Posted on 28 September 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 28 September 2015 by WNST Staff
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Posted on 28 September 2015 by Dennis Koulatsos
The Baltimore Ravens suffered another tough loss yesterday, this one at their 20th home opener and at the hands of the division leading Cincinnati Bengals. They have now lost by 6, 4, and 6 points. Lots of blame to go around, whether it’s coaching, penalties, miscommunication, dropped passes and interceptions, etc. The optimists will say that this team could easily have been 3 – 0, but that’s not what the standings say this morning. To paraphrase Bill Parcells, the Ravens are what their record says they are.
As my son and I left the stadium, as fans we felt the weight of a winless season thus far. Of course we all know by now that in their 20 year history, this organization has never started a season 0 – 3. It certainly is not a good feeling, but it is in times like these organizations find out what they really have when faced with adversity. Just as a high tide raises all ships, a low tide lowers them. A low tide exposes the most seaworthy vessels – and the best captains.
Coach John Harbaugh has experienced a ton of success during his tenure here in Baltimore, capped off with a Super Bowl victory in 2012. Unless something dramatic happens, my best guess is that he is staring down a 6 – 10 season. His mettle is being tested and will continue to be as the losses pile up.
In the general media there’s been much talk about the injuries, play calling, discipline, penalties, etc. What’s been missed is that not only have the Ravens lost some great players in the last couple of years, but also some great coordinators and assistant coaches. The two that immediately stand out are Gary Kubiak and Teryl Austin.
Kubiak’s effect on the running game and QB Joe Flacco were apparent throughout last year’s campaign. His run first philosophy and effective game planning/calling contributed much to the Ravens’ success. Plus by all accounts he had a terrific relationship with Joe Flacco. Through the first 3 games, things have been dramatically different with Marc Trestman at the helm as offensive coordinator.
Austin – who is now currently the defensive coordinator with the Detroit Lions – was an outstanding defensive backs coach during his tenure here in Baltimore. In fact, he did some of his best work in 2013 by holding together a patchwork secondary, on an injury depleted team that went 8-8 and came within one quarter and 4 Andy Dalton interceptions of going to the playoffs. Austin has excellent communication skills, and is a very technically sound coach.
Head coaches always get too much credit when teams win and way too much blame when they lose. Make no mistake about it – they’re only as good as their coordinators and assistant coaches. In the NFL, every team has a salary cap to deal with, unlike baseball where you can virtually buy a championship. That’s where coaching in the NFL – more often than not – is the difference maker.
This will be a great learning experience for John Harbaugh. I’m of the opinion that he is a good – not a great – coach. However, he does have a chance to be great. This will be a season where he can assess himself, his coordinators and his assistants. He’s on his way to hearing the Ravens’ name called early in the 2016 NFL draft, and that’s a good thing in terms of the overall well being of the franchise, as they need to restock the cupboard with better talent.
The Ravens need some high draft picks and based on their start are on their way to getting some. Prior to yesterday’s game I marveled at the talent that was on the Bengals’ roster. That talent didn’t get there because the Bengals have been great over space and time. They’ve been a mediocre team on a more often than not mediocre organization. In fact, I can argue that – based on talent alone – the Bengals should have absolutely blown out the Ravens in yesterday’s game. Marvin Lewis and staff did all they could to keep the Ravens in the game.
The Bengals have been able to accumulate a number of high draft picks through the years, and from top to bottom have a Super Bowl caliber roster. Andy Dalton is not a prime time QB, and that is the primary reason that he – along with coach Marvin Lewis – is still looking for his first playoff win. The Bengals should have been up 21-0 on the Ravens at the half yesterday, and should have never let them come within barking distance of beating them.
There’s no doubt in my mind that GM Ozzie Newsome will keep his usually keen eye on the roster this year, and make the necessary adjustments to improve the team in the off-season. Until then, we’ll see how this team deals with adversity. Can they overcome it? Will they get better as the season progresses? Will they fight ’til the end, or will they at some point “tap out.”
