The Baltimore Ravens improved to 2-0 in preseason action with a 19-18 road victory against the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday evening. It was about as exciting as things can get in a preseason contest, with the game going down to the wire and being decided on an intercepted two-point conversion. However, while it was a fun evening of football and the good guys got the win, the game in Indy didn't do much to answer any of the big questions still facing the team.
What Went Well
- The Ravens have a good problem at back-up quarterback. Coming into training camp, the general expectation was that Ryan Mallett would be the guy backing up Joe Flacco for the 2016 season. And he very well may be. But as good as Mallett has been (he went 6/8 for 47 yards and a touchdown on Saturday), veteran newcomer Josh Johnson has looked every bit as sharp. Johnson went 11/16 for 72 yards and a touchdown Saturday night while also adding five carries for 40 yards. If both quarterbacks continue to perform at a high level, it gives the Ravens some options leading up to cut-down day, as a quarterback-needy team may be willing to ship a conditional late-round draft pick to Charm City for one of the veteran signal callers.
- Matt Judon could be something special. OK, here is the required disclaimer that preseason success does not always carry over to the games that matter. But Matt Judon, the fifth-round pick from Division II Grand Valley State who led the nation in sacks last season with 21, has impressed in his first two tastes of NFL action. After notching a sack and five tackles last week against the Panthers, he picked up another sack and two more tackles in Indianapolis. He also prevented a Colts two-point conversion attempt in the third quarter by exploding into the backfield and absolutely demolishing quarterback Scott Tolzien. The big test for Judon will come next week, as Harbaugh said he will give Judon snaps against starting offensive linemen to see how he handles the higher quality of opponent. While Judon is still raw, he is demonstrating the kind of pass rushing acumen that could lead to a more prominent role once the season begins.
- Three bubble players made their case for the 53-man roster. While defensive backs Anthony Levine and Matt Elam and wide receiver Jeremy Butler were with the Ravens last season, there was no guarantee that any of them would make the final cut for 2016. And while we are still a few weeks from that decision being made, these men did everything they could on Saturday night to prove that they belong in purple and black. Butler led the team with four receptions for 35 yards, highlighted by a beautiful over-the-shoulder touchdown reception in the second quarter. He has shown soft hands and precise route running in both preseason games and has unquestionably been the most consistent wide receiver to see the field thus far. Levine was all over the field in Indy. Playing a hybrid linebacker-safety-nickel corner role, Levine was making tackles at the line one play and breaking up passes downfield the next. He also provided the game's deciding points, intercepting an attempted two-point conversion pass and running it back to give the Ravens the final lead of the game. With shakiness elsewhere in the secondary (more on that in a moment), Levine's versatility will make it hard for the team to give him the axe. And Matt Elam, the former first-round pick who has already been labeled a bust by many, had his second consecutive strong performance. Particularly encouraging was his ability to make tackles in the open field, which was a major issue for him early in his career.
What didn't go well.
- The starting secondary continued to struggle. For the second straight game, the starting defense allowed a long drive to open a game. And while, to their credit, both drives ended in field goals instead of touchdowns, the inability to stop these time-consuming marches is a concern. Part of the problem stemmed from the lack of a pass rush (something that will hopefully be rectified when Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil return to action), but even so, Andrew Luck was having no trouble finding holes to exploit in the secondary. Jerraud Powers, who the Ravens signed to play regularly in the slot this season, may be playing his way off the team after a second poor showing. Shareece Wright, who looked solid against the Panthers, was beaten badly on several passes early on. It's too early to panic about the secondary, which is still breaking in the new quartet of Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Wright, but the clock is ticking.
- Penalties reared their ugly head. Yellow flags were a far-too-frequent sight during Ravens games last season. The team had 122 penalties accepted against them in 2015, the ninth-highest total in the league. But after a relatively clean game against the Panthers (three penalties for 30 yards), Baltimore regressed by earning nine flags for 101 yards on the road against the Colts. The players can expect to see the tape of these infractions early and often at practice this week as the coaching staff tries to stamp out bad behaviors before they become habits.
- Not much to see from returning offensive veterans. Saturday marked the preseason debuts of Mike Wallace, Ben Watson, Michael Campanaro, and Justin Forsett. And they contributed a whole lot of nothing to the offense. Wallace didn't have a pass thrown his way, and Watson was unable to haul in his only target. Forsett didn't do much in his first game back from a broken arm, gaining just 11 yards on five carries. And Campanaro was targeted several times but was held to one reception for three yards. Wallace, Watson, and Forsett all came off the field relatively quickly, so the poor numbers aren't a major concern, but the coaches will hope for more during the most important preseason game on Saturday night in Baltimore.
What's next? The Ravens return home to Charm City for a Saturday night showdown against the Detroit Lions. The big story for that game is the return of quarterback Joe Flacco, who is expected to suit up for his first live action since tearing his ACL last season. The third game of the preseason is generally seen as the most critical, providing a "dress rehearsal" for the starting squads before most of the veterans sit in the final exhibition contest. Expect the starters to play at least a half (though Flacco will likely play less). We may also see the preseason debuts of Steve Smith Sr. and Terrell Suggs, two rehabilitating veterans who came off the Physically Unable to Perform list this week.