WR Battle Intensifies

Harbuagh’s post-game presser had 2 injury notes on the thin WR corps that point to missed time for both James Proche and Tylan Wallace.  That coupled with broad success for the UDFA receivers that did play leave open the question of seeking WR help outside the organization.

Bridges, Victor, Polk, Moore, and Webb all earned additional chances. In addition, Isaiah Likely showed hands and wiggle that make him a candidate for significant playing time flexed outside.

The Ravens have always been a team to look at multiple solutions, but I will not be surprised if they double down on in-house solutions for the remainder of the preseason and sign a veteran beginning week 2 if they don’t think they have a viable position group.

OL Usage by Series

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

DrivePlaysNet YardsResultQBeg TimeLTLGCRGRT

Notes on the OL rotation:

  • From Powers’ start at RG, one could reasonably infer that he is the leading candidate for the LG job.  The surprise was his move to center.  The team could have given more snaps to Colon or Murray.  What I’d take from Powers’ 2 series at center is that the Ravens coaches expect him to make the team whether or not he’s a viable backup center option.  If they were showcasing him for a possible trade, I think he would have played longer.
  • Mekari started at C and played just the first series which included a snap that was low, left, and fumbled by Huntley.  He’s the team’s trump card in terms of a replacement at any IOL position (and possibly RT) and the Ravens are certainly paying him as such.  As injuries naturally occur, the team may have already substituted Mekari into an OL slot and will not want to break continuity with a domino of moves if Linderbaum is lost for a period.  Coupling that with Powers’ time at C, it seems to me Colon is less likely to make the roster.  This makes sense based on his 3rd-year tenure and commensurate reduced option value.  
  • Ja’Wuan James start at LT is a move of necessity and I don’t think it means he’s the obvious candidate to step in if Stanley can’t go.  While the Ravens have a number of college LTs, they don’t have anyone with an obvious LT pedigree at the NFL level, including the veterans James and Moses.
  • Morgan Moses did not play.  He has the RT job in hand, but he also might still be forced to move if Stanley misses time.
  • Tyre Phillips had a sub-par game at LG, but then imploded at LT where he gave up 2 sacks and was flagged for holding in 31 snaps.  He started last year’s preseason at LT and now in his 3rd year may still be asked to master multiple positions to his own detriment.
  • Daniel Faalele had a solid but unspectacular first NFL game for which I have scoring below.  He’s a solid developmental tackle lottery ticket, but he has a number of technical deficiencies to correct in order to make use of his size.
  • Ben Cleveland did not start but had an extended and generally positive game with time at both guard spots.  I have full scoring for him below.
  • Kevin Zeitler did not play and like some of the top veterans probably will get minimal playing time in the 2nd game and none in the 3rd.
  • Khalil McKenzie played most of the 2nd half with time at each guard spot.  He did not play on defense.  He has a special opportunity to make the team due to the game-day roster rules and his ability to play DL while being the 8th OL in a given week.
  • Jaryd Jones-Smith played 16 snaps during which time he was flagged for holding.  Jimmy Murray played most of the fourth quarter at C, but did
  • David Sharpe did not play.

The pass blocking was not exceptional but Huntley threw a lot of short passes that were out of his hands quickly.

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.

Badie (0):  Tyler was the 3rd RB to enter and played from midway in the 2nd quarter into the 3rd.  He was unimpressive as a runner with a long carry of 5 yards, but he negotiate traffic well on a screen pass PL9 (-5 + 14 YAC).

Bateman (0):  DNP.

Bolden (-1):  DNP.  He took a step back by being out while the remainder of the UDFA receivers took turns making progress.

Boyle (0):  DNP.

Bridges (+3):  He was the offensive star outside of the QBs.  He caught 4 of 5 targets for 62 yards, including a 38-yard catch from Anthony Brown where he went up high and used his body well.  Like the other Ravens receivers, he did exceptionally well taking advantage of CBs that did not find the football until it was too late.  Victor, Polk, and Moore entered the game earlier, but Bridges did the most to improve his standing in the WR room.

Clement (-1):  He was the last of the RBs to enter and played just 12 snaps.  Afte last year, I think the Ravens want to focus on good youth options who provide a variety of stylistic choices.  Clement will be 28 in November and in his 6th NFL season (so he has no rookie contract option value remaining), so his opportunity is now or never.  The Ravens are likely to keep just 1 (or none) of Davis and Clement with the younger options they have and the relative entry of Davis and Clement does not bode well for Corey.

Cleveland (+2):  Cleveland came into this game with something to prove and both answered some significant questions about his play and refilled his trust account with the coaches.  It certainly did not hurt that his primary competition for the LG spot (Phillips) did not play well.  Here is how I scored his play:

Ben entered on the second offensive series and had a 50-snap trial between RG and LG.  He received a 1/3 share of a QH with Badie when he failed to help block DE Lawler after pulling (Q3, 10:42).  He shared a pressure with Colon when the pair allowed DT Peevy to knock down Brown’s pass at the LoS to end a Ravens drive (Q4, 15:00).  He missed 5 blocks 4 of which were losses at the LoS.  He connected on 5 of his 6 pulls, had 1 block in level 2, and 2 pancakes.  His highlight was a combination block to lead Davis’ RM6 (Q1, 7:30).

