Clearly we can take away several positive things from Saturday night’s Ravens’ preseason win over the Panthers in Charlotte yet for me, the one that stands out the most is the performance of Todd Heap.
Heap has looked sluggish off the line of scrimmage and his cuts have been rounded. Consequently he gets little separation and doesn’t challenge the cover skills of opposing safeties and linebackers who normally draw No. 86 as a coverage assignment.
Last night didn’t start off well for Heap. He dropped a 6 yard pass from Joe Flacco in the first quarter, a catch that he once could make in his sleep. But to the surprise of this writer, Heap shrugged it off and contributed 4 catches for 35 yards and a score. Three of those catches were vintage Todd Heap showcasing soft hands in tight quarters.
If this game is an indication of things to come and Heap can stay healthy, it will go a long way towards elevating the Ravens passing attack.
Also contributing to a passing attack in flight in Carolina was an offensive line now anchored on both sides, thus enabling Heap’s release and that of the Ravens’ running backs. With Michael Oher taking on Julius Peppers one-on-one Joe Flacco had more options to choose from downfield. Last year against dominant pass rushers like Peppers, the Ravens were forced to keep Heap in and have their backs chip or pass protect. Oher changes that and consequently he changes the attack.
On the Ravens first possession they drove the length of the field methodically to set up a first and goal at the 1 yard line. A half-yard run, a false start, delay of game and a sack later the Ravens were looking at a third and goal from the Panthers’ 15. A short pass later Steve Hauschka was sent in to attempt a 27 yard field goal that he sliced to the right – a very bad set of downs there to say the least.
Overlooked in that sequence following the delay of game, was Joe Flacco missing a wide open Demetrius Williams running a slant from the left slot. Williams read the blitz – Flacco did not and was subsequently sacked. When they look at the tape of this one, the second year signal caller will see that he blew a chance for an easy score.
Speaking of Williams, it was interesting to see Kelley Washington assume his spot on the depth chart. Washington started the game ahead of Williams and in place of the recovering Mark Clayton. Washington caught 3 passes for 63 yards against the “1’s”. He could prove to be a value pick-up for the Ravens. Keep in mind he is being paid the veteran minimum to wear the purple and black.
Ray Rice continues to show how dangerous he can be in open space. Linebackers are no match for Rice and his excellent change of direction skills. Teams will have to alter their matchups against Rice and when they do, look for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron to exploit single coverage elsewhere.
Clearly the Ravens miss Terrell Suggs and one now must wonder just how serious Suggs’ injury is. He’s been an observer nearly all of training camp and is unlikely to take a single preseason snap. Without him the Ravens are struggling to pressure the quarterback without leaning on the blitz.
Domonique Foxworth drew a tough assignment in Pro Bowler Steve Smith. Smith has excellent ball skills, adjusts well to the flight of a pass and possesses uncommon suddenness. Foxworth matched up effectively against one of the league’s tougher draws and those cover skills might influence defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to send another body or two at enemy QB’s.
Jalen Parmele made a statement to the coaching staff about his worthiness for the 53 man final roster. Parmele is clearly ahead of rookie Cedric Peerman and after last night, he has the edge on Matt Lawrence. Despite being pancaked on kickoff coverage, look for Parmele to be the team’s third running back just behind Willis McGahee on the depth chart.
Brandon McKinney, not Justin Bannan started last night in place of Kelly Gregg. Was the coaching staff sending a message to Bannan? Speaking of messages, Kelly Talavou sent one to the coaching staff with his impressive play. Don’t be surprised if Talavou’s play enables the Ravens to use one of their tackles as trade bait to strengthen their depth at TE, offensive tackle or wide receiver.
The Ravens coaching staff has to be feeling a little edgy about the way the kicking competition has unfolded. They wanted someone to win the competition through accomplishments, not by default. At this point it is anyone’s guess as to who will tee it up for the Ravens on September 13 against the Chiefs. If the team determines that they can carry the extra kicker and they then throw out the welcome back mat to Matt Stover, the extra kicker is likely to be Graham Gano. His kickoffs have been consistently deeper than Hauschka’s and his leg strength is clearly superior.
Hey, anyone seen Yamon Figurs?