BALTIMORE RAVENS 24 NEW YORK JETS 23
August 24, 2009
“I feel like I’m on a seven-on-seven period. This is the Ravens?”
– Jon Gruden, ESPN telecast
For the second week in a row, the Baltimore Ravens shook off their run-first reputation and came out throwing, kept throwing, and came away with a victory over the New York Jets. Their second preseason game was a much closer contest than their week-one steamrolling of the Redskins but the Ravens prevailed, 24-23, as the final horn sounded.
While the Jets came within a missed two-point conversion of pulling ahead for a comeback win, in the most important sequences, the Ravens starters outclassed the Jets starters while jumping out to an early lead. In fact, the score could have easily been 21-0 Ravens midway through the first quarter had Ray Lewis not dropped what appeared to be a sure interception, with only green–turf green that is–in front of him.
The botched INT cost the Ravens seven points and cost Ray a little pride. He was seen on the sidelines later in the game performing push-ups under the watchful eye of Haloti Ngata. The massive defensive tackle had earlier showed tremendous athleticism snaring Mark Sanchez’s first pass attempt as he ran it in for a score. Ngata’s INT came with an assist from, whom else, Lewis had who spooked the rookie Sanchez into a poor throwing decision.
It was early proof that Ngata’s much ballyhooed emergence is for real, and the Ravens are loaded up-front on defense. They appear to be a quite-capable unit, thank you, even without their former, feisty coordinator Rex Ryan at the helm. As the new head coach of the Jets, Ryan could only stare dumbfounded as his former defensive starters dismantled his newly inherited offense.
That was the good news. With it came some bad for the Ravens – namely their No. 2’s played like a No. 2. The Jets’ Leon Washington gashed the Ravens defense at times. In fact, he might have been the Jets’ lone bright spot, with 48 yards rushing on eight attempts, while catching two passes for 35 and a TD, plus 93 kick-off return yards on three attempts. On offense the Ravens revealed very little, check that, no depth. Other than the tandem of Chris Chester and Marshall Yanda very little talent has yet to reveal itself behind the projected offensive starters.
Luckily, the NFL still schedules four preseason games, which should provide just enough coaching tape to sort out who stays and who goes on the final 53-man roster. Just enough time to make some depth chart decisions, but not enough time to turn developmental players into capable starters this season, it would appear.
The drop off between the starters and the back-ups was dramatic enough that this week’s report card looks pretty darn average on the whole.
Joe Flacco and Troy Smith had plenty of opportunities to showcase their passing skills, as Cam Cameron dialed up passing plays about as often as Rex Ryan dialed up Jets blitzes, which was nearly every play. For the night, it was 29 passing plays out of 51 offensive snaps for the Ravens. On the plus side Flacco showed his usual calmness and great touch when throwing over the top and outside the hashes. As with last season, Flacco struggled to get his timing down with his receivers in the middle of the field, especially his backs on quick hitters. Troy Smith was ineffective with the second group. Yes, he was afforded poor protection and inferior wide receivers. But he was also facing a less experienced group of defenders than Joe Flacco had faced. Troy looked overly anxious to showcase his arm strength. Many hard thrown balls sailed wildly off target. Statistically, Flacco and Smith were dead even in completion percentage, with Smith getting half as many attempts. But Smith did throw one pick and had another interception called back after a wild set of penalties.
Running Backs: B+
Ray Rice continued to show why he sits atop the depth chart. On more than one occasion he found extra yardage with his elusive running style, on a night when the offensive line did not open many holes. Rice is still inconsistent picking up blitzers, but when he gets to the spot, he is a capable blocker. He picked up a corner blitz that allowed Flacco to hit on a long completion to Derrick Mason, putting the ball near the goal line. Rice was rewarded for the effort with a nifty Statue of Liberty rushing TD three plays later. LeRon McLain now appears ready to start the season, even if it means fewer carriers this year. McClain gave Bart Scott some of his own sugar with a crunching block up the middle for his halfback, Rice. He also made a nice catch. And on his one carry, on fourth down, McClain seemed extra determined to make the most of it, churning for three hard earned yards. Willis McGahee continues to impress, slipping tacklers and running hard with very little blocking in front of him in the second half. His willingness to run with the second group with no signs of complaint is admirable. Neither Jason Parmele nor Matt Lawrence, both fighting for the final half back spot, were afforded much opportunity to prove themselves.
Wide Receivers: C+
Derrick Mason continues to be one of the Ravens best offensive weapons. Did I mention the Ravens have Derrick Mason at wide receiver? Derrick burned Jets corners for 68 yards on just three catches. After Mason, there was Kelley Washington who appears to be the next best option for Joe Flacco, hooking up on a well-timed skinny post reception that hopefully will be a staple of the Ravens’ offense. Justin Harper did improve on his consistency and showed some big play ability with more than sixty yards on two catches. Demetrius Williams did not show much and his blocking effort was weak at best. It was disappointing to see Jayson Foster short arm a Troy Smith pass down the middle.
Tight Ends: C
The Ravens attempted to use LJ Smith in all sorts of ways, including lining him up at full back. But the veteran tight end made little showing. He was an indifferent blocker and dropped a Troy Smith pass before pulling up lame with a minor hamstring injury on a drag route. For now, blocking is the primary function of tight ends in Cam Cameron’s offense.
