The Ravens already had some very difficult roster decisions looming, and Thursday night's third preseason game made them even trickier.
Nobody exemplified that more than rookie quarterback Trace McSorley. The game ended early in the fourth quarter due to inclement weather, but it only took McSorley one half to brew up a storm.
With Lamar Jackson off, McSorley had his best performance yet. The rookie sixth-round pick finished 19-of-28 for 203 yards, three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing), and took a "huge leap" in the eyes of Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens.
"McSorley came into the game having shown some flashes throughout training camp and the preseason," Stevens wrote. "But rookie errors like staring down receivers overshadowed his accomplishments and attempt to make the Ravens' 53-man roster. He took a huge leap in play against the Eagles, putting together an overall great game while showing he's learned from some of his earlier mistakes.
"Whether it was short throws to fellow rookie Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown, a high outside touchdown throw to Jaleel Scott that only he could catch, or a perfectly-placed deep ball to Michael Floyd, McSorley showed the right touch and placement on his passes. He read the defense well and chose the right target, often marching the offense down the field in spite of a lackluster showing from the run game."
It's been widely thought McSorley would have to contribute on special teams to make the Ravens' roster, but he's seen most of his reps at quarterback as Robert Griffin III recovers from a fractured bone in his throwing hand.
After last night's performance, some pundits believe the Ravens won't be able to stash McSorley on the practice squad. Both of last night's broadcasters, Gerry Sandusky and former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick, said they're not so sure McSorley would clear waivers to get to the practice squad if he were cut, and others agreed.
"If there was any question in the coaching staff's mind about trying to slip him to the practice squad, his showing tonight made sure someone else would sign him before he ever cleared waivers," Stevens wrote.
"Depending on injuries, keeping a third quarterback on the roster might be a luxury the Ravens can't afford, but games like this show McSorley's growth and make it less likely McSorley would clear waivers should the Ravens cut him with thoughts of re-signing him to the practice squad," Press Box's Bo Smolka added.
Griffin may be ready for Week 1 of the regular season, which leaves the Ravens with a dilemma, The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote.
"Do they want to carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster?" Walker wrote. "They did it last year when Joe Flacco was their established starter and Jackson an unproven rookie. But it's never their preference, given that it saddles them with an automatic inactive player most weeks.
"Is there any chance they would cut Griffin and roll with McSorley as their sole back-up? That seems unlikely, given their respect for the veteran's team-first approach over the last two seasons and the risks presented by Jackson's run-happy style. McSorley has done his job, improving tremendously over the last four months and confirming himself as a viable NFL prospect. Now, the ball is in the Ravens' court."
Another player on the roster "bubble" who stood out was wide receiver Michael Floyd, who led the team with three catches for 54 yards, including 28-yard touchdown catch from McSorley in the second quarter.
The final wide receiver spot could come down to Floyd, Jaleel Scott, and undrafted rookie Antoine Wesley, and Floyd's stock is trending up.
"Three weeks ago, the veteran receiver seemed buried down the depth chart, seemingly the seventh or eighth option for a team that isn't likely to carry more than six receivers," Smolka wrote. "But since then, Seth Roberts has been sidelined by an injury, undrafted rookie Antoine Wesley's star has dimmed and Floyd has elevated his play in practice and in games ... Without a significant special teams role, Floyd still faces a tough path to the 53-man roster, but Roberts' injury could open the door."
Head Coach John Harbaugh said Floyd has "got to be in the conversation" to make the team at wide receiver given how he's played recently.
However, one of the wide receivers Floyd is competing with for a spot, Jaleel Scott, also scored a touchdown, showing off his big-body red-zone skills. Just when the wide receiver picture seemed to be getting clearer, it may be even tougher to sort out.
On the defensive side, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser posted a strong showing, finishing with four tackles, two for a loss, and one sack on the night, providing an encouraging glimpse into the pass rush potential.
Walker believes Bowser has quietly played himself off the roster bubble.
"Bowser is probably ahead of [Tim Williams] in the job scramble, in part because he's a key special-teams player but also because he was one of the most productive defenders on the field against the Eagles," Walker wrote. "He's not as quick a pass rusher coming off the edge as Williams is at his best, but he's physically stronger and more versatile."
Nate Burleson 'All In' on Harbaugh and the Ravens
After starting Lamar Jackson at quarterback midway through last season, John Harbaugh put together one of his best coaching performances to date. The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia ranked all 32 NFL coaches on a confidence scale heading into the 2019 season, and Harbaugh landed under the "Feeling Pretty, Pretty Good" category.
