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Playing their second- and third-teamers, the Ravens got a good look at the depth of their roster, but the way the St. Louis Rams' starters carved through them showed that there will be some tough roster decisions with Saturday's final roster cuts looming.
Several spots were up for grabs in this final audition. The Ravens are looking for a fourth wide receiver. Interior defensive tackle has a lot of bodies vying for playing time. Even the kickers – Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham – must separate from each other.
Baltimore just didn't have any true standout performances in their 27-21 loss.
"I am looking for positives and I am proud of the way the guys fought," said Head Coach John Harbaugh. "Now we move on and the next thing is the regular season. We have to make some cuts and make some decisions in the next 48 hours, it is going to be difficult but we are going to try and put the best 53-man roster together that we can."
The Rams scored touchdowns on their first two drives. The Ravens hung in there with a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, but the play was representative of a frustrating evening.
Ellerbe taunted the Rams by stopping short and tipping the ball past the goal line. Rookie cornerback Prince Miller fumbled a punt deep in his own territory, muffing it into the end zone. And Troy Smith, who played the entire game and finished 18-of-38 for 237 yards and a 45.6 passer rating, threw an interception at the Rams' 1-yard line.
The Ravens allowed rookie quarterback Sam Bradford - the first-overall pick in the 2010 NFL Draft - to complete all six of his passes, putting together a 10-play drive that culminated in a 2-yard touchdown strike to tight end Billy Bajema to open the game.
When Bradford came out, backup Keith Null connected on five consecutive passes, the last of which hit wideout Brandon Gibson for a 3-yard score.
The Ravens were, however, going against St. Louis' "ones" for a good part of the first quarter. The unfortunate part was that it showed.
"Anytime you don't win a football game, it's disappointing," said Harbaugh, who noted that the Rams played all of their active players, while the Ravens only played 41. "With their first team, they got up 14-0 and got after us pretty good. I thought our guys battled back. When they brought their seconds in, our guys had played all along and continued to play throughout the game, they basically won the game from then on out."
Baltimore's offensive line didn't give quarterback Troy Smith much time in the pocket, either, as he constantly needed to use his athleticism to elude pass rushers from the Rams' front four.
Starting a group consisting of (left tackle to right tackle) Ramon Harewood, Joe Reitz, Bryan Mattison, Stefan Rodgers and Devin Tyler, Smith was sacked once and only completed 6 of 14 attempts for 63 yards and a 26.8 passer rating in the first half.
On defense, the Ravens were pushed around up front, as St. Louis racked up 88 rushing yards in the first half alone.
In addition, both Bradford and Null exploited coverage snafus from the Ravens' linebacking corps.
Bradford's touchdown to Bajema was a clear miss by middle linebacker Jason Phillips, although he did perform well supporting the run, finishing with a team-leading nine tackles. Null stung Phillips later with a 12-yard pass to halfback Chris Ogbonnaya over the middle to the 3-yard line, setting up Gibson's score.
"I was just playing run way too hard," Phillips said of the touchdown. "I should have known that what they usually do is put their tight end out there like that. I just didn't get there in time. It's something that I can get corrected."
The Ravens managed to get on the board early when Ellerbe took advantage of a tipped pass broken up by cornerback Cary Williams.
The fact that Ellerbe's taunt was harshly reprimanded by Harbaugh demonstrated that the Ravens expected more from their substitutes.
"He said I needed to do it with more class, but it was my first touchdown," Ellerbe noted. "I had a lot of stuff going through my head."
The Ravens went to their halftime locker room on a sour note, as a Smith pass to Demetrius Williams was tipped at the 1-yard line and linebacker Chris Chamberlain intercepted the ball, racing 83 yards to the Baltimore 12. It took a full sprint by Ravens running back Jalen Parmele to save the touchdown as time expired.
The halftime statistics would be troubling if the game were not an exhibition.
St. Louis owned possession for 20:26, compared to the Ravens' 9:34. The Rams completed 60 percent of their third downs (3-of-5) and logged 14 first downs. All the while, the Ravens only racked up 84 total yards in the opening two quarters.
The Ravens did show some promise once the playing field was somewhat leveled in the second half.
Coming out of the tunnel, the Ravens went to a shotgun offense, and Smith immediately led a 12-play, 80-yard touchdown drive. It was keyed by a 22-yard completion to rookie David Reed, a 14-yarder to Justin Harper and an 18-yard Smith scramble before the quarterback plunged in from the 1-yard line to make the score 17-14.
Following a Rams Josh Brown field goal and a 26-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown by wideout Brandon McCrae, the Ravens pulled within six points when Smith found Reed for 36 yards, and then plunged across the goal line himself.
The Ravens failed to go undefeated in the preseason for the second consecutive summer, but it was a calculated plan to rest Baltimore's starters.