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John Harbaughâ€™s first NFL win albeit a gift wrapped one from Bill Belichick, was about as entertaining as a preseason WNBA game. Thankfully Captain Cheat decided to go for two points after the Patriots crept to within 1 point in order to spare us all the torture of an overtime preseason game.
With that in mind here are the Rearview Mirror grades for the 2008 Preseason Opener:
Kyle Bollerâ€™s effort v. the Patriots is simply a microcosm of his career. He flashes signs of hope and competency only to be followed by untimely mistakes. On his first series Boller threw big league strikes to Derrick Mason and Yamon Figurs. His passes were delivered accurately and on time and he quickly marched the team out to a 3-0 lead. But Boller failed to protect the football after a timeout at the 6:48 mark of the first quarter while facing a third and four from the Ravensâ€™ 44. The fumble was the first of two Boller turnovers, the second of which left Cam Cameron hot under the collar.
With 6:46 left in the half and the Ravens holding a 10-0 lead, Boller took over with a first and 10 from his own 37. As he has done so often in the past, he predetermined his throw prior to the snap. How else do you explain his pass intended for Adam Bergen? Boller zeroed in on Bergen crossing right to left just outside of the left hash mark. The journeyman tight end was surrounded by three defenders and a fourth was on his way. Meanwhile within the same sight lines, Figurs was open for a first down along the left sideline.
Troy Smith will get the starting nod next week against the Vikings and it will be interesting to see what he will do with the first unit. Smith is the better playmaker of the two returning quarterbacks. If Darnerien McCants had held on to a beautifully thrown pass deep inside the Patriotsâ€™ red zone with 1:30 left in the first half, the outlook on Smithâ€™s overall performance might be different than it is today.
Like Boller, Smith locked in on Justin Harper running an in route from the right during the opening moments of the fourth quarter. The pass should have been picked off by Patsâ€™ linebacker Eric Alexander. Smith recovered quickly and delivered a rocket to Harper on the very next play to pick up 18 yards. He showed nice pocket presence and solid awareness of pursuit. His elusiveness may prove to be critical playing behind questionable offensive tackle play.
As for the Ravensâ€™ prized rookie QB Joe Flacco, itâ€™s hard to avoid the comparison of his performance to a deer in headlights. Throughout camp Flacco has been deliberate when distributing the ball. While poised, he needs to hasten that internal clock. Flacco was 0-3 on pass attempts, the first nearly picked off and the last swatted away. In between he was sacked twice while coughing up the football on one takedown. In his defense, his offensive line was like melted butter while the Patriotsâ€™ D-line was a hot knife. The silver lining for Flacco â€“ it has to get better because it canâ€™t get any worse.
RUNNING BACK: C+
Ray Rice was decent in spurts and helped turn what looked like nothing on both runs and screen passes into short gains. He seemed a bit anxious and on a couple of occasions failed to allow the blocking in front of him to develop. He needs to show more patience going forward now that the opening preseason game jitters are behind him. There is promise in the screens the Ravens are setting up. As Rice improves his timing the results will follow. He was also very good picking up the blitz.
Leâ€™Ron McClain was solid in short yardage situations and even better picking up the blitz and offering support in pass protection. He nailed Pierre Woods (who was a handful all night) on one pass play and pancaked Santonio Thomas on another play. Allen Patrick, Corey Ross and Alex Haynes had a total of 15 yards on 5 carries. The Ravens ran their running backs only 15 times all night so itâ€™s safe to say that this group never got it going.
