Late For Work 8/22: Nine Takeaways After Ravens' 2-0 Preseason Start

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The Ravens are a perfect 2-0 through half of the preseason, but not everything has been perfect. Here are nine takeaways heading into Week 3 …

1) Josh Johnson Winning Backup Role Is Still Unlikely

Head Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that third-string quarterback Josh Johnson is in the mix to win the backup role behind Joe Flacco. Despite Johnson having what is widely seen as a better training camp than Ryan Mallett and a standout night in Indianapolis, several media members believe Mallett will hold onto the job.

"I'd still be surprised if Mallett is unseated," WNST's Luke Jones wrote.

Johnson impressed Thursday night with a near perfect two-minute drill before halftime that ended with a beautiful touch pass to wide receiver Jeremy Butler in the end zone. In two preseason games, Johnson is 19-of-27 (70.4 completion percentage) for 155 yards and one touchdown. He's also shown he can move the ball with his feet, rushing for 57 yards.

While Mallett has not looked as good as Johnson in offseason practices, Mallett's best outings have been in the Ravens' two preseason games. He is 17-of-23 (73.9 completion percentage) for 138 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, which wasn't his fault as the ball bounced off Darren Waller's chest.

The numbers are similar, but it should be noted that Mallett has gone against opponents' starting defenses, while Johnson has gone against their backups. Johnson, however, is playing with the second-team offensive line.

"If the Ravens go with Johnson over Mallett, it would be a risk based on what they've done recently," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley.

"Mallett, 28, has started eight games over the past two seasons, including throwing for 274 yards in a 20-17 win over Pittsburgh. Johnson, 30, has played for nine teams in nine seasons and hasn't thrown a pass in a regular-season game since 2011."

2) Starting Defense's Slow Starts Are A Growing Concern

For two consecutive weeks, the Ravens' starting defense has given up 60-plus yard drives on the opening series of the game. The unit hasn't given up any first-half touchdowns, stiffening in the red zone, but it surrendered three long drives.

"The Baltimore Ravens' slow starts on defense this preseason isn't just a trend. It's one of the bigger concerns facing the Ravens," wrote Hensley. "There's been problems with the pass rush, the physical play on the defensive front, and the coverage in the new-look secondary."

Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Colts quarterback Andrew Luck went a combined 13-for-14 passing for 107 yards against Baltimore. That's only one incompletion between the two of them as they marched down the field.

"The Ravens' starting defense has the excuse of being without pass rushers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil," wrote Hensley. "Baltimore also held the Colts to a field goal, like it did in the opener against Carolina. But the Ravens know they have to be sharper when the regular season begins on Sept. 11 against Buffalo."

3) Jeremey Butler Deserves Roster Spot

Guess who leads the Ravens wide receivers through two games of the preseason?

Unheralded workhorse Jeremy Butler, notching nine catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. Butler is accustomed to being on the Ravens' roster bubble since the team signed him as an undrafted rookie out of the University of Tennessee Martin in 2014, but has never made the 53-man roster in September. (He did spend half of last season on the active roster after the receiving corps suffered several injuries.)* *

Will this finally be the year the durable receiver breaks through?

"Butler keeps showing he deserves a roster spot," wrote CSNMidAtlantic.com's Clifton Brown.

"With wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) still not off PUP, Chris Matthews missing both preseason games, and Michael Campanaro's history with injuries, can the Ravens afford to cut Butler? If they do, they could quickly regret it."

4) Benjamin Watson And Mike Wallace Don't Get A Single Target

Tight end Benjamin Watson and wide receiver Mike Wallace were the two biggest free-agent signings for the offense this year, but they haven't made an impact in the preseason so far.

There's no reason to get too concerned, however, as they didn't even play against Carolina and Flacco has yet to make a start. But they didn't record any stats against the Colts Saturday night.

"Both players remain active in practice and had solid camps, but it was a letdown to see [them] make their preseason debuts and not get a single target," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "Assuming Joe Flacco plays Saturday against the Detroit Lions, you'd expect the veteran quarterback to try and get the first-year Ravens involved a little bit."   

5) Ravens Need Shareece Wright And Jerraud Powers To Play Better As Will Davis Continues To Improve

The Ravens invested in cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Jerraud Powers this offseason with new contracts, hoping they would solidify the starting outside and nickel cornerback roles. So far, per Zrebiec, that hasn't happened.

