ReFo: Bengals @ Ravens, Week 10
As the AFC North collapsed around them, the Cincinnati Bengals looked primed to waltz to a division title and be in the reckoning for a week off when the playoffs get underway. Such premature judgments often prove to be false and the Bengals have certainly proved their believers wrong once again raising questions as to their credentials to take “the next step”.
Coming off of an unexpected and unwelcome defeat to the Miami Dolphins last Thursday the Bengals had the opportunity to rebound against the faltering Super Bowl champions and establish a three game lead over the Cleveland Browns heading into their second meeting of the season next week. Instead, the Bengals came out flat offensively and needed a fourth-quarter comeback capped off by a miraculous Hail Mary to even send the game to overtime. The defense covered well for absences, but the offense, under the guidance of their ever-inconsistent quarterback, fell foul of a Ravens defense rebounding after their bye week to provide one of their best performances of the season.
For the Ravens this was a crucial, if not conclusive or particularly attractive, victory with the offense once again flattering to deceive after establishing a two-touchdown lead midway through the second quarter, never threatening to extend that lead after that point to give its defense a moving target to defend. Once again the offensive line struggled individually and as a unit, particularly on the ground. In spite of their struggles the Ravens spurned opportunities to clinch this game sooner that might have eased some of the pressure. This result keeps them treading water in pursuit of the Bengals and more defensive performances like this will keep the Ravens fighting to the end of the season, but they will need more clinical offensive displays if they are to complete the turnaround.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Replacing Atkins in his own way
The loss of Geno Atkins has left a large hole in the Cincinnati Bengals defensive front but second year player Brandon Thompson stood tall in his first career start with a strong showing in Atkins’ spot yesterday. Though he didn’t and likely won’t be able to replace Atkins’ exceptional disruptive ability as a pass rusher he more than held his own as a run defender (+2.5, 4 stops) against the Ravens’ struggling offensive line. Caught out a couple of early times early in the game on trap plays Thompson wasn’t tested on such plays thereafter and was able to control whichever blocker the Ravens sent his way either to disrupt a run or to shed the block to make tackles on the Baltimore running backs. Whether it was A.Q. Shipley, Gino Gradkowski or even Marshal Yanda, Thompson got the upper hand in the one-on-one matchups most of the time beating blockers left and right or driving them back to clog running lanes. Replacing that dominant inside pass rush that Atkins brought to the table is a challenge the Bengals will have to figure out how to solve but Thompson on the evidence of his first start will go a long way towards replacing Atkins’ presence as a run defender.
Bad games come in groups for Dalton
Only two weeks ago many were talking about Andy Dalton being in the form of his career after a strong showing Detroit followed by a stellar display in the Jets’ dominant victory over the Jets. Since then however Dalton struggled on primetime in Miami and following a long week to prepare for the Ravens came out with an extremely poor display (-6.1) against the Ravens. From the Bengals’ struggles to get their offense going early in the game all the way through their comeback and failed attempt to win the game in overtime Dalton was making poor decisions and inaccurate throws to confound the good form he showed just a matter of weeks ago. Overthrows were a consistent problem, but if you want to pick out a problem area, it was the middle of the field. On passes targeted across the line of scrimmage he went 10-of-21 for 119 yards and all three of his interceptions (one of those a strong play by Lardarius Webb to wrestle possession from Marvin Jones). The short passes increase his completion percentage somewhat as beyond 10 yards downfield he was only 3-of-11 with his sole deep completion between the numbers a floated pass that A.J. Green won a tipped and contested jump ball to bring in. Dalton and the Bengals still control their own destiny in the AFC North but on present form they are not only raising doubts about their ability to perform in the big games and take the next step but they are also creating more work for themselves to even get to the point of being able to play in those games to prove those points.
