Baltimore Ravens Facts and Opinions From Game No.1

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="691" caption="Joe Flacco barks out signals during Ravens preseason game in Atlanta"][/caption]

The Baltimore Ravens opened up the 2012 preseason with a 31-17 win over the Falcons in Atlanta. However, it was not the Ravens starters that managed the victory but Baltimore’s second and third stringers that produced the big comeback win.

Here are a few facts and opinions from the game as well as some quotes and additional side notes of interest.

Fact: The Ravens much heralded secondary looked horrible from the start in Atlanta Thursday night. The Falcons averaged 10-yards per play as they drove 80-yards and scored a touchdown on their opening drive. Atlanta’s WR corps of Roddy White and Julio Jones combined for nine catches and 155-yards. In fact, all of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryans completions were to White and Jones.

Opinion: Welcome to a world without Terrell Suggs. The current Defensive Player of the Year, Suggs led the AFC with 14 sacks last season and set a single-season franchise-record by forcing seven fumbles, most of them coming while on the pass rush. The Ravens are 50-17 all-time when T-Sizzle drops an opposing passer and 13-1 when he does it twice during a game.  Aside from a few plays when Matt Ryan ran outside the pocket to complete passes, the Ravens could muster no pass rush.  Paul Krueger did not look great, Sergio Kindle was not good, but he was not bad. The Ravens registered two sacks but worse was the fact that none of the Falcons four quarterbacks looked uncomfortable because of something the Ravens did.

Side Note: If you compare and contrast the past two seasons, the Ravens secondary is likely to go as the pass rush goes. Last season the Ravens finished ranked tied for second in the league with 50 sacks. Consequently, the Ravens pass defense allowed just 196 yards through the air and finished the regular season ranked fourth against the pass. In 2010, the secondary was torched throughout the year repeatedly as Baltimore finished 21st against the pass, allowing almost 225 yards through the air per game. It is no coincidence that the Ravens had just 27 sacks, which set a franchise record for the fewest in a season.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="358" caption="LarDarius Webb can only watch Julio Jones make another catch"][/caption]

To borrow the first line of the Third Eye Blind son Jumper, “Wish you would step back from that ledge my friend”. The Ravens will be OK and last night’s performance is only a blip on the radar for a secondary that will excel in 2012. The Ravens will have to find ways to get after the quarterback without Suggs. Even though the Ravens will face the NFC East this season, and the division is not blessed with a plethora of wide receiver talent, it does have a ton of talented QB’s that the Ravens will have to pressure. Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, and now possibly Robert Griffin III, can make substantially big plays with consistency if allowed to stand alone in the pocket. Let us not forget that in our division, the Ravens will have to face the Steelers young speedy trio, and last year’s rookie standout in Cincinnati, AJ Green. Yes, the Ravens will miss Terrell Suggs, but they will get this figured out and by the time they do, Suggs may be back, hopefully.

Closing Quote: “Our coverage wasn’t what we wanted in the first half, and we’ll tighten that down. Our communication could be better, and that will come,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of the Ravens' first-half performance. “We’ve practiced better than we showed early in the game.”

Opening up a Can: Playing for veteran and future Hall of Fame MLB Ray Lewis, Brendan Ayanbadejo played well and intercepted a Matt Ryan red zone pass that thwarted a great Atlanta punt return. Lewis has not made that interception in five seasons. Is it time to seriously consider sitting Lewis this season on obvious third down passing situations?  He says he reported to camp lighter in order to keep up in pass coverage, and adapt to an NFL that has become the passing league everyone said it would. I suppose you have to give Ray-Ray the benefit of the doubt to start the season. He is only the greatest MLB to ever lace up a pair of cleats.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="275" caption="Tyrod Taylor for 18-yds"][/caption]

FACT: Tyrod Taylor and Curtis Painter are battling for the back-up QB situation and Painter definitely helped his case with his performance. Painter was 7-14 for 76 yards and three touchdowns. The third TD pass came on a screen pass to the undrafted impressive running back Bobby Rainey, but the first two scoring plays were nice plays by the fourth year QB from Purdue. His first TD pass came after a designed rollout to the right. Painter found TE Billy Bajema in the back middle of the end zone, a pass he completed by throwing off his back foot and across his body.  While not techniques and mechanics recommended on every passing play, ones that a QB should possess to play in the NFL.

His second TD pass showed grit and poise. Painter stood in, took a solid hit and threw a strike to Deonte Thompson over double coverage in the end zone to give the Ravens a 23-17 lead. Many would say that Painters performance came against players that will be delivering your UPS packages in two weeks but he made some solid throws, made good decisions with the football and has actual, meaningful NFL game experience.

Tyrod Taylor was under pressure all night long, and made some plays with his feet. He was the Ravens leading rusher with 51 yards on five carries. His longest rush was his first scramble of the night when the VA. Tech product scampered for 18 yards. He did show flashes with his big arm completing a very nice touch pass to Deonte Thompson between two defenders.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="360" caption="Curtis Painter looks deep down field"][/caption]

Opinion: Taylor did not do anything to drop on the depth chart, but Painter’s performance did help ease the pain of the criticism he has been hearing about having a poor camp. The bottom line is that both QB’s need as many reps as possible. Let’s face it, how much longer can Joe Flacco keep this up in today’s NFL. I present this next stat with every superstitious bone in my body. Flacco’s 73 NFL starts (including playoffs) are the most to begin a career by a QB in NFL history, eventually that streak will end, and Ravens fans had to be encouraged by what they saw from both of his possible replacements in Atlanta.

Side Note: The whole world knows that Tyrod Taylor can beat you with his feet, but Curtis Painter, while no Tyrod Taylor, can make a play or two if he has to. While at Purdue, Painter started 41 of 46 career games, completing 987 of 1,648 passes for 11,163 yards, 67 TDs and 46 INTs. Oh by the way, he also rushed for 348 yards and 13 TDs as a Boilermaker.

Closing Quote: Currently third on the depth chart, Curtis Painter said following the game, “Obviously scoring three times was a good thing. Just getting some momentum, and there are always things that you can look back and improve on.” “I think it was a good first showing,” Painter said. “I just got to keep building from here.”

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="275" caption="Ray Rice with a limited time stiff arm"][/caption]

Fact: Like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice has proven to be durable during his first five seasons in the league. Aside from an injury that limited Rice to just 13 games in his rookie season, the multipurpose back has played in all 48 regular season games and the seven post-season contests in which he was healthy for since his rookie campaign. Last night, the newest multi-millionaire on the Ravens roster had three carries for four yards. He was not expected to do much and honestly, I am surprised head coach John Harbaugh played him at all. The battle in camp is which running back will back Rice up, and spell him after he breaks those long runs. If you are going to base your decision on whom that will be after one preseason game, then welcome to the backfield Bobby Rainey. The former Georgia high school football star rushed 12 times for 36 yards, caught three balls for 53 more, including a very impressive screenplay that Rainey ended up scoring on as he cut back across the field to do so. The 29-yard play was actually about 60 yards by when you consider Rainey started well right of the right harsh mark and scored well left of the left hash mark.

Opinion: Anthony Allen, who is currently second on the depth chart and entering his second year, will need to play better than he did against the Falcons to not only hold off Rainey, but Bernard Pierce, Damien Barry and any other challengers. In fact, another performance or two like the one Allen turned in against the Falcons and he will be unemployed. Allen didn’t have a great night rushing the football with just nine yards on five carries, but he must learn that running backs have to do the little things well even when the holes aren’t opening. The seventh round (225th overall) selection from Georgia Tech last season also dropped a pass and was poor in pass protection; one asset that John Harbaugh said would be a huge factor in determining who actually gets the nod as the second back.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Bobby Rainey vs. Falcons"][/caption]

Side Note: For my money, Rainey seems like a lock to make the Ravens, if he continues to work hard. There is a lot to like. Rainey has been powerful, quick and elusive in training camp practices. He has solid hands and quick feet that make people miss in the open field. He rushed for more than 1,600 yards and averaged 14 touchdowns over his final two years at Western Kentucky and is just the eighth FBS player since 2000 to rack up back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons. That list includes current NFL running backs, Ray Rice (Rutgers), DeAngelo Williams (Memphis), Darren McFadden (Arkansas) and Steven Jackson (Oregon State). If there is one question about Rainey that must be asked, why wasn’t he drafted, or even invited to the NFL combine?  I hope that this is simply another case of Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens scouting staff finding another diamond in the rough.

Closing Quote: "Bobby has opened eyes,” Harbaugh said. "Bobby Rainey is a really good player. It just holds true year-in and year-out, [that] the guys who are most productive in college, often and most times, are the most productive guys in the NFL. And here is guy that people wanted to say didn't have this or that, but he did have about 4,000-plus yards in college. He is putting yards up out here."

"It’s probably a little premature, but I think he is going to do really well in the preseason games,” Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron said. "I’d be surprised if he doesn’t."

Fact: Joe Flacco looked more assertive in the offense but he it did not translate in terms of yards and points against the Falcons first team defense. Joe Cool was under pressure as the offense produced three straight three and outs to open the game. Flacco was 3-5 for 11 yards on the first three drives and missed a wide-open Jacoby Jones in the end zone on a post pattern. The Ravens fifth year signal caller was 6-7 for 77 yards on the touchdown but again, accomplished the feat against Atlanta’s back-ups.

