Ravens review: Three up, Three down vs Bengals

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The Baltimore Ravens fell to 0-3 for the first time in their 20 year history. They had two leads late in the fourth quarter but gave up them up to the Bengals both times. There were some positives to pull from this game, but unfortunately there were some negatives as well.

Three Up

The continued excellence of Steve Smith Sr.

Steve Smith Sr. put the Ravens on his back and tried to will them to a victory. He turned the game around when he caught a five yard out on a fourth down with five yards to go for the first down. The play was designed to get the first down but Smith made the catch, broke a few tackles and raced 45 more yards to the end zone. Smith plays the game with aggression and really set the tone for the Ravens with his tenacious style of play. His 13 receptions tied a franchise record and his 186 yards were third most in Ravens history.

The defense was able to generate a pass rush

Dean Pees said that he chose not to try and manufacture a pass rush last week against the Oakland Raiders because he felt that the team didn’t play with energy. That wasn’t the case against the Bengals. Pees utilized both the corner and safety blitz multiple times. Will Hill was able to register his first career sack and it came on a safety blitz. His sack was also the first time Andy Dalton was sacked this season.

As per Pro Football Focus, Elvis Dumervil had six quarterback pressures to go along with his sack/fumble. The sack fumble led to a touchdown after C.J. Mosley picked up the ball and ran into the end zone. The defense was able to flush Dalton out of the pocket numerous times and sacked him twice. The Ravens had five hits on Dalton.

Michael Campanaro found success on punt returns

Campanaro was the sole punt returner for the Ravens against the Bengals. The team had been using Smith Sr. to return punts, which was a risk that Harbaugh wasn’t going to continue to take. Granted, Campanaro didn’t return a punt for a touchdown, that’s not something that happens frequently for anyone.

Campanaro did an above average job returning for the Ravens. His two returns for 35 yards gave him an average of 17.5 yards per return. One of his returns was for 21 yards. Some might question the fair catch inside the 10 yard line, but the ball carried him back and would have been downed inside the five yard line if he let it go.

Three Down

Defense still gave up chunk plays

The Bengals were able to connect on multiple big plays in the passing game. Marvin Jones abused Rashaan Melvin during the first two Bengal drives of the game. Jones had a 32 yard reception on a third down before Melvin was benched in favor of Kyle Arrington. Arrington did a solid job against Jones until late in the fourth quarter when Jones caught a 31 yard pass that set up the winning touchdown by A.J. Green.

Speaking of Green, his 80 yard touchdown sucked the life out of the stadium after Mosley’s return and eliminated the Ravens first lead of the game. The big plays against the secondary were a carryover from the previous game against the Raiders.

Defense couldn’t close out a game again

The Ravens defense gave up the go ahead score on the opposing team’s last drive for the third time this season. This time it was the Bengals scoring the go ahead touchdown with 2:16 left in the game. They haven’t been able to close the door on the opposing team after inheriting a lead late in the game. Closing out games is a problem that has to be solved if the Ravens have any chance of turning things around this season.

No commitment to running the football

The Ravens rushing attack was explosive last year. Justin Forsett averaged a league high 5.4 yards per carry and had 235 rushing attempts in 2014. Marc Trestman said the Ravens would still run the football and use similar concepts to the zone scheme that former offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak did last season.

Forsett only had ten carries against the Bengals. The team had 18 rushing attempts, one of them coming when Anthony Levine ran the ball on a fake punt. On the contrary, Joe Flacco had 49 pass attempts. Trestman used an unbalanced formation to create a favorable five blockers on four defenders match up, but they didn’t run the stretch plays that worked so well under Kubiak last season.

The running game requires patience on every rushing attempt. It also requires patience as a scheme. There will be times when it doesn’t yield a big gain but if the team sticks to it, that crease will open up and one of the running backs can break off a long run. This will only happen if the team sticks to the running game. It also can slow down a pass rush from the physical Ravens offensive lineman wearing down on the opposing defense.