coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
On 09/01/2014 12:09 PM in NFL

Cincinnati at Baltimore Game Day Central

The Cincinnati Bengals believe they have a team that can win the Super Bowl, but they will have to get through the Baltimore Ravens in week one first.

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coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/02/2014 04:30 PM

About eight months ago, the Ravens trudged off the field at Paul Brown Stadium, a 34-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals bringing an end to their season and their streak of five consecutive playoff appearances.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh and his players have grown tired of hearing about the disappointing 2013 campaign. The 2014 Ravens are a completely different team, they say.

The coaching staff has been overhauled. Some veterans moved on, and rookies and second-year players were elevated into starting roles. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith was signed to bring production, leadership and toughness to the offense.

The new-look Ravens will make their regular-season debut Sunday, and fittingly, their opponent is the Bengals, the defending AFC North champions.

The Ravens won't have running back Ray Rice as they get back to work Tuesday after two days off, but the rest of their roster should be practicing. After weeks dominated by talks about roster competitions, their starting teams and top reserves are pretty much set.

But there are still questions that hang over the Ravens as they accelerate their preparation for the Bengals.

-- How healthy are the Ravens?

It was a difficult summer as the Ravens lost young defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore to season-ending injuries and had their top three cornerbacks — Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson — miss significant time in the preseason. Webb, who had a lower back injury, was out for about a month and never played a snap in the preseason.

However, the Ravens have gotten progressively healthier and it's possible — if not, likely — that they'll have everyone ready to go Sunday. Running back Bernard Pierce and swing tackle Jah Reid, who both sustained concussions earlier in the preseason, returned to practice late last week.

Webb, Smith (chest contusion) and Jackson (ankle sprain) also were practicing, and Smith said recently that he's "100 percent certain" that all three will be ready to play when the games matter.

It is, however, fair to question how much the Ravens will be able to count on the trio with how much time they've missed, especially when they are going to have to contend with Bengals standout receiver A.J. Green and company.

-- How will all skill-position players stay involved?

Marlon Brown set a team-record with seven touchdown receptions as a rookie last season, yet he's currently the Ravens' No. 4 wide receiver and caught two balls the entire preseason.

Tight end Owen Daniels, a two-time Pro Bowl selection who suffered through an injury-plagued 2013 season, averaged 55 catches per season for the previous six years. But it's unclear at this point how he'll fit with the offense as he was sidelined for a good part of the preseason.

Tight end Dennis Pitta is healthy after playing just four games last season because of a hip injury. The Ravens have an emerging No. 1 receiver in Torrey Smith and a longtime one in Steve Smith, along with a proven deep threat in Jacoby Jones.

The success of their new-look offense, directed by new coordinator Gary Kubiak, will hinge on quarterback Joe Flacco's ability to spread the ball around, exploit mismatches and take what is given to him.

Flacco and the starting offense were solid in the preseason, though Kubiak didn't show a whole lot. The challenge intensifies significantly starting Sunday, and Kubiak undoubtedly has plenty of wrinkles in store for the Bengals.

-- Will youth be served in 2014?

The average age of the Ravens' 53-man roster is just over 26 years old, which is a bit younger than last year but ranks in the middle of the pack in the NFL.

The Cleveland Browns and the Bengals both have younger rosters than the Ravens, while the Pittsburgh Steelers currently have the oldest roster in the AFC North by a narrow margin.

The Ravens will have one rookie — first-round pick C.J. Mosley — starting as he'll play weak-side linebacker alongside Daryl Smith. But they'll have several second-year players starting, including fullback Kyle Juszczyk, right tackle Rick Wagner, nose tackle Brandon Williams and strong safety Matt Elam.

A huge key to the season will be the emergence of their second-year players because to this point, the Ravens have gotten very little from their 2013 draft class. Of course, it is still early to be making any judgments.

-- What becomes of Rice?

Rice and safety Will Hill were officially moved to the reserve-suspended list Saturday.

Rice faces a two-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy after he had a physical altercation with his now-wife in February. Hill is dealing with a six-game ban, stemming from a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.

Per league rules, neither player is allowed to be at the Ravens' facility during their suspension or take part in any team-related activities. Rice and Hill will be challenged with having to stay sharp and in shape on their own.

Rice, who had only five carries the entire preseason and sat out the final two games, can return to the team and be reinstated to the active roster Sept. 12, a day after the Ravens' face the Steelers in Week 2.

