The Bengals haven’t been able to beat the supposed “elite” teams all year. Their six losses have come to Pittsburgh (11-4) twice, Baltimore (11-4), Houston (10-5), Denver (8-7), and San Fransisco (12-3). On the other hand, they have been a perfect 8-0 in beating teams with record below .500. What’s to explain for this trend? Are the Bengals simply a slightly-above average team?
I think it comes from their youth. The Bengals sport the youngest record in the AFC, and most of their talent comes from these young players. They have 4 Pro Bowlers or Pro Bowl Alternates who are 24 or younger. Young teams tend to play very differently when they play good teams. Whether it’s the preparation, or the mindset, or nervousness, young teams fall prey to the tricks of the older, wiser teams – for the Bengals, it’s been the Ravens and Steelers. Andy Dalton has thrown 5 interceptions in games against the Ravens or Steelers. Special teams absolutely collapsed against the Steelers a few weeks ago, and the offensive line was an absolute train wreck during that game. The Bengals are already 0-3 against their division foes this year, and they need to turn things around against their elder brothers in the division. To borrow a phrase from another fan, it’s best described as slaying the dragon of the supposed elite team.
To do that, they need to change their mentality. I was watching Sunday Night Football on NBC when the analysts briefly discussed the Bengals vs. Ravens matchup. Former Patriot Rodney Harrison said something surprisingly profound about how the Bengals should prepare for the Ravens this week. He said that the Bengals should have fun this week. That they shouldn’t get caught up in the consequences and implications of this very important game. They should have fun, play hard, and that good things will follow. I found a snippet of his statement online, though it doesn’t entirely sum up the point he made:
“They have to change that mentality, come out and play loose. Don’t get caught up in the moment … Come out and play aggressive, take it to the Baltimore Ravens.”
Play loose, don’t get nervous, just do your job. If you were a high school football coach, it’s what you would tell your team when the big, bad undefeated rivals come into town. That’s probably the best analogy I could make.
It appears that’s exactly the attitude that Marvin Lewis has his Bengals taking.
“Bengals as loose as they’ve been all season”: The Bengals locker room, for the 45 minutes open to the media following Thursday’s practice, was as loose as it has been all season. Clearly, this team is not tightening up as the season’s biggest game draws closer — the exact opposite, actually.
That’s a report from CBSSports.com’s Paul Dehner Jr. And from the Sports Xchange, Marvin Lewis has been loose and light-hearted all week. The Ravens have been up tight and grumpy:
The other factor is that this is a loose group going into the biggest game of the season. Lewis was cracking jokes on Monday and Wednesday. By comparison, Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh was uptight during his teleconference.
I think this is probably indicative of one team happy where they are, and one team frustrated with where they are. The Ravens were blown out of the water against San Diego two weeks ago. And they barely squeaked out a win last week against the Cleveland Browns. Their offense and defense seem to be playing much worse than they were earlier in the season. For the Bengals, sure they could have played better against the St. Louis Rams. But did you see how well this team played together in the first three quarters of the Cardinals game? The last quarter, well, you can blame Benson’s fumbles (I wrote about that yesterday) and the offensive playcalling (I’m going to write about this today) for keeping the defense on the field too much.
The Bengals are happy where they are right now. The offense marched down the field easily against the Cardinals, led by their senior commander Andy Dalton. Their defensive line was causing havok against John Skelton last week. And, they are very healthy. Carlos Dunlap should play this week. AJ Green should play this week. Everyone that played last week will play this week. The Ravens will probably be without their 2011 Pro Bowl Right Guard Marshal Yanda this week. They’ll be missing veteran WR Anquan Boldin in the middle of the field, who went down to injury two weeks ago.
And the Ravens are scared. They know the Bengals are dangerous and that they have a lot to play for in front of a sellout 65,500 crowd. They know they have lost five of their last six games in Cincinnati. They know all their losses have come on the road this season. It’s why I’m seeing articles like “Bengals Will Give Ravens Trouble On Sunday” over on Fansided’s Baltimore Ravens blog. And why I’m seeing quotes like this from a hardcore Ravens fan:
The offensive woes throughout the Ravens 2011 season have many Baltimore Ravens fans very nervous about this Sunday’s matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Ravens’ defensive play has dropped off over the past two games and have many fans wondering if they have enough left in the tank to beat the Bengals and secure a second, or possibly a first round seed in the playoffs. We can only hope the Ravens will shift into another gear and finally play the kind of consistent football we have dreamed of and desired for so many years. The Bengals have played very well this year and are capable of beating quality teams, especially on their home field. With the added motivation of clinching a playoff spot, the Bengals will not roll over, but they will play like men on a mission as they try to make it to the big dance.
Having said all that, I feel good about the Bengals chances of winning on Sunday. Real Good. I can’t see any way that the Bengals lose this game unless they make a ghastly turnover or mistake on special teams, I really can’t. I think the Bengals will pull out to a huge lead in the first half, aided by the momentum of the sellout crowd. The Ravens will try to claw back in the end, but it will be too much to overcome. But, maybe that’s just me being a Bengals fan.
Either way, here’s to the Bengals hopefully securing a spot in the playoffs this weekend.