More questions than answers

QB situation even murkier, and injuries taking toll on defense

Analysis

August 18, 2008|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Sun reporter

The more the Ravens' 2008 profile comes into focus, the more menacing some of their potential problems appear.

Clarity, in this case, is not necessarily becoming.

Not when the quarterback conundrum refuses to go away.

Not when an aging, injured defense can't get on, or off, the field.

Not when there are more questions after two preseason games than there were after one.

The unvarnished truth is first-year coach John Harbaugh has a team in transition, a team that has little margin for error and few players capable of rising above those errors.

Despite all the negatives that emerged Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens were right there, on the Minnesota Vikings' 13-yard line, with four seconds left and a chance to force overtime.

When quarterback Joe Flacco's rocket pass sailed high over Justin Harper's head toward the end zone seats, time expired and the Ravens swallowed a strange 23-15 loss.

Rookie mistake.

"I was thinking maybe we'll get a chance to run another play and throw one up," Flacco said. "And I threw it away, and I looked up at the clock and I realized there was no time left. I was like, 'You know, that's not a very good decision, Joe.' But that's what I was thinking at the time.

"If I had it [to do over] again, I would've stuck it in there on that play."

Still, you had to like how the kid took the Ravens down the field on that drive. Is it enough to put Flacco back in contention for the starting job Sept. 7?

Not from what Harbaugh said afterward. But then again, he wasn't ruling anything out.

While Harbaugh looks for solutions, let's consider some of the thorny issues he is facing.

Quarterback derby

Get used to it. The revolving door probably is going to be with us all year.

Troy Smith, Saturday's starter, showcased his mobility against the Vikings, rushing for 35 yards, or 10 more than he passed for. He threw just five passes - and one interception - in four series. On the pick, he threw behind Mark Clayton, who deflected the ball to Minnesota's Darren Sharper.

Still, Smith had a nice opening series.

Kyle Boller, meanwhile, completed his first eight passes - four on checkdowns - and was lucky to get off the field in the fourth quarter after getting drilled in the chest by defensive tackle Letroy Guion. Boller, who fumbled on the play, deserved better than to stand behind the second line.

Offensive identity

Are the Ravens the running team they appear to be when Smith plays quarterback? Or the passing team they need to be when Boller plays?

And if Smith starts and falls behind by two touchdowns, do the Ravens bring in Boller to attempt a comeback? The good news is rookie tailback Ray Rice (eight rushes, 77 yards) appears to be a viable alternative if Willis McGahee can't stay on the field. He followed a 42-yard scamper with a stunning 6-yard touchdown run when he had to maneuver around suspect blocking to find the intended hole.

Rice was easily the night's best development on offense.

Aging defense

Much of the unit's age was on the sideline watching; six starters were out nursing injuries. The replacements looked like replacements.

Thus, the Vikings' physical offensive line manhandled a defensive front missing its two best tackles. Minnesota converted five of six third downs in the first quarter against Ravens starters and seven of 10 in the first half, gruesome numbers. The return of Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg should resolve that, but the secondary is a different story. When Chris McAlister (knee), Samari Rolle (knee) and Ed Reed (shoulder) return, the question is how long they will stay. Of the secondary reserves, only Derrick Martin stepped up, while Frank Walker stepped down.

Pass rusher Terrell Suggs, the team's franchise player who missed all of training camp as a holdout, is expected to practice today. That's a start.

Defensive pique

Last, but not least, was the apparent pout of iconic linebacker Ray Lewis, who sat alone on the team bench rather than join his teammates on the field for pre-game offensive introductions. It was a most curious scene.

One might speculate that perhaps fans won't see Lewis' gyrations out of the tunnel at home games this season. Maybe the only thing coming out of the smoke will be Rise and Conquer, the two ravens the team imported this offseason.

Could this preseason get any stranger?

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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