Welcome to “The Dossier” a weekly look across the aisle at the Ravens’ opponents, and how they stack up on paper as a matchup. This Week 5 edition features an old foe whose given Baltimore some trouble over the years.
The Matchup: Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
The Setting: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, Maryland
The Forecast: Considerable cloudiness. Occasional rain showers in the afternoon. High 73F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph. Chance of rain 60% (via The Weather Channel).
The stakes: The Ravens hope to continue their nice start to the season, while the Bengals hope to save their season from officially beginning to look like a lost cause.
The spread: Baltimore is favored at -13.5
And just like that, the Ravens are officially back on track. Or, are they? Judging by some fan reactions, you may think that this team is 1-3 as opposed to the opposite of that through the first four weeks of the season.
There are some valid concerns with Baltimore right now, and there are some flaming hot takes that have bounced around the interwebs in the last several days since they failed to beat the hapless Washington Football Team by what some felt like was a sufficient enough score. Weird, because they did in fact beat them by, y’know, 14 points... with seven of Washington’s 17 points coming in garbage time after an interception by the Ravens backup quarterback. Regardless, it’s time to move on no matter how much fans want to fret over a double digit road victory (what a preposterous sentence this would appear to be to any Ravens fan pre 2019), and moving on involves getting ready for the first in division matchup since Week 1.
Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals are coming to town with a 1-2-1 record after a bizarre start to the season that has been quite the rollercoaster for a long frustrated fan base. One thing these fans shouldn’t be too upset about is the play of the aforementioned quarterback; Burrow has been as advertised so far as the first overall pick out of LSU, and more than anything, it’s the Bengals coaching staff’s faith in him to be the captain of the ship so far. While he’s had his growing pains to this point, Burrow has all the makings of a franchise QB, and regardless of whether they win plenty of games this season, that alone should be enough to tide the Cincy faithful over for 2020.
Of course that’s easier said than done, and the fact that this team could easily be sitting at 2-2 (or maybe even better) at this juncture has to be something of a fly in the ointment for people who believe Zac Taylor should be the head coach that officially leads them into the Burrow-centric future. We’ll see what happens with him after this season, but picking up a much needed win last week over the Jaguars will certainly help following two tough losses to open things up, and a head scratching tie against Philadelphia in Week 3. Week 4 features his toughest test yet in a road game against a divisional opponent who’s 3-1 after a much needed victory of their own.
So how do these two squads match up? Let’s take a look!
Thomas Dimitroff once said that until you find your franchise quarterback, the search for one consumes you. Bengals owner Mike Brown (who helps run football ops) may not be able to fully relate to this as his franchise has been in QB limbo for about five years. Andy Dalton had a nice career for them on balance, but after a terribly timed injury ended a 2015 season for him in which he was looking like an MVP candidate, he wasn’t able to elevate the team around him in the years following.
Those recent years saw them field blasé, faceless football teams (at best), and had all the trappings of an organization stuck in QB purgatory with a guy who was just good enough to win with talent around him, but not good enough to be the focal point. Sound familiar Baltimore fans? Well, just like the Ravens were able to replace Joe Flacco with an exciting young Heisman winner, their division rival now appears to be doing the same with their Dalton-Burrow transition.
The #1 overall pick hasn’t been perfect up to this point, but for a guy entering the situation that he was, he’s been about as good as can be expected. That hasn’t totally translated to wins just yet, as their first one came just last week, but it’s hard to blame Burrow for any lack of team success this year. His numbers actually bear out that he’s been both explosive and efficient which is a tough ask as a rookie QB going number one overall.
Per PlayerProfiler, Burrow’s supporting cast efficiency comes in at -11.36, good for 28th in the entire league. This is heavily contrasted with how much they’re asking him to do, with his attempts (177) coming in at 2nd in the league, his deep ball attempts coming in at 6th with 20, and his completed air yards coming in at 6th as well with 674. Having said that, his weapons in both the pass and run game look good on tape, while Cinci’s offensive line has had some trouble holding up so far.