I don’t see the later happening, as I do expect coach Harbaugh to get this team – given it’s limitations – to overachieve. They haven’t been blown out. They’ve fought hard for 3 games. Their games – although they haven’t had the outcome we’re all looking for – have been entertaining.
Bottom line is that we are not going to the playoffs every year. For various reasons, there has to be an adjustment – historically speaking – in an organization’s timeline. I’m an optimist by nature but I am also a realist. I’d love to see this team fight, scrap and get into the playoffs, but history tells us that they have a less than a 3% chance of doing so. The odds aren’t favorable.
But the odds are very much favorable that this is a temporary blimp in this great organization’s history, and it will not take them long – no longer than this season – to figure it out and bounce right back. In Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, and John Harbaugh ……. I trust.
I will end with my personal message to the Ravens. A very wise man once told me that in life, there are are going to be peaks and valleys. No one is immune to them; we all go through them, and so do organizations. The key is that when you’re in a valley, fight like hell to get out of it. Don’t get conditioned to it, and don’t accept it. Minimize the time you spend in the valley. And as the Ravens fight song bellows…..FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT!
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Posted on 28 September 2015 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — The Ravens had chances to win in the fourth quarter of each of their first three games, but that doesn’t hide the truth after a 28-24 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday.
This is a bad football team at 0-3.
At least right now.
A loss in Denver wasn’t unexpected despite it being a winnable game. Falling to Oakland was surprising, but the Ravens have laid the occasional egg on the road in the John Harbaugh era. But failing to prevail in a must-win game at M&T Bank Stadium when they owned two separate leads late in the game?
The difference between most good teams and most bad teams in the NFL isn’t that much, but the Ravens have shown it through the first three weeks of the 2015 season. They’re not bad in the same sense as an 0-3 Chicago Bears team that’s been outscored by 59 points this season, but that’s no consolation for a franchise so used to success over the last 15 years.
“Very disappointing,” said Harbaugh after the Ravens fell to 0-3 for the first time in franchise history. “We had the lead twice in the fourth quarter and couldn’t hold onto it. It’s happened too much lately. It’s on us.”
The sad thing is that the Ravens of old flashed at a few different points in the second half, making you think they would find a way to steal one that they really had no business winning after being dominated in the first half. The defense was even the catalyst as Elvis Dumervil stripped Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton of the football and C.J. Mosley picked up the fumble and ran 41 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:49 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The narrative was there for an ugly — but season-saving — win around which the Ravens could rally and remove the bad taste of the first two losses from their palates.
But then four-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green took over, catching an 80-yard touchdown against a confused and poor-tackling secondary. And he did it again after the Ravens had punched back with a Joe Flacco touchdown to Steve Smith that put them back in front with just under four minutes remaining.
After fourth-quarter failures against the Broncos and Raiders in the previous two weeks, the defense once again melted down when the Ravens needed it to make just one last stop.
“Once we had the lead in the fourth quarter, we’re supposed to keep it,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “With this defense, we’re supposed to get off the field. We haven’t been getting off the field this whole year, and that’s what you get when you don’t get off the field on third down.”
Even with the healthy returns of Jimmy Smith and Webb and the free-agent additions of Kendrick Lewis and Kyle Arrington, we knew the Ravens secondary might still be an issue, but the defense has allowed 291 passing yards per game and six touchdowns so far in 2015. Two of those performances came against Oakland’s second-year quarterback Derek Carr and then Dalton, who has been the quarterback punchline of playoff failures over the last four years.
Is it the talent, the execution, or the coaching? When a team is 0-3, it’s all of the above.
The pass rush without Terrell Suggs, Pernell McPhee, and Haloti Ngata is a shell of its former self, leading to quite a predicament for defensive coordinator Dean Pees. When you need to blitz to pressure the pocket, you make shaky defensive backs even more vulnerable to giving up the big play, but rushing three or four while dropping extra defenders in coverage hasn’t worked either.
