Offensive Line Delivers Porous Performance in Preseason Debut
The Ravens' first four offensive drives against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday gained 14 yards and zero first downs. One reason for the lack of production was lackluster blocking.
In all, the offensive line allowed a total of 19 hurries and 29 defensive stops, according to Pro Football Focus.
"The Ravens couldn't muster a first down on their first four drives and went backward on two of them," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "When the Ravens needed just a yard to prolong one first-quarter drive, J.K. Dobbins instead lost one. He could have been tackled by any number of Saints."
The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer believes it was in quarterback Lamar Jackson's best interest to not play behind such an offensive line.
"No football matter in Baltimore is more urgent than the state of the Ravens' offensive line," Shaffer wrote.
A big part of the problem has been injuries. Ronnie Stanley is still rehabbing his season-ending ankle injury from last year. Ben Cleveland didn't play because of an undisclosed injury. New right guard Kevin Zeitler is still trying to return from an injured foot. Then starting center Bradley Bozeman suffered a minor ankle injury during Saturday's game.
"First, the good news: The Ravens starting offensive line Saturday night bore little resemblance to the group that should be on the field when they open the season on Sept. 13 in Las Vegas," Zrebiec wrote.
"Now, the bad news: Everything else. What was on display from the offensive line in the Ravens' 17-14 victory over the New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium was a continuation of what we've seen over three weeks of training camp. And it's not too early for general manager Eric DeCosta and company to be concerned."
The return of Stanley will be a significant improvement; Stanley is among the league's best tackles in the NFL, as noted in last week's LFW. Zeitler is expected to return soon.
Baltimore Positive's WNST's Luke Jones mentions their returns will help, but notes time is of the essence because the preseason has been reduced to three games. Continuity is important for an offensive line, and the Ravens are hoping they can get their unit together for the preseason finale against Washington.
"Saturday wasn't a ringing endorsement for Baltimore's offensive line depth," Jones wrote. "The Ravens felt good about what they did with their offensive line this offseason, especially knowing how quarterback Lamar Jackson's transcendent running ability makes the job of every member of the offense that much easier. But even established veterans need time to build cohesion, and you can't expect every starter to play all 17 games in the season."
"Any way you look at it, this group should look a lot better in the second half of the season than the first," Zrebiec added. "For a team that has watched its offensive line get overwhelmed the past two playoffs, that counts for something."
The Ravens felt good about the upgrades they made on the offensive line this season, as well as the unit's depth. None of that has changed.
"They still could be right and the Ravens better hope they are. Their season probably depends on it," Zrebiec wrote. "But watching the group perform Saturday and through the first three weeks of training camp, it's not too early to be concerned."
Patrick Queen Shows Development in First Preseason Contest
In just two plays against the New Orleans Saints on Saturday, second-year linebacker Patrick Queen demonstrated what an offseason of OTAs and training camp can do for a player. He scorched across the field after diagnosing a screen pass and tackled running back Devonta Freeman for a loss. The very next play, Queen beat former Ravens right tackle James Hurst with a burst of speed for a 12-yard sack on quarterback Taysom Hill.
Queen's ability to read the plays showed he was ready for action, and his speed was noted by PFF's Ben Linsey.
"Patrick Queen can fly," Linsey wrote. "There was a two-play stretch late in the first quarter that really highlighted what Queen's athleticism brings to the Ravens' defense."
Linsey also noted the second-year linebacker was the "first contact defender" on five first-half plays. He looked every bit the part of what expectations are for Ravens' middle linebackers.
Ravenswire's Kevin Oestreicher took notice of Queen's poise.
"However, now with plenty of time to work with his teammates and coaches before the season, Queen showed in the preseason opener that he's ready to take a huge leap this year," Oestreicher wrote. "Queen flew around the field during his snaps on Saturday, showing the sideline to sideline speed that many fell in love with during his time in college. He looked comfortable and confident, making multiple huge plays, including two in a row."
It wasn't only Baltimore media noticing the improvement of Queen. Steelers Depot's Matthew Marczi was paying attention.
"Yet he sees the night-and-day difference in himself, and it showed in the Ravens' preseason debut last night," Marczi wrote. "After the game, [Queen] talked about the fact that he feels much more comfortable than he did last season, though that really shouldn't be a surprise given the conditions under which the 2020 season was played."
Marczi mentioned the complete absence of offseason activities around the NFL last season due to COVID-19. Rookies weren't given an opportunity to acclimate themselves with their fellow teammates. It was a trial by fire where Queen's first game action was Week 1, where the wins and losses counted.
Now, a year later, Queen has begun his sophomore campaign on the right foot, and according to Queen, that foot is "two steps faster."
Chris Westry Gets First Taste of NFL's New Taunting Rules
After great performances in training camp, cornerback Chris Westry saw his stock rise. Against the Saints, Westry notched two tackles and two passes defensed, including one which became an interception by safety Geno Stone.
However, Westry received the Ravens' first taunting penalty of 2021 after celebrating a dropped catch by Saints wide receiver Chris Hogan. The penalty turned a 4th & 18 into a fresh set of downs inside Baltimore territory.
Taunting is point of emphasis this season, according to the NFL's annual rule change and points of emphasis video. In the video, competition committee chairman Rich McKay discusses the purpose behind the stricter enforcement.
"The NFL Players Association, coaches and competition committee have all made a strong statement regarding respect among everyone on the field," McKay said in the video. "We saw an increase in actions that clearly are not within the spirit and intent of this rule and is not representative of the respect to opponents and others on the field. Game officials have been instructed to strictly enforce the taunting rules, and players and coaches are reminded that two taunting penalties committed by an individual player will result in automatic disqualification. In addition, the taunting player may be fined and/or suspended depending on the severity of the actions."
Initially, Westry was pulled from the field after the taunting play and was spoken to by Head Coach John Harbaugh. Yet, shortly thereafter, Westry returned to the field.
The Ravens – and Westry – now know how quickly the referees may throw a flag on taunting. It is up to Westry to ensure he doesn't cost his team again in the coming weeks.