ReFo: Ravens @ Cowboys, Preseason Week 2
It’s not every week that a team’s offense first takes the field with a 14-7 lead, but that’s exactly what happened to the Baltimore Ravens against the Dallas Cowboys. It might be more hassle than anything in the preseason when game repetitions are far more important than win-loss record, but the Ravens offense and Cowboys defense didn’t see the field until the 3:25 mark of the first quarter after the Ravens defense scored on a fumble recovery and special teams contributed with a kickoff return.
It took even longer for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to get into a groove as his two most notable throws came on back-to-back plays late in the second quarter as he zipped in a skinny post to wide receiver Jacoby Jones before leading WR Torrey Smith with a perfect go route in the end zone for the touchdown. Other than that it was a rather underwhelming day for Flacco who finished as -1.1 overall.
As for the Cowboys, QB Tony Romo made his preseason debut and looked to WR Dez Bryant early and often, connecting on all three attempts for 58 yards and a touchdown. That was all Cowboys fans needed to see, as Romo took a strong step toward proving his health, while Bryant showed his well-known ability to take over the game.
Here’s a look at the other key performances from the game.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
After creating some buzz with a couple splash plays in Week 1, linebacker C.J. Mosley was off his game here in Week 2. He was a step slow in coverage, whether playing man or zone. Tight end Gavin Escobar on an out route at the 1:35 mark of the first quarter, and earlier in the quarter, Mosley was late to the flat in the Ravens’ cover-3 look allowing running back Lance Dunbar to pick up the first down out of the backfield. When he was in position, Mosley had trouble wrapping up, as he failed to bring down RB Joseph Randle on the check down with 9:53 to go in the second quarter. It wasn’t much better in the running game where he missed another tackle and took a false step that allowed him to get sealed out of another play by a pulling guard. It’s still early, but this was not an encouraging performance by the Ravens’ first-rounder.
McPhee off the Edge
Adding yet another pass rushing option off the edge, OLB Pernell McPhee had a strong day as he fights for playing time behind starters Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. McPhee picked up a sack, hit, and three hurries on just 15 pass rushes on his way to a +3.3 pass rush grade and +4.8 mark for the game. He won on both sides, beating left tackle Jeremy Parnell for the sack and later getting around RT John Wetzel for the hit. McPhee certainly did some damage against the Cowboys backup offensive line, but he also got involved against the starters, beating LT Tyron Smith to affect a run play early in the first quarter. McPhee adds some solid depth to a well-rounded outside linebacker corps in Baltimore.
New-Look Running Game
It was a fascinating matchup coming into the game as Baltimore had one of last year’s worst offensive lines but Dallas had one of the worst defensive lines. Something had to give and there were some encouraging signs from the Ravens’ running game. Ray Rice’s first run was a classic from new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s playbook as the Ravens caught the Dallas defense flowing too hard to the ball and one cut from Rice resulted in an untouched 18-yard gain. New center Jeremy Zuttah may be the team’s most important addition, as he takes over for C Gino Gradkowski whose -15.6 overall grade ranked last among centers a year ago. He graded at +0.8 in the running game as he did a nice job working combination blocks and getting to linebackers at the second level. Rice and Pierce ran the ball nine times for 76 yards (8.4 yards/carry), so it was an encouraging day for Baltimore’s running game, even against a weak Dallas defensive front.
Dallas – Three Performances of Note
Carter Weak Against the Run
Last season was not a kind to LB Bruce Carter (-3.2) whose -12.5 grade against the run was third-worst among 3-4 outside linebackers, and he had similar problems against the Baltimore defense. He retreated from fullback Kyle Juszczyk on more than one occasion in the first half, allowing for the easy seals at the point of attack. When Carter did take on blocks, it wasn’t always pretty as rookie TE Crockett Gillmore locked on and walked him up the field at the 5:33 mark of the second quarter, forcing Carter to lose the edge on 3rd-and-1. He wasn’t much better in coverage as he picked up a defensive hold and later benefitted for a poor throw that would have been a first down into his coverage. The Cowboys’ weak defensive line certainly doesn’t help matters, but Carter must do a better job of taking on blockers if their run defense is going to take a step forward this season.
It’s no surprise to see Minter’s grade if you were locked into the Cowboys’ side of the preseason broadcast as his splash plays were praised with regularity, and there were plenty of them. Minter finished at +2.4 overall, but +2.8 as a pass rusher where he picked up two sacks and a hurry on just 13 rushes. Minter has the look of a high risk, high reward gap penetrator. He showed well to beat LG Parker Graham and RG Ryan Jensen for sacks, finishing the first one with a forced fumble. He even dominated Graham in the run game on one play, bursting outside of him to make the tackle for a loss of 5 yards. But with the big plays came some bad ones as Minter was mauled by Gradkowski at the 10:28 mark of the third quarter and Jensen got under him and drove him into the ground with 2:00 to go in the game.
Overall, it was a strong effort for Minter who also had an impressive preseason last year with the Bears. If he can continue to make plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage, he’ll find himself in someone’s defensive line rotation as an interior penetrator.
Weeden Back to Earth
Our most recent caveat for preseason performances, QB Brandon Weeden was outstanding a year ago and followed it up with a strong +2.3 outing last week. He evened things off this week by grading at -3.1 due to some poor decision making and inaccurate throws. He failed to see the underneath coverage on a deep crossing route late in the second quarter, nearly throwing the ball right into the hands of LB Josh Bynes. Weeden dodged yet another interception when he heaved one up the seam into the waiting arms of FS Brynden Trawick who dropped the gift to the turf. It would have been Trawick’s second interception of the day, though it didn’t come on Weeden’s worst throw. It was a go route down the sideline that may have been on target, but Weeden put too much air on it and Trawick made a tremendous play to pick it off along the sideline. That made up for Weeden’s other mishaps, though his 52.3 passer rating may be generous given some of his throws.
-Ravens rookie SS Terrence Brooks led the Ravens defense with 44 snaps, 30 of which came in the slot.
-Cowboys LG Ronald Leary got the start and led the offense with 41 snaps. He finished at +1.2 overall as he battles Mackenzy Bernadeau for the starting spot at left guard.
-Cowboy undrafted free agent DT Davon Coleman got the start and had a mixed day on his 40 snaps, grading at -1.5 in the run game but providing a solid pass rush at +1.3.
PFF Game Ball
Pernell McPhee’s strong effort in both the run game and as a pass rusher earn him the game ball.
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