Coach John Harbaugh, QB Lamar Jackson and ILB Matthew Judon talk about their 23-17 win against Bengals on Sunday, October 13.

From a dominant running effort that evoked memories of 2018 to the playoff possibilities created by a 4-2 start, here are five things we learned from the Ravens’ 23-17 win Sunday over the AFC North rival Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens reminded us they can fall back on their formula from 2018, with a few twists.


The Bengals came in ranked 31st in the league against the run and had given up 266 rushing yards in Week 5 to the pass-happy Arizona Cardinals.

So it was not difficult to figure out how the Ravens would attack their opponent. But Sunday’s game was a reminder that even when the defense knows what’s coming, the Lamar Jackson-led ground attack is difficult to stop.

The Ravens outgained the Bengals 212-6 in the first quarter, and many of those yards came easily, with Cincinnati’s defense unable to set the edge against Jackson’s outside runs. The Bengals offered stiffer resistance from there, but the overall numbers portrayed an extraordinary mismatch: 269 rushing yards for the Ravens compared with 33 for Cincinnati, 6.3 yards per attempt compared with the Bengals’ 2.4, 15 rushing first downs compared with Cincinnati’s two. The Ravens controlled the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game.

If they had not undermined themselves with 10 penalties, they likely would have defeated their winless opponent by well more than six points.

Of course, this formula evoked the second half of last season, when the Ravens reeled off victories by keeping the ball on the ground to a degree rarely seen in the modern NFL.

Are we back there, after all the talk of a more diversified offense in 2019?

Not quite. Jackson passed effectively enough, completing 21 of 33 passes and converting 11 first downs through the air despite playing without his best downfield target, rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown.

More importantly, the Ravens demonstrated considerable versatility within their rushing attack. With the Bengals stuffing the middle against Mark Ingram II early in the game, the Ravens beat them with Jackson’s legs and cleverly designed outside runs by Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. As the game wore on and the Bengals focused more on securing the edge, the Ravens went back to feeding Ingram. Sometimes, Jackson just improvised. In the end, all four of the team’s ball carriers gained at least 30 yards, and the Ravens put the game away with an 18-play drive that ate up nearly 10 minutes of the fourth quarter.

With Jackson serving as an ace in the hole, no other rushing attack in the NFL attack can control a game in so many ways.

“Our running game is at a high, high level schematically,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I think there are a lot more elements to our run game now.”

Will the Ravens beat top opponents playing this way? We’re about to find out, because they’re entering the rugged heart of their schedule, and it’s clear their greatest strength still lies with the run.

Ravens defensive players safety Earl Thomas and newly signed defensive tackle Jihad Ward talk about beating the Bengals Sunday.

The Ravens’ pass rush could not entirely get well, even against the league’s worst offensive line.

Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton had taken 20 sacks in his team’s five games despite his facility for releasing the ball quickly.

If the Baltimore pass rush was going to get untracked against any opponent, the Bengals and their league-worst offensive line seemed an excellent candidate.


But the Ravens hardly laid a hand on Dalton until the fourth quarter, when he absolutely had to drop back and probe for downfield targets.

Their edge rushers finally hit the stat sheet in the waning moments of the game. Pernell McPhee busted through the middle to force a hasty throw by Dalton on a key third-and-6 early in the fourth quarter. Tyus Bowser and Matthew Judon sacked him on the Bengals’ final drive (which nonetheless ended in a touchdown, in part because of two penalties on McPhee).

“I just felt like he was getting the ball out kind of quick,” Judon said. “They hit us with some screens, but when we needed to apply some pressure and we knew it was a passing down, we got to him.”

Perhaps they pulled out a mixed grade with their late work. But the Ravens did not inspire confidence that they’ll put heat on the elite quarterbacks coming up on their schedule — Russell Wilson next weekend in Seattle and Tom Brady two weeks after that on Sunday night.

Tight end Mark Andrews and Guard Marshal Yanda speak with reporters in the locker room after their 23-17 win over the Bengals.

Without Marquise Brown, the Ravens have no deep passing game.

With Brown sidelined by an ankle injury, Jackson hardly even looked for throws of 20 yards or more. The Ravens hit a few “chunk” plays in the form of a 36-yard run by their quarterback and a 39-yard catch and run by tight end Mark Andrews.