There’s been too much miscommunication on the back end of the defense — seeing Lewis trying to cover Green on his 80-yard score in a three-deep zone was a perfect example on Sunday — not to question Pees’ calls while also holding players accountable for their performance. You could certainly interpret Harbaugh’s thoughts on Green’s final touchdown as a critique of both.
“You take responsibility across the board,” Harbaugh said. “It’s execution, it’s finding a better way to play. There are options that you have on that last play down there in the red zone on the -yard line besides man coverage, but we decided to blitz them and get after them and they beat us. We have an option there, we can check to a zone coverage. We didn’t have that on, but there are always options.”
Understandably, the defense is receiving most of the blame for Sunday’s loss, but let’s not pretend all is well with the offense, either. Not only did the group sleepwalk through the entire first half, but the passing game remains too dependent on Steve Smith as he was targeted 17 times on his way to 13 catches for 186 yards and two touchdowns. Other than maybe second-year tight end Crockett Gillmore — who sat out the second half with an undisclosed injury — Flacco doesn’t have a single pass-catcher he can trust beyond the 36-year-old wideout, who was terrific on Sunday but can’t be expected to repeat this every week.
Perhaps the biggest — and easily the most surprising — concern on either side of the ball for the Ravens has been their running game, which was a non-factor against the Cincinnati defense on Sunday. After running for just 35 yards on 13 carries in the first half, the Ravens gained only one yard on five second-half carries.
For a team that pledged to maintain the blocking principles introduced by Gary Kubiak a year ago, the running game under Marc Trestman has more closely resembled the disastrous 2013 ground attack so far, averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in three games. That spells trouble for a team lacking play-makers through the air and a pass defense that needs to be protected as much as possible.
With concerns on both sides of the ball, the 0-3 Ravens can only push forward while trying to resolve at least some of the problems.
“If [those losses are] in your head, then you’re just going to be constantly trying to crawl out of a hole that you can’t get out of right away,” said Flacco, who thought the offense “wasted” the entire first half not taking advantage of the Bengals playing “conservative” defensive looks. “It’s going to take time. We’ve had opportunities to win each one of these three games, and we’re just not good enough to be good in crunch-time situations and it’s getting us beat.”
Numerous players spoke about getting their heads right as the talented Steelers — even without Ben Roethlisberger — loom on Thursday night. There was plenty of talk about accountability and being better than their record indicates, but actions speak louder than words and the Ravens know that.
Players and coaches need to be better, including Harbaugh after he burned a precious timeout on a spot challenge he had no chance of winning early in the fourth quarter.
There are just too many problems to go around for the Ravens to hide from the truth that they’ve been a bad football team through three weeks. And if they want to have any visions of becoming the fourth 0-3 team since 1990 to make the playoffs, much needs to change in a hurry.
“We’ve got to get going,” Dumervil said. “We have a short turnaround against a good team [on the road]. We’ve got to have a short memory and get going.”
Posted on 27 September 2015 by Luke Jones
BALTIMORE — Playing their 20th home opener in Baltimore, the Ravens have entered uncharted territory under eighth-year coach John Harbaugh with an 0-2 record to begin the 2015 season.
For a team entering the season with Super Bowl aspirations, the urgency couldn’t be greater in Week 3 as the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals try to bury the Ravens before October. Since 1990, only three 0-3 teams have rebounded to make the playoffs and the prospects of an 0-4 start would be alarming with a Thursday game in Pittsburgh looming in just a few days.
Surprisingly, the Ravens deactivated veteran pass rusher Jason Babin for a second consecutive week after citing his lack of familiarity with the defensive system as the reason he sat against the Raiders a week ago. With the current concerns over the pass rush, Babin being inactive doesn’t speak well for the Ravens’ confidence in him to be able to contribute off the edge.
Baltimore had already ruled out rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee), defensive end Chris Canty (calf), and left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) on Friday. Perriman practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and went through another pre-game workout on Sunday morning as he tries to work his way back from a sprained knee suffered on the first day of training camp in late July.
Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) was active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week.
Cornerback Rashaan Melvin will make his 2015 season debut after dealing with a hamstring injury dating back to the preseason. Given how well he performed in training camp and how much No. 3 cornerback Kyle Arrington struggled in Oakland, Melvin would be a good bet to see playing time in the nickel defense against the Bengals.
Acquired from the Miami Dolphins in exchange for a 2016 seventh-round pick earlier this week, cornerback Will Davis was inactive as he continues to learn the Baltimore defensive system. With Melvin returning to action, the Ravens had less of a need to activate Davis. Rookie Tray Walker was also inactive for Baltimore.
These teams are meeting for the 39th time with the Ravens holding a slight 20-18 advantage and 13-6 mark in Baltimore. However, the Bengals have won three straight and four of the last five in the series after completing a season sweep in 2014.
The forecast called for cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 70s, a 15 percent chance of rain, and winds up to 11 miles per hour.
Referee Walt Anderson and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game.
The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with white pants while Cincinnati dons its white tops with black pants.
Here are Sunday’s inactives:
WR Breshad Perriman
CB Tray Walker
CB Will Davis
LB Jason Babin
OT Eugene Monroe
DT Christo Bilukidi
DE Chris Canty
WR Greg Little
WR Mario Alford
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
TE C.J. Uzomah
DL Marcus Hardison
DL Pat Sims
DL Margus Hunt
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Posted on 26 September 2015 by Luke Jones
It’s a word unfamiliar to the Ravens at this early stage of a season under eighth-year head coach John Harbaugh as they find themselves 0-2 for the first time since 2005. Not only must they beat the Cincinnati Bengals to avoid the first 0-3 start in franchise history, but a Thursday road game at Pittsburgh awaits just four days later.
In other words, the Ravens know their season could be all but doomed before Columbus Day if they don’t answer the bell for these next two games. The Bengals, however, would like nothing more than to continue their recent success against the Ravens while improving to 3-0 in the young 2015 season.
It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Cincinnati for the 39th time in franchise history as they own a 20-18 mark. Baltimore has lost three straight and four of the last five to the Bengals, who last year handed the Ravens a season-opening loss at M&T Bank Stadium and swept the season series for the first time since 2009.
Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 46-11 in home games under Harbaugh, the second-best mark in the NFL since 2008 …
1. As Jimmy Smith tries to lock down A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard will present matchup problems with a combined 125 receiving yards and a touchdown. Last week was a forgettable performance for the Ravens’ top cornerback, but he will bounce back to prevent Green from singlehandedly wrecking the game. The third-year tight end Eifert is emerging as a dangerous weapon and strong safety Will Hill is dealing with a knee ailment, a worrisome combination. Eifert and Bernard matching up against Ravens linebackers will favor Cincinnati and the pair will help Andy Dalton move the chains on several occasions on Sunday.
2. The Ravens will get their running game on track as Justin Forsett rushes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Through two games, Baltimore has averaged just 2.1 yards per carry in under-center formations as Forsett has largely been bottled up. The Ravens have gained 91 yards on 13 carries from the shotgun, but that’s not a viable long-term plan, putting pressure on the offensive line to open running lanes. The Bengals defense gave up 5.2 yards per carry a week ago, and you can bet that Harbaugh wants the Ravens to get back to their roots in all phases of the game after an 0-2 start. That means heavy doses of Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Buck Allen, and more running room will be there.
