In looking back at the season-opening Bengals vs. Ravens game, neither team looks the same. While the Bengals’ defense was mired in mediocrity, it showed flashes of brilliance. The Ravens’ offense appeared to be humming along, but cracks were beginning to show in the foundation.
Watching the Week 1 game is not entirely indicative of either team, but some basic gameplanning will likely look similar, especially those elements that worked for both teams in the first contest.
In the opening week, Devon Still was a large part of the rotation at defensive tackle, and it is obvious why Pat Sims made such a big impact when he returned from injury. Sims is the best on the roster as a traditional nose tackle, but is still an agile enough player that he can make plays in the offensive backfield.
Thomas Howard’s only game with the Bengals was in Week 1, and his coverage skills have been sorely missed, only recently has Emmanuel Lamur taken the reins as the cover linebacker. Lamur is going to be a very solid player for years to come, but nobody can match Howard’s unique skill set. In the interim between the loss of Howard and the emergence of Lamur, Zimmer was handcuffed by not being able to keep two linebackers on the field against spread formations.
And Howard ran a 4.42 40 yard dash at the combine, so his recovery speed is unmatched in the current linebacking corps. The Bengals are probably going to have to both cross their fingers on Howard and draft a Will linebacker this April.
Cornerback Leon Hall is a player who looked completely different in the first week. He was very sluggish in coverage and was obviously not completely recovered.
This is the first play from scrimmage of the 2012 season, and it was a bomb to Torrey Smith, who got on top of Leon Hall running a vertical route. The starting lineup is completely different, from Taylor Mays to Nate Clements. Hall did play some nickel package slot, but often played outside in nickel with Clements playing slot when he was not at safety. It is likely that, if he plays, Adam Jones will stay outside on Torrey Smith while Hall bumps inside to cover Anquan Boldin or Dennis Pitta.
The Bengals often lined up in a Cover 2 shell, then rolled into Cover 1 at the snap, baiting the Ravens to run the ball. Mays rolls down to play underneath, and the Ravens run crossing posts in the middle of the field, with Smith running a skinny post over the top of the mesh point.
Hall is left isolated on the outside, with Nelson more worried about Boldin on the post route in case Newman was rubbed off when the routes crossed. Hall looked rusty flipping his hips and shadowing Smith, and it was apparent. Routes like this will be harder to hit against the current Bengals secondary, with Jones playing very well on the outside.
Rolling into Cover 1 out of a two-high shell was not the only tricks Mike Zimmer had up his sleeve. On this play, the Bengals switch up coverage and fluster Joe Flacco.
Right before the snap, the nickel cornerback, who was covering tight end Dennis Pitta in the slot towards the bottom of the screen, runs up to cover the outside receiver towards the top. The weakside linebacker, Howard, runs down to cover Pitta. Now the read Flacco had, that his slot receiver would be running into a hole in zone coverage, is now shot down by the Bengals’ switch to man, and Flacco was not able to make the adjustment.
Zimmer was also more exotic against Baltimore with his pressure up front, using a larger variety of fronts and a variation of his A-gap sugar blitz.