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Viewer's guide to tonight's Ravens game

Watching NFL preseason games is really an art form. Actually, it should be approached almost opposite from viewing a regular-season game.

You see, an NFL game that counts is plot driven. The object, obviously, is to win the game and consequently, as an observer even the sophisticated fan is driven to watch the game in terms of the scoreboard. The score, how the teams are attacking and reacting strategically, the time left on the clock are all paramount elements. To be sure, the individual games within the larger game are also things to be watched closely, but it is the larger picture that grabs our attention.

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But in the preseason and especially the early preseason, the scoreboard is really irrelevant.  The game is more like a story that is character driven. It is the individual performances that are more worthy of our attention rather than the tactics and the success and failure of the plays.

So what you should focus on are those players and positions that pose questions going into the regular season.

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And, of course,  once the first- and second-string teams are finished for the night, you're likely to be watching a lot of players who won't be on the roster in early September anyway.

Here's what I'm looking for tonight when the Eagles come to M&T Stadium for the Ravens' preseason opener. Depending on how fancy defensive coordinator Rex Ryan (right) wants to be with his defense, I'm looking to see how he'll make up for the departure of all-purpose defender Adalius Thomas. Now, frankly, I may be frustrated in not being able to learn very much because Ryan may not be ready to roll out a full package or he may simply not want to start putting that kind of information on tape. But since he has to get the troops some experience under game-type conditions, we should begin to see how the defense is being adjusted and who has what responsibilities for the many things that Thomas did.

Second, the offensive line -- across the board. Tony Pashos wasn't a Pro Bowler but losing a starting tackle is never a good thing. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden will sit out with the toe injury.  Hopefully, Big Jon, a Hall of Famer in waiting, has 16 regular-season and a handful of playoff games in him, but if age and/or injury are going to be a concern, I want to see how the left side is going to operate.

Third, Kyle Boller. This is the NFL and the attrition rate among quarterbacks is frightening. Take a look at the guys the Ravens are playing tonight for a lesson on that. Donovan McNabb gets hurt nearly every season and yet the Eagles made a playoff run and came to within a whisker of the NFC title game last year  because they had a good backup in Jeff Garcia. Somewhere along the line, Baltimore is going to need Boller so I want to see if he continues to improve as he did in 2006.

Fourth, running back. Most fans will be on the edge of their seats, watching Willis McGahee. For running backs, I think preseason games ought to be about getting their shoulder pads pounded into shape a little -- and staying healthy. If McGahee carries six to eight times and averages three-plus yards, I'm fine with that. Frankly, I'm a little more interested in a running back on the other side, Eagles rookie Tony Hunt. Hunt is an all-purpose, sturdy Penn State guy I would have liked the Ravens to have drafted (and maybe they would have) but once they made the McGahee deal,  that wasn't going to happen.

And finally, I'm interested in Eagles rookie defensive end Victor Abiamiri because of the local angle -- he's a Randallstown kid who went to Gilman and played at Notre Dame.

Photo credit:  Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun

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