Can't You See The Real Me: A Ravens-Eagles Preseason Recap
"Where has our team gone? Why?" - My mom during last night's preseason game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles.
If last night is any indication, the 2011 Ravens season could generously be called a “transition year.”
Thankfully its only the first preseason game and has no actual bearing on how things will ultimately turn out. So pay no attention to how anemic the Ravens looked on offense or how poor their tackling was on defense last night against the Eagles. The season is a long journey and last night was only Step 1.
But if last night taught Raven fans anything its this, to borrow the words of Rick Pitino: Todd Heap ain’t walkin’ through that door. Derrick Mason ain’t walkin’ through that door and Willie Anderson ain’t walkin’ through that door.
The youth movement is on in Baltimore, and it’s better that these young players have growing pains now and gain experience. Really any preseason game that ends with no serious injuries to your key players is a successful preseason game. Only Redskins fans care about preseason wins and losses.
That being said, there were a number of observations I had about last night’s underwhelming 13-6 defeat at the hands of the Eagles.
----What in the world has happened to the Ravens offensive line? Two years ago, this looked like one of the most promising units in the league. Last year, they regressed and gave up 40 sacks. Last night, Joe Flacco was running for his life early and often. Not a good sign. Once again, the problem starts with the right tackle position, which is unsettled, as it always seems to be with the Ravens.
Last year, Marshal Yanda manned the spot after Michael Oher was moved to left tackle. But Yanda is a natural right guard and fits better there. Coach John Harbaugh would prefer Oniel Cousins – who started last night – because of his experience. But in his limited appearances Cousins has been a magnet for false start penalties and a turnstile when he does manage to stay onside. The team has been raving about rookie Jah Reid, and he’s likely to be the man there when all is said and done, but he’s unproven. Second-year man Ramon Harewood is also in the mix. He has good size but is a project that also lacks experience.
Needless to say, LaMarr Woodley is probably licking his chops in anticipation of going against any of those gentlemen in the season opener.
Another big question mark is the center position where the Ravens are depending on Matt Birk and his 36-year-old, surgically repaired knees. I wasn’t a big Chris Chester fan, but he was a swing guy that could play center or guard. Casey Rabach – whose name always reminds me of Casey Ryback, Steven Seagal’s character in “Under Siege” – was signed to fill that role but he failed his physical, leaving the Ravens thin in the middle. If Birk’s knees give out – and those odds are high – the Ravens are in trouble.
Finally there’s Oher, who was at his best two years ago at right tackle, but in his move back to “The Blind Side” last season, was occasionally abused by top-notch pass rushers, most notably Tamba Hali and James Harrison in the playoffs. He was also a magnet for false start penalties. The o-line situation better get straightened out or Flacco is going to get killed, which would, at this time, give us…
----…Rookie Tyrod Taylor as our quarterback. Taylor was VERY shaky against the Eagles, and even that may be a generous interpretation. Taylor was intercepted twice and sacked three times. In his defense, the Ravens like Taylor’s skill set and it is the first preseason game the kid’s ever played. I’m sure things were coming at him a million MPH. We all remember how shaky Flacco was in his first preseason game and he ended the year playing in the AFC Championship Game, so you never know how things will play out.
But Ozzie Newsome may want to see if he can talk Marc Bulger out of retirement because the Ravens are screwed if the Taylor that played last night has to start. Don’t be surprised if the Ravens bring in a veteran sometime soon, preferably one that doesn’t need a lot of reps. You’d prefer to let Taylor develop and take his lumps in preseason but without the pressure of going into the regular season as the No.2 quarterback.
----Last night was also the debut of the Ravens two newest receivers, rookies Tandon Doss and Torrey Smith.
I was impressed with Doss, the fourth round pick out of Indiana. Doss was Flacco’s personal draft choice this year and you can see why Joe liked him. He has a little T.J. Houshmandzadeh (the Cincinnati version) in him: he’s tall, lanky and unafraid to catch the ball in traffic.
Smith didn’t do much last night, but the team envisions him as its version of Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace, a down-the-field speed merchant.
Still, these two kids shouldn’t be thrust into a No.2 receiver role and apparently management agreed, by trading for Buffalo’s Lee Evans, a proven veteran who should be a better fit in that spot. Doss though could be a great No.3, filling the possession role Mason used to have.
The other offensive player that impressed last night was second year tight end Dennis Pitta. While the team expects another second-year tight end, Ed Dickson, to win the job, Pitta acquitted himself well, showing good receiving skills. It would be nice to have both Dickson and Pitta contribute this year. One of them will have to with Heap in Arizona now.
----The defense looked fine, although the tackling, especially by safety Haruki Nakamura, was brutal at times. The D had a very difficult time getting off the field on third down, which was troubling.
----In my eyes, the Ravens best defensive player last night was fifth-round rookie Pernell McPhee of Mississippi State. He showed good explosion off the line and was able to get penetration into the Eagles backfield.
Second year man Art Jones is also improved. Jones trained with his brother, an MMA fighter, in the offseason and looks ripped. Jones and McPhee likely earned themselves the chance at more playing time and possibly a spot in the Ravens d-line rotation with last night’s effort.
----Many Ravens fans were looking forward to the debut of Sergio Kindle, the second-round pick from last year that missed the season with a skull fracture. By all accounts, Kindle has been a beast in training camp but we didn’t see that last night. The team desperately needs Kindle to develop into a pass-rushing force to help keep double teams off Terrell Suggs. Let’s chalk up last night to game-speed rust since Kindle hasn’t played a game in nearly two years.
----Tom Zbikowski may start the year as the starting strong safety, but don’t be surprised if Bernard Pollard finishes the year there. While Zibby is more of a Jim Leonhard-type back there, Pollard is a thumper who makes you remember him when he tackles you. He’s just the sort of guy that can knock the smile off Hines Ward’s face, and who wouldn’t want to see that?