Five thoughts following the Ravens 34-23 loss in Cincinnati

The Ravens entered Cincinnati on Thursday night trying to keep their success rolling after a blowout win over Buffalo just four days prior. As expected, the Bengals proved to be a much tougher opponent and the Ravens looked unprepared early on.

Baltimore managed to erase most of the Bengals early 21-0 lead and make it a one possession game in the second half. However, in the end the Bengals would come out with a 34-23 win thanks to a pair of Ravens turnovers late in the game.

1. A tale of two halves

The Cincinnati Bengals came out strong in Thursday night’s game and took an early 21-0 lead thanks to a strong offensive attack and some Ravens struggles. A.J. Green presented a huge challenge for the Ravens secondary and they failed to answer the call as the Bengals No. 1 receiver hauled in the teams first three touchdowns and finished the night with five receptions for 69 yards.

To make things worse, the Ravens offense was sleep walking in the early goings and could not match Cincinnati’s start. Joe Flacco and company managed to get some momentum going before the half and cut the Bengals lead to 14 but the first half was certainly controlled by the home team.

The second half was a different story. The Bengals opened up with the ball but this time the Ravens defense had an answer. The Baltimore defense forced the Bengals to punt on their first four possessions of the second half. This gave the offense a chance to slowly crawl back into the game with a 55-yard field goal by Justin Tucker and an 87-yard drive, capped off by a beautiful 21-yard touchdown pass to John Brown.

The Ravens defense would end up surrendering just two field goals in the second half, giving Flacco and the offense a legitimate chance to come back. However, some costly turnovers would end up being to difference maker as Flacco threw a second interception and later fumbled with under three minutes to play in the game.

2. C.J Mosley injury

The Ravens defense took a huge hit in the first quarter when C.J. Mosley went down with a knee injury. The middle linebacker had to be carted off after tweaking his knee and everyone in the Ravens fan base collectively held their breath. The injury is currently being reported as a bone bruise which is significantly less detrimental than what many feared when they saw Mosley being carted into the locker room.

The injury did leave the Ravens shorthanded on defense for the majority of Thursdays game. Rookie Kenny Young had to step into a starting role alongside Patrick Onwuasor and performed pretty well after being forced into the spotlight. His presence was best felt while stopping the run but he did have issues cover some of the Bengals tight ends.

The timetable for Mosley is unknown right now but it might be safe to say that Young is going to be called upon to start in the coming weeks. The Ravens were shorthanded at the middle linebacker position coming into the season and losing Mosley is a worst case scenario.

3. Life without Jimmy Smith

Losing Mosley is rough on its own, but it makes things even worse for the next two weeks as the Ravens continue to wait for Jimmy Smith’s suspension to end. Smith’s presence could have certainly been used on Thursday as A.J. Green dominated the first half and helped put the Bengals up 21-0.

Green has given the Ravens plenty of trouble in the past, even with Smith on the field, but everyone knows that the defense fares much better when Smith is able to cover the opponents No. 1 receiver.

Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr and Tavon Young all struggled to stop Green. They will have no time to rest though with the Broncos and Steelers on the horizon. Both Denver’s Demaryius Thomas and Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown will pose a similar threat to the Ravens as Green. Don Martindale hasn’t been dealt the best hand with this Smith suspension and now the Mosley injury, but he will have to figure something out quickly if the Ravens want to avoid another outing like this one.

4. Offensive play calling

The Ravens had to dig themselves out of a hole after the Bengals hot start but after they made it a close game in the second half, the offensive play calling was still unbalanced. Marty Mornhinweg continued to call passing plays and ignore the run game despite both Alex Collins finding some success on the ground. Collins was only given nine carries but dazzled in a handful of them by breaking tackles and fighting for extra yards. I know the Ravens want to mix things up with Collins and Buck Allen but your starting running back needs to carry the ball more than nine times, even if he is involved with the pass game.

My main gripe is with the momentum though. In the second half the Ravens were putting together good drives with short, quick passes and some well designed runs. However, just when things started to get going, the momentum was halted by either bringing Lamar Jackson in or calling on Flacco to air it out.

I saw the team find a good amount of success by being patient and slowly chipping away at the Bengals defense. I just don’t understand why the coaching staff would call these plays in such a pivotal point in the game. It led to at least one of the second half  turnovers as Flacco got picked off while trying to go deep late in the third quarter.

