August 9, 2012
A win is a win. Except when that win is a preseason win.
Yes, the Ravens left Atlanta on the winning end of a 31-17 score. But the scoreboard hides many truths about where this team stands as it embarks on the 2012 season.
The starters looked thoroughly sloppy, falling behind 14-0 early into the second quarter. Head coach John Harbaugh looked thoroughly disgusted, and a little worn out, as he spectated from the sidelines.
His Ravens could have easily found themselves down 21-0 if not for Brendon Ayanbadejo, starting at middle linebacker for Ray Lewis, drifting back near the goal line late in the first quarter to intercept Matt Ryan’s pass intended for a wide-open, slanting Roddy White.
On offense the starters looked out of synch, starting three-and-out on three consecutive trips, while the defense was giving up scoring drives of 80 and 90 yards.
New defensive coordinator Dean Pees experimented with pressuring Ryan from odd angles, knowing that his 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs will be sidelined with an Achilles injury for a good part of the season. It’s back to the laboratory for Pees, as his secondary, left in man coverage on the outside, was consistently shredded by Ryan, White, and the young wideout, Julio Jones.
The positive from this game came in the second half, where plenty of young talent revealed itself among the Ravens back-ups fighting to earn roster spots. The reserves outscored Atlanta 24-0 in the half to coast home with the win. Albeit a preseason win that smelled a lot like a loss.
With such a lopsided tale of two halves, the grades even out; the real story lies in the individual performances. Let’s take a look.
Starter Joe Flacco got knocked around quite a bit as a suspect interior line struggled to get protection schemes sorted out. He looked decisive out of the no-huddle attack, working on a lot of quick-out tosses and mixing in audibles. Playing into the second quarter, he was 9 for 12 with a TD – not bad, considering the support he received.
Tyrod Taylor didn’t receive much more help, and was forced to use his feet to compensate, averaging 10 yards on his five scrambling carries upfield. He lacked touch on a few passes.
Curtis Painter looked the part of an NFL quarterback commanding second and third stringers late into the game. Out of the pocket he threw a little wildly, but improved on the move and pinpointed some nice deep balls, finishing with three touchdowns.
In mop-up duty rookie Chester Stewart didn’t help his cause throwing a sideline pick.
RUNNING BACKS: B
Thumbs up: Bobby Rainey
Thumbs down: Anthony Allen
Starter Ray Rice never got untracked, struggling to find openings behind his blockers. That included his fullback, Vonta Leach who blew one assignment to allow Rice to be stuffed behind the line. Leach did impress hauling in a swing pass and breaking a tackle as he turned up field to gain a first down.
The buzz in camp has been about Western Kentucky rookie Bobby Rainey, and he showed why. A bit shorter and stockier than Rice, Rainey looked to be Rice’s equal as a pass catcher. He made four defenders miss after hauling in a pass in the red zone and taking it in for the score.
Damian Berry also showed a little something as a downhill runner.
They both surpassed the returning Anthony Allen, who struggled mightily in almost every aspect. Allen appeared to run tentatively; he ran the wrong way on a blown play, dropped a screen pass on ball thrown a little high, completely whiffed of Robert James sack in pass protection, and he heard footsteps in dropping a first-down pass during the two minute drill. Allen has a lot of work to do if he has any hope of making the team, with second round draft pick Bernard Pierce sure to make the roster while he nurses his way back to health.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B
Thumbs up: Deonte Thompson, Torrey Smith
Thumbs down: Dorian Graham
Despite a false start penalty, Torrey Smith looked sharp snatching a catch off the ground and using his speed on a crossing route to nearly turn up the sideline for a score before he was barely tripped up.
His former Maryland teammate LaQuan Williams also looked to be a handful for Atlanta’s secondary, although he did drop one difficult pass on an out route.
Florida rookie Deonte Thompson garnered praise from camp observers, and he too showed why in this game, consistently getting loose behind Atlanta’s secondary, hauling in a touchdown and drawing an interference call.
Fellow rookie out of Syracuse, Dorian Graham saw a lot of action but failed to take advantage, running poor routes and dropping a catch.
TIGHT ENDS: C
Thumbs up: Billy Bajema
Thumbs down: Matt Balasavage
Ed Dickson caught a nine-yard TD from Joe Flacco but sprained his shoulder in the process. The Ravens are already without Dennis Pitta for the preseason, leaving them terribly thin at the position as they complete the real season dress rehearsals.
Enter eight-year veteran Billy Bajema, signed after the Pitta injury. He took full advantage of the opportunity, hauling in both passes thrown his way, including a TD grab, and performing well as a blocker.
Rookie Matt Balasavage struggled. His look-out block against the blitz forced a throw-away. He did come back on next play to stretch-out for a grab. But then he jumped off-sides and later dropped a pass. Davon Drew played, but was not targeted.
Thumbs up: Kelechi Osemele
With returning left tackle Bryant McKinnie late to camp, Michael Oher was flipped to the left side to start this game. Oher performed adequately but did little to overly impress, and was backed into the quarterback by a John Abraham speed rush at one point to force a sack.
