Rough night for Ravens in loss to Eagles
PHILADELPHIA - It was an ugly enough night for the Baltimore Ravens to spawn alarmist reactions, just not in their locker room.
The Ravens' sloppy defeat to the powerhouse Philadelphia Eagles exposed several problem areas, though, losing 13-6 to open the preseason Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Some of the issues were chalked up to rust following an NFL lockout that spanned four months.
"You ain't went against another team since January," Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I highly advise not to hit the [expletive] panic button."
The Ravens' pass blocking was suspect with the quarterbacks pounded for six sacks, a shortcoming that suggests the team needs to acquire an experienced offensive tackle. Offensive tackles Michael Oher, Oniel Cousins and Jah Reid struggled to deal with the Eagles' pass rushers. There were way too many penalties upfront.
The tackling was suspect at times, and there was a big lapse in pass coverage early in the game that set up the Eagles' lone touchdown.
And the wide receivers gained precious little separation as rookie second-round draft pick caught no passes despite being targeted three times. And former Pro Bowl wide receiver Anquan Boldin was shut out, too.
There are persistent trade rumors surrounding Buffalo Bills wide receiver Lee Evans, who's being linked to the Arizona Cardinals and the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens' most glaring issues were continually exposed by a talent-rich squad known as the Dream Team that loaded up in free agency with cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins defensive end Jason Babin and running back Ronnie Brown.
"I think we're going to be a good football team, I told them that," coach John Harbaugh said. "We have a chance to be a great football team, and that's going to be on us. How much we improve from now until next Friday is going to be our next test and see how much better we can get. We should make our most improvement next week. We have to determine ourselves to do that."
Rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor displayed his toughness, coming back in the game after a punishing hit to the back that required medical attention .
Overall, he didn't look ready to be the primary backup to Joe Flacco. He was intercepted twice and completed 19 of 28 passes for 179 yards.
The bright spots for Baltimore were undeniably tight end Dennis Pitta hauling in four passes for 47 yards as he made his bid to replace Todd Heap as the starter with Ed Dickson sidelined with a pulled hamstring along with backup outside linebacker Paul Kruger hustling for five tackles and a sack.
Pitta's acrobatic 27-yard reception where he reached over safety Kurt Coleman was arguably the Ravens' top play of the night.
"Dennis made some great catches," Harbaugh said. "He's capable of being one of those receivers that can make spectacular catches consistently. Kruger has had a heck of a camp and it showed up in the game, especially in the pass rush."
Before heading into halftime, Harbaugh was candid about where his team stood this early in the preseason.
"Never pleased," Harbaugh said. "We're on our way. It's a start."
It was a night where cornerback Lardarius Webb had a 93-yard fumble return for a touchdown that would have tied the game nullified by the officials.
The officials conducted an instant replay review, overturning the call as they ruled that quarterback Mike Kafka's right arm was already going forward as rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee jarred the football out of his hands.
That triggered a 10-point swing as the Eagles' 24-yard field goal on the subsequent play boosted their lead to 13-3.
"Most of the time we win all the preseason games," Webb said. "This time, we start out with something a little different this year. You keep fighting to the end."
All the other times most of the time we win all the preseason games start out with something a little different his year. Keep fighting to the end.
Quarterback Joe Flacco connected on 3 of 6 throws for 60 yards with no turnovers.
In relief of Flacco, Taylor scrambled for 59 yards on six carries and was the Ravens' leading rusher.
"I though Tyrod did some great things," Harbaugh said. "He's going to learn more from this game than any game his whole career. He was electric at times.
"Toughness was never a question. I thought poise was big. He commands the offense well. I think he's a pin-point passer if you look at him and he's an excellent thrower. He made some big plays in the pocket scrambling around."
The Ravens opened a 3-0 on kicker Billy Cundiff's 53-yard field goal that clanged off the left upright.
That first drive began well with Pitta's big catch followed by a 21-yard completion to running back Ray Rice. However, the drive stalled as Oher was penalized for illegal formation on third down.
"I thought the offensive linemen did okay," Harbaugh said. "The pass protection was pretty good. A couple of the false starts were a problem and that's got to be corrected. I thought they did pretty well for themselves for their first time out there."
On the Eagles' ensuing drive, cornerback Chris Carr bit on a fake. And safety Ed Reed was too late to prevent wide receiver Riley Cooper from hauling in a 42-yard bomb down to the Ravens' two-yard line.
That set up tight end Brent Celek's three-yard touchdown. And the Ravens never caught up.
The Ravens were threatening to score in the third quarter with Taylor under center.
However, the former Virginia Tech standout short-armed a pass intended for rookie wide receiver Tandon Doss was intercepted by safety Jarrad Page at the goal line.
