Poised for a better showing after a poor first half in their 31-17 win in the preseason opener, the Ravens welcome the Detroit Lions to M&T Bank Stadium on Friday night.
Welcoming Detroit head coach and Mount St. Joseph graduate Jim Schwartz to town and taking on the Lions for the third time ever in the preseason — Baltimore holds a 2-0 mark — the Ravens hope to begin with a better tempo than they did in Atlanta last week when they were outgained 191-9 in total yards through the first 15 minutes of play. After struggling in all three phases of the game last week, the Ravens will encounter an explosive passing offense that includes quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson as well as an intimidating defensive line led by Ndamukong Suh.
“We always want to come out and get a fast start, but there’s nothing better than a great finish,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “If you have to choose, you are going to want to finish well. I thought our guys finished well. I thought the first group finished well on their last opportunity, and that’s a big thought for us, finishing everything we are doing.”
The Ravens have won 11 of their last 13 preseason games as coach John Harbaugh said we can expect to see starters for most of the first half. As was the case last week, some starters will see more extensive action than others and it will all depend on the flow of the game.
Many will continue to monitor the performance of replacement officials as the NFL continues to impose a lockout of its regular officials. While the most notable problem from the Ravens’ preseason opener was referee Craig Ochoa referring to the Falcons as “Arizona” on a few occasions, there were other problems throughout the league ranging from spotting the ball incorrectly to mismanaging the opening coin toss.
Baltimore is trying to take the high road when it comes to any potential critiques of replacement officials.
“Basically we said, ‘You respect them.’” Harbaugh said. “They are the officials, and these guys are guys that have been doing it for quite a while, and they know what they are doing. I thought our last game they did pretty well for the first time out there. There are always some miscues. We had plenty of miscues ourselves.”
Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report
The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess at what the injury report would look like if there were one.
Harbaugh would not offer much Tuesday about the status of any player dealing with an injury, leaving us to wonder whether the likes of wide receiver Torrey Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith will suit up and play against the Lions. It will also be interesting to see if the Ravens clear rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw for his first preseason action. His level of participation in practices increased this week as he continues to recover from a sprained shoulder.
Again, this is not meant to be an official injury report:
OUT: LB Josh Bynes (back), LB Darryl Blackstock (groin), TE Dennis Pitta (hand), TE Ed Dickson (shoulder), LB Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon), WR David Reed (knee), DL Ryan McBean (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: WR Tandon Doss (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Torrey Smith (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (back), LB Courtney Upshaw (shoulder), G Bobbie Williams (ankle), OT Jah Reid (calf), WR Devin Goda (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: RB Bernard Pierce (hamstring), WR Jacoby Jones (leg), DE Pernell McPhee (knee), C Matt Birk (back), S Ed Reed (knee)
Five players to watch Friday night
1. OL Kelechi Osemele
Most of us have assumed that Bryant McKinnie would eventually man the left tackle spot and Michael Oher would play on the right side after the former reported late to training camp as he said he was dealing with a back injury, but the Ravens still don’t appear to have decided on what they want to do at those positions. The rookie Osemele has complicated the situation further by playing at an impressive level during training camp as the Ravens feel they got an absolute steal with the 60th overall pick in April.
Osemele’s great athleticism and maturity beyond his years have contributed to the coaching staff giving him extensive consideration at right tackle even though the safe play would be to revert back to last year’s tackle combination of McKinnie and Oher. The Iowa State rookie still needs to become a more consistent pass blocker, but he appears to be a far more serious candidate to start than anyone would have realistically expected at the start of camp. His ability to move inside is also a nice insurance policy to have with left guard Bobbie Williams coming off major ankle surgery in the offseason.
2. K Billy Cundiff
I stated at the start of training camp that rookie Justin Tucker would only be able to win the kicking job if he performed at an extremely high level while the veteran Cundiff stubbed his toe along the way. Tucker has been outstanding throughout training camp even though Cundiff had also been very good until this week.
On Monday, Cundiff missed short field goals from 24 and 34 yards and couldn’t convert a pair beyond 50 yards on Wednesday while Tucker continued to kick with ice water in his veins, only missing a 52-yard field goal this week while making all other tries. The veteran will really be feeling the pressure if he doesn’t have a good night in front of a home crowd that hasn’t exactly been forgiving in the realm of social media whenever his kicking miscues have been reported this summer.
Regardless of how Cundiff performs, the crowd response alone will be interesting to watch.
3. TE Billy Bajema