LANDOVER — We saw Lamar Jackson’s preseason debut and a brilliant performance from Tyler Huntley in the Ravens’ preseason demolition of the Washington Football Team. But a knee injury to J.K. Dobbins still hurt. Here are five things we learned from Saturday night’s game:
Teammates’ reactions told us how much the loss of J.K. Dobbins hurt.
The Ravens dominated Washington in every conceivable area to complete another perfect preseason and set one of the stranger unofficial records in NFL history: 20 preseason victories in a row.
So why did wide receiver James Proche II sigh so deeply as he reviewed the evening’s happenings?
One ugly twist of fate on the Ravens’ first drive overshadowed all that followed. Second-year running back J.K. Dobbins caught a simple screen pass from Lamar Jackson. As everyone else rose from the turf following the 2-yard-gain, Dobbins did not. Instead, he clutched his left knee. After a few minutes, he hobbled off with assistance as his teammates confronted the prospect of starting their season without one of the most dynamic athletes and engaging characters on the roster.
“I’m hurt, bro, because you know how much work he put in, the type of guy he is,” Proche said. “He’s just a real solid dude, and he loves the game, man, so anytime the game’s taken away from a dude like that, you really feel for him.”
Linebacker Patrick Queen, who was drafted one round ahead of Dobbins in 2020, seemed similarly forlorn.
“That’s my guy,” he said. “It felt bad at first. I was hoping for nothing, but I know he’s going to be fine regardless of what happens, whatever it may be, whatever the outcome is.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh did not offer much information on Dobbins’ injury, saying only that a test Sunday would reveal more. ESPN reported Sunday that an MRI revealed a season-ending torn ACL.
The reactions from Proche and Queen on Saturday belied any notion that this would be a minor bump in the Ravens’ season.
It’s awful to see any player go down, more awful when it happens in a game that does not count. It was somehow even worse to watch it happen to Dobbins, whose legs perform such marvelous feats of balance and whose confidence lights up a room. If he’s gone for a long stretch, the Ravens will adapt. They still have Gus Edwards, and Ty’Son Williams continued his breakout preseason against Washington. But that doesn’t diminish the cruelty of what we saw — one wrong step that could change a 22-year-old athlete’s life for a long time to come.
The Ravens’ starting offense looked ready to move in an extremely short glimpse.
We finally saw Jackson playing behind the offensive line that’s likely to protect him in the Sept. 13 regular-season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders. The glimpse lasted just one drive, with Dobbins’ injury taking the air out of even that procession. But this still felt like a milestone in a preseason dominated by injuries to the Ravens offense.
They moved the ball well, going from their own 13-yard line to the red zone in just eight plays. Jackson completed three of four passes, including a sweet 23-yard out to tight end Mark Andrews. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was out there protecting his blind side for the first time since Week 8 of last season. Edwards rumbled through holes in midseason form.
This wasn’t the Ravens offense in full. We saw no Marquise Brown, no Sammy Watkins, no Rashod Bateman. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman did not dig into his bag of misdirections. But at least we saw something resembling the real thing.
“It’s not much, but it’s something,” Harbaugh said. “At least you get out there for a little bit of work. We knew we weren’t going to get a ton of plays; it’s just not worth it. But I’m glad they got something.”
“To get out there and actually feel the presence of the line, knowing what they’re going to be doing, it felt pretty good,” Jackson said.
Some business remains unsettled in the Ravens’ deepest position group.
Not many position battles remained open going into the final preseason game, but some intrigue lingered around the final few spots in the secondary, even after the Ravens traded fifth-round pick Shaun Wade.
Would diminutive safety Ar’Darius Washington continue his roster push or would it be cornerback Nigel Warrior? Would 6-foot-4 cornerback Chris Westry stay ahead of the competition after turning so many heads in training camp?
No one landed a knockout blow Saturday evening. Warrior played the best game, stuffing a wide receiver screen and finishing with four tackles. Washington did not stand out as a playmaker the way he has in previous outings. Westry didn’t have his best game either, giving up three catches on seven targets, according to Pro Football Focus, but he didn’t play himself out of a spot. His size makes him an intriguing developmental prospect.
The Ravens certainly regard this as a good problem: competition too close to call at a position group they prize above all others on defense. Whichever way they go to hit the 53-man roster deadline Tuesday afternoon, they’ll hope to stash the players they cut on their practice squad.
The competition at left guard went out with a whimper.
Before training camp, we thought the battle for the starting left guard job might be the most ferocious of the summer. Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips came in with experience advantages, but Ben Cleveland’s run blocking tape from college stirred the hearts of Harbaugh and Roman.
A concussion to Cleveland sapped the competition of its juice, however. We finally saw him at left guard in the second half against Washington, and he moved fluidly enough for a man the size of a small bear. But his opportunity to win a starting job will almost certainly have to wait for a later date. He simply has not been on the field enough.
Powers, meanwhile, played well against the Carolina Panthers in the Ravens’ second preseason game and earned praise from Roman, who described him as “really dialed in.” He started against Washington and played most of the first half. The Ravens are certainly acting as if he’ll line up next to Stanley in Week 1.
On the one hand, this represents an admirable climb for a guy who played poorly in the team’s playoff loss to the Buffalo Bills and who has always seemed to face an uphill battle to win the coaching staff’s trust. Powers doesn’t always play with the power the Ravens covet, but he’s kept himself in the mix for snaps while others have faltered.
On the other hand, Powers seized the job in part because injuries kept Cleveland and Phillips from putting their best feet forward. So it will be interesting to see if this remains a closed matter for the rest of the season. Harbaugh often talks about the difference between being a starter and an established starter. Powers is not established.
Tyler Huntley could not have put a sharper exclamation point on his summer.
Huntley already had the No. 2 quarterback job well in hand, but if the Ravens had any lingering thoughts about Trace McSorley, he wiped them out with a brilliant performance against Washington.
This was not a case of Huntley simply managing game situations. He unleashed the big-time arm we’ve seen in training camp, hitting on a string of downfield throws and using his exceptional quickness to buy time in and out of the pocket.
His statistical line — 24-for-33 for 285 yards and four touchdowns — spoke for itself. “He couldn’t do any more,” Harbaugh said.
You can also hear the confidence the second-year quarterback inspires in his teammates, who are so used to watching Jackson do incredible things at the position. “I’m glad I ain’t playing against him,” Jackson said after the game.
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Huntley still saw room for improvement, acknowledging only that he’s done a good job building from one performance to the next. But in truth, he could not have made a much better case over the last five weeks.