Baltimore Ravens 31 Kansas City Chiefs 13
August 19, 2011
Two-hundred and twenty-two days. That’s how long it’s been since the Baltimore Ravens had tasted victory. The opponent? The Kansas City Chiefs, who soundly lost to Baltimore 30-7 in a playoff mismatch.
At first glance, Friday’s 31-13 victory by the Ravens over the Chiefs Friday was a bit of Déjà vu. But the score is where the similarities end.
The stakes were completely different this time. Not to say that nothing was at stake. In fact, games like this represent the ultimate stakes for about half of the Ravens’ 90-man preseason roster fighting for maybe ten final roster spots.
So with that in mind, and little reason to grade returning starters who have nothing at stake, we’re going to focus on the roster newcomers. Let’s take a look at who shined and who struggled at this midway point of the preseason.
While you were running to the bathroom, here’s how the players whose career destinies were on the line fared—with a special shout-out to certain players at each position to keep an eye out for.
This much is true: Tyrod Taylor can scramble. His elusiveness led to three Ravens fourth-quarter scoring drives, including his first professional TD when he called his own number on a naked reverse. Taylor appears to be as difficult to bring down as Ben Roethlisberger, but for completely different reasons. That’s the good. The bad is that he doesn’t yet look like an NFL passer. After he badly overthrew a wide-open Jonathan Stupar, his accuracy could be questioned. Closer examination of the play revealed a defender’s hand in his face, causing him to double clutch on the throw. So a lack of size could be a concern for Taylor. Joe Flacco would have easily thrown over the top of the rusher.
Player to watch: not on the roster yet. While Taylor continues to make good progress, the bet here is the Ravens wait for a veteran quarterback to be released to sign as the back up to Flacco.
RUNNING BACKS: B
Ricky Williams appeared to run harder and quicker than his predecessor, Willis McGahee. It was nice to see the eleven-year vet lower his shoulder into tacklers. Still, he averaged just 3.5 yards on each of his four carries. Vonta Leach was the stand-out player out of the backfield. Not only for his blocking, but for the play of the game when he hauled in a pass in the flat, turned, and absolutely trucked linebacker Brandon Siler with a upper-cutting shoulder to Siler’s chin.
Player to watch: Anthony Allen. Allen could make a bid to become the first seventh-round draft pick in Ravens history to stick with the team for multiple seasons. He looked solid toting the ball, especially at the goal line. The back-up tandem of Williams and Allen could squeeze-out a Cam Cameron favorite, Jalen Parmele, who looked pedestrian, and who has growing competition at the kick-returner spot.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A-
Lee Evans comes as advertised. Right on the heels of Leach’s catch and smash, Evans squirted past rookie Jalil Brown down the left sideline and hauled in a 43-yard drop-in-the-bucket by Joe Flacco. Leach, Evans, and then Ray Rice running it in for the score on three consecutive plays. It was encouraging. Evans also showed sticky hands on a quick slant, and looked every bit the part of Derrick Mason on an out-route, catching a Flacco dart and tap-dancing the sideline.
Tandon Doss and David Reed also shined, and personified their respective roles. Doss was sure-handed in the middle of the field, and Reed ran a nice nine-route and then beat the cornerback for the ball and a 41-yard gain. Not to be outdone, surprising undrafted free agent LaQuan Williams hauled in a 38-yard jump ball thrown by Hunter Cantwell. He was also a very willing blocker.
Player to watch: Torrey Smith. The addition of Lee Evans means the Ravens won’t be forced to rely on the rookie Smith as their vertical threat. But right now, he’s being outplayed by Reed and by his former Terps teammate, Williams. Smith looks tentative.
TIGHT ENDS: C
The Ravens are still searching for a tight end who can block. Right now, it isn’t Ed Dickson, who didn’t contribute much in run blocking or pass catching, other than one hands-catch in traffic out of four balls thrown his way, as he works through a hamstring issue. Dennis Pitta is ahead of Dickson, showing some ability to block and adjusting nicely to a ball over his head.
Player to watch: Kris Wilson. Wilson consistently gains separation from the defender, particularly on crossing routes, and has reliable hands. With a key drop by Jonathan Stupar, Wilson is well ahead of Stupar and Davon Drew for the third tight end spot.
Jah Reid got the start and played the whole game. While not spectacular, he did a few things well, including a nice back-side seal block on Ray Rice’s TD run. He still appears clumsy mechanically, but shows good promise. Ramon Harewood saw his first action at left tackle and looked the part. He has a nice punch and wide stance as a pass protector. At times he looked confused on who to block on running plays, but also showed he could get to the second level effectively.
Player to watch: The waiver wire. The Ravens will look for an inexpensive veteran who can start the season at right tackle and also tutor Reid.
INTERIOR LINE: B
Surprise, surprise. Apparently Oniel Cousins can play football. With Marshal Yanda out at right guard, Cousins got his first start at guard and played the whole game—effectively. Other than a false start, he was a mauler when the Ravens ran behind him, including the Rice TD. Same story for Bryan Mattison. Having survived taunts of nepotism from the fans after his father, Greg, departed the coaching staff, Mattison has quietly developed into a solid back-up to center Matt Birk. His late-inning replacement, Tim Barnes, continues to show promise, including a tremendous block in front of Anthony Allen at the goal line – he is at the very least a practice squad keeper.
