After two preseason games, it’s still hard to determine how good the Ravens defense will be in 2019.
One thing for sure: This group will have to be dominant, especially early, if the Ravens are going to have a winning season and go past the opening round of the playoffs.
The Ravens defensive starters were solid, if not good, in several opening series against the Green Bay starters Thursday night as the Packers had only 111 yards of total offense, including just seven rushing yards. But the appeal of this game was going to be Packers starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
His play would have been a barometer for the Ravens defense, but he was a late-hour scratch because of back tightness.
Instead of facing one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, regardless of how brief, the Ravens faced DeShone Kizer and Tim Boyle, who are not exactly Brett Favre and Bart Starr.
In two preseason games, the Ravens have showed outstanding speed on defense. The run defense, led by tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, has been tough, and it was fun watching Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas in his debut flying all over the field.
Defensive end Pernell McPhee has been a pleasant surprise, especially holding the edge against the run, and third-year player Marlon Humphrey could be on the verge of having a breakout season as one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
But there is still some concern about the Ravens pass rush. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale didn’t blitz as much Thursday night in the first half as he did against Jacksonville. and the Packers were able to hit some passes over the middle when they had time.
That’s why I wanted Rodgers to play.
Even facing Rodgers in a small dose would have been good for the Ravens because Jacksonville didn’t offer them much of a challenge last Thursday. The Jaguars didn’t play many of their starters, including starting quarterback Nick Foles.
The Ravens held the Jaguars to 112 yards of total offense and collected four sacks. If Rodgers was going to play at least a couple of series, Green Bay was going to protect him well.
Plus, this is Rodgers, easily one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. He has thrown for almost 43,000 yards and 338 touchdowns throughout his 14-year career and is the total package. Rodgers has the quick delivery and can beat a team from inside or outside of the pocket with his arm or his legs.
The Ravens entered this season with the No. 1-ranked defense from a year ago but there were a lot of questions about this unit because they lost two of their top pass rushers in the offseason in outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith as well as middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle.
Both Suggs and Weddle had lost a step and were in the twilight of their careers, but Mosley and Smith were peaking. The Ravens added Thomas to the roster in the offseason but there are still doubts about if he is 100% recovered from a leg injury, even though the move has allowed the Ravens to play Tony Jefferson in the box more as a strong safety.
After signing Thomas, the Ravens claimed they had one of the best defensive backfields in the NFL with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Humphrey, Tavon Young and Brandon Carr teaming with Jefferson and Thomas. (After Thursday’s game, coach John Harbaugh said Young could miss the entire season with a neck injury.)
On Thursday night, we thought we would get a clue. It didn’t happen. But the Ravens are playing up to expectations. Offensively, they are what many thought they would be.
They want to pound the ball inside with running backs Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards. Quarterback Lamar Jackson has thrown a lot of short and intermediate timing patterns, and most will be inside the numbers because he doesn’t have a strong arm and enough accuracy to throw outside of them.
And even though Jackson’s completion percentage has been pretty decent during the first two preseason games, I’m still not convinced he is good enough to win big games and go deep into the playoffs.
The defense is still going to have to carry this team, like it has since 2000, but we don’t know if that group is up to the task yet.