Dissecting the Ravens' First Loss of 2018
Last night's game was an up and down (or down and up if you will) contest, but the Ravens fell short, 34-23. The loss drops Baltimore to 1-1, while Cincinnati now sits atop the AFC North standings with a 2-0 mark. Here are some takeaways from the game, according to pundits.
Rough First Half Dooms Baltimore: The Ravens took it on the chin early Thursday night. In the first quarter, the Bengals outgained the Ravens 141-27, jumping out to a 14-0 lead in the process, with wide receiver A.J. Green hauling in two touchdowns. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw an interception, while linebacker C.J. Mosley left the game and was eventually carted back to the locker room.
"Everything that could go wrong for the Ravens did," The Baltimore Sun's Peter Schmuck wrote.
The second quarter didn't start much better, as Green caught his third score to make it 21-0. The Ravens did begin to work their way back into the contest though, with wide receiver John Brown igniting the offense on a 45-yard reception. It was a particularly great effort by Brown, who caught the ball in triple coverage.
The drive was capped off by a short touchdown run from running back Javorius Allen. It also opened the door for the Ravens to potentially make it a one-score game.
Baltimore's defense couldn't make the stop though, as Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw his fourth touchdown of the half to Tyler Boyd to make it 28-7. Though Flacco connected with rookie tight end Mark Andrews to make it 28-14 at halftime, there was still a sense that the Ravens were fortunate to have it be just a two-touchdown game.
Ultimately, it was a hole that was just too big for the Ravens to climb out of.
"When you play like crap in the first half in all three phases, then that's just going to happen," safety Eric Weddle said. "You dig yourself a hole. So hopefully C.J. won't be out too long, but we battled back and fought our tails off in the second half. It's too far of a hole when you don't play the way you're supposed to play."
Bengals Win Trenches and Turnover Battles: Football games are won in the trenches and by creating turnovers. The Bengals came away with the advantage in both areas last night.
On defense, the Bengals registered eight quarterback hits and four sacks. The Ravens offensive line struggled to keep the Cincinnati's defensive line in check, particularly defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who finished with five tackles and two sacks.
"Atkins' two first half sacks and steady disruption up front kept the Ravens off balance from the get go," PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz wrote. "With the Pro Bowl defensive tackle leading the way, Cincinnati won the early battle in the trenches and handcuffed a Baltimore offense that racked up 44 points in the season opener."
Getting to Flacco was also key in the Bengals jumping out to their first quarter advantage.
On the other side of the ball, the Ravens managed just four quarterback hits and zero sacks. It was a stark difference from last week when the Ravens constantly got into the Bills' backfield, which led to better quarterback play from Dalton than Buffalo's Nathan Peterman.
"The Cincinnati quarterback settled into a nice groove with the time afforded to him in the pocket," Kasinitz wrote. "One week after the Ravens' defense sacked Bills' quarterbacks six times in a blowout win, a poor pass rush doomed the team Thursday."
"The big guys up front didn't score the points, but they had a big hand in the Bengals win," PressBox's Bo Smolka wrote.
In the turnovers department, the Ravens finished at -3, as Flacco threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. The issue of turnovers and stifling the Bengals' pass rush go hand-in-hand though – Flacco's arm was hit by defensive end Carlos Dunlap while throwing his second interception, and he was on the run from multiple Bengals when he fumbled.
On defense, the Ravens were unable to create any turnovers of their own. Baltimore led the NFL with 34 forced turnovers in 2017, so it's surprising the defense couldn't produce one in Cincinnati. Considering how well the Ravens did in that department last year, it's doubtful this will become a common occurrence.
"The slow start of the offense and the three turnovers shouldn't obscure the fact that the Ravens' defense didn't force a single turnover or even record a sack," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "That's no way to win a road game against a division rival."
Ravens Commit Costly Penalties: The Bengals actually lost the penalties battle with nine flags for 92 yards. Though the Ravens finished with seven penalties for 72 yards, their flags were more decisive than the Bengals'.
"The Ravens defense shot themselves in the foot with penalties, committing four on third-down, three of which extended drives," Pro Football Focus wrote.
The first big penalty was a pass interference on safety Tony Jefferson in the end zone, which placed the Bengals one the 1-yard line. The Bengals eventually converted to give them their first touchdown.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was flagged for illegal hands to the face on third down, which extended a drive that led to Cincinnati's third touchdown. In the fourth quarter, cornerback Tavon Young was also flagged for a defensive holding on a third down which the Bengals ultimately converted into a field goal.
"When the Bengals weren't converting key first downs, the Ravens were gift-wrapping them with untimely penalties," Zrebiec wrote.
Resilient Ravens Almost Match Franchise's Largest Comeback: For all that went against the Ravens early Thursday night, the team showed a lot of heart by working themselves back into the contest. After going down 28-7, the Ravens scored 16 unanswered points to make it a five-point game in the fourth quarter.
The momentum started to switch in the third quarter when the defense limited Cincinnati to a three-and-out on its first drive. As Fox 45's Bruce Cunningham noted, "That's exactly what they needed."
The Ravens then had a 28-yard drive to set up Justin Tucker for a 55-yard kick to make it 28-17.
The defense came up with three straight stops after that, completely flipping what had happened in the first half. After scoring touchdowns on four straight drives during the first half, the Bengals all of a sudden hadn't scored in five straight possessions.
