(Baltimore, MD) — In a game that had all the fingerprints of the Eagles just being glad to not be at Lehigh University and them only doing the required of showing up, the Ravens thumped the Eagles 29-3 victory on Monday night at M&T Stadium. The Eagles did little to dispel cries from their fateful fans to improve upon their toughness as they were manhandled by the Ravens’ offense (157 yards rushing, 5.1 ypc) and defense (sacked Eagles quarterbacks 5 times). The Ravens took control early scoring on their first drive of the game as quarterback Steve McNair led them on 93 yard scoring drive of almost twelve minutes and the Ravens never looked back. After the game Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick was pleased saying, “”Really, really solid start. The things I’m most pleased about: One, no injuries. No. 2, no turnovers and only three penalties,” Billick said. “That’s pretty unique for a first preseason game. I was pretty pleased with the way the guys handled themselves in their first outing.”
Eagles fans please stay away from the Walt Whitman Bridge after going crazy over the Birds looking terrible and only scoring on a David Akers 23-yarder field goal late in the second quarter. Under Andy Reid the Eagles have typically not been that great in preseason going 12-21 with their best effort in 2001 going 2-1. In the Eagles defense, they used the game as an opportunity to get several younger players some live experience in game situations. Sure you never want to see your D-Line and O-Line get pushed around (remnants of the playoff loss to Saints ??), but the Eagles were without leaders quarterback Donovan McNabb, S Brian Dawkins, CB Lito Sheppard, and G Shawn Andrews. All were injured except McNabb, who was held out as a precaution as he recovers from his surgery on a torn ligament in his right knee on Nov. 28th. McNabb will make his preseason debut Friday night in Philadelphia’s second preseason game, at home against Carolina.
My star of the game was Ravens tough leader quarterback Steve McNair. The 34 year old veteran looked to have brought his “A” game, leading the Ravens to a touchdown on his only drive of the game going 6-for-8 for 73 yards, ending the 12 play span with a 6-yard TD pass to tight end Quinn Sypniewski. Willis McGahee, obtained during the off-season in a trade with Buffalo, also had a nice debut finishing with 20 yards on 4 carries including a nice 16-yard run in the initial series. McGahee also left with Steve McNair as did most of the offensive starters after they chewed up almost 12 minutes on their lengthy first quarter drive. McGahee said of his effort, “I still need to get comfortable with what the guys are doing up front. Other than that, it was good for a start.” Another bright spot for the Ravens was the play of spry kicker Matt Stover, the 39-year-old entering his 18th pro season, made all five field goal tries for the Ravens including two from 50 yards..
The Eagles did have a few bright spots despite playing against a blitz happy defense that they admittedly didn’t prepare to play against. Tight End Brent Celek looked the part of an NFL starter (see Leftovers) and the Eagles quarterbacks hung tough in the game. McNabb’s backup, A.J. Feeley started the game and played in two series. He looked good spreading the ball around and finished with stats of 5-for-7 for 56 yards. Feeley almost put some points on the board as well leading the Eagles into field goal position including a nice 23-yard catch and run from Brian Westbrook, but long snapper Jon Dorenbos’ snap had to be dug out by holder Dirk Johnson, and David Akers missed wide right from 43 yards. Feeley said “It felt good. It’s the first game and you’re facing a pretty good defense in Baltimore”. He added “But you’ve got to move the chains and get more first downs and put points on the board.” The Eagles other quarterbacks Kelly Holcomb (7-for-9 for 75 yards) and Kevin Kolb (11-for-20 for 77 yards) both survived a hellacious rush and stood tall in the pocket.
I am sure the Eagles will work this week to improve on their pass blocking, blitz pick-up, and run defense before the Panthers come to town on Friday August 17th. The game will be the much-anticipated return of Donovan McNabb from his ACL injury that has kept him out of game situations since November of 2006. I know the team will want to keep him well protected and the fans should give him a warm reception. Any effort that the team puts forth on Friday will go a long way in helping them and their fans forget a lackluster effort in Baltimore in Monday night. It is no time to panic as fans can take solace in the fact that in the Eagles’ Super Bowl year of 2003-04 they only went 1-3 that preseason including a bad 24-6 loss to the New England Patriots in the opener.
- TE Brent Celek Impresses – The 2007 fifth round draft pick from Cincinnati has continued to show that he is a player. He has had one of the best training camps of any of the rookies and he definitely has eased the Eagles’ pain of not having LJ Smith (hernia). Celek blocked well and he really looks comfortable catching the ball and making players miss. Celek had four catches for 59 yards including the play of the game for the Eagles when backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb hit him with a short pass over the middle and Celek ran over and around defenders for a 30 yard gain to the Ravens 37 yard line.
- Sav Rocca Takes a Lickin’ and Keeps on Ticking – Rocca showed his Australian rules football toughness by taking a huge “jacked up !!” hit from Ravens LB Antwan Barnes and living to talk about it on the sidelines. I thought the thirty something punter form down under did a great job punting. Rocca hits the ball with a “thump” every time and had a very good 48.3 ypp average. The battle between Rocca and Dirk Johnson should be a great story lines all preseason as Johnson was no slacker either. Johnson had two punts downed inside the 20 and had a 43.7 ypp average.
- From the Bubble to I\R ?? – It looks like injuries unfortunately will place bubble players Moats and McDougle on the injured reserve list. Third string running back Ryan Moats, who was fighting for his spot on the roster was taken off the field on a cart with a gruesome looking fractured ankle. Andy Reid said after the game of Moats “He’s probably done for the season”. McDougle, who has been a “huge” disappointment since being drafted in the 1st round in 2003, suffered a strained triceps muscle. He left the game in the third quarter and never returned. He is scheduled to have an MRI this week to access the damage.
- The Little Returner that Could – WR/KR Jeremy Bloom showed why the Eagles invested a 5th round pick on him in 2006. Though not very big at 5’9, Bloom runs with a fearless style that is exciting to watch. He had a healthy 14.5 yard punt return average on two returns including a cut back 19 yard return and 21.6 yard kickoff average (long of 26 yards). He also contributed on offense catching two passes for 16 yards.
- Competition Brings out the best in the Eagles young linebackers – Chris Gocong, a third-round draftee in 2006 who missed his rookie season with a neck problem, got some good pressure on McNair on his first snap. He showed the explosiveness coming off the edge even though McNair was able to complete the pass to tight end Todd Heap. Gocong also showed that he is improving in open space making a good tackle of TE Sypniewski after a 3-yard gain. Gocong’s main competition at the SLB spot, Stewart Bradley also impressed leading the Eagles with 7 tackles and filling in well as the second unit’s MLB.