The final score of Sunday’s game does little to tell the tale of what made it possible. The Bengals are hands down one of the worst teams in the National Football League, but no matter where they rank, Cincinnati has no excuse for giving up 49 points to the Baltimore Ravens. Zac Taylor and the Bengals staff got outcoached by John Harbaugh and the entire Ravens staff, but the most interesting chess mass took place between Ravens offensive coordinator, Greg Roman, and Bengals defensive coordinator, Lou Anarumo. While the two are experienced coaches, Roman emerged as the chess master, and Anarumo the novice, as Roman seized every opportunity to flip the script and countered every facet of Anarumo’s defensive gameplan.
The Baltimore Ravens are a powering running team. Creating an offense that sustains long drives by running the football is Greg Roman’s modus operandi, and one can see the evidence of that omnipresent strategy in almost every game this season. The Cincinnati Bengals understood this, and there were two important games used to plan for the Roman attack: Baltimore’s victory over the Bengals in Week 6, and Baltimore’s victory over the Patriots in Week 9.
Baltimore defeated the Bengals earlier in the season by running the typical Greg Roman offense. Baltimore gained more rushing yards than passing. The Ravens accumulated 269 total rushing yards. Lamar Jackson ran for 152, Mark Ingram for 52, Gus Edwards for 34, and Justice Hill for 31. Jackson passed for 236 yards, but Baltimore’s production on the ground led them to the victory. Baltimore only scored 23 points but dominated the time of possession factor, 39:42 to 20:18. This is how Baltimore typically plans to win under Roman. Dominate time of possession by creating an unstoppable ground force.
The Ravens repeated the formula against the New England Patriots. Baltimore rushed for 210 yards. Lamar Jackson rushed for 61 yards and passed for 163, Mark Ingram ran for 115, Gus Edwards for 27, and Justice Hill for 7. Baltimore again held the ball for a prolonged period of time. Baltimore owned possession of the football for 37:01, while New England only held the ball for 22:59. Again, the Ravens were able to hold the edge in the game and upset the Patriots.
The Bengals used this information to prepare for Baltimore. Greg Roman established his identity with the 2019 Baltimore Ravens as an offensive coordinator dedicated to the ground game. Why would he change that? The Bengals assumed he would not, and spent the entire week working to prepare for the onslaught on the ground. Greg Roman knew this would happen, and instead of sticking to his guns, committing himself to beat the Bengals on the ground, he decided to play a little trickery. Greg Roman drew up a gameplan that would combat the defensive strategy he knew the Bengals would employ.
On the very first offensive snap of the game, Lamar Jackson aired out a pass deep to Marquise Brown for 49 yards. The Ravens continued the aerial blitzkrieg for the rest of the drive. Jackon threw three more times that drive and rushed just once. Jackson hit Mark Andrews for 19 yards, Hayden Hurst for six, and Andrews again for two yards and a touchdown.
The Bengals were unprepared to deal with the aerial assault. Cincinnati stacked the box against Jackson early to combat against his prolific rushing abilities, only to find out the Ravens had no intention of dominating on the ground. Cincinnati was forced to reevaluate the situation during the game, and by the time they could make adjustments, the Ravens were already far ahead.
The Ravens continued the aerial assault all game and the biggest benefactors are not the ones you might expect. Mark Andrews is always a fixture in the Ravens offense, but all the tight ends played a big role in Sunday’s gameplan. Mark Andrews caught six balls for 53 yards and two touchdowns, Hayden Hurst caught two for 20 yards, and Nick Boyle shocked all with four catches and 78 yards. Boyle is typically used as a blocker and an astute one at that. Boyle is rarely targeted on passes, so to say the Bengals were surprised by his critical role in the Ravens passing attack would be an understatement. Only two wide receivers caught any passes in Sunday’s game: Marquise Brown and Willie Snead. Brown led the Ravens in receiving yards with 80 on four catches. Brown also scored one touchdown. Willie Snead caught two passes for 12 yards.
Baltimore only rushed for 136 yards on Sunday, and without Lamar Jackson’s epic 47-yard touchdown run, Baltimore would have only garnered 89 yards on the ground. Jackson did not impress on the ground until that long run, as he had no need to rush while his arm surgically picked apart the Bengals defense. He finished the day with 65 yards on seven carries. Ingram was not used as much either, he scored a short touchdown which slightly lowers his averages, but finished with 9 carries for 34 yards, an average of 3.8 yards per rush. Gus Edwards ran for 17 yards on four carries, Justice Hill for 11 on three, and Robert Griffin III ran for nine yards on the one rush from the toss play. Because Baltimore did not dominate on the ground, they did not even control the time of possession. Granted, the Ravens were missing two offensive drives because the defense scored on two occasions, but it is still surprising that Baltimore lost the time of possession by a wide margin, 36:11 to 23:49.
In the end, it simply did not matter whether the Ravens were going to control the clock. Baltimore committed to flipping the script on an unsuspecting Cincinnati team, and the results were extraordinary. Lamar Jackson slung the ball around like he was Brett Farve, and finished the historic day at the top of the MVP conversation. Much of Baltimore’s offensive success can be attributed to the young and talented quarterback, but one cannot overlook Greg Roman’s importance to the offense. This game shows Greg Roman’s creativity. Yes, he found a way to gain a long first down with Robert Griffin III lined up at running back, next to two other Heisman Trophy winners, but that is hardly the most creative thing Roman did all day. Roman knows how to prepare his team against defenses prepared to combat Baltimore’s latest strategy, whether or not that defense would even be successful at it. Greg Roman is not afraid to get away from his offensive philosophy in order to take advantage of mismatches, and that is exactly what he did on Sunday.