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Eisenberg: A Preseason Game Genuinely Worth Watching

Posted Aug 5, 2014

A Super Bowl rematch, the ultra-competitive Harbaugh brothers and a new offensive system is creating buzz.


When there’s buzz associated with an NFL preseason game, that buzz is usually the sound of people snoring.

OK, I’m kidding … sort of. Preseason games actually can be pretty dramatic in a way, with careers and jobs on the line, and as a result, some serious playmaking on display. The games can also be useful for getting a rough read on a team as the regular season approaches.

But let’s face it, games that don’t count in the standings can only generate so much excitement.

The Ravens are about to max out on the buzz – the kind you want – with their 2014 preseason opener against the San Francisco 49ers Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium. For what it’s worth, I can’t remember them playing a preseason game genuinely worth watching for so many reasons.

For starters, the teams met in the Super Bowl just 18 months ago, so their rivalry contains a sharp edge, much of which comes courtesy of the fact that brothers coach the teams. John and Jim Harbaugh love each other but grew up competing at everything and still do.

Preseason Live: Baltimore Ravens

This will be their first preseason meeting, the matchup representing a break from the Ravens’ usual roll call of August games against the Washington Redskins, Carolina Panthers, etc. I think it’s part of John Harbaugh’s plan to shake up as many things as possible after his team missed the playoffs a year ago.

The brothers’ teams will follow up the game by practicing together for three days at the Under Armour Performance Center starting next weekend. To say there’s high anticipation internally for that unique event would be an understatement.

Thursday’s game will include an emotional sideshow as wide receiver Anquan Boldin returns to Baltimore, where he was last seen catching crucial passes from quarterback Joe Flacco during the Ravens’ 2012 Super Bowl run. Traded to the 49ers shortly after that in an unpopular move, Boldin admitted last week that he “didn’t get the chance for a proper goodbye” in Baltimore and was looking forward to making that happen. Baltimore and the Ravens clearly are on his mind, as evidenced by his amusing slip last week, when he referred to Flacco as his quarterback rather than the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick.

All of that should make Thursday night’s game more electric than a typical preseason affair, but in my mind, the game is most buzzworthy from the Ravens’ perspective because it marks the debut of their new offense.

Their chances of getting back to the playoffs in 2014 are tied closely to their ability to get the hang of new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak’s system. Things have gone pretty well on the practice field so far, it seems. The unit has looked quick and crisp on many days. The Ravens defense also has trumped it at times in some scrimmages.

It’s time to take the thing out for a road test. There’s so much to monitor on that side of the ball Thursday night that I might have to scribble down a checklist. Just think of all the key questions that have circulated for months. Is the new-look line really an upgrade? Is Ray Rice more elusive now that he has lost close to 20 pounds? Can Bernard Pierce handle the load in the first two weeks? How is Flacco adjusting to the new scheme? Does he really have more viable receiving targets? Can Steve Smith Sr. be an impact player at age 35?

We start getting some answers Thursday night. The start of the preseason marks the start of a countdown to games that DO count – less than five weeks now until the regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, when Kubiak’s offense absolutely will have to hum.

But while fans want to see the unit flourish Thursday night, or at least demonstrate promise, it’s important to remember that Kubiak will surely only trot out a shell of the real deal. He doesn’t want to show his hand when he knows the Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers (Baltimore’s Week 2 opponents) will watch the tape and use it to prepare for the Ravens.

The goal isn’t to look good in early August, remember; the goal is to look good in early September.

But having said that, Thursday night’s game will still give everyone their first glimpse of the offense and an idea of where it stands and where it’s going – crucial stuff for the 2014 Ravens, on display in early August.

Say, what’s that buzzing noise I hear?

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