An improved offense grabbed the headlines for the Baltimore Ravens in their preseason-opening win against the San Francisco 49ers, and rightfully so, but the defense didn’t disappoint either.
The three points allowed came against San Francisco’s first-team offense, and having the benefit of facing Blaine Gabbert for most of the game facilitated the end result of not allowing another score after the first drive.
Plenty can be taken away from the performances of the defense and special teams, both good and bad.
1. C.J. Mosley was as advertised in his debut.
The Ravens are wasting no time acclimating Mosley to the defense, as the rookie first-round pick was a starting inside linebacker for the team on Thursday night, taking snaps with both the first and second-team defenses.
As a complete linebacker, Mosley’s entire repertoire was on display – side-to-side speed, blitzing ability, reaction time. His most notable play came on a blitz up the middle that resulted in a sack, and that’s something fans should get used to.
Mosley’s skill set is diverse enough that the Ravens can rely on him for many different roles in the middle of the defense, and his first live action reinforced his abilities.
2. Speaking of linebackers…what happened to Arthur Brown?
With Daryl Smith sidelined due to injury, the expected starter next to Mosley was second-year linebacker Arthur Brown, a player primed for an improved year after on-and-off playing time last season.
Instead, the Ravens sent out Josh Bynes as the starter with Mosley. Really? Josh Bynes?!
Bynes is an OK linebacker and one who fully deserves to be on the final roster due to run defense and special teams value, but seeing him start over Brown was a major surprise. During the time in which Mosley and Bynes worked with the starters, Brown didn’t even come in on nickel defense, which is when he is most valuable.
Brown figured to replace Bynes, but we were presented with yet another surprise. Bynes’ replacement was Albert McClellan, who played alongside Mosley before Brown eventually replaced the rookie, working with McClellan for much of the second half.
During his time on the field, Brown didn’t disappoint, displaying his reaction time and speed to cover down-the-middle receivers while also having a notable tackle for loss on a run play.
Brown is a better linebacker than Bynes or McClellan; it doesn’t take much to notice that. But it appears the Ravens aren’t planning on giving Brown as increased of a role as expected this season.
Maybe they know something we don’t know?
Brown’s playing time will be an interesting story line to follow for the remaining three preseason games.
3. No clarity was offered at cornerback.
Here’s what we learned: Asa Jackson has the advantage to win the nickel corner job, and barring any additions to the roster (it looks like the Ravens could use another proven cornerback or two), he’ll run away from the competition.
After Jackson, the group of corners is tough to watch.
Chykie Brown – once a favorite to be the third corner – looked out of place and lost on multiple occasions, and often made Frank Walker’s awareness look elite in comparison.
This is Brown’s fourth year in the NFL, yet he looked more lost than some of the undrafted rookie corners that the Ravens used against the 49ers.
Brown probably still makes the team on merit and lack of depth, but it’s safe to say he’s in danger of letting Jackson win the nickel job before the preseason is over.
After Brown and Jackson, there isn’t much of note, although undrafted rookie Tramain Jacobs got extensive playing time (26 snaps) and fared well. Jacobs and veteran Dominique Franks are two names to keep an eye on as roster candidates.
4. Brandon Williams was the most dominant defender for the Ravens
After a rookie year in which he hardly touched the field despite making an impact when given the chance, it seems as if the coaching staff is finally ready to unleash defensive tackle Brandon Williams and give him a starting role.
An ideal zero or one-technique nose tackle, Williams worked with the starting defense, and his brute strength and athleticism were on display more than once.
Williams is the ideal nose tackle; he has the disrupting and lane-clogging ability that is needed, but he also is athletic enough and has the pure strength to make plays on his own. As he gets more playing time in the preseason and regular season, it won’t take long for fans to fall for Williams, who will be key to the run defense’s success this season.
5. The non-Mosley rookie defenders had a fairly quiet night.
Baltimore’s other two rookie defenders – defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan and safety Terrence Brooks – had pretty pedestrian debuts, working with the second and third-team defenses.
Jernigan rotated in at defensive end and never made any plays of note, but didn’t seem to get pushed around, either.
What’s more notable is the case of Brooks, who didn’t start at free safety (which was expected), but wasn’t a second-teamer, either.
Brooks was behind Jeromy Miles at free safety, and when he did enter the game, he seemed to have more of a strong safety role, playing close to the line of scrimmage on many occasions.
It’s unclear how Brooks will be used this season/where he will be on the depth chart to start the regular season, but it’s safe to say he’ll have to turn in some impressive practices and preseason performances this month to get back into the competition with Darian Stewart at free safety.
6. What the hell was Jerry Rosburg thinking?
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg used a player as a return man that, well, had no business returning the ball.
We’ve seen it before with Ed Reed, we’ve seen it before with Lardarius Webb. Now, we’ve seen it with Asa Jackson.
Rosburg tends to send secondary players – and players who are valuable to the team – back to return kicks, risking injury in unnecessary situations. Jackson returned four kicks last night (three punts, one kickoff), and even came up hurting after one punt return.
It’s clear given his starting status in place of Webb that Jackson is a valued cornerback at this point, so why send him back multiple times to return kicks? This is the preseason; Jackson doesn’t need more than maybe one return per game.
The Ravens have a regular season return man – Jacoby Jones – who didn’t return any kickoffs or punts against the 49ers, probably so he didn’t risk getting hurt.
Since the Ravens weren’t going to use Jones anyway, why not just send an undrafted rookie cornerback or wide receiver back for the return?
Jones is already the uncontested return man anyway, so why risk injury on a now valuable player to the defense like Jackson?
Those were my defensive and special team observations. Tell me yours below.