As you’d expect, Ravens still very much a work in progress

August 18, 2012 | Luke Jones

As you’d expect, Ravens still very much a work in progress

As was the case in the Ravens’ preseason-opening win over the Atlanta Falcons, you can’t take anything away from the final score after the Detroit Lions won by a 27-12 margin at M&T Bank Stadium Friday night.

On the surface, the first-team units struggled once again as the offense twice drove inside the Detroit 30-yard-line — one taking them all the way to the 7 — before settling for field goals and the defense was unable to stop a high-octane passing attack for the second straight week. However, what’s lost in the scrutiny and excitement of this particular preseason is that the Ravens are reinventing themselves on both sides of the football.

And that remains a major work in progress with 23 days remaining before the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 10.

“I thought we played well early,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We just need to finish the drives [offensively], finish the drives on defense and get off the field on third downs.”

Offensively, quarterback Joe Flacco and the starting offense once again utilized a no-huddle attack for their three series of work. Unlike the preseason opener in which they went three-and-out three straight times, the Ravens developed a decent rhythm early as they used three-wide sets of Anquan Boldin, Jacoby Jones, and LaQuan Williams — Torrey Smith sat out with a lingering ankle injury — and dropped back to pass on 16 of the 26 play-calls the first offense ran.

It remains to be seen how committed the Ravens are to executing the no-huddle offense when the regular season begins, but it’s becoming clear that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is taking a page from new quarterback coach and former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell in trying to make the high-speed attack a proficient option they can use in larger doses than in the past. The Ravens are facing the challenge of being without top tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta for the remainder of the preseason, but they’re utilizing a third receiver instead of having Pitta work in the slot as he did late last season.

Success with the no-huddle is contingent upon timing and sustaining drives in order to bring your own defense adequate rest.

However, the same problems we’ve seen in the past crept up when the Ravens were moving the ball well. On their second drive, Flacco guided Baltimore inside the 10 before Williams could not bring it what would have been a touchdown and left tackle Michael Oher committed a holding penalty that pushed the Ravens back to the 17. They settled for a 33-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

A drive later, they moved the ball to the Detroit 29 before reserve running back Anthony Allen whiffed picking up a blitzer for the second straight week and Flacco was sacked on a third-and-1 situation, leading to a 50-yard field goal by rookie Justin Tucker.

At that point, you could close the book on the starting offense’s night, with the same lack of efficiency — in terms of scoring touchdowns, anyway — inside the 30 hanging over their heads.

“That’s why when you do get those two chances, that’s why it’s all about finishing off, finishing off,” Flacco said. “The biggest thing with that is if we’re going to be the offense that we want to be, in order to put up 30-some points every week, you have to score touchdowns. You don’t want to get in the business of just not converting and kicking.”

The most positive news to take away from the offensive side Friday was the improvement of the offensive line. With veteran Matt Birk back at center, the Ravens once again used Oher at left tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele at right tackle while Bryant McKinnie stood on the sideline. Run blocking had mixed results as the bulk of their rushing yards came courtesy of a 35-yard run by Jones, but the Ravens did a much better job protecting Flacco than they did in Atlanta when the quarterback was repeatedly running for his life.

“We’re definitely starting to come together,” offensive tackle Michael Oher said. “We’re still learning and guys are still getting used to some things, but we’re getting better every day.”

Once again, McKinnie did not work with the starting offensive line as you wonder more and more if the Ravens are serious about going with the more athletic combination of Oher and Osemele and how that might be a better fit for their ability to utilize the no-huddle offense. The mammoth veteran tackle blocked well against second-team defenders, but the assumption that he would eventually regain his starting left tackle job appears more uncertain after he wasn’t even rotated in for some work with the first unit.

Watching the Baltimore defense Friday, the most definitive conclusion I took away is that the Ravens are fortunate only to have to play Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in a game that matters once every four years. The best pass-catcher on the planet torched the Ravens in the second quarter with a 57-yard reception matched up against Cary Williams and an 18-yard touchdown over a well-positioned Jimmy Smith.

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7 Comments For This Post

  1. unitastoberry Says:

    The starting D is scary right now Ozzie needs to look at the waver wire close. Is Jacoby Jones the second coming of Lee Evans? All speed and no hands? I like the no huddle.

    (L.J. — I’ve said all along to temper expectations about Jacoby Jones as a wide receiver. He drops passes, plain and simple. That said, his speed will likely lead him to hit some “home runs” for the passing game this year.)

  2. joe of bel air Says:

    Luke: Regarding the Tucker/Cundiff. In your opinion, will Cundiff’s long term contract play any role in the final decision as to who they keep. I hope they don’t say that the salary cap hit is too big to let him walk, because honestly that is the only reason why I can see them keeping Cundiff. Tucker looks like a legitimate threat anywhere between 50-60 yards, whereas we know Cundiff is horrible beyong 50 yards.

    (L.J. – I do not see the contract playing any significant role if they would decide to cut him. It would be a $600,000 hit this year and $1.8 million in dead cap money next year. Not ideal, but far from manageable.

  3. jpetrosino Says:

    On kickoffs, it seems that Cundiff is unable to regain his form from 2 years ago when he kicked that sucker to the back of the endzone and now he can barely get it to the goal line. Whereas, Tucker was kicking it deep into the endzone. So far, my vote is with Tucker.

    (L.J. — They have purposely shortened Cundiff’s steps, so he will not kick it out of the end zone because they want to evaluate the kickoff coverage during the preseason. After moving them up to the 35, the kickoffs are not a factor in this competition.)

