BENGALS LT ANTHONY COLLINS vs. RAVENS SLB ELVIS DUMERVIL
The last time we saw Dumervil, he was curled up on top of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton for his third sack of the game with 10 seconds left in that final desperate drive in Baltimore back on Nov. 10, apparently sealing a 17-10 victory. Until Dalton had enough presence of mind to spike the ball and find A.J. Green for The Hail Mary that brought no salvation in what would become a 20-17 overtime loss.
It was a game defined by the relentless Ravens pass rush at home once Baltimore took a 17-0 halftime lead. But the world is very different now as the two meet Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium (1 p.m.) in the regular-season finale. As Dumervil said in his Tuesday conference call with the Cincinnati media, the Bengals are driving in the driver's seat.
It is the Bengals on top with the Ravens desperately needing a win to get into the playoffs against the AFC North champions that have allowed just one sack with the game on the line since that day in Baltimore. And the 5-11, 260-pound Dumervil won't be going against the 6-7, 325-pound Andrew Whitworth like he did last month, but the 6-5, 330-pound Collins, who has replaced a Pro Bowl tackle by shutting down Pro Bowl pass rushers.
There are a bunch of reasons why the Bengals are protecting Dalton better since the Ravens had five sacks, a game after the Dolphins had rung up five on the Bengals. Collins has been mammoth, the Bengals have scored first in three of the last five games, and are more committed to the run with at least 35 rushes in three of the last four games. And a big reason they have confidence in the run now is that the huge, physical Whitworth has been at left guard primarily since the sixth play of the Dec. 1 win in San Diego.
Whatever the reasons, Dalton has shown what he can do when he has time and the pocket isn't collapsing. Since Baltimore, he has 13 touchdowns and three interceptions.
"We've run the ball better since that day than we did before," Whitworth says. "If you run the ball effectively, it dictates everything. It makes teams play both. That's why it's helped. You've got so many downs where guys are just teeing off because they know it's a pass play. The quarterback is under center (more), so you're not telling the whole world what you're doing."
All of Dalton's sacks in Baltimore came with him standing behind center in shotgun, a formation that heavily favors the pass. The three sacks since have also come in shotgun and the common thread is that the Bengals had to throw, except for the last two against the Vikings. In Baltimore, all the sacks came once the Bengals were down 17-0 in the second half. The sack in Pittsburgh came on third-and-11 and the two last Sunday came early in the fourth quarter when the Bengals had the game won on third-and-five and fourth-and-12. Now with the Bengals in the lead and able to get some movement in the running game, Dalton can go behind center more and not rely on shotgun.
Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden joked Tuesday, "They were mad at me" after Sunday for the plays that gave up the sacks. But Gruden has cleverly integrated the run, pass and play-action in a stretch defenses haven't as so much breathed on Dalton. After watching the Ravens tape from Nov. 10, Gruden knows what the Bengals have to do avoid another run on the passer.
"We had too many zero-yard runs and way too many incompletions," Gruden says. "We need positive plays. Even three yards … we need to stay out of those third-and-longs."
These Ravens have thrived on third-and-longs for a long time, as far back as when Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis was their first defensive coordinator. Dumervil got to the Ravens in free agency last offseason because of a fax foul-up, but he fits into their pass-rushing tradition like a computer chip. His 9.5 sacks team with the 10 of 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, making the Ravens No. 10 in generating sacks per pass.
It's a nice matchup against the Bengals, fourth-best in the NFL at allowing sacks per pass, and Collins is a huge reason. Always an athletic and talented pass protector when he came out of the fourth round in 2008, Collins has patiently sat behind a Pro Bowler in Whitworth at left tackle and a first-rounder in Andre Smith at right tackle.
"To me, A.C. is what this team is all about," says Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham, who played all five line positions in his decade with the club. "You've got guys who have improved since they've been here. A guy like Marvin Jones, Brandon Thompson, and when they've played, they've played well. And now you've got the other guys saying, 'I don't want to be the weak link when I get in there.' "
Collins is one of this team's most valuable players. Just look at the NFL's active sack leaders since 2006. Dumervil is 10th with 73 and this season Collins has already blanked No. 2 (Jared Allen), No. 3 (Robert Mathis) and No. 5 (Julius Peppers). According to Pro Football Focus, Collins hasn't given up a sack or a hit on Dalton in 526 snaps.
"A.C. has improved light years taking on the bull rush," Lapham says. "Allen is up there in years. He's not what he was, but he's still an effective player and A.C. shut him down. A.C. has shut down a lot of really good players. He's low in his pads on the bull rush when he's sitting. You have to bend at the knees, not at the waist and he's a good knee-bender. And with Dumervil, you have to sit. He's freakish in that he's short, but has long arms. He's a different breed of cat."
Collins—as well as the entire line—put his versatility on display last week when Andre Smith went out with a sprained ankle and he also blocked the estimable Brian Robison on the other side of Allen. All signs are that Smith is going to play against the Ravens, but Lapham thinks Robison served as a good primer for Dumervil.
"The thing about him is that AC knows what he has to do is sit; Dumervil has a low center of gravity," Lapham says. "He's powerful. He'll bull-rush you, you just have to sit on him. A.C. can really bend, he's an athletic dude. He bends in the right spots."
Lapham likes the matchup. As long as the Bengals are in the right down and distance.
"Against a good defense like this with good pass rushers, you want to throw because you want to throw, not because you have to throw. If you have to throw against these guys … ," Lapham says. "I like the matchup better here than over in Baltimore. Against guys like that who come off the ball like they can and don't have your snap-count advantage, that's another issue."