It is true that preseason games do not truly matter and are more or less tryouts for some of the bubble players who may not have a roster position locked up, but the third preseason game is undoubtedly the most important because the starters play almost the entire game. There were a lot of things that I was really hoping to see – and some of them I certainly did – but I still think that this team has a long way to go. Inconsistencies along the offensive line made it very difficult for Joe Flacco to work from a clean pocket and the theme of this preseason (offensively, at least) has been “out-of-sync.”
The following grades are based on the unit’s performance throughout the game. I’m sure Filmstudy will have more in-depth analysis as it pertains to individual performances, but I will name a few players that I thought performed very well or very poorly.
- Flacco was 18/24 for 169 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs.
- Taylor only threw four passes and one of them went for a pick-6 by Panthers cornerback DJ Moore.
Overall, this was not a great game offensively, but I have to give Flacco a B+ for his performance because he was getting hit far too much and was constantly forced to evade pressure. The offensive line looked like they were not interested in being there and it was clear that Flacco and his receivers are just not in sync. This has been an on-going issue with the offense and it is going to take time to truly iron out. The only thing I will say about Taylor is that he is a fantastic read-option QB. While I am glad that we have that option, it is really frustrating trying to gauge other receivers and tight ends when Taylor is in the game because his first inclination is to take off running when his first read isn’t there.
Running Backs: B
- Ray Rice had 16 touches, 62 yards and 1 rushing touchdown.
- Bobby Rainey had 3 touches for 31 yards, 1 reception for 6 yards, 1 punt return for 60 yards and 2 kickoff returns for 31 yards (combined yardage: 128).
- Bernard Pierce had 10 touches for 7 yards and 1 fumble lost.
The running backs had an up-and-down game. Rice looked really good and he does an outstanding job running out of single-back formations. Rice also may be one of the best backs in the NFL when it comes to picking up the blitz. He is not afraid to stick his shoulder into a blitzing defender.
New acquisition Delone Carter did not play, which isn’t surprising, but considering the Ravens traded for him I have to assume that Carter stands a good chance to make the team. The reason I bring this up is because Bobby Rainey is making it REALLY hard to cut him. Not only can he provide valuable special teams play, but he runs hard and consistently performs when asked to do so.
Pierce had a few nice runs, but that fumble was costly and gave Carolina’s defense a score. Again, Pierce looked a lot more comfortable running out of single-back sets.
Wide Receiver/Tight End: C-
- Marlon Brown had 4 receptions, 59 yards and 1 TD.
- Brandon Stokley had 3 receptions for 43 yards.
- Torrey Smith… ZERO receptions (this should make everyone concerned).
- Dallas Clark had 3 drops.
If it were not for Marlon Brown, this receiving unit would have been just awful last night. In my opinion, Brown should seriously garner consideration to be the #2 receiver behind Smith. He is 6’5” 215lbs and runs really nice routes for his size. It is uncommon to find taller receivers that can get in and out of route breaks like he can.
I liked what I saw from Aaron Mellette, but he definitely looks like a rookie. I think Mellette and Brown have a lot of upside, but one can clearly see the variance in competition faced at their respective colleges with Mellette and Brown (Elon vs Georgia, respectively). This was Dallas Clark’s first game with the offense, but he just did not look good at all. The first time Flacco went to him it did not look like Clark was even expecting the ball to come to him. The second dropped pass hit him directly in the chest. I realize that Clark is still learning the offense, but the tight end position should be a major concern.
Brandon Stokley did what he does best: get first downs. He had the catch of the night on a deep pass where he had to re-adjust to snag a Flacco pass. Stokley has excellent hands and body control.
The most disturbing aspect of the receiver unit last night was Torrey Smith getting shut out. Now, I do think that the game plan was intentionally not involving Torrey as much as everyone else, but Carolina’s defense did exactly what EVERY other defense will do when facing the Ravens. They double down on and bracket Torrey, which forces Flacco to look elsewhere…and until someone else steps up, that “elsewhere” is just not up to par yet.
Offensive Line: D+
What a putrid outing from what I thought was going to be one of the strongest units on the team. Michael Oher was beat on multiple occasions, Jah Reid looked overmatched by Carolina’s rookie defensive tackles and Kelechi Osemele may have had his worst performance in his short career.
This was not the offensive line that I expected to see. The first series looked pretty solid with Marshall Yanda in at right guard, but as soon as he came out it was bad. Flacco better pray that Yanda stays healthy all year long because a right side of Reid and Oher could be a recipe for a season-ending injury.
On a bright note, Gino Gradkowski played very well and did a nice job moving his defender out of the way in the running game. He got bull-rushed a few times back into the pocket when pass-protecting, but overall I think he is clearly the best option at center.
