6th)
Rush Defense – 96.9 (5th)
Pass Defense – 217.3 (12th)
Points Per Game – 19.9 (9th)

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