Raven-ous ‘D,’ Run Game, Stifle Bengals, 20-0

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Ravens’ season opener ends in the first shutout in 8 years.

As the Ravens began their 22nd season Sunday, there was plenty of concern regarding a rusty quarterback who hadn’t practiced or played all summer. But as things turned out, the signal-caller with issues was Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton.

Sack! (photo, Lexington Herald-Leader)

Dalton, who had engineered the Bengals’ recent dominance over the Ravens, fell victim to a swarming Ravens defense that intercepted him a career-high four times and forced five turnovers.

The result? Baltimore won the season opener for both teams, 20-0, before 55,254 Paul Brown Stadium fans.

It was the Ravens’ 11th lifetime shutout — the fourth over the Bengals — but the franchise’s first since November 2009 in Cleveland–a 16-0 win on Monday night.

Conversely, Cincinnati (0-1) hadn’t been shut out in a season opener since 1979 at Denver. The Ravens opened the 2006 campaign by blanking Tampa Bay on the road, and they did the same in 2000 at Pittsburgh.

Conventional wisdom dictated that the Ravens’ defense would carry this team, and it certainly did in the opener. Taking advantage of inexperienced Bengal tackles, Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, Ravens’ linebacker Terrell Suggs notched two sacks, knocked down a pass, and forced a fumble. His teammates contributed three additional sacks of Dalton.

It was Ravens’ 90th lifetime win over an AFC opponent.

All told, the Ravens (1-0), winners in Cincinnati for the first time since 2011, forced five punts and recovered a fumble, along with the four pickoffs and seven tackles for loss.

Meanwhile, Joe Flacco (9-for-17, 121 yards, a TD, an INT, and 71 QB rating) saw his first action of the year after suffering a back injury. In a word, Flacco was ‘efficient.’ The Ravens’ offense was devoted more to the running game and showed just enough balance to hold off the Bengals’ front seven.

The Ravens passed the ball just 18 times and ran it on 42 plays. That’s from a team that only broke the 30-carry barrier twice last season and led the league in pass attempts! But this approach helped them keep the ball for 34 minutes to the Bengals’ 26.

While the defense has long been a Baltimore trademark, Ravens’ newcomers made the biggest impact in this game. All-purpose back Danny Woodhead touched the ball four times for 37 yards–three of them on receptions–to help pace a 13-play, 57-yard drive. But Woodhead incurred a non-contact hamstring injury just as the drive stalled at the Bengals’ 5.

Woodhead, returning from a 2016 knee injury, would not return to the game, but his contributions helped Justin Tucker kick a 25-yard field goal for the game’s first points.

Courtesy: WMAR-TV

Another offseason free-agent pickup, cornerback Brandon Carr, picked off a deflected pass to stop the next Bengals drive. But even with Flacco smartly directing an offense that had the lion’s share of the early possession, they could not capitalize on the turnover.

The Ravens got another injury blow in the second quarter when linebacker Za’Darius Smith, who was all over the field in the first quarter, followed Woodhead to the bench and to the locker room via a cart with a left knee sprain.

Sensing weakness in the Baltimore defense, Dalton (16-for-31, 170 yards, four INTs, five sacks, and 28.4 QB rating) implemented a hurry-up offense. He hit Ravens’ nemesis, AJ Green (74 yards, five catches), three times for 41 yards during a drive that took Cincy to the Baltimore 10.

The Ravens then took a timeout to slow the Bengals’ momentum and the tactic worked. When Dalton tried to find a receiver in the back of the end zone, he was easily intercepted for the second time–this time by veteran linebacker CJ Mosley.

Then, just after the two-minute warning, the Ravens scored 14 points in a 24-second span. Free-agent pickup Jeremy Maclin began the barrage when he took a short pass, worked off a pick, and scampered 48 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 10-0 lead.

Courtesy: The Edwardsville Intelligencer

Baltimore held this kind of advantage in six games last year but managed to win only four of those games. But a defense that has emphasized getting its hands up in the passing lanes made sure things wouldn’t unravel.

Veteran corner Lardarius Webb got a Terrell Suggs tip and hauled in the Ravens’ third pickoff of the first half to help boost the halftime advantage to 17-0. It came when Terrance West (80 yards, 19 carries, a TD) ran for a two-yard touchdown on the very next play.

With a 47-game winning streak on the line when leading by 17 or more points, the Ravens made the lead hold up–even after a Flacco pass was tipped by Carlos Dunlap early in the third quarter and picked off by linebacker Nick Vigil.

Then a Ravens’ defense, which allowed only ten red-zone touchdowns last year–the league’s fifth-fewest, bared its teeth. Suggs–the Ravens’ all-time forced fumble leader–got his 33rd career loose ball by stripping the beleaguered Dalton and Michael Pierce recovered for the team’s fourth takeaway at the Ravens’ 12-yard line.

From there, the Ravens did something they couldn’t afford to do much last season–run the ball. An 18-play, 81-yard drive lasted over nine minutes and featured 15 rushes. It ended in Tucker’s second 25-yard field goal of the day and a 20-0 lead late in the third quarter.

Things were so one-sided that Flacco didn’t complete a second-half pass.

The suffocating defense held the Bengals to only 19 yards worth of third-quarter offense, effectively blunting any comeback hopes. Things got so bad for the Bengals that Dalton threw away a late fourth-down pass (in the end zone) and was later picked off by Jimmy Smith in a last-ditch attempt to score.

Despite Flacco’s inactivity and a less-than-photogenic offense, future Ravens’ opponents could have similar troubles.


About Joe Platania

Veteran beat writer, Joe Platania, is entering his 39th year in Baltimore media. He covers sports with insight, humor, and prescient eye. A former longtime member in good standing of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and the Pro Football Writers of America, Platania manned the CFL Stallions beat for The Avenue Newspaper Group of Essex (1994 and ’95) and the Ravens beat since the team’s inception — one of only three local writers to do so — for PressBox, The Avenue, and other local publications and radio stations. A sought-after contributor and host on talk radio and TV, he often appears on “Inside PressBox” (10:30 a.m. Sundays) and he can be heard at 10 a.m. Saturdays on the “Purple Pride Report,” WQLL-AM (1370). He has also appeared on WMAR-TV’s “Good Morning Maryland” (2009), Comcast SportsNet’s “Washington Post Live” (2004-06), and WJZ-TV’s “Football Talk” postgame show — with legend Marty Bass (2002-04). Platania is the only sports journalist in Maryland history to have been a finalist for both the annual Sportscaster of the Year award (1998, which he won) and Sportswriter of the Year (2010). He is also a four-time Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association award winner. Platania is a graduate of St. Joseph’s (Cockeysville), Calvert Hall College High School, and Towson University, where he earned a degree in Mass Communications. He lives in Cockeysville, MD.

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