Whoa. Talk about a barn-burner. After the Bengals shot off to a comfortable 14-0 lead in the first half, it looked like the Ravens' season was winding down before October. However, after the dreaded "catch rule" negated a Tyler Eifert touchdown on fourth down to put the Bengals up 21-0 right before the half, you just knew things would get interesting.
Cincinnati gained a 28-24 victory after a whirlwind fourth quarter ensued where 31 points where scored between the two teams. There is/was plenty to be happy about in the team's performance if you're a Bengals fan, but there were some warts that showed as well. Let's take a look at some of the best and worst of Sunday afternoon in M&T Bank Stadium.
Andy Dalton: We hate to be so broad in our analysis here, but there was a lot to like about the Bengals' quarterback's play on Sunday. Pocket presence in the face of pressure, throwing dimes of intermediate and deep routes, along with a career-high in passing yards (383) and getting his team a gritty road win. His four total touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) were especially exceptional given the team's lack of a running game. He's off to the best start of his career and is the major reason the team sits at 3-0.
The Top Two Wideouts: A.J. Green had a career day along with his quarterback to the tune of 10 receptions and 227 yards along with two touchdowns. Marvin Jones continues to please his teammates and fans with his 2015 comeback, as evidenced by his five catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. For those poor at math like myself, that's a combination of 15 receptions, 321 yards, three touchdowns and a 21.4 yards-per-catch average.
Multiple Responses to Major Adversity: Whether it was the technically-correct, but questionable non-touchdown call on Eifert, or the many big touchdowns by the Ravens to have the Bengals fall behind for the first time in two and a half games, Cincinnati kept responding. For so many years, this team has struggled to find ways to win and/or has played tight once they lost a lead. Maybe it's a turning of the corner, or maybe Baltimore is just un-Raven like at the moment, but it seems like a big step for a team that needs to take them in 2015.
Some Good Efficiency Stats: Part of the big reason for the path to victory on Sunday was the team's success on third down as an offense. Dalton and Co. were 8-of-15 (52%) on the down, while also being 2-of-2 on goal-to-go situations. The fluky Eifert play made some other efficiency stats get dinged, but two critical areas were going well for the Bengals on Sunday.
Run Defense and the Frustrating of the Ravens' Offensive Line: Justin Forsett had a miserable day running the football with ten carries for 13 yards, while the entire Baltimore team had just 36 rushing yards and two yards-per-carry. Beyond those stats, about half of the Ravens' 13 penalties were made by their offensive lineman, in a variety of fouls. Disallowing Baltimore to run the football was a huge key to the team's victory, while Domata Peko and Geno Atkins were particularly effective.
Rashaan Melvin: Do yourself a favor if you have the game recorded and/or have NFL Game Pass: re-watch the first half and see how badly Melvin was victimized. We hate to laugh at a person's professional misfortune, but Melvin was getting so torched by the Bengals' offense in the form of allowing big plays and penalties, it was almost comical.
Kevin Huber: The Bengals' punter had a nice day with a 43.1 punt average on three punts, with one inside the 20. One of his three was a 57-yard bomb and he is living up to his Pro Bowl billing this year.
The Game-Winning Drive: What beautiful work by the Bengals' offense at crunch time. Dalton hit four different receivers, with each being bigger than the last. Giovani Bernard took a dump-off pass for 23 yards, Mohamed Sanu grabbed a nice one for 19 more, Jones had an incredible one-hand catch for 31 yards, and Green finished it off for the seven-yard score. it was a total gut-punch to the Ravens.
The Running Game: Bernard was the leading rusher for the second straight week with 49 yards and Jeremy Hill had just 21. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson attempted to get creative with a couple of other runs by Sanu and allowing Dalton to run, but nothing was working particularly well. It's never easy to run the ball at will against the Ravens, but Cincinnati was fortunate to have their quarterback on point throughout the afternoon.
Joe Flacco's Pass Dispersal: The Bengals' back seven didn't have an answer for the Ravens' passing game most of the day. Aside from Steve Smith going off (more on that later), Flacco hit nine different receivers for 362 yards and two touchdowns. While some were dink-and-dunk, Flacco did some deeper passes as well.
Some Bad Efficiency Stats: While they were 100 percent on goal-to-go efficiency, Cincinnati was just 3-for-6 in the red zone. The call against Eifert also hurt their fourth down conversion stats at 1-for-2, but the other good efficiency won the day.
Losing the Turnover Battle on the Road Against A Divisional Rival: Traditionally, if the Bengals were to head to any of the AFC North foe stadiums and lost the turnover battle, it would undoubtedly be a long trip home. The Bengals surrendered two and took away just one, giving them the disadvantage.
Dalton's Two Mistakes: While he had an amazing day, the only two mistakes Dalton had cost the Bengals at least 10 points. At the beginning of the third quarter, the Bengals had a nine-play drive which got them to the Ravens' 15-yard line. Dalton threw a poor fade pass to Green in the end zone, only to have it intercepted by Jimmy Smith. Points off the board there, and more to the Ravens in the fourth quarter when Dalton held on to the ball way too long. He was sacked by Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley returned it for a score.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties: ESPN's Adam Schefter reported a an all-time league-high in penalties this year, and this game definitely was a culprit. There were 22 total penalties by both teams (nine by Cincinnati, 13 by Baltimore) and it made for a really strange day. Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was flagged for illegal contact at one point, but didn't get an offensive pass interference call on a Smith touchdown. Still, many of the penalties were deserved and extended the game.
Bengals' Pass Rush: After getting to the quarterback for the first two weeks, the Bengals' defense came up with a goose egg in the sack department against the Ravens. It was especially frustrating, given Eugene Monroe's absence, the immobility of Flacco and Cincinnati's revamping of the line this year; but nothing worked Sunday.
Steve Smith and Bengals Back Seven Tackling Issues: So, there are a couple of items to discuss here. The first is Smith's dominance of the Bengals once again with 13 catches for 186 and two touchdowns. His 50-yard touchdown reception was egregious due to abhorrent tackling, which was part and parcel of the Bengals' afternoon. The other part to address is Smith's actions on the field. Many love his "fire" chip on his shoulder, but the act is tired. He spins the ball in celebration after every catch, even when it doesn't result in a first down, and never pipes down. He called the entire Bengals secondary garbage, in essence, yet is still praised for "the way he plays the game".