On a Monday night last October a national TV audience watched the Ravens embarrass themselves in Jacksonville, losing a 12-7 shocker to a poorly regarded Jaguars team.
Revenge certainly was not a factor in this preseason rematch. The goal for the Ravens was simply to work the starters for more than a half together, and perhaps improve on scoring from inside the red zone, something the starting offense has struggled with in the preseason.
They accomplished both, and maybe a bit of revenge nonetheless in piling up the most points in a preseason game in team history, winning 48-17. The offense was extremely sharp, putting together five drives of 80 yards or more, and scoring on four of their five trips into the red zone.
The defense wasn’t bad either. Other than allowing Justin Blackmon to catch four balls for 72 yards, the Jaguars offense was largely kept in check, particularly when defending the red zone.
The other team objective was to use the second half to evaluate players fighting for a handful of open roster spots. With so many players performing well on this night, it was hard to sort out winners and losers.
The standout players from the previous preseason tilts held serve, for the most part. Let’s take a look at the individual breakdowns this week.
Joe Flacco was nearly flawless. He threw the ball 36 times in a little more than one half, connecting with his receivers 27 times, including two touchdowns and one meaningless, Hail-Mary pick to end the first half. He continues to impress with quick decision making, checking off at the line when needed and confidently zipping passes into tight windows. His only noticeable miscues were an overthrown deep ball on the first drive, intended for Torrey Smith streaking down the right sideline, and later locking in and forcing an incompletion to Anquan Boldin in the back of the end zone as Jacoby Jones drifted unguarded along the goal line.
Tyrod Taylor looked much sharper than his last outing, connecting on 7 of 9 throws for 119 yards. That included a confidently thrown comeback route to a covered LaQuan Williams in the end zone. He was more patient in the pocket before tucking and running, including a well-thrown ball off his back foot to a third-option receiver, with the rush in his face.
When he had to run he continued to impress, including a naked reverse for a touchdown. You know you’re watching a good running quarterback when Jags defensive end Cory Irvin isn’t fooled at all on the reverse and Taylor still runs right around him to reach the pylon. Taylor did throw one bad interception as cornerback Antonio Dennard drifted back on a ball thrown deep and out, returning it 55 yards for a Jacksonville score.
Curtis Painter didn’t do enough to overtake Taylor for the backup role, but he was 3/3 including a 33-yard touchdown to rookie Tommy Streeter.
Running Backs: B-
With so much attention on the passing game, the running game continued to bump along. Ray Rice carried twice, including a 28-yard carry off right tackle before being pushed out of bounds. He then took an early seat on the bench to stay out of harms way. Bernard Pierce played extensively, carrying the ball ten times for 35 yards. He showed a lot of patience – too much at times – gliding to the hole before cutting up field.
Bobby Rainey did nothing to change the growing sense that he belongs on the roster. He remained most impressive catching the ball out of the backfield. He slipped past Paul Posluzsky down the right sideline for 15 before being tackled awkwardly on his ankle. He was quickly back in though, and later snared a safety-valve pass, sidestepping a tackle by veteran DB Courtney Green to run down the side for a 48 yard TD, the longest play of scrimmage on the night. He also turned in an impressive performance as a pass-blocker.
Damian Berry was asked to do more than Rainey as a ball carrier, and he looked good doing it. He was quick to the line on his seven carries, averaging 5.7 yards per tote.
Wide Receivers: B
This group ran impressive routes, particularly Torrey Smith, who looked every bit the part of a number one option for Flacco. Smith caught eight balls despite being slowed with ankle issues. He repeatedly found soft spots in the Jaguars zone defense, snagging the ball out of the air crisply and churning for extra yards. That allowed Anquan Boldin to settle into a workmanlike role as a possession receiver.
Jacoby Jones started slowly, short-arming a pass when Flacco lead him down the side, but he eventually got going, including a nice tightrope catch down the opposite sideline for a first down. He also flashed sure hands on a hitch route, turning and bullying for another first down.
LaQuan Williams continues to make a case for playing time among the much-improved receiving corps. He flashed a nice move, spinning after the catch to make DB Kevin Rutland miss and then ran for a long gain. He also came down with a TD catch, taking a hard thrown ball off of rookie corner Antonio Dennard’s shoulder pad.
Tandon Doss finally checked in and showed why he is considered a good-hands possession receiver in short yardage situations. He also blocked well to lead Taylor on a Wild Cat run to the right.
Rookie Tommie Streeter turned a bubble screen into a nice run, and then got inside separation on the corner on a quick hitter, tucking and running for a score.
Tight Ends: C
With the emergence of the wideouts, and with injuries to Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, the remaining tight ends were seldom used. Starter Billy Bajema excelled when settling into seams in the zone to catch three balls, but also showed he lacks the athleticism to really threaten the defense. He could not hold onto a first down catch that ex-Raven Dawan Landry swatted away. He continued to show he can be an effective blocker on the inside.
Bryant McKinnie was back at his starting spot on the left side, pushing Michael Oher back to the right. Oher looked better when he was on the left in previous weeks, particularly with footwork. This week he struggled to make blocks at the second level and allowed Russell Allen to slide across his face on a run stop. He also was flagged for a false start.