Derrick Mason looked like he was in mid-season form and found intermediate openings while snagging 3 passes for 54 yards in limited action. Marcus Smith found some openings but dropped a key third down pass that would have kept a drive alive in the first half. Yamon Figurs ran with the first team in place of Mark Clayton. Figurs had a shot at delivering a home run but Bollerâ€™s pass hung up too long enabling the defender to mitigate any separation. Darnerien McCants hauled in a 30 yarder from Smith but failed to hold on to a beautifully placed sideline toss from Smith at the Patriotsâ€™ 10 yard line inside of 2 minutes of the first half. Adam Bergen is a big but sluggish target who offered little in support of the running game. He was also extremely weak when held back in pass protection, completely overmatched by the Patsâ€™ Woods and Shawn Crable. Ditto for Lee Vickers in limited action.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
Besides quarterback, most eyes were glued to the offensive line playing without projected starting tackles Jared Gaither and Adam Terry. In their place the Ravens played newcomer Chad Slaughter and Mike Kracalik. Slaughter held his own other than a holding call while battling perennial Pro Bowler Richard Seymour. Kracalik was decent when he was able to engage oncoming defenders but as soon as the quarterback moved behind Kracalik, defenders easily moved away from the lumbering tackle who isnâ€™t known for possessing nimble feet. Ben Grubbs was bull rushed by Seymour in the first quarter leading to Adalius Thomasâ€™ strip/sack of Boller. Besides that play Grubbs played well against a talented New England defensive front. He and Brown paved the way for McClainâ€™s TD run. The three interior first unit linemen looked solid in space on the screen passes. Thereâ€™s something to build on there. The reserve offensive linemen were a shaky save for Chris Chester who showed some improvement. David Hale was manhandled at times and Oniel Cousins was slow to engage speedy OLB Pierre Woods.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C+
This unit was missing its run stuffers Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg but clearly Justin Bannan made the most of his increased workload. He was quick off the ball and disrupted a few plays deep in the Patriotsâ€™ backfield. He also knifed through for a QB knockdown on a three step drop by Matt Gutierrez. He was the second best Ravensâ€™ defender on the night. Dwan Edwards played decently and chipped in with a sack and a QB hurry. The second half front seven was pushed all over the field by the reserve offensive line of the Patriots as evidenced by their dominant time of possession in the third quarter (12:11 v. 2:49) and second half (19:11 v. 10:33). One minute and 50 seconds of the Ravensâ€™ TOP consisted of three consecutive kneels by Flacco to kill the game clock. This domination of TOP severely impacted the Ravens ability to get Flacco on the field for quality minutes.
Jarret Johnson looks more comfortable in space and also appears to be playing faster. He showed excellent recognition skills blowing up a bubble screen intended for Chad Jackson. Antwan Barnes continues to improve. Heâ€™s a force getting after the quarterback and has improved in run support and in pass coverage. Ray Lewis made a token appearance. Bart Scott was manhandled by Patriots TE DavidThomas. Nick Greisen was solid and showed some unexpected quickness pursuing the quarterback. He had a sack. Jameel McClain was solid off the edge rushing the quarterback. Prescott Burgess and Robert McCune were largely ineffective as was Edgar Jones. All were pushed around by the Patriotsâ€™ reserve offensive line. Brendon Ayanbadejo was relentless, contributing 8 tackles, a batted down pass and a sack. His effectiveness undermines Gary Stillsâ€™ usefulness to the team. Tavares Gooden missed the second half with an undisclosed injury that has been nagging him for at least part of the summer. Burgess broke his wrist and could be lost for the season.
DEFENSIVE BACK: A-
The star of the night on defense was Fabian Washington. Washington had two interceptions on the night. The first was on a pass thrown slightly behind Chad Jackson. Washington made a nice adjustment to haul in the errant throw. Towards the end of the first half, Washington closed quickly on a looping pass deep in the Ravensâ€™ red zone to end a late first half rally by the Patriots. Washington was criticized in â€™07 while with the Raiders for poor tackling particularly in run support. On a key third down in the first half Washington delivered a convincing hit on the much larger Lamont Jordan to force a punt. Then with the Patriots in their two minute offense, Washington dropped Matt Slater in bounds along the right sideline after a 4 yard catch on second down. The tackle forced New England to burn their second timeout.
