Thur., Aug. 13: Ravens Kick Redskins Around, 23-0
By Joe Platania, PressBox Staff
Thursday, August 13, 2009 -- There's no doubt the Baltimore Ravens want to find a reliable kicker after deciding not re-sign free agent Matt Stover.
So, they had to figure that playing their normal kind of game was a good way to initiate the search.
In the 2009 preseason, wins and losses mean even less than usual. Instead, the Ravens have to know that if they continue to dominate ball possession and play stout defense, they have a reliable kicker that can win close games for them.
However, Thursday night's August opener against the Washington Redskins turned out just like a lot of games in 2008, with the Ravens dominating an outclassed opponent and no subsequent fourth-quarter suspense. Baltimore ranked second in the NFL last year, winning games by an average margin of 18.1 points.
Baltimore dominated the kicking game -- and every other phase, for that matter -- in a comprehensive 23-0 victory over the visitors from the south end of Route 295 in front of 70,723 M&T Bank Stadium fans.
"It felt great to be out there," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "As an offense, everything is really good. I was happy with the way our receivers and running backs were moving.
"Our line did a heck of a job for being their first time out there. I didn't have to do anything but sit in the pocket and make the throws."
And all the kickers did -- in the game conditions head coach John Harbaugh wanted -- was make the kicks. Most of them, anyway.
In the opening half, the Ravens' first two scoring drives averaged 13.5 plays, 69 yards and just over six minutes in length, resulting in two Steven Hauschka field goals.
When the second half began, Lou Groza Award winner and undrafted free agent Graham Gano (Florida State) took over, ending a 69-yard, 11-play march with a flawless 39-yard field goal.
However, the game ended with a late timeout call and Gano clanging a 28-yard attempt off the right upright thanks in part to a high snap.
"It's on the snapper (Matt Katula), but it's on the kicker to find a way to knock it through," Harbaugh said. "But they made some kicks and it was good to see in a game situation, so they did well."
On kickoffs, the two waged an evenly-pitched battle as well.
Hauschka's three kickoffs featured one that landed two yards deep in the end zone and two more that traveled to the two-yard line. Gano's first boomer after his field goal came down at the Washington 1, as did a later kick in the fourth quarter.
Gano is listed as the Ravens' backup punter, but it's not likely the Hauschka-Gano loser will be kept to fill a role that might not even be used or a job -- such as kickoff specialist -- that eats up a valuable spot.
GRIND LIKE A RAVEN
During the first-string units' initial appearance, the Ravens put their time-honored formula to work, controlling the ball, establishing field position and not letting Washington do the same.
The Redskins could only manage 196 total yards to the Ravens' 500 while allowing three sacks and committing two turnovers. Baltimore also held the ball for over 35 minutes' worth of possession, holding Washington to just one third-down conversion in 11 chances.
About the only area Washington came out ahead was in penalties; it was flagged for six while the Ravens committed nine mostly-minor infractions for 70 yards.
"Too many penalties," Harbaugh said. "That's something we have to find a way to work out, all types of penalties, and that's the most disappointing thing.
"But we were physical, protected the football and the defense played very well. The young offensive linemen played very well. Lot of good things."
The Ravens were buoyed by the appearances of safety Ed Reed and defensive lineman Trevor Pryce, while linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and cornerback Samari Rolle (neck, groin) were deactivated.
Then, a defense that has dominated most major NFL categories for the past decade (see Notes) saw five different players notch at least one tackle on the Redskins' first series, which saw them drive from their own 17 out to the 42.
Still, Washington could have inflicted major damage had a wide-open Marques Hagans not been overthrown by a pressured Jason Campbell (3-for-6, 38 yards, 70.1 rating).
Flacco looked no better, at least for one pass.
A furious Redskins rush forced the second-year Delaware product to throw off his back foot, only to see the pass batted away and nearly intercepted by Andre Carter.
After that, Flacco (9-for-15, 103 yards, 80.7 rating) settled down and began to man the position beautifully, even without injured starting left tackle Jared Gaither, right guard Marshal Yanda and wideout Mark Clayton.
He looked left towards Derrick Mason and found Demetrius Williams for an 11-yard gain near midfield. Two plays later, running back Ray Rice (22 yards, five carries; 38 yards, three catches) ran down the middle of the field, caught a short pass and rumbled 34 yards to the Redskins' 17.
