Fabian Sommer returns and quite likes a home-favourite to beat the spread this week.
I get why the Bengals seem to be an attractive side this week. They are 4-2, Ja’Marr Chase is campaigning for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award, and the Bengals defense is playing surprisingly well.
This is a division game, and those matchups tend to be closer than non-divisional matchups.
But when we dive deep into the Bengals’ performances and their underlying metrics, we’ll discover something: they look like a paper tiger.
The Bengals have squeaked by with one of the easier schedules in the league, while leaning heavily on their borderline top-5 ranked defense, rather than their offense.
That’s usually not a viable long-term strategy and not a great recipe when facing superior opponents.
Let’s check in on some offensive metrics:
- 19th in DVOA
- 17th in EPA/play
- 28th in early down EPA/play
- 28th in series success rate
First of all, they have been a below-average offense in overall efficiency. They are the 5th-worst offense when it comes to turning a series of downs into a new first-down or a touchdown (series success rate). And they are the 5th-worst offense moving the ball on early-downs.
What an offense does on early-downs is generally more predictive than their performance on late-downs.
The Bengals had tremendous issues moving the chains on early-downs through six weeks, but they had more success on 3rd and 4th down.
Joe Burrow and company are also scoring touchdowns on 83% of their red-zone trips, ranking 3rd in the league. A few big plays to Ja’Marr Chase helped, too.
One of the reasons for their early-down struggles is that HC Zac Taylor is calling early-down runs at the 5th-highest clip – despite having an arsenal of weapons that contains Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd.Bet Now
The Detroit Lions have the worst cornerback group in the entire league, and despite having a superb matchup in the passing game, Zac Taylor called 54% runs on early-downs in Detroit last week. That’s insane. But the result was incredible because it’s the Detroit Lions. We have no reason to assume that Zac Taylor will do a 180 with having a healthy Joe Mixon in the line-up.
Do you know which team had roughly the same profile going into last week? The Los Angeles Chargers.
Through five weeks, the Bolts struggled to move the ball on early-downs but got bailed out on late-downs at an incredible clip.
They were still more efficient than the Bengals, but they wholly stalled against the Ravens defense that wants to get opposing offenses into third down where DC Wink Martindale can cook up his pressure packages.
They got 60 minutes to prove me wrong, but there isn’t a lot of information pointing towards Cincinnati being able to efficiently move the ball against the Ravens defense.
Let’s take a look at the other side. The Bengals defense ranks 6th in EPA/play and 5th in DVOA.
Here’s who they have played: MIN, CHI, PIT, JAX, GB, DET. Only two of those offenses should be regarded as top-half units: the Vikings and the Packers.
Minnesota scored 24 points against the Bengals despite committing a boatload of penalties. Green Bay scored 22 points in regulation while going two of five in the red zone and missing two field goals.
The Bengals’ front-seven is working well against the run, but they rank 28th in pass-rushing grade and 29th in pass rush win rate. Again, everything points towards a paper tiger.
Enter the Ravens, who will be the best offense that Cincy’s defense has seen this year. Baltimore came up with a run-heavy game plan against the Bolts because their defense could not defend the run to save their lives.
Against the Bengals, I expect a pass-heavier approach.
Surprisingly, the Ravens aren’t beating teams as they used to over the past three seasons. Lamar Jackson is destroying defenses as a pocket passer, and he’s excelling at it. The Ravens rank 1st in EPA/play on early downs, and that’s due to them throwing all over opposing teams as they are featuring the most efficient dropback offense on early downs.
Now, they also have Rashod Bateman as a quality third receiving option in the lineup.
The likeliest game script, in my opinion, is that the Bengals struggle to move the chains early on while the Ravens get on the scoreboard a few times to put scoring pressure on the Bengals.
Baltimore should score 27 or more points so can the Bengals go toe-toe and get above 20? I don’t fancy their chances.
- Baltimore Ravens -6 (1.89)
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