The Ravens enter tonight’s fourth preseason game at St. Louis with a much different purpose than what they had last week against the Giants. Preseason week three is all about letting the starters go further into the game, game planning, and actually playing as if it’s a regular season contest. It’s the Super Bowl of sorts for the preseason, if such a thing exists. If you’re a starter or a regular player this week, you’re attitude is what’s the point? Some teams don’t even play their regulars in week four, and they give the game totally to their reserves and to guys trying to make the roster. Only a few Ravens’ starters are expected to play tonight, however they’ll be used extremely sparingly, probably on the first drive of the first quarter.
Even for someone like me who avidly watches preseason football, this week isn’t the most exciting of games. (My attitude about preseason is that it’s better than nothing, however I’m not going to say that it’s the same as a regular season game or anything like that. And in all honesty, I’ll be watching football with my picture-in-picture feature tonight while I watch the O’s.) However when people talk about shortening the preseason, my opinion is that it should stay exactly how it is. Hold on Vadala, how could they go wrong by going to 18 regular season games and two preseason games? Personally I think that the NFL preseason ebbs and flows just as it should. In theory most teams play their starters about one quarter in week one, two quarters in week two, and potentially three quarters in week three, which is the “granddaddy of them all” in terms of games that don’t count. Then come week four the idea is that you get your starters one drive or perhaps half of a quarter just for posterity, and then get them out.
People like to talk about the potential for injuries in the preseason, especially in week four. Would the Ravens be in any worse of a position if Donte Stallworth got hurt tonight as opposed to last week? One way or the other he still injured himself in a meaningless game. With that said, if they trim the schedule down to two preseason games, we suddenly might be seeing starters for more time in both games. Everyone’s trying to say that the on-field product might be better in preseason if they condensed it to two games; wouldn’t the potential for injury then be greater (with the starters seeing more time)? The NFL, just like everything else, is a business, and they want people to consume their product. The fact is that we already do that. Regardless of how you feel about preseason football, you’re an NFL consumer. If you’re one of the 68K or so that own Ravens’ tickets, you buy the preseason tickets regardless of whether you want to or not. And odds are that probably own a jersey, hat, car flag, etc. If they keep the preseason like it is, they won’t make any more or less money than they already do (and let me tell you, they already make a lot). However as I said, if you suddenly put players in a position where they’re probably playing more, you heighten your risk for injury.
Ultimately if there’s such a thing as a throw-away game, this is probably it (from the perspective of fans and starting players). Football junkies like myself will be watching, but I highly doubt you’re going to see people heading to liquor stores to buy cases of beer, chips, etc, because the boys are coming over for the game. However if you’re an undrafted rookie or a guy that’s fighting to make the team, this is your season right here. There are jobs on the line tonight, so in that sense it’s a big game. Ultimately nobody’s going to care if Mark Bulger goes two-for-three with an interception tonight, but if Ken Hamlin makes a big hit, that’s going to make a difference in John Harbaugh’s eyes. Consequently, if someone fumbles the football away or whiffs on a block, that weighs in the coaches’ minds as well. Ultimately in the backs of everyone’s minds the key is the same is it is in every preseason game, and that’s to escape with no injuries.