A few personnel thoughts from the Baltimore Ravens' Thursday night 34-31 win over the Washington Redskins.
Tyrod Taylor, beautiful mess
One thing that puts rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor ahead of many college shotgun option quarterbacks (from Alex Smith to Cam Newton) is that his mechanics when dropping back from center are pretty solid — he doesn't get in his own way. That sounds like a small point, but watch Newton Riverdance his way through a dropback, and you'll start to understand why he struggles so much with timing and rhythm throws. Taylor keeps the ball high, can stop to make the playfake, and sets himself up well to drive through the throw. He's also exceptional at boot action plays in which he'll roll out to either side.
As a pure passer … well, there's work to be done. Taylor can zip the ball into any area, but his confidence in his ability to do just that also shows up as a negative when he tries to process a throw into a window that isn't there anymore. He also occasionally gets crossed up on shorter timing throws — little digs, slants and dagger routes — but you can see the development. I was intrigued by Taylor's skill set at Virginia Tech — I saw him as more than a pure option guy, and in the right situation, I think he'll eventually prove that out at the NFL level.
Lee Evans: Not just a speed guy
On Friday, we detailed the 35-yard touchdown catch that allowed receiver Lee Evans to announce his presence with authority. But there's more to what Evans brings to the Baltimore offense than the track speed he showed over Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Like most of your better deep threats, Evans helps the offense whether he's the target or not. Watch how cornerbacks have to back off now when aligning against Baltimore's 3-wide sets. Before, there was far less concern that one misstep could mean a play taken to the house. But with Evans' straight-line speed, ability to get inside or outside position off the snap, and underrated sense of fundamentals, pass defenders have to be more careful.
Ideal slot receivers like Anquan Boldin will see the benefits when Evans takes the roof off a side of pass coverage. You saw a more typical side of Baltimore's old passing game at the end of their first drive, when Flacco tried to fire in a slower seam route to Boldin, and Hall easily jumped the route for a touchdown the other way.
The other nice thing about Evans is that, just like the magically rejuvenated Brandon Lloyd in Denver, he's not just a speed receiver. Evans can also help Flacco on little slants, square-ins, and other blitz-beater routes — the kinds of things Derrick Mason used to do. Flacco's not exactly adept at evading pressure (to put it kindly), so the more timing-based route concepts, the better.
Roy Helu may be the next secret Shanahan back
We'll mercifully refrain from delving into the epic battle between John Beck and Rex Grossman in this particular scouting report. Instead, I'd like to review the performance of rookie backup running back Roy Helu, who I really liked coming out of Nebraska, and talked to for a pre-draft podcast on Shutdown Corner. In this game, Helu started making tracks halfway through the third quarter, and though he was going against the twos on Baltimore's defense, I liked what I saw. He ran 13 times for 44 yards against the Ravens.
Helu has an upright running style, but also a lot of inside power. He's a good one-cut runner who builds up speed and takes extra yards after first contact. Once he gets outside, he has the bounce and quickness to make the big play. Helu isn't the quicker, jump-cut runner at the line; he's more patient as he sifts through blockers and gaps at the line and waits for his opportunity. I'd like to see him get low and physical a bit quicker in short-yardage situations, though — that upright running style could prevent him from surprising and becoming a starting NFL back. If he can up the speed at the line, he could be truly dangerous — right now, he's just a very intriguing player who should find a role in Washington's running back rotation.
Ryan Kerrigan is for real
For once, the Redskins paid attention to the draft, and as a result, two of their standout players in this game are rookies. First-round pick Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue is known as a fairly demonic pass rusher, and that's what stood out against the Ravens. He had a sack in the first quarter, but he's still learning two key aspects of run defense — how to avoid getting washed out slide protection going his way, and how to prevent missing the back entirely when we overpursues the quarterback off the edge. The best "endbackers" develop an innate sense of when to charge and when to read the action. Kerrigan, who was a 4-3 end in college, has the potential to develop these attributes at his new position.
Listed as the left outside linebacker in Washington's 3-4 lineup, Kerrigan would play left defensive end placement in the Redskins' frequent nickel packages. In that regard, as much as the team has said that it will run more traditional 3-4 looks this season, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett seems to understand that he has personnel best suited to hybrid fronts. When Kerrigan can edge past that first blocker in a two-point stance situation, he's tough to stop. His sack came from a position outside the right tackle, which allowed him to spin inside and use his momentum to take Joe Flacco down. I like Kerrigan best in a wide nine-tackle position in a four-man front (Kyle Vanden Bosch is the paradigm), but he can play wide OLB at the line as well.