Baltimore Ravens: What We've Learned Through Week 3 of Preseason
However, that game will likely feature second- and third-string players playing most, if not the entire contest as the starters rest. That means that what we've seen of Baltimore's starters through three games could be all that we see of them this preseason.
So, what have we learned about the 2014 Ravens?
At this point, it's hard to give a definitive answer, as Baltimore, like most teams, still has a lot of areas it needs to work on before the start of the regular season.
That said, there are several things Baltimore has either done so well or poorly that a definitive statement can be made on the subject.
Here is what we’ve learned through Week 3 of the Ravens' preseason.
Steve Smith Is Still a Productive Wide Receiver
Baltimore's depth at wide receiver was one of the biggest concerns coming into training camp. Part of the reason the team missed the playoffs in 2013 was its lack of capable pass-catchers behind Torrey Smith. No other Ravens receiver had more than 524 receiving yards.
Baltimore receivers also caught only 13 touchdowns, and 11 of them were shared between Smith and Marlon Brown.
This offseason, Baltimore bolstered its wide receiver depth by signing former Carolina Panthers Pro Bowler Steve Smith. Not only did that give the Ravens another capable wide receiver, but it also gave them a strong veteran presence at that position who can mentor the younger receivers.
Torrey Smith had this to say, via The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson:
You can definitely see the fire. I've known Steve for a couple of years now, but to actually play with him and see the way he works, he takes everything serious. He's very passionate. I guess if you're not used to a guy who's passionate about his job, it comes off as raunchy, but it fits here. He's perfect for us, and we're glad he's here.
Steve Smith may be 35 years old, but he has looked like he's back in his 20s at points during training camp and the preseason thus far.
That was evident during the Ravens' Week 3 win over the Washington Redskins. At the end of the second quarter, Baltimore was driving with the chance to break a 3-3 tie.
With 25 seconds left in the quarter, Smith got open deep. Joe Flacco threw a bomb intended for Smith that was slightly underthrown, but Smith was able to adjust and make a diving grab for a 30-yard score to put the team up 10-3 going into halftime.
Smith has had a career that may put him in the Pro Football Hall of Fame someday. He is the Panthers' all-time leader in catches (836), receiving yards (12,197) and touchdowns (67), and he ranks 19th in NFL history in receptions.
Thus far, it doesn't look like age has caused his skills to deteriorate significantly, which means he alone will significantly boost the depth at wide receiver.
Ricky Wagner Is the Starting Right Tackle
Baltimore had one of the NFL's worst offensive lines in 2013. That unit allowed 48 sacks in 2013, which was tied with the Buffalo Bills for the fourth-most allowed.
Losing starting right tackle Michael Oher in free agency didn't help matters. That left the Ravens with second-year tackle Ricky Wagner as the only viable replacement.
Wagner played in just 131 offensive snaps in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
During OTAs, it was Wagner who got the first-team reps at right tackle, and he entered training camp as the starter there as well. He played well in training camp and in the first two preseason games, leading head coach John Harbaugh to tab him the starter:
Harbaugh said Rick Wagner has earned starting right tackle spot. Jah Reid will be teams third tackle.— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiecsun) August 18, 2014
It wasn't much of a battle, though. Converted offensive guard Jah Reid was moved to right tackle to compete with Wagner for the job, but Wagner is the Ravens' starting right tackle heading into the regular season.
Haloti Ngata Will Move to DT, Brandon Williams Will Play NT
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees utilizes a 3-4 defense that features a defensive tackle, a nose tackle and a defensive end.
For much of his career, Haloti Ngata has been one of the best nose tackles in football. His combination of strength and explosiveness allows him to control the interior of the line of scrimmage and prevent running backs from being able to run it right up the middle of Baltimore's defense.
However, what makes Ngata unique is his ability to also play defensive end and defensive tackle in a 3-4 defense.
From 2010-2012 Ngata started at defensive tackle and defensive end while registering 15.5 sacks and 58 QB hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.
After Baltimore lost starting defensive tackle Arthur Jones in free agency, that left a vacancy at his position. In order to replace him, Baltimore opted to move Ngata to defensive tackle and start Brandon Williams at nose tackle, as evidenced by the team's depth chart.
Williams' 2.2 grade from PFF is the fourth-best of any Ravens defensive player this preseason. That's reflective of how well he's played, and it looks like the Ravens defensive line is set heading into the regular season.
CJ Mosley Will Start at Inside Linebacker
When the Ravens drafted CJ Mosley in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft, it led to an intriguing battle at inside linebacker.
The Ravens appeared to already have both of their starting inside linebackers in their 3-4 defense. Baltimore took Arthur Brown out of Kansas State in the second round of the 2012 draft after trading up to get him.
Mosley probably wasn't going to push the team's other starting inside linebacker, Daryl Smith, out of a starting spot after he signed a four-year, $13.6 million deal this offseason to remain with Baltimore.
Regardless, Mosley was not only able to win the starting interior linebacker spot alongside Smith, but he already looks like one of the best players on Baltimore's defense.
Through three preseason games, he has three stops (tackles constituting an offensive failure), two quarterback hurries and a sack.
In Week 3 against Washington, Mosley grabbed an interception off Robert Griffin III, which Baltimore later converted into a field goal to take a 13-3 lead (and it later went on to win, 23-17).
He's been all over the field in each of his first three games.
"The best compliment that I can give him (Mosley) is he’s been here for months, and it seems like he’s been here three years,” Ravens linebackers coach Don Martindale said, via Clifton Brown of CSNBaltimore.com. “He’s very instinctive.”
Through three preseason games, Mosley has played 62 defensive snaps, the third-highest of any Ravens defender. It appears he's got the starting interior linebacker job locked up, and the Ravens are giving him as many reps as the rookie can handle to speed up his transition into the NFL.