Ravens win behind strong running game

NEW ORLEANS -- Kyle Boller shuffled his feet, handed the football off smoothly to Chester Taylor and enjoyed the view of the running back dashing upfield for a touchdown. Although the Baltimore Ravens began the game by establishing their smash-mouth style as Taylor cut back and coasted 43 yards into the end zone, it was one of the few times something went right that involved Boller.

While Taylor was highly impressive in Jamal Lewis' absence as he rushed for 151 yards on 13 carries, that wasn't the major focus for Baltimore in a 21-6 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Friday night at the Superdome. His showing only verified what the Ravens (1-2) already knew about the depth and talent of their running game.

"Man, I should be thanking the offensive line," said Taylor, who entered the game with 102 yards on 23 carries. "They were giving me a crease to hit, giving me a chance to look up and see the end zone. I think they've done it all preseason. They are building for the opener."

The big picture is Boller, and his outlook remains decidedly cloudy along with consistently shoddy pass protection.

In a critical third preseason game, in a month where Boller has done little to erase doubts about his ability to develop into a viable NFL passer, the third-year quarterback duplicated several of his previous miscues.

In one half, Boller completed 5 of 11 passes for 53 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a 52.5 quarterback rating.

Through three preseason contests, Boller has completed 20 of 35 passes for 198 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions. He has yet to work with Lewis or tight end Todd Heap because of injuries.

While dealing with near constant harassment from the Saints' pass rushers, Boller reacted by throwing off his back foot and often appeared gun-shy. Again, he stared down his primary read. Plus, he missed a few open receivers downfield.

"We have to pass block better," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The protection was not what it should be, either by the line or the backs."

Boller's uneven performance follows two previously shaky outings, and will likely spark even more questions about whether he can progress to the point where he's not holding back a team otherwise primed to contend for the playoffs.

Following a 50-yard run by Taylor on his second carry, Boller hesitated to toss a swing pass to Tellis Redmon to cause a 5-yard loss.

Staring over the middle on the ensuing play, Boller's pass was deflected by defensive end Will Smith into the hands of Charles Grant. It was Boller's fourth interception and fifth turnover of the preseason.

If anything, the Ravens can still point toward Boller's intangibles while wondering about his accuracy and decision-making.

Late in the second quarter, Boller was decked by middle linebacker Ronald McKinnon, who drew a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty. Slow to rise, Boller picked himself up and two plays later delivered his second touchdown pass of the preseason.

With Clarence Moore isolated in man coverage against Mike McKenzie, Boller lofted the football for a 31-yard touchdown pass to Moore while McKenzie was flagged for pass interference.

"We knew they would bring pressure, and I wanted to take the shot," Boller said. "It was easy. I threw it up and Clarence went up and got it. It's just like we practiced."

Added Moore: "Kyle told me in the huddle, ‘You'll get singled up. Go up and get it when I throw it up there.'"

Playing the entire second half, veteran backup Anthony Wright completed 12 of 17 passes for 87 yards.

The Ravens capped their scoring with a 78-yard interception return from undrafted rookie safety Jarvis Johnson with 2:26 remaining.

Defensively, the Ravens' starters limited All-Pro running back Deuce McAllister to 29 yards on nine carries. Quarterback Aaron Brooks went 10 for 20, but generated only 139 yards.

The Ravens faltered at times in passing situations as cornerback Zach Norton allowed a 47-yard completion to Donte Stallworth to set up a 28-yard field goal. Brooks escaped the pocket on more than a few occasions to hit receivers for first downs.

"What does concern me about the defense is we had them backed up against a wall a couple of times, but didn't contain them," Billick said. "Those are things we've got to address."

Joe Horn notched a 17-yard reception on 3rd-and-10 with 1:17 remaining in the half to help set up a 48-yard field goal.

The Ravens bent, but never completely broke down against an offense dotted with outstanding skill players.

"The things we did give up were just some miscommunication, but that's football," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "If you expect to come in a game and not make one mistake, then you're expecting the wrong things. The important thing is we didn't give up a touchdown. We just played our type of football."

NOTE: Rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton, the team's first-round draft pick, was flagged for offensive pass interference and lining up in an illegal formation. …Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards sacked Saints backup quarterback Todd Bouman in the third quarter. ... Officials ruled that tight end Trent Smith was down after a catch and didn't fumble in the fourth quarter, nullifying a Saints defensive touchdown. ... Nickel back Dale Carter, who missed last season with a blood clot in his lungs, started and played in his first NFL game in 21 months. He generally held up in coverage after missing the first two preseason games with a bruised tibia.

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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