Digging Into What Happened During Last Night’s Impressive Win
Well, that was a fun home opener.
Few could have predicted the Ravens would beat the Rams, 33-7, and would hold a 23-0 advantage at halftime. Yes, the Rams hardly played any starters, including quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley, the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year. But the Ravens still looked good, and should have plenty of positives to build on as they move forward.
Flacco Puts Quarterback “Controversy” to Bed: Many national media pundits have pushed the narrative that there’s a quarterback controversy brewing in Baltimore this summer.
That hasn’t come from the coaching staff, which has said clearly from Day 1 that Joe Flacco will be the Ravens’ starter in 2018, nor has it come from the majority of local media members who are around the team on a daily basis.
Flacco has encouraged everyone around the Ravens organization with his play during training camp, but this was the first time he took the field in a game in 2018, and he showed why he is the clear starter. His throws were crisp, and he even showed off some mobility that he lacked last year.
“A full-on test this wasn’t, not with the Rams playing reserves instead of their many defensive superstars,” The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. “But Flacco looked just as good leading the Ravens to an opening score as he has in practice.”
While Flacco’s final stat line for the game was strong after going 5-for-7 for 71 yards and a touchdown pass to fullback Pat Ricard, that he’s on the field at all shows this year is different than previous seasons. As PressBox’s Bo Smolka points out, “Flacco has already played more this preseason than all last preseason.”
Walker wrote “the Ravens’ playoff hopes for 2018 are inextricably linked with Flacco’s hopes.” The offense’s first drive on Thursday gives hope that the Ravens will be in good hands with Flacco under center this season.
“He played with better mechanics than he has in a long time,” Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote. “His throws weren’t late and he didn’t seem interested in check downs. Flacco looked absolutely prepared for that moment. Despite playing against backups, the touchdown drive was a very positive sign for the Ravens.”
Edge Rush Makes Statement: A lot of the chatter surrounding the Ravens’ defense this offseason has been focused on the talent and depth of the secondary. Though the secondary performed extremely well against the Rams, it’s the edge rush that got the most attention.
Terrell Suggs, Matthew Judon, Tim Williams and Zach Seiler all contributed sacks. Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw put it best by writing “just about everyone looked great.”
“This is exactly the kind of production that gets you excited for the 2018 season,” Bradshaw wrote. “The Ravens defense a year ago was terrific, but if everyone stays healthy this year’s version could be even better.”
Russell Street Report’s Tony Lombardi highlighted Judon, saying he “shows no signs of slowing down from the quantum leap he made as an all-around player in 2017.” Lombardi was also impressed by Seiler, a rookie seventh-round pick, calling him “an interesting player to watch. He’s a rather dominant force when taking on backups.”
Though the entire edge rush did well, nobody stood out more than Williams. He put together an excellent individual game against the Bears, and continued that high level of play on Thursday, finishing with five total tackles, as well as a forced fumble. It’s a big change from his rookie season when Williams finished with just six tackles in eight games, with Lombardi commenting he “looks and sounds like a player with a new attitude.”
New Receivers Make Immediate Impact: Much like Flacco, the new receiving corps also had a strong first showing. While the Rams didn’t offer much resistance, that the new receivers were able to transfer how they’ve looked on the practice field to M&T Bank Stadium is cause for optimism.
“It’s clear the Ravens entered Thursday night with confidence in their revamped passing attack,” PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. “Flacco and his targets believed chemistry was forming and sensed they had the makings of a potent offense.”
Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst caught the first pass of the game, while new acquisitions John Brown and Michael Crabtree each hauled in a pass. Most of the new targets were gone after that first drive, but they departed with a feeling of confidence.
“It's a small sample size to be sure, and it came against Rams' backups, but it was encouraging,” Smolka wrote.
Orlando Brown Jr. Pushing for Starting Spot: No offensive lineman played more than Orlando Brown Jr., and the rookie did a lot to show the Ravens he can be relied upon during the regular season, according to Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber.
“He’s a tank. Great pass-blocking and run-blocking,” Barber wrote. “He played a lot of snaps and I didn’t see anything other than great play.”
Barber went on to write “I expect to see Zeus Jr. on the field come Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills.” There’s still a lot of football left to be played, but Barber isn’t alone in thinking Brown Jr. could be the Ravens’ starting right tackle.
