So . . . about Monday night . . .
The Cincinnati Bengals’ 31-point loss to the Baltimore Ravens wasn’t exactly the way Who Dey Nation expected to start the 2012 campaign fresh off the heels of an uncommon playoff berth last January, especially after going toe-to-toe with the Ravens in the first half.
It’s hard to point to one specific thing that led to the Bengals being outscored 27-3 in the second half en route to a 44-13 thrashing on the road. QB Andy Dalton didn’t seem dwarfed by the Monday night lights, throwing for 221 yards and showing poise during crucial moments in the first half, nor was he a pick machine. It just so happens that one pick went the other way for six because Raven safety, Ed Reed is a monster and always has been.
No, Monday night’s loss was a full team effort, demonstrating both crippling inconsistency and a lack of identity. Case and point: Bengals tailback, BenJarvus Green-Ellis. At first, that might not make sense considering he nearly passed the century mark (91 yards) and turned in a touchdown, but the Law Firm could’ve potentially gone off on the Ravens’ defensive front seven.
The only thing more surprising than how hazy I felt after only a few PBRs was how dominant the Bengals’ offensive line was. Not only did interim center, Jeff Faine fall right in line anchoring the O-line, but the big guys up front got an impressive push on the Ravens’ front three pretty much all night long.
Yet, on multiple occasions, Bengals head coach, Marvin Lewis elected pass plays on three third-and-short plays (with a maximum of 2 yards to go). The Bengals didn’t convert any of them. However, every time they went to Green-Ellis in those same situations, their conversion rate was perfect and one play resulted in Cincinnati’s first touchdown of the season.
I’m not inferring that the passing game was weak. In fact, the Bengals’ bread and butter all night seemed to be wideout screens to WR Andrew Hawkins, who caught eight of nine targets and racked up most of his team-leading 86 receiving yards after the catch. Furthermore, WR A.J. Green looks like he’s ready for a star-making season with his long stride and longer limbs. Every opposing secondary coach on Cincinnati’s schedule is going to dedicate at least one practice just to stopping Green. So it’s not the passing game as a whole; it’s the lack of confidence in the run.
After playing in the AFC North for so long, the Bengals should understand that they are at their best when their backs are pushing the ball up between the tackles, and they were doing it so well. Then they just stopped.
Going into their initial 3rd quarter drive, all Cincinnati needed was a long, methodical drive to keep Ravens QB Joe Flacco on the sideline, and I guarantee you they would’ve done it had they committed to the combo of Green-Ellis and RB Cedric Peerman, who rang up an exceptional 7.3 yards-per-carry average off a meager 3 rushing attempts.
Some would point to Ed Reed’s 34-yard pick-six as the turning point of the game, but I beg to differ. It was Joe Flacco’s 10-yard touchdown lob to TE Dennis Pitta. Why? Because it was a jump ball between Pitta and the Bengal defender, and Pitta came down with it. A moment that pretty much set the tone for how the rest of the game was going to go.
It was the Ravens’ night, especially after the Bengals defense was completely demoralized after not one, but two deadly accurate throws from Flacco for touchdowns. It was the type of game where Cincinnati would have had to play their hearts out just to keep it close because Baltimore was ready from the second-half whistle to run away with it in front of the home crowd.
This game defied convention in comparison to recent entries in this rivalry. It was an unexpected blowout, but here’s how Cincinnati can nab redemption when they meet again; hopefully for all the AFC North marbles. They have to keep their faith in the run game and not fall in love with the idea of airing it out to A.J. Green or making the defense look foolish on a play-action fake. Keep it simple. It’s smash-mouth football in the AFC North and has been for years. Even with the Ravens’ new – comparatively slow – no-huddle offense, RB Ray Rice still found the endzone twice.
It really came down to the Bengals’ gameplan being disrupted by the idea that they were going to have to get into an aerial shootout to beat the new-look Ravens, who for the most part, looked like the old Ravens but with slightly better quarterback play.
As it stands, it’s 0-1 for the Bengals as they go home to host the Cleveland Browns. I wouldn’t let the close game the Browns had with the Philadelphia Eagles scare you; they looked god awful offensively and QB Brandon Weeden literally had to duck beneath the American flag during the national anthem because he lingered on the field too long.
Even 2011 Blaine Gabbert is facepalming on that one.
Keep your chin up, Who Dey Nation. The regular season is a marathon, not a race, and there’s still so much football to be played.
- Taylor Mays is officially a defensive liability. The Bengals coaching staff already took note of this, replacing him with SS Jeromy Miles after an utterly stupid headshot to a Ravens TE Ed Dickson on an overthrown pass play. Mays simply can’t keep his emotions in check and, for the sake of the defensive secondary, it’s a blessing he’s gone.
- Any team in the NFL would take old Ed Reed and Ray Lewis in a second. In fact, there’s no increment of time fast enough to measure that last statement. Lewis, the Ravens’ vocal defensive captain – still playing despite being 273-years-old (I hope he never reads this.) managed to lead Baltimore with 11 total tackles and a sack. Meanwhile, Reed passed Rod Woodson on the all-time-list for interception return yards. Recently deceased Ravens’ owner, Art Modell is certainly smiling down on them, while simultaneously telling the Browns to continue kissing his two, wrinkled haunches.
- Why is Brandon Tate No.2 on the WR depth chart? He recorded one catch for 3 yards and an ill-advised kick return beginning at the field goal crossbar. Amidst all these impressive standout performances at receiver, there’s no way Tate makes it to Week 4 with that starting job unless he gets it together now.
- Finally, there really should be some rule-of-thumb for gauging possession on TD catches. I can see why the referees ruled Ravens WR Anquan Boldin’s grab a touchdown; the problem is I could see that same play going the exact opposite way in another game with two different teams. These “football move” rules are so fly-by-night that it makes it incredibly frustrating for fans because they’ve all likely been spited by that flimsy interpretation at least once. It’s not a replacement ref issue; it’s a league issue and has been one for years, even before the officials’ strike, and it should be reviewed during next year’s owners’ meeting.