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

August 18, 2012 | Luke Jones

The performance was similar in nature to what Atlanta wideout Julio Jones was able to accomplish last week, but the Ravens defense once again took the rough results in stride.

“He has size but I don’t think that’s what killed us tonight,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “I think they just made a couple plays. We just all have to get on the same page. It’s all about 11 guys working on the same page. Our corners played pressed tonight – they weren’t scared of [Johnson]. They were willing to put their hands on him, and as long as they do that, we’ll be alright.”

Questions remain about how effective the Baltimore defense can be without linebacker Terrell Suggs providing constant pressure in passing situations, making new defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ job even more difficult in finding creative ways to generate heat on the quarterback. Lost in the poor performance from the secondary, however, is that Pees is using the preseason to experiment with different personnel, blitz packages, and looks, without any regard for the opponent on the field.

Johnson’s post-game comments suggested the Pro Bowl receiver was licking his chops with a rare opportunity to receive man coverage.

“They were blitzing a lot,” Johnson said. “When that happens, they leave their defensive backs on an island. When that happens, our eyes get wide, and we can’t wait. Somebody will make a play.”

If it were a regular-season game, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me the Ravens would attempt to defend Johnson without bracketed coverage. No matter how talented you think your secondary is, you simply don’t match up against the 6-foot-5 receiver with man coverage and expect to be successful.

Much like the offense, the defense is trying to reestablish its own identity without Suggs and attempting to replace several other veteran losses. Despite how mediocre it’s looked in the first two games, the secondary deserves the benefit of the doubt as Pees attempts to spitball ideas in finding the best ways to make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable.

Fortunately, linebacker Paul Kruger has quelled concerns about his ability to be a three-down player as he nearly picked off a pass intended for talented Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew and once again set the edge well from his strongside linebacker position. Rookie Courtney Upshaw made his preseason debut and undoubtedly looked rusty while struggling to get off blocks, meaning the rush linebacker competition remains up in the air between Upshaw and Albert McClellan.

Yes, the overall assessment of the first two preseason games has been a mixed bag at best and concerning at worst. But the preseason is designed for trial-and-error, and the Ravens must take advantage of that more than ever in dealing with their issues along the offensive line and trying to maintain their same level of defensive excellence despite a number of changes in personnel.

And in reality, they may not find all the answers they’re looking for by Week 1 — or at any point this season — but the process in searching is still underway. The results are irrelevant at this point and have no bearing on how the 2012 season will go. The Ravens weren’t playing the Detroit Lions on Friday night as much as they were competing against themselves.

“I like where we’re at in some ways and not in others,” Harbaugh said. “You can never predict it, that’s the thing. We’d like to be doing everything great, but you’re not going to peak really early, and it’s August. We’ve got a long season in front of us.”

Yes, they do, and they have a lot of work remaining in order to be ready.

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”


    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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