Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly - Ravens vs. St. Louis

The Baltimore Ravens received a glimpse into their promising future despite a 24-10 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Saturday night.

After a viral illness sidelined starter Troy Smith, rookie Joe Flacco received the emergency start. Though Flacco struggled with accuracy, he performed better than any other quarterback in the team’s first two preseason games.

While the coaching staff is still expected to go with either Smith or veteran Kyle Boller, Flacco has at least thrown his name into the discussion of who will be the starting quarterback against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 7.

Here is a breakdown of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly for Preseason Week 3.

The Good

Tom Zbikowski

The rookie safety continued to impress on special teams and in the secondary. Zbikowski blocked a punt in the first quarter that led to a Matt Stover 22-yard field goal.

Zbikowski also showed his cover skills by breaking nicely for the ball on an interception in the fourth quarter.

With the unclear status of Ed Reed’s injured shoulder, the Ravens have to keep Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura, and Jim Leonhard on the roster as all three contribute on special teams and show solid play in the secondary.

Joe Flacco

After learning that Flacco would make the emergency start due to Smith’s illness and Kyle Boller’s sore shoulder, Ravens fans braced themselves for a disastrous result.

Flacco performed admirably despite learning he would get the start only hours before kickoff. He went 18-37 for 151 yards and a touchdown, a 15-yard throw to Derrick Mason in the third quarter. Unlike Boller and Smith in their starts, Flacco did not turn the ball over.

Flacco gained confidence and looked more comfortable in the second half. He was most effective using three-step drops where he was able to release the ball quickly. He also showed enough mobility to avoid the pass rush on several occasions.

He struggled with accuracy, completing less than half of his attempts. Flacco threw several passes high or too hard. He also needs to remember to throw the ball away instead of trying to force throws to covered receivers.

His overall performance surpassed any previous work by Boller or Smith in the preseason. This is probably more a reflection on how ineffective the two veterans have been than a compliment to Flacco.

While Flacco needs to continue to improve and mature as an NFL quarterback, he definitely showed glimpses of why the Ravens selected him with the 18th pick in April's draft.

Flacco’s performance will at least force coaches to consider accelerating his learning curve, especially if Smith and Boller continue to struggle when the regular season begins.

Derrick Mason

The Ravens lack a receiver that can stretch the field, but Mason is still one of the best possession receivers in the league. He and Flacco showed impressive timing on several sideline routes.

Mason caught six passes for 85 yards and the touchdown from Flacco.

Mason is the only consistent receiving threat in this offense until Todd Heap can show he is healthy.

Special Teams

The special teams continue to shine despite the struggles of both the offense and defense.

Sam Koch punted for an average of 49.9 yards per kick, pinning three kicks inside the 20. His new form of kicking the point of the ball rugby-style on shorter kicks has been very effective in the preseason.

Yamon Figurs continued to show improvement and nearly broke his first kickoff return for a touchdown if he had been able to cut left at the last moment.

Matt Stover was able to get more distance on his kickoffs this week.

Coverage units continued to play strongly as many young players try to make the roster by contributing on special teams.

Le’Ron McClain

McClain led the Ravens on the ground with 41 yards on eight carries. He saw more time at tailback, showing good acceleration and some shifty moves for a big running back.

His emergence is significant with the uncertain status of Willis McGahee and the need to lighten the workload for rookie Ray Rice.

The Bad


Dealing with the chaotic quarterback situation, the offense struggled, only gaining 76 yards and three first downs in the first half.

Though the offense put together an impressive drive for a touchdown to start the second half, it failed to generate any big plays following that.

The offensive line did a fair job in protecting the inexperienced Flacco but were inconsistent in run blocking at times, gaining 70 yards on the ground for a 3.8 average per rush.

It is crucial for the offensive line to be strong in the running game with the lack of production from the quarterbacks and receivers.

Cam Cameron surprisingly called for Flacco to throw 37 passes instead of focusing on the ground game with an inexperienced quarterback in the lineup.

The Ravens lack talent on the offensive side of the football and desperately need the returns of Todd Heap and Willis McGahee to the starting lineup.

Defensive Line

Still missing starters Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata, this unit continued to show its lack of depth.

The defensive line was pushed around and failed to control the line of scrimmage for much of the night. J’Vonne Parker was able to get good penetration on several running plays but is too inconsistent to be considered as anything other than a rotation player.

Ronnie Prude

Prude had an opportunity to gain strong consideration for a roster spot with the absence of Derrick Martin, but likely played his way off the roster.

Prude missed tackles and was too slow in coverage throughout the game.

Corey Ivy

While Ivy defended a couple passes nicely, he continued to show why he is only effective in the nickel package.

He played too soft in coverage and lost his receiver several times when Rams quarterback Marc Bulger would pump-fake elsewhere and then throw his way.

The Ugly

Frank Walker

For the second straight week, Walker was torched repeatedly. He played too soft in coverage and was slow to react when the ball was in the air.

He allowed a touchdown pass in the second quarter and was called for pass interference and illegal contact.

If Walker is the best the organization has for cornerback depth, the coaching staff needs to pray that Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle can remain healthy this season, something that is unlikely to happen given their age and injury history.

Team Defense

For the second straight week, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s unit played poorly throughout the night. While still missing four starters, the return of Terrell Suggs and Samari Rolle seemed to have little impact on the first unit.

The defense came out flat from the beginning as the Rams drove down the field and kicked a 37-yard field goal.

The unit allowed 15 first downs and 250 yards of offense in the first half alone.

The blitz continued to be ineffective, leaving the depleted secondary even more vulnerable. The defensive line was unable to create pressure throughout the night.

Ryan will need to reconsider his game plan if McAlister and Reed continue to miss time with injuries, because the secondary needs as much help as it can get.

While the defense is still capable of being one of the better units in the league when all personnel is healthy, the uncertain status of Reed, McAlister, and Gregg leaves serious doubt.

Unlike the great defenses of the past, this team severely lacks depth on the defensive line and at cornerback.

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