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Mike Preston: The defense carried the Ravens in their preseason opener. Get used to it. | COMMENTARY

The Ravens’ style of play in the first half of Saturday night’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints will probably be familiar for the first quarter of the regular season.

Get used to it.

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When a team suffers as many injuries in training camp as the Ravens have so far, it’s hard to develop an offense. A team needs to practice and play consistently, because so much timing is involved. In the first half against New Orleans, the Ravens had one scoring drive; it lasted four plays, covered minus-3 yards and ended with a 56-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

That style of play is familiar in Baltimore. In 2000, the Ravens played great defense and had the strong leg of Matt Stover, which allowed coach Brian Billick to win more games on the legs of running back Jamal Lewis than on the arms of quarterbacks Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer on the way to a Super Bowl title.

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The 2021 Ravens defense isn’t in the same class, but it can dominate and control the pace of games, giving the offense an opportunity to catch up. This season is about time and timing.

The Ravens have one of the best defensive lines in the league. Even though ends Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe and tackle Brandon Williams didn’t play against the Saints, they are experienced veterans who will be stronger at the beginning of the season. The Ravens also have two quality backups in tackles Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, who allow defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale to put the starting trio on a snap count if necessary.

Counting on quality play at the linebacker positions was questionable at the start of training camp, especially on the inside with second-year players Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. Neither were physical at the point of attack last year, but Harrison has played well in training camp and was able to make some big hits near the line of scrimmage in the first half Saturday night.

Queen was a liability in pass coverage in 2020, but the first-round pick spent the offseason working on his reads and technique. He is no longer thinking, but reacting, which is a major plus in his development, especially for a player with his speed.

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Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talks about quarterbacks Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley and their performance against the Saints.

The secondary is set with Pro Bowl cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, even though Peters likes to bite on inside moves and isn’t fast enough to catch up. But combine the overall talent with Martindale’s ability to bring pressure and cause confusion, and the Ravens should be competitive against the first eight teams they face this season — even if they can’t match the offensive production of the Kansas City Chiefs.

But the offense should get better with time.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson missed the first 10 days of training camp because he tested positive for COVID-19. Receivers Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin have missed extensive time with injuries, and starting offensive linemen Kevin Zeitler, Ronnie Stanley and even center Bradley Bozeman, who left Saturday’s game with an ankle injury, have been banged up.

It’s impossible to build an offense with so many players in and out of the lineup. Defenses are always ahead of the offense at this point of the season because it’s so much easier to tear down than to create.

Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley on having back spasms before the Saints game, but was able get treatment and play in the game.

Besides talent, offenses are built around timing and rhythm. It’s important to be consistent in games, but it’s more important to be consistent in practices.

Jackson is a game-changer. He can make an average offensive line better. The Ravens have good speed with Brown and Bateman, but haven’t been able to get them onto the field together with Jackson for a long period of time.

Even when healthy, there are questions about the offensive line. Three of the possible five starters haven’t played together, including Zeitler, the right guard, and veteran Alejandro Villanueva, who was brought in to play right tackle.

Regardless, the offense is better than what we saw Saturday night. You have to reserve judgment because of the injuries.

The Ravens have played only one preseason game. There is still time to work out the timing.

The defense just has to carry this team.

Again.

Preseason, Week 2

RAVENS@PANTHERS

Saturday, 7 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 7

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

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