Ravens run offense vs. Bengals run defense:
Ray Rice had trouble finding holes in the New York Jets' tough run defense in the season opener, with no run longer than 7 yards. The Bengals are the only AFC North team Rice hasn't gained 100 rushing yards against. In both meetings last season, Rice had more success as a receiver. Cincinnati's run defense was underrated last season, allowing only five runs of 20 yards or more (fewest in the NFL). If the Ravens want to have success on the ground, they have to block nose tackle Domata Peko and outside linebacker Rey Maualuga. Outside linebacker Keith Rivers, the Bengals' second-leading tackler, is questionable with a foot injury.
Ravens pass offense vs. Bengals pass defense:
Joe Flacco struggled against the Bengals last season, but this didn't look like the same Cincinnati secondary in the season opener. The New England Patriots' Tom Brady threw for 258 yards and three touchdowns. The Ravens have the wide receivers to match up physically with cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph, who had two interceptions each last season against the Ravens. Anquan Boldin led the team with seven catches for 110 yards in his Ravens debut. T.J. Houshmandzadeh faces the Bengals for the first time since he played eight years for them (2001-2008). Tight end Todd Heap is listed as questionable with a shoulder injury but is expected to play. Left tackle Michael Oher goes against defensive end Antwan Odom, Cincinnati's top pass rusher.
Bengals run offense vs. Ravens run defense:
The Ravens' pride is on the line. The Bengals' Cedric Benson became the first running back since Jerome Bettis in 1996 to gain more than 100yards twice against the Ravens in the same season. The Ravens, who led the NFL in fewest yards per carry last season, are determined to stop him this season. Linebacker Ray Lewis said the key to slowing Benson is attacking the gaps. Benson has been dealing with a shoulder injury since he was held to 43 yards on 15 carries (2.9-yard average) in the season opener. The Bengals' overachieving offensive line might not be as strong as it was a year ago.
Bengals pass offense vs. Ravens pass defense:
Carson Palmer has a career 87.7 quarterback rating against the Ravens, throwing for 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games. Cincinnati can spread the Ravens with Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and rookie Jordan Shipley. Rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham can operate in the middle of the field. This combination might be too much for the Ravens' secondary, which is without half its starters from last season (cornerback Domonique Foxworth and safety Ed Reed). Cornerback Lardarius Webb could make his first start since injuring his knee last season. Terrell Suggs will go against left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who gave up 11/2 sacks last season.
Both teams had lapses in their first game. Ravens returner Tom Zbikowski fielded a punt at his own 5-yard line and nearly got tackled in his end zone. Cincinnati allowed a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Billy Cundiff beat out current Bengals kicker Mike Nugent when both were trying out for the Ravens last year. Cundiff made a 25-yard field goal last week, and Nugent hit a 54-yarder.
The Ravens have lost five of seven to the Bengals, including getting swept by them last season. Cincinnati was embarrassed by the Patriots last week, so the Bengals will be determined to bounce back in their home opener. The Ravens face the challenge of matching the motivated Bengals after playing an emotional and physical game against the Jets just six days before. Perhaps the bigger challenge is beating Palmer, who is 5-1 in his past six starts against the Ravens.
Unlike Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, Palmer has no fear of the Ravens defense. And unlike Sanchez, Palmer will make plays against the Ravens secondary in the end.