"I think it was all confidence," Rice said. "Washington has one of the best defenses in the league (fourth overall, sixth scoring last year). Now, it's no knock on them, but we see the best defense every day in practice.
"It would be a slap in the face to our defense if we didn't come out here and move the ball."
After Rice's big play, Willis McGahee (26 yards, four carries; seven yards, one catch) converted a subsequent fourth-and-1 play, but right tackle Michael Oher received a gash on his forehead when he finished off a block well after the play was over. Oher would eventually return to the game.
An end-zone pass to Mason was broken up by flamboyant Washington corner DeAngelo Hall and Hauschka converted a 21-yard field goal for a 3-0 Baltimore lead that capped a drive that lasted nearly six minutes.
TWOS DO THE JOB ON DEFENSE
Some of the Ravens' second-string defense entered the game at that point; linebacker Antwan Barnes roughed up Campbell on a third-down pass to force another punt. Again, the Redskins could not advance past their own 42-yard line.
Because some of Flacco's first-string line was missing, the Redskins continued to blitz him relentlessly. However, Mason and Williams -- two players with slight injury concerns -- were playing, as was left guard Ben Grubbs. But the line held up well, grinding out a high-yardage total and allowing just one sack in 55 dropbacks.
Not even a punt-return holding penalty or Williams' hold on a Rice run could stop Flacco, who found big, physical free-agent pickup Kelley Washington (31 yards, two catches) for slants of 16 and 15 yards and Marcus Smith on a third-and-5 play to put the ball in Redskins' territory.
Washington punctuated each first down with a wild celebration and a mock first-down signal.
"We put in so much work that when you get out here in a game, in front of the crowd, it spills out," Washington said. "I'm an emotional player. I like to please the crowd and get the team into it."
Soon after Washington's second catch, McGahee hit the middle of the line, bounced to his left and gained 16 yards to the Washington 21. An illegal-shift penalty pushed the ball back five yards and a Flacco ball rifled through double-coverage to Smith on the right sideline was dropped.
On third-and-15 from the 26, a short pass to McGahee from a four-wide shotgun look set up Hauschka for his second field goal of the night, a 37-yarder that extended the Ravens lead to six points with two and a half minutes gone in the second quarter.
Barnes then nearly picked off a lazy out pass from Washington backup and 15-year NFL veteran Todd Collins (8-for-11, 70 yards, 89.2 rating).
Safety Haruki Nakamura later broke up a pass for Hagans to give the Ravens the ball back and a chance to again find out what they can do under second-string quarterback Troy Smith.
But on Smith's first drive, punter Sam Koch was needed before either Hauschka or Gano.
Smith's first two passes were too long and high for Justin Harper, and the second-year wideout from Virginia Tech -- who hasn't been able to make plays in camp on inaccurate passes -- took hard hits as a result.
Backup left tackle Oniel Cousins was flagged for holding one play later -- the first of several penalties for the third-round draft pick -- and the Ravens had to give up the ball, ending a disastrous series that saw Marcus Smith get helped to the bench as the second casualty of the night behind Oher.
"It looks serious," Harbaugh said of Smith's knee injury. "It could be an (anterior cruciate ligament)."
Smith hobbled into the locker room with a full-leg cast after the game, the latest in a series of injury blows to the wideout corps.
THE 68-SECOND DRILL
Troy Smith soon got into a groove of his own, finding newly-signed free-agent tight end LJ Smith behind linebacker Albert Fincher for 35 yards to midfield.
That drive would eventually stall, but the aggressive Ravens defense would give the Heisman Trophy-winning fifth-round draft choice from three years ago another chance.
Washington had made its deepest penetration of the game past midfield, but on a third-and-16 pass from Collins to Fred Davis, safety Tom Zbikowski (four tackles, sack, forced fumble) stripped the ball loose and Dwan Edwards recovered it for the first takeaway of the game.
The Ravens had the ball with 1:08 remaining on their own 31 and one timeout left. It was time for Smith to show what all those training-camp two-minute drills were all about.
Two 14-yard pass-and-run plays to street free agent running back Matt Lawrence put the ball on the Redskins' 38. Smith spiked the ball with 36 seconds left, since the timeout had been taken earlier in the drive before either pass to Lawrence.
It was time for Harper to shine again, and this time, Smith (14-for-30, 200 yards, TD, 79.9 rating) didn't hang him out to dry. Instead, the Redskins' secondary felt the breeze.