5. Early standings implications

After Thursday the Bengals are the current leaders in the AFC north with a 2-0 record. With the Steelers and Browns tying in week one, the Bengals should be happy with their status this early in the year. They were pushed to the side all offseason as pundits focused on the Ravens and Steelers, but Cincinnati has the upper hand after a pair of nice wins to start their season.

The Ravens will have plenty of chances to make waves in the division standings early this season as they prepare to play road games against both Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the next three weeks.

Image credit: Sam Greene

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Podcast Episode 16: Time to book a February weekend in Atlanta, right? Featuring Logan Levy of Baltimore Beatdown

Welcome to Episode 16 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

Kicking off this week’s show is a full recap of the Ravens’ 47-3 dismantling of the Buffalo Bills (3:19). Along with revealing our players of the game (19:14) and discussing who’s trending (24:29), we discussed Lamar Jackson‘s regular season debut, the impressive effort put forth by the new wide receiver core, and the defense’s dominance. If you watched from home, Nolan and Ian will fill you in on what was featured on the new corner scoreboards at M&T Bank Stadium. They’ll also give an estimate of how full the crowd looked.

Even though Sunday could not have gone any better, the Ravens will head to Cincinnati on a short week to tangle with the Bengals on Thursday Night Football. We’ll tell you what to watch for (33:42) as the Ravens begin a five-game stretch with four of those contests taking place on the road.

Up next, we welcome in this week’s guest – Baltimore Beatdown Editor & Take it to the Bank podcast host – Logan Levy, who shares his thoughts on the Ravens’ dominant win (44:55). Levy also reveals his pick for Thursday’s game and ponders which areas of the contest will likely decide the outcome.

Ravens fans in the northern Maryland/Southern York County area: Come celebrate our first sponsorship on Thursday night at Seven Sports Bar & Grille in New Freedom, PA. Happy Hour is from 4-6 and you can also catch the Ravens game against the Bengals at 8:20. Specials are $3.50 Shock Top drafts & $8.77 half-rack ribs. We hope to see you there! 

Over the weekend, the Orioles eclipsed 100 losses on the 2018 season. Our next segment (1:03:10) dives into the club’s questionable decision to sit Adam Jones to “get a look” at other outfielders like Joey Rickard and John Andreoli. Needless to say, you won’t want to miss this rant. Jake, Nolan, and Ian also call into question the reasoning of Orioles ownership as to of why the brass of the team has not addressed the fanbase yet over the franchise’s direction.

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Ravens & Orioles players to wear the number 16 (1:17:24).

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloudiTunes, and now Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thank you for listening!

Eight thoughts following Ravens’ 47-3 win over Bills

BALTIMORE — Just like I predicted on the latest episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast, the Ravens blew out the Bills at M&T Bank Stadium to kick off the 2018 regular season. The score was 47-3. Six different players on offense scored touchdowns. The defense forced two turnovers and collected six sacks. Buffalo never stood a chance.

Here’s eight takeaways from Baltimore’s nearly-perfect win.

1. A balanced offense is a good offense

A common knock on offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been his tendency to abandon the run. Due to the poor weather conditions, we all expected the Ravens to rely heavily on the run, but that wasn’t necessarily the case against the Bills.

Collectively, the Ravens ran the ball 34 times and passed 38 times. Favorable field position and numerous starters getting pulled early left the box score looking like a preseason game, and for good reason. Mornhinweg’s balanced play-calling, along with the presence of Lamar Jackson, gave Buffalo’s defense fits.

2. Ravens’ defense dominates in historic fashion

I don’t think the Ravens defense could have started off their season any better than they did on Sunday. In the first half, the unit held the Bills to 0 first downs and 33 offensive yards. It marked the first time in franchise history that the Ravens defense held an opponent without a first down for the entire first half. The previous record was two first downs in a half – set in 2000 against the Bengals and again in 2008 versus the Raiders.

The Bills finished the game with 153 total yards, but many of those came in garbage time when veterans like Terrell Suggs had already exited. The Bills even trotted first-round rookie quarterback Josh Allen out there, which they were not anticipating, but Nathan Peterman was that bad. Peterman attempted 15 passes, completing five of them for 24 yards, and came out of the game with a rating of 0. Ouch.

