From Marquise Brown’s first game action to a potential pass rusher pushing himself off the roster bubble, here are five things we learned from the Ravens’ 26-15 preseason win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Marquise Brown made the best of his debut, but didn’t get to show off.
Brown finally wore his Ravens uniform into a game after a fitful recovery from Lisfranc surgery to his foot.
The fleet first-round draft pick delivered an efficient performance, creating space on short routes and catching all three of the passes thrown his way. But we did not see any of the home-run plays that were Brown’s trademark at Oklahoma.
At least once, he streaked open downfield only for quarterback Trace McSorley to throw elsewhere. On an attempted end-around, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham crashed through the Ravens’ offensive line to drop Brown for a 4-yard loss.
“It just didn’t work for us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of finding Brown deep. “He wasn’t in for long enough.”
Brown’s debut was incomplete, through no fault of his own.
Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman recently noted the importance of getting the rookie wide receiver in sync with starting quarterback Lamar Jackson. But Jackson did not play Thursday, meaning he had no chance to build chemistry with his prospective top deep threat. He and Brown seem likely to begin the regular season without having played a single snap together outside of practice.
“That’s where practice comes in,” Brown said. “There’s a lot of practice left between now and Week 1.”
His lack of shared reps with Jackson won’t matter in the long run, but it’s another reason to temper expectations for Brown early in the season.
Tyus Bowser has quietly played himself off the roster bubble.
Ravens coaches have not sugar-coated their words about third-year linebackers Bowser and Tim Williams this preseason, saying both needed to step up their games or risk falling off the 53-man roster.
Williams has impressed as a pass rusher at times but still struggles when teams run directly at him.
Bowser is probably ahead of him in the job scramble, in part because he’s a key special teams player but also because he was one of the most productive defenders on the field against the Eagles. Bowser posted a sack and another tackle for loss in the first half, then made two more tackles and drew a holding penalty in the second.
He’s not as quick a pass rusher coming off the edge as Williams is at his best, but he’s physically stronger and more versatile.
“He was really explosive off the edge against those guys, and he was going against some good tackles,” Harbaugh said. “Tyus has had a good camp. He’s been an explosive pass rusher pretty much the whole camp, and he should be commended for that.”
Both Williams and Bowser played ahead of veteran outside linebacker Shane Ray against the Eagles.
The Ravens have ample reasons to be excited about another rookie wide receiver, Miles Boykin.
Late in the first quarter, Boykin caught a mid-range pass from McSorley on a corner route and spun past two defenders to extend it into a 44-yard gain.
That highlight built on Boykin’s impressive effort in Tuesday’s joint practice against the Eagles, which included a leaping catch of an errant Jackson throw and a deft toe drag along the sideline.
We knew the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boykin would look fantastic in a uniform, but the third-round pick out of Notre Dame has proven he’s more than a workout sensation. His gift for pulling in off-target passes makes him a perfect fit for Jackson, whose accuracy still comes and goes.
On the opposite end of the experience spectrum, veteran Michael Floyd continued his recent surge with three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown Thursday. Once thought to be on the wrong side of the roster bubble, Floyd is now “in the running” Harbaugh said.
“He’s really had a good couple of weeks,” the Ravens coach added. “He plays kind of angry.”
Patrick Ricard has forced his way into contention for defensive snaps.
The Ravens have prized the third-year defensive tackle and fullback primarily for his versatility. But Ricard has surprised almost everyone by evolving into the team’s most productive interior pass rusher this preseason.
He started against the Eagles after leading the Ravens with two sacks in the first preseason game and continued to shove his way into the backfield Thursday night, picking up another quarterback hit.
We know the Ravens view the 303-pound Ricard as a destructive lead blocker in their power running game. Starting running back Mark Ingram II recently referred to him as “a huge man and a boss.”
But what a handy toy Ricard would become if he could also give the team 10-15 productive snaps per game on defense (he played a combined 85 snaps on that side of the ball in his first two seasons, compared to 245 on offense).
We’ve assumed fourth-year defensive tackle Willie Henry would be the Ravens’ most reliable option as an interior pass rusher, and that might still be the case. But give Ricard credit for crashing that conversation.
His play could also affect the roster chances for defensive tackles Gerald Willis (who has not impressed in the preseason and did not play Thursday) and Zach Sieler, though Sieler might be saved by his physical upside and ability to play five-technique defensive end behind Chris Wormley.
The Ravens face a difficult decision on Trace McSorley.
With Jackson on the sideline, the rookie from Penn State played three quarters and delivered easily his most impressive statistical line of the preseason, completing 19 of 28 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
He bounced back from throwing three interceptions against the Eagles in the last segment of Tuesday’s joint practice.
The Ravens have an established backup, Robert Griffin III, who’s expected to be ready for the regular-season opener after missing the preseason with a fractured thumb. No matter what McSorley has done, Griffin remains a more trustworthy short-term option should Jackson suffer an injury.
That’s an important distinction for a team with playoff ambitions.
But Griffin’s presence leaves the Ravens with a dilemma. Do they want to carry three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster? They did it last year when Joe Flacco was their established starter and Jackson an unproven rookie. But it’s never their preference, given that it saddles them with an automatic inactive player most weeks.
The Ravens have talked about playing McSorley on special teams, but we haven’t seen him take many reps there because of his heightened importance with Griffin sidelined.
If Griffin is healthy, they might like to stash McSorley on their practice squad. But the rookie has been good enough that we have to wonder if they could do that without losing him to another team.
Is there any chance they would cut Griffin and roll with McSorley as their sole backup? That seems unlikely, given their respect for the veteran’s team-first approach over the last two seasons and the risks presented by Jackson’s run-happy style.