The Ravens tried-and-true formula of getting an early lead and then unleashing their ravenous pass rush worked to perfection Sunday in Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium when they built a 17-0 halftime lead in the game's first 15:04 over a Bengals offense stunned by the pressure and couldn't generate 100 yards after getting 505 last week.
Rookie quarterback Joe Burrow came crashing back to earth under the full weight of Baltimore's vaunted blitz looks. Burrow was hit ten times, sacked three times, committed two turnovers and completed just nine of 19 passes for 87 yards and a rude 38.7 passer rating welcoming him to the AFC North. The Bengals had just 95 yards and 35 yards on four penalties.
He had only five completions to wide receivers (none to A.J. Green), running back Joe Mixon had just 15 yards on seven carries and their longest play of the half was a 26-yarder to wide receiver Tee Higgins.
Meanwhile, the Bengals did a decent job in the run game (they did give up two long ones, though) and shut out the Ravens for basically the second quarter with slot cornerback Darius Phillips having a nice half shadowing Lamar Jackson and coming up with a few pressures. But Jackson killed them softly on 16 of 28 passing for 137 yards. He converted six of 10 third downs, the majority going to tight end Mark Andrews, the real villain with 56 yards on six catches.
- Three of Burrow's first four snaps came out of an empty backfield, jacking the Bengals' NFL-leading total of a five-wide set. Tight end Drew Sample caught a 14-yard pass out of such an alignment on the first play of the game. But on second-and-six out of empty, Burrow rolled left overthrew the well-covered Higgins on the sideline. On third and six out of the same set, the Ravens rushed four with one of them a blitz by a cornerback and Burrow tried to scramble up the pocket was caught from behind.
The Bengals opened on defense like Carlos Dunlap said they would. Carl Lawson took his place on the edge and Dunlap didn't appear until the first third down. Lawson got pinned inside on a reverse to his side on the right and rookie wide receiver Devin Duvernay scooted for 42 yards.
Then on third-and-seven, Dunlap made his first appearance and so did defensive tackle Geno Atkins, checking in for his first play of the season. But it was free safety Jessie Bates that made the play on that snap. He batted away Jackson's pass down the seam to Andrews and it forced Justin Tucker to hit a 46-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 3-0 lead nearly five minutes into the game.
(Dunlap got his first sack of the season late in the half.)
- On the Ravens' next series the Bengals got exactly what they wanted because they did such a good job against the run. But Jackson converted a third-and-seven, a third-and-14, and a third-and-five for the touchdown, all to Andrews to give the Ravens that dreaded 10-0 lead with 40 seconds left in the first quarter.
On that third-and-seven, Jackson got rid of it quickly to Andrews slanting in front of Bates. On third-and-14 the Bengals kept him in the pocket, but Andrews ran away from strong safety Vonn Bell for a completion over the middle of the field right at the sticks. Jackson then flipped the touchdown to Andrews boxing out Bell.
- The Bengals responded to that drive with three straight passes. Their wide receivers just couldn't get any separation and that's what happened when Burrow went empty and overthrew the entangled Higgins at midfield.
Then the Ravens unloaded the blitz on the next two snaps and Burrow didn't have a shot. He threw away the second-down pass and when safety Chuck Clark came roaring up the middle Burrow got rid of it throwing off his back foot. It sailed over wide receiver A.J. Green, covered by cornerback Marcus Peters in the middle of the field, and Peters picked it off to put Baltimore in business at the Bengals 31.
- Jackson made quick work of that, helped by Dunlap's 15-yard roughing penalty on Jackson as he was about to step out of bounds. Jackson got the obligatory big catch from Andrews to set up a three-yard flip to Hollywood Brown to make it 17-0 on the first play of the second quarter.
- At that point, the Ravens could just unload on Burrow and they did. He did convert a third-and-11 to wide receiver Tyler Boyd working on cornerback Marlon Humphrey, but then the Ravens showed the blitz also works against the run and dropped Mixon for a four-yard loss and right guard Alex Redmond false started.
The Ravens then showed why they love third-and-seven. They blitzed off the corner, Burrow had to leave the pocket and during his scramble his old buddy from LSU, rookie linebacker Patrick Queen, drilled him in the back to force the fumble and Queen fell on it.
- After the defense held when Ravens head coach John Harbaugh went for it on fourth-and-six and the Bengals forced an incompletion, they had the ball on the Cincy 46. But they went backward right away on the first snap.
Redmond picked up his second penalty on a hold blocking for Mixon on a screen and the Ravens were able to tee up the rush again. Burrow then took what might have been a coverage sack by the middle of the line and on second down he was blown up from his blindside as left tackle Jonah Williams worked on the perimeter.
- After the Bengals forced the Ravens to punt for the first time late in the second quarter, they again had the ball less than two minutes. Largely because of their second straight first-down penalty when wide receiver Auden Tate moved early in the slot.
- When the Ravens got the ball back and at the two-minute warning, Bengals rookie linebacker Logan Wilson got his second interception of the season off a tipped pass at the line. But the Bengals got nothing out of it and went three-and-out.
- Another tough half for Green. His only target came on Peters' interception.
- Burrow went into Sunday riding a streak as the only rookie quarterback to pass for 300 yards in three straight games and landed right in the fire of the Baltimore defense.
But he's the latest in a line of many.
One of the hallmarks of the Ravens defensive tradition is how rudely it treats rookie quarterbacks in run a that stretches beyond the current coaching regime headed up by Wink Martindale. Martindale was their linebackers coach for six seasons before he became the defensive coordinator in 2018, but since John Harbaugh became the head coach in 2008 the Ravens 6-18 against rookie quarterbacks and lost just once against them at home when the Bears' Mitchell Trubisky won a 2017 game.
One of the victims is Burrow's backup. Last season Ryan Finley had his first NFL start marred in Baltimore when the Ravens limited him to 16 of 30 passes for 167 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
View photos of the Cincinnati Bengals in action against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.