Every team has one goal coming out of preseason: no major injuries. Whatever happens on the scoreboard is secondary.
So although the Ravens romped to a 37-3 win against the Washington Football Team Aug. 28, setting an NFL record with their 20th straight preseason win, that fact was tempered by the potentially serious knee injury sustained by running back J.K. Dobbins early in the game.
Head coach John Harbaugh said afterward that Dobbins will be re-evaluated and the team would know more then, but it didn’t look good as Dobbins was helped from the field and then left on a cart.
As for the game, quarterback Lamar Jackson saw his first action of the preseason and operated for one offensive series, going 3-for-4 for 29 yards. But he was sacked twice, and after seeing Dobbins carted from the field, Harbaugh wasn’t about to send his franchise quarterback back out for any more preseason work.
It hardly mattered.
Backup quarterback Tyler Huntley shredded the Washington defense, throwing for four touchdown passes and running for another in a game that was essentially over at halftime as the Ravens built a 23-3 lead. The Ravens’ dominant backup defense did the rest, holding Washington scoreless in the second half.
Here are five quick impressions of the Ravens’ win, which closes out the Ravens’ fifth consecutive undefeated preseason:
1. J.K. Dobbins’ injury derails the momentum of the preseason.
After all the disruptions with the Ravens’ offense in training camp — Lamar Jackon’s positive COVID test just before camp began, injuries to several top receivers, absences along the offensive line — everything appeared to be trending upward as the Ravens traveled to Washington.
Jackson was set to see his first action of the offseason. So was All-Pro offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley. Although still sidelined, wide receivers Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins are getting healthy again and expect to be ready for the regular season.
But that optimism all changed when Dobbins caught a screen pass from Jackson and took a shot to the knee from Washington’s Jimmy Moreland and Jordan Kunaszyk. Dobbins couldn’t put any weight on his left leg as he was helped to the sideline and ultimately carted to the locker room.
For a team so anchored by its run game, this is potentially a monumental loss for the Ravens. Dobbins had looked to be in top form as a runner and had made great strides this offseason as a receiver. He was a trendy pick by national pundits to be a breakout player in his second season, even in an offense featuring Jackson and sidekick Gus Edwards.
The extent of Dobbins’ injury isn’t yet known, but it appears that the Ravens’ offense could be missing a big weapon for an extended period of time. And if as bad as feared, that injury becomes the story of the preseason.
2. Ty’Son Williams should have a roster spot now, and potentially much more.
When training camp began, Williams was a distant fourth on the running back depth chart behind J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards and Justice Hill. But then Hill was sidelined by an ankle injury and Williams put together two strong preseason games in a row, including a highlight-reel 20-yard touchdown run at Carolina.
Williams, a 6-foot, 220-pounder who spent last year on the Ravens’ practice squad, steadily positioned himself to possibly win the No. 3 job over Hill, whose primary role the past two years has been on special teams. Now with Dobbins hurt and Hill still ailing, Williams’ spot on the roster is looking even better.
Williams had another strong day against Washington, with four carries for 42 yards, all in the first half; the Ravens seemingly shut him down in light of the Dobbins injury.
At the very least, with Dobbins ailing, Williams figures to make this team as a reserve back. And if Dobbins’ injury is serious, Williams might be thrust into a much larger role.
3. Tyler Huntley has cemented himself as the backup quarterback.
Three weeks ago, Huntley and Trace McSorley were locked in a competition for the backup quarterback job behind Lamar Jackson. McSorley had been a bit more consistent through OTAs and the early part of training camp, but Huntley showed a bigger arm and a better ability to create when the play broke down.
Then McSorley was sidelined by a back injury, giving Huntley the edge by default, and both of those strengths of Huntley’s were on display at Washington. Huntley finished 24-for-33 for 285 yards and four touchdowns, with a passer rating of 138.3, and he also scrambled for an early 10-yard touchdown run.
Huntley eluded pressure to hit tight end Eric Tomlinson with an 8-yard touchdown pass, then later lofted a perfect 25-yard scoring pass to Binjimen Victor. Huntley’s numbers would have been even better if wide receiver Deon Cain hadn’t dropped a perfectly placed deep ball in the first half.
The Ravens still have a decision to make whether to keep two quarterbacks or three on the 53-man roster, but in the past two weeks Huntley has decidedly elevated himself to the No. 2 spot.
4. The Ravens’ defensive depth again was on display.
With so many starters sitting out, or playing sparingly, preseason games really become a show of depth. How do your third- and fourth-stringers stack up against the opposition’s?
The Ravens’ defensive reserves this summer have been, in a word, dominant. In three preseason games, the Ravens outscored the opposition 39-0 in the second half. Last week, Carolina didn’t record a first down in the second half. In this game, Washington was held to 11 yards in the third quarter, by the end of which the Ravens already led 37-3.
Players like outside linebacker Chris Smith (team-high 5 tackles), cornerback Nigel Warrior (4 tackles) and safety Ar’Daruis Washington (3) consistently stepped up. There probably won’t be spots on the Ravens’ 53-man roster for all the players who excelled on defense for the Ravens this preseason, and as John Harbaugh indicated, some tough roster decisions loom.
But a streak of 20 straight preseason wins doesn’t happen without superior talent late in these games, when both teams turn to their backups of their backups. Once again, the Ravens’ reserves shined.
5. Injuries and trades have made the roster bubble smaller, but it will burst for a few by Tuesday.
For the players, all the hard work of preseason is over. For general manager Eric DeCosta, head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens decision-makers, it’s about to start.
The Ravens must cut their roster from 80 to 53 players by Tuesday, Aug. 31, at 4 p.m. To be sure, most of those 53 spots were already spoken for when camp began, but players such as cornerback Nigel Warrior and safety Geno Stone and guard Ben Bredeson have to hope they’ve shown enough in the past four weeks to warrant a roster spot.
DeCosta eased the bubble a bit by trading cornerback Shaun Wade for a pair of future draft picks, but many questions remain as the Ravens try to reach that magic number of 53.
Should the Ravens keep three quarterbacks, especially in light of the vaccination status of Lamar Jackson and the league’s COVID protocols? Can the Ravens afford to keep a strong blocking wide receiver such as Miles Boykin, who has been sidelined for most of training camp? Do the Ravens keep six edge rushers, one more than usual, or do they let one of them, such as Jaylon Ferguson, hit the waiver wire? Keeping six edge rushers, of course, would mean going short somewhere else.
And how will the Ravens handle a player such as receiver Rashod Bateman or tight end Nick Boyle? Bateman could start the season on injured reserve, but must be on the 53-man roster in order to be eligible to return. Keeping Bateman on the roster before he moves to injured reserve, means letting someone else go. Boyle, who has yet to practice because of a lingering knee injury, could begin the season on the PUP list, which would save a roster spot but sideline him for at least six weeks. Or do they think he will be back sooner? And what of Dobbins?
It will be a long 72 hours for DeCosta, Harbaugh, and all those players on the roster bubble.
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