Originally written on Cippin on Sports  |  Last updated 8/24/13
In the Baltimore Ravens’ third-preseason game, the defending Super Bowl champions were handed its first-loss by the hands of the Carolina Panthers. The NFL preseason is funny because it gives coaches and fans a glimpse at what they are working with, in terms of talent and capabilities, but really gives no edification of what to expect for the regular season. The Ravens had some bright spots from Thursday night’s game, but also showed there is need for improvement in some areas. The Ravens’ first-drive of the night was impressive. Quarterback, Joe Flacco, led the team down the field with a finely tuned no-huddle offense, as they marched down the field 69-yards in 9-plays. The drive was capped off with a Ray Rice (RB) touchdown. Rice finished the night with 62-yards. After the opening score, there seemed to be a collective sigh of relief at M&T Bank Stadium. This was short lived, as the wheels fell of the cart quick for the first-team offense. In the Ravens’ subsequent drives, the unit went three-and-out, saw a punt, an interception and a fumble all returned for touchdowns; and another interception towards the end of the second-quarter. The Panthers’ scored two-touchdowns in a little over 40-seconds, putting the Ravens in a hole. Despite sputtering after its impressive opening drive, the Ravens’ offense still had some positive performances from a few of its new players in the receiving core. Newly signed veteran wide receiver, Brandon Stokley was targeted numerous times and caught every ball thrown his way, including key third-down conversions. A familiar face, wide receiver and special teams ace, Jacoby Jones, also was targeted for a few pass plays, and nabbed each throw directed at him. Up until Thursday, Jones had a lot of question marks circling his head, due to his lack of production in the previous two-preseason games. Aside from the production from the two-veterans, newcomer Marlon Brown (WR) had an impressive showing that may land him a roster spot after the final cuts have been made. The undrafted rookie had a handful of catches, including an impressive catch in traffic that went for a touchdown in the second-half. The weakest spots in the Ravens’ receiving performance came from veteran tight end, Dallas Clark, and third-year wide receiver, Tandon Doss. Clark found himself on the end of three-dropped passes, which isn’t something he wants considering how tightly contested the Ravens tight end battle has been since the injuries to Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson (TE). While Doss had a nice catch, the interception that was returned for a touchdown could be put on him as much, if not more, as it could be blamed on Flacco. On the play, Doss didn’t read the play and make the necessary adjustment while Flacco did. This caused a major miscue that went for six in the opposite direction. Switching to the other side of the ball, the Ravens’ defense brought back memories of the days of old, as it dominated Cam Newton (QB) and the Carolina offense. The secondary got the much needed presence of Ladarious Webb (CB) back, who made a handful of plays for the unit, including a pass break-up.  At the safety position, the starting spot battle between James Inhedigbo (S) and rookie, Matt Elam (S), is still up in the air. However, Inhedigbo stood out in a few plays, including a huge run stop in a short-yard situation. The most impressive play that came from the Ravens’ defense was in the front-seven. Rookie defensive lineman, Brandon Williams recorded his first-sack, bull dozing through the Carolina offensive line. Daryl Smith (LB), who is taking over the spot from the retired Ray Lewis, has proven throughout the preseason that he is one of the Ravens’ best pick-ups in free agency. This theme continued on Thursday, especially on one series in particular. After getting penalized for a late hit on Carolina Quarterback Cam Newton, Smith kept his composure and hammered the offense on the following plays. Smith stuffed the run and had an impressive sack on third-down, forcing another Carolina punt. The Ravens’ defense held the Carolina offense to field goals, allowing no touchdowns. The pressure from the line was ever-present, getting good penetration throughout, holding Newton to just 99-yards; and caused nightmares for the Panthers’ rushing attack. What to Take Away: Starting with the defense, the unit is continuing to grow into what the NFL world has projected throughout the offseason. The front-seven continues to congeal, causing pressure and short gains on the ground. The tandem of Suggs and Dumerville will be exciting to watch as the season progresses. The secondary is still weak at points, but with the return of Webb, these issues should get corrected. Webb is a great leader, as well as tackler and ball hawk. The offense, despite the turnovers, moved the ball the best it has all preseason. When Flacco was in his no-huddle offense, with his foot on the accelerator, he shined. This is evident when looking at the teams’ first-drive. Flacco also showed on Thursday that he isn’t afraid to step-up as a leader. After the Doss miscommunication that ended up in a pick-six for Carolina, the Super Bowl MVP was shown going up to Doss and discussing the issue that cost the team points. Doss didn’t even make it to the sideline before Flacco was right next to him, coaching Doss on his mistake. The offensive line was a completely different unit when Marshall Yanda (G) was on the field. Yanda returned to practice last week after having off-season shoulder surgery. With his presence on the line, and leadership capabilities, fans can expect to see a line reminiscent of the one during the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl run. When Yanda left the game, the line looked out of sync and Flacco was sacked three-times. If you take away the Carolina Special teams and defensive touchdowns, the only points scored were field goals. All of the Carolina touchdowns came from issues that can be corrected: Special teams’ coverage on the punt, wide receivers learning the routes and adjustments and Flacco not forcing throws while being under pressure. The Ravens’ have some key-issues to correct before going up to Denver to play the Broncos to open up the 2013 NFL Season. But, when a franchise has a coaching staff, spearheaded by a head coach like John Harbaugh, you can expect issues to be rectified. That’s the glory of preseason, the games don’t matter and it’s a great way to weed out the non-play makers and simple mistakes to be corrected. Despite the loss, the Ravens should still feel confident in its abilities to defend the Super Bowl crown. The team will travel to St. Louis to take on the Rams in its final preseason game on August 29th.
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