Mike Preston: Hard to get a good read on Flacco this preseason

For the first time in his NFL career, QB didn't show improvement from previous season

August 25, 2011|By Mike Preston

In the previous three years, there were signs in the preseason to indicate improvement by Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.

There weren't any this time.

Flacco, who completed 17 of 27 passes for 219 yards, two touchdowns and one interception Thursday against the Redskins, has not played in the fourth preseason game for the past two years, and he will probably sit out the finale next Thursday in Atlanta. After watching him Thursday night and in two previous preseason games, it's hard to figure out Flacco and the rest of this offense.

At times, Flacco has played well and thrown nice touch passes to Lee Evans and Anquan Boldin. And there are times when he looks uncomfortable in the pocket and made poor decisions while trying to force the ball.

You can't get a real gauge on Flacco, because his offensive line has played so poorly and been without two to three starters from most of the preseason. There has been no continuity in both the running and passing game, and that certainly leads to inconsistent play at quarterback.

During the offseason, much of the talk about the Ravens centered on Flacco taking the next step in leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl. We wanted to know about his leadership ability and whether he had built a strong relationship with offensive coordinatorCam Cameron.

But after a month, we still don't know. And until the Ravens can put together a quality offensive line, we won't know at least until Sept. 11, when the Ravens open the season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"We came back after a slow start," Cameron said. "We can't have those kinds of starts in the regular season, but we did work to rally back. … It's good to see Joe and Lee connect again."

Crisper pace

Through most of the first quarter, the Redskins appeared to be fresher and faster than the Ravens. It was clearly evident on running back Tim Hightower's 37-yard touchdown run late in the quarter.

When Hightower reversed field, he outran just about every Raven around the corner. It wasn't even close.

Scrap the play

It took the Ravens three games, but Cameron finally pulled out the end-around play from last year, the one that made Donte' Stallworth famous.

This time, rookie receiver Torrey Smith, the Ravens second-round pick out of Maryland, took the end around and lost 7 yards. Maybe the Ravens ought to shelve the play for three years instead of three games.

Smith also didn't help his own cause by dropping that pass off a slant pass early in the first quarter and another late in the first half.

Poor pass protection

The Ravens were without three starting offensive linemen Thursday night: center Matt Birk, right guard Marshal Yanda and newly acquired offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie.

The pass protection was so poor in the first quarter that Cameron went to maximum protection early in the second period and the Ravens sent out two receivers because their offensive tackles needed a lot of help.

The Ravens can move tackle Michael Oher from the left side to the right side, but he is still slow picking up stunts. They might need to run more of those at him in practice.

What's next?

The Ravens started Mark LeVoir, a tackle, at right guard and Jah Reid, a rookie, at right tackle. The odd man out was Oniel Cousins, who has previously started at both positions.

Cousins has no experience at center, so he could be getting a little nervous. Cuts are coming soon.

Future star

So far, top draft pick and cornerback Jimmy Smith has lived up to all the physical expectations. He can run with a Smith or a David Reed, and can be physical at the line of scrimmage with Boldin.

He needs to improve in other areas such as ball recognition, knowing when to turn back and go for the ball, and when to close. He always seems to be in perfect position but doesn't turn to find the ball. Some coaches teach that when a receiver looks back for the ball, a cornerback should turn to find it as well. Other coaches teach that once a receiver's arms start to reach, the corner should react and find the ball.

Smith still might be getting adjusted to the speed of the game and how fast a ball can be delivered when a receiver comes out of a break. Or maybe he just doesn't have the confidence yet to know when to turn. He'll eventually make the adjustments, and once he does, the kid is going to be pretty good.

Beep, beep

When the Ravens signed McKinnie, general manager Ozzie Newsome went out of his way to say how veterans such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Birk and even Oher had shown so much support for McKinnie. The only person he didn't name was equipment manager Ed Carroll.

Never in the 16-year history of the Ravens has Newsome gone out of his way to do this. If the McKinnie experiment fails, Newsome can easily blame the players because they wanted McKinnie.

He now has the perfect out to throw his players under the bus.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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