Ravens vs. Redskins 8/23/14
We’d been waiting for something more from Steve Smith and he finally made his presence felt on Saturday.
Smith caught 6 of the 7 balls on which he was targeted, including an electrifying 24-yard TD catch during which he sequentially rid himself of the corner, slipped, then recovered enough to make a diving grab/trap as the crowd deferred its applause until the signal.
The display of vertical explosiveness is a significant step towards forcing opposing corners to play him softer. Among his other receptions was a Houdini-like escape from 5 Redskins defenders along the right sideline on a play that covered 30 yards (Q1, 2:25).
In order to flex their WR depth, the Ravens will need to have 4 productive and healthy players at the position. Then they’ll be able to do some of what we saw Saturday with fresh receivers entering at will against winded corners.
I’m a big fan of the Ravens’ preseason announcers. All 3 are football savvy, articulate, and don’t take the audience for granted. They pick a player who made a good contribution to the play and explain what happened. They work well together and form one of the best teams of which I’m aware. They put a number of NFL color analysts to shame.
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 most recent performance. The first score is for the last game and the second is aggregate for the preseason. I don’t rate starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have 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 otherwise have something to prove this season.
Except as noted below, all snap totals below are from the Gamebook and as such include penalties and non-competitive plays.
Brooks (0/0): He had an up-and-down night with a negated interception and sack on the first drive while at safety. He was then beaten several times when covering the slot receiver (Q3, 6:34 and Q4, 7:07 and Q4, 5:06). I don’t think the Ravens are going to have as much difficulty finding a nickel, but the real shortage is on the outside. I will be interested to see if Brooks gets a shot there.
BrownA (+1/+3): Arthur played well against the run, making several plays at or near the LoS. He lost coverage of Paul (Q4, 5:44) for a gain of 20 (15 + 5 YAC) where he trailed and was not able to find the ball. He also slipped on the screen left, allowing Royster an 18-yard gain (-3 + 21 YAC, Q3, 10:02) It’s not clear how the Ravens will use Brown, but it’s a position of significant depth for the Ravens.
BrownC (+1/-1): Chykie didn’t show up in my notes, which is positive. He played the entire 1st half and into the 2nd (32 snaps). Since the Redskins passed for just 5 yards in that 1st half, I call that a success.
Bynes (0/+1): He entered late and beat Stevens for a pressure (Q4, 5:48). Pees has done a good job of getting looks at players in various situations. While Bynes could be traded, his spot is otherwise safe as a core special teams player.
Campanaro (+1/0): He finally generated some separation and caught both balls from Taylor for 24 yards. As a kick returner, he provides some of what Thompson does as a backup. But his big advantage over Deonte is in option value. Campanaro remains a candidate for IR as well.
Forsett (+1/+3): Justin was the only Ravens RB that looked good. He followed blocks well and registered runs of 12 and 13 yards among 7 carries.
Franks (0/+1): He started at RCB and held up reasonably well. He was flagged for pass interference (Q1, 12:05) on ball tipped and intercepted by Brooks. He anticipated the out route and flashed up for a tip and near Int/TD (Q2, 4:50) that was negated by Tyson’s offsides. He played soft on Williams (Q3, 8:38) to allow gain of 11 by the right sideline on 2nd and 12.
Gilmore (0/+1): He appeared to catch a 30-yard pass from Flacco after slipping (Q1, 14:22). In any case, he came back for the ball well as Flacco was flushed right. As a blocker, he was overpowered by Jackson for a QH (Q3, 14:11) and beaten inside by Murphy who took down Forsett for a gain of 1. He played 33 snaps and it appears he’s the #2 TE now with the continued “leg retiredness” of Daniels.
Gradkowski (0/-2): He didn’t make my notes, but no one other than Gino is getting significant backup time at center. If the coaches wanted to generate a “backup-center” controversy, they would have Jensen and/or Urschel take some live fire there by now.
Hill (-1/-3): After some playing time at Dallas, Hill did not see action on defense vs. the Redskins.
