The Ravens open their preseason schedule tonight against the Carolina Panthers at M & T Bank Stadium. I’ve always thought that NFL fans had a love/hate relationship with preseason football. I know people that get all “stoked” up for heading out to training camp every year to see what the team looks like. Yet when it comes to the actual preseason games, most people don’t have that same enthusiasm. Speaking for myself, I have absolutely no desire to spend a day at training camp. As Allen Iverson infamously told us years ago, “…it’s just practice!” I have no problem with preseason games, as at the very least it’s a football game in a real stadium, against another team, with refs, play calls, fans, hot dogs, etc. Understandably, some people don’t want to go to the games because the starters don’t play the entire time, and thus in their opinion the “product” is watered-down. I suppose I could understand that to a certain degree, however…it’s still football people!
So with that in mind, what can be expected from the Ravens tonight? John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that the starters would get approximately the first quarter of the game on both sides of the ball. Speaking for myself, I’ve always liked to see the starters play for a quarter in week one (of preseason), the first half in week two, three quarters in week three, and perhaps for one series in the preseason finale. One would think that one quarter would give starters on both sides of the ball approximately two series’ in the game. Everyone always prefaces preseason talk with comments to the effect of, “…our goal is not to get anyone hurt.” NFL teams are scheduled to play 20 games, with the slate being wiped clean after the first four. The goal in all 20 of those games should be first and foremost to win, but also not to get anyone injured.
The fact is that the Ravens come into this game a bit nicked up. They’ve already lost Domonique Foxworth for the season with a torn ACL. Jared Gaither and Chris Carr will likely not see action merely as a precaution. Cornerback Fabian Washington is also coming off of a torn ACL, and might play tonight however he also might be a late scratch. The Ravens will also have Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff split the kicking duties tonight, with each player taking a turn to kick field goals/PAT’s, and kick-offs. Let us not forget that last year the Ravens cut ties with former kicker Matt Stover and named Steve Hauschka their full-time kicker. Hauschka went made nine out of thirteen attempts, however he was cut in November after he missed a key field goal in a game. So the kicking battle might be one that’s closely watched this season seeing that the Ravens dropped a probable hall-of-fame kicker which ultimately bit them in the rear in 2009.
Offensively I suppose that if the Ravens can put at least one TD on the board you could call it a success. I would also throw in perhaps a “big play” (20 yds plus) for them to truly come away from the game happy. With the addition of Anquan Boldin, the Ravens now have two major threats in their arsenal at wide receiver, and a confident young QB in Flacco to get them the ball. As I said in a previous column, that in itself might cause teams to “zone up” on the Ravens more often, which will open up space underneath for Tood Heap to get open. So if the first quarter constitutes two offensive drives, I’d like to see the Ravens perhaps open the game with a big play in their first drive, and cap their second off with a touchdown. On defense, we know that they’ll stuff the run without much trouble. However last season the secondary was a huge question mark, and with Foxworth out you can bet that the Panthers will be looking to throw the deep ball a few times and see if they can pick up some yardage downfield.
I will admitt…I’m looking forward to seeing Jimmy Clausen get some reps for Carolina. Luckily for him that will probably come well after the likes of Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata are safely on the sidelines. I think that Clausen has a chance to be a star in the NFL, and I’ll even admitt that I think it’s a mistake for coach John Fox not to start Clausen as a rookie. I used to be of the mindset that when you drafted a QB out of college you should grant him the luxury of holding the clipboard for a few years and letting him learn behind a veteran quarterback. However with college football becoming bigger and bigger, the rookie QB’s of today are much more polished than those of even ten or fifteen years ago. I highly doubt that Panthers’ fans are thinking that Matt Moore is going to take them to the promised land, so why not start Clausen? Nevertheless, whether you like preseason or not, it’s football one way or the other people…enjoy it!