Ravens 23 Saints 14 ~ September 1, 2016
For all but the winners, the best time for a big lottery jackpot is before the drawing when everyone has their chance to imagine how they’ll spend the money.
The 2016 Ravens offer some of that pre-drawing excitement on offense, but with a substantially higher probability of payoff.
All of the weapons (with the exceptions of Ken Dixon and Ben Watson) are ready to go. But we have yet to see them assembled with Joe Flacco on the field at one time. Let’s imagine the best case scenario while it’s still possible:
• Breshad Perriman is the threat the Ravens thought they drafted in 2016. His targets are a mix of field-stretching verticals and unstoppable hitch routes.
• Chris Moore finds his ability to track the long ball and creates 1-on-1 matchup nightmares opposite Perriman and Wallace.
• Mike Wallace adapts to his new team and runs slants to convert and rotates on a down-by-down basis to keep opposing corners breathing heavily.
• Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken punish opposing defenses with crossing routes and the physicality for extra YAC.
• Crockett Gillmore provides pass blocking to support some of these longer throws and a safety valve who can run over the defenders unfortunate enough to be left behind.
• Dennis Pitta and Maxx Williams demonstrate how Flacco can make use of catcher’s-mitt like targets who can sit down in a zone.
• Justin Forsett returns to 2014 form by exploiting effective wide-zone blocking and safeties afraid to bite on play action.
• Terrance West punishes opposing defenses with demoralizing yards after contact and short-yardage conversions.
• Kenneth Dixon returns from injury to be one of the most dangerous NFL players in space…and just think how much space!
• The offensive line makes it all possible with the first rookie left side in more than 2 decades pass blocking well and the right side creating wide cutback lanes.
• Joe Flacco puts it all together with his new toy chest and throws for career highs in yardage, TDs, and pass interference yards drawn while throwing just a handful of interceptions.
I think I understand how those lottery ticket holders feel. And I like the Ravens’ chance of putting together a storybook offensive season a little better.
Here are the offensive linemen by series. I noticed just 1 mid-series change to the 5 offensive linemen for the first play of each series.
*Hurst replaced Lewis after 7 plays
Some notes on the OL rotation:
• Urschel missed his 3rd straight game. We may understand more about the nature and severity of his injury by tomorrow, but I still expect he’ll be a backup when he returns.
• Stanley, Zuttah, Yanda, and Wagner were all held out. Of the likely week 1 starters, only Lewis saw action.
• Alex Lewis improved his scoring (C, see below for details) despite allowing another sack. He played 45 snaps (43 scored) before being replaced mid-series by Hurst. I continue to be impressed with how much of a fighter he is, even when a pass rusher has leverage on him. While he’s getting by with strength and tenacity now, his play should improve significantly with better technique. I expect Lewis to be a focal point of opposition pass rush schemes (twists, delays, cross blitzes, etc.) until he, Stanley, Zuttah, and the backs prove they can meet the challenge.
• Jensen had another outstanding game at center and guard in 50 scored snaps (A, see individual notes for scoring). I have him marked for just 2 misses in level 2. His highlights included a block maintained to the whistle on a play run left by Houston for no gain (Q2, 6:03), an impressive assist of Lewis to pancake Alex’s assignment (Q2, 0:58), and 2 other combo blocks on the last series at guard. He’s made a good case for playing time these past 2 games.
• Nothing appears to have changed based on Thursday. Along the OL, 8 spots appear set (Stanley, Lewis, Zuttah, Yanda, Wagner, Urschel, Jensen, Ducasse) and I don’t see the Ravens dedicating a 9th spot to the OL with so many difficult cuts at other positions on both sides of the ball. I still think there is a good chance Ozzie Newsome will look for another backup tackle before the opener.
Individual Grades and Notes
As in past years, I have given a number of Ravens a grade from +3 to -3 reflecting how much my expectation of their impact on the 2016 Ravens changed based on their performance (a second grade is cumulative for the preseason). I don’t rate starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have any data for a judgment. The players here are new to the team, rookies, on the cusp of making the team, have new responsibilities in 2016, in positional battles, or have otherwise have something to prove this season.
