The Baltimore Ravens won their first preseason game of 2021 last night, beating the New Orleans Saints by a score of 17-14.
The defense racked up six takeaways, terrorizing the Saints’ offense even without several key veterans. The Ravens struggled to move the ball on offense, with injuries hampering the offensive line and wide receiver corps.
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While the outcome of the game has little bearing on the rest of the season, the Ravens should be satisfied with their performance on Saturday, escaping the game without any serious injuries and getting a good look at their backups and depth players.
The Defense Carries the Day
Without star quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens’ offense was stagnant for much of the game, only averaging 4.4 yards per play. But the defense more than made up for the lack of scoring, forcing the sloppy Saints offense into six turnovers.
The playmakers came from every position group and all levels of the depth chart, as the Ravens notched at least one takeaway in each quarter, including three in the first.
After the game, Patrick Queen told media, “I feel like I’m two steps faster now,” and that speed and confidence showed up against the Saints. The second-year linebacker was flying around on the field during his first-quarter snaps, snuffing out a screen and sacking Taysom Hill on consecutive plays.
The secondary played exceptionally well, especially several depth players who are competing for a spot on the final 53-man roster.
2020 sixth-round pick Geno Stone excelled against the pass, recording two interceptions and three pass breakups. His ability to play in the box and drop back in coverage is the kind of versatility the Ravens covet from their depth players.
Chris Westry continued his strong start to the preseason, breaking up two passes, one of which led to Stone’s second interception. He also made contributions on special teams, which is key for a player trying to earn a roster spot.
Ar’Darius Washington was widely seen as the best undrafted rookie from the 2021 draft class and played like it on Saturday, flying around the field and disrupting plays. He lined up in the slot and as a double-high safety, forcing a fumble with a huge hit on Tony Jones, Jr. in the third quarter.
The Ravens’ stable of young edge rushers all performed well against the Saints highly-ranked offensive line. First-round pick Odafe Oweh showed off his burst off the edge and was the first Raven down the field on punt coverage as well. Fellow rookie Daelin Hayes showed his bend dipping around J.R. Sweezy for a second quarter sack.
Jaylon Ferguson, who is thought to be on the roster bubble with the arrival of Justin Houston, executed his assignments well and impacted the game in a variety of ways. He set the edge, dropped into coverage and created pressure in the backfield, recording a sack and a forced fumble.
Another Steady Preseason for Baltimore
The win over the Saints today brings the Ravens to 18 consecutive preseason wins, the longest streak since Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers, per Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin. Head coach John Harbaugh has not lost a preseason game with the team since 2015.
While preseason games are individually meaningless (the 2008 Detroit Lions infamously went undefeated in the preseason before their 0-16 regular season), the Ravens’ continued preseason excellence is reflective of their team culture and quality depth. General manager Eric DeCosta and his predecessor Ozzie Newsome have found diamonds in the rough in the draft and free agency for years, and this year is no exception.
In a game without most of Baltimore’s starters, late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents shined on both sides of the ball and special teams.
Harbaugh’s background as a special teams coach has always showed up in the Ravens’ special teams play, and Saturday was no exception. Kick coverages were tight and undrafted kicker Jake Verity hit two field goals, including a 53-yarder.
The Ravens also emerged from the game without any significant injuries, a major relief for a team that has struggled with its health to start the season. Offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman left the game with an injured ankle, but Harbaugh told media after the game that the injury was minor.
They didn’t dominate in all aspects of the game, but the Ravens held up with most of their best players resting on Saturday. The team will have to make five roster moves by the 85-man deadline at 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday, but injuries will make their decisions easier. As positional battles heat up, they’ll have some tough choices leading up to the regular season.