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ATLANTA — —
It is way too early to predict how the Ravens will play defense in 2012, but they might need to bring more pressure than in previous years.
They'll have to.
In the first preseason game Thursday night, Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan completed 9 of 13 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in less than two quarters of play.
Ryan had a quarterback rating of 103, and the Ravens got little pressure on the fifth-year player out of Boston College. Granted, Ryan had a quick release and ran some short timing routes, but the Ravens might have problems putting pressure on quarterbacks, especially early in the season.
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is out indefinitely with a torn Achilles tendon and rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw has been slowed by a shoulder injury.
Cory Redding, one of the team's top pass rushers a year ago, is now with Indianapolis. That leaves the Ravens with Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle and Albert McClellan as pass rushers.
That's not going to work.
The Ravens might have to manufacture pressure by having safeties and cornerbacks involved in the pass rush.
The Ravens have athleticism. Safety Bernard Pollard is as big as an outside linebacker, and safety Ed Reed and cornerback Lardarius Webb are fast enough to beat most offensive tackles around the corner.
The Ravens might not show their pressure tactics in preseason, but they have to be employed sometime this season.
“Our coverage wasn’t what we wanted in the first half, and we’ll tighten that down. Our communication could be better, and that will come,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of the Ravens' first-half performance. “We’ve practiced better than we showed early in the game.”
One of the team's top off-season priorities was to improve coverage of kickoff and punt returns, but the Ravens allowed a 45-yard punt return in the first quarter.
It's not how they wanted to start the preseason.
Last season, the Ravens had 36 kickoffs and allowed one to be returned for a touchdown and a 29.2 average. They allowed a return average of 11.9 on 33 punts including two for touchdowns.
Picking on Williams
The Falcons went after cornerback Cary Williams during the first series of the game, and receiver Julio Jones caught a 7-yard pass over Williams in the left corner of the end zone to finish the drive.
Jones made a great catch because Williams had excellent coverage, but he better get used to getting picked on. Webb had a breakout season a year ago so Williams will get a lot of action in 2012. Even if he loses the starting job to second-year player Jimmy Smith, opposing teams will go after Williams as the nickel back.
Speed to burn
The Ravens apparently will get their money's worth out of Jacoby Jones, the team's No. 3 receiver. The Ravens had him returning punts and kickoffs, and Jones showed his speed with 6:29 left in the first quarter when he outran the entire Atlanta defense, but quarterback Joe Flacco overthrew him at the Falcons 20-yard line.
But with Jones in the slot or opposite Torrey Smith, the Ravens have a lot of speed on the field.
Ageless inside linebacker Ray Lewis did not play Thursday night, but his replacement, Brendon Ayanbadejo, had with four tackles and and interception in two quarters.
Ayanbadejo worked well down the line of scrimmage and showed good speed in pursuit.
Rookie Kelechi Osemele held his own starting at right tackle, but he is going to have problems with speed rushers. He did a nice job picking up some Atlanta blitzes, but the same can't be said for guard Justin Boren, who allowed rushers to come through the middle.
Veteran Bryant McKinnie started at left tackle on the second team. He pass-protected well and appears to be making progress as far as his conditioning.
Rookie center Gino Gradkowski, starting for veteran Matt Birk, has quick feet and can make blocks into the second level, but he'll struggle with big, powerful nose guards.
The Ravens have been shuffling offensive linemen in and out of the starting lineup since the first day of training camp, and it showed during the first half. They were sloppy and the timing was off.
There were some nervous times as well. Twice Flacco got hit hard and once he got up really slow.
You probably thought the season was over before it even started.
“It’s preseason, and it took us a little while to get going,” Flacco said. “We’ve got to look back at some of those plays and miscues, because the Falcons got a couple good pressures. We completed the passes early on, but they weren’t quite enough yards for us to stay on the field. There are a lot of things we can do better on third down in terms of
recognizing the man coverage and trying to break away a little bit. But on that last drive, it was good to get into a rhythm and get it going a little bit."
Added offensive coordinator Cam Cameron: “Our execution at the start of the second quarter was good after a rough start on our first possession. We got a big-time throw by Joe [Flacco] on the third-and-12. He bailed us out after the sack. The touchdown throw was in the right spot, and Ed [Dickson] made a good catch.”
WR Ryans impresses
Wide receiver Deonte Thompson, the rookie from Florida, has played well in minicamps and training camp. He caught a 22-yard touchdown pass Thursday night and might end up on the roster when the season starts.
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