With the regular season opener just three weeks away, the Baltimore Ravens look to extend their preseason winning streak to 16 this Thursday night as they take on the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
The two teams are holding their second of two joint practices today from the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia. After today’s session wraps up, the attention turns to Thursday’s action.
The Ravens took down the Green Bay Packers 26-13 last Thursday in their last appearance at M&T Bank Stadium until the September 15 home opener against the Arizona Cardinals. It was another nice performance from Lamar Jackson and the first team offense as many players continued to put their best foot forward in hopes of making the 2019 roster.
The game did bring the first major injury for the 2019 Ravens as they lost starting cornerback Tavon Young presumably for the season with a neck injury. The Ravens are deep at corner but filling the void at nickel/slot corner will prove a large task for Wink Martindale and his defense.
Young signed the largest contract for a nickel cornerback ever when he inked a three-year $25 million contract extension this offseason. This is a huge loss for the Ravens. How they fill the void plays into my first thing to watch for this Thursday night.
1) Who steps up with injuries mounting?
The Ravens had done a nice job working their through the preseason realtively unscathed on the injury front. That all changed in the past week as the Ravens have seen several players consistently miss practice time.
Slot corner has now joined left guard as the most pressing areas of concern for the Ravens. The absence of Young could force Cyrus Jones into a starting role. The Baltimore product has been a career special teamer in the NFL, failing to make an impact on a starting defense.
Jones was brutal in relief last Thursday. He spent most of his time in the game looking at the backs of Packers jerseys. It would be a nice story if Jones could make up for the loss of Young, but he has a long way to go.
With Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey lining up on the outside, pushing veteran cornerback Brandon Carr inside might be an option the Ravens exercise. This would put the Ravens’ three best corners on the field at the same time. However Carr is 33, and keeping pace with shifty slot receivers could prove a challenge for the Ravens veteran.
Carr did see some time at slot corner last season, which could prove valuable if he ends up spending the bulk of his game reps lined up inside.
Anthony Levine Sr. could come up from his safety position and play some slot corner for the Ravens too. The swiss army knife of the Ravens defense has proven capable in this role in the past. The final option involves 2016 sixth-round pick Maurice Canady. To be frank, I don’t support any option that sees him getting increased reps.
Left guard had another wrench thrown into the plans when Jermaine Eluemunor left practice yesterday on a cart. To no one’s surprise, John Harbaugh wasn’t offering any updates. We’ll see if the projected starter returns to joint practice today. Eluemunor had his best game of the preseason against the Packers and it would be nice to see him build on that.
Starting inside linebacker Chris Board also left last week’s contest with a concussion. This opened the door Kenny Young to get back in the starting conversation. Undrafted free agent Otaro Alaka got to assert himself in the race for a roster spot too. Alaka had six tackles, including two for loss.
Opportunity is aknockin for several Ravens heading into the biggest game of the preseason.
2) Lamar Jackson
It has surprisingly taken three weeks for me to make him a feature on this column, but with Jackson likely taking his last snaps of the preseason on Thursday, it is important for him to end on a high note.
So far he has been solid, going 10-for-16 for 117 yards and a touchdown. Jackson has not been sacked nor turned the ball over in his limited action. He has also only taken off on two runs totaling 14 yards. This doesn’t include the electrifying 18-yard touchdown that wasn’t from last week against the Packers.
As Jackson prepares for his last action of the preseason, he will do so by taking on an Eagles defense that ranked 30th in passing yards allowed last season. I’m looking forward to seeing Jackson and the first team offense flash just a bit more against a suspect pass defense.
Hopefully Jackson will have Marquise “Hollywood” Brown out there to get some in-game preseason reps. With Miles Boykin missing the last few practices and Seth Roberts failing to practice for a few weeks now, the return of Brown would be a nice boost to the wideout group.
This Jackson skeptic would walk away from the preseason quite encouraged with the second year quarterback’s preseason if he continues to protect the ball and hit on a few deep routes.
3) Bubble Wrap
This is two-fold. The first part obviously involves the Ravens not getting more injuries to add to their growing list. Please get the first team ample reps to feel good about where they are three weeks out from the opener and then get everyone out of the game.
The second part involves players still trying to secure their roster spot. While some of these decisions can be made in week 4 of the preseason, the bubble tends to sort itself our prior to the finale. This is the last chance for some of these bubble players to impress the coaching staff and win a spot on the 53-man roster.
Some players to watch here are Jaleel Scott and Antoine Wesley battling it out for the sixth wide receiver spot (if the Ravens keep six). Scott has the edge so far, but Wesley has been impressive throughout camp. The other big question marks on offense surround running back Kenneth Dixon and undated rookie offensive lineman Patrick Mekari.
Dixon once again hobbled off the field last week against the Packers. Dixon’s inability to stay on the field either due to injuries or suspensions is well documented. Couple that with his inability to play special teams and the fourth-year back could find himself on the outside looking in.
Mekari is an interesting case in that he was taking first team left guard snaps just a week ago. It appears this was more of a message to Eluemunor than anything, but with the projected starter leaving practice yesterday, the door could be open for Mekari to make a mark.
Defensively, Alaka is probably the biggest storyline. Another big week from the undrafted rookie could land him a roster spot in what it is a thin inside linebacker group.
Shane Ray and Zach Sieler are two other players likely fighting for their roster lives. Ray was brought in hoping to resurrect his career, but the former first round pick has fizzled. Sieler, the second year seventh rounder, finds himself caught in the numbers game and will need a big night on Thursday to strengthen his status.
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