Riding high off the victory against the Buffalo Bills, the Baltimore Ravens traveled to Cincinnati expecting another triumph. Confidence quickly turned into panic. The Cincinnati Bengals roared out of the tunnel in the first quarter and created a seemingly insurmountable lead. The daunting task of catching up to Cincinnati hung over like a dark cloud throughout the game. Despite being down by 21 points, the Ravens slowly fought to rekindle the competition. This process was conducted throughout the game, but ultimately the Baltimore Ravens fell short of a comeback.
There were two main issues that gave rise to the Bengals early in the game. The first was the offensive performance. From the outset of the game, it was evident that the Baltimore Ravens would not be moving the ball as well as the team did against the Bills. The Ravens started with a three and out on offense, which forced Sam Koch to punt it into the hands of the Bengals. Possession changed, but the Bengals were unable to move the ball efficiently and ended the drive in a three and out as well. While this would normally be considered a victory for the defense, it was anything but. The most important cog in the Ravens defensive machine, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, hobbled off the field, never to return. This would create the second fatal flaw for Baltimore, the defensive performance.
On the next offensive drive, Joe Flacco threw an interception on the first play. The decision to throw the ball to Michael Crabtree was a terrible one. Throwing to a covered receiver is bad, but it is an even worse sin when there is a defensive back sitting in the area where the receiver is running to. The interception was returned from the Ravens 37 yard line, to the 16. Predictably, the Bengals would score on the drive. The struggle of the first two drives was not just a random occurrence for Baltimore. The struggle continued throughout the first half.
The offense was eventually able to ground itself and begin the valiant comeback attempt. That began in the second quarter, when the Ravens went on a long touchdown drive, capped off by a Javorius “Buck” Allen scoring run. While the Ravens offense was able to score, it was in spite of the constant undermining of the offensive line. The offensive line in the game against the Bengals performed very poorly. Matt Skura at center and James Hurst at right tackle were the two players who are most responsible for the shortcomings. The offensive line gave Joe Flacco very little time to sit in the pocket and throw. The poor blocking would directly lead to an interception. Late in the third quarter, Flacco’s pass deep intended for John Brown was abruptly cut short by a pass rusher, who hit Flacco’s arm as it was going through the throwing motion. The ball’s trajectory drastically changed, and instead of a probable touchdown, the Ravens turned the ball over.
The Ravens are so concerned about the offensive line that the organization brought in ten, specifically interior, offensive linemen, to try out for the team. No roster changes have been made, but Baltimore is ready to make one should Matt Skura not redeem himself this Sunday. The offensive line’s poor play also factored into the abandonment of the running game. The huge deficit also prompted the Ravens to move the ball quicker through the air attack, but the offensive line’s performance was a large part of the decision as well. Alex Collins only was given the ball nine times, which resulted in 35 yards. Although he was not a large factor on the ground, Collins still got involved. As a receiver, Collins caught three passes, for 55 yards. A more utilized running game would benefit the Ravens, especially to ease the pressure off of Joe Flacco.
Joe Flacco has always had difficulties against the Cincinnati Bengals. Thursday was no different, as he was off target many times. However, a drastically increased sample size is partly to blame. Flacco was tasked with throwing the ball 55 times. John Brown, Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and Mark Andrews all made plays as receivers, but 55 throws compared to 22 runs is no formula for success. The situation of the game against the Bengals excuses the Ravens from using a typical balanced playstyle, but Baltimore needs to reinstate the running game soon, or else the offense is waisting a key component the team must use to succeed.
The Ravens defense was also ineffective at the beginning of the game. Although the unit was able to hold the Bengals for the majority of the latter half of the game, it was more than ineffective in the first half. The coverage on A.J. Green, who consistently torches the Ravens defense, was nonexistent. The main contributor to this issue was the loss of C.J. Mosley. Once Mosley exited for the locker room, the Bengals saw an opportunity to take advantage of an unprepared linebackers group. Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young have no idea how to handle A.J. Green. How should they know what to do? He is one of the best wide receivers in the league. The two inexperienced linebackers were virtually useless over the middle, and the Ravens would eventually have to delegate the protection against Green to the secondary.
By the time the unprepared Ravens defense was able to regain control of the situation, it was too late. A.J. Green scored three touchdowns on three receptions, propagating a 21 point lead. The other defensive groups found trouble in each department as well. The secondary at times looked weak, and not just against A.J. Green. Tyler Boyd, Cincinnati’s hero last year, caught 6 receptions for 91 yards. The defensive line also had trouble getting through the Bengals’ offensive line, resulting in low pressure on Andy Dalton, and difficulties against the Bengals’ running attack. Defensive mishaps and penalties near the end of the game also killed any chance Baltimore had of coming back in the game.
Overall, the team played poorly in the first half but regained footing in the second half. By the time the Ravens were able to compete again, it was already too late. The Ravens fought well in adversity and proved that the team is capable of battling through difficult stages. The loss was expected, but no one expected it to be so difficult for the Ravens, especially in the first half. The Ravens will need to prevent similar cases down the line, improve the defense, and reestablish the running game to do this.