The semi-regular pre-season Battle of the Beltway resumes tonight as the Baltimore Ravens travel to face the despised Washington Redskins. Despised because for years their former owner (may he rest in piece) fought tooth and nail to keep an NFL team out of Baltimore. Despised because their fans have an air of superiority, when it comes to people in Baltimore, despite rooting for an inferior franchise. Despised because Dan Snyder had the gall to fire Baltimore’s favorite QB coach in Jim Zorn. Sound forced? That is the way I feel about the Redskins/Ravens/Baltimore/DC geographic rivalry. Sure there is some animosity between the cities,but the NFL schedule rarely allows for meaningful games between the two clubs. Creating buzz for a pre-season game between the ‘Skins and Ravens is just as difficult as doing so for the O’s/Nats games.
The good thing about week 2 of the pre-season is that we should see about a full half of football for the 1st teamers. That gives us more time to evaluate where the Ravens are at this point in the pre-season. There are a few positional battles to keep an eye on and some units to pay close attention to. Here are my items to watch tonight:
1. Play of the Seconday: This is likely to be a season long theme. The play of this unit, and in particular of the corners, will go a long way in determining how close the Ravens get to their goals this year. The corners played well against Carolina, despite playing without Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb and only having Chris Carr for limited time. Washington makes his pre-season debut tonight and the Ravens will face a much better QB in Donovan McNabb. How Washington looks and how much the Ravens let him play, will be interesting to watch. so will how guys like Cary Williams, Prince Miller and Travis Fisher fair against a better pass offense.
2. Pressure generated by the defensive front: Tied into the play of the secondary is the ability of the Ravens to pressure the passer. Last year was a struggle. After on pre-season game the Ravens seemed primed to get after opposing QB’s. Terrell Suggs looks quicker and stronger, and Cory Redding, Haloti Ngata, Tervor Pryce and Terrence Cody look like they will be a handful. The Ravens will not be dialing up a lot of blitz pressure, but look for th is unit to again be quick off the ball on their way to the passer.
3. Play of a thin offensive line: The line struggled at time against Carolina. And surprisingly, the gaps int eh left side of the line looked bigger than the right. Michael Oher needs to have a better game, but more importantly will be the play of the right tackle spot. Jared Gaither and Oneil Cousins are out and that leaves Ramon Harewood and Tony Moll to get most of the snaps. I am curious to watch how Harewood looks against some first teamers. Let’s hope the line as a whole does not allow as many big hits on Joe Flacco and the rest of the QB’s.
4. Kicking competition: Round 2 of the Graham v. Cundiff battle is important fo both kickers. Ravens coaches maintain that the race is about even. Cundiff seems to have kicked better so far, but Graham may be who the staff expects to win the spot. Would be nice to see Cundiff get some opportunities on field goals, he looked strong on kick-offs last week.
5. Middle linebacker competition: Early in camp Jameel McClain looked like one of the surprises of camp. He was flying around and having an impact at the only spot on defense truly up for grabs. McClain struggled against Carolina and has opened the door for Dannell Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden. Ellerbe seemed to be the favorite to start heading into camp, but t his week reports have come that Gooden has gotten more run with the 1st team than the other two. Gooden, however, is not very durable and it is likely that all 3 guys will see time this season, but can one of them set themselves apart tonight and ultimately win the job for the start of the season?