Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb breaks up a pass intended… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
Despite their first loss in preaseason to the Carolina Panthers, the Ravens had to be delighted with the performances of three injured players who received their first substantial playing time Thursday night.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb (knee) and offensive guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) are starters, and defensive tackle Marcus Spears (thigh) is expected to get plenty of playing time in the line rotation.
Webb, one of the top corners in the league before his injury last season, looked good. He matched up against the Panthers' Steve Smith, who isn't as productive as he used to be, but is still a quality receiver. Webb showed no hesitation challenging Smith at the line of scrimmage and attacking the ball.
More importantly, he changed direction well when he broke on the ball.
"I just wanted to play football again, and when I finally got back out there, it felt like football again," Webb said. "The thing I got most out of it was being out there with the defense, just running around with them smiling and having fun — that's what I got out of it. It's going to come along. It's going to be good. I'm just happy to be out there with the guys."
Yanda was dominant, and that was no surprise even though he only played about a quarter. The explosion was there and he was able to make blocks into the second level. When he left the game, there was a noticeable drop-off compared to his replacement, Jah Reid.
"Marshal, from what I can tell, did well. It's hard to see him from where I'm at but it seemed like he was solid…when he was in there," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game.
The Ravens signed Spears during the offseason and he was always a strong run-stopper with the Dallas Cowboys. He penetrated and caused problems for Carolina, especially in a short-yardage situation in the first half. If he stays low, the big-bodied Spears is tough to budge off the line of scrimmage.
Don't get too concerned — yet
A week ago, I was criticized because I pointed out that quarterback Joe Flacco had not performed up to par in recent practices and also in two preseason games.
But after throwing two more interceptions Thursday night, including one returned for a touchdown, giving him four in the preseason, even Harbaugh said the team has some concerns.
I'm still not overly concerned. Joe is Joe. He is still inconsistent from quarter to quarter, and he will play poorly in five or six games this year. But he will play well in the other ones, and has earned the reputation of a big-game quarterback.
"I think it is that, cause Joe is not one to throw interceptions, as we all know," said Harbaugh, when asked if Flacco needed the preseason to get the interceptions out of his system. "We'll be concerned about them — Joe more than anybody. We'll take a hard look at it with Jim [Caldwell] and Craig Ver Steeg. We'll assess where we're at with him. A lot of that is [that] he's trying to get a feel for guys.
"I can't say if everybody was exactly where they were supposed to be on the routes or not — that's the stuff we'll look at. Joe will be the first to take responsibility — he has always been that way. I don't expect that to be an issue this year, but we've got to make sure it's not."
Tight end Dallas Clark, an 11-year veteran, dropped two passes against the Panthers, but that probably won't happen again. One drop was what they call a "business decision," where he decided not to stretch out for a high pass thrown over the middle.
I wouldn't have, either.
It's too early in the season for that. In the Super Bowl last season, Flacco threw a high slant to veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, and he short-armed it. Boldin just stared at Flacco as he went back to the huddle.
He had made a business decision as well.
Where's the adjustment?
Of course its preseason and few teams game plan, but the Ravens should have adjusted to the Panthers slanting into the gaps off the shoulders of guards Kelechi Osemele, Yanda and Reid.
They could have easily just told center Gino Gradkwoski to hold his ground a second longer or cut down on the splits between the center and guards. The Ravens didn't do anything and Flacco was getting tossed around quite a bit in the first half.
Cover the middle
Overall, the defense played well but the Ravens still give up too many passes over the middle. Last year, there were fingers (a lot of them mine) pointed at the two ageless wonders, safety Ed Reed and linebacker Ray Lewis, but it is recurring in the preseason.
The Ravens have a lot of new faces, including two new safeties, so we'll give them some time to work things out, but they might have to look at the drops of the linebackers or the scheme.
Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs' pregame introduction dance was simple and fun, and it was cool the way the flames shot out when he motioned for them, just like a page out of the World Wrestling Entertainment.
I still kind of missed "The Squirrel," but got over it watching Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. That kid accelerated through gaps and holes like old No. 52. He was fun to watch.