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