"As a young guy, there's a lot of things I can get better at," Taylor said. "Just to take care of the ball in the red zone, we had an opportunity to score and I tried to make a play. It's something I can learn from.
"If I could have the play over again, maybe I would throw it early or throw it out of bounds. You see a touchdown and you want to get it, but, at the same time, you have to be smart because you've got points in the pocket."
The Ravens are expected to eventually add a veteran backup as insurance behind Flacco. Among the available veterans: Jake Delhomme, Brodie Croyle, Charlie Frye and J.P. Losman
"Tyrod did some good things," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "He's a young man who learns quickly, and you almost see improvement every play. I'll say one thing: It's not too big for him. He has poise."
In his first game with the Ravens since signing a two-year contract, former Houston Texans safety Bernard Pollard did intercept Kafka and returned it 39 yards.
"I was playing back, and you have to help out, do whatever you can to protect your corners and make a play," Pollard said. "We did a great job on that drive, but as a whole, we need to tighten up on some things."
Defensively, there were plenty of breakdowns in tackling and coverage.
The Ravens converted only 3 of 12 third downs, a 25-percent success rate. Conversely, the Eagles converted 10 of 16 third downs.
"We were in position to make the tackle in the backfield, including two sacks, and we didn't make the plays," Harbaugh said. "We have to get off the field in those third-down situations and we didn't in the first half. Converting third downs on offense and getting off the field on defense on third downs is what we have to do better."
Offensively, the Ravens are still adjusting to the losses of veteran tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason.
"These guys are doing a good job," Flacco said. "As you could see, we've got guys like Dennis who are making plays. All these young guys are out there fighting and making plays. That's exciting to watch. Like I said from the beginning, it's tough to lose [veteran players], but you have to move on.
"And I'm confident we have the guys who can step up and do it. .. I think we have a different team and I may need to take a different role on the team. I will need to help lead the team and help people to work even harder."
Ravens notebook: Kruger starting to produce
Kindle makes debut, line allows six sacks
PHILADELPHIA -- Paul Kruger lived up to his teammates' praise, relentlessly chasing the football and appearing significantly more aggressive than in years past.
The Baltimore Ravens' backup outside linebacker didn't play like a perennial benchwarmer during a 13-6 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles to open the preseason Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
Kruger led the team five tackles and one sack, chasing down elusive Philadelphia Eagles backup Vince Young.
The former second-round draft pick from Utah displayed a burst off the edge and he also played the run tough.
"It sucks that we lost," Kruger said. "It's tough to lose a close game like that. We'll look at the tape and improve. I made a couple of plays, but I was close to a tackle and a sack. Some good things and some bad things."
When the play wasn't run in his direction, Kruger redirected and made several tackles in pursuit by using good hustle and sharp angles.
"Kruger has been killing it," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "Kruger is the guy nobody has been talking about that's been killing people. You can definitely tell he's finding his niche. He's starting to understand the game more. His awareness on things is really good. The sky's the limit for that dude."
Kruger has had promising moments that didn't count in the past, though.
In two NFL seasons, Kruger has recorded only a dozen tackles, one sack and an interception.
Now, he seems to be much more prepared to contribute.
"Why not?" Kruger said. "I want to do a lot of great things here, and I want to be a good player. I want to be out there every play and doing my best to help the team. I'm doing what I can to get there."
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs notices a difference in Kruger, who has been labeled as a bust by many due to his lack of production so far in the NFL.
"I think he's taking himself more serious," Suggs said. "I think he wants to be a player now. He definitely wants to add to the defense. I think he knows, definitely, he could make some plays on this defense.
"He's bought in now. Not to say he didn't before, you'd have to ask him about that, but from what I can tell, he's really in there with the rest of us guys and he really wants to be a part of this team."
KINDLE MAKES DEBUT: One year after fracturing his skull and missing his entire rookie season, outside linebacker Sergio Kindle made his NFL debut and played fairly well.
He had two tackles, but was around the football a lot. Most importantly, there were no setbacks.
"Make plays, really," Kindle said. "Anxiety and all that stuff wasn't there, being nervous wasn't there because the hits that my own teammates give me, I can take that."
Kindle nearly sacked Vince Young, but got blocked at the last second.
"The running back came out of nowhere and picked me up," Kindle said. "I was a hair away. I told him that after the game, too."
Added coach John Harbaugh: "I noticed him. He was out there a lot. If you're looking for spectacular, I don't think it was spectacular. He played hard and did a good job."
Kindle was happy about how he played overall.
"My emotions would have been through the roof if I had got that sack," he said. "Besides that, it was great. It was great to get back on that green grass live. That's what I've been waiting a whole year and change for."
