The backup quarterback battle between Trace McSorley and Tyler Huntley raged on as the Ravens won their preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints behind excellent performances from their young defenders. Here are five things we learned from Saturday night’s game:
Trace McSorley could not create separation from Tyler Huntley in their battle to back up Lamar Jackson.
As expected, the Ravens gave McSorley the first shot to make his case for their No. 2 quarterback job. He has a year’s experience edge on fellow contender Huntley, and he’s turned the ball over less in training camp.
McSorley didn’t exactly start with a flush hand, dealing with back spasms, playing behind an offensive line that was down two (maybe three) starters and throwing to a set of reserve pass catchers led by James Proche II, Devin Duvernay and Jaylon Moore. He did not transcend his circumstances in a brutal first quarter marked by shabby blocking and tentative play.
McSorley picked up his performance in the second quarter, standing in against a nasty hit from Saints linebacker Chase Hansen to complete a 15-yard third-down pass to Duvernay and following that up with a 17-yard strike to Moore. He used his legs to get the Ravens moving in the two-minute drill. Overall, he completed 11 of 18 passes for 86 yards and an interception, hardly a checkmate in his ongoing match with Huntley.
Huntley did well enough with his second-half showcase, completing 12 of 16 passes and scoring the game-winning touchdown. His acceleration out of the backfield always makes an impression, and his improvisational upside is higher than McSorley’s. But he steered into his worst tendencies when he held the ball too long and fumbled in the red zone early in the fourth quarter.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Huntley played “tremendous football” in rallying the team to victory. The fight to back up Jackson, who watched the preseason opener from the sideline, rages on.
Concerns about the Ravens’ offensive line mounted in an ugly offensive performance.
The Ravens gained exactly 2 yards on 12 offensive plays in the first quarter. They failed to covert on three third downs and one fourth down. Their running backs found little room to run. McSorley rarely had a clean pocket from which to operate.
This was your basic disaster for an offensive line that’s coping with health woes and growing pains as veterans adapt to new positions.
Harbaugh went into training camp bullish on a reconfigured line that had been the team’s chief offseason project. But injuries and a string of poor performances in the first two weeks of practice revived anxieties around the unit.
With starting right guard Kevin Zeitler working his way back from a foot injury and starting left guard candidate Ben Cleveland sidelined as well, Saturday was not the time to draw any sweeping conclusions about what we might see for the Sept. 13 season opener.
That said, early returns were hardly stellar from the blockers who are expected to line up against the Las Vegas Raiders in four weeks.
In his first game action as the Ravens’ starting center, Bradley Bozeman did not flub any snaps, but he struggled to hold his ground. To make matters worse, he left the game with a minor ankle sprain early in the second quarter, the last news the Ravens needed as they scramble to get a functional set of blockers onto the field.
Right tackle Alejandro Villanueva at least avoided injury in his limited run of snaps, but he was part of the group that couldn’t do anything with the Saints’ defensive front.
We again saw the Ravens’ lack of depth at tackle, where a parade of roster candidates struggled as the evening wore on.
It’s too early to scream crisis. Zeitler and left tackle Ronnie Stanley could be ready for game action soon, as could the powerhouse Cleveland. Villanueva and Bozeman are established starters known for their professionalism.
“Hopefully, we can get ‘em out there for the last [preseason] game,” Harbaugh said of his full starting unit.
But this has not been the smooth ramp-up the Ravens hoped for after their offensive line collapsed in the playoffs seven months ago.
Odafe Oweh’s versatility was on full display in his preseason debut.
With so much focus on Oweh’s lack of sack production at Penn State, critics seemed to miss the point: Given his size, speed and dead-serious intensity, he could make a substantial NFL impact even if he never becomes an elite quarterback hunter.
We saw his potential from his first day of training camp, and we saw it against the Saints.
Oweh started at outside linebacker along with Tyus Bowser, and we quickly saw the variety of ways defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale might use him. The rookie did a nice job setting the edge on his first series and dropped into coverage on an obvious passing down. He was less successful initially when asked to get around Saints left tackle Ethan Greenidge as a pass rusher. But he did better against Greenidge late in the first quarter, fighting around the edge for a pressure and shedding the tackle to stuff a run play. He showed real patience late in the second quarter when he set up Greenidge for an outside move that nearly earned him his first sack.
Oweh also flew down the field as a starting gunner on the punt team, not your typical assignment for a 6-foot-5, 251-pound man. It was another reminder of how special a toy the rookie could become for a franchise that cherishes defensive versatility and special teams contributions.
The Ravens have reason to expect second-year leaps from Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison.
The Ravens threw their rookie inside linebackers into the fire last season, and their ensuing hiccups were to be expected. Both struggled in coverage, and Harrison’s power was not enough to keep him on the field consistently.
Harbaugh has predicted significant steps forward for both players in Year 2, and we saw why against New Orleans.
Queen showed off his sharpened instincts when he blew up a screen for a 3-yard loss in the first quarter and followed with a sack on the next play to force a punt. We know Queen has the turbo speed to chase ball carriers all over the field. If he combines it with consistent acumen, look out.
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“I feel like I’m two steps faster now,” Queen said. “I’m way more relaxed, way more anxious for the play to happen.”
Harrison, meanwhile, made his mark as an aggressive run-stuffer, stopping Saints backs within 2 yards of the line of scrimmage three times in the first quarter and forcing a fumble. He did a terrific job shedding blocks and delivering meaningful blows.
The Ravens viewed Queen and Harrison as a complementary blend of smooth acceleration and blunt force coming out of the 2020 draft. That vision is coming to life.
The Ravens received major contributions from their defensive rookies beyond Odafe Oweh.
It was fitting that cornerback Shaun Wade boxed out a receiver to seal the game with a leaping interception, because he and his defensive classmates built their highlight reel throughout the night.
Oweh will be the headliner of this group. Just don’t assume he’ll be the only defensive rookie to put his mark on this season. Third-round pick Brandon Stephens also stood out, leading the team with six tackles and showing his utility as everything from a center fielder to a blitzer. Some fans scratched their heads when the Ravens picked the former running back as high as they did, but his versatility — there’s that word again — could get him onto the field quickly.
Outside linebacker Daelin Hayes has also stood out. He made two tackles and a quarterback hit against the Saints, flashing the mobility that has made him such a problem for Ravens blockers during one-on-one drills.