The Bengals’ win against the Ravens in the season finale gave fans a lot to be happy about with the team’s long-term future. At least if you’re willing to look at things optimistically. Young players stepped up in all phases, giving a lot for the coaching staff to digest this offseason.
Here are the best and worst aspects from Cincinnati’s 27-10 win over Baltimore in Week 17.
A domination of a talented divisional foe: At one point pretty late in the season, the Bengals, Ravens and Steelers were all in contention for an AFC North crown. Baltimore ended up at 8-8 on the year after losing the Bengals in the finale. Even though it was a poor season for Cincinnati and they lost the first matchup of 2016, their current reign over the Ravens is something that does play into Marvin Lewis’ corner. The Bengals thoroughly dominated the game in multiple facets, even causing the Ravens to put in Ryan Mallett late in the game when Cincinnati had a big lead.
Young players stepping up: The Bengals had major injuries on offense, but players like Cody Core, Tyler Boyd, and C.J. Uzomah all helped out to give Andy Dalton a very efficient passing game against the Ravens. Additionally, Rex Burkhead had a great game, and though he isn’t as young as the aforementioned players, he did step up with both Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard out with injuries. Additionally, KeiVarae Russell had his first career interception to ice the win.
Andy Dalton—particularly in the first half: As mentioned, Dalton had a very efficient game, finishing 18-of-28 for 226 yards and a passing touchdown to Uzomah. Unfortunately, the majority of the production came in the first two quarters, pointing to a lingering issue with the unit’s lack of halftime adjustments.
The pass rush: Cincinnati’s defensive front has a knack to getting to Joe Flacco in recent years and Sunday afternoon was no different. The maligned Bengals pass rush grabbed three sacks of Flacco on Sunday, with Carlos Dunlap and Wallace Gilberry each netting one apiece, while Pat Sims and Geno Atkins combined for another.
Rex Burkhead: In one of his first games as the go-to guy, Burkhead had an excellent game, finishing with 27 carries for 119 yards and two scores. And, as many predicted, he also contributed as a receiver, grabbing two receptions for 25 yards. As he enters free agency, Burkhead picked a great time to have an excellent game.
Lack of apparent speed: With A.J. Green, Giovani Bernard and others out of the lineup, the team still showed that it needs some speed on both sides of the ball. If the team actually starts playing their younger players they have accrued recently, this could be remedied next season, but a deep threat at wide receiver, and speed on the defensive front seven are needed.
The kick return game: Adam Jones did have a nice 15-yard punt return, but Alex Erickson had another that netted zero yards. He also had a kickoff return for just 14 yards, continuing the inconsistency in the facet that had been such a strong point in previous seasons. Erickson still finished the year in a positive light, especially for a rookie undrafted free agent.
Second half offense: After such a good first half passing the ball (14 completions for 181 yards and a touchdown), Cincinnati had just four completions for 45 yards in the second half. Burkhead did have a touchdown in the second half, but the bulk of his production came in the first two quarters. As mentioned earlier, the problems in the second half point to inexperience in the unit, as well as other possible issues.