It’s week 3 of the NFL preseason and the Washington Football Team will be facing the Baltimore Ravens at home in FedExField this Saturday at 6pm. It’s still unclear which starters will be playing on both sides, but Baltimore has sat QB Lamar Jackson along with star LT Ronnie Stanley and several other important players and may do the same in this matchup. In addition, 5 of the Ravens’ 6 top receivers (Marquise Brown, Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, James Proche, and Miles Boykin) are injured and unlikely to play. Those are all reasons to rest their starters, but on the other hand, if the Ravens win this matchup, they will set a record for the most consecutive preseason wins in NFL history (in some ways a more difficult record than achieving a perfect record in the regular season, since it requires depth all the way through to the 3rd team).
The Ravens have always been a team defined by their defense and running game and this season is no different. The Ravens defense is built primarily through its secondary, but it’s Achilles’ heel has been pass rush for several years. Ravens DC Don “Wink” Martindale makes up for this with frequent blitzing, leaving the Ravens with one of the highest blitz percentages in the NFL.
On offense, the Ravens have relied on a deep pool of runners as well as a mobile QB to have one of the most prolific rushing offenses in the NFL. In the passing game, the Ravens acquired WR Sammy Watkins in free agency and WR Rashod Bateman in the 1st round of the 2021 draft. Neither is likely to play in this preseason game due to injury, but they will provide some big-bodied pass catchers for Lamar Jackson in the regular season to go along with talented pass-catching TE Mark Andrews.
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Kyle Barber of Baltimore Beatdown five questions about the state of the Ravens and what to look for in this game.
1) What were the Ravens’ biggest offseason additions and subtractions and what position groups are expected to be notably stronger or weaker than last year?
First, the free agent additions. The Ravens landed right tackle Alejandro Villanueva and right guard Kevin Zeitler. These two additions helped beef up the offensive line and were a necessity after the retirement of Marshal Yanda and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. being traded to the Kansas City Chiefs upon his request. Another free agent addition is pass rusher Justin Houston, who notably turned down more money from the Steelers to sign with the Ravens.
Free agent losses include both starting pass rushers, Yannick Ngakoue and Matt Judon. Though Ngakoue wasn’t quite the fit many had hoped, many didn’t expect both to exit. However, sizable offers for the pass rushers couldn’t be matched by the Ravens with many of their own players up for new deals within the next year.
[Editor’s note: it was recently announced that starting WILL linebacker LJ Fort will miss the season with a torn ACL]
2) Which position groups are the deepest and which have the biggest dropoff between the first and second team?
The Ravens greatest position is undoubtedly their secondary. As a result of such great development, the Ravens traded rookie cornerback Shaun Wade to the Patriots on Thursday due to their surplus of talent.
The Ravens have a of talent in the secondary.— Kyle P Barber (@KylePBarber) August 26, 2021
You can't keep everybody.
Running back is also a group of solid performers. The Ravens boast two starters in running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards. Behind them is a trio of running backs Justice Hill, Ty’Son Williams and Nate McCrary. Who the Ravens keep as their third running back will be interesting and many think this is a final opportunity for either Williams or McCrary break through for Hill’s seat.
As for the weakest group, I think the offensive line is the answer. If multiple starters were to miss the season, you’ll be seeing Jackson sprint around the field for all the wrong reasons.
3) What do you think about Greg Roman as an offensive coordinator and his future with the team? Is anything expected to be different about the offensive scheme or playcalling this year?
I think Greg Roman has done an admirable job as the Ravens offensive coordinator. There are times I can point to him making poor decisions or some that I’d argue against, but it’s pretty difficult to criticize an offense producing the No. 1 scoring offense in 2019 and the No. 9 scoring offense in 2020. Fans will instantly rant about Roman’s poor decisions in the playoff game in the Titans game in 2019, but it wasn’t Roman who dropped five passes, including an easy touchdown. It wasn’t Roman who missed a block in the 2020 divisional round against the Buffalo Bills for the wide-open touchdown, rather than the next play being a game-breaking interception.
4) How do Ravens fans feel about the lack of a contract extension for Lamar Jackson so far? Do you think he deserves an extension similar to the one recently announced for Josh Allen?
Lamar Jackson has earned a big contract. He won the second-ever unanimously elected league MVP award in 2019. He has helped take this team to a 30-7 record and already has his name in the record books numerous times. He deserves to be paid. I’d prefer he already be under contract, but I think both sides are taking a risk playing out this season without a deal in place. The Ravens could be walloped for a second time by a quarterback dominating in a contract year and risking future cap from the deal, just like Jackson is risking an underperforming year, or, heaven-forbid, an injury.
5) Who are some lesser known Ravens players we should expect to make plays in this game?
I previously mentioned RB Ty’Son Williams and want to mention him again because he’s battling for a roster spot and scored quite a touchdown last week against the Carolina Panthers.
We're up 20-3 after that touchdown run by Ty'Son Williams!— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) August 22, 2021
Tune in to the rest of the game on @wbaltv11. pic.twitter.com/CaqA6yBnls
Another player to watch for is wide receiver James Proche. He made incredible plays all of training camp but has become rather quiet during preseason games. I attended the Ravens’ training camp this year and saw him day-after-day make great catches and create separation. He has not done so thus far, but that doesn’t mean he won’t do so in this final exhibition.
With the Ravens trading Wade, watch for cornerback Chris Westry and safeties Ar’Darius Washington and Geno Stone.
Thanks again to Kyle Barber for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Ravens.
Why do you think the Ravens have so many preseason wins?
This poll is closed
Tremendous depth due to a good front office
John Harbaugh cares too much about winning preseason games and schemes for them
Excellent special teams that gives them a field goal and field position advantage (including the best kicker in the NFL)
Something else (specify in comments)
What do you want to see the most in this game?
This poll is closed
The starting offense looks functional
The starting defense looks dominant
Clarity emerges with which backup players to keep
Dustin Hopkins makes all of his field goals and extra points
Something else (describe in comments)