AUGUST 21 2009
BALTIMORE RAVENS 23, WASHINGTON REDSKINS 3
It’s not that the Ravens starters on offense were all that bad. They weren’t. But they did look disjointed, fumbling and sputtering their way through a largely un-eventful first half of play.
With the new-look Ravens offense held in check by the Washington Redskins, and their own miscues, it was left to the back ups, the defense, and the special teams units to secure a 23-3 win at FedEx Field in Landover.
There is a sense about this offense of waiting to uncork the obvious talents now stocked at every position. And maybe that is the problem for coordinator Cam Cameron.
Given so many “weapons” to finally work with, Cameron’s offense has displayed a near-schizophrenic sense of identity. End-around, two tight-end sets, four wide, screen pass, deep ball, quarterback option. The offense had its moments, but very little flow which is perhaps understandable in a preseason game when teams choose to forgo what they do well in order to work on things they want to do better.
But now, looking forward, with so few position battles left to decide on offense, the Ravens need to narrow their offensive focus, and use the remaining preseason games to perfect the style of play they envision for the regular season.
That sense of focus has served them well in other areas.
On defense, for instance, where the emphasis from day one of training camp has been generating quarterback pressure from the front four – that’s worked!
Improving the kicking game by bringing in veterans Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff. That’s worked.
Cutting down on penalties. That, too, worked in their second preseason game, with just one five-yard penalty in the first half of play for the Ravens, and four penalties on the night.
So while we wait for the team to look more like a team on offense—and in the defensive secondary for that matter—we can still point to some outstanding individual efforts from Saturday night. Ravens24x7.com game balls go out to these five stand-outs:
Terrell Suggs, defensive end
David Reed, wide receiver
Dennis Pitta, tight end
Marc Bulger, quarterback
Haruki Nakamura, special teams
And now, let’s look at the rest of your Baltimore Ravens….
Marc Bulger was fantastic after entering the game near the two-minute warning of the first half and promptly igniting the Ravens second-string offense against the Redskins starters. The former Rams QB was 13 for 16 for 130 yards through the air, spraying the ball to ten different Ravens receivers. He might have been perfect on the night if not for dropped balls by David Reed and Justin Harper and a poor route taken by Ed Dickson. Joe Flacco was not nearly as in-sync, looking like a baseball pitcher who didn’t have all his pitches working that night. Like a veteran, he battled however, throwing a block, scrambling, and dumping off passes to take what the defense gave him. Troy Smith looked one dimensional, quick to pull the ball down and leave the pocket when his first option was not available.
Running Backs: B-
After being mothballed against the Panthers ten days prior, Ray Rice was finally given touches and looked rusty. He dropped a pitch and fumbled on his first two attempts. But he battled through the sloppiness and still managed to get 5+ yards on every touch. Willis McGahee seems to have embraced the role of power back, vulturing a one-yard TD plunge and showing off his lethal stiff arm at the end of a sweep around left tackle. Speaking of power, Le’Ron McClain showed a rhino-like willingness to attack tacklers at the end of each catch and run—he hit Laron Landry so hard that the Redskins safety was forced to recline and call for the trainer, pridefully pretending to deal with a leg cramp as he removed his helmet to clear his head from the collision. Jalen Parmele showed off a twitchy explosiveness that also makes him such a valuable kick returner. Curtis Steele continues to excel at finding holes up the middle by making sharp cuts at the line; he has work to do still as a receiver however. Mike McLaughlin showed better effort as a lead blocker, but not always with perfect results. He did prove that he has soft hands for a former linebacker. The group had seventeen carries for just sixty yards.
Wide Receivers: B-
The battle for the fifth receiver spot was crystallized by the outstanding play of fifth round draft choice David Reed. After entering the game at the start of the second half, the rookie showcased tremendous hands and route-running, catching all four of the balls thrown his way during an impressive 14-play eight-minute, 96-yard scoring drive. He also temporarily snared a would-be TD toss, but the ball was quickly stripped for Reed’s only incompletion. Justin Harper reverted to old ways by dropping one ball and nearly fumbling another after a catch that was instead ruled down by forward progress. Speaking of old ways, Demetrius Williams flashed nice hands on a 12-yard reception midway through the second quarter, but slightly sprained his ankle on the play and didn’t return, opening the door for Reed in the second half. Anquan Boldin made the most of his short stint, hauling in a Joe Flacco 21-yard reception. Marcus Smith had trouble with route running. Derrick Mason looked feisty after the whistle, but not so feisty when needing to fight for first-down yardage. Chalk it up to preseason self preservation. Donte Stallworth was a slippery target down the sideline, sitting down in the soft spots of the zone. Cam Cameron also tried to get him more involved with two end around runs.