Having said that, Burrow has done a good job of making lemons with lemonade, manipulating the pocket, and making pinpoint throws under pressure, like here:
Rookie Q’s simply aren’t doing this stuff every year. pic.twitter.com/0Zj1TLdDIR— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 8, 2020
Poise is the cliche buzzword thrown around for any remotely successful rookie QB, but man does Burrow have it in spades pic.twitter.com/gZLznTfy2X— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 8, 2020
As good as Burrow has been, he’s not the sole piston pumping the engine of this offense forward. Another big one is the running game, and particularly Joe Mixon who had a massive game against Jacksonville last week. While a ranking of 17th in offensive rush DVOA may indicate that they’ll have a tougher time against a fairly stout Baltimore, it’s hard not to look at some of these runs by Mixon and worry about a Ravens defense that hasn’t been entirely strong in this department:
Joe Mixon remains a problem pic.twitter.com/dzLJjPe87w— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 8, 2020
This was of course a passing play, but he also got his on the ground in this one:
Thank you sir, I’ll have another— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 8, 2020
(#25 on Jax is gonna heat about this one in the team meeting) pic.twitter.com/i0K7bUtLbQ
And on this one as well:
If the Ravens were having issues with Washington’s backs last week, this has potential to get out of control pic.twitter.com/Cuj7PFAQfp— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 8, 2020
All in all, 26th in total offensive DVOA for the Bengals vs. 9th in the league for the Ravens on defense for that metric spells mismatch, but even at their most frantic, Zac Taylor’s unit has shown the ability to make some plays. With heavyhitters like Mixon, Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins, A.J. Green, and plenty of others to work with, that’s surely bound to happen to at least some extent. To this end, keep an eye on Wink Martindale to try some new things against this rookie QB and the surrounding offense.
Cincinnati has fielded some truly terrible defense the last few years, but so far through 2020, that isn’t totally the case. Returning to lead this unit is standout defensive tackle Geno Atkins who’s been one of the faces of this franchise for the past decade. He’s yet to appear in a game this season, with plenty of indications pointing to the fact that this could be his debut which could be massive against a Baltimore offensive line that currently ranks 31st in DVOA; that figure may be a bit misleading as they’ve had to shuffle things around a bit over the course of the season, but even the most novice of eye testers can tell that things haven’t totally gelled for Baltimore’s offensive line.
The defensive line doesn’t just totally rely on him though. D.J. Reader who’s over from Houston is playing pretty well so far with a 71.3 PFF grade, as is Carl Lawson with a 70.5 grade who’s been with Cinci for quite some time. He in particular has given the Ravens fits over the years and is certainly worth keeping an eye on here, especially given some of the flux along the Ravens offensive line.
The main thing to takeaway with the Bengals defense is that while they’re not necessarily consistently good, they’ve shown the ability be opportunistic:
This Bengals defense isn’t great but they hustle, and are opportunistic.— Jake L uque (@Jakelouque) October 8, 2020
For anyone hoping for that breakout Lamar game, if he’s limited in even a slight capacity, I say lean on the run. pic.twitter.com/HCAmKKSGs1
At 16th total in league DVOA, they defend the pass much better than they do the run. They rank 10th against the former and 21st against the latter in football, and have shown the ability to take the football away. A big part of that is some of the key players in their secondary who are carrying the torch nicely for the unit.
William Jackson is off to a nice start at cornerback and appears to be rounding into form after initially appearing to be a somewhat disappointing first round pick, and he leads a group of corners who are punching above their weight to an extent. The true standout of the secondary though is a guy who’s only been around a few years, and that’s safety Jessie Bates. A second rounder out of Wake Forest in 2018, Bates has been around this defense through several different stages and appears ready to lead it into the new age they’re looking to enter - he’s currently seen as a standout by PFF with an 87.2 grade from them.
The skinny on this defense is that it’s quite clear they’re much better at defending offenses through the air than they are on the ground. For anyone hoping for Lamar Jackson to begin to air things out this week, the injury that he’s dealing with, plus the way this game sets up may indicate this is a game to get the ground game rolling. Instead, maybe keep an eye out for one of these running backs we’ve been looking to take the lead role in this offense to finally begin to take their claim.
Burrow and the Bengals are off to a nice start this season, and have to feel good after getting their first win last week. Unfortunately for them, this may be a tough spot to keep things rolling as the Ravens may be again finding their stride. Greg Roman finds a way to get the ground game really going in this one, and another solid day for Lamar Jackson leads to a double digit win.
Jake’s official prediction: Ravens 34, Bengals 16