With everything on the line, the Baltimore Ravens had to come up with one of their better efforts of the year to avoid becoming one of ‘those’ defending champs that failed to return to the playoffs the season after taking the crown. The Bengals, on the other hand, had the division sewn up and were looking only at hopes for improved seeding.
An early Raven lead didn’t survive the first quarter and the work put in to pull even in the third was undone by three fourth-quarter Joe Flacco interceptions, one brought back for a score that sent the game into garbage time. With the Dolphins losing to the Jets as Baltimore needed them to, falling flat in their own pursuits was that much more painful.
Cincinnati returns to the playoffs for the third straight season, but this time it’s not the Texans waiting for them. Instead, they’ll get the Chargers fresh off of an overtime thriller that gained them entrance, primed to play the role of dangerous wild card.
Here are some of the individual performances that stood out for better or worse from the Week 17 Bengal win:
Baltimore — Three Performances of Note
No Deep Ball
One of the distinguishing marks of last year’s Super Bowl Champion Ravens was their ability to get production from the deep passing game. Joe Flacco completed 35 deep balls in 2012 (tied for second in the league) and notched a barely believable 11:0 touchdown-to-interception ratio on those throws – the only qualifying QB to go pick-less. This year, though, the completion number was cut in half on nearly the same number of attempts (88 in 2013, 92 in 2012) and that ratio? One touchdown to eight interceptions. It was more of the same in the season finale as Flacco took five deep shots, completed none and saw one intercepted.
ILBs Falling Off
Raven inside linebackers Jameel McClain and Daryl Smith each will be taking the memory of a rough day into the long offseason as their work against the run left a lot to be desired. Though they both had moments to be proud of (McClain’s forced fumble and Smith’s bursting-in tackle for a loss against a Gio Bernard screen play, for example) the majority of the afternoon was spent being moved, sealed, and otherwise handled by blockers. McClain’s outing (-4.2) makes it back-to-back days to forget as he ends the season with his two worst efforts against the run. Smith (-3.5 run defense) makes it three of his last five, though his recent issues before this Week 17 performance have primarily been in coverage. For a team feeling the sting of missing out on the postseason on the heels of fan-favorite defensive departures, this isn’t going to soothe things.
Monroe States His Case
A free agent in 2014, Baltimore left tackle Eugene Monroe wrapped up an impressive season in which he switched teams and never posted a negative grade in 11 weeks of work for his new employers. Continuing that trend and finishing strong, Monroe graded in the green as both a run blocker and as a pass blocker in Week 17, lifting his overall season grade as a Raven to +25.0 (compared to the -3.6 he offered in four games with Jacksonville to open the year). Hitting the market on a high note, the 2009 first-rounder has positioned himself well for a healthy second contract and should find no shortage of suitors come March – if the Ravens don’t lock him up at first opportunity.
Cincinnati — Three Performances of Note
An Impressive Switch
It truly is something that shouldn’t go unnoticed, that a left tackle that can be counted among the Top 10 at his position for four years running and make a mid-season move to back to guard (his pre-2009 duty) without missing a beat. PFF Pro-Bowler, Andrew Whitworth, finished the regular season in the same form as he started, but did so working from the inside. This marked the second game in five starts as a guard that he graded in the green in both run blocking (+1.8) and pass blocking (+2.6) – he did it twice as a tackle this year, too – and now finds himself in the ranks of the Top 15 in both position groups.
Andy Dalton has been one of the least-pressured quarterbacks in the league this season. The 25% of drop-backs that have seen rushers getting to him is the second-lowest figure among 40 qualifying quarterbacks (Peyton Manning’s 22.7% is lowest). Going hand-in-hand with the high pass-blocking grades across his offensive line, a quick release has helped keep him clean – his average time to throw is only 2.43 seconds. Two things relating to all of this stood out in this game: first, Dalton was pressured on just eight of his 37 drop-backs – again, good job on all ends of the equation — but on those eight he posted a passer rating of 10.4 (76.9 when not pressured). Second, on throws released in 2.5 seconds or less his passer rating was over 90 points lower than on those taking at least 2.6 seconds to fire (42.6 to 136.4). It’s not uncommon for there to be notable splits in both areas, but margins this wide are unusual and heading into the playoffs, they’re two spots that he’ll want to sharpen up.
A Green-Ellis Grade
In a season where he’s been something of a forgotten man thanks to the shiny new toy in town (and to some mediocre play of his own), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (+1.9) found the way to his first green grade of the year in Week 17. With a 6-yard average on 11 carries and a long of just 12 yards, BJGE was getting something out of nearly each attempt. Half of his yards came after contact and his average of 3 yards after contact per run was among his five best showings of the past three years. His memorable, slicing and churning work on that 12-yard run mid-way through the fourth quarter was the highlight of a worthy day.
– Safety Reggie Nelson rushed the quarterback three times and came away with two hits and a hurry.
– Raven receiver Marlon Brown had seen 46 slot targets coming into the game. He was thrown at nine times when lined up in the slot on Sunday.
– On only 14 run defense snaps, Rey Maualuga and Domata Peko each logged four defensive stops.
PFF Game Ball
Another fine day for the bi-positional Andrew Whitworth earns him the game ball.
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