The Baltimore Ravens faced virtual elimination when the Bengals came to town. 5-4 Cincinnati Bengals could essentially eliminate the Baltimore Ravens from playoff contention with a victory. The Ravens, down a starting quarterback, responded to the pressure, stepped up to the plate, and hit a home run. The Ravens were able to defeat the Bengals in a close matchup, dominated by Baltimore’s outstanding ground game and defense.
Lamar Jackson started quarterback for the Baltimore Ravens. It was the first ever career start for the rookie from Louisville. The Ravens never planned for Jackson to start this year, but with Flacco sidelined with a hip injury, Baltimore needed him to get some early experience. Offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg limited Jackson’s playbook on Sunday, as Jackson’s development is still underway. Jackson refrained from attempting difficult passes. The Ravens kept most of his attempts inside the numbers, and short. There were a few outliers, however, where Jackson showed off his arm strength and playmaking abilities. Jackson found the rookie tight end, Mark Andrews for a long, 19-yard, gain on the sideline. He also escaped the pocket and hit John Brown for a quick, 23-yard gain, and a first down before halftime. This set the Ravens up for a Justin Tucker 56-yard field goal.
While Jackson showed poise and promise as a passer, he also failed to quiet the doubters. Jackson finished 13/19 for 150 yards and an interception. The interception came on a play where Jackson danced around in the pocket and forced a pass. Jackson had the option to hit a wide open Hayden Hurst for a short pass. He even looked straight at him. Instead, he threw the ball into triple coverage. Jackson also should have been picked off earlier, as he tried to force a ball on the run as well earlier in the game. The ball fell into the hands of a Bengals defender, who dropped the ball. Jackson’s final major blunder came on a completed pass. He targeted the wide receiver, Chris Moore, over the middle of the field. The ball landed behind Moore, who made a spectacular effort to grab the ball. He successfully caught it and bailed Jackson out.
Where Jackson truly shined was on the ground. The rookie quarterback ran the ball 26 times and gained 119 yards for a 4.8 yard average gain. Jackson’s longest run went for 21 yards. Baltimore gave Jackson a playbook he could work with, featuring a heavy dose of read options. Jackson constantly deceived Cincinnati’s defense with these plays. Baltimore paired Jackson, a very fast side to side runner, with Gus Edwards, a powerful downhill back. The combination was deadly and sliced the Bengals defense all day long. Edwards, an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers, ran for 115 yards on 17 rushes. Jackson and Edwards combined for 267 rushing yards. The effort also gave the Ravens the advantage in time of possession. Baltimore dominated that metric, holding the ball for 38:09, compared to Cincinnati’s 21:51. This proved to be crucial.
The offensive attack that utilized a running scheme that ate up most of the clock worked extremely well with Baltimore’s defensive strategy. The Ravens played tight defense throughout and kept defenders playing at a maximum effort. The ability for the Ravens to dominate time of possession kept the Ravens defense off the field and gave the unit plenty of time to rest. This key factor was missing in the recent previous weeks. Against the Steelers, the Ravens controlled the ball for only 23:31, compared to Pittsburgh’s 36:29. Against Carolina, Baltimore lost time of possession 34:01 to 25:59. Finally, the Ravens also lost the time of possession battle to New Orleans, 33:31 to 26:29. In all three games, Baltimore lost the time of possession, the Ravens defense came up short at critical moments. When Baltimore dominated time of possession, the defense performed at a high level throughout and played strong at critical moments.
Against the Bengals, Baltimore’s defense returned to its early season form. It held Cincinnati to just 255 total yards. This was the result of an all-around strong performance. The most visible aspect of this was the tight defense the secondary played. Baltimore’s defensive backs kept close to opposing receivers all game long and dominated from the line of scrimmage. The unit let the occasional big play slip in, but for the most part, it was a dominant effort, especially early on. Defensive backs and linebackers knocked consistently knocked passes down. In the end, it was cornerback Marlon Humphrey who secured the victory. He knocked Andy Dalton’s fourth down pass attempt out of the hands of Cody Core. The Ravens gained possession and immediately went into victory formation.
The unsung hero of the game was the defensive front seven. When Baltimore fought Cincinnati earlier in the year, Bengals running back Joe Mixon ran virtually unopposed. In that first matchup, Mixon carried the ball 21 times to gain 84 yards. Mixon greatly benefited from the absence of C.J. Mosley, who left the game in the first quarter. When Mixon faced the Ravens again, he was forced to confront Mosley. Mosley’s presence gave the Ravens a massive boost against Cincinnati’s run strategy. The Bengals only gained 48 yards on the ground in game two. 29 of the 48 came from Andy Dalton who rushed twice. Mixon attempted 12 rushes, but could only muster 14 yards. The dominant performance by the Ravens front seven forced the Bengals to put the ball in the hands of Andy Dalton, who, without A.J. Green, could do very little to change the final outcome.
The Baltimore Ravens dominated the Cincinnati Bengals. The game ended with a close score, but that does not reflect the full picture. The Ravens kept possession of the ball for the majority of the game by a large margin. The rushing attack saw two 100-yard rushers, and the defense dominated a slow Bengals offense. The performance earned the Ravens the temporary honor of holding a wild-card berth. If the Ravens continue to play in the same fashion, it will propel Baltimore to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.