Bengals’ fans knew that the Baltimore Ravens would present the biggest challenge this team has faced all season, but with Joe Burrow’s steady week-to-week performance, many believed the offense would keep them in the game.
Unfortunately, that’s not the way it went. The Ravens defense had their number and for the first time in his career Burrow looked like a rookie. There was however one positive. The defense looked good against an extremely talented offense.
The score is a bit deceiving. Yes, the Bengals gave up 27 points, but one of Baltimore’s touchdowns was off of a fumble recovery when the defense wasn’t even on the field. The Bengals defense really only gave up 20 points.
Another Ravens’ touchdown came after Burrow’s interception which gave them the ball at the 31-yard line. This is not an excuse; it’s context. The defense still needs to step up and at least hold them to a field goal there, but clearly they were put into a bad situation.
The Bengals’ defense gave up a few big plays, but they kept the Ravens in check for most of the game. That supports the fact that the Ravens’ Expected Points Added per play was -0.05, which means on average, the Bengals were doing a better job of preventing the Ravens from scoring than vice versa.
This week’s Chalk Talk video will focus on how they defended the pass, but the focus of this article is how they stayed on top of the Ravens’ prolific run game.
The first time defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s unit matched up with the Ravens in 2019, they ran quite a bit of 4-3 defensive personnel. In fact, the majority of 4-3 that the Bengals ran in 2019 came in that one game. They did not repeat this in their 2nd 2019 matchup with the divisional foe, likely do to personnel limitations.
In 2020, the linebacker position is completely different and this time around they went back to the 4-3.
Rookie linebacker Akeem Davis-Gaither made his first career start alongside 2nd year player Germaine Pratt and former Baltimore Raven Josh Bynes. The trio had an excellent day, along with another rookie, Logan Wilson, who rotated in.
Those looking to cast shade on the Bengals defense will point out that Lamar Jackson is banged up and the Ravens did not let him carry the ball much in this game.
While that is true, it is also true that the Ravens run option plays where he could have kept the ball, but the Bengals defense prevented him from doing so.
In the clip above Jackson is reading defensive end Sam Hubbard. Hubbard squares his hips preparing to make the tackle on Jackson if he keeps the ball. Seeing this Jackson hands the ball off to Mark Ingram.
Davis-Gaither is also playing the quarterback and steps to the outside. On the defensive line D.J. Reader, Christian Covington, and Carl Lawson all do a good job of holding their gaps.
With Hubbard playing the quarterback, Bynes takes his place, filling the gap outside the offensive tackle. Pratt disengages from the center’s block and fills the B-gap inside the offensive tackle, bringing down Ingram for a short gain.
There is one gap left to account for, but safety Vonn Bell rocks down to occupy it.
The defense did an excellent job of defending the option and controlling gaps on this play.
Once again, the defensive line holds their gaps well on this play. Hubbard is head up on the tight end and you would like to see him dominate that block, but Nick Boyle is perhaps the best blocking tight end in the league, and Hubbard does his job by shutting down the C-gap.
LeShaun Sims gives up way too much ground as the fullback kicks him out, but Pratt fits tight outside the pulling guard and restricts the running lane mitigating the impact of Sims’ absence.
Bynes beats the play-side guard’s block with speed and fits outside of Mark Andrews who followed the pulling guard from the backside. Ingram cuts inside, but Davis-Gaither is right there.
Davis-Gaither hits the ball carrier, but Ingram bounces off of him. Fortunately he is not alone.
The safeties have set up an excellent secondary funnel with Bell to the left and Jessie Bates III to the right. This is how you prevent big plays, even when mistakes occur up front.
Ingram comes off of Davis-Gaither to the defense’s left, so Bell comes in for the tackle along with Covington who has come off of his block pursue the running back.
The run fits on this play were excellent with the cutback going right to Davis-Gaither. He was in perfect position, but needs to finish with a better tackle. The secondary funnel and pursuit did a great job and brought Ingram down for a gain of four yards.
We’re all excited about young linebackers like Pratt, Davis-Gaither, and Wilson, but Bynes really stepped up against his former team.
In this clip Reader and Lawson do an excellent job fighting the reach blocks and Darius Phillips holds his own against Boyle’s lead block. Phillips sees the back cutting outside and is able to get off the block and get involved in the tackle.
Bynes flows quickly to the outside run and along with Phillips makes the tackle for no gain.
Reader had a great day, despite it concluding early with a season ending injury. The play where he got hurt may have been his most impressive of the day.
He does a great job of holding his B-gap, and when he sees the running back cutting to the inside he quickly dismisses the left guard and comes inside to make the tackle.
Covington also does a great job. The center and right guard are working a combo block on him, but as soon as the center releases to block the linebacker, Covington comes free.
Losing Reader hurts, but Covington is playing at a high level.
Just watch him on this play.
The left guard tries to reach him on the outside zone, but Covington holds the gap and is soon able to disengage from the overextended offensive lineman.
The cutback was there for Ingram, but Covington makes an extremely athletic play to bring him down for a short gain.
This was an excellent play by Covington. Hopefully Covington and the return of Geno Atkins will mitigate the loss of Reader.
The young linebackers are developing quickly and the unit is becoming a strength for this team. The defensive line was very impressive against the run, which is particularly impressive given all the injuries the team has suffered at defensive tackle.
The Bengals did an excellent job of defending the run against the Ravens and overall the defense did enough to put this team in a position to win.