Backup QB Battle

The Ravens turned some heads by deferring Tyler Huntley’s entry to the first preseason game until the second half and starting journeyman Josh Johnson.

Huntley (8.0 YPP) outplayed Johnson (3.4) on Saturday and the Ravens offense was noticeably more efficient with Snoop.  What are some possible motivations for either playing Johnson first or keeping him as the backup?  Let’s consider:

Opponent:  The Ravens planned to sit their top 5 offensive linemen with only the potential starting LGs seeing time.  Since the Eagles pose some significant rush threats, the Ravens may have thought they were protecting Huntley by having him play later after dangerous pass rushers like Nolan Smith had retired.

Money: Huntley makes $2.67M (nonguaranteed) and Johnson makes $1.17M.  So there is a $1.5M cap incentive to keep Johnson.

Tenure:  When considering young players, remaining time on their first contract is a significant team option.  However, both players will be UFAs after this season.  So, despite the age difference, the primary question for the Ravens becomes “What can you do for me in 2023?”

One thing I don’t think factored into the order of QB play was winning the game against the Eagles to preserve the preseason winning streak.  Experience against the better players is too valuable to squander for a player with something to prove.

Johnson continues to get plenty of reps during camp and I don’t see why his camp reps would not be cut sharply if he wasn’t a candidate to be Lamar’s backup.

OL Usage by Series

Here are the offensive linemen by series, something that often tells a story about the team’s plans:

DrivePlaysNet YdsResultQBeg TimeLTLGCRGRT

Notes on the OL rotation:

  • Simpson and Sala swapped spots with the #1 and #2 lines in a move announced in advance by John Harbaugh.  I don’t draw anything obvious by the starter chosen other than the coaching staff chose Simpson based on his current practice slotting.  I also would not rule out the possibility that Sala would start one of the remaining games.  Simpson outplayed Sala in this one (see individual notes below), primarily due to the face mask foul.
  • Ronnie Stanley, Morgan Moses, Tyler Linderbaum, and Kevin Zeitler did not play.  None of those DNP decisions are surprising.  All except Linderbaum have already received vet days off during camp as a way to stay healthy.
  • Mekari taking the night off is an indicator of his importance as a versatile replacement, Patrick’s experience at multiple positions, and the team’s lack of depth at OT.  
  • Ben Cleveland will be remembered for the QH surrendered early to Jalen Carter but he actually played reasonably well (2 pressure events between RG and RT).  He did not even get a snap at LG. 
  • Daniel Faalele played the entire game shifting between LT and RT.  I scored him for 5 negative plays (see below) but liked how physical he was in both pass protection and as a run blocker.  He remains a developmental tackle, but he looks a lot better than at this time last season.
  • David Sharpe started the game at LT, played 2 series, returned for the first series of the second half, and then retired for good (23 snaps).  That sort of treatment, particularly relative to Faalele, makes me believe the Ravens feel they need to keep Sharpe available for play at LT this season. 
  • Sam Mustipher played the first 51 snaps at center and was OK.  I scored him for 1 pressure and another flush where Huntley ran him out of a pressure.  With him in there, the Ravens have an imposing physical line at the cost of Linderbaum’s quickness.
  • We did not see Patrick Ricard play in this game and I doubt we’ll see him at guard prior to the final preseason game given the joint practices with the Commanders this week.  He has a special opportunity to make the team due to the game-day roster rules and his ability to play FB while being designated as the 8th OL in a given week.
  • The remaining linemen, Doss, Manning, Guidone, and Thomas, combined to play 65 snaps.  They collectively make up the 3rd practice unit with Cleveland at RT.  None of them has a significant chance to make the team, but Manning may have the upper hand in terms of securing a spot on the practice squad.

The pass blocking was good for a preseason game with 14 ATS opportunities for the Ravens QBs among 32 plays resulting in a pass or sack (44%).

Individual Grades and Notes

As in past years, I have given each Ravens player a grade from +3 to -3 reflecting how much my expectation of their impact on this year’s team changed based on their performance (game grade before the front slash, cumulative grade after).  I don’t rate starters, players who have no place on the team, or anyone for whom I don’t think I have any data for a judgment.  The players here are new to the team, rookies, on the cusp of making the team, have new responsibilities this season, in positional battles, or have otherwise have something to prove.

Agholor (0): DNP

Aumavae-Laulu (Sala) (-1):  Sala did not have any negative events other than the face mask when he was in the process of getting beaten for pressure or worse by DT Ojomo (Q4, 14:56). That penalty stalled the Ravens crossover drive.  Of his 7 missed blocks, 5 were losses at the LoS.  I also charged him with a miss on a play where he got away with IDP blocking in level 2 on a pass play (Q4, 15:00).  He did not have a block in level 2 and delivered 1 pancake.  He connected on 2 of his 3 pulls.  He did not have a highlight.

