I thought I'd try and gather some of my thoughts around the numbers and stats coming out of our third preseason game vs. the Ravens. Since we played "most" of our starters...and for "most" of the game...normally, I'd say the results of Game 3 should be more indicative of how we can expect the team to play throughout the upcoming season. But, we had some key guys sit this one out. On offense, both Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart never saw the field. And, on defense, we were missing Jon Beason, Thomas Davis, Charles Godfrey...and of course, Ma'ake Kemoeatu. That latter personnel grouping was pretty important, as defensively, we just didn't have it together. But more on that once we go...inside the numbers...
Running Game - We actually did very well despite not having Deangelo or Stewart in the game. Mike Goodson carried 11 times for 52 yards (an average of 4.73 yards per carry). And Decori Birmingham ran 8 times for 27 yards (a 3.38 average) and scored our only TD on a 4th and 1. The offensive line blocked fairly well, but on several occasions Baltimore's defense overpursued, keying off our FB at the point-of-attack. Credit Goodson for cutting back to the weak side of the defensive line and using his speed to get positive yards. At least on one occasion, he seemed frustrated by that. I think Jake or someone was telling him to follow his blockers, but Goodson was trying to indicate that there were too many Ravens defenders already there. He also had a couple of good runs to the edge, again using his speed to turn the corner and get up field. Birmingham got most of his yards inside, including the TD run off-tackle to Otah's side. Generally speaking, our run game looks intact even against a really good defense and even without our two starting RBs. That's a positive to take out of the game regardless of the outcome.
Passing Game - We just did reasonably well with our aerial attack. Jake Delhomme looked better (compared to late last year) and had good zip on the ball, going 10 of 16 for 180 yards. But, in all honesty, he looked very "blah" for the entire first half. He picked up most of his yardage in the 3rd quarter, presumably after making some adjustments and making some long passes (see Receivers, below). McCown went 2 of 4 for 40 yards. No TD passes or INTs for either QB. And we didn't see Moore or Cantwell, but our last preseason game against Pittsburgh should feature all of the backups to determine who makes the roster. Also, despite our QBs being sacked twice by the Ravens, none of them fumbled (including Jake).
Receivers - We made some big catches in the passing game. Long receptions to Muhsin Muhammad (38-yarder), Jeff King (35-yarder), Steve Smith (26-yarder), and Dante Rosario (25-yarder) helped. Smith took quite a shot on his catch and almost had another one, laying full-out along the sideline. Jarrett also pulled in a tough ball (10-yarder) and hung onto it, despite a big hit, but that's all we saw of him other than a holding penalty that called on him. And, another bright spot -- picking up where he left off, Kenny Moore showed really well again playing with the 1's, catching 3 balls for 40 yards, including one that went for 19 yards. More importantly, he showed consistency and an ability to get open against a premier defense in the Ravens secondary. I think the other good thing we saw from the Panthers was the ability to get the ball downfield to our TEs. Stretching the middle of the field can only help us. We also did well on screen passes to Mike Goodson, who turned 3 catches into 26 yards, and had another big one that got called back for a penalty.
But perhaps more eye-popping was the sideline catch Goodson made that the refs originally ruled out-of-bounds. McCown was flushed from the pocket and looked like he was going to scramble to try and pick up a first down...but he had too far to go, so he pulled it back and threw for Goodson up field. Unfortunately, Goodson thought he was going to run and was locked up with his man to block for McCown. Then, they disengaged and Goodson saw the ball coming his way. He literally had to lay out for it, catching it on his fingertips and pulling it in, barely toe-tapping to keep his feet in bounds. The refs threw a flag, originally for illegal contact, I believe, because Goodson was blocking his man downfield before the ball was thrown. They also ruled the pass was incomplete, i.e., that Goodson didn't keep his feet in-bounds. Fox challenged because the Ravens were going to decline the penalty and put the Panthers in 4th down instead of replaying 3rd down after the penalty was enforced. We won the challenge that Goodson caught the ball (wow!), but it was also determined he was knocked out of bounds, came back in and re-established himself with two feet in-bounds before the reception. So, by catching the ball it was illegal touching, and that was a penalty on the Panthers. Bottom line: the Ravens couldn't put us in 4th down and we got to do 3rd down over. Silver lining: Goodson is a player, not just with his speed, but also his pass-catching ability.
Penalties - We had a lot of them. Too many, in fact. All in all, we had 9 penalties for 70 yards, several of which killed our offensive drives or kept them alive for the Ravens. And, since we're supposed to be in "top form" for our 3rd preseason game, it's disappointing to see something like that. A few of them came across kind of ticky-tacky, particularly on defense. But most of them were accurate. We stopped ourselves. It wasn't us against the referees.
