Ravens Show Vices, So Miami Can Wait

August 26, 2009|By Peter Schmuck

In the course of Monday night's 24-23 preseason victory over the New York Jets, the Ravens alternately looked like a team headed for the Super Bowl and a team that might be headed for trouble.

When Haloti Ngata picked off the first pass of the night by Jets No. 1 draft choice Mark Sanchez and lumbered into the end zone for a quick touchdown - on the heels of the Ravens' 23-0 victory over the Redskins in their preseason opener - the thought passed through my head that it wouldn't be a bad idea to book one of those cool art deco South Beach hotels in Miami for the first week of February.

When Ray Lewis nearly picked off the kid's second pass of the night with nothing between Ray-Ray and the end zone except Rex Ryan's worst nightmare, I could almost taste that $12 mojito at Larios, Gloria Estefan's beachfront bistro.

If you read me regularly, you know I'm occasionally prone to a burst of irrational optimism, like that time in March when I predicted the Orioles would win 68 games this year. So, when Joe Flacco slipped that flashy behind-the-back handoff to Ray Rice for the Ravens' second touchdown, making the cumulative score of the Ravens' preseason 37-0, I was savoring in my mind that tiny sack of peanuts on the Southwest flight to South Florida.

There were, however, 51 minutes more of preseason football to play, and they would provide plenty of opportunities for a more reasoned analysis of the Ravens with three weeks left before the start of the NFL regular season.

The first-team defense looked pretty good, though the Jets did regroup and establish a running game after Sanchez recovered from his first-minute meltdown. The Ravens' first-team offense also performed adequately, but I doubt Flacco is strutting around after his 8-for-18 passing performance. Faced with an opponent that was playing with some intensity, the Ravens performed unevenly in the first half and sloppily at times in the second.

There is no cause for great alarm, of course. The top priority in any NFL preseason game is to stay healthy, and the Ravens came out of Monday night pretty much unscathed. But coach John Harbaugh is a stickler when it comes to turnovers, penalties and blown assignments, and there were too many of all of those for him to walk off the field with a big smile.

Flacco was not particularly sharp. He overthrew an open Rice on a potential big play and made a couple of ill-advised dump-offs that could have turned into bigger mistakes. He also completed a couple of pretty passes to Derrick Mason, again illustrating a level of on-field comfort with No. 85 that he has not developed with other receivers.

The biggest questions facing the Ravens were all on display. The fans will remember the two interceptions that Ravens defenders returned for touchdowns (and Lewis almost had another), but the coaching staff will be more focused on some of the holes the Jets found in the defensive secondary.

The tight end position came into a little better focus, and not in a good way. Todd Heap looked like his old self catching an 11-yard pass over the middle, but newcomer L.J. Smith left the game in the third quarter with a strained hamstring. The durability of both veterans was considered an area of uncertainty coming into camp and obviously remains so.

The kicking competition might have been clarified some, though I'm guessing Harbaugh was hoping that Graham Gano would make the decision a little tougher. He missed a field goal attempt for the second straight game while Steve Hauschka remained perfect, so it would require a fairly dramatic reversal of fortune on the part of each candidate to change the likely outcome.

That's not out of the question at a time of year when perceptions can change in a hurry. Just ask linebacker Jameel McClain, who was beaten for the Jets first touchdown, then redeemed himself with an interception and TD. Or Lardarius Webb, who fumbled away the second-half kickoff but batted away a two-point conversion attempt in the final seconds to save the game.

Harbaugh would be the first to tell you that the Ravens have a lot of work to do if they are going to make another run deep into the postseason. Clearly, they have a chance to be one of the NFL's elite teams again this year, but it's far from clear that they have what it takes to take the next step after reaching the AFC title game in their surprising 2008 season.

Guess I'll hold off on those travel arrangements for a while.

Listen to Peter Schmuck weeknights at 6 on WBAL (1090 AM) and check out "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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