Scoring: 50 plays, 43 blocks, 5 missed, 1/2 pressure, 1/3 QH, 41 points (.82 per play).  That’s a B after a small adjustment. 

Colon (0):  See notes above.  His position appears more precarious by the fact Powers had 2 series at center before he entered.  He wasn’t dominant by any means, but among 51 snaps he took out LB Campbell on the 9-yard screen to Badie (Q3, 10:14) and pancaked DL Murchison on a draw play (Q4, 5:35).

Davis (+1):  Davis had 2 good runs on the Ravens first scoring drive to pick up the last 10 yards, which included good field vision on the TD run.  Aside from those, the main reason for optimism is the fact he started at RB.  Despite 169 career receptions and 550 carries, he’s never been a high yards-per-touch player (3.7 YPC, 5.0 YPT), so the coaches will have to see something from him in terms of pass blocking, mesh-point facility, schematic fit, or special-teams contribution.  In terms of option value, a player like Davis (effectively a 1-year rental) is at a disadvantage to a rookie or year 1 castoff who might be a tick behind him in expected 2022 value.    

Faalele (0):  Daniel has 3 characteristics which jump out demonstrating lack of familiarity with the game and tackle position.  He is slow out of his stance, sometimes comically so (see Q1, 7:30, where he delivered a highlight block anyway).  He does not use his length and size well to punch and appears to be playing both flippers at the same time when he puts his hands up.  Last, he often sets far too deep when pass blocking and mirrors without much contact as he surrenders ground and pocket integrity.  You can’t teach his size and these problems all appear correctable, but it starts with being in a position to dictate first contact with independent hand usage.

Despite these significant technical difficulties, Faalele’s performance was still OK because he was not flagged for holding and did not surrender a full sack or QH.  Here’s how I scored it:

Daniel looked like someone who has not been playing tackle for long, but clearly has raw ability.  He gave up portions of 5 pressures (3 full and 2 half charges), 2 of which ended drives.  For your review, the pressures include (Q1, 9:15, half charge; Q2, 13:06, full; Q2, 2:14, full; Q3, 0:21, half; Q4, 11:20, full).  I charged him for 1/6 of the sack (S0) to Huntley (Q2, 1:23).  That was effectively a shared pressure where Tyler could have unloaded the ball but took no loss.  He was not assigned to pull but had 2 blocks in level 2, no pancakes, and 3 highlights where he drove defenders 5+ yards down field (Q2, 3:51; Q2, 2:55; Q3, 14:13).  

Scoring: 59 plays, 50 blocks, 3 missed, 4 pressures (3 + 2 x 1/2), 1/6 sack, 41 points (.69 per play).  That’s a C after adjustment. 

Gaither (0):  DNP.

Hill (+1):  Justice was the 2nd RB to enter.  While he did not distinguish himself on the stat sheet, he had 2 3rd down conversions totaling 20 yards negated by holding flags on Isaiah Likely.  Perhaps most importantly, he showed good understanding and aggressiveness as a pass blocker.  He did not have a catch, but a key to having him on the field will be his ability to pick up blitzing linebackers and safeties.  In his 4th season, he needs to provide value now (no option value) and he’ll make the team based on stylistic fit and mastery of the mesh point with Lamar.

Hundley (-1):  He entered 3rd and played well until the consecutive sacks ended his night (beginning Q4, 2:12).  He is competing for the 3rd spot with a rookie who also played well (Anthony Brown), which is an uphill battle.

Huntley (+1):  He solidified his spot as the backup QB with a solid performance, but it was a lot of short passes.  He missed Victor deep down the left sideline on a ball that needed more air to let the receiver run under it.  He threw completions short of the sticks (that were not converted by YAC) on 3 occasions.  The 89% completion percentage is fantastic, but it doesn’t match up with 5.7 yards per attempt.

James (0):  He played the entire first half at LT and I noted only a fractional charge for Huntley’s S0 (Q2, 1:23).  As a run blocker he held the left edge well vs OLB Justin Lawler to help lead Davis RL9 (Q1, 8:46) and sealed effectively on Hill’s RL8 (Q2, 14:13).  He still appears to be a choice at LT if Stanley is not able to start the season.

Jones-Smith (0):  See notes above.

