For best defense, try keeping it simple

On the Ravens

August 18, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan has devised schemes to cause confusion, but sometimes the Ravens seem more confused than the opposition.

It happened a couple of times last night during the Ravens' 20-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles at M&T Bank Stadium. Of course, it's preseason and that will account for some miscues, but it happened quite a few times last season. The mishaps were most noticeable in the secondary a year ago when the Ravens had busted coverages.

That's being polite. Sometimes Ravens defenders weren't in the same ZIP code with wide receivers.

Last night, they got penalized for 12 players on the field. On that same play, the Ravens blitzed, but the linebackers seemed confused on who was to rush, and who was going to drop into coverage. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb threw a short shuffle pass that resulted in a 48-yard gain. There was another time when the Eagles had already snapped the ball, and cornerback Chris McAlister was still trying to coordinate the coverage.

Sometimes, it's just great to be simplistic.

The Ravens have a lot of talent on defense, seven former Pro Bowl players. They don't always need to jump around. They don't always need to be cute. Sometimes you just line up, say this is what we're in, and let's see if your 11 can beat my 11.

Musa Smith has to play more. In training camp, he has been more impressive than No. 1 running back Jamal Lewis and backup Mike Anderson. Smith gained 36 yards on a screen pass in the first half, and scored on a 43-yard run early in the third quarter.

He played well in a scrimmage against the Washington Redskins, and had a strong effort in the preseason opener against the New York Giants. The Ravens gave big money to Anderson and Lewis during the offseason, but they can't ignore Smith. His legs look fresh, and he hits the holes hard running at full speed.

He can't give any more than he has given in the preseason.

As much as some things have changed for the Ravens, some things remain the same. Their clock management was poor last night.


The Ravens, with no timeouts, had the ball at the Eagles' 17 with 18 seconds remaining in the first half. Faced with a third and three, Ravens quarterback Steve McNair handed off to Smith, and the Ravens were unable to get their field-goal unit on the field.

"We had plenty of time," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We had 23 seconds, ran it up, ready to go, they [referees] don't get it spotted. I guess it's preseason for them, too. We can't complain, we made our fair share of mistakes."

Let's not go there. The Ravens can't blame the referees. Instead of handing off, McNair should have either attempted a pass into the end zone, or attempted a quick out to a receiver on the sideline. Either way, they stop the clock. Instead, they came away with nothing but a clearly irritated Billick.

Guys, it's not that hard to figure out how to get it done. Good high school teams pull it off every week.

In two preseason games, the offensive line has played well even without Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

During the first half when the Ravens had their first unit on the field, McNair had a lot of time to throw except for late in the second quarter when the Ravens were in obvious passing situations.

The Ravens had 192 yards of total offense in the first half, and McNair was 14 of 18 for 148 yards. The Ravens, though, had only three points and didn't convert inside the red zone.

"The O-line did a great job, protecting and in the run game also," McNair said. "But, we've got to finish in the red zone, that's where it all counts."

I've raised this question before, and I'll raise it again: Can McNair still throw the long ball? The Ravens don't need him to throw it all over the stadium. But sooner or later, teams are going to take away those short passes. He threw a floater on a long pass to Derrick Mason last week. Then last night, on an intermediate pass that required him to throw over the linebackers, McNair hung a wobbler on a 15-yard pass to Mason.

Maybe the ball slipped out of his hands both times, but not being able to go downfield was a knock on McNair last season. It's something to keep an eye on.

Extra points: The league doesn't keep stats on this, but I bet the Ravens have led the league the past 10 seasons in quarterbacks falling while dropping back. McNair bit the dust last night. Meanwhile, backup Kyle Boller didn't. That's a major improvement from a week ago. ... There were times last night when No. 1 draft pick and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata looked slow coming off the ball. Meanwhile, defensive end Trevor Pryce hasn't been a force in practice or preseason games. ... The Ravens had six penalties for 63 yards in the first half. That's not good, and if they're not careful, it could lead to another bad season. ... A week ago, the first units of the Ravens appeared to be a lot faster than that of their Giants counterparts. Last night, it was the opposite. The Eagles looked a lot fresher, especially their offense against the Ravens defense.

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