The Baltimore Ravens kick off the 2014 season today at home in M&T Bank Stadium, the atmosphere is sure to be electric, especially after the Ray Lewis Statue outside the stadium was unveiled a few days ago. Per Jaimison Hensley, John Harbaugh’s Ravens are 4-0 in season openers that have been played in Baltimore. They will be hosting the Cincinnati Bengals, the reigning AFC North Division Champions, the Bengals also happened to end Baltimore’s post season hopes last season. Nothing better than a division game to start the season!
The Bengals had the tenth best offense in the league last season, racking up 5,891 yards and 430 points. It goes without saying that A.J. Green is “the” guy on that side of the ball, arguably one of the top five wideouts in the entire league. While he is the man opposing defensive coordinators plan to stop, there are other weapons at Andy Dalton’s disposal. Others that contributed in the passing game last year were Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Andrew Hawkins along with both tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert. They also have a dynamic weapon out of the backfield in Giovani Benard, who was the third most targeted player in the passing game with 71 targets. The challenge for Cincinnati will be production on the ground, they averaged just 3.6 yards per carry last season which is below league average. That limited production can make an offense seem one dimensional at times.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals had one of the better defenses in the league last year as they finished in the top ten. They were outstanding against the run, holding opponents to just 96.5 yards per game. Stout against the pass, the Bengals gave up just 19.1 points per game. This is a formidable defensive unit, very capable of slowing down offenses.
Baltimore will have their hands full as far as defending the Bengals passing game, but the onus will be on Cincinnati to keep the Ravens defense honest. If they can’t run the ball, Baltimore will be able to pin their ears back and rush the passer at nauseam. The Ravens defense was a bit off last season, there has been a high standard set for that side of the ball. They weren’t horrible, but there was a noticeable drop off in the first season without both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Baltimore should have a resurgence on the defensive side of the ball as they are a bit deeper and addressed a few needs in the draft. Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are the veteran leaders on this defense, there are a lot of younger players that will be contributing this season and will be looking up to them for leadership. Specifically the middle of the defense, C.J. Mosely will be making his rookie debut tomorrow at inside linebacker. Second year safety Matt Elam will be lined up a few yards behind Mosley at safety, if those two are able to follow their assignments and make plays, the Ravens will thrive on that side of the ball this season.
Offensively, this is a whole new world for Baltimore. Gary Kubiak takes over as the new offensive coordinator, which means a spark in the run game. A much needed spark at that, Baltimore finished 30th in the league in rushing offense with just 83 yards per contest. The Ravens will be without Ray Rice as he starts the season on a two game suspension, but Bernard Pierce and Justin Forsett will be ready to go. Pierce will get a chance to show what he can do as a lead back for two games, he and his fellow backs should have a good year in Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. Joe Flacco should be a happy camper as well, what’s the best part about running the ball well for an offense? Play-action. Flacco has a few new targets this season in Steve Smith Sr and Kamar Aiken. This may be one of the most diverse wideout groups the Ravens have had, which means their 18th ranked passing game a season ago should also improve.
Baltimore’s Keys To Victory
- Making Bengals one dimensional by shutting down the run game
- Get Pierce and company going early on the ground, will set up big play opportunities via play-action
- Mosley and Elam’s play, they’re playing in the middle of that defense
- Shutting down A.J. Green’s supporting cast
- Pressure Dalton early and often
- Control the clock, limit Bengals possessions
- Take care of the ball, that Bengals defense is top notch