Ravens falter on third down, nearly everywhere else in preseason opener

August 11, 2011 | Luke Jones

PHILADELPHIA — While most concern lies with the changes to the Ravens’ offensive personnel through the first two weeks of training camp, the starting defense — or second and third units, for that matter — raised plenty of concerns on their own Thursday night.

In the Eagles’ 13-6 win over the Ravens, the Baltimore defense struggled to get off the field on third down, continually missing tackles and failing to force incompletions. The numbers were particularly troubling in the first half with key personnel on the field through the first 30 minutes. Philadelphia was 4-for-4 on third-down conversions in the first quarter and 5-for-7 by halftime.

“We were in position to make the tackle in the backfield, including two sacks, and we didn’t make the plays,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We have to get off the field in those third-down situations, and we didn’t in the first half.”

The only touchdown of the game came on the Eagles’ opening drive when Michael Vick threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Brent Celek with starting inside linebacker Jameel McClain covering. McClain struggled in the first quarter, allowing two completions and missing a tackle on Ronnie Brown on a beautifully-designed run blitz.

That scoring play was set up by a 42-yard pass to Riley Cooper, who slipped behind Chris Carr and Ed Reed on the long completion.

Philadelphia’s third-down success continued throughout the evening as the Eagles converted 10 of 16 for the game.

Separation anxiety

Concerns at the receiver position only grew louder as Baltimore receivers failed to get separation throughout the night.

Joe Flacco finished 3-for-6 for 60 yards in his only quarter of work and failed to complete a pass to a wide receiver. In fact, the Ravens did not have a receiver make a catch until the 6:15 mark of the second quarter when Tyrod Taylor completed a 6-yard throw to rookie Tandon Doss.

Doss finished with three catches for 26 yards to lead all Baltimore wide receivers through the first three quarters. In fact, no other wideout caught a pass until the fourth quarter when LaQuan Williams had three receptions for 46 yards and Justin Harper grabbed two catches for 17 yards.

Rookie Torrey Smith made the start opposite Anquan Boldin, but the former Maryland standout appeared hesitant in running routes against the talented Philadelphia secondary. He was targeted three times but failed to make a catch.

The only highlight of the passing game was tight end Dennis Pitta, making the start in place of the injured Ed Dickson. Pitta made a spectacular catch off the back of safety Kurt Coleman on the first play from scrimmage and finished the evening with four catches for 47 yards.

“Everything just kind of slows down in year two,” said Pitta, referring to his rookie season in which he caught just one pass for one yard. “I felt a lot more comfortable out there. Felt like I had pretty good chemistry with Joe today. We didn’t get a ton of series to work together, but the ones that we did, I felt like we were on the same page pretty well.”

Backup blues

The struggles of rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor made it painfully obvious how badly the Ravens need to explore the market for a veteran backup quarterback.

In fairness, Taylor found himself running for his life for much of the night, but his two interceptions were costly, one coming at the goal line when Jarrad Page picked off a pass intended for Doss. The Virginia Tech product finish his night going 19-for-28 for 179 yards.

“Tyrod did some good things,” Camerson said. “He’s a young man who learns quickly, and you almost see improvement every play. I’ll say one thing: It’s not too big for him. He has poise.”

Poise or not, it’s hard to feel comfortable with the rookie as the No. 2 quarterback — even with a month to go until the start of the regular season.

Stepping up

Third-year rush specialist Paul Kruger has received rave reviews from teammates throughout training camp, and his first-half performance on Thursday night only confirmed their high praise.

Kruger led the Ravens with five tackles and collected a sack of backup Vince Young in the final minute of the first quarter. The former Utah defensive end will be heavily counted upon to boost the Ravens’ pass rush that struggled to make quarterbacks uncomfortable last season.

“It’s always nice to make plays, but overall, the goal is to win the game, and unfortunately, we came up short,” Kruger said. “Definitely take the good and run with it, and we have a couple things we need to work on. Hopefully a better outcome next week.”

Odds & ends

The Ravens did not have any injuries on Thursday night, although Taylor briefly left the game in the third quarter after taking another brutal hit from the Philadelphia defense. He returned a few plays later, however. … Of the seven combined kickoffs between the two teams, all but one were touchbacks. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff had three touchbacks in his three kickoff attempts. … The Ravens had an apparent touchdown in the third quarter when rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee stripped Eagles quarterback Mike Kafka, and Lardarius Webb returned the fumble 93 yards for a touchdown. However, the replay assistant called for a review of the fumble ruling — all scoring plays are subject to booth reviews this season — and the play was was deemed an incomplete pass, giving the ball back to Philadelphia and erasing the defensive score.