Carroll County Times

Ravens have reached DEFCON 1

OWINGS MILLS - The Ravens will do one of two things today.
They will either put themselves right back into contention for first place in the AFC North or put themselves in a position where it will be nearly impossible to win the division and difficult just to make the playoffs.
This is make-or-break time. Baltimore is past a state of emergency. It has reached DEFCON 1, as outside linebacker Terrell Suggs meant to say Wednesday when he said the Ravens have reached DEFCON 5.
DEFCON is the alert state used by the United States Armed Forces. DEFCON 1 is the most severe.
"We're at a crossroads in our season, and it can go either way," Baltimore safety James Ihedigbo said. "But we determine that. It's on us. We understand that. And like I said, it's enough talking about what we should do or what we can do or the team we're capable of being and just going out and doing it. That's really our mindset. Let's just go out and do it."
The Ravens still feel like they have the talent to be a factor in this year's race for a Super Bowl title.
Players have referenced numerous times during the last few weeks that the team was perceived as flawed at this same time last season before going on to win the Super Bowl.
"We know any one of these games can be the one where it finally clicks for us and we start playing like we know we can," Suggs said.
But this is it, and players have acknowledged that.
If Baltimore wants to be a playoff team, it needs to start playing like one. That starts with today's game against the Bengals.
And the Ravens do have some advantages going into this game.
Cincinnati is 6-3, leads Baltimore by 2½ games for first place in the AFC, is ranked ninth in the NFL in total offense and fifth in total defense. But the Bengals have had trouble at times stopping the run this year and is now without arguably their two best defensive players, defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall, who both suffered season-ending injuries in recent weeks.
Cincinnati also won't have starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga today. He was ruled out earlier in the week because of a knee injury.
That said, the Ravens' offense has had much more favorable matchups than this one - like the one with the Bills in Week 4 - but has yet to put together a consistently good performance.
The Ravens have looked explosive at times. They still have Joe Flacco. They still have Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones at wide receiver and Ray Rice at running back despite how ineffective Rice and the running game have been this season. And they also have a young wide receiver, Marlon Brown, who has five touchdown catches.
But the offense has been plagued by slow starts, limited by a struggling offensive line and, for as much talent as it may have, is ranked just 23rd in total offense and hasn't scored more than 18 points since Oct. 6.
"We haven't been good enough [as an offense]," Flacco said. "That's why we're not winning football games."
But the defense has had problems, too, and has a difficult matchup today.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggled during Cincinnati's loss to the Dolphins last week and had three interceptions, but the Bengals are ranked ninth in total offense, seventh in passing offense and scored 49 points two weeks ago against a highly ranked Jets defense.
Dalton is throwing for 287 yards per game. Wide receiver A.J. Green leads the league in receiving yards (862). Wide receiver Marvin Jones has seven touchdown catches. Wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and tight ends Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert are all averaging three catches per game. Rookie running back Giovani Bernard has proven to be a playmaker and had 104 total yards and two touchdowns against Miami. And the Bengals have an offensive line that is viewed as one of the best in the NFL.
Baltimore, meanwhile, is ranked 10th in total defense, but it has had problems at times stopping the run and continues to struggle against the pass and may be without starting cornerback Jimmy Smith today because of a groin injury.
Journeyman Browns quarterback Jason Campbell threw for 262 yards and three touchdowns against the Ravens last week.
But if Baltimore can win today, it will trail Cincinnati by just 1½ games for first place and then faces the Bengals again in Cincinnati in Week 17.
A loss, though, would put the Ravens 3½ games back of the Bengals with just seven games left.
"This will be our opportunity to perhaps go a long way toward making the second one meaningful," Harbaugh said, "and that's what we need to do."