Player to watch: Cousins. If he can continue to be solid at guard the team won’t need to scour the waiver wire for a second veteran lineman. However, we’ve seen him excel before – at the end of the 2009 season in blow-out wins against the Bears and Lions – only to slip back. It bears watching this time.
Cary Williams showed why the coaches gave him a chance to start, with Chris Carr and Domonique Foxworth nursing injuries. Williams provided very tight, aggressive coverage and broke extremely well on balls thrown his way. He nearly had a pick-six when he broke off of Jerheme Urban’s far shoulder to knock down a slant pass. He needs to tackle better in run support. He also allowed Terrance Copper to gain the inside edge on a touchdown slant. Rookie Jimmy Smith fared better than the numbers suggest. He was beaten twice by the veteran Dwayne Bowe, but it was more a matter of good throws and catches than Smith being out of position. He’ll need to work on getting better jams at the line, and turning his head faster to find the ball, but at this stage of his career, he looks promising. Lardarius Webb is a bit of a mystery. Frankly, he looks more like a strong safety in the mold of Bernard Pollard, effectively applying blitz pressure from off the corner. But Dexter McCluster and Zeke Markshausen easily beat him deep. Josh Victorian picked up a career-highlight interception.
Player to watch: Webb. He needs to reveal what his role on this team will be.
Bernard Pollard has passed Tom Zbikowski on the depth chart, and continues to show why. He was once again excellent when pressuring the quarterback in coordinator Chuck Pagano’s aggressive scheme and made a TD-saving tackle on a screen pass to McCluster. Haruki Nakamura looked quicker and smarter than any other DB’s on the field in the second half, and is particularly lethal at the line of scrimmage.
Player to watch: Mana Silva. The former Oregon State quarterback, turned wide receiver, turned strong safety after transferring to University of Hawaii is a player to watch. This undrafted rookie looks very instinctive, in the mold of Ed Reed – not to say he is as good as Reed quite yet. And he’s played well enough on special teams to challenge for a roster spot.
Brendon Ayanbadejo started for the absent Ray Lewis and was good enough. Merely good enough probably describes this entire unit. Prescott Burgess played well enough, but doesn’t look like a starter. It’s time for someone to step up and show they will be with the team for years to come. Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain continue to be yin-and-yang competitors for the other inside linebacker spot. One can cover (McClain), one is a better tackler (Ellerbe). Albert McClellan looked strong, but didn’t play with great technique.
Player to watch: Jason Phillips. Finally healthy, Phillips is still the same player he was when the Ravens drafted him. Good at meeting the ball carrier in the hole, but poor at playing in space. He’s still a special teams standout. Definitely on the bubble.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
Paul Kruger continues to look like a completely different player from last year. He’s much quicker getting to the ball and harassing the quarterback. He had a near interception when he showed cat-like reflexes in the flat, closing down on the receiver in an instant from seven yards deep to bat down a pass. He rushed so violently at one point that he practically fell backwards into quarterback Tyler Palko for a vicious hit. And he looked completely natural dropping into coverage. He’s easily the Ravens most improved player.
Pernell McPhee looked unblockable at times, including a near sack and forced fumble that was overturned on the Chiefs goal line. He already looks like a fifth round steal. Now the Ravens second group, including the talented Art Jones— another fifth round gem—need to work on not over-pursuing.
Player to watch: Bryan Hall. For the second week in a row Hall got impressive penetration. With so many quality players on the defensive line it will be hard for Hall to make the roster and unfortunately for the Ravens difficult to sneak on to the practice squad.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C
The Ravens need to improve on their blocking for punt and kick returns. Lardarius Webb fumbled a punt when Chiefs tacklers were right on top of him. LaQuan Williams was an impressive kick returner and could press Parmele for the job. Talmadge Jackson received a dumb unsportsmanlike call for running down the sideline out of bounds to erase a 73-yard Koch punt. Sergio Kindle slipped inside a blocker twice on punts, and now needs to learn what to do when he reaches the punter.
Player to watch: Silva. He was constantly around the ball and took an excellent angle to bring down the returner headed up the sideline.
Kudos to Pagano’s more aggressive approach is already showing dividends. Next week look for them to work on not leaving themselves vulnerable to the screen pass. Cam Cameron did a nice job of mixing up the play calling and getting a lot of bodies involved in the offense. John Harbaugh had his team looking sharp. Also credit Harbaugh for milking the clock at the end of the game to get extra reps for his third offense, despite the wailing from the opposite sideline by serial jerk, Todd Haley.
Time to learn the Tuck Rule, boys. Three instances, three incorrect calls that required a reversal.
Apparently guys named Q make better wide receivers than broadcasters. And who told the crew that Billy Cundiff was going to work on short kick offs? After three touchbacks you can stop predicting the short, pop-fly kick. Credit Stan White with knowing the game from the inside, but Stan also tends to make some odd statements. Here was his best: “This is where Tandon Doss has made his money over the years.” Stan, exactly how much does Indiana University pay their players? And I’m still wondering if the broadcast director’s son is working in the graphics department, because they lingered so long on cut-aways to player graphics that they frequently failed to cut back to game action until plays were half-way over.