Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Bengals were losing for the majority of the game, then they made a late push to make it interesting.
Per usual, Cincinnati had a lifeless first 45 minutes of football, this time on the road against the Ravens. The two-score deficit created by their typical deficiencies made their feeble comeback attempt meaningless. A 23-17 loss looks close on paper, but this game was anything but tight.
If you had said going into the game that the Bengals were only going to give up 23 points to the Ravens, a potentially explosive offense, most fans would have signed up for that in a heartbeat. But 23 points would have matched the Bengals’ season high, which came against the Cardinals who had the worst record in football a year ago.
This offense just can’t score points. It would be a lot cooler if they did.
Here’s what we learned:
Germaine Pratt is a good thing
The linebacker group is among the worst in football, which is why the Bengals drafted Pratt in the first place. He hasn’t been getting a lot of snaps until now, and the results tell us he should have been getting in the work sooner.
Nick Vigil led the team in tackles like he seems to do every week, but Pratt was one of the best linebackers out there. When the opponents present a two-headed monster in the backfield like Lamar Jackson and Mark Ingram, then you need someone with speed in the middle of the defense. In this case, that person is Pratt.
This was an important challenge the Bengals had to figure out. The Ravens run a different offense than the Cardinals did, and Jackson got more designed runs than Kyler Murray. Stopping the run was going to be much more important and much more challenging. The young linebacker was up to the task, recording five tackles on defense.
Unfortunately, there was only one Pratt to go around. Whether it was because he only recorded roughly half the snaps that Vigil and Preston Brown had, because he mostly in the game during running downs, because his job was to stop the run, or whatever reason you can come up with, Ravens tight ends ended the day with nine receptions for 121 yards. Pratt, a former safety, was sought after partly for his coverage skills. If he is the third linebacker in the base 4-3 defense, that means he will mostly be playing against the run. The Bengals need to get him in all phases of the game, whether in base 4-3 or nickel.
Obviously, Pratt didn’t look like an All-Pro out there. He made some rookie mistakes, which was to be expected. But it would be better to give Pratt more playing time and see some mistakes than it would be to just keep doing what they were doing with Vigil and Brown.
Whatever they did on defense, it worked, and the Bengals only gave up 23 points to the Ravens. That’s a win for the defense.
Andy Dalton is shellshocked
It was bound to happen sooner or later, given the fact that Andy Dalton has been playing behind the worst offensive line in the league across the last three years.
There were plenty of plays where Dalton didn’t get his feet set and he was just flinging the ball for dear life. He only had a completion percentage of 53.8, which is in part due to his inability to throw an accurate pass under pressure.
Dalton was only three of seven to Tyler Boyd, who has been the most consistent pass catcher on the team over the last two seasons. That was because Dalton felt pressure, saw Boyd, and tried to dump it off to his safety net whether he was open or not.
The Ravens didn’t record a sack until late in the fourth quarter, which shows that the pressure, while quite possibly real, is at least accelerated in Dalton’s head. There were many times he heard footsteps and got rid of the ball immediately.
This play below is a good example of how Dalton feels pressure. Yes, there was a rusher coming off the blind side, but Dalton still had time to step up and make the throw. He just got rid of it as quickly as he could.
Dalton gets hit, but there is no reason he shouldn’t have stepped in to this one pic.twitter.com/M3mWV0SQus— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) October 14, 2019
What Zac Taylor needs to do is scheme plays to get the ball out of Dalton’s hand quickly. Dalton was at his best when former offensive coordinator Bill Lazor did this, and Taylor needs to do the same. Dalton needs high percentage throws that allow him to get rid of the ball quickly in order to get him into a groove. After he has some confidence built up, then you can call those passes to Auden Tate that take a few seconds to develop.
Another thing that Taylor did a few times that worked really well is moving the pocket. While Dalton is no Russell Wilson, he has decent mobility. On plays where he rolled out, he was mostly free from pressure and had time to make good throws. Those plays are riskier than most other plays, and but if the defense doesn’t sniff it out, then those plays should work really well.
Josh Tupou wants a job
With Ryan Glasgow out, Josh Tupou got over half the snaps on defense, and he made good use of them.
Some fans who don’t follow the team all that closely may not even know who Tupou is, but he was one of the best players on defense against the Ravens.
Tupou recorded four tackles, one of which was for a loss, which is more than the other four active defensive tackles on the team combined. His one tackle for a loss was on the perimeter against Lamar Jackson, a play that many would think a defensive tackle wouldn’t be able to stop.
put 91 in the hall of fame pic.twitter.com/U8ETcNug5y— charles (ronald) mcdonald (@FourVerts) October 14, 2019
The defensive line is the best unit on the team, and part of it is because of their top-to-bottom depth. They are really the only position group on the team that has that kind of personnel. Tupou is one shining example. The only defensive tackle with fewer snaps was Renell Wren, but Tupou had the biggest impact by far.
Brandon Wilson is not just a kick returner
Last week, I talked about how Wilson is the best kick returner the Bengals have. This was evident when he returned the opening kick for a touchdown—the Bengals only touchdown for the first 58 minutes of the game. But I didn’t imagine the impact he would have on defense.
Wilson is one of the best athletes on the defense, if not the team, so it makes sense that Lou Anarumo wants to use him in any way he can.
On defense, Wilson recorded four tackles and a forced fumble with his 56 snaps. Whether it was due to injury or what have you, Wilson actually got more snaps than Shawn Williams. Surprisingly, Wilson fit really well into that overhang role. You might think because of his size and speed that he would make a better free safety, but he was a pretty good hybrid type of defensive back that played in the box quite a bit.
Between Pratt and Wilson, the Bengals are giving their best athletes on defense chances to play, and it seems to be working. Let’s see what they do next.