Here are five observations on the Baltimore Ravens after watching Thursday night's 16-15 preseason win over the New England Patriots.
1. Playing with discipline
This was what the Ravens were looking for most, especially with a new head coach (John Harbaugh), a new offensive coordinator (Cam Cameron), a quarterback who will be selected from the pool of Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and rookie Joe Flacco and with several young defensive players battling for roster spots. The Ravens committed six penalites for 50 yards. They lost two fumbles and tossed an interception. Rookie safety Haruki Nakamura led the Ravens' first-year players with four tackles.
The Ravens exited certain that their overall discipline was a key factor in winning the game. Building discipline following a winning effort often makes the task more reachable, Harbaugh said. And beating the Patriots, despite the absence of quarterback Tom Brady, did not diminish the results for any of the Ravens.
2. Consistent effort
Strong effort, hustle and desire have long been trademarks of Ravens football, especially on defense. The Ravens featured spirited competition at quarterback, running back, receiver, safety and cornerback, the positions that figure to present the strongest preseason and training camp battles. Rookie running back Ray Rice showed that he can push starter Willis McGahee for playing time. The battle at safety between veteran Jim Leonhard and rookies Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski gained steam.
"We have to compete and fight for everything we get, and we did that tonight," Harbaugh said. "Across the board the effort was what we were looking for. Guys were excited on the sideline and on the field, and it showed in our play."
3. Executing the offense
The Ravens were 2-of-12 in third-down conversions (17 percent) and averaged 3.8 yards per play. That will not get them where they want to go. The three turnovers were disheartening for Cameron, but the quarterbacks and receivers enjoyed early and late success on a variety of out patterns and sideline throws. Baltimore ran it 21 times and threw 30 passes, not ideal balance, but understandable with the team trying to determine its starting quarterback.
The Ravens hope the primary reason their offensive execution was not stellar was that so many backups and players who will not even make the team were in action. But given where the Ravens have been in recent years with poor offensive showings, this was a start at fixing those enduring issues. More practice, more game experience is essential for this group as they learn to complement and blend their talents under Cameron.
!(http://www.nfl.com/teams/profile?team=BAL)Camp: Westminster, Md.
Aug. 7: at New England, 16-15
Aug. 16: Minnesota, 7:30 p.m. ET
Aug. 23: at St. Louis, 8 p.m. ET
Aug. 28: Atlanta, 7 p.m. ET
4. Robust special teams
This was a highlight of the night for the Ravens. Their special teams easily dominated, which was especially pleasing for Harbaugh. Before joining the Ravens he was Philadelphia's special teams coach. Special teams are, indeed, special to Harbaugh. Baltimore won in total return yards 63-14, averaging 28.7 yards per kickoff return and 29.0 yards per punt return.
Second-year player Yamon Figures exploded for a 52-yard punt return that set up the Ravens only touchdown, and Figures added a 48-yard kickoff return. Figures can fly. The Ravens know that if he can produce a consistent season of special field position, their quarterback worries lessen with a shorter field for the offense.
Figures said: "I've got a better feel for how to do it and what to do with it in the return game."
5. Preventing big plays
The Patriots' long run was a 15-yard scramble by rookie quarterback Kevin O'Connell. Their long pass was O'Connell to Ray Ventrone for 21 yards. New England's long punt return was for four yards. The Ravens' defensive backs traveled well with the Patriots receivers and defended well on nearly all deep passes. New England only scored three first-half points. And cornerback Fabian Washington surfaced with two interceptions. Mission accomplished.