Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 24-17 preseason win over the Arizona Cardinals – The Denver Post



The Ravens, playing without quarterback Lamar Jackson and other key starters, extended their preseason winning streak to 22, led by another sterling performance from backup quarterback Tyler Huntley and a remarkable first half from rookie tight end Isaiah Likely. Here are five things we learned from Sunday night’s 24-17 victory:

Good luck quieting the Isaiah Likely hype train after that performance.

This Likely thing is getting out of hand. In three months, the rookie tight end has ascended from a fourth-round pick raising eyebrows in OTAs to the third most important pass catcher on the team behind Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman. That might sound like hyperbole, but has any Raven made more thrilling plays this summer?

On the Ravens’ first drive, Tyler Huntley was flushed from the pocket and rolling to his left when he found Likely moving forward to help him. Likely not only made a contested catch but he spun away from his defender and turned the play into a 20-yard gain. He did it again in the second quarter, catching a 5-yard pass, breaking a tackle and turning the play into a 31-yard gain.

“I think that’s what sticks out the most, what he can do after the catch,” Huntley said.

Six of Likely’s eight catches went for a first down or touchdown, an indication of the rookie’s feel for finding open spaces and getting to the right yard marker. He just looks like a natural receiver with every move he makes.

Fox analyst Greg Olsen, a former standout tight end in his own right, compared him to a “young Darren Waller.”

We’re at the point where other teams have to be asking how Likely, who has 12 catches on 12 targets for 144 yards in two preseason games, fell to the 139th overall pick. He wasn’t even the first tight end the Ravens drafted, though neither was Andrews in 2018.

As Ravens fans wondered why the team steered clear of wide receivers after trading Marquise Brown, some of us wrote that Likely might end up being the best answer to the question. It’s an idea that’s looking better and better every time he takes the field.

It was hard to find a Ravens rookie who did not make a positive play.

Likely was the headliner, and we’ll talk about defensive tackle Travis Jones in another item, but this was a night filled with positive contributions from the team’s 11-man draft class.

You like special teams? Punter Jordan Stout pinned the Cardinals inside their 5-yard line on each of his first two punts, bombed his third 58 yards and made an extra point with Justin Tucker holding.

You like form tackling? Cornerback Damarion “Pepe” Williams made a perfect stick on Cardinals wide receiver Greg Dortch to force Arizona to fourth down on its second drive. Veteran Kyle Fuller followed with an interception on the next play. Williams added his own pick later in the game.

You like rangy playmaking? Safety Kyle Hamilton read a run-pass option perfectly and used his rare length to bat down a pass in the red zone late in the second quarter.

You like hard, slashing runs? Sixth-round pick Tyler Badie was the team’s most productive ball carrier, adding a third-quarter touchdown catch for good measure.

“I feel like we got the best rookie class in all 32,” Likely said.

And of course, first-round pick Tyler Linderbaum, second-round pick David Ojabo and fourth-round pick Charlie Kolar were not on the field because of injuries.

Defensive line depth is shaping up as a strength.

We did not see the Ravens’ most reliable interior defender, Calais Campbell, or their powerhouse nose tackle, Michael Pierce. Justin Madubuike did not play much.

The good news for the Ravens was that they did not need any of their top three defensive linemen to produce some excellent work in the trenches.

The excitement starts with third-round pick Jones, who simply overwhelms single blockers. Twice in the second quarter, we saw him explode up the middle to destroy Trace McSorley’s pocket. Jones drew a nonsensical roughing penalty when he shoved McSorley to the ground in the end zone, but the Ravens have to be thrilled with the dynamism the rookie brings to their interior pass rush. Pierce and Campbell have marveled at his combination of mass and agility.

The Ravens received a scare when Jones left the field with a knee injury, but coach John Harbaugh said it was a hyperextension that will keep him out the rest of preseason but likely not jeopardize a large chunk of his regular season.

Jones wasn’t the only young defensive tackle to flash.

Isaiah Mack, who spent the end of last season on the team’s practice squad, beat the left guard to get in McSorley’s face and force an incompletion that halted Arizona’s first drive. It was the first of several standout rushes from Mack, who also finished with three tackles.

Aaron Crawford, who spent last year on injured reserve, generated consistent push, making two tackles and clearing space for others to operate.

“Those guys really stepped up,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens won’t be able to keep all of these defensive tackles on their 53-man roster, but they all look like NFL players and have throughout camp.

Tyler Huntley was excellent again, but let’s stop with the talk about him as an alternative to Lamar Jackson.

Huntley could not have been a lot better against the Cardinals, completing 13 of 14 passes for 129 yards and a touchdown in a performance Harbaugh called “masterful.” He handled pressure well, found receivers in rhythm and led two scoring drives of 10 plays or more.

Fox commentators and social media posters used his excellence as an excuse to pick up a tired story, the idea that Huntley’s presence somehow gives the Ravens leverage in their extension negotiations with Jackson.

Yes, Huntley has given the Ravens ample reason to feel comfortable with him as their backup. But let’s not forget that they lost five games in a row and fell out of playoff contention after Jackson hurt his ankle in Cleveland last year. Though Huntley did a decent job getting the ball out quickly and accurately, their offense lacked the improvisational brilliance, the big-play upside No. 8 brings.

The Ravens are engaged in a complex negotiation with their franchise player, one that could carry into next offseason or beyond. This will be the backdrop to every conversation we hear about Jackson in the national media, no matter how the team performs. But there is no Plan B.

Again, that’s no knock on Huntley. As Harbaugh said, his “timing and precision continue to go on the trajectory you want to see.” It’s just that there’s a reason why the top 10 quarterbacks in the world are among the most precious athletes in all of sports.

Say what you will about the preseason winning streak, but it adds juice to the end of these games.

On many levels, it felt absurd to care whether Cardinals third-string quarterback Jarrett Guarantano could finish off an improbable comeback against a bunch of Ravens defenders who most likely will not see the field during the regular season.

But that’s the weird spell cast by a weird record: the Ravens’ preseason winning streak, now at 22 games after they held on in Arizona.

Safety Ar’Darius Washington thrust his arms to the sky in triumph after he knocked away Guarantano’s final attempt, partly because it was a standout moment for him as he tries to earn a job in a crowded secondary but also because he secured another “meaningless” win for the greatest preseason juggernaut in NFL history.

There will always be skeptics who argue that Harbaugh invites injuries by deploying relevant players in search of fool’s gold. But there’s not much evidence of that in his usage patterns this preseason. The record is best viewed as an oddity, a testament to the Ravens’ roster depth and a welcome dose of entertainment in games that would otherwise hold little allure for casual fans.

“It’s not the thing we’re thinking about the most by any stretch,” Harbaugh said, but he added that the streak shows “a lot of guys have found a lot of ways to come through.”

Huntley said the players do care: “It means a lot to us just to show that every time you step on the field with the Ravens, you’ve got to be ready to play.”

Preseason, Week 3

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