Looking to make strides on offense and defense

OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens' checklist for tonight has a hierarchy beyond the obvious preseason drill about avoiding injuries.<br><br> Two long touchdowns were surrendered by the defense and special teams in a 26-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week. And the defending AFC North champions have major strides to make offensively in their third preseason game against the Detroit Lions at M&T Bank Stadium.

Trying to build the efficiency of a passing game that ranks last in the NFL hinges heavily on the development of second-year quarterback Kyle Boller. He'll play roughly a half.

"I need to settle myself down a little bit, and I need to be smoother," said Boller, who has completed 15 of 29 passes for 153 yards, one touchdown and an interception. "I think I am the fastest dropper in the league, and I don't need to be that fast.

"I always tell myself to slow down. It's easier said than done during a game. You have to play fast. I'm not going to be slow as molasses because that wouldn't help my offensive line out."

Through eight quarters, the first offense has scored on just 2 of 10 drives, including a Boller touchdown pass and a Matt Stover field goal.

"You always want to look like a machine on the offensive side of the ball," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "We're looking to score, and that would be huge for our offense."

Baltimore (1-1) is averaging 108.5 passing yards a game and ranks second in rushing with 151.5 yards per contest.

That's a similar ratio to last season when Pro Bowl runner Jamal Lewis led the league with 2,066 rushing yards while the team ranked last in passing offense.

"I think the main thing is that we want to be able to move the ball down the field and to keep our defense off of the field," Lewis said. "We need to be a more balanced offense and to be able to throw the ball and to run the ball efficiently."

The Ravens are averaging 3.92 yards per passing attempt with a long completion of 38 yards.

"We want to look good," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We're going to do everything we can to get into the end zone. I would much rather, from a coaching standpoint, have a 10-play drive with all the teaching that would entail than a 90-yard bomb for a touchdown."

The defense looked rather discombobulated on a few plays last week while otherwise controlling the Eagles' offense.

All-Pro wideout Terrell Owens caught an 81-yard touchdown pass behind cornerback Gary Baxter on the Eagles' first offensive play.

"Every time I step on the football field, you can always tweak something here and there and try to get better," Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis said.

There was also a 62-yard reception by Freddie Mitchell, and the 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown allowed against Philadelphia. Overall, the Ravens rank first in the NFL on defense having allowed just 417 yards.
"We're focused on keeping the ball in front of us and not letting them have any explosive plays," Baxter said. "That will let people know how good we can be. We've turned the page on T.O. and last week."

The Lions (1-1) appear much improved, particularly on an offense that features quarterback Joey Harrington, receivers Charles Rogers, Roy Williams and Tai Streets along with running back Kevin Jones.

"Talented, big group of young receivers," Billick said. "That's going to be a great test for our defensive backs and a similar style of play that we saw last week."

Also worth watching: the ongoing battle for the third wide receiver spot between Randy Hymes and Devard Darling, and the return specialist job is up for grabs between B.J. Sams, Lance Frazier and struggling incumbent Lamont Brightful.

"We need someone to show up that can do that for us on a consistent basis," Billick said.

Plus, players are trying to make a final impression on the coaching staff prior to an Aug. 31 roster cut down to 65 players.

"People say preseason games don't mean anything, well they sure do," Billick said. "A lot of guys are on that bubble. In that second half, it's going to get physical."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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