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What a perfect night for football – even if it was an exhibition game. Comfortable temperatures, low humidity, a near full house, fans eagerly awaiting the debut of the John Harbaugh edition of the Baltimore Ravens. Those of you who, like me, have been feeding on the infectious enthusiasm of our new head coach, received our first rude awakening of 2008. Based on what I saw Saturday night, it might not be the last. Here’s what I saw from Section 134.
I can sum it up in two words: Ray Rice. This kid seems to be the real deal. Ray had a strong game against one of the best run defenses in the league. I just hope the Ravens don’t wear him out in the preseason. Other things I saw: Jarrett Johnson continued his strong training camp with his non-stop motor and Derrick Martin played the best out of what was an atrocious performance by the defensive backs. Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura played decently in the backfield and on special teams. Those two are keepers.
There was no degree of separation between quarterbacks, and I was really hoping to see one. Only Troy Smith’s scampering ability prevented him from having an awful night. His best plays were the hand offs to Ray Rice. He made a nice scramble when a Vikings’ lineman almost took his head off, but the league is not made for scrambling on a consistent basis. Because of height limitations, his only effective throws came from sprint outs. He forced a throw to Mark Clayton that was intercepted. Smith’s half came to an end with a thud.
Kyle Boller was marginally better. He hit his first 8 passes but they were garden variety possession throws. He did nothing Ravens fans haven’t seen before, including making some poor decisions and getting mauled on a couple of pass plays. The kid plays with a lot of heart and a big arm, but little else. Joe Flacco was much better this time than against the Patriots, but it looks like he’s not in the conversation for the starting job – thankfully.
The offensive line remains my biggest concern. Once Jared Allen got his bearings, he took Chris Slaughter to the cleaners. The younger linemen all need work on technique and strength. Conversely, the Ravens had no pass rush in the first half when the Vikings did most of their damage.
I hope, I really, really hope that Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle come back from injuries. Ravens corners made Tavaris Jackson look like Joe Montana. Who knows what he would have done if he hadn’t sprained a knee? Frank Walker, Corey Ivy, and Ronnie Prude were beaten all night. Fabian Washington disappeared after his strong game last week. Walker talks a much better game than he plays. Shut up and play, Frank. The Ravens couldn’t stop the Vikings on 3rd down for most of the game. If the Vikes needed a first down, they just paid a visit to the Ravens secondary. It wouldn’t surprise me if two, if not more, of these d-backs hit the street in the next week or so as the starters come back and Ravens scour the waiver wire for more help on the O-line.
Theatre of the Absurd
This edition of Theatre of the Absurd (post Brett Favre edition) highlights the decision by Roger Goodell to police fan behavior. Like the Ravens haven’t been doing this since M&T opened with their “Don’t be a Jerk!” announcements?
I’ve seen fans escorted from the stands in just about every game I’ve attended. But how will this be monitored and policed? Will there be League Office snitches sitting in the stands looking for unruly behavior? Will visiting fans have a hot-line number to report harassment? Will the teams have to voluntarily disclose how many fans are ejected on a weekly basis? Friendly, verbal harassment of visiting fans has been a time-honored tradition in my section (OK – maybe it’s not so friendly when Steelers fans are around. And we may reach a new plateau of rudeness in December when the Redskins come to town).
Nonetheless, Roger Goodell’s time would be better served if he continues to purge the league of thugs, drug abusers, and felons. He’s doing a great job there. Let the teams police their own fans.
A Perfect End
I can’t close this column without a nod to the Ravens who arranged with NBC to show Michael Phelps’ final race of the 2008 Olympiad at M&T Bank. What a great idea; what a great venue, what a great race! It was worth the wait. Like most Baltimoreans, I have a tremendous sense of civic pride in what Phelps has done. It’s just another example of how the Ravens try to take the interests of their fans into account. Look for Michael Phelps to be the Ravens’ honorary captain on September 7th.