BALTIMORE — Score this one for the defense.
On a day when Lamar Jackson and the offense struggled to gain any traction, the Ravens’ defense inundated Bengals rookie quarterback Joe Burrow and punctuated the win with a fumble return for a score as the Ravens rolled to a 27-3 win at M&T Bank Stadium Oct. 11.
The Ravens (4-1) were never threatened after taking a 10-0 first-quarter lead, and they stymied the Bengals for 59 minutes. The Bengals (1-3-1) scored their only points on a 38-yard, just-to-avoid-a-shutout field goal by Randy Bullock with 32 seconds left.
During the course of five possessions in the second and third quarters, the Ravens held the Bengals to one first down and a total of 7 yards and slogged their way to a 20-0 lead.
“The defense played lights out throughout the whole game, and that was fun to watch,” head coach John Harbaugh said.
Here are five other impressions of the win, which leaves the Ravens a half-game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-0) in the AFC North with their first showdown looming in three weeks:
1. The Bengals’ offensive line was just what the Ravens’ pass rush needed.
The Ravens’ pass rush has been criticized for not being disruptive enough at times this year, but Joe Burrow isn’t buying it.
The Bengals’ rookie quarterback was overwhelmed all day, with pressure coming from all sides in a punishing, relentless attack. The Ravens recorded seven sacks and hit Burrow 15 times, including one by his former LSU teammate Patrick Queen that forced a fumble, one of three turnovers generated by the Ravens. Earlier this week, Queen had said that the key against Burrow would be, “as many times as we can hit him, hit him.”
Queen later scooped up a fumble forced by Marlon Humphrey and raced 53 yards for a touchdown and a 27-0 lead.
Burrow entered the game with three consecutive 300-yard passing games – a first for an NFL rookie – but that streak ended as he finished 19 for 30 for 183 yards.
The Bengals had allowed 15 sacks, the second-most in the league, entering the game, and Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale dialed up all sorts of blitzes that kept Burrow off balance or on his back. Most notably, the seven sacks came from seven different players, with five from defensive backs.
“I think every starting DB got a sack,” linebacker Matthew Judon said. “That’s kind of unheard of, and that just means we’re sending people from anywhere and everywhere.”
Linebacker Pernell McPhee, 31, was all over the field as well as he recorded a sack, four quarterback hits and batted down a pass.
“Every time we go on the field,” McPhee said, “I tell [Matthew] Judon, ‘Meet me in the backfield.'”
They did that today.
2. Marlon Humphrey is making a strong case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
As he has done in all four wins for the Ravens this year, Marlon Humphrey was involved in another turnover. And for the second time, his disruptive work led directly to a Ravens touchdown.
In this game, Humphrey ripped the ball out of the arms of Bengals receiver Mike Thomas, and Patrick Queen scooped up the loose ball and returned it 52 yards for a touchdown and a 27-0 lead. Humphrey’s punch-out skills have become the best in the league, and a similar play against Houston caused a fumble that was returned for a touchdown by L.J. Fort.
Linebacker Patrick Queen quipped that on the Ravens sideline, Ravens players were wondering why opposing receivers even bother to try to get yardage after the catch against Humphrey.
“If you see Marlon,” Queen said with a smile, “Why do you still run the ball? Just get down. It don’t make no sense. He does this over and over and over.”
“I knew Marlon was great,” he added, “I didn’t know he was this great, though.”
Humphrey also had an interception during the Ravens’ season-opening win against Cleveland and forced a fumble in the win at Washington Oct. 4.
Of course, Humphrey’s primary job is to cover, and he did a solid job against Bengals leading receiver Tyler Boyd. Often matched up against Humphrey in the slot, Boyd finished with four catches for 42 yards, about half his season average.
Postseason accolades hinge on what Humphrey calls “splash plays,” and he is getting plenty this year, and his teammates have already started the lobbying.
“He should be up for defensive MVP,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said.
3. The offense has to get better, and the players know it.
At his postgame news conference, Mark Andrews hardly sounded like a player who had just cruised to a 27-3 win.
Andrews, who finished with six catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, said, “We got a lot to get better at.”
“There’s times where our offense isn’t clicking,” Andrews later added, “and we need to get better.”
The Ravens’ offense, which has struggled to find its rhythm through five games this year, looked as disjointed as it has all season, and seemed overly determined to work and work on the passing game until they got it right. But they never really did.
Jackson finished 19 for 37 for 180 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception, and Jackson got away with a couple of other ill-advised throws that were nearly picked off.
And while Jackson and head coach John Harbaugh stressed that the knee injury that kept Jackson out of practice one day this week had no bearing on the play calling, Jackson ran just two times for 3 yards, his lowest totals as a starter.
Jackson hit a couple of clutch third-down throws to keep drives alive and threw touchdown passes to Andrews and Marquise Brown, but the downfield game continues to struggle. Jackson threw a deep ball intended for Brown that was not close, and on another deep shot to the end zone, Miles Boykin cut the route off short in some apparent miscommunication.
Jackson’s frustration was obvious more than once as he came off the field after misfiring on a third-down pass.
“We need to get back to how it was last year,” he said.
4. The Ravens didn’t follow their run-first narrative.
The Ravens passed on 38 offensive plays and ran on 24 against the Bengals, a curious breakdown for a supposed run-first offense in a 27-3 win against a team that had ranked 27th against the run.
Lamar Jackson said after the game that the goal is to go about 50-50 in terms of run and pass, and the way the game played out dictated more passing. That suggests teams are designing their defenses to stop the run, a sensible strategy given that the Ravens became the most prolific rushing attack in NFL history last year.
And until Jackson and that passing game gets in sync, they should probably expect that to continue.
The Ravens again put some solid numbers on the ground with 24 carries for 161 yards, but it’s worth noting that 42 came on an end-around to speedy rookie receiver Devin Duvernay — who continues to earn more action — and 34 came on the only run by rookie J.K. Dobbins. The other 22 carries netted 86 yards, a little less than 4 yards a carry.
Mark Ingram finished with 57 yards on 11 carries, and Gus Edwards totaled 25 yards on seven carries. And Jackson, the 1,00-yard running quarterback last year, was a nonfactor with two carries for 3 yards.
Jackson said the Ravens’ passing game needs to get back to the way it was last year, but there have been few of the relentless ball-control drives on the ground this year, either.
5. Where is this offense without Mark Andrews?
When nothing else is working, Jackson knows he has Mark Andrews.
The tight end remains Jackson’s chain-moving security blanket, and Andrews had two big third-down conversions — including a spectacular flip as he was tackled on one of them — en route to the Ravens’ first touchdown. Andrews, fittingly, caught that score, overcoming a hold in the end zone to make a 5-yard contested catch for a 10-0 lead. That was his 15th touchdown catch since the beginning of last year — the most in the league in that span.
Andrews also saved Jackson from an interception, going up high to break up a badly underthrown pass as Jackson tried to throw the ball away under pressure.
For the season, Andrews has 18 catches for 322 yards and five touchdowns. Those numbers are down from this point last year (30-411 through five games), but that is reflective of an offense that overall is down from this point last year.
It remains a curious footnote that Andrews, coming off his first Pro Bowl season, wasn’t even the Ravens’ first tight end drafted in 2018; he was selected in the third round, two rounds after the Ravens drafted Hayden Hurst.
Andrews’ rookie contract is up after the 2021 season, and now with Marlon Humphrey’s five-year extension completed, Andrews should be at the top of Eric DeCosta’s to-do list in terms of future extensions. He remains the Ravens’ most valuable offensive player not named Lamar Jackson.
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