The Ravens extended their preseason winning streak to 18 games in a row on Saturday, defeating the Saints by a score of 17-14. Baltimore trailed for much of the game but engineered a late scoring drive and forced turnover to seal a victory at home.
Here are five takeaways from last night’s action —
1) Young defensive backs shined
The Ravens have an abundance of young cornerbacks and safeties on their roster. On Saturday, a number of them thrived in extended action.
Geno Stone had two interceptions. Shaun Wade nabbed a game-sealing interception late in the fourth quarter. Brandon Stephens led the team in tackles and looked comfortable moving around the field. Chris Westry looked the part of a boundary corner with strong coverage skills. UDFA Ar’Darius Washington forced a fumble and nearly had an interception of his own, also.
Secondary is the biggest strength of the Ravens’ roster and Week 1 of the preseason proved why. Few other NFL teams can match their combination of talent on the top and bottom of the depth chart. Finding roster spots and playing time for this group won’t be an easy task.
2) Advantage: Tyler Huntley
One of the biggest storylines this offseason has been the battle for backup quarterback between Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley. Through training camp, neither player appeared to separate themselves from the other. That may have changed after Saturday night.
Albeit he was playing against lesser competition, Huntley was the more effective quarterback against New Orleans. McSorley, who was reportedly dealing with back spams, made a few nice plays but struggled to push the ball down the field and threw an ill-advised interception. Huntley’s athleticism and arm talent gave the Ravens’ offense a much-needed spark late in the second half. Huntley did make a poor decision that resulted in a lost fumble, but aside from that was pretty effective.
The offensive line did neither quarterback many favors. It’s far too early to declare anyone QB2 yet but Huntley may have given himself a slight leg-up over McSorley.
3) Offensive line is a work-in-progress
The offensive line that we saw the Ravens’ deploy on Saturday is not going to be unit that starts Week 1 of the regular season — that much is certain. Absent from the mix against the Saints was of course Ronnie Stanley, but also Kevin Zeitler and Ben Cleveland. Those are two surefire starters and potentially a third in Cleveland.
Baltimore mixed and matched with some different combinations last night. Tyre Phillips, Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari and company shuffled around. Unfortunately, the performance of the group as a whole left much to be desired. Particularly in the first half, the Ravens got little-to-no push up front and the offense struggled to move the ball.
Starting center Bradley Bozeman exited early with an ankle injury, which only reinforces the fact that the Ravens very much need to get healthy on the offensive line over the next few weeks.
4) Excitement for 2021 rookie class builds
Three of the Ravens’ first three draft picks from this year were not on the field on Saturday: Rashod Bateman and Ben Cleveland. Even so, the performance’s of the rest of the rookie class give a lot of reason for optimism and excitement. As previously mentioned, rookie defensive backs like Stephens, Wade and Washington put together strong outings. But so too did Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes.
Oweh drew the start opposite Tyus Bowser and while he only finished with one tackle, he set the edge well and made plays around the ball. The Ravens even used him as a gunner on special teams; a reminder of his unique speed and athleticism for an edge rusher. Hayes had a quarterback hit on Jameis Winston and his versatility was on display. Fifth-round pick Ben Mason made a handful of impressive plays, too, particularly on special teams.
WR Tylan Wallace had a quiet outing with no catches and a muffed punt, which he recovered, but the rookie class as a whole look promising. And again, that’s without Bateman nor Cleveland in the equation.
5) Linebacker duo looks formidable
Hopes are high for Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison heading into the 2021 season. If Week 1 of the preseason is any indication, they could both be in store for strong sophomore campaigns. Queen and Harrison started and made the most of their few series on the field.
Queen was a force to be reckon with in the first quarter. On back-to-back plays, he had sniffed out a screen play for a tackle-for-loss and then sacked Taysom Hill for a loss of 12 yards. He looked comfortable and aggressive in space. Harrison forced a fumble on the Saints’ opening drive in the Ravens’ own red zone. He also had four tackles and look strong in run defense.
The early prospects of a breakout second-year season for either Queen or Harrison are positive.