Eisenberg: Ravens' Defeat To Eagles Couldn't Matter Less


Between the interceptions Joe Flacco threw, the penalties that piled high and the starting defense's struggles, the Ravens' lopsided defeat in Philadelphia almost warranted a nickname. The Philly Phiasco or something like that.

But hey, it's August. If you're worried that the 23-point defeat actually matters and means the Ravens aren't going to be any good in 2015, I would suggest taking a chill pill. No need to scout for ledges.

If the Ravens lose by 23 to the Denver Broncos in their regular-season opener on Sept. 13, that's the time to start worrying. And frankly, even that's too soon in a season that takes up the rest of the calendar year.

A preseason defeat, no matter how galling, couldn't matter less.

A year ago, the New England Patriots were spanked by the Washington Redskins in their preseason opener, 23-6. To say that didn't translate into the regular season is an understatement. The Redskins went 4-12 and the Patriots won the Super Bowl.

I could drum up a hundred other examples of how preseason results are meaningless. Pro football coaches use August games and practices for measuring individual players and talent, installing new plays and shedding rust. Scores and collective performances are quickly forgotten.

Sure, it was disturbing to watch the Ravens' starting defense get flummoxed by the Eagles' fast-paced starting offense early Saturday night. But the excuse that Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees didn't strategize or "game plan" for the occasion is entirely legitimate. And the fact that many defensive starters were pulled by the end of the first quarter negated the Ravens' principal weapon against any high-flying offense, namely socking it in the mouth for four quarters.

That's what the Ravens do, and it tends to work.

Late in the 2012 regular season, the Ravens played the Redskins at a time when the read-option offense was a newfangled concept terrorizing the league and Washington's Robert Griffin III was on a roll with it. Remember what happened? The Redskins quickly rang up two touchdowns, shredding the Ravens defense much as Philadelphia's offense did early Saturday night. But this wasn't a preseason game and the Ravens' starters didn't leave. They kept slugging the Redskins, injured Griffin, blunted the read-option and rallied to take a lead before losing late.

Football is a tough game, and few teams, if any, play it tougher than the Ravens on a consistent basis.

I don't know if the 2012/RG3 scenario would have played out again Saturday night if the starters had stayed in, but the Philadelphia coaches clearly were worried for quarterback Sam Bradford's safety with the Ravens on the other side of the line. Although he produced a touchdown on his first and only drive, Bradford barely survived it. Terrell Suggs leveled him with the hit that's making headlines, but the one that really shook him up came a few plays later, when 340-pound nose tackle Brandon Williams body-slammed him as he attempted a pass. Bradford was glassy-eyed as he rose, and the Eagles got him the heck out of there.

Several Eagles were upset about Suggs' hit, which drew a flag, but the NFL has come to his defense, affirming that it was legal because quarterbacks become fair game on read-option plays. The league's rules have skewed so heavily in favor of offenses and scoring in recent years that defensive players have no choice but to maximize the few advantages the rules allow them, such as the freedom to whack quarterbacks on option plays. The Ravens make it a priority, surely giving some opponents pause.

So while there was plenty not to like about how the Ravens defense played Saturday night, the fact that it mauled Bradford is a positive sign. This is a unit that has experienced major subtractions in recent years when it comes to toughness and hard-hitting. Ray Lewis retired. Bernard Pollard was a salary cap casualty. Haloti Ngata was traded. Is a next generation stepping up to lead the way? Brandon Williams certainly looked nasty in taking Bradford down. Courtney Upshaw always plays with a clenched fist. Suggs is no sunflower. Will Hill displays a physical style on the back end.

I would trade the short-term issues that flared up on that side of the ball Saturday night for the knowledge that the Ravens are going to be as rugged as ever defensively. Year in and year out, that's how they win.

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