Allen, Buck (-1/-3): His usage alone speaks to his position on the depth chart. While West and Forsett had the night off, Allen saw extensive action and did nothing to improve his stock. Most notably, he was steamrolled by Robertson for a 6-yard sack (Q2, 5:16) when he failed to step into his block.
Boyle, Nick (0/0): He’s had a frustrating preseason with the suspension looming. You could see how much he wanted to score on his last reception (Q4, 8:35), but he couldn’t break Harris’ tackle at the Saints’ 2-yard line. I think the chances are high the Ravens will need Boyle to produce when he returns. Hopefully, he and the organization have an off-site plan to keep him in shape and his football skill honed.
Brown, Dan (+1/+2): Dan made a key block on LB Schoettmer to extend Houston’s gain to 18 yards (Q3, 9:51). He caught the one ball thrown to him and broke a tackle to convert 3rd and 9 (Q3, 7:41). The Ravens’ TE situation is tenuous to say the least. It makes abundant sense to keep Brown on the practice squad for an emergency.
Butler, Jeremy (0/+3): He finished 2nd in the entire NFL in preseason receptions with 16 (the Eagles’ Paul Turner had 17) and earned a roster spot with his willingness to focus and go after the football.
Campanaro, Michael (-3/-3): The offensive depth of the roster will finally catch up to Campanaro either on Saturday or later in the week when the team finds a tackle or returner they like. He might still be the Ravens’ best KR/PR option, but he doesn’t do enough to justify the spot and injury risk.
Dixon, Kenneth (0/-1): The Ravens can’t hide the severity of Dixon’s injury, because they must either put him on IR or use a roster spot on him by Saturday at 4 PM. It will be very positive if they keep him on the active roster.
Ducasse, Vlad (0/0): He did not make my notes, but he started, played 53 snaps, and held up his part of the pass blocking when Mallett had a clean pocket on virtually every drop back.
Hurst, James (-2/-3): He allowed a sack at LT on a failed stunt pickup (Q2, 1:39) and another at LG when bulled and shed by Jenkins (Q4, 11:26). James played well in August, 2014 and should remain a cautionary tale for reliance on preseason evaluation. The Ravens have a need for a backup tackle, but Hurst is not an option for the roster and is ineligible for the practice squad.
Jensen, Ryan (+2/+3): I think Ryan is likely to start a game at some point in 2016. Scoring: 50 plays, 48 blocks, 2 missed, 48 points (.96 per play). That’s an A with or without adjustment at either position.
Johnson, Josh (+1/+3): There was a difference in level of competition that must be acknowledged, but the Ravens offense by QB:
–Mallett: 3 drives, 16 plays, 71 yards, 3 first downs, 3 points
–Johnson: 4 drives (excludes victory formation kneels), 49 plays, 243 yards, 20 first downs (!), 13 points
Johnson may yet provide value to the organization if the Ravens can trade him to fill a position of need.
Lewis, Alex (+1/+1): Lewis had 3 highlight blocks including a pancake of Edebali, the starting DE (Q1, 13:29). He and Jensen drew a holding flag when Mabry tried to get a handle on both (Q2, 9:41) which game the Ravens 5 extra yards. He was successful on both of his pulls although right-side penetration made the first (Q1, 8:37) look like it failed. He was beaten inside by Jenkins on a very slow developing sack (Q3, 10:32) where Johnson should have unloaded. I considered charging for just a pressure or QH, but stuck with the full sack charge. Scoring: 43 plays, 38 blocks, 3 missed, ½ pressure, 1 sack, 31 points (.72 per play). With adjustment that’s .80 which is a C at guard.
Mallett (-1/+1): While scoring Lewis and Jensen, I noticed Mallett had ample time and space (ATS) on all but 2 throws. The pedestrian results (12 attempts for 65 yards) don’t meet the expectation for the protection provided. He made a nice pass to Matthews along the right sideline while rolling right for gain of 17 (Q2, 13:44), but he also made an ill-advised throw into traffic to end the second possession (Q1, 12:50). I’d grade him more harshly had he been facing the Saints’ backups.
