Ravens' line faces another tough test tonight: Tamba Hali
OWINGS MILLS – The scourge of NFL quarterbacks is in town, an arrival that pits the Baltimore Ravens' patchwork offensive line against one of the most feared pass rushers in the league.
The last time the Ravens attempted to block Kansas City Chiefs All-Pro outside linebacker Tamba Hali, they won the game and lost the battle against him as he recorded seven tackles and two sacks during a 30-7 AFC wild-card victory in January.
For an offensive line in flux that allowed six sacks against the Philadelphia Eagles to open the preseason a week ago, tonight's home preseason opener against the Chiefsa at M&T Bank Stadium should provide an accurate barometer of where they stand.
"Just another good test, he got after us a couple times in the playoff game," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "He's one of those guys that used to only line up on one side and now he plays both sides, so we're going to have to be aware of where he is like any great pass rusher. It might take some double-teams, some triple-teams. We'll have to put together some kind of plan or he can create problems."
The Ravens will be shorthanded again upfront.
Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk remains out after undergoing surgery on his left knee and Bryan Mattison will man the spot for the second week in a row.
Offensive guard Marshal Yanda is sidelined with back spasms, and Oniel Cousins will play right guard after struggling mightily against Eagles defensive end Darryl Tapp in a start at right tackle.
And rookie offensive tackle Jah Reid is lining up at right tackle after Cousins' ugly game and rough moments of his own against Philadelphia.
"Well, I don't want to see no sacks," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I definitely want us to do a better job with that. I don't think we're going to look like we're at midseason form, but I'd like to see us be solid in pass protection and get the run game going a little bit."
Where did the Ravens' line specifically have problems against the Eagles?
They had trouble matching the speed of Tapp and Trent Cole.
They committed several penalties with Michael Oher flagged for illegal formation to halt one drive.
Whether it was alignment, assignment or technique, they faltered.
"Of course, I want to progress from the first game,"said Reid, a third-round draft pick from Central Florida. "I want to get better, I want to be a little more in control of myself. I want to be on my checks and take care of my responsibilities a little bit more.
"I want to gain some experience and carry that into the other preseason games and into the season. My sets, my steps, my hands, that can all get better. I've been working on it all week and can't wait to see how much I've improved."
Reid decked linebacker Jason Phillips in practice this week.
Even though he had some problems in his NFL debut, the 6-foot-7, 336-pounder is a physical, tough presence.
Reid draws high marks for aggressiveness and power.
"He's very strong," Harbaugh said. "He's just a gifted, gifted guy. Big, strong, he's a bender, he's got very long arms. He's got a little bit of a nasty streak.
"Obviously, he's more ahead in the run game than he is in the pass protection at this point, which you would expect, but he's getting it. Just fundamentals, attention to details, assignment, plays with a little bit of poise. Hopefully, the game will slow down for him a little bit."
Playing against Hali, though, will be a tougher challenge for Reid.
The former Penn State star led the AFC with 14 ½ sacks last season.
"It's a great challenge, going against competition makes you better," Reid said. "I'll be able to see what I'll really be up against later on."
If Reid isn't up to the task, the Ravens could always shift Yanda back to right tackle where he played last season.
They could also sign a veteran free agent tackle such as Jonathan Stinchcomb or Flozell Adams.
"We're going to try to work out the best five in some combination," Cameron said. "It may not be ideal, but it's probably our best alternative."
This is a particularly big game for Mattison, the son of former Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
He's going to be matched opposite former Ravens nose guard Kelly Gregg, who signed a one-year, $3.5 million contract with Kansas City after being cut by Baltimore last month.
The Ravens are encouraged by how Mattison played last week.
"He actually did a very nice job, and that was a big game for him," Harbaugh said. "That was the first time he had ever played the position, and if he didn't do well, it might have been the last time he ever played it realistically. And he did really well, so that's a plus, but that's not our starting center. He's learning, especially how to make the calls."
