Ravens vs. Bengals: Baltimore Rests Starters in Loss of Little Consequence
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The Baltimore Ravens fell 23-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17, closing out their regular season with a loss that matters little to their postseason hopes. With the Ravens having clinched the AFC North last week and no changes possible to the conference's postseason seeding, Baltimore chose to give its biggest names a break rather than earn a sweep of its divisional rivals.
It wasn't a terrible loss by any means, with the Ravens out-gaining the Bengals 352 yards to 189 and possessing the ball for 35:59 to 24:21 for Cincinnati. In fact, it served to further highlight the changes on offense that have come from switching out Cam Cameron for Jim Caldwell as coordinator. For the second straight week, run plays outweighed the pass, with 46 total team rushes to 33 passes, and the result was over 200 yards on the ground.
Those yards were split primarily between three players, none of them being Ray Rice, who was held out in favor of him being fully refreshed for next week's playoff meeting with the Indianapolis Colts. Bernard Pierce led the way with 89 yards on 22 carries, followed up by quarterback Tyrod Taylor with 65 yards and a touchdown on his nine rushes and 41 yards and a score for Anthony Allen, who rushed 10 times.
Taylor came into the game early on, after starter Joe Flacco completed just four of his eight passes for 34 yards and a sack. With the Bengals defensive line being one of the best pass-rushing units in the league, there was no reason to risk an injury to the quarterback with the playoffs ahead. On top of his aforementioned rushing yardage, Taylor was rather serviceable as a passer, completing 15 of his 25 pass attempts for 149 yards and an interception and took three sacks.
Without Anquan Boldin on the field, the Ravens relied on a motley crew of receiving targets. Tight end Ed Dickson, who has been battling through injuries all season long, was the team's top receiver with six catches on eight targets for 64 yards. He was followed up by receiver David Reed with three catches for 44 yards and receiver-returner Jacoby Jones with three catches of his own, for 36 additional yards. Torrey Smith and Dennis Pitta, who didn't play the entire contest, had zero catches apiece on one and two targets each, respectively.
With so many starters resting on both sides of the ball, it's hard to get a bead on what approach the Ravens will take once the postseason commences next week. The only hint comes from how much running the Ravens have done the past two weeks, including this Sunday, when they weren't playing with as significant a lead as they did in last Sunday's stomping of the New York Giants. Beyond that is anyone's guess, though it would be smart for another run-heavy approach simply because of the Colts' defensive weakness when it comes to the ground game.
Baltimore's primary goals in the final stretch of the season were to break its three-game losing streak, clinch a playoff berth and win the AFC North. With all three of those goals accomplished after last week's win, it makes sense that it'd prefer its starters to be at full health headed into January rather than pick up a Week 17 win that does nothing to change its future nor its draft position.
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