Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Final dress rehearsal for most Ravens starters tonight vs. Carolina

OWINGS MILLS - Be careful rushing to judgment based on anything you see during the preseason.
Offensive coordinators only want to show so much during the preseason from a play-calling standpoint. Same goes for defensive coordinators. And even special teams coordinators limit what they put out there during the preseason.
That's not to say the preseason isn't important, and the third preseason game is of particular importance, at least by preseason standards.
It's the final regular season tune-up for most starters, as starters typically see only limited action (if any) during the fourth and final preseason game. It's also the game that starters typically see their most extensive workload.
The Ravens, for example, will likely play about a half during tonight's game against the Carolina Panthers. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday that some starters will play a little more than a half, some a little less.
Don't expect the Ravens to show anything overly complex on either offense or defense against Carolina.
But for Joe Flacco and a Ravens offense that has sputtered through the first two preseason games, tonight provides a final opportunity in a game-like situation to get in sync before the start of the regular season.
It provides a similar opportunity for Baltimore's new-look defense, which struggled last week against the Atlanta Falcons.
And finally, it's the best remaining opportunity for Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss, Gino Gradkowski, A.Q. Shipley, Matt Elam or anyone else competing for a starting role to make their case.
"This is going to be important," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be important the way we play. We want to win every game, and I really am proud of the way our guys have found ways to win. But we also want to play well, and that means every little thing we look at - whether it's run blocking or run defense or the way we make checks and adjustments, the decisions we make at quarterback - we want to play good, solid football.
"We've done that at times, but we haven't been consistent this preseason so far, so we'd like to see that."
The Ravens have been particularly inconsistent (and borderline bad) on offense.
Baltimore has reigning Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice and wide receiver Torrey Smith. But aside from Smith's 77-yard touchdown reception against the Falcons, the Ravens' first-team offense has failed to produce points on the other seven drives this preseason.
Against Atlanta, Baltimore's first-team offense picked up just 54 yards and two first downs on the five drives besides the one that Smith scored on.
Flacco's numbers aren't horrible - 14 of 18 for 175 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. But subtract the touchdown pass to Smith and Flacco has thrown for just 98 yards with two interceptions in three quarters of action.
But maybe most concerning to the Ravens' offense is that neither Jones nor Doss has looked the part of a starting receiver. Those two struggling combined with tight end Ed Dickson being sidelined by a hamstring injury haven't helped Flacco's cause during the preseason.
"Any unit that takes the field, we want them to go out there and be in sync, move the ball and put some points on the board," Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "We're looking forward to that. In the third game, typically you end up playing a little bit more. ...
"We want to see our effectiveness and our execution climb up a notch or two."
For the Ravens' defense, tonight's game is an opportunity to continue to jell.
Coaches and players have been enthusiastic about the defense throughout the summer - and players have repeatedly said that the defense has the potential to be a dominant unit - but there are several new starters on the defense, and players acknowledged after the game against the Falcons that the defense is still in the process of getting on the same page.
"We know this is really our last dress rehearsal going into [the regular season], so we definitely want to go out here and be on all cylinders," safety Michael Huff said. "This first half is going to be like a real game for us, so we're going to go out there and communicate, execute and just make plays."
And whether it's from the offense, defense or special teams, players making plays is exactly what the Ravens' coaching staff wants to see in this final real tune-up the season opener against the Denver Broncos Sept. 5.