Ravens' running game bottled up

OWINGS MILLS -- It wasn't the same sort of tackle-busting production for running back Musa Smith, nor did he have the same type of wide-open landscape to roam through. The missing ingredient for Smith, who entered Friday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings as the NFL's leading rusher, was simple.

There weren't many holes in the defense to exploit as the Vikings' front seven muscled the Ravens' blockers either into a stalemate or pushed them into the backfield.

After gaining 116 yards in the Ravens' first two preseason contests, Smith was limited to seven yards on four carries for a 1.8 average.

Smith was slammed to the ground on an emphatic tackle by former University of Maryland star linebacker E.J. Henderson on the Ravens' first offensive play.

"Overall, it was all right, but the whole offense was struggling," said Smith, who learned early in the week that he would start in place of Jamal Lewis, who's recuperating from a strained left hip flexor. "When you struggle up front, it's not a good game for the running backs."

When asked if the blocking was as strong against the Vikings as it had been in the previous two preseason games, Smith replied: "No, definitely not. We didn't get many rushing yards."

Mike Anderson didn't fare much better than Smith, gaining 11 yards on 7 carries for a 1.6 average.
However, Smith didn't feel that the Vikings had a clear edge in motivation or intensity.

"I didn't feel like they were really fired up," he said. "I didn't get that energy from them."

Offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo acknowledged missing his block on the opening play.

"I missed my block, other guys make mistakes and it just compounds," he said. "It makes it tough to cope."

DOWNWARD SPIRAL: The Ravens' defense allowed only three points in the first half, but weren't nearly as stingy when it came to yardage. Especially the secondary.

The Ravens allowed 90 of the Vikings' 122 yards in the first half on passes.

The major breakdowns were missed tackles and conservative coverage techniques where cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle essentially conceded the short, underneath pass to quarterback Brad Johnson.

"The only positive we had going was that we only gave up three points," outside linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "It seemed like we just couldn't make a tackle. There were too many miscommunications going on and we slipped up.

"It was just bad, just plain bad. It was a little bit of everything: missed tackles, communication, just the way we rubbed elbows with each other. We got beat across the board."

Johnson, 37, completed 9 of 15 passes for 95 yards, including five completions of 10 yards or higher.
"Brad Johnson is pretty good," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "It's tough to get to him because he gets rid of the ball so fast and he's decisive with where he goes."

OGDEN UPDATE: Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden's preseason debut didn't receive glowing reviews from an important critic: himself.

The nine-time All-Pro allowed defensive end Erasmus James to get past him upfield on a 3rd-and-3 situation at the Vikings' 49-yard line, forcing Steve McNair to throw shorter than intended to wideout Derrick Mason.

"It felt like I had not played football in about seven or eight months," Ogden said. "I feel like I'm playing a little high, so on a scale of one to 10, I'd give it a six."

Ogden is trying to lose 15 to 20 pounds after missing an entire training camp following his father's death.
It was a different experience altogether for James, who recalled struggling against Ogden a year ago.

"Last year, I couldn't get past him and he was covering me a lot," James said. "It felt great to get back there to the quarterback."

TURBULENCE: The Ravens experienced an unforgettable white-knuckle flight into the Twin Cities because of severe turbulence caused by tornadoes in the Midwest. The team landed safely, but the extended rocking of the plane caused several players to become nauseous.

"It was the worst plane ride ever," linebacker Gary Stills said. "You had guys on the plane going, ‘Oh, we're going to die.' It was terrible and I never want to experience that again.

"There was no warning. Stewardesses were walking around like nothing was going on. I'm glad they didn't tell us because if they had said we're about go down.. I was more concerned about my stomach."

PUNTING UPDATE: Rookie Sam Koch may have made winning the punting competition a fait accompli, and he has designs on claiming the kickoff specialist job.

The sixth-round draft pick from Nebraska averaged 51 yards on five punts, including a long punt of 61 yards. Plus, Koch kicked off for 64 and 62 yards and held for kicker Matt Stover.
Koch appears to be in the driver's seat for the job over veteran Leo Araguz, who had a 42-yarder on his lone punt.
"I'm not going to ever say it's over until the coaches tell me that," Koch said. "I'm optimistic about how things are going and it felt great to punt well."

SCOUTING REPORT: Former Washington Redskins quarterback Doug Williams -- a personnel executive for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers -- was in the Metrodome pressbox to prepare an advance scouting report. He'll have plenty to tell coach Jon Gruden after this lackluster performance.

TRAINING ROOM: The Ravens reported no injuries. However, rookie cornerback Ronnie Prude was limping noticeably after the game.

QUICK HITS: Linebacker Terrell Suggs had seven tackles and a sack, statistics that were matched exactly by backup middle linebacker Mike Smith. ... Rookie defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the team's first-round draft pick, was much more active and registered his first NFL tackle. ... Undrafted rookie quarterback Drew Olson saw his first action, completing 1 of 2 passes for 18 yards. ... Rookie running backs Cory Ross and P. J. Daniels rushed for 23 and 19 yards, respectively. ... Defensive tackle Justin Bannan forced a fumble.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times

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