The Ravens will take on the Carolina Panthers tonight in their last meaningful preseason game(as far as the key players are concerned anyway), here are some things I will be looking for.
1. Down field passing- In two preseason games, Joe Flacco has attempted just one pass of greater than 10 yards…. one. Considering Flacco has led or been among the leaders in the NFL in deep passing for several years, there is some credence to the idea that the Ravens offense is holding back. The deep ball is, after all, arguably their best weapon thanks to Flaccos big arm and the overall speed of the WRs. Will the Ravens cut loose and launch it tonight, or will Flacco continue to operate under almost exclusively 3 step drops and quick routes?
2. secondary communication- Last week Jimmy Smith was famously burned three times on one drive by Julio Jones and Matt Ryan. for anyone paying attention, the three completions didnt really seem to be Smiths fault. All three times Smith gave Julio the inside routes with absolutely no contest suggesting that he was expecting help in the middle of the field. no help ever came and Smith looked horrible. On the second completion, it was pretty clear that at least one of the Ravens LBs should have been dropping in coverage, but they all bit on a hard play action fake to Steven Jackson. this is a huge concern given that the Ravens will be facing off with arguably the best QB in NFL history in just two weeks time. This must get fixed quickly.
3. The return of injured players- Reportedly, Marshall Yanda and Lardarius Webb might both make their returns tonight and play at least a little bit. The OL has looked lost without Yanda, who is clearly the Ravens best lineman, if not their best player, and the secondary has struggled without Webb. Webb and Yanda are both at the top of their positions in terms of prowess and both will make big impacts on their respective side of the ball if they are healthy. Can Webb make cuts as quick as he used to? is Yanda ready to play?
4. Linebacker Play- One of the most underscored battles in camp has been Josh Bynes vs. Arthur Brown for the starting ILB job. Bynes has been slightly better, but Brown came on really strong last week against the Falcons and looked every bit like the young Ray Lewis he is heralded to be. He was fast, instinctive and heady. He made a lot of plays. Bynes is currently still successfully fending Brown off, but how long can he keep him at bay? if Brown plays like he played last week, the coaches will have no choice but to up his playing time.
5. Will Elam Start- Another solid camp battle has been Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo. Ihedigbo has put in the work and is currently the starter, but the line seems to be getting thinner and thinner and Elam seems to be gaining the upper hand. Elam is prone to some rookie errors, but the big plays he brings to the table might be enough to erase that and push him over Ihedigbo going into the season. Both players need to play well, especially Ihedigbo who is fighting for maybe his last shot at being an NFL starter.
6. Does Mellette Run with the ones?-Aaron Mellette isn’t going to start tonight, lets get that thought out of here. That said, he could see a lot of time with them. Mellette has produced two of the three best plays by a Ravens WR in the preseason and has a pair of TDs to show for it. Both of them were tough grabs with a defender all over him. That has earned him some time with the starters in practice. With the Ravens trading David Reed, a space has seemingly opened up to do a little playing with Flacco and the starters. I for one would like to see him run a bit, but we will have to wait until tonight to see what happens.