Flat Ravens End Preseason At 2-2 With Loss To Rams
BACKUPS, ROSTER HOPEFULS TURN IN SHODDY EFFORT
By Joe Platania
(Look for Ravens Report's extensive "Leftovers", our usual postgame notebook, Friday morning. Also, head coach John Harbaugh will address the final cuts at midday, so join us for that as well. -- JP)
Usually, the fourth preseason game doesn't prove much in the NFL.
But on Thursday night in St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome, the Ravens certainly found out that players named Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and Haloti Ngata had better not be lost to the team, or else they would have to rely on the Edward Joneses of the world.
The host Rams, hoping to extricate themselves from the NFL's sewer, used their starters for an extended period and dragged the Ravens into the muck with them by outplaying their veteran-resting visitors to the tune of a 31-17 blowout before a sparsely populated Dome crowd.
Baltimore rested its well-known stars in order to stay healthy for the franchise's 17th season opener on Monday, Sept. 10, against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium (7 p.m.; ESPN, WJZ-TV; WIYY-FM).
During a game that was pivotal in determining which players would serve as the "next men up" and fill out the bottom of the 53-man active roster -- which must be decided by releasing 22 players before 9 p.m. Friday -- the Ravens (2-2), who didn't post a winning preseason record for the first time since 2008, didn't see many encouraging signs.
A particularly disturbing early-third-quarter sequence had to have the Ravens' coaching staff wondering what more could go wrong.
Third-quarterback candidate Curtis Painter threw interceptions on consecutive plays, the first an overthrown ball to safety Craig Dahl. But Ravens undrafted receiver Dorian Graham stripped Dahl and got the ball back for the Ravens in St. Louis territory for a rare first down.
But on the next play, a Painter pass bounced off Bobby Rainey's hands and into those of third-round pick and rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who weaved through the Ravens' offense for a 76-yard touchdown and the game-sealing touchdown.
Painter, hoping the Ravens carry three quarterbacks on the roster for the first time since 2009, later directed an 86-yard, 14-play drive and found ex-Rams tight end Billy Bajema for a 7-yard score, but in reality, the game's competitive phase was finished long before then.
For the better part of the evening, the Baltimore backups simply could not execute even the most fundamental plays or technique, an astonishing display from players fighting for their NFL futures.
Players were often caught out of position, resulting in slips, missed tackles and, perhaps most annoying to the coaches, another nearly invisible effort by the Terrell Suggs-less pass rush.
Things went so poorly for the Ravens that even Justin Tucker, the impressive undrafted free agent kicker who won the job after a competition with veteran Billy Cundiff, had his first miss of the preseason just before halftime on a 57-yard try, which was long enough, but wide left, the Ravens' first good scoring chance of the game.
Tucker hit a 49-yarder during the third quarter and finished the preseason with six field goals in seven attempts.
Even though the game did close out the preseason, it was still important for the coaching staff and the players fighting for a job.
"We're looking for guys that can play," head coach John Harbaugh said. "We gave [St. Louis] those points. We missed tackles, we missed coverages and we played with bad technique."
And it started right from the beginning.
RAMS' STARTERS STRIKE FIRST
The Rams were one of the NFL's worst teams last year, finishing with a 2-14 record. Maybe because of that, first-year head coach Jeff Fisher -- familiar with the Ravens from his days coaching the Tennessee Titans -- played most of his starters through the first half, with some of them going into the third quarter.
With the Ravens putting a first-string defense on the field devoid of most of their regulars -- only linebacker Paul Kruger and corners Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams were on the field at the beginning -- and with the Ravens' run defense having shown signs of weakening this month, it could have meant a big day for ninth-year veteran running back Steven Jackson.
But it was third-year quarterback Sam Bradford -- the league's Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010 -- that struck the first blow, finding wideout Brandon Gibson with a sideline pass underneath Williams for a first down near midfield.
But Smith and Corey Graham had tight coverage on consecutive quick sideline passes to force a punt from the Rams, one of only three teams in the NFL last year ranked in the bottom third in both offense and defense (Tampa Bay and Indianapolis were the others).
In fact, the Rams averaged an NFL-low 12.1 points per game last year in becoming the only team to score fewer than 200 points last season. The Ravens have much higher offensive aspirations, and the gulf in talent showed right away against St. Louis' top defenders.
Third-round rookie running back Bernard Pierce, considered to be in the lead for the backup job, gained 16 yards on two straight rushes before quarterback Tyrod Taylor scrambled for 22 yards to midfield after getting relatively good protection.
