One thing was proved in tonight's relatively meaningless final pre-season game between the Baltimore Ravens and Atlanta Falcons and that is that the Ravens' reserves are a bit better than the Falcons'. The final score of 21-7 was not as much of an overwhelming victory as the score might indicate, as 11 points were scored late in the 4th quarter.
With the big story being the health of backup quarterback TyrodTaylor's left shoulder, the Ravens along with the rest of the NFL teams wll have to make some tough decisions on their final 53-man roster. A few of the Ravens players will make those decisions tougher by the way they played tonight, and might have either saved or earned themselves a place on the roster.
Wide receiver LaQuan Williams continued his impressive pre-season as a receiver and punt returner. Linebackers Josh Bynes and Jason Phillips had excellent games and both deserve to remain with the team. Unfortunately, other players either did not impress or did not have the chance to prove they deserve a spot on the team. The new kickoff rule plays a huge role in lessening the impact of the Special Teams ace, which means guys like WR Marcus Smith and LB Prescott Burgess were unable to show their skills on kickoff coverage as not only did placekicker Billy Cundiff boot everything out of the end zone, even punter Sam Koch had a chance and knocked it through the end zone as well.
Other than Taylor's injury, the Ravens seemed to remain relatively healthy in the game. That still translates into a huge question as the team gets ready to face the Pittsbugh Steelers in the regular season opener perhaps without a true backup behind starter Joe Flacco Third stringer Hunter Cantwell just is not an option and any other QB brought in will be so far out of touch with the Ravens playbook that the only strategic option is to lure former backup Marc Bulger out of retirement, as I wrote about a few weeks ago.
The defense still looked solid without their main starters, as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Jarret Johnson and Terrell Suggs did not even suit up for the game. On the offensive side of the ball, neither did Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and a slew of other players.
Now the tough part comes as cutting players is never a fun task for the coaching staff. The Ravens might also be looking for a few more players to join the team after browsing through the other teams' cuts this weekend. Then they can re-sign their own or other teams' players to their eight-man Practice Squad. They could also choose to retain a few players by placing them on the Injured Reserve List, which ends their 2011 season, but allows the team to retain their rights to the player and also ensures the player receives his full NFL salary.
Overall, this was a meaningless victory in pre-season but a costly one at that, with the possible loss of a backup QB. Hopefully, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome has already been on the phone since the first quarter looking for another QB, preferably Marc Bulger, who knows the system and could probably make a few extra bucks knowing the Ravens sense of desperation right now.