After the Baltimore Ravens second victory of the pre-season, it almost seems as if so many fans are worried about what they perceive as shortcomings on both sides of the ball from what they've witnessed. The offensive line lacks depth, the pass blocking has been suspect, the run defense has been soft and the secondary isn't physical enough.
While all of these recent complaints have been seen here on Baltimore Beatdown, posted by loyal readers and knowledgable Ravens fans, we need to keep repeating, "it's only pre-season, it's only pre-season..."
Head Coach John Harbaugh plus his competent assistants are going through their processes of looking at so many different players, combinations, formations and other strategies that the outcomes, while it's nice to win as much as possible, are insignificant for the most part at this point of the year. How many times do we need to remind our fans that the Detroit Lions went 4-0 in their exhibition games last season and went on to go winless in the regular season? I remember one year early in the Ravens history that we did the same thing in pre-season, only to lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the opening game of the regular season on our way to what was then another losing season.
If you really want to see what the coaches are looking at during these meaningless games, with "meaningless" defined as the outcomes, try to figure out what roster spots are open for competition and watch those players that are reported to be fighting for those spots. Whether or not Ray Lewis or Ed Reed makes a play, or if Joe Flacco connects on a pass, or if Willis McGahee fights for that extra yard falls into that "meaningless" category. They're just getting ready for the long haul of the regular season, getting the cobwebs out and mentally preparing themselves as they have in the past. They'll be fine and will give their best efforts once the games count.
The key benefit of these games are to find out who is going to fill out the roster and in what combinations in certain situations. Who are the best group of guys to work together on all of the different Special Teams (field goal-kicking and blocking, punting/kickoff-kicking and receiving), as well as the different packages on both offense and defense. For the most part, probably 45 or so positions on the 53 man roster are probably already set in the coaching staff's minds. There might be a player or two picked up through other teams' cuts beginning next week and there'as still always a chance a free agent signing or dare I bring up, a trade happens. While the last two options are slim and none, the others are definite possibilities.
As we get closer to the first cut down date of September 1st, when teams need to trim their rosters down to 75 players, we'll begin to look at the specific players fighting for those last few roster spots. For now, the third pre-season game this Saturday will decide a few significant things. First of all, it will have the starters playing their longest amount of time in the pre-season, probably most if not all of the first half. After this game, the veteran starters will play only a series or two in the final exhibition game to prepare for the start of the regular season the following week. More than likely, most of the key position battles will be decided in this game, so watching those competitions, such as placekicking, and depth at the wide receiver and cornerback reserves should be most interesting.
Until the regular season starts, don't dispair on the trends you are seeing during these early exhibition games. Our pass protection in the fourth quarter is totally made up of reserves, which will never happen during the regular season. Same goes on the other side of the ball. So have confidence that our defense, as well as our offense, will rise to the occasion once the ball is snapped for real on September 13th. Relax and enjoy that football season is upon us.