Robert Griffin III played well, but so did Lamar Jackson, and that’s bad news for the veteran.
Griffin faced terrible pressure playing behind a patchwork offensive line Saturday night, but he still managed 107 total yards in the first half and more importantly, avoided any debilitating mistakes.
He gained extra yards with his quick feet and threw accurately when given space.
The former Heisman Trophy winner and Rookie of the Year has offered the Ravens a steady hand throughout the preseason, and that might be exactly what they need behind starter Joe Flacco as Jackson continues to find his way in the pro game.
But even as Griffin did his job, forces beyond his control worked against him.
Jackson played his best game of the preseason in Miami, completing seven of 10 passes, running for 39 yards on three carries and guiding the team down the field with confidence. In short, he did not look like a player who needed to be backed up by a third quarterback.
“Today was kind of his breaking out in a game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
Even before Jackson shined against the Miami Dolphins, the calculus for Griffin grew more difficult when rookie tight end Hayden Hurst underwent surgery Friday to repair a stress fracture in his foot.
With Hurst sidelined for the the next three to four weeks, the Ravens will almost certainly carry four tight ends (and perhaps five) on the 53-man roster. That means even less room for a third quarterback, generally viewed as a luxury in NFL roster design.
Harbaugh has said his decision on whether to keep three quarterbacks will come down to the wire as the Ravens prepare to cut their roster to 53 by Saturday afternoon. History says the team will keep Flacco and Jackson and use the other spot for depth at another position.
Even if he doesn’t stick in Baltimore, give Griffin credit for the way he’s handled his audition after he sat out all of last season. He’s done more than enough to be someone’s backup.
The Ravens linebackers have been the most pleasant surprise of the preseason.
Going into training camp, the Ravens faced significant questions about their pass-rushing production behind Terrell Suggs and about their depth at inside linebacker.
We can’t declare those questions closed based on four preseason games, but the picture is prettier than it was a month ago.
Outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Tim Williams have broken out this preseason. And both got to the quarterback again Saturday. Smith was modest disappointment and Williams a nonentity in 2017. If either piles up sacks in the regular season, the burden on the 35-year-old Suggs would lessen.
The news on the edge would be better still if the Ravens could get more out of 2017 second-round draft pick Tyus Bowser.
At weak-side linebacker, rookie Kenny Young is coming on fast, using his speed to make tackles sideline to sideline and in the backfield. Incumbent starter Patrick Onwuasor also played well against the Dolphins, meaning the Ravens suddenly face a happy decision rather than a strained one at the spot next to stalwart C.J. Mosley.
The Ravens need to look for outside help on the offensive line.
Of the team’s projected starting linemen, only left guard Alex Lewis and center Matt Skura played against the Dolphins. And as we’ve seen all preseason, the Ravens’ backups are overmatched against front-line NFL defenders.
With starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley sidelined by a knee strain, rookie Greg Senat seemed set for a big audition. Instead, his night was brief.
On the Ravens’ second possession, Dolphins defensive end Andre Branch overpowered Senat to pressure Griffin. The rookie then went to the locker room to have his right foot examined and did not return.
Second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor, normally a guard, replaced Senat. Given an opportunity to demonstrate his versatility as he fights for a roster spot, Eluemunor instead drew a holding penalty and struggled to seal off the edge.
Rookie Bradley Bozeman, who started at right guard and shifted to center in the second quarter, could not hold his ground on the inside.
As the Ravens prepare to finalize their roster, they’re set on their top six offensive linemen. Second-year guard Nico Siragusa appears likely to earn a spot as well. But it’s not clear they would or should be comfortable playing any of their other blockers. That’s a problem given the injuries that have struck Lewis, right guard Marshal Yanda and Stanley over the past two seasons.
When other teams start looking for trades or cutting veterans at the end of the week, general manager Ozzie Newsome will certainly have his eye out for linemen, as he has at this stage in past offseasons.
Rookie Anthony Averett has added to the Ravens’ confidence that they can endure Jimmy Smith’s absence.
As soon as the NFL announced Smith’s four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal-conduct policy, we started seeing statistics demonstrating the Ravens’ futility without their No. 1 cornerback.
But players and coaches insist they’re better equipped to handle Smith’s absence than ever before and not just because 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey seems poised to become a star.
The Ravens have a healthy Tavon Young covering the slot and 6-foot-3, 220-pound Stanley Jean-Baptiste coming on as a big, physical reserve.
But they also seem to have found a serious player in the fourth round of this year’s draft in Averett.
The Alabama product batted a pass away in the red zone against the Dolphins, building on a breakout performance Monday against the Indianapolis Colts.
Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale made a point of praising Averett’s progress when he spoke to the media Wednesday, so the rookie has made an impression.
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The knock on him entering the draft was that his production didn’t match his athletic ability. But he’s been all over the ball the past two games.
Rookie tight end Mark Andrews does not appear ready to fill Hayden Hurst’s shoes.
The Ravens drafted two catch-first tight ends over the first two days of this year’s draft. Hurst immediately stood out in both training camp and preseason play. Before foot surgery intervened, he was on target to be the team’s top receiving option at tight end.
Andrews, a third-round pick out of Oklahoma, has suffered through a less pleasant baptism into the pro game.
Hamstring problems kept him off the field during offseason workouts and the early part of training camp. But the Ravens have to be more troubled by his lack of impact when he has played, both in practice and games. The expert route-running and red-zone production that distinguished him in college have not been evident.
With Hurst out of the mix Saturday, Andrews dropped a pass in the first quarter and then jumped offside at the Dolphins’ 1-yard line just before halftime. He made no catches on three targets.
Rookie tight ends struggle more often than not in the NFL. But given the roster pinch they’re facing, the Ravens can’t be thrilled about carrying a player who isn’t ready to help on Sundays.