The Cincinnati Bengals shocked the NFL world this weekend with an impressive win over the Baltimore Ravens. This win catapulted them to the top of the AFC standings and has finally gotten the national media to start paying attention to the revolution that is going on in Cincinnati.
So, how did they pull off this win? Let’s take a look at the film
It’s hard to believe that this clip is the Bengals’ defense against the Ravens’ offense. With everything we’ve seen with both teams over the past few years, it feels like it should have been the opposite.
The Bengals brought some serious pressure on this play, and the Ravens’ pass protection couldn’t even account for Vonn Bell. Lamar Jackson got the pass off, but he stood no chance of completing it for a first down.
The Bengals’ success pressuring the quarterback was not merely a product of bringing more than they could handle. In fact, one sack came off a 3-man rush. It wasn’t about coverage-sacks either, although the secondary was impressive. The key was pressuring the quarterback without leaving him an escape route.
Too often, edge rushers will make an inside move, leaving the outside open for the quarterback to scramble. This is where quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Patrick Mahomes, and Jackson can really hurt you. Not by running the ball, but by using their legs to buy more time to find an open receiver down field.
In this clip, the pressure on Jackson comes from a somewhat unexpected source: Josh Tupou. Jackson can’t escape to the outside because Sam Hubbard is on one side, and Cameron Sample is on the other. Each has his eyes on Jackson, and as he steps up into the pocket, they stay with him. They don’t just run after him with reckless abandon. They have the discipline and maintain their positions on the outside. It reminds you a bit of a coverage unit on special teams.
As Jackson heads in Hubbard’s direction, Sample starts to take a pursuit angle downfield. It doesn’t matter, though, because Hubbard is there to make the play.
Here, the Bengals bring pressure up the middle, but it is Trey Hendrickson, on the edge, who wins his matchup with the full back and forces Jackson to move to his right.
Hubbard is there with his eyes on the quarterback. When Jackson takes a step forward, Hubbard shows in the B-gap. When Jackson reacts by trying to get around the offensive tackle, Hubbard gets off his block and makes the play.
Even on this play, which is designed to get Jackson out of the pocket, he can’t do it.
Hubbard contains the boot and forces Jackson inside to his waiting teammates.
Of course, the Bengals didn’t contain Jackson 100% of the time. He is a phenomenal player and that would be nearly impossible, but they did an incredible job of forcing him to stay in the pocket throughout the game.
The Ravens have been decimated by injuries at the running back position, and Jackson was the only player who could pick up any yards on the ground against the Bengals.
Over the past few seasons, the Bengals have run quite a bit of the true 4-3 defense against the Ravens. This is notable because they rarely have four defensive linemen and three linebackers on the field in all other games. They usually have two linebackers and a nickel back or five defensive linemen.
In this game, the Bengals reacted to running situations and formations with three linebackers in the box, and it caused a lot of headaches for the Ravens.
In this clip, the pulling guard is too slow as Logan Wilson fills hard, tackling Le’Veon Bell for a loss.
Now, shifting to the offensive side of the ball where Joe Mixon is starting to look like his old self. The Bengals used a lot of pre-snap motion in this game, and it slowed the Ravens linebackers down.
In this clip, it helped to set up Trey Hopkins’ block on the middle linebacker. The offensive line looked pretty impressive overall in this game. They got some movement in the run game, and, after some early struggles, played very well in pass protection.
This 3rd down late in the game is a great example of their success in pass protection.
The Ravens’ defense is showing a 7-man pressure, so the Bengals counter with a 7-man protection. The defense ends up dropping a few players off and bringing the nickel off the edge. The offensive line steps down, leaving Samaje Perine and C.J. Uzomah to pick up the edge rushers. Joe Burrow has to step up into the pocket, but all in all, they do a pretty good job.
This is particularly impressive because of the communication it involved and the fact non-offensive linemen played key roles.
Of course, a lot of the Bengals’ success on offense has to do with Ja’Marr Chase, and not just his 201 yards receiving. It’s also the fear of Chase.
Fear of Chase keeps safeties high, creating a better opportunity to run the ball. It will also make defensive coordinator’s think twice about sending too many blitzers and playing man coverage.
Just look at Chase in this clip, against arguably the best cornerback in the league. Marlon Humphrey runs stride for stride with Chase, but Burrow puts it on his back shoulder. Since Humphrey has his eyes down field (If he didn’t, Chase would have left him in the dust), Burrow puts the ball on his back shoulder. When a quarterback and a receiver are this good and this much in sync, how can you defend them?
Of course, it gets a little bit easier when the field gets smaller. That’s why the Bengals struggled in the red zone this weekend. The Ravens are very good, and without the threat of Chase taking the top off the defense, they were able to buckle down and play their game.
This was an impressive all-around game for the Bengals. They had a great game plan on offense and defense, and they executed it to a T. By beating the Ravens so decisively, they have shown they are a legitimate contender this season.