1:00 PM ET, November 20, 2011
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
The Baltimore Ravens have piled up some big wins this season, knocking off the only two AFC teams with records superior to their own -- including a season sweep of their most bitter rival.
That's what makes it all the more difficult to explain their failures against some of the league's lightweights.
That class no longer includes the Cincinnati Bengals, who will try to keep the host Ravens reeling from their latest shocking loss Sunday in a matchup that will give the winner a share of first place in the AFC North.
Baltimore (6-3) opened its season with a 35-7 win over Pittsburgh, began October with comfortable home victories over the New York Jets and AFC South-leading Houston, then came away with a critical 23-20 road comeback win over the Steelers on Nov. 6.
Just as the Ravens seemed to be establishing themselves as the AFC team to beat, however, they fell apart against a lesser opponent. As in a loss to Tennessee that followed the first Pittsburgh win, and a defeat to Jacksonville that came after a rout of the Texans, Baltimore came out flat Sunday and fell 22-17 at Seattle to drop back into a second-place tie with Cincinnati.
"You've got to win those games to be one of those elite teams like we're claiming to be," safety Ed Reed told the Ravens' official website.
"If we're claiming to be that team, we've got to come out and play week to week. It can't be elite one week and then unnecessary roughness the next week. It's got to be every time."
Bouncing back surely will be harder if Ray Lewis can't play. He hasn't practiced due to a toe injury and is not expected to take the field, though coach John Harbaugh refused to rule out his star linebacker.
"Ray has had shoulders dislocated and he's done 35 push-ups on the sidelines to prove that he can go," Harbaugh said. "He's had hamstrings that have torn off the bone because he went ahead when he should have been gone."
His absence would be a welcome sight for the Bengals (6-3), who remain in search of a signature win. They missed a chance to get one last Sunday against Pittsburgh, a matchup which they entered with a five-game winning streak but against teams with a current combined record of 17-29.
Cincinnati rallied from 14-0 down to tie the score at 17, but after the Steelers regained the lead, Andy Dalton threw a pair of fourth-quarter interceptions in a 24-17 loss.
"We went toe-to-toe with them," said rookie receiver A.J. Green, who caught one of Dalton's two touchdown passes but left after hyperextending his knee. "They have a great defense, but we belong in that league."
Despite hanging with 7-3 Pittsburgh, the Bengals came out of the game with more than just a key division loss. Green said Wednesday his injury will make him a game-time decision against the Ravens, while star cornerback Leon Hall is done for the season after tearing his Achilles' tendon.
Jones hopes to return this week after missing two games with a hamstring injury.
"I learned this a long time ago," secondary coach Kevin Coyle told the Bengals' official website. "You don't dwell on the guys who aren't playing, you focus on the guys you have to play with."
With Hall out, Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense figure to take even more chances through the air -- particularly considering Cincinnati has the NFL's second-best run defense at 86.8 yards per game.
One look at Flacco's numbers against the Bengals, though, might make Baltimore consider a game plan that features plenty of running back Ray Rice. Flacco has two touchdown passes and nine interceptions while being sacked 11 times and posting a 48.2 passer rating in his past four games -- three losses -- against Cincinnati.
Flacco threw a career-high 52 times in Seattle, though much of that total stemmed from the Ravens playing from behind the entire game.
"In the end, we definitely want to have more runs," Harbaugh said. "That's indicative of having the lead, having more plays, especially early in the game. But the way the game went, we had to throw it."
The Ravens defense has allowed 8.2 yards per pass attempt the past three weeks after surrendering 4.7 during the previous three games.
That's a number Reed and Baltimore's secondary will be anxious to see drop, but despite last week's rough fourth quarter, Dalton has rarely been rattled. He's thrown eight touchdown passes and been sacked twice in his last four games.
Dalton's 14 TDs through nine games are the most for a rookie since the AFL-NFL merger.
"Their quarterback is doing a great job at managing the offense," Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "He's got good vision, he's got good poise in the pocket. He's mobile enough where he can get out of trouble."
The Ravens have won six straight and 14 of 15 at home, including a 13-7 win over the Bengals on Jan. 2 in which they forced five turnovers.
Baltimore, though, has averaged three turnovers over its last eight games versus Cincinnati.
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After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Bengals-Ravens matchup.
1. Spread out Ravens D to establish the run: The Ravens are very physical and excellent defending the run, giving up just 90 yards rushing per game and 3.3 yards per attempt. The Bengals are mediocre rushing the football, averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will utilize more three- and four-wide receiver (spread) formations to force the Ravens to adjust wide with a linebacker and soften up Baltimore's front seven, thus establishing a solid ground attack.
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|Avg Points Allowed||19.5||17.6|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||CIN|
|Rush Yds Allowed||CIN|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Series tied 11-11|
|Jan 2, 2011||CIN 7, @BAL 13|
|Sep 19, 2010||CIN 15, BAL 10|
|Nov 8, 2009||CIN 17, BAL 7|
|Oct 11, 2009||CIN 17, @BAL 14|
|Nov 30, 2008||CIN 3, BAL 34|
|Sep 7, 2008||CIN 10, @BAL 17|
|Nov 11, 2007||CIN 21, @BAL 7|
|Sep 10, 2007||CIN 27, BAL 20|
|Nov 30, 2006||CIN 13, BAL 7|
|Nov 5, 2006||CIN 20, @BAL 26|
|Nov 27, 2005||CIN 42, BAL 29|
|Nov 6, 2005||CIN 21, @BAL 9|
|Dec 5, 2004||CIN 27, @BAL 26|
|Sep 26, 2004||CIN 9, BAL 23|
|Dec 7, 2003||CIN 13, @BAL 31|
|Oct 19, 2003||CIN 34, BAL 26|
|Dec 1, 2002||CIN 23, BAL 27|
|Nov 10, 2002||CIN 27, @BAL 38|
|Dec 23, 2001||CIN 0, @BAL 16|
|Sep 23, 2001||CIN 21, BAL 10|
From Elias: For the 2nd time this season, the Ravens will face a rookie quarterback when Andy Dalton and the Bengals head to Baltimore in Week 11. As you can imagine rookie quarterbacks have not performed well over the last 10 seasons against the vaunted Ravens defense. In 10 games, rookie QBs have just 5 TD passes and 12 interceptions while getting sacked 23 times. However, the Ravens are just 5-5 in those games including a loss to Blaine Gabbert and the Jags in Week 7.[+]
RAVENS vs ROOKIE QUARTERBACKS - LAST 10 SEASONS
ESPN Stats & Information