A slant to Harper (57 yards, four catches, TD) gained 13 yards to the Redskin 19 and a subsequent spike killed the clock with 19 seconds to go.
Smith then used the kind of deceptive pocket move Flacco had earlier on the field-goal scoring drives, and it resulted in the prettiest play of the game.
Harper, lined up on the right, apparently caught the Redskins in a soft zone defense and blew right past former University of Maryland cornerback Kevin Barnes.
With five seconds left in the half, Harper -- who had 12 passes thrown in his direction -- easily gathered in the 19-yard touchdown pass in the west end zone to give the Ravens a 13-0 halftime lead.
The 69-yard, ten-play drive was just as long as the other two point-producing possessions, but it was done within severe time constraints, a development that had to please Harbaugh and his staff.
"The two-minute drive by Troy and the guys we had out there was outstanding," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Just very well executed. Good for Troy."
Smith preferred to give Harper the credit.
"Harper did an incredible job looping around that guy," Smith said. "I thought that was a pretty tough coverage. It was a key catch he made. Harper can catch anything he puts his mind to.
"(But) all the respect in the world goes to the guys up front."
Naturally, there were other position battles that had to start sorting themselves out, not just at kicker.
Wideout Yamon Figurs, believed to be on his final opportunity to make the squad, got behind Barnes and Kareem Moore to haul in a 42-yard pass from Troy Smith and set the Ravens up on the Redskins' 32.
Lawrence (36 yards, nine rushes; 38 yards, three catches) continued his breakout night by converting a third-and-5 play into a catch-and-run and a first down at the 16.
Smith then tried to thread the needle to backup tight end Isaac Smolko, but the ball hit linebacker Robert Henson in the back at the goal line.
Gano converted his first field-goal try to make the increasingly-irrelevant score 16-0 at this point against a team that lost six of eight to finish 2008.
In '09, the Redskins are facing an uphill battle in the tough NFC East, a division that posted a 38-25-1 record last year, second-best to the NFC South among the eight divisions.
"We're still in training camp," Campbell said. "Everything we do right now is still for teaching tape and still stuff to improve off of."
A Colt Brennan (4-for-12, 43 yards, three sacks, INT, 10.1 rating) pass for Hagans was picked off and run back 14 yards near midfield by Derrick Martin, who has been converted to safety.
Martin's roster spot could be in jeopardy given the crowd at cornerback and the rich talent at safety, but the pickoff will likely help him.
Second-round defensive end Paul Kruger -- in for the injured Suggs -- got his first pro-level sack when he took down Brennan with just over seven minutes remaining to help preserve the shutout.
"I think there was a lot of pressure from all ends of the line," Kruger said. "A sack is usually accredited to a lot of different people. So, I think all the defensive linemen just got some pressure.
"It was the best feeling in the world."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was presented with the game ball by Ray Lewis as a result of the whitewash.
Not only that, but smallish wideout Jayson Foster was inserted at punt return in the fourth quarter and took his first chance back 21 yards into Washington territory. He also caught three passes for 78 yards, taking one catch-and-run play 64 yards to the Redskins' 7 midway through the fourth quarter.
Sixth-round running back Cedric Peerman (19 yards, two catches) was given a prominent place on kickoff coverage and later made a nice cutback move on a seven-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that was set up by Foster's big play.
Third quarterback John Beck (5-for-9, 105 yards, one sack, 97 rating) entered the game with 44 seconds left in the third quarter and was sacked on his first dropback. However, he later drove the Ravens 88 yards on five plays for Peerman's touchdown that made the score 23-0.
Earlier, Beck -- who had to be relieved by Smith due to a minor shoulder injury -- had connected with Harper on a 23-yard pass that was negated by a penalty.
But nothing could negate the fact that the Ravens comprehensively kicked around the Redskins... and kicked around a dilemma that won't go away for another three weeks.
NOTES: As is their custom, the Ravens will not have a training-camp practice at McDaniel College in Westminster on Friday, taking the day after a game to recover. Practice resumes Saturday at 8:45, beginning a stretch of eight straight work days before the final public practice Saturday, August 22. A closed walk-through is set for August 23, the day camp breaks...
