The Baltimore Ravens hit the road for the last time in the regular season when they faced off with the Cincinnati Bengals for the second time in 2021. They were down to their third string quarterback and without several other key pieces on both sides of the ball in a game where there was some good, some bad and some ugly.
No huddle offense: The Ravens have struggled to get out to fast starts on offense for the vast majority of the season but that wasn’t the case on Sunday thanks to the up-tempo approach they used to open the game. Cincinnati got on the board first with a field goal but Baltimore responded with a swift 14-play drive that covered 75 yards in just over five minutes and finished in the end zone to give them an early lead. They were able to move the ball and consistently pick up first downs by hardly huddling throughout the game with steady moving drives despite having a third-string and relatively immobile quarterback under center.
Took 10 weeks for the Ravens to get another opening-drive touchdown, but they've done it!— Baltimore Beatdown (@BmoreBeatdown) December 26, 2021
Young wide receivers: This position group has been the most heavily criticized unit on the Ravens’ roster for years and especially during the Lamar Jackson era. With the exception of veteran Sammy Watkins, it is currently comprised of a talented pool of players that are on rookie contracts. And against the Bengals, the youngster that suited up showed out.
First-round rookie Rashod Bateman had a strong first half that saw him haul in his first career touchdown. Third-year pro Marquise Hollywood Brown caught five passes for 44 yards but could’ve had much more if some of the deep passes that came his way were on target. Fourth-round rookie Tylan Wallace has gone from a core special teamer to a nice rotational receiving threat as of late and recorded his second career reception in impressive fashion.
Loved to see this. Wallace has shown on special teams that he can win with physicality at this level. So excited to see this receiving corps grow in the next year+ pic.twitter.com/hsYI9Ur1Kw— Spencer N. Schultz (@ravens4dummies) December 26, 2021
The most impressive of the young wideouts by far was second-year slot receiver James Proche. He set new career highs by finishing second on the team with seven receptions and 76 receiving yards. Proche was a consistent chain mover with four of his catches going for first downs including two that were contested according to Pro Football Focus.
The last time these two teams faced off in Week 7, the Bengals pass rush racked up five sacks on this unit but they rebounded with a strong outing in pass protection this time around. According to PFF, they only surrendered 14 pressures and just one sack which is impressive considering how porous they have been for most of the season.
Josh Johnson: In just his ninth career start and first since the 2018 season, the 14-year journeyman quarterback did his best to keep the Ravens in the hunt for the playoffs and division race with quite the valiant effort. Despite only having been on the team since Dec. 16 and playing behind an offensive line that has been patchwork for most of the season, he was efficient, accurate, and decisive with his decisions and ball distribution.
Johnson finished 28-of-40 for 304 passing yards, two touchdowns to one interception, and a passer rating of 98.3. He was especially impressive on third down where the Ravens converted 54 percent (6-11) for first downs, many of which came in long down-and-distance situations.
Mark Andrews: The two-time Pro Bowler continued to bolster his All-Pro campaign with another dominant outing. He inched closer to the franchise single-season receiving record with his third straight game of 100-plus yards and at least one touchdown. Andrews came up with several clutch snags to keep the chains moving and led the team in targets (10), receptions (8), and receiving yards (125). According to PFF, he also recorded team-highs in yards after the catch (45), first downs (seven), and explosive plays (four).
Tony Jefferson: In just his second game back in a Ravens uniform, the veteran safety looked like he never left. He was a beast in the box near the line of scrimmage and was the only member of the secondary that finished the game that didn’t have a disastrous outing in coverage.
Jefferson led the team in total tackles with 10, including one for loss and a team-high six solos. He also recorded a sack, a quarterback hit, and clutch pass deflection that was originally ruled a touchdown before being overturned after a review. According to PFF, Jefferson allowed two of the three targets that came his way to be completed for only seven yards and an opposing passer rating of just 70.1—the lowest among qualifying Ravens defensive backs.
Interior pressure: The Ravens’ pass rush was very active in this game but unfortunately their secondary didn’t consistently hold up in coverage long enough for them to get home for more sacks. While Joe Burrow was able to elude the grasps of their edge rushers efficiently for most of the game, two of their three sacks came from interior defensive linemen.
