Five thoughts on the Ravens’ 37-30 preseason win over the Dallas Cowboys Saturday night at AT&T Stadium:
Offense’s Slow Start, Fast Finish
A week after its strong debut against San Francisco, the Ravens’ starting offense stumbled early, producing just 35 yards and three points on its first three series. Early in the second quarter was when Head Coach John Harbaugh had said he expected to take most of the starters out, but he left them in beyond that, presumably to generate more positive results. He got what he wanted. Joe Flacco led a 96-yard touchdown drive and then ended the first half with another drive that led to a field goal. Final tally for Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak’s first-team unit: five series, nine first downs, 163 yards, 13 points. The Ravens will take it. Their rushing game was solid (nine carries for 50 yards) and Flacco got hot after a slow start, hitting eight of his last 10 attempts for 109 yards and a touchdown. The slow start will give Kubiak plenty of things to pick apart on tape, but the fast finish was impressive.
Goal: Get Webb, Smith Back On Field
If the goal of any preseason game is to escape without an injury, the Ravens lived dangerously. Before the end of the first quarter, cornerback Jimmy Smith and running back Ray Rice both had left the field and gone to the locker room for X-rays. Smith left with a chest injury after breaking up a pass on the game’s opening possession, and Rice injured his shoulder on an 18-yard run on which he exhibited palpably improved quickness from a year ago. Fortunately for the Ravens, the X-rays of both injuries came back negative. The Ravens especially couldn’t afford to lose Smith. They’re so thin at cornerback with Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle) out that they lined up with Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks as their corners after Smith went out. The Cowboys’ Tony Romo went right at Franks and beat him for a touchdown pass to Dez Bryant. The secondary tightened up after that (with Romo out of the game) but from now on, the goal of the preseason should be to get Webb and Smith (and Jackson if possible) ready for the season opener, however that is attained.
Plot Thickens At WR Competition
Before Deonte Thompson returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter, I didn’t love his odds of making the Ravens’ final 53-man roster. Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro have stood out among the many receivers battling for the one or two available roster spots. Thompson has been relatively quiet. But there’s an inviolable truth in pro football: if you can make explosive plays, your team will find a way to keep you. Thompson, a third-year player, certainly helped his cause. Minutes after he raced the length of the field to score without being touched, he returned another kickoff 50 yards, showing off the speed that has intrigued the Ravens since 2012. “Deonte made a statement tonight,” Harbaugh said. The plot thickens.
Pierce Looks Like Starting-Caliber Back
The Ravens had to be encouraged by Rice’s big run, but they’ve clearly started to get ready to play their first two regular-season games without him. Bernard Pierce got the start at running back and ran the ball effectively, picking up 55 yards on seven carries for an average of 7.9 yards per carry – unthinkable numbers a year ago. Once Kubiak’s zone-stretch running game got going, Pierce had plenty of holes to run through, and he got plenty out of them. Frankly, he looked like a starting-caliber back, blending speed, power and elusiveness. It’s time to shelve those concerns about his physical readiness after he underwent shoulder surgery during the offseason. Pierce looks ready to carry a load.
Flacco continues to find fullback Kyle Juszczyk for completions. The over-under on how many receptions he makes in 2014 is going up … Backup linebacker Pernell McPhee continues to lobby for more playing time. He had a sack Saturday night and it’s pretty clear he’s played his way into a role on the pass-rush package … Rolando McClain was active and productive at linebacker for the Cowboys. It looks like he’s going to play in Dallas. I’m not sure there was a job for him in Baltimore, where the Ravens are deep at inside linebacker … Courtney Upshaw is known as a burly guy who hits hard, but he showed nice athleticism when he picked up a botched handoff and ran it in for a touchdown … Offensive tackle Jah Reid got a snap on the jumbo package, lined up next to Rick Wagner. That could become his role … My reaction as a first-time visitor to the Cowboys’ palatial home field: Come on, man. The place is amazing.