"I knew when I got drafted and Joe [Burrow] got drafted that we were going to be seeing each other twice a year," said Patrick Queen.
When Lamar Jackson missed practice Wednesday with a sore knee, and then again Thursday with an illness, alarm bells across Baltimore sounded. The only thing worse than having a hobbled superstar was not having one at all. The Ravens needed their quarterback healthy.
A blowout win Sunday might have more questions about Jackson than it answered. But there was at least some relief available inside M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens routed the Cincinnati Bengals, 27-3, not because they had the reigning NFL Most Valuable Player but because they’d taken out the league’s top draft pick and the offense he led.
Joe Burrow had entered Sunday’s game having passed for at least 300 yards in three straight games, a first in NFL history for rookie quarterbacks. He left Baltimore with a jersey that needed dry cleaning and a reminder of just what this Ravens defense is capable of.
The Bengals finished with just 205 total yards, 55 of them coming on their final drive. They averaged just 3.2 yards per play, the least the Ravens have allowed since Week 14 last season. The Ravens sacked Burrow seven times and hit him 15 times, both season highs. They picked off a first-quarter pass to set up a touchdown and turned a fourth-quarter completion into a scoop-and-score.
An inconsequential fourth-quarter field goal robbed the Ravens of their first shutout in two years. It couldn’t deny them their dominance.
“We want to be the best,” said safety Chuck Clark, one of five defensive backs and one of seven Ravens overall to record a sack. “We want to be No. 1 in every category, so that’s our goal, and we’ll let the chips fall from there.”
In the Ravens' first home game since Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes turned “Monday Night Football” into target practice, their defense proved up to the task. It was definitely an easier one.
For all of Burrow’s rookie-year production, for all the promise of the Bengals' young core, Cincinnati entered Week 5 with the NFL’s No. 26 offense, according to Football Outsiders. The Bengals had allowed eight sacks only two weeks ago. This was a game that Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale could leave his imprint on.
He made that clear on the afternoon’s opening drive. After Cincinnati won the pregame coin toss, it elected to receive. The Bengals wanted to put the Ravens on their heels, seemingly undeterred by coach John Harbaugh’s reputation for treating rookie quarterbacks like science projects. Over the past 12 years, they’d gone 1-12 in Baltimore, throwing more than twice as many interceptions as touchdowns and completing just over 52% over their passes.
Burrow’s first drop-back was promising enough: a 14-yard completion over the middle to tight end Drew Sample. He had to throw his next attempt away, with All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey draped over rookie wide receiver Tee Higgins near the sideline. Then he started to feel the heat.
On third-and-6, the Ravens lined up seven players within a yard of the line of scrimmage, all of them a threat to come after Burrow. Only four defenders did so, and one of them was Jimmy Smith. After outside linebacker Matthew Judon punctured the pocket with a nice inside move, the longtime Ravens cornerback cleaned up, taking Burrow down. There was no one open downfield, and Burrow seemed to realize he was in for a long day.
“It wasn’t tough mentally,” said Burrow, whose early interception — way too high a throw for wide receiver A.J. Green, but just right for cornerback Marcus Peters — said otherwise. “Obviously, I was frustrated. We weren’t playing very well, but we know how to handle pressure from a defense, and we’ve handled it the last three or four weeks. We just didn’t handle it very well today.”
Burrow finished 19-for-30 for 183 yards and the pick, along with three carries for 10 yards, but those stats didn’t fully capture his struggles. Neither did his 66.4 passer rating, which almost matched his season-low mark of 66.1.
The most damning indictment of his afternoon, and perhaps the greatest compliment to the Ravens defense, might have been his QBR, an ESPN statistic that accounts for all of a quarterback’s contributions to a game. Over the season’s first four weeks, no quarterback had a worse rating on the 0-to-100 scale than Dwayne Haskins Jr.'s 11.1, a lowlight in the Washington Football Team’s Week 2 loss.
“That’s a tough, aggressive defense, and I have seen them do that a lot to a lot of quarterbacks in this league,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said.
“The defense played lights out throughout the whole game,” Harbaugh said. “That was fun to watch.”
With a game against the Philadelphia Eagles and their low-flying offense up next, the Ravens might not need much to enter their Week 7 bye with a 5-1 record. Sure, they’ll need more consistency from Jackson, who rushed just twice and finished 19-for-37 for 180 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, though he was fortunate to not throw more.
They’ll need improved production from wide receivers Miles Boykin and Willie Snead IV, largely invisible in the passing attack for a second straight game. They’ll need better health along the offensive line, where right guard Tyre Phillips was sidelined one week after left tackle Ronnie Stanley was unavailable.
But the Ravens couldn’t have asked for more from their defense Sunday. They hunted in packs and executed in isolation. They got after Burrow with everything from simulated four-man pressures to all-out blitzes. They held running back Joe Mixon to a season-low 2.5 yards per carry (24 attempts for 59 yards) and wide receiver Tyler Boyd to a season-low-tying four catches for 42 yards.
Rookies and veterans, stars and backups — almost every Ravens defender who lined up chipped in. Their top pass rusher wasn’t Judon or Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell; it was outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, who finished with a game-high four quarterback hits along with a sack and a pass defense.
“I tell Matt Judon every time I go out on the field with him, ‘Meet me in the backfield,’ because that’s how it goes to grab the quarterbacks, whether it’s from a blitz or a four-man rush,” McPhee said. “We preach it in practice. We do a lot of one-on-ones in practice, and it just carried over to the game this week.”
At no point Sunday did the Ravens cut the Bengals any slack. When Burrow didn’t take care of the ball, their defense capitalized; Peters' pick extended their streak of games with a forced turnover to 18, the NFL’s longest active streak.
When Burrow did take care of the ball, the Ravens still made life troublesome. Midway through the fourth quarter, with Cincinnati already down 20-0, Humphrey allowed a completion near the sideline to Cincinnati wide receiver Mike Thomas. Then he stripped the ball from him, his third forced fumble in four games. Rookie inside linebacker Patrick Queen (one sack) recovered the fumble, his second pickup of the day, and returned it 53 yards for a touchdown.
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“This defense is fun. That’s the best way I can describe it,” Judon said. “This defense is fun, and when we hit like that, everybody is on point, and we’re just fired up. We feed off of each other’s energy, and it’s just a fun defense.”