Friday, January 05, 2001

Ravens vs. Titans a defensive battle

Bengals had share of problems with both

By Mark Curnutte
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Bengals are familiar with Tennessee and Baltimore, which play Sunday in an AFC divisional playoff game for a berth in the conference title game.

        The Titans and Ravens are two of Cincinnati's AFC Central rivals, and the Bengals were winless in four games against them this season.

        The Bengals were outscored 122-24 in the four losses and scored only two offensive touchdowns. Tennessee and Baltimore finished one-two in the NFL in total defense, and the game will be only the sixth time the top two defenses have met in an NFL playoff game.

        The Ravens held Bengals running back Corey Dillon to 32 yards rushing in two games. And though Dillon ran for 137 yards in two games against the Titans, 80 of those yards came on a touchdown run in the first game at Paul Brown Stadium.

        Cincinnati coach Dick LeBeau, who was promoted from defensive coordinator the day after the Ravens beat the Bengals 37-0 in Baltimore, was 0-3 against the two teams.

        “They're similar teams,” LeBeau said. “The only difference is Tennessee has gone through the playoffs last year. The only difference I might see is the ability of (Titans quarterback Steve) McNair to pull a play out of his hat.”

        Trent Dilfer is Baltimore's quarterback. He replaced Tony Banks, who was the starter in the first game against the Bengals before losing his job.

        But neither team depends heavily on its quarterback. Both like to run the ball and control the clock, LeBeau said.

        Tennessee's offense is built around running back Eddie George, who gained 1,509 yards on the ground for the Titans' seventh-ranked rushing offense. Baltimore's fifth-ranked rushing offense was led by rookie Jamal Lewis, who ran for 1,364 yards.

        Lewis had games of 116 and 109 yards against the Bengals. And George ran for 181 and 81 yards in two starts against Cincinnati.

        The Titans' and Ravens' offenses didn't mind seeing the Bengals' defense.

        On Nov.5, Baltimore snapped a 27-quarter streak without a touchdown in its 27-7 victory at Cincinnati.

        And Dec.10 in Nashville, Tennessee topped its previous season highs in points (35), yards (443) and offensive touchdowns (5).

        There is bad news for the Bengals when it comes to Tennessee and Baltimore.

        They have to play them four more times next season.

        But, beginning in 2002, Tennessee and Baltimore — and current AFC Central team Jacksonville — are not likely to be Bengals division rivals.

        The NFL will realign into eight four-team divisions, four in each conference. The Titans and Ravens, along with the Jaguars, appear headed for the new AFC Southeast division.


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