Bengals vs. Ravens: Takeaways from Cincinnati's 20-17 Loss to Baltimore
Cincinnati moves to 6-4 behind horrific quarterback play from Dalton once again. His defense was able to take advantage of a weak Baltimore offense, but Cincinnati routinely shot itself in the foot with penalties and bad decisions from the coaching staff.
The Bengals are far from out of the woods after losing a winnable game, especially considering that the rest of the schedule will be tough.
While the Bengals remain in first place in the AFC North, there are plenty of points to detail from a stunning loss.
Let's take a look.
Giovani Bernard Continues to Hold the Keys to the Offense
As if this is a surprise.
Rookie back Giovani Bernard entered the game as "questionable" thanks to rib issues after an injury sustained on Thursday Night Football in Week 9.
Once again, the Bengals offense was most effective when Bernard was the one taking the snaps out of the backfield. He finished the day with 14 carries for 58 yards and also caught eight receptions for 37 yards, including one that he took 18 yards for a touchdown.
Outside of a questionable decision in overtime on fourth down to run backwards in an attempt to find a hole, Bernard had another great game and was easily the most important player on the field for the offense.
Defense Remains a Strong Suit for the Bengals
The Baltimore Ravens are horrible offensively due to a swath of injuries along the offensive line, but plenty of credit must still be heaped on the Cincinnati defense for a strong effort.
Baltimore was just 3-of-16 on third down against the Bengals and had only 189 total yards—total yards.
Not only that, but the Bengals were able to pick off Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco twice and also recovered a fumble in an effort to make up for its own anemic offense.
At a time when plenty of questions surrounded the unit thanks to the losses of Leon Hall and Geno Atkins—not to mention the absence of Rey Maualuga—the Bengals still showed that they can play stout AFC North defense.
James Harrison's New Role
As a strongside linebacker this season, James Harrison has been mostly confined to a role in which he is asked to stop the run. This is has been a stark contrast to his Pittsburgh Steelers days, when he would rush the passer consistently from the 3-4 defense.
Strangely enough, the Cincinnati Bengals coaching staff added a new wrinkle on Sunday with Geno Atkins out for the year, as Harrison lined up at defensive tackle on the interior of the line in order to put pressure on Joe Flacco.
It worked like a charm.
Harrison did not record a sack, but he applied plenty of pressure that led to mistakes and was in on the fumble by Flacco, which Harrison recovered.
It seems as though Harrison has found a niche role in the team's defense as a versatile player, and while he won't make up for the loss of Atkins, he certainly helps to mitigate the loss.
Vincent Rey Is a Stellar Backup
With Rey Maualuga out of the picture in the middle, it was tough to gauge how well the Cincinnati defense would respond, especially against a tough (albeit slumping) running back such as Ray Rice.
Vincent Rey answered the question emphatically, however, as the Cincinnati Bengals Twitter account illustrates:
Vinny Rey today: 3 sacks, 3 passes defensed, 6 tackles, INT. #Bengals #CINvsBAL— Cincinnati Bengals (@Bengals) November 10, 2013
But that's not all.
Rey finished the contest with 13 total tackles, which led the team. He also had three sacks and three passes defensed.
Mostly known as a special teams presence, Rey exploded onto the scene in a defensive battle. He won't take the starting job, but once again, it's good to know the Bengals have quality depth—especially at a thin position.
Andy Dalton Is as Unreliable as Ever
Andy Dalton was at it again on Sunday against Baltimore.
By halftime, Dalton had played a large role in the team being without points, thanks to his 8-of-21 performance for 47 yards and an interception.
Dalton finished the day 24-of-51 for 274 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions.
Observers who watched the game live know Dalton was erratic, often saved by his teammates while being completely inaccurate and lacking in the arm strength to make sharp throws to the sidelines.
In fact, Dalton's best play of the day was a scramble on a read-option play.
We've seen the best and worst from Dalton over the past four or five weeks, but it's never fun to watch when you don't know which Dalton will show up on any given Sunday.
As Is the Bad Play-Calling and Erratic Offenisve Line Play
As bad as Andy Dalton was for Cincinnati on Sunday, the Bengals offensive line was not any better.
It didn't matter where the pressure was coming from—Andre Smith was beat on the right side, left tackle Andrew Whitworth was routinely whipped and the interior failed to properly pick up blitzes.
All in all, Dalton was sacked five times and hit a total of nine.
As for the play-calling from Marvin Lewis, Jay Gruden and Co., it was mediocre at best.
Lewis elected to trust in his defense missing its two best players and attempt multiple fourth down conversions that ultimately failed, including the one in overtime that led to the loss.
Gruden was not much better with the offense, as he made some head-scratching plays on third down and routinely allowed Dalton to pass consistently, despite his obvious struggles, rather than stick with an effective running game.
It starts at the top in Cincinnati, but two fundamentals need to be addressed quickly: toughness in the trenches and basic strategy.
Cincinnati Remains a Young, Undisciplined Team
At the end of the first half, the Ravens had only managed 102 yards. Cincinnati had also gifted them with 114 yards on seven penalties.
So we lied—the Bengals also need to get back to basics when it comes to keeping their cool and executing fundamental, error-free football.
By the time the final gun sounded, the Bengals had committed an unacceptable nine penalties for 134 yards.
In a game where every yard truly mattered, the young Bengals failed.
Whether it was horrible pass interference, false starts or simply being too aggressive with personal fouls, the Bengals religiously shot themselves in the foot and handed the game to a team that was not as talented.
All Hope Is Not Lost in the AFC North
As bad as this performance was—and as pathetic as the sack for a loss in overtime was two weeks ago was—all hope is not lost for the 2013 Cincinnati Bengals.
Cincinnati remains at the top of the AFC North and has a winning record. The majority of the mistakes, such as penalties and under-performing along the offensive line, are correctable.
The strategy and play-calling seems to be hit-or-miss at best, but when they are firing on all cylinders, the Bengals are tough to beat.
All the Bengals need to do now is learn from mistakes, and that goes for the coaching staff as much as it goes for the players. Jay Gruden has the ability to get 325 yards or more in three straight games from Andy Dalton—we've seen it.
Consistency and maturity are the keys for the Bengals moving forward. A return trip to the playoffs is still very likely, but things have to improve if Cincinnati is to make some noise upon arrival.
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