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Carson Palmer, Chad Ochocinco and the rest of the Cincinnati Bengals' passing attack garner - rightly - a fair amount of attention from opposing defenses and the media.

But when the Ravens visit Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday, the defense will undoubtedly place a good portion of its focus on running back Cedric Benson, who gained 120 yards in the Bengals' 17-14 win over their AFC North rivals on Oct. 11.

"You definitely want to stop the run, so you've got to pay attention to it," free safety Ed Reed said Wednesday. "He's a very capable back. I've been watching Cedric since he was at Texas. He's more than capable. You've got to make sure you know where he's at."

Limiting Benson's production could determine whether the Ravens split the season series with Cincinnati and claw their way back to the top of the division or fall two games behind the Bengals with a pair of dates coming against the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Benson's play in the first contest between these two teams at M&T; Bank Stadium was significant: He became the first opposing rusher in 40 games to post 100 yards against the Ravens.

Benson, who scored Cincinnati's first touchdown with a 28-yard scamper off the left end and through an arm tackle by linebacker Antwan Barnes, recorded a season-high nine runs of at least 5 yards or more against the Ravens' defense. The Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, who compiled 143 yards a week later, finished with seven carries of 5 yards or more.

"He's a big back, but he's also nifty on his feet," defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said of the 5-foot-11, 225-pound Benson. "He can make a cut because he's nifty on his feet. Usually with a big back, they take a while to get moving. But when he sees a hole, he's hitting it. We've just got to do a better job of playing gap-sound defense."

Containing Benson might be difficult if the Ravens cannot insert Haloti Ngata at his usual defensive tackle position. Ngata is dealing with a sprained right ankle suffered in the third quarter of Sunday's 30-7 rout of the Denver Broncos, and his availability for Cincinnati is murky.

The Bengals appeared to avoid running the football up the middle against Ngata and middle linebacker Ray Lewis in the first meeting, as 21 of Benson's 27 carries went to the left and right edges of the offensive line, resulting in 94 yards.

Benson has thrived in Cincinnati's zone-blocking schemes, but that's not to suggest that the back's game is built on finesse, according to his quarterback.

Benson provides "a little bit more of a power running game with still some explosion," Palmer said. "Just that AFC North mentality from a running back where you're going to run people over, you're going to make your own hole sometimes, and you're going to break arm tackles."

Barnes' attempted tackle was perhaps the most egregious, but several other Ravens players also whiffed when trying to bring down Benson. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said players were guilty of not filling running lanes and funneling Benson to their teammates.

"They were popping some runs on us, and we got out of our gaps," Johnson said. "We didn't really play with good technique, and they definitely made us pay."

Since last October, the Bengals have gone 8-1 when Benson rushes for at least 76 yards, and he has scored a touchdown in four of his past five games. His success this season might be surprising to some, but not to Ravens defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.

"The guy was the fourth pick in the draft [in 2005]. You're not talking about a guy that's chopped liver," Brooks said. "The guy's a good player and a professional. He got away from us a couple times, and to his credit, they worked hard and did a nice job. We've got to do a better job of playing him and stopping him."

Benson needs just 28 more yards and two more touchdowns to eclipse previous career highs of 747 yards (in 2008) and six touchdowns (2006). The Ravens will try to keep him from reaching those goals.

"He's having a good year. It's probably a breakout year, the best year he's ever had, and he wants to keep that rolling," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "So we're just going to try to get our consistency to snowball and get back to what we do best, and that's play good defense."


1 p.m. Sunday

TV: Ch. 13

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens

by 3

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