Opinion: Joe has had a great camp, and will settle down and play much better during his second pre-season game. My problems is, and allow me to fire the first Cam Cameron shot of the year, when will the Ravens tailor the offense to Flacco instead of tailoring Flacco to Cameron’s offense? I am not sure if this is still ego, and Ravens new QB coach Jim Caldwell definitely has some things to discuss with Flacco in terms of mechanics, but I’ve seen enough to know at times, the Ravens do not use Flacco’s arm properly. As it did last season, this issue cannot linger into the final quarter of the season once again. I know it’s preseason but I expected a far better showing from the Ravens QB last night.

Side Note: I am sure I’m overreacting on the above point. In each of the past three seasons (2009-11), Joe Flacco and Aaron Rodgers are the only NFL QBs to throw for at least 3,600 yards and 20 TDs while posting 12 INTs or less.  Baltimore’s 23.6 points per game during the John Harbaugh/Cam Cameron era (2008-11) rank ninth in the NFL, so let’s just see where we are after the third preseason game and reevaluate from there.

Closing Quote: "It's preseason and it took us a little while to get going," said Flacco, "We've got to look back at some of the plays, because the Falcons got a couple good pressures and we got rid of the ball."

"We knew we were going to get tested by a very good pass rush team, on the road and on turf," Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Once we settled down, we did OK."

Fact: Omar Brown and Deonte Thompson just cement the praise that the Ravens front office does in scouting undrafted, or lower round talent. We already talked about RB Bobby Rainey, and Brown and Thompsons, both undrafted in April could be wearing purple and black this season as well. Brown an undrafted safety out of Marshall, had two fumble recoveries, one interception, two tackles, and one pass defended in the Ravens win. Head coach John Harbaugh called the feat the “Hat trick” of turnovers, Brown recovered his first fumble in the third quarter when Atlanta botched a handoff and the Ravens offense made them pay with seven points. When he was at the University of Florida, Deonte Thompson was labeled as the guy that could not turn his practice success into game success. In his defense, did anyone catch the quarterback situation at Florida last season?  John Brantley wasn’t exactly the model of a typical Gator standout QB. I could make a lot of receivers look good in practice with just high school experience. Against the Falcons, Thompson made the most of his time by grabbing three passes for 53 yards and a nice 22-yard touchdown. On the play, Thompson got behind two Falcons defenders and stayed focused on the Curtis Painter pass. He leaped perfectly turning as the ball landed between his hands for the six points.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="294" caption="Deonte Thomson goes up a gets one"][/caption]

Opinion: Many of the Ravens standouts Thursday night either were late round draft picks or not drafted at all. Depth is what may decide the AFC North this season and right now; it appears the Ravens may actually be leading the way over the Steelers, who lost a ton, and the Bengals, who are trying to continuously develop their youth. Time will tell but Baltimore is not as old as many believe, but the Ravens are not as polished either.

Closing Quote: Deonte Thompson ran a 4.31 40-yard dash during his pro day back in March. Jacksonville Jaguars head coach Mike Mularky had just one thing to say when watching Thompson execute his receiving skills ,”Fast” Mularky said.

"I like the way our guys came back, our young guys," Harbaugh said. "They competed, they executed."

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="MEGATRON IS COMING"][/caption]

Fact: The Ravens and Falcons played for the ninth time during the pre-season since the Ravens came to Baltimore in 1996. Following Thursday’s win, the Ravens moved their all-time preseason record vs. Atlanta to 6-3. The Ravens are 2-2 vs. Atlanta during the regular season. Harbaugh’s squad will play their next two-preseason games at home, including the all-important third preseason game, which is considered the dress rehearsal for the regular season. During the third preseason game, the starters usually play into the third quarter. The Ravens are 2-0 all-time vs. next week’s opponent, the Detroit Lions during the preseason. The Jacksonville Jaguars visit M&T Bank Stadium for the third preseason game as the Ravens and Jags hook up for the first time ever in August.

Opinion: Things will not get any easier for the Ravens pass rush or secondary next Friday night when Calvin “Megatron” Johnson comes to town.  Johnson is widely considered the best wide receiver in the NFL and is coming off a “mega” season in which he caught 96 passes for an NFL high 1,698 yards and 16 touchdowns. It was the seventh best season ever by a wide receiver in terms of yardage. Jerry Rice tops that list with 1,848 receiving yards in 1995 for the 49ers.

Side Note: Throwing to Johnson is former Georgia standout and the Lions first overall selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, Matthew Stafford. Like his stud wide out, Stafford had a pretty good 2011 as the only quarterback not named Brady or Rodgers to pass for over 5,000 yards. Stafford threw 41 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions last season, leading the Lions to their first playoff appearance since Jesus was a baby. Well, maybe not that long, but it was 11 years ago in 1999 when Detroit last made the post season as Gus Ferrotte and Charlie batch were the quarterbacks. Combined, Batch and Ferrotte fell almost 1,000 yards short of what Stafford threw for last season. And in the oh by the way department, there also happens to be this “Guy named Suh” that plays defense, so the Ravens offensive line better show up a little better than they did on Thursday in Atlanta.


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