3. Elvis Dumervil will pick up his first sack of the season, but the pass rush will remain largely ineffective. The Ravens hope that Jason Babin can bring some life to a front seven missing Terrell Suggs, but putting consistent pressure on the quarterback will be an issue for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Bengals offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack yet this season and the Ravens only sacked Dalton twice in two games last year with Suggs and Haloti Ngata having one each in the second meeting. Dumervil will slip by Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth for a takedown, but this is not a good matchup for a group trying to find its way and going against a passing game that gets the ball out quickly
4. Rookie Maxx Williams will catch his first career touchdown. The offense took some encouraging steps forward last week in Oakland with Crockett Gillmore catching two touchdowns and Kamar Aiken adding 89 receiving yards to shake off a brutal first-quarter fumble, but the Ravens need their 2015 second-round tight end to become a bigger part of what they do in the passing game, especially with limited speed at the receiver position. The Bengals’ otherwise-stout defense is average at the linebacker position and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will try to create favorable matchups for the talented but raw Williams. He’ll take advantage with a touchdown inside the red zone.
5. Joe Flacco will fight off the demons of past Cincinnati performances to lead the Ravens to a much-needed 23-21 win. These are the desperate times in which you lean on your stars, but Flacco has thrown more than twice as many career interceptions against the Bengals than any other team, making this one difficult to predict. Cincinnati is the more balanced team on paper and the early-season results for both teams speak for themselves, but Flacco plays better at home and will play an efficient game with minimal mistakes to lead the Ravens to a win. It won’t be pretty as the defense will bend plenty without breaking and the offense will struggle to finish off a few drives, but the Ravens will make just a few more plays than the Bengals to earn their first win of 2015.
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Posted on 25 September 2015 by Luke Jones
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Needing a win against one of their biggest rivals to avoid the first 0-3 start in team history, the Ravens will be without three key players for Sunday’s game against Cincinnati.
Defensive end Chris Canty (calf), left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion), and rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) were officially ruled out on Friday as the Ravens try to snap a three-game losing streak against the Bengals in Week 3. Canty and Monroe had missed the entire week of practice while Perriman only returned to practice on Thursday after an eight-week absence due to a sprained knee.
“I’m encouraged by that, and that’s very important,” said head coach John Harbaugh about Perriman’s limited participation. “It looks like he’s getting close, but what that exactly means, I don’t know. When they tell me he can play, he’ll be out there playing. That’s just the truth. That’s the way it is. It’s a tough injury to judge.”
Second-year lineman James Hurst is once again expected to start in Monroe’s place while Lawrence Guy will likely man the 5-technique defensive end spot in place of Canty.
Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot) was listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week after he returned to practice on a limited basis Friday. The second-year back made his 2015 debut in Oakland last week following a month-long absence because of a knee injury.
Safety Will Hill missed Friday’s practice with a knee injury, but he was still listed as probable to play against the Bengals.
Rookie cornerback Tray Walker was listed as questionable with a thigh injury after being limited in two straight practices. The return of third-year cornerback Rashaan Melvin and the acquisition of Will Davis make it likely that the fourth-round pick will be inactive anyway.
The Bengals officially ruled out backup nose tackle Pat Sims with a hip injury and listed defensive tackle Marcus Hardison (knee) as doubtful. Four-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green (knee) and starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth (back) were both listed as probable after missing one practice each this week.
The referee for Sunday’s game will be Walt Anderson.
The forecast for Sunday’s game in Baltimore calls for temperatures in the high 60s, a 60 percent chance of rain, and winds up to 12 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.
Below is the final injury report of the week:
OUT: DE Chris Canty (calf), OT Eugene Monroe (concussion), WR Breshad Perriman (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), CB Tray Walker (thigh)
PROBABLE: S Will Hill (knee), LB C.J. Mosley (non-injury)
OUT: DT Pat Sims (hip)
DOUBTFUL: DT Marcus Hardison (knee)
PROBABLE: DE Wallace Gilberry (thigh), WR A.J. Green (knee), S Reggie Nelson (groin), OT Andre Smith (buttocks), OT Andrew Whitworth (back)
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Posted on 24 September 2015 by Luke Jones
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — First, it was Ravens head coach John Harbaugh suggesting his defense didn’t play with the level of effort it needed in a shocking 37-33 loss in Oakland.