The Vontaze and Vincent Show
Behind a strong performance from their defensive line the Bengals’ linebacker pairing of Vincent Rey and Vontaze Burfict were free to flow and they certainly made the most of their day in Baltimore. Combining for 14 defensive stops both players lie second in their position for stops to this point in the week on the back of strong all round days. Much like A.J. Hawk a few weeks back Rey walked away from Baltimore with a trio of sacks that speak as much to the dysfunction of the Ravens’ pass protection as anything, but to his credit he made the most of those opportunities converting all three of his pressures into sacks. Both players’ most impressive work came in coverage, as they combined to allow only 26 yards on nine targets with Rey walking away with an interception and Burfict a pass breakup. You’d never accuse Joe Flacco of orchestrating the most efficient of short passing games and the Cincinnati duo certainly played their part in ensuring that that was no different this week.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Webb shows his best form
Back in 2011 Lardarius Webb was on his way to becoming one of the best corners in the league. Successfully riding the road to recovery from one knee injury he was struck down by another last year which saw him play no part in the Ravens post-season surge to the Super Bowl and he has struggled to re-discover his 2011 form on his return this season. That best form returned with a bang yesterday however putting in comfortably his best game of the season and one of the best of his career (+5.4). Targeted 12 times by Andy Dalton this was not a quiet, “shutdown”, day for the Ravens’ number one corner, it was an involved all action day. Of those 12 passes only four were completed with most of his yardage allowed coming by way of a poor missed tackle on Tyler Eifert at the start of the third quarter. On his 12 targets he got his hands to almost as many passes as the receivers he was covering, notching three pass defenses and an interception against four catches, a drop and Marvin Jones did get his hands to the pass he intercepted before Webb unceremoniously stole it away for the turnover. When covering A.J. Green, Webb was targeted four times surrendering only one completion on which he took the Bengals’ top receiver down for a one yard loss. We need to see this sort of performance more consistently to declare Webb as “back” but this will certainly give encouragement that the “old” Webb is still in there ready and waiting to re-emerge.
Running game woes continue
There are plenty of parties where you can lay the blame for the failures of the Ravens ground game this season. Whether you look at the line, the backs, the play calling, the coaching, or a combination of all four the end result is that one of the league’s stronger running games has become one of the very worst this season. Their 29 designed carries yesterday (one scramble) at least showed more of a commitment to the ground game but the efficiency was once again lacking. The line struggled again to give any impetus against a strong Bengals’ front that was in no mood to give the Ravens’ backs room to run. When even Marshal Yanda (-2.9 run block) is struggling to win individual matchups you have to figure something is up and he was bested in single team matchups with Thompson for much of the day. He was not alone in his struggles, new left tackle Eugene Monroe again played solidly in pass protection but put in his worst run blocking display of the season struggling to get to grips with Michael Johnson on the edge. The running backs weren’t without blame either, on occasion seemingly spooked by the poor blocking they have got for much of the season turning away from gaps that while not wide open were there to be hit in order to maximize the available yardage. Instead of going with the play as called they looked to bounce runs finding their way only into the welcoming arms of Cincinnati defenders to be cleaned up for minimal gains or none at all.
Dumervil continues to maximize his opportunities
After the drama of the off-season Elvis Dumervil has settled well into his role as the Ravens’ specialist pass rusher and notched up a season high three sacks against Andrew Whitworth and the Bengals yesterday. As you’d expect against a tackle of Whitworth’s quality Dumervil had to work hard for his sacks and got all three through physicality and determination either driving Whitworth back or beating him inside to get to Dalton. Having recorded only three hurries and a batted pass in the first half Dumervil came alive when the Bengals were firmly in chase mode registering all three of his sacks in the last 16 minutes of regulation. The Ravens are making the most of Dumervil’s burst as a pass rusher with nearly 70% of his snaps coming on passing plays and 81% of those coming as a pass rusher with Dumervil responding to that targeted deployment as the new leader of our Pass Rushing Productivity rating among 3-4 outside linebackers (14.7), only just trailing Robert Quinn (14.8) for the lead among all edge rushers.
– Neither quarterback shone under pressure in this encounter. Flacco (pressured on 18-of-42 dropbacks) went 7-for-13 and 37 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions when he wasn’t sacked (five times). While Dalton fared even worse in spite of facing less pressure (18-of-58 dropbacks) going 4-of-12 for only 16 yards with an interception (7.6 NFL passer rating) when the Ravens generated pressure.
– Giovani Bernard registered a season high 61 snaps registering more than double BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ 28 though on only five more carries this was felt largely in the passing game.
– While Webb was the Ravens’ all action star in coverage Jimmy Smith took on more of the shutdown role surrendering only one completion on five targets (a swing pass to Bernard) for two yards while breaking up two passes.
PFF Game Ball
But for a sloppy missed tackle that set up one of the Bengals’ longest plays of the day this was a near flawless performance form Lardarius Webb who went a long way towards reminding us why before his injury he was considered one of the league’s emerging elite cornerbacks.