Tight Ends: A-
After Ed Dickson’s coming out party against the Panthers, it was fellow rookie Dennis Pitta’s turn to shine as a receiving threat. Pitta looked smart and extremely athletic catching the ball in the seam and turning up field or breaking tackles. His run blocking was improved this week, particularly on the goal line. Dickson was also too much for the Redskins linebackers to handle, showing good hands. He was guilty of running one poor seam route.
Michael Oher started poorly again this week at left tackle, jumping offsides to erase a first down, and demonstrating rough technique as a pass blocker. But he buckled down and improved as the game moved on. On the opposite side Tony Moll may have surprised fans with his steady play, after being forced to start while Jared Gaither and Oniel Cousins were sidelined. He’s not the run blocker that Cousins can be, but he was steadier as a pass blocker. You can see what the coaching staff sees in Ramon Harewood, starting with a wingspan that appears to be borrowed from a man eight-feet tall. Harewood was a wrecking ball as a run blocker, but a wreck as a pass blocker at times. Like Oher, he settled down some with repetition. Devin Tyler struggled.
Interior Line: B
Another solid, not spectacular performance for this group. Matt Birk started despite dealing with a neck issue all week, and looked no worse for wear. Ben Grubbs picked up the pace this week, and was best downfield on screens. Marshal Yanda is pretty much unstoppable pulling left on traps, particularly in goal line packages. Bryan Mattison continues to outplay expectations.
The corners were not severely tested, as the Redskins game-planned to attack the middle of the field. Travis Fisher struggled to contain wide-out Anthony Armstrong, an alum of the Arena League whom the Redskins signed as a street free agent last October. The damage could have been worse if Donovan McNabb showed better accuracy. Fabian Washington started and played sparingly, but showed no rust when breaking on a throw to the end zone, forcing the Redskins to kick a field goal instead of getting the TD. Cary Williams was steady, and showed very good body control to step in front of a long throw intended for Santana Moss. Prince Miller showed good technique in the nickel spot.
The safeties struggled to support the linebackers and corners in pass coverage as Donovan McNabb attacked the middle of the field. They need to play better as a unit in the secondary. Later in the game the unit tightened up. Dawan Landry broke well on a pass intended for Santana Moss and dropped a near interception. Ken Hamlin snared an interception when Rex Grossman left a throw in the receivers’ inside shoulder.
What a strange night for the linebackers, and what a difficult group to grade. They get an “A” for how well they played when the ball was in front of them, and an “F” for how poorly they played the pass behind them. For the second game in a row, from Ray Lewis all the way down to Edgar Jones, they stunk when dropping into coverage. There is a lot of work left to do there. At the same time, they attacked and stopped anything near or behind the line of scrimmage. It was nearly laughable how easily any number of Ravens inside linebackers were able to blitz up the middle of the Redskins offensive line, untouched. Two players stood out for their intensity and disruptiveness: Dannell Ellerbe and Jason Phillips. Meanwhile, on the outside, Terrell Suggs looked like the player the team thought he was when signing him to his last contract. He absolutely exploded off the ball, schooling highly touted rookie Trent Williams. Suggs was also very strong against the run. Jameel McClain and Prescott Burgess also had their share of positive plays. McClain was particularly good as a Spy, reacting to a Santana Moss swing pass. Final roster decisions may come down to whichever player can improve in coverage and special teams over the next two weeks.
Defensive Line: A-
Cory Redding lived up to his reputation as a defender who is able to generate interior pressure. He was particularly impressive on a move across the face of Artis Hicks, forcing the veteran guard to put a choke hold on him to slow progress toward the passer. Haloti Ngata was able to simply push interior linemen into the backfield to disrupt plays. Terrence Cody, while not as active as he had been against the Panthers, was still able to make his mark blowing up the line for a stuff. The unit stopped a number third and short runs, and held the Skins to just 18 yards rushing in the first half. The position battle for back up defensive tackle roles remains murky. Paul Kruger did flash for a near sack, late, but failed to wrap up.
Special Teams: A
The play of the night was Haruki Nakamura in punt formation taking a direct snap from Morgan Cox with just six Redskins in the box. Nakamura’s impressive individual effort caused Benny Blades to miss him at the line of scrimmage and the reserve safety then juked his way 51 yards to the goal line to set up the Ravens only first-half touchdown. Sam Koch was tremendous punting the ball inside the ten. Shayne Graham continues to put kick offs into the end zone, but Billy Cundiff is not far behind. Cundiff was shaky, but good on a 42 yard field goal. On coverages, Antwan Barnes and Jason Phillips both played well.
While the Ravens did not play a perfect game, it was a perfect illustration of what they will need to improve on if they want to taste perfection during the regular season. At the very least, the final few roster spots hinge on it.