August 13, 2009
On a muggy Baltimore evening at M&T Bank stadium, the Ravens opened the preseason in their visitor whites and promptly whitewashed a sluggish-looking Washington Redskins team, 23-0. Baltimore showed some inconsistencies, understandably, but were otherwise dominant from start to finish – not just the final score but virtually every statistical category.
The Ravens racked-up 500 yards of total offense on 21 first downs, compared to 196 and 11 for the Redskins. The team converted on third down at a better-than 50% clip, and had no turnovers. Washington was held to one first down on eleven third-down tries, while committing two turnovers. The Redskins also lost the time-of-possession battle by over ten minutes, even though five Ravens running backs amassed just 24 carries on the night, compared to 54 Ravens passing attempts.
Okay, it was a preseason game. The final score didn’t matter. Still, I would not want to be writing the Redskins Report Card today.
If preseason games are a learning experience, as Redskins coach Jim Zorn claimed afterwards, here’s what we know so far about the Ravens. Their new-found depth in the defensive and offensive backfields seems to be real. Five running backs, in particular, and three quarterbacks all logged impressive performances for this stage of the preseason. The Ravens cornerbacks and safeties were largely untested, but when they were they passed with flying colors.
The team needs some defensive work covering the short and intermediate passing game. And on offense it needs to find some quality depth on the offensive line. Those will be areas to keep an eye on throughout the remainder of the preseason.
Individual position battles were not exactly settled, but a few performances did stand out.
This was a chance for Ravens fans to see all quarterbacks, and all three had their moments. The biggest positive may have been the ability to spread the ball around the field. Last season, rookie Joe Flacco relied heavily on Derrick Mason, and looked nearly exclusively over the top of the defense and outside the hash marks. Thursday, Flacco showed patience in making his reads and was effective checking down to his backs. Troy Smith was inaccurate early after entering in the second quarter, but seemed to gain confidence, particular after connecting with Justin Harper for the team’s first touchdown. His less than 50% completion percentage on thirty tosses is a bit misleading since his receivers showed inconsistent hands. Smith was most impressive doing his Ben Roethlisberger impression, slipping blitzers and making plays on the fly. John Beck was up and down and did nothing to prove he should be ahead of Smith on the depth chart.
Running Backs: A
The Ravens appear to be loaded at this position. Where were these guys in 2001? (High school, I know). Matt Lawrence was the big surprise, impressive with his size and burst. Ray Rice per Camp Notes was as impressive as advertised out of the backfield as a pass catcher. Willis McGahee looks lighter and appeared to barely touch the turf as he ran, averaging 6.5 yards on just four carries.
Wide Receivers: B-
Justin Harper typified the inconsistency for the evening. At times he looked dominant, embarrassing Redskins defenders. Other times he showed hands of stone and stones of, well, not good. With consistency, he could become a nice target over the middle and so could Kelly Washington. It was nice to see Derrick Mason and Demetrius Williams log minutes, however uneventful. And it was unfortunate to see Marcus Smith lost for the year with a knee injury while covering a punt. Jayson Foster was a pleasant surprise hauling in a near interception and turning it into a 68 yard catch and run.
Tight Ends: B
On a night when fifteen Ravens caught passes, the tight ends were quiet. Converted defensive end Edgar Smith may have been the most impressive hauling in two catches. LJ Smith easily outran shoddy linebacker coverage to haul in a 35 yard toss from Troy Smith. Rookie Davon Drew made a nice seal block on Cedric Peerman’s TD burst off left edge.
Rookie tackle Micheal Oher put in a top effort, losing his hat twice, once on an impressive pancake block at end of first down run. The result was a nasty forehead gash, but Oher returned in the second quarter. With Jared Gaither sitting for the night Oniel Cousins played all night. He impressed on run blocking but struggled badly in pass protection, showing poor footwork and getting slapped for multiple holding infractions. The Ravens may be forced to bring in a veteran tackle for depth, if this group does not step up.
Interior Line: B
With few running attempts this group was not tested much. Chris Chester may have been the most impressive, picking up on the progress he showed last year. Matt Birk revealed a serious lack of speed, not seen since the days of Mike Flynn, pulling around the left end.
The corners seemed to keep the Skins receivers in check. There was some confusion for Dominique Foxworth who released Marques Hagans to the outside and left him wide open, but Jason Campbell overthrew a wide open receiver. Evan Oglesby looked a bit slow and may have trouble sticking on this deep squad.
Great to see Dawan Landry back, who looked strong on a run blitz for a loss. Derrick Martin, making switch to safety, made a nice break on an interception of Colt Brennan, although a clear pass interference was not called.
Ravens linebackers filled on run stops, but struggled to cover receivers in the flat. Time and again Antwan Barnes and Jamal McClain showed they were unblockable on blitzes but struggled to wrap up tackles on the quarterback. Barnes also dropped a sure interception. In limited action, rookie Jason Phillips showed better than advertised side to side quickness. Tavares Gooden just might inspire this question as the season progress: “Bart who?”
Defensive Line: B+
Much-talked about undrafted free agent Dannell Ellerbe started strong by closing fast on an opening kick off tackle, but was later flagged for holding. Chris Carr struggled a bit fielding punts. The kicking competition was not settled. Three perfect field goals, two by Hauschka and one by Gano before Gano missed in the final ticks of the game on a bad snap. Gano appeared to have the advantage with very lofty kick offs.