On the right side, with Jah Reid sidelined, the Ravens were forced to start rookie Kelechi Osemele and he impressed. While he needs to work on footwork backpedaling against the rush, he proved to be plenty nimble adjusting to the man in front of him and showed he could maul at times in the running game.
McKinnie entered late and looked relatively sharp for a man who was having difficulty negotiating the front steps of his home two weeks ago. He appeared to be a more nimble and willing run blocker than what he showed during much of the 2011 season.
Ramon Harewood also had some nice moments after struggling for the last two seasons with leg injuries. He shows a wide base and an ability to pile-drive defenders. Clemson rookie Antoine McClain did not look comfortable on the right side.
INTERIOR LINE: D
Thumbs down: Gino Gradkowski, Bobbie Williams
Starter Matt Birk did not play, and in his stead rookie Gino Gradkowski struggled to get on the same page with his guards in sorting out assignments. Gradkowski consistently allowed defenders to slide past with little resistance, including Sean Weatherspoon running untouched up middle for near sack, and barely touching Peria Jerry who ran past the rookie center to stuff Anthony Allen in the backfield. Consider it a learning experience for Gradkowski who nonetheless has received praise from the coaching staff in camp.
Veteran Bobbie Williams has also been praised in camp, but he looked slow in this game, failing to get himself in position to make plays.
Justin Boren on the right side showed solid and steady technique in both the running and passing game.
Thumbs down: Cary Williams, Corey Graham
Back-up Danny Gorrer also struggle to prevent receivers from getting behind him and tackling consistently with the ball thrown in front of him.
Thumbs up: Omar Brown
Thumbs down: Sean Considine
Ed Reed got a surprised start and played one series. But the night belonged to Marshall rookie Omar Brown, who was opportunistic in snaring three takeaways on the night, with two fumble recoveries and a pick of a deflected pass, holding the ball as tight end Lamark Brown drilled him in the chest. Not a bad hat-trick for the rookie.
Newcomer Sean Considine showed poor tackling technique on two occasions, including allowing a receiver to spin for a first down after the catch. This was in contrast to rookie Christian Thompson, who laid a smashing tackle to drop Atone Smith coming out of backfield.
Thumbs up: Ricky Brown
Brendon Ayanbadejo got the start in the middle. While he was suspect filling against the run, he did step in front of a Matt Ryan pass to a slanting Roddy White for an interception that he returned 40 yards after the Ravens special teamers allowed a long punt return inside their own ten.
Unheralded Ricky Brown stood out for being in the right place at the right time throughout the second half, with a team leading five tackles and a couple of tipped passes. When hunting ball carriers in front of him he is comparable to one-time Ravens linebacker Jason Phillips, only Brown appears to be much better against the pass than Phillips ever showed.
With rookie Courtney Upshaw sidelined, Albert McClellan stood out for having a solid, albeit not spectacular, night.
Jameel McClain, starting on the outside, played well with the ball in front of him, but struggled a bit dropping into coverage, and Atlanta passed easily against the Ravens linebackers in general.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Thumbs down: Ryan McBean
The Ravens defensive line bottled-up Atlanta’s running game for the most part. Ryan McBean did not have a great night. He was slow to react and maintain gap integrity as he allowed Jacquizz Rodgers to run inside too easily in the red zone. McBean then overran a play to Rodgers to score on a draw. He left the game after badly twisting his left ankle in a pile-up.
Bryan Hall was a much more consistent performer in the middle, including good penetration to force Chris Redman to throw-away a ball and force a punting situation. Terrance Cody also penetrated well and slapped down a pass for a near interception. Returning Raven Ma’ake Kemoeatu flashed at times but was not consistent in staying square to the line.
Sergio Kindle saw extended action and did a decent job holding the edge against the run and penetrating into the backfield to chase the quarterback. Paul Kruger seemed to be working on his all-around game now that he is less of a dedicated rusher.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
There was not much to separate Billy Cundiff and rookie Justin Tucker in their battle to become the Ravens kicker. You might quibble that Cundiff’s extra point hooked through the uprights at an uncomfortable angle, while Tucker smoothly nailed a 36-yard field goal. And the slightly built Tucker does bear a resemblance to former Ravens kicker Matt Stover, right down the crossing himself before and after kicks. But it’s too early to make a final judgment on this key camp competition.
After nearly muffing a punt, Bobby Rainey settled in and performed decently on multiple opportunities.
With NFL officials embroiled in a contract dispute, the replacement crew, pieced together from lower college ranks, looked shaky, swallowing their whistles in the first half, seemingly afraid to call-out NFL veterans. That included a play where Bernard Pollard was allowed to collar and throw Julio Jones to the ground after objecting to Jones’ stiff-arm under the chin. They also appeared to reverse a clear Ravens first down catch by Tommy Streeter that was marked on the field short of the sticks.
Head Ref Craig Ochoa appeared to be particularly frazzled, stuttering through replay explanations and referring to Atlanta as Arizona and even Cincinnati on a couple of occasions.
Once the scrubs entered the game the officials settled down and called a decent game. Still, suddenly, it makes one long for the old men in zebra suits to come back before the real games begin.