ReFo: BLT @ STL, Preseason Wk 4
It feels like we just started our preseason coverage and here we are concluding Week 4 and heading to the regular season. While the Week 4 preseason games are often devoid of big names, make no mistake, it’s as important as any of the previous three with regard to roster battles. The Baltimore Ravens and St. Louis Rams got a good look at the middle and bottom of their respective rosters, so let’s take a look at what stood out.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Running Back Battle, Part 1
With RBs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on the sidelines, the Ravens got extended work for RBs Bobby Rainey, Delone Carter, and Anthony Allen. Rainey was clearly the best of the bunch grading at +1.7. Don’t be fooled by the 3.0 yards/rush on 13 carries, Rainey broke seven tackles and found the end zone twice, including an impressive cutback and second effort with 7:19 to go in the first quarter. He made Rams FS Matt Daniels look bad on multiple occasions including outrunning his angle on his way to a 13-yard gain and later bouncing off him in the hole before bursting into the end zone for his second touchdown.
As for Carter and Allen, they graded at -3.1 and –2.2 respectively as Carter picked up only three yards on his nine carries and added a dropped pass while Allen ran for four yards on five carries including a fumble.
First Rounder Wraps Up a Strong Preseason
Though he was only in on 16 snaps, SS Matt Elam left his mark on the game with a +2.3 overall grade that included a stop in the running game and a forced fumble against the pass. It capped off a nice preseason for Elam who finishes at +5.0 over the four games. He did his usual strong work against the run as he worked his way around a Mike McNeill pull block to pick up the stop with 3:44 to go in the first quarter. The perceived weakness in Elam’s game is against the pass, and some of those concerns crept up in this game. He was a step late on a comeback route on the Rams’ first play from scrimmage and fellow rookie Tavon Austin created a lot of separation on a dig route at the 10:54 mark of the first. However, Elam made up for it by tracking the play down from behind to force the fumble. His ability to cover in the intermediate and deep parts of the field will be a key storyline to monitor this season.
Arguably the Ravens’ best defensive player on Thursday, OLB D.J. Bryant was all over the field in his most extended action of the preseason. He did most of his damage as a pass rusher where he picked up a sack, a hit, and four hurries on only 18 rushes. Bryant beat both left tackles thrown at him by the Rams as he got by Joe Barksdale to both shoulders and with a bull rush before getting past D.J. Young on both sides as well. While the sacks generally garner the headlines, it was probably Bryant’s easiest pressure of the night as a protection breakdown led to a beeline to the quarterback for the second-year linebacker. It remains to be seen if this performance will change Bryant’s standing with the team given the deep group of outside linebackers, but it’s the type of game film that he’ll pass around the league when and if he’s looking for a future employer.
St. Louis – Three Performances of Note
Running Back Battle, Part 2
The Rams’ running backs are jockeying for playing time as Zac Stacy, Isaiah Pead, and Benny Cunningham saw the bulk of the work on Thursday night. Stacy hasn’t been great this preseason and his -0.6 grade on the night stemmed largely from a dropped pass and a bad breakdown in pass protection that saw him allow a free shot at the quarterback.
Pead has continued to improve throughout the preseason though his +1.2 grade doesn’t take into account his fumbling the opening kickoff. Back-to-back plays in the middle of the third quarter showed his potential as he bounced off a Brandon Copeland tackle to avoid a negative run and followed it up with a nifty cut on CB Asa Jackson to pick up a first down on a swing pass.
The star of the group, however, was Cunningham who graded at +3.2 with 76 yards on eight carries. When the Ravens got to him, he was tough to take down, but even finding him was a chore as he showed on a beautiful 29-yard cutback run with 0:54 to go in the third quarter. Two quick cuts and he wasn’t touched until Anthony Levine was finally able to push him out of bounds. It was a great final showing for Cunningham who needed to make a late push to join the crowded St. Louis backfield.
Who’s the Backup?
If the backup quarterback job was on the line, Kellen Clemens was the decisive winner as he outplayed second-year QB Austin Davis. There hadn’t been much separation between the two coming into the game, but Clemens was the clear winner as he graded at +3.0 compared to Davis’ -3.9. While Clemens didn’t make a lot of big-time throws, he was extremely proficient at the intermediate level where he completed 7-of-8 passes for 114 yards and a +2.2 grade on such throws. He also showed well under pressure completing 5-of-7 for 80 yards and a +2.1 grade. Davis, on the other hand, was unable to complete a pass beyond 10 yards as he went 0-for-5 and he rarely faced pressure as he was under heat for only two of his 15 dropbacks. Through the four preseason games, Clemens finished with at +3.2 while Davis graded at -2.3 and this game was clearly the deciding factor.
Last Chance for the UDFAs
A number of undrafted rookie free agents made their last push for the opening-day 53 with varied results. Up front, defensive end Gerald Rivers and defensive tackle Garrett Goebel made life difficult for Ravens running backs, grading at +1.9 and +3.2 respectively against the run. The safeties were on the other end of the spectrum as Rashard Hall (-2.3) and Cody Davis (-2.1) were anything but safe when attacking the offense. Hall took the same poor angle on two in-breaking routes, the first leading to a 20-yard gain for WR Tandon Doss and the second a disastrous 50-yard touchdown to WR Marlon Brown early in the fourth. Davis was not much better as he was sucked nearly halfway across the field on a play action that left fullback Kyle Juszczyk wide open in the flat for a big gain while adding a missed tackle in the running game.
Perhaps the most intriguing of the Rams’ undrafted free agents is LB Ray Ray Armstrong who made his presence felt with hard hits all over the field. He’s cut from a similar mold as Rams’ first-round pick Alec Ogletree as a long, former safety who could develop into a coverage weapon at the linebacker position. There are some natural growing pains as he whiffed on Rainey on one tackle and picked up a taunting penalty, but his +1.4 coverage grade stemmed from his ability to close quickly on the football as evidenced by his two plays at the 3:54 mark of the third and later at the 10:11 mark of the fourth. His development is one to watch, particularly given the similarities to his teammate, Ogletree.
–Caleb Hanie took all 76 snaps for the Ravens offense. He was 1-for-8 on throws beyond 20 yards including two interceptions.
-Rookie LB Arthur Brown played all 34 of his snaps in the Ravens’ 2-4-5 nickel package.
-OTs Joe Barksdale and D.J. Young combined to surrender nine hurries on their 53 pass block attempts.
PFF Game Ball
While Cunningham certainly made the most of his 19 snaps, I’m giving the game ball to Clemens for going 13-for-18 for 193 yards and three drops. An accuracy percentage of 89 percent is not too shabby.
Follow Steve on Twitter: @PFF_Steve