The Baltimore Ravens fell short of the goal line, when a possible game tying TD drive stalled deep in Vikings territory with seconds remaining as Minnesota won the second exhibition game for both teams 23-15. The score of the game was inconsequential, as the real competition was between Troy Smith and Kyle Boller to see who would grab the lead in the QB Derby.
Unfortunately, it appeared that neither seemed to have the upper hand after last night's contest. Smith was given the starting nod, to run the offense with the first team, and played the entire first half. His performance was lackluster at best, rushing for more yards than he passed for. While his scrambling might have been due to breakdowns in pass protection, he continued to hold onto the ball for longer than needed and relied too much on his legs to get the job done. It is nice to have a QB not afraid to tuck the ball away and scramble for yardage and frustrate defenses. However, he is also frustrating head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron as their offense was just not in gear last night.
The door was open for Boller to step in and make a statement in the second half. Too bad he played with the same lackluster effort that Smith did in the first half. Smith led the team to an early touchdown early in the half, but then seemed to stagnate the rest of the series they played. Both QB's threw poor interceptions and never looked comfortable in the pocket, regardless of the crumbling pass protection.
Rookie Joe Flacco finished up and although he looked to have more zip on his passes, he seemed a step or two behind the speed of the game that he is unaccustomed to in the NFL. He fumbled when hit, mostly because he held onto the ball too long, as he has done most of Training Camp and the two preseason games. He also threw the game ending interception after throwing an earlier one that luckily was negated due to a defensive penalty.
If there was a bright spot in the game, it was the stellar play of rookie running back Ray Rice, who played a huge chunk of the game and looked great. He scored his first NFL TD on the Ravens initial drive and ran with good speed and power, making some excellent cutback moves to gain additional yardage. While the Ravens will absolutely need a healthy Willis McGahee to be successful, it's good to know that we have an NFL-caliber backup in Rice.
The defense looked average at best, as the Vikings scored the first three times they touched the ball, leading to 17 points. The frustating issue was the way they scored, with all three drives over 10 plays each, eating up the clock and converting on third down plays over and over again. Mind you, the Ravens were without both starting corners (again!) as well as safety Ed Reed, and middle linebacker Ray Lewis only played the first drive or two of the game. The Ravens scored their final points on an interception return for a TD and the subsequent two-point convewrsion, Regardless, it wasn't the defense this team will need in order to stay competitive this season.
In summary, the team is no closer to seeing a definitive difference in the QB Derby, and it might just have to come down to experience in order to set the lineup and get the gameplan rolling for the opening of the season in just three weeks. If things don't significantly change by the Ravens next preseason game, I expect Harbaugh to name Boller the starter against the Cincinnati Bengals on September 7th. If so, expect Flacco to be on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard, as his time will probably come later in the season, most likely after the Bye week, which is after the Ravens 9th game. In addition, if Smith is relegated to second string, or even worse, third string, expect his days in Baltimore to be numbered, as the future of this franchise wears number 5, not 10.