1) It’s amazing how quickly this has become a “broken record” team.
It struck me as I was starting to think about what to write midway through the third quarter: three games into the preseason, there’s almost nothing new to say about the 2017 Ravens.
We came into the preseason expecting to see a deep, potentially overwhelming defense. If anything, that defense has been better than expected.
We came in expecting to see a disorganized offense, lacking in home-run playmakers. If anything, that offense has been more anemic than feared.
We’re not going to see the starters again until Week 1 in Cincinnati, and absolutely nothing has changed about this team’s big picture.
You can choose to be excited, given that the offense should receive an eventual boost with the return of Joe Flacco. Or you can choose to be bummed out, given the rut the team has lived in for two years.
But I’m not sure we’ve “learned” much of anything the past three weeks.
2) The running game simply hasn’t been good enough.
Terrance West and Buck Allen combined for 28 yards on 11 carries in the first half, roughly in line with what we’ve seen throughout the preseason. If their production doesn’t improve substantially in the real games, this offense will be in trouble.
As always, it’s difficult to decide who’s more to blame, the blockers or the backs. In this case, probably both, given the unsettled state of the offensive line. But West, the expected starter, hasn’t made any eye-popping runs. Allen has probably outplayed him slightly.
Neither is going to scare opposing defensive coordinators.
In fact, undrafted free agent Taquan Mizzell has probably been the most exciting back because of his receiving skills.
Last week, coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said they weren’t concerned about the progress, or lack thereof, of the running attack. I can understand them not wanting to overreact given that the Ravens have yet to play with their projected starting offensive line.
But I can’t imagine they feel great about where they stand going into the regular season.
We’ve seen for years now that Flacco is best when he’s playing off an effective running game. It’s no accident that he had one of his worst years in 2016 when the Ravens were 28th in total rushing and 21st in yards per carry. They were just as bad on the ground in 2015.
This is an established problem, not a fluke.
3) Tyus Bowser has been the team’s best rookie in preseason.
Natural pass rushers are the most coveted defensive commodity in professional football. Players who can cover are next. If you find a guy who can do both, well, that’s quite a thing.
Bowser might be that rare gem.
He made another two plays behind the line of scrimmage against the Buffalo Bills. But as he has all preseason, he also demonstrated the mobility to defend passes in the flats and even downfield.
That fits with what the Ravens saw on Bowser’s game film from Houston. He also comes off as a thoughtful, composed personality, which doesn’t hurt.
We haven’t seen much of first-round draft pick Marlon Humphrey, but of all the rookies who’ve played substantial snaps, Bowser feels the most like a potential star.
4) Za’Darius Smith has played his way off the roster bubble.
Without naming names, Harbaugh made it clear that several third- and fourth-year players would need to show something this summer or hit the road come September.
With the influx of defensive talent from this year’s draft, there was a chance Smith would be cut or relegated to a spot deep on the bench if he did not play well. The Ravens were certainly disappointed with his lack of progress last season. The player they’d envisioned as Pernell McPhee 2.0 was nowhere in evidence.
But Smith has put himself on the right side of the put-up or shut-up equation the past two games.
On Saturday, he ended Buffalo’s most promising drive of the first quarter when he bullied his way into the backfield and forced Nathan Peterman into a near-interception.
That combination of brawn and quickness was what excited the Ravens about Smith in the first place.
5) It’s cool to see how hard the veterans are rooting for Jaylen Hill.
Hill, the undrafted free agent out of Jacksonville State, has obviously made an enormous impression with his preseason ball hawking. He picked off another pass against the Bills, earning a nice ovation from the home crowd.
But his biggest fans are probably the other players.
I’ve been reporting a story about the Ravens secondary, and when I mentioned Hill to Jimmy Smith and Eric Weddle during an interview last week, they both lit up.
When I said Hill had impressed lately, Smith said, “No man, it’s been since the spring.” He wanted to be clear that Hill is no flash in the pan.
When it comes to young players, the veterans don’t care about hype or scouting reports. The way to perk their attention is to make actual game-changing plays.
Hill has done that consistently, and when he officially makes the Ravens in about a week, his teammates will be thrilled for him.