Upgraded Game Plan Unveiled

August 30, 2009|By Mike Preston

CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Ravens unveiled their team game plan for 2009, and they won't go far from the script if the team is to be successful.

It's an upgrade over last season, but is it enough to get them back to the AFC championship game? We'll see.

As far as the first teams are concerned, the Ravens played fairly well against the Carolina Panthers on Saturday night. On defense, they only allowed a field goal in the first half and just one big play, which came in the first quarter.

The Panthers had 104 yards of total offense in the first half, and just 18 rushing yards. It was the usual standouts on defense, but cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who keeps getting better and better, did a nice job of defending Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith.

On special teams, the Ravens might have found their top returner in Chris Carr, but still probably haven't found a field goal kicker.

Steve Hauschka missed a 27-yard try by inches to the right on the Ravens' first possession of the game, but then converted on a 38-yard attempt in the third quarter.

Offensively, this was a good performance by the Ravens. Quarterback Joe Flacco was accurate and threw the ball well. The Ravens are never going to be like the old Oakland Raiders throwing deep balls all over the stadium, but the passing game was effective.

Receiver Derrick Mason played a major role, and fellow wide-out Kelley Washington chipped in. Tight end Todd Heap was an integral part of the offense for the first time in years. When those three weren't open, Flacco found running back Ray Rice in the flats and over the middle.

The Ravens struggled with Carolina's defensive ends, but offensive coordinator Cam Cameron compensated with a nice game plan in which Flacco got rid of the ball quickly, a lot of times on dump passes.

Overall, it was a good night by the Ravens, even though middle linebacker Ray Lewis didn't start the second half, possibly with an elbow injury.

No strutting

Either Washington grew up within the past week, or maybe an older, wiser teammate told him to calm down.

Washington caught a 17-yard pass on the Ravens' first possession and walked back to the huddle. No "Soul Train" dances. No strutting around like the NBC Peacock.

Some common sense prevailed.

Washington caught a 42-yard pass later, and then he strutted. But it wasn't as brazen as some of his other performances.

Lewis' weaknesses

Despite playing in the league for 14 years, Lewis is still one of the best inside linebackers in the game. On the Panthers' first possession, he was flying around making tackles and bringing energy to the Ravens.

But one thing the Ravens should prevent is having Lewis cover a tight end or running back down the field. He hasn't been effective in that area since 2007. Remember when San Diego exposed him with tight end Antonio Gates that season?

Lewis gave up a 32-yard pass to Panthers tight end Jeff King. He should be used more in blitzes than in pass coverage.

Calm down, rookie

Ravens right offensive tackle Michael Oher was called for illegal procedure on the team's first possession, which hurt because the Ravens went from second-and-goal at the 1 to second-and-goal at the 6.

The Ravens need to calm their prized rookie down. He should have gotten called for the same thing several plays earlier and has been too quick to move before the snap count on other plays in the preseason, but the refs weren't at the top of their game.

By the way, if head coach John Harbaugh is smart, we won't hear about any more phone calls to Matt Stover this week.

He might actually have to make them, and maybe Stover won't answer.

Tight, high

There isn't much you can say about Flacco's 9-yard touchdown pass to Heap in the left corner of the end zone in the first quarter. The pass was tight, high and delivered where only Heap could catch it and two Panthers couldn't.

Surprise start at tackle

The surprise move of the night was Brandon McKinney starting at defensive tackle in place of the injured Kelly Gregg. Last year when Gregg missed the entire season with a knee injury, Justin Bannan started in place of Gregg, and Bannan played extremely well.

Bannan played later in the game Saturday night.

Also, you notice now that Ravens safety Ed Reed doesn't tackle anymore with his shoulder, but just tries to bring down opposing runners or receivers by grabbing them and slinging them to the ground. He appears to be protecting himself from having further neck damage.

Exciting acceleration

The Panthers have two good defensive ends in Tyler Brayton and Julius Peppers, and the Ravens gave them ultimate respect.

There were a lot of plays in the Ravens' passing offense that looked a lot like last year. The Ravens kept in tight ends and running backs to chip on Brayton and Peppers.

Actually, Oher turned in a solid game, but left offensive tackle Jared Gaither struggled. Meanwhile, Rice makes a screen pass look exciting with his acceleration.

A top weapon

Ravens punter Sam Koch is a free agent at the end of this season, but general manager Ozzie Newsome should have re-signed him to a new contract Saturday.

He is one of the top weapons on the team, and easily one of the best punters in the NFL. He's a major key in the team winning the field position game on Sundays.

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