The Baltimore Ravens were defeated by the Carolina Panthers 34-27 in their third preseason game of the year. Despite the loss, there were many reasons why the Ravens should be pleased with there performance. However, there were also instances that brought a little tarnish to the defending Super Bowl champions.
Here's the good, the bad and the ugly from the Ravens' Week 3 preseason loss.
In their first two preseason games, the Ravens offense struggled to move the ball down the field. Due partly to the fact that players were being rotated in and out in an attempt to evaluate who could contribute in the regular season, there was no rhythm being established between quarterback Joe Flacco, his receivers and his running backs.
The third preseason game, however, allowed for a longer look at the first-team offenses and defenses, giving them a chance to get comfortable. And comfortable they got against the Carolina Panthers, regardless of the loss.
Baltimore had a successful opening drive, including first-down receptions by Brandon Stokley and Visanthe Shiancoe, capped off by a one-yard Ray Rice rushing touchdown. Though other drives ended with crushing turnovers (which we'll discuss in depth below), Flacco looked mostly in regular-season form, completing 18 of his 24 passes for 169 yards and a score.
Most importantly, the Ravens' young receiving corps had chances to work with the first team as the hunt for weaponry to assist Flacco in the passing game continued. Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown led the team with four catches on four targets for 59 yards and a touchdown. New addition Stokley had three catches for 43 yards, while rookie Aaron Mellette also had receiving opportunities with the starting offense.
The Ravens had 27 first downs, put up 357 total yards compared to Carolina's 173, possessed the ball for 35:45 and made good on two of their five red-zone appearances. If it weren't for the four turnovers committed by the offense, this had every mark of a blowout win for Baltimore.
Baltimore's defense certainly put on display why many believe that side of the ball will be better this year, despite it losing so many veterans to free agency, them being waived or retirement. Former Jacksonville Jaguar Daryl Smith particularly looked good in the inside linebacker job that once belonged to Ray Lewis, with a sack, a quarterback hit and a tackle for a loss.
A trio of defensive rookies—safety Matt Elam, linebacker Arthur Brown and defensive tackle Brandon Williams—each notched a sack, and cornerback Lardarius Webb made his first on-field appearance since tearing his ACL last fall, successfully defending a pass and making significant plays.
The Ravens defense allowed no Panthers offensive touchdowns—in fact, Carolina didn't reach the red zone for a single attempt at points. The Panthers averaged just 3.5 yards per play, and their top receiving weapon, Steve Smith, had only two receptions for a mere 18 yards.
While it's always good for a young receiver to get opportunities to work with the starting quarterback and offensive line, the fact that the Ravens did so much experimenting with their receiving targets last night belies a problem that has yet to be solved: that of their No. 2 receiver.
Marlon Brown looked good, Aaron Mellette showed that he has a future in Baltimore and Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams got their customary preseason snaps. Doss had two targets with one five-yard catch, but what happened on the pass he didn't catch—a turnover, of course—again underscores why he's yet to prove reliable enough to be a fixture on the active roster.
Jacoby Jones may have the No. 2 job locked down by default. He was mostly mistake-free on the night at least, catching both passes thrown his way for a total of 15 yards. But clearly, the Ravens aren't entirely convinced that he can handle the workload on a consistent basis. All of the first-team tryouts for his younger teammates seem to hint at it.
Visanthe Shiancoe proved that he's still got playmaking ability, but fellow tight end Dallas Clark was less impressive. Clark had two passes thrown to him and he caught neither; both, in fact, were drops. With Ed Dickson still working back from his hamstring injury and Dennis Pitta's season already over, it would have been far more comforting to see both veteran tight end additions make an impact, rather than just one.
So, how does a team dominate on defense and control the clock on offense and still lose a football game?
The Ravens offense turned the ball over a total of four times against the Panthers. The first was a 71-yard pick-six by Drayton Florence on Flacco after Doss ran the wrong route. The second was on the next Baltimore drive—a forced fumble on running back Bernard Pierce by Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly that was returned for a touchdown by fellow linebacker Thomas Davis.
Flacco was later picked off by Kuechly; this time, it luckily did not result in points. Unfortunately, another turnover did, this one committed by backup passer Tyrod Taylor on a third-quarter pass intended for tight end Matt Furstenburg. Carolina cornerback D.J. Moore had the 33-yard score.
Making matters worse for Baltimore was the offensive line's struggles with the Panthers pass rush. Flacco and Taylor were sacked a collective three times but were under pressure for many of their dropbacks. Kuechly, along with defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short, terrorized guards Kelechi Osemele and Jah Reid and tackle Michael Oher repeatedly.
Special teams, too, was a dark spot for the Ravens against Carolina. The Panthers' coverage team was able to contain returner Jacoby Jones, who was particularly dangerous last year. Jones' longest kick return was for 33 yards, though running back Bobby Rainey had success as a returner later in the game, taking a punt 60 yards. The Ravens' coverage wasn't as good, however, allowing Ted Ginn, Jr. a 74-yard punt return touchdown.
Without the turnovers, the Ravens offense would have likely scored far more points than it managed, despite Carolina's heavy pressure. The Ravens need to build chemistry between their young and new receiving targets and Joe Flacco. Their defense indeed looks better than it did last year, and cornerback Lardarius Webb seems to be playing just as well as he did before his latest ACL injury.
Despite the ugliness at moments in this game, there are a lot more positives the Ravens can come away with than negatives. It's not likely they'll have a multiple-turnover game like this on a regular basis. The fact that Carolina's offense didn't even sniff the red zone is certainly a good sign of things to come in the future.
And, most importantly, if a team is going to have a turnover-heavy loss, it's best to do it in the preseason, when it matters the least.