Likely (0):  Most of the Ravens offense went through him in the first half and he delivered on his hype as a receiver by digging out a low throw (Q2, 3:15), ripping away a 22-yard reception through the arm of LB Campbell who had good underneath coverage (Q2, 8:13), and displaying multiple jukes to convert a first down (Q1, 8:09).  His play as a blocker was much worse (and hopefully correctable), including holding penalties which negated 2 runs for 20 yards, each of which turned a 3rd-down conversion into a stalled drive.  He did have a key block on S Moore to help spring Huntley RR15 (Q2, 1:30).  I’m optimistic about his receiving, but he will need to be a more effective blocker in space and on the edge to maximize his value within Roman’s offense.

Linderbaum (-1):  DNP.  Any game missed impacts the chance he’ll be able to play the full season. 

Mason (+1):  He lined up primarily as a FB and had several effective lead blocks (including Q1, 8:46; Q1, 7:30; Q2, 6:52) as well as a 3rd-and-2 conversion on a flat route (Q1, 11:03) that looked like vintage Ricard. 

McCrary (+1):  He was the 4th of 5 RBs to see time, primarily in the 3rd quarter.  He had the Ravens biggest run of the night (RL21) between a kickout by Phillips and seal by Cleveland (Q3, 3:32).  He has the speed to be an outside threat from sidecar and meet a stylistic need where the Rvaens were short in 2021.

McKenzie (+1):  He had a sneaky fine game and, with Cleveland, was one of the big winners on the OL from the Titans game.  I did not score him for contributions to any pressure events.  He delivered a nice combination block on DL Peevy then LB Gibbens in L2 to lead McCrary RL5 (Q4, 3:21).  As a DL backup who can be the Ravens 8th OL and 5th DL for some games, he has unique roster flexibility.  He is a 3rd-year player, like Colon, but his solid effort and flexibility put McKenzie in a better spot for a roster spot.  

Mekari (0):  See notes above.

Moore, Jaylon (0):  He started and caught both of his targets for 15 yards on 26 snaps.  He didn’t lose his job and may benefit from the WR injury situations, but he didn’t take a step forward either.  

Moses (0):  DNP, see notes above.

Murray (0):  He Played the final 3 series at center.  He was beaten right by Okuayinonu to help phonebooth the pocket on a shared S-5 with Phillips (Q4, 2:12).

Oliver (0):  He’s a 4th-year player who is currently 5th or 6th in a 6-man TE group.  Based on his service time and the presence of younger options, he is probably playing to accumulate tape for his next job.

Phillips (-2):  See notes above.  Phillips had some good run blocks, but he got in too much trouble as a pass blocker at both LG (contributions to 1 QH and 2 pressures) and LT (contributions to 2 sacks and a holding penalty).

Poljan (0):  I noted 1 nice block in L2 on the draw to Clement RR8 (Q4, 5:35).

Polk (+1):  Makai took a step forward in the WR battle with 6 catches on 8 targets for 43 yards.  While 5.4 YPT is not particularly impressive, he did a good job of not telegraphing an incoming ball with late hands on his longest catch of the day (PR23, Q3, 13:18).  He also maintained a block on a big corner, Greg Mabin, on Huntley’s RR15 (Q2, 1:30).

Powers (0):  See notes above.

Proche (0):  DNP. 

Sharpe (0):  DNP.

Stout (+1):  Tucker’s kicking was indistinguishable from previous wolfpack combinations which checked the biggest box.  He had an unexceptional day as a punter with 2 kicks floating out of bounds for reduced yardage and just 1 covered inside the 20.  What I found most interesting was 2 different approaches he used on kickoffs, something I have never noticed before, barring onsides attempts.  He had at least 1 kickoff with a traditional 5-yard running approach that Stover and Tucker have used to maximize distance.  He then lined up in a placekicking 3 x 2 alignment (3 steps back, 2 steps left) and hit a couple of 60+ yard kicks inside the 5.  I’m not sure which method will help him maximize hang time and accuracy to help corner the return man, but I’m intrigued to see more.

Victor (+1):  He caught 4 of 5 balls for 30 yards, several of which took advantage of off coverage.  Huntley overthrew him with a flat ball that needed more air (Q2, 13:32) where he had gained separation with a good double move on the left side and laid out for the catch.  A higher arc would have allowed Victor to trade some of his separation for an increased chance to make the catch and even if underthrown could have resulted in DPI.  He’s now 25 but still a 1st year player.   

Wallace (-1):  His injury casts a shadow both on receiving corps depth and quality of kick/punt coverage where Tylan is one of the stars.

Webb (0):  In contrast to Huntley’s lack of air on the incomplete to Victor, Hundley dropped a gorgeous ball in the bucket to Webb when he gained separation on the right sideline for PR34 (Q4, 4:13).  Webb had a previous miscommunication on a pass that nearly was intercepted by Shakur Brown (Q3, 2:14).

Williams, Devon (0):  He played 12 snaps, exclusively in the 2nd half and caught his only target for 8 yards.

Offensive MVPs:

  1. Tyler Huntley
  2. Shemar Bridges
  3. Ben Cleveland