Cameron acknowledged that the Ravens' offensive line still has a lot to prove and room to grow in order to be considered stout on the line.
"We're going to try to be," Cameron said. "We really don't know yet. We are going to know more in the next two or three weeks."
DIME PACKAGE: Six Things to Watch
1. The scrutiny and pressure on the Baltimore Ravens' offensive line doesn't stop tonight at M&T Bank Stadium against the Kansas City Chiefs. One week removed from a rough night against the Eagles where they allowed six sacks and committed multiple penalties, tackles Michael Oher and Jah Reid and converted guard Oniel Cousins are tasked with blocking All-Pro outside linebacker Tamba Hali. Hali was the AFC sack leader last season with 14 1/2 sacks. The Chiefs also have an underrated pass rusher in Wallace Gilberry. To succeed offensively this season, the pass blocking has to improve significantly.
2. This marks the preseason debut for a few key new players: wide receiver Lee Evans and running back Ricky Williams. Evans was brought to Baltimore to provide a deep threat. Williams is a bruising runner who backs up featured back Ray Rice.
3. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith were targeted a total of four times last week, but failed to catch a single pass. In particular, Smith needs to have a viable game as he's now relegated to the third receiver role behind Evans.
4. Rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor is unlikely to enter the season as the backup to Joe Flacco. Still, this likely represents his last chance to convince the coaches that he can step in if needed. He displayed toughness and mobility last week, but was intercepted twice and sacked five times.
5. Can Paul Kruger keep it up? The former second-round outside linebacker recorded five tackles and a sack last week. Now, the challenge is to stack together two good games in a row and establish himself as a reliable pass rusher.
6. Who's not playing? Not expected to play: center Matt Birk (left knee surgery), offensive guard Marshal Yanda (back spasms), wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring), safety Marcus Paschal (quadriceps), cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring) and running back Damien Berry (ankle). Cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee) is expected to play this week. Wide receiver David Reed, who underwent offseason surgery on his left wrist, has missed the last few practices. Offensive tackle Ramon Harewood was activated this week from the physically unable to perform list and began practicing after undergoing surgery on both knees last year.
Notebook: Lee Evans: 'You want to try to earn your stripes'
OWINGS MILLS – Deprived of a deep threat for several years, the Baltimore Ravens will unveil newly-minted wide receiver Lee Evans tonight at M&T Bank Stadium.
After being acquired from the Buffalo Bills via a trade in exchange for a fourth-round draft pick, Evans makes his game debut with the Ravens against the Kansas City Chiefs
"It won't be emotional, but you want to try to earn your stripes," Evans said. "Coming out here in this first preseason game is the first step in the process, I just want to make plays when I get a chance."
For the former Wisconsin standout, getting up to speed on a new playbook is his first priority as he gets acclimated to his new football team.
"The terminology is not similar at all, completely different," Evans said. "The only thing I'm going on is I ran a similar system before about four years ago so some of the things are familiar. I'm just trying to get adjusted to everything else.
"It's different words, different codes, different ways they do things, so I'm just trying to get a handle on that, and once I do, it should be OK."
After a dizzying few days since the trade last Friday and an initial practice Saturday, Evans is starting to learn offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system.
"The whirlwind is starting to slow down a little bit," Evans said. "I think we're working in the right direction."
Evans, 30, has displayed his trademark speed. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds at the NFL scouting combine in 2004 when the Bills drafted him in the first round.
Evans has been building chemistry with quarterback Joe Flacco, connecting for several receptions.
"It's all about taking steps in the right direction, communicating, and understanding what each other is looking for," Evans said. "I think we're getting to that point. You look at Joe, like I've said before, he's probably the best quarterback I've played with. Drew Bledsoe was great, but Joe's young and real energetic. So, it's a growing process.
"You can't say it's going to happen in a week, two weeks. I think where we are right now, and where we'll be in a week will be better. Throughout the season, it'll be a growing process. You don't force things now, you let them come naturally, and I think it'll be there when the time is right."
