Baltimore Ravens fans were treated to a rare sight in the second quarter of Thursday's preseason game.
Ravens fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco threw a beautiful deep ball that sailed high in M&T Bank and into the hands of speedy receiver Lee Evans. Baltimore's newest receiver blew by Redskins corner DeAngelo Hall for the 35-yard touchdown.
The Ravens hope to see many more big plays from Flacco and their offense in 2011. Baltimore's inability to get deep was a major reason the Ravens were ranked No. 22 in total offense last season.
As a result, Baltimore released receivers Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and tight end Todd Heap. Evans, rookie Torrey Smith and Ed Dickson are some of the new, more athletic pieces the Ravens are counting on.
Time will tell if the Ravens are better on offense this season. But they are certainly faster.
Here are some additional observations:
1. Baltimore's receivers look ready. The offense still has work to do in some areas. But starting receivers Evans and Anquan Boldin look ready. Both veterans caught touchdown passes from Flacco Thursday night. Evans' score was a deep ball, while Boldin beat the zone over the middle for a 12-yards score. Both bring different strengths and are playing well off each other. Boldin and Evans combined for eight receptions and 133 yards in limited playing time.
2. Running back Ray Rice is getting to the next level. Baltimore is making a concerted effort to improve the running game this season. That starts with getting Rice to the second level. Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach is blocking well at the line of scrimmage, and Rice is exploding through the holes. He rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries against Washington. Rice averaged 5.5 yards per run.
3. Baltimore needs offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. Baltimore's offensive line remains in flux, particularly with pass protection. The Ravens hope free-agent signing McKinnie is the answer. Rookie tackle Jah Reid still has a long way to go. He gave up another sack against fellow Redskins rookie Ryan Kerrigan. McKinnie didn't play Thursday but likely will play left tackle for Baltimore. That would push Michael Oher to right tackle and give Reid more time to develop.
4. The Ravens' pass defense remains a work in progress. Washington quarterback Rex Grossman had a lot of success against Baltimore's first-team defense. Grossman threw for 112 yards and connected with Redskins receiver Santana Moss for a 24-yard touchdown before halftime. The play featured a blown coverage by Ravens rookie corner Jimmy Smith.
5. Ravens rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor took another step towards becoming Flacco's backup. The sixth-round pick continues to be a pleasant surprise. He was 11-of-18 for 125 yards and a touchdown. There is a lot of discussion in Baltimore about whether or not the Ravens can go into the season with a rookie backup. Next week Taylor likely will get a majority of the reps to put his final stamp on a solid preseason.
6. Dickson may have a slight lead at tight end. The Ravens have a young tight end combo in Dickson and Dennis Pitta. Both are in a close competition for the starting job. Pitta jumped out the gate fast this preseason but Dickson is finishing strong. He recorded three catches for 57 yards against Washington.
7. Baltimore rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee continues to impress. The fifth-round pick recorded his first sack of the preseason in the second half. The Ravens were not counting on McPhee to come on this quickly. But he's been very good in training camp and is earning a spot in the rotation at defensive end.