How’s that for back-to-back division dubs?
Wins never come easy in the AFC North, but the Ravens topped the Bengals 23-17 to improve to 4-2 on the season. Baltimore holds a crucial two-game cushion atop the division.
“Aesthetics aside, the last two weeks could not have gone much better for the Ravens,” The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote.
Here are pundits’ takeaways from Sunday’s win:
Ravens Use ‘Old School’ Attack in Win
Entering the week as one of the NFL’s top offenses, the Ravens got back to the basics by playing smash-mouth football. Without top deep threat Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, the offense rushed for 269 yards and averaged 6.3 yards per carry.
“The Ravens earned their first two-game winning streak of the season with a successful passing attack,” The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. “This two-game streak was old school. The Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage, and Jackson had a historic day with his arm and legs.”
“Jackson rolled up 152 rushing yards and often looked like he was playing at a different speed,” Sports Illustrated’s Gary Gramling wrote. “Probably because he was.”
With all the talk surrounding the Ravens’ offense heading into the season, pundits were impressed with the unit’s ability to adapt to certain matchups.
The Bengals came into Sunday as the 31st-ranked run defense and sold out to stop the ground game, but Greg Roman devised a gameplan to exploit it.
“Through six weeks, there have already been two distinct iterations: the early-season, high-flying passing attack highlighted by Andrews and Brown and, more recently, the ground-and-pound offense that on Sunday finished with more carries than pass attempts for the second straight week and third overall,” Shaffer wrote.
“You’ve got to give [Roman] a lot of credit,” CBS Sports’ Phil Simms said. “He said they were going to create an offense that was different from anything we’ve seen in the NFL, and I think he told the truth.”
Jackson’s performance was reminiscent of his debut as a starter against the Bengals last season. Then, he rushed for 119 yards in a 24-21 win, but the Ravens have more weapons on offense this time around, and a much-improved passer under center.
“Jackson’s apace to carry it 184 times, and we’ll see if the Ravens want him to be exposed that much,” NBC Sports’ Peter King wrote. “From the pocket or using his mobility, Jackson’s a fascinating watch, and he plenty’s accurate (.651) in case he decides eventually to pass first and second, and maybe third.”
Ravens Respond After Kickoff Blunder, But That Was Too Close for Comfort
The Bengals struck first on the opening kickoff as Brandon Wilson raced up the field for a 92-yard touchdown. It was a shocking start against a winless division rival, but pundits gave credit to the Ravens for responding and controlling the game the rest of the way.
“The Ravens never seemed in jeopardy of suffering what would’ve been a horrific loss,” The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote. “After Wilson returned the opening kickoff for a 92-yard Bengals’ touchdown … the Ravens never relinquished control, but they never really put away the Bengals either.”
Looking at the box score, the Ravens dominated almost every facet of the game. They outgained the Bengals 497 to 250, ran 22 more plays, and controlled the ball for close to 20 more minutes.
“Yet, the result wasn’t secure until the Bengals were called for illegal touching on the onside kick, allowing Jackson to take a knee to run out the final 88 seconds,” Zrebiec wrote.
On an 18-play drive that took up almost 10 minutes of the fourth quarter, the offense settled for a 21-yard Justin Tucker field goal. The Ravens had the ball on first-and-goal from the Bengals’ 5-yard line, but couldn’t convert the touchdown.
While Tucker’s three field goals were the difference on Sunday, skepticism remains among pundits as the Ravens enter a daunting stretch of their schedule against the Seahawks and Patriots.
“The skepticism about the Ravens remains, and let’s face it, it should,” Zrebiec wrote. “Their four wins have come against teams with a combined record of 3-18-1.”
But following two straight losses from the Browns, the Ravens hold a two-game division lead at the most crucial time.
“The Browns have an easier late-season schedule, so the Ravens needed to bank at least four wins heading into their upcoming gantlet,” Walker wrote. “They cleared that bar. The playoff race is on.”
Pass Rush Still Remains a Concern
The Ravens’ defense didn’t allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, but they didn’t make life difficult for Andy Dalton in the pocket. The pass rush recorded just two sacks and five quarterback hits against a Bengals offensive line that wasn’t at full strength.
“If the Baltimore pass rush was going to get untracked against any opponent, the Bengals and their league-worst offensive line seemed an excellent candidate,” Walker wrote. “But the Ravens hardly laid a hand on Dalton until the fourth quarter, when he absolutely had to drop back and probe for downfield targets.”
Walker gave credit to Tyus Bowser and Matthew Judon for coming up with sacks on the final drive of the game, but the pass rush still remains a concern. Things don’t get any easier next week going up against an elusive quarterback in Russell Wilson.
“Perhaps they pulled out a mixed grade with their late work,” Walker wrote. “But the Ravens did not inspire confidence that they’ll put heat on the elite quarterbacks coming up on their schedule — Wilson next weekend in Seattle and Tom Brady two weeks after that on Sunday night.”
Should the Ravens Extend Marlon Humphrey Already?
Another game, and another standout performance for Marlon Humphrey.
Following his late-game heroics last week, Humphrey tallied two passes defensed and an interception in the win. Against an A.J. Green-less Bengals, Humphrey held Tyler Boyd to 10 yards on three catches and continues to shut down opposing No. 1 wide receivers.
“Humphrey has been a regular talking point in these post-game takeaway articles and if you thought that was going to change this Sunday, you thought wrong,” Baltimore Beatdowns’ Frank Platko wrote. “There isn’t much that can be said that hasn’t already about Humphrey, especially after another standout performance against the Bengals.”
“Humphrey was solid all day long,” Pro Football Focus wrote. “The Bengals tried targeting him, and he was allowing none of it. His best play of the day came in the fourth quarter when he was targeted on a back-shoulder throw and punched the ball out at the last second.”
No matter the cost, Platko believes the Ravens must keep Humphrey around.
“Needless to say that whenever contract extension talks begin, give Humphrey whatever he wants,” Platko wrote.
Time to Debunk Injury Proneness of Running Quarterbacks
On the heels of a historic rushing performance, Jackson is on pace for 184 rush attempts. Naturally, that comes with injury concerns, as it’s the stigma that surrounds any dual-threat quarterback.
But The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy found that notion to be overstated.
In fact, a study done by Sports Info Solution’s John Verros that found that the “risk for a scrambling quarterback is almost equal to the quarterback who is sacked: once every 91.7 plays for the scrambler, once every 92.5 plays for the guy getting sacked.”
"I believe the risk of a running QB being more prone to injury in comparison to a pocket passer is overstated by many analysts," Verros told DeCourcy. "One caveat would be that a running QB will attempt so many rushes per game that the sheer volume will still put him at an increased risk."
Verros found that the risk of a quarterback getting injured on a designed run is one in every 236 plays.
Jackson had 19 carries, and he never took any crushing hits. His elusiveness and awareness allow him to avoid defenders, unlike a typical ball carrier. We’ve seen almost a full regular season sample size of his running, and Jackson hasn’t missed a start because of injury.
DeCourcy doesn’t believe it’s a coincidence.
“[Harbaugh] has quarterbacks coach James Urban working with Jackson on a variety of techniques to minimize the possibility of injury, including how to slide, when to slide, when to battle for a first down and when to emphasize survival,” DeCourcy wrote.