Ravens fans never want another season like 2007 where the Ravens’ secondary evoked memories of the “Street of Dying Men” scene from Gone with the Wind.
After the first quarter, The Ravens’ top 3 corners, Jackson, Webb, and Smith were all out with injuries of which few outside the Castle can claim to have full understanding.
The remainder of the game featured a number of 5-DB sets with 3 (big nickel) and even 4 (huge nickel?) safeties. Much was made of the big nickel in the last year or two for the Ravens, but the number of times the team actually employed it was very small since it’s not really viable against 3-receiver sets. Perhaps the best way to show the safety-heavy nature of the defense is to look at total snaps by player split by their position from the depth chart at the beginning of camp:
Brooks and Levine both lined up at CB as Pees declined to extend play for the bottom of the CB depth chart (Olatoye, Seamster, and Arena League superstar Marrio Norman).
The Ravens had only 39.5% of the total snaps by DBs from players with CB as their primary position. That would compare to approximately 55% for a team that played half of their snaps with 4 DBs and half with 5 DBs (most typically 3 corners).
Individual Grades and Notes
As in past years, I have given a number of Ravens a grade from +3 to -3 reflecting how much my expectation of their impact on the 2014 Ravens changed based on their performance Thursday. I don’t rate starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have any data for a judgment. The players here are new to the team, rookies, on the cusp of making the team, have new responsibilities in 2014, in positional battles, or have otherwise have something to prove this season.
I don’t chart preseason snaps, so all totals below are from the Gamebook and as such include penalties and non-competitive plays.
Brooks (0): After just 19 snaps in the opener, he was in for 41 plays to tie for the defensive lead. He stopped Dunbar for a gain of 4, ranging up from deep safety to do so (Q2, 10:33). He was a little late getting over to bracket Escobar on a ball dropped in perfectly by Weeden (Q3, 9:44). He rushed up to take down Hanna for a gain of 2 (Q3, 8:25). He was unable to escape Hanna’s block (Q3, 2:06) on Randle’s 12-yard run. He blitzed untouched off the slot for a QH (Q4, 11:14). It was a mixed effort for a player the Ravens need to step up in coverage.
Brown, A.: (+1): Arthur played well in limited duty (19 snaps). He rushed through a gap created by Tyson to take down Randle for a loss of 1 (Q2, 2:40). Arthur doesn’t have the size to win many point-of-attack battles, but that was just the sort of opportunistic effort Ravens fans would like to see more often. He avoided blocks from 2 linemen on a screen left to Williams held to a gain of 8. He contained well on the outside to take down Randle for a gain of 2 (Q3, 8:57).
Brown, C.: (+1): Brown played just OK, but his role on the 2014 Ravens’ defense looks a lot larger than it was after the first preseason game due to the injuries. He didn’t find the ball, but played the hands of Williams on a long pass down the left sideline (Q1, 3:40) for a PD. He was flagged for a defensive hold that was declined, but he didn’t give up any pass plays over 6 yards.
Bynes (+1): He had the near interception (Q2, 8:06) and followed that up with a QH on the same drive (Q2, 6:48). The ILB depth on this team is just outstanding.
Forsett (+1): Justin was 2nd in snaps among the tailbacks (17) and contributed a nice 12-yard reception with 16 YAC (Q3, 11:07) where he stepped out of the initial contact by Hitchens. At this point, I’d say he’s a lock for the opening-day roster, but I guess we will see opposing teams willing to dial up pressure when he’s in the backfield.
Franks (+1): He entered much earlier and the overall results weren’t bad. He never found the ball and overran the TD pass to Bryant (Q1, 6;51), but the other 3 passes directed his way all went incomplete. His game highlight was a vicious hit on Harris (Q2, 14:18) where he appropriately went for the body on 3rd down short of the sticks.
Gilmore (+2): The best hope for Gilmore to contribute as a rookie is as a run blocker and that was much improved Saturday. Specifically, he blocked DE Boatright (Q3, 5:20) on a short run, but it catches my eye whenever a TE can block a number in the 90s. He also maintained an effective block on Lawrence (Q3, 4:39). On his lone reception (Q3, 14:55), he sold the screen well with an inside block before collecting the pass from Taylor for a gain of 11. Sadly, the play was shortened to 3 due to Reid’s penalty.
Gradkowski (-1): He allowed a little of everything again in the way of penetration and pass rush, but the most frustrating play to me was the failure to attempt a screen block on Holloman (Q4, 13:43) as he flashed past him to disrupt Taliaferro’s screen reception still 2 yards short of the sticks. He and Urschel got some nice combined run push in the 2nd half.
Hill (-1): In an “everyone-can-have-a-chance-at-corner” game, Hill played just 13 snaps at safety. He and Seamster, who did not play any snaps at CB, were suspiciously absent.
Hurst (+1): He had a nice cut block on the safety Heath to lead Pierce’s 30-yard run left (Q3, 14:25). He went for the cut again on the next play, but whiffed on Wilson, who took down LT for no gain. Fortunately, he did not allow any pressure events as a pass blocker, which is what will determine his NFL fate.
Jackson (-1): DNP. During the game was the first time I heard mention of the boot.
Jensen (0): Shipley imploded in the 3rd quarter and Jensen entered at LG, then played RG for the 3rd team when Urschel departed. He was beaten by Zach Minter for a sack (Q4, 7:26). The 3rd string line had no answer for Minter in Q4 when he seemed to be in the backfield on every play (2 sacks, 1 FF, 1 penetration that led to a 5-yard loss by Wood, 4 tackles). Jensen would, however, pancake Minter on Taliaferro’s 10-yard run (Q4, 4:28).
Jernigan (-1): He didn’t make my notes (or the stat sheet) in 27 snaps. That’s not good.
Juszczyk (+2): Last week we saw him contribute as a receiver, this week, he looked much improved as a lead blocker. I’ll just give you the (Q, T) references so you can review (Q2, 6:08 and Q2, 5:33 and Q3, 11:41 and Q3, 10:28). He also had one of the key blocks on Thompson’s KR TD return (Q1, 6:44). He was unspectacular as a receiver, going down to first contact both times, but it’s really nice to see him produce (over 2 weeks) in all the major responsibilities he’s likely to have.
Lewis-Moore: The loss of KLM for another full season is a significant blow to his career, but the Ravens are also much less likely to harvest significant value. He’ll play limited snaps next season, if healthy. After that, even if he plays well in year 4, the Ravens will have to bid for his services.
Levine (+1): He played 13 snaps defensively and is listed at SS in the Gamebook, but he was lined as a corner for several plays. The only throw to his assignment (Q4, 11:14) was in single coverage of Newsome and Levine kept the receiver’s foot from touching the ground before he was out of bounds. He made a nice tackle on the kickoff (Q1, 11:33) to set the Cowboys at the 17-yard line following Upshaw’s FR/TD.
McPhee (+3): He was easily the Ravens’ defensive MVP for the game with a night of continuous pressure that deserves the full list treatment:
• (Q1, 10:49) He beat Witten for pressure as Romo’s checkdown was dropped.
• (Q2, 11:18) He swatted away the hands of LT Parnell to slide inside for a hard blind-side sack of the medicare-eligible Weeden (it never gets old, but he still is).
• (Q2, 9:53) He beat RT Wetzel for pressure as the Cowboys came up short on 3rd down.
• (Q2, 6:48) He had pressure as Weeden’s pass was nearly intercepted by Bynes.
• (Q3, 8:57) He drew a hold from Najvar on Randle’s run right to stall another drive.
• (Q3, 7:49) He again beat Wetzel outside for a QH.
• (Q3, 7:04) He again pressured past Wetzel as Weeden nearly threw a 2nd interception to Trawick.
In total, that’s 6 pressure events in just 15 snaps rushing the passer. Given the lack of pressure generated on the inside, Pernell would make an outstanding complement to Suggs and Dumervil on passing downs.
Miles (+1): He has continued to make some plays in run containment (2 tackles in 15 defensive snaps) and the Cowboys didn’t test him in coverage. The Ravens certainly have a number of safeties who can contribute a little defensively and a lot on special teams.
Mosley (-1): Like his predecessor, I expect Mosley will be at the top of the Ravens’ tackle totals most weeks, but his 5 tackles this week were 21, 1, 11, 2, and 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. He was blocked by Clutts (Q1, 9:51) to lead Murray’s 15-yard run left.
Pierce (+1): It was nice to see him effective again. Much of how the Ravens will use their 4 top RBs will unfold with the season, but it looks to me, like Pierce, Forsett, and Rice will get many of the big-play downs where the Ravens might run or pass and Taliaferro may be used for effective clock management, short yardage, and goal line plays, which will result in lower yards per carry. It would be fun to create an opportunity index for running backs that would measure their performance relative to norms for the game situation.
Reid (-2): He’s lost more ground with 2 penalties in 25 snaps, but I hear the Titans backup tackle is unhappy.
Seamster (-3): If he didn’t get a snap at corner in a game like this, he’s not part of the plan.
Simon (0): Sandusky spent a fair amount of time talking about the need for him to learn how to play in space, but he couldn’t reasonably be expected to cover Escobar (Q3, 9:44) as Mosley, Brown, or Smith might. He’ll always be a player who needs the play in front of him and that’s going to limit what he can do in the NFL to pass rushing, edge setting, and screen diagnosis. Many players have had fine careers doing just that. With Upshaw and Suggs, the Ravens have a pair of OLBs who are solid (and better than Simon) in those areas.
Smith, Steve (0): He needs to demonstrate some vertical explosiveness to keep corners from sitting on the short out routes. The news is good from camp, so I hope we can file this under “why show it in the preseason?”
Stewart (0): He started again and took down Murray for a loss of 1 (Q1, 14:40) on the 2nd snap. He also blitzed off the snap to beat Parnell for a QH in the end zone (Q2, 2:00). At one point, I would have said it would be bad if Stewart beat Brooks for the starting FS job, but both players are now key to the Ravens’ secondary depth.
Taliaferro (+2): Another very solid game. The tackle on the opening kickoff was a nice bonus. As mentioned under Pierce, he’s going to generate an unimpressive YPC (3.7 on Saturday), but that won’t mean he’s not contributing.
Taylor (0): He ran just twice for 6 yards and was solid passing the football, particularly considering the pressure he faced. He’s an unusual right-handed QB that can actually make trouble for the defense when booting left because of his quickness and ability to reset his feet. That’s a stark contrast from Flacco.
Thompson, Deonte (+3): You’re probably focusing on the same things I did on the kick returns. He was decisive and followed the best available blocks without slowing down, which will maximize most returns. He didn’t adjust well to the deep pass from Taylor down the left sideline (Q3, 2:18) and it dropped just a yard or 2 beyond him. That pass may well have been incomplete with optimal adjustment.
Tyson (+1): He had 2 tackles and set up Arthur Brown’s TFL by bulling Bernadeau (Q2, 2:40).
Urschel (+2): He had the biggest turnaround from the first game, playing effectively with the second OL. He entered to start the 3rd quarter and played with Hurst, Shipley/Jensen, Gradkowski, and Reid. He moved well, pinned for Gino on several occasions, and found good blocks in level 2 including one of the key blocks on Taliaferro’s TD (Q3, 10:28).
Wagner (0): Rick came back to earth allowing a QH and a PD in 30 offensive snaps. His campaign for RT is unopposed at this moment.
Wenning (-1): His game reminded me a little of the game that ended Chris Redman’s career as a Raven (2003 at St Louis). He was playing scared with a truly awful offensive line and got to meet Zach Minter up close.
Williams, Brandon (+1): He looked very difficult for anyone to block one-on-one. He drew a hold Zach Martin on the first offensive play and drove back Frederick to set up Smith’s tackle for a loss of 2 (Q1, 4:23). Those are the Cowboys 1st round selections in the last 2 drafts. The less the team needs to rely on Ngata to play NT, the more effective Haloti will be.