We have a number of personnel packages designed to get everybody on the field doing what they do well.
The Ravens are the last team you want to face with a subpar offensive line and a rookie quarterback. From Joe Burrow’s woes to Patrick Queen’s rapid progress, here are five things we learned from their 27-3 win Sunday over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Even in a commanding win, the Ravens never hit their stride on offense.
“We’ve got a lot to get better at,” he said, a message he would repeat in various phrasings throughout his postgame news conference.
The Ravens dominated the Bengals to move to 4-1 on the season. With a point differential of plus-73, they’re well ahead of their pace at the same point last season. But on offense at least, they’re not reaching their own standards or those set by a football-watching public that expects weekly miracles from quarterback Lamar Jackson.
With many chances to bury the Bengals early, they scored no points on a pair of two-minute possessions before halftime and put together just one scoring drive in the second half.
Normally, we look for culprits other than the reigning Most Valuable Player. But he played well below his usual standard against the Bengals.
Jackson, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a knee injury and Thursday’s practice with a stomach bug, did not look eager to run, finishing with 3 yards on two carries. He said the knee pain “didn’t really affect me at all.” Ravens coach John Harbaugh answered with a one-word dismissal when asked if the injury altered his team’s game plan. But Jackson had not carried fewer than seven times or gained less than 40 yards since Week 1 of last season. Whatever the reason, this was an uncharacteristic performance from the most dangerous running quarterback in NFL history.
With the Bengals untroubled by that deadly facet of his game, Jackson struggled through one of his least tidy passing performances of the past two seasons. He missed downfield targets, made odd decisions when throwing on the move and fired an inexplicable interception, intended for a tightly covered Willie Snead IV, in the two-minute drill. He could have thrown another two interceptions if Bengals defenders had surer hands. At times, he appeared openly frustrated on the sideline.
Jackson’s struggles did not push offensive coordinator Greg Roman to fall back on his running game. With the Bengals seemingly ready to crack all afternoon, the Ravens attempted just 24 rushes. Wide receiver Devin Duvernay broke a 42-yard end-around, and rookie J.K. Dobbins gained 34 yards on his lone carry. But the Ravens did not use their ground attack to squeeze the air out of the game as they did so often last season. Whether that signifies diminished trust in their offensive line or bullheaded determination to unleash Jackson as a downfield passer is unclear.
What is clear is that the team’s best offensive players are hunting for answers. “We need to get back to how we were last year,” Jackson said.
Heaven help a shoddy offensive line and an inexperienced quarterback against Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense.
Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow said he expected the greatest test of his young career from Martindale’s hyper-aggressive defense and boy was he prophetic. The Ravens hit the 2019 Heisman Trophy winner frequently enough that by the second half, he stopped looking more than 15 yards downfield. Unable to protect their franchise player, the Bengals essentially submitted.
Burrow had taken 15 sacks and 36 hits through his first four games, so we knew Cincinnati’s pass blocking was its greatest weakness. But this was humiliating.
The Ravens constricted Burrow’s pocket and sacked him to end Cincinnati’s first drive. Later in the first quarter, Ravens safety Chuck Clark blitzed untouched up the middle, hurrying Burrow into a free-for-all toss that dropped into the hands of cornerback Marcus Peters. Jackson capitalized with a two-play, 31-yard touchdown drive (aided by a terrible roughing call) to put the Ravens up 17-0.
The game was essentially over at that point. Burrow’s torment was not.
In the second quarter, Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen popped his old LSU teammate in the back to force a fumble. By that point, it was hard not to feel bad for Burrow, running for his life from three Ravens before Queen closed in unseen. On the Bengals' next drive, he was hit twice more and didn’t even try to stand in the pocket long enough to convert on third-and-24. This trend would continue for the rest of the game as the rookie took seven sacks and connected on just one pass of 20 yards or more.
The Ravens blitzed on 59% of Burrow’s dropbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. To give you an idea how well these blitzes worked, five different Ravens defensive backs dropped him.