Evans said he knows enough about the offense to perform and has been getting tips from Flacco and fellow starting wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
"They helped me out," Evans said. "So, I'm to a point now where I'm comfortable with things, a lot more comfortable with the language. Going out there and playing, I'll be able to do that."
BISCIOTTI IN FAVOR OF 18-GAME SCHEDULE: Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti is a proponent of the NFL eventually shifting to an 18-game regular-season schedule.
"I think it became such a flashpoint, that our negotiating team figured that it wasn't worth pushing," Bisciotti said during a conference call with personal-seat license holders. "What we did as a show of faith was to go from what we had as a unilateral opportunity to impose 18 games in the old CBA, we agreed to let it become a negotiating point with the union going forward Nobody likes things being forced on them, and the fact that the old CBA made it clear that we could impose it on them, I think that it kind of made them angrier that they didn't feel like they were getting heard.
"We felt that it was in our players' best interests to leave it out of this fight and open it up for negotiation a year or two from now and see what the additional revenue would be so that they're making a decision with eyes wide open."
Bisciotti is hoping for a Monday night home game and was disappointed the Ravens weren't awarded one this year. The Ravens' last home Monday night game was four years ago against the New England Patriots.
"I will bet you a Ravens hat and a shirt that we are on Monday Night Football at home next year," said Bisciotti, who's on the NFL broadcasting committee. "You call back and ask for it if we don't get it because I'm going to fight like hell for it. They kind of slipped that one in on me and it was too late.
"I obviously didn't fight hard enough when they asked us for our preferences. I was very disappointed because I had mentioned it to the scheduling guys when we didn't get it last year. They took note."
And Bisciotti is looking for the Ravens to eventually be asked to play overseas in London in the NFL's international series. "They haven't come to me," Bisciotti said. "My time is going to come up and I'm going to accept it when I do it. I think it's in the best interest.
"I would love to get some more Ravens fans over the pond. If it's our year in the next few, then I certainly hope that it's an away game and our fans still get their eight home games."
What if it costs the Ravens a home game?
Bisciotti's reply: "Hopefully we'll get a bunch of our season-ticket holders over there because they do give season-ticket holder a chance to buy tickets."
BOUNCING BACK: Rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor was intercepted twice and sacked five times during the Ravens'13-6 preseason loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, he's hoping to bounce back and is looking forward to playing his first home game.
"They showed a lot of support during the practice we had in the stadium," Taylor said. "I want to improve on everything. There's room for improvement in every aspect of my game. I want to go out there and build on last week."
Taylor completed 19 of 28 passes for 179 yards against the Eagles.
Like Philadelphia, the Chiefs have a formidable pass rush.
"They're one of the top defenses across the league," Taylor said. "We've done some things in preparation for them. I'm looking forward to the game and going out there and playing ball."
REUNION: A trio of former Ravens starters return to Baltimore tonight with their new team.
Nose guard Kelly Gregg ($3.5 million), fullback Le'Ron McClain ($1.5 million) and offensive tackle Jared Gaither ($685,000) all signed with Kansas City recently.
"Those guys are all good players,"coach John Harbaugh said. "They've all proven themselves, and they've been contributors here, and it'll be fun going up against those guys. Three guys that we just had here, and thought we had a chance, maybe to keep here as recently as two weeks [ago], [and now] you're playing against them. So, that'll be kind of an odd thing."
INJURY UPDATE: Not expected to play: center Matt Birk (left knee surgery), offensive guard Marshal Yanda (back spasms), wide receiver James Hardy (hamstring), safety Marcus Paschal (quadriceps), cornerback Chris Carr (hamstring) and running back Damien Berry (ankle).
Paschal may be out for a long time.
Cornerback Domonique Foxworth (knee) is expected to play this week. Wide receiver David Reed, who underwent offseason surgery on his left wrist, has missed the last few practices.
Offensive tackle Ramon Harewood was activated this week from the physically unable to perform list and began practicing after undergoing surgery on both knees last year.
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