Let the record officially show the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals were the superior on-field product compared to the 2021 Baltimore Ravens.
Two games. Two locations. Two different groups of players at key positions for the Ravens between the two games. Two Sunday afternoons of the Bengals boat-racing the Ravens up and down the field.
The Ravens were missing a lot of key pieces today, as they have all season — today just seemed, more “yikes,” even before kickoff, as Covid and injury updates did nothing to help on the optimism side of things. Once kickoff came, well… things didn’t get much better.
Let’s give out some grades.
Scoring 21 points on the road, with 334 yards of offense, isn’t awful. It’s probably a bit below average, if we’re being honest. I’m giving them slightly above average for the day, largely because of being 6-11 on third downs, and a nice display of the depth the Ravens have in the receiving game. No curve given for personnel issues with the offensive grade. This is just about about production and performance: slightly above average.
I am, however, giving Josh Johnson a bit of a curve here because of his lack of practice or tenure with the team before being called upon today for a road start in a big divisional tilt. Johnson mostly made good decisions, was on time with his throws and smartly threw the ball away. He missed Marquise Brown deep early in the third quarter, but hit some big-time third-down tosses, and posted more than 300 yards on 40 passes. That’s good, especially considering the dish he was served here. The interception was ugly, but it was late and he was trying to push it downfield.
Running Backs: D+
Devonta Freeman had a gutty touchdown run, and Latavius Murray can run through a crease if it’s open for him at the snap. Neither of them did anything to kill the team out there today. It was just uninspiring and didn’t help out the team very much. It is what it is here.
For years, this has been a spot of frustration for both the Ravens and their fans, but it’s probably the best unit left standing on this year’s team, and we’re certainly including Mark Andrews with this. Andrews had another remarkable performance, putting up a great touchdown catch among his eight catches for 125 yards. James Proche showed his summer form, grabbing seven balls for 76 yards. Brown got open deep once, but did much of his damage on short routes again. Tylan Wallace had a great catch-and-run for a first down. Rashod Bateman started out looking he was going to have a dominant game, but disappeared mostly after that opening drive.
After making four catches on the Ravens opening drive, Rashod Bateman didn't have a catch the rest of the game.
James Proche finished with a career-high seven catches (76 yards).
— Bo Smolka (@bsmolka) December 26, 2021
Offensive Line: B-
Alejandro Villanueva got abused on a sack by Trey Hendrickson, and the Ravens ran for less than 40 yards on the day, but I didn’t think they played that poorly. Kevin Zeitler made several nice blocks, and I thought Ben Cleveland largely did a nice job being “in the way” on a couple positive plays by the Ravens that I noticed. Johnson plays the pocket like a seasoned vet, but it looked largely clean back there.
Again, there is no curve for the general defensive grade, as there was none for the offensive side. We all know what the team was up against today in terms of both opponent and personnel. But 575 yards and 41 points, well, those are big numbers. The defense failed today, even if there were a couple nice performances.
Defensive Line: B-
The Ravens held Joe Mixon to 65 yards on 18 carries, and Broderick Washington, to my eye, was active all day. Isaiah Mack also won more of his fights than he lost, and this unit was not the problem today. Shorthanded, this unit played well again, and it helps with some of the optimism anticipated with this unit next season when these young guys show up consistently.
Patrick Queen had another productive day, and single-handedly stopped the Bengals on their opening drive with a tackle-for-loss and pass-breakup on consecutive plays to force a field goal. Josh Bynes did well in the run game, and Tyus Bowser looked good in coverage a few times that I noticed. Very little splash out of this undermanned unit today.
Defensive Backs: In-School Suspension
Football is a team sport, and it’s hard to put the blame on any one person, officiating decision or unit. But this one fell on this unit.
Joe Burrow threw for 525 yards and four touchdowns, and looked accurate and in-control all day. But he didn’t have to make a lot of “wow” throws out there, did he? This was a case of a good quarterback, operating like a seasoned vet playing against a defensive backfield that provided about as much resistance as me to that ninth slice of pumpkin pie Saturday night. Let’s give a tip of our collective cap to Tony Jefferson, however. He made some nice open-field tackles, had a sack and momentarily brought back fond memories of bullies in the backfield. Anthony Averett’s injury did not help, but… yikes.
Special Teams: C-
Justin tucker kicked three extra points, and Sam Koch had three decent punts. That is average. James Proche muffed a kick return, which pinned the Ravens back on an early drive. Yawn today.
They got smoked today. The product on the field was not good, and ultimately that falls on the people that put them out there. But I’m not giving them an “F.” They tried a smart, safe offense with Johnson at quarterback. That made sense. They played a lot of zone on defense. They didn’t have a choice with their defensive backs. I get it. It’s just that nothing worked out all that great. My one big gripe would be — even knowing the Ravens threw 40 passes — that they should have simply thrown more. The receivers are the best part of the team. They should have had the ball in their hands all day, in my opinion, particularly Bateman.