Five thoughts on the Ravens' 34-23 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night at Paul Brown Stadium:
After the undefeated preseason and 44-point win in Week 1, the 2018 season was beginning to feel like a fantasyland for the Ravens. But a dose of reality is inevitable in the NFL, and it came furiously early in this game. Shaken by the loss of C.J. Mosley to an injury, the Ravens' defense was mistake-prone, a step (or two) slow and unable to make stops. The offense also was mistake-prone, with an early Joe Flacco interception setting the tone. Early in the second quarter, the Bengals were up by three touchdowns and it seemed the rout was on. To the Ravens' credit, they started moving the ball on offense, making stops on defense and rallied, cutting the margin to five points in the fourth quarter – an impressive surge on the road. But the Bengals were the better team on this night, certainly sharper on offense, and they reasserted themselves late. What's the headline from the Ravens' perspective? Back to reality.
After the Ravens announced at halftime that Mosley's injury was just a bone bruise, the sigh of relief among fans was almost audible. On the game's first series, Mosley jumped over an opponent, landed awkwardly and went to the sideline. He ended up being carted off the field with what looked like a knee injury, potentially a serious one. Needless to say, losing Mosley would be a devastating blow for a defense that aims to be one of the league's best in 2018. Although the player who replaced him, rookie Kenny Young, was solid with eight tackles, the defense struggled to adjust and gave up touchdowns on four straight possessions – a tough stretch, for sure, with the pass rush not getting home and the secondary struggling to cover. The unit settled down after that and made five straight third-down stops as the Ravens rallied. In the end, though, the Ravens didn't get enough pressure on the Bengals' Andy Dalton, who generated a triple-digit quarterback rating. Cincinnati's rebuilt offensive line was the difference, allowing zero sacks in the Bengals' quick-pass scheme.
When the Ravens' offense struggled early, it appeared their line was almost being overwhelmed. Flacco was sacked three times in the first half and many plays, both runs and passes, seemingly were unable to develop because of Cincinnati pressure. As the game wore on, the line tightened up and the offense began to roll, producing a pair of touchdown drives in the second quarter, a field goal early in the third quarter and another touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. But Flacco was under duress throughout, taking shots, dodging rushers, throwing while in the grasp. In the end, the Bengals registered four sacks and eight quarterback hits, which is a lot (the Ravens had half as many hits on Dalton). The Bengals have a talented and active defensive front, no question, with Geno Atkins leading the way, but the Ravens can't afford to have Flacco consistently under so much pressure going forward.
When the Ravens fell so far behind in the first half, there was no doubt they would have to rely on their passing game if they wanted to catch up. Predictably, that led to a sizable run-pass imbalance: Flacco dropped back to throw on 59 of the team's 81 snaps and attempted 55 passes. The Ravens would be the first ones to admit that isn't what they want, but the game dictated it, and hey, they cut a 21-point margin to five while throwing the ball so much. But the pass-heavy attack took the ball out of the hands of Alex Collins, who rushed nine times for 35 yards. That was too bad. Collins looked like he was on his "A" game Thursday night, running hard and breaking tackles; with three pass receptions for 55 yards, he had 90 total yards. But he only had a dozen touches, which seems low for an offense that snapped the ball 81 times.
Short takes: When the Bengals went over 25 points in the second quarter, you had to like their chances. They're now 42-1-2 since 2011 (when Dalton and receiver A.J. Green joined the team) when they score at least 25 points … For the record, I liked the purple pants and white tops … Tony Jefferson led the Ravens with nine total tackles … Of Flacco's two interceptions, one was (admittedly) his fault and one was caused by his taking a hit as he threw … Janarion Grant might be on a short leash after he fumbled on a punt return for the second straight game. Although the Ravens fell on the loose ball, the coaches simply won't tolerate turning the ball over on special teams … Two crucial third-down penalties enabled the Bengals to continue long touchdown drives. Both looked to be legit calls. In the first half, Terrell Suggs did appear to put a hand to the face of a Bengal blocking him. In the fourth quarter, Tavon Young did appear to put a hooking arm around the waist of a receiver on a third-down incompletion.