The Baltimore Ravens’ first preseason game versus the Philadelphia Eagles was a mess, and there were very few positives to take away from the game. Joe Flacco and Tyrod Taylor looked off, the running game didn’t show up until the third-string offense was on the field and the offensive line looked terrible in pass protection.
Perhaps the only positive was the apparent improvement in the pass rush with Paul Kruger, Sergio Kindle and Pernell McPhee, but even with the rejuvenated pass rush, the Ravens’ proud defense couldn’t seem to keep the Eagles offense off the field.
Going into their first game, the Ravens didn’t really know where they were in their development as a team. The lockout had thrown all of their previous metrics out the window. The only way to really tell was to go up against another NFL team and grade their performance.
Unfortunately, the Ravens didn’t grade out very well, and it was apparent to anyone who watched the game that the team was struggling to shake off rust and develop chemistry with all their new players, free agents and rookies alike.
They were obviously behind, and for a team that will be playing one of their most important games of the year in week one, that was unacceptable. The only way to catch up was for the veteran leadership of the team to step up, lead the team and put in hard work. That’s exactly what they did, and it showed up on the field.
“What our guys did, between last week and this week…you talk about trying to make the most improvement in the second week,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the Ravens’ second preseason game versus the Kansas City Chiefs.
“Our guys worked as hard as I’ve ever seen a football team work. I’m talking about, starting with the leaders, the Terrell Suggs, the Haloti Ngatas, the Joe Flaccos, right on down the line and through our football team. I’ve never seen a football team work as hard as they worked this week. It showed up in the way they played.”
The improvement was clear in their 31-13 victory over the Chiefs. The entire team seemed to play with more confidence, and there were fewer mistakes, fewer penalties and better performances at nearly every position. It was a team effort.
Perhaps the biggest improvement was seen from the offensive line, a unit which gave up six sacks versus the Eagles. The offensive line did not allow a sack on Flacco while the starters were on the field and seemed to do a much better job opening up holes in the running game.
Their defining play in that game was definitely the 26-yard touchdown run by Ray Rice. On that play, the offensive line was using a zone blocking scheme and started out by moving the Chiefs’ defensive line to the left. Rice was able to cut through a large hole, which was opened up as a result of strong pancaking blocks by Oneil Cousins and Jah Reid, and scamper through for the touchdown.
The offensive line’s improvement was remarkable, and the biggest change occurred when the Ravens moved Cousins—who started the Eagles game at right tackle—to right guard, a position that Harbaugh believed would suit Cousins’ skill set more.
“There may be a position [guard] that he’s more suited for. I think we talked in the offseason about moving him to guard, but with [Marshal] Yanda coming back, we decided to give him a shot at the right tackle spot,” Harbaugh said after Cousins’ first practice at guard on August 13. “Maybe he is suited for that position. That’s what we’ll find out.”
Luckily for the Ravens, Cousins turned in a solid performance at guard versus the Chiefs after being the weak link in pass-protection versus the Eagles. He looked stout versus the inside pass-rush and was dominate at times in the running game.
“[Cousins] was comfortable in there,” Harbaugh said after the Chiefs game. “He is a big, strong man. That bodes well at guard. He is a good bender. He has got a lot of reach, and it worked out for him in there.”
Another area where the defense showed great improvement was in their pass-coverage in the secondary. In the Eagles game, several of the corners—Chris Carr in particular—gave up some big catches, and the Ravens had a hard time slowing down the passing game in general.
Cary Williams, who has been a standout performer in training camp, started the game with rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith. Both corners did well, but Smith did allow a couple tight catches to the Chiefs’ All-Pro receiver, Dwayne Bowe.
On the other side, Williams was nothing short of spectacular. He was able to break up several passes, including a pass to Bowe and another that he nearly intercepted on a slant route. With Domonique Foxworth and Carr nursing injuries, Williams’ strong play is helping him make a serious bid at the starting position.
“[Williams] has played really well,” Harbaugh said. “We always say the best guys play the most. He’s earned that, and it’s nothing against anybody else.”
Finally, the Ravens pass rush continued to show improvement versus the Chiefs. They were able to harass the Chiefs’ quarterbacks all game and managed to rack up five sacks.
The pass rush has been a big area of focus during the offseason for the Ravens' new defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano. His scheme, along with the emergence of young pass rushers on the roster, seems to be making a big difference.
For the second straight week in preseason, Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger were able to make serious impacts in the game. McPhee continued to emerge as a pass-rushing defensive lineman and was able to pressure the quarterback on multiple plays. He nearly had a forced fumble in the game, but the play was later overturned.
“[McPhee] is an explosive guy,” Harbaugh said after an August 14 practice. “I thought he’d be a good run player, and he has been a good run player for us, but he has been a little bit of a better pass rusher—even in training camp—than we thought he would be. [He has] very powerful and explosive hands. He does a great job with his hands creating leverage in the pass rush.”
Kruger also continued to show great improvement in the Chiefs game and was able to make several plays. He wasn’t able to record any sacks but had consistent pressure. He was also able to make a spectacular pass-defense versus a receiver in the flat.
Kruger has been flashing explosiveness, versatility and intelligence in training camp and in the preseason games. He’s finally showing the talents that made him a second-round pick.
Overall, the team turned in a good performance versus the Chiefs, and it was leaps-and-bounds better than their performance versus the Eagles. They were able to improve quickly as a result of good, veteran leadership on the team and good coaching, but it would have been impossible without hard work, which still separates the good teams from the bad teams and determines winners and losers in the NFL.
“They took [the hard work] to the field,” Harbaugh said after the preseason game versus the Chiefs. “There’s a lot of things we can work on to get better, obviously. And we’re going to work on those things this week, but I’m proud of our work ethic between last week and this week.”