When the Ravens began training camp a month ago, every facet of the passing offense faced legitimate questions.
Will Joe Flacco feel the effects of ACL surgery? Can an inexperienced left side of the offensive line come together? What is Steve Smith’s timeline for returning from Achilles surgery? How much does Mike Wallace have left? Can Dennis Pitta still play?
Less than two weeks before the regular season begins, many of these questions have been answered in a positive way.
Beginning with the under appreciated quarterback, Flacco has taken the first-team repetitions at every practice without needing to rest his knee. He is reportedly in the best shape of his life and has a renewed appreciation for the game after his Ironman consecutive games streak was snapped. Flacco looked sharp in his only preseason action against Detroit. According to Pro Football Focus , the ball came out of his hand in a blistering average time of 2.13 seconds over 17 attempts. The quick release was not due to heavy pressure on his drop backs, Flacco is growing decisive in Trestman’s offense and his targets were open.
Perhaps the greatest cause for concern in July was the brand-new left side of the offensive line. Ronnie Stanley has been outstanding, Pro Football Focus stated that Stanley has been the most impressive rookie in the entire NFL this preseason. Stanley has allowed a single pressure in more than a game of combined preseason work against starting caliber competition. Rookie Alex Lewis has filled in well for John Urschel while the third-year player is out with an injury. The left guard has not looked overmatched and has blocked well enough to possibly start ahead of Urschel.
Mike Wallace stood out in mini-camps earlier in the summer and has only built upon that promise in training camp. Daily reports mention the speedster catching touchdowns and becoming a go-to target. Wallace has a better ability to run intermediate routes than given credit for. Receivers Kamar Aiken and Jeremy Butler are also trending upwards, they have followed up encouraging seasons last year by catching three touchdowns combined in the preseason.
Ornery receiver Steve Smith is back on the practice field and coach Harbaugh expects him to play Week 1. Smith is as feisty as ever and showed his commitment to the Ravens organization in an emotional interview. Dennis Pitta is currently not practicing due to a broken finger, but his hip has not been an issue. Pitta apparently looks like his old self, brining his knack for finding the soft spots in coverage and reliable hands.
The loss of Ben Watson for the season hurts tight end depth, but his injury could provide the offense another downfield dimension if Maxx Williams assumes some of the playing time Watson was expected to receive. All four of the Ravens running backs have looked dangerous catching passes out of the backfield, especially Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon, while the bottom of the receiver depth chart features impressive speed.
Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman has an intelligent Super Bowl MVP quarterback, a capable offensive line, a talented combination of complimentary wideouts and plenty of underneath pass catching options at his disposal. His play calling has been encouraging in the preseason, mixing up the calls particularly well when Ryan Mallett has been quarterbacking the offense.
The Ravens will now focus their preparation on getting the timing of their passing game down cold and improving red zone execution in the practices leading up to the regular season. With this volume of players recovering from injury and developing chemistry, their is definitely plenty of room for improvement. However, training camp has provided cause for optimism and the pieces are falling into place nicely.
Quietly, the Ravens have assembled the components to field one of the top passing offenses in the NFL this season.