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Regardless of how long the Ravens’ starters play tomorrow night against the Atlanta Falcons, the preseason finale is largely about the back end of the roster.
As several of the youngsters on the bubble attempt to make the 53-man team, Thursday marks their final chance to make an impression.
“Great opportunity for the young guys, no doubt about it,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said after Tuesday’s practice. “They’ll be playing, obviously, the majority of the game. This is their chance to get some tape and get some live NFL action to prove to us and the rest of the league what they can do.”
Not only are the Ravens – who have to cut down from 80 men to 53 on Saturday – looking to finalize their squad, the fledgling hopefuls will also be auditioning for the 31 other clubs.
With a lockout-cancelled offseason, the Ravens’ first team could probably use a series or two to continue and build chemistry, especially an offensive line that has not taken a single live snap as a unit.
But when it comes to the difference-makers at the Georgia Dome, a few Ravens will feel better about their chances to remain in Baltimore once the final whistle blows.
3 Matchups To Watch
Ravens CB Jimmy Smith vs. Falcons WR Roddy White
At 6-feet, 211 pounds and speed for days, White presents Smith’s best competition of the preseason. The Ravens have said they want to be judicious with Domonique Foxworth’s snap count due to his knee recovery, which could mean the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Smith is in the starting lineup. Smith had some problems with Kansas City’s physical Dwayne Bowe, so the three-time Pro Bowler will prove his mettle for however long he plays.
Ravens S Haruki Nakamura vs. Falcons QB Chris Redman
Redman has completed 18 of 33 passes for 165 yards and an interception this preseason, working behind Falcons leader Matt Ryan. With the Ravens’ tight battle for starting safety, Nakamura could move closer to Tom Zbikowski and Bernard Pollard if he has a big game against the former Raven.
Ravens ILB Jason Phillips vs. Falcons RB Jaquizz Rodgers The Ravens have a glut of linebackers who are fighting for a roster spot, and Phillips, a missile-nosed tackler behind Ray Lewis, will likely get a lot of reps against the fifth-round draft pick. Rodgers is leading the Falcons with 19 rushes for 93 yards, and it could be up to Phillips to track him down midway through the game.
3 Questions To Answer
Can The O-Line Deal With No In-Game Snaps?
It remains to be seen how much the starting offensive line will play, but the fact remains that Bryant McKinnie just joined the team a week ago, Michael Oher is switching to right tackle, Marshal Yanda hasn’t played since Week 1 and Matt Birk simply hasn’t played. There is a risk of injury for the group, but a series or two could be beneficial.
Will Torrey Smith Rebound?
Smith had a few drops in the Ravens’ last preseason matchup against the Washington Redskins, which has been pegged on the second-round draft pick over-thinking things. Smith has every opportunity to grab onto the Ravens’ third receiver position, and with Lee Evans probably sitting with an undisclosed injury, the spotlight will be on the rookie.
Where Does Jah Reid’s Development Stand?
With the Ravens’ offensive line moves and Birk and Yanda returning, third-round draft pick Jah Reid has been lost in the news cycle. He’ll be in the forefront for a majority of the game playing against Atlanta’s backups. The extensive action can only help Reid’s progression, and a strong showing would give the Ravens even more confidence that he can take over the right tackle role.
What They Have Done Lately
The Falcons finished 2011 with a 13-3 record, winning the NFC South with the league’s 16th-ranked offense and defense. They also boasted an NFL-best nine Pro Bowl players, led by White, Ryan and defensive end John Abraham.
Known for their invincibility at home, the Falcons were 7-1 inside the Georgia Dome last year. But, they faltered there in the playoffs, losing to the eventual Super Bowl champions Green Bay Packers.
At this point in the preseason, the Falcons are reeling.
Atlanta has lost to the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, and were most-recently drilled 34-16 by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
RAVENS Total Defense – 318.9 (10)
Rush Defense – 93.9 (5)
Pass Defense – 224.9 (21)
Points Allowed Per Game – 16.9 (3)
Total Offense – 322.9 (22)
Rush Offense – 114.4 (14)
Pass Offense – 208.4 (20)
Points Scored Per Game – 22.3 (16)
FALCONS Total Defense – 332.4 (16)
Rush Defense – 105.9 (10)
Pass Defense – 226.6 (22)
Points Allowed Per Game – 18.0 (5)
Total Offense – 341.1 (16)
Rush Offense – 118.2 (12)
Pass Offense – 222.9 (15)
Points Scored Per Game – 25.9 (5)