The Baltimore Ravens, coming off a landslide victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, opened up MT&T Bank Stadium to host the Atlanta Falcons in the team’s second preseason game.
Despite pulling out a fourth-quarter comeback, the mood in Baltimore is still uneasy, as a lot of questions continue to go unanswered. Fans are scratching their heads and biting their nails as they wonder who will step up at the wide receiver position, if Joe Flacco (QB) will get on point and if the new-faces on the defense will be able to carry the legacy set forth by players that have moved on from Charm City.
On Defense –
Daryl Smith (LB) still continues to impress. He displays dominant run-stopping abilities, as well as good pass coverage. Smith tipped a pass from Falcons’ Matt Ryan (QB) which almost ended in an interception. For the second-week in a row, Smith has finished among the first-team’s leading tacklers.
Another free agent acquisition, Elvis Dumervil (LB), also displayed what he plans to bring to the Ravens’ pass rushing attack. While not recording a sack, Dumervil applied enough pressure on Ryan to force incompletions that halted Atlanta’s drives. It will be fun to see how he comes along, especially alongside fellow pass rusher, Terrell Suggs.
In the secondary, rookie Matt Elam (S) continued to show why he’s a strong candidate for the starting spot. Elam displayed quickness, coming up to stop the run, as well as the ability to dish out hard hits. Elam is currently competing for the starting role against James Inhedigbo (S).
The Offense –
With the loss of Anquan Boldin, an emphasis has been placed on third-year receiver Torrey Smith. Smith showed that he was ready for the newly acquired spotlight by catching every ball thrown his way. One of the passes was a highlight reel 77-yard touchdown grab. The actual pass was only about five-yards, but Smith showed off his tremendous speed, beating the Atlanta defense in a footrace to the end zone.
Rookie Matt Furstenburg (TE) also displayed his soft hands, as he caught a pair of passes from second-team quarterback, Tyrod Taylor. Furstenburg is currently fighting an uphill battle for a bigger role in the Ravens’ offense. The rookie from the University of Maryland is in a long list of tight ends, including newly acquired veteran, Dallas Clark.
Another rookie, Aaron Mellette (WR), also had another impressive showing. In his second NFL game, Mellette recorded another touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor, making his case for a chance to play with the first-team.
The Defense –
The fundamentals on defense were lacking. Sloppy tackling and pass coverage plagued the defense throughout, especially on the first-team.
The biggest liability on defense came with the play of Jimmy Smith (CB). It became apparent to Atlanta that Smith was the secondary’s weak spot, as more and more balls were being tossed in his direction. One of Atlanta’s touchdowns came from a pass from Ryan to Julio Jones (WR), with Smith on the coverage.
The Offense –
Rookie A.Q. Shipley (C) got the starting role over second-year player, Gino Gradkowski (C). This move wasn’t indicative of the caliber center Gradkowski is, but more as a test for the young Shipley. The rookie may want to call a mulligan on this showing. On the first play from scrimmage Shipley was called for grabbing the facemask of an Atlanta defender, and later flagged again on a false start.
Continuing with the play of the offensive line, the entire unit seemed out of sync at times. This was obvious when looking at Ray Rice’s (RB) production. The lack of yards in the running game was frustrating for the players, especially Rice, who was seen storming off the field obviously heated. The first-team line’s play was so bleak that Head Coach John Harbaugh kept the unit in after the other starters exited the game in the third-quarter.
The receiving corps, aside from Torrey Smith, also caused some concern. None of the younger guys have made plays that separated themselves from the pack. The only receiver making a name for himself, as mentioned above, was rookie, Aaron Mellette.
Don’t Hit the Panic Button Yet –
Out of the negatives discussed, there are some important factors to key-in.
The fundamentals discussed above, in terms of defense, can be corrected. This unit has a lot of fresh faces, who haven’t played together before camp started three-weeks ago. Given the intensity and expectations of the Ravens’ coaching staff, you can bet they will spend the upcoming week correcting these simple mental errors.
Cornerback, Ladarious Webb was inactive again as he recoups from a knee injury. Webb would have played in place of Jimmy Smith, the weakest link of the defense from Thursday night’s game.
Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise that A.Q. Shipley was given the start on Thursday. So far, in camp, the reports have been the two competing centers (Shipley and Gradkowski) haven’t really separated from each other in the competition for the starting role. This probably changed after Thursday night. I would be surprised to see Shipley start over Gradkowski again when the team faces the Carolina Panthers next week.
The offensive line’s inconsistent performance should also improve with the return of guard, Marshall Yanda (G). This Pro Bowl lineman finally returned to practice after offseason shoulder surgery this past week. Yanda’s presence and veteran leadership should only help the line continue to grow into its role.
The receiving corps had a few veteran additions come its way in the past week. Brandon Stokley (WR), who helped the Ravens’ win its first Super Bowl in 2000, returned to assist in the slot position. While Stokley did play against the Falcons, he wasn’t targeted by Joe Flacco at all. The other reinforcement for the passing game came with the addition of another veteran, Dallas Clark (TE). Clark didn’t play on Thursday because he is still learning the offense. Expect him to offer a much needed boost for the Ravens’ and Joe Flacco.
Looking past the issues, it’s important to remember that the Falcons are a premier team in the NFC. This squad almost made it to the Super Bowl in 2012.
It is also important to remember that this is only preseason, and there’s still some times to get the kinks worked out. However, it may be time to start to put things in gear before this kind of play becomes a habit.
I’d bet that this week of practice will be intense for the defending Super Bowl Champions, as Coach Harbaugh will attempt to shake this lackadaisical play from his team.
This article was written by David John.