Scoring:  31 plays, 24 blocks, 7 missed, 1 face mask penalty, 15 points (.48 per play).  That’s an F.

Had he simply allowed a pressure instead of the face mask, his grade would have been in the middle of the D range.

Black (0):  Tarik played 21 snaps and was targeted just once (Q2, 2:36).  The pass was knocked down by the rookie CB Ringo.

Bridges (0):  Shemar played just 7 snaps, all in the second half.  He was targeted by Anthony Brown on 3rd and 2, but the pass was dislodged by the CB Garner.

Brown (0):  Anthony picked up 2 key first downs with his legs to close out the game.  He looked bad as a passer, including the pick-6 thrown to CB Ricks.  He has been getting very few practice reps in camp as the 4th QB and I don’t see him as anything more than a practice squad candidate at this point. 

Cleveland (0):  Ben alternated between RG and RT and did not retire until early in the fourth quarter (51 snaps).  He surrendered the QH to Jalen Carter and shared another pressure with Faalele (Q3, 1:50), but otherwise played well.  He pancaked DE Barnett on Hill’s 37-yard reversal of field (Q1, 0:21).

Demus (0):  Dontay was inserted late in the first half, played 21 snaps, and was targeted just once (Q4, 2:05, incomplete).  He failed to block CB Goodrich on a WR screen left on which Proche was taken down for a loss of 1 (Q4, 7:43).  As a big receiver (6’3”, 220), expectations include a blocking contribution.

Doss (0):  Tykeem played the last 3 series at LT.  He had a nice seal and push on LB Kyron Johnson to help lead Wrights RM6 which set up the game-sealing first down.

Duvernay (0):  Devin had just 1 target, the TD, which was well-placed to the outside by Johnson and secured without difficulty.

Faalele (+1):  Daniel had a mixed night that included in a game split between LT and RT.  He was beaten by a fast dip from OLB Nolan Smith (Q2, 0:47). He was party to 3 pressure events (bulled by LB Johnson, full, Q3, 14:28; beaten inside by DE Robinson, half, Q3, 1:50; beaten ouside by DE Jackson, full, Q4, 6:18).  Of his 4 missed blocks, all were losses at the LoS.  He had 2 blocks in level 2 and delivered 3 pancakes.  He connected on his only pull.  He had 2 highlight combination blocks on the Ravens final drive.

Scoring:  57 plays, 48 blocks, 4 missed, ½ penetration, 2.5 pressures, 1 QH, 39 points (.68 per play).  That’s a C with adjustment.

He’s well ahead of last year in 2 key ways.  He is using his arms more often off the snap to try to disrupt pass rushers and (generally) not setting too deep.  Daniel gets himself in trouble when he does not make an early attempt to get his hands on an opposing pass rusher and gives up depth to mirror without contact.

Flowers (0):  Signs are mostly positive from his first 10 pro snaps.  He had a false start on his first play where he was trying to get set as the snap went off.  He took a backwards pass from Johnson for a gain of 1, but that included a forced MT on Christian Elliss.  He did not have an official target, but drew 2 defensive fouls, 1 on S Evans and another on CB Jobe.  Both were cases where Flowers’ suddenness led to the flag.  Expectations are already high, so the flags don’t move the needle, but Ravens fans who remember Torrey Smith will also recall how often he’d put opposing CBs in a position which would result in DPI.

Gordon (0):  Melvin did not break a run among his 6 carries, but he remains a savvy cutback runner.  He’s always been more of a power back than a speed threat.  He entered on the 2nd drive and was still playing in the fourth quarter (12 snaps).  His highlight was a spin move to force a MT by LB VanSumerin (Q3, 13:57) on his 9-yard reception.

Guidone (-1):  He played the final drive at LG and ran into traffic on a pull from a missed block by Mason (Q4, 2:19).  On 3rd and 11 (Q4, 2:00) he was beaten outside by DT Ojomo for a flush that sent Brown on a 16-yard scramble to extend the drive.

Hill (+1):  He started at RB and ran effectively, including a field reversing, 37-yard run to set up the first TD (Q1, 0:21). 

Huntley (+1):  He threw a nice over-the-top pass to Vokolek for 23 yards (Q3, 14:28) and a back-shoulder TD pass to Wallace on the first drive of the third quarter.  The offense looked a lot more synched up when he was in.  See other notes about the backup QB competition above.

Johnson (-1):  See notes regarding backup QB above.  He didn’t have a single good throw down the field, but he also faced some pressure while in the game.

Kolar (0):  The fumble out of bounds almost cost the Ravens a chance for Tucker’s long FG, but I noted 2 good blocking plays (Q2, 10:33; Q2, 3:10) which helped lead runs of 10 and 5 yards respectively.  He did not retire until early in the fourth quarter (21 snaps).