"Jerraud Powers was on [my stock down] list last week and easily could be again. Instead, Wright takes his place after a game in which Andrew Luck picked on him a little bit," wrote Zrebiec. "The veteran cornerback, who is expected to start alongside Jimmy Smith, admitted he's thinking too much rather than just trusting his instincts. The Ravens need him to play better."

Wright was re-signed in March after playing solid down the stretch of the 2015 season, but has been shaky in coverage during the preseason. Meanwhile, Will Davis, who is returning from an ACL tear, has been coming on and could potentially play inside or outside.

"It was interesting to see Will Davis play quite a bit at slot cornerback in the nickel, especially after Powers struggled for the second straight week," wrote Jones. "Normally an outside corner, Davis made some plays inside and finished the game with five tackles and a sack."

6) Let's Give Credit Where It's Due To Matt Elam

Ravens former first-round pick Matt Elam is fighting for his NFL life and he's playing like he badly wants to hold onto it. He has taken his strong training camp practices into preseason games, including Saturday night when he had two hard hits on the Colts.

My favorite is this suplex-like tackle on Indianapolis wide receiver Chester Rogers.

"Let's give credit where it's due: the much-maligned 2013 first-round pick came to camp in good shape and he's gotten better each week," wrote Zrebiec. "He made two physical tackles against the Colts after a week of practice in which he was around the ball and registered a couple of interceptions. He remains on the bubble, but he's gone about things the right way this summer."

7) How Will Steve Smith's Return Affect Kamar Aiken?

It's going to be an exciting year watching 16-year veteran Steve Smith Sr. on his farewell tour. He was activated from the physically unable to perform list Friday, and while he didn't play Saturday, he had a lengthy, full-throttle workout during pregame warmups.

While we've been so amped over Smith's return, we haven't yet examined the effect it will have on Kamar Aiken, who was the Ravens' leading receiver last season.

Aiken plays a similar role as Smith, and we still haven't seen what the snap breakdown will look like with both on the field along with Wallace.

"After a terrible first quarter, the offense came alive with Kamar Aiken drawing a 41-yard pass interference flag and catching a 14-yard touchdown on a beautiful crossing route," wrote Jones. "I'm interested to see what Aiken's role looks like with Steve Smith's return, but he deserves his share of targets."

8) Ronnie Stanley Remains On Unprecedented Path For A Ravens Rookie

There aren't many people talking about rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and that's a good thing. He's still on track to be Flacco's starting blindside protector for the 2016 season, which is an unprecedented role in Baltimore. Neither Jonathan Ogden nor Michael Oher started on the left side Day 1 of their rookie years.

Hensley remembers when Stanley told General Manager Ozzie Newsome that it was "the best decision" he'll ever make by drafting him.

"Four months later, [Stanley hasn't disappointed](Johnson, however, is playing with the second-team offensive line.)," wrote Hensley. "He also really hasn't said much since. From coaches to teammates, many have praised Stanley for carrying a quiet confidence even though he is on an unprecedented path. For the first time in the Ravens' 21-year existence, the team will start a rookie at left tackle in the season opener.

"The challenge comes with high stakes considering Stanley is protecting the blind side of Joe Flacco just eight months after the quarterback had surgery to repair torn anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments in his left knee. Flacco just happened to suffer that season-ending injury when young left tackle James Hurst was pushed back into him. In Saturday's preseason game against the Detroit Lions, Stanley is expected to block for Flacco for the first time. Flacco, who sat out the first two preseason games, will likely get the start."

9) Surprise Player Who Impressed: Chris Moore

Well, maybe this was a surprise to some, but not to my colleague Garrett Downing, who has been high on rookie receiver Chris Moore since before the injury that kept him out of the first preseason game.

Moore made up for lost time Saturday night with three catches for 20 yards in the successful two-minute drill before halftime. Hensley said he was a "surprise player who impressed."

"Known for his deep-threat ability at Cincinnati, Chris Moore ran crisp routes and showed strong hands," added Jones. "With Breshad Perriman's Week 1 status remaining in doubt, Moore becomes more interesting in this offense."

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