Some shining moments, some not so glossy

The Baltimore Sun

The script couldn't have been any better for an opener.

The Ravens went 93 yards on 12 plays, and scored on a 6-yard pass from quarterback Steve McNair to tight end Quinn Sypniewski on their first drive of the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles last night at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Ravens coach Brian Billick then pulled out his top starters on offense, and it was over.

Mission accomplished.

It's hard to critique the Ravens' first drive, it was impressive. McNair was 6-for-8 for 83 yards and he knew exactly where his receivers were on every play, unlike a year ago when he was still learning the offense.

McNair threw to four different receivers on the drive and mixed in a lot of play-action, which should be a major staple of the offense.

Maybe most impressive was the play of Sypniewski, in his second year. Last year, he was primarily a blocker, but with backup tight end Daniel Wilcox out last night with an ankle injury, Sypniewski caught two passes on the drive, another of 3 yards.

That doesn't sound like much, but Sypniewski struggled catching the ball last season, even in practice. The drive was balanced and crisp, and the Ravens seemed to pick up where they left off last season.

Inconsistency: Backup quarterback Kyle Boller had a strong week of practice last week, but he turned in an ugly performance last night. He still struggles with touch on short passes and has that poor throwing motion, almost like a shot-putter, when delivering.

The pass he threw to Clarence Moore on a jump ball in the end zone in the second quarter was way short. Moore is 6 feet 6 and can leap out of the stadium. You might overthrow him, but you have no shot when you underthrow him.

Boller is still struggling to reach that level of consistency needed to be a starter in this league. Grade: Below average.

Running lanes: One of the most overlooked things in having a successful running game is the blocks by wide receivers because, if they can sustain them, lanes open up down field. The Ravens have a good one in Derrick Mason, and Mark Clayton has also improved in that area from a year ago.

Even second-year receiver Demetrius Williams, who got physically manhandled at times last year, threw some really nice blocks. Overall, a good job done by the top three receivers, and Heap contributed, too. Blocking grade: A.

Believe it or not: Ravens Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden apparently had a makeover. He appeared on the sideline with a combed, nicely-cropped hairdo and was clean shaven. A lot of the members of the media didn't know if it was Ogden, or his little brother, Marques.

Anyway, well done, J.O. Grade: A+.

Pass protection: Once upon a time, it was considered taboo for teams to blitz in the preseason. Teams had a common respect for each, and they knew offenses were always behind defenses as far as installation, so teams seldom blitzed.

Not anymore.

Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan had middle linebacker Ray Lewis blitzing on the fifth play from the line of scrimmage (Lewis missed), and the Eagles' defense was bringing the heat on the Ravens' fourth offensive play.

For the first time out, the Ravens did a nice job of picking up blitzes. In that facet of the game, the Ravens are ahead of schedule.

Bumper crop? It's fun watching some of the Ravens' rookie linebackers play, particularly Antwan Barnes and Prescott Burgess. Barnes has been excellent as a pass rusher in training camp, and he worked with the first team on third down situations early in the game last night. He has such great speed and burst up field. Burgess got some early work after the first team linebackers headed to the bench. Both had sacks in the first half.

Just from an early look, this could be the Ravens most impressive draft in quite a while, and the Ravens have had some outstanding ones.

Big rookies: Rookie offensive tackle Jared Gaither, a fifth-round pick in the supplemental draft, has played so well that he has overshadowed the team's No. 1 pick, guard Ben Grubbs, out of Auburn.

One of the first questions you hear is: "Is Gaither the real deal?" If he isn't, then he is close. He got a lot of work in last night, and that might come in handy if Ogden gets hurt during the regular season.

I'm not a betting man, but I think Ogden will miss two, maybe three games in 2007 because of injuries. As for Grubbs, he's the real deal, too. He can run, has power and good hips and technique.

Grades for the two youngsters: B.

Same old Ravens? The Ravens had an impressive first drive, but they also looked a lot like the old Ravens, too. In the second quarter, they took possession at the Eagles' 37-yard line. They went 5 yards in four plays and ate up a whopping 55 seconds before Matt Stover kicked a 50-yard field goal. Where have we seen that before?

Also, the Ravens' tackling in the open field was poor after receptions, even by the first unit. The most notable culprit was cornerback Chris McAlister.

Meanwile, my concerns about Stover in training camp were eased last night. He kicked five field goals, two of 50 yards. Welcome back, Matt. As for starting right tackle Adam Terry, his play still bothers me.

Home cooking: The Ravens announced a crowd of 71,060 for last night's game, but it had to be paid attendance. The upper deck of the stadium was half filled, and a lot of the suspense was gone after the Ravens scored on their opening drive.

The only thing that was left was watching the Ravens beat up on Philly's offense. By the way, didn't the Ravens look much faster than the Eagles in overall team speed?

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