The Ravens just keep on rolling. In beating the Carolina Panthers 17-13 Saturday night, Baltimore faced a squad who finished as the second overall seed last year in the NFC. Although Carolina was nursing several key injuries, Baltimore still went into Carolina’s house and continued to show that last year’s AFC Championship game appearance was no fluke.
It ‘s also important to note the quality of opponent and the location of the game. Considering Saturday’s game marked the third preseason game for both teams, a contest in which teams usually gauge with extreme importance, the win signaled that the Ravens are indeed ready for the season to start.
The times they are a-changing up in Baltimore. The defense hasn’t fallen off but the offense continues to flash the look of a potent and consistent unit. Here are three things I took from Saturday’s clash.
Baltimore’s biggest knock right now is the lack of an elite wideout. Sure they don’t have the big name you would like to see lining up out wide, but the caliber of their quarterback makes the wide receivers look better than what people give them credit for. Joe Flacco continues to impress, and with his big arm and excellent decision making, his receivers are receiving opportunity to capitalize. Derrick Mason finished with six grabs for 71 yards. Kelly Washington chipped in three catches for 66 yards with a long of 42 yards. Even Ray Rice added eight receptions for 67 yards.
Flacco spread the ball around nicely and starting receiver Mark Clayton should return soon to give the offense even more firepower. The receivers in Baltimore might not be great, but they’re not terrible either. A premier receiver would really put this team over the top but even with their current set, Baltimore is an elite team.
If you want to start your own 3-4 defense then it’s important you have an impact lineman. The Ravens might have the best 3-4 lineman in the business in Haloti Ngata. The 6-4, 350-pounder returned a pick 25 yards last week against the Jets for the team’s first score. Saturday night, Ngata added sack to round out a solid preseason in only two games played this summer for the 25-year-old.
Ngata can play anywhere on a three-man line. He can crash the pocket from the nose tackle spot. He can rush the passer from the right side defensive end and he can shut the run down from the left side. But his effort and pursuit is what makes him a real standout and that was never more evident than in Saturday’s game against Carolina.
At the 4:06 mark in the second quarter, Ngata started out rushing the passer on a quick screen play to Panthers receiver Steve Smith. Ngata read the play then released from his battle with a guard to begin the chase down of Smith. After Smith eluded the boundary cornerback, he squared up with Baltimore standout safety Ed Reed. Reed was fortunate to have the angle on Smith, who was prancing along the left sideline. Reed cornered Smith along the sideline, forcing Smith to hit a spin move that normally would’ve left Reed grasping for air but Reed managed to hold on long enough for Ngata to flatten Smith along the sidelines 26 yards later.
The announcers gave Reed the credit for the takedown but it was the pursuit of Ngata that allowed Reed to trap Smith along the sidelines. A one-on-one battle between Smith and anybody would usually equal a win for Smith but the closing of Ngata was unexpected and the two Ravens teamed up to shut down what could’ve been a potential long touchdown.
I didn’t see all peaches and cream Saturday night. For the second straight week, Baltimore was terrorized by a quick running back. The Ravens had all kinds of problems with the Jets’ Leon Washington last Monday night. Saturday night, it was Carolina third-string back Mike Goodson who gashed Baltimore for some nifty gains. For a unit that traditionally doesn’t let up on anything ground-related, the past couple of weeks have been eye opening.
I expect the run defense to be somewhere between good-great once again this season but they better get it together quick. The Ravens are scheduled to face LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Ryan Grant, Kevin Smith and Darren McFadden this season.
Washington and Goodson aren’t anywhere near the big names of the aforementioned and if Baltimore is having trouble containing the little names of the league, then problems could be on the horizon.