Seems much too early in the season for divisional matchups, but who am I to question the NFL’s vaunted schedulers?
We had two such matchups in the AFC North last Sunday, and a couple of things still hold true:
- These teams generally do not like each other
- Ugly football is almost to be expected
Ravens 27, Bengals 24
In marked contrast to Week 1, the Ravens looked much more efficient and organized on offense. QB Lamar Jackson took a few risks with the football, but otherwise turned in a solid if unspectacular day with 237 yards passing and two TD passes, with no turnovers. Jackson added 54 yards rushing on 12 carries, and looked much more comfortable navigating in the pocket than he did the previous week. Due to an early injury to WR Odell Beckham Jr., the WR corp’s depth was slightly tested, with positive results. WR Nelson Agholor and TE Mark Andrews each posted five receptions and a TD, while RBs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill provided needed yards on the ground; Edwards was particularly useful on the Ravens’ game-clinching drive, converting multiple first downs against an exhausted Bengals defense.
Despite missing a couple of key players in the secondary, the Ravens’ defense proved effective and opportunistic, characterized by S Geno Stone’s crafty interception of Bengals QB Joe Burrow at the Ravens’ 2-yard line; a play even Burrow characterized as “smart” after the game. The Bengals were limited to 66 yards rushing due to a puzzling abandonment of the run coupled with solid games from both of the Ravens’ interior LBs, Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith (8 and 5 tackles respectively).
The Bengals were better on offense than they were Week 1 as well, but QB Joe Burrow’s limited mobility, lackluster first half and (again) an abandonment of the rushing attack combined to slow the Bengals’ best weapons for the day. Burrow managed 222 yards passing, but was under duress for much of the game due to increased Baltimore pressure. RB Joe Mixon rushed for 59 yards on 13 carries, but was largely ineffective in providing a decent counterbalance to Burrow’s efforts. WR Tee Higgins led all receivers with 89 yards on eight receptions, including two TDs.
The Bengals certainly know what the Ravens are capable of late in games; they reverted in typical fashion to leaning on the rushing attack to run out the clock. This time, the Bengals were powerless to stop it, as the Ravens patchwork offensive line simply had their way in the fourth quarter, and especially on the team’s clinching final drive. CB Dax Hill and LB Logan Wilson turned in solid efforts, but weren’t enough to overcome the Ravens’ ball control-oriented attack.
Browns 22, Steelers 26
Ooh, boy. Rather than rehash a bunch of “bad luck” clichés, let’s just reiterate that it’s never easy to be the Browns in Pittsburgh, and last night certainly did nothing to change that.
The Browns lost star RB Nick Chubb to a gruesome left knee injury early in the second quarter while driving for a TD, courtesy of a low tackle by Steelers S Minkah Fitzpatrick; the play appeared similar to the sadly-familiar scene that ruptured the knee of former NFL RB Willis McGahee in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, nearly ending his career. As Chubb will be reconstructing the same knee he injured in college, the odds of his returning at full strength appear long. Best of luck to Chubb as a solid citizen and great player; let’s hope the NFL hasn’t seen the last of him.
Even without Chubb’s injury, the game was decidedly bizarre. Browns QB Deshaun Watson was underwhelming at best (22-40, 235 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) while mostly containing his panic due to poor protection and the loss of Chubb. This freed the Pittsburgh defense to attack Watson on nearly every play. Backup RB Jerome Ford had an improbable 106 yards rushing on 16 carries, most of which occurred on a 69-yard scamper that nearly resulted in a TD. Ford also added three receptions for 25 yards and the Browns’ only TD reception. WR Amari Cooper led all receivers with 7 catches for 90 yards. In the end, the Browns simply couldn’t stop their turnovers, fumbling four times and losing three of those; the only saving grace was that Pittsburgh was almost equally unsightly on offense (more below).
The Browns’ defense actually played well, allowing a total of 277 offensive yards and one TD on a long reception to Pittsburgh WR George Pickens. S Grant Delpit added an INT early and led the team in tackles with 6, and the Cleveland front seven did a credible job of hassling Steelers QB Kenny Pickett and keeping him off balance, collecting two sacks in the process. The Browns limited the Steelers to 55 yards rushing on the day; hard to blame the loss on the defense after this sort of effort.
In the same vein, it’s difficult to credit the Steelers offense for the win. QB Kenny Pickett was erratic for much of the game (15-30, 222 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT) and did little of note beyond the long TD to Pickens. The rushing attack, as mentioned, was mostly ineffective, with RB Najee Harris supplying a yawn-generating 43 yards on 10 carries. Other than Pickens (4 catches, 127 yds, 1 TD), no receivers had any sort of impact; WR Gunner Olszewski’s early lost fumble set the tone for the rest of the evening’s follies, which bordered on ridiculous at times. Chants for Pittsburgh OC Matt Canada’s head were rampant throughout the second half, particularly after the Steelers recorded -7 yards in the fourth quarter.
The Pittsburgh defense led the way overall, scoring twice off turnovers (INT/TD by LB Alex Highsmith, fumble recovery/TD by LB T.J. Watt) and harassing Watson into several mistakes. ILB Kwon Alexander again led the team with nine tackles, and despite the unfortunate optics on the Chubb injury, S Minkah Fitzpatrick had a good night with six tackles and two passes defensed despite being benched due to a chest injury midway through the third quarter.
See you next week.