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Mike Preston: Despite big win in season opener, Ravens still have problems to solve | COMMENTARY

Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday’s 38-6 win over the Browns.

As the Ravens celebrated their 32-point win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, coach John Harbaugh kept the performance in perspective. The Ravens still have a lot of work to do, and some of the same problems that surfaced last year showed up again in the season opener.

The outcome after the first half Sunday was predictable and the game was about as exciting as a preseason exhibition, but the Ravens should have learned lessons on both sides of the ball. Buried underneath all those offensive yards and their secrecy surrounding their young receiving corps were several problem areas and one burning question.

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Where was the pass rush?

And here’s another: Didn’t we see this last year?

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The Ravens sacked Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield twice and hurried him six other times, but that was the result of tight coverage. Creating a pass rush, especially with the front four, was a major priority for the Ravens during the offseason, which is why they signed defensive ends Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe.

Both were solid Sunday, but not spectacular. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who led the team in sacks last season with 9½, will get his share of pressures this season, but fellow outside linebacker Pernell McPhee seemed lethargic. Backup Tyus Bowser was solid and appears ready to have a strong season.

Until then, maybe the Ravens have to start blitzing and developing more pressure packages, like they did in 2019. The Ravens also allowed Cleveland to rush for 138 yards on 27 carries, including 80 yards in the first half. There were times when some members of the Ravens' front seven got caught out of position or failed to hold the edge, but the proper adjustments were made at halftime.

“There were a lot of adjustments. A lot of the protocols on the sideline were unique. It was different,” Campbell said. “We’re used to certain things, and then you have to adjust. And I’m sure that affected a lot of us on the sidelines. I know it [affected] me. But you have to figure it out. There are going to be adjustments throughout the whole year, but I’m glad that we were able to find a way to win the game.”

The major concern involves rookie inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. Both have excellent speed and instincts, but what will happen when teams run directly at them? There is also the proverbial rookie wall, which most young players hit late in their first NFL season.

Queen, who led the team in tackles Sunday with eight, including one sack, knows his technique can compensate for his lack of bulk and experience. Some of his tackles against the Browns were deep off the line of scrimmage. Queen said he still wants to work on “everything in my game.”

“Just technique, pad level, hands, coming downhill, not getting stiff-armed like I got on the last drive," Queen said. "There is a lot of stuff to clean up, and that’s what you come in the next day and get better at watching film, and then you’ve got to practice.”

Browns receiver Jarvis Landry had five catches for 61 yards and hurt the Ravens running routes across the middle behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. The Ravens struggled defending similar routes early last season but fixed the problem by having their linebackers drop deeper into coverage. They should be able to fix it again with more playing time.

Offensively, the Ravens had problems with run-blocking in the interior of their offensive line. Center Matt Skura, coming off major knee surgery, didn’t play well, and rookie right guard Tyre Phillips struggled at times but turned in an overall good performance in his first NFL game. This could be a weak area for the team all season.

The Ravens also need second-year receiver Miles Boykin to improve. He had had three catches for 37 yards but dropped one pass near the goal line. Quarterback Lamar Jackson could have made a better throw, but Boykin has to make that catch.

Overall, the Ravens put down a strong building block in the opener. It’s way too early to say that they can’t fix these problems, but in the playoffs, quality teams expose and exploit weaknesses. That’s what the Los Angeles Chargers and the Tennessee Titans have done to the Ravens in the postseason the past two years.

Harbaugh left Sunday’s game feeling good about his defense.

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“Six points against this offense is very, very good,” he said. “And, really, the fact that we did contain their weapons was probably the key thing. We gave up more rushing yards than we wanted to, our guys are not going to be happy about that. I already know they’re not, because I’ve seen them, and that’s how they feel about it. But those are two excellent [running] backs. They see the field. They make great cuts. The offensive line is very adapted to running that scheme.

“We kept the receivers pretty much under control, which was big, because we know how good those guys are. Just a few plays in there, here and there. So, I was happy with that. We also know we can really improve and get so much better. We can play harder with more physicality and more speed.”

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