As I watched the Ravens and the Bengals on Sunday, I saw two teams that looked more similar than different. In what was supposed to be the first of a couple of rebuilding years for the Bengals, that was very encouraging for their future. The Bengals are moving in the right direction and are laying the foundation to have a solid team for years to come.
But I saw two big differences between the two teams that allowed the Ravens to take home the win.
1) Ray Rice didn’t win the game. The offensive line did.
The Ravens’ offensive line has been suspect at times on the road this year. But they were solid against the Bengals. I expected the Bengals’ D-line to get pressure on Flacco all day. They didn’t. He had time all day.
But the real damage done by their O-line came in the running game. The two line battled to a stalemate most of the day, holding Ray Rice to 70 yds on 22 carries. But then there were those other two carries for 121 yds and 2 TDs. Their line opened up holes so wide that Andy Dalton’s grandma could have run through them for TDs.
I’m not saying that the Bengals O-line is awful. They’re not. But they are not good enough to open holes like the Ravens’ line did. Improved play from the O-line in the playoffs will garner at least one win this post-season. But upgrades must be made in the offseason, especially at both guard spots.
2) Ray Rice is proof that the Bengals need to part ways with Cedric Benson.
I am not serious in minimizing Ray Rice’s role in the Ravens’ win over the Bengals. With the Bengals’ secondary keying on Torrey Smith, Rice was the one truly dangerous playmaker on the field. And he made his presence felt. Did you feel Cedric’s presence? Me neither.
Let me make an analogy to baseball, since we like RBs that are “home run hitters”. Your QB is your #3 hitter… your Joey Votto / Albert Pujols / Prince Fielder. He is the power behind your offense. Now, your RB is your #4 hitter. He is the protection for your QB. He has to be enough of a threat on his own to force defenses to respect and not work around his partner.
Cedric Benson is just not a home run hitter. He is not Ryan Braun or Matt Holiday. He’s more like Edgar Renteria. He’ll get you a good game now and then. But he is too likely to get stood up on 3rd-and-1, and he just can’t break open that big run to change the momentum of a game or to put a game away. He had exactly one 100+ yd game against teams not named Cleveland. (Ray Rice had six 100+ yd games this year.)
The Bengals are a whole lot more likely to beat the Texans on Saturday if Cedric can exceed Houston’s average rushing allowed of 96.0 yds/game. But if he struggles to run the ball (again), the Bengals’ offense will lurch throughout the game.
Once free agency arrives, the best way that Marvin can recommit to the run is to commit to another runner. It’s time to bring in a real power-hitter at RB this offseason.