Not what we had in mind
After an offseason that saw the Ravens brass clean house of the offensive personnel, we had hoped that the days of a 30th ranked rushing game, an inefficient passing game, and spotty o-line play were behind us. Well, if you watched the first half of today’s game, you would think it was tape from one of last season’s games.
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The Ravens failed to produce anything noteworthy on their first drives of the season. After a six play drive resulting in a punt, the Ravens went three and out on the next two drives, thanks in large part to a case of stone hands that plagued the receiving corps.
Bernard Pierce picked up right where the running game left off last year, rushing for just 14 yards on six carries in the first half, and a costly fumble leading to three more Bengals points. There were some opportunities to make a guy miss that would have led to a big play, but he was brought down too easily, and it led to his being benched for the second half.
The first half came to an end in fitting fashion with a mental error by Flacco. With eight seconds to go and in the red zone, he used all of the time left to try to turn a well-defended play by Cincy into a TD, instead of throwing it away and settling for three. They needed to do something to get on the board down 15-0 at this point.
Credit the Ravens defense for holding Cincinnati out of the endzone in the first half, and not getting totally worn down after spending over 20 out of 30 minutes on the field. They also held Gio Bernard to just 20 yards on eight carries to start the game.
The loss of Lardarius Webb may have been felt. The Ravens didn’t give up the big play early on, but Andy Dalton was in a groove completing 18 of 24 passes for 147 yards in the first half.
Baltimore blocked what would have been Mike Nugent’s sixth field goal of the game. It appeared that that could have been the spark they needed to get back in the game, but Steve Smith quickly dropped his third pass on the day, and Joe Flacco threw his first INT of the season on the very next play.
Pierce’s inability to break tackles, and his fumble sent him to the bench in favor of Justin Forsett for the second half. Forsett has experience playing in this system and it showed as he hit the holes hard, and was able to find his way into the endzone late in the third quarter, cutting the lead to 15-7. The Ravens runners also were able to take advantage of Cincinnati losing their leading tackler, Vontaze Burfict, to a concussion.
Forsett was key in getting the Ravens back into the ball game. His carries often put the Ravens in manageable second and third downs. He did his part on an early fourth quarter drive, putting the Ravens in scoring range, as Justin Tucker’s first field goal of the season cut into the Bengals lead once again, 15-10.
Ravens fans got their first lesson in Gary Kubiak’s west coast offense in this game on their next possession. Short pass after short pass after short pass, until eventually, bang. They catch the secondary cheating the short routes, and Steve Smith gets behind the defense, a well thrown ball by Flacco leads to a 16-15 go-ahead TD of 80 yards.
The celebration was short lived when on the ensuing drive A.J. Green beat the Ravens defense for a long TD of his own. Green was held in check all day until this point. One of the keys to the game was to not give up the big play. This held true as it was this big play that put the game out of reach for Baltimore, 23-16 Bengals, following the two point conversion. Green finished with six catches for 131 yards and that TD on the day.
Chykie Brown was tasked with covering Green on this play, and it was a typical poor day for him. Brown on numerous occasions didn’t get his head around quick enough to find the ball. In fact, Brown might have had two interceptions if he gets his head around. It’s a recurring problem for him. After Green beat him, it was Darian Stewart who made a very poor attempt at a tackle to keep Green from walking in to the endzone.
On the final drive of the game, Flacco did a nice job moving the Ravens down the field, putting them in position to potentially tie the game and send it into overtime. Two consecutive sacks on third and fourth down near the red zone was the final straw. On the final play, the Bengals sent the house on 4th and 9, overloading the right side of the line. They rushed five men on just three blockers, and two men, untouched had a free run at Joe. Flacco needed to see that alignment. Change the play, immediately roll out to the left, anything with the game on the line. If he didn’t see that coming, he needs to have his eyes checked because everyone watching saw the stacked line. After a first half where Flacco posted just 78 yards through the air, he finished with 345 yards. He also had a career high 35 completions, but on 62 attempts. 62 attempts matches Flacco’s career high that he set in week 1 of 2013 in Denver.
The Ravens beat themselves in this one, plain and simple. Once the offense finally started to gel and they started to put together some decent drives, it was too little too late. In this game they put together two drives of 13 plays with zero points to show for it. They held onto the ball for 20 minutes in the second half, just like the Bengals did in the first half.
You can’t drop as many balls as the Ravens did, lose the turnover battle (2-0), make the mental errors, and start off as slow as the Ravens did and expect to win the game.
The good news is that the turnaround is fast this week with the Steelers coming to town in four days. We won’t need to dwell on this one. If Forsett gets the start, and the offense is efficient like it was in the second half for a whole game, or most of a game, I think they’ll be ok. I like a lot of what I saw, it’s just that the execution wasn’t always there. The Ravens ran 53 plays in the second half compared to 34 in the first half. Despite the loss, there we’re some positives to take away from it as we move forward.
Dalton: 25/38, 65.79%, 301 yds, 1 TD
Bernard: 14 att, 48 yds, 6 rec, 62 yds
Green: 6 rec, 131 yds, 1 TD
Ravens Stats w/ gRBZ (0.0 = average, over 1.0 is good)
Flacco: 35/62, 56.45%, 345 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT, gRBZ: 0.4022
Forsett: 11 att, 70 yds, 1 TD, 5 rec, 14 yds, gRBZ: TBD
Pierce: 6 att, 14 yds, gRBZ: -0.9543
S. Smith: 7 rec, 118 yds, 1 TD, gRBZ: 1.145
Pitta: 10 rec (career high), 83 yds, gRBZ: 1.48
Aiken: 4 rec, 30 yds
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]