L’Enfant Sauvage: Reviewing Ravens vs. Lions preseason Week 2
The last time we left the Baltimore Ravens, they collectively punched their fanbase in the stomach with one of the most excruciating losses in team history, 23-20, to the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game.
Preseason games are out and out meaningless to me, all that matters is you get out without any major injuries. But the second and third preseason games are typically a good barometer for what the team will look like since the starters will play at least a half. Plus, the Detroit Lions were a decent test for what the Ravens are going to see much of this season: a team with a good quarterback and a good wide receiver.
So how about I cut to the chase and talk in bullet points here.
--- In the pregame introduction package, we get shots of Billy Cundiff’s miss in the AFC Championship Game. Curt Menefee then gives us our first Lee Evans reference. Why do I get the sinking feeling this is going to be a season-long thing? Now I suppose I’ll know what it felt like the be a Red Sox fan all those years before 2004 when Fox would gleefully show pictures of the Bambino every time. This is gonna suck.
--- Ex-Ravens Coach Brian Billick is calling this game, wearing his Super Bowl XXXV championship ring. Makes seeing Cundiff’s miss and hearing about Evans a smidge easier to take.
--- It doesn’t make me feel any easier knowing that we replaced Evans, who dropped the pass that could have sent the Ravens to the Super Bowl, with Jacoby Jones, who was known as a pass-dropper in Houston and wrote his ticket out of Texas by fumbling twice in the playoff game against the Ravens. Needless to say, Jones dropped one that hit him right in the hands early in this game.
Speaking of Evans, he is now on the unemployment line after being cut by Jacksonville just a few weeks into camp. Somewhere I could make a joke about Evans’ pink slip being knocked out of his hands, but it would just be too painful.
--- I absolutely like the decision to run more spread and no huddle looks on offense. Joe Flacco has always been better running out of the shotgun or some version of the spread – basically what he ran at Delaware. Most of us who have watched Flacco throughout his career have known that he’s at his best making quick reads and using his strong arm. Naturally, it took offensive coordinator Cam Cameron five years to figure this out.
Running the no-huddle and spread looks also fits the team’s personnel. The offensive line has the potential to be iffy with veteran Bobbie Williams replacing Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs, Center Matt Birk another year older, human false start penalty Michael Oher or human conditioning worry Bryant McKinnie at left tackle and rookie Keleche Osemele at right tackle.
At the skill positions, Ray Rice is one of, if not the most versatile backs in the league. Anquan Boldin is a perfect slot receiver (just ask Pittsburgh’s William Gay) with his combination of size, physicality and experience. Torrey Smith and Jones can run the deep routes and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta can work the seams.
And yet, I still don’t trust Cameron to make it work.
--- Hard not to see that purple #86 and not think of Todd Heap. Let’s just say seeing that number on Billy Bajema is a tad awkward.
--- I know preseason games are meaningless and the only real goal is to get out healthy. That being said, the performance of the secondary has been very disturbing so far. Last week, Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith and the new $50 million man Lardarius Webb, got lit up by Atlanta’s Julio Jones to the tune of six catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in a little over a quarter.
Then in this game, Calvin Johnson torched the secondary for five catches, 113 yards and a touchdown in two quarters.
Again, I know it’s preseason, and Johnson is arguably the best receiver in the league and Jones is an up-and-comer with all the tools to be great. And both receivers have good quarterbacks with Matthew Stafford in Detroit and Matt Ryan in Atlanta. The Ravens are going to see a lot of good quarterbacks this year (Brady, both Mannings, Romo, Rivers, Dalton and Roethlisberger just to name a few) and if this secondary can’t cover anybody, the Ravens are in deep doo-doo.
--- Another concern so far is the lack of pass rush from the front four without Terrell Suggs. Sizzle, the reigning Defensive Player of Year, hurt his achillies tendon this offseason and might be out for the year. Plus, the team lost veteran Jarrett Johnson in free agency.
As is the team’s custom, it’s next man up with some combination of Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee, Courtney Upshaw or Sergio Kindle having to emerge. But none has shown much in the first two preseason games and that is a big concern, because the secondary is only as good as the rush. If the Ravens have to blitz every other play to generate heat on the quarterback, it will leave the corners in one-on-one, and judging by the way they’ve covered in the first two times out, that could lead to a lot of big plays.
--- Despite all the knuckleheads the Lions have, and all the faux-tough guy aura Coach Jim Schwartz gives off, it truly is something to watch Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford play pitch-and-catch. The touchdown they combined to score was a thing of beauty, a back-shoulder fade and a laser pass from Stafford left poor Jimmy Smith wondering what the hell just happened.
--- Tyrod Taylor is still a project, and still didn’t do a whole lot to fill Ravens fans with confidence that he can carry the club should anything happen to Flacco. Taylor is an intriguing prospect – he’s got Willie Beamen-like potential – but I’m not sure why the Ravens want to tempt the fates with him as their backup. Taylor does have value as a potential gimmick player with his running ability, but he’s looked more like Troy Smith than Steamin’ Willie Beamen.
Curtis Painter doesn't inspire much confidence either. Not only is he wearing Kyle Boller's old number, but he pretty much showed he wasn't up to snuff when he had the starting job in Indianapolis.
---5:28 left in the second quarter for our second shot of Cundiff’s miss in the AFC Championship. Shocking really, I thought we’d be up to two or three shots of it by then, with one or two Lee Evans shots just for fun. Yeah, I’m still depressed about that game.
--- Not sure if running back Bobby Rainey is going to make this team, but he’s the sort of guy you worry will come back and bite you if you let him go.
--- Very disappointed in wide receiver Tandon Doss, who the club had high hopes for (Flacco recommended the team draft him) and hasn’t done much with the opportunity. Doss and La’Quan Williams are basically the same guy – tall, rangy, possession-types – but Williams has made plays where Doss really hasn’t. Williams may even be ahead of Jones on the team’s receiver depth chart behind Boldin and Torrey Smith.
--- If and when Jacoby Jones loses his returner job due to fumbles, Deonte Thompson and Asa Jackson looked like intriguing options against Detroit. Jackson, being a fifth-round pick, probably has the better chance. Whoever, the Ravens desperately need someone not named Lardarius Webb who can make plays as returner. Webb is your No.1 corner who you’d rather not get hurt returning kicks, David Reed has been inconsistent and is injured and Jones has had fumbling problems in the past.
--- Omar Brown has shown himself to be a guy that is always around the ball. It’d be nice if the club could find a role for him, if for nothing else to see “Omar comin’!” anytime he makes a play.
--- Finally, I leave you this quote from the wife when she saw the cocktail dress and earrings worn by Fox's sideline reporter for this game: "She looks like a hooker!"