Likely (0):  Isaiah played only the first 2 drives and hauled in both balls thrown his was for a total of 2 yards.  In each case, he was left hanging out to dry by Johnson and took a big hit (Q1, 8:14; Q2, 11:15).  He probably should not see much action the remainder of the preseason, but the Ravens have only 4 TEs on the 90-man roster.

Manning (+1):  Tahsawn got an extended look at RG (28 snaps) and played well.  His only negative note I made was a penetration when beaten outside by DT Elliss who tackled Mitchell for a loss of 5 (Q4, 14:34).

Mason (0):  Ben made a nice block on DE Jackson as part of the negated 35-yard TD by Mitchell.  That came the play after he was beaten inside by Jackson on Mitchell’s 9-yard run.

Mitchell (+1):  Keaton returned 3 kickoffs for 73 yards through the first play of the second half.  He then entered at RB and carried the rock 6 times for 11 yards.  While not an impressive aggregate line, he was betrayed by his blockers on 2 plays (RM-5, see Manning above, and face mask penalty on Sala which negated his 35-yard TD).  His change of direction and speed were on display throughout the night and allowed him to force a missed tackle by LB VanSumeren on a 9 yard catch (-1 + 10, Q3, 1:50).  He doesn’t have the size to be a good pass blocker, but he made a nice level 2 block on VanSumeren to lead Huntley’s 9-yard scramble (Q3, 12:17).

Mitchell’s speed is an exciting prospect within an offense that looks to generate more space.

Mustipher (0):  See notes above.  He has the size to hold the back end of most combination blocks if Linderbaum is hurt at some point.  I didn’t monitor his shotgun snaps in this game.

Proche (-2):  In addition to the fumbled punt, his 3 targets were PD31, PD 31, and PL-1 where Treadwell failed to make a block on a WR screen.  He’s dropping in a crowded WR room on a team that does not have room for a pure slot receiver due to TE depth.    

Ryan (0):  Sean was a favorite target of both Huntley and Brown.  He caught 4 of 7 balls, including 3 first downs and seemed to have good YAC sense in terms of the marker.  He lost a 5th reception for 14 yards to Sala’s face mask.

Sharpe (0):  I noted him for 1 pressure surrendered to DE Robinson’s bull rush (Q3, 12:23). 

Simpson (+2):  John played well after taking the lead practice LG role this week.  He did not have a single negative event. Of his 3 missed blocks, 2 were losses at the LoS.  He had 2 blocks in level 2 and delivered 1 pancake.  He scored on 2 of his 3 pulls.  He had 2 highlights, the more impressive of which was maintaining his block on DT Jordan Davis as Hill reversed his field on a 37-yard run (Q1, 0:21).

Scoring:  33 plays, 30 blocks, 3 missed, 30 points (.91 per play).  That’s an A.

Simpson has been plagued by penalties in his career with 17 in just 1,545 career snaps.  It seems this has been a point of emphasis in his time with the ravens since he released his blocks twice that I noticed as soon as the opponent was outside his frame.  That’s a very good sign and if it holds up, the Ravens may have found untapped value in another lineman.

Thomas (0):  Thomas played 14 snaps, all at C after Mustipher retired.  The holding call on DT Ojomo was poorly timed to negate Keaton’s TD (Q4, 2:12), but it was an unusual case where Ojomo looked in position to disrupt the play (as opposed to an unnecessary foul away from the play as many holds are).

Treadwell (0): Laquon entered on the third drive and was still on the field midway through the fourth quarter (22 snaps).  He was targeted 3 times with just 1 catch for 7 yards, but that included a broken tackle that set up Tucker’s 60-yard FG (Q2, 0:10).  He failed to block CB Goodrich on a WR screen to Proche which went for a loss of 1 (Q4, 7:43).

Vokolek (0):  Travis entered in the second quarter and played rotationally for the remainder of the game (29 snaps).  He was targeted only twice and caught both for 30 yards including a 23-yard catch over the top versus LB Bradley (Q3, 14:28).  He was beaten insode by DE Robinson which allowed Mitchell to be taken down for a loss of 1.

Wallace (0):  Tylan made a nice back-shoulder catch for the Ravens second TD with a late turn that left the CB hanging his head (Q3, 9:04).  His other target was an 8-yard catch vs CB Greedy Williams (Q2, 0:36).

Wright (0):  He entered in the 4th quarter and played 10 snaps.  His 6-yard run helped set the Ravens up to seal the game 2 plays later with Anthony Brown’s sneak.

Offensive MVPs:

  1. Tyler Huntley
  2. John Simpson
  3. Justice Hill

Honorable mention to Keaton Mitchell, Sean Ryan, and Travis Vokolek.