Baltimore Ravens

Ravens mid-preseason report: Offense is a big concern, airtight defense is not

When the Ravens exited the practice field late Sunday morning, they were exactly three weeks from their regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. In six days, they'll face the Buffalo Bills at home in what figures to be the last preseason action for their starters, and they'll conclude the exhibition season five days later in New Orleans against the Saints.

It's been a tumultuous past 3 1/2 weeks for the Ravens, who have dealt with a constant barrage of injuries, a surprising retirement and ongoing offensive struggles. They have interchanged quarterbacks, juggled the offensive line on a near-daily basis and flirted with adding free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick, spurring an avalanche of praise and criticism.


With Ryan Mallett under center and Joe Flacco still sidelined with a back injury, the Ravens have shifted from training camp to regular-season mode as they move closer to the Sept. 10 opener.

Here's a look at where things stand at the unofficial midpoint of the preseason:


Areas of concern

Offensive line: Having not replaced right tackle Rick Wagner or center Jeremy Zuttah with a significant outside addition before training camp, the Ravens were already thin on experienced offensive linemen when practices began. Then starting-center candidate John Urschel retired, fourth-round draft pick and guard Nico Siragusa suffered a season-ending knee injury, and starting left guard Alex Lewis underwent season-ending shoulder surgery. Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley next went down with an undisclosed injury that has sidelined him for a week and counting.

The Ravens did pick up free-agent right tackle Austin Howard and re-sign Zuttah after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers. But there's still a great deal of uncertainty as to who will be on their offensive front Sept. 10. Nothing sinks a season faster than a porous offensive line.

Injuries: The Ravens lost tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) and top slot cornerback Tavon Young (knee) to season-ending injuries during organized team activities. They learned the day before camp started that running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was done for the season and that Flacco was dealing with back discomfort. That set the tone for a few more weeks of attrition.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore had season-ending knee surgery, and cornerback Maurice Canady is out indefinitely after knee surgery. Siragusa, Lewis and promising rookie wide receiver Tim White (thumb) were lost for the year. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman has missed three weeks and counting with a significant hamstring strain. Running back Danny Woodhead, first-round pick and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (hamstring) and Stanley are not practicing. And did we mention that Flacco remains out and won't play at all this preseason?

Quarterback play: In two preseason games, Mallett has completed 22 of 40 passes for 171 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, compiling a 53.2 quarterback rating. Practices haven't gone much better for Mallett, whose struggles have fueled the Kaepernick speculation. That talk has quieted lately, but Ravens fans now are calling for Josh Woodrum, who was brought in as an extra camp arm but has given the offense a jolt, to get an opportunity with the starters against the Bills.

Even with the Ravens maintaining that Flacco will be ready for the regular-season opener, he still will be a 32-year-old playing on a surgically repaired left knee and with a bad back. The thought of Flacco missing time in the regular season and Mallett having to come in can't be too comforting right now to the Ravens.

Reasons for optimism


Defense: The Ravens' first-team defense has been as advertised this preseason, holding opponents without a first down in three of the five drives it has played. With the majority of starters on the field, the defense still hasn't allowed any points.

Beyond any preseason statistics, the Ravens look noticeably quicker and deeper, fulfilling a primary offseason focus of the front office. Criticism about the team's failure to do more to help the offense is valid, but the organization's top decision-makers have done a nice job adding youth and talent on the defensive end. The Ravens are loaded along the defensive line and at outside linebacker, where they probably have more good players than they can afford to keep.

Undrafted-free-agent class: The Ravens are known for their ability to unearth and develop quality undrafted free agents. This year's class appears particularly strong. The question is not whether their 53-man roster will contain at least one undrafted rookie, which it has every year under coach John Harbaugh. It's how many rookie free agents they'll keep.

Wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, defensive lineman-fullback Patrick Ricard and cornerback Jaylen Hill have all put themselves in good position to make the team. Running back Taquan Mizzell, fullback Ricky Ortiz, linebackers Bam Bradley and Donald Payne and cornerback Reggie Porter are firmly in the mix as well. The play of the undrafted rookies is a major reason the Ravens have outscored opponents a combined 28-3 in the second half of their two preseason games.

Justin Tucker: It was more surprise than worry when Tucker, their two-time Pro Bowl kicker, went through a stretch in which it seemed he'd miss at least one field-goal attempt every practice. Over the previous couple of camps, you could count Tucker's misses on one hand.

But since the games have started, Tucker has reminded everybody what a weapon his right leg is. He's 6-for-6 on field-goal attempts, with his makes coming from 21, 27, 37, 41, 52 and 59 yards. He's also drilled his three extra-point tries.


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No need to worry

Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin: The Ravens' top two wide receivers have been relatively quiet in games and practices. After sitting out the first preseason game, Wallace caught two balls for 33 yards but also fumbled against the Miami Dolphins, and Maclin had one reception for 5 yards. Downfield plays from either have been relatively rare in practice, too.

However, big gains have been hard to come by for the entire offense in games and practices. It's more of a symptom of spotty quarterback play than any indictment of Wallace or Maclin. Both have fared well in individual matchups with Ravens cornerbacks in drills. They also were open a few times and didn't get the ball against Miami.

Marshal Yanda: Yanda, who had offseason shoulder surgery, hasn't played in a preseason game yet and didn't participate in team drills for the majority of training camp. Still, the six-time Pro Bowl selection is the least of the Ravens' concerns. The plan all along was to ease Yanda into practices and hold him out for the majority of the preseason.

He has ramped up his activity each week in practice, and nobody at the Under Armour Performance Center has any doubt that Yanda will be ready to go when the games matter.