A painful fact of life: Preseason stinks it up

Trying to find reasons to play these games is painful

August 20, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

It would be great if the only reason preseason football stinks is because of the quality of play. Any fan, coach or player can live with that. The only injury to most of them at M&T Bank Stadium last night was to their retinas, the searing pain from having to watch all the dropped passes, missed tackles and blown assignments, or the blindness brought on by the flurry of yellow flags.

Injuries, though, we can all live without. Thus, the Ravens' game last night officially stunk from the New York Giants' first play from scrimmage, when Samari Rolle had to be hoisted off the field, his injured right ankle dangling clear off the ground, and carried straight to the locker room, to return later only in a T-shirt, shorts and a cap.

Say what you will about Rolle, and a lot has been said about him since last season, most of it involving pleas to find someone better at cornerback. But for the rest of the game last night, that's exactly what the Ravens had to do. And while it's never bad to find out how much depth you have at any position, that's not the way anyone wants to find out.

It once again was a great illustration of how preseason games, no matter how many or how few are played, are more trouble than they're worth. They're definitely worth far less than the revenue they generate. The attendance last night was announced as 70,000-plus, but there probably were 30,000 fewer bodies in the building, getting wet, getting exasperated at yet another Matt Stover special and another display of the various looks Rex Ryan's defense can show.

It did show a lot of looks - but all but one of them included backup cornerbacks after Rolle went out. Rolle might not be playing like a Pro Bowl player these days, but it doesn't mean the Ravens can afford to put the guys who filled in for him last night on that side for every snap the rest of the season.

It wasn't clear by the end of the game how seriously Rolle was hurt; the only official word was that the X-rays taken immediately after he left the game were negative. He did stand on the sideline in the second half, seemingly without obvious pain. But at the time of the injury, of course, it didn't look good.

At times, the coverage in the secondary didn't look good, either. The first-team defense played the whole first half; the Giants' first-team offense played all but the final series. Corey Ivy and Evan Oglesby filled in for Rolle; often, both were on the field in nickel and dime packages.

As usual, Giants quarterback Eli Manning looked as if he still had a ways to go to live up to the family name. The way he flat-out dropped the ball while turning to hand off late in the first quarter, leading to the first score of the game, wasn't flattering. But his next possession was - he was 5-for-5, connecting with three receivers, marched the Giants 80 yards and capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass.

Manning worked over every part and each side of the Ravens' defense - including the side Rolle had occupied, whistling the scoring pass to rookie Steve Smith between the late-reacting Ivy and the late-arriving Ed Reed.

Not that this was anything to worry too much about. The Ravens' defense couldn't have been expected to be the machine it was in the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles the week before. Much of Manning's production came because he had time - the Giants' line protected far better than the Eagles' line did.

And on the first big completion of that drive, Manning escaped Jarret Johnson in the backfield and found Jeremy Shockey more open than he should have been.

Overall, Brian Billick and Ryan were unhappy with the defense's showing; Ryan called it "unacceptable," adding: "We're playing fast and physical, but that wasn't our best. That first half didn't reflect the way the Ravens play defense."

Sure didn't. Among other things, the defense had only one legitimate sack of Manning (the other was credited on the fumble), running back Brandon Jacobs carried them around too often and dumb penalties hurt.

With all of that, it still went without saying that missing a starter at cornerback didn't help. Manning went after Rolle's former side of the field plenty, on the scoring drive and in the rest of the half.

The Giants hardly escaped unscathed. Two of the receivers who hurt the Ravens on that touchdown drive, Michael Jennings and Smith, were knocked out of the game with, respectively, a ruptured Achilles' tendon and a concussion. The tyranny of the meaningless yet dangerous game was reasserted.

It was time to search for depth, which every team wants to do in the preseason. But not this way. That isn't how the Ravens wanted to find out who else can play cornerback for them.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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