Hill, meanwhile, will be eligible to return in time for the Oct. 19 game against the Atlanta Falcons.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/03/2014 01:12 PM

Andy Dalton's two games against the Baltimore Ravens last season went completely differently.

You didn't need statistics to figure out just how vast the differences were between the performances the Cincinnati Bengals quarterback had at home against the Ravens and what he did on the road. All you had to do was watch the games.

We're looking at the number 39.2. That's the difference in QBR rating Dalton had in his one win over the Ravens last year and his one loss against them.

Dalton and his offensive line were battered all afternoon during the Week 10 overtime loss at Baltimore that really only had one positive play of note: A.J. Green's 50-yard touchdown catch off a Hail Mary tip that sent the game beyond regulation.

As bad as the Bengals looked offensively, the statistics told an even worse story. Dalton threw three interceptions and was sacked five times. He also completed a season-low 47.1 percent of his passes. Then again, when a quarterback throws 51 times, it's tough to believe he'll be all that accurate by the end of the game. But that's a different issue; one it doesn't appear Dalton will have to worry about as long as Hue Jackson is his offensive coordinator.

What Dalton does need to focus on Sunday when the Bengals make their first trip to Baltimore since last year's debacle is cleaner, turnover-free play. If he can keep up the solid, measured and confident play he had in the preseason, then he ought to be able to lead the Bengals to their second opening-weekend win since 2007.

Against Baltimore in the Week 10 loss, Dalton's QBR was 17.3, according to ESPN Stats & Information. During the Week 17 win over the Ravens in Cincinnati, he had a QBR of 56.5. Four interceptions in that game brought the QBR down. But keeping Dalton upright and sack-less, and getting him to attempt deeper passes seemed to pay off. In Week 10, Dalton averaged 5.4 yards per passing attempt. He averaged 7.7 in the regular-season finale.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/04/2014 05:09 PM

OPENING LINE — Ravens by 2

RECORD VS. SPREAD — Cincinnati 10-6-1, Baltimore 7-8-1

SERIES RECORD — Ravens lead 20-16

LAST MEETING — Bengals beat Ravens 34-17, Dec. 29, 2013

AP PRO32 RANKING — Bengals No. 10 (tie), Ravens No. 10 (tie)





STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES — Rematch of final game of 2013 regular season. ... Ravens have won five of past seven between AFC North rivals, including three straight at home. ... Former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis is 12-10 lifetime against Baltimore. He is 4-7 in openers. ... Cincy WR A.J. Green has TD catches in past two games vs. Ravens. ... Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick had career-high two INTs in previous game against Baltimore, returning one for TD. ... Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson was Baltimore’s QBs coach in 2008-09. ... Bengals QB Andy Dalton is 30-18 at starter, best in team history with at least 10 starts. ... Cincinnati 12-54 under Lewis with minus turnover differential. ... Bengals NT Domata Peko has 67 straight starts, longest run on team. ... Ravens have won eight straight home openers. ... Bernard Pierce makes second career start at RB in place of Ray Rice, who’s suspended for first two games of season. ... Ravens QB Joe Flacco has 12 TD passes in 12 games against Cincinnati. He is 11-0 at home in September, tied with Jay Schroeder for best among Super Bowl-era QBs. ... Gary Kubiak makes debut as Ravens offensive coordinator after spending eight years as Houston’s head coach. ... Ravens are 39-9 under coach John Harbaugh in games played in Baltimore. ... TE Owen Daniels and WR Steve Smith make Baltimore debuts. Daniels has a catch in 88 straight games and Smith comes on board after starring with Carolina.

btb Posts:2271 Followers:163
09/04/2014 06:57 PM

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trytrytry Posts:1845 Followers:5
09/04/2014 08:42 PM

superbowl Cinci? not so sure on that. would need more than 33-1

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coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/05/2014 12:13 PM

As the Cincinnati Bengals target a fourth straight playoff appearance, the first challenge is to end their struggles in Baltimore.

The reigning AFC North champions look to avoid a fifth consecutive road defeat to a Ravens team minus its star running back for the first of two straight games Sunday.

Cincinnati is riding its most successful stretch in team history, but each postseason has been a short-lived experience. Its 27-10 loss to San Diego marked the third straight exit in the wild-card round.

''We have to win one in the playoffs,'' owner Mike Brown said. ''It sticks in our craw. First, we have to get the opportunity again.