Hurst (+2/+4): He played well both as a run and pass blocker. He displayed the quickness and recognition skills to stay with a single rusher in space. Hurst entered in the 3rd quarter with the 2nd unit and played all 25 of the remaining meaningful snaps. I reviewed each of his plays only and scored him as 23 of 25 blocks with no negative events. He missed a cut block on Gettis (Q4, 15:00) and got caught in stunt traffic (Q4, 12:50) on Tyrod’s TD pass to Thompson. His blocking highlight came on Forsett’s 13-yard run left (Q4, 4:21) when he pushed LB Jackson well into the backfield, turned right to assist Jensen, then peeled off looking for another block in level 2. Many memorable combination blocks involve pinning and turning to clear both sides of a hole. Hurst was hungry to get 3 blocks on this one. I don’t see any reason the Ravens would cut James after this game and Reid’s health isn’t a factor.
Jackson (-1/+1): DNP.
Jacobs (-1/-1): Jacobs got another extended look with 22 snaps at corner. He took down Paul quickly after a 5-yard reception on 3rd and 10 (Q4, 12:34). On the down side, he allowed 3 YAC plus a first down to Williams on the right sideline (Q4, 9:26) and was flagged for pass interference on Grant (Q4, 7:07)
Jensen (0/+1): He replaced Shipley late in Q4 and played just 8 snaps. That’s not a good sign for him on the depth chart and with Reid out, it might have been expected he (and not Parker Graham) would have entered at RT with the 2nd unit. He also could have seen time at center.
Jernigan (+2/+1): In 30 snaps, he sacked Griffin (Q2, 8:44) and eluded Long inside to register a QH (Q4, 12:39) on a pass that was batted down at the LoS by Hopkins. That answers my questions about his ability to contribute something to the pass rush. Whether it’s Jernigan, McPhee, Ngata, Canty, or Tyson, whoever plays next to Brandon Williams is going to get some excellent one-on-one pass rush matchups. Those will need to be converted into pressure frequently to support this secondary.
Juszczyk (+2/+5): He’s back to struggling as a lead blocker, but again made his presence felt as a receiver with 5 catches for 53 yards. On the plus side, he has more routes he can run effectively than Vonta “3-yard out” Leach, but he continues to go down regularly with first contact. He’ll play a key role in this offense and I expect he’ll improve his control in time to be both a more effective blocker and tackle breaker.
Levine (+1/+1): He got an extended look at cornerback (19 snaps). He blitzed off the slot to blow up Helu’s run left for a loss of 2 (Arthur Brown’s tackle). He nervously maintained coverage of Robinson in the slot as the RB flexed wide left (covered by Stewart) and stayed with Robinson to register a PD. He was beaten by Grant’s stop-and-go 30 yards down the left sideline, but Cousins overthrew his receiver (Q3, 2:42). He was tested, but held up reasonably well.
McPhee (+2/+5): He continued to generate pressure both from the outside and with a hand in the turf even though the Redskins lined up to handle him. Specifically:
• (Q1, 10:34) He beat a double from Williams and Lauvao to flush Griffin on Brooks’ sack.
• (Q2, 3:06) He lined up over center, but was flagged for encroachment.
• (Q2, 2:51) He again compressed the pocket versus a double team, this time from Lauvao and Lichtensteiger as Dumervil was credited with the 6-yard, mosh-pit sack of Griffin.
• (Q3, 11:18) He was effectively blocked by Paul on Helu’s 29-yard run left.
• (Q3, 4:55) Pernell worked off Paul’s block to take down Royster for a gain of 3.
• (Q3, 3:24) McPhee pursued across the formation to take down Redd for a gain of 2.
• (Q3, 2:35) He beat the LT Compton outside to register a QH on Cousins.
He is a slightly undersized interior lineman, but his ability to generate pressure versus doubles has been something special.
Miles (0/+3): He played 30 snaps with the second unit and Trawick, but did not make my notes.
Mosley (0/0): The interception was every bit the gift that Ihedigbo provided AJ Green at the end of regulation versus the Bengals last season. He didn’t make an impact play against the run, but he did help contain Griffin on the drive-ending QB draw (Q2, 14:12). His score for both the game and preseason as a whole is more a function of my high expectations of him than anything he’s done wrong. Of all Ravens in their first 3 years, he has the best chance (by a wide margin over Elam and Williams) to make the Ring of Honor.
