The Ugliest Win of the Streak?

Inspection reveals there is a lot to choose from when choosing the ugliest win in the crazy 23-game preseason win streak.  Let’s review:

  • Win 1: Beat Panthers 22-19 with a critical punt muff by Byrd near midfield recovered by Onwuasor (Q4, 1:48)
  • Win 2: Beat Colts 19-18.  The Colts scored the go-ahead TD with 3:54 remaining only to have their 2-point try returned the length of the field by Anthony Levine to give the lead back to the Ravens.  They subsequently survived a 62-yard FG attempt as time expired to hold on.
  • Win 7: Beat Bills 13-9 in a game they averaged just 3.3 yards per offensive play.  They took an intentional safety and kept Buffalo out of the end zone over the final 0:31 to win.
  • Win 8: The Ravens averaged just 3.6 offensive yards per play and Will Lutz missed a 59-yard FG with 18 seconds left to hold on to a 14-13 win.
  • Win 9: The Bears failed a 2-point attempt with 2:49 remaining in Lamar Jackson’s debut which allowed the Ravens to hold on to a 17-16 win.
  • Win 11: After Kaare Vedvik’s punt was blocked to set up a 1-play TD drive (9 yards), the Colts failed a 2-point conversion with 2:24 remaining and the Ravens ran out the clock with RG3 for a 20-19 win.
  • Win 18: Tyler Huntley led a 79-yard TD drive capped by his own 7-yard run (Q4, 6:39) to beat the Saints 17-14.
  • Win 22: The Ravens held off the Cardinals 24-17 as Arizona declined to use its last 2 timeouts in the final 2 minutes.
  • Win 23: The Ravens denied a game-tying 2-point attempt (Q4, 5:31) and held on to beat the Commanders 17-15 in a game where their RBs rushed for 13 yards on 11 carries.

Saturday’s win was ugly in terms of performance, but the 2nd win of the streak with Levine’s pick-2 takes the prize for weird.

Retirement Limitations

The Ravens played the second half under limitations that would not be seen in a regular season game and had the situation exacerbated by injuries to Aaron Crawford and Kevon Seymour.  Let’s review:

  • The Ravens tried to get through the game with only 44 players (specialists excluded) which is only 1 fewer than a regular season game
  • However, of the 44 several were on managed snap count, including Urban, Madubuike, James, Linderbaum, and Mekari
  • When players retire for the night they normally do not return (and may remove their pads, depending on timing).  Those retirements included Stephens, Jefferson, Robinson, Huntley, Davis, and Hill.
  • The Ravens had only 4 DL available to start the second half with Campbell and Pierce not dressed, and Urban retired after 2 series
  • It looked as if Broderick Washington was also intended to retire at the half, but he returned for a few plays
  • Aaron Crawford suffered a groin injury that sidelined him on the second drive of the third quarter
  • Rayshad Nichols and Isaiah Mack played virtually every snap as the Ravens were trying to hold off the Commanders
  • The depth issues extended to OLB where only Steven Means, Chuck Wiley, and Jeremiah Moon saw action (Harrison also had a snap there early)
  • At CB, Brandon Stephens retired after the first drive of the third quarter and Ar’Darius Washington was moved to safety for the bulk of the second half, playing with Stone and without backups.
  • Following Seymour’s injury on his game-saving, 2-point conversion PD, the Ravens initially deployed a 3-ILB base defense when the Commanders needed to drive for a winning FG with 2:16 remaining
  • Finally, Raleigh WR Webb was inserted at FS for the final 2 plays which allowed Ar’Darius Washington to move back to SCB and the ravens to field an improvised nickel.

In the regular season, I expect the Ravens will play as much dime as we’ve ever seen the team play based on positional strength.  Despite the fact most of the success the Commanders had came through the air, the Ravens did not play a single snap with 6 DBs.

Dangerous Rookie QB is Nearly too Much

Sam Howell appears to be the real deal.

He almost put an end to the streak with his own passing under pressure and scrambles.  It would not surprise me if he becomes Washington’s starter at some point this season.  Carson Wentz’ contract is structured such that he can be released after 2022 with a savings of $26.2M.

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.

Armour-Davis (0/-1):  DNP all preseason.  In his case injury, and not veteran treatment, was the reason and risks hampering his development, particularly considering his limited playing time at Alabama.  

