Bengals Take on Ravens in Baltimore

Team Page: Cincinnati :: Baltimore

51% of The Public Taking Cincy +3 :: Matchup :: Odds
A coaching change provided the Baltimore Ravens with an answer to their offensive struggles. The Cincinnati Bengals are still searching for the solution to their problems on offense.

The division rivals face off Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, with the Ravens trying to prevent the Bengals from rejoining them atop the AFC North at the midway point of the season.

Coach Brian Billick took over as Baltimore's offensive coordinator two weeks ago, firing Jim Fassel during the bye week in order to take a more hands-on approach with a floundering offense.

Billick took over after the Ravens (5-2) had lost consecutive games and were ranked 22nd in the NFL with 18.3 points per game, 29th with 284.5 total yards per game and 30th in total first downs with 94.

With a dual leadership role, Billick led the team to an impressive 35-22 win over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday at the Superdome, one of the NFL's toughest stadiums for visiting teams this season. The Ravens had a 28-7 halftime lead after producing 16 first downs before running a conservative run-based offense in the second half.

``Once things went a certain way and we got up, the head coach came over to me and said, 'Psst! Run the ball, OK?' So that's what the coordinator did, he ran the ball because we were in pretty good shape,'' Billick joked.

The potent offense the Bengals (4-3) displayed last season en route to their first playoff appearance since 1990 has not been nearly as consistent this year. They have lost three of their last four contests to fall one game back of the first-place Ravens.

Though it hardly seems to be all his fault, Carson Palmer is taking the blame. His rehabilitation from knee surgery has limited his mobility this year, and injuries to the offensive line have further hindered the team.

Palmer has been sacked 21 times, fifth-most in the NFL, and has thrown only 11 touchdown passes through seven games after finishing last season with a league-high 32.

``A lot of the people are pointing the finger at (offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski),'' Palmer said. ``You can point one at me because I'm calling a large percentage of the plays. He's taking a lot of unfair criticism and a lot of that should be pointed at me. Being the quarterback and being in the situation we're in with the no-huddle that we run, I do end up calling most of the plays.''

He better call some good ones against the Ravens, who are third in the NFL in total defense with 273.6 yards allowed per game and are tied for fifth with 21 sacks. However, that unit gave up an average of 30 points and more than 400 yards in losing the last three meetings with Cincinnati.

Baltimore's defense hasn't been at its best recently, allowing more than 400 yards in back-to-back games, but it won't have to carry the team anymore if Steve McNair and the offense keep playing as they did last Sunday.

McNair entered the game with one of the league's worst passer ratings and more interceptions (seven) than touchdowns (five). He went 17-of-23 for 159 yards with two touchdowns, did not commit a turnover and ran for his first TD in a Ravens uniform.

Jamal Lewis, meanwhile, ran for a season-high 109 yards on 31 carries. It was the first time in nine games since Dec. 19 he had a 100-yard performance, but Billick wants to see more from Lewis.

``Jamal ran hard, but we left some yards on the table. That could have very easily been a 160-170 yard rushing day,'' said Billick, whose team is averaging 100.4 rushing yards per game. ``That comes down to the reads, the blocking schemes. It could have been better, and that's what we're going to try to do.''

McNair said his coach's offensive scheme has had a big impact, helping to raise the intensity of a team that a few weeks ago seemed on the verge of a meltdown.

``I thought the energy of the whole team was there,'' McNair said. ``We just fed off each other.''

Palmer and Chad Johnson have not been feeding off each other as they did last season. Johnson had 1,432 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 2005, but has been held to 36 catches for 451 yards with two scores this year.

The running game hasn't been too good, either, failing to gain 90 yards in four of the last five games.

Rudi Johnson has run for more than 65 yards only once in that span, limited to 3.5 yards per carry. He had his second consecutive 1,400-yard season in 2005.

``We need to pull together, stick together and stay together as a team,'' Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton said. ``If one side of the ball doesn't play well ... don't make excuses.''

By: David Michaels - theSpread.com - Email Us

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