In the scheme of predicting games, every prediction comes from a spectrum of possible results. This spectrum looks like a bell curve, with extreme results on the outer ends, and everyone who predicts a game publicly takes from the middle area. Sometimes teams don’t show up, have stupid bad luck, or key players get injured, but those are unpredictable scenarios. They’re one in ten possibilities at best, and rarely make the predictor look smart.
Yesterday’s game was one of those. The Bengals trotted out in front of their home crowd and just unequivocally failed to launch.
“Nothing is shocking to me,” safety George Iloka told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “This is the NFL. You don’t show up, you lose.”
Some weeks, that’s all there really is to say. Even so, there’s still 60 minutes of game film to break down.
Four Quick Notes
• It was an ugly game for quarterback Andy Dalton, but the box score doesn’t do him justice. Of his four interceptions, two were deflected well short of the target. One, deflected by Patrick Onwuasor on the way to an open A.J. Green downfield, landed in the hands of Brandon Carr. The other, deflected at the line, landed in the hands of Lardarius Webb, who’d blitzed on the play but had an eternity while the ball hung in the air to stand under it. At that point, with that being his third interception, Dalton would’ve been justified in throwing his metaphorical Madden controller through the screen.
• This wasn’t exactly an offensive showcase for either team. In a game in which Baltimore won the turnover margin battle by +4 and had 12 offensive drives (one which started two yards from the goal line), they scored 20 points. Flacco looked rusty, and Baltimore held him to 17 pass attempts while Terrance West and Buck Allen split 40 carries. Baltimore’s touchdowns came on the two-yard drive and a blitz play where Darqueze Dennard ran into George Iloka, leaving Jeremy Maclin over the middle without a safety to stop him.
• For those that like defense, of course, this was an incredible game to watch. This has actually been an incredible week to watch, by and large, with only 13 of 26 teams so far going above 300 yards on offense (and only two of those passing 400). There’ll likely be a significant regression to the mean in week 2, but for now the NFL has returned to 20th century, cloud-of-dust nonsense. In that context, Baltimore and Cincinnati looked elite.
• In all seriousness, the Bengals didn’t fare poorly on defense, especially for not having Vontaze Burfict, Adam Jones or Shawn Williams available. Kevin Minter finished with the best Pro Football Focus grade on the team, tying the 84.4 scored by the Ravens’ C.J. Mosley. Ryan Glasgow finished second with 83.4 while filling in at nose tackle, while Carl Lawson tied A.J. Green with 80.0. Geno Atkins looked like his usual self, rounding out the top five with 79.6.
DT Geno Atkins: It’s tough to say that Atkins looked better than usual during the game, but he looked great despite everything around him going wrong. Even with the Ravens fielding two-time All-Pro Marshal Yanda across from him, Atkins managed seven tackles, including two for loss with one sack, as well as two quarterback hits. One week into the season, he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
OLB Carl Lawson: Building on a stellar preseason, Lawson scored his 80.0 PFF grade by tallying three quarterback pressures in fourteen pass-rushing snaps against the Ravens. In a year where the Bengals are shifting towards youth across the roster and have already taken some lumps, Lawson looks like a star in the making. He’ll be an every-down player when the coaches find a place for him against the run.
OT Cedric Ogbuehi: Ogbuehi’s career is far from going down in flames, but his first season as a full-time left tackle could’ve gotten off to a better start. Playing mostly across from him, veteran Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs (who turns 35 in October) looked like a younger version of himself. Ogbuehi’s young and being run around by a veteran of Suggs’ caliber in week 1 is nothing for him to be ashamed of, but the offensive line has to gel and perform better down the stretch.
CB Darqueze Dennard: While the defense held up well against the Ravens for the most part, Dennard was the player singularly most responsible for Jeremy Maclin’s 48-yard touchdown. The cardinal rule of cover-0 blitzing is that inside leverage can’t be given up; Dennard, lining up 10 yards off the line, crashed too hard on a basic under route and ran straight into George Iloka. It’s an understandable mistake for a young player to make, but it’s demonstrative of what Adam Jones brings to the group. Dennard just isn’t there yet.
Four Things Looking Ahead
1.) Down the line, the Bengals will have to play against the Ravens again, in Baltimore. Flacco should be in much better condition, and the young defense will have played substantially more snaps together. If there’s two names the Bengals need to remember from that unit, one would be linebacker C.J. Mosley, who showed off superb athleticism and coverage skills on Dalton’s second pick and could vault himself into the best-linebacker-in-the-league conversation by then. The other: nose tackle Michael Pierce.
Per Russell Street Report, the Ravens only dressed five defensive linemen against the Bengals, and played in base personnel on only 10 snaps. This led to only 128 aggregate snaps for linemen over the game, or 2.16 per play. 69 of those snaps were split between Pierce and defensive tackle Brandon Williams. Williams, after signing a huge contract extension in the offseason, is roundly known as one of the best run-stuffing and all-around interior players in the league. Pierce, usually rotating with Williams, showed little drop-off.
Between them, the Ravens have two massive, run-stuffing tackles that provide utility even on obvious passing downs. That makes it far easier for already prolific linebackers like Suggs and Mosley, as well as developing ones (like Kamalei Correa, Matt Judon and Tyus Bowser), to execute their assignments. The Bengals will have more film to study on the group by their week 17 rematch, but blocking them will still be a daunting task.
2.) More immediately, the Bengals have a quick turnaround ahead of them, facing the Houston Texans at home this Thursday night. Like the Bengals, the Texans spent this past Sunday at home, being slowly clubbed to death by a division rival with a top-tier defense and run-heavy offensive game plan. In Houston’s case, this led to the benching of their starting quarterback by halftime. Dalton was never under such a risk, but Houston’s quarterback situation is far different.
Rookie Deshaun Watson, although he managed to score a touchdown, didn’t have any sort of success worth writing home about. After completing 12 of 23 passing attempts for 102 yards, Watson is set to start in Cincinnati on Thursday night. Heading into his first game, on the road and with only three full days to prepare, frankly seems like a terrible mix for Watson.
3.) Also regarding the Texans: Duane Brown, the Texans’ starting left tackle when healthy, has been in a contract holdout since the beginning of training camp that shows no signs of ending. Against Jacksonville, Houston gave up ten sacks, including four to defensive end Calais Campbell. On top of that, the Texans are heading into their Thursday night matchup with all three tight ends on the roster in concussion protocol. Things may change by the preview article, but for now the situation for the Bengals’ defense looks positively delicious.
4.) Speaking of which: after sitting out Sunday’s game, strong safety Shawn Williams was a full-go in practice on Monday, as was last-minute holdout John Ross. Other players injured Sunday, including guard Trey Hopkins, defensive end Michael Johnson and cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, didn’t participate. Updates on them will be included in the week 2 preview article.
– Andrew Hammel is the managing editor for cover32/Bengals and covers the Cincinnati Bengals for cover32