1. Ravens blitz exposes Bengals' weakness
The Bengals clearly struggled to figure out the Ravens' blitz schemes, as free runners kept coming through to get pressure on Joe Burrow. Burrow took seven sacks and 15 other hits and finished with a season-low 183 yards passing, while throwing an interception and fumbling twice, one of which Baltimore recovered.
“There was some time where we had some errors, and it wasn’t just on linemen,” Taylor said. “There were some free runners there that everyone needs to do their job. There were times where we had tight ends in protection, backs in protection, we have to make sure we are all dialed in. There are some times where there is going to be a free hitter that we have to be aware of as well. Again, it takes all of us, it takes me as the play caller for certain to make sure that we are put in better positions where we can manage that, take the pressure off. I am certainly accountable for that, there is no doubt about it.”
Cincinnati managed just 95 yards in the first half and finished with 253, while converting just three of 16 third downs. The Bengals' previous low for yardage in a half during Taylor’s tenure was 119 in his debut against Seattle last season. The team’s only points came on a Randy Bullock field goal with 32 seconds left in the game.
“Obviously, I was frustrated we weren’t playing very well, but we know how to handle pressure from a defense and we’ve handled it the last three or four weeks,” Burrow said. “We just didn’t handle it well today.”
2. Defense steps up
Cincinnati’s defense came out with a good plan for stopping Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and executed to limit him to three yards rushing on two carries. Devin Duvernay and J.K. Dobbins accounted for 76 of the team’s 161 yards rushing on two runs.
Baltimore scored on its first three possessions, but didn’t get anything out of the next four possessions, going into halftime up 17-0. The Ravens offense managed just three more points on four drives in the second half.
Cincinnati’s defense has struggled allowing points in the final two minutes of halves but buckled down Sunday. Logan Wilson intercepted Jackson at the Cincinnati 27-yard line with 1:20 left in the second quarter and Justin Tucker missed a 60-yard field goal as time expired to end the half. Baltimore punted from its own 28-yard line on its last full series.
Jackson had found success throwing the ball up the middle to tight end Mark Andrews early but he finished with six catches for 56 yards and one touchdown. Jackson threw for 180 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
“I think that we had a really good game plan going into it to stop that zone read and the quarterback stuff,” safety Jessie Bates said. “But we didn’t do well on third down. ... When you’re playing against really good teams like this, the room for error is just really small. Our offense isn’t playing up to our standard, but I don’t care how bad that is. We just have to keep it close. We have to keep it close within how many points our offense is scoring.”
3. Turnovers take a toll
Three turnovers by the Bengals offense also didn’t help things. With a free runner coming at him up the middle, Burrow attempted a ball deep toward A.J. Green in the first quarter but Green seemed to give up on the overthrown pass and Marcus Peters jumped on it to put the Ravens on the Cincinnati 31-yard line. That set up the team’s second touchdown of the game.
On the next drive for the Bengals offense, a penalty negated another Burrow interception but the next play he was sacked for a six-yard loss by former LSU teammate Patrick Queen, who forced the ball out and recovered at the 50.
Queen forced another turnover in the fourth quarter to ultimately seal the win for the Ravens when he punched the ball out of Mike Thomas' hands on the end of a reception. Queen picked it up and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown, making it 27-0 with 8:21 left.
4. Green leaves with injury
A.J. Green was targeted just one time (twice, technically, as the second one was negated by a penalty) and he finished with no catches before eventually exiting with what the team reported as a hamstring issue in the third quarter.
Green, who is playing on a franchise tag this year, had been limited by a hamstring injury during training camp, and Taylor said he was dealing with a soft tissue injury but he couldn’t recall when he was informed of the issue during the game and even called it “a great question” regarding a question about the timing of the injury.
Tyler Boyd said it hurts the team when Green is out because he’s a leader and role model. Asked if Green seemed any more frustrated than usual, Boyd said, “not really.”
“I think we were all frustrated at a point,” Boyd said. “It was kind of hard to pick out individual guys. We were all upset. Not about our targets or things like that. We all want to win. That’s what it all comes down to. We felt that we left a lot out there, and that was the worst performance of the offense that you ever display. I can tell you that will never happen again.”
5. More injury concerns
D.J. Reader went down with what the team reported as a left knee injury in the third quarter, but according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, he suffered a quad injury that is expected to be season-ending. Reader was the team’s biggest free agent signing this offseason, and the interior defensive line already has been impacted by injuries to Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels.
“That’s a huge blow for the defense,” Bates said, noting he hadn’t heard the news on Reader yet. “When stuff like this happens, it creates opportunities for other guys. We’re going to be praying for DJ.”
On top of that, Sam Hubbard exited in the fourth quarter with a left elbow injury. Taylor did not have updates on him or Reader after the game.