  4. Chuck Says:

    “As you’d expect, Ravens still very much a work in progress”

    Really??

    This is a veteran team. This is a team that has made the playoffs each of the last four years. This is a team with the same head coach, offensive coordinator and QB for five consecutive years (how many teams in the NFL can say that?). This is a team that we have been told repeatedly has one of the best CB tandems in the league. This is a team with one of the most valuable RB in the NFL who is entering his fifth season. This is a team that may have lost the reigning defensive MVP but has an all-pro NT. This is a team with a number one WR who will be 32 in two months. This is a team we are told has an above average TE tandem. This is a team with two defensive players who were once great but are way past their prime.

    The loss of Grubbs and Johnson are notable but not too much different than so many other teams in the NFL. The Browns, Chargers and Redskins may be “a work in progress” but the Ravens? Even the Steelers are more of “a work in progress” than Baltimore.

    (L.J. – Yes, they’re a work in progress in that the offense is trying to reinvent itself by working extensively on the no-huddle and the defense is trying to replace one of the best players in the game as well as a couple other veterans, a fact you barely acknowledged as little more than a footnote. The work-in-progress line wasn’t meant to be an excuse, but the preseason is designed for experimentation and trial-and-error, which the Ravens are doing plenty of.

    I don’t understand the “we are told” line you toss out. Did you not see the secondary play at a very high level last year with your own eyes? I choose to give them the benefit of the doubt after a full season of work last year as opposed to a few bad quarters of play against explosive passing offenses for which they haven’t even game-planned. You also mention the tight end tandem that isn’t even on the field right now, which further complicates things. And if Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are “way past their prime,” doesn’t that just hurt the team further and lend more support to my argument?)

    As I wrote, it’s not to dismiss what’s happened in these two preseason games, but their objective in the preseason is trying to identify what’s working and what’s not. It hasn’t looked pretty, but remember that none of this counts until Sept. 10.)

  5. Chuck Says:

    I mentioned specifically that the team has lost “the reigning defensive MVP” as well as Grubbs and Johnson. What else should I have called Suggs, the second coming of our Savior?

    Grubbs is a good OG and Johnson was a consistent player in the lineup, although hardly a difference-maker. In his nine years in the league he has a total of 20 sacks, approximately two per season or one every eight games. And Johnson had the benefit during his career of playing opposite of Suggs, who often had the focus of the opposition’s offense. So a veteran team that qualified for the AFC championship game last year lost one impact player to free agency and “the reigning defensive MVP” to injury, as well as a few average players. Regarding the CB’s, they are an experienced and solid group. They are not “a work in progress”.

    My point is you seem to be viewing this from an exclusively Baltimore prism. Most fans of teams in the NFL would beg for the minimal “work in progress” the Ravens are dealing with. And we should not accept excuses from Cameron, Flacco and Harbaugh that implementing the no- huddle offense for a team with the same OC, QB, HC, number one WR and RB is the reason the starting offensive unit seems to be struggling. When this same offense has not thrown for more than 3,600 yards in each of the last four seasons at a time when the 4,000 yard benchmark has been elevated to 5,000.

    (L.J. – OK, let me try this again. What exactly do you think “work in progress” means? It’s clear this team is working on a few issues, but my saying that doesn’t mean expectations have been lowered or excuses are being made. It’s simply stating reality. At no point did I say every player on the team or every area was a work in progress (i.e. the secondary). I’m talking about the entire team collectively. Does that mean that everything will be fine? Of course not. You mentioned Suggs in one sentence without acknowledging how dramatically that alters their defense. It’s more than just losing 14 sacks and trying to figure out where those will come from. Other than Joe Flacco, you can easily make the argument that losing Suggs is more costly than any other player on the team.

    What would you rather me say? Should I overreact to roughly three quarters of play from the starters and declare the season to be doomed? Sorry, I’m not doing that. I understand what the preseason is about, and I’m not jumping to conclusions — good or bad — over such a small sample size of football and games where winning isn’t even an objective. The truth is every team in the league is a work in progress at this point to varying degrees. You can bet there is a 2-0 team out there that looks outstanding in the preseason but will go 5-11 or 6-10 this year and there are other teams that are 0-2 and have looked anemic that will be just fine for the regular season.

    Anyone who just expected the Ravens to be fine considering some of the losses they’ve endured wasn’t viewing this logically. Fortunately, there are still a few weeks to figure out some of these answers to questions facing this team.)

  6. joe of bel air Says:

    Luke: After the 45 and 50 yard fgs, not to mention the perfectly executed onside kick by Tucker, do you think it is still Billy Vanderjagt’s job to lose?

    (L.J. – As I’ve said for awhile, Cundiff’s hold becomes more tenuous by the day. Still two preseason games to go, however, and a lot can happen with either kicker. I will not be surprised if Tucker wins the job.)

  7. matt Says:

    i feel as though the ravens arent as bad on offense or defense as the preseason is showing.

    i could have swore we had all the same concerns in last years preseason and certainly didnt look like world beaters

    i think the O and D will be far better than they are showing so far, but they arent going to be the 07 patriots either.

    at the very least our CB positions are concrete this year instead of murky, the LB’s need to step up, and the DL i think is superior. same with our WR positions – pretty damn good, TE’s arent as questionable, etc etc

    all in all im saying this team is better than last years team, with less questions (aside from OL and who will get sacks), and they will be better when they arent calling vanilla.

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