John Harbaugh and his coaching staff didn’t want to have easy decisions. That would mean that certain players didn’t meet expectations and that the Ravens don't have the depth they thought they assembled.
As Harbaugh and other Ravens officials left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome late Thursday night, they surely had to understand that nothing over the next 36 hours will be easy. The Ravens have to cut their roster from 90 players to 53 by 4 p.m. Saturday, and several who are seemingly on the “bubble” made strong cases for spots in a 14-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints to finish the preseason 4-0.
The Ravens’ second consecutive undefeated preseason — and their seventh in team history — was secured when Saints kicker Wil Lutz sent a 59-yard field-goal attempt wide right in the waning seconds.
“I think there will be some tough decisions,” Harbaugh said after the game. “We’’ll have to look at the tape a little bit and also it depends on other factors – numbers at positions, special teams will be a big part of it, where we have injuries. And not just making the 53 but also making the 63, the practice squad players. I think that’s a pretty darn good accomplishment to make the practice squad in this league. But there will be a lot of jostling. Teams will be trying to grab players that get released and things like that. It will be crazy.”
Defensive tackle Carl Davis had a first-quarter interception of Saints quarterback Chase Daniel that set up the Ravens’ first touchdown. Rookie defensive lineman-fullback Patrick Ricard blocked a field-goal attempt by Lutz. Inside linebacker Bam Bradley made a big hit on Daniel Lasco that forced an incompletion and started the second half with a hard tackle on kick coverage. Wide receiver Chris Moore did well to get position on De’Vante Harris and catch a 1-yard touchdown pass.
All those players will now face an anxious couple of days before they learn their roster fate.
Rookie first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey is not on the roster bubble, but he might have provided the best news of all for the Ravens by playing a strong first half in his most extensive preseason action. The former Alabama standout has been limited this summer with a hamstring injury and he entered Thursday night having played just six preseason snaps against the Miami Dolphins.
However, he played the whole game against the Saints (2-2), held up well in coverage and was strong in run support, causing a fumble deep in New Orleans’ territory by driving his shoulder into Lasco’s midsection. Humphrey was called for two penalties.
If there was any concern about Humphrey’s readiness for the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals — and Harbaugh certainly hasn’t voiced any — it was answered with how the rookie played against the Saints.
“I think it went pretty good,” Humphrey said. “I felt OK. I’ve got to clean some things up, but as far as the things that I could have worked on, playing the deep ball, the deep part of the field, I think I did that well. Finishing plays, I think I did well in that.”
The Ravens, though, have other questions that they’ll need to answer over the next couple of days. That seemingly doesn’t include any at quarterback, where the Ravens are confident that starter Joe Flacco, who missed the preseason with a back injury, will be ready in time for the game against the Bengals. Ryan Mallett, despite another shaky performance in his fourth preseason start, appears set as the backup. Against the Saints, he completed three of eight pass attempts for 19 yards and the one-yard touchdown pass to Moore.
Harbaugh and company have to make a decision about what they’ll do at running back. Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High), Buck Allen and an injured Danny Woodhead are entrenched as the top three, but do the Ravens have room for a fourth in undrafted rookie Taquan Mizzell, and will they keep Ricky Ortiz as the designated fullback?
Mizzell, who has been one of the Ravens’ most productive players this preseason, found running room a lot harder to come by against the Saints, finishing with 23 yards on nine carries, and three catches for nine yards. Well-traveled veteran Bobby Rainey ran hard and gave the Ravens a 14-0 lead in the second quarter with a two-yard touchdown run.
Do the Ravens keep five or six wide receivers, and if so, who will get that final one or two spots? Michael Campanaro (River Hill) had a nice third-down catch in the middle of the field Thursday and looks likely to slot into the fourth receiver spot behind Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman. However, none of the other wide receivers competing for jobs consistently stood out. Moore had the one-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter, but he finished with just two catches for eight yards. Chris Matthews made a nice play on special teams and had a 37-yard reception in the fourth quarter, but otherwise had a quiet preseason. Undrafted rookie Quincy Adeboyejo was again quiet and Keenan Reynolds (Navy), already a longshot coming in, fumbled a punt that led to three Saints points.
The Ravens’ biggest roster questions defensively are along the line and in the secondary. They believe that all eight of their defensive linemen belong on the team. However, it’s virtually impossible to keep that many because it would be prohibitive to building other parts of the roster. Several of the perceived “bubble” guys had nice games against the Saints, with Davis and Ricard leading the way. A trade — Davis or Willie Henry are the most logical candidates — might be the only way to alleviate their logjam along the defensive front.
“That’s something I think about every day. You wake up in the morning and think about it, that I’m trying to make the team,” Davis said. “But at the end of the day, you’ve got to go out and play football. It’s not really in my hands. I just need to do what I need to do. Whatever choices they need to make, I’ll be fine.”
Injuries, meanwhile, might affect the team’s decisions at cornerback. The Ravens dressed only four Thursday and one of those players, Sheldon Price, suffered a concussion in the first half. Fellow cornerbacks Brandon Boykin, Jaylen Hill and Robertson Daniel are already dealing with injuries.
Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr and Humphrey are slotted in as the top three. Hill, Price and Daniel would be candidates for one or two other available spots, but it’s unclear how their respective injury situations affect their status.