In fact, the Ravens ran the ball on six straight plays, moving from their own 11 to the Rams' 42. Two straight losses on runs by Pierce and Bobby Rainey helped stall the drive, but the Ravens moved the ball well against a defense coordinated by ex-Arizona head coach Dave McGinnis, who is filling in for newly hired but league-suspended Gregg Williams, one of the people held responsible for the New Orleans Saints' bounty program.
A well-placed Sam Koch punt, an illegal-block call on a punt return and a holding penalty kept the Rams bottled up at their own 6, but a key play followed as Steve Smith put a double-move on Jimmy Smith and forced the Ravens defender to fall down before making the catch for a 46-yard gain to the Baltimore 48.
Tight end Mike McNeill then faked out Brendon Ayanbadejo and took a reception to the 36 for a first down before ex-Ravens fullback Ovie Mughelli took a swing pass and bulled over Christian Thompson for an 18-yard gain.
Albert McClellan, who has vaulted over top draft pick Courtney Upshaw on the outside-linebacker depth chart, then picked up his mates by stuffing Jackson for a 1-yard loss, but Austin Pettis beat several defenders -- Upshaw, Nigel Carr and Omar Brown -- on a right-to-left dig route, outracing them all to the end-zone pylon for an 18-yard touchdown.
The Rams' defense, buoyed by the early lead, then launched an all-out attack on Taylor, as he was forced to throw deep in his own territory. Defensive end Robert Quinn beat backup tackle Cordaro Howard on an edge rush from Taylor's left, stripped the ball from Taylor and recovered it at the Ravens' 8.
Two plays later, diminutive wideout Danny Amendola ran past a falling Kruger, found a hole in the middle of the Ravens' defense between Thompson and McClellan, and Bradford -- trying to recover from a 2011 season when he missed six games -- found him for a touchdown, which capped off a 14-0 first quarter.
KINDLE, GORRER MAKE KEY MISTAKES
Like the defense, the Ravens' offense hit the field with backups such as Howard and Kelechi Osemele at the tackles and Justin Boren (who was carted off during the third quarter) and converted tackle Ramon Harewood at the guards. Fourth-round draft pick Gino Gradkowski started at center.
As a result of such inexperience, the visitors held the ball for little more than 11 minutes of the first half; got 104 yards and six first downs; and were hardly able to implement the same kind of up-tempo, no-huddle offense that had worked so well for the starters during the third preseason game, last week against Jacksonville.
But St. Louis did run into a bit of bad luck when Harewood fell on the leg of top draft pick Michael Brockers -- the LSU nose tackle the Rams were able to draft as a result of the trade that enabled Washington to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III -- who had to be helped off the field.
The Ravens' unit converted no third-down plays during the first quarter and was 1-for-5 during the first half, not threatening to score.
Taylor threw twice to Deonte Thompson in those situations as the second period began, and the University of Florida-bred roster hopeful -- who had an impressive night, including an 11-yard fourth-quarter touchdown -- gained one first down.
But when the Rams got the ball back, seventh-round rookie running back Daryl Richardson began to find holes in the Ravens' defense, and Amendola struck again by beating Graham on a slant and racing down to the Ravens' 35. Richardson then scooted around left end and gained 11 yards on third-and-2 for a first down at the 16.
Carr and Ayanbadejo then stuffed Richardson on two straight runs that resulted in a 7-yard loss, and a pre-snap penalty set up a third-and-22 from the 28. A subsequent pass fell short, but linebacker Sergio Kindle -- the Ravens' top draft pick in 2010, who is on the roster bubble -- roughed Bradford to hand the Rams a first down at the 11.
Three plays later, Bradford completed his trouble-free 1.5 quarters of work by going back into the shotgun and finding tight end Michael Hoomanawanui behind Ayanbadejo for a 9-yard touchdown, which fattened the Rams' bulge to 21-0 and completed an 85-yard, 13-play drive.
The fatigue the Ravens defense had to be feeling from being on the field so much was evident when cornerback Danny Gorrer -- also not guaranteed a roster spot, despite being part of last year's squad -- didn't look back for the ball on a pass to Chris Givens and committed a pass-interference penalty, which gave the Rams the ball on the Ravens' 8.
Running back Isaiah Pead had keyed the St. Louis drive up to that point, and on second-and-goal from the 5, he got the ball again. But nose tackle Terrence Cody -- demoted to second-string by the ascension of Ma'ake Kemoeatu -- stuffed Pead for no gain.
Gorrer then redeemed himself on third-and-goal as he intercepted an end-zone fade route from backup quarterback Kellen Clemens to second-round receiver Brian Quick, a former Appalachian State player who was another result of the Rams' trade with the Redskins.
But after this game, the Ravens would gladly trade the poor play of their backups for the promise of those more prominent.
Posted Aug. 30, 2012