John Harbaugh's Baltimore Ravens squad looked good last night in its first preseason game, beating the visiting Carolina Panthers by a score of 17-12. There were a few areas where the Ravens did very well, and there were a few areas where the Ravens could have used some work at times. This slide show will break down a few key points that could be garnered from the game last night, good and bad, and will suggest a few courses of action based upon the evidence.
Hope you enjoy- onward!
Notable stat lines:
QB Joe Flacco: 8/12, 120 yards, TD
WR Mark Clayton: 2 rec, 48 yards, TD
RB Willis McGahee: 4 rec, 37 yards
The Ravens' first team offense basically slung the ball around at will. New QB coach Jim Zorn joins mad scientists Cam Cameron and Al Saunders in creating a tremendous support staff for Joe Flacco off the field in addition to the new weapons at WR. Flacco, who enters his third year as the Ravens' starting QB, has been put in a position to succeed this year with talented players all around him, and in his first appearance, he did not disappoint.
The thing that prevents this grade from being a perfect A+ is the later parts of the game. Marc Bulger looked OK with the second team, but Troy Smith had a rough game. Sure, he wasn't exactly assisted by the torrential downpour that started up later in the game, but the Ravens were able to involve several receivers in the passing attack and are exceptionally deep at tight end and running back.
Still, the Ravens have Super Bowl aspirations, and if Troy Smith ever sees the field regularly, well... the Ravens are in trouble. Overall, the Ravens' passing attack looked solid and there's little reason for concern at the moment.
Notable stat lines:
Le'Ron McClain: 4 car, 21 yards
Curtis Steele: 10 car, 32 yards, 1 fumble
Part of the reason this grade is so low is because Ray Rice, pictured above, didn't have a single touch in this game. Not that I'm complaining, it kept him healthy for another week; however, any time you sit your best running back things might not go as smoothly as you might hope. That was certainly the case this week, and against a Panthers defensive line that was not regarded as elite entering the season, I had hoped to see a little bit more out of the Ravens' running attack. Of course, as the Ravens transition to a passing team this year, part of the reason the Ravens did not run as much was because they were chucking the ball all over the field, so it all needs to be taken in perspective.
Despite a poor performance last night, on the whole I don't think there's much reason for concern because the Ravens still have their rushing ace up their sleeve. And trust me: he's still worth drafting for your fantasy team.
Notable stat lines:
FS Tom Zbikowski, 4 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF
SS Haruki Nakamura, 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF
DE Paul Kruger, 3 tackles, 1 assist, 1.5 sacks
CB Cary Williams, 2 tackles, 1 assist, 1 INT
One of the best plays of the night came courtesy of Tom Zbikowski, when Carolina QB Matt Moore failed to recognize the incoming blitz and Zbikowski came free. The Ravens' substitute for all-world FS Ed Reed proved yet again that the Ravens will be okay at the FS spot until Reed returns, forcing a key fumble that with a little bit of luck could have been a turnover. Obviously, a healthy Ed Reed is an upgrade over pretty much anybody, but in addition to Zbikowski, the Ravens have a wealth of talent at the two safety positions.
It is well known, however, that the Ravens are going with several untested players at the cornerback position, and it showed last night. Carolina's second round draft choice, the much-heralded QB Jimmy Clausen, had a good game, going 8/15 with an interception that wasn't really his fault. However, it doesn't matter who the rookie QB is- a good defensive team should have given Clausen a "welcome to the NFL, rookie" type of game, even with the second stringers, and the Ravens failed to do that.
On the other hand, the Ravens secondary was not a disaster. CB Cary Williams played pretty well, and undrafted Georgia CB Prince Miller played pretty much the entire game.
Still, the Panthers were without superstar WR Steve Smith all night and don't really have much depth at wideout. It's hard to say that the Ravens are going to be fine at the cornerback position in light of this game alone, and while it's good to get all these young guys a chance to play, the Ravens should look into getting a starting caliber corner on this roster from somewhere.
