It Was A Preseason Game, I Get It….

August 14, 2009 | Glenn Clark

……but damn did they look pretty good.

The Baltimore Ravens’ 23-0 victory over the Washington Redskins Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium will ultimately mean nothing. It won’t count in the standings, the coaches will downplay the work that was put into the game, and the players will tell you (maybe not publicly) that they weren’t really even trying.

However, the effort shown by the Ravens in victory has to be considered almost exactly what this team’s coaches were hoping for. In fact, despite the fact that John Harbaugh said after the game “Obviously we have a whole lot of work to do”, you can’t help but wonder where that work will be done. Harbaugh referenced the number of penalties (9 for 70 yards), but many of those came late in the game when things didn’t really appear to matter that much anymore.

Where were the other areas for improvement? Well……

The offense was crisp for the bulk of the time the first two units were on the field. Joe Flacco lead the team on scoring drives during both of the drives where he was at the helm. Neither were TD’s, but the offense moved the ball methodically each time (13 plays for 67 yards and 14 plays for net 71 yards respectively). There was a nice mix of passing and rushing on each drive (15 passing plays, 11 rushing plays on the two drives), and without using any out-of-the-box play calling; the Ravens mixed things up on both drives.

Troy Smith was equally successful leading the team; leading them to scores on 2 of his first 4 drives, including the excellent 2-minute drill before the half. Even John Beck sparked a touchdown drive before leaving with an unspecified injury.

Certainly the Ravens did more in the air than on the ground; likely to not risk injury to any of the team’s top backs. But on just 25 carries as a team, the Ravens still managed to ground out a 4 yard per carry average (101 yards total), highlighted by Cedric Peerman’s TD scamper. Ray Rice showed off his versatility, combining for 60 yards (22 on the ground, 38 via the air) in short playing time. The team’s receivers combined for 408 yards, including key first down catches from Kelley Washington and a TD strike brought down by Justin Harper following a pair of drops earlier in the game.

The Offensive Line allowed just one sack (John Beck was sacked in the final minute of the 3rd quarter by some dude named J.D. Skolnitsky); but Troy Smith was forced to flush out on multiple occasions. They opened up holes for the running backs, although no back was sprung for a run longer than Willis McGahee’s 16-yard scamper. It was a solid performance even if not perfect.

Defensively, all the Ravens managed to accomplish was a shutout. That shutout included 3 sacks, 4 TFL’s, and 2 turnovers. The Redskins never advanced the ball inside the Ravens’ 30-yard line. And they did it without really using any blitzes.

The Special Teams units weren’t necessarily perfect, but still good. John Harbaugh was none too pleased with Graham Gano missing a short field goal try on the game’s final play despite a high snap, saying, “It’s on the kicker to find a way to knock it through.” Chris Carr dropped one punt return (and recovered), but figured out a way to average nearly 14 yards over 3 combined kick and punt returns. Sam Koch averaged a net 37.4 yards on 5 punts, including 3 that pinned the Redskins inside their own 20.

It was an overwhelmingly good performance.

I will be the first to admit that it’s hard for me to not get carried away by the performance.

I always tend to view preseason games as teams taking strategy out of the equation and just going out and playing football. If that was the case, the Ravens proved to be FAR superior at football to the Redskins. Again, if that was the case Thursday night, I would imagine the Ravens would only be MORE superior once strategy and coaching are added to the equation. I can’t help but wonder how many times Cam Cameron thought to himself “this is exactly the place where we could turn Troy loose” or “this is exactly where we could go to a flea flicker.” I would think the team could only be MORE effective once Greg Mattison (who received the game ball from Ray Lewis afterwards) can unleash Terrell Suggs on opposing QB’s.

Alas, it was STILL just a meaningless scrimmage against the Ravens’ neighbors to the south.

It WASN’T a real preview of what we should expect to see for the rest of the season.

It was a fake football game, played on an odd night when the football world was rocked by news elsewhere in the NFL.

The biggest things that happened tonight were the bad things; including the potential loss of WR Marcus Smith for the season (Knee-likely ACL) from a receiving corps that couldn’t afford to lose anyone else.

It wasn’t real.

But damn did it look good.