Ravens Continue Preseason Mastery, Thrash Jags
Is the Ravens 14-game preseason winning streak a fluke or even meaningless?
I’ll shortcut the Socratic process and simply say “No and No”.
The systemic reason they keep winning these games is defensive depth. While many teams have wildly inconsistent 2nd half results from 1 preseason game to the next, the Ravens have been astonishingly consistent:
1st half preseason defense: 86 points allowed, 6.1 per game
2nd half preseason defense: 78 points allowed, 5.6 per game
In words, the Ravens have dominated throughout these 14 preseason games by a combined score of 331-164, but they’ve clamped down on opponents in the 2nd half to win with 2s and 3s that are superior to those on other teams.
Maybe there really is something to the bubbling optimism we hear every camp about how the Ravens last few cuts will be extremely difficult.
Toy Chest Remains Closed
Martindale did not employ any exotic defensive packages in this game, sticking with the most common base, nickel, and dime packages. He used a few blitzes we have not often seen and they were generally effective other than the botched coverage rotation which allowed a 3rd and 14 conversion (Q2, 5:36).
Regardless of the relative strength of the opposing personnel, the defensive effort was outstanding (2.1 yards per play and just 1.5 yards per pass). What success the Jaguars had offensively came running the football, but the Ravens rallied to the ball effectively from the secondary and did not allow a run longer than 8 yards.
It’s tempting to imagine this formula is simply an extension of the final 7 games of the 2018 regular season as the Ravens outsnapped the Jags 69-53, but we won’t know until the regular season when 1) The defensive depth advantages are mitigated by roster size and 2) Martindale opens more of the playbook.
In the meantime, I’m as optimistic as you.
Individual Grades and Notes
As in past years, I have given a number of Ravens a grade from +3 to -3 reflecting how much my expectation of their impact on this year’s Ravens changed based on their performance Thursday (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, in positional battles, or have otherwise have something to prove this season.
Adeoye (0): He demonstrated an impressive vertical leap on his PD (Q4, 1:53), but the fact that he did not enter until the beginning of Q4 is an indication he’s playing for a practice squad spot.
Alaka (+1): He played 5 series starting at the beginning of Q3. Those included a negative note for being unable to shed a level 2 block from RG McDermott (Q3, 8:14), but 2 significant positive notes:
(Q3, 6:59): He penetrated outside vs LG Greene to direct the run right where Elliott cleaned up for no gain to deny 3rd and 1.
(Q3, 1:57): He navigated the left C gap with pulling traffic for a shoestring tackle on Mays
Averett (+2): Averett’s roster spot is in no jeopardy, but his play may have a significant impact on a decision to trade or release Jimmy Smith. Anthony is 5th on the Ravens CB depth chart, but was the best corner to play (Humphrey, Young, Carr, Smith all sat out). He was used exclusively on the outside and had a mixed, but generally positive game. He benefitted from 2 off-target throws (Q1, 5:07 and Q2, 0:29), committed a ticky-tack hold that negated his own PD, and had tight coverage on a drive-ending pass which the Jaguars challenged (unsuccessfully) for pass interference (Q1, 8:35). He had good coverage down the right sideline and used Elliott’s back-end bracket to deliver his PD (Q2, 3:40). He also had 2 quick, inbound tackles after short gains (Q2, 15:00 and Q2, 0:41) to hold gains to 5 and 1 yards.
This game is a step to demonstrate Averett can play more outside CB snaps, which increases the pressure on Smith to perform well.
Bethel (+2): He was everything advertised as a special teams player on Thursday with a holding call drawn to negate a TD return and a textbook move to slip by single gunner coverage to catch a punt in the air at the 3. Given the lane breakdowns on the nullified kickoff return, Bethel’s case to make the team took a step forward, but the Ravens may still have to cut him prior to week 10 to restore a lost 4th or 5th round comp pick.
Board (0): He played the bulk of the first half at the 2nd ILB spot, but had just 1 tackle and the 2 notes I have for him are both negative run-block events (lost in wash, blocked in L2). That said, he didn’t have any truly costly mistakes.
Bonds (0): Terrence entered at SS for the last 3 series and had good underneath position on the Jags final 4th and 5 play (Q4, 0:43). The throw was off target and the Ravens completed the shutout.
Bowser (0): He retired after an up-and-down first half. I noted 2 negative edge-setting notes against 1 positive. However, he also generated pressure on 4th and 1 by beating RB Blue (Q2, 0:25), a conversion was then denied by Clark’s PD. His roster spot is in no jeopardy (he was in the first group of OLBs), but he’ll have a more significant snap count if he can do more to set the edge.
