Geno Stone called his shot.
The Ravens safety told teammates hours before Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals that he was getting an interception. It had been a “slow week” at practice, Stone joked. He figured he was due.
“Something was going to happen,” Stone said.
Early in the third quarter, trailing 13-10, the Bengals lined up in a 3x1 set at the Ravens’ 17-yard line. To quarterback Joe Burrow’s right were wide receivers Tyler Boyd, Tee Higgins and Trenton Irwin. To his left was wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase.
As they had for most of the afternoon, the Ravens’ defense presented Burrow a presnap two-high look; Stone was on Chase’s half of the field, while safety Kyle Hamilton was on the more crowded half. At the snap, the Ravens dropped into a “Cover 4” call, a two-deep zone coverage that would play out like man-to-man for outside cornerbacks Brandon Stephens and Ronald Darby.
Cincinnati’s play design was intended to the Ravens’ zone rules. Higgins, who’d lined up in the slot, turned his in-breaking route into a more vertical one, getting behind inside linebacker Roquan Smith, who’d expected to pick him up over the middle of the field. Higgins, who switched to No. 5 this year, headed for the empty stretch of the end zone behind him.
“I think Burrow thought he had me, was high-lowing me or something,” Smith said afterward, referring to passing concepts that rely on layered target levels to stress defenders in zone coverage. “But we had another trick.”
The Ravens had prepared for the play throughout the week, Hamilton said. When Burrow took the snap and glanced in Chase’s direction, Stone held his ground. But when Burrow moved off Chase, so did Stone, following the quarterback’s eyes to the middle of the field.
Stone said afterward that Chase’s outside release against Stephens had given him the license to roam. With an outside release, Stephens would gain an extra defender: the sideline. Actually, though, Chase had taken an inside release. He just hadn’t won quickly enough to get Burrow’s attention — plus Stone was staying put.
When Burrow feathered his pass over Smith’s head, Stone was about 13 yards away from Higgins, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, but closing fast. He got to the catch point well before Higgins, almost casually undercutting him at the 2-yard line for the pick. Just like he said he would.
“We know that they wanted him [Chase] on the fade, on the boundary, in the red zone,” Hamilton said. “I’m sure everyone in the league knows that. They’ve done it a lot in the past and they’ve had success with it. Shoutout [to] B-Steve for taking that away and for Geno holding the back side. It was really a perfect play all around the back end.”
Stephens had one of the NFL’s least enviable assignments Sunday: Press Chase. Make him uncomfortable. Disrupt his effortless rhythm with Burrow.
Over Chase’s first two seasons, he’d made that a Herculean challenge. As a rookie in 2021, Chase tormented then-defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, finishing with a combined 15 catches for 326 yards in a pair of blowout wins. Last year, he averaged 73.3 yards and eight catches per game in three matchups with the Ravens.
With cornerback Marlon Humphrey sidelined by a foot injury and fellow projected starter Rock Ya-Sin still getting up to speed, the Ravens turned to Stephens as their primary Chase stopper. He lined up over the two-time Pro Bowl selection on a team-high 20 pass defense snaps, 13 of which started in press coverage, with Stephens giving Chase about 1 to 2 yards of separation at the line of scrimmage and then trying to jam his release.
“Going into this week, I wanted to press,” Stephens said. “The game plan was, ‘We’re going to press every snap and make it tough on the receivers.’”
The Ravens did their job. Chase finished with five catches on eight targets for just 31 yards. Stephens allowed just one completion in coverage — on a 7-yard wide receiver screen. Stephens was targeted only two other times when covering Chase. On one, he was called for pass interference for grabbing Chase’s jersey on a back-shoulder pass. On the other, Burrow overthrew Chase as the Ravens’ pass rush bore down on him.
Stephens’ coverage was not airtight. Chase is too athletic and too skilled a route runner to be blanketed snap after snap. But his lack of production appeared to frustrate him at times. On one fourth-down conversion late in the fourth quarter, Chase, wearing No. 1 and lined up to Burrow’s left, tried to separate from Stephens with an obvious push-off. He looked less interested in presenting a target to Burrow, who’d already released his pass.
“We got up there, and we pressed them, and we played well,” coach John Harbaugh said Sunday. “They weren’t hitting any fade [routes] on us. Our guys played fantastic out there on the edges. Just really proud of those guys.”
The Ravens’ run game creativity didn’t leave with former offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Just look at five significant runs from Sunday.
- First quarter, second-and-goal (video below): Edwards ran behind sixth offensive lineman Daniel Faalele, who’d lined up outside of left tackle Patrick Mekari, for a 1-yard touchdown.
- Second quarter, first-and-10: With an unbalanced line — from left to right, Patrick Mekari, Morgan Moses, John Simpson, Sam Mustipher, Kevin Zeitler and tight end Isaiah Likely — running back Justice Hill followed fullback Patrick Ricard and a pulling Zeitler around the left end for an 8-yard gain.
- Third quarter, first-and-10: With the same unbalanced look and the same pulling action, Edwards burst through a big hole for a 20-yard gain.
- Fourth quarter, third-and-3: This time, tight end Mark Andrews replaced Likely in the unbalanced look. A quick snap unsettled the Bengals’ defense, and with the same pulling action, Edwards burrowed ahead for a first-down run of 4 yards.
- Fourth quarter, third-and-1: The Ravens put the game away for good with a mix of earlier elements. With Faalele as their sixth offensive lineman, Ricard lead-blocking and Zeitler pulling, Edwards took a hole for a 5-yard gain.
Odds and ends
- Jackson’s 52-yard bomb to wide receiver Zay Flowers early in the third quarter traveled 52.7 yards through the air, according to NGS, the fifth-longest distance of any completed pass in Week 2. It had a completion probability of just 33.8%.
- On his fourth-quarter sack of Burrow, outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney clocked a get-off — the time it takes for a pass rusher to cross the line of scrimmage — of just 0.44 seconds, according to NGS. Pittsburgh Steelers star defensive end T.J. Watt, who has an NFL-high four sacks this season and one of the NFL’s best first steps, had a 0.60-second get-off on his fastest takedown. “He’s just getting better every week,” Harbaugh said Monday of Clowney.