What Mink Thinks: Why Winning Preseason Games Matters

082721-Mink
Head Coach John Harbaugh leads a huddle.

On Aug. 27, 2016, the Ravens won their third of an eventual string of 19 straight preseason games. However, Baltimore also lost tight end Benjamin Watson to a torn Achilles and running back Kenneth Dixon to a sprained knee.

The Ravens still blew out the Detroit Lions, 30-9, but Head Coach John Harbaugh expressed his displeasure with the injuries.

"Maybe it's more games than we need," Harbaugh said. "Fewer preseason games and bigger rosters – that's good for everybody."

So how many preseason games would Harbaugh want?

"If I had my druthers, I'd go none," he said. "These guys playing in these games, it's tough, and they're not meaningful games."

Well, after tying the Vince Lombardi Green Bay Packers with the longest preseason winning streak in NFL history, I'm here to tell you it's meaningful.

Of course, winning preseason games doesn't get you into the playoffs. They won't be putting the Ravens on the same podium with the undefeated '72 Dolphins.

But the Ravens' preseason winning streak means a few things, and it stands for a few more.

It means the Ravens do an excellent job of building and developing the back end of their roster. Long held up as one of the best drafting teams in the NFL, this is just further evidence.

The Ravens haven't always had the biggest collection of superstars – particularly when this streak started in five years ago – but Baltimore's backups have often been better than the other guys' backups. The backups to the backups have been better too.

Baltimore's drafting success has constructed incredibly deep teams. Every pick might not be a Pro Bowler, or even a starter, but it's rare when the Ravens whiff on a player that doesn't find some kind of role.

It's also a testament to the development of those backups by the Ravens coaches. The offseason is not just about getting the starters prepared to play. It's about developing the entire roster, making every player better even if they don't end up wearing purple and black.

Preseason games are often won and lost by those players, who see a majority of the action. And, quite frankly, the Ravens have dominated. Baltimore has scored twice as many points as its opponents in the second half of the 19 preseason games – 189 to 94.

Baltimore's streak is a testament to Harbaugh's demanding training camps, how he gets his team sharpened. By the time the Ravens take the field, they're ready to play.

The reason why Harbaugh said he'd eliminate preseason games altogether is because he's so confident in the work gained in his practices. His starters can get more reps there and be better protected from danger.

Now, if you're going to take the field, you might as well win. That's just how Harbaugh is wired, and it's spread to his team.

"If we're doing it, it's worth doing, it matters and it's worth doing well," Harbaugh said after last Saturday's win in Carolina.

"We want to win. We don't care what it is; we want to win," Lamar Jackson said this week. "This is a very competitive team."

The NFL is full of incredibly competitive people. If you're not competitive, you're in the wrong business. And Harbaugh is constantly stoking that competitive fire all the time to help his teams get better, including during the long, hot August days of training camp.

Winning in the preseason isn't going to win preseason games. The Ravens haven't lost a regular-season opener since the streak started, but making a case that there's a direct carry-over correlation would be a stretch.

But winning matters because the more winning you do, the more it becomes embedded in the fabric of your program. How many free agents have come to Baltimore and talked about the winning culture?

Preseason wins don't equal postseason wins. But postseason wins, more often than not, come from teams that are used to winning.

"If there's a scoreboard out there, we're trying to win," fifth-year linebacker Tyus Bowser said. "It's as simple as that. That's just the vibe, and that's the type of mindset we have as a team."

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