On Thursday, defensive coordinator Dean Pees went further in criticizing his unit’s performance as the Ravens now try to avoid the first 0-3 start in franchise history when they welcome the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals to town for the home opener. Not only are the Ravens trying to escape an early-season hole, but pride is on the line for a defense that’s been the identity of one of the most successful franchises in the NFL for the better part of two decades.
Playing their first game without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs since 1998, the Ravens turned in one of their worst defensive performances in recent memory against the lowly Raiders.
“We did not play with energy,” said Pees, who also hinted that his defense hadn’t practiced well in San Jose, Calif. last week. “When you don’t play with energy, you end up with six penalties, numerous missed tackles and several big plays, and that was the whole bottom line. For whatever reason, we didn’t play with energy. The players are responsible for that and so are the coaches. It’s up to us to get them to play with energy and play at a high level, and it’s up to them as players to produce at a high level.
“Sometimes, we have to take the role of leaders as coaches, and we have to do some things and just expedite the process a little bit and get them to play harder.”
The poor performance has been discussed ad nauseam, but hearing Pees question the energy and leadership of his defense lends credence to the notion that the Ravens would sorely miss Suggs after the 13th-year linebacker suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1.
A return to M&T Bank Stadium should automatically lift the energy level for a Ravens defense that has allowed the fewest points per home game (15.3) in the NFL since Harbaugh’s arrival in 2008. Baltimore will need to build on its 45-11 home record since 2008 to remove the sour taste of the first two road games, but the Ravens will play a Bengals team that handed them a home loss in last year’s season opener.
“We don’t want to be 0-2, but it’s still early in the season and our urgency will go up,” said linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who has collected 16 of his 26 1/2 sacks with the Ravens at home. “We just have to keep stacking practices. We just have to go get a win. That’s what it’s all about. We all just have to play our ‘A’ game.”
The Ravens defense believes it more closely resembles the group that held Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos without an offensive touchdown in Week 1 than the unit that was torched by second-year quarterback Derek Carr in Oakland, but they have to prove it against a Bengals offense that has scored a total of 57 points in its first two games.
A week after stuffing the run, playing mostly-sound pass coverage, and consistently pressuring the pocket, the Ravens couldn’t get out of their own way, making everyone wonder about a defense without Suggs or offseason departures Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee. The Jekyll and Hyde profile of the first two weeks has led everyone to question which is the real Baltimore defense.
“It’s not a matter of, ‘OK, are we good, or are we bad?’” Pees said. “We have to improve. We have to play like we played in the first week all the time. Every day, every practice, every game — that’s the intensity we have to play with, and if we don’t, it’s our fault as coaches.”
Contrary to popular belief, the Ravens have had poor defensive performances from time to time over the years, but the head coach and the defensive coordinator both questioning the group’s effort and energy after Sunday’s loss is largely uncharted territory with such dynamic on-field leadership over the years. It’s a sentiment that only highlights the narrative of the veteran players no longer residing in the defense.
Facing their first 0-2 start in a decade, the Ravens must lean on its young defensive standouts such as cornerback Jimmy Smith, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and nose tackle Brandon Williams to not only make plays but to emerge as leaders.
“Losing a player like Suggs is hard, and that’s one less player someone else has to worry about,” Williams said. “But at the same time, someone else needs to step up, whether it be me or anyone else on the line to step up and just make plays.”
Of course, you’re only as good — or bad — as your last game. Asked whether Sunday’s performance against the Raiders had damaged the confidence he has in his defense, Pees recalled his tenure in New England in which the Patriots would use the 2003 season opener — a 31-0 beating they took at the hands of the Buffalo Bills — as a reminder to never take too much away from one performance.
After that embarrassing loss, the Patriots won 17 of their next 18 games to win the Super Bowl that season.
“One game never defines you — good or bad,” Pees said. “It didn’t define us after Denver. It won’t define us after Oakland.”
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Posted on 23 September 2015 by Luke Jones
OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have stumbled out of the 2015 gate with a pair of losses following an offseason filled with change while the rival Cincinnati Bengals have steadily plugged away with a 2-0 start to take the early lead in the AFC North.
