The Ravens came into Thursday night's preseason game knowing that their revamped defense would be challenged by an Atlanta Falcons offense that ranked sixth in scoring a season ago.
The Falcons have a Pro Bowl quarterback in Matt Ryan and a pair of 1,000-yard wideouts in Julio Jones and Roddy White. They have also added running back Steven Jackson, who has had eight straight 1,000-yard seasons, in the hopes of bolstering their running attack and balancing an offense that is expected to be one of the NFL's best again this season.
Atlanta removed Ryan, Jones and some other prominent offensive players early in the second quarter, but the Ravens defense got its money's worth before the Falcons' stars parked it on the sideline.
With the Ravens going three-and-out on three of their first four drives, the Falcons dominated in time of possession early in the second preseason game, keeping the Ravens defense on the field for 13 minutes of the first 18:30. The Ravens came away with the 27-23 victory.
The Falcons' first-stringers scored 13 points on their first five possessions, picked up 11 first downs and totaled 148 yards on their 26 plays.
"It wasn't perfect, but this is good for us," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We're playing a good team. We knew they were going to make some plays, but it's all about how you respond. This was good for us — a little humble pie."
After forcing the Falcons to go three-and-out on their first possession, the Ravens started to run into trouble on their second drive. The Falcons attacked the Ravens between the tackles with Jackson, who rumbled through arm tackles and fell forward to extend positive gains. The Ravens also aided the Falcons by giving them two first downs on defensive penalties during the drive.
But outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, the biggest addition to the defense this offseason, nearly single-handedly short-circuited the Falcons drive with a pair of pressures on Ryan.
On first-and-10, Dumervil beat left tackle Sam Baker around the edge and hurried Ryan, who was looking for White, into an errant pass. On third-and-8, Dumervil blew by Baker again and closed in on Ryan, who was backpedaling furiously as he waited for his intended target to run open while Dumervil bore down on him. Dumervil knocked him to the turf as his pass fell incomplete.
With White out for the game with an ankle injury on the next drive, Ryan locked in on Jones, whose mix of size and speed make him one of the NFL's top young receivers. Right cornerback Jimmy Smith drew Jones on the drive and could do little to slow him down as Ryan and Jones hooked up for three passes for 55 yards on the seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive.
On the last of those catches, Dumervil hit Ryan hard in the back on a third-down play, but Ryan found Jones in the back of the end zone to put the Falcons up, 10-7.
The Ravens allowed the Falcons to move inside their territory early in the second quarter, but defensive end Chris Canty, another free-agent pickup, hit Ryan as he threw an incomplete pass on third down.
After a field goal by Jeremy Shelley field goal made the score 13-7, Ryan and the first-team Falcons left exited the game. Ryan completed eight of his 15 attempts for 97 yards and a touchdown and was not sacked.
"That was not us. That's not how we play," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said of the first-half performance. "Our fundamentals were not what they should be."
Ryan completed eight of his 15 attempts for 97 yards and a touchdown and was not sacked.
Jones had three catches for 55 yards and Jackson rushed for 42 yards on eight attempts and also caught a swing pass for 13 yards and a first down.
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Middle linebacker Daryl Smith had six tackles and Suggs had four before they and other veteran defenders such as Canty, Dumervil and nose tackle Haloti Ngata took a seat on the sidelines, too.
The rest of the first-team defense stayed on the field for the rest of the second quarter. The Falcons took a 20-7 lead into halftime and out-gained the Ravens 255 yards to 131 in the first half.
It was a much different result for the defense than in the team's first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, when they allowed just 273 total yards and forced four turnovers in their 44-16 victory.
"We had a lot of success last week, with everything pretty much going our way," Suggs said. "Atlanta is a very good team, and you can't make the mistakes we did. It's that simple."