Five thoughts on the Ravens' 27-23 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in their preseason home opener Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Win Felt Like Loss
It was a night when a win sort of felt like a loss. The Ravens scored the last 20 points of the game and their locker room was happier after a win, but the Falcons dominated on both sides of the ball, especially up front, when the teams played their starters. At halftime, the Falcons had 16 first downs and the Ravens had three. "I can't remember us playing worse since we came here," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said at the mid-way mark. Leave it to Terrell Suggs to put the performance in perspective. "This was good for us, a little humble pie," he said, inferring that it wouldn't hurt the Super Bowl champions to understand that it's possible for them to get walloped by the team on the other sideline. The Ravens do know that, but actually experiencing it is another thing.
Line Was Biggest Issue On Offense
Given the entire first half to develop some momentum, the Ravens' starting offense produced exactly one nice play, a 77-yard touchdown from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith. Otherwise, it accomplished little. Its biggest issue was up front, where the offensive line was destroyed by Atlanta's front seven. Ray Rice had nowhere to run and gained just 10 yards on eight carries. That put Flacco in must-pass situations, and for the second week in a row, he barely attempted any long passes to dig out of the holes. Admittedly, the line was without guard Marshal Yanda, its leader, still recovering from shoulder surgery, and center A.Q. Shipley, seeking a starting job, seemingly didn't advance his cause, picking up a pair of penalties in his first preseason start. So it wasn't necessarily the ready-for-prime-time group, but no matter, the line needs to do better. For that matter, the entire offense needs to do better … a lot better.
Wake-Up Call To Defensive Line
Much as the offensive front was dominated, the Ravens' starting defensive front also had a rough night. Steven Jackson, now the Falcons' featured back, rushed for 42 yards on eight carries in the early going, bulling right through the middle of the Ravens' interior for solid gains. Overall, the Falcons picked up 76 yards on the ground before both teams turned the game over to their subs. The Ravens have been feeling good in training camp about their reconfigured defensive front, but this was a wake-up call. No tackles for Chris Canty. One apiece for Courtney Upshaw and Haloti Ngata. Interestingly, Harbaugh pointed out that it wasn't a case of getting pushed around so much as failing to play together, i.e., failing to stick to the fundamentals of gap control, etc. More technical than physical, in other words.
J. Smith Clearly Not Winning Starting Role
It's funny how one short sequence of plays in a preseason game can bring clarity to a large issue. For months we have wondered who would start at cornerback for the Ravens in 2013. Would Lardarius Webb bounce back in time from the torn ACL that ended his 2012 season? If so, would Jimmy Smith or Corey Graham start opposite Webb? Well, Webb hasn't taken a preseason snap but seems on course to return for the regular-season opener … and he is needed. Smith had a very rough night Thursday, as Falcons starter Matt Ryan completed five passes right over him in the first 18 minutes. It's just mid-August but Smith didn't look like a starting cornerback. Suddenly, it's clear not only that Webb will start as long as he is ready, but also that Graham will man the other side barring some dramatic reversal. It's only appropriate. Graham has had a strong training camp.
Pass Catchers Outside Of T. Smith? Meh.
The search for productive pass catchers other than Torrey Smith goes on. Flacco targeted Jacoby Jones just twice, resulting in a 4-yard reception and an interception. Meh. Otherwise, Flacco didn't aim a single pass at a wideout other than Smith. Rookie Aaron Mellette caught a second-half touchdown from Tyrod Taylor for the second straight week, and also set up another score by drawing an interference penalty; that's how you get noticed and raise your stock. Tandon Doss caught a touchdown in the second half but also had a fumble (negated by a penalty) and a tough night overall. Among tight ends, rookie Matt Furstenburg and Billy Bajema produced more than veteran Visanthe Shiancoe. Flacco spent the second half chatting with Dallas Clark on the sideline, surely a sign of things to come.