Five thoughts on the Ravens’ 48-17 preseason win over the Jacksonville Jaguars Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
After watching the Ravens throw on 27 of their 37 offensive snaps in the first half, it appears this pass-first, generally no-huddle approach they’ve undertaken is really, truly their default offense for 2012. Yes, teams have been known to try to fool their opening-week opponents by showcasing different alignments in the preseason, but Joe Flacco obviously loves the hurry-up and is certainly thriving in it. Whether it’s the offense, Jim Caldwell’s influence or simply the byproduct of another year of experience, Flacco has never looked sharper or more assured. Cam Cameron is going to have to figure out how to get more out of the running game, which has pretty much disappeared, but with the offense moving the chains and exhibiting more explosion, a long-desired quality, there’s no going back. Your father’s Baltimore offense is no more.
The Bryant McKinnie saga is over. He started at left tackle Thursday night, with Michael Oher switching to the right side, and both held up fine. “All that cardio I did paid off,” McKinnie said after the game. That’s the end of that, and really, any doubt was pretty much eliminated three weeks ago when John Harbaugh said the team’s best five linemen would start. The mountainous McKinnie is certainly one as long as he is in decent shape, and the Ravens sent him countless messages throughout the offseason (like holding him out of minicamp) to keep pushing him in that direction. Their urging appears to have produced what they wanted, a solid left tackle. The more pressing question about the offensive line now is whether Bobbie Williams’ ankle holds up. He started Thursday and played into the second half, a good sign.
If the Ravens cut rookie kicker Justin Tucker to go with Billy Cundiff, another team is going to sign Tucker in three minutes, if not sooner. The kid has a huge leg and has been absolutely unshakeable, drilling a 53-yarder Thursday night to go with the 50-yarder he hit a week earlier. Both cleared the crossbar with plenty of room to spare. Tucker handled all the kicking Thursday night with nary a slip. I understand that preseason kicks mean nothing, but come on, he clearly has the requisite talent. Cundiff was upset after not getting a chance to kick, while Tucker took bows, facing waves of reporters. No matter what you have read or heard, the Ravens are facing a wrenching decision at this crucial position. It takes fortitude to go with a rookie kicker in a year when you hope to be in Super Bowl contention. There is at least a chance the Ravens will.
The starting defense remains a work in progress. Coordinator Dean Pees is tinkering with some interesting maneuvers, such as starting Ma’ake Kemoeatu ahead of Terrence Cody at nose tackle, and moving Albert McClellan ahead of rookie Courtney Upshaw at outside linebacker. McClellan could be the most important defensive player not getting any attention, as he has risen to first-team rush end on the depth chart (ahead of Upshaw and third-teamer Sergio Kindle). It appears Cary Williams is the favorite to start at cornerback opposite Lardarius Webb, but the coaches are still sorting through their depth options in the secondary.
It was a really good night for a pair of undrafted free agents, Bobby Rainey (class of 2012) and LaQuan Williams (class of 2011), both of whom scored touchdowns. Williams already had a spot on the 53-man roster locked up because of his play on special teams, but he has shown enough in the preseason to warrant some playing time on offense. Rainey is still fighting for a job behind Ray Rice, but after the playmaking he has exhibited throughout the preseason, including that 48-yard touchdown reception Thursday night, the Ravens can’t let him go. He is this year’s surprise find.