Notable stat lines:
NT Terrence Cody, 4 tackles, 1 assist
OLB Antwan Barnes, 4 tackles, 1 assist
Though it is hard to judge the Ravens' pass defense fairly when Carolina has a lack of talent at WR, the same cannot be said for Carolina's running game. DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart form one of the most dangerous one-two punches in the league, and they run behind an above average offensive line, anchored by left tackle Jordan Gross (granted that Gross was called for 3 holding penalties, but he's still a heck of a player) and center Ryan Kalil.
Williams ripped off a 20+ yard run early in the game against the teeth of the Ravens defense. While he wasn't tremendously effective the remainder of the night, the Panthers were able to get a respectable number of yards on the ground with a healthy number of carries and a variety of running backs. The Ravens did OK against this, but nobody would mistake this performance for something from a decade ago: it was a pretty average performance against an above average running attack.
Haloti Ngata, pictured above, did not play much; however, to his credit, Terrence "Cheeseburger" Cody did have a pretty good first preseason game.
P Sam Koch, 7 punts, 40.3 avg yards, 2 in 20
K Shayne Graham, 1/2 FG, 0/0 XP
K Billy Cundiff, 0/0 FG, 2/2 XP
It's well known that Ravens punter Sam Koch (pictured), one of the better punters in the league, has no competition for his job. However, it's also well-known that since the Ravens have parted ways with longtime kicker Matt Stover, they have been looking for a reliable kicker that can handle both kickoff and field goal duties, rather than committing a roster spot to a kickoff/long FG specialist to do what Stover no longer could. Enter year 2 of the kicking battle: Shayne Graham vs. Billy Cundiff.
On the whole, Cundiff had a slightly better night. While he did not get a shot at a field goal, he crushed his kickoffs into the back of the end zone consistently, and while Graham's kickoffs weren't bad either, any time you miss a kick in a competition, your seat gets that much warmer. However, between the these two guys, it's hard to imagine that the Ravens are in rough shape at the position. Not everyone can be Matt Stover.
Notable stat line:
CB Prince Miller, 1 KR, 22 yards, 3 PR, 25 yards avg, 57 long
FS Tom Zbikowski, 1 PR, 28 yards
As Jon Gruden stated during ESPN's broadcast of the game, there's always an asterisk by long kick or punt returns in the second half of preseason games because most of the guys on kick coverage won't be in the NFL. However, that aside, undrafted rookie Prince Miller took advantage of every chance he had to impress John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens organization, both when he was on the field playing corner and when he was returning kicks.
The Ravens did not score a touchdown on returns, but overall they were good, and if not for that asterisk the grade might be a little bit higher. Still, Zbikowski's long punt return didn't come with an asterisk and he's had returns like that during regular season games. The Ravens' return game is in good hands.
The first thing that the Ravens need to fix from last night's game is pretty simple: hold the damn football and don't lose it. The people in purple shirts fumbled four times, and despite the rainy conditions, priority No. 1 on offense is ball security, because without the ball, the offense cannot score. Simple enough, right? Maybe the Ravens should have to do more of this drill that the Broncos are doing in this picture during practice.
Oh, did I mention that one of the fumbles was returned for a touchdown by the Panthers, their only touchdown of the game?
HOLD THE BALL.
The Ravens were known to be weak at corner before Domonique Foxworth tore his ACL in training camp, and are now depending upon Lardarius Webb (pictured) and Fabian Washington to come back healthy, in time for the start of the season. No one really seems to be sure when exactly Ed Reed will play, and when he plays, he is good enough to compensate for some weakness at the cornerback position. If the Ravens are 99% sure that Webb and Washington will be back in time for week one, then maybe- maybe- that exempts them from needing to go get another starting caliber corner.
However, you can never have too many good cornerbacks on an NFL team; the Ravens are not very deep at the position and a relatively poor passing offense was able to light them up at times. In Ozzie we trust, but man he can make the fans nervous sometimes.
And no, Ozzie... Frank Walker does not help our secondary.
Thanks for reading guys, hope you enjoyed it.