Baltimore Ravens

Preston: Ravens defense makes impressive debut in preseason opener against Redskins

The formula for winning football in Baltimore remains the same, and might never change.

The Ravens' chance for success depends on defense and the accuracy of place kicker Justin Tucker. As for the offense, it just needs to make a few big plays and stay away from the turnovers.


After watching the team's first preseason game against the Washington Redskins on Thursday night, it's easy to see why general manager Ozzie Newsome spent so much money and energy on the defense during the offseason.

It's hard to predict how good this unit will be after one exhibition game, but there were two major positives. Despite having a lot of inexperienced players in the starting lineup, there didn't seem to be a lot of confusion as far as alignments and assignments.


And the Ravens ran hard to the football. They had excellent pursuit and that's the key to a great defense, which is why the Ravens were so dominant during their Super Bowl season in 2000. They didn't stay blocked and stayed on their feet.

As far as the offense Thursday night, the Ravens were without a lot of starters, including quarterback Joe Flacco, receivers Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Jeremy Maclin, tight end Benjamin Watson, and offensive guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis. The Ravens have a lot of speed, which will give them opportunities for a lot of vertical plays.

But they don't have beef up front. Without that dominance, it will be hard for Flacco to throw and for the Ravens to develop consistency, especially in the running game. They can talk all they want about having a power running game, but that's hard to achieve without a big tight end and fullback.

In other words, the Ravens might have to come up with a lot of trick plays and formations to manufacture points, and that's no big deal. Whatever works is fine.

But on defense, the Ravens have a good, young nucleus. They like to hit and were dominant in the first half against the Redskins when it counted the most. As expected, tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce were impressive inside, but the player that was a pleasant surprise was fourth-year defensive end Brent Urban.

In the past, he has struggled with leverage because he works too high, but he was dominant against the run and was explosive off the ball. Several times he got penetration into the Washington backfield to interrupt running plays.

It's interesting and exciting to watch the Ravens' young linebackers. Rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams have played well throughout training camp, and Bowser seemed unfazed by playing in his first NFL game Thursday night. Second-year inside linebacker Kamalei Correa was physical and veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who might've had his best offseason ever as far as conditioning, played well against left offensive tackle Trent Williams.

It's only one preseason game, but one of the biggest areas of improvement was the tackling by the defensive backs. The Ravens were drilling the Redskins after receptions. If that had happened in the second Pittsburgh Steelers game last season, the Ravens would've gone to the postseason.

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But this is a different year, and there is a different energy around this team. The additions of cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson, if cornerback Jimmy Smith stays healthy, gives defensive coordinator Dean Pees more options than a year ago.

Some of it was on display Thursday. The Ravens brought pressure from all areas of the field and weren't afraid to blitz. They used safety Anthony Levine Sr. to cover and as a pass rusher.

The biggest weakness right now is finding a nickel cornerback. The Ravens have lost their two top candidates — Tavon Young and Maurice Canady — to injuries, leaving them with veteran Lardarius Webb as the top nickel prospect. That's not good.

But overall, the early signs for this defense were good. You'd like to see the Ravens develop some type of running game to keep their defense off the field, which is why the unit got tired at the end of last season.

But the Ravens have some new blood and fresh legs, and hopefully that will carry them the distance in 2017. The offense just needs to hitch a ride.