BALTIMORE — The Bengals.com media roundtable has seen the line for Monday's opener in Baltimore (7 p.m.-ESPN and Cincinnati's Channel 12) and they're not going to go near it.
They may be giving the edge to the Ravens, but none of them are going to be shocked if the Bengals pull one out of the fire like head coach Marvin Lewis's clubs have done here four times in nine years.
» With most experts making Baltimore a touchdown or so favorite, The Table not only realizes the Ravens have lost just one game at home since November 2009 but Baltimore also figures to throw a brand new no-huddle offense at a Bengals defense with depleted numbers upfront.
» The Bengals have to prove they can cover Ravens running back Ray Rice in the open field after a season he burned them on three runs of last least 51 yards, and the no-huddle is going to make it tough on Mike Zimmer to cover the best wide receivers the Ravens have had in his five seasons as the Bengals defensive coordinator.
» Both offensive lines are under scrutiny. The Ravens are either aging up front (center Matt Birk is 36 and left guard Bobbie Williams will be in two weeks) or young (rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele is making his first NFL start) or shaky (Michael Oher has struggled at left tackle).
Meanwhile, the Bengals are going in with a center that has had five practices with the team in Jeff Faine and their own young players. Both guards are making their first starts at their spots in 23-year-old left Clint Boling and 22-year-old right Kevin Zeitler. But the Cincinnati tackles won't have to deal with Pro Bowl sacker Terrell Suggs, out with an Achilles injury.
Jon Gruden, the ESPN analyst working the game, is playing it like Ernie Els and is going right down the middle with brother Jay Gruden calling Cincinnati's plays. But in the end Jon sounds like he's giving the edge to the Ravens because the Bengals have been so beat up on offense they haven't had time to play together.
But Gruden clearly has high regard for Bengals Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green. Invoking names of the old 49ers that complemented the incomparable Jerry Rice, he wonders where Green is going to get his help.
Peter King, the NFL point man for Sports Illustrated, calls it "a hornet's nest game" for the Bengals because he thinks the Ravens are going to be riding emotion in the wake of the death of former owner Art Modell.
Dave Lapham, who actually played in four Bengals-Browns game coached by Paul Brown, opens his 28th season analyzing games on Bengals radio and sees a vintage AFC North tractor pull down to the last play. He acknowledges "the Ravens are favored for a reason," but he could also see the Bengals pulling out a late win.
"At least they don't have Matt Stover," Lapham says of the retired Ravens kicker that put Bengaldom through more late heartache than a midnight pizza.
Aaron Wilson, one of the Baltimore Sun's beat men who has blanketed the market for years, thinks Rice and the receivers are going to be too tough for the Bengals, but he also wouldn't be surprised to see quarterback Andy Dalton beat the Ravens with a quick passing game to exploit the absence of Suggs.
Let's go around the table:
I think they've got to rely on their creativity as they always have (to account for the loss of Suggs.) This is one of the more multiple defenses in football. They have four or five different base fronts and with the sub package they have unlimited number defenses. They have a style of coverage in the red zone where they are the best in football. They can call a lot of things. They can blitz you up the middle, from the perimeter. They can all-out blitz you. They can present the illusion of pressure and rush three guys. They do a tremendous job disguising it.
They still have Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, but they don't have that prized pass rusher yet. I think they'll use their creativity and rely on their system to help generate pressure while Suggs is out. At the same time, they're counting on Sergio Kindle, Paul Kruger and Courtney Upshaw. These are second-round (draft) choices that they're looking to be great Ravens of the future.
It's not just Dalton or A.J. Green, it's the rest of the (Bengals). Great defenses take away what you do best. I remember (when I was with the 49ers) Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren saying if we don't move Jerry Rice around every single snap—put him in motion, put him in the slot, put a tight end outside him—they're going to double him. They're going to take him away from us. You've got to have the ability to create formations, personnel groups to put a great player around. You've got to have another player. Whether it's Brent Jones or John Taylor, Jermaine Gresham …
I don't know who the next receiver is. Is it (Brandon) Tate? Is it going to be one of the young kids? Is it going to be the kid out of California (Marvin Jones) who had a great preseason? Who is it going to be? (Andrew) Hawkins? Who are the second, third, fourth, fifth options?
