Usually the most physical play in an NFL preseason game takes place in the second half.
It’s then that players fighting for their jobs, in some cases for their careers, run around with their hair on fire seeking assurance that they’ll receive regular paychecks on Fridays from September through December.
That wasn’t the case on Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
Starters seek to get in their work, refine their craft and escape fake games with their health in tact. And that seems to be generally understood by both teams.
Redskins rookie head coach Jay Gruden apparently didn’t get that memo.
Washington was firing to the line of scrimmage, blitzing regularly in both run and passing situation. And collectively their defense seemed hell bent on delivering kill shots.
When the Ravens ultimately responded the result was an unusually physical preseason game.
Here’s what it produced…
1. Justin Forsett: One of the most important plays that had little bearing on the game but perhaps huge consequences this season took place when Joe Flacco dropped back to pass, set and fired to Torrey Smith on a crosser. Outside linebacker Perry Riley was untouched as Dennis Pitta vacated the left side and ran his pattern. Eugene Monroe scraped in towards the center leaving the 190-pound Forsett to protect Flacco’s blindside against the 240-pound linebacker with a full head of steam.
Forsett dived to cut Riley at the knees and keep his quarterback clean. Who knows what might have happened if the diminutive back had failed.
2. The “D” Returned: The Ravens starting front seven played very well. Despite a 19-yard run by Alfred Morris the Redskins could only muster 35 first half rushing yards while the Ravens kept RG3 in check limiting him to 20 first half passing yards and sacking him 3 times for a loss of 15. The up front pressure helped the Ravens thin secondary to compete with the likes of DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. Elvis Dumervil was very solid with 3 tackles, a sack, a hurry, forcing a holding penalty and a nice read on a bubble screen.
3. Brandon Williams: The second year nose tackle deserves his own space among the Plus 5. Williams had 5 tackles, 2 for losses and delivered a crunching blow to RG3 to force an incompletion. He was a menacing force who pushed back the Redskins interior line paving the way for others to make plays when defending the run or pass.
4. Terrence Brooks: Largely unnoticed until recently, Brooks played with confidence that enabled him to use his great closing speed. He took down a scrambling RG3 for a 5-yard loss on a sack (why RG3 didn’t throw it away is mind boggling) and then later closed on a bubble screen to stop the receiver for a very short gain. He also had an interception negated by a pass interference penalty on Dominique Franks.
5. Steve Smith, Sr.: Has there ever been an offensive player acquired via free agency that embodies the meaning of “Play Like a Raven” more than Smith? The 35-year old vet chipped in with 6 catches for 80 yards and a score in 30 minutes of football.
5A. Joe Flacco: The Ravens signal caller shook off a rough start and intense pressure from the Redskins front 7 to complete 16 of 23 for 180 yards and a score in the first half. His accuracy on short drops does need a little work.
1. The Running Game: Heading into this contest the Ravens ran the rock more effectively than any other NFL team during the preseason. Against the Redskins they were caught by surprise with the many run blitzes that defensive coordinator Jim Haslett had cooked up for Bernard Pierce & Co. The Ravens managed just 17 rushing yards in the first half and the struggled mightily in short yardage situations. Their failure negated the value of play action and left the Ravens with many 2nd and 3rd and long situations.
2. Pierce Pierced Again: The third-year former Temple Owl will be looked upon to carry the load for the Ravens during their first two contests at home against the Bengals and Steelers. But Pierce has yet to show any kind of consistent durability during his career and Saturday night was no exception. It’s a big concern to start the season.
3. Eugene Monroe: For the second consecutive game Monroe left observers wondering how the former Jaguar is a match for Ozzie Newsome’s “right player, right price” credo. Is there a reason not many called when Monroe was a free agent this past offseason? We can only hope not…
4. Defending The Screen: The Ravens are vulnerable to the screen and that combined with the shoddy tackling of the secondary ushers in the opportunity for big plays. Dean Pees needs to clean this up. The Bengals, Hue Jackson and Giovanni Bernard are surely watching.
5. Setting the Edge: During the second half Pernell McPhee (who has had a very good preseason) was called upon to set the edge a few times. He failed miserably on two occasions enabling the Redskins to spring free for a couple of 10+ yard runs. Overall McPhee did play well and is relentless as a pass rusher.
- Kyle Juszczyk looks like he can create havoc in open space. He’s an excellent ball catcher and is fearless. He’ll present some problems for opponents but he’ll also need to watch those blown blocking assignments. Just ask Bernard Pierce.
- Where are you Matt Elam?
- The defensive line is susceptible to hard counts and they’ll need better discipline.
- Haloti Ngata might get a bill in the mail from Roger Goodell. He put a knee to Redskins tackle Shawn Lauvao at the tail end of Morris’ 19-yard first quarter run. The cheap shot wasn’t flagged and was inspired by Lauvao’s unnecessary late block on Dominique Franks.
- Deonte Thompson made a strong push to be the team’s 6th WR. Michael Campanaro has no chance of slipping through to the practice squad. He’ll get the No. 5 WR slot.
- Tim Jernigan continues to prove that he’s the real deal. He pushed the pocket, hit Kirk Cousins on one throw and showed great speed for a big man forcing RG3 out of bounds for a sack.
- Daryl Smith continues to show why he’s one of the best pass defenders amongst the league’s inside backers.
- I couldn’t tell if that was Graham Parker or Parker Graham out there at right tackle for the Ravens during the second half pretending to be a bullfighter. Ozzie, does he have any future in the NFL?