The Baltimore Ravens will open the preseason in Atlanta this thursday, Aug. 9, at 7:00 PM. Many questions surround the Ravens this year with an emphasis on the loss of Terrell Suggs. Here are some things to look out for this thursday in Atlanta.
1. Which back up running back will step up? With Ray Rice getting a big time contract, the Ravens must find a solid backup. As of now, the job seems to belong to Bernard Pierce. He has looked good in camp but is injured, giving an opportunity for others to step up. Bobby Rainey was impressive at M&T Bank Stadium this past Friday but must also compete with Damien Berry and Anthony Allen. The Ravens traded up for Pierce so expect him to get the job. Look out for Rainey this thursday though, I think he will have a big time game.
2. How will the Ravens deal with the Falcons receivers? The Ravens secondary is the team’s biggest strength this season. They will face a tough test this thursday when they go up against Roddy White and Julio Jones. White and Jones make up the best receiving tandem in the league and will most likely have 1,000 yards each this season. But, the Ravens secondary is not healthy and will most likely not be at full strength. Lardarius Webb will play but the Ravens second and third cornerbacks, Jimmy Smith and Carry Williams, are dealing with injuries and may not play. This will give a big opportunity to players such as Corey Graham, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson, and Jordan Mabin. None of these players, with the exception of Brown have the size, strength, or physical tools to compete with the Falcons receivers. Therefore, expect to see the secondary struggle a little bit.
3. Can Flacco build off his AFC Championship performance? The best quarterback on the field in the AFC Championship was Joe Flacco, not Tom Brady. Flacco played exceptionally well and showed many leadership traits that many critics of Flacco have been looking for. The problem with Flacco last season was that he didn’t have many reliable weapons. All of his receivers and tight ends with the exception of Anquan Boldin were young and inexperienced. The Ravens basically played with two receivers, two tight ends, and that was it. Now, Flacco has more weapons to work with, many of which have a unique blend of size and speed. The Falcons cornerbacks are smaller and dont play much press coverage. Expect to see a lot of back shoulder throws and fade routes when the Ravens reach the red zone. Although the Falcons corners, Asante Samuel and Brent Grimes are small, they excel at reading and jumping routes. Flacco must be at the top of his game when it comes to looking off the receivers.
4. Which outside linebacker will stand out? Last preseason in Atlanta, Michael McAdoo and Chavis Williams had very good games. McAdoo, unfortunately, tore his ACL so will not play in the later portions of the game. With Suggs out for an undisclosed amount of time, players like Courtney UpShaw, Sergio Kindle, and Paul Kruger must show that they can put pressure on the quarterback. UpShaw has been injured but will most likely play more of a run stopping role throughout the season. That leaves Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle as the pass rushing threats at outside linebacker. Both have a lot of talent and I expect them to have good games this thursday. Albert McClellan is another name to keep an eye on. He is a former defensive end from Marshall and played middle linebacker once last season. McClellan is getting a lot of reps at outside linebacker in training camp and could be a starter on thursday night.
Overall, this is a good test for the Ravens. Flacco and Ryan will be compared for years to come and both have good weapons to work with. It doesn’t matter who wins this game because its just the preseason and the game is about making the final 53-man roster. Special teams is another unit to keep an eye on.