OWINGS MILLS – The scourge of NFL quarterbacks is in town, an arrival that pits the Baltimore Ravens’ patchwork offensive line against one of the most feared pass rushers in the league.
The last time the Ravens attempted to block Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro outside linebacker Tamba Hali, they won the game and lost the battle against him as he recorded seven tackles and two sacks during a 30-7 AFC wild-card victory in January.
For an offensive line in flux that allowed six sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles to open the preseason a week ago, tonight’s home preseason opener against the Chiefsa at M&T Bank Stadium should provide an accurate barometer of where they stand.
“Just another good test, he got after us a couple times in the playoff game,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “He’s one of those guys that used to only line up on one side and now he plays both sides, so we’re going to have to be aware of where he is like any great pass rusher. It might take some double-teams, some triple-teams. We’ll have to put together some kind of plan or he can create problems.”
The Ravens will be shorthanded again upfront.
Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk remains out after undergoing surgery on his left knee and Bryan Mattison will man the spot for the second week in a row.
Offensive guard Marshal Yanda is sidelined with back spasms, and Oniel Cousins will play right guard after struggling mightily against Eagles defensive end Darryl Tapp in a start at right tackle.
And rookie offensive tackle Jah Reid is lining up at right tackle after Cousins’ ugly game and rough moments of his own against Philadelphia.
“Well, I don’t want to see no sacks,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I definitely want us to do a better job with that. I don’t think we’re going to look like we’re at midseason form, but I’d like to see us be solid in pass protection and get the run game going a little bit.”
Where did the Ravens’ line specifically have problems against the Eagles?
They had trouble matching the speed of Tapp and Trent Cole.
They committed several penalties with Michael Oher flagged for illegal formation to halt one drive.
Whether it was alignment, assignment or technique, they faltered.
“Of course, I want to progress from the first game,”said Reid, a third-round draft pick from Central Florida. “I want to get better, I want to be a little more in control of myself. I want to be on my checks and take care of my responsibilities a little bit more.
“I want to gain some experience and carry that into the other preseason games and into the season. My sets, my steps, my hands, that can all get better. I’ve been working on it all week and can’t wait to see how much I’ve improved.”
Reid decked linebacker Jason Phillips in practice this week.
Even though he had some problems in his NFL debut, the 6-foot-7, 336-pounder is a physical, tough presence.
Reid draws high marks for aggressiveness and power.
“He’s very strong,” Harbaugh said. “He’s just a gifted, gifted guy. Big, strong, he’s a bender, he’s got very long arms. He’s got a little bit of a nasty streak.
"Obviously, he’s more ahead in the run game than he is in the pass protection at this point, which you would expect, but he’s getting it. Just fundamentals, attention to details, assignment, plays with a little bit of poise. Hopefully, the game will slow down for him a little bit."
Playing against Hali, though, will be a tougher challenge for Reid.
The former Penn State star led the AFC with 14 ½ sacks last season.
"It’s a great challenge, going against competition makes you better,” Reid said. “I’ll be able to see what I’ll really be up against later on."
If Reid isn’t up to the task, the Ravens could always shift Yanda back to right tackle where he played last season.
They could also sign a veteran free agent tackle such as Jonathan Stinchcomb or Flozell Adams.
“We’re going to try to work out the best five in some combination,” Cameron said. “It may not be ideal, but it’s probably our best alternative.”
This is a particularly big game for Mattison, the son of former Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
He’s going to be matched opposite former Ravens nose guard Kelly Gregg, who signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Kansas City after being cut by Baltimore last month.
The Ravens are encouraged by how Mattison played last week.
“He actually did a very nice job, and that was a big game for him,” Harbaugh said. “That was the first time he had ever played the position, and if he didn’t do well, it might have been the last time he ever played it realistically. And he did really well, so that’s a plus, but that’s not our starting center. He’s learning, especially how to make the calls.”
Cameron acknowledged that the Ravens’ offensive line still has a lot to prove and room to grow in order to be considered stout on the line.
“We’re going to try to be,” Cameron said. “We really don’t know yet. We are going to know more in the next two or three weeks.”