Preseason is about filling out the margin of the roster, but sometimes I just have to enjoy a football game, or even just a single play for what it is.
On Thursday night that play was the 35-yard TD pass from Flacco to Evans (Q2, 5:50). What was there to like about the play?
· From the way Evans pulled it in, the pass looked as if it was as perfectly thrown as it could have been. If this were a carnival, Joe was tossing a softball, and Evans was a milk can, Joe’s new wife would have been walking away with the biggest stuffed animal.
· Evans had a lot of difficulty in 2010 with balls thrown to him on the right sideline. Specifically, between the numbers and the right sideline, Bills QBs had a rating of just 28.1 on the 32 times they targeted Evans. Lee had 2 drops there and all 4 of his TDs on the other side of the field. One could speculate as to why that might have occurred…a difference in vision by eye, better corners on that side, or the relative position of Evans’ dominant catching hand. However, the most reasonable explanation might have rested with Fitzpatrick. In any case, it was very good to see a completion which bucked this extreme trend.
· Looking at the replay, I’m impressed with the way Evans was able to push off without being obvious. He gave Hall 2 subtle bumps to the chest with his elbow which both kept his own hands free and allowed him to maintain some separation even when not running at full speed. I think it’s possible these bumps also distracted Hall from turning to find the ball.
· The pass appeared to be exactly on target in part because of Evans’ adjustment, but it did not test the farthest downfield limit to which Evans could have made the catch.
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 2011 Ravens changed based on their performance Thursday. The second number you see is their cumulative total for the preseason. I didn’t waste time rating starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have any data for a judgment. The players here are new to the team, rookies, on the cusp of making the team, have new responsibilities in 2011, in positional battles, or have other questions for this season.
Allen (0/+1): In addition to running well, he was also effective as a pass blocker (11 plays). The TD drop didn’t help his stock, but fundamentally, he looks sound and fills a big void from last season.
Boren (+1/+1): He played fairly well again and I think he has earned a spot. He scored at .85 per play (26 blocks, ½ sack in 27 snaps) by my system. The fact that he was playing ahead of Cousins probably says something about the depth chart.
Cody (0/0): He was again absent from the defensive score sheet, but that didn’t mean he had no impact on the game. He blew up Hightower’s run left for no gain by pushing Montgomery into the backfield (Q2, 5:37).
Cousins (0/-2): I’m surprised by the offensive line snap counts in this game. It’s not a good sign for Oniel that Levoir played most of the game at RG and both Boren (27 snaps) and Barnes (7 snaps) saw action at guard while Cousins did not play.
Dickson (+3/+3): It was a breakout game for Dickson in multiple respects. He showed good awareness, body control, and hands on the long reception (Q2, 7:55), and broke a tackle for a first down (Q3, 12:32), but I’m most impressed with his blocking. He was used as a pass blocker on 6 plays by my count with no negative results, made a nice block downfield (Barnes) on Boldin’s reception (Q2, 14:55), executed a cut block on Alexander (Q3, 11:21), and had several good run blocks including a kickout on Orakpo (Q2, 12:13) on Rice’s TD. Dickson was one of the worst blocking TEs in the game last season, but he looked more than solid Thursday. He’s clearly been working to improve which would be a much needed edge for the offense.
Divens (0/0): He played only briefly, but had a part of 2 tackles. He’s on the outer edge of the margin, but could stick with the team because the replacement level for DTs is a little more pronounced than for other positions due to the scarcity of body type with athleticism. It would not shock me if he were traded before the final cuts.
Doss (+1/+2): He’s more NFL-ready than Torrey Smith. It would be nice to see him get more snaps with the 1s. He’s looked as fearless as any Ravens receiver this preseason.
Foxworth (-3/-3): He looks hurt and the Redskins picked on him liberally. Foxworth was too soft in coverage on Gaffney’s reception between the hash and right numbers (Q1,9:18). He trailed Moss on his 14-yard completion between the hashes (Q1, 8:40), and he was out raced by Armstrong down the right sideline for a 33-yard play (Q1, 4:14).
