Uneven, Inconsistent Ravens Fall Meekly To Lions, 27-12
OVERALL UP-AND-DOWN EFFORT DROPS RECORD TO 1-1
By Joe Platania
(Look for Ravens Report's extensive "Leftovers," our usual postgame notebook, Saturday morning.)
M&T BANK STADIUM, BALTIMORE -- One play summed up the schizophrenic nature of the Ravens' second preseason game Friday night.
Kick returner and wide receiver hopeful Deonte Thompson came out of the end zone from 7 yards deep, found a seam, headed for the right sideline and broke free for what looked like a 107-yard touchdown late during the second quarter of the Lions' eventual 27-12 win, their first preseason victory against the Ravens out of three lifetime tries.
But with that one step forward, there were two going the other way: one of the replacement officials correctly indicated that Thompson had stepped out of bounds near midfield; plus, Sergio Kindle (who later left the game with a left-shoulder stinger) was called for holding on the play.
All told, a Ravens team (1-1) whose reserves had looked so good in Atlanta last Thursday didn't see any depth surface against Detroit (1-1) -- the team allowed 507 total yards -- while the first-string units performed much better.
So, with just two preseason games remaining before the regular campaign begins -- for all intents and purposes, there's really just one left, next Thursday night at home against Jacksonville -- what kind of team is the 2012 Baltimore Ravens?
Nobody knows for sure ... at least not yet. But at least the game proved to be a valuable advertisement for those that think two preseason games -- a proposal by league owners, which could become reality in a few years -- are not enough to evaluate young talent.
"Game situations are paramount," center Matt Birk said. "That's where you get all the situations and all the ebbs and flows. You can't substitute that and you can't replicate it in practice.
"It's so important to get these games and everybody get those reps as an entire offensive unit, obviously, so we can all get it turned up for the regular season."
There were encouraging signs, such as rookie Asa Jackson's meandering punt-return touchdown midway through the third quarter. But it was called back by a penalty, one of nine infractions for which the Ravens were flagged after committing just four last week (Detroit committed 11).
Also, during the fourth quarter, the Lions' Willie Young blocked a punt from punter Sam Koch -- one of the league's best -- which hasn't happened during a regular-season game since the 2009 home opener against Kansas City, an error that turned into a Chiefs touchdown.
Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the rather uneven nature of his team's performance.
"I feel good about the way we played in the first half," he said. "We had pretty good execution, but overall, we didn't finish. We have to convert on third downs on both sides of the ball, catch the ball, knock it down on defense."
Besides the penalties and the Ravens' 2-for-15 third-down performance -- the defense allowed six of 14 conversions -- the much-sought-after pass rush was nearly non-existent (no sacks, one quarterback hit), at least against an offense ranked fifth in the league in 2011.
The Lions left quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiver Calvin Johnson and the first-string offense in against the Ravens' backups, and that tactic helped Detroit not only take the lead, but stop the Ravens' four-game preseason winning streak.
After the Ravens outgained them during the first quarter, the Lions rang up a 209-41 second-quarter edge to take control of the game. The bottom-of-the-roster, garbage-time battle was basically a draw, as the teams traded field goals and Detroit's Stephfon Green broke off a 76-yard touchdown run to complete the scoring.
The humid evening led to a few intermittent showers throughout the game, but it didn't seem to bother the Lions, who had played in the Charm City rain before, during a 48-3 loss in 2009.
But in front of 70,567 fans -- the smallest Ravens preseason crowd since 70,335 watched Baltimore beat the New York Jets three years ago in another nationally televised game -- the Lions flashed the downfield-passing form that put them in the playoffs in 2011 for the first time in 12 years.
It also added up to the Ravens' most lopsided preseason loss since a 30-7 shellacking in Minnesota in 2006.
The Ravens got a lot done in the running game with 122 yards, but it was a rather deceptive total, as backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor (8-for-22, 65 yards, one sack, 44.9 rating) led with 60 yards on seven rushes.
As the time of year approaches when a football team should start to see the pieces come together, the Ravens are still a collection of mere pieces.
MOVE THE BALL
Even though the Ravens' initial possession of the game didn't result in points, it at least got a first down 35 seconds into the game; last week, Baltimore had to wait a full quarter to move the chains for the first time.
Small tweaks in the starting lineup -- Matt Birk returning at center, unknowns LaQuan Williams (targeted a team-high six times during the first half) and Tandon Doss beginning the game at wideout with Torrey Smith (ankle) out -- helped, along with Joe Flacco's newfound propensity to get the ball out more quickly.
First downs were the result of consecutive passes to Williams and Anquan Boldin (31 yards, two catches) as the Ravens got the ball to midfield. Birk showed there was little rust in his game as he rooted his man out of the way to open a hole for Ray Rice's 4-yard gain.
Rice touched the ball only three times in Atlanta, but gained 12 yards on five rushes and 11 yards on two receptions.
Even the special teamers, who allowed a 45-yard punt return in Atlanta last week, got into the act by having both gunners beat their men and seeing Jameel McClain down Sam Koch's first punt of the night on the Lions' 4.
It was time for the Ravens' defense to unveil a new look, with returnee Ma'ake Kemoeatu starting at nose guard ahead of Terrence Cody. The Lions did get out to their own 25 thanks to Stafford's (12-for-17, 184, two TDs, 145.2 rating) passes to running back Kevin Smith and stud wideout Johnson, but were forced to punt.
