COMMENTARY | The defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens kicked off the 2013 preseason in style Thursday night, defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-16 in a road battle.
The starters played for just a few series, but there was plenty to take away from the first Ravens game of the 2013 season.
Here are some observations from Thursday night's win:
- Joe Flacco played well in the two series that he was in, but his interception on the first series was as bad as any throw he has attempted in a while. He tried to hit the receiver on a route near the sideline, but by the time the ball was out of his hand, Tampa Bay cornerback Danny Gorrer was already in place to intercept the pass. It might just be Flacco trying to make a preseason play, however, in the regular season, he would likely just either take the sack or throw the ball away.
- Left tackle Bryant McKinnie had a surprisingly successful performance given his struggles early in training camp. But McKinnie wasn't free of negative plays, as he had a blatant blown block on the Ravens' first series. After blocking the defensive end, McKinnie was standing pat without anyone to pick up. He got caught sleeping as Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David blitzed right past him up the middle for the sack.
- Rookie safety Matt Elam had a rather underwhelming performance, as he didn't enter the defensive rotation until the end of the second half. He had a few impressive tackles coming up and meeting the running back in the hole, but, overall, he failed to impress against players below his skill level. He was still in the game for the Ravens' final defensive series, which shouldn't be the case for a player selected in the first round. Perhaps he has more ground to make up in the starting strong safety competition than expected.
- Fellow rookie Marc Anthony had possibly the worst performance of any Ravens player. The cornerback selected in the seventh round played for most of the second half, and was quarterback Mike Glennon's favorite target to pick on. Anthony did have an impressive tackle on a screen pass, but, in coverage, he looked lost and didn't improve as the game progressed. He's lucky that Asa Jackson is suspended for the first half of the regular season, otherwise it may be an uphill battle for him to make the roster.
- Newly signed tight end Visanthe Shiancoe did play with the first-team offensive players, which is a positive for a guy who was just signed not even two weeks ago. However, while he was targeted heavily, he had two inexcusable drops. Shiancoe is still in a battle for a roster spot, and he must cancel his inconsistencies in the other three preseason games.
- It was an underwhelming night for the Ravens' receivers. Deonte Thompson had a rather poor drop on a perfectly placed Tyrod Taylor pass, and undrafted free agent Marlon Brown had two unacceptable drops as well. Brown did finally improve in the fourth quarter, and the fact that he played almost the entire game shows that he may be a legitimate contender for a roster spot, with practice squad being a highly likely possibility.
- Of the rookies who played Thursday night, the standouts were Ricky Wagner and Kyle Juszczyk. Wagner -- a fifth-round pick from Wisconsin -- entered the game at left tackle with the second-team offense and held his own the entire time. He didn't have many bad plays, and he showed that he can be called upon if needed at left tackle in an emergency situation this season. Juszczyk, as expected, was lined up all over the field. He was surprisingly used on punt coverage and made an open-field tackle on the Ravens' first punt of the game. He made a living running out to the flat out of the backfield and caught two passes. He was also used as a traditional fullback once Vonta Leach exited the game and even lined up in the slot a few times.
- Rookies Arthur Brown and Brandon Williams played admirably, with Brown playing for just a short time. He rotated in and out with Josh Bynes during the first half and blitzed a few times, showing how he might be used this season. He didn't stand out or struggle necessarily, but he did have one play in which he was late picking up the tight end, but Glennon didn't throw his way. Williams played for the majority of the game and was frequently disruptive in the middle of the defense. He did get pushed around a few times, though.
- While Williams played well in his debut, fellow nose tackle Terrence Cody did the exact opposite. He didn't play as long as Williams, but, when he was in, he got pushed around on almost every play. There's a legitimate chance Cody doesn't make the final roster, and his struggles Thursday night certainly didn't help his cause.
- Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor offered some positive reinforcement, as he played for the majority of the game and performed rather well. His receivers didn't help him out much as drops were a theme, but many of Taylor's throws were on target. He showed poise in the pocket and flashed his running ability, picking up 27 yards on five attempts. Taylor still isn't necessarily a good quarterback, but he at least looks like he has improved since the 2012 preseason.
- Third-year wide receiver LaQuan Williams is in a tight battle to make the final roster, but he made his case on Thursday night. In a crowded wider receiver battle, Williams will have to perform well on special teams in order to make the team. He recovered a blocked punt in the end zone and also recovered a fumble on another punt. While those were both right-place, right-time plays, he also caught a pass for a touchdown, so, overall, it was a pretty successful night for him.
Kyle Casey is a sports writer living in Baltimore, Md. He maintains his own football site, End Zone Report, and is the editor of Cat Crave.
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