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Mike Preston: QB Tyler Huntley has proved he’s a capable backup to Lamar Jackson | COMMENTARY

Tyler Huntley had an uneven performance against the Carolina Panthers in preseason game No. 2 Saturday night, but he proved the Ravens can win with him as a backup quarterback, especially with a dominating defense.

Huntley, in his second season out of Utah, finished the Ravens’ 20-3 win with a quarterback rating of 71.6 by completing 24 of 34 passes for 187 yards. He struggled in the first quarter against Carolina’s starting defense, throwing incompletions on his first four attempts and also having one pass intercepted as several passes sailed.

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But he became more accurate late into the second quarter and into the next half completing a lot of safe, short to mid-range passes across the middle, and also appeared more comfortable in the pocket.

It was hard to get a good read on Huntley’s overall performance. The Ravens’ offensive line has been hit hard by injuries and the group failed to pick up blitzes by the Carolina starters. Baltimore was also without starting receivers Sammy Watkins, Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman.

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But a major key is that Huntley got better as the game went on. If starter Lamar Jackson goes down with an injury for several games, the Ravens can win because their defense can control the tempo of most games and Huntley won’t have to be pressed to make big plays.

In most games, Huntley just has to manage it.

“[They] just had some — I’ll say — luck,” said Huntley of his first half performance. “They had some luck — tipped pass, interception and a fumble right when a receiver turned around. I feel like they had some good luck going in that first half, and we just cleaned up and continued our drives, and that’s what made us come out victorious.

“I had to just get into a rhythm. I couldn’t keep performing how I was because it would have been all bad. I just had to get that rhythm and get us on track so we could start moving the ball; that’s key right there. I didn’t even know I was 0-for-4; I just knew I needed to complete some passes, so that’s what I strived to do, and I guess it came to play.”

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Mike Preston writes Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, trying to run through a tackle attempt by Carolina Panthers linebacker Clay Johnston on Saturday night, proved he is capable of being the backup to Lamar Jackson.
Mike Preston writes Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley, trying to run through a tackle attempt by Carolina Panthers linebacker Clay Johnston on Saturday night, proved he is capable of being the backup to Lamar Jackson. (Brian Westerholt/AP)

*** Never put much stock into preseason records including the Ravens, who have won 19 straight to tie the record of the Green Bay Packers from 1959 to 1962. It basically means two things:

First, it beats the alternative, which is losing. More importantly, it just adds to the reputation of the Ravens being one of the best drafting teams in the NFL. Their depth is superior to most teams, which is why they wear the opposition down in the second half of almost all exhibition games.

They embarrassed Carolina’s second and third units Saturday night with 17 unanswered points and finished with 354 yards of total offense compared to 189 for the Panthers.

Another good sign for the Ravens is that the players are repeating what head coach John Harbaugh says in the locker room. When that happens, his message is getting across. Almost every Raven repeated Harbaugh when talking about how good the Panthers were and how they presented Baltimore with many challenges throughout the week and heading into the game.

Carolina has a good defense but a pathetic offense. They can’t be serious about going into the regular season with Sam Darnold as the starting quarterback. When the worthless New York Jets traded Darnold, a No. 3 overall pick in 2018 to Carolina, that was a statement within itself.

*** Defensive coordinator Don Martindale deserves credit for the blitzes and pressures he designs, but the team discipline is more impressive.

For defensive backs and linebackers to find those pressure lanes or creases there has to be a lot of gap integrity to free up the personnel. That requires unselfishness, which the Ravens have on their front with ends Derek Wolfe, Calais Campbell and nose tackle Brandon Williams.

They occupy two blockers or get enough penetration to allow teammates to run, which is why the Ravens get a lot of free runners or rushers off tackle. It’s also the main reason that the middle or weakside linebackers should be one of the top three tacklers every year.

Ravens linebacker L.J. Fort, pictured against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 14, was injured against the Panthers.
Ravens linebacker L.J. Fort, pictured against the New Orleans Saints on Aug. 14, was injured against the Panthers. (Terrance Williams/AP)

*** Speaking of weakside linebackers, the Ravens seem to have lost veteran L.J. Fort for the season with a knee injury Saturday night as multiple reports say he suffered a torn ACL. Second-year player Malik Harrison had already replaced Fort as the starter, but Fort was a capable replacement as a backup and could have started on several special teams.

Harrison also had problems in pass coverage last season and Fort could have stepped in if Harrison struggled in that area. Fort started 16 games over the last two seasons in Baltimore.

*** After all the talk in the offseason, the free-agent acquisitions and draft picks, we still haven’t seen the evolution of the offense from a year ago.

Jackson, Watkins, Brown, Bateman and left tackle Ronnie Stanley have not been on the field at the same time yet. It will be interesting to see if most of them play in the final preseason game Saturday against Washington, pending if they get cleared physically by team doctors.

Jackson and Watkins are healthy but were scratches against Carolina. The way the offensive line has played in the past two games, it’s hard to blame Harbaugh for keeping Jackson on the bench.

*** Football is a game where the team that has the toughest players usually wins. That’s why the Ravens need running back Gus Edwards on the field.

Starter J.K. Dobbins is good and possibly a future star in the league but having a 6-foot-1, 238-pound downhill runner changes the game. There is nothing more humiliating than a 13-play, 80-yard drive where a team is just running the ball on every play. And when they put seven or eight players near the line of scrimmage and they still can’t stop him, that’s humbling.

And when Edwards is in the game the Ravens have possibly the most punishing downhill running game in the NFL. Ask the Panthers. Edwards had four carries for 28 yards before he went to the bench.

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