ROUGH NIGHT FOR LINE: The Ravens allowed six sacks.
And rookie offensive tackle Jah Reid as well as veteran tackles Michael Oher and Oniel Cousins all had some rough moments.
"I definitely went through some growing pains out there," said Reid, who's competing with Cousins for the right tackle job. "I definitely have a lot of room to improve. Just keep the gears in motion and come out this week just looking to get better. And that's what I'm going to do. ..
"It's my first NFL game and there are going to be some jitters, but football is football. Just because it's my first game doesn't excuse mistakes or having bad plays."
Oher was hit with 11 penalties, including eight false starts, last season to lead the offensive line and allowed seven sacks.
He gave up a sack to defensive end Trent Cole and he was hit with an illegal formation penalty on third down in the first quarter. Oher also allowed Cole to deck running back Ray Rice for a loss.
"The first preseason game, the second preseason game, you tend to know where you are by seeing different opponents," Oher said. "Next week, you'll know a little bit better. .. We just have to get it down and be conscious of it and get off at the snap. We need to get better week to week."
Cousins had the most problems in pass protection, allowing two sacks to defensive end Darryl Tapp.
"I'm going to watch the tape and try to improve on some things I need to work on," Cousins said. "They've got some good players, they're pro football players. They get paid like we get paid."
WIDE RECEIVER UPDATE: Trade rumors continue to swirl around Buffalo Bills wide receiver Lee Evans.
And the Arizona Cardinals and the Baltimore Ravens are the teams linked most often to Evans.
It's believed that the Bills are willing to deal Evans provided they get the kind of compensation they're seeking.
"I won't comment on Lee specifically," Bills general manager Buddy Nix told Sirius NFL Radio. "As a whole, we're always looking to upgrade and create competition on our roster. We're all capable of being replaced, including me.
"Nothing's changed with Lee. He's a Bill. We're counting on him. As far as I know, speculation is all it is."
Meanwhile, veteran wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Cotchery visited the AFC North franchise on Monday and took a physical followed by his visit and physical with the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday.
The Ravens decided to pass on Cotchery and are currently going with a youth movement with rookie wide receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss to work in tandem with Anquan Boldin
A former New York Jets starter and fourth-round draft pick that underwent back surgery during the offseason, Cotchery became expendable when the team added former Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress.
The Jets signed former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason to a one-year, $910,000 deal
GAITHER IS A CHIEF: After visiting the Oakland Raiders earlier in free agency, former Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither wound up with their AFC West rival: the Kansas City Chiefs.
He signed his contract Thursday. He's the third former Raven to sign with the Chiefs, joining nose guard Kelly Gregg and fullback Le'Ron McClain.
The 6-foot-9, 340-pound former Ravens fifth-round supplemental draft pick is an imposing, talented blocker who missed all of last season with a thoracic disc injury in his upper back that didn't require surgery.
Gaither also had a foot injury in the offseason and lost 30 pounds, reporting to Ravens camp last year at a slim 310 pounds. He has now regained the weight.
Gaither is regarded as an enigmatic player, though, who couldn't always be relied on. That negative factor, along with his financial demands, is the primary reasons why the Ravens didn't keep him.
The former University of Maryland lineman has started 33 NFL games.
He was offered a basketball scholarship to the University of South Carolina out of high school, but decided to concentrate on football and was given a scholarship to play for the Terrapins.
LINEUP LOOP: The Ravens played without several starters, including center Matt Birk (knee surgery), cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee) and tight end Ed Dickson (hamstring).
"I have an injury and I just wanted to take it slow thus far in camp," Dickson said. "I think the coaches wanted to keep me out so I don't hurt myself again. Watching the game, I'm very eager to get back and play."
The Ravens also scratched nose guard Brandon McKinney (knee), offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knees), running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed), wide receiver David Reed (wrist), wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring), newly-signed running back Ricky Williams and wide receiver Rodney Bradley.
First-round cornerback Jimmy Smith, who wasn't slated to play due to a nagging groin injury, made a brief cameo appearance behind starters Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb. He didn't appear to aggravate the injury in limited action.
The Ravens started rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith opposite Anquan Boldin.
Bryan Mattison, the son of former Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, started at center.
Dennis Pitta started at tight end.
Despite a neck injury that sidelined him in practice this week, linebacker Tavares Gooden played and had three tackles.
"I'm feeling a lot better," Gooden said. "It's getting stronger."
QUICK HITS: In relief of Rice, Jalen Parmele rushed for 35 yards on seven carries. ... Undrafted rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams continued his strong preseason, catching three passes for 46 yards. ... Chad Hall caught five passes for 82 yards for the Eagles. ... Michael Vick completed 4 of 6 passes for 74 yards and a touchdown.
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