Bynes (0/0):  DNP all preseason.

Crawford (-1/0):  Aaron played well (24 snaps), but Harbaugh labeled the groin injury as something that may be serious.  I expect him to be waived with an injury settlement.  Alternatively, he could end up on season-ending IR.

Fuller (0/+1):  DNP after a productive game versus the Cardinals (14 snaps).  It remains to be seen whether he has a starting spot (outside or SCB) vs the Jets.  That may depend on the status of Pepe Williams.

Hamilton (0/+1):  DNP after extensive play in the first 2 games.  Despite some tackling questions, we’ve seen a combination of instincts, range, awareness, and athleticism from Kyle this preseason.  I don’t believe he’ll take the green dot from Chuck Clark, which means he’ll see the field for perhaps 50-60% of snaps barring injury.

Harrison (0/+3):  Malik played 7 snaps, primarily as a pass rusher, and retired after the third Commanders drive.  He played 2 snaps at OLB (beginning Q1, 12:19).  He’ll have a big role on special teams and it would not surprise me if he occasionally rotates in for Bynes.  He’s the primary backup at either ILB spot.

Hayes (0/0):  DNP.  His ability to contribute as the SAM LB until Bowser returns is one of the team’s biggest outstanding concerns.

Jefferson (+2/+1):  Tony answered a lot of questions with a terrific game (37 snaps) where he retired at halftime.  Let’s review:

  • (Q1, 12:56):  He stayed back on RL10 to contain QB Howell but allowed the 1st Down
  • (Q1, 12:19):  He made a nice open-field tackle on TE Rogers on PR6 (0 +6) [4]
  • (Q1, 6:59):  Howell completed PL16 (10 + 6) [2] and Tony tackled after MT by Seymour
  • (Q1, 4:39):  He was approaching the play as a well-thrown ball went off fingertips of WR Brown near the right pylon
  • (Q1, 2:40):  He made an open-field tackle of WR Milne on PM21 (14 + 7) [3] over Washington
  • (Q2, 8:43):  On a fake followed by an end around from WR Michel, Tony diagnosed quickly from ILB to tackle for RL1
  • (Q2, 6:44):  He came up to tackle RB Patterson PL9 (2 + 7) [2]
  • (Q2, 5:26):  On 1st/Goal from the 5, he diagnosed Howell’s read option, beat the block of TE Hausmann to tackle the QB RL-2

He’s been asked to play the back end a lot this preseason, but what I liked about his play was tackling relative to ILB role (dime or quarter) where I expect he’ll be most frequently deployed this season.

Jones (0/+2): DNP.  Travis had a terrific preseason prior to the injury and should be a force this season, but we’re going to have to wait to see him play.

Mack (+1/+4):  Macdonald leaned on Mack for 49 snaps, beginning with the first drive and rotating through to the end of the game.  To summarize:

  • (Q1, 11:39):  He crossed the face of LT Beavers to disrupt RB Bonnafon zone RR0
  • (Q1, 0:46):  On 3rd/3, he bulled C Toth for initial pressure which was cleaned up for S-11 by Welch and B. Washington
  • (Q2, 4:38):  On 3rd/goal, he beat LG Monteiro inside for pressure on drive-ending incomplete
  • (Q3, 6:57):  He bulled LG Monteiro for pressure as Howell overthrew WR Michel deep left
  • (Q3, 2:08):  He penetrated vs. C Toth and drew OH flag
  • (Q3, 0:22):  He diagnosed screen right to WR Cole PR-1 negated by OPI by WR Erickson
  • (Q4, 15:00):  He bulled C Toth for pressure, but Howell escaped for PL18 (1 + 17) [1] check down to RB Patterson
  • (Q4, 13:00):  On 3rd/6, he bulled RG Paul for initial pressure then cleaned up with Means for drive-ending S-5
  • (Q4, 8:48):  He beat C Toth right for QH after flushing Howell left for incomplete
  • (Q4, 8:42):  Howell beat him outside to scramble RR8
  • (Q4, 6:15):  He bulled C Martin approximately 5 yards to blow up RB Bonnafon RM1
  • (Q4, 5:31):  On the 2-point conversion attempt, he again bulled C Martin for pressure as Howell threw incomplete at the goal line for WR Cole

His grown-man strength has been too much for the marginal opponents and has led to broad contributions in each game.  The injury to Travis Jones may open the door for him to make the opening-day roster, despite the fact he’s most effective as a penetrator (1 or 3 tech) than as a 2-gap NT.  Despite being a player who can help the Ravens now, the major reason the team may have to let him go is the fact he’s a 4th-year player (no option value).  That also makes him a good trade candidate because he must pass through waivers and I’d be surprised if there is not a team out there who would claim him.

