Previewing the Baltimore Ravens' Week 3 Preseason Game vs. Jaguars
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With the third week of the preseason, generally a regular-season dress rehearsal of sorts, there's a good chance the Ravens' starters will play well into the third quarter.
The Ravens have looked, well, rather un-Ravens-like in the first two preseason games in a number of ways, and though those games didn't matter much, we'll now get a better chance to see if those problems are serious or just a byproduct of the preseason's evaluative process.
Here are three things to pay closest attention to when the Ravens face the Jaguars on Thursday.
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For the past two weeks, the Ravens' generally top-notch secondary has struggled against two of the league's more dynamic receivers. They gave up six receptions for 109 yards and a score to the Atlanta Falcons' Julio Jones two weeks ago and last week allowed Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson to pull down five passes worth 111 yards and one touchdown.
Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb have all been repeatedly beaten by receivers over the past two games, and though this week it appears that Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars' receiving corps pose less of a threat, appearances can be deceiving.
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While Gabbert had a rough rookie season, he's showed some steady improvement through this year's training camp and preseason. In his first two preseason games, first against the New York Giants and then against the New Orleans Saints, he's been sharp. And now that first-round pick, wide receiver Justin Blackmon is back in the fold and on the field, they become an even more imposing opponent.
Last week, Gabbert completed 13 of his 16 pass attempts for 112 yards and two touchdowns. Four of those passes—and one of those touchdowns—went to Blackmon, who had 48 total receiving yards on the night.
With the Ravens' corners struggling against No. 1 receivers and the group as a whole giving up a lot of passing yardage throughout games, it will be interesting to see how they match up against Gabbert, Blackmon, Mike Thomas and Brian Robiskie, among others.
On paper, the Ravens have one of the strongest secondaries in the NFL, but on the field thus far this preseason, they've looked practically anything but. This group needs to get back on track.
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It's looking more and more likely that the No. 2 running back job will fall to Bernard Pierce, and he can clinch it with a good performance against the Jaguars and their surprisingly strong defense on Thursday.
Pierce fared better in both the run game and pass protection in his preseason debut last week. Though his final stat line says that his four rushes netted Baltimore just a single yard, he had a six-yard and a seven-yard run, with the two negated by a 14-yard loss. He also would have added a catch for nine yards on his total for the night if it wasn't taken away because of a penalty.
Pierce's main competition for the job is Anthony Allen, but he's struggled both running the ball and in pass blocking.
Pierce should get a lot of time with the first team on Thursday—the Ravens already know what they have in starter Ray Rice, after all, and there's no reason to threaten his health after giving him such a large payday this summer. This will give Pierce a solid chance to pull ahead of Allen permanently and be Rice's primary backup this year.
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There's not a lot of pressure in the preseason generally, but the Ravens have struggled when they have attempted to get to opposing quarterbacks in the last two games.
The Ravens did not sack Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan in the first week of the preseason and recorded zero sacks against all three of the Lions' quarterbacks last week. For a defense known for its ferocity when coming at quarterbacks, the Ravens' pass rush has thus far looked rather soft.
Being without 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs likely contributes to this dip in the pass rush, as well as the front seven now being occupied by a collection of run-stoppers and situational pass-rushers.
There needs to be more pressure—and not just from the blitz—against the Jaguars this week. Obviously, you don't want to save your best for Week 3 of the preseason, but the Ravens have yet to sack a first-team quarterback. If Baltimore is going to rebound from the loss of Suggs, they need to show they have the personnel to make up for it.
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