COMMENTARY | It's a state of emergency in Baltimore right now.
The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens are 3-5, and their playoff hopes are on life support. After a 2-1 start to the season, the team has been on a sharp decline, and a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday would all but put the nail in the coffin on the Ravens season.
Falling to 3-6 would make it nearly impossible for the reigning champs to make the playoffs, and simply finishing .500 would be a tough enough task.
But with a win at home against the Bengals, the Ravens could right the ship, stand at 4-5 and still have a shot at sneaking into the playoffs as the sixth seed in the AFC.
In order to do so, though, the Ravens will have to play a near-perfect game. At this point, Baltimore's offense is what it is: poor, inconsistent and hard to watch. Is that going to change in the second half of the season? Probably not.
That puts the pressure on the defense, which must step up if the Ravens are going to upset the Bengals and ignite a playoff push.
Scoring-wise, the Ravens defense hasn't struggled mightily, as the Ravens haven't allowed more than 24 points in a game since the Week 1 49-point debacle in Denver. Could that change Sunday? Most likely.
Facing as well-roudned of an offense as they'll face all year, the Ravens defense will have a tough task at hand. One man in Cincinnati who can singlehandedly shut down the Ravens season is rookie running back Gio Bernard.
Perhaps the most versatile running back the Ravens have faced in quite some time, Bernard is steadily being incorporated more in Cincinnati's offense each week, but he still hasn't been fully unleashed. In limited playing time, Bernard is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 8.9 yards per reception on 30 catches.
He has also found the end zone six times; four on the ground, two through the air.
Bernard hasn't had double-digit carries in three games, but that could change Sunday. Rookie running backs have had success against the Ravens this year, and the Bengals may follow the blueprint by finally giving Bernard a heavy workload.
Last week, the Ravens did manage to hold Browns starting running back Willis McGahee to just 31 yards on 21 attempts, but against Bernard, it will be a different task.
Come Sunday, Bernard could be the missing piece the Bengals need to finally beat the Ravens in Baltimore, something they haven't accomplished since 2009.
Kyle Casey is a sports writer living in Baltimore, Md. He is the co-editor of Baltimore Ravens Draft and contributes to Russell Street Report.
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