In the AFC South, you can be a finesse team, but not in the rugged AFC North division. Week 2 was another lesson as to why AFC North games are won in the trenches with offensive and defensive line play. The Cincinnati Bengals offense got off to another slow, lethargic start at Paycor Stadium. So slow that time of possession was totally controlled by the Baltimore Ravens in the first half. Overall, the Ravens limited the Bengals offensive possessions, controlling the clock 33:04 to 26:56 and keeping the defense on the field in the first half which paid dividends in the running game by wearing down the Bengals defensive front. The Ravens offense gashed the Bengals for 157 yards on the ground.
Defensively, Lou Anarumo’s game plan played in to Raven’s defensive coordinator Todd Monken and quarterback Lamar Jackson’s strengths. The Bengals went heavy in the draft adding defensive backs with speed which should pay dividends in playing man-to-man press coverage so that you can leave them on an island by themselves and recover with top end speed if beaten down the field. This did not happen schematically against the Ravens. Lou elected to play zone coverage. The Bengals failed to takeaway Lamar Jackson’s safety blanket in tight end Mark Andrews. Lou played a lot of zone with cornerbacks giving receivers way too much cushion and giving Lamar the middle of the field for easy pass and catch opportunities. The weakness in Lamar Jackson’s game is to force Jackson to sit in the pocket with defensive ends keeping contain and being disciplined in rush lanes so that Lamar cannot escape the pocket and also make Jackson throw timing routes outside the numbers to his receivers. Lamar missed a lot of deep out routes showing that accuracy is still an issue for him when throwing outside the numbers. If you want to watch a blueprint on how to stop Mark Andrews and Lamar Jackson, then take a look at Titans HC Mike Vrabel’s schemes against them both in the regular season and in the playoffs. Bill Belichick takes away your #1 option offensively, and Vrabel, who is a Belichick disciple is no different, making Lamar play left handed. This kind of technique/scheme is one that Lou Anarumo must add for the Ravens the next time in Baltimore.
Offensively, the offensive line is starting to gel and what you want to see with a revamped offensive line and with the addition of Orlando Brown Jr. at left tackle. The weakest point of the line continues to be Jonah Williams who allowed a sack as it seemed that he did not follow through on his block until the whistle blew. Bengals fans all hope a reunion with La’EL Collins will occur at right tackle. Brian Callahan and Zac Taylor failed to attack the middle of the field with slants, crossing routes, bunch formations, and motion to help give Joe Burrow a clearer picture of the defense and what coverage was trying to dictate to the offense. Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald elected to drop zone and keep everything in front, not allowing the Bengals to take deep kill shots, nor did the Bengals elect to take shots until playing from behind in the second half. The running game and run blocking for the Bengals helped created holes for Joe Mixon to run through which Zac and Brian Callahan elected to go away from. The offense lacks an identity. Kyle Shanahan and Sean McVay have different running game concepts that have halfback’s running freely making the defense cheat up and scheming wide receivers open with motion and misdirection keeping defenses off balance. This is something Brian Callahan and Zac Taylor need to add to their play calling repertoire. The main positive from the offense is that it finally found it’s rhythm attacking the seams right outside the numbers to Tee Higgins, who is a walking mismatch with his ability to play basketball boxing out defenders. The Bengals also got Tyler Boyd involved over the middle but have failed to utilize tight end Irv Smith Jr. over the middle and get Ja’Marr Chase going with slants and crossers. The Bengals have shown signs of life offensively, but this offense must have a stronger sense of urgency at the start and not be always playing from behind. Poor clock management and the interception Burrow threw against the Ravens were the ultimate demise for the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener. The run defense must improve if the Bengals want to three-peat as AFC North division champions and move on to bigger goals such as a one-seed with home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Bengals faithful all hold their respective breaths as Joe Burrow tweaked his right calf. Ja’Marr Chase might have been right. Joe may be his own worst enemy and the Bengals should have shut Burrow down for the first 2-4 weeks of the season to make sure, as Chase stated, Burrow is healthy for the stretch run of the season.