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Ravens News 8/27: Preseason Dominance and more

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Baltimore Ravens v Carolina Panthers Photo by Chris Keane/Getty Images

Practice Report: Ravens Grind Through Sweltering Week - Clifton Brown

This was a good week for the offensive line. Stanley continued to look good in his recovery from ankle surgery, and he appears more than ready if he gets his first preseason reps on Saturday. The left guard competition looks wide open, but Ben Powers took plenty of reps and built off a solid showing in the preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. Ben Cleveland returned to full activity this week and looked recovered from a concussion suffered earlier in camp.

Washington broke up two passes while DeShon Elliott had another interception. Saturday’s game could be big for Washington and safety Geno Stone and their bid to make the 53-man roster, and both have been around the football all week.

Another player fighting to the make the roster, wide receiver Deon Cain, returned to practice and made one of the best catches of the day on a perfect deep, over-the-shoulder throw from Lamar Jackson. Jaylon Moore was a favorite target of both Jackson and Tyler Huntley.

Browns prediction love, Ravens injuries, protecting Joe Burrow, Steelers’ slot quandary: AFC North Whiparound - Jeff Zrebiec

When training camp started, the Ravens appeared set at running back with J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. However, Ty’Son Williams, who had college stints at North Carolina, South Carolina and BYU and spent much of last season on the Ravens’ practice squad, has had a dynamic preseason and has really pushed Hill for that No. 3 running back role. It seems to be a toss-up at the moment. The Ravens have also had several young defensive backs put together really strong summers and force team officials to make some difficult decisions in a veteran defensive backfield. Chris Westry, a 6-foot-4 corner signed to a reserve/future deal after he spent part of the previous two seasons in Dallas, has been the biggest revelation. However, second-year safety Geno Stone, undrafted rookie safety Ar’Darius Washington and converted corner Nigel Warrior have all made compelling cases they belong on the 53. The Ravens won’t be able to keep them all.

Browns 12-5; Ravens 12-5; Steelers 10-7 and Bengals 7-10. Cleveland takes the division by a tiebreak. We all know the phrase “on paper” has never meant much in Cleveland, but it is the most talented and balanced team in the division. The Ravens will be right there, but it has not been a great preseason for them in terms of injuries and offensive cohesion.

2021 NFL season: Twelve one-year contracts that will pay off - Gil Brandt

Sammy Watkins

Signed for: $5 million. Rank in annual average among WRs: T-40th.

If he can stay healthy — and that’s a big if for a player who has played only one 16-game season in his seven-year career thus far, and who has missed time in camp this year — Watkins should be the No. 1 receiving target for Lamar Jackson as the Ravens try to improve a passing attack that ranked 32nd in 2020. Watkins’ catch rate above expectation (-2.9%) in 2020 ranked last among Chiefs receivers with 30-plus targets, but it would have slotted him easily above last year’s top Baltimore receiver, Marquise Brown (-4.7%). After putting in three seasons of top-notch support work in Kansas City, Watkins is in position to shine with Jackson in Baltimore.

Gold medal streak: Inside the Ravens’ 19-game record of summer dominance - Jamison Hensley

“We want to win,” said Jackson, who was a freshman at Louisville the last time Baltimore lost a preseason game. “We don’t care what it is; we want to win. This is a very competitive team.”

It’s well-documented that Baltimore has the league’s best record (30-7) since Jackson took over as the starting quarterback midway through the 2018 season. What many don’t know is the Ravens try to one-up each other on the practice field.

There is a scoreboard that keeps track of whether the offense or defense wins the practice. Jackson and linebacker-safety Anthony Levine Jr. are always going at it with trash talk.

“Winning is winning,” said Levine, the third-longest tenured player on the Ravens. “If the score is being kept, we want to win. That’s the Raven way. That’s how we teach it.”

The real stars of the preseason have been the third-day draft prospects (and undrafted ones) who later became coveted players. In 2016, outside linebacker Matthew Judon led Baltimore in tackles and sacks as a rookie, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith recorded a sack and Darren Waller produced 84 yards receiving as a wide receiver. In the finale that year, nose tackle Michael Pierce won one of the final spots on the roster with a strip-sack that he recovered for a touchdown.

The Ravens’ preseason dominance is undeniable. How much it matters is up for debate. - Jonas Shaffer

A victory Saturday over the Washington Football Team in Landover would mark their fifth straight undefeated preseason — the 2020 slate was nixed amid the coronavirus pandemic — and extend the longest unbeaten streak of the Super Bowl era to 1,843 days.

How much it matters depends on whom you ask. Before the Ravens faced the New Orleans Saints in their 2021 preseason opener, defensive tackle Brandon Williams was asked whether he was aware of the breadth of the Ravens’ winning streak. He said he was not. Told it was 17 games long, he raised his eyebrows. “Wow, that’s a long time,” he said with mild amusement. “That’s a long time.”

On Tuesday, Washington coach Ron Rivera was asked whether he would mention the Ravens’ streak to his team. “Does somebody want to use my catchphrase, please?” Rivera asked, looking around his news conference. “That’s interesting,” was his answer, a reference to his oft-cited message to his team to focus on “what’s important, not what’s interesting.”

Rivera, whose team split its first two games, said he didn’t see any value in preseason wins and losses. His focus is “all about how they play.” Harbaugh wouldn’t disagree; the Ravens’ health and execution are paramount, he said Monday.