CINCINNATI BENGALS 17, BALTIMORE RAVENS 7
November 8, 2009
Ravens Must Concede: Bengals Simply Better.
There are going to be days when we can only shake our heads and admit we got our asses handed to us.
Sunday was one of those days for the fans, players, coaches, and broadcasters who witnessed the Ravens 17-7 loss to the Bengals. Hell, even the beer vendors could see the Bengals are simply the better team right now.
For a few days you will hear blame-game theories about which Ravens players need to sit, or which coaches need to be replaced, or which front office personnel have failed us. But when you get beyond the blame, you can only conclude the Bengals are simply playing better football.
How do we know this? Because we’ve seen two nearly identical performances between these two teams where the Ravens defense could not stop the Bengals running or passing attack, and they were lucky to hold their AFC North rivals to just 17 points in each of the two contests. Four weeks prior, in Baltimore, the Ravens had forced the Bengals to make a fourth quarter comeback, but Sunday in Cincinnati it was the Ravens trying to claw their way back in the end after falling behind miserably 17-0.
We know this loss has more to do with how well the Bengals are playing because just one week ago we saw the Ravens absolutely dominate the previously undefeated Broncos team. This is not a bad Ravens team. It is simply not as good as the very good Bengals.
The talent differences were clear. The Bengals controlled the line of scrimmage and protected their veteran quarterback, Carson Palmer, who is now 8-3 all time against the Ravens. Even when pressured and when no receiver is open, Palmer had the luxury of lobbing passes to players like Chad Ocho Cinco, who simply out muscled members of the Ravens secondary to gain position, leading to a catch or penalty flag. The difference is clear when watching the Ravens’ young passer Joe Flacco throw similar balls to covered receivers who quickly become defenders against a pair of impressive Bengals corners, Jonathan Joseph and Leon Hall.
While rushing four, or even three defenders, the Ravens’ well-populated secondary still looked out-manned trying to cover Bengals receivers who confidently loped between near-stationary, or stumbling defenders to haul in perfect tosses from Palmer. Contrast to the Ravens passing game, where the receivers and quarterback looked completely out of synch against the same Bengals two-deep scheme that had stymied them in Baltimore. As was the case in the earlier contest, the Bengals covered tightly and kept plays in front of them while exhibiting sure tackling.
If you want to point to one aspect, the game was won and lost based on the Bengals’ ability to convert their third down attempts (8-18, 44%), while sending the Ravens offense off the field on third downs (1-10, 10%). In fact, the Ravens didn’t convert a third down until nearly the two-minute warning. In the first half the Bengals had 42 plays to the Ravens 15; the difference in yards from scrimmage was 235 yards to 39. Time of possession: a symmetrical 20:00 for the Ravens versus 40:00 for the Bengals.
In the end, the 17-7 score didn’t begin to explain the difference in talent exhibited by the two teams. Sadly, the grades do.
This was probably Joe Flacco’s worst game as a pro, finishing 18/32 with 195 yards and two interceptions. Even those numbers were aided by improved fourth quarter play, finally. At halftime Flacco’s passer rating was 12. Flacco does typically start slowly, even in his best games. But he never recovered from this slow start. He forced throws high, behind receivers, or into the arms of Bengals defenders; he could have easily been charged with four interceptions.
Running Backs: B-
Ray Rice continues to be the team’s most reliable performer. His all-around game was typified by a second-half play where he made a difficult one-handed catch, turned, and cut around a tackler for a run of nine more yards. He squirmed free of tacklers for a first down on a play where he should have been stopped at the line. He showed more versatility in taking a pitch on a mis-direction call for a first down run late in the game. And a good second-effort at the goal line led to his team’s only touchdown. He was the team’s leading receiver with 87 yards on the day. Still, at halftime Rice only had ten yards rushing. Le’Ron McClain had two catches for five and 19 yards. His two short-yardage runs produced two yards.
Wide Receivers: D-
Derrick Mason was held without a catch four weeks ago against the Bengals. Sunday he had three key drops and was credited with just three catches, despite being targeted 13 times by his quarterback. Mark Clayton was no better in fighting for position to haul in contested passes, and finished with just one 15-yard catch. Kelley Washington surely wanted to return to Cincinnati, where he started his career, and put on a big show, but he did not see a lot of action with the Ravens running a lot of two back sets.
Tight Ends: C+
Todd Heap had three catches on the day, including a nice catch and run to start the fourth quarter. Typical of the Ravens frustrating day, however, was a catch over the middle one-yard short of the first-down markers, where he was brought down at the spot of the catch.
At times, thanks to help from one or both of the running backs staying back to block, protection from Michael Oher and Jared Gaither was adequate. Most of the pressure on Flacco was late, with receivers covered downfield. But there were mistakes by both tackles to contribute to the four Bengals sacks on the day, even with defensive end Antwan Odom out for the year. Gaither was inconsistent in his run blocking, getting great push near the goal, but playing sloppy in the middle of the field to allow Frostee Rucker to blow up a running play. The two collected three questionable penalties.
Interior Line: C+
This group lacked consistency, but at times played well. Chris Chester showed surprising strength on a couple of occasions with man-up run blocking. But he failed to hold blocks at other times, notably allowing Tan Johnson to run around him and stuff Rice and get to Flacco as well. Ben Grubbs was knocked off the ball at times, but was better at the second level. He also sealed Pat Sims to allow Rice to scramble by for his TD run.
