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Five Things We Learned from the Ravens’ 49-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals

From the Ravens’ total offensive dominance under Lamar Jackson to their resistance to complacency under coach John Harbaugh, here are five things we learned from a 49-13 blowout win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

This Ravens offense is downright unfair against a poor defense like Cincinnati’s.

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We talked all week about how this could be a trap game for the Ravens, who exhausted tremendous focus and emotion on their Week 9 victory over the New England Patriots. The Bengals came in winless but fresh from their bye week and playing a wild card in rookie quarterback Ryan Finley. Ravens coach John Harbaugh sounded the anti-complacency alarm just moments after his team finished off the Patriots, saying the Ravens would have to come back with their best performance of the season in Cincinnati.

If the Ravens were a shaky contender, this could have added up to a tense weekend on the road. Instead, we quickly learned that this Lamar Jackson-led offense is trap proof.

The afternoon began with the Ravens cashing residual receipts on their remarkable running production from the first eight weeks of the season. With the Bengals cheating toward the line of scrimmage to guard against Jackson the runner, Jackson the passer completed all four of his opening-drive attempts, including a 49-yard bomb to Marquise Brown and a third-down scoring strike to tight end Mark Andrews. Each of Jackson’s passes came off play-action.

On the Ravens’ second drive, we saw two option pitches to Mark Ingram II, a fourth-down completion to Andrews and a 35-yard catch-and-run by Nick Boyle, normally thought of as a block-first tight end.

Cincinnati’s subpar inside linebackers, Nick Vigil and Preston Brown, could not hope to keep up with the Ravens’ tight ends, who combined for 12 catches on 13 targets.

With CBS analyst Rich Gannon marveling at the Ravens’ creativity, we even got a second-quarter option pitch from Jackson to backup quarterback Robert Griffin III. It went for 12 yards.

The Ravens jumped to a commanding lead without a signature run from Jackson. But of course, he changed that with a ridiculous 47-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, which featured a spin move most of us would struggle to execute on “Madden 20,” much less with our actual legs. Just 16 regular-season games into his career, we’re running out of words to capture Jackson’s stupefying fusion of physical talent, football acumen and emotional maturity.

“It deflates you a little bit when a guy’s playing with that much confidence,” Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after the game.

The inverse of that statement is equally true, which means these Ravens are dancing on clouds. They went for 379 yards on just 46 offensive plays and might have gone for 579 if the game had called for them to keep the pedal down.

It’s hard to convey how strange and wonderful an experience this has become for Baltimore fans, who’ve been served double helpings of defense-first football for most of the past two decades.

The Ravens defense takes a significant step back when either Brandon Williams or Michael Pierce is missing.

Pierce left the game with an ankle injury on the Ravens’ first defensive series and after a brief attempt to play through the pain, did not return. In his absence, the Ravens played their worst game against the run since Week 4, when they were, not coincidentally, without Williams. The Bengals became just the second team all season to outgain them on the ground (albeit on almost twice as many carries).

We tend to forget because they don’t stuff the stat sheet, but the massive interior duo of Pierce and Williams forms the foundation of Don “Wink” Martindale’s defense. Without them, the whole machine wobbles.

The Ravens aren’t operating with their accustomed depth on the defensive line. They rely heavily on Patrick Ricard in their running game, which mitigates his ability to make a consistent impact on defense (though he did hammer Finley to force a fumble in the third quarter). Chris Wormley delivers solid positional work against the run but isn’t usually a playmaker (his four tackles Sunday doubled his previous season high). With Pierce out, the Ravens turned liberally to Zach Sieler, and he showed up mostly in futile pursuit of Finley.

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Williams was left to carry an unusual burden, and to his credit, he stepped up with seven tackles. The 30-year-old defensive tackle has played with renewed vitality over the past few weeks, not just stacking up blockers but pushing into the backfield. Martindale and Harbaugh have heaped praise on the veteran known as “Big Baby.”

But Williams will be the first to say he’s better and fresher when paired with Pierce. The Ravens received good news when X-rays came back negative on their mammoth fourth-year defensive tackle. Harbaugh didn’t immediately know how long Pierce would be out. The Ravens could certainly use him next Sunday against a Houston Texans team that ranked fifth in the NFL in rushing coming into the weekend.

