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The Breakdown: Eisenberg’s Five Thoughts on Ravens vs. Colts

Five thoughts on the Ravens’ 20-19 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:

All you had to do was check Joe Flacco’s numbers to know he had another strong night. He completed seven of nine pass attempts for 72 yards and a touchdown, good for an astronomical 137.0 passer rating. But what I liked most about his performance wasn’t reflected in any numbers: He attempted passes of pretty much every variety and distance, and importantly, you didn’t know which was coming when the ball was snapped. A major complaint about the Ravens’ offense in recent years has been that it’s too predictable, especially in the passing game. But things are looking quite different this year. Flacco opened the game with an air-it-out deep toss to John Brown that fell incomplete but set the tone. Flacco went on to complete checkdowns as well as deep sideline tosses, and he hit Brown on a 7-yard slant over the middle for the touchdown. With the first-team offensive line giving him plenty of protection, Flacco and the passing game were anything but predictable.

The night’s most important development occurred minutes before kickoff when The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec reported that the Ravens were “bracing for a multi-week suspension” of cornerback Jimmy Smith for a violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. Smith reportedly would appeal the suspension and we’ll know soon how it all plays out, but it appears the smart money is on the Ravens being without their top cornerback for at least a few regular season games. It would be a setback, no doubt, and interrupts what had been a nearly perfect 2018 for the Ravens as far as avoiding major injuries and other subtractions. Hello, reality. Stuff happens. There’s no way the Ravens would be better without one of the few NFL cornerbacks who can shut down Antonio Brown. But here are the caveats: a) The Ravens are used to playing without the injury-plagued Smith, who has missed significant time in every recent season, and b) they’re probably deeper at cornerback than at any other position, with veteran Brandon Carr ready to step into the lineup and Tavon Young, Maurice Canady and rookie Anthony Averett all capable of taking on larger roles if needed. I’d be surprised if the Ravens make a move to add another veteran.

The Colts certainly looked like they were playing a preseason game. They lost three turnovers and were penalized 13 times for 129 yards. The Ravens also were sloppy with the ball, losing a pair of fumbles (both on punt returns), but played crisply within the rules, getting flagged for just 56 yards in penalties. While much of the rest of the league complains nonstop about not understanding the new helmet rules, the Ravens – with safety Eric Weddle setting the tone – have pretty much shrugged it off, saying they can play within the rules as written and plan to do so. They continued to walk the walk on that Monday night. They made a lot of tackles but experienced no helmet-rule issues.

It’s not a coincidence that the Ravens were on national TV for the second time in three preseason games. The football world wants to see Lamar Jackson, and it got what it wanted when the rookie replaced Flacco late in the first quarter. The first impression he offered was nightmarish. Jackson’s first four passes fell incomplete. The Colts brought relentless pressure, trapping him in the pocket and leaving him with little room to maneuver. Then he seemed to lose a fumble on a scramble. But the fumble call was overturned via replay, and from there, slowly but surely, his night improved. He completed a pass, then another. Before halftime, he led the offense on a drive that produced a field goal. After halftime, he led the offense on a touchdown drive. In the end, he completed seven of 15 passes for 49 yards and registered a 76.8 passer rating – modest totals. I don’t know what the football world expected, but Jackson’s up-and-down performance was typical of where he is right now, and he was a total pro in the way he battled back from a rough start.

Short takes: With (I think) his job quite possibly on the line, running back Kenneth Dixon was given an extended look in his first preseason appearance and he fared nicely, looking like a veteran as he piled up 56 rushing and receiving yards on nine touches in the first half. I’d say that gives him a clear leg up on the No. 3 job at his position … Tim White and Janarion Grant both had several chances to return kicks. Grant looked strong on a 32-yard kickoff return and nearly broke a punt return before ending it with a fumble. White also fumbled a punt and was flagged for making an illegal fair catch signal. Grant looked more dangerous, but his fumble negated his advantage … Even without Jimmy Smith, the first-team defense fared well against the Colts’ Andrew Luck, picking him off and keeping him out of the end zone on four possessions … Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg will not be happy after his units lost two fumbles, had a punt blocked and missed a field goal attempt, albeit a long one … Fifteen different players caught passes for the Ravens, a sure sign it’s August. Outside of the top four wide receivers, however, a fifth and sixth wide receiver has not emerged yet in preseason games.

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