Five thoughts on the Ravens' 27-10 preseason win over the Miami Dolphins Saturday night at Hard Rock Stadium:
Playing the entire first half, quarterback Robert Griffin III offered more evidence that he belongs on an NFL roster this year, whether it's in Baltimore or elsewhere. Although his line struggled to protect him or open holes, he completed 9 of 15 passes for 66 yards and repeatedly made plays with his legs, rushing for 41 yards on five carries. The offense only scored three points on his watch, but that was a victory given the line's struggles in front of him. As Head Coach John Harbaugh noted last week, whether Griffin makes the Ravens' 53-man roster depends not so much on his play – it's good enough – but other factors, including whether the Ravens think rookie Lamar Jackson is ready to be the No. 2 behind Joe Flacco. On that front, Jackson may have changed the narrative by offering his best performance to date in the second half Saturday night. He was poised and explosive, passing for 98 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 39 yards and a touchdown against Miami's backups. If you've been waiting to see a pro version of the Jackson who was so electric in college, you got what you wanted in this game, and indeed, it was impressive.
The decision not to play Joe Flacco and other veterans broke a tradition of sorts. Normally, the Ravens make their penultimate preseason game the closest thing to a regular season dress rehearsal they offer in August, but I had no problem whatsoever with them abandoning the idea. The field was wet from an all-day rain, injuries to offensive linemen threatened the caliber of Flacco's protection, and as Harbaugh noted, it's already been a long preseason with the extra game and two sets of joint practices with other teams. The truth is more teams across the league are playing their starters less in the preseason, having gauged that the risks outweigh the potential benefits. Far be it from me to argue with that thinking. Would 15 extra snaps in this game really have impacted the readiness of Flacco (or any other veteran) for the regular season? No. With the looming roster cutdown especially challenging this year due to talent logjams at several positions, this preseason contest was best used as an opportunity for candidates to state their cases for making the team.
The Ravens started a patchwork offensive line due to Ronnie Stanley, James Hurst and Marshal Yanda – three of their top six linemen – not playing. That sounded like a recipe for trouble against Miami's active front, which includes Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn. Rookie Greg Senat started in place of Stanley at left tackle and struggled for two series before leaving with an injury. Jermaine Eluemunor took Senat's place and was flagged for a holding penalty on his first series, then gave up a sack on his second before settling down. Elsewhere, the starting interior of center Matt Skura and guards Alex Lewis and Bradley Bozeman struggled early to establish a consistent push, while rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. hung in there against a higher caliber of rush than he had previously faced. After the game, Harbaugh praised the young linemen for holding their own against a tough opponent.
The Ravens have been waiting for one or several of their young wide receivers to separate themselves in the competition for the No. 5 and No. 6 jobs at that position. I don't know if this qualified, but Tim White and rookie Jordan Lasley stood out in this game. White caught three passes for 70 yards, all in the second half, while Lasley also caught three for 30 yards. Interestingly, it was assumed White's chances of making the roster were tied to his ability to earn the return specialist job, and the coaches bypassed him on that duty in this game, handing the job to rookie Janarion Grant. Grant performed well, though not spectacularly, averaging 9.0 yards on four punt returns and 22 yards on three kickoff returns without fumbling. White then stepped in and returned a punt late in the game, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a shot at the return duties in next week's preseason finale. The battle for these jobs is going down to the wire.
Short takes: The result extended the Ravens' preseason winning streak to 12 games … Should the team be concerned that Justin Tucker is 0-for-4 in the preseason on plus-50-yard field goal attempts after he missed one from 51 in the first quarter and had another blocked? In a word, no … I'm not sure there's room on the 53-man roster for rookie running back De'Lance Tuner, an undrafted free agent, but he surely opened some eyes around the league with his straight-up-the-middle 65-yard touchdown run. Several Dolphins had a shot at him but couldn't catch him … Although Kenny Young is challenging him for his job as a starting inside linebacker, Patrick Onwuasor played like he is determined to keep it. He had four tackles and a sack in the first half alone …
A final note: The events of the game certainly didn't seem important after the Ravens announced before kickoff that Bobbi Engram, the 20-year-old daughter of Bobby Engram, the team's wide receivers coach, passed away Saturday. It's heartbreaking news and my deepest condolences go to Engram and his family.
Check out the best shots from Saturday night's preseason game against the Miami Dolphins.