McClain (-1/-2):  He did not enter until the second half and still played 39 snaps.  I noted a partial pressure (Q4, 6:56).  He was out of position on the 18-yard check down to Patterson (Q4, 15:00) and Stone had words with him after the play.  Finally, he rolled up on Vereen’s legs diving for an interception that did not matter on the failed 2-point conversion attempt (Q4, 5:31).  He was clearly distraught after the play, which was captured on camera.  He seems to have real talent and if he clears waivers, I expect he’ll be back on the practice squad, but he’s behind Ross and Welch.

Means (-1/0):  Steven started and rotated throughout (47 snaps).  He provided the initial pressure on Welch’s S0 (Q1, 9:13).  He also helped clean up for a shared sack on Mack’s initial pressure (Q4, 13:00).  Despite the long outing, I did not have a positive run note for him.  He probably will make the roster initially with the Ravens tending to injuries at OLB, but I expect the Ravens to be looking for a SAM LB via cut or trade prior to week 1, which could leave him on the outside.

Moon (0/0):  He rotated from beginning to end in a 53-snap effort.  He flashed as a pass rusher with a quick QH on a naked boot (Q1, 5:55), the pressure with reversed fumble (Q3, 8:22), and a stunt through the left A-gap for the initial pressure on the sack he shared with Stone (Q4, 1:36).  That’s only an OK set of pass rush contributions for his snap total and quality of competition, but he did so while being pressed into iron-man duty.  He also drew a holding flag on TE Blanton (Q3, 5:29), which was his only positive run note.  I expect he’ll clear waivers and be offered a spot on the practice squad.

Nichols (+1/+1): He played a taxing 42-snap effort.  That’s too many snaps for a rotational DL, but he did not enter until the fifth drive and played the vast majority of the snaps the rest of the way, so the load of consecutive snaps was a lot worse than if spread over a full game.  He showed good pursuit and finished with 8 tackles (5 primary) which is a lot for a lineman any number of snaps, but especially with only 30 run plays.  Of his tackles, 5 were contributions to defensive wins by the Football Outsiders definition.  I noted him for contributions to 2 pressures, including a bull of LG Monteiro to help force Howell’s incomplete on the final Commanders play (Q4, 1:27).  Assuming he clears waivers, he’ll be offered a spot on the practice squad, and I think there is a good chance he’ll play somewhere in the NFL this season.

Ross (+1/+3):  He stood out again in a 71-snap effort.  Let’s review:

  • (Q1, 9:13):  He beat RT Akingbulu to flush Howell where he was sacked by Welch and A. Washington
  • (Q1, 5:55):  He tackled WR Milne PR3 (0 + 3) [5]
  • (Q1, 5:18):  He penetrated through the right B-gap for primary tackle on RB Patterson RM-2
  • (Q2, 6:44):  He was a little late in coverage and unable to tackle RB Patterson on PL9 (2 + 7) [2]
  • (Q3, 11:23):  On 3rd/16, he tackled Patterson PM10 (4 + 6) [3] after Stone and McClain missed
  • (Q3, 5:00):  On 1st/20, he contained Patterson PM8 (3 + 5) [4] with McClain
  • (Q3, 3:34):  On 3rd/8, he beat RB Bonnafon for a fast pressure but was unable to hold on for sack as Howell escaped for RR6
  • (Q4, 13:43):  He and Vereen tackled WR Michel PR6 (3 + 3) [4] at 1-yard line
  • (Q4, 9:57):  He drew OH from RT Akingbulu to negate RL0
  • (Q4, 6:56):  He and McClain combined for pressure as Howell threw PL5 to WR Erickson
  • (Q4, 5:35): He diagnosed the TD pass to Bonnafon, but took a bad angle on PR13 (0+13) [5]
  • (Q4, 1:42):  On 2nd/6, he blitzed through the block of RB Bonnafon for pressure as Howell threw away OOB left

The only defensive roster spots in question are a competition between the 6th DL (Mack) and the 4th and 5th ILB (Ross, Welch).  Of those 3, 2 should make the team.

