This was one of those dog games of August

August 24, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

PHILADELPHIA - Ravens coach Brian Billick says he will be patient and accept gradual improvement, but there wasn't much last night in the Ravens' third preseason game, a 13-12 win against the Philadelphia Eagles at Veterans Stadium.

The game was ugly, and the Ravens' first-string units were outplayed in all three areas - special teams, defense and offense. Last week, in a 34-16 loss to the New York Jets, Billick suggested his team had tired legs.

Last night, the Ravens' all-around game was tired. The defense looked lost at times, and there was little enthusiasm. Veteran teams don't show a lot of emotion in the preseason, but the Ravens are still in the infancy stage.

Thanks goodness it is only the preseason. Maybe that's the only positive to come out of last night's game.

It was disturbing because some of the veterans didn't play well, either. Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis got smacked around in the middle, cornerback James Trapp looked slow, and right offensive tackle Edwin Mulitalo had trouble pass blocking.


And then there was left cornerback Chris McAlister. This week he complained about a new contract, but the Ravens should ask him for a refund after last night.

Message to McAlister: Play now, negotiate later.

But he was just one of many starters to take the night off. If you were looking for a cure for insomnia, watch a delayed broadcast of the Ravens game.

Even after the loss to the Jets, there were some bright signs. Running back Jamal Lewis was impressive in his return, as was rookie halfback Chester Taylor in his debut. Quarterback Chris Redman ran the short passing offense with precision, Mulitalo had a decent game, and the Ravens even looked like they had an offensive philosophy.

But last night, Redman struggled without Jamal Lewis in the lineup. He often threw behind his receivers, even on short passes. He also showed why the Ravens might have to play short ball this season. Even on a 33-yard pass to Travis Taylor in the second quarter, the ball wobbled and hung in the air. Minutes later, Redman tried to throw a long out pattern to receiver Brandon Stokley. His pass had more hang time than a Dave Zastudil punt, and the only reason it wasn't intercepted and returned for a touchdown was because cornerback Al Harris dropped it.

Redman, though, was harassed all night. The Ravens were haunted by an old problem: blitzes up the middle. Mulitalo was getting beat by several Eagles, including tackle Darwin Walker and end Brandon Whiting, mostly through his inside shoulder.

A week ago Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations, became perturbed when a reporter asked him how long the Mulitalo experiment would last.

"Is Bob Brown available? Is Anthony Munoz out there?" Newsome asked sarcastically.

Well, it's time to ask that question again, Mr. Newsome. The Ravens need to make a decision at right tackle soon. If they don't get better along that offensive line, they'll be shuffling quarterbacks all season. You had to hold your breath when defensive tackle Darwin Walker nailed Redman in the back on the last play of the first half.

Backup quarterback Jeff Blake was under just as much pressure with the first team in the first half when the Ravens fell behind 6-0 and converted on only one of six third-down situations. The Ravens' first offensive unit hasn't scored a touchdown yet in the preseason.

After the game, Billick downplayed the lack of scoring, but it bugs him. This team hasn't had an offense in three years and doesn't have one now.

Defensively, it was the second straight week the Ravens had problems. Eagles running backs were especially open in the flats. Halfback Duce Staley had a 19-yard reception in the right flat in the first quarter, and Dorsey Levens caught another one for 10 yards a play later. There were times when Ravens defenders weren't within 10 yards.

The Eagles also had success running the ball. They had 51 yards on 12 carries in the first half and had success getting to the Ravens linebackers, especially Lewis.

"I thought we did well in the red zone," said Ray Lewis. He said Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb "does what he does and made some plays. We bothered him enough to make him miss some short throws. This field is tough for fast defenses, and we have a lot of young guys who can run. We were slipping some."

The Eagles have a fast defense. They didn't have any problems with the footing. The Ravens can find excuses and try to put a positive spin on the game, but the only thing that kept them in the game in the first half was McNabb's inability to connect on short passes, mostly his own fault.

But that didn't stop him from taking advantage of McAlister. Todd Pinkston beat McAlister for a 35-yard reception late in the first quarter and James Thrash had McAlister beaten for a possible 29-yard touchdown down the right sideline minutes later, but McNabb underthrew him.

After that, McAlister was backing off the receivers by 10 yards.

"We just needed to do better on first downs and put them in long situations," said Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan.

The Ravens need to do better in a lot of things. They gave up too much yardage on punt returns. They were called for illegal formations several times. They were out-hit and outplayed for a second straight week, this time by an Eagles team that had struggled in two previous preseason games.

Maybe that's what you can take out of last night's game if you're looking for a positive. The Ravens didn't have defensive starters Michael McCrary and Peter Boulware, and running back Jamal Lewis, and these games don't count for another couple of weeks.

Thank goodness it's preseason.

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