Gooden (-1/-1): Gooden returned to the field, but he’s in a crowded group looking for a spot. The Ravens need him to contribute something in coverage, but the only note I have for him came from a play where the Ravens rushed 6 (Q3, 7:28), failed to get home, and he was beaten between the hashes by Austin for a 15-yard gain.
Hall (0/0): He saw a few snaps late (on the final drive) and nearly got home on Clemens’ Hail Mary. If that throw was any indication, Clemens would not win the halftime quarterback challenge some weeks at M&T.
Harewood (0/0): He played 27 snaps, had a false start immediately upon entering, and surrendered a QH by Jackson on the 20-yard completion to Doss (Q3, 0:39). I charged him with only half the responsibility for the drive-ending 13-yard sack by Shannon (Q4, 6:38). Shannon was his assignment, but Boren was also beaten by Golston to remove Taylor’s escape route. That’s too many errors in such a short stint.
Jones, Arthur (0/+2): He didn’t make the defensive stat sheet in any way, nor did he make my notes. The 2nd defensive line, who had been so impressive prior to Thursday, surrendered a 12-play, 97-yard drive to Beck midway through the 3rd quarter. Other than a run stop by McPhee, they were quiet for that drive.
Kindle (0/+1): He still hasn’t registered that first sack, but he made a significant contribution to the win Thursday. He diagnosed the Skins’ screen (Q4, 2:00) on 3rd and 9, tracked down Austin 2 yards short of a first, and forced the final Skins punt.
Kruger (+1/+4): He was in the face of Beck or Clemens more than once Thursday, including a QH on Webb’s interception (Q3, 9:18). Against the run he worked off Smith to bring down Helu for a loss of 1 (Q4, 14:10).
Levoir (0/0): He played 70 snaps at RG with 8 missed blocks and 1.5 penetrations by my count. That works out to a score of .81, which is better than expected because none of his misses led to a TFL, QH, or sack. He was not penalized. He was asked to pull 7 times and found a block on 6, but I don’t think that’s representative of just how awkward he looks when moving. He looked like a tackle playing guard, but nonetheless, I don’t think he hurt his stock as a swingman too much.
Mattison (-1/-1): He played every snap Thursday. His blocking highlight (and that for the entire offensive line) came on Rice’s 18-yard run (Q1, 12:40). All 5 offensive linemen delivered a pancake on that play, which is the first in the years I have been using this method for OLine scoring. Mattison otherwise had some significant mistakes including a shared pressure with Levoir (Q2, 0;29), a QH by Bowen (Q1, 5:06), a holding penalty on Shannon’s sack (Q4, 6:38), and the “entire offensive line” false start where it’s pretty clear he forgot the snap count.
McAdoo (0/0): I saw him wearing number 70 on the sidelines, but did not see him play a defensive snap. He’s listed as a substitution in the Gamebook, so he may have played special teams.
McPhee (+2/+5): Pernell played the run and pass well. He worked off Hurt to drop Helu for no gain (Q3, 6:09), had a PD at the LoS (Q4, 12:52), beat Locklear outside for a sack (Q4, 11:51), swam past Hurt inside (Q4, 4:03) for a QH, and drew a holding call from Hicks (Q4, 0:14) that offset the defenseless receiver foul. That is a mess of production for a half of football.
Oher (0/-3): Despite a rough start, he played his best game of the preseason. He played 50 snaps and allowed a full sack (Q2, 13:52) to Orakpo, split 1 other QH, and missed 2 other blocks. That works out to .77 per play.
Reid (-1/-2): Reid is still having trouble with blitz recognition which in part led to the relentless 7 and 8-man blitzes the Redskins dialed up in the 4th quarter (5 7s and 2 8s in Q4 alone). By my count, Reid missed 7 blocks (all on running plays), allowed 3 pressures, shared a QH, and had sole responsibility for Kerrigan’s sack (Q1, 1:32). I like the fact that he was able to twice catch Kerrigan for a neutral zone infraction. There is clearly talent here, but I can’t see him on the field again after Labor Day.
