Last week it was wide receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White and this week it’s Calvin Johnson, but the Ravens secondary isn’t backing down despite a rough start in the preseason opener.
In fact, the unit is embracing the early challenges against some of the best receivers in football. Against the Detroit Lions on Friday night, the Ravens will arguably see the best receiver in the NFL as the 6-foot-5 Johnson comes off an incredible 2011 season in which he caught 96 passes for 1,681 and 16 touchdowns.
“I am looking to go against anyone,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “It’s not that it’s just ‘Megatron.’ But, it’s going to be a nice challenge going against one of the best receivers in the league. Why not start it off in preseason going against him? Getting your confidence up, getting back used to the game, like I said.”
The Baltimore defense is hoping to avoid a repeat of last week when Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and Jones burned the secondary repeatedly, with cornerback Cary Williams receiving most of the attention. Jones caught six passes for 109 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter as the Ravens allowed 191 total yards in the first 15 minutes of play.
However, defensive coordinator Dean Pees credited Ryan’s pinpoint accuracy on several passes and reminded everyone how the front seven was unable to get consistent pressure on the Atlanta quarterback. The Ravens hope to generate more heat on Stafford to aid defensive backs in the battle against Johnson.
A three-and-out as opposed to the touchdown the Ravens allowed on the Falcons’ opening drive would be a fine way to erase the ugly beginning to the preseason.
“We need to get off to a fast start,” Pees said. “That’s the thing that disappointed us Thursday is we got off to a slow start, and we don’t want to let anybody ever drive the ball on us, let alone go down and score on the first possession – certainly not a way you want to start the game. Now, that being said, I’ve played in enough games in 40 years of football that they have scored on the first drive, and we won the game 41-7. You have to also let that go and it’s over with and done. You make corrections on the sideline, you come back and win the game.”
Webb and the Baltimore secondary aren’t panicking over the poor showing against Atlanta after finishing with the fourth-ranked pass defense in the league last season. Pressure will be on the secondary to play at an even higher level after the loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs and how his absence will likely leave a major void in the pass rush.
Webb is expecting Friday’s performance to look much more like the unit that played at an exceptional level last season.
“When you come into the first game, you get a little anxious,” Webb said. “You want to get the interception here, you want to jump here, but it’s all about feeling the game out, feeling the team out. We kind of jumped the gun, tried to jump too much stuff. This game, I think, we are just going to let it come to us – just play football and let the defense open up to us.”
Increased workload for starters?
Starters will see more action in the second preseason game of the summer, but after last week’s nine-play, nine-yard first quarter, the Ravens will shy away from specifying a concrete amount of time the starters will play against the Lions.
As is always the case, certain veteran starters such as linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed will likely be lifted earlier than the rest of their starting mates.
“We will play it by ear right now,” coach John Harbaugh said. “It could be as much as a half, it might not be. We’ll just play it by ear, see how it’s going, and see how many reps we get. Again, it will be more individual. There will be some guys staying longer than other guys. Starters, I think there are categories in there as well.”
Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg expressed his preference for Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker to receive more opportunities on Friday as the Ravens try to decide who will be their place kicker. As was the case last week, Cundiff is expected to start the game before Tucker receives his chance later in the night.
It remains to be seen whether recently-injured players such as Torrey Smith, Jimmy Smith, and Courtney Upshaw will play on Friday, and Harbaugh wasn’t tipping his hand about the status of any players when he spoke to reporters on Wednesday.
“We’ll see,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t really want to mention anyone particularly right now. We will just see how it goes.”
Fight like a Raven