Baltimore cam into this game knowing that, realistically, only a win would be good enough to keep their season alive. The Bengals, having already secured the AFC North, knew that they needed to win to keep alive their slim chances of securing a first round bye at the expense of New England.
After a game that may well be dubbed the ‘Interception Bowl’ by some, Andy Dalton and the Bengals (11-5) took the plaudits and at the same time condemned Joe Flacco’s Ravens (8-8) to an early exit in the defense of their Super Bowl crown. A 34-17 victory was pretty comfortable in the end for Cincinnati, who will now prepare for a home game in the playoffs.
What lessons can be learnt from today’s game to take forward into the postseason/2014?
- Blame the offense, not the defense in Baltimore
Baltimore’s defense gave Flacco enough opportunities to succeed in this game. Four interceptions of Dalton is very impressive, yet to score only 14 total points strongly suggests problems with the Ravens’ offense. Flacco himself was intercepted three times, stalling the Ravens’ chances of striking back. Added to this is the fact that they managed just 47 yards rushing; with star back Ray Rice accounting for just 15 yards on six carries. Offensive production has been the issue all year in Baltimore; for the Ravens to do better in 2014 they need to address this.
- Dalton must take better care of the football
Four interceptions against a poor Baltimore offense is one thing. Repeat this kind of performance in their next game and the fans will be subjected to yet another playoff defeat. The interceptions were not unlucky either; a combination of poor throws and poor decision making contributed to the multitude of turnovers. When taking care of the ball Dalton is a threat, as 281 yards and a huge 53 yard scoring pass to A.J. Green proves. He needs to ensure that the errors are eliminated for the Bengals to progress in the playoffs.
- The Ravens need to improve in the Red Zone
Make no bones about it; Baltimore had a chance to take control of this game in the first quarter. Cincinnati’s first two drives ended in interceptions and, had Flacco been able to convert these opportunities into scores, the Bengals would have faced an uphill struggle. As it panned out, however, two stalled drives (resulting in field goals) allowed the Bengals to take the lead and ultimately control of the game. The Ravens have had problems getting into the End Zone throughout the year; their most effective scoring ‘weapon’ has been kicker Justin Tucker. This must change if the Ravens are to return to winning ways next season.
- Watch out for screens from the Bengals offense
Screen plays can be very effective in the NFL and Cincinnati like to run them as a big part of their game plan. They are able to do so effectively to both Gio Bernard and wide receivers in order to pick up chunks of yardage. At times they were not successful, but the Bengals are prepared to return to one of their favourite plays if they do not succeed initially. Opponents in the postseason need to keep an eye out for runners looking to catch the ball in the back field and key in on those men to stop Dalton’s effectiveness in moving the football.
- Baltimore need to make big changes in their running game
The malaise in the Ravens’ ground game is huge. As mentioned above, they managed a pitiful 47 yards in this game. Yet this is not a single game issue. Baltimore has not scored a rushing touchdown since Ray Rice’s effort against Chicago in week 11. That makes more than six games without a score on the ground. Rice and his ‘partner in crime’ Bernard Pierce have produced a mere 1053 yards between them this year on 355 carries. They have just three runs of over 20 yards and six touchdowns. This includes Rice’s 131 yard game in Chicago and two touchdown game in Miami. If the Ravens are to become a threat again in 2014 then they will need to raise their rushing production to give Flacco a genuine alternative to the passing game.
Cincinnati goes into the postseason with a genuine chance of putting a long overdue win on the board, thanks to the topping of the AFC North and a home game. For The Ravens, the job of rebuilding in the offseason has surely already begun….