Marcus Peters’ go-to-trick has transformed the Ravens defense.

Perhaps quarterbacks should simply stop throwing outs to Peters’ side of the field.

The Ravens cornerback creates a false sense of security by taking a few steps back in coverage when really his entire focus is on darting in front of the receiver. He’s willing to guess wrong because he knows that if he’s right, the payoff is a wide-open field and a demoralizing defensive touchdown.

Peters got MVP candidate Russell Wilson with his favorite move three weeks ago in Seattle, and he did it again Sunday against Finley. For all the Ravens’ offensive brilliance, his play, as much as any other, buried the Bengals’ hopes.

Peters said he’s been stealing passes from unsuspecting quarterbacks since his youth-league days in Oakland, California, where he learned the game from his father.

There are multiple ways to play cornerback at a high level. Marlon Humphrey does it with linebacker-level physicality. Jimmy Smith is a smooth-moving shadow.

But Peters brings more entertainment value to the position than any player in recent Ravens history. His pick-six was particularly important on a day when the Ravens defense did not play well for most of the first half. The Bengals moved the ball consistently on the ground and through the air. One big play, however, wiped out much of that work.

With Peters in the fold, the Ravens defense has scored five touchdowns over the past three games, production reminiscent of the peak Ed Reed days of last decade.

John Harbaugh gets the Ravens ready to beat the teams they’re supposed to beat.

It’s relatively easy to get talented players fired up for the dynastic Patriots. But showcase games aren’t the meat and potatoes of an NFL playoff run. To be one of the league’s best teams, you have to take care of business against unglamorous opponents, and Harbaugh excels at these seemingly mundane challenges

Over his 12 seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens now stand 34-6 against losing teams in Week 10 or later (thanks to ESPN.com for the info).

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His demeanor after the Sunday night triumph over the Patriots was telling. Harbaugh treated the performance as routine business and said it would be rendered meaningless if the Ravens came up flat against the winless Bengals.

He immediately converted a potential time for complacency into a new challenge to his team’s professionalism. Harbaugh deflected credit to his players, whom he’s praised for their consistent commitment throughout this season. But it can’t be an accident that the Ravens have thrived in these types of games year after year, even as their key players have turned over.

Plenty of fans pick at Harbaugh, even when the team’s winning. They question his game management and ding him because he’s never been anointed an offensive or defensive wizard. But some of his greatest strengths transcend the details of individual contests. He keeps his teams locked in on the 17-week chase that is an NFL season.

Playoff contenders floundered left and right against beatable opponents yesterday. Not the Ravens. It would be wrong to say that’s always been the case under Harbaugh, but his overall record in such games speaks for itself.

The steadiness of the Ravens’ offensive line continues to be a key subplot for the season.

It was striking to watch the Ravens play behind a different set of blockers once Harbaugh decided to rest many of his starters in the fourth quarter. That’s because their five starting offensive linemen have remained on the field for almost every meaningful snap of the season.

It’s time to celebrate the line, a major area of uncertainty coming out of training camp, for more than durability. These guys have played well almost every week and did so again in Cincinnati, where Jackson took zero sacks, and the Ravens matched their usual efficiency on the ground, averaging 5.9 yards per carry.

Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who’ve given the Ravens fits in past years, hardly factored in the flow of the game.

Jackson receives much of the credit for the offense’s efficiency given his elusiveness and the defensive attention he commands. But it’s worth noting that the Ravens’ creative offense makes unusual demands on the linemen, who have to be ready for anything on any given play. They’re not there to pass block 45 times a game like many of their peers on other teams.

The Ravens line isn’t the best in the league in any one area, but it’s above average in all respects, from protecting Jackson to preventing stuffs at the line of scrimmage.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has lifted his game to a Pro Bowl level, and right guard Marshal Yanda has recently reminded us why he’s an all-time great. But this is really a collective story. Because center Matt Skura, right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and left guard Bradley Bozeman have played so dependably, the Ravens have not had to call on their questionable depth at this position group.

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