The Ravens managed to cut into the Bengals lead after a 12-play, 87-yard drive that was capped by a beautiful 21-yard Brown touchdown grab.
That's where the Ravens comeback ended though, as Cincinnati kicked two more field goals to finish off the game.
"Give the Ravens some credit for hanging around in a game that looked like it was getting away," Russell Street Report's Ryan Jones wrote.
C.J. Mosley Loss Proves Key
Baltimore's defense looked to be off to a strong start Thursday night after forcing the Bengals into a quick three-and-out, but that early momentum vanished quickly after Mosley limped off the field after the third play of the drive. Mosley went to the Ravens medical tent before being driven to the locker room on a cart.
As all this was happening off the field, on the field the Bengals were building their first quarter lead.
Though the defense was eventually able to regroup after halftime, the players noted after the game that Mosley not being on the field was a difficult adjustment.
Not only does Mosley make a lot of tackles, excel in pass coverage and force turnovers, but he's also essentially the quarterback for the defense, relaying what plays the coaches want to run to other players. He's had that job since his rookie season.
According to Kasinitz, that duty fell to inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor for the rest of the first half, and then safety Eric Weddle after halftime. Though Weddle was quick to say communication didn't factor into the defense's play during the first half, Zrebiec asked "Did the Ravens err in not immediately having Weddle wear the helmet with the headset that Mosley normally wears?"
The Ravens defense definitely settled down in the second half, giving up just six points after 28 in the first half. Weddle said he likes the job, and used to do it in San Diego.
With Mosley leaving the field on a cart, pundits began to theorize about how serious his injury was. After he got an MRI at the stadium, the Ravens later announced Mosley suffered a bone bruise and there's no ligament damage.
Though it's good that Mosley's season isn't over, Smolka pointed out, "losing Mosley, who has missed just two games in his career, for any extensive stretch would be a major loss."
"Inside linebacker is the Ravens thinnest position," Smolka wrote. "In Mosley's absence, the Bengals attacked the middle of the field, and the Ravens can expect more of that."
The Ravens have Onwuasor, as well as rookies Kenny Young and Chris Board on the roster. Young took Mosley's snaps once he left and did well, finishing with eight tackles.
Depending on how long Mosley is out, Zrebiec believes the "Ravens would at least consider re-signing veteran ILB Albert McClellan."
McClellan was cut from the Ravens roster on Sept. 1 after being with the team since 2010. Though he wouldn't slot in as starting inside linebacker, McClellan could provide cover at the position and contribute on defense. McClellan is also a favorite of Baltimore's coaching staff, and would be able to fit seamlessly into the team's plans without an adjustment period.
Once again though, it doesn't look like Mosley should miss too much time.
John Brown Continues to Excel
In case you haven't noticed, wide receiver John Brown's name has already been mentioned a couple times. That's because Brown was a bright spot for the offense Thursday night, catching four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.
"John Brown gives the Ravens an element they've not had since 2014," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote.
After an excellent preseason, Brown's 136 total receiving yards leads the Ravens. He's caught two touchdown passes, and could've had a third had he not dropped a short-range bullet from Flacco in the second quarter.
To Walker, what Brown has given the Ravens is the ability to fight for deep balls that the team has sorely lacked since 2014 when Steve Smith Sr retired. Last year, the Ravens offense finished last in the NFL in plays of over 20 yards with 29. Brown had two last night, and is currently averaging 19.4 yards per catch in 2018.
"It's still too early to say Brown can produce like 2014 Smith," Walker wrote. "Flacco targeted him 10 times against the Bengals, and he came away with just four catches. But two of those were spectacular plays in traffic that kept the Ravens within shouting distance."
Speaking of Smith, an entertaining moment happened during the NFL Network pregame show between Smith and Michael Irvin. With Smith sitting just a few feet away, Irvin said Flacco hasn't had a trusted wide receiver since Anquan Boldin. In true Smith fashion, he wasn't going to let that one slide.
PFF Offense and Defense Rankings
· Three Ravens on offense tied for a 0.8 PFF grade, which was the top mark for the unit during the game: running back Javorius Allen, right guard Marshal Yanda and rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., who had a strong 12-snap cameo at the end of the game after left tackle Ronnie Stanley left early (injury unknown).
· Rookie tight end Mark Andrews, who caught his first career NFL touchdown, finished right behind the trio with a 0.7 grade.
· Flacco was at the bottom of the rankings for the offense with a -4.7 mark. Left guard Alex Lewis was next with a -4.3 grade, while Stanley finished with a -2.7 mark.
· Defensive tackle Michael Pierce finished atop the defense's ranking with a 4.8 score. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had a 2.3 mark, and safety Eric Weddle had a 2.1 grade to round out the top three.
· Inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor was rated the lowest by PFF with a -3.5 grade. Cornerback Tavon Young scored a -2.3 mark, while outside linebacker Matthew Judon was next with a -1.6 score.
· Former running back Jamal Lewis was featured on the NFL Network talking about his life since retiring from football.
· The Ravens jersey combination of white tops with purple pants created some buzz on social media, and The Baltimore Sun's C.J. Doon is already "hoping we get to see the new purple pants with the black jersey sometime soon."