Poor protection putting McNair at risk

August 26, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

Landover -- When Ravens quarterback Steve McNair returned to the field with 9:07 left in the first half last night, most Ravens fans were probably holding their breath.

Most NFL teams play their starters at least a half, or into the third quarter, of the third preseason game. But playing McNair after the Ravens scored their lone touchdown of the first half with 9:40 left was risky business. The Ravens went three-and-out on McNair's last series, and that was the best three-and-out of the preseason.

After watching the first half last night, it will be interesting to see if McNair lasts the entire season. He took some shots right from the opening whistle, and almost got knocked out from a high shot that Redskins safety Sean Taylor attempted but missed in the second quarter.

It wasn't just the Ravens' offensive linemen getting beat. The running backs have to do a better job of picking up defensive players coming off the edge because they're getting free lanes to hit McNair.

The Ravens did a solid job of protecting McNair last season, and McNair gets himself out of a lot of jams because of his footwork, but this inexperienced offensive line needs to improve quickly, or McNair might be standing on the sideline with an injury for a couple of games.

Offense out of sorts

Speaking of the offensive line, three of the five starters were called for illegal-procedure penalties in the first half. Because the Ravens rely on the short passing game, those 5-yard penalties are costly.

Tackles Adam Terry and Jared Gaither and guard Chris Chester seemed to be having so much fun that tight end Todd Heap was even called for a false start in the first half.

But that wasn't the only thing out of whack with the Ravens' offense. Tight ends ran into tackles and pulling guards got shoved back into the backfield on running plays. For a team that talked about explosive plays and going vertical during the offseason, we haven't seen much of it in the preseason, even though McNair had several mid-range tosses in the team's 13-play, 70-yard drive in the second quarter.

Maybe running back Willis McGahee is one of those types who doesn't play hard in the preseason and saves himself for the regular season. Ravens defensive end-tackle Trevor Pryce was like that a year ago.

The Ravens better hope so. McGahee rushed four times for 12 yards before Billick pulled him at the end of the first quarter. In three preseason games, McGahee has rushed 14 times for 35 yards. Take away the 16-yarder he had against the Eagles and, well, you do the math.

Meanwhile, backups Mike Anderson and Musa Smith keep looking better and better.

Heap needs to block

In the first preseason game, Heap showed improvement in his blocking from a year ago, but he has been disappointing in the past two games.

In all fairness to McGahee, a tight end plays a major factor in the running game, especially on the perimeter. There aren't a lot of complete tight ends in the NFL, as far as blocking and receiving, but the Ravens need to get more blocking out of their Pro Bowl performer.

Even Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome blocked once in a while.

Pittman looks decent

Ravens second-year cornerback David Pittman started his first game last night in place of Samari Rolle, and he turned in a pretty decent performance.

He got his "Welcome to the NFL" moment on the Redskins' first play from scrimmage when he was beaten by Santana Moss for a 40-yard reception down the left sideline, which led to a Washington field goal. But he had good coverage two other times when the Redskins challenged him deep. He also provided strong run support and tackled well.

Actually, with starting quarterback Jason Campbell and running back Clinton Portis not playing last night, Washington had only one real passing play in their offense, and it was called "Pick on Pittman."

Lewis steps up game

Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis appeared more active than in the first two preseason games. He roamed sideline to sideline and could have taken a head shot at Redskins quarterback Todd Collins in the flat in the first quarter, but Collins slid, his head fully intact.

Figurs impresses

B.J. Sams remains the Ravens' No. 1 punt and kickoff returner, but rookie Yamon Figurs is gaining ground. He doesn't false-step or fool around. He gets the ball, runs for the hole and turns on the jets. See ya.

Another special teams note was the block defensive tackle Justin Bannan put on Redskins kicker Shaun Suisham in the first half. The contact was started in Landover, but Suisham landed somewhere in Baltimore.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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