Five thoughts on the Ravens' 20-3 preseason win over the Carolina Panthers Saturday night at Bank of America Stadium:
It was just a preseason win, but the Ravens spilled some of their DNA on the Panthers' turf, clearly illustrating why they're a winning team with playoff aspirations. They were more physical, more consistent, deeper, more disciplined. The Panthers forced an early turnover and threatened to take command early. The Ravens' first-team defense shut down that idea, stopping Carolina's offense on the goal line. "That was huge," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. Indeed, the Panthers were never the same. Off balance at first, the Ravens' offense steadied under quarterback Tyler Huntley and eventually dominated. Overall, the Ravens committed just one penalty and made few mistakes after two early turnovers. This was their 19th straight preseason win going back to 2016 – an eye-opening run that just keeps going – but as their backup offensive line punished the Panthers during the decisive second half, it felt like a lot of the team's regular season wins in recent years. "Across the board, a good preseason victory," Harbaugh said.
If the Ravens wanted to see Huntley deal with adversity – an important part of being a No. 2 quarterback – they got their wish. His first pass was tipped and intercepted. His next three passes were incompletions. Midway through the first quarter, his helmet got knocked off as he fought to avoid being tackled for a safety. When he got untracked and led a long drive downfield with five straight completions, the threat ended when tight end Josh Oliver fumbled after a catch in the red zone. But the Ravens surely liked what they saw after Huntley survived the rough start and found his footing. He completed 14 of 15 pass attempts at one point and ended with a strong stat line – 24 of 34 for 187 yards. He moved the offense. He avoided mistakes. He used his legs to make plays. With Lamar Jackson in street clothes on the sideline, Huntley had a great opportunity to show what he could do against a starting defense. Huntley made the most of that opportunity.
Although the Ravens' starting safeties, DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark, were solid performers a year ago, there was some thought during the offseason that the team would like to see more game-changing plays at the position. Well, Elliott and Clark both had huge moments in this game. The Panthers drove to the Ravens 1-yard-line on their first series, but on third-and-goal at the 1, Elliott and Patrick Queen met the Panthers' Chuba Hubbard at the line and drove him back. On fourth down at the one, Elliott fought off a block and tackled Hubbard for a loss. On Carolina's next series, Elliott registered a sack and Clark hammered a runner on third down to force a punt. The Ravens have a whole batch of talented, young safeties in camp, including Brandon Stephens, Geno Stone, Nigel Warrior and Ar'Darius Washington. But Elliott and Clark showed why they're the starters Saturday night. "They've taken it to another level," Harbaugh said.
We haven't seen it much during training camp because of the limitations on padded practices and hitting, but the signature element of the Ravens' offense – the power running game – made what amounted to a cameo appearance at the start of the game. Three of the offensive line's five projected starters were on the field: guard Kevin Zeitler, tackle Alejandro Villanueva and center Bradley Bozeman. J.K. Dobbins ran for six yards on the Ravens' first offensive snap. Then he gained three yards on second down. Then Gus Edwards took a handoff and blasted through the Carolina defense for 14 yards. It all felt oh-so familiar. An interception ended the drive, but Edwards had three more productive runs later in the first quarter. That was the end of the cameo from the first team, as substitutes took command of the huddle, but the power running game resurfaced in the second half with running backs Nate McCrary (64 yards) and Ty'Son Williams (47 yards) carrying the offense. The organization's focus on improving the passing game has elbowed the running game into the shadows during the offseason, but if you were paying close attention Saturday night, you saw the Ravens send the message that they haven't forgotten who they are.
Quick hits: Although his fumble in the red zone was costly, Oliver helped his bid to win a roster spot with a team-high seven receptions. He and Huntley exhibited nice chemistry on throws over the middle … Of the six receivers who caught passes, rookie Tylan Wallace made the biggest play with a catch that set up the Ravens' first touchdown. Wallace almost caught a touchdown himself later but a pass from Huntley slipped through his hands … Warrior led the team with four solo tackles … Harbaugh on the lack of penalties and turnovers (after the two early ones): "That's the way we try to play" … My vote for play of the game: Williams' 20-yard touchdown run, on which he broke several tackles and somehow kept his balance long enough to get the ball over the goal line as he fell … Harbaugh didn't sound optimistic after the game about linebacker L.J. Fort, who left the game with a knee injury. Although Malik Harrison seemingly has won the starting job next to Queen at inside linebacker, Fort is a leader amidst that young group and also is strong on special teams and in coverage. He would be missed.