Another positive note is (by my count) other than Oher’s penalty, the offensive line was penalty-free. This unit needs to get better in a hurry. The receivers outside of Torrey are not able to consistently get open quickly enough for Flacco, so the OL is going to have to hold up a bit better than they did against Carolina.
Defensive Line: A+
This may be the best unit on the team. Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty and Art Jones are in mid-season form. Canty put a ton of pressure on Cam Newton and is going to be a huge asset on this defense. It was also really nice to see Marcus Spears get out there and make some plays. Spears isn’t a pass-rusher, but he did a solid job pushing Carolina’s offensive linemen back into the pocket and stuffing their attempts to run the ball.
Brandon Williams…wow. That kid is something special. He reminds me a lot of Vince Wilfork. He made a couple of stops against the run (one where he chased a ball carrier down from behind) and he had a nice sack on Cam Newton. Even Terrence Cody looked decent out there. Maybe he realizes that he may be on the outside looking in with Williams playing so well?
In my opinion, this is the second best unit on the team. The combination of Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil is just astounding. They were in Newton’s face all night long and forced him to make a lot of bad passes.
Daryl Smith continued to perform very well and has likely solidified himself as the starting “Mike” linebacker. I thought the penalty he drew for driving his shoulder into Cam Newton was dumb, but in Smith’s defense, Newton did not slide feet-first. Still, everyone on the defensive side of the ball needs to be aware of refs looking to overzealously protect quarterbacks.
Smith, Josh Bynes and Arthur Brown displayed excellent ability when dropping into coverage. It is really nice seeing Baltimore linebackers who can actually cover tight ends and receivers. They gave Newton small windows to throw into all night long. John Simon is coming along better than expected. The Panthers consistently ran the ball away from Simon as he did an excellent job setting the edge. Simon also did a nice job putting pressure on the QB. The sky is the limit for the former Buckeye.
Secondary (Corners and Safeties): B+
Jimmy Smith did indeed bounce back, with nice coverage on Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. LaFell caught Jimmy once to get open, but subsequently dropped the pass from Newton for an incompletion.
Lardarius Webb had a nice pass break up and looked good covering Steve Smith. A good litmus test for the corners is how many times their names are called by the announcers and I was pleased to not hear their names that much.
The competition between Matt Elam, James Ihedigbo and Michael Huff is really solid. In my opinion Ihedigbo played his best game as a Raven. I probably would have given the secondary an A, but Marc Anthony and Chykie Brown did not perform as well as I had hoped. Brown missed a tackle on punt coverage that led to Ted Ginn, Jr. scoring on the return. He also gave up a few passes on comeback routes and looked a little overmatched.
Special Teams: C-
Punt coverage was bad – really bad. Justin Tucker was solid, which was to be expected, but the STs unit did not look nearly as good as they have in earlier preseason games. Jacoby looked timid and tried to shake guys rather than pick a seam and go for it. I think the kick return and punt return blocking may not have been there for him. Rainey and Asa Jackson continued to look good as return specialists.
It is hard to truly gauge a game plan and coaching decisions during a preseason game because it is not really about the game plan, it is about getting the young guys reps and seeing how they perform in a live game setting. I liked Jim Caldwell’s play calling for the first series, but some of the plays after that just seemed very vanilla, which is not unexpected. Dean Pees had an outstanding scheme for containing Cam Newton. Carolina’s offense scored no points and only averaged 3.12 yards per carry in the running game. Both Newton and Jimmy Clausen were held to around 50% completion rate and neither went over 100 yards passing. I thought the secondary looked much improved from last week against Atlanta.
The Refs have a tough job during the preseason. They are trying to protect players so that they can make it to the regular season while enforcing rules so that players can understand them better. However, the reason why I am giving the refs from last night a C is because of them having to reverse an obvious blow to the head penalty on Aaron Mellette from Luke Kuechly. Refs can’t spot everything, but it seems hypocritical to overzealously throw a flag at Daryl Smith hitting Newton and not throw a flag when Kuechly basically put his forearm through Mellette’s facemask.
Marlon Brown – Wow. This guy could be something special. His TD reception was excellent. He was tightly covered, but used his long arms and height to snatch the pass out of the air, on the move and had the wherewithal to turn up the field for a TD. Great performance from Brown last night.
Courtney Upshaw had a nice tackle for loss in the 1st quarter. He won’t provide much as a pass rusher, but he does a nice job breaking down running plays.
Tandon Doss is not helping himself at all. He only had one reception last night, which came after a costly interception that was without a doubt his fault. Doss was outperformed by Stokley, Brown, and I would even venture to say Aaron Mellette. At this point, I don’t know if Doss makes the final roster.
The entire second string defense was outmatched by a lot of Carolina’s first string offense, but I was impressed. Brandon Williams, John Simon, and Albert McClellan all held their own and did really well. The defensive depth is outstanding.