Seymour (0/-1):  Kevon played well prior to the injury (69 snaps), including the game-saving PD on the 2-point try.  If the injury will keep him out for some time, he’ll probably be released with an injury settlement.  He was low on the crowded CB totem, but it’s not impossible he’ll find his way back into a Ravens uniform prior to the end of the season.

Stephens (-1/-1):  He started at outside CB and played 41 snaps with mixed results:

  • (Q1, 10:57):  He was trailing in coverage of WR Brown on PR26 (18 + 8) [4] that converted 3rd/4
  • (Q1, 8:32):  On 3rd/11, Howell again threw for WR Brown approximately 5 yards [4] who had beaten Stephens but dropped the ball before taking a hit from Stone
  • (Q1, 6:32):  On RPO with ATS, Howell threw to WR Erickson PR15 (15 +0) [5] with Stephens soft
  • (Q1, 4:39):  On 3rd/9, Howell’s pass intended for WR Brown had Stephens beat but was unable to collect the pass near the goal line
  • (Q2, 4:38):  On 3rd/goal, he had good coverage of WR Michel on fade incomplete in endzone

The experience on the boundary may serve him well, but he hasn’t played well enough to threaten any of the corners or safeties for playing time.

Stone (0/+3):  Geno played the entire game at FS (76 snaps) save for the final 2 snaps where he relinquished the spot to Raleigh Webb to take a more active role on 3rd/6 and 4th/6.  He shared a sack with Moon in containment of Howell on the first of those plays.  I scored him for 2 missed tackles which offset a game of other contributions, but he’s in no danger as the Ravens 4th S.

Whether on defense or special teams, there is never a question of Stone’s on-field leadership.  He spoke with Seymour last week on the punt he downed at the 3 when more roll appeared likely.  This week he had a talk with McClain after he was out of position on the PL18 to Patterson (Q4, 15:00).  Every player needs to be able to take care of his own responsibilities, but the ones who can help position and teach others are that much more valuable.

Urban (+1/+2):  Brent again retired after the third drive (9 snaps).  On the first drive he delivered a pressure by bullrush (Q1, 13:44), flushed the pocket for a run on another drop back (Q1, 12:56), and penetrated to blow up a run play (Q1, 13:39).  From his small preseason sample size, he appears ready to play effectively as a rotational 3/5 tech.

Vereen (0/0):  David played 35 snaps, all on the last 3 drives.  He drew an OPI flag on WR Erickson (Q3, 0:22) and should have drawn another on TE Blanton (Q3, 2:50).  His goal-line tackle with Ross (Q4, 13:43) resulted in a stalled drive that provided the margin of victory.  He also failed to touch down Michel on PM28 (20 + 8) [3] which converted 1st/20.  He’ll probably clear waivers and if he does, I expect he’ll be offered a spot on the practice squad.

Washington, Ar’Darius (0/0):  He started the game at SCB and moved to SS in the 2nd half

  • (Q1, 14:53):   With ATS, Howell threw to WR Milne PR9 (7 + 2) [5] with Ar’Darius soft
  • (Q1, 13:39):  He cleaned up RB Bonnafon RM1 with Madubuike
  • (Q1, 9:13):  Off initial pressure from Ross, he and Welch contained Howell for Welch S0
  • (Q1, 2:40):  He was beaten by WR Milne for PM21 (14 + 7) [3]
  • (Q3, 6:53):  He made a quick tackle of Milne on PL3 (2 + 1) [1]
  • (Q3, 3:34):  On 3rd/8, he missed the tackle on Howell RR6 at 2 yards
  • (Q4, 8:48):  He undercut WR Michel approximately 5 yards [4] for PD/near INT
  • (Q4, 7:21):  Howell beat zone for PM18 (15 + 3) [4] to TE Blanton who Washington undercut in the open field
  • (Q4, 2:00):  He and Stone failed to take down Howell inbounds on RR12
  • (Q4, 1:27):  On the final Commanders offensive play, he had tight coverage of WR Cole who never found the ball which was well off target

Pepe Williams seems to have the SCB job won, but Washington remains a valuable piece in the secondary.  I believe he’ll make the team as the last CB.

