We haven’t done one of these “news, notes and opinions” in a couple of weeks, so let’s start off with some things I liked and didn’t like from the first two weeks of the Ravens’ regular season.
The play of the young players on defense: The defensive coaches have done a nice job integrating rookies Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams and Marlon Humphrey, and that should help later this season when the team mIght need to count on them to play more. The infusion of speed and athleticism is obvious.
Becoming less predictable: My colleague Mike Preston wrote about this from an offensive perspective in Tuesday’s paper, and I think it holds true on the defensive side, too. The Ravens are giving many different looks to opposing offenses and defenses after an offseason spent trying to figure out ways of becoming harder to prepare for.
Commitment to running game: Here’s a statistic you might not have expected to see at any point in the season: The Ravens’ 74 rushing attempts are the second most in the league behind the Denver Broncos’ 75. The Ravens are going to need to be especially patient with their running game going forward without injured guard Marshal Yanda.
Forcing turnovers: This goes without saying with the Ravens having forced 10 already. They won’t continue at this rate, but turnovers certainly can be contagious from game to game.
Play of young defensive linemen: Defensive end Brent Urban might be the team’s most improved player on either side of the ball, and defensive tackle Michael Pierce is showing that his success last year was no fluke. This group will be tested if defensive tackle Brandon Williams misses several weeks.
Coverage breakdowns: This hasn’t been discussed a lot because of the 10 forced turnovers, but the veteran secondary is still letting way too many guys get free and behind the coverage. Better offenses than what the Ravens have faced so far will make them pay for such errors if this continues.
Uncertainty at weak-side linebacker: Second-year players Kamalei Correa and Patrick Onwuasor have been rotated at this spot and given opportunities to win the full-time starting job, but both have been too inconsistent. Correa plays fast, but he still gets stuck on blocks and misses tackles.
Breshad Perriman’s lack of impact: I know that none of the wide receivers outside Jeremy Maclin have done much, but I’m not overly concerned about Mike Wallace and I think the Ravens will get him more involved. I also expected some rust with Perriman after he missed most of training camp, but it has to be worrying to see him still struggling to make contested catches and to play as fast as he is capable of.
Lack of deep-passing game: You can’t have it all, and the team’s running game and intermediate passing game has been plenty good enough, but the Ravens, at some point, will need to hit on some big plays down the field. Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown just two passes all season that have traveled more than 20 yards in the air.
IN OTHER MATTERS
O-line woes rampant
You can bet that Ravens officials are pondering outside options, either free agents or trade candidates, to augment an offensive line that has been weakened significantly by injuries and a retirement. But if you watched any football last weekend or even in Week 1, you know that that the Ravens are hardly alone in dealing with offensive line questions. Most teams have a weak link or two or three. That’s why it’s easy to suggest that the Ravens should make a trade for a guard or center or add this guy or that guy. But the supply doesn’t come close to satisfying the demand. Teams are being forced to coach up and develop their own guys and try to mask their weaknesses.
Ravens first-year offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has his work cut out for him. Of the nine linemen on the roster, four are former undrafted free agents and two are sixth-round picks. That doesn’t mean they can’t play, but beyond Ronnie Stanley, it’s certainly an unheralded group. The line has been solid, but the new-look group will be put to the test in a big way Sunday. Led by Calais Campbell and Malik Jackson, the Jacksonville Jaguars are stacked up front.
How long is long term?
We’ll see whether outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (knee-ankle) and cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring) practice this week, but it sounds like they’re not too far away from a return. I don’t know much about the status of players such as running back Terrance West (soft tissue injury), tight end Maxx Williams (foot-ankle) and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (foot) beyond what Harbaugh said, which is that they’re not dealing with long-term injuries. I’ve heard from plenty of fans who have questioned that, given that some injuries in the past have proved more significant than originally believed. I’m not defending Harbaugh here, nor am I speaking for him. That’s not my intention at all. But something to keep in mind: To many coaches, a long-term injury is one that keeps a guy sidelined for a significant chunk of the season if not all of it. A two-to-four week injury, as much as fans lament such absences, is not considered by them to be a long-term problem.
Timing not good for potential Williams absence
The Ravens will have to deal Sunday with punishing rookie running back Leonard Fournette. The following week, they’ll get the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Le’Veon Bell, perhaps the most dynamic back in the NFL. The week after that, they’ll go to Oakland for a matchup with Marshawn Lynch and the Oakland Raiders. In other words, this would not be a good time for the Ravens to be without Brandon Williams, their top run stuffer.
How some ex-Ravens are faring
Despite all the talk about the pivotal role he’d play with the San Francisco 49ers, fullback Kyle Juszczyk has one carry for no yards and two catches for 4 yards in two games this year. He played only 17 snaps in Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. His former and current teammate, Elvis Dumervil, played 22, but he’s yet to get onto the stat sheet. … Wide receiver Kamar Aiken has four catches for 34 yards for the Indianapolis Colts. … Torrey Smith has five catches and 96 yards in two games with the Philadelphia Eagles. … Defensive end Lawrence Guy has seven total tackles for the New England Patriots. … Running back Taquan Mizzell was active for the Chicago Bears on Sunday but didn’t get any touches. Deonte Thompson has five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown for the Bears.