John Smallwood | Battered Birds need to step up

Posted: August 15, 2007

LEAVING THE press box at M & T Bank Stadium on Monday night, a longtime friend who covers the Ravens for the Baltimore Sun shot me a puzzled look and said, "That was pathetic."

I'm sure a lot of Eagles fans are still thinking the same thing after the Birds' marshmallowlike performance in their 29-3, preseason-opening loss to the Ravens.

Here's why it is OK to overreact to the Eagles after one meaningless exhibition game during which several starters, including quarterback Donovan McNabb, cornerback Lito Sheppard and safety Brian Dawkins, did not play: They got physically dominated.

While it might not be important that a team wins its first exhibition game, it's always important how a team performs, and getting whipped, manhandled and pushed around in the National Football League is something no team ever wants to have happen - especially one with Super Bowl aspirations.

"All in all, it was not a very good performance," Eagles coach Andy Reid said in one of the most upfront declarations of his nearly decadelong tenure in Philadelphia. "That's from the first unit all the way down to the last unit."

That's the sickening reaction you get when your offensive

linemen get treated like revolving doors; your defensive linemen get stood up like tackling dummies; your quarterbacks get tossed around like rag dolls; and your 6-5, 265-pound punter, who made his previous living by roughing it up without pads in Australian Rules Football, gets dropped on his behind from a blindside hit.

"Really, really solid start," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. " . . . I was pleased with the way the guys handled themselves in their first outing. There was some real hitting going on."

It was a onesided beat down, with the Ravens continually kicking the Eagles out of the roost.

I can vividly recall any number of highlights of Ravens defenders blitzing through offensive linemen to make the evening miserably painful for Eagles quarterbacks A.J. Feeley, Kelly Holcomb and Kevin Kolb.

While it might be true that the Birds didn't spend much time preparing for Baltimore's aggressive blitz packages, the extraordinary beating the Eagles took at the line of scrimmage makes you wonder about the toughness and physicality of the offensive line.

Conversely, I can think of only a few plays from the Eagles' defense that stood out.

There was new strongside linebacker Chris Gocong's making a solid open-field tackle of Quinn Sypniewski; defensive lineman Brodrick Bunkley's stopping running back Musa Smith for a 2-yard loss; and receiver Michael Gasperson's getting a personal foul for delivering a retaliation hit on the guy who popped Rocca.

Baltimore's putting together a 93-yard opening touchdown drive that included converting three third-and-longs against the Eagles' starting defense was frightfully reminiscent of last year's struggles to stop teams from jumping to early leads.

"Obviously, we can't have that," Reid said.

The Ravens' rushing for nearly 5.1 yards a carry was also a reminder that the Eagles' defense doesn't exactly have a reputation for being able to scrap it out in the trenches.

The Eagles lost the battle for total net yards by more than

200 yards. That means you were either completely overmatched or completely outplayed.

Neither is a good starting point for a squad that has been talked about as representing the NFC in Super Bowl XLII.

You're right if you want to say it's just the first preseason game, but think about the tone of the game, think about the Eagles getting bulled over or shed aside by Ravens players.

Think about the physical nature of football and what a lopsided beat down like the Ravens delivered on the Eagles represents.

Collision sports such as football and hockey are ones in which guys don't half-step it during the preseason.

Those player-on-player matchups the Ravens dominated weren't about one guy going full-throttle while the other guy was pacing himself for the start of the regular season.

With no guaranteed contracts, careers are at stake on every snap of training camp. To see Eagles players get physically whipped in live action against another team is nothing to take lightly.

After 2 weeks of pounding on one another in the sweltering heat at Lehigh, the Eagles broke training camp on Saturday talking about how they were looking forward to hitting someone wearing a different uniform.

Maybe that will happen on Friday night when they play the Carolina Panthers at Lincoln Financial Field. If it doesn't, the meaningless preseason will suddenly start to take on a lot of meaning. *

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