The best part about winning is it honestly doesn’t matter how you get there.
The Ravens took a circuitous route to a 26-23 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday at Heinz Field. There were turnovers aplenty on the offensive side of the ball, a scary moment from Earl Thomas and the Ravens defense, and penalties on seemingly every play. But at the end of the day, the Ravens emerged victorious, moving to 3-2 and back atop the AFC North on the strength of Justin Tucker‘s 46 yard game-winning field goal:
It was one of four Tucker field goals in a contest that saw the Ravens offense really struggle after extending their first half lead to 17-7 with 11:21 remaining in the second quarter on a Marquise Brown 11-yard touchdown pass from Lamar Jackson. The offense ran 50 plays from there and amassed just 144 yards. Jackson threw three interceptions and finished 19-for-28 for 161 yards and the aforementioned touchdown pass to Brown. He also led the Ravens in rushing with 70 yards on 14 carries. Jackson remains must-see TV at the podium:
The defense was better this week against worse competition but they deserve some love for their performance. Marlon Humphrey continues to ascend up the cornerback rankings. He came up with the strip and fumble recovery of Juju Smith-Schuster to put the Ravens in position for the win.
The Ravens will welcome the winless Cincinnati Bengals to town Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Bengals dropped to 0-5 with a 26-23 loss to the Arizona Cardinals last Sunday.
Here are three things I am looking for as the Ravens look to get to 4-2.
1) The return of explosive plays
There are things that a defense can do that limit your ability to push the ball down the field. If your offensive line is as porous as the Ravens was on Sunday, it makes it difficult on Jackson to attempt a long throw. But the deep ball has completely disappeared from the Ravens offense as have most of their explosive plays we saw in the first few weeks.
This is an impressive graphic that shows the Ravens rank third in the NFL in explosive plays. However since Week 2, the Ravens have just 14 explosive plays after their hot start to the year. A few folks that are way smarter than me looked into why the deep ball in particular has disappeared:
How the Ravens intend to solve the issues of the deep ball disappearing is a different story.
They’ll get a good chance to bounce back this week against a Bengals team that just gave up 514 yards to the Arizona Cardinals. Cincinnati’s defense ranks 31st in the NFL, giving up 411.8 yards-per-game. Their pass defense comes in at 17th but they are giving up 167.6 yards-per-game on the ground.
The Bengals do boast two prominent pass rushers in Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins. Both have struggled out of the gate, combining for just two sacks over the first five weeks of the season. Sam Hubbard leads their pass rushing group with three sacks on the year but the Bengals have just six total.
I’d like to see the offensive line bounce back with a nice performance where they give Jackson time to make plays in the pocket. They gave up five sacks and allowed six quarterback hits last week to an impressive Steelers front. It’s tough to sling the deep ball with no protection.
2) Will the search party continue for the Ravens pass rush?
Andy Dalton has been sacked 20 times, good for third in the NFL. The Steelers got to him eight times on Monday Night Football last week but that leaves 12 other sacks in four games.
A time will come when we have to stop asking the question and assume the Ravens will never get a pass rush. But I find it hard to believe after another one-sack performance that this group cannot get something going against arguably the NFL’s worst offensive line.
Pernell McPhee picked up the only sack last week and the Ravens produced just three quarterback hits. This comes on the heels of a one sack performance against Baker Mayfield and the Browns. With the state of the Ravens secondary missing three contribuotrs in Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, and now Tony Jefferson, this group has to get something going. Matt Judon agreed:
Nine sacks through five games isn’t going to get it done. A suspect offensive line could help the Ravens this week. Put me down for a four-sack performance from Baltimore’s defense against Dalton and company.
3) Can the Ravens solve the Bengals?
From the believe it or not department, the Bengals have won eight of the last 11 meetings with the Ravens. The all-time series is also tied 23-23.
The good news for Baltimore is long time Ravens killer A.J. Green will not be suiting up for this one as he continues to recover from ankle surgery. But known heartbreaker Tyler Boyd and the aforementioned Dalton will be out there looking to continue to wreak havoc against the Ravens defense.
Boyd is coming off of one of his best games of the year, notching 10 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. Humphrey should be seeing a lot of the Bengals talented 24-year-old wideout on Sunday. John Ross joins Green on the sidelines, leaving the Bengals with Damion Willis and Auden Tate as their secondary receiving options.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, Bengals star running back Joe Mixon seemed to find his groove against a poor run defense last week, picking up 93 yards on 19 carries. The Ravens shut Mixon down in their latest meeting, giving up 14 yards on 12 carries. The Ravens run defense needs to build off a strong performance and shut down Mixon again to make the Bengals one dimensional.
Jake McDonnell: Ravens 33 Bengals 23
Nolan McGraw: Ravens 31 Bengals 21
Isaiah Stumpf: Ravens 27 Bengals 13
Ian Schultz: Ravens 26 Bengals 22
The games within the Ravens division are usually hotly contested. I rarely, if ever, pick Ravens blowouts and that won’t change this week. This is one of those handle your business-type games for the Ravens. But I think Cincinnati finds a way to keep this game close to the final whistle. But the Ravens will move to 4-2.
Featured Image Credit: Gail Burton, Associated Press