The fourth week of the preseason is upon us, and the 1-2 Redskins will face off against the 3-0 Ravens (who are also undefeated in their last 16 preseason games). Most of Baltimore’s starters are expected to sit this game, but Dwayne Haskins will be surrounded by a few likely starters on the Redskins offense. To find out more about the Ravens and what we should look forward to, I spoke with Kyle P Barber of Baltimore Beatdown.
1. Given that many of the starters likely won’t play, which Ravens’ players should we be expecting to make plays in the upcoming game?
Watch for Jaleel Scott and Antoine Wesley for the Ravens receivers; both have made big plays. Also, QB Trace McSorley will likely join the game in some capacity. He’s earned high praise after carving up the Eagles last week. On defense, the Ravens secondary is loaded with talent. Cyrus Jones will likely earn time in the slot and he’s already notched a pick-six and almost came away with another on a jumped-screen pass. Unfortunately, Jones couldn’t quite haul in the interception. Both backup safeties are talented but DeShon Elliott is a battering ram. I’m not sure anybody on the team loves laying the wood like Elliott.
2. Which Ravens’ players do fans think have a good chance of making some NFL team, but won’t survive the Ravens final cuts due to depth at their position?
I recently wrote an article on this with full clarity on why they may not land on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, but I’ll just give the names here with a quick summary. DT Zach Sieler and ILB Otaro Alaka are the big names who fluctuate from making the team to being the last man cut. Sieler is skilled but stuck behind a group of starters and draft picks, leaving him the odd man out. Alaka is an undrafted linebacker who has the speed and smarts but it’s tough to know whether Baltimore can keep him when the depth may be needed elsewhere, like the offensive line. The most up-in-the-air player is RB Kenneth Dixon. He’s the second-most talented running back on the Ravens roster but he’s not offering anything that Mark Ingram II doesn’t bring to the table. Then, there’s RB Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill, who provide size and speed, respectively. Dixon is the most ‘trade-bait’ player the Ravens have right now.
3. The Ravens were one of the NFL’s most injured teams in 2016 and 2017 before rebounding to be the NFL’s healthiest team in 2018 according to Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric. Did the Ravens do anything to change their injury situation, or was this simply attributable to luck? Do Ravens fans credit or blame anything for their injury fortune?
I love this question. Strength & Conditioning coach Steve Saunders joined the team four years ago. His resume includes training more than 90 NFL athletes through rehab during the NFL lockout back in 2011. He also hosted and trained the three-time Russian Superleague champion Lokomotiv Yaroslavl (Team Lokomotiv) back in 2013-2014. He founded a sports performance training company (Power Train Sports Institute) and joined the Ravens as the Director of performance and recovery back in 2016. In 2018, the Ravens promoted him to head strength & conditioning coach. He’s 100% the reason for such a decrease in injuries. According to the Ravens’ media guide, “His focus includes player injury prevention, recovery and energy system training in an effort to maximize performance.” After the implementation of Saunders’ program, the Ravens have, “...notably experienced a continued decrease in nuisance injuries and increased performance benefits from a newly-configured program.”
4. What have fans learned about the Ravens this offseason and preseason? How will the team be different than last year?
This isn’t a run-only team. The Ravens are configuring a new scheme based around the run game, not just a run game. Jackson will still be breaking off runs and keeping the ball, but he’s also going to air it out to Miles Boykin, Willie Snead IV and Marquise Brown. Also, the tight end unit is stacked, with three capable starters (Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle). Baltimore plans on utilizing all their weapons, not just the ground game.
On defense, expect something similar. Unique blitz concepts with strong secondary coverage. The defense, though they lost pass-rushers, still appears strong. It certainly improved on the back-end with Earl Thomas III joining the fray. I don’t think they’ll end as the first- or second-best defense, but they look top five to top ten right now. The Eagles receivers were being suffocated by the coverage during the joint practices and the preseason game when the starters played.
5. What offseason or preseason storyline not mentioned above will have a major impact on the Ravens’ regular season record and chance at the playoffs?
The offensive line. It still bewilders me how frequently fans forget it can all go away with the health of a team’s five starting lineman. I did state this above but it bears repeating. If a team is without their starting left tackle, they are at a significant disadvantage.
Thanks again to Kyle Barber for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Ravens.