Washington, Broderick (0/+1):  The Ravens would probably have preferred to play Broderick for less than 19 snaps, but they were short on the DL in the second half and he had to return briefly.  His roster spot is now entirely safe.

Welch (+2/+1):  He picked a great time to have his best outing (41 snaps).  Let’s review:

  • (Q1, 11:39):  He and Means cleaned up RB Bonnafon RR0 
  • (Q1, 9:13):  He got credit for S0 off flush by Ross and containment with A. Washington
  • (Q1, 0:46):  Off initial pressure from B. Washington, he contained the left side and shared S-11 with B. Washington
  • (Q2, 14:13):  He was blocked by LG Monteiro in L2 to lead RB Patterson RM14
  • (Q2, 12:58):  He came delayed and beat LT Beavers outside for S-10 off initial pressure from Crawford
  • (Q2, 9:18):  He was blocked by LG Monteiro in L2 to lead RB Patterson RL9
  • (Q2, 7:25):  On 3rd/2, he missed the tackle at 3 yards on Howell design RL7
  • (Q2, 4:41):  He blitzed unblocked off the OLS for pressure as Howell threw incomplete for WR Michel at goal line
  • (Q4, 2:00):  He returned to the game and was taken out of the play by RB Bonnafon on Howell RR12

Wiley (+1/+2):  Chuck played 50 snaps in rotation with Moon and Means in the thin OLB group.  I scored him for contributions to 4 pressures, 3 of which ended drives (Q3, 11:23; Q4, 5:35; Q4, 2:16; and Q4, 1:27).  Because he’s a rare body type (6’4”, 270) for a modern OLB, he may draw some interest from other teams watching the waiver wire, but if unclaimed, he’ll be offered a practice squad spot.

Williams, Damarion (0/+3):  DNP.  He’s been one of the revelations this preseason and I expect he’ll start at SCB when he is ready.  The Ravens could start Fuller on the outside, move Humphrey to SCB, and present a veteran group of CBs, but I don’t think that is optimal.  Pepe gives them a slot presence which is a good matchup for many slot receivers and a tenacious downhill style while allowing the Ravens to keep both Peters and Humphrey on the outside and Fuller as a reserve.  

Worley (0/0):  Daryl played the entire second half and generally stayed out of trouble.  He had tight coverage of WR Michel on the left sideline (Q3, 6:57) as Howell overthrew him under pressure.

He may well be offered a spot on the Ravens practice squad.

Defensive MVPs:

  1. Welch
  2. Ross
  3. Mack/Jefferson

The Final 53: Defense

I assume the active roster entering week 1 will consist of 25 offensive players, 25 defensive players, and 3 specialists.  The following is my expectation of the 25 on defense for Tuesday afternoon.

DL (5)

Calais Campbell, Travis Jones, Justin Madubuike, Michael Pierce, and Broderick Washington

The Ravens will attempt to trade Isaiah Mack, knowing he will not clear waivers.  Brent Urban is cut on a handshake deal and returns for week 1 after Travis Jones is moved to IR.

ILB (5)

Josh Bynes, Malik Harrison, Patrick Queen, Josh Ross, Kristian Welch

Zakoby McClain is released and must go through the waiver process.

OLB (4)

Daelin Hayes, Justin Houston, David Ojabo, Odafe Oweh

Tyus Bowser remains on PUP and can return as early as week 4.  David Ojabo is placed on NFI.  Steven Means rejoins the team for the opener on a handshake agreement after Ojabo is designated.  This is a position where I believe the Ravens may continue to look for a player prior to week 1, in which case Means would be the odd man out.

CB (7)

Jalyn Armour-Davis, Kyle Fuller, Brandon Stephens, Damarion Williams, Marcus Peters, Marlon Humphrey, Ar’Darius Washington

Depending on the severity of outstanding injuries, the Ravens could place Armour-Davis or Pepe Williams on IR, each of which would require an offsetting veteran handshake agreement (several are available, including Tony Jefferson).  Kevon Seymour is a difficult case, but the fact it appears he may not be ready for week 1 means he will probably be waived with an injury settlement.

S (4)

Marcus Williams, Chuck Clark, Kyle Hamilton, Geno Stone

Tony Jefferson is cut but returns for week 1.