Two more weeks. Ravens fans everywhere are circling September 13th on their calenders, when the Ravens open their season against the Denver Broncos at Mile High. However, our appetites for football must be satiated with this week's humble appetizer. Yet Saturday night's appetizer may turn out to be the most filling meal of the preseason, as Week 3 serves as the 'dress rehearsal' for most NFL teams. We'll see starters playing into and perhaps after the half of this game, as coaches want to make final tweaks and adjustments with their starting squads before sitting them next week. There's no doubt that this is the most important preseason game yet. While the stats and results of this game will fade almost instantly from the memories of coaches and fans, how the players play will be engrained the heads of many. Let's take a look at the important things to watch out for in this game.
Can the Starters Bounce Back?
It was pretty much a horrendous performance from starters on both ends of the ball in last week's 40-17 blowout loss against the Eagles. While it's the preseason, and boring vanilla play calls and limited gameplanning are the norm, improvements must be made.
On the offense, Joe Flacco threw two picks and completed only 3 of 7 passes for 23 yards. While one interception, a deep lob that was tipped to a defender wasn't Flacco's fault, the other was a inexcusable overthrow straight into the hands of a defender. It was unusual, and certainly 'so not Joe'. With Joe likely running the offensive squad for a half or so, we'll likely get a better picture of our QB's play.
Joe isn't the only one who needs to step up, as the whole first-team offense combined for just 69 yards last week. An injured offensive line was also a key contributor to last week's woes. To give you an idea of how bad the injuries were, Ryan Jensen, Marcel Jones, Leon Brown, Robert Myers and Nick Easton was the squad the Ravens were fielding in the second quarter last week. I cover the Ravens semi-professionally and I haven't even heard of three of those guys.
The team was scraping the bottom of the barrel, and that wasn't even enough, as backups James Hurst and De'Ondre Wesley went down last week. This unit, which has been hailed as one of the best in the league, needs to be healthy and on the field to be the best.
The defense is also to blame too. The run defense, which is regarded as one of the team's strenghts, let the Philly running backs run all over them, allowing 46 yards rushing and two touchdown runs in the first quarter. If you watched the game, the touchdown runs looked like the Ravens defense was the CPU in Madden. It was dreadful. If this group of guys wants to show why they are one of the best in the leauge, then they need to make a statement against the weak offensive line of the Redskins.
Allen v. Magee
One of the bright spots of last week's game was Terrence Magee. The undrafted rookie out of LSU contributed 44 of the team's 150 yards on 11 carries. Magee looked pretty impressive, albeit against Eagles third-stringers. The rookie ran with purpose and instinct behind a suspect offensive line. Despite the nice performance, many predicted that the would be a roster cut casualty. But after Lorenzo Taliaferro's knee injury that has him sidelined into the regular season, a door may have opened for Magee.
Standing in that doorway is the other rookie back, Javorius 'Buck' Allen. This year's fourth-round selection out of USC was a dynamo in college, proving to be an effective runner and pass-catcher. Allen has recently drawn comparisons to Arian Foster, and was viewed as a nice value pick by many draft pundits and gurus. While on paper Buck looks fantastic, we haven't seen much of him this preseason because of the talent ahead of him. But when he has been on the field, his results haven't exactly set the world on fire. In two preseason games, he’s rushed 17 times for 54 yards (3.2 yards per carry) and caught two passes for 25 yards. Not bad, but there's certainly room for improvement, and Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman has noticed just that. "Buck continues to improve," said Trestman in the days after last week's game. But 'Buck' will have to do more than impress in practice, he's got to show off his stuff in a real live game to truly impress the coaches.
With the absence of Taliaferro for a little while, it will be interesting to see who will seize the role.
Will Waller Keep it Up?
The 6' 6" rookie skyscraper who was at one time considered a project unlikely to crack the roster, has done everything on the field to refute that belief. The receiver has been impressing both on the practice field, and in game action. Waller has been the Ravens best receiver this preseason by far, amassing 4 receptions for 33 yards and a touchdown in limited playing time. If he can keep this up this weekend, it'd be hard to deny the receiver with sky-high potential a roster spot.
Battle of the Backup QBs
While Joe Flacco struggled last week, the other two quarterbacks on the roster had nice outings. Matt Schaub, the veteran who has been mocked by both fans and teammates alike for throwing awful picks in practice, has actually looked really solid in game action. Schaub has posted 249 yards on 22 of 36 completions, while also scoring a touchdown and throwing a pick.
On the other hand, Bryn Renner has come out of nowhere and challenged Schaub for the #2 spot behind Flacco. Following his excellent performance against New Orleans in which he scored the game-winning touchdown on his feet, Renner had yet another nice outing last week. He looked calm, cool, and collected. Renner is now 21 of 35 for 246 yards,and has tossed two touchdowns, and one pick this preseason.
While at first, many Ravens fans were nervous about the backup QB upon hearing reports from camp abour Schaub, it now appears that the team just might be in good hands. Both will be trying to feast on the Washington secondary this week in an attempt to make their case for the job.
RGIII Will Be a Big Story, Like it or Not
A media circus seems to follow the polarizing QB everywhere he goes, and the circus is certainly coming to Baltimore. Griffin has now been cleared to play following an apparent head injury in last week's game against the Detroit Lions. The spotlight will be on him and the Redskins, not the Ravens in this one. His play will almost certainly be scrutinized. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens handle the mobile QB, but I suggest they don't run the read option play this week.
Keep your eyes peeled for these things and more tomorrow night, we'll have all of the coverage right here.