The Redskins won the coin toss and received... The Ravens have a team-record 21 total coaches on the staff this year, up from 19 in 2007. Defensive assistant Roy Anderson came from the personnel side to the field last year and Matt Weiss is a new as a head-coaching assistant... The Ravens wore road white uniforms and the Redskins donned burgundy...
The regular season starts one month to the day from Thursday... The Ravens now lead the preseason series over the Redskins, 3-2... In the battle of brothers, Ravens safety Dawan Landry had two solo tackles and brother LaRon Landry of the Redskins notched one with an assist... It was the tenth time in Ravens team history they opened the preseason at home...
Linebacker Jameel McClain (six tackles) was helped off the field at the two-minute warning of the first half, but returned... Nakamura suffered a shoulder stinger that is not believed to be serious... Over the past decade, the Ravens' defense has allowed the fewest points, grabbed the most interceptions, allowed the lowest third-down percentage and gotten the most turnovers...
This year, the plan for Koch is to sacrifice yardage and go for good hang time instead. It worked to perfection all night; Koch posted a gross average of 37.8 yards and a net of 37.4, practically negating any chance for success by the 'Skins returners... Backup offensive lineman Bryan Mattison, son of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, was called for two penalties...
Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, an undrafted free agent who has had a good camp, lined up next to kicker Steven Hauschka on kick coverage and made the game's opening tackle on Redskins returner Rock Cartwright... Kelly Gregg's first game-situation tackle of the year as an active Raven was a no-gain stop of Washington back Ladell Betts on the game's first drive...
Baltimore's offensive unit was presented to the crowd before the game. In a change from previous procedures, the anthem was not sung until after both teams had exited their respective tunnels. Perhaps mindful of the controversy surrounding his three-week retirement, the Ravens had Mason introduced last... Pizza mogul "Papa John" Schnatter visited the TV booth...
Stubs, parking permits and the program for each game will feature a Raven photo along with one of the ten one-word slogans featured on the cover of the media guide. Thursday, the slogan was "strength" and the photo was of inactive linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo... CareFirst Blue Cross/Blue Shield is donating $1000 per touchdown this season for homeless care...
Besides Ayanbadejo, Gaither, Yanda, Clayton and Suggs, the Ravens' deactivations included cornerback Samari Rolle, who is still on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) list. Also inactive were defensive tackle Lamar Divens and rookie wideout Biren Ealy. Another first-year receiver, Thomas White, was cut Wednesday, leaving the current roster with 79 players...
The Redskins sat running back Clinton Portis, fourth in the NFL with 1487 yards. He also had 378 fourth-quarter yards in '08, fourth in the league behind the Ravens' Le'Ron McClain. Also out were back Anthony Alridge, linemen Reuben Riley, Jeremy Bridges and Randy Thomas, corner Carlos Rogers, wideout Santana Moss and free-agent pickup Albert Haynesworth...
Washington's offense was introduced to the crowd, but the players ran out of the visitors' northeast tunnel as a team... The Redskins' offense did not cross midfield until the entire Ravens' second-string defense was on the field late in the first half. A short pass to former Ravens' practice-squad running back Marcus Mason was the play that did the trick...
There are several Maryland graduates on the Redskins' staff and roster: defensive quality control coach Chip Garber, cornerback Kevin Barnes (Glen Burnie), center Edwin Williams and tackles Scott Burley (Baltimore) and Stephon Heyer... Maryland graduate Shaun Hill will start at quarterback for San Francisco in its preseason opener Friday against Denver...
Also, former Salisbury cornerback Byron Westbrook is on the Washington roster, and Johns Hopkins graduate and assistant strength coach Harrison Bernstein is employed by the team... Scouts representing 13 different teams, including Dallas, Carolina, San Diego, Philadelphia, Cleveland and the defending NFC champion Arizona Cardinals were in attendance...
Former Morgan State coach and St. Louis Cardinals back Stump Mitchell is the Redskins' assistant head coach and running backs coach... Since the Redskins are one of 17 teams that are holding training camp at their own facility -- Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia -- they are closing camp to the public after August 8. Camp breaks after the Pittsburgh game August 22...
The officiating crew was led by veteran referee Walt Anderson, who last worked a game in Baltimore last November when the Ravens blew out Philadelphia... The gametime temperature was 80 degrees with cool, partly cloudy conditions. Dark storm clouds and heavy rain showers rolled in over the stadium around 4 p.m. before the system cleared out less than an hour later.