Out of backfield is it BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is it Bernard Scott, Roger Craig? You have to have guys that are in a nucleus of skill players and types of personnel groups and formations to really help the quarterback and the great receiver. Unfortunately I haven't seen a lot of those guys working together in the last three preseason games. It probably has kept the car in the garage a little bit.
THE EDGE: The Ravens have a significant homefield advantage. The reason is they have a heck of a team offense, defense. When you have a divisional game in the opener, with two teams that have familiarity with each other, this is going to be a physical game. It has the symptoms of a matchup that could be ugly. A real battle of field position and I think big plays. (Last year) Ray Rice had three long runs, (Joe) Flacco threw a bomb to Torrey Smith on two different occasions, and they got one to (Anquan) Boldin. It was a game of explosive plays and I think it's going to be the case in this game as well. It's going to be very physical.
Like every other game in the AFC North, it's going to turn on turnovers.
Both teams have the similar styles right out of the division recipe. Tough defense and running the ball. When you play that style of football, you have fewer possessions and if you turn it over once or twice, that's huge because the possessions are so limited and important. To give the other team an extra possession or two can be devastating. It's not like in the AFC West.
The Ravens are going with their up-tempo offense, the no-huddle and that makes it tough for Mike Zimmer to sub and get in the right package. It's tough to sub like that against a back like Ray Rice. It puts the defense in a bind. They have to declare how they're going to do it. The good thing for them is they've got some versatile guys on this defense. Do they shadow Rice with a linebacker? (WILL backer) Thomas Howard is a good cover player. I think safety Taylor Mays is athletic enough in the middle of the field, but I think eventually they're going to have to bracket Rice.
It's going to be loud. It's going to be unbelievable. It's loud anyway, but now it's Monday night and the crowd is tanked because they've had all day. But I think the Bengals offensive line is going to be OK. Faine's played there and I think he'll be able to help the young guys. It helps Zeitler with Faine having to come in and play. It's going to take the pressure and focus off the rookie and put it on the veteran.
THE EDGE: Ideally this game would be played in Cincinnati. The Ravens are favored for a reason and for all the things we've said. But I think there's a good chance it comes down to the last possession. It's going to be a typical AFC North slobber-knocker physical game and I could easily see Mike Nugent winning it at the gun. Either way, maybe 16-13, 20-17, something like that. Thank God the Ravens don't have Matt Stover.
This is a hornet's nest game for the Bengals. The Ravens love playing in this kind of game, an emotional one with the death of Art Modell.
This is going to be a different kind of Bengals-Ravens game. I think it's going to be high scoring with the Ravens playing fast in the no-huddle and I'm really anxious to see what the impact is on the Bengals with no (left end) Carlos Dunlap rushing the passer. I think Dunlap has the chance to be a Pro Bowl player. Facing a team (the Ravens) rededicated to making things happen in the passing game, you have to hit the quarterback at least 10 times.
One thing about the Bengals. They have an underrated front seven that has guys that make plays, but it's not a good thing to be down on the defensive line playing the Ravens in the no-huddle.
THE EDGE: Ravens, 30-23. A different kind of game. The Ravens had the no-huddle going well in the preseason. They were on pace to run 78 plays against Jacksonville and I think that's how fast they're going to play. They've got some very fast receivers on the outside that can run and can give them problems in Smith and (Jacoby) Jones.
It's going to be a close one, but I think the Ravens have enough corners to cover A.J. Green and the Bengals are without Scott, a guy that has the speed to hurt them on the edge and who did it last year (on a 25-yard touchdown run in the Ravens 24-16 win in Cincinnati last season).
But I wouldn't be surprised if Cincinnati wins. I have some concerns about the Ravens offensive line. They just shuffled it up again with Osemele, the rookie, going to right tackle, and Michael Oher getting switched to left. Oher has had problems at left in the past, but he played well in the preseason, it's just that they didn't use this configuration very much. And with Birk and Bobbie getting up there, they're worried about (Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle) Geno Atkins hurting them.
And with Suggs not in there, they're worried that Dalton can hurt them with some quick throws.
THE EDGE: Ravens, 24-17. It could go the other way, but they're at home and they're healthier than the Bengals, and the no-huddle is going to give the Ravens a chance to show their best wide receiver group in a long time.