The team that protects the football the best always wins when the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens get together. That's the seminal statistic that cannot be ignored when analyzing these two teams.
In the first meeting between these two clubs, Baltimore was staked to a 31-14 lead, in large part due to three Andy Dalton interceptions. Dalton recovered, however, and blazed Cincinnati back in the fourth quarter. But for a questionable overturn of a would-be touchdown pass to Jermaine Gresham, the comeback would have been complete and the game would have gone into overtime. Instead, the Ravens held on to a 31-24 victory.
History shows that the earlier game in Baltimore may have been the aberration and the Bengals fans should start making plans to watch the team next week in the playoffs.
For Dalton, the three picks against the Ravens were a season high. He's thrown only one since then. The Bengals' rookie has been the picture of poise in the pocket this year, keeping his team in positive scoring situations. He played in the November matchup without AJ Green. Five of Dalton's 13 picks this year have come when Green wasn't on the field.
On the Baltimore side, Joe Flacco was uncharacteristically effective against Cincinnati in their first meeting. In seven games, Flacco has a career QB rating of 68.0 against Cincinnati, the lowest against any AFC North opponent. His six touchdowns versus 10 interceptions are also a low point. Those ratios are reversed when Flacco faces Cleveland or Pittsburgh. In their last game, Flacco had a QB rating of 105.5. As Bengals 101 pointed out earlier this week, much of that was due to the Bengals' focus on taking away Anquan Boldin. Boldin won't be playing Sunday.
Certainly Cincinnati has to be concerned with their own recent spate of turnovers from Cedric Benson. His inability to hold on to the football late in the game last week against Arizona nearly cost them a 23 point lead. But Benson will be important to the outcome as well. He scored twice in the first game against Baltimore, but gained only 41 yards on 15 carries. Cincinnati is 5-0 this season when Benson carries at least 20 times. In 2009, when the Bengals swept the Ravens, Benson averaged 118 yards per game against them. With Ray Lewis back at middle linebacker, Baltimore's defense has actually surrendered more rushing yards than in the four games Lewis was out.
Paul Brown Stadium is sold out and the Bengals hold their playoff destiny in their own hands. As Marvin Lewis said earlier this week, "if we don't take care of business, then shame on us." There will be no shame for the orange and black today.
Bengals 23, Ravens 10
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