Five thoughts on the Ravens’ 31-17 preseason loss to the St. Louis Rams Thursday night at the Edward Jones Dome:
Upshaw Didn’t Gain Ground
Although the Ravens relied on many players who won’t be on the field during the regular season or perhaps not even on the team next week, they did use a few cornerstone players, including rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw. The team’s top draft pick of 2012 hasn’t had a strong preseason, and he didn’t gain much ground Thursday night. He lined up with the first team and played through the first half but managed just one tackle before leaving with a strained shoulder that will be examined Friday. Perhaps it’s unfair to single Upshaw out on a night when pretty much the entire starting defense was shredded, but he didn’t make plays or showcase the ability to pressure a quarterback, and he keeps getting injured. The arc of his first season is not taking off as hoped.
Welcome To The NFL, K.O.
Along the same lines, rookie offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele experienced his “welcome to the NFL” moment when lining up at right tackle against the Rams’ Chris Long in the first quarter. Osemele has exceeded the Ravens’ expectations in training camp and the preseason, but Long is an established veteran and he gave Osemele fits, basically pushing him back into several developing plays to blow them up before they started. There has been talk that Osemele might start at guard over Bobbie Williams in the season opener, but his performance against a high-caliber opponent Thursday night didn’t appear to lobby for that.
Painter Might Be Better Option
The Ravens haven’t carried a No. 3 quarterback since 2009, and they’re trying to decide whether they should keep Curtis Painter as well as Tyrod Taylor to back up Joe Flacco. They have a tough call to make in the next day, when final cuts are due. Painter looked like a capable NFL quarterback in the second half Thursday night. Yes, he was going against backups and put a few throws up for grabs, but he moved the chains and put the ball in the end zone, which was more than Taylor could say. Taylor has value as an interesting red-zone change of pace, but one could argue that the offense might run more smoothly with Painter over a long haul if Flacco were to suffer a season-ending injury.
Tucker Holds Off Doubters
A tense moment of sorts suddenly arose in the middle of an otherwise forgettable game when rookie kicker Justin Tucker lined up to attempt a 49-yard field goal in the third quarter. His leg strength was one reason the Ravens went with him over Billy Cundiff, but he had missed a 57-yarder earlier in the game in his first and only attempt since being given the No. 1 job last week, and you can be sure he didn’t want to start 0-for-2. A 49-yarder isn’t a sure thing, but Tucker blasted the kick through the uprights with plenty to spare, then booted the kickoff for a touchback. His impressive comeback kept the Ravens from hearing scattered doubts about their decision before the regular season even begins.
Rookie Free Agents Impress
When training camp started last month, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said he was impressed with this year’s rookies and that some guys “no one has heard of” would make the 53-man roster. After Thursday night, the best bets to fit that description are running back Bobby Rainey and receiver Deonte Thompson. Rainey showed enough in the preseason that he might get some opportunities in the real games. Thompson has used his exceptional speed to make plays from the start of Organized Team Activities through the end of the preseason. Another undrafted rookie, safety Omar Brown, also advanced his cause Thursday night, leading the Ravens with six tackles. We won’t know their fates until Friday’s cuts are announced, but the Ravens’ tradition of finding useful undrafted free agents is on the verge of being extended.