Canady (+1): The Jags chose to test Averett all night, but only threw twice in Canady’s direction that I noted (gains of 6 and 8 yards). The Ravens depth at CB is great and Canady will be a UFA after 2019, so he might not make the team, but he’d be an upgrade to the top 5 corners on at least half of the teams in the league.
Clark (0): He played well for the entire first half and deserves a share of credit for the Ravens holding the Jags to 1.5 yards per pass play. His dropped INT was ugly, but it didn’t cost the Ravens any field position and still ended the drive on downs. He also had a pressure blitzing off the slot on the offensive left side (Q2, 5:36) on a play that went afoul because of the coverage switch required to support that blitz (see Young). The Ravens have a large stable of talented safeties who allow for the flexibility to play a 4-safety quarter as a regular long-yardage pass defense. That alignment could be run with 3 lineman and an ILB as the 2000 Ravens did assuming Onwuasor has the green dot. It’s much easier to imagine it employed regularly if Jefferson is the signal caller, however, since that will give the option to substitute for Peanut.
We won’t see any of Martindale’s exotic schemes prior to week 1, but we may see an indication of what’s to come if a safety takes the green dot in the next 3 games.
Ejiya (-1): He entered for the very last series, but did not make my notes.
Elliott (+1): DeShon played SS and mostly in the box in the opener. He delivered mostly highlights in 3 full quarters of play:
(Q1, 9:23): He missed a tackle behind the LoS that resulted in a 2-yard pass play
(Q1, 5:07): He was not in position to impact Minshew’s pass, but it was underthrown
(Q2, 3:40): He had the back end of bracket coverage on Averett’s PD
(Q3, 6:39): He shed WR Leonard to take down Mays for no gain and denied a 3rd and 1 conversion
(Q3, 4:31): He had a diving PD/near INT as Ferguson hit Lee
(Q3, 4:26): He crumpled the pulling LG Greene to blow up Mays run right for a loss of 1. I can’t recall the last time I saw that done by a safety.
The long trial for Elliott is a good sign, but the fact they didn’t use him much on the back end is an opportunity lost.
Ferguson (+3): He entered on the 2nd drive of the 3rd quarter and played well against lesser competition. I have 2 positive run notes (1 supporting and 1 cleanup TFL), 3 pressures (including 1 that helped force Jackson’s interception and another that set up Ricard’s sack), and a QH. He also drew one of the most impressive holding calls you’ll ever see (Q4, 4:42) when he steamrolled LG Greene with a bull that became a pancake. Greene desperately pulled down Ferguson which negated McGough’s 8-yard scramble.
He’s one of two defensive players (Tim Williams) with the highest possible range of outcomes for 2019 and the reports from camp have not been glowing about his ability to generate pressure (thus the max score). He’s passed the first test in terms of delivering lots of highlights versus some unimpressive opponents. Now he’ll have to move up in class.
Grigsby (-1): DNP. He must have an injury which kept him out.
Jackson, Bennett (+1): He played the entire 2nd half at FS, which included an interception, a quick tackle on a 1-yard pass play, a flush on which he chased down McGough for a gain of 3, and soft coverage on a 16-yard pass play. I don’t see how the Ravens have room for him unless injuries strike, but he enhanced his chance to be picked up elsewhere.
Jean-Baptiste (0): He delivered a vicious hit on Leonard (Q4, 5:30) which I think might have resulted in a PD had the receiver not already dropped it.
Jones, Alvin (0): He entered for the last 2 drives at ILB and made a quick tackle on a 2-yard pass play.
Jones, Cyrus (+1): The pick-6 was terrific, but I’m not sure increases his chance to make the team by much given the crowd at CB. However, one could argue there are fewer options at SCB where Jones played (and Averett did not) on Thursday night. He looked angry with himself after one of his 3 fair catches, which I read as him identifying a good return opportunity when he brought his head down.
Marshall (+1): He replaced Averett on the 2nd drive of Q3 and played the remainder of the game. He comes with the reputation as a physical run defender and delivered a punishing stick on Mays (Q3, 8:14). He was not targeted as I have it scored.
Mack (0): He replaced Pierce at NT midway through the Jags 4th drive and played the remainder of the game. In a solid but unspectacular debut he recorded 1 positive and 1 negative run note. I did not score him for any sort of pressure event as a pass rusher.
Onuoha (0): Michael played part of the final Jags series, but did not record a highlight.
Ray (-1): He did not enter until the 5th Jaguars drive, but then saw action through their next-to-last possession. In addition to the half sack, I scored him for one other pressure. Given the fact he played competition that was little better than Ferguson, he could have been expected to generate more effective pass rush. However, the score reflects how the field has caught up to him at OLB.
