Baltimore Ravens vs. New Orleans Saints: Preseason Week 4 Game Preview
Week 4 of the NFL preseason means the regular season is almost here. For the Baltimore Ravens, they'll hit the road to take on the New Orleans Saints in their fourth and final preseason game. The game is set to take place at 8 p.m. ET in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Typically, Week 4 of the preseason means starters are going to play very few, if any snaps. That way, the second and third-string players fighting for roster spots will get nearly a full game's worth of reps to make their final case to be on the 53-man roster.
By now, all 32 teams have trimmed their rosters down to 75 players. By August 30 at 6 p.m. ET, every team must get down to just 53 players.
There could be anywhere between 10-20 spots on the final roster up for grabs. With 22 players needing to be cut, that makes for an intriguing fourth preseason game, even if the starters don't play at all.
Here's a look at what to watch for in this week's matchup between the Saints and Ravens.
Week 3 Recap
The Ravens entered Week 3 of the preseason undefeated, and they left Saturday's game against Washington still unblemished. For the third week in a row, Baltimore won in a fashion different than the previous week.
Their 23-17 win over Washington in Week 3 was more in the middle. It was a game that Baltimore's defense played well in, allowing just 17 points and sacking Redskins quarterbacks three times while grabbing one interception.
On offense, Joe Flacco had his best game of the preseason, completing 16-of-23 passes for 180 yards and one score. Steve Smith had his breakout performance, catching six passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. The previous two games saw Smith catch a combined two passes for 17 yards and no scores.
Seeing Flacco and Smith finally find some chemistry was crucial before the regular season opens. The 36-year-old Smith was signed this offseason after the Carolina Panthers cut him. It now looks like Smith can be a reliable weapon for Flacco to throw to this season.
The most concerning thing to come out of this game was the lack of a rushing attack. The Ravens rushed for just 18 yards on 13 attempts in the first half.
Making matters was Bernard Pierce, who gained minus-three yards on four carries. That was before he left the game with a concussion. That's a tricky injury that means he could miss Week 1 of the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals.
News and Notes
Running back Concerns
As mentioned in the previous slide, Ravens backup running back Bernard Pierce suffered a concussion Saturday night against the Redskins. It was bad enough to force him out of the game and head coach John Harbaugh isn't sure when he'll return, via The Baltimore Sun.
"Nowadays, with those things, I don't take any stock in that until they tell me that he's back," Harbaugh said. "The concussion thing is just hard to predict."
Pierce has yet to return to practice, even though he's set to be the starting running back for the first two games while Ray Rice serves a two-game suspension.
Before he can return, he has to take and pass a mandatory baseline neurological test under NFL medical guidelines governing concussions. If Pierce were to miss Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals, journeyman Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will be all that's left to carry the load.
A Trade Coming?
Ravens general manger Ozzie Newsome isn't afraid to make a trade when he sees a good one that can be made. Just in this offseason, Newsome has traded linebacker Rolando McClain for a draft pick, and he acquired center Jeremy Zuttah to start at center.
So it shouldn't be surprising that Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh thinks Newsome could try to make a trade that improves Baltimore's roster, per ESPN.com:
"If you get your hopes up, they're probably going to be dashed," Harbaugh said. "But then you can never count Ozzie out. He's pretty special.
"We look at that every year, the opportunities to make trades. And every year, I'm usually disappointed that we don't get anybody because people don't want to trade good players.
"I know [Ravens officials] are talking with everybody around the league just in terms of what's out there. Not that we feel like we have any desperation things that we need to get, but from the standpoint that if there is something we can get better, we want to do that."
It certainly sounds like Baltimore is looking for potential trades to make prior to the start of the regular season. There could even be a trade made before the final 53-man roster is announced.
Some teams have too many quality players at one position and instead of losing one of them for nothing, will make a trade with another team to get something in return.
Baltimore could certainly be the benefactor of such a deal. It's also worth pointing out that Sports Illustrated's Peter King would be "surprised" if the Ravens don't deal for a corner prior to the final roster cut.
CB Lardarius Webb
Starting cornerback Lardarius Webb still hasn't practiced, and it looks as though he'll end up missing the entire preseason and training camp. That's certainly not good, but the Ravens still expect him to be back in Week 1 against the Bengals.
Regardless, it's hard to see Webb, who's dealing with a back issue, being back to his self when he does return. Webb is one of the game's best corners when healthy. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Webb's 8.0 grade in 2013 was the 19th best of 77 eligible corners.
We probably won't see Webb play at that level for at least the first few games of the regular season. In the NFL, you simply don't miss two months of practice, then return to action on top of your game.
CB Jimmy Smith
As if Webb's injury wasn't bad enough, the other starting cornerback, Jimmy Smith, is also dealing with an injury. His chest injury has kept him from practicing since August 16.
His injury isn't believed to be as serious as Webb's, though it's never good when your top three corners are missing practice.
CB Asa Jackson
In addition to Baltimore's two starting cornerbacks being out, backup Asa Jackson is also being held out with an ankle injury. He's been out for two weeks, and as of August 26, he has yet to return to practice.
Because all three players missed Tuesday practice, neither Jackson, Smith or Webb will likely play Thursday against the Saints.
NT Terrence Cody
Backup nose tackle Terrence Cody continues to rehab from offseason hip surgery. In the meantime, the fifth-year pro remains on PUP, meaning he could be out for the first six weeks of the regular season. John Harbaugh said no decision has been made on if he'll remain on PUP.
Once he comes off PUP, Baltimore has to cut him, place him on the active roster or place him on the Injured Reserve list.
S Matt Elam
The Ravens will be without starting strong safety Matt Elam against the Saints, as he's dealing with a leg injury. John Harbaugh did say he expects Elam to return to practice later in the week, which is a good sign he'll be ready Week 1 against the Bengals.
Both the Saints and Ravens currently are 3-0 heading into their preseason finale. However, both teams will probably be resting their starters, leaving this game to be decided by second and third-string players.
That said, Baltimore has shown in three preseason games that they have enough depth to outlast their opponents for four quarters.
I believe Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor will play most of this game and he's been very efficient this preseason. Taylor has completed 25-of-38 attempts for 250 yards and one touchdown. He's also rushed 12 times for 100 yards.
Assuming New Orleans rests its defensive starters, its backups won't be able to contain Taylor through the air and on the ground.
Speaking of, rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro has 40 carries this preseason for 155 yards and one score. I believe Baltimore will use a heavy dose of both he and Taylor on the ground Thursday night to control the clock and grind out the win.
Prediction: Ravens 24, Saints 20