Their well-documented postseason failures aside, the Bengals have returned 21 of 22 starters from a year ago and have had the opportunity to settle in with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and defensive coordinator Paul Guenther, both in their second year in those posts. It’s the kind of continuity that the Ravens likely envy as they just began their fourth straight season with a different offensive coordinator and seemingly replace important players on both sides of the ball every offseason.
Head coach John Harbaugh raised a few eyebrows with his praise for the Bengals during his Monday press conference, but the reaction reflects the heavy attention paid to the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason while Cincinnati largely flew under the radar.
“I do believe it is the most talented team in the league,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve seen that over the years. We have great respect for them, for their coaches, [and] the way they play. Obviously, it starts with A.J. Green, but the whole cast of characters there on offense is very talented and gifted.”
Cincinnati certainly wishes for the Ravens’ success in January after first-round exits in each of the last four years, but the Bengals have won four of the last five meetings between the teams, including a season sweep a year ago. They also matched Baltimore with 40 regular-season wins from 2011-2014, one more than Pittsburgh’s 39.
But unlike the Ravens under Harbaugh and the Steelers under Mike Tomlin, 13th-year head coach Marvin Lewis is feeling heat over the Bengals’ failure to simply earn their first playoff victory since 1990, let alone win a Super Bowl to match their AFC North rivals. For that reason, continuity only goes so far if the Bengals don’t break through this season.
“We’ve been able to continue to grow our guys from the ground up, and that’s an important part [of] the program here,” Lewis said. “We’ve been fortunate to have coaches and so forth in place, but the main thing is — hopefully, throughout this whole thing — you’ve got to keep getting better as a football team.
“Continuity is not very good if you’re not good enough.”
The questions begin and end with fifth-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who is off to a strong start in 2015 with five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Despite being named to two Pro Bowls in his career, Dalton has never inspired enough confidence to make you think he’s capable of leading a team to the Super Bowl. In the Bengals’ four playoff losses, he’s thrown one touchdown and six interceptions.
But those postseason shortcomings haven’t stopped the Bengals from topping the Ravens in the regular season as they scored a combined 50 points in their two wins in 2014. In preparing for Cincinnati for the 39th time in franchise history, the Ravens will see the same faces who have given them plenty of trouble in recent years.
“It is surprising to see that in the salary-cap era,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “They have that continuity and they’ve been able to have a lot of success with that core group of players. That presents a challenge for you. You have to understand they’ve been running a system for a long time and now that system has been allowed to take the next step because they’ve been able to keep that group of players together for so long. That only makes them better, so we have to be prepared for everything they throw at us on Sunday.”
More troubling than the Bengals’ offensive success against Baltimore is how effectively their defense has frustrated Joe Flacco over the years. The eighth-year quarterback has thrown an ugly 18 interceptions in his 14 career games against Cincinnati, more than twice as many as he’s thrown against any other team over the course of his career.
In a pair of losses last season, Flacco threw three interceptions to just one touchdown. On Sunday, he’ll see virtually the same defense that will also include returning defensive end Michael Johnson, who spent 2014 in Tampa Bay.
“They play aggressively, they have good corners, they have a good front, and they get after the passer,” Flacco said. “They have a group that has played together for a pretty long time now. They feel confident with each other; they know what they’re doing.”
The Ravens are clearly desperate for a win as they don’t want to fall to 0-3, a hole that only three teams have escaped to make the playoffs since 1990.
Standing in their way is a team that’s received plenty of criticism in January but has matched them blow for blow in the regular season over the last several years. The Bengals would love nothing more than to extend Baltimore’s early-season nightmare while maintaining a strong start of their own to 2015.
“It’s not often there is an opportunity to go up — after three games — by three games on a team in your division,” said Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert, who has led Cincinnati with 153 receiving yards to provide another offensive weapon. “We’ve definitely noticed that, and we want to go in there and play well and get a win.”
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