Ricard (+2): He was a man among boys as a pass rusher, with 1 full and 2 half sacks, and a PD in Minshew’s face as he compressed the pocket against a double team (Q3, 2:48). He also had an impressive pursuit down the line of scrimmage, repelling 2 linemen in route to a tackle of Armstead for no gain (Q2, 3:33). All this came in just 14 defensive snaps. Based on what I’ve seen at camp and in this game, I think his roster spot is safe. That creates more uncertainty for other players on the bubble, both on offense and defense.
Sieler (0): He entered in the 2nd quarter and played through the end of the game. He beat LG Thomas outside for a pressure on Averett’s PD (Q2, 3:40) and beat the RG Agasiva inside for a fast pressure (Q4, 1:50). However, he did not look nearly as good against the run where he gave some ground (Examples: Q3, 2:40 and Q4, 13:53). Given the timing of his play and success of his teammates, I expected more.
Stewart (-1): The Game book listed as playing, but he did not make my notes.
Trawick (0): As mentioned above, Martindale did not show any truly exotic looks. However, despite resting his 3 top safeties (Thomas, Jefferson, and Levine), he used the dime for some snaps, including Brynden as the dime backer beginning in the 2nd quarter. His highlight was a drive-ending PD to deny 3rd and 6 (Q4, 12:29).
Williams, Tim (+1): Tim played the rush linebacker spot most typically occupied by Terrell Suggs in 2018 (most often opposite an uncovered tackle). He played there until midway through the 3rd quarter when Ferguson replaced him. He generated 2 pressures (Q1, 6:48 and Q1, 5:03). A 3rd pressure (Q3, 9:46) could have resulted in a half sack, but it was officially split between Ray and Ricard. On the very next play (Q3, 9:08) he split a sack with Ricard. He had a mixed night as a run defender, losing the edge twice, but also holding his ground to clean up a play blown up by Young for no gain (Q1, 1:06).
Looking at the relative score, highlights, or comments I’ve given for the Ravens rush linebackers, it would be easy to conclude Ferguson had the better night, but I don’t think that’s true. Ferguson far outshined my expectations for him, but he did so against some weaker competition. Williams met his expectation as a pass rusher, but needs to continue to progress as a run defender to be an effective 3-down OLB. This was a solid step towards a season of perhaps 350 snaps.
Willis (0): He entered midway through the third quarter and played off and on to the end of the game. He was pancaked by the RG McDermott (Q3, 3:21) to lead a 6-yard run by Mays. He held his ground, along with Mack to allow Alvin Jones to take down Mays for a gain of just 1 (Q4, 5:26).
Wormley (+2): Chris’ job is secure, so I will probably drop him from these ratings next week. I scored him for 2 pressures, including the initial flush of Minshew on the sack shared by Bowser and Judon (Q1, 14:13). He made 2 nice run plays, including shedding the RG Tyler Shatley to take down Armstead for a loss of 1 (Q2, 12:57) which denied 3rd and 1. Wormley solidified his spot as the starting DE (5-tech), which is a considerable relief given the departure of Brent Urban.
Young, Kenny (-1): He’s the player everyone will want for an interview after one of the hardest hits I have ever seen to drop Minshew on an unblocked rush (Q2, 7:03). Oddly, that play was not scored a sack despite the fact Minshew was in an empty backfield when he recovered the fumbled shotgun snap. My other notes for Young are mixed:
(Q1, 10:18): He was part of the loss of lane control (Turner also slipped) which led to the 102-yard Kickoff return, which was fortunately negated by holding.
(Q1, 1:06): He blew up Armstead’s run for no gain with unblocked penetration up the middle, but slipped in the backfield.
(Q2, 15:00): He eluded Armstead for a pressure as Minshew threw for a 5-yard gain.
(Q2, 14:25): He was blocked by the RG Cann to lead Armstead’s 5-yard run.
(Q2, 13:41): He penetrated unblocked, but was picked up by TE Koyack who pushed him back into L2 as Armstead ran for 4.
(Q2, 5:36): He was late rotating to cover WR McBride, which was necessitated by Clark’s pressure off a slot blitz and resulted in an 18-yard conversion on 3rd and 14.
(Q3, 3:21): He was blocked by FB Ernsberger to lead to help lead Armstead’s RM6.
(Q3, 2:40): He failed to read or gamble on Armstead’s 6-yard run. When he stayed in space, Armstead stiff armed him for a couple of yards after contact.
He played the Mike LB role in this game and had the green dot when he replaced Onwuasor. Despite some highlights, Kenny took a step back in the competition for the 2nd ILB spot with Chris Board.
Defensive MVP: Patrick Ricard in a close decision over Ferguson (who was the player who did the most to improve his own stock in this game). Chris Wormley and Anthony Averett get honorable mention.