As we mentioned last week, Act 1 of a classic three-part play, or in our case, the first preseason game, was all about identifying and perhaps meeting for the first time the key characters that will play a role in the remaining production.
We were able to do that with solid rookie performances from Tyus Bowser, Jaylen Hill and Tim White (now out for the season with an injury). We reintroduced you to key Ravens veterans like Terrell Suggs, Brandon Williams and Eric Weddle. We met new veterans like Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson and we watched a new, albeit unfinished, offensive line unit. There were also some key characters to the 2017 season that were noticeably absent from the script … as is the case with most NFL teams during the first preseason game.
In Week 2, we may get our first glimpse of newcomers Jeremy Maclin, Danny Woodhead and, possibly, first-round pick* *Marlon Humphrey, as well as the recently signed Austin Howard. But also in Week 2 is when we transition from Act 1 and roll into the second act of the play, in which the key characters find themselves in a troubling situation and have to solve their way out of it.
In the case of the Ravens, this could mean any number of things … some of which have already started to play out. Is Ryan Mallett a viable backup? Do we have the right combination of offensive linemen? Can our backfield handle the needed workload? Do we have enough weapons outside to threaten a defense down the field? Can we rush the passer opposite Terrell Suggs? How will the new parts of the defensive secondary fit together?
These aren't questions that are unique to the Baltimore Ravens. These are questions that 31 other clubs are also trying to find answers to. The good news for the Ravens is that they have pretty solid footing to stand on.
Let's remember, the problems with the quarterback position are all but solved with a healthy Joe Flacco. That isn't to minimize the concerns around Mallett, and for what it's worth, his week one outing wasn't anything to sound the alarms over. He made some decent plays, and he missed some throws that should have been easy completions, but he is after all, the backup. And any number of teams would be in a world of hurt if they were to lose their starter for any significant amount of time. And as I said during the broadcast, the hardest thing to do when evaluating Mallett's performance over the course of these four games will be to view it from the vacuum of just him rather than the chaos that is happening around him. He is working with an offensive line that probably hasn't sent the same combination of starting five out for team drills at any point so far this season. And that appears to be a continuation this week as James Hurst may see some time at guard and the aforementioned Howard is inserted into the right tackle position. Jermaine Eluemunor started at guard but may see time at tackle, and Matt Skura also started at guard with his most natural position being center. This type of versatility may prove beneficial in the season, but it certainly makes the current player evaluations a little more difficult in terms of consistency.
Against the Redskins, Mallett was without any of the presumed starting wide receivers with Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman all resting or injured. Remember, Woodhead will play a huge part in this passing attack as well. In his two most recent full 16-game seasons (2015 and 2013), Woodhead accounted for 156 receptions for 1,360 yards and 12 touchdowns. I am certainly more excited to see what Mallett shows this week with more potent talent around him and a semblance of a starting roster of skill players, but again, we must remember that we are watching the backup quarterback. It would be unfair for us to assume that it is going to look just like Flacco back there. One thing he (and the rest of the quarterbacks) can hang his hat on after week one … no turnovers. And with what we all think this defense can become, that is going to be critical to the Ravens' success in 2017.
Speaking of that defense, what a performance we saw from that unit last week. This group has a chance to be special and, as Brandon Williams has hinted in interviews, they want to be named among the best in Ravens' history when the season is over. And while I tend to burr up when hearing that because I know just how dominant of a group we had in 2000, they do have a similar schematic build and makeup.
I am a firm believer that defenses today must be built from the inside out – a dominant interior presence at all three levels and then build out your blueprint from there. For the 2017 Ravens, that means Williams and Michael Pierce (who I mentioned during the broadcast from a viewer Twitter question as my MVP of the week one game) playing the role of Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa that made our defenses so tough to run against, while also moving the pocket to force the quarterback to roll right into the rush of Peter Boulware or Michael McCrary. At the linebacker position, it's C.J. Mosley, and I hesitate to say this because it's not a fair (or even similar style of play) comparison being the new-age version of Ray Lewis. Mosley plays the position differently since the role of the middle linebacker has changed since Ray first entered the NFL. But Mosley's presence can have a similar impact on how offensive coordinators will try and attack. Then you have the pair of safeties in Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson and, while they aren't individually as impactful as Hall of Famer, Rod Woodson, as a pair, they are among the best tandems in football.
So, while I am not ready to co-sign with Williams (who in all fairness isn't braggadocios by any means) as this being the best defense in Ravens' history, they certainly could be the best defense in the NFL this season. I'm looking forward to the weekly progress we see from this group that certainly had a lot of momentum after Week 1.
By the way, if you are interested in interacting with the broadcast team, you can Tweet me @CoachBillick and we will try and answer some of your questions live on the air. Also, stand by for a Facebook Live chat I will be hosting in the coming days.