Starters Michael Oher and Jared Gaither performed well. Gaither in particular looks simply too big and strong for defenders as he steers them around the field at will. With consistency, this could be a very good tandem for the Ravens over the next decade. Oniel Cousins continues to struggle mightily. He’s not ready to play left tackle if needed. He was pushed into the backfield for a sack and racked up a facemask call later in a frenzied effort to slow down the rush. At this point converted tight end Joe Reitz appears to be farther along than Cousins in their development.
Interior Line: C+
Veteran center Matt Birk made a nice angle block at the goal line to clear open a wide lane in the middle for Ray Rice and the Ravens’ only rushing TD. He was later called for holding. Ben Grubbs still looks a little lethargic at left guard. Chris Chester has improved his pass protection greatly against bull rushes, holding ground where couldn’t two years ago. He appears reluctant to let Marshall Yanda have his old job back. Yanda, however, made one of the better downfield blocks you will ever see when he finally got back on the field, during Troy Smith’s first toss of the night. Yanda’s block on Bart Scott sprung a long gain on the screen pass. The Ravens appear desperate for talent however beyond these four.
Cross Frank Walker’s name off the final roster. I wrote down in my notes that Walker was beaten four times, and then I stopped counting. Evan Oglesby did nothing to suggest he will make the final roster either. However, the Ravens have two very good back-ups it would appear in Lardarius Webb and Chris Carr. Carr closed well and made a nice open field tackle and not to be outdone, Webb did the same later on. Webb played very strong press coverage during the second half and made an excellent play on a pass in the red zone to break up a touchdown. He appears to be a steal as a third round pick. The starters were not tested much as the rookie Sanchez back peddled and panicked during most of his passing attempts.
Dawan Landry looks very strong in run support, closing fast and hard. It was nice to see Ed Reed land a solid tackle with his right shoulder. Derrick Martin continues to play well in support against the pass. He closed quickly to break up one long passing attempt when Evan Oglesby was beaten. Haruki Nakamura puts himself in the right position to make plays, although he had just one tackle on the night.
Ray Lewis gets credit for a pressure as he ran untouched to cause Sanchez’s INT. Later he read Sanchez’s eyes to break on another pass, but dropped the interception. Jameel McClain had an interesting night, including picking off a Kellen Clemens pass for his own touchdown. McClain played well side-to-side and rushing the passer, but struggled to fill on run support, although he led the team in tackles. Brendon Ayanbadejo struggled even more as a linebacker and was rarely in position to make stops. Ayanbadejo and McClain appeared to be confused on coverage on the Jets first touchdown, leaving McClain playing catch up against Washington. Prescott Burgess played very hard, as if his job was on the line – which it is. He was credited with the pressure that stopped the Jets attempt of a winning two-point try. Antwan Barnes did not make much of an impact.
Defensive Line: B+
Interestingly, the Jets and Rex Ryan ran right at Paul Kruger to start game for a gain of six, as if to question Kruger’s talents. With Terrell Suggs sidelined, Kruger played the whole game and played well, continuing to show the ability to drop into coverage and the savvy to break up passes at the line. He also does an excellent job sealing the edge on runs. Pressuring the quarterback will have to come later. Dwan Edwards continues to get pushed off the ball and is not a threat in passing situations. Kelly Gregg is not up to full speed. He was called for a hold and left with a banged-up shoulder. The star of the group is clearly Haloti Ngata. He leapt nearly two feet off the ground to bat down a pass and ended up catching it in his belly before sprinting into the end zone. He must think he’s Ed Reed. As if athleticism is not enough he showed tremendous strength, sticking out an arm to tackle Leon Washington as if he was a tiger swatting a mouse. When showcased with second-unit players Justin Bannan showed first-team talent. Will Johnson made some impressive plays with this unit as well.
Special Teams: B-
The most notable event on special teams was Graham Gano missing a 41-yarder, Florida State Seminole Style, wide right. Steven Hauschka made his 42-yarder. The competition marches on. Gano still gets better loft on his kick offs. Sam Koch was very, very impressive. That included a 53-yard coffin-corner kick to the nine. Lardarius Webb showed tremendous moves to get outside on a kick return, but erased it when he failed to switch the ball to his outside arm and fumbled it to the Jets. Prescott Burgess made a heads up play, knocking loose the ball on a kick return, but the Jets recovered.
Commend the Ravens coaches for having the team play hard and under control on national TV, whereas Rex Ryan’s group was talking about the game being more than a typical preseason contest. His rookie quarterback did not need the extra pressure. Cam Cameron is doing a nice job working on the passing game and auditioning young receivers.
Referee Scott Green’s crew made a good call on a rare offensive pass interference penalty when Fabian Washington was knocked to the ground. It erased what would have been a 25 yard gain.
I still struggle to understand what constitutes an illegal block on kickoff and punt returns. Domonique Foxworth was flagged for a holding call on punt, yet on two kicks multiple Jets had tied up Ravens defenders by hooking and pushing from behind. Strange consistency. The crew made a terrible horse collar call on Joe Reitz after Troy Smith threw an interception.
I’m surprised to write this, but Jon Gruden was great on Monday Night Football. He comes very prepared. But not prepared with some ill-timed wise crack comparing a play on the field to the Battle of Waterloo, or some other canned quip. Gruden chose the right moments to provide pointed information and he seemed genuinely excited to be watching football, something we have not seen on Monday nights in a long time. Ron Jaworski is a great foil to Gruden’s hyper approach. Mike Tirico gets out of the way when he should. The replays were timely and the graphics were helpful. For one half, the Jets and Ravens put on an A performance, and the broadcast was just as good.