Matthews (0/-2): He had a good game as a receiver, catching all 5 balls thrown to him for 64 yards. However, he was flagged for an illegal block on Campanaro’s double fumble KOR and the man he blocked illegally appeared to force the 2nd fumble. Chris will find a spot with some team, but the Ravens have 6 receivers clearly ahead of him and can afford to be picky.
Moore (+1/+1): He caught 2 of 5 targets for 23 yards. The Ravens still do not have a positive outcome on a deep ball to him despite 2 more attempts Thursday. However, none of the deep balls have come from Flacco. He drew an illegal contact penalty versus Crawley to negate a sack surrendered by Hurst (Q2, 1:39). His 29-yard KOR (Q1, 0:29) included a nice spin and 2 missed tackles.
Perriman (+2/+2): Nothing about 2 catches in 4 targets for 25 yards says “+2”, but the defenders clearly are respecting his speed. Qadry Ismail mentioned the failure to turn to the post (Q1, 8:05) when he beat CB Williams, but subsequently lost position to him and had the ball batted away. The other incomplete on the WR screen left (Q2, 3:50) was a difficult assignment on 3rd and 11 made more difficult by Campanaro’s obstruction. If he can be fearless going up for the football, he should generate lots of PI calls with the combination of his speed, his height, and Flacco’s arm.
Reynolds (0/0): He played 17 more snaps on offense with 1 target/catch for 2 yards. The single catch in 85 snaps is indicative of poor separation and a lack of respect for his speed. As I write this, he’s the only known cut. I think another team will pick him up as a project, but it’s an interesting game of chicken for the teams at the top of the list for waiver claims. If he passes through waivers, Keenan will have the chance to pick a good PS situation with a team that wants to develop him. I’m sure we all wish him the best.
Stanley (0/+5): DNP. I didn’t score every other Ravens rookie lineman during preseason, but I feel safe assuming Stanley was the best ever. He took the night off while Lewis was left for remedial work with Hurst.
Urschel (-1/-3): DNP. “Contusion” was not a useful injury description for whatever is wrong. I assume he’ll be ready to play at some point this season, but have to wonder if the injury is being underreported so the Ravens can find more interior line depth.
Waller (+1/-1): He played well, including a diving catch to convert 3rd and 6 (Q2, 14:25) and a nice run block to lead Houston’s 6-yard run (Q2, 6:40). There is a good chance he falls into some significant playing time when he returns.
Wesley (0/-3): Wesley played the entire game at RT, and the pass blocking granted Mallett ATS on virtually every drop back, so Wesley had to pass block well, even though I didn’t score him individually. He made my notes just once on a blown run block (Q1, 8:37). The Ravens need a tackle badly, but not this badly. They’ll save the roster spot, sign Wesley to the PS, and hope they can pick up another tackle by trade or from among the cuts.
West (0/+3): DNP. West was rewarded with the night off after a fine preseason.
Williams, Maxx (0/0): DNP. I think we know a lot about who Maxx Williams is as a football player. It’s now a matter of how he meshes with Flacco.
It’s too late for roster-pool purposes, but here are the 25 players I expect the Ravens will keep on offense:
QB (2): Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
RB/FB (5): Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Justin Forsett, Kyle Juszczyk, Terrance West
WR (6): Kamar Aiken, Jeremy Butler, Chris Moore, Breshad Perriman, Steve Smith, Mike Wallace
TE (3): Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams
OL (8): Vlad Ducasse, Ryan Jensen, Alex Lewis, Ronnie Stanley, John Urschel, Rick Wagner, Marshal Yanda, Jeremy Zuttah
The last spot will go to a T or KR/PR not currently on the roster.
My selections for the defensive side of the ball are HERE.
The Wolfpack (Tucker, Koch, and Cox) fill out the 53.