Ravens 10-pack on rookie breakouts, Joe Flacco, Jimmy Smith

Welcome to the Ravens 10-Pack, where I'll go medium depth on 10 Ravens topics that came from the previous week's game. This was initially a Tuesday thing, but now it's a Monday thing, so read ahead for notes on John Urschel and the ubiquitous Ravens rookies, Joe Flacco, and of course, Jimmy Smith. 

1. Perhaps I overestimated the NFC South, or underestimated the AFC North, but the games between these two divisions so far have barely been close — except for yesterdays' Carolina Panthers-Cincinnati Bengals draw, of course. The AFC North is 5-1-1 against the NFC South through six weeks, including 2-0 for the Ravens with wins over Carolina and Tampa Bay. The only NFC South team to earn a win in those games is the Buccaneers, who won in Pittsburgh against an aggressively mediocre Steelers team.


2. In private moments, I often looked around the league and wondered if maybe the Ravens were holding out for too much in the trade market with regards to guard/center Gino Gradkowski and inside linebacker Arthur Brown. My thinking has officially shifted to the other 31 teams realizing that the Ravens don't think much of either, and the rest of the league probably doesn't want their rejects. Brown hasn't been active all year. Gradkowski was passed over by rookie John Urschel to start for injured left guard Kelechi Osemele on Sunday. There's plenty of need around the league on the interior line, but if the Ravens won't even use Gradkowski to fill their own, why would anyone else?

3. To that note on Urschel, his success Sunday and the passable overall performance undrafted rookie left tackle James Hurst has put on the last three weeks is just as much of a compliment for offensive line coach Juan Castillo as it is for the players. The line, no matter who's on it, overpowers in run blocking and is decent in the passing game as well. But it's cool for both of those young rookies who met while still in college and have grown close since arriving in Baltimore. Plenty of NFL hopefuls sit in their hotel rooms during training camp and talk about what it will be like to play on Sundays. Few achieve it so quickly, or get to stand in the huddle and on the line next to a good friend, as they did.

4. This week's "Jimmy Smith, top-flight corner update" shows that Smith's yards allowed doubled on Sunday, when Tampa Bay completed six passes on 10 tries against Smith for 68 yards, according to Pro Football Focus. But he also intercepted a pass, the first by a Ravens defensive back this season. His season total is now 18 catches on 34 targets for 135 yards, good for 7.5 yards per completion. He's limiting the big plays and shutting down other teams' top receivers. It was only when Tampa Bay took both Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans off Smith's side that either of those two, along with Louis Murphy, found success in the second half.

5. There's not much left to say about wide receiver Jacoby Jones, the only wide receiver on the Ravens roster without a touchdown catch Sunday. Jones was targeted once, behind eight Ravens who caught multiple passes — including rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore, who had never been thrown to before. There's nothing new to say on this issue, other than Torrey Smith broke out so maybe Jones can too. But he's clearly not even a top target among the reserves for quarterback Joe Flacco.

6. Speaking of Gillmore, Sunday was a great opportunity for the Ravens' rookies to get some extended playing time against a nominal NFL team. Urschel and wide receiver Michael Campanaro were active for the first time Sunday, and the latter caught a touchdown pass. Hurst got his feet back under him after a tough game against Indianapolis. Gillmore caught his first passes of the year. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro featured in his typical late-game role. Third-round safety Terrence Brooks and linebacker C.J. Mosley, the latter already a budding star, were among the snap leaders on defense, according to PFF.

7. With the outcome already out of question, the Buccaneers ran an outside toss to former Raven Bobby Rainey that went for 21 yards, the longest run of the game for Tampa Bay. Opponents have continually had success on such tosses against the Ravens, most notably the Cleveland Browns in Week 3. It's small, but continues to be a weakness for the Ravens that might eventually be exploited when the stakes are much higher.

8. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will always yield the spotlight to fellow pass rusher Terrell Suggs, but Dumervil is quietly tied for sixth in the NFL with five sacks in six games. Their top backup, Pernell McPhee, picked up another sack this week and is seeing some production for all his disruptive play. The Ravens' pass rush seems to be boom-or-bust, but when it's good, this group can really impact a game.

9. The return of suspended safety Will Hill will call that position into focus this week, but the Ravens may have already made a decision on free agent Darian Stewart. According to PFF, Stewart played fewer snaps than Brooks, and Jeromy Miles also saw plenty of the field at safety. Stewart has been unspectacular through six weeks, and the Ravens need a playmaker in the secondary. It could all spell a quick end for Stewart.

10. Fine, I'll bite. Joe Flacco was really good on Sunday, especially in the first half and on third down. That was the main difference between this game and the loss to Indianapolis. On three of the first four third-downs he faced, Flacco threw touchdowns — a nine-yard strike to Torrey Smith, a 17-yarder to Kamar Aiken, and a 19-yard floater to Michael Campanaro. The whole offense tapered off after that, but those are the kinds of plays Flacco needs to make in order for them to be successful.