If you want to look to one reason why the Ravens got swept by the Bengals last season, I think I've found one for you.
In their two contests against Cincinnati in 2009, the Ravens rushed for an average of 69 yards per game. How many rushing yards did they allow in those two games on average? 144.
If the Ravens hope to take down the reigning AFC North Champions this Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium, they need to improve on those numbers.
Offensively, Ray Rice and company didn't open the 2010 season with their best running performance, putting up just 49 net yards on the ground against the Jets on Monday night. Yes, it was against one of the NFL's stingiest run defenses. But the Ravens want, and need, to do better on the ground if they're going to have success this year.
That fact is not lost on offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
"I think good defenses can make you not do some things well. But that's in no way, shape or form how we want to run the ball, but it is how we wanted to attack that defense," Cameron said of the running game on Monday night. "We were able to maintain our approach throughout the course of the game, and I think that's important. We have a lot of respect for, obviously, that defense. But I've got equally as much respect for this defense coming up."
The defense coming up allowed an average of just 69 rushing yards in their two games against the Ravens last year. The Bengals are stout against the run, and have a very underrated defensive tackle in Domata Peko, who excels at filling gaps and taking on blockers.
"All you've got to do is look at the two games last year [against Cincinnati]," Cameron said. "They defended us extremely well; we had opportunities and didn't take advantage of them. We've got equal the challenge this week that we did last week, irrespective of a short week."
Meanwhile, defensively, the Ravens will deal with a running back who gashed them last season for a total of 237 yards and two touchdowns in two games. Cedric Benson was a huge thorn in the Ravens' side in 2009, averaging nearly four yards per carry against the Baltimore defense and breaking tackle after tackle en route to two wins over the purple and black.
"Obviously that's something we've got to address," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He's run the ball better than you're supposed to run it on our defense, and that's a big thing for us. We've got to stop that run."
Ask Ray Lewis about what makes Benson so good, and the word you hear to describe the former Texas star is "patient".
"On film I've watched so far, he's OK with taking a 3-yard gain, 4-yard gain, 5-yard gain," Lewis said. "But then the one time, whether it's me, whether it's whoever it is, jumps out of a gap, then he pops a 14- or 15 [-yard gain]. So the bottom line is defensively, we've just got to make sure to stay in our gaps to keep him contained.
"He's a very, very patient runner, stutters a lot to read his keys, to read his holes, and then bounces it or cuts it inside. I just think in that zone scheme they've got it's really kind of created for him and the way they run that. As far as defensively, we've just got to attack our gaps and stay on him."
The Ravens lost both games against the Bengals last year, largely because they couldn't run the ball and they couldn't stop the run. At least now they know what must be done when they enter Cincinnati if they're to come away with a win.