Third Down Conversions - We went 0-for-7 on third down opportunities. A whole lot of three-and-outs for us, basically. Instant drive-killers. When we did move the ball, we sustained drives mostly because of our long pass plays or a nifty run from Goodson that kept us out of third down. But, everytime the defense put us in a third down situation, we couldn't convert...at all. That's a problem. And we've seen it in previous seasons before. I don't know why that keeps happening. Is it a lack of sound playcalling on third down? Do we not have plays in the playbook we can reliably use? And if we do, are the players simply incapable of properly executing such plays? I don't know. But it's a prime area of concern. Comparably, the Ravens went 8-for-13 (61%) on third down conversions and they only punted to us twice. That means our defense couldn't get them off the field. And our offense couldn't stay on the field. Time of possession was very lopsided in the first half. And, only after we sustained some drives late in the 3rd and 4th quarters did we start to even it out. Still, the Ravens had the ball for 35:09 and we only had it 24:51...about a 3-2 ratio, basically. For a team that wants to pride itself on running the ball and controlling the clock, it was obviously lacking in this game.
Run Defense - With the exception of the big 48-yard run given up by the scrubs in the 4th quarter that allowed Baltimore to run out the clock, we did really well in defending the run against a good team. The DTs didn't get pushed around nearly as much as I feared they would. And the Ravens didn't just try to run around the edges. They specifically targeted the center of our D-line on multiple plays and got stood up. Our LBs did a particularly good job. I'll single out Dan Connor, James Anderson, and Jeremy Leman, specifically. Anderson led the team in tackles. And Connor was his usual "tackling machine" self. If you go inside the numbers, the Ravens ran 28 times for 118 yards (an average of 4.2 yards per carry). But, as I said, I think that's a little misleading because of that one 48-yard rumble at the end of the game against guys who probably aren't going to be on our team come opening day. If you take out that play, we actually held the Ravens -- a very good running team -- to just 2.6 yards per carry. And that's pretty decent, considering we were getting much more in our run game.
Pass Rush - We had only 1 sack, courtesy of Tyler Brayton against Joe Flacco...but I think it's worth noting that Peppers caused Flacco to delay getting rid of the ball by leaping and obstructing the passing lane he wanted to use. When Flacco pulled the ball down, Brayton came crashing into him from behind. Peppers also chased Flacco on another play out of bounds, coming all the way from the far side of the field. Everette Brown applied pressure, too, against Troy Smith when he got into the game. And all of that pressure came without too many blitzes involving the LBs or DBs...though Chris Harris did bring some heat on one play in the 4th quarter. We didn't see much of a push by the DTs in the game, but I didn't really expect them to do much in that regard. On passing downs, we did see an interesting package using Peppers and Brown on the edges with Tyler Brayton and Charles Johnson in the middle. I suspect we may see that more often throughout the year. They also lined up Julius on the left side more than I thought they would, basically flipping him and Brayton from their DE positions last year. I wonder if they'll continue that or just move them around depending on our opponent?
Pass Defense (Secondary) - We outright sucked in this area. Joe Flacco picked us apart, going 23 of 28 for 247 yards and 1 TD. Many of them were dink-and-dunk passes to the TE and RBs. Our LBs played them very poorly, and I recall one play where Landon Johnson very specifically fell right on his butt trying to come up and make a tackle, decleating himself and totally whiffing on an opportunity to make the tackle. Instead, the RB caught the ball, sidestepped, and went straight up the field for extra yards. Other big plays resulted from our LBs getting swept up in the wash, particularly on screen plays or passes into the flat. And, of course, the TD play to the Raven's TE occured because he simply beat our LB and made a tough catch.
But the lack of playmaking in our secondary wasn't just attributable to our LBs. The DBs got into the act as well, especially from the CB position. Chris Gamble and Richard Marshall gave WAY too much cushion to the Ravens receivers on the outside. And Gamble got beat particularly badly on a long pass play to Kelly Washington that could have gone for a TD if the receiver hadn't stepped out of bounds. He also missed tackles and just generally played very poorly. He had a lot of tackles, but that's because they picked on him...a LOT. Marshall did a little better, but he too gave too much cushion. They just didn't abuse him as much as Gamble throughout the game. Overall, we had really poor tackling, too. That's something we definitely need work on, as it's been on display in the earlier preseason games, too. We have guys flying to the ball. They just don't wrap up. One bright spot among the DBs is that Dante Wesley picked off Troy Smith (and paid the price taking a wicked hit afterward) to kill a Ravens' drive that was about to get into scoring range again. But even Troy Smith showed well against our secondary, going 7 of 10 for 57 yards. Both Ravens QBs enjoyed a really high completion pecentage...primarily because they threw a lot of passes quickly (thereby negating any pass rush) and for short yardage where their receivers could pick up plenty of YAC because of our poor tackling. We also got burned deep a few times. So this was our most disappointing element of the game.
