Local bragging rights were on the line tonight as the Baltimore Ravens took on the Washington Redskins in each team's third preseason game. Although the two teams don't play each other much, they have somewhat of a rivalry due to their close proximity. The rivalry known as "The Battle of the Beltway" is typically a highlight on the preseason schedule and tonight it got national attention on ESPN.
It was a game worthy of a national broadcast with a lot of exciting plays and points scored. The Ravens prevailed in a 34-31 shootout with Tyrod Taylor throwing the winning touchdown to Brandon Jones in the final minute. This caused both teams to become 2-1 in preseason play; the Ravens won their second in a row while the Redskins ended a two game winning streak.
Since the third game is the most important preseason game, both team's starters saw significant playing time. Despite getting the win, the Ravens had inconsistent performances on both sides of the ball.
On offense, Joe Flacco got off to a terrible start, throwing an interception for a touchdown as his first completed pass. He showed resiliency afterwards, throwing for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Although they overcame it, starting the game down 14-0 is never a good thing, especially against a team like the Redskins who aren't projected to be very good.
The defense also was to blame for the poor start. Tim Hightower plowed through the starting defense for a 37-yard touchdown and Jimmy Smith blew a coverage assignment allowing Santana Moss to catch a 24-yard touchdown pass. There were things to like about the defense's performance as well—like two timely interceptions.
What I Liked
The Ravens receiving veterans had outstanding performances tonight. Both Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans gave glimpses of what the Raven's new receiving corps is capable of this year. Boldin finished with five receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown; Evans finished with three receptions for 60 yards, including a beautiful 35-yard touchdown where he outran Redskins star cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Evans has been in Baltimore for only two weeks, yet he has already developed good chemistry with Flacco and has made himself one of the more important players in the Ravens receiving game.
The quarterback play also deserves some positive recognition this week. Despite my reservations with Flacco's performance, he did come on strong after his bad start, leading the first-team offense to three touchdowns in less than 20 minutes.
Also, Taylor is continuing to become a dependable backup quarterback. He finished 11-18 for 125 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He also had 31 rushing yards on two attempts and showed poise during the Raven's game-winning drive. When he plays at this level, Taylor seems like a solid backup quarterback—definitely better than any other quarterback that is available this late in free agency.
What I Didn't Like
Another week, another reason to be worried about the offensive line. The makeshift unit allowed three sacks and caused Flacco to run for cover several times.
There is reason for optimism though. The Raven's front office remains confident that recently acquired Bryant McKinnie will be ready for the regular season. Also, starters Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda sat out tonight but should be ready for the regular season. With these three playing and Michael Oher switching to right tackle, there's reason to feel good about the offensive line.
Given the game's high score, it's easy to say the defense could have done better. The Ravens helped the Redskins in their quarterback competition by making both Rex Grossman and John Beck look good. Although the front seven were stout at causing pressure, the defensive backs struggled in coverage. The Ravens defense also failed to get the Redskins offense off the field as three of the Skins' scoring drives came from further than 70 yards.
Next Thursday, the Ravens travel to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. Flacco will go head-to-head against fellow draft-class quarterback Matt Ryan. The Ravens will also attempt to avenge last season's regular season loss in the Georgia Dome.
Next week the starters won't see much playing time. That makes it a vital time for players fighting to make the team, many of which will be playing in the 4th quarter. Next week gives them one last opportunity to make their case for playing on the Baltimore Ravens.