The first week of the preseason has come and gone. Now we have an actual first impression of the rest of the AFC North. The Baltimore Ravens plan on having Joe Flacco for Week 1, which is good for them because Ryan Mallett looked awful. DeShone Kizer put on a show in his first NFL action for the Cleveland Browns, but Hue Jackson isn’t rushing him into the starting position. Plus, an offering of some first impressions regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers’ rookies after their first game action.
Flacco is currently nursing a back injury, and his time table to return is unclear, other than him being ready for Week 1.
Flacco is expected to be lining up against the Bengals in Week 1 in Cincinnati on September 10. That is good news for Flacco, and more importantly the Ravens. Mallett, who is currently seated as the backup quarterback, struggled pretty badly in the team’s first action this preseason. Mallett finished nine of 18, and he seemed to be out of sync with the offense.
Flacco missing the preseason isn’t huge. As a 10-year veteran, he knows what he needs to do to run this offense. He will be returning to a significantly different offensive line after losing Alex Lewis for the season.
Flacco also discussed the pressure to reach the playoffs again.
“You try to impress upon the young guys that playoffs is our standard and that’s what we want to create,” Flacco told Sports Illustrated. “My first five years we were in it every single year and winning games, and it seemed very normal to me. You want to create that atmosphere, and my job and my message to the guys is that we do have the talent. Make them believe in themselves so that we can all go out there and have a unified front.”
The Ravens have failed to reach the postseason for two seasons in a row, and despite the media hype that seems to surround them every season, they could easily miss the playoffs again this season. The biggest things working against the Ravens for the last two year have been injuries and the competitiveness of the AFC North. Unfortunately for the Ravens it seems like both of those things will still be a problem in 2017.
The Ravens have lost nine players so far this offseason due to injury, suspension or retirement. One of the big names that was recently included in that list is Lewis. He was expected to be the starting left guard for a team that was already struggling with their offensive line depth. The team also lost Nick Siragusa, a fourth round pick, and John Urschel, the expected starting center.
The team already added Austin Howard to compete at the right tackle spot, but they now really need depth in the interior of that offensive line. This led them to talking with a familiar name who was recently let go by the 49ers. The Ravens seems to want a mulligan after trading Jeremy Zuttah to the Ravens earlier this offseason, and have discussed the possibility of him returning after he was cut last week.
In the meantime, it seems the Ravens’ plan as of right now is to have Howard start at right tackle, and shift James Hurst, who was competing for the right tackle spot, to left guard.
Having to shuffle your offensive line up this much before the regular season even starts isn’t a good sign for how this season could go for the Ravens.
If you missed it, DeShone Kizer put on a pretty entertaining performance in his first preseason game. He was far from perfect as he was 11 of 18, but the real sparks flew when he connected on two deep bombs down field.
The first throw shows off his ability to move around the pocket, and he doesn’t seem to panic into running the ball like most rookie quarterbacks. The second really shows off his arm strength. He didn’t even have a chance to step into the throw. Also that pass was on fourth-and-two was pretty much an all or nothing throw. Hue Jackson wasn’t afraid to pump the breaks a little on the rookie though.
"There's a lot for him to learn from, but I thought there were a lot of good things that he did," Jackson told ESPN. "Stood in there and made some plays with his arm, but he'll be the first to tell you there's so many things he's got to grow from."
This is probably the right attitude to have with the Browns’ rookie quarterback. It also allows Jackson to keep Kizer in with the second and third string players, so he can build up his confidence. Kizer is still a long shot to be the Week 1 starter, but he may have put himself within range of the goal after the first week of the preseason.
The thing about trying to change the culture of a 1-15 team is that the little things can have the biggest impacts. Casual fans may look and think the Browns just need to clean house with their players, but sometimes it just takes the coaches having the right approach with team to turn things around.
Jackson is attempting to eliminate one of the little things that plagued the Browns in their first preseason game. The Browns had 12 penalties, and that is a game changing amount. Obviously the team will be a little sloppy since it is their first actual game action together, but Jackson and his staff aren’t ready to let that become the norm.
Players were given laps to run and “up-downs” if they committed a penalty, or if they had a lapse of concentration like when Jabrill Peppers dropped an interception, they did the same.
This is a real step toward having a smoother run ship, and it could easily have an impact on a few games this season.
All we heard about the Steelers’ defense this offseason was how they were going to switch to a man coverage scheme. This came after the Patriots roasted their zone scheme in the AFC Championship game.
However, due to injuries, the team hasn’t been able to accomplish this task. Players like Mike Mitchell, Artie Burns, Senquez Golson and Cameron Sutton have all missed time during camp. For some reason, the the team has stuck with its zone scheme with them off-the-field.
The team should be getting a few of these guys back in the next few days and weeks, but the question becomes how hard of a transition will this be?
This move clearly benefits Burns, who came out of college known for his man coverage ability, but with so many young players it could be rough. The Steelers would also like to get the growing pains out of the way sooner rather than later.
Three of the Steelers top rookies got some serious action in the Steelers’ first preseason game, and there were plenty of ups and downs.
The highest up was T.J. Watt getting two sacks in his debut. Honestly, he was helped slightly on one by former Bengals quarterback and now Giants backup quarterback Josh Johnson, scrambling into him, but he did flash plenty of pass rushing ability. He especially showed off his relentlessness all game by constantly pushing the pocket.
Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster had a disappointing start. He had an end around attempt and one catch before suffering a concussion while making a tackle after an interception.
Josh Dobbs, who is expected to be groomed into the quarterback to take Ben Roethlisberger’s place some day, started out horribly. He threw two atrocious interceptions. Both were poor decisions on top of being bad throws. He did bounce back nicely though. He slowly seemed to get in sync with the offense and the highlight of his night was a perfect pass hitting former Bengals receiver Cobi Hamilton right in stride for a touchdown. He ended the day 8 of 15 for 100 yards.
All in all, there is plenty of work to be done, but the Steelers rookies showed some flashes of their talent.