The fans will cry foul at the referees, and those with an axe to grind may point to a few key opportunities that the team missed on Sunday. But the true explanation for why the Baltimore Ravens lost at home to the Cincinnati Bengals this past weekend is that the Bengals were the better team.
They had a better game plan. Their players were better prepared, and their coaches called better plays at the right time. It was evident all afternoon as they converted on third down over and over. As their defense kept forcing the previously potent Ravens offense to punt.
They’re a formidable opponent, and they proved it. The Ravens, meanwhile, proved they need to rethink their strategy going forward.
What was once a dominating defense hasn’t looked the same without Rex Ryan calling the shots. Or Chris McAlister playing shutdown corner. Or Bart Scott playing both pass rusher and run stopper.
Meanwhile, Cam Cameron has had a hard time determining how to use his suddenly effective offensive corps. Joe Flacco has gotten off to a slow start the past two games, and the offseason remarks about bolstering the receiver corps are quietly creeping back up.
There were times on Sunday when the Ravens offense resembled the vanilla scheme employed by Brian Billick and Matt Cavanaugh earlier this decade, a notion that will likely make many of the Charm City faithful cringe.
After being too pass-happy a week earlier, the Ravens offense had a difficult time establishing any sort of meaningful offense against Cincinnati.
There’s plenty of talent on both sides of the ball. The trick is finding the right way to utilize it. Cameron and defensive coordinator Greg Mattison need to do some tinkering
But for 59 minutes they still stayed in the game, and that’s a testament to what they are capable of doing. Part of head coach John Harbaugh’s job is to keep losses like this in perspective, and make sure the team learns from them.
“The bottom line is this: We make a couple of plays we didn’t make, we’re 5-0,” Harbaugh said a day after the stunning loss. “We don’t make a couple of plays in one other game, we’re 2-3.
"That’s the nature of the NFL. You have to win games as you go. If you want to be in the hunt, you’ve got to win games like this, and our guys know that.”
That might be the most frustrating aspect of the past two losses—change a few key elements and Baltimore is still undefeated right now.
It’s those little things the Ravens will need to work on to get better. They won’t publicly concede to changing their approach. Harbaugh said that “has no value” for the team, and he’s right. It’s about moving forward. And they’ll need to beat the Minnesota Vikings.
Regardless of the miscues and poor execution, the Ravens have been competitive. They just need to learn how to finish.