NFL

Bengal Beat: Time to Get Right Against the Ravens

September 15, 2023

‘Bengal Beat’ takes you inside the Cincinnati locker room with veteran football journalist Elise Jesse.

It’s another AFC North bout for the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 2 after living through a nightmare in Cleveland, where they fell to the Browns 24-3. Cincinnati’s offense came out flat, and barely mustered six first downs — that ranks at the very bottom of the NFL through Week 1, with the league average at 18.5 first downs.

The biggest factor in the loss was Joe Burrow’s play coming off a calf strain — and just after signing a $275M contract extension. Weather takes some of the credit, as Burrow had significant trouble with gripping the ball, even wearing a glove on his right hand en route to a 45% completion percentage, just 82 passing yards, and a 52.2 QB rating.

Burrow’s life in the pocket was not a comfortable one, as miscommunication issues plagued the Bengals early and often. The Browns defense under Jim Schwartz looked like the real deal, as they pressured the Bengals all day long.

Myles Garrett led the pass rush and extended his streak of sacks against the Bengals to seven straight games. While the Browns defense only recorded two sacks, the Browns’ pass rush was noticeable by everyone watching and felt by Cincinnati’s offensive line.

Burrow only attempted to throw the ball 31 times and was hit on 10 of those throws. Burrow is now 1-3 in his career in season openers, but he didn’t sound worried in the least.

“Nobody is panicking here, guys,” Burrow told the media following the loss. “Week one doesn’t define anybody’s season. Obviously not very good out there, anybody that watched saw that. We’ve been in this spot before, we’ve come out stronger and had a great year, so that’s what we are going to do.”

The last time the Bengals went up to Cleveland they left with a 32-13 loss. From that point the team managed to string 10 straight wins together.

The Bengals have 16 games left, of course, but another test on their hands with the Ravens coming to the Jungle on Sunday. The Bengals and Ravens haven’t seen each other since last season’s AFC Wild Card Game when Ravens QB Tyler Huntley fumbled on a sneak attempt on third and goal in a tie game in the fourth quarter. Sam Hubbard recovered and ran 98 yards for the game-winning touchdown.

Baltimore is dealing with significant injuries to key members of their offensive line. Center Tyler Linderbaum and left tackle Ronnie Stanley will be unavailable and running back J.K. Dobbins is out for the rest of the season with an Achilles injury.

Cincinnati’s defensive line cannot let up with quarterback Lamar Jackson under center. While Jackson was sacked four times and faced pressure from the Houston Texans 43 percent of the time in week one, he still managed 17/22 through the air with 169 passing yards.

“We can’t let him make throws and everybody knows how he is with his legs, and as a defense you want to make it difficult for him throwing-wise,” Mike Hilton said Wednesday. “Get pressure in his face, make him throw in tight windows, make him be an accurate passer so we feel good about our game plan going in, we just have to execute.”

Jackson also led Baltimore’s rushers with 38 total yards on 6 carries, averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Cincinnati is preparing to have their hands full with the dual threat QB.

“We know they don’t want to just let him drop back the whole game, so we are expecting some doses of some quarterback runs, some read options on top of their new offense, so overall it’s a whole different offense but we kind of know what is expected,” Hilton said.

If Cincinnati is to go 1-1 headed into a week three primetime game with the LA Rams, their run defense must be better than Week 1, which saw the Bengals give up 206 yards rushing on 5.2 ypc. Dobbins may be out, but Justice Hill scored two touchdowns against the Texans last week, while Gus Edwards averaged 4.0 ypc.

With star TE Mark Andrews out, Jackson made it clear who he trusts the most in the receiving corps last week when he targeted rookie Zay Flowers 10 times. Flowers caught 90 percent of his targets for 78 receiving yards, allowing Baltimore to move the ball when needed.

Cincinnati’s star receiver Ja’Marr Chase had just five catches for 39 yards and Tee Higgins went through the first game without a single catch on eight targets. The team spent portions of training camp adding RPO packages into their offense and it seems like that side of the ball is still ironing out some kinks.

Burrow finished with zero big time throws which does not play to his strengths — or the strengths of highly talented receivers like Chase and Higgins. You should expect to see changes there on Sunday.

The Bengals are anxious to get the sour taste of Week 1 out of their mouths and right the ship in their home season opener on Sunday at 1:00. Cincinnati is a -3.5 favorite. I expect Burrow to bounce back and for the Bengals to take advantage of Baltimore’s injuries to even their record with a 27-14 win.

Elise Jesse
Elise Jesse started her career as a sports broadcaster and has been covering the Cincinnati Bengals for nearly a decade. Her feature storytelling has earned her an Ohio Valley Emmy Award in broadcast journalism and a Media Service Award from the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
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