The Bengals were able to escape Baltimore with a 28-24 win over the Ravens in a game where each team's offense was the story in the fourth quarter.
However, the first three quarters were a defensive struggle in which Cincinnati's defense put them in a position to have a lead going into the fourth quarter. They held the Ravens to a mere seven points through three quarters, and that came on a 50-yard score by Steve Smith Sr.
The fourth quarter would also see the Ravens' offense get all of their production through the air, but that was largely because they could do nothing on the ground for the entire contest. The Bengals' run defense played lights out in this game, holding Baltimore to just 36 yards on 18 carries. That's 2.0 yards per carry, a feat rarely seen by a front seven, but the Bengals dominated the Ravens' offensive line and running backs.
The Ravens ground game isn't that bad either. They came into this game averaging rushing 91 yards per game and 3.8 yards per carry. The Bengals run defense hadn't shown much either since they were allowing 4.8 yards per carry coming into Week 3, ranking them near the bottom of the NFL in that category.
But on this day, the Bengals' run defense stood tall in shutting down the Ravens' ground game, and it helped the boys in stripes come out of Baltimore with a win and a 3-0 start to the season. Adding to this, Jay Morrison of the Dayton Dailey News writes that the 36 yards the Ravens had were the fewest allowed by the Bengals since 2009 when they held the Bears to 35 in 45-10 victory.
That was a game in which Cincinnati jumped out to a big lead and forced Chicago to abandon the run early on. Against Baltimore, this was a game that was never out of hand for the Ravens. They tried to keep running the ball throughout, but simply could never penetrate Cincinnati's defense.
A big reason why they were so good was the play of middle linebacker Rey Maualuga. I've been as critical as anyone about Maualuga's enigmatic play, but he's playing great thus far in 2015, and it continued on Sunday. Maualuga finished this game with three stops (tackles causing an offensive failure) and a 1.5 Pro Football Focus grade. He now has a 1.2 PFF grade for the season, tying him with Clay Matthews for 18th out of 82 inside linebackers in PFF's rankings.
But the real reason why Cincinnati is doing so well against the run is Geno Atkins. He's back to his All-Pro self and is constantly in opponent's backfields disrupting plays. He picked up three more stops against the Ravens and is ranked second out of 99 interior defensive linemen in PFF's rankings. His 5.7 run-blocking grade is also the sixth best of any linemen.
The defensive ends also have to get credit for how well they are setting the edge on runs. Carlos Dunlap actually finished this game with the highest run-blocking grade (2.7) of any Bengal in this game. Michael Johnson (1.7) and Wallace Gilberry (1.4) also had great run-blocking grades on Sunday.
It's great to see so many guys in the front seven stepping up and playing well. While the offense's fourth-quarter explosion will get the praise for this win, the run defense was just as important to solidifying the victory.