Thoughts and Notes:
Well, our second team couldn't overcome the deficit that the first team put the Ravens in for the third game in a row. To say that the Ravens played mistake free ball would be like saying Ravens fans love Skip Bayless; it's simply not true. We threw three interceptions, a fourth if you include the one that was called back due to an unnecessary roughness penalty, and Bernard Pierce fumbled the ball which was returned for a touchdown. Not only that, we were penalized 9 times for 90 yards, a few of which kept Panthers drives alive. It was NOT our best showing.
Having said that, and call me the optimist, but I actually LIKED how we looked for the most part. The most concerning thing to me from the past two games was that the starting offense couldn't sustain drives. They couldn't string a few first downs together, even if it meant punting at midfield. They were able to get several first downs today, even if it didn't mean reaching pay dirt. Aside from the interceptions, Flacco was incredibly efficient, completing 18 of his 24 total passes. He was spreading the ball around well, finding Jacoby, Shiancoe, Stokley, and others for completions.
As for the interceptions, the interception in the red zone is INEXCUSABLE-we can't waste those opportunities and Flacco should know better than to throw that pass in the red zone where it looks like there are 50 defensive players due to the confined space. However, the interception he threw that was returned for a touchdown was NOT his fault. The Panthers player who was lined up in what looked like bump/man coverage on Tandon Doss ended up blitzing and had a free route to Flacco. Flacco, seeing the unblocked blitzer, attempted to throw to the hot read, Doss, who SHOULD have cut his route a little shorter and looked for the ball a little earlier, knowing that the man who was lined up in front of him just blitzed. While communication problems are not good to be having this late in the preseason, I find some comfort that it was Doss' mistake: somebody who likely will not get much playing time during the regular season now that Stokley has been signed and other receivers have emerged.
1) MOST impressive tonight was Marlon Brown. It seemed like he got open frequently and was able to find the soft spots in zone coverage. He had four receptions on four targets for 59 yards and a touchdown. I was SUPER impressed with his touchdown catch, as he went up high for the ball in tight coverage. This game cemented him a roster spot, and, in my opinion, he should leapfrog Tandon Doss on the depth chart. Aaron Mellette got a decent amount of playing time but didn't have nearly the same impact as Marlon Brown. This was particularly interesting to me because reports from practice said that Flacco had instant chemistry with Mellette but struggled with Brown. We still have a logjam at receiver, and I have no idea what this all means for darlings/favorites LaQuan Williams and Deonte Thompson. I just can't see us keeping 8 receivers (Smith, Jones, Stokley, Doss, Thompson, Williams, Brown, Mellette, and that doesn't even include 2012 6th round pick Tommy Streeter.....thank goodness we traded David Reed).
2) LEAST impressive tonight was Dallas Clark. He had a dropped ball, didn't seem to make an attempt to the long pass up the middle that was thrown to him (though it looked like he may have been arm barred and he was looking around as if to expect a flag), didn't seem to get open often, and I thought he also struggled blocking. He's been signed for all of about 10 days so I'm more than willing to give him a pass, but we need solid production from him in the name of 30-40 receptions.
3) Really happy to see the running game get going a little bit. Ray Rice was visibly frustrated last game at the blocking, and it certainly was improved tonight. The inside trap plays seemed very successful, and we ran them numerous times. However, a big concern tonight was negative plays. While we had many nice runs, too many times on first down our runner got stuffed at the line of scrimmage or even lost a couple yards. We need to put ourselves in better positions in down and distance even if it means just getting a couple yards so that we're facing more 2nd and 7's and fewer 2nd and 11's. I love Pierce's playmaking ability, but sometimes he needs to take the two yard gain and not try to bounce it outside, something he does way too frequently.
4) Defense looked great. We applied good pressure on Cam Newton, which is hard to do because he's so mobile. He dodged a few sacks that maybe four other QB's in the league could replicate. Our run defense seemed far improved from last week. It was also really nice seeing Lardarius Webb get some action. We need him to be the Lardarius Webb of two years ago if we want our defense to be elite. Having said all of that, the Panthers are certainly a worse offensive team than the Falcons, so this game probably doesn't shed much light about how we will fair against an elite offense.
5) As a small non-Ravens related note, Luke Kuechly is the absolute truth. He was named AP Defensive Rookie of the Year last year after leading the entire league in tackles, and I wouldn't be shocked if he was an All-Pro this year. The dude was flying around the ball, shrugging off tacklers like a man among boys, and making huge plays all over the field. He forced the Pierce fumble, he intercepted a Flacco pass, and he laid a huge hit on Mellette that caused another interception but was flagged for unnecessary roughness on the hit. Very impressive kid.