With the third preseason game always the most important, all eyes will be on Baltimore Saturday when the Baltimore Ravens host the Washington Redskins.
The starters should play at least the first half and probably more, so there will be plenty of opportunities for pundits and fans to form opinions.
Here are five things to keep an eye on to form opinions of your own.
The Offense’s Start
The Ravens have long been a slow starting offensive team. Joe Flacco needs to get into a rhythm, and the ground and pound running game only got better as the game wore on.
With new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak in the fold, the Ravens will be looking to get off to more fast starts. Kubiak calls more quick passes that should help Flacco get into a rhythm more quickly, and the ground game expects to rip off chunks of yardage at a time.
That script worked against the San Francisco 49ers, but not so much against the Dallas Cowboys. Flacco struggled to get going, starting just 2-for-10 before catching fire in the second quarter.
This week, pay close attention to the first drive. The Ravens will not want another slow start, so pay attention to the play calls. What Kubiak calls will give fans a small look into how Kubiak will handle his quarterback in the regular season, and it should show whether or not the Ravens can overcome their slow starting ways.
Can Deonte Thompson keep his momentum going?
If Deonte Thompson makes the final roster for the Ravens, it will be for what he can do as a special teamer. And if last week’s explosion at Dallas is any indication, Thompson can do a whole lot on special teams.
But for a guy who probably will not make any impact as a receiver, continuing to stand out as a kick returner is crucial. Regress even slightly, and his grip on a roster spot becomes much more tenuous.
Obviously, a high average on his returns would be nice. More than anything, though, watch for Thompson to field the ball cleanly, show good vision and run up field with decisiveness and explosion.
Will the edge defenders finally step up?
If there has been one consistent problem with the starters, it’s been the defense’s inability to stop outside runs. Terrell Suggs has given in to his tendency to crash too far inside, while none of the edge setters have held up well to blocking.
Of course, this is preseason. Veterans like Haloti Ngata, Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw are mostly interested in avoiding injury. So even if the starting defense continues to struggle, it’s not that big of a deal.
Still, seeing the starting defense step up and play hard just once this preseason would give fans a lot more confidence. If they continue to struggle, there is a chance it could be indicative of bigger issues.
How bad will the secondary be?
Obviously, with the top three cornerbacks injured, no one expects the secondary to play great. But this is an opportunity for Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks to assert that they can play effectively against an excellent group of Washington receivers.
That duo’s struggles this preseason have virtually ensured that the Ravens will add another cornerback through free agency or the waiver wire.
Where Franks and Brown have struggled most has been their ball skills. Brown is a penalty waiting to happen, as he seems completely incapable of tracking the ball. Franks, meanwhile, looked completely lost when trying to guard Dez Bryant down the field last Saturday. An NFL cornerback should not look that helpless with the ball in the air.
The time is now for the Ravens’ young cornerbacks to step up. Otherwise, they will be replaced.
Who stands out on special teams?
The Ravens value special teams more than most teams. Don’t be shocked if an unknown makes the final roster solely for what he can do on special teams. So don’t think of kickoffs or punts as a chance to get up and refill your drink or go to the bathroom, because you’ll be missing many guys’ best chance at a roster spot.
So far, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Anthony Levine and Zachary Orr have been standouts at filling their lanes and bringing down opposing returners. Taliaferro’s roster spot is relatively secure, but Levine and Orr need to continue to stand out and make plays to have a chance at a roster spot.