McKinnie was mostly steady, particularly pass blocking once he engaged the rusher. He looked bad on one play, in which he followed the stunting defensive end far to the inside and failed to pick up tackle Terrance Knighton, who looped behind with a free run at the quarterback to pick up a sack on a third-and-goal passing situation.
If you are handicapping the practice squad list, keep an eye out for Antoine McClain, the rookie undrafted free agent out of Clemson. Twice he impressed as a lead blocker for Berry on the right side and was active as a pass blocker.
Interior Line: B-
Kelechi Osemele was moved from tackle to left guard and didn’t miss a beat. The massive rookie from Iowa State showed he is nimble enough to pull to the right very effectively, and helped lead Rice on his long run to the sideline. He is constantly pushing defenders downfield through to the whistle.
Bobbie Williams got the start on the right side and looked more comfortable there – or perhaps his previously injured ankle is improving. He was badly beaten once when he dipped his head and allowed a defender to slip past him for an easy run-stuff. Gino Gradkowski still appears to be a big drop-off from Matt Birk in the middle.
Lardarius Webb appears ready to start the season, breaking on the ball a number of times for big hits and sure tackles. He was timely in breaking up a ball that Laurent Robinson juggled over the
middle. Coordinator Dean Pees utilized him in the blitz and he responded with a nice backside tackle on a run to the opposite side. He led the team with six tackles.
Jimmy Smith excelled in providing tight coverage, and got better as the game progressed and the opposing talent level waned. He is still a beat slow at turning to find the ball in the air. He was flagged for interference on a very questionable call. On the opposite side, Cary Williams was not thrown at all night long.
Asa Jackson may not be a great cover corner, but was an effective blitzer and tackler. Chykie Brown did a nice job singled up on Kevin Elliot, including a break up of a slant headed for the end zone.
Bernard Pollard was the best player on the field. He was mentally three steps ahead of the Jaguars offense, continually closing on balls thrown into the flats to tight ends Zach Miller and Mercedes Lewis for big hits after the catch. And his coverage skills in the secondary are highly underrated, as he proved when covering the Jags’ most dangerous weapon, Blackmon, reaching around for a textbook pass defense.
Ed Reed struggled to keep up with Blackmon, gambling on pursuit angles and losing.
Emanuel Cook, who had played well in the preseason, lost his chance to make the roster when he broke his ankle. Sean Considine’s chances were also threatened when he left with a concussion for the second week in a row.
Omar Brown may be the beneficiary; he was very active in the secondary. Christian Thompson appeared to understand his role and was in the right position to make plays.
Ray Lewis did a better job this week filling running lanes, but is getting knocked around more playing at a lighter weight. He also got in Blaine Gabbert’s face for a near sack and throw away on a blitz. Jameel McClain looked sharp, swarming quickly to the ball and checking in with five tackles in one half of play, including a takedown of WR Mike Thomas short of the sticks to force a punt.
Albert McClellan got the start on the weak side, and played well. He did a nice job balancing the pass rush duties with holding the edge against the run. He remains ahead of Courtney Upshaw, who still appears one-dimensional – all straight ahead – although he did pick up a shoestring sack.
Paul Kruger didn’t show consistent effort, or appeared to tire at times under the increased workload, including a holding call. Still, he has shown that he has the talent to play well on the strong side.
Brandon Ayanbadejo has really settled into the role as third-down coverage specialist. Ricky Brown still looks solid as a deep reserve linebacker candidate.
Defensive Line: B
Haloti Ngata looked a little more active this week, and took full advantage of a blown assignment to rack up a sack. Terrance Cody was solid patrolling the line of scrimmage. Arthur Jones got the start and he and Ma’ake Kemoeatu were effective in penetrating. Seventh-round pick DeAngelo Tyson finally flashed some talent, showing heavy hands to slip into the backfield and doing well to fight off blocks.
Special Teams: B
Oh boy. Billy Cundiff was given the night off so rookie Justin Tucker could assume all the kicking duties, and Tucker didn’t fail to take advantage of the opportunity. He was 2/2 on field goals, dead-red straight through both times, from 33 yards out and from 53, on a kick that would have been good from 63. When allowed to open it up, Tucker was booming kickoffs out of the end zone as well. Cundiff has done little to falter in the preseason, but it’s hard not to be impressed with how calmly and effectively the rookie has performed. And seemingly, it has been hard for Cundiff not to become frustrated by the buzz swirling around Tucker. After the game reporters closed in to gauge his thoughts and Cundiff talked about, “taking my services elsewhere” if his preseason showing can’t secure the job for him in Baltimore.
Jacoby Jones showed why he is the favorite to be the starting kick returner; although, if this were a battle as heated as what Cundiff and Tucker are embroiled in, rookie Deonte Thompson would be giving Jones a run for his money. Thompson was explosive when returning a kick 53 yards from nine yards deep. Anthony Allen made a fantastic downfield block on Antwon Blake to spring this long return.
Cory Graham and Christian Thompson stood out for good downfield coverage of kicks. Overall though, the coverage unit appeared to be disorganized. Pernell McPhee checked in with a field goal block.
Starters will be hard to spot in the fourth and final preseason contest next week, leaving one last opportunity for bubble players to show that they belong – most likely as special teams contributors.