Losing to the Denver Broncos in week 16 was probably not in the plans for the Cincinnati Bengals. The heartbreaking loss sets up another big game for playoff position. In order to capture the coveted No. 2 seed, a win over the Baltimore Ravens is a no-brainer. A “W” would give the Bengals an extra week to get players rested and healed for the big dance. In order to make some noise Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, here are five major keys for the Bengals to grab a victory.
Get to Mallet
This is prime directive numero uno. The Ravens are coming off a huge win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in week 16 and are flying high. Baltimore is 4-4 in their last eight games and looked like playoff contenders. They played what may have been their best game of the season.
Leading the charge was a rejuvenated Ryan Mallet. He ran the Ravens offense like a chip was planted in his brain. The stats provided by ESPN reveal how awesome his day was. His completion ratio was 68.3 percent and his 95.0 passer rating is worth noting. That rating is almost 25 points higher than his 2015 number and almost 30 points better than his career mark.
The Bengals defense will have to get to him early and erase any memory of how efficient he was during that game. Carlos Dunlap will have to step up and get closer to the unofficial sack total of Coy Bacon (22.0). Geno Atkins and the rest of the front seven will have to make Mallet feel like his feet are on fire.
Make the run game work
Finding the run game is one thing. Making it work is a totally different prospect. Monday night against the Broncos, the Bengals attempted to run the ball and started out with some success. Ryan Hewitt went down with a knee injury, and so did the ground game for the Bengals.
The Bengals ground attack gained 108 yards. But the numbers are slightly inflated. Jeremy Hill still struggled with 19 carries for 63 yards, and Giovani Bernard had 14 yards with eight touches. Hill’s average dropped to 3.3 yards per carry, when Hewitt got hurt. Before the injury, he was getting close to five yards a pop.
According to Pro Football Talk, while Hewitt is recovering, the Bengals have opted to move Jake Fisher to the fullback position. Hopefully that will help open some huge holes for Bengals runners.
Open the playbook for McCarron
All offensive coordinators are like secret agents when it comes to their playbook. But with the amount of Xs and Os in the Bengals arsenal, McCarron should get an opportunity to use all the toys. Bengals’ play-maker Tyler Eifert is returning after a couple of weeks under concussion protocol. It’s not time to go wild and show the league every shift and play in the offense. But it is time to get McCarron more involved in the complex plays that got Andy Dalton his sparkling numbers before the thumb injury.
Find Tyler Eifert
The Bengals have him back. This isn’t the time to let him get lost in the sauce. The Eifert Tower will need to get back into game mode with the playoffs around the corner. The chemistry he had with Dalton won’t help him with McCarron. Getting him some quick throws will do wonders for his confidence. Getting him into the game plan early will do amazing things. The deep pass will open up and the ground game will have fewer linebackers to deal with.
This should be instinctive for the Bengals O-line. With McCarron nursing a dinged-up wrist, he’ll have to be careful. Keeping him healthy until Dalton can return will be of the utmost importance. Suddenly, McCarron has realized he can run. His scrambling netted 21 yards against the Broncos. But his championship pedigree almost got him hurt. He has to learn to slide quicker and run out-of-bounds.
These keys aren’t etched in stone. But they’re a decent starting place for a Bengals win over the Ravens.
[Feature Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images]