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Ravens could finally have offense to support title aspirations

Rafael Suanes / US Presswire
Lee Evans has added a new dimension to the Ravens' offense with his speed and vertical ability.


The preseason is certainly not a true indicator of regular-season performance, but it does reveal certain things about teams if you know where to look. Here are three things that showed up in the preseason that bear watching with Week 1 here:

» The Ravens' rebuilt offense could vault Baltimore to the top of the AFC. Led by an experienced offensive line and a fleet set of pass catchers, the Ravens have the potential to produce fireworks.

While that sentiment was expressed a year ago when the team relied on a veteran group of receivers -- Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason -- and hung its hat on an emerging frontline, the 2011 version of the Ravens features more speed, power and explosiveness. The infusion of athleticism on the perimeter should lead to more big plays in the passing game, while the reshuffling of the offensive line will upgrade an already potent rush attack.

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On the outside, it's all about the addition of receiver Lee Evans, who will produce more explosives (passes of 25-plus yards). As one of the fastest players in the league, Evans has the ability to blow the top off coverage. His ability as a vertical threat is reflected in his career average of 15.7 yards per catch and 43 touchdowns. His impact was immediately felt during the preseason when he tallied six receptions for 128 yards (21.3) on a host of vertical throws.

With Evans able to stretch the field, the Ravens' remaining weapons -- Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta and Boldin -- should be able to find open windows underneath. Dickson and Pitta, in particular, will find it easier to roam the middle of the field with most of the attention directed at the receivers. Both possess the athleticism and agility to separate from linebackers and their superior size provides the quarterback with a big target. This should result in easier completions for Joe Flacco, especially in the red zone, where the offense repeatedly bogged down in 2010.

Although offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will be able to lean more on the passing game, the Ravens remain a run-first team featuring Ray Rice, Ricky Williams and Vonta Leach behind a monstrous line. The frontline also should be vastly improved with Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode coming aboard.

Both veterans are lauded for their rugged run blocking and their presence allows the Ravens to reshuffle the deck to maximize production provides insurance against injuries. McKinnie, in particular, gives the Ravens the benefit of moving Michael Oher back to right tackle, a position he flourished at as a rookie.

Considering Pittsburgh has stood in Baltimore way in the division and the playoffs, getting the offense to be more balanced, yet explosive could yield big results.

» Kansas City's offense is in trouble. The unit struggled in the preseason. The absence of former coordinator Charlie Weis, who left for the University of Florida in the offseason, could be the reason why.

Matt Cassel went to the Pro Bowl last season in Weis' system, but failed to find his rhythm as a passer this preseason. Don't look at his numbers, which became inflated after a meaningless performance against Green Bay's second-stringers. Instead, focus on the fact he failed to connect consistently with primary weapon Dwayne Bowe and was forced to rely on checkdowns to his running backs. Consequently, the Chiefs didn't move the ball or score when penetrating the red zone.

What complicates matters even further is the fact that Cassel suffered a rib injury in the preseason finale, and his status is uncertain for Week 1 against the Buffalo Bills. If he is able to play, it likely will be in discomfort which will alter how he performs in the pocket.

If Cassel is unable to suit up, Tyler Palko is the backup and he doesn't strike fear in the hearts of opposing coordinators. Palko has bounced around the league as a practice squad player for a few seasons, but has just six regular-season passes. He has shown flashes during the preseason, but his two-interception performance against second- and third-string Packers in the finale exposed his inexperience and flaws.

In the preseason, the Chiefs also struggled getting their running game on track. The team averaged only 3.4 yards per carry (29th in the league) and failed to produce a run of 20-plus yards. Again, it's just the preseason, but the lack of production on the ground is troublesome.

» The Eagles have consistency problems. After acquiring loads of talent, Philadelphia is facing high expectations. But the team sputtered at times in the preseason and looked nothing like the juggernaut most anticipated following the acquisitions of Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith.

Offensively, Michael Vick and his receivers have failed to connect consistently due to the lack of protection provided by the offensive line. Vick has been battered repeatedly during his time on the field. The constant pressure has flustered him and prevented him from delivering accurate throws. More importantly, he has shown signs of reverting back to the run-around playmaker that he was prior to his arrival in Philadelphia.

The defense, on the other hand, has been inconsistent against the run. Opponents have been successful pounding the ball between the tackles, which prevents the team from unleashing its ferocious pass rush at quarterbacks forced to throw in long-yardage situations. While the unit showed progress as the preseason concluded, the image of watching backs run roughshod through the middle will inspire others to try to do the same.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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