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Yes, tomorrow is the final preseason game for the Ravens and then, the following Thursday, is the first game of the regular season pitting the Ravens versus the Broncos (where we’ll be well received).  Start counting down the days now!

Tomorrow, our remaining backups & “on-the-bubble” players will play the majority of the game versus the Rams & their backups.  The Ravens already made some cuts into Tuesday to get down to the 75 player limit, which included some offensive players that may surprise you.

The Ravens cut ties with WR Tommy Streeter after only a year.  This only means that the wide receiver competition is becoming more clear, but more on that in a bit.  Also gone is TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who I’ve had issue with in the preseason.  His poor pass catching skills resulted in his contract being terminated.  Our team will likely begin the season with Ed Dickson starting, Dallas Clark as backup, and returning journeyman Billy Bajema as the third string TE.  The other notable offensive player cut was Ramon Harewood, who I thought was a quality backup offensive lineman.  I expect a team like the Redskins to snap him up, as they’ve signed several of our former offensive linemen in the past.

On to the receivers: how lucky are the Ravens to find some 1st year talent. Aaron Mellette, a 7th round pick, was impressive in the first two preseason games.  He however has been outshined by the undrafted rookie Marlon Brown.  Brown has caught 6 passes including a nice TD reception.  He got the majority of his passes during the Panthers game with the starting offense.  He may be this year’s undrafted gem that the Ravens have uncovered and what a perfect moment to do so!  The receiving corps has been in doubt ever since Boldin was traded away and Pitta injured, with Torrey Smith as the only viable option.

Jacoby Jones is a great deep ball receiver & kick returner, but does seem to struggle with the short routes.  If you recall, two of Flacco’s first interceptions occurred when Jones had to run a short curl route and a defender easily cut threw his path.  Tandon Doss had a similar issue in the last preseason game, although it wasn’t a curl but he ran the wrong route which lead to an INT for a TD.  This gave us the film of Flacco visibly yelling at Doss for that error.  (Flacco is probably the calmest QB in the league as well as the main person who lobbied for Doss to be drafted, so it’s understandable that this would upset him)  Doss is the most likely receiver to be cut on Saturday when teams have to get to the 53 player limit for the season.

The Ravens have a history of rarely starting rookies unless they certainly exceed expectations and play starting caliber football.  It’s conceivable that Brown will appear in some games this season in either the 3rd or maybe 4th WR slot, but don’t expect him to take the reins opposite of Torrey Smith on the first day.  Same goes with Matt Elam and Arthur Brown, who will have limited roles this season and likely will move into starting roles next season.  All three should get plenty of playing time tomorrow.

Our starting defense was pretty stout against the Panthers, where it only allowed two field goals total.  Daryl Smith has shown in this preseason that he’s a welcome participant in filling Ray Lewis’ void.  He and Chris Canty have been our most consistent defenders so far, along with being first year players on the Ravens team.  Smith is a ten year veteran who was previously on the Jaguars for his entire career.  It’s amazing how a player who played on mainly losing teams (as mentioned in the last post, the Jaguars have had only two winning seasons since 1999) can adjust quickly to our team’s winning atmosphere and dominate.

It should be noted that (thankfully) I’m not the only person who noticed the shift in offensive production when Marshall Yanda was taken out.  If you remember last year, the Ravens started very strong on offense and at some point they started to have an issue.  This did correlate to when Yanda got injured for a few weeks.  Here’s my bold claim: Marshall Yanda is the heart & soul of the offense.  When he, a Pro Bowl left guard, is starting in the game, the offense just flows very seamlessly.  When he’s out, defenders start getting in the back field, Flacco gets a couple of sacks & knockdowns.  Also, interceptions will go up as a result.  A lot of people point to the winning linemen combination for last years playoff run when suddenly Michael Oher is moved to the right side and Bryant McKinnie, who hadn’t played all year, is inserted at the left tackle spot.  I think Yanda feeling 100% recovered after resting the majority of week 17 was a great impact, if not the greatest impact.

Now, here comes the Ravens heading into St. Louis.  [Side note: did you know that Baltimore and St. Louis are the two largest independent cities in the United States?]  St. Louis is in its 2nd year under coach Jeff Fisher.  Fisher, whom you probably remember, was the long time coach of the Tennessee Titans, back when they were a perennial playoff team and biggest division rival to the Ravens.  The Ravens have had their pickings at former Titans players (Samari Rolle, Derrick Mason, Steve McNair) in the past.  Now, they face a familiar coach with a different team.  The Ravens have played the Rams just a few times, but most of the time was during the preseason.  The Rams have gone through several losing seasons ever since following QB Marc Bulger’s short lived dominance.

Last year the Rams made great progress, where they finished the season 7-8-1, and their division record was 4-1-1.  Their division is the very tough NFC West, which many sports writers have concluded has the two strongest NFL teams in Seattle and San Francisco.  During the offseason, there was talk that the Rams will return to the postseason.  However, now the “experts” might not be so sure…  This is QB Sam Bradford‘s 4th season with the team and his first without Pro Bowl running back Stephen Jackson.  It will be on his shoulders to carry the team.  Good thing for him that his defense has been quite good last year and likely this year.

Of course, we won’t see much of Bradford or Flacco as this is the last preseason game.  Expect to see Tyrod Taylor throw close to 200 yards passing and running back Anthony Allen once again lull us into believing he can be a quality backup.  (Seriously, he’s done this the previous two preseasons where he looks like he’ll be a dominant runner if his number is called, but he rarely shows anything the few times he’s given carries in the regular season.)  I can see Brandon Stokely becoming Flacco’s go-to guy on third downs this season; he has established this rapport with Flacco very quickly.

Enjoy the game and remember that this may be the last time certain 22 players will ever play for the Ravens.  You may see some highlight reel plays by fringe players but those plays may be briefly replayed the following days as this is still preseason and the stats do not count.