Both starters were prone to falling down and allowing easy completions. Fabian Washington could not cover Ocho Cinco, or Chris Henry. That included a hand-check on Cinco that was flagged to extend a drive. It also included a play where he lined up five yards off of Henry to allow a completed slant, where both players left the field with injuries. That ushered in Lardarius Webb, who impressed enough to save the group from a failing grade. Webb showed great aggressiveness and tackling ability. It will be interesting to see if he has ball skills if he is asked to start against the Browns. Chris Carr could not cover Laveranues Coles.
Dawan Landry appears to be hesitating rather than reading and reacting to plays. He was slow to gang tackle on a run where Cedric Benson popped outside for a first down. He also fell down in the hole to allow Benson to run past him for another long gain. On the play where Henry and Washington tangled, Landry lined up near the line of scrimmage and provided neither blitz pressure nor inside support on the slant; he was left in limbo as if he expected a receiver in the flat who never came. Lined up on the opposite side, he was late calling signals at the snap, which caused him to be slow reacting and covering in the flat. Ed Reed is tackling as if he has no right arm, seemingly because of his neck issues. At one point he allowed Coles to gain 32 yards on a play that should have been stopped for a short gain. Coles also ran past Reed on a reverse. He positively contributed with a strip of Ocho Cinco for a key fumble recovery. A pass interference call on Landry erased another fumble by 85.
Tavares Gooden looked lost at times. His poor read of the backfield action put him out of position to make play, which allowed Benson to run for ten yards. He was slow to pick up Jeremi Johnson out of the backfield for what should have been a touchdown catch. He similarly missed the tight end in the flat for a first down catch. His best showing was a zone blitz up the middle that utilized his speed. In limited action Jameel McClain showed strong penetration at goalline to stop a run. Ray Lewis was motivated but inconsistent, including a poor dive and miss to allow Brian Leonard to run past him for a first down.
Defensive Line: D
The front four struggled attacking the Bengals’ zone rushing scheme. Even when there was penetration by players like Kelly Talavou and Terrell Suggs, Cedric Benson’s patient running style allowed him to cut back and find openings where a Ravens defender had over-ran the play, particularly Kelly Gregg. In addition to missing Haloti Ngata, when Trevor Pryce was knocked out of the game the Ravens were forced to give extended reps to Justin Bannan and even Edgar Jones, with limited effectiveness. Jarrett Johnson was forced to play on the interior on a goal line stancd, and was outmatched as Benson ran by for a score. One bright spot was Dwan Edwards who penetrated well and stretched to force Benson back inside later in the game.
Special Teams: D
When Steve Hauschka missed a 38 yarder the game was essentially over. But the loss can hardly be pinned on him. His kick-offs did not travel as far as they had the week prior. Despite a shoulder injury, Matt Katula snapped well, except for a bounce to punter Sam Koch who fielded the ball quickly to get a good punt off. On five attempts, Koch averaged 50 yards, with a net of 41. Matt Lawrence was flagged with holding on a return to drive the team back near the goal line. Le’Ron McClain was lax on a return to allow Lardarius Webb to be stopped without much of a gain. His best return was 33 yards.
The defense never figured out how to stop the Bengals. They did become more aggressive in the second half, which was good to see, but by then the Bengals were nursing a 17-point lead and a shut out. While you would like to have seen Gregg Mattison come in with a more attacking scheme, it’s hard to pin all the results on him when his players were not executing a supposed vanilla approach. On offense, it’s also hard to judge the coaching. With Flacco playing poorly and the Ravens quickly down two scores, they became predictably predictable. You can, however, question whether they abandoned the run and short throws too quickly. There was a very good challenge of Ocho Cinco’s catch out of bounds.
Rookie ref Alberto Riveron and his crew were calling a decent game into the second half. That’s when they started to slip. There was too much discussion of the correct call after Brandon Johnson jumped into neutral zone. Overall, this crew really struggled with consistency. Early in the game they completely ignored obvious holding calls on both sides. Jeremi Johnson blatantly held Lardarius Webb on a run. Reed was held. Trevor Pryce, Edgar Jones, and Jarrett Johnson were all clearly held at times on the interior. The interior of the Ravens line was guilty of some holds as well. So the officials were consistent. Then, suddenly as the fourth quarter drew near, the crew flagged less obvious holding calls on Jared Gaither. Similarly, Dawan Landry and Fabian Washington were flagged for pass interference for hand checking Bengals receivers. Yet, Jonathan Joseph was allowed to employ the same technique twice while guarding Clayton and Mason while not looking back for the ball. There was also a terrible spot at the end of a Brian Leonard run that required a Ravens challenge. And a strange offsides call against the Bengals that would have been better termed 12 men on the field.
Dick Enberg and Dan Fouts work off of each other fairly well. They sound natural. Unfotunately, Enberg still makes a number of incorrect statements that are distracting to the listener, like misidentifying players, or calling the 42 yard line the 32. Or, for instance, claiming the play clock had expired when it had not. Or, bringing up the old rule about pushing receivers out of bounds when Foxworth had really not done enough to constitute a push-out anyway. These were a handful of small errors, though, that paled in comparison to the large gaffes committed by the Ravens all game long.
Baltimore now needs to take advantage of a semi-bye in Cleveland to keep their season on the positive side of the ledger. Will “win one for Kokinis” will be their battle cry? At this point, “just win, baby” seems more likely.