What to Make of the Jimmy Smith Potential Suspension Report
Even though the Ravens beat the Indianapolis Colts, 20-19, last night, the biggest news surrounding the team happened off the field and prior to kickoff.
Minutes before the start of the game The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec reported top cornerback Jimmy Smith could be facing a multi-week suspension.
Smith did not play in last night's game, and Head Coach John Harbaugh said it was a "personal issue." If the suspension does occur, Smith plans to appeal, per Zrebiec.
Smith potentially missing multiple weeks is a situation the Ravens are familiar with. He's missed 26 games due to injury during his career, and Smith was suspended four games last season for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy, which he served after being ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles.
Zrebiec wrote that the Ravens have been aware of Smith's pending suspension "for a little while," which also explains Baltimore's reported interest in free agent cornerback Breshaud Breeland. Three weeks ago, the Ravens brought in Breeland for a visit that went well, but as Zrebiec reported, "the former Washington Redskin, left without signing a deal and with an asking price that was higher than the Ravens wanted to pay. He remains a free agent after visiting several teams."
The answer (if one is required) could come from within.
"The hope is the Ravens are better equipped to handle any time Smith misses and get themselves to a decent record for his return so they can roll forward towards a potential playoff run," RavensWire’s Matthew Stevens wrote.
The Ravens have prioritized bolstering their cornerback depth the past two years. Baltimore drafted Marlon Humphrey in the first round last year, spent free agent money ($7 million cap hit, per Spotrac) to keep Brandon Carr, and used a fourth-round pick on Anthony Averett in 2018. Humphrey and Carr showed last year that they are very capable starters and Baltimore has Tavon Young back from last year's knee injury and playing at a high level in the slot.
One player who had a strong showing against the Colts was Averett, who stepped up on three straight plays in the red zone to not allow Indianapolis to score. As Baltimore Beatdown’s Logan Levy pointed out, "Averett could see an increase in snaps," should Smith become unavailable.
"Averett could be Baltimore's hidden gem on day three of the 2018 NFL Draft," Levy wrote.
Baltimore has also been pleased with the cornerbacks it's had in camp, including Stanley Jean-Baptiste and Darious Williams. After the Ravens beat the Rams, WNST’s Luke Jones wrote, "In the past, Jean-Baptiste and Williams very much would have been in the roster conversation, but it's difficult to see a path to a roster spot for either unless there's an injury or a trade ahead of them."
Jean-Baptiste, who registered five tackles and an interception against the Colts, may have a spot he needed to make the team.
Though the Ravens believe they have good insurance policies in place should Smith become unavailable, there's no doubt this would be a massive void to fill. Smith has been excellent when he's played, and Baltimore's defense has suffered when he hasn't been on the field.
Ravens' Offense Touted as 'Breakout Offense of the Season'
ESPN's Louis Riddick expects big things from the Ravens offense in 2018.
"This is what I am really excited about," Riddick said at halftime Monday night. "This is a football team that I think will be the breakout offense of this season."
The Ravens offense finished No. 27 in total offense (yards per game). In 2016, the unit ranked No. 17, while the 2015 season saw the offense finish No. 14.
Throughout the preseason, the Ravens offense has offered plenty of indications that it'll perform better this year.
The story with quarterback Joe Flacco during this summer remained the same after he completed 7-of-9 attempts for 72 yards and a touchdown. He finished with a 137 passer rating.
"Flacco has started two preseason contests in a row, and he's delivered two touchdown drives that were quite frankly, a piece of cake," Ebony Bird’s Chris Schisler wrote. "Flacco had to catch up to things a year ago, but this preseason he is looking dominant. In two preseason games, Flacco has only thrown four incomplete passes and has a passer rating of 141.4."
While Flacco's final stats should excite Ravens fans, his aggressive approach in throwing the ball downfield shouldn't be overlooked. The offense's first play of the game was a long pass from Flacco that was intended for John Brown, but was broken up at the last second. While it would've been nice to see a completion, the pass signaled the intent of the Ravens offense this season.
"A lot of talk about that 5.7 yards per attempt last season, and they're trying to change the culture," ESPN broadcaster and former Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said. "I like the mentality on the first play of going deep."
Later in the game, Flacco completed a 29-yard pass to Michael Crabtree. It was the second time that duo has hooked up for a major gain during preseason games, despite both playing very little so far.
"Really good feel by Flacco to understand that Crabtree is just gonna settle in there, and drill that ball in there on cover-2," Witten said. "Crabtree talked about how he loves having a big physical quarterback that can see him. So just the awareness not to keep running, to settle down and he'll find you in that soft zone."
