Focus on the Ravens Starters in Preseason Game Three
Baltimore improves to 3-0 in the preseason with a 30-9 win over the Detroit Lions. An opponent featuring some familiar faces. Jim Caldwell the head coach, Haloti Ngata and Anquan Boldin.
The game started with a little bit of a surprise. Mike Wallace was back deep on kickoff coverage. Fans who overly cringe every time someone less expendable lines up back there, probably lost their collective minds. All-World everything WR Antonio Brown is the Steelers punter returner after all. Never fear, the opening kick was a touchback. [Exhale].
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The big story on the night was the return of Joe Flacco. Kudos to the Ravens coaching staff for placing the starting offensive line out there with him. No veterans rest for Marshal Yanda. Rookies Alex Lewis and Ronnie Stanley impressed early on in the first two preseason games. They pass another test tonight in keeping Joe Flacco upright. Jeremy Zuttah and Rick Wagner rounded out the line.
Flacco took his first hit on the second play of the second drive. He stepped up in the pocket but it collapsed on him as he fell forward for a loss of one. More of a coverage sack. The O-line held as best as they could. Flacco got right up, like he has a hundred times before. It’s good to him get a fall to the turf out of the way.
I wanted to pay close attention to Joe Flacco’s footwork and he looked good to me. Stepping into his throws instead of off the back foot. He escaped the pocket and ran smoothly despite the knee brace he’ll sport all season long.
There was one play I noticed where he wasn’t on the same page as his receiver, Mike Wallace. Not reading much into it. That kind of thing happens once a game or so. Give them a pass here.
I can’t tell if Flacco had some extra zip on his passes, or if I’m just accustomed to Ryan Mallett of late. I can’t speak ill of Mallett though who took over for Joe Flacco in the second quarter after Flacco completed two drives. Mallet threw a pretty pass and Jeremy Butler made a prettier catch for a touchdown late in the second quarter.
The big story on the defense was the return of Terrell Suggs. He made his presence felt early with a tackle for loss, setting the edge perfectly on an Ameer Abdullah run in his direction. The play drew a rousing applause from the home crowd.
Suggs was a factor in providing a little pressure, though not notching a sack. He did play without Elvis Dumervil opposite him. Albert McClellan started and also played the passing downs which would be Dumervil’s role come the regular season.
Both Joe Flacco and Terrell Suggs exited after one quarter. Flacco completed two drives resulting in a field goal and a failed 4th down conversion. Suggs left while the Lions were in the midst of their second drive of the game.
The most anticipated returns went as scheduled. But the offense was still dealt two heavy blows. Veteran tight end Ben Watson left the game after the first offensive play. He suffered what would later be reported as a torn Achilles tendon on his right foot. Watson’s season is over. Just hate to see that. He’ll turn 36 this December.
Crockett Gillmore will be in line to start. With no timetable for Dennis Pitta’s return from a broken finger, it opens the door for Daniel Brown to secure a spot. Darren Waller suspended four games and Nick Boyle suspended ten games to start the season. Maxx Williams didn’t see action to my knowledge tonight.
The other was to rookie standout Kenneth Dixon. Coaches wanted to see the young Dixon against better talent given his success against the lower tiers in games one and two. Dixon lived up to the challenge, moving the pile on one play to pick up 17 yards. He got his legs pinned under him on an ugly looking play and suffered a sprained knee. Can only hope his injury isn’t too serious and hope for a speedy recovery.
Let’s go around the rest of the team and talk about the starters and some of the backups whom are getting their likely final work in before games count.
Justin Forsett started the game and made no plays of note. Picked up a nice pass block on a play action pass. It was Kenneth Dixon getting the next bit of work against the Lions first team defense with a decent carry. Then Terrence West after him before Buck Allen saw action in the second half.
Steve Smith Sr. returned to practice, but will not see the field until Week 1. It was Kamar Aiken starting opposite Mike Wallace. Aiken seemed to have the best chemistry with Flacco which isn’t surprising. I actually wouldn’t be shocked to see Aiken start opposite Smith Sr. come the regular season, over Mike Wallace. With Wallace being rotated in and joining in on more three and four wide sets. It was Jeremy Butler who saw the first action in the slot role, over Michael Campanaro. Butler has been making catches all preseason, made the pretty catch and score I mentioned previously. He likely has the inside track on one of the last receiver spots. Butler had a chance to score a second touchdown on a screen pass, but holding on De’Ondre Wesley negated it.
When Joe Flacco exited the game, it was also the exit of right guard Marshal Yanda and center Jeremy Zuttah. The staples played well and gave way to Vladimir Ducasse and Ryan Jensen respectively. They did not hold up their end of the bargain for the second straight week. This line is in big trouble if Ducasse and Jensen are the best options on the interior. Alex Lewis played the most snaps of the starting five up front, playing well into the third quarter. All of them at left guard. Looks like he’s found a home there. John Urschel may not be seizing a chance at the starters job here in year three for him.
On the other side of the ball, Albert McClellan didn’t have his name called. Which isn’t great, but isn’t bad either as he continues his development into a new role. McClellan has been a career special team specialist, with his other action coming as an inside linebacker. He’s moving more into the Courtney Upshaw role as a run stopping outside linebacker. Rookie Matt Judon graduated to first team reps when Suggs’ night was over. Like Kenneth Dixon on offense, Judon rose to the occasion. Setting the edge, getting to the quarterback to notch his third sack in three games, causing turnovers. Judon looks special.
I wanted to see how C.J. Mosley looked in pass coverage against a big tight end in Eric Ebron. Posied for a big season, Ebron missed a couple days of practice and didn’t dress for the Lions tonight. Mosley wasn’t tested in coverage where he’s needed to improve on his biggest weakness last year. The third year player was solid in chasing down ball carriers along side Zachary Orr. It was Kamalei Correa and Chris Carter playing ILB spots to start the second half.
The secondary had a nice showing against Detroit’s Matt Stafford and some solid receivers in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin. Jimmy Smith was a blanket on the few plays he was challenged. A flag happy referee threw one on Smith for pass interference with very minimal, if any contact. Shareece Wright wasn’t challenged much and I wanted to see him work after the tall Carolina receivers used their size to expose him in game one. Tavon Young was given time at the nickel spot against Anquan Boldin. Young may have been out of his league with that matchup. Boldin only had his number called once, but he made himself noticeably open against Young a few times. Eric Weddle quarterbacked the defense. Something that has been missing without Suggs out there last year and missing since the days of Ray and Ed. Matt Stafford checked out of some plays and Weddle played the chess game, shifting the defense right back at the opposition. Have to do that or else teams will pick you apart. The only negative here was Terrance Brooks dropping an easy interception chance early on in the game. Still a problem holding onto the football, despite Coach Leslie Frazier’s “tennis ball drills” at practice. When the dime package was on the field, Anthony Levine kept making plays. Picked up an interception for the second straight week. Levine is making a strong case for himself.
On the front line, Brandon Williams made an early exit given his stature on the defense. He gave way to more looks at Carl Davis at nose tackle early. Lawrence Guy and Timmy Jernigan bookended the “3” in the 3-4. Jernigan made a boneheaded play, late hitting Matt Stafford who slid down at the end of the first half, leading to a flag, a 60-yard field goal attempt, Matt Prater nailed it. Dumb penalties are not new to Jernigan. He has to be more disciplined out there. Kapron-Lewis Moore and Brent Urban were the first subs on the front line.
Next week is the “bubble battle” game of the preseason. The fourth and final chance for players to show coaches what their made of. Most of which auditioning for other teams. Baltimore travels to New Orleans for the Thursday night tilt, looking to finish off the preseason undefeated.