The Ravens pretty much toyed with the Cincinnati Bengals in two wins last year as running back Priest Holmes ran for 400 yards in the games, but the offensive line expects to see a tougher Bengals defense Sunday.
The Bengals, a zone-blitz team, are moving around a lot more like the Pittsburgh Steelers. And the linebacking crew of Steve Foley, Brian Simmons, Takeo Spikes and Adrian Ross has another year of experience.
"Last year we had a game plan. We were attack-minded," said Ravens left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. "Last year their backers were young. They weren't reading quite as well as they are now. We hit a couple of big plays on them early and kept pounding them.
"Now they look a lot more like Pittsburgh, moving those linebackers around. Last year, I think they were just trying to get the basics down. This year they are more involved in the intricacies of the defense."
The Bengals haven't made a lot of defensive changes from a year ago. They are currently ranked No. 19 in defense, allowing 320.9 yards per game.
"They are still the same guys, but playing with a lot more confidence," said Ravens guard Jeff Blackshear. "Even though we gained 400 yards on the ground against them last season, we've got to enter the game with the same mentality. It's a whole new year. Those guys no longer sit back and let you block them all day long; they're always moving."
Talking the talk
Ravens coach Brian Billick came to Baltimore with the reputation of being a great offensive mind. He almost has an answer for every question and is an elegant speaker with a dynamic personality.
But so far, the Ravens have the No. 27th-ranked offense, averaging only 270.7 yards a game and are 3-6. And the burning question is can Billick can coach or does he just talk a good game?
Billick answered that question yesterday.
"I coach and I talk a lot. I have a great deal of confidence in my ability as a coach, as opposed to being a guru or a genius offensively. Those are titles other people throw out.
"I imagine this is the same dilemma that [Browns coach] Chris Palmer, who is an outstanding offensive coach; [Giants coach] Jim Fassel, who's an outstanding coach, and [49ers coach] Steve Mariucci, who is a proven outstanding offensive coach, is facing.
"When your personnel falls or is shaped a certain way, when injuries take toll, then it affects your offensive productivity.
"What I can't do is question myself. I got a proven track record. For those who thought that I was going to come in here with some type of magic combinations of routes, plays or running schemes that you can just plug anybody into and have productivity, then they were mistaken. It's just not that easy.
"If those want to doubt my abilities, I can understand it given the lack of offensive productivity here, but I know we've got a proven system in not only the way we teach this offense, but the ways things are conceived and the way we deal with the players. We're going to have to stay the course and not panic at the first sign of difficulty.
"And yes, I do talk a lot."
Testimonial service planned
The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, as well as several players, including Holmes, center Jeff Mitchell, linebacker Peter Boulware, tight end A. J. Ofodile and kicker Matt Stover, will have a testimonial service in one of the end zones following the Nov. 28 home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Boulware, one of the league's best pass rushers, will be one of the speakers.
"I plan to speak 10 to 15 minutes," said Boulware, "For me, spiritually, it's something I like doing. I like to tell about my faith, how I got where I am and what the Lord has done for me. That's what I live for, to talk about my faith."
Johnson returns to lineup
With the offensive line healthier this week, Billick said second-year wide receiver Patrick Johnson will be in the lineup. That decision was made because backup offensive tackle Spencer Folau has recovered from a sprained knee, therefore the team doesn't need to carry extra linemen.
"I feel fine, much better than last week," said Folau.
Johnson has only six catches for 119 yards, but his speed allows the Ravens to stretch defenses. With receiver Jermaine Lewis in a season-long fog, Johnson is the team's only legitimate deep threat.
"We'll see more of Patrick Johnson in a regular role, see him as a starter in some alignments," said Billick.
Billick suggested there could be some other changes, but they won't be revealed until the game begins. "I don't want to tip my hand personnel-wise as far as backs and receivers," said Billick."
Billick, though, said receiver Marcus Nash, signed on Oct. 25, might get some playing time before the season is over.
"It's hard for a guy to come in and learn the offense on the run," Billick said. "Primarily, he is running the scout offense. He sits in on meetings. You'd like to put him in a position to see how much he has absorbed, but we've got other guys who have been here.
"You don't want to put him in and he does the one thing that keeps us from winning the game because he is not quite as versed as other guys. But he has been doing some good things."
The Ravens list wide receiver Justin Armour as questionable for Sunday's game because of a severely bruised left calf. Armour had a limited workout with the team yesterday.
"I'm getting better," said Armour, the team's second-leading receiver with 26 catches for 411 yards. "It's kind of a day-to-day improvement-type thing. The bruise was so deep and close to the bone the tissue was traumatized and the fluid was not really moving that well. So I'm just trying to get it out so that I can have movement in my calf, and push off on it.
"I've made a lot of progress since [Wednesday]," he said. "I'm going to get out there and run around, show the coaches that I can run well. Two days after that, I should be fine. If I can play Sunday, then it will be at full speed."
Bengals won't quit
The Bengals are 1-9 and have the worst record in the NFL. But coach Bruce Coslet, who might be fired at the end of the season, says he sees no quit in himself, the players and some of their fans.
"I don't like what's happening," Coslet said. "But as far as just throwing in the towel and giving up, that's not my nature. I've never done that before. You start giving in to impulses like that and pretty soon it's easy to give in. It's not going to happen here.
"I try to stay positive. That's how I keep my sanity. Our fans have been very loyal, but they have been tested to their limits. The real fans are behind us, but they are just as frustrated and as miserable as we are."