Just two games into the season, the Baltimore Ravens are basically fighting for their season this Sunday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals in their home opener.
The Ravens (0-2) can basically kiss their season goodbye if they fall to 0-3. Unfortunately the schedule makers didn't do them any favors. The Bengals (2-0) have won the last three matchups with Baltimore and boast the top-rated offense in the NFL through two weeks, according to Pro Football Focus. Ravens coach John Harbaugh even called Cincinnati the most talented team in the entire league earlier this week. Truth or motivational ploy, Harbaugh's squad needs a win in the worst way.
Here are three keys to the game for both the Bengals and Ravens.
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1. Tune out the crowd
The home fans will be at a fevered pitch knowing Baltimore is facing a virtual must-win situation. Nothing takes the crowd out of a game like a few long scoring drives early. If Andy Dalton and company can pull that off, they'll be halfway home to 3-0.
2. Blanket Steve Smith Sr.
Smith Sr. may be 36 years old, but he is really the only true gamebreaker on the Ravens' offense. Baltimore may very well be 2-0 if not for two barely missed connections between Smith and Joe Flacco in the fourth quarter of its two losses. The Bengals' defense should pay extra attention to Smith and let Baltimore's other receivers beat them.
3. Limit giveaways
While Dalton has played turnover-free football so far this season, running back Jeremy Hill was benched after committing two fumbles last week. The Bengals still escaped with a 24-19 victory over San Diego, but one turnover can swing the momentum -- and the game -- in Baltimore's favor.
1. Get after Dalton
The Ravens' pass rush was nonexistent in Oakland last week in their first full game without defensive leader Terrell Suggs. Elvis Dumervil has yet to record a sack this year, and he's going to have his work cut out for him facing Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who didn't allow a sack in 16 starts last season. The entire Cincinnati line has kept Dalton clean so far this season as his next time sacked will be his first.
2. Find consistency on both sides of the ball
In Week 1, the Ravens offense couldn't do anything while the defense held Peyton Manning and the Broncos to four field goals. Last Sunday it was just the opposite as the defense made Derek Carr look like the second-coming of Manning while the offense put up 33 points. Baltimore will need both sides of the ball to bring their A-game to knock off Cincinnati.
3. Get other receivers involved
Smith Sr. was targeted 16 times in Oakland, nine more than any other receiver. Flacco will need to spread the ball around more since Smith will undoubtedly be the focal point of the Bengals defense. One of those recipients should be tight end Crockett Gillmore, who exploded onto the scene with five catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns last week.