The Ravens gave up the fewest points (20) and fewest rushing yards per game (57.3) during the preseason.
That's the kind of tone that Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale wanted his group to set. Whether it's training camp, joint practices, preseason or regular season, Martindale wants the Ravens' defense to be stingy, to play with an edge regardless of who's in the game or the opponent.
That mission was accomplished. Now Martindale looks forward to taking that mindset into the regular season.
"I hope it translates well," Martindale said. "All credit to the players, themselves, and how they attacked each game and each practice and each OTA and minicamp and everything else. We talk about those things before the game – about what we want to accomplish in a game – and that was one of them, because we weren't happy with the New Orleans game. If you remember back to that, there were a couple runs that leaked out on us. It was just simple things to fix, and they fixed it, and I was really pleased with our run defense. I was pleased with our defense, overall."
There were many positive takeaways for the Ravens' defense during the preseason, including young players making huge strides. Defensive tackle Justin Madubuike looks like he could have a breakout season. Second-year inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison have improved as pass defenders, and they are recognizing offensive tendencies more quickly, which is allowing them to play faster.
Meanwhile, a host of young defensive backs made the 53-man roster, including cornerback Chris Westry and safeties Geno Stone and Ar'Darius Washington. Blessed with so many talented defensive backs, Martindale joked about how he would handle Tuesday's roster cuts.
"I'm glad I don't have to make the final decisions, because I'd keep all DBs [defensive backs], and we'd have about two wide receivers," Martindale said.
J.K. Dobbins Injury Could Also Impact Passing Game
It was obvious that running back J.K. Dobbins had put in plenty of work to improve as a pass-catcher after he made several dazzling catches during training camp. With Dobbins lost to a season-ending knee injury, it remains to be seen how that will impact the Ravens' passing attack.
"J.K. was really making strides in that area," Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said. "It would definitely be a more concerted focus in that area. That's something we're going to have to work through."
That does not mean the Ravens' won't throw to their running backs. Gus Edwards has also improved as a pass receiver, and taking over as the lead back will give him an opportunity to show how much his skillset has expanded. Edwards has caught 16 passes during his career, including a career-high nine receptions season.
"It's something I work on every single day," Edwards said. "In this offense, to be one of the better backs, you have to do that. It's something I've been working on, and I'm excited show that."
Roman kept his play-calling vanilla during preseason, but in the regular season it will be a different story. That could mean a bigger role for Edwards and other backs in the passing game, even with Dobbins sidelined.
"I feel great about the guys we have," Roman said. "I think you'll definitely see us, when the defense tells us to throw it to the backs, we will."
Roman Believes Sammy Watkins Will Catch Up Quickly
Roman is not overly concerned with the amount of practice time that wide receiver Sammy Watkins has missed recently. Watkins and Roman have a long relationship, starting with their days together with the Buffalo Bills when Roman was their offensive coordinator.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said Watkins was not dealing with a serious injury, and Roman believes Watkins has enough experience to overcome the missed time. He looked very good during practices early in training camp.
"I think the No. 1 thing is his health and welfare and availability," Roman said. "So, that's No. 1. Sammy has played this game. He really knows our offense really well. He's been really dialed in in meetings and whatnot. So, let's get him back. Let's get him 100 percent ready to roll, and then let's go. Would you like him out there? Sure, but we'll be just fine."
Offensive Line Is Building Chemistry
Ronnie Stanley, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman, Kevin Zeitler and Alejandro Villanueva started together for the first time in the preseason finale. Early in training camp, Stanley wasn't practicing yet after his comeback from ankle surgery, while Zeitler was dealing with a foot injury.
Powers has not been officially announced as the starter at left guard, but Harbaugh said the coaching staff had settled on a "plan" for that spot. Now that the Ravens have a group healthy offensive linemen, Roman believes their chemistry is getting stronger.
"I think it's starting to come together," Roman said. "We really felt like we were maybe a little behind before the Carolina game. I felt like we started to really push that area, and I'm seeing it come together. You're always fighting for five guys out there at all times. It's always the best-case scenario. But we really like our collection of offensive linemen, and we have a lot of depth, we feel. Everybody is getting better, so I like where we're at right now."