11-8-02. 11:05 a.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
It is turning into the biggest assignment of Justin Smith's schedule. The matchup against Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden is big in so many ways, starting with the construction of the 6-9, 340-pound Ogden.
"Big," is the only way the 6-4, 270-pound Smith can describe the Pro Bowler. Huge, really. He also describes him as "the best tackle," he's faced in his 23 NFL games.
"He's so tall. On film, it doesn't look like he's moving that great," Smith said. "But his body, like his legs, take up so much space that you don't realize he moves around real well. He's deceiving on tape. He' s just so much bigger than anybody else, it's ridiculous."
Smith had just his second sack of the season last week, which gives him the same total he had at the halfway point last season on his way to 8.5. He figures there are three reasons why the Bengals had more pressure against
the Texans than in any game they've played this year. They had the lead for three quarters, or 45 minutes. That's after having the lead for about 38 minutes in the previous seven games.
"No question, it's about getting more opportunities," said Smith, whose sack came in a second half the Bengals were expanding a 24-3 half-time lead. "It was fun. We got a few more hits on the quarterback and that's how you get sacks. The more chances you get hits, the more you're going to get some."
Of course, getting sacks off Odgen is another story. Especially since his real forte is in the running game. Against the Steelers' aggressive pass rush two weeks ago, Ravens quarterback Jeff Blake got sacked just once throwing 50 passes.
"You have to try and beat him off the ball on that first step and just try to get him off balance," Smith said. "His arms are so long. If you let him get his hands on your shoulders, that's it, because he'll be able to ride you outside the quarterback."
But the thing about Ogden is he's probably a better run blocker than pass protector. The Ravens are only 19th in NFL rushing, but the return of running back Jamal Lewis makes them extremely dangerous on the ground. Running usually behind Ogden, Lewis has 4.1 yards per carry and personally beat Jacksonville with 119 yards and wrecked Cleveland on 187 yards. He averaged 103 yards last month, the second best mark in the NFL.
OTHER MATCHUPS: Knowing how the opposing quarterback feels he was wronged during his six years in Cincy, the marquee job here is Bengals P Mike Brown vs. Ravens QB Jeff Blake.
Riding his offensive line's two straight games without a sack, Bengals LT Levi Jones takes on the defending AFC sack champion in Ravens ROLB Peter Boulware. The Cincinnati secondary again has to be wary of the long ball with Bengals CB Artrell Hawkins going against emerging Ravens WR Travis Taylor. Bengals MLB Brian Simmons and SS Marquand Manuel have to contain the speed of Ravens TE Todd Heap.
Bengals WR Chad Johnson looks to continue his roll against a limping Baltimore secondary and Ravens CB Gary Baxter.
BROWN VS. BLAKE: Brown appreciates how Blake's long ball kept the franchise afloat in the mid-90s (Is Paul Brown Stadium the house that Blake built?) and how his exciting play kept his team in a lot of games. But Blake doesn't appreciate how he was unceremoniously discarded after a choppy 11-game start in 1997 and then passed over by players acquired in the draft and free agency. Blake has plenty to prove Sunday, particularly to a team that has thrown just 26 TD passes since he left before the 2000 season.
JONES VS. BOULWARE: No, it doesn't look like MLB Ray Lewis and DE Michael McCrary are going to play, but the Bengals still have their hands full with the ever active Boulware. After a 15-sack season last year, he's got five now, along with a forced fumble and interception. Plus, you never really know where he's coming from in the Ravens' new-look, all-look alignment. Jones is on the look out for his spin move.
HAWKINS VS. TAYLOR: Hawkins is coming off a AFC Defensive Player of the Week outing in Houston. Taylor is coming off the two best games of his career with 209 yards on 11 catches and a touchdown. He also ran a 39-yarder last week in Atlanta. **
SIMMONS, MANUEL VS. HEAP:The Bengals had a little bit of trouble covering the tight end last week, but they can't have that problem Sunday. Heap is considered one of those guys who is a wide-receiving tight end. He leads the Ravens with 34 catches and four touchdowns, which have come from 20 and 23 yards.
JOHNSON VS. BAXTER:** A battle of second-year players. Cornerback Chris McAlister (ankle) is questionable and Baxter is the other starter in his first year as a cornerback. Baxter played just six games as a safety last year, but has 11 passes defensed and one interception.
Johnson would like to atone for last year's effort in Baltimore that ended in a sideline shouting match with quarterback Jon Kitna. Johnson dropped what would have been a 97-yard touchdown pass and got out positioned for another TD. But things have been looking up for Johnson. In his last four games, he's caught 22 passes for 270 yards.
NUMBERS GAME:** All the numbers you need for this Sunday's game in Baltimore, starting with 41, 66; 40 and 26. In his first 41 starts as the Bengals quarterback from 1994-96, waiver wire pickup Jeff Blake, the Ravens' starter this week, threw 66 touchdown passes. It's been 40 games since he left, and a first-round pick and three unrestricted free-agents have combined to throw 26 TD passes.
6-13 _ Bengals' record in Jeff Blake's last 19 starts for Cincinnati.
7-12 _ Bengals' record in quarterback Jon Kitna's 19 starts
15 _ TD passes of 50 yards or more Blake threw for the Bengals from 1994-99.
0 _ TD passes of 50 yards or more for the Bengals since Blake left.
66 _ Starts Blake had for the Bengals.
6 _ 100-yard Bengals' rushing games behind Blake (five for Corey Dillon, one for Ki-Jana Carter).
12 _ Dillon's 100-yard rushing games since Blake left.
16 _Interceptions by Blake in his last 21 games as a Bengal with more than 15 attempts.
29 _ Interceptions by Kitna in his first 21 games as a Bengal.
62 _ Interceptions Blake threw in his 66 Bengals' starts.
52 _ Interceptions by Bengals quarterbacks in the 40 games since Blake left.
68.1 _ Kitna's completion percentage this season, third in the NFL.
58 _ Blake's highest completion percentage with Bengals (1997).