Ravens With an Early Season Statement Victory
The pundits en masse expected the Cincinnati Bengals to take advantage of a depleted Ravens offensive line and secondary to right their ship. But after a strong offensive performance coupled with a sturdy defensive game plan executed to slow down the Bengals' stars, the Ravens left Paycor Stadium with a well-earned and well-celebrated victory, 27-24.
The win has many singing the praises of what this game meant now and down the road for the 2023 season.
Baltimore Beatdown’s Vasilis Lericos: "Statement win all the way around. Head coach John Harbaugh took an injury ravaged squad into enemy territory and out-executed the defending AFC North champs. Efficient offense, swarming and opportunistic defense equaled Ravens football at its finest. There's a long, grueling season ahead, but this Week 2 'W' will reverberate down the stretch run."
Russell Street Report’s Darin McCann: "That was a big win today. Forget the injuries. Forget last year's playoff loss. The Ravens won a road game against a serious contender in both their division and conference, and that's what matters most."
According to NBC Sports’ Peter King, the celebration from Harbaugh in the postgame revealed the importance of the win.
"This is John Harbaugh's 16th year coaching the Ravens. Entering Sunday's game at the Bengals, he had 159 victories; only 24 coaches had more," King wrote. "That's a lot of wins; one was a Super Bowl victory over his brother. But I haven't seen many wins that produced this much emotion in Harbaugh. He hugged coaches, slapped and shook hands with coaches and players, and wore a grin he just couldn't wipe off his face."
King offered his theories on why Harbaugh's stoic mask was taken off for a few moments.
"Two other points: Baltimore's not only 2-0, but 2-0 in the AFC, with a two-game edge (plus the tiebreaker) over the favorite to win the division, Cincinnati. And they did it with five starters missing. This could be a brutal division, top to bottom, and this morning, Baltimore's got the edge," King wrote.
While the win is significant, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec holds the Ravens and their expectations to their historical standard, saying it's not enough, yet.
"For a team with a championship pedigree like the Ravens, Week 2 is probably too early to register a statement win," Zrebiec wrote. "However, the team's reaction on the sideline when Edwards' run iced a 27-24 victory over the Bengals and secured a 2-0 start — and the mood in a celebratory and steamy visiting locker room at Paycor Stadium — said it all."
It would appear Zrebiec has the same line of thinking as Lamar Jackson.
Lamar Jackson Showing Strides in New Offense
The Ravens offense didn't set the gridiron ablaze in Week 1 after the national spotlight was hyper fixated on the new-look offense under Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken. But in Week 2, Jackson and the offense got to work, and pundits are seeing Jackson settle in.
NFL.com’s Nick Shook: "Although Baltimore won in Week 1, Jackson's outing that day wasn't entirely memorable. That's to be expected of a quarterback operating in a new offense. But on Sunday, Jackson started to flourish in Todd Monken's system. He tossed multiple beautiful passes, including a majestic missile downfield to rookie Zay Flowers for 52 yards (leading to a Mark Andrews touchdown grab), but his best pass came on a pivotal possession early in the fourth quarter. After watching a similar pass to Devin Duvernay fall incomplete earlier in the drive, Jackson dropped a gorgeous dime on Nelson Agholor on third down, pushing Baltimore's lead to 10. The score proved pivotal, as the Ravens held onto a three-point lead in the final minutes, thanks in part to Jackson's scrambling ability. Jackson made a few mistakes, but he was better in Week 2 than he was in Week 1. And Baltimore likely doesn't win without his rare talent."
NFL.com’s Judy Battista: "This week, the offense was at full boil, with Jackson looking comfortable standing in the pocket and surveying the field, an injury-riddled offensive line offering ample time (zero sacks and just one quarterback hurry allowed) and Jackson completing passes to seven different pass catchers. The best of the throws was a perfectly lofted 17-yard beauty that dropped over Nelson Agholor's left shoulder – and a trailing defender – for a fourth-quarter touchdown. It was the kind of throw that should be shown on a loop the next time a question about Jackson's ability as a passer flares up."
Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame: "Lamar Jackson looked far more comfortable this weekend in Todd Monken's offense. Even without star linemen Tyler Linderbaum and Ronnie Stanley, Jackson threw for 237 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another 57. He was the star Baltimore needed to notch a key divisional win over the struggling Bengals."
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley: "Baltimore was without six injured starters, but it had a healthy Lamar Jackson. It was Jackson's clutch play that led Baltimore to beat the Bengals on the road. In the second half, Jackson threw two touchdown passes on third down and then helped seal the victory with a 12-yard scramble on third down."