3. This week, Joe Flacco was elite

After coming back from a torn ACL and a back injury over the last two seasons, Ravens media spent all of training camp telling us how great Joe Flacco looked at practice every day. Whether or not his camp greatness translated to a regular season game remained to be seen, but Flacco’s first outing of the 2018 season was a successful one.

Against Buffalo, Flacco went 25-for-34 for 236 yards with three touchdown passes. He was effective and did a great job spreading the ball around to different receivers. He used his receivers (11 receptions, three touchdowns), tight ends (eight receptions), and running backs (six receptions). Flacco’s had a bad habit of relying too heavily on running back and tight-end check-downs, but on Sunday he was aggressive and took more risks, even in the pouring rain.

Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium has been a house of horrors for Flacco, but hopefully he can carry his success from this game into Thursday night.

4. Jackson already proving to be a big asset

Speaking of Jackson, we saw more than him on Sunday than we anticipated. That’s a good thing. With the Ravens up 40-0 in the third quarter, Jackson got to play the final 25 minutes as the starting quarterback after being used as a decoy.

Jackson was mainly used as a runner when he ran with the starters, finishing the game with 39 yards on seven carries. Even when he didn’t get the ball, Buffalo’s defense had to account for him and send defenders his way. As the season progresses it will be interesting to see how defenses adjust to the Ravens’ packages featuring Jackson. For now, it gives opposing defenses an extra element to devote practice time to, and that can only help the Ravens.

5. The retooled receiving corps could not have had a better debut

The Ravens signed receivers Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown this offseason, sending $20 million in combined guaranteed money their way.

On Sunday, their investment paid off. Snead caught four passes, while Crabtree and Brown each tallied three catches for 131 combined yards and a touchdown apiece. Each of these receivers brings something different to the table, and the Ravens found ways to use their varied skill-sets. They’ll be tested against better defenses, but the Ravens could not have asked for a better start with this group.

6. The offensive line remains a concern

Coming into Sunday, the offensive line was considered the worst position group on Baltimore’s roster, and that remains the same even after Sunday’s huge win. Flacco only got sacked twice, but he constantly had to scramble out of the pocket.

Starting running back Alex Collins couldn’t find any holes to run through, contributing just 13 yards on seven carries for an average of 1.9 yards-per-carry. Kenneth Dixon had better luck, leading the team with 44 rushing yards on 13 carries. However, he left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return.

The Ravens got by against a bad Bills defense. When the Ravens face pass rushers like Myles Garrett and Von Miller, the offense will pay if the line struggles.

7. Pass rush shines with mix of youth and old-timers

With Terrell Suggs’ 36th birthday on the horizon, the Ravens will rely on their young pass rushers to step up and play a bigger role this season. Suggs continued to draft his Hall of Fame resume with a sack of his own on Sunday, but we also saw Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, and Kenny Young break into the backfield and record sacks. Not only that, but cornerback Tavon Young got involved too and led the team with two sacks.

It’s going to be important for the Ravens to limit Suggs’ snap count this season, especially early on. Several times on Sunday, I noticed that Suggs remained on the sideline for several pass rush situations, with Matt Judon and either Smith or Williams lined up on the ends. Not only will keeping Suggs rested help his motor in December, but he can coach up this talented group of outside linebackers. That will pay dividends in future seasons after Suggs calls it a career.

8. Despite terrible weather, Baltimore gathers a decent crowd for much-needed support

Weather-wise – Sunday, the entire weekend, the entire summer – have all been horrible. It’s also no secret that attendance at Ravens games has seen a massive dip in recent seasons. When I saw Sunday’s forecast earlier in the week, I was very concerned that the stadium would be half empty again at 1:00.

Judging from this picture from WNST‘s Nestor Aparico, along with seeing the stands on live television, M&T Bank Stadium was not full, but the crowd was a decent size in spite of the weather. The Ravens worked very hard over the offseason to revitalize a disgruntled fanbase. They drafted Lamar Jackson, they put in the corner scoreboards, and they reduced concession prices. A disappointing crowd would have brought all of those sad feelings back and put a damper on the season opener, but Baltimore avoided that on Sunday.

As the game went into the second half, a good amount of fans left after getting soaked. That’s understandable, and the stadium needs to be rocking for the next Ravens home game on Sept. 23 against Denver. All factors considered, I’m sure that John Harbaugh and the Ravens appreciate the fans who showed up and fought through the down-pouring rain.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun