Sorry, Ravens fans. I'm stepping in for John Eisenberg tonight. Here are five thoughts on the Ravens' 13-9 win over the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium:
It's Not a Mirage. This Defense Is Really, Really Good
After two preseason games, the Ravens defense sat atop the league in all the major categories. It led in total yardage allowed and the starters hadn't surrendered a point. Saturday's third preseason game was more of the same. The Bills got just 1 yard on their first drive. A Matthew Judon sack knocked former Ravens backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor (concussion) out of the game on the second drive. Buffalo got a little more traction on its third drive, but even that one should have ended with a C.J. Mosley interception. The first-team defense gave up 36 total yards on four drives. We can all sit back and continue to say preseason action means nothing, and the Bills offensive weapons don't measure up to the ones Baltimore will see in Cincinnati in Week 1, but dominant performance after dominant performance screams of a trend. This is no mirage, folks. The Ravens defense is really, really good.
We Get It Tucker, You're Tough. Now Stop ItAfter Justin Tucker recovered a fumble on his own kickoff last week, he was asked whether it would give him a stronger argument when people say kickers aren't football players. "I don't ever let anybody put that evil on me," he replied, quoting the comedy film, "Talladega Nights." Tucker has never been afraid to stick his nose in the action. Nothing written here is going to convince him otherwise, but could his coaches? We all know how valuable the two-time Pro Bowler has been to this team. But with uncertainty swirling around the Ravens offense, Tucker may be more valuable than ever right now. He's perhaps the best chance at reliable points this season. Making a tackle to prevent a kickoff return for a touchdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers is cool. Hitting a returner in the preseason ... not so much.
Time to Appreciate Mallett More
Ravens fans yearned to see what Josh Woodrum would do with the starters. He got his chance and the magic everyone was hoping for didn't materialize. Had a deep pass to Mike Wallace been a foot shorter, Woodrum would have had a memorable touchdown, but it fell incomplete. A fourth-and-5 play went haywire due to an unexpected snap. It was a tough assignment against the Bills' starting defense, but the idea was to see how he would handle such a situation. He threw a touchdown late in the third quarter, but it came with most of the Bills' defensive starters on the sideline. On the other end, Ryan Mallett had his best preseason game yet. He looked in control, sharper, made quicker decisions and, most important of all, did not turn the ball over. They only netted three points, but Mallett engineered two solid drives in three opportunities. Mallett has taken a lot of heat this summer, but he's improved. The Ravens still need Joe Flacco under center. Mallett's rebound shouldn't be sneered at, however.
Two Starters are Still Unknown
It looks like the identity of the Ravens' starting left guard will be a mystery going into the regular season. Matt Skura started there Saturday night, but it's doubtful that he'll be the guy in Cincinnati. Ryan Jensen remained the starting center, backed up by re-signed Jeremy Zuttah. James Hurst stayed at left tackle with Ronnie Stanley still out with an undisclosed injury. The Ravens' starting inside linebacker next to C.J. Mosley doesn't appear to be set in stone either. Kamalei Correa and Patrick Onwuasor traded drives early on, then both played when Mosley exited. Correa has been the leader throughout the summer, but it could end up being a shared role. Onwuasor made his case, forcing and recovering a fumble on the Bills' final drive, with about a minute remaining, to preserve the Ravens win. He looked fast all night and had some good quarterback pressure.
Go ahead and chalk up undrafted rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill for a 53-man roster spot. He simply continues to make plays, and got his second interception of the preseason, leading to Baltimore's first touchdown of the game. This kid was a tryout (not part of the Ravens' first undrafted rookie class). Incredible story. ... Undrafted running back Taquan "Smoke" Mizzell is also building a solid case to be on the team. Filling in for injured Danny Woodhead, Mizzell led the Ravens in receiving with six grabs for 54 yards, including a nifty 15-yard touchdown. ... Undrafted rookie wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo was the talk of the town in training camp practices, but hasn't made the same impact in any of the three preseason games. ... Call it a block party or whatever you want, but the Ravens' defenders are well-coached in knowing when to get their hands in passing lanes when they aren't going to get to the quarterback. ... The Ravens' trademark intentional safety is a lot less fun now that the blatant WWE-style holding to kill more clock loophole has been closed. Good to see the move is still in their back pocket, however, if the circumstances are right.