BALTIMORE — If this was indeed a dress rehearsal for the regular season, as the third preseason game is frequently viewed, the Ravens still aren’t ready for prime time, at least on offense.
The Ravens offense minus several key players sputtered for much of the game, but the defense was again stifling and the result was a 13-9 win over the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.
Here are five observations about the game, which the Ravens essentially clinched when linebacker Patrick Onwuasor recovered a fumble at the Ravens’ 12-yard line with 1:04 left:
1. Two weeks away from the season opener, the Ravens still have no idea what this offense is.
The Ravens offense plodded through another mediocre performance with its first team on the field, held to 114 yards of offense and three points in the first half.
Of course, the Ravens didn’t have starting quarterback Joe Flacco or starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley. They didn’t have running back Danny Woodhead or wide receiver Breshad Perriman. But the running game in the first half went nowhere, and the top two receivers, Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin, had a combined total of one catch for 7 yards despite playing much of the first half.
The Ravens continue to contend that once they get Flacco back, and Stanley and Perriman and Woodhead back, this offense will shift into high gear. But it’s certainly fair to wonder how quickly that will happen, and there has been very little throughout the preseason to warrant any optimism.
Harbaugh said after the game that Flacco, who has missed all of training camp while dealing with a back injury, will not practice Sunday, but he reiterated that Flacco is on the rehab schedule the team has set and will be ready for the regular-season opener against Cincinnati on Sept. 10.
2. The running game remains underwhelming.
In the first half, the Ravens three running backs totaled 29 yards on 12 carries. Starter Terrance West had five carries for 17 yards, and Buck Allen had six carries for 11 yards in that first half, when many starters were still in the game. The Ravens have insisted a newfound commitment to the running game, and have insisted on getting bigger and stronger up front.
Allen led the Raves with 25 yards rushing on 12 carries, and overall the Ravens averaged 2.5 yards per run, with 37 carries for 92 yards.
To be fair, the Ravens played most of the game without Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, and played the entire game without Stanley, but this running game three weeks into the preseason has looked very average. There does not appear to be a true No. 1 back on the roster.
3. The starting defense remains dominant.
The Ravens first defensive unit continues to utterly dominate the competition. Granted, it has been a small sample size, but LeSean McCoy totaled six carries for 7 yards, and the Bills had a total of nine carries for 16 yards in the first half. Led by Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Brent Urban – who has been in the opposing backfield all summer – there has just been nowhere to run.
In their first six offensive series, the Bills totaled three first downs, and one of those was via penalty. The Bills’ one scoring drive late in the first half was aided by two defensive penalties that resulted in first downs and came against reserves.
The Ravens starting defense has yet to allow a point in three preseason games.
“We played physically up front and locked them down on the back end,” Urban said. “It has been a great start, but we still have a long way to go, and there is work to be done. I like our promising start.”
4. The offense cannot afford penalties.
Until the offense shows the ability to consistently move the ball, it cannot afford the propensity of penalties it has endured the past two weeks. In the first half, the Ravens were flagged for 110 penalty yards and had 114 yards of offense.
Granted, not all the penalties were on the offense, but one series in particular illustrated the problem: The Ravens took over at midfield after a 10-yard punt return by Michael Campanaro. Over the next five snaps, the Ravens were called for three penalties – a false start by Ryan Jensen, holding by James Hurst and an illegal formation (declined) by Austin Howard. The Ravens, with a short field, ended up losing a net of 12 yards on the drive and had to punt.
In the fourth quarter, the Ravens had first-and-goal at the 10 and Mizell carried to the 1-yard line. But a holding call on Maurquice Shakir wiped out that gain, and the Ravens were held to a field goal.
This offense, as it is currently playing, cannot afford to move backward.
“Our offense played well except for the penalties in the first half,” coach John Harbaugh said.
5. Jaylen Hill is the best story of training camp.
Patrick Ricard has generated some headlines this summer with his old-school double-duty as a defensive lineman/fullback, but cornerback Jaylen Hill has been the best story of training camp.
Hill went undrafted out of Jacksonville State, then came to a tryout with the Ravens during rookie minicamp. By then, the Ravens had already signed their undrafted rookie class. But Hill impressed enough to claim a spot on the 90-man roster, and he has continued to impress all summer.
Against the Bills, Hill hauled in his second interception in three preseason games, and finished two tackles. He consistently demonstrates a nose for the ball and is moving closer and closer to “lock” status for the 53-man roster.
“He’s come up with plays,” Harbaugh said. “Guys find ways to make plays. That’s important. He did it in college. Go back and watch him in college … To see it translate to this level in the preseason is a big plus.”
“He’s come up with a big play in really every single game so far,” Harbaugh said.
Editor’s note: This story was updated.