Ravens Kick off Harbaugh Era In Winning Way
The Baltimore Ravens kicked off the John Harbaugh era with a 16-15 victory over the New England Patriots on Thursday night. Wins and losses do not amount to much in the preseason, but Harbaugh and his staff can take away some positive things from Thursday's victory.
Here is a breakdown of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for Preseason Week 1 and an analysis of the quarterback competition between Kyle Boller, Troy Smith, and Joe Flacco.
1st Half Defense
While six defensive starters did not play including Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata, Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs, Rex Ryan’s defense brought constant pressure through blitz packages and penetration by the defensive line. The Ravens defense played at a higher level than the Patriots offense, which did not include Tom Brady and Randy Moss.
The defense limited the Patriots to less than 100 yards of total offense in the first half. Patriots quarterback Matt Cassel was confused and rattled by the constant pressure in the first half.
Cameron brought an aggressive game plan to establish the passing game. The Ravens drove 57 yards on their opening drive setting up a Matt Stover 42-yard field goal.
Cameron called several screen passes and used fullback Le’Ron McClain as a bigger part of the offense than in the past. Cameron varied his calls, using runs in passing situations while passing in a few short yardage situations.
The ground game was not very productive as the offense focused on the air attack. Ray Rice carried 6 times for 12 yards.
Keep in mind that Cameron did not have Willis McGahee, Todd Heap, Mark Clayton, and Demetrius Williams in the lineup.
The Ravens return team set up excellent lanes for return specialist Yamon Figurs. Key blocks were made by rookie Tom Zbikowski and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo. Figurs also made several great moves to evade defenders in the open field. He will have nightmares of being caught on his 2nd quarter punt return to the 2-yard line.
Washington displayed his strong cover skills by picking off two passes in the first half. He was also tough in run support registering two tackles. Critics in Oakland viewed his lack of commitment in stopping the run as his biggest weakness.
The defensive tackle was a constant disruption in the New England backfield. Bannan will once again be a key member of the rotation on the defensive line.
While Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Bart Scott receive the publicity, Johnson quietly has become a very good linebacker on this star-studded defense. He was flying to the football and broke up a 3rd down pass in the first half.
Ayanbadejo fits right into the Ravens’ defensive style of flying to the football, registering 8 tackles and a sack. He was signed for his special teams pedigree, but coaches have to feel confident in his ability to play linebacker if injuries occur during the regular season.
While penalties piled up in the 2nd half with many reserves and rookies fighting for jobs, the team was disciplined in the first half, a trait missing from last season. The use of a play clock during training camp practices appeared to help as the team did not have any delay of game penalties.
While tackles Chad Slaughter and Mike Kracalik did not protect as poorly as some feared, they had difficulty in protecting Kyle Boller. Slaughter was bull-rushed badly by Richard Seymour on one play in the first quarter but was solid overall.
Kracalik appeared slow as Pierre Woods ran right by him on several plays in the first half.
Though the team did not make much effort to establish the run, the offensive line failed to open any big holes for Ray Rice or the other running backs in the second half. The offense only averaged 1.7 yards per rush.
2nd Half Defensive Line
The defensive line struggled mightily as players such as Amon Gordon, Lorenzo Williams, and J’Vonne Parker were consistently pushed back by the Patriots offensive line. Gordon did register a sack.
Patriots (and former University of Maryland ) running back Lamont Jordan carried 19 times for 76 yards.
Martin committed a 15-yard facemask penalty and missed a tackle allowing a first down in the process. While Martin has played well in camp, he took a step back tonight in a very tight competition for the reserve defensive back spots.
4th Quarter Offense
Joe Flacco looked like an overwhelmed rookie in his first NFL action. Flacco fumbled once and did not complete a pass in 3 attempts. The offensive line gave Flacco no time to throw.
No, not for his quarterback play but for his sideline behavior. What compelled a potential starting quarterback to dive after an errant throw on the Ravens sideline, putting himself at risk for injury? On top of that, he failed to even make the catch. Though Smith was unscathed, it was not something you would expect from a potential starting quarterback. While not a big deal, it shows some immaturity.
Here is a breakdown of how the quarterbacks performed in the first preseason game:
Boller made some nice throws, particularly on the opening drive, when the offensive line gave him time to throw. As in the past, he struggled to complete passes when pressured, which is nothing new. Boller looked fairly comfortable in Cameron’s new system.
Boller did not take care of the football and had two turnovers. He fumbled on a sack and threw a pass into triple coverage that was intercepted by Shawn Crable in the 2nd quarter.
Overall: Boller had a solid game completing 11-15 passes for 102 yards. The two turnovers leave a bad impression with the coaching staff. Boller appears to be virtually even with Troy Smith in the starting competition.
Smith made some great throws including a 30-yard strike to Darnerien McCants. He made an even better throw that was threaded between two defenders but was dropped. Smith also showed his mobility carrying 3 times for 6 yards.
Smith still stares down receivers and nearly threw two interceptions. He needs to improve his accuracy to receivers coming out of the backfield.
Overall: While Smith only completed 5-12 passes for 76 yards, he showed some positive flashes. He appears to be right with Boller in the quarterback competition. Look for Smith to receive the start against the Minnesota Vikings next Saturday.
Flacco was overwhelmed in his first NFL action as most rookie quarterbacks are. He aimed his first pass to the outside and threw a pass behind another open receiver. In his defense, Flacco had little time to throw behind a porous offensive line.
Flacco will certainly have better days than this. Quarterback-starved Ravens fans have no reason to panic.
Overall: Flacco did not complete a pass in 3 attempts. He lost a fumble on a sack. He is clearly the third-string rookie quarterback at this point, but the Ravens should bring this young and talented quarterback along slowly. He is the future of the franchise.
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