All of the safeties were active. Dawan Landry, Tom Zbikowski, Jim Leonhard and Haruki Nakamura were all solid in run support. They werenâ€™t challenged much downfield and their solid positioning could explain some of that. Corey Ivy looked more like the nickel from â€™06 and less like the out of place CB from â€™07. Frank Walker was ineffective in coverage and given his performance so far in camp, one has to wonder if the Ravens wasted a $1.2 million signing bonus on the former Packer. He talks a good game but thatâ€™s about it so far. The team may regret this signing and those dollars and his special teams play could keep him on the team. Derrick Martin rebounded from a silly face masking penalty and showcased textbook coverage on a deep pass thrown to C.J. Jones. David Pittman looked decent as did Ronnie Prude.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Matt Stover and Piotr Czech combined for a perfect 3 for 3 in field goal attempts connecting from 44, 42 and 37 yards. Stoverâ€™s four kickoffs reached the goal line, 2, 10 and 3 yard lines respectively, although his second kickoff was kicked from the 35. Those kicks were returned to the 19, 22, 38 and 27 yard lines. Czechâ€™s only kickoff went a yard deep in the end zone but lacked height. It was returned to the 32.
Sam Koch averaged 51.3 yards per punt on 4 punts, knocking out 2 inside the 20. He also had a touchback. Yamon Figurs picked up where he left off last year and looks very confident and showed patience following blockers. He exploded through openings while taking his only kickoff return for 48 yards and nearly scoring on a 52 yard punt return. Zbikowski was a standout on special teams. Gooden showed his raw skills as well on coverage teams.
Cam Cameron: Nice job of throwing in running situations and running or throwing screens in passing situations. The mix kept the Patriots off balance early and helped the patchwork offensive line neutralize a stout New England front four. Cameron isnâ€™t afraid to throw downfield and he showed the world that Derrick Mason can be effective on routes beyond 7 yards. The offense looked disciplined and in synch without the false start penalties that have been an early season trademark of the Ravensâ€™ offensive line. Cameron challenged the Patriots although the delay to the slow starting Corey Ross on a third and seven at the New England 20 in the third quarter for a gain of 1 was uncharacteristically timid. The Patriots caught on to Cameronâ€™s strategy later in the game and it exposed the teamâ€™s weakness at offensive tackle.
Rex Ryan: Utilizing a starting unit consisting mostly of reserves, Rex Ryan orchestrated his unorthodox style of defense well, confusing the Patriots early. The team did get a little blitz happy during the contest and the Patriots used that against the Ravens on third down passing situations with less than 10 yards to go. The draws and delays kept Patriot drives alive several times.
John Harbaugh: Tough to grade the head coachâ€™s first NFL game as such but clearly he will allow his coordinators to run the offensive and defensive shows. Heâ€™s more engaged in special teams and in the flow of the game. He wisely challenged one call which should have been reversed. This is preseason football. He could have used the final 1:50 to get Joe Flacco more snaps. But then again, maybe he took the knee on the gameâ€™s final three plays to prevent the young gunslinger from being decapitated. The O-Line play at that point was atrocious.
NOTABLES AND QUOTABLES
"I don’t want to turn the ball over," said Kyle Boller after the game. "That is the most important thing. I think we had some good plays [and] a few solid drives, but we have to continue to work on not turning the ball over." Something tells me that Brian Billickâ€™s influence on Boller will never allow him to grow. He will never improve by playing not to loseâ€¦"What a thrill it was to be the head coach of the Baltimore Ravens and be in front of this group of men. It’s an honor to be part of this organization now." Thatâ€™s Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Somewhere Dick Vermeil is shedding a tear over that commentâ€¦It will be nice when the TV broadcast switches over to WMAR for the next two games. Then we wonâ€™t be bothered with the Maryland State Lottery interruptionâ€¦Both the officials and the radio booth were in preseason form. The referee failed to overturn the ruling on the field when Raymond Ventrone fumbled in the first half. Then they did overturn a call later in the 4th quarter again benefitting Ventrone. There was no irrefutable evidence on the sideline catch sufficient enough to overturn the incomplete ruling on the fieldâ€¦This week in practice Joe Flacco and the offensive line should borrow a theme from a prominent Ravens sponsor: â€œGot to go to work, got to go to workâ€¦WORK, WORK!â€