Baltimore Beatdown’s Joshua Reed: "Fueled by a dynamic outing from franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson, both through the air and on the ground, their balanced offensive attack was too much for the two-time defending AFC North champions to handle at times and for stretches."
Monken's Offense Recognized for Its Versatility
With the Ravens adding numerous receiving weapons this offseason and a coordinator known for airing it out, the branding this offseason expected a hefty amount of generating pass production. But Monken's system hasn't forced the ball into situations unnecessarily. Rather, the malleable coordinating of Monken has delivered two straight games with 25+ points and done so in a variety of ways, as noticed by NFL.com’s Nick Shook.
"The strength of Baltimore's offense under Monken might be versatility," Shook wrote. "Take the second half, for example. Odell Beckham Jr. exited due to injury, and instead of starting to slow down, Jackson simply leaned on the teammates available to him. Agholor made a semi-significant contribution, Flowers had another nice outing and Rashod Bateman got involved. Andrews made a big catch on second-and-23 to help Baltimore earn a first down on the next play during what was the most important scoring drive of the afternoon. Baltimore distributed carries almost evenly, with Gus Edwards and Justice Hill tallying 10 and 11, respectively, for a combined total of 103 yards. Add in Jackson's 12 totes for 54 yards and you have a well-rounded, if not spectacular, offense. That's winning football."
Shook is far from the only one to notice the Ravens offense playing to all their strengths.
"The new-look offense proved it can have an effective passing attack led by Lamar Jackson. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill proved they can be an efficient duo at running back," The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon wrote. "The offensive line proved it can hold up without left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum, clearing the way on the game-ending drive."
The Ravens' versatility is impressive, but what PFF’s Gordon McGuinness recognized was their efficiency in moving the football compared to the Bengals.
"The story of the day was how the Ravens were more efficient than the Bengals, finding success in the passing game and on the ground, where Justice Hill, Gus Edwards and Lamar Jackson all ran for 40-plus yards," McGuinness wrote. "Jackson went 24-of-33 for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the air, averaging 7.2 yards per attempt."
According to CBS Sports’ Bryan DeArdo, the Ravens earned an "A" Grade on offense due to their "well-balanced attack."
"The Ravens set the tone on the game's opening drive when they took nearly eight minutes off the clock. From there, John Harbaugh's team played complementary football while taking advantage of the Bengals' miscues. On offense, the Ravens employed a well-balanced attack that put Lamar Jackson in mostly manageable third-down situations."
King: Geno Stone Earns Defensive Player of the Week
To step in for one of the NFL's best free safeties and minimize the gap was a tall ask for safety Geno Stone on Sunday; though it's not foreign to him. He did so last season due to a wrist injury safety Marcus Williams sustained. But Stone went further, going from minimizing the loss to maximizing his playmaking, and for that, King pens him down for one of his defensive players of the week.
"With the Ravens ravaged by injury (sound familiar?), Stone stepped into his ninth NFL start Sunday in Cincinnati for injured safety Marcus Williams and made the play of the game," King wrote. "On the first series of the third quarter, with Baltimore up 13-10, Joe Burrow was driving for the go-ahead TD. From the Baltimore 17-yard line, he threw for Tee Higgins in the end zone—and Stone stepped in the path of the throw and picked it off at the two-yard line. His 36-yard return helped set up a Baltimore touchdown. So instead of being down 17-13, the pick helped the Ravens go up 20-10. Burrow's take afterward: 'Really good play by him. Good disguise.'"
While Stone and the Ravens enjoyed his interception, the 24-year-old felt he could've made a house call had he not stepped out of bounds.
He got a bit of teasing from former Ravens running back Mark Ingram II for stepping out, too.
Pundits Credit Coaching and Depth Players
Coming into Sunday's game, the Ravens ruled out cornerback Marlon Humphrey, safety Marcus Williams, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum. They are also without J.K. Dobbins who suffered a torn Achilles in Week 1. According to PFF's Amelia Probst, the Ravens have the most Wins Above Replacement (WAR) lost due to injury (excluding quarterbacks).
Yet, they have won two games and looked formidable in both contests, which has Russell Street Report’s Nikhil Mehta crediting the coaching staff and players who stepped in for the absent and injured starters.
"We've talked a lot about the high-end roster pieces this offseason, but today's game was a testament to the Ravens' coaching and depth," Mehta wrote. "This is the kind of game they've managed to stay in with a myriad of injuries in past years, and they finally came away with a W this time."
Russell Street Report’s Jared Pinder noticed the same and gave credit to the two offensive linemen by name.
"Huge shoutout to Patrick Mekari and Sam Mustipher, who absolutely held down and didn't allow a sack on Lamar today despite facing a deadly Cincy d-line," Pinder wrote.