The strong play of Brown also continued when he caught a 7-yard laser from Flacco to score a touchdown. It was a sensational grab by Brown, who had to put in a second effort in order to haul in Flacco's throw.
It wasn't just the playmakers who had a nice night as well.
"The blocking up front was very encouraging," Schisler wrote. "Nick Boyle had a really impressive block on a running play. Hayden Hurst blocked well and Orlando Brown Jr. had a play where he leveled a linebacker in the second level of the defense."
It was a first half performance that Riddick was very encouraged by, and one that he believes is an indication of what the Ravens will be able to do on offense in 2018.
"They've got weapons on that side of the ball this year," Riddick said. "They've got to live up to their potential."
Defense Passes the Andrew Luck Test
The Ravens defense faced its toughest test of the preseason with the Indianapolis Colts playing their starting quarterback, Andrew Luck. Despite the tougher competition, the unit thrived as it has during Baltimore's first two preseason contests.
"This was the first time the Ravens had a quality quarterback facing them in the preseason and they passed the test," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens defense looks powerful, deep and fast."
Luck's final line for the night was 6-for-13 for 50 yards. He also got picked off by safety Anthony Levine Sr. in the red zone, and was also sacked twice.
Luck was critical of his performance, and while some may point to his recovery from a shoulder injury for his play, the Ravens defense also had plenty to do with it, too.
Baltimore's edge rush continued its outstanding preseason by seeing four different outside linebackers – Terrell Suggs, Tim Williams, Za'Darius Smith, and Tyus Bowser – register a sack apiece.
The performance of the ageless Suggs was particularly encouraging, as PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz commented "the 35-year-old pass-rusher has shown few -- if any -- signs of aging entering his 16th NFL season." The ESPN crew called Suggs the "Benjamin Button of edge rushers."
PressBox’s Bo Smolka focused on Williams, as he continued the sort of play that has seen him raise his stock significantly throughout the entire preseason.
"Williams continues to look faster and more explosive than he did as a rookie last year," Smolka wrote. "He was credited with two quarterback hits against Indianapolis, but he was bearing down on Colts quarterbacks all night."
Pro Football Focus felt Smith stood out, referring to him as a "problem" for the Colts.
"He constantly found different ways to attack as he forced multiple pressures against different linemen," PFF wrote.
Smolka also didn't limit his praise to just the edge rush, as he wrote "the Ravens' defense continues to play fast." He was particularly complimentary of rookie inside linebacker Kenny Young. The fourth-round pick has been competing with Patrick Onwuasor for the starting weakside linebacker.
After a performance in which he led the entire defense with eight tackles, Young could now hold the lead in that race.
"Young had good coverage downfield a couple of times and closed the hole on the Colts' unsuccessful two-point try late in the game," Smolka wrote.
ESPN's McFarland: Lamar Jackson 'Two Years Away' From Starting
On a night when quarterback Lamar Jackson showed both flashes of playmaking skills and some inaccuracy, ESPN sideline reporter Booger McFarland weighed in on when he thinks the rookie will be ready to start NFL regular-season games.
"We have this conversation about should Joe Flacco be worried," McFarland said. "I don't think he should be. Lamar Jackson, at best, in my opinion, is two years away from having an opportunity to see if he can play quarterback in this league."
It should be noted that McFarland made his comment during a rocky start for Jackson in which he did not complete a pass over his first three series (0-for-4).
The low point of Jackson's night came when he appeared to fumble after taking a big hit while scrambling. After review, the ball was judged to have popped out after Jackson's arm made contact with the ground, and thus was not a fumble. Avoiding getting unnecessarily hit has been a persistent issue for Jackson throughout the preseason.
Jackson displayed some mental toughness by rebounding after his rough start. He ultimately completed seven passes on 15 attempts for 49 yards and a touchdown. Jackson also ran four times for 26 yards.
His resurgence began on the final drive of the first half when he led the Ravens 56 yards in just one minute and 10 seconds. Jackson completed three passes during the drive.
Jackson maintained that high level of play on the first drive of the second half, which ended with a 7-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Chris Moore.
Though Jackson himself was critical of his performance, saying "I don't feel I've performed at a high level yet," Head Coach John Harbaugh said "There's no question in my mind that he has a bright future."
- The Ravens victory extended their winning streak in preseason games to 11.
- It was a tough night for kick returners Tim White and Janarion Grant. Both fumbled punts, while White was also flagged for making an illegal fair catch signal.