Ravens 'D' shows promise in the preseason opener

August 08, 2013|Mike Preston

TAMPA, Fla. — — As a group, the first-team defense was intact for nearly a quarter and the signs were good.

It was only the first preseason game and no one should overreact, but there is potential for the Ravens to play good defense this season, certainly better than a year ago when they were average at best.

After watching the Ravens against the Buccaneers on Thursday night, it is apparent they have some work to do. There were two busted plays in the first quarter in which Tampa Bay receivers ran free in the secondary, including one for a 61-yard gain.

It was also clear the Ravens had some problems with alignment, and their cornerbacks lost some one-on-one matchups, but some of those problems can be overcome through practice and repetitions. As for the subpar cornerback play — well, we will see.

"Big plays hurt us," Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, "and we can't have that. We liked our physicality, the guys played hard. We were able to look at a lot of different players and combinations."

The Ravens linemen were pretty dominant as they have been in training camp. Haloti Ngata and Arthur Jones moved well. The big surprise was tackle-end Chris Canty, who had a sack and got pressure on quarterback Josh Freeman one other time. He might be a player who can apply consistent pressure up the middle.

They'll get pressure from outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. The Ravens flip-flopped them Thursday night and moved them along the line of scrimmage to get overloads and mismatches. There were times when both of them got pressure off the edge, and that's something the Ravens haven't had since Peter Boulware and Michael McCrary were on the roster.

"It felt good just to get the dust off," Suggs said. "That's what preseason Game 1 is for. You don't want to play too much, but you have to get that dust off and get your eyes right. It was good bing back out here with the boys.

"I think it fits good," Suggs said of the new players. "It looked like we were clicking out there."

The Ravens had some new faces at inside linebacker, and both Daryl Smith and Josh Bynes were solid. The Ravens signed Dumervil after last season, but Smith could become the team's biggest offseason acquisition.

But as much as the front seven was impressive, there were some problems on the back end. Cornerback Corey Graham had a solid game, but Jimmy Smith, who started at the other corner position, is still a concern. He is in position to make plays, but doesn't make many. He just doesn't turn around to knock down the ball.

Chykie Brown, the No. 3 corner, is strong and physical at the line of scrimmage, and can cover if he gets his hands on the receiver, but has problems turning and running. The Bucs picked on him and had success against him Thursday night.

Ditto for backup cornerback Asa Jackson, who gave up a 41-yard reception at the end of the first half.

You wondered where the safety help was in the first two quarters. There were also questions about tackle Marcus Spears who hasn't made many big plays in training camp, and you hope Pees doesn't get too cute by dropping Dumervil into coverage instead of allowing him to rush the quarterback.

But it will get better. Lardarius Webb (knee) was held out of Thursday night's game and he'll solve some problems in coverage. If and once inside linebacker Jameel McClain is cleared from a bruised spine injury, he'll improve the Ravens run defense.

Both tackles Terrence Cody and Brandon Williams had solid performances and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton, if he can learn the schemes, could be a good pass rusher, especially late in the season when legs get tired.

Overall, it was a solid performance in Game 1. There was no Ray Lewis and no Ed Reed, and five other full or part-time starters from a year ago weren't out there either.

This defense won't be as great as the one in 2000, but they shouldn't be as bad as the one in 2012 either.

"It'll be good for us to keep building on these experiences," Daryl Smith said. "You can practice a lot, but the game experience is when you really work on that trust with each other and form chemistry. We'll continue to work on that — as we will have a long way to go — and we'll see where that takes us."


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