“I think it’s kind of emblematic of what you guys have watched here the last three years,” Harbaugh said. “It’s kind of how we piece it together.”
“This defense is fun,” outside linebacker Matthew Judon said.
“That’s all Wink, man,” said Queen, who also returned a fumbled for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “He dialed up the plays, and we just executed them.”
When little else is working, Lamar Jackson looks for No. 89.
If the Ravens offense is flowing easily, Jackson will spread his targets between eight or nine players. But when he’s under pressure and first downs are harder to come by, his eyes go to wide receiver Marquise Brown and especially, Andrews.
On the Ravens' first touchdown drive, Jackson targeted Andrews on three straight third downs and converted all three. On the last of those, he fired the ball into a tight window in the end zone, trusting his tight end to make the play.
Andrews would not have it any other way. “Third downs are money downs,” he said. “Those are the downs I love.”
He did not have a huge game overall, with half his catches and yards coming on that one drive. But his connection with Jackson lay at the heart of the team’s most successful offensive stretch.
By contrast, Jackson did not complete a single pass on five attempts to wide receivers Snead and Miles Boykin. Boykin, the former third-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, seemed particularly out of sync with his quarterback. The Ravens entered the season with high hopes for him to become a reliable outside target, but he’s caught just three passes for 36 yards over the past three games.
So the Ravens are back to a familiar pattern, relying on a tight end as their No. 1 option and looking for more from their wide receivers.
Sacks will dominate the headlines, but sound play on the edges was just as important to the Ravens' defensive dominance.
Burrow endured an afternoon of suffering in part because the Bengals could not create anything for running back Joe Mixon, who torched the Jacksonville Jaguars for 151 yards in Week 4. The Ravens did an excellent job keeping Mixon bottled in the middle of the field and also stuffed an attempted end-around by Bengals wide receiver Mike Thomas.
For that, largely unsung edge defenders Tyus Bowser, Jihad Ward, Jaylon Ferguson and Pernell McPhee deserve plaudits. Bowser played particularly well, holding his ground and making stops on a pair of runs outside the tackles. McPhee and Ferguson chipped in 11 tackles between them as the Ravens continually rotated their Mixon stoppers.
“We pride ourselves on setting the edge more than pass rushing,” McPhee said. “Stopping the run comes first.”
Harbaugh quickly pointed to his defense’s work against Mixon in his postgame remarks. “We defeated the scheme. We were solid. We were strong on the edge,” he said. “We played through the cut-back angle really well, and our inside guys were very stout. When you do that, you have a really good chance to stop the run.”
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The Ravens made a point of bolstering their run defense in the offseason, and defensive end Calais Campbell has certainly helped. But it’s notable that much of their good work is attributable to players who were here last year.
Patrick Queen is growing rapidly before our eyes.
The Ravens' first-round pick took little time to flash as a playmaker, sacking Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield and forcing a fumble in Week 1 of his NFL career. But coming off an abbreviated training camp with no preseason action, Queen made more halting progress in the less obvious components of NFL linebacking, namely pass coverage. He came into Week 5 with the worst coverage grade among all linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Bengals game meant a lot to Queen — an NFL showdown with his old college teammate, Burrow. As he did in his debut against Cleveland, he dotted the highlight reel with a team-high nine tackles, the strip sack on Burrow and the 53-yard touchdown off a punchout by Marlon Humphrey.
Just as notably, however, he avoided mistakes. “I just thought he was better in coverage,” Harbaugh said. “I thought he did a really good job after the first completion. He did a good job manning zone coverage, and he just played a really solid game.”
The Ravens have put considerable trust in Queen, who turned 21 in August and did not become a full-time starter at LSU until a few games into last season. With his speed and aggression, he’s already a threat to disrupt games from sideline to sideline, from behind the line of scrimmage to the secondary. If he pairs that with reliable command of his role in coverage, look out.