The Bengals made a quarterback change, took two weeks to prepare for this game, and promptly got blown out by the Ravens, losing 49-13.
It was bad. Like seriously bad.
The Bengals have lost a lot of games this season, but none felt worse than this one. Even in games when they got blown out previously, the Bengals never seemed quite this inept.
On offense, Ryan Finley looked decent, but despite ending six of his nine drives in Ravens territory, he only put 13 points on the scoreboard.
Defensively, the Bengals looked like a high school team. In the first three quarters, the Ravens scored touchdowns on every drive, except for one right before halftime. The Ravens only faced third down five times in that span, converting four of them. The one they didn’t convert, they got on the next play on fourth down.
In the fourth quarter, the Bengals finally got a stop, probably only because John Harbaugh subbed Lamar Jackson off.
Rumors say that the Bengals are tanking, but anyone watching this game can tell you that the Bengals weren’t trying to lose. They were just that bad.
So, what did we learn? A few new things as, believe it or not. For starters:
Who Ryan Finley is
Zac Taylor made an interesting and controversial decision to start Ryan Finley over Andy Dalton this week. While the offense only scored 13 points, Finley still looked decent at times.
The first thing that sticks out is Finley’s pocket presence. While pressure in the pocket has been getting to Dalton (to the point where he seems visibly upset for the first time in his career), Finley seemed to handle it better. He managed to avoid getting sacked pretty easily throughout early portions of the game. He was only sacked twice, which behind this offensive line, is a victory.
A look at this play from Ryan Finley. Avoids sack, goes through his reads, finds Mixon for a 23-yard gain. One of the best from his first NFL start. pic.twitter.com/AGHjXiNffb— Ben Baby (@Ben_Baby) November 11, 2019
The one blemish on his record is the interception he threw to Marcus Peters in the first half. It was a bad read and a bad throw, which is something Finley needs to clean up. He also allowed a delay of game that forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal, which was another rookie mistake.
Would Dalton have done better? Yeah, probably. As Rich Gannon said in the broadcast, “How is that fair to Andy Dalton?”
The short of it is, it isn’t. However, it is in the best interest of the team to start Finley. Not only did he look great in his first game, he actually showed an ability to move the ball down the field that Dalton seemed to lack.
Of course, part of it is how the offense changed around him, which brings to my next point.
The offense made changes, and it really helped
The Bengals knew that they were giving Finley a baptism by fire, so they changed some thing.
One thing is that they got Drew Sample involved early. A primarily blocking tight end, they kept him for pass protection and for run blocking, knowing that they would also have to establish the run.
Not only did they bring in Sample, but they got blocking in other ways. They brought in Michael Jordan as a tight end, which is common when a team is on the goal line, but not when the offense is in the middle of the field. They also brought in big wide receiver Auden Tate for pass protection.
The Bengals were getting creative with their blocking. For a team that has done that so poorly, that was just what the doctor ordered.
They also force fed Joe Mixon, giving him 30 carries for the first time in his career. While it’s been tough sledding for the Bengals’ workhorse, he eclipsed 100 yards for the first time since Week 17 in 2018.
The Bengals might have figured out the key to getting their offense going. Of course, they need to clean up on turnovers and be able to convert on fourth down. But this is the most progress the Bengals have shown yet.
The Bengals need to stick with their youth
It was a great idea to start Sample and Germaine Pratt. What a moment for the class of 2019 when three of them started in Week 10 against the Ravens.
But things didn’t go as planned, so the Bengals bailed. Part of it was that because Sample was injured for a few plays, but he was cleared pretty quickly. He still only played nine snaps.
Pratt was in for a few more snaps, but was subbed off for certain packages.
If the Bengals are sticking with Finley to try and develop him and evaluate him, then why don’t they do that with other players? Don’t they desperately need Pratt to turn into a key player on defense? Wasn’t Sample a system pick, and don’t they want their second rounder to be able to play in their system?
The Bengals need to change something on defense, fast
During his press conference, Taylor complimented Jackson and the Ravens and gave them their due credit. It’s not a question that Jackson is a generational player and the Ravens scheme perfectly fits his skill set, but 42 points is inexcusable.
The Bengals’ defense is one of the worst in the league, partly because of personnel, but coaching is a large part of why the defense sucks.
For one, the Bengals only allowed Jackson to throw two incompletions. I had more cups of coffee this morning than Lamar Jackson incompletions.
It’s not that Jackson was making insane throws like Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes might. All of his receivers were wide open, often with several yards of separation. Then once receivers made the catch, the defenders couldn’t make any tackles.
Taylor brought in Lou Anarumo so he could install his scheme on defense. So far, the scheme has taken a historically bad defense from 2018 and made them even worse.
The defense is bad, and it’s someone’s fault. It’s not all on Anarumo, but if you want to point fingers, that’s a good place to start.