Last week, the Baltimore Ravens secured the first win in the preseason with a victory over the Chicago Bears. Now, the Baltimore Ravens move on to the Los Angeles Rams. Both teams have been practicing together for the past two days, and tensions ran high. Now, after the two fierce practices, the Rams and Ravens are preparing to battle it out on the gridiron. The Ravens did not play many starters in the Hall of Fame Game, and Thursday’s game will be the first time many see the field this preseason. The game will provide further insights into the situation in Baltimore, and the positional battles taking place. Here are five topics and predictions to keep in mind while watching the Ravens and Rams preseason game.
Joe Flacco and the Starters’ First Appearance
For the first time this preseason, starting quarterback Joe Flacco and the starting offense will make an appearance. Although brief, this appearance will give insight into how the offense is shaping out. It is crucial that the Ravens find a strong combination of receivers, tight ends, and offensive linemen to create a successful offense in 2018. In the first half of the 2017 season, the Baltimore Ravens offense was so dismal that it hindered the team from winning more than necessary. If the Ravens offense had actually produced well, Baltimore would have likely made the playoffs. That is why it is critical the Ravens develop a strong offense, and testing in the preseason is very valuable to the team.
So what will Joe Flacco and the starting offense do? The answer is not very surprising at all. The Ravens will elect to run the ball first and test the passing game as if it were a real offensive drive. This means that Alex Collins will get opportunities to run it on the ground, and Joe Flacco will get opportunities to pass the ball. The objective will be to score on the one drive that the unit will likely get. If the Ravens offense can come out of the gate and score against the tenacious Rams defense, it will be a very good indication moving forward. However, the Ravens offense will have a difficult time against the Rams defense consisting of defensive backs Aqib Talib and Marcus Peters, and pass rushers like Ndamukong Suh. The Ravens offense will likely move the ball and score a field goal, but not a touchdown.
Lamar Jackson v.s. Himself
In the first preseason game, Lamar Jackson proved that he is indeed a rookie project quarterback. While many in the national media have pushed the narrative that he will usurp Joe Flacco’s starting position this year, it is clear that the Ravens have other plans in mind. It is obvious to those actually paying attention that the Ravens want to essentially redshirt Jackson this year. Jackson will undoubtedly see time on the field in certain packages and trick plays, but to say that he will become the starting quarterback before the end of the year is pure nonsense. That being said, the Ravens do want to see Jackson continue to develop and improve from his less than mediocre performance in the Hall of Fame Game.
In the Hall of Fame Game against the Chicago Bears, Lamar Jackson had his series of ups and downs. Jackson showed off his athleticism but also showcased his inexperience and unrefined style. He overthrew receivers multiple times and even threw an interception by virtue of an inaccurate pass on a short route. Jackson needs to move on from his 40% completion rate, along with his inability to perform under pressure before the end of the preseason. In the next game against the Rams this Thursday, Jackson will likely increase his completion rate to between 45% and 50%, depending on the number of passes he throws. He will not yet learn to control his urge to escape the pocket but has plenty of time to figure that out this year.
Inside Linebacker Competition Continued
The most interesting positional battle the Ravens have this year regards the inside linebackers. As mentioned last week, the first starting inside linebacker role unquestionably belongs to C.J. Mosley. However, the starting slot next to Mosley is still up for grabs. The two main competitors for the gig are returning starter Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young. Both players have talent and advantages in their own respective ways. Onwuasor has the NFL experience, while Young has a great ability to perform. Both of these players will likely find themselves on the field at points throughout the regular season. However, only one can be the designated starter.
Last week, as predicted, both played fairly well, but neither was able to create a gap between himself and the other. Again, this week against the Los Angeles Rams, both of these players will compete again to try to further himself from the other. As both players will get extensive time, one player will pull slightly ahead in the competition. That player will be Patrick Onwuasor. Onwuasor will record more tackles and level some big hits on running backs. This demonstration will give him the upper hand in the competition, but nothing will be decided until the end of training camp.
Will Correa Shine Again?
Last week, outside linebacker Kamalei Correa, put a show on the field. Correa has largely been a disappointment for the Baltimore Ravens since the team drafted him in the second round in 2016. The reason for the disappointment seems to be the move from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. Correa is a natural outside linebacker and the switch discarded his pass rush abilities for coverage skills he simply does not possess. His return to outside linebacker so far looks to be beneficial. Against the Chicago Bears last Thursday, Correa recorded six combined tackles, three sacks, two pass deflections, one interception, and one forced fumble. His absolute dominance on the field earned him our Ravens Player of the Game award.
Will Correa live up to the same standard again? Probably not. Correa’s performance against the Bears was so spectacular that it is doubtful that it can be replicated. However, Correa will probably perform well against the Rams this Thursday. Correa will likely record a few tackles and a sack. If he continues playing well, at the level he played at against the Bears or where my projection for Thursday, he will make the roster come September.
Special Teams Battle
The Baltimore Ravens and the Los Angeles Rams both have some of the best special teams units in the National Football League. With that considered, there will be a major battle of forces this Thursday, particularly in the Ravens return game. In practice over the past couple of days, the Baltimore Ravens have worked on kick and punt returns against the Rams. Tim White has been absent from practices this week, but Janarion Grant saw success running with the ball.
The Ravens have yet to rule out Tim White for the upcoming preseason game, but he may not play given the undisclosed injury. This leaves Janarion Grant with an excellent opportunity to prove himself as a returner. Grant needs to do well in the time he does get this Thursday and must prove himself. Grant will do well against the Rams but will fall short of a major return. He may get some out to the 35-yard line, but that will be the extent of it.
The Baltimore Ravens will play hard against the Los Angeles Rams in this preseason game, but the team will fall short of a victory. Joe Flacco and the starting offense will place the Ravens in field goal range for an early lead of 3-0. After that, the Ravens defense will immediately give up a touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Brandin Cooks. Robert Griffin III will lead a touchdown drive, capped off by a Gus Edwards touchdown run to put the Ravens up 10-7. The Rams will then score 20 unanswered points. Malcolm Brown and Justin Davis will each run a touchdown in, and Sean Mannion will throw one to wide receiver Fred Brown. Lamar Jackson’s time at quarterback will be difficult. He will compete roughly 45% of passes, but also throw two interceptions. The last Ravens touchdown will come late in the fourth quarter when Jackson takes a long run into the endzone.