Five Things We Learned In the Ravens' 27-21 loss

1. Troy Smith's tonsils aren't the reason he didn't end up the Ravens' starter three seasons ago.

We'll probably never know how things would have played out had Troy Smith not gotten a tonsil infection when he was fighting for, and possibly winning (depending on whom you believe), the Ravens starting quarterback job. Let's be fair, though. Some players develop differently. The NFL is often as much about luck and opportunity as it is ability, and maybe it would have unfolded differently had Smith not gotten sick and conceded the job to Joe Flacco by default.

But we can only evaluate the reality of the situation, and with respect to Smith, this is the harsh truth: He is a very average backup NFL quarterback. This was his chance to showcase his talents, and it was fairly uninspiring, especially against the Rams' first-team defense, which is really the measuring stick that the Ravens' coaching staff has to use to evaluate him.


Smith has a strong enough arm to play in this league, but he still holds the ball too long on some plays, or dumps it off too quickly on others. His accuracy, his greatest strength in college, isn't consistent enough, especially when he drops back and tries to throw the ball with timing. (He's more accurate on the move, when he doesn't think too much about things.) His footwork, even after three years, is subpar. He has agility, but he seems almost reluctant to run most of the time because he wants to prove himself as a passer. Cam Cameron seems to be a big believer in Smith, so it's possible that the Ravens will keep him. (They did keep three quarterbacks last year, after all.) But fewer and fewer NFL teams are keeping three quarterbacks these days, and it's going to be a difficult decision for Ozzie Newsome, Eric DeCosta and John Harbaugh. Is there a linebacker who could occasionally be active in games and help this team more than Smith being inactive? Is there a cornerback or a defensive lineman? I think there is, but we'll have to wait and see. I'd lean toward Smith making the team.

The suggestion that the Ravens trade Smith is, and has always been, a message board, blog comment fantasy. Teams do not trade anything of value for third-string quarterbacks, period. Smith did make several nice throws in this game. In the first half, he moved well in the pocket, avoiding pressure, and hit Demetrius Williams on a nice crossing route. He followed it up with another nice throw to Williams where Williams went high in the air to make a great catch. But the interception right before halftime showed you Smith's limitations. When you're not very tall, you have to create passing lanes and you have to be decisive. On that play, Smith hesitated on his throw, then spiked it right into the pass rush.


If this was his "Showcase Game" then I'm not sure what exactly was showcased, other than some very average to below-average quarterback play.

2. Jason Phillips is a pretty good player against the run, and he's completely lost against the pass.

Phillips, who spent last season on injured reserve, has been an intriguing player this preseason. The Jason Phillips Fan Club has grown in numbers and increased in volume each week. You watch him against the run and you think to yourself "This kid is a beast against the run. The Ravens need to keep him around." Then you watch him try to cover the pass and you want to cover your eyes.

Let's be fair: It's not like the other linebackers on this team have been great in pass coverage either, but this game didn't exactly boost Phillips' stock. In fact, it might have sealed his fate. There were at least three plays where he was suckered badly by play-action (all of which resulted in a completion, including one for a touchdown), and Sam Bradford seemed almost cruel the way he was picking on Phillips in the first half. Even Phillips knew he was getting abused, and at one point (after a long completion to the tight end, the guy he should have been covering) he banged his facemask on the turf in frustration.

Is Phillips good enough that the Ravens should keep him on the team just to play special teams? Maybe. But tonight wasn't exactly the showcase he needed either.

3. Sam Bradford can play a little bit.

This isn't exactly Ravens related, but let's touch on it anyway. In a battle of Heisman Trophy winners, this one wasn't even close. For a quarterback who didn't face much pressure in college, Bradford seems like he's already ahead of the curve in terms of understanding how to deal with it in the NFL. That was a beautiful throw to Rams tight end Billy Bajema, the kind of simple, graceful roll-out toss you wish Joe Flacco would connect on more often.

I know it's preseason, but Bradford has a bright future in this league, and that's a good thing because he's a prime example of why the pay structure in the NFL is so out of whack, and a big reason why we're likely looking at a lockout after this season. For every No. 1 pick like Bradford, who might actually live up to his promise, there are far too many Alex Smiths, JaMarcus Russells, David Carrs and Tim Couchs, guys who were handed a ton of money before they accomplished anything and turned out to be total busts. Bradford, no matter what happens from this point, is going to get $50 million from the Rams, even if he turns out to be the next Carr. But a guy like Ed Reed can be the best safety in the league for 10 years and still make less money than Eric Berry. It doesn't make a lot of sense.


4. Ken Hamlin has no interest in tackling anyone. Or showing the coaches he's interested in making this team.

I counted at least two plays where he either didn't give 100 percent, or shied away from contact, including one where his timid approach led to a 16-yard run by St. Louis. It was pretty discouraging. Look, I know the preseason stinks, and I'm sure, as a veteran, Hamlin probably feels like he shouldn't have to fight for a roster spot on this team. But that's not the way it works when you get released by a team. You have to fight to make a team, and some of his effort last night was totally subpar. I don't know exactly how Greg Mattison evaluates his guys, but Hamlin's lucky Rex Ryan got a head coaching job because I'm fairly certain he would have tried to cut him on the spot after a few plays last night.

5. This is John Harbaugh's team. Period.

Harbaugh's first year, it was clear the players were still adjusting to his style. And Ryan's presence helped smooth things over for a lot of the veterans who didn't totally buy into Harbaugh's college rah-rah style. His second year, he made it clear he wasn't going to tolerate players who didn't buy into his system, getting rid of Chris McAlister even though he might have had something left in the tank, but there were still a few holdouts in the locker room.

This year, it's obvious Harbaugh isn't putting up with any nonsense, and you could see it from how furious he was when Dannell Ellerbe taunted the Rams on the way to the end zone after his interception return. Harbaugh sprinted as fast as he could down the sideline, grabbed Ellerbe's facemask, and then gave Ellerbe a spit-fire lecture on how he was never going to pull something like that again on Harbaugh's watch.

"I like the play, but it was classless and that's not how we're going to play," Harbaugh said at halftime, clearly still furious about it.


I can understand Ellerbe's desire to celebrate. I think, for the most part, the NFL has tried to squeeze some of the fun out of touchdown celebrations, but celebrating in a preseason game is moronic. (Especially in a game where, prior to that pick, the Ravens had been getting the stuffing kicked out of them.) And for a player like Ellerbe, who continues to make big plays but can't seem to convince the coaches he's committed to being a true professional, it wasn't a very smart play. Like it or not, this is Harbaugh's team as I said above. This isn't Brian Billick's team and it isn't Rex Ryan's team. Whether you love John Harbaugh or find yourself consistently frustrated by him, you're going to conduct yourself in a manner he sees fit. Or you're not going to play.

It was actually a good window for fans into the enigma that is Ellerbe, I think. He clearly has talent and always seems to be around the ball, but there is a reason he wasn't drafted out of college. I don't think we should make too big of a deal out of it, because frankly, I don't want to sound too stuffy or snotty. Celebrations, when they're creative or funny, are great for the game. And every grumpy old man who shouts "Act like you've been there before!" isn't necessarily guarding the integrity of the game, despite what he believes. There is a fine line between playing with emotion and making yourself look like an idiot, and the Ravens have always had an emotional defense. Ray Lewis has spent his entire career whooping and dancing and hollering after plays big and small, but he's earned that right. I often view it like this: Until you've been to two Pro Bowls, you should keep the theatrics to a minimum.

Ellerbe's taunting was foolish, and Harbaugh handled it appropriately.

Now, can the regular season get here already?

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