But those numbers don’t tell the story. With the game in the balance after halftime, the Ravens had to grind out drives of 13 and 18 plays. The good news is they’re built to do that. But they know they could make their lives considerably easier with an occasional 83-yard pass, like the one Jackson completed to Brown in Week 1.

The fact is that even before Brown hurt his ankle, teams had started giving the rookie speed burner an ample cushion so Jackson would have to beat them bit by bit instead of over the top.

The Ravens hoped Miles Boykin would give them a second deep threat, but that hasn’t come to fruition. The rookie from Notre Dame caught two passes against the Bengals, but the Ravens stuck with their pattern of relying on veterans Willie Snead IV and Seth Roberts, both of whom would be slot receivers in an ideal world.

Brown was a game-time decision, according to Harbaugh, so he’ll probably return soon. But for now, the Ravens are right back to where they’ve been for most of the last five seasons: a team with no obvious home-run threat.

Coach John Harbaugh, QB Lamar Jackson and ILB Matthew Judon talk about their 23-17 win against Bengals on Sunday, October 13.

The Ravens deserve credit for patching together a workable defense.

Cincinnati’s best offensive players didn’t do much. Noted Ravens killer Tyler Boyd managed just three catches for 10 yards against stifling coverage by Marlon Humphrey. Joe Mixon carried eight times for 10 yards. The only Bengals skill player to go off was 6-foot-5 wide receiver Auden Tate, who posted up Ravens cornerback Maurice Canady for 91 receiving yards.

“We talked about it last night in meetings. We understood their top target, and we were going to take him away,” Ravens safety Earl Thomas III said. “We did great in the run game. I think they only hit us with one screen.”

A solid “B” effort against an overmatched opponent, right?

Or maybe it was a lot better than that considering how many Ravens defenders weren’t even on the team three weeks ago. This was certainly not the defense the Ravens envisioned when they trimmed their roster to 53 players.

As the season began, starting middle linebacker Josh Bynes sat at home without an NFL job. Weak-side linebacker L.J. Fort was a Philadelphia Eagle. Defensive tackle Jihad Ward was an Indianapolis Colt. Canady had just been cut by the Ravens. Chuck Clark was a reserve safety with no thought of wearing the microphoned helmet given to the team’s chief defensive communicator.

All gave the Ravens essential snaps on Sunday. Meanwhile, cornerback Jimmy Smith missed his fifth straight game because of a knee injury. Safety Tony Jefferson stood on the sideline, his season over because of a torn ACL. Patrick Onwuasor sat out because of an ankle injury. The team’s other projected inside linebackers, Chris Board and Kenny Young, found themselves buried in reserve roles.


So much has changed and yet the Ravens pieced together a better-than-adequate defense in a game they could not squander.

Give players such as Bynes credit for picking up the defense so quickly and stopping the big-play bleeding that threatened to drown the Ravens after a Week 4 loss to the Cleveland Browns. Give the coaches credit for acting as aggressive problem solvers instead of blindly sticking with players who weren’t meeting expectations.

Often, the NFL is about what you do after your best designs break down, and the Ravens have adapted.

The Ravens set themselves up to defend their AFC North title as they enter the meat of their schedule.

We don’t usually talk about must-wins in the first half of the season, but the Ravens could not afford losses to the ailing Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 5 or to the aimless Bengals in Week 6. They had to build a cushion with a string of dangerous opponents looming over the next two months.

As it turned out, they not only handled their affairs to move to 4-2; they watched their closest AFC North rival, the Cleveland Browns, fall to 2-4 with losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.

Aesthetics aside, the last two weeks could not have gone much better for the Ravens.

We still don’t know how the Ravens’ 2019 formula will hold up against the best teams in the league. They’ll move the ball, but will they finish enough drives in the end zone? Will their defensive talent suffice against playoff-proven quarterbacks? Will their injury troubles continue mounting?

We’re fixing to find out. Because aside from a rematch with the Bengals in Cincinnati, the Ravens won’t play another team that currently has a losing record until mid-December.

The Browns have an easier late-season schedule, so the Ravens needed to bank at least four wins heading into their upcoming gauntlet. They cleared that bar. The playoff race is on.

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