During a conference call with Cincinnati media this week, John Harbaugh wouldn’t speculate whether his Baltimore Ravens are dangerous enough to make a run through the playoffs.
The 10th-year Ravens head coach knows he likely has to beat the Bengals at home Sunday to even get to the playoffs, so his first focus is taking care of business this week.
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Cincinnati dashed the Detroit Lions’ postseason hopes on Christmas Eve and have a chance to play spoiler to the Ravens this week. Here are five things Harbaugh said about the matchup:
A better Baltimore offense
A lot has changed with these two teams since Week 1 when Baltimore handed the Bengals a 20-0 loss at home with an dominant defensive effort, but the Ravens’ offense has evolved the second half of the season.
The Ravens produced just 268 yards of offense against Cincinnati in the opener but now average 304 yards per game, and Harbaugh said a lot of that has to do with cleaning up mistakes.
“The fact we’re playing better is probably the biggest difference,” Harbaugh said when asked about his offense. “We’re not turning the ball over as much. We had some issues with turnovers midway through.”
Turnovers better on both sides of the ball
Baltimore isn’t struggling with turnovers as much on offense, and the defense is forcing a lot more of them. The Ravens have a plus-17 turnover ratio while leading the league with 22 interceptions. They also have forced 15 fumbles with 11 recovered.
“You get pressure and they force some errors sometimes in throwing in tight coverage and guys with ball skills in the back end help,’ Harbaugh said. “Pursuit is a big factor in that, but it’s been a little better for us this year than it has other years.”
Terrell Suggs gets better with age
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has played a role in those takeaway numbers.
Suggs is 35 years old, but Harbaugh said he is still just as much of a force as he was when he was younger. Suggs has 11 sacks and four forced fumbles to go along with 46 tackles this season.
“He’s special, no question,” Harbaugh said. “Just at his age and the number of years he’s been in the league, I think he’s playing some of his best football right now, and that’s a credit to his work ethic and competitiveness and he’s been a great leader as well, so he’s really checking off the boxes.”
Bengals are different too
Cincinnati started the season 0-3, then won five of the next eight before three straight losses ended its playoff hopes. The Bengals bounced back last week but Harbaugh said it’s difficult to take much from the first meeting with them because so much has changed since then, especially with personnel.
Not only does Cincinnati have a new offensive coordinator, as Bill Lazor replaced Ken Zampese, but several key players are now out with injuries.
“A lot has changed,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, their best players are there with Geno (Atkins), (Carlos) Dunlap, (Gio) Bernard and (Andy) Dalton and AJ (McCarron) and the different players they have. They also have an influx of younger guys. Teams evolve.”
Matchup has seen a lot of battles
When asked about what a Marvin Lewis-coached team means to Harbaugh, he noted how competitive Lewis’ teams have been against Baltimore during his time in Cincinnati.
“We’ve had incredible battles,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve been on the short end most of the time the last few years. The defense is rough and tough and plays hard and creates tons of problems for you. I think their fronts are always really disruptive, and they can cover in the back end. They always have corners, big safeties that roam around there and are physical. The offensive line and running game, Andy Dalton has become a stable precise passing game with playmakers like A.J. Green. That’s how we see them.”