In honor of The Homecoming of Willie Anderson (best right tackle in Bengals history) and John Harbaugh (long-time University of Cincinnati assistant), Sunday will not be a black-tie affair, but a more close-to-the-vest event. Anderson aids a ferocious running game that controls the clock an NFL-best 33:27 and Harbaugh's special teams mentality is putting the Ravens in enough safe, winnable positions to head down the stretch a game behind division-leader Pittsburgh. When the Bengals have been called on this month, they've slugged it on defense.
The Bengals.com roundtable doesn't see a high-scoring game or a blowout, but it also sees Baltimore as the favorite
"The one thing about a rookie quarterback is they have a tough time winning on the road with the crowd noise and some adversity," says The Guru, a former top football NFL exec noting the 3-3 record of Baltimore's Joe Flacco. "They do a great job managing Flacco and they'll be tough for Cincinnati because they're still in it. But the Bengals are at the point where they're playing a lot of kids and they can just go out, play with no pressure, and maybe win the game."
"The Bengals have to do three things to win," says The Eye, an NFL scout familiar with personnel in the AFC North. "Take advantage of the big plays when they present themselves, control the ball, and not make mistakes."
A tall order for a club that has virtually no big plays (the longest pass to a wideout is 26 yards) and is in the bottom five of the league with an average time of possession of 27:41.
"I thought the Bengals gave the Steelers a pretty good go on the road by getting out and taking that lead," The Guru says. "Their defense did a nice job stopping the run for the most part, but when the offense struggles so much on third down (eight straight failures at one point) and keeps them on the field like that, you won't beat many teams."
Don't think outside the box on this matchup. The line of scrimmage is where it all happens.
"Fitzpatrick has played better than I thought he would," The Guru says. "He's a smart guy, it looks like he knows what he's doing out there, but it would be tough for anybody the way they can't run the ball."
"I know they gave (Collins) help against the Steelers and all that," The Guru says. "But they have to be pretty pleased with the way he held up. No question this one will be just as challenging."
"This is a tough game not to have one because (Lewis) may not be a strong as he was at the point of attack like he was a few years ago against the power and isos," The Eye says. "But he still sets the tone and he's still the leader and he can still run sideline-to-sideline. What he's really good at is baiting blockers. The blockers don't really know where the ball is going on the zone stuff, and his eyes and body lean make you think the ball is going one way, and then he's going the other and you miss. He finds a way to get there with a little wiggle and nobody getting a hand on him."
The 154 yards they amassed against Baltimore in that 17-10 win in which they didn't score an offensive touchdown is still the lowest in the 92 games they've played under Marvin Lewis. It set a deadly trend. Six of their 11 worst offensive games under Lewis have occurred this season.
Larson is struggling but maybe this matchup of two Nebraska punters (Sam Koch) gets him going. While Koch is sixth in the NFL in net average, Larson is 28th.
"The safeties have to be careful because they just can't be concerned with the running game," The Eye says. "They go play-action hard, so they've got to be concerned about that. But they'll also have to be big in the running game."
But then, the Bengals have played pretty well in the smashmouth department lately. In the last three games--with Crocker playing heavily, rookie Pat Sims playing defensive tackle, and Jones racking up 100 tackles for the season--they have allowed just 3.4 yards rush in a stretch that includeed the quite physical Jaguars and Steelers.
The Eye says Anderson is at his savvy and tough mindset best. The Guru likes the matchup of wily vets as Thornton could very well make his first Bengals start at end.