ReFo: Ravens @ Bengals, Week 17
Even though this was an encounter of two teams headed into playoff encounters next weekend and a divisional rivalry there was an indisputable “school’s out” air surrounding this game. Yes there was some nastiness and extra-curriculars throughout the game, but it was quite clear that with both teams unable to clinch a bye week they were treating Week 17 as their chance to rest players up, limit snaps for starters and get fresh for the second season starting next weekend.
As a result this was a game that really lacked any momentum or energy for much of the game, especially in a pedestrian first half. The Bengals were the ones who left their starters in for longer and as a result they were able to get more out of the game in terms of points and ride into the playoffs having won seven of their final eight games. Meanwhile the Ravens were consigned to their fourth defeat in their last five games as they stumbled from a 9-2 start to finish 10-6.
The merits of the approach of each team in this game will be defined by their results next weekend. If both teams come out fresh and firing to book trips to New England & Denver then this will have been a master stroke by each head coach. If they come out flat and fall to their AFC South opponents, then the head coaches will have been accused of squandering momentum headed into the post season.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Not such a happy return
One of many Ravens’ starters getting a well earned rest this week was Marshal Yanda. The Ravens’ best offensive lineman returned to the lineup last week against the Giants but was still nursing an ankle injury and was held out this week against the Bengals. You certainly noticed the difference. During an eight year stint with the Bengals Bobbie Williams was one of the league’s best and most underrated guards but in a spot start back in Cincinnati Williams showed his age (-6.2). Penalized three times Williams was sloppy and in his matchups with the ever impressive Geno Atkins he was outmatched in pass protection. Williams did show some veteran savvy to seal Atkins out of a few run plays but he was comfortably bested in this game and found himself being driven backwards in run and pass game on too many occasions.
Inside pairing complement each other
The Ravens defense let up a pair of touchdowns in this game but did a solid job for most of the game to limit an unimaginative Cincinnati offense that kept its starters in the game a quarter longer than the Ravens did. The stars (relatively speaking) for the Ravens in that performance were the inside linebacker pairing of Josh Bynes (+2.1) and Dannell Ellerbe (+3.0) who did their best work in opposite facets of the game with Ellerbe excelling in coverage whilst Bynes was a force in run defense. This has been a season marred by inconsistency for Ellerbe in coverage, but he finished his regular season at a high water mark collecting a pair of hurries to go with some strong coverage to clamp down on the Bengals’ running backs. Meanwhile Bynes picked up three defensive stops, his second highest tally of the season and ensured that when he was called upon to make an impact on the game it was a positive. The pressure will be on for these two to pass far sterner tests than this one if the Ravens are without Ray Lewis next weekend.
Doing the leg work
This season we have seen that there are two ways to skin a cat in terms of playing the quarterback position and that you can make a difference as a runner. However Tyrod Taylor took that to a new extreme in this game doing almost all of his good work as a runner and rarely impressing as a passer. Taylor was a clear and present threat as a runner and made the Bengals’ linebackers look a little foolish on a couple of occasions by keeping plays alive up the sideline as they held up on plays expecting Taylor to go out of bounds. Taylor was however a little too quick, at times, to take off in this game and impressive as some of those runs were you wonder how much more he might got from this game in terms of development by showing a little more willingness to sit and work through his reads.
Cincinnati – Three Performances of Note
Rounding out a stellar season
We’ve talked plenty about Geno Atkins this season but it only seems fair in such an inconsequential game to give him further kudos for rounding out the season with another exceptional performance (+5.3). With that display Atkins sets a new benchmark with the highest overall grade we have ever recorded for a defensive tackle in a single season at +79.9, well above the previous best of +44.2 by Kyle Williams in 2010. This week Atkins was prevented from getting to grips with the Ravens quarterbacks but he still applied three hurries and was a force in the run game both in terms of making stops (three) and taking linemen backwards to re-direct and blow up running plays. This was simply the exclamation mark to an exceptional season that puts Atkins firmly in the discussion to be the NFL’s defensive player of the year.
Keeping his cool to the end
For a player who came out of college with question marks over his discipline Vontaze Burfict has disproved the critics in his rookie season and rounded out his debut season with another strong display for the Bengals. For the season Burfict has drawn more than twice as many penalties (seven) as he has conceded (three) this season and none of those have been of the unnecessary roughness variety that so many draftniks talked up as a concern in the pre-draft process. Though he did record multiple missed tackles in a game for only the second time this season Burfict also racked up his second highest single game total with six stops and got through a tremendous work rate to rack up 17 tackles (13 as primary tackler) and always ensure that the Ravens ball carriers had to go through him before they got too far downfield. The Bengals have long been in the business of taking a chance on troubled talents that tumble through the draft. At least based on one season this would appear to be one gamble that has paid off.
Bookends keep everything upright.
Though the media focus may be on the likes of A.J. Green, Andy Dalton and BenJarvus Green-Ellis, everything stats up front for the Bengals’ offense and both of their bookend tackles closed out the season with perfect days in pass protection based on their limited playing time. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth played exactly half of the Bengals’ offensive snaps (26/52) whilst Andre Smith played all but nine of the Bengals’ snaps before making way for Dennis Roland. This is the second straight week that both Bengals’ tackles have yielded no pressure. That is some top quality form for the Bengals to be taking into Houston as they attempted to reverse the result of last season’s opening wildcard game. Whether they are facing up with J.J. Watt or taking care of outside rushers one on one whilst the interior handles Watt and Antonio Smith the Bengals will need the book end pairing of Whitworth and their own Smith to be on top form to give Dalton time to find A.J. Green and co. down the field.
– With a pair of sacks yesterday Michael Johnson recorded his first multiple sack game since he registered four in Washington all the way back in Week 3.
– Bernard Pierce certainly impressed as a ball carrier (+1.6 rushing) but after conceding a trio of hurries in pass protection question marks will certainly be raised about his all-round game.
– After a trying display in Pittsburgh last week rookie guard Kevin Zeitler returned to some sort of form this weekend. This was Zeitler’s fifth game with no pressures allowed this season and his first since the Bengals’ season changing win over the Giants in Week 10.
PFF Game Ball
Another week, another exceptional display and a game ball for Geno Atkins. Who else for the Bengals this season really? He was exceptional in the Bengals’ playoff defeat in Houston last season (+5.5), can he repeat that individual display and inspire Cincinnati to go one better?