Smith, Jimmy (0/0): His tight coverage and PD against Moss (Q2, 1:02) should have been a pick. He also peeled off his man to tackle Armstrong between the hashes (Q2, 3:05) to avoid more YAC. Did Ed Reed mess up the coverage on the TD to Moss (Q2, 0:56)? Probably, but Smith needs to take that up with him on the sideline.
Smith, Torrey (-2/-3): It’s fortunate the Ravens didn’t think Torrey should be the team’s only vertical threat.
Williams, Cary (0/+3): Cary took the inside path for his QH (Q1, 14:22) based on Ayanbadejo’s outside move. Several times he had what appeared to be good coverage on a very well-thrown ball including the 14-yard completion to Gaffney (Q2, 1:49). He pried a TD away from Moss (Q2, 1:02) in the end zone.
Williams, LaQuan (+1/+3): He’s close to securing a spot. I have not been a fan of using a regular member of the secondary to return punts, so Williams’ final-minute return is welcome.
Wilson (+1/+1): He found a good spot in the zone for his 27-yard catch (Q4, 8:35) and made a nice catch of a low ball (Q4, 12:36) for a gain of 12. He’s played well enough to prove he has something left in the tank at age 30.
There is a common thread running through the key positional battles. In each case the Ravens have a veteran on the bubble competing with a rookie. In each case, if this year’s on-the-field contribution was the only consideration, the incumbent would have an advantage. However, in the NFL salary cap is king and the bulk of 4th-year players (4 of the 5 battles involve a 4th-year veteran) will be UFAs before the 2012 season. At best, the Ravens will resign such a player at market value and doing so means they will miss the inexpensive and most significant years of performance growth from a younger alternative. Here are the 5 most significant position battles as I see them:
Guard: Oniel Cousins was encouraging in his first game at guard, but was subsequently passed over for the game-3 start by newcomer Mark Levoir. Levoir is a swing G/T and will make the team in any case, but the leading candidate otherwise is Justin Boren who has played primarily in relief of Grubbs on the left side. The line is in need of another young guard and center where Grubbs and Birk are entering their final contract years. I expect Birk will retire. With Flacco and Rice to be resigned next offseason, other teams are going to be in a better position to compete for Grubbs. Edge: Boren
Safety: Pagano has hinted that he really likes Mana Silva. Zbikowski is a 4th year player who has started 10 career games at free safety when Ed Reed has been injured. Nakamura is in the same tenure position, but has better speed and coverage skills. My main issue with the returning safeties is age. They don’t have a single player under the age of 26, which is an advantage for Silva (just a few days past 23). Edge: Zibby
Defensive End: Corey Redding carries some significant cap weight for this season. The Ravens young 2nd team defenders have been impressive and they need to find snaps for Arthur Jones as well as a roster spot for Pernell McPhee and possibly McAdoo as well. The team needs more moves for youth and I think Redding may be the odd man out. Edge: Redding over McAdoo
WR: Marcus Smith and LaQuan Williams are fighting for the last receiver spot. Williams has been impressive on offense while Smith has seen little duty this year. Smith still has never caught a pass in 3 NFL seasons although he drew a big pass interference in the 2008 AFCC. Amusingly, Smith’s career stats on Pro-football-reference.com include only a panel of defensive statistics. Williams looks like he can contribute on special teams which has been Smith’s forte the last 3 years. Edge: Williams
RB: Jalen Parmele vs. Anthony Allen. Despite the fumble on Thursday, Parmele has shown more to date and was a reliable kick returner. Allen had looked effective running and blocking, but the drop last night was a setback. This is another case where 3 years of potential upside is a greater need than this year’s performance. Edge: Allen (Allen is also a candidate for a mysterious late-camp injury as well).