Ravens vs. Bengals: Takeaways from Baltimore's 34-17 Loss to Cincinnati

Shehan Peiris@@shehan_peiris_Correspondent IIIDecember 29, 2013

Ravens vs. Bengals: Takeaways from Baltimore's 34-17 Loss to Cincinnati

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    The Baltimore Ravens got the help they needed (in the form of a Miami Dolphins loss), but they couldn't help themselves as they came up short against the Cincinnati Bengals. The result was a 34-17 loss which ended Baltimore's 2013 season.

    There is plenty to be discussed as the Ravens head into the offseason, but here are the most important takeaways from the last game of the season.

Bernard Pierce Is Ready to Be More Involved in the Offense

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    Every Ravens running back has been disappointing this season, but Bernard Pierce looked like the best back on the team in Week 17.

    No rusher got much work on the ground, but Pierce was the one who was capable of making defenders miss and the one fighting for extra yards.

    Moreover, Pierce was also effective in the passing game as a checkdown option for Joe Flacco.

    According to BaltimoreRavens.com, Ray Rice has talked about how he wants to prove that he’s “still a premier running back in the NFL,” but Pierce may be the better option moving forward.

Joe Flacco Is in the Danger Zone

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    Durable NFL quarterbacks are often referred to as “Iron Men,” and Joe Flacco definitely fits that mold since he’s never missed a game in his career.

    Flacco is not Iron Man, though. He’s not a superhero, and he took a real beating as the 2013 regular season came to a close.

    The most glaring concern was the knee injury he suffered against the Detroit Lions, which caused him to wear a brace, but that isn’t the only worry for Flacco.

    He’s the second-most sacked quarterback in the league, and the cumulative effect of those hits were evident against the Cincinnati Bengals.

    The Super Bowl MVP was clearly in pain and hobbled off the field on multiple occasions. That’s not exactly what the Ravens front office wanted to see after investing $120 million in the quarterback over the offseason.

    Flacco is taking too much punishment, and that’s something that needs to be addressed over the offseason.

Inability to Deal with Blitzes

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    The offensive line has struggled all season long, but the inability to deal with blitzes has killed drives. Whenever the Ravens were in a third-down passing situation, the Bengals would send pressure, which wreaked havoc.

    Baltimore’s protection schemes couldn’t account for all the pass-rushers, and free rushers were consistently forcing Flacco to get rid of the ball early.

    Some of it is poor protection by each lineman, but it also seems to be a wider issue of communication. Baltimore has been beaten by double A-gap blitzes up the middle and cornerback blitzes off the edge all year long, as none of the linemen are on the same page.

Lack of a Pass Rush

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    The dominant pass rush that carried the Ravens defense through the first half of the season disappeared in the latter portion of the year.

    Andy Dalton wasn’t brought down once, and he routinely had a clean pocket and enough time to find receivers down the field.

    General manager Ozzie Newsome upgraded the pass rush over the summer, and the pairing of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil was electrifying to start the year.

    That effectiveness wore off, however, as the season progressed. Without it, opposing quarterbacks had far too much time to pick apart the defense.

Playoff Streak Is over

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Head coach John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco had never missed the playoffs, but that streak ended with the Week 17 loss.

    After lifting the Super Bowl trophy last season, the Ravens end up not even making it back to the playoffs. So it's back to the drawing board this season as GM Ozzie Newsome tries to construct a contender.

    It was a very disappointing season for the Ravens, and they had plenty of chances to extend their postseason streak. A win would have catapulted them into the second wild-card spot, but they were outplayed by the Bengals.