Defense does it again, lifts Ravens, 17-6

But offense, QB Boller remain inconsistent in victory over Lions

C. Taylor rushes for two TDs

Defense `starting to jell,' says R. Lewis, as team moves to 2-1 in preseason

August 29, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Summer is known as the season for reruns, and apparently, the same goes for the Ravens' preseason.

Last night's 17-6 win over the Detroit Lions was another example of the Ravens' tradition of strong defense and flaky offense.

Chester Taylor's two touchdown runs were the primary highlights for what had been a lethargic offensive display at M&T Bank Stadium.

The third-year backup running back opened the second half by showing his speed on an 84-yard dash and then closed the Ravens' scoring in the fourth quarter by displaying his determination on a 10-yard run.

"I'm ready. That's why they drafted me and that's why I'm here," Taylor said. "When my number is called, I've just got to go up in there and step in."

Taylor, who rushed for 117 yards on 10 carries, helped raise the Ravens' preseason record to 2-1. More importantly, he lessened the concerns about how the Ravens would do if they lose Jamal Lewis for an extended period at midseason because of his federal drug trial.

"You saw what we've come to expect out of Chester because he's been real solid for us," coach Brian Billick said.

Meanwhile, the concerns about Kyle Boller continue to linger. The second-year starting quarterback finished 9-for-14 for 93 yards and sandwiched his best drive of the preseason - which resulted in a field goal - in between other forgettable series.

"There were good things, bad things," Billick said. "Some things have got to get better. Some things he did very, very well."

Inconsistency has been the nagging problem with Boller, who was 4-for-5 for 55 yards in his first scoring drive and 5-for-9 for 38 yards the rest of the time.

One moment Boller was in rhythm, hitting receivers deep downfield at a solid clip. The next he was tripping over a lineman while dropping back (which has become a weekly occurrence) or missing a wide-open Randy Hymes on a third-down play that could have produced a first down.

"I feel like I've made strides from the first preseason game to now," Boller said.

It hasn't helped Boller that the only consistent part of the passing game has been haphazard protection. It seemed like only the officials' flags (11 penalties) were on the ground more than Boller last night.

What did develop last night was Boller's connection with new receiver Kevin Johnson. Without two starters out with injuries - tight end Todd Heap (shoulder) and receiver Travis Taylor (groin) - Boller looked to Johnson on six of his 12 attempts in the first half, plus two attempts that were nullified by penalties.

Johnson had his most productive game of the preseason, with three catches for 40 yards.

"You know we brought Kevin in for a reason, to catch the ball," Boller said. "He did a great job of that tonight. Every time I throw him the ball, he catches it."

Counting Taylor's touchdown and the field goal produced in the first half, the Ravens' starting offense has produced 20 points (two touchdowns, two field goals) in 18 drives this preseason.

The Ravens, who entered last night as the league's top-ranked defense in the preseason, did little to taint that mark.

With linebacker Ray Lewis, the defense gave up 71 yards and one field goal in one quarter of work. The starting defense has allowed just 13 points in three preseason games and just three in two home games.

"We're starting to jell now," Lewis said. "We still have some missing pieces to fill, but the pieces we have now are giving us what we need."

More than a third of the Lions' yards came on a 27-yard catch by Charles Rogers during an emotional, first-quarter swing.

The first time Ravens rookie punt returner B.J. Sams touched the ball this preseason appeared to result in an 89-yard touchdown, but it was negated by a running-into-the-kicker penalty by Musa Smith.

Although the return was wiped out, it was not forgotten by the Ravens' coaching staff. Sams, an undrafted rookie free agent, who later danced along the sideline on a 15-yard return, further secured his hold on the return specialist job.

"You see the potential," special teams coordinator Gary Zauner said. "He fielded the ball well, he read the blockers, and he can make people miss. The kid has talent."

Smith's penalty gave Detroit the ball back, and Lions quarterback Joey Harrington found Rogers over the middle for his longest throw of the game.

Beyond that, the Ravens' defense continued an impressive preseason in which it has given up just one touchdown in three weeks.

"Not giving up points is something we take pride in," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "It's our job to keep those guys from scoring and, if we can do that, we make the offense's job a lot easier."

The pace established by the starting defense carried into the second half, when reserve safety Gerome Sapp emerged as a playmaker.

The former sixth-round pick had a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and an interception. His pickoff at the Lions' 25-yard line set up Taylor's touchdown run.

The Ravens will close out their preseason on the road against the New York Giants on Thursday night, when Billick wants a change in the team's mind-set.

"The physical intensity was fine but the focus was not good," Billick said. "I told the guys that I get a sense that some of us are waiting for the preseason to be done. I understand it but I don't like that."

Next for Ravens

Preseason matchup: Ravens (2-1) at New York Giants (1-2)

Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

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