''That is a long, hard road. We have a tough schedule, we respect our opponents, we take nothing for granted. But in our hearts - in my heart, too - I think we stack up OK and we are anxious to prove we are going to be a successful team again.''

The Bengals will be tested immediately in Baltimore, where they last won 17-14 in 2009. Last season, Andy Dalton threw a desperation 51-yard pass that was tipped and then caught by A.J. Green in the end zone to force overtime. However, Cincinnati lost 20-17.

''It's a great opportunity for us to have another growing step,'' left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ''We've talked about it over the years. We've had this little step here or that little step there where this team's continued to improve. But we haven't won in Baltimore."

Dalton's passing yards and touchdown totals have increased in each of his three seasons. His 33 TDs in 2013 trailed only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees, and his 4,293 yards ranked seventh.

However, he's completed 52.6 percent of his passes with three TDs, seven interceptions and been sacked 11 times while going 0-3 at Baltimore. His 52.2 passer rating in last year's loss was the second-lowest of his career.

''It's big,'' said Dalton, who threw a career-high 20 interceptions in 2013. ''The way the schedule is, they start us off right off the bat with a division opponent. So it does set the tone. It really shows the expectations of what we have here.''

Despite their struggles in Baltimore, the Bengals have reason to be confident.

Green set career bests with 98 catches and 1,426 yards while recording 11 TDs for the second consecutive season. His 260 receptions are the most in NFL history for any player in his first three seasons.

After amassing 1,209 total yards and scoring eight touchdowns as a rookie, Giovani Bernard is the featured back, and bruising rookie Jeremy Hill is also expected to have an impact.

Defensively, Vontaze Burfict earned a three-year contract extension worth a maximum of $20.05 million after recording a league-high 171 tackles for a defense that ranked seventh overall, allowing 282.8 yards per game, and second in passing at 159.2 yards per contest.

Baltimore won the North in 2011 and 2012 and reached the playoffs in five straight seasons prior to finishing 8-8 and missing the postseason a year after winning the Super Bowl.

''You look at last season - it's over, it's said, it's done with, it didn't go the way we wanted,'' defensive end Chris Canty said. ''We didn't end up in the postseason. Ultimately, we want to give ourselves an opportunity to compete for championships around here.

''We put that behind us, we try to focus on what we can do to improve, so we can be where we want to be at the end of this regular season.''

Baltimore starts the season without Ray Rice, who earned a surprisingly short NFL-imposed, two-game suspension for a domestic violence incident involving his then-fiancee. Though commissioner Roger Goodell recently admitted he was too lenient on Rice, the three-time Pro Bowl running back has been remorseful.

''No football games and no money was going to determine what I have to live with the rest of my life," he said at a July 31 news conference. ''So whether it was two games, four games, six games, eight games, I was going to own my actions and be a man about it and take whatever was given to me.''

When Rice returns, he'll try to bounce back from a 2013 season in which he dealt with a hip injury and rushed for 660 yards and four TDs - his lowest totals since recording 454 and no touchdowns as a rookie in 2008.

Backup Bernard Pierce was not much better, gaining 436 yards and scoring twice, but will start Sunday.

Baltimore's 3.1 yards per carry last season were the lowest in the NFL, and its 1,328 rushing yards were the worst in team history.

Former Houston coach Gary Kubiak hopes to improve those numbers in his first season as offensive coordinator, and receiver Steve Smith arrives after 13 seasons catching 836 passes for 12,197 yards and 67 TDs with. Carolina.

Smith provides another target for Joe Flacco, who completed 59.0 percent of his passes while throwing 19 touchdowns and a career-high 22 interceptions - 10 more than in any of his previous five seasons.

Baltimore selected Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley with the 17th overall pick to reinforce a unit that allowed 134 fourth-quarter points - eight more than it yielded in the first and third combined.

coleryan Posts:21705 Followers:24
09/06/2014 07:45 PM

The Bengals have known for a while that wide receiver Marvin Jones (knee) would miss the game and they’ve also ruled out running back Rex Burkhead (knee). Cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hip) is questionable for what would be his regular season debut and the team expects linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), tight end Tyler Eifert (shoulder), running back Cedric Peerman (hip), guard Mike Pollak (knee) and tackle Andre Smith (concussion) to play. The Ravens have a shorter list of wounded players. Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) is questionable and running back Bernard Pierce (concussion) is probable to start in place of the suspended Ray Rice.