What better way to follow up a demoralizing loss to a team with the best record in the NFL than improving to 4-0 in the AFC North just one week later. The Ravens did just that yesterday as they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 19-14 in the first of two annual matchups. Baltimore ended a five-game losing streak to Cincinnati with the victory.
The Ravens played a solid game against Andy Dalton and the Bengals who were hampered by the losses of A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. Justin Tucker made history with three field goals of 50+ in the first half, and has once again been an integral part of a Baltimore victory.
This matchup included much to like for the Ravens who have struggled to find a consistent identity this season. Beating the Bengals for the first time since 2013 was a goal that needed to be achieved in 2016. Here are my thoughts about yesterday’s victory.
What I Liked
- Justin Tucker And Sam Koch. The kicker/punter duo of Tucker and Koch are legitimate weapons for this team. Not many teams in the NFL have a duo that can affect the game the way these two do. One week after an NFL record 12 extra points were missed, Tucker nailed kicks from 52, 57, and 54-yards to go along with an extra point and a 36-yard field goal. Koch punted the ball five times yesterday, planting four of those kicks within the opponents’ 20-yard line. Koch also closed out the game with a gadget play that was also called in the Ravens’ Super Bowl 47 victory four years ago. Instead of punting the ball with 11 seconds on the clock, the punt team purposely held onto each Bengals player while Koch held onto the ball and ran out of the back of the endzone as time expired.
- Defensive Playmakers. Apart from a wide-open drop by safety Eric Weddle, the defense made plays consistently throughout the game. Terrell Suggs added two strip-sacks of Dalton, bringing his sack total to 8 this season. Suggs has stepped up and led this defense to No. 2 in the rankings after 11 games. Elvis Dumervil made his first impact play of an injury-riddled season with a strip-sack of Dalton on the Bengal’s final drive of the game, essentially putting the game away for good. The defense played well against the A.J. Green-less Bengals without top cornerback Jimmy Smith for the second straight game.
- Offensive Balance. The offense stuck with the run game more often this week with a dedicated balance between Terrance West (48 yards) and Kenneth Dixon (49 yards). Both players attempted 13 rushes with similar success on the ground. The running backs also made an impact in the pass game, totaling 7 catches for 47 yards. As for the pass game, Flacco played an efficient game, outside of an interception thrown off a batted pass. The Bengals’ defense has been known to rattle Flacco in the past, but could not get to the quarterback enough yesterday.
- Divisional Record. The Ravens remain perfect against the AFC North, improving to 4-0 on the year. Unfortunately, that means the squad is 2-5 against all other opponents. Baltimore has three more games against teams outside of the North, and needs to step up to those opponents. Without the 4-0 record inside the division, this season could have been done weeks ago.
- Defensive Formations Without Jimmy Smith. Lardarius Webb’s versatility was on display yesterday as he was asked to play much of the game in the slot. Webb playing more corner than safety allowed former first-round pick Matt Elam to step in next to Weddle. Elam is in the final year of his rookie deal, and it is good to see him on the field after two injury-plagued seasons. The Bengals missed A.J. Green’s deep play ability sorely yesterday as they were never able to settle into a groove. The defense stepped up in Jimmy Smith’s absence, thanks to the versatility of many players.
What I Didn’t Like
- Pumping The Brakes. One reason Baltimore plays in close games so often is that they essentially slow down when they gain a two-possession lead. After going up 16-3 heading into half time, the team was only able to score three more points in the second half. What separates good teams from great teams is that the great teams play more aggressive as their lead grows. Flacco voiced his displeasure with his offense after slowing down in the second half yesterday. Luckily for this offense, their defensive counterpart is good enough to keep opponents in check while they struggle to score.
- Devin Hester’s Impact As A Returner. Hester was signed strictly to return punts and kick offs this offseason. Hester has had a few break-aways this season, but hasn’t had the effect that he is getting paid to have. Hester’s fumbles this season have offset the few good returns he has had. Baltimore’s return game has faltered since the departure of Jacoby Jones in 2014.
- Low Impact Tight Ends. Historically, a Joe Flacco offense is tight end friendly. The position was viewed as the deepest on the roster heading into the season, but has dealt with injuries throughout the year. Benjamin Watson was placed on IR before the season started, and 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams followed shortly after. Crocket Gillmore has been affected by injuries for most of the season, leaving Dennis Pitta as the only tight end from the opening day roster. Baltimore has welcomed the return of Darren Waller and Nick Boyle from suspensions, but neither has made a big impact. Waller and Boyle are both young players with potential, but need to step up with the other absences. It’s possible that neither would be on the roster had Watson, Williams, and Gillmore stayed healthy.
- Baltimore took care of business against a team that has had its number recently. Nothing is sweeter than a division win, and the Ravens left this game feeling confident. With a healthy roster this team can compete with any team in the league, as shown in the past two games. As impressive as 4-0 in the division is, it might not be enough to win the AFC North without going 6-0 by the end of the season. The Ravens don’t have another divisional game until Week Sixteen, so the team must put a hold on thinking about sweeping their division.
Week Thirteen Preview
- The Ravens stay in Baltimore for a matchup against a surging Miami Dolphins team. The Dolphins come to Baltimore riding a six-game win streak with more confidence than recent years. The Ravens will have their hands full with a balanced Ryan Tannehill-led offense and an overachieving defense. What seemed like an easy game at the beginning of the year has become a much more challenging one. Baltimore will look to prove they are ready for the post-season against Tannehill’s inexperienced squad.