Pierce (-3/-1): He was wholly ineffective as a runner and now he’s hurt. The Redskins’ starting DL is fairly effective, but they remorselessly brought run blitzes, the payoff for which came in the air.
Reid (0/-3): DNP. He has trade value, but the Ravens may decide they want to keep him as a swingman since they didn’t give Jensen a shot outside.
Seamster (0/-5): He played 15 snaps at corner after sitting out the Dallas game defensively. Effectively, he took the playing time previously assigned to Olatoye, He didn’t have a serious error I noted, but I still don’t see how he’ll make the team.
Simon (-1/-2): The Ravens have 4 players ahead of him on the depth chart. His big hope for defensive playing time is an expanded role for McPhee as an inside rusher.
Smith, Steve (+2/+3): It’s obvious from his physique that he has real strength. He put that to good use in pushing Biggers to the turf as he broke free for the 24-yard, diving TD catch in the back of the end zone.
Stewart (0/0): He did not make my notes, but deserves mention because he was on the field as the Ravens defense shut down Griffin in the first half.
Taliaferro (-2/+3): The 2nd-team offensive line didn’t block well for him, but he got very few yards after contact. His 11 carries for 25 yards are a big step backwards from the NFL’s leading rusher after 2 preseason games.
Taylor (+1/-1): Wenning will see some action in game 4, but I would take Tyrod’s extended play as evidence he’ll be the backup for another season. In a 4-year preseason (primarily) career, the 21-yard TD pass to Thompson (Q4, 12:50) was his most memorable throw.
Thompson, Deonte (+1/+3): The Ravens will probably carry 5 or perhaps 6 receivers, but that does not secure a job for Thompson in and of itself. As a 3rd-year player, he has some trade value, but relatively little on-the-field value to the Ravens behind Smith, Smith, Jones, and Brown as a WR or behind Jones as kick returner. I assume the Ravens will also want to keep Campanaro, because they have him under control through 2017. Since Deonte may have similar depth ahead of him in 2015, it might make sense to harvest some value for him now in a trade for a backup cornerback.
Tyson (0/+3): Despite just 1 tackle assist, Tyson got good supporting penetration on several running plays (examples Q3, 13:07 and Q3, 1:54). He was flagged for offsides (Q2, 4:50) despite the charge to Williams in the Gamebook.
Urschel (0/0): John entered with the 2nd line after an outstanding game 2 and did not have a serious error. I expect he’ll play some center in the finale.
Wagner (-1/+1): He was beaten outside by Kerrigan for a sack (Q2, 13:34). On the next play (Q2, 12:58) he made a nice run block to lead Forsett for a gain of 12.
Wenning (-1/-2): DNP. It’s not shocking he wouldn’t get a shot when Flacco plays a full half, but it looks to me as if Tyrod’s backup job is secure for another season.
Williams, Brandon (+3/+6): As good as McPhee was, Brandon was the Ravens’ defensive MVP. Here are the plays that caught my eye:
• (Q1, 11:55) He generated great push on Lichtensteiger that led to Morris being taken down for a gain of 1.
• (Q1, 11:14) Brandon slipped left past Lichtensteiger again to take down Morris for a loss of 1.
• (Q2, 15:00) He spun past Lichtensteiger (are you kidding me, a man that size with a spin move?) to drop Griffin as he threw incomplete.
• (Q3, 13:07) He pushed McGlynn 3 yards back to help contain Helu for a gain of 2.
• (Q3, 12:34) Cousins threw a short pass to Paulsen and Williams peeled off his unsuccessful rush to assist McClellan on the tackle.
• (Q3, 10:44) Williams and Brown contained the offensive right side (ORS) as Helu was stopped for a gain of 1.
• (Q3, 7:57) Williams again pushed back McGlynn to generate the penetration necessary to stuff the 3rd-and-1 run, but Simon was unable to stand up Young, who pushed through for a gain of 2.
• (Q3, 1:54) On 4th and 1, he drove back McGlynn again and took down Redd for a loss of 2 to snuff out the drive.
I actually find this hard to believe because he seemed to show up so frequently, but the Gamebook lists him with just 22 snaps played. I expect he’ll play 30+ snaps per game in 2014, and if he can avoid injury, he’ll be consistently one of the NFL’s top 5-7 NTs for the next 3 seasons.