The biggest issues facing the Bengals in the hangover of Sunday's 20-0 Opening Day loss to the Ravens before a stunned 55,254 at Paul Brown Stadium are right up front.
Offense and defense.
After three of four career-high Andy Dalton interceptions staked Baltimore to a 17-0 half-time lead, the dazed Bengals got a flicker of hope on the second half's first series when SAM linebacker Nick Vigil made a diving interception at the Ravens 26.
But their shaky pass protection in the first half was immediately exposed on the brief drive when on third down-and-two from the Ravens 6, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs yet again beat left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and did what he's been doing to quarterbacks for 15 years when he punched the ball away from Dalton for his fourth turnover in the season's first 35 minutes. Suggs, a month shy of 35, looked as spry as a rookie in Ogbuehi's second NFL start at left tackle.
That turned into a fumble recovery by nose tackle Michael Pierce at his 12 and then what happened next was just doesn't happen in the NFL's 21s century. The Ravens embarked on an 18-play drive that consumed the next 9:38 and quarterback Joe Flacco gingerly tried two passes that were incomplete. The Ravens smashed it all the way down the field for Justin Tucker's 25-yard field goal that made it 20-0 with 1:06 left in the third quarter.
Two penalties by players in their first NFL game, cornerback William Jackson (pass interference) and nose tackle Andrew Billings (unnecessary roughness) as well as a third-down hold on Vigil didn't help.
Check Elias. It may be the first time in NFL history a team reached the 13 three times and didn't score a point. That happens when you can't protect the quarterback on a five-sack day and it happened with about five minutes left in the game on fourth down from the 15 when the Ravens' three-man rush forced Dalton out of the pocket and he had to throw it away when no one got open.
Frustration? It was just the second time in his career Dalton threw four interceptions, both by Baltimore, the first time on Dec. 29, 2013 at PBS When he threw the fourth one to wide receiver A.J. Green that got picked by cornerback Jimmy Smith with about four minutes left, Green fired his helmet in the air on the sidelines.
The Bengals' 50th anniversary season and their first home opener in eight years went wildly off script. The only history that was made was their first shutout in a home opener and their first shutout in an opener of any kind since the Homer Rice days 38 years ago in Denver. It's also the first time they've been shut out at home anytime in a pre-Marvin Lewis blanking by the Bears in 2001 and the first one anywhere anytime since Oct. 19, 2014 in Indianapolis.
The Ravens outfoxed the mistake-prone Bengals all day and the first half that featured those Dalton interceptions that staked Baltimore to that 17-0 half-time lead.
After a season he threw the fewest interceptions in Bengals history with just eight, Dalton was victimized by two tipped passes as well as that rare, crushing pick in the red zone in the season's first 29 minutes.
After the Ravens hit a shocking 48-yard touchdown on third-and-seven on a Joe Flacco pass that traveled about five yards in the air for a 10-0 lead on the first snap after the two-minute warning, Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker skied a kickoff at the Bengals 2 to pin them on the 10.
On the next snap outside linebacker Terrell Suggs leaped in front of left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and tipped a ball so high that it would have been an infield fly rule down the road at GABP. Ravens safety Lardarius Webb tracked it down at the 2 and running back Terrance West punched it in to knock the Bengals senseless.
Nothing went right for the Bengals' beleaguered offensive line or their triggerman. Ogbuehi had a holding call declined, right tackle Jake Fisher was called for a hold, and right guard Trey Hopkins saw his first NFL start come to an end when he hurt his ankle on the infield fly and was replaced by T.J. Johnson.
Dalton, who has 100 career red-zone touchdown passes with just seven interceptions, looked like he was going for wide receiver Brandon LaFell in the back of the end zone on third-and-seven from the Baltimore 9. But there looked to be two Ravens there and the one in front, middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, made a leaping catch with about 10 minutes left in the first half and the Ravens up, 3-0.
Dalton's line was more like a rhombus. He was just 16 of 31 for 170 yards with a passer rating of 22, the second lowest of his career. And one of those incompletions was an overthrow to wide open wide receiver Cody Core on a go route down the right sideline.
