The Ravens might be on the verge of solving one of their biggest problems as the preseason winds down.
Heading into training camp, the Ravens wanted to develop an outside pass rush to complement the play of Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
It’s hard to make a judgment from three preseason games, but the Ravens have been consistent in getting pressure on quarterbacks, and they had four sacks in a 27-10 win against the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night.
Suggs didn’t play as head coach John Harbaugh held out a lot of the starting veterans on both sides of the ball, but the Ravens got one sack each from outside linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young and defensive lineman Chris Wormley. The Ravens also got half a sack each from outside linebackers Tim Williams and Kamalei Correa. Williams has a sack in each of the past three games.
The major differences in the pass rush have been the amount of stunts and twists up front and the assortment of pressure packages on the edge used by defensive coordinator Don Martindale.
The outside linebackers are also using their arms and hands more to get away from pass blockers. Correa and Williams are better at hand-to-hand combat compared with a year ago.
Another outside linebacker who is playing well is Matthew Judon on the strong side. Those linebackers tend to get overlooked because they do the dirty work of lining up over the tight end, but Judon not only holds the edge well, he gets consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Jackson takes another step
I was impressed with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson but wouldn’t call it a “breakout game.” He just keeps getting better every week.
There were two passes over the middle in which he read the outside pass, was patient and delivered the ball in stride over the middle for a solid gain.
He also ran for a touchdown and finished with 39 rushing yards, but we already know he can run. It’s making plays as a passer in the pocket where development is needed, and he is making progress. He starts slow in every game but always finishes strong.
Regardless, the Ravens should still keep three quarterbacks on the roster. Robert Griffin III completed nine of 15 passes for 66 yards and rushed for another 41 against Miami’s starting defense, and the Ravens were without three starting offensive linemen in guards James Hurst and Marshal Yanda and tackle Ronnie Stanley.
In addition, both starting center Matt Skura and left guard Alex Lewis failed to control inside pressure. To do what Griffin did was impressive, and I am so glad the Ravens didn’t play starting quarterback Joe Flacco Saturday night.
Of course, not as happy as Flacco.
Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst will be out a couple of weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, and that will hurt the offense.
Hurst was just starting to get better as a blocker in the running game, but he’ll be missed more in the passing game, where he was a factor deep down the middle of the field.
When he returns, it will be interesting to see whether the Ravens use him outside in one-on-one matchups inside the red zone, like the New England Patriots do with Rob Gronkowski.
Replacements Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle can block better than Hurst, but aren’t as effective as receivers.
Here is a memo to Harbaugh and Martindale: If you guys see any of your outside linebackers lined up one-on-one with a running back on the outside, please call a timeout.
Don’t walk; sprint to the official. The Ravens’ winning percentage in that matchup is extremely low, and it’s been that way for years.
Defensive tackle Willie Henry will be out for a couple of weeks after having surgery for an umbilical hernia. The Ravens will miss him because Henry is relentless in pursuit. Replacements Carl Davis and Wormley might provide more strength at the point of attack, but Henry’s motor allows him to make plays on the opposite side of the field.
Jimmy Smith still playing
Even though cornerback Jimmy Smith will miss the first four games of the regular season for violation of the league’s personal conduct policy, it was a good move for the Ravens to continue to start him in the preseason.
It keeps Smith focused on the game and allows him to stay up to date on any possible changes made by Martindale. Sometimes veterans have a tendency to pout and drift away during suspensions.
Smith was clearly into the game Saturday night and even ran onto the field to celebrate with his teammates after the Ravens forced a turnover.
Winning time for Cleveland?
The Cleveland Browns are still the Browns.
They’re just losers. They are well-coached and have some good schemes in place, but Cleveland just doesn’t have the talent yet. One year, though, they will.
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Of course, I’ve been saying that for quite a while now.