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.