CINCINNATI — Going into the 2017 season, high expectations surrounded the Baltimore Ravens defense. On Sunday, the unit lived up to the hype, causing five turnovers and shutting out the Cincinnati Bengals in a 20-0 rout. The win gives the Ravens their first victory in Cincinnati since January 1, 2012, and records their first shutout since Nov. 16, 2009 against the Browns.
Four different defenders – Brandon Carr, C.J. Mosley, Lardarius Webb, and Jimmy Smith picked off Andy Dalton. Baltimore’s defense limited Dalton to 170 passing yards, which, apart from a 78-yard partial performance in 2012, marks Dalton’s lowest passing yards total against the Ravens.
The other turnover transpired about four minutes into the third quarter, when Terrell Suggs strip-sacked Dalton, and Michael Pierce recovered the football. Suggs finished the game with two sacks, which he last accomplished last on Nov. 27, 2016 against, you guessed it, the Bengals. Along with Suggs, Tony Jefferson, Pierce, and Za’Darius Smith knocked Dalton down in the Bengals’ backfield once. Shortly after Z. Smith’s sack, he left the game in painful fashion with a knee sprain. He did not return.
As a unit, the Ravens defense restricted the Bengals to four third down conversions (13 attempts). The Bengals averaged 3.8 yards-per-play, and never reached the red zone. Tony Jefferson led the Birds with nine tackles (five solo, one for loss), and Mosley followed with eight (five solo, one for loss).
The dominance by the defense, particularly in the turnovers department, gave the Ravens outstanding field position to work with. However, coming off turnovers, the Ravens’ offense punted three times. With five offensive drives beginning off turnovers, Baltimore tallied 10 points. If that number rises in the coming weeks, the Ravens will win games against teams like the Steelers and the Raiders.
As expected, the offense did just enough to come out on top. With several veterans missing significant time in training camp, week 1 served as a preseason-like game for the unit. On his first in-game drive since week 17 against Cincinnati in January, Joe Flacco marched the offense on a 13-play, 57-yard drive that resulted in a Justin Tucker field goal to put the Ravens up 3-0.
Along the way, newly-acquired running back Danny Woodhead caught three passes for 33 yards, but left the game after pulling his left hamstring. Woodhead, coming off a torn ACL suffered a year ago, missed a big chunk of training camp with an ailment to the same hamstring. He did not return, and the Ravens will find out the severity of the injury soon.
Following their injuries, both Woodhead and Smith got carted off the field.
Another free agent addition made plays on Sunday. With 1:52 remaining in the first half, Flacco found Jeremy Maclin in the middle of the field. Maclin out-ran a Cincinnati defender for a 50-yard catch-and-score.
Prior to the touchdown drive, the previous two Ravens drives ended with punts. If Ravens fans knew beforehand that the offense would score in two of their first four drives, they would gladly take it.
Less than 30 seconds later, the Ravens put seven more points up. Baltimore received a gift when Webb picked off a Dalton pass on the second play of Cincinnati’s drive. Webb caught the ball at the Bengals’ 12-yard line and ran 10 yards. Terrance West then ran the ball in win the first play of the drive, putting the Ravens up by 17.
Baltimore added three more points in the third quarter on a 25-yard boot from Tucker. The first 12 plays of the 17-play drive came on the ground, with the duo of West and Buck Allen. The 81-yard drive that started with 10:44 in quarter three ate 9:38 of clock, giving the Bengals just over 16 minutes to attempt a comeback.
The rest of the game featured punts, an unsuccessful fourth-down attempt by the Bengals, and the Smith interception.
As an offense, the Ravens ran the ball 42 times and passed 17. Flacco completed nine passes for 121 yards and a touchdown. Linebacker Nick Vigil intercepted a Flacco pass in the third quarter, but the strip-sack by Suggs occurred six plays later.
Other than Woodhead and Z. Smith, the only other injury scare came in the second half when Flacco and some trainers entered a blue tent on the Ravens’ sideline. Turns out that Flacco just entered the concussion protocol after taking a big hit.
Post-game Tweets from the press:
Next Sunday, Sept. 17: The Ravens face the Cleveland Browns in their home opener from M&T Bank Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 pm.
Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens