After a notable defensive preseason debut in which the Ravens allowed only three points, things didn’t come so easy on Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys, as the defense conceded 30 points.
How many points the opposition allowed isn’t too big of a concern right now, since quite frankly the defense as a whole didn’t necessarily look any worse than in the first preseason game.
The 37-30 win over the Cowboys offered plenty of things of note when it came to both defense and special teams.
1. Rookie Terrence Brooks didn’t struggle for playing time this week.
After proving to be low on the depth chart and only on defense for 20 plays against the San Francisco 49ers, rookie safety Terrence Brooks made a jump up the depth chart to get extended playing time in his second game.
Working with the starting offense to begin, Brooks was on the field in mostly three-safety packages, with him being a nickel corner on those occasions.
Brooks was still on the field in the fourth quarter as both a safety and corner, and it’s clear that the team may call on him to help remedy the poor current cornerback situation.
The former Seminole is a diverse, active player who can cover in the slot, play safety or blitz off the edge.
He may not be a “starter” when the regular season begins, but there are plenty of ways for him to find playing time this season, including special teams.
2. Yet again, the cornerbacks looked bad.
Without Asa Jackson or Lardarius Webb, and without Jimmy Smith for most of the game due to injury, the likes of Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown were used as first-team cornerbacks.
Brown, as usual, struggled and looked out of place, particularly on a pass breakup he had that was actually a pretty poor play from start to finish on his part.
Franks let up an embarrassing touchdown, allowing Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant to essentially make it look like Franks wasn’t even in the area on the play.
Outside of the touchdown, Franks wasn’t too bad and could still make the roster.
On the positive side, undrafted rookie Tramain Jacobs performed well again, and with the uncertain cornerback situation on the team, it isn’t farfetched to think he could make the final roster.
In a group of struggling backup cornerbacks, Jacobs has been the most consistent, and it may intrigue the coaching staff to keep Jacobs around and watch his potential growth.
3. The inside linebackers offered more reassurance of their talent.
As was the case in the first game, the play of the inside linebackers was one of the biggest positives for the defense.
The starters were C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith, with Arthur Brown and Josh Bynes following behind.
Mosley, yet again, looked nothing like a rookie, and his presence on the field isn’t hard to notice. He’s much more developed than most rookie defenders and he figures to be a consistent contributor in the middle of the defense this season.
Smith looked sharp in his 2014 debut, particularly on a tackle for loss in the backfield. Both Mosley and Smith have above average shoot-the-gap tendencies to make plays in the backfield, as does Brown.
All three should be able to be difference makers in the run game this season (Brown had a tackle for loss of his own) and if defensive coordinator Dean Pees implements more crossing blitzes this season – something we saw sparingly last year – then imposing an interior pass rush on offenses shouldn’t be a problem.
4. The star of the defense was Brandon Williams…again.
In the first preseason game, it was hard not to notice the impressive performance of second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams.
An enforcer in the middle of the defensive line, Williams was just as good against the Cowboys. His pure strength is evident on many plays, and it wasn’t too difficult of a task for Williams to push through the center or shoot through the “A” gap yet again this week.
Of the second-year players on the team, it appears that Williams is primed to take the biggest freshman-to-sophomore jump, and as the starting nose tackle this season, it won’t be hard to notice Williams’ impact.
5. Deonte Thompson ignited his roster hopes with blazing speed.
If you lined up every current Raven in a line and told them to sprint 100 yards, wide receiver Deonte Thompson would probably be one of the first to finish.
He’s blazing fast when he hits his top gear, but the problem for him so far during his career is that while we know that Thompson is fast, he hardly ever proves to us that he’s capable of being a consistent speedster during games.
As a return man against the Cowboys, there was no shortage of seeing Thompson’s speed.
His 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown looked almost too easy, and he also had two other impressive kick returns in which his speed was on display.
Fighting for the sixth wide receiver spot on the team, Thompson’s contributions on offense will only get him so far. As a receiver, he’s average in every aspect, and doesn’t provide any notable quality to the offense (yes he’s fast, but he hardly ever turns his speed into success on offense).
If the Ravens want a backup return man without having to use a key contributor (Asa Jackson, for example), then perhaps Thompson could find a home on the 53-man roster.
6. Tackling was a concerning issue.
We’ll keep this short.
For much of the game, the tackling of both the defense and special teams (particularly punt coverage) was wildly inconsistent.
Whether it was Omar Brown getting trucked over beyond belief, or Anthony Levine blowing an easy tackle on punt coverage, the tackling by the Ravens was not a pretty sight.
Let’s hope this issue can be corrected by September 7.