Moreover, this game against the Washington football team will not be your typical week three preseason game. Both teams have been hit by the injury-bug and will be without several key players.
Washington will be without two of their starting pass rushers in Junior Gallette (good riddance) and Ryan Kerrigan. In addition, quarterback Robert Griffin III will be held out of the game. Though, he may just be the backup quarterback anyway.
The Ravens will also be playing this game shorthanded. For the second straight week, the offensive line week will be without starters. This week it will be without left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele (Is Osemele’s injury becoming a concern? Is his injury history affecting contract negotiations between the team and him and Marshal Yanda?) The secondary will be without Lardarius Webb (what’s new) and now Rashaan Melvin, who has a soft-tissue injury.
Because of the litany of injuries, I am expecting another somewhat sloppy game. And, I am not sure how much one will be able to read into this game.
Since the first cut down is on Tuesday, rosters will be trimmed from 90 to 75 players , it will be interesting to watch how the team uses roster bubble players, both veteran and young players. How will the Ravens utilize players such as Cassius Vaughn, Quinton Pointer, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Christo Bilukidi, Ryan Jensen, Darren Waller (more on him later), Marlon Brown, Jeremy Butler, and DeAndre Carter? It could be a telling indication of where they stand as far as making the team.
Here are tonight’s other plotlines.
This flat out needs to improve, both offensively and defensively. Last week against the Eagles, the Ravens converted 40 percent on third down. That statistic was about where the Ravens landed last year (41 percent, actually) and it was also the league median. Nonetheless, I would like the Ravens to be closer to the 45 percent range.
Defensively, the Ravens were whipped last week. They allowed the Eagles to convert on a whopping 59 percent of third down opportunities. The run defense was beyond atrocious as the Eagles piled up 238 yards on the ground, at an average of 6.3 yards a rush. Even more disheartening, the Eagles’ two longest runs were 28 and 26 yards. It wasn’t as though an 80 yard run distorted the statistics. It felt like each rush was 4, 5, or 6 yards. Did the Ravens ever force the Eagles into a second and long situation, much less a third and long situation? I dont recall that happening very often.
Count me as one who thinks the loss of Haloti Ngata will not be a major catastrophic loss. However, last week’s performance was not encouraging. I will be looking for a marked improvement in the Ravens’ run defense.
Players Playing with the Ones Due to Injuries
With Webb and Melvin both not playing tonight, Tray Walker will have an opportunity to play meaningful reps with the starters. It will be interesting to continue to watch his development.
The same can be said for Darren Waller. Injuries to Breshad Perriman and Michael Campanaro (what’s new) have opened up opportunities for Waller. With a truly underwhelming wide receiver battle, Waller has been the most intriguing player to insert himself into the conversation about who makes the team as a wide receiver. Jeremy Butler has been inconsistent, DeAndre Carter has played like an undrafted rookie, and Marlon Brown is, well, Marlon Brown.
Rookies for Real
This draft class, in my mind, is special. With the intensity being ratcheted up for the third preseason game, this will be the closest the rookies will experience a regular season-like atmosphere. I am anxious to see how Carl Davis, Za'Darius Smith, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle, and Waller perform when the stakes are a little bit higher. With the transition on the offensive line, Robert “Snacks” Myers could see significant action as well.
For tonight’s game, it would be great if coach John Harbaugh makes a deal with Washington coach Jay Gruden to not kick the ball out of the end zone so that both teams could effectively evaluate the return game. I don’t think Washington has a kicker competition, a la the New Orleans Saints-- who kicked the ball out of the end zone on almost every kick.
We know, and the team knows, what it has in Asa Jackson. He is a mediocre returner who has the ability to pop off a long return at times, but he is also injury-prone and does not add much to the cornerback position. DeAndre Carter has botched two of his return chances already. He is playing tightly--in the return game and on offense.
I would love to see some other players get a chance in this game. WIth Lorenzo Taliaferro’s injury, the Ravens may be more forced to carry another running back for the first few weeks. Fitzgerald Toussaint and Terrence Magee appeared to be on the outside looking in before Taliaferro’s injury, but maybe not now. How about giving one of them the opportunity to return kicks to see if they could add more value to the roster? I would throw cornerbacks Vaughn and Pointer into this category as well.
The punt return game is harder to determine. Is there a player on the roster, that is not an “ace in the hole” like Steve Smith or Lardarius Webb, that can challenge Jackson? Let’s see if the Ravens experiment with a variety of players outside of Jackson.
I expect a much better performance by the Ravens this week. They are at home, they are playing an inferior opponent, and I anticipate that the players will want some redemption because of how they played last week. That being said, even a dominant outing should be tempered. The Washington team is a dysfunctional mess. The only true shocking thing would be if the Ravens laid another egg. If that were to happen, then fingers can start hovering over the panic button. I doubt we will see that tonight though. It may be a tad sloppy showing (injuries to key players), but the Ravens will not be embarrassed like they were last week.