The Ravens then tried to use Detroit's aggressive nature against itself, and they did so successfully.
Birk was the lead blocker on a Rice screen that gained 9 yards before Detroit defensive lineman Nick Fairley was flagged for roughing Flacco (7-for-12, 79 yards, one sack, 78.8 rating) after a 16-yard pass to Boldin.
That convergence of events put the ball on the Lions' 35, where an offsides penalty on Everette Brown -- who had two sacks against Cleveland last week -- put the ball 5 yards closer.
A Rice run against a blitz got the ball inside the Lions' 10-yard line, but a subsequent Michael Oher holding penalty forced the Ravens to settle for Billy Cundiff's 33-yard field-goal try. The Ravens opted for the Oher-Kelechi Osemele tackle combination, relegating Bryant McKinnie to second-string for the night.
Cundiff has missed 17 field goals in camp to Justin Tucker's five, but the veteran calmly booted the ball through the uprights for a three-point lead to cap off an 11-play, 60-yard drive.
"We were able to move the ball, the first group," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "But touchdowns are better than field goals. [Flacco] did a good job of running the offense at the line. That is something we are working on regularly."
But despite the pass rush's many practice reps, linebacker Paul Kruger's rush game hasn't been seen during the preseason's first two games. But he did step in front of a Stafford sideline pass and nearly intercepted it to stop a drive at the Lions' 44.
Ryan Donohue's subsequent punt pinned the Ravens back at their own 2, but the Ravens' first-string defense kept Detroit on its own side of the field during the first quarter, with their offensive teammates outgaining the visitors by a 139-45 margin, nearly offsetting the 191-9 edge Atlanta laid on them during last week's first 15 minutes.
STAFFORD, C.J. AND STARTERS
TAKE THE LEAD
As the first quarter ended and the second began, the Ravens began to use imagination and versatility to get themselves out of the shadow of their own goalposts.
Flacco faked a run into the line and found fullback Vonta Leach for 15 yards before Jacoby Jones took an end-around 35 yards into Lions' territory at the 48. A subsequent dumpoff pas to Bernard Pierce gained 14 yards, but it was called back because of an ineligible-man-downfield call on newly signed tight end Billy Bajema.
Another toss to Pierce resulted in a big loss, but the feisty Lions -- who had a league-high 29 personal fouls last year -- got flagged for another one when linebacker Justin Durant was called for a face mask.
Pierce was the first choice for second-string behind Rice, as the backup running back job continues to bounce back and forth among several candidates, but once again, neither Pierce nor Anthony Allen really stood out.
The team did get some encouraging signs from 2011 practice-squadder Damien Berry (13 yards, three rushes; 59 yards, six catches) and 2012 undrafted rookie Bobby Rainey (20 yards, four receptions; 51 yards, three kick/punt returns).
The Ravens then deployed four-wides on third-and-1 from the Lions' 29. But nobody could get open and Flacco was sacked, settng up Justin Tucker's 50-yard field goal. The Ravens led, 6-0, during the opening minute of the second quarter.
At that point, with the Ravens slowly withdrawing their starters after their improved effort, Detroit kept its first-stringers on the field in an effort to duplicate what the Ravens did during last week's second quarter -- get a rhythm going.
They did, driving 93 yards on five plays and taking a 7-6 lead thanks mainly to Johnson, who was held to just four catches and 37 yards when the Lions were blown out here three years ago. His five catches Friday night netted him 111 yards and a touchdown as Stafford was rarely pressured by the Ravens, not getting sacked at all and hit just once.
But with the Lions backed up at their own 7, Stafford launched a deep downfield missile to Johnson, who had beaten Cary Williams and too-late-to-help safety Sean Considine.
Later, on third-and-2, top draft pick Courtney Upshaw was called for being offsides, handing the Lions a first down inside the Ravens' red zone. From there, Stafford called upon the 6-foot-5 Johnson again, as he easily leaped over Jimmy Smith -- who looked back too late for the ball -- for the touchdown.
"Listen now, you're talking about a person who probably should be running track," Ray Lewis said of Johnson. "But he chose football. He is a mismatch problem for a lot of people. The bottom line is you've just got to play him and make him earn his check. Today, he earned his money."
The Lions kept pouring it on as the quarter progressed, turning a short pass to Kevin Smith (11 yards, four rushes; 28 yards, three catches) into a big gain out to their own 45 and getting a pass-interference call on Jimmy Smith as he vainly tried to cover Johnson on the right sideline.
On third-and-5, Stafford then found tight end Brandon Pettigrew -- a player many had going to the Ravens during his draft year -- up the middle with a pass to the Baltimore 30. Stafford then hung in the pocket despite a strong rush by Kruger and found Titus Young for a 24-yard touchdown, during which he broke tackles by Cary Williams and others inside the Ravens' 5.
Taylor then drove the Ravens on an seven-play march to the Lions' 26, setting up Cundiff's 44-yard field goal, which shaved the Lions' lead to 14-9, but after a drive directed by ex-Maryland signal caller Shaun Hill (7-for-13, 61 yards, 66.5 rating), kicker Jason Hanson answered with a 50-yarder to restore Detroit's eight-point advantage.
Naturally, that meant the Ravens were at a disadvantage when it came to the game's most important statistic.
But at least for now, it's kind of hard to see in which facets of the game the Ravens can consistently hold the cards.
Posted Aug. 18, 2012