Ravens' tacklers struggle against Eagles

Juked to the ground and stiff-armed repeatedly as the Philadelphia Eagles accelerated past them, it was an unusual showing for the Baltimore Ravens' defense. Unlike their typically crisp tackling and disciplined pursuit angles, the Ravens struggled to contain the Eagles in the open field during Saturday night's 20-14 loss at M&T Bank Stadium.

On a 51-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown, Eagles running back Brian Westbrook benefited from missed tackles from safety Chad Williams, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback Chris McAlister.

"I wouldn't say it's frustrating, but at the same time we're better tacklers than that," said safety Ed Reed, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "We do it enough. We're known for it on defense. We got our juices flowing and it was just a miscommunication.

"We still could have made the tackle, but we missed the tackle. We got to work on it. We don't just go out and not make corrections. That's not Ravens football."

Several players ascribed the lapse on Westbrook's short crossing pattern to a newly-installed scheme.

"We got gassed on one player because we put the play in last night," defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "You can't put a play in one day before you play a game, especially against the defending NFC champs. It just doesn't work out."

Other players missed tackles, too, notably safety Will Demps. The Eagles rushed for 150 yards on 27 carries.

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb broke containment and rambled for 27 yards, eluding the grasp of defensive end Tony Weaver.

Besides the poor defensive showing, the Ravens' special teams allowed Eagles cornerback Dexter Wynn's 74-yard punt return for a touchdown. On that sequence, wide receiver Devard Darling dove toward him as Wynn ran past him.

"I've got to get him down," Darling said. "You can't miss tackles."

LATERAL-GATE: Another frustrating and puzzling moment came on the final play of the first half.

After cornerback Zach Norton blocked a 38-yard field goal try, Reed corralled the football and promptly lateraled it to McAlister for a 60-yard touchdown.

The exciting score was overturned, though, by officials following an instant replay review as they determined that it was a forward lateral.

"I don't know of a football field – pup, community, Pop Warner, junior high, high school or college – where that's not a touchdown," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But evidently not in the NFL."

It looked like Reed could have scored on the play if he had kept the ball, but the Ravens practice pitching the ball during practices.

"We do it so much in practice, and it's really not even joking," Reed said. "If I'm in front, then I can make a block. I could have put it in there myself, but instincts took over. Next time, I'll make sure it's a deeper pitch."

HEAVY DUTIES: With Jamal Lewis out of the lineup again, running back Chester Taylor reprised his workhorse role.

He rushed for 47 yards on 15 carries, and has gained 102 yards on 23 carries through two preseason games.

"The offensive line has been doing a great job," Taylor said. "They get little holes for me and all I need is a little crease and I try to hit it."

Overall, though, the Ravens gained only 65 rushing yards on 31 carries.

When asked about the workload, Taylor said: "It didn't seem like 15. It's just helping me out at getting better."

In particular, new offensive guard Keydrick Vincent has boosted the running game with his ability to wall off linebackers downfield.

"He's a big improvement to the offensive line, a great guard," Taylor said. "He's a good concept to this team."

WRIGHT STUFF: Working with the reserves for the entire second half, backup quarterback Anthony Wright made a strong impression.

He led the Ravens on one scoring drive capped by running back Tellis Redmon's touchdown. After driving into the Eagles' red zone, the game ended with a Wright incompletion.
Wright declined to comment after completing 14 of 23 passes for 140 yards and no interceptions.

"You can tell the rust is still there to a degree, but I thought he did very well," Billick said.

MAKING PROGRESS: Rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton faked out two defenders on a 15-yard reception along the sideline.

The first-round draft pick also had a 12-yard catch one week after catching one pass for six yards.

"I was just having fun, doing what I've got to do to get the ball upfield," Clayton said. "We stress yards after the catch, so that's what I was trying to do."

QUICK HITS: Randy Hymes caught five passes for 44 yards followed by Derrick Mason's four catches for 29 yards. ... Nickel back Deion Sanders was decked by blocking backs when he blitzed, a contrast to the success he's had rushing the passer so far this month. ... Tight end Darnell Dinkins, who missed the game with a shoulder contusion, said it wasn't serious. "They just wanted to be careful with it," Dinkins said. "I'm fine." ... It's looking more and more likely that running back Musa Smith will remain on the physically unable to perform list when the season begins. Smith broke his leg against the Dallas Cowboys last season and underwent surgery. "I don't know when I'll be back," Smith said. "The leg still gets pretty sore."

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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