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Preston: Ravens rout Rams, but it's not yet time to partake in the Purple Kool-Aid

It was hard to judge the Ravens’ performance against the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night because the Rams held nearly 20 of their starters out, including quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley.

That takes a lot of the edge out of the game.

If you were thinking about drinking the Purple Kool-Aid after the Ravens’ 33-7 rout, it had better be the diet stuff. The real Rams crushed the Ravens during a two-day joint practice session earlier this week.

But there were some things to take away from the game that were positive and gave some reason for optimism for the 2018 season. Maybe the biggest was the play of quarterback Joe Flacco. It’s safe to assume Flacco’s 5-for-7 performance for 71 yards on the Ravens’ opening drive probably would have been different if the Rams had played their starters on defense, which has one of the best lines in the NFL.

But it wasn’t about Flacco’s statistics. It was about his mobility. After a year in which he played half the season with a hurt back, there were still questions surrounding Flacco. He had played well in training camp, and he played well Thursday night.

He threw a 30-yard pass to receiver Michael Crabtree while rolling to his left and throwing back across his body. He stepped up in the pocket once, which he has failed to do numerous times throughout his career, and outran the Rams around the corner on a scramble.

Flacco even slid once without almost breaking his leg. No kidding. Now, that’s progress.

More importantly, Flacco had some chemistry with his teammates on the sidelines. Throughout his career, Flacco usually sat by himself even after long, successful drives. But Thursday night, he talked to and high-fived teammates. He worked with and cheered on rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, who replaced him after the first series.

Flacco can downplay the Ravens’ drafting of Jackson all he wants, but this a different Joe Flacco. Even during training camp when head coach John Harbaugh gave veterans off on select days, Flacco and middle linebacker C.J. Mosley were always there.

As for Jackson, he played better than he did a week ago against the Chicago Bears in the preseason opener. He was more composed in the pocket and looked comfortable running the offense. His 9-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, in which he shook two defenders, was highlight material.

Even his long throws fluttered less, but the rookie from Louisville still has a long ways to go. He is slow in reading a defense, which means he leaves his receivers vulnerable, and he’s still too quick to run and leave the pocket. The Ravens, though, need to help him and cut down on several option plays before he gets hurt.

The Ravens also had some other rookies on offense that played well. Tight end Hayden Hurst, the team’s top draft pick from South Carolina, is a threat on either short or long patterns, and might be the player who can dominate the middle of the field.

Rookie running backs Gus Edwards and Mark Thompson might not play much this season, but both run hard and have potential. Also, rookie receiver Janarion Grant could become the team’s top return specialist. He was a difference-maker at Rutgers.

On defense, coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale continues to come up with creative ways to blitz or bring pressure. The Ravens have made a good move by putting Brandon Williams at nose guard and inserting both Willie Henry and Brent Urban at the tackle and end positions with Michael Pierce providing good depth at all three position.

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs looks to be in excellent shape. Rookie Kenny Young continues to battle Patrick Onwuasor for the starting spot at weak-side linebacker and second-year outside linebacker Tim Williams had made significant improvement within the past week.

Maybe, just maybe, this is the turning point in Williams’ career and he’ll become the pass-rushing threat on the other side to complement Suggs.

Maybe that’s wishful thinking. Maybe Thursday night was a mirage because the Rams played few starters. It was clear as to which team was better from the practice sessions earlier this week.

Los Angeles looked like a team that was going to challenge the Philadelphia Eagles, Atlanta Falcons, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints for a Super Bowl title. The Ravens looked like a team that had potential and needed some pieces to fall into place.

Maybe that started Thursday night, but be careful with the Purple Kool-Aid. Make it Purple Kool-Aid Lite.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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