Fresh off wrapping up another AFC North division title in Week 16, the Baltimore Ravens found themselves more concerned with getting out of Cincinnati healthy than trying to win their 11th game of the season. The list of inactives read out like a Pro Bowl roster; Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Bernard Pollard and Anquan Boldin among others. Then after the 1st quarter, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Ed Reed took their spots on the bench as well.
Baltimore sat most of the starters after the 1st quarter but the Ravens hung in the game leading 14-13 to start the 4th quarter but a Tyrod Taylor interception turned a one point lead into a six-point loss, 23-17 to the Cincinnati Bengals as both teams finish 10-6 in the AFC North.
Joe Flacco saw action in two drives before he was replaced by backup Tyrod Taylor. Flacco was 4-of-8 for 34 yards during his short time in the game. The move showed the Ravens first priority wasn’t winning the football game, but rather getting their QB to the sidelines before the playoffs next weekend.
Tyrod Taylor received plenty of action in this one, making plays with his legs more so than his arm. Feeling pressure, Taylor rolled out of the pocket and ran to his left for 28 yards in his first drive. The Ravens ran a lot of read-option plays to get Taylor involved with his legs as well as check downs and designed roll-outs on his throws. Taylor made some decent throws in the 11 play, 81-yard drive, but it was his legs that got it done, scoring on a one-yard run to give the Ravens the lead.
He gave the Bengals fits all day with his ability to scramble out of the pocket. Three and five step drops aren’t Tyrod Taylor’s thing however as he was picked off by Carlos Dunlap on a three-step drop from a pass that was deflected by Dunlap that put the game away for Cincinnati. Taylor finished with 149 yards passing and 65 yards rushing.
Running Backs: B+
Bernard Pierce is such a strong runner, he not only moves piles with his downhill running, but has the quickness to easily get into the 2nd level of a defense. He finished with 89 yards on 22 carries. Anthony Allen scored his first career touchdown on a two-yard scamper. Vonta Leach caught a pass for two yards, but was injured on the play and was kept out for the remainder of the game.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
Anquan Boldin missed the game with a shoulder injury. Torrey Smith had only one target and finished with zero catches before getting the afternoon off. The Ravens turned to their reserves, David Reed (4 catches, 44 yards) and Deonte Thompson saw extensive action and made some tough catches in traffic. Ed Dickson set season highs in catches (six) and yards (64) as the Ravens shelved Dennis Pitta after the 1st half.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line still commits too many penalties, a season-long area of worry. Jah Reid struggled in pass protection, allowing a sack on a bull rush by defensive end Michael Johnson. He gets caught upright too often for a guy with his size and strength. After the 1st quarter, the starters were pulled as Gino Gradkowski replaced Matt Birk at center and looked fairly solid.
Bryant McKinnie moved to left tackle and Michael Oher moved to right tackle after Kelechi Osemele was injured. There’s a reason McKinnie hasn’t played much as he struggled big time getting muscled up and pushed aside by Michael Johnson for a sack. Oher needs to play at right tackle next season where he is better suited.
The line will need another special effort like they had against the Giants, facing the Colts talented defensive ends, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney in the Wild Card match-up.
Defensive Line: A
The defensive line was excellent. Ma’ake Kemoeatu recorded a sack, his first of the season starting in place of Haloti Ngata. Art Jones had two tackles and DeAngelo Tyson had one. Bryan Hall made a nice play on quarterback Andy Dalton, stripping the football, but was ultimately ruled an incomplete pass. The line shut down the Bengals running attack which was without BenJarvus Green-Ellis who was a scratch after warm-ups.
They were able to get some pressure up front which bothered both Andy Dalton and Bruce Gradkowski in their throwing abilities.
The linebackers got after the ball today and tackled pretty well. Josh Bynes recorded nine total tackles. Paul Kruger recorded a sack, his 9th of the season which leads the defense. He pressures well and gets the QB moving even if he doesn’t always physically get to them. Kruger recovered a fumble with one arm that was then overturned while he was being blocked and falling down at the same time. Dannell Ellerbe returned from an ankle sprain to have a solid game, recording four tackles.
Chykie Brown played well outside of the double move he was beaten on by Brandon Tate for a 44-yard gain, leading to a Bengals field goal. Though he didn’t record a tackle, Cary Williams had the assignment of covering A.J. Green and did pretty well early as the talented Green was held in check and only caught two passes on the day. Since coming back from injury, Jimmy Smith has played better.
Special Teams: C-
Justin Tucker connected on one of two field goals, missing a 45-yard field goal, his third miss of the season. Better now than the playoffs. He bounced back with a 49-yard field goal. He’ll be just fine heading into the playoffs. Sam Koch got a lot of work in the game, but didn’t have his normal leg, averaging just under 40 yards per punt. The Bengals did a nice job of limiting what Jacoby Jones does in the return game, averaging 23.5 yards per return.
The goal of this game was to get most of the starters out as quick as possible and give the young players play time and that’s what John Harbaugh accomplished without any other major injuries. Both Vonta Leach and Kelechi Osemele should be fine to play next week according to both John Harbaugh and the Ravens twitter account. The defense kept the Ravens in it, even if the primary concern wasn’t to win the game.
Scoring 17 points in the game, the Ravens set a franchise high with 398 points scored on the season. Even with backups playing the Ravens moved the football effectively down field against the Bengals starters and the defense did an outstanding job despite injuries and guys coming out of the game to rest.
The Ravens finish the season with their 6th loss, but should be thankful and hopeful about things for two reasons heading into their Wild Card match up with the Indianapolis Colts: One, they’ll be at M&T Bank Stadium where they finished 6-2 this season, and two, and most importantly, the team is getting healthy.
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.