Cornerback Leon Hall helped the Bengals blank the Ravens for the first 43 minutes.
BALTIMORE - Even a seasoned Pro Bowler like left tackle Andrew Whitworth was a bit taken aback by what the Bengals accomplished offensively in Sunday's 23-16 Opening Day victory over the Ravens under new coordinator Hue Jackson
And it wasn't even because on one play early on running back Giovani Bernard's five-yard run he and right tackle Andre Smith lined up wide on the numbers to leave just three linemen.
"We went on the road, didn't turn the ball over and gave up no sacks, moved the ball all day and missed two third downs of third-and-five or less," Whitworth said. "We can be better, sure. But could you ask for more from a new offense, rookie center and lose a key piece like (Tyler) Eifert early. That hurt us more than anything."
Jackson unveiled a batch of plays that had not been seen in the preseason. They'd been running them since the spring, but not for public consumption. Throw in the fact the Bengals went no huddle for much of the game rather than in pockets of the game and it was like driving a new car.
"We were a little off. I thought everyone blocked well, but we'll get better as we go," Whitworth said. "The first day of the no huddle, we're going to get exhausted, too….If we score a couple of touchdowns in the red zone (they were 0-for-2), it's blowout, it wouldn't have been close. I think you get six scores in a game you're doing something right."
Jackson used plenty of screens to counter the Ravens rush, enough that Bernard was the second-leading receiver with six catches for 62 yards and actually converted a third-and-11 on a 16-yarder and a third-and-four on a 32-yarder down the right sideline. He tried some unbalanced lines. He actually had quarterback Andy Dalton run the option and he pitched it to wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on a play that went nowhere.
Indeed, Jackson's most eye-opening wrinkles were how often Dalton kept on the zone read in key situations. The working number is four for five yards. He also tried a quarterback draw on third-and-goal from the 4 that got stuffed.
"I may not be as athletic as some of the guys in this league, but I feel comfortable doing it," Dalton said. "The thing we are always looking for is the right matchup, most of the time I just handed the ball off and got out of the way. We didn't do that here very much but, in college I ran it a lot."
No one runs well on the Ravens and even though Jackson has emphasized it as his core philosophy, the Bengals struggled as they often do against Baltimore in rushing for three yards per 26 rushes.
"It's about driving the football," Whitworth said. "All the runs were part of driving the ball. That's what you want."
There are concerns without Eifert (elbow) for an extended period of time and wide receiver Marvin Jones (foot) not coming back until New England Oct. 5. They ran a lot out of three wides and that didn't seem to work and the two wideouts behind A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu (four catches for 36 yards) and Brandon Tate (four for 19 yards) didn't do a lot of damage.
But Sanu did make a key catch for the two-point conversion after Green's winning touchdown catch when he outmuscled cornerback Asa Jackson at the right front pylon.
"I saw leverage. I was just trying to get him outside," Sanu said. "Andy put the ball where it needed to be and he made a great throw."
GUENTHER DIALS: As linebackers coach last season, defensive coordinator Paul Guenther supervised a third-down package that led the AFC and was second in the NFL.
On Sunday they gave up an uncharacteristic 47 percent on third down (8-for-17), but when it came to the last two snaps with the game on the line, he got back-to-back sacks with the Ravens in the red zone. Defensive lineman Wallace Gilberry, lining up at nose tackle, said he went around a stunt by defensive end Margus Hunt for the sack of quarterback Joe Flacco on third down and on fourth down Guenther blitzed safety Reggie Nelson from the left edge and he shared the sack with Gilberry after Gilberry moved over to the three technique inside.
"I'm so tired I couldn't tell you how," said Gilberry of that fourth-down sack. "He said, 'Hike,' and I took off.
"He's very creative,' Gilberry said of Guenther. "He'll find a way to get you open. That's one thing I can say about P. He's going to dial them up. It's up to you to execute and get the job done."
Two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins looks to be still trying to find his legs after his ACL surgery. He played better in the second half than the first, but press box stats had him for just one tackle and one quarterback hit. He rotated and wasn't on the field for the last two snaps. Head coach Marvin Lewis said he thought it was dehydration after he got carted off at the end of the game and Atkins walked out of the locker a half hour later saying he was fine.
Flacco, an occasional golfing partner of Guenther on the Jersey Shore during the offseason, couldn't pull the trigger.
"At the end of the game there, (they) kind of rotated," Flacco said. "I knew I had, I think it was Reggie coming off the right corner there, and [I] thought we'd hold him up a little bit and knew I had to make a play [to] get the first down and just couldn't do it."
It was a game of big sacks and end Carlos Dunlap ended the first half just like Gilberry and Nelson ended the game. It was a ridiculous play by Flacco, who had a timeout and eight seconds left from the Bengals 15. But he didn't get rid of the ball when the pocket was broken and Dunlap chased him down as the clock ran out on the Ravens' bid to get at least a field goal.
"I was (surprised) because he'd been getting it out the whole game," Gilberry said. "One second and he let it go. That's how I know the coverage was doing its job because obviously he had nowhere to go with it and it was up to us to get him on the ground."
Flacco was aghast at himself.
"That was probably the stupidest play I've ever made in football. I kind of just got caught up in the play and forgot about the situation," Flacco said. "There's no excuse for it, can't happen."
The Ravens did make hay in the running game in the second half after the Bengals allowed them 2.6 yards per rush in the first half. With running back Bernard Pierce apparently dinged, Justin Forsett rushed 11 times for 70 yards and finished with 6.4 yards per for the game. Their success also mirrored the departure of Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict with a concussion late in the first half.
"In the first half they were using a lot of regular and (one-back sets)," said nose tackle Domata Peko. "We were shutting that down and it seemed like in the second half they were running it out of (three wide receivers) and we had some of our nickel guys out and two linebackers in the box and they had some success."
The Defensive Player of the Opener just might have been SAM backer Emmanuel Lamur in his first regular-season start after missing all last season with a shoulder injury. He had the game's only turnover when he jumped a route in the flat headed to tight end Owen Daniels to go with a game-high 11 tackles.
"I read my keys. Coach (Guenther) called a great play. I read the quarterback's eyes, broke on the ball, and executed the play," Lamur said. "It's a blessing being on that field, looking up in the sky, praying to God. I was getting a little emotional out there. I've been given a second life. I'm just enjoying the game, having fun with my boys, just going out there and trying to win games."
Here's something a little sad and sweet. Sunday was the Bengals' first win in Baltimore since Oct. 11, 2009, when they rallied around defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer less than 72 hours after the sudden death of wife Vikki. It was Guenther who hunted down the game ball and handed it to Zimmer at head coach Marvin Lewis'' direction. On Sunday, Zimmer won his first game as a head coach in the Vikings' win over St. Louis.