The red-zone pick was a crusher. The Bengals had overcome a fask-mask penalty on running back Giovani Bernard's stiff-arm that backed them up to their own 5. On the next play, Dalton rolled right and wide receiver Green made a contested catch for the first down and that opened it up. Green got loose again down the middle and Dalton banged back-to-back first-down on slants to LaFell and Green with LaFell converting a third-and-five. Plus, Bernard had a great 23-yard run where he badly faked linebacker Kamalei Correa. The Bengals went running back by committee in the half with Benard getting seven times for 40, Hill four for 21 and rookie Joe Mixon three for 10.
Flacco shot-putted to nine of 14 for 121 yards in the half with 48 coming on a huge play off a five-yard flip. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin lined up in the slot opposite cornerback Darqueze Dennard and crossed the middle with tight end Benjamin Watson covered by safety George Iloka. Dennard and Iloka tried to avoid each other, but couldn't catch up and Maclin was gone with 1:52 left in the half.
The offense came out shockingly lethargic and got just what they didn't need to start the season. Mistakes. Terrible pass protection. Turnovers.
LaFell, their most experienced player on the starting offense, false started on the first snap. After running back Jeremy Hill chewed up 12 yards on his first carry, Dalton's protection crumbled right away. On second and long his pocket got creased on a play-action fake and he had to throw it away. Then on third-and-long, Suggs beat Ogbuehi and Ogbuehi held him. But it was declined when linebacker Za'Darius Smith got the sack coming up the middle.
On their next series, Mixon injected life into the deal when he broke a swing pass with a leaping nine-yard gain even though Dalton got drilled with penetration up the middle. Then Dalton threw his first interception when he didn't get enough air under a slant pass to an open Green. Leaping linebacker Partrick Onwuasor tipped it to cornerback Brandon Carr.
The defense had just as shaky of a start. On the second snap, the most experienced guy on the team, nose tackle Pat Sims, moved early and six-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick later added a holding call. Flacco then proceeded to hit his first five passes without throwing a ball longer than five yards in the air.
Two went to running back Danny Woodhead on third-down convesions. On the first one, rookie pass rusher Carl Lawson's first NFL snap, he made Flacco move out of the pocket and he got it to Woodhead on the sideline. On the next third down, Woodhead deked linebacker Nick Vigil in coverage. They forced Tucker's 25-yard field goal with 4:44 left in the first quarter when linebacker Vincent Rey blitzed in unchecked and made Flacco get rid of it in a hurry for the incompletion. Also lined up on that snap was a four-man rush of Lawson and Carlos Dunlap on the outside and Chris Smith and Michael Johnson inside.
The Bengals got a break when Woodhead left with a hamstring issue.
PRE-GAME NOTES: The Bengals figure to be in their base defense often in Sunday's opener at Paul Brown Stadium since Baltimore hasn't had much practice time with quarterback Joe Flacco. Only one defender who was here for the final cut on Saturday, injured staring safety Shawn Williams, wasn't dressed when head coach Marvin Lewis handed in his inactive list.
Everyone else out was on offense: rookie wide receivers John Ross (knee) and Josh Malone (numbers), guards Alex Redmond and Christian Westerman (numbers) and tight end C.J. Uzomah (ankle). Defensive tackle Christian Ringo, who arrived late last week from Green Bay on waivers, was also inactive.
Darqueze Dennard is scheduled to get the start in place of the suspended Adam Jones and if that holds up and the Ravens do as expected and don't go multiple receivers, it marks the third straight year the Bengals haven't started a rookie on Opening Day. William Jackson, expected to be the third corner, isn't a rookie, but he's a red-shirt rookie with no NFL snaps. The last Bengals corner to start in his first NFL game was Leon Hall in 2007.
As expected, A.J. Green and Andy Dalton were the offensive game captains with Michael Johnson, Geno Atkins on defense and Vincent Rey for special teams.
Cincinnati Bengals host Baltimore Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium in week 1 of the regular season 9/10/2017