Kickoffs - This just in...Rhys Lloyd has a booming leg on kickoffs. He did so 4 times and forced 3 touchbacks. One of them, he angled from the middle of the field deep to the far right side of the endzone, maximizing the distance it had to travel because of the geometry involved. This helped us out by making the Ravens go the full distance on their drives. Unfortunately, our defense never really capitalized on it. But, imagine how much worse things might be if we had short kickoffs?
For instance, on the one kickoff that Lloyd didn't place in the endzone, the Ravens' KR moved upfield past the 30-yard line before ANY of our coverage guys even got close to him. He didn't actually get contact until the 35 and thankfully, we brought him down short of the 40. Still, it's clear that if Lloyd doesn't force a touchback, we're in trouble. Also, on our first kickoff (after the FG in the 1st quarter), Sherrod Martin was gunning along the right side of the field and got taken about 5 yards deep out of bounds and knocked on his butt at about midfield when he came back inside. Not very good technique being employed there...except by the Raven's special teamers, of course. I also heard after the game that Martin tweaked his knee a little. He was the only official "injury" and it didn't appear too serious. On the other side of the field, I watched Captain Munnerlyn do well on special teams. He got downfield much easier, with some assistance from Dante Rosario attracting attention by running fast alongside him. And Munnerlyn got in on some tackles because of it. The Captain also did pretty good tackling from the CB position later in the game, too.
On our kickoff returns, Mike Goodson handled ALL of them, which I found surprising because I thought they'd give Ryne Robinson some work on that, too. But we didn't see Ryne at all on special teams. He got in there for some pass plays late in the 4th quarter, but produced nothing. I don't think that looks well for him making the roster given that Kenny Moore continues to play well...Jarrett caught a tough ball...and Goodson is taking all of the kickoffs right now. As for Goodson himself, he handled 4 kickoffs and averaged 19 yards a return, with his longest going 27 yards. In general, our starting field position was pretty decent. But, Goodson did handle the first kickoff, pretty poorly...not so much in how he caught it...as his decision-making in running it up field. He started down the middle, then spent a lot more time running laterally and eventually got knocked out of bounds around the 15 yard line. Not a good start. But he did very well after that.
Punting - Jason Baker did a good job. He forced one fair catch and generally put the ball up really high to give his coverage time to get down field. But the coverage unit gave up some yards. On 2 of our punts, they picked up 27 yards against us, but the other 2 went for nothing (including the fair catch). Still, our coverage guys just aren't getting it done yet. Crossman needs to keep working them and settle on the right personnel mix. Also, J.J. Jansen continues to worry a bit. At least one of his snaps caused Baker to adjust to it. If that happens in the regular season, it could haunt us big-time.
Lastly, and perhaps most surprising to me, we didn't see Ryne Robinson go back to catch punts at all in this game. Baltimore punted twice and both times they fell into the endzone for touchbacks. But, we put Kenny Moore back there for them, rather than Ryne. What does that mean? Maybe they were giving Kenny his opportunities this week and we'll see Ryne handle them next week? Or maybe this is an indication Ryne will be cut in favor of keeping Kenny Moore and Mike Goodson to handle KR/PR and WR3/WR4/WR5 duties?
Field Goals and PATs - Same old John Kasay. He had one blocked, but it was called back because the Ravens were offsides (hence, they got there with plenty of time to block it). Other than that, he hit 2 FGs and a PAT. His longest FG went 50 yards. So yeah, John's still got the juice and accuracy.
Turnovers - As I mentioned before, we had a pick with Wesley's INT of Troy Smith. I think the notable thing for us is that we didn't have any, despite playing such a good defense in the Ravens. Admittedly, Jake did throw a ball to Steve Smith that Ed Reed tried to make a play on. He couldn't pull it in and Steve broke it up trying to wrap Reed up anyway. Our RBs (including Goodson) held on well. And despite suffering two sacks, none of our QBs fumbled. They also did well in avoiding the pass-rush or blitzes from the Ravens. Quick outs, slants, and some nifty footwork to move around in the pocket helped both Jake and McCown.
Okay, that's pretty much all I've got on analyzing the numbers for the Panthers-Ravens game. My general impression is that this defense still has a long way to go...and I'm really concerned. I came into this game worried about the run defense and the DT situation. But I left it with additional concerns about the secondary play. The offense is also struggling on 3rd downs. And we've got way too many penalties. Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of time left for the starters to work on these things. I imagine practices are going to get a lot more intense for them before the season opener. And maybe they can get more repetitions in once the roster starts getting trimmed down.
My dollar's worth this time,