“The Ravens are getting a long look at Brown in game situations this preseason, which is exactly what they wanted,” Smolka wrote. “At this point, it is looking more and more like the right tackle job will be Brown's.”
RavensWire’s Matthew Stevens thinks the main thing Brown Jr. brings to the offensive line is his physicality.
“At Oklahoma, Brown was noted for doing the same thing: swallowing defenders up,” Stevens wrote. “His size and strength allow Brown to push around defenders if he can get his hands on them.”
Evaluating Lamar Jackson After his Second Game: Much will be made of Lamar Jackson’s encouraging home debut, but some of the credit should go to Head Coach John Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg for deciding to play him earlier in the game.
Indeed, Jackson took full advantage of his time operating behind the team’s top linemen.
The decision to play Jackson right after Flacco departed the game was different from the Hall of Fame game when Robert Griffin III started, and was followed by Josh Woodrum. The move immediately paid dividends, as Jackson started his night by completing a 36-yard pass to Chris Moore after getting excellent protection.
After the starting offensive line left the game, Jackson was under more pressure, but still managed to perform well, leading the team on drives of 65 and 43 yards.
“On the whole, Jackson proved Thursday that his skill set can -- at least in some capacity -- transfer over to the professional game. He just has to start weeding out the mistakes,” Kasinitz wrote.
Though it was an overall positive night for the rookie, there are also areas where he’ll want to improve.
Jackson will also need to be more conscious of sliding, The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck wrote. This isn’t the first time Jackson has been criticized for this – it was a talking point after his first preseason appearance in which he didn’t slide once during his eight rushing attempts.
“If he doesn't learn to slide, he will NOT be the backup quarterback this year,” Schmuck wrote. “Ravens can't have somebody in the No. 2 role that might get hurt the first time he comes in to relieve Flacco.”
Social Media Reacts to Jackson’s Ankle-Breaking Touchdown Run: Wow.
There’s no doubt that the highlight of Thursday night’s game was Lamar Jackson’s, eye-popping, ankle-breaking 9-yard touchdown run, which is exactly the kind of play the Heisman Trophy winner made in college.
“The ability to stop on a dime, it was pretty impressive,” Flacco said after the game. “Obviously, it got a lot of reactions for it, as he should.”
Here’s some of the best reaction on social media:
Undrafted Running Backs Seize Opportunity
One of the more disappointing absences from Thursday’s game was running back Kenneth Dixon, who couldn’t play due to a hamstring injury. Dixon’s misfortune made way for a pair of undrafted backs, Gus Edwards and Mark Thompson, to get extended minutes on the field, and both had strong showings.
Edwards in particular stood out after rushing for an average of 4.8 yards per carry. That average would have been even better had a 12-yard rush not been negated for a holding call. He also displayed some big-play potential when he broke away for a 25-yard run, his high for the game.
Kasinitz wrote that Edwards “could make the roster and carve out a small role on the offense with a few more impressive weeks of practice and preseason production.”
Thompson, meanwhile, had a bounce back game after a frustrating performance in the Hall of Fame game in which he rushed for just nine yards and fumbled.
His biggest play on offense came on a screen pass from Jackson that he turned into a 29-yard gain after breaking a couple tackles.
In addition to playing well on offense, Thompson also made an open field tackle during a punt return on special teams. As The Purple Reign Show’s Matt Wise pointed out, “for a UDFA RB looking to be RB3 or 4, being able to play teams is crucial.”
Breshad Perriman is Clear Winner in Wide Receiver Battle
One of the Ravens’ most intriguing position battles in preseason had a clear winner in the team’s victory over the Rams, says The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec.
As exciting as Perriman’s night ended up being, it didn’t have the brightest of starts. He was one of the last receivers to get a chance to play, and didn’t register a catch in the first half.
Perriman rebounded with an excellent second half that saw him finish with three catches for 71 yards, both of which were game highs. His effort was capped off by a 32-yard contested touchdown grab.
PressBox’s Bo Smolka noted it was “The kind of play he has not made much in his career. Earlier this week when receivers coach Bobby Engram was asked what Perriman needed to do to help his cause, he said, ‘make plays in the game.’”
- Free-agent wide receiver Dez Bryant, who the Ravens reportedly offered a three-year contract to early this offseason, announced he's starting free-agency visits, beginning with the Cleveland Browns. [Twitter]