(Image Credit: Jim Dedmon/ USA Today Sports)
Written by: Connor Pelesh
Another week in the preseason, another Ravens win. Except this one was not just any other preseason victory. The Ravens tied the all-time record for preseason wins at 19 straight victories with Vince Lombardi’s Packers in 1956. Similar to last week, there were many players/position groups that made progress heading into the regular season. With many starters, especially on offense, not playing we had a chance to see many depth players get extended playing time. There is much to discuss because it just might be some of these players who can lead the Ravens to success in 2021-2022.
Even though the Panthers starters all played at least one drive, the Ravens' second team was able to play well against them and keep the first half very low scoring. QB Tyler Hunley played the whole game for the Ravens with McSorley’s back injury and Lamar Jackson out for this game. In the second half, it was clear the Panthers were breaking down defensively and were worn down from the first half. The running attack of the Ravens, even with second and third-team players, was very strong and certainly won the game for the team. The Ravens defense was solid and certainly bent but never broke, holding the Panthers to only 3 points. Seeing defensive depth is a great sign while still in the preseason and gives confidence if a starter were to be injured temporarily. Below, I will further analyze the play of some standout Ravens/position groups.
1. DeShon Elliott
For a player in a contract year looking to prove he is a game-changing type of talent, this game was a step in the right direction. Elliott, playing alongside Chuck Clark, had 3 tackles and one assist along with a big sack. He struggled with injuries his first two seasons and had a solid full season last year. Elliott made a great play on 4th and goal against the Panthers starting offense to deny a touchdown. His sack was great because he used his excellent speed and power to shoot a gap in the offensive line then make a strong tackle. It is plays like these from the secondary that will give a young pass-rushing group a boost in 2021. I expect Elliott to perform very well this upcoming year and make improvements in all facets of his game.
2. Ravens Running Backs
Almost all of the Ravens' running backs saw extensive action vs Carolina. We saw the preseason debut of Gus Edwards who seemed to pick up where he left off last season with some long runs demonstrating his power. But the real story of the night was the excellent play from two other running backs lower on the depth chart. Ty’Son Williams and Nate McCrary both had rushing touchdowns and averaged over 4 yards per carry. Both are battling with Justice Hill for the RB3 spot and Williams seemed to really make his mark this game. His 20-yard touchdown run was the highlight of the game showcasing amazing balance to score. JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and RB3, whoever that may be, will all be poised to continue Baltimore’s historic running game over the last two seasons.
3. Ravens Offensive Line
Amazing when you get healthy how the play of a whole unit elevates so dramatically. The offensive line began the game with 4 of 5 presumed Week 1 starters and wow did it show. Running lanes were wide open for RBs Gus Edwards and others. The offensive line had a much-improved pass blocking game as well that made Ravens fans a little more comfortable about the group heading into this season. Kevin Zeitler made his Ravens debut at right guard and solidified that side of the line. Huntley looked more comfortable and there wound up being only one penalty called on the line the whole game (the only penalty called on the Ravens all night). Ronnie Stanley has recovered from his season-ending injury last year and is ready for Week 1 although it is unlikely we see him for the final week of the preseason. It will definitely be interesting to see if the line can build off their strong showing next week vs Washington’s great defensive line.
4. Ravens Coaching
I have to give major props to the whole Ravens coaching staff after this game. The Ravens seemed very disciplined and it really showed in the lack of penalties (one for 5 yards) and the level of play throughout the game. Third down efficiency for the Ravens was great (10/17) and they dominated the time of possession. Through all 4 quarters, players seemed ready to make plays and looked more prepared than the Panthers in my mind. Wink Martindale, the Ravens defensive coordinator, has this unit flying around on all levels and put on a very impressive defensive stand vs Carolina.
1. L.J. Fort
Every football fan can agree that injuries are the worst part of the game, especially when they occur in a preseason game. Fort tore his ACL vs the Panthers and will miss the whole season. Malik Harrison will now start alongside Patrick Queen in the middle of the defense for the Ravens. I am hoping for a smooth and speedy recovery for Fort who started a handful of games for the Ravens last year.
2. Young talent making the roster
There are a variety of players who most likely will not make this Ravens 53 man roster due to the talent/depth at their respective position. In my opinion, players like Ben Mason, Josh Oliver, Ar’Darius Washington, and Chris Westry are all talented but there is just simply not enough room on the team for everyone. Not one surprise player has really made the strong push we have seen in the past by a bubble player to make the roster. All of the players I listed above might make it, or none of them at all. General manager Eric DeCosta has a lot of tough decisions to make but one is clear, you can’t keep everyone.
The Ravens go for their 20th straight preseason victory when they play Washington on August 28th. It would be an NFL record and complete a perfect 3-0 preseason heading into Week 1 vs Vegas. Keep a close eye on the beginning of the game where Lamar Jackson might make his season debut possibly playing a series or two. This is the last game before the 53 man roster must be finalized so hopefully some players on the bubble can shine and lead the Ravens to a victory.