"They've had one losing season in the 11 years that he's been in Baltimore," Kapadia wrote. "But since the Super Bowl XLVII win, the Ravens have missed the postseason in four of six seasons. In my book, coaches who are willing to take risks and adjust their schemes to match personnel should get extra points. And that's exactly what Harbaugh is doing going into 2019. It feels like the move to go all-in on Lamar Jackson has energized the franchise and made it relevant again. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, Harbaugh was the second-most aggressive coach on fourth downs last season. And the Ravens' special teams have ranked in the top six every year since 2012."
When asked who can lead their team back to a Super Bowl – Harbaugh or Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson – Good Morning Football's Nate Burleson was high on the Ravens.
"I'm all-in on the Ravens right now ... and not for the offensive reasons," Burleson said. "... They were the No. 1 defense last year. I know you're sitting back saying, 'Nate, but they lost [Eric] Weddle, lost [C.J.] Mosley, and they lost [Terrell] Suggs.' That's cool. They added Earl Thomas. I'm not saying they need to be No. 1, but if they can crack the top five and be the best running team in the NFL, I guarantee that they'll get deep in the playoffs."
"I can't tell you what this Ravens team is," Host Kay Adams interjected.
"Which makes them maybe the most interesting team, because to Nate's point, everyone is zigging, and they're zagging," Peter Schrager added. "The Chiefs are throwing 50 touchdown passes; the Ravens are outwardly saying, 'we are going to shake up the foundation of how football is viewed by playing this style.'"
Similarly, ESPN's "First Take" debated whether Jackson or Carson Wentz is more important to their respective teams. The resounding answer was Jackson, based on the uncertainty pundits have heading into his second season.
"Baltimore goes nowhere if Jackson does not develop," Louis Riddick said. "He has to develop his ability to throw this football 15-20 yards down the field, outside the numbers. If he does not develop that part of his game, teams will pack the middle of the field ... they will force him to throw the ball outside. He can not continue to get away with running the way he has."
An Inside Look Into the Ravens' Preseason Broadcast
Have you ever wondered what preparation goes into a preseason broadcast? The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec was given an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the Ravens' Week 2 preseason matchup against the Green Bay Packers.
Sandusky, Billick, and sideline reporter Evan Washburn make up the three-man team you see and hear. They balance busy schedules and outside job commitments to give fans an inside look into the Ravens over the course of a four-week preseason.
"It's really about getting people on a four-week journey ready for the regular season, so they learn, who is Jaylon Ferguson? What does Mark Ingram bring to this offense?" Sandusky told Zrebiec. "It's one thing if I say, 'Wow, Lamar Jackson looks so much better than he did a year ago.' But if Brian breaks it down, and says, 'Here's why he's doing better,' now there's real credibility."
Led by Vice President of Broadcasting & Gameday Productions Jay O'Brien and Director of Production Matt Brevet, the Ravens spend countless hours from production meetings to preparation up until kickoff to provide fans with one of the top gameday viewing experiences across the league.
"The Ravens expect their preseason broadcasts to be as good, if not better than what you see on CBS or FOX on Sundays during the season,"Zrebiec wrote. "They spare few expenses to make sure of it. They were the first NFL team to install Skycam at their home stadium, and to utilize 360-degree replays. They use a Robocam in the broadcast booth. For the Packers game last Thursday, their truck recorded 17 angles of replay, similar to what you'd see for a primetime broadcast."
While Sandusky and Billick man the booth during the game, O'Brien, Brevet, and the production crew handle visual and audio elements of the broadcast.
Zrebiec noted that while last Thursday's broadcast went well, preseason games can provide a challenge. They offer a chance to highlight unique storylines that wouldn't normally be talked about during the regular season.
While the result of the preseason games doesn't matter in the record books, each broadcast is treated with the utmost importance.
"They treat each preseason game as if it were that's week Super Bowl," Zrebiec wrote. "In June, Ravens Productions won seven regional Emmy Awards, and it has its sights on more."
● Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer expects linebacker Patrick Onwuasor to take over as the "quarterback" of the Ravens' defense this season. "With C.J. Mosley off to the Jets … Baltimore needed guys to step forward at the two off-ball linebacker spots. That's happened, with Onwuasor, Chris Board and Kenny Young all flashing this summer. I'm told Onwuasor, the group's veteran, is likely to get the green dot on his helmet and serve in the leadership role Mosley did. That makes sense since he started alongside Mosley last year." Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale also said this last week.