Second-year pro Broderick Washington nearly had his first career sack on the first play from scrimmage but Burrow managed to slip away. However, he finally got him down for the first of his career in the fourth quarter, resulting in a loss of 10 yards. Third-year nose tackle Isaiah Mack who was elevated from the practice squad sacked Burrow twice. His first came on the opening drive of the game but was negated by a penalty, his second counted and came in the fourth quarter.
Running game: It was going to be hard to stick with the ground game when it became evident that the pivotal matchup was going to have to be a shootout if Baltimore wanted to keep pace with the high-flying Bengals offense. However, outside of the Devonta Freeman’s two-yard rushing touchdown, the Ravens weren’t very productive when they did run. With both Jackson and Huntley out, there was no real running threat from the quarterback position. No ball carrier averaged even three yards per carry or reached 20 yards rushing. Freeman led the lackluster effort with 2.8 yards per carry and just 17 rushing yards.
More injuries: The Ravens already came into the game shorthanded on both sides of the ball but especially in the secondary at corner where they suffered two more injuries on Sunday. Both Anthony Averett and Tavon Young left the game early with injuries and didn’t return. No time tables have been provided on when they could be available going forward.
Averett has become Ravens’ top corner by default due to season ending injuries to Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters. He had to be carted off the field and was ruled out for the second half with what was feared and has now been confirmed as fractured ribs. Young had just cleared concussion protocol to play in this game and had to leave it with a shoulder injury he suffered in the second half.
The replacements: The premature exits by Averett and Young forced the Raven to turn to their underwhelming depth to cover the Bengals’ dynamic wide receivers. The results were about as bad as they possibly could’ve been and ended with Burrow putting up a record-breaking performance that featured 525 passing yards and four touchdowns.
According to PFF, Kevon Seymour was targeted a team-high eight times and surrendered first downs on all seven of the completions he allowed. He also gave up a touchdown and allowed a perfect opposing passer rating of 158.3.
Not a lot of 6’5” WRs can sink on a whip route like Tee Higgins does here— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) December 26, 2021
Bengals young WR trio is special pic.twitter.com/T0hKGNG12U
Veteran Daryl Worley joined the team last Wednesday and was forced to play 83 percent of snaps in his first game as a Raven. He also gave up a touchdown and according to PFF, he allowed six completions for 57 yards and an opposing passer rating of 140.2.
Officiating again: As if the Bengals needed any help to outpace an undermanned Ravens defense and team overall, they got just that at a key point in the game when it was still somewhat tightly contested. Turnovers have been few and far between for the Ravens defense at all three levels. As much as they struggled to stop the Bengals from seemingly scoring at will, they had an opportunity to keep it to a two-possession game just before halftime but the officials robbed them of it.
After Baltimore had brought the game within 10 points with just over a minute and a half left in the second quarter, Cincinnati began a clinical two-minute drill on offense and appeared poised to extend their lead to 17 points again. Worley appeared to have thwarted the promising drive with a clutch interception in the back of the end zone.
Unfortunately, he was flagged for holding after making minimal contact with the receiver that was no more than the usual that rarely ever gets called on a defensive back. The pivotal penalty resulted in a fresh set of downs for the Bengals instead of a touchback and moved the ball to the one-yard line where they proceeded to score after a second straight holding penalty on the one-yard touchdown pass to Higgins seen above. The timely turnover would’ve kept the game closer for a little bit longer and given the Ravens some momentum to close out the first half and open the second since they deferred to start the game.
Blown coverage: The big play via blown coverage bug that the Ravens’ defense had seemed to clean up after it plagued them relentlessly earlier in the year reared its ugly head at the worst possible time on Sunday. Trialing by just a field goal to start the second quarter, they quickly found themselves down 10 points after Burrow hit Tyler Boyd who was wide open on a double move and sprinted nearly 70 yards untouched.
The Ravens were running a single high safety look and rookie Brandon Stephens opted to help Seymour double cover Tee Higgins. Even if Patrick Queen had carried Boyd up the seam instead of staying in underneath coverage, Burrow likely would’ve thrown it that way regardless given that it was the ultimate favorable matchup of a linebacker covering a receiver.