Ravens' offense off to fast start

BALTIMORE -- Steve McNair calmly delivered the football Monday night, enjoying the luxuries of time, a variety of targets and a revamped game plan. Willis McGahee, the $40 million runner acquired to revitalize a dormant running game, burst through a gaping hole created by rookie offensive tackle Jared Gaither.

And whether it was Todd Heap breaking free on a waggle pass or Derrick Mason shaking loose on a sideline catch, one theme resonated during the Baltimore Ravens' 29-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles in front of an announced crowd of 71,060 at M&T Bank Stadium.

This didn't resemble the usual vanilla offense as Baltimore employed a one-back formation, three wide receivers and a more freewheeling approach. Plus, kicker Matt Stover hit all five of his field goal attempts, including a pair of 50-yarders, to set a preseason career-high.

"We want to make a name for ourselves, and the only way we can make a name for ourselves is to execute like this," McNair said. "We wanted to start fast and get some things accomplished. Coach [Brian] Billick did a good job of mixing up the plays: a little play-action, a little running and a little passing."

McNair put an exclamation point on a 12-play, 93-yard drive that lasted 6:05, firing a 6-yard touchdown pass into tight end Quinn Sypniewski. McNair completed 6 of 8 passes for 73 yards, connecting with four different receivers, for a 142.2 quarterback rating.

"We hit most of the things we wanted to hit," said Heap, who had a 22-yard broken-field catch-and-run. "We didn't hit everything, so we've got some things we can improve on, but overall it was a great start."

McGahee, whom Baltimore acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills after cutting ties with Jamal Lewis, busted a crowd-pleasing 16-yard run off left tackle. In his debut, he finished with 20 yards on five carries.

"A preview of more to come of this magnificent offense we have," McGahee said with a smile. "We're coming around. We've got to take some of the pressure off the defense. Offense is going to step up. It's going to fall into place for us."

"We're good, but there are still certain little things that we need to work on. I still need to get comfortable with what the guys are doing upfront."

On third-and-9, McNair lofted a crisp 21-yarder to Mason down to the Eagles' 8-yard line. McNair looked much more comfortable heading into his second season in Baltimore.

"I think a year under my belt in the system, getting the chemistry down, that's a plus for me," McNair said. "Being able to know the system and doing these things well, it's a good sign for us."

Three plays after Mason's big catch, the Ravens were in the end zone and the starters took the rest of the night off.

"We saw a lot of good things," Billick said. "We were very efficient."

Meanwhile, the Ravens' first defense halted the Eagles, who were playing without quarterback Donovan McNabb, at their 25-yard line with kicker David Akers' flubbing a 43-yard field goal attempt.

However, outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, All-Pro Adalius Thomas' replacement, got caught out of position on a 23-yard swing pass to running back Brian Westbrook and cornerback Chris McAlister missed a tackle.

"We've always been an aggressive defense, but I think we're taking it up to another level," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "And it bit us in the butt once because they slipped a screen on us because we are so aggressive."

A two-minute drive fell short on an incomplete Kyle Boller fade pass to Clarence Moore. Stover hit a 41-yard field goal for a 13-3 lead. Boller completed 7 of 12 passes for 40 yards.

Rookie linebacker Prescott Burgess decked Kelly Holcomb for a sack, a feat repeated by blitzing defensive back Ronnie Prude and rookie outside linebacker Antwan Barnes. Philadelphia rookie Kevin Kolb was sacked by Gerome Sapp on a safety blitz to end the first half.

The Ravens defense had four sacks by halftime. "It felt good to be out there flying around," Burgess said. "The other linebackers said I played like a Ravens linebacker, so they gave me a thumb's up."

In the second half, the battle to be the Ravens' third quarterback between Troy Smith and Drew Olson heated up.

A second-year pro, Olson threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to fullback Le'Ron McClain. Olson, who prepped in NFL Europe, completed 7 of 9 throws for 84 yards.

"You're obviously competing for your job," Olson said. "I would be lying to you if I said I didn't feel it, but you put it in the back as much as you can and be as smooth and calm as you can."

Smith struggled with his accuracy, going 3 for 11 for 34 yards. His lone bright spot was a 13-yard scramble and no turnovers.

"I was pressing, trying to do things too much," Smith said. "Some things clicked, some things I forced. A lot of it was about being a rookie and being excited out there."

Stover hit his fifth field goal on a 41-yarder with 3:24 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"I still went out there with my seven-iron," Stover said. "The ball was flying nice. The swing got together."

NOTES: Running back P. J. Daniels strained his hamstring during warmups. Guard Chris Chester sprained his foot. Neither injury is considered serious. … Cory Ross led Baltimore with 65 rushing yards, including a 24-yard run. … Eagles running back Ryan Moats fractured his ankle.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Ravens Insider Top Stories