Five thoughts on the Ravens' 31-7 win over the Miami Dolphins Thursday night at Hard Rock Stadium:
Defense Continues to Live Up to Hype
Between Jay Cutler's Miami debut and an up-tempo, no-huddle approach, the Dolphins threw a lot more at the Ravens' starting defense than it saw in the preseason opener. The defense was more than up to the test, allowing no points on three possessions before backups began filtering onto the field. Cutler did complete one long pass that was nullified by a penalty, and no doubt, four Miami penalties in the early going made things easier for the defense. But let's not quibble. For the second straight week, Baltimore's starting unit was dominant, shutting down the opponents' running game and using a blend of schemes to apply consistent pressure and disrupt the quarterback's rhythm. If a few series in two August games are any measure, the Ravens' 2017 defense is going to be, as advertised, a handful.
Stats Don't Show How Much Offense Struggled
With Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Danny Woodhead playing for the first time, the Ravens hoped to see more from Ryan Mallett and the starting offense. By the end of the first half, the offense had put up 13 points and 163 yards -- decent numbers. But those numbers disguised the fact that the offense struggled for most of the half. The running game produced little and never found a rhythm. Mallett tossed two interceptions, although, in his defense, the inexperience of a rookie receiver contributed to both. The offensive line, a patchwork group featuring four players who began their careers as undrafted rookies, protected Mallett nicely but struggled to open holes for runners and was flagged for three holding penalties. The offense did move the ball better as the first half unfolded, and it did manage to push the ball into the end zone after a blocked punt gave it the ball at the Miami 4-yard line.
Get Ready for Tight, Low-Scoring Games This Season
With the defense looking good and starting quarterback Joe Flacco out until the regular season opener because of a back injury, it's fair to suggest the Ravens' early games might be tight, low-scoring affairs. If so, they'll need quality play from their special teams, one of their strengths in recent years. On this hot summer night in Florida, those special teams gave a vintage performance that suggested they are ready for the challenge. Justin Tucker nailed three field goals, including a 52-yarder, and also recovered a fumbled kickoff. Wide receiver Chris Matthews, battling for a roster spot, had the biggest play, blocking a punt to set up a touchdown in the second quarter. More quietly, but just as importantly, while Baltimore's kick and punt returners had little chance to show their stuff, they did handle all chances flawlessly, unlike Miami's returners, who seemingly bobbled balls all night. What's that old saying? If you don't lose the game, you're halfway to winning it.
Undrafted CB Jaylen Hill Looks Like One to Keep
One of the big stories heading into the game was the expected pro debut of Marlon Humphrey, the Ravens' 2017 first-round pick, who sat out the preseason opener. That debut came quickly when starting cornerback Jimmy Smith had a helmet issue on the game's second play, forcing Humphrey to hustle onto the field and play a snap. He didn't end up playing a whole lot, though, then took off his pads at halftime, signaling the end of his night. As the game unfolded, another rookie cornerback, far less heralded, wound up becoming the story. Jaylen Hill, an undrafted free agent from Jacksonville State, had a second straight strong game. According to Pro Football Focus, the Dolphins threw at him five times, but completed just one pass for 2 yards. It's still early, but Hill is looking more and more like a player the Ravens will want to keep.
Lardarius Webb seemingly has the inside track on the slot cornerback job. He lined up with the starters in the first quarter and contributed a sack that was nullified by a penalty … Rookie defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, trying to make the team as an undrafted free agent, ran several plays from the fullback position. He's facing a numbers battle in his bid for a roster spot, but the coaches love his motor and athleticism … Avoiding injuries is always a priority in preseason games, and it became more of a priority Thursday night once the game began and the playing field began coming up in chunks, giving it the appearance of a lawn that had just been aerated … The coaches gave rookie Ricky Ortiz more looks at fullback than Lorenzo Taliaferro … Maxx Williams, coming off knee surgery and quiet so far at training camp, had a breakout performance with a pair of run-and-catch plays totaling 48 yards. It's time to re-insert him in the tight end conversation.