Defense struggles, then rises

The Baltimore Sun

MINNEAPOLIS -- The "bend but don't break" philosophy was put to the test by the Ravens' pass defense last night.

For the second consecutive preseason game, the first-team unit struggled in the beginning of last night's 30-7 loss to the host Minnesota Vikings before finding its rhythm later in the first half.

The Ravens surrendered 90 of Minnesota's 122 first-half yards through the air. The Philadelphia Eagles enjoyed similar success nine days ago when Philadelphia accumulated 95 of its 123 first-half yards via the passing game.

Unlike in the contest against the Eagles, however, the Ravens defense did not give up a touchdown to the Vikings, limiting them to a field goal.

Although the team isn't sounding an alarm yet, the trend over the past two weeks is a little disconcerting.

"We didn't perform very well," linebacker Adalius Thomas said. "We only gave up three points, which is the only positive part about it. But [there were] just miscommunications and missed tackles. We just have to go back to the drawing board."

"We've got a ways to go just to become a dominating defense," added cornerback Samari Rolle.

Another note of concern is that the Ravens weren't facing Donovan McNabb or Carson Palmer but Brad Johnson, who at 37 years old is considered to be on the downswing of his NFL career.

But Johnson - who completed at least 60 percent of his passes in 10 consecutive seasons, an NFL record - was 9 of 15 (60 percent) for 95 yards and tossed five passes of 10 yards or more.

Said Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan: "It's tough to get to him because he gets rid of the ball so fast, and he's decisive with where he goes."

M. Smith starts

In a mild surprise, Musa Smith, not Mike Anderson, started for Jamal Lewis, who is resting a strained hip flexor.

Smith gained just 7 yards on four attempts after leading the Ravens with 116 rushing yards in the first two exhibition games.

"Overall, it was all right," said Smith, who was told that he would be starting earlier in the week. "The whole offense was struggling tonight. When you struggle up front, it's not a good game for the running backs."

Anderson wasn't much better, carrying the ball seven times for 11 yards.

Koch has leg up

Rookie Sam Koch appears to be cementing his grip on the starting punter role.

The team's sixth-round draft pick in April averaged 51 yards on five punts, while Leo Araguz kicked his lone punt 42 yards.

Koch also kicked off for 64 and 62 yards and was the holder for kicker Matt Stover.

"Leo only had that one punt tonight, but he did well," Koch said. "I'm going to be optimistic about it and say I did [move forward in the competition], but I really can't say."

Ogden shows rust

Jonathan Ogden exceeded his 12-to-15 snap limit, but not his own expectations.

The nine-time Pro Bowl tackle started for the first time this preseason and fared reasonably well, not allowing a sack.

But on third-and-three from the Minnesota 49 on the Ravens' first series, Erasmus James did slip past Ogden just enough to pressure quarterback Steve McNair into short-arming a pass to wide receiver Derrick Mason.

"It felt like I had not played football in about seven or eight months," Ogden said. "On a scale of one to 10, I'd give it a six."

Rising to occasion

Wide receiver Clarence Moore put up the kind of showing he had been hoping for.

Moore, who was sidelined for the first two preseason games while recovering from hernia surgery, used his 6-foot-6 frame to haul in a team-high 60 yards on alley-oop-type passes of 44 and 16 yards from quarterback Kyle Boller. Both catches helped the Ravens complete an eight-play, 77-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown dive by Boller in the third quarter.

"Obviously, I was just showing that I can still go up and catch the ball," said Moore, who is battling with Devard Darling and rookie Demetrius Williams for the No. 3 receiver position. "I really see us competing against each other and making each other better. We're going to definitely continue to battle it out."

Rough ride

The Ravens' up-and-down play matched their flight.

A severe storm system on Thursday that spawned tornadoes in the Midwest wreaked havoc on air travel, and the team's charter plane was caught in the turbulence. Several players became ill.

"I wasn't too concerned about the plane going down because when I got on the plane, I gave my rights anyway," linebacker Gary Stills said. "But you had guys on the plane going, 'Oh, we're going to die.' It was terrible. I never want to experience that again."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad