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Film study of the Ravens' 27-24 loss to the Bengals

Film study of the Ravens' 27-24 loss to the Bengals
Ravens coach John Harbaugh shouts at officials in the fourth quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals. (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun)

GAME PLAN: Gary Kubiak didn't seem to figure out quickly enough that Joe Flacco was clearly off his rhythm Sunday. Instead of reacting by pounding the football more against the NFL's 31st-ranked defense, the Ravens appeared to pass far more frequently than they should have as their wide receivers failed to defeat press coverage on a regular basis. The Ravens ran the football 26 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. They threw the football 34 times, completing just half of them and averaged only 5.3 yards per attempt. The Ravens gained only 294 yards of total offense and converted just 5 of 14 third downs. Dean Pees' strategy wasn't quite as aggressive at attacking the pocket as it was in the previous two games, which was probably by design because the Bengals have a strong offensive line. The Ravens sacked quarterback Andy Dalton twice, but he only was hit three times. Shadowed by rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, Bengals running back Giovani Bernard was a nonfactor in the passing game as he caught two passes for 2 yards. Despite the absence of All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green (turf toe), the Bengals converted 8 of 14 third downs, had 350 yards of total offense and averaged 5.5 yards per play.

PERSONNEL: Riddled by injuries, the Ravens were forced to significantly shuffle their lineup. With Owen Daniels out after undergoing knee surgery, rookie Crockett Gillmore made his first NFL start and played 51 snaps on offense. Rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro replaced struggling return specialist Jacoby Jones on punt returns before the River Hill graduate pulled his hamstring. Eugene Monroe returned after missing four games because of arthroscopic knee surgery, and he was replaced by James Hurst for one series by design. Guards Marshal Yanda (left knee) and Kelechi Osemele, who returned from a hyperextended knee after missing two games, played 91 percent and 97 percent of the snaps, respectively. Torrey Smith absorbed a hit and went to the locker room before being cleared under the NFL's concussion testing protocol. He played just 43 snaps. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk played 38 snaps. With Campanaro out of the game after 11 snaps, Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown played 32 snaps and 22 snaps, respectively. Jones played only eight snaps on offense. Backup running back Bernard Pierce was a healthy scratch. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith played in 100 percent of the defensive snaps. Strong safety Matt Elam went up to 66 snaps after playing just 22 against the Atlanta Falcons. Free safety Darian Stewart played 55 snaps as rookie Terrence Brooks played 32 and Will Hill played just a dozen. Jimmy Smith sprained his left foot and was carted off after eight snaps. Terrell Suggs' workload increased to 63 snaps. Brandon Williams (51 snaps) and Haloti Ngata (50 snaps) got the bulk of the work in the rotation. Although Elvis Dumervil played 37 snaps and drew two holding penalties, he wasn't particularly productive despite playing 11 more snaps than Courtney Upshaw.

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WHAT WENT RIGHT ON OFFENSE: Lorenzo Taliaferro showed another facet to his game beyond his bruising style, scoring two touchdowns untouched as he avoided defenders to get into the end zone. Taliaferro also had a careerlong 29-yard reception out of the backfield. Gillmore caught both passes thrown to him for a total of 23 yards and blocked well. Campanaro caught a career-high three passes for 40 yards before he was injured. Yanda and Jeremy Zuttah opened up holes inside on running plays. Monroe and Osemele didn't suffer any setbacks. Kicker Justin Tucker connected on field goals from 45, 50 and 53 yards.

WHAT WENT WRONG ON OFFENSE: Flacco had one of his worst performances this year, passing for 195 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions for a 43.1 quarterback rating. He has 18 career interceptions against Cincinnati. One interception wasn't his fault as Torrey Smith stopped running toward the pass after he was hit on the play. Smith caught zero passes on two targets. Brown caught one pass for 2 yards, and Jones didn't catch a pass again. He has just four catches for 50 yards this season. Aiken failed to hold onto a potential diving touchdown on an unsuccessful fourth-down try in the first quarter. He was targeted six times, but caught two passes for 15 yards.

WHAT WENT RIGHT ON DEFENSE: Mosley and Smith had 13 tackles apiece, containing the run as the Bengals averaged 3.3 yards per carry. Mosley intercepted a pass when Elam ripped the football away from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu. Smith returned a fumble recovery 39 yards. Ngata was dominant inside with eight tackles, including a 21-yard sack on which he forced Dalton to fumble. Williams had six tackles, clogging up the middle to prevent blockers from tracking down Mosley and Smith. Stewart was regularly late and didn't provide adequate help over the top and had no pass deflections. Webb allowed three receptions on four passes thrown in his direction for 75 yards, an average of 24.3 yards per reception.

WHAT WENT WRONG ON DEFENSE: Dominique Franks allowed a pair of long receptions that led to two short-yardage touchdowns. On a 53-yard pass to Sanu, Franks was beaten off the line and then Brooks didn't react well as he got spun around, a miscue that led to the game-winning touchdown. Ranked atop the NFL in red-zone defense entering Sunday, the defense faltered as Cincinnati converted 3 of 5 red-zone opportunities for touchdowns. The Bengals' three touchdowns were on two quarterback sneaks by Dalton, including the game-winner in the final minute with some borderline illegal assistance from tackle Andrew Whitworth that went unflagged, and a dive over the top by Bernard for another score. Although Dumervil drew two holding penalties, he had zero sacks and just one tackle. One game after he was unblockable against the Falcons, Pernell McPhee had only one tackle and one quarterback hit.

KEY PLAY: Instead of manufacturing a dramatic comeback victory on an 80-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Steve Smith, the score was nullified by Smith's controversial offensive pass interference penalty with 47 seconds remaining. The officials ruled that Smith grabbed and shoved 6-foot-4, 220-pound safety George Iloka to the ground. It was among the reasons why the Ravens lost a pivotal road game.

BEST HIT: Suggs drilled Dalton in the back for a sack, accelerating past offensive tackle Andre Smith with a quick outside move.

GAME BALLS: 1. Taliaferro (scored Ravens' only two touchdowns); 2. Mosley and Smith (combined for 26 tackles); 3. Ngata (eight tackles, one sack); 4. Tucker (calmly converted long-range field goals).

INTANGIBLES: The Ravens weren't sharp overall and too many players failed to match the Bengals' intensity. In a setback to their bid to control the AFC North division, the Ravens were far too prone to mistakes.

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LOOKING AHEAD: The Pittsburgh Steelers' offense is red-hot at the moment. It's headlined by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who's complemented well by wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le'Veon Bell. A new weapon has emerged in recent weeks as rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant has displayed his explosiveness. Bryant is big and fast with plenty of moves.

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