Two weeks into the season, and the Bengals have won two games. There was some discussion as to whether or not the Bengals were to be taken seriously after their 33-13 rout in Oakland, but most of the skeptics have been silenced after their clutch 24-19 win at home against the San Diego Chargers. Apparently, that list of skeptics includes Ravens' coach, John Harbaugh, who was recently quoted as saying that the Bengals are "the most talented team" in the NFL.
The Bengals' Week 2 win was not on the road and not an absolute blowout, like their win in Week 1. However, the win did display the team's ability to win against a team that, by most accounts, are playoff contenders. Despite losing to the Bengals last week, Pro Football Focus still ranked them as the 14th best team in the NFL, speaking nothing but praise for the ultra-accurate Phillip Rivers.
This week, the Bengals travel to Baltimore to face a Ravens team who has their backs against the wall. The Bengals escaped with an early season win in Baltimore last year, but can they do it again this year with higher stakes? Here's what the data says:
The Bengals' win last week featured the continued dominance of Geno Atkins (+5.1), as well as an incredible performance from the offensive line (+20.8 combined). The dominance of the trenches on both sides of the ball resulted in respect from across the league, landing an average of 5th in most power rankings, and 4th for Pro Football Focus.
The Bengals' stellar offensive play is due, in large part, to the improved play from second year center, Russell Bodine, and the consistently great play from right guard, Clint Boling. After struggling through much of his rookie season (cumulative grade of -15.6) as well as this preseason, Bodine has come alive these last two weeks (+3.1 through week two). He was graded particularly well last week (+4.3), making PFF's week two team of the week at center. Clint Boling might be having the best season of his career, receiving great overall grades both of the last two weeks (+9.3 combined).
On the opposite side of the trenches, the Bengals have seen the return of the totally dominant Geno Atkins that we know and love, receiving a fantastic cumulative score over the past two weeks (+11.7). However, the Bengals' two starting defensive ends, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson, have also played well. Last week, Wallace Gillberry recorded a very good overall score (+2.8) due to great performances against both the run and pass, but Dunlap and Johnson also contributed to the pressure on the Chargers' offense with a combined nine tackles, one and a half sacks, two tackles for losses, and two QB hits.
Last week: 37-33 loss in Oakland.
If the Raiders weren't a good enough team to prove something for the Bengals, then the Ravens must be a cake-walk, right? Although the question is obviously sarcastic, it is true that the Ravens are going into Week 3 with an 0-2 record. That could mean that they're vulnerable to collapse against the Bengals this week, but it could also mean that their backs are against the wall and that they could be dangerous, should the Bengals look past them. Whatever the case, they are still a divisional opponent and, therefore, should not be underestimated.
If last week's loss is to be believed, the Ravens are going to struggle to pressure the passing games of opponents for the rest of the year. Without Suggs in the lineup, only C.J. Mosely (+1.0) recorded a positive pass rush grade for the Ravens' linebackers, although it was the fifth best performance among ILBs rushing the pass in the NFL last week.
Right Guard Marshall Yanda (+4.1) turned in one of the best performances of the week, according to PFF. However, this did not do enough to cancel out how poorly the rest of the Ravens' offensive line played (-27.1 against the pass), which ranks as the worst in the NFL. The Ravens will need to step it up this week against the Bengals' dominant pass rush if they hope to come out with a win.
Keys to the Game
Andy Dalton has had a great start to the season (five touchdowns, no interceptions, 483 yards on 41/60 completed passes). However, you could make the argument that his stats are being inflated by the talent of his receivers, who have accounted for 259 of his 483 passing yards after the catch. According to PFF, that leaves him as only the 26th ranked quarterback in the league in yards before the catch.
On top of that, it helps that Tyler Eifert has been having a breakout year, rated as the best tight end in the NFL by PFF, accounting for a large portion of Dalton's production (153 yards, three touchdowns). Add in the production of Jeremy Hill in Week 1 (two touchdowns), and Giovani Bernard in Week 2 (123 yards) and you've got a ton of options for the Bengals to utilize as long as they can get the ball in their hands.
Field Goal Accuracy
In the opening week of last season, the Bengals traveled to Baltimore and escaped to win 23-16. 15 of the Bengals' 23 points that day came on field goals, largely due to the Ravens' bend but don't break defensive style, and incredible red zone defense. Last week, Mike Nugent continued his worrying trend of missing seemingly easy field goals although, admittedly, in a less crucial situation than some of his more infamous misses. Against the Raiders and Chargers, the Bengals have managed to convert most of their field goal range opportunities for touchdowns.
However, opponents of the Ravens have not. So far, 24 of the Ravens' 56 points given up have come on field goals this season. Ideally, you would like the Bengals to just convert for touchdowns, but it is not always as simple as that against the Ravens. Along with touchback accuracy (40% last week), Mike Nugent's painful miss from 36 yards caused him to be rated as PFF's worst kicker in Week 2. If the Bengals want to beat the Ravens, that cannot happen again this week.
In 117 snaps played, Vincent Rey has missed five tackles. That gives him the third worst combined tackle efficiency, among 4-3 outside linebackers, per PFF. This stat exemplifies exactly where the Bengals have struggled so far. Missed tackles have been prevalent for Rey and Emmanuel Lamur, and the Bengals' linebackers rank among the worst in the NFL when it comes to missed tackles as a result.
This poor tackle efficiency caused the Bengals to struggle last week against Melvin Gordon (+1.3), who forced three missed tackles on 16 attempts, and averaged 3.6 yards after contact. Last week, Justin Forsett (+3.1) rebounded from a rough performance in Week 1 (-6.1), due in part to Steve Smith Sr's rank as the third best WR in blocking for the run (+2.0). The Bengals should be able to get to Forsett from the inside with relative ease, but they will need to finish their tackles to make it matter.