After a seven-month vacation, the NFL returns to the DMV tonight with the annual “Battle of the Beltways” preseason matchup between the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens.
It has been a long offseason for both clubs that came into last season with high hopes, but failed to make the playoffs.
Baltimore’s Spring and Summer were marred by injuries and suspensions. Tight end Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip for the third time during minicamp in June and was released shortly after.
Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco has dealt with a nagging shoulder injury that’s kept him out of practice since the beginning of Training Camp, leaving Ryan Mallett to start the preseason opener tonight.
Tight end Darren Waller, expected to help fill the void left by Pitta’s injury was suspended for the entire 2017 season for PED use, joining running back Kenneth Dixon, who was suspended for the first quarter of the season.
Meanwhile the Redskins come into this season with a great deal of uncertainty. After missing the playoffs by imploding against the Giants during a Week 17 matchup to close the regular season, Washington is asking itself, “who are we?”
The team has consecutive winning seasons for the first time in a decade, and coach Jay Gruden remains in good standing with team owner Dan Snyder, something no other coach, save for Joe Gibbs, could claim during their tenure with the team.
But questions remain.
Gone are offensive coordinator Sean McVay, the architect of the greatest Redskins offense in a generation, who took over as head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, and defensive coordinator Joe Barry was fired after running the defense into the ground.
Replacing McVay and Barry are Matt Cavanaugh, who led the Ravens offense during their Super Bowl XXXV winning season, while former Chargers and 49ers defensive coordinator Greg Manusky takes over Barry’s old position.
The Redskins also lost their top two receivers, DeSean Jacon and Pierre Garcon to free agency, banking heavily on last year’s first rounder, Josh Doctson, and former Browns receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. to replace them.
The defense retooled with first round defensive lineman, Jonathan Allen and free agent safety, D.J. Swearinger.
Baltimore signed safety Tony Jefferson, running back Danny Woodhead and receiver Jeremy Maclin to try and fix crucial weak spots on last year’s team. With Steve Smith Sr. retiring, the Ravens had no true number one receiver until they signed Maclin; failing to address the need during May’s NFL Draft.
With no standout running back (Buck Allen and Terrance West join Woodhead and Dixon in Baltimore’s backfield), the Ravens are hoping the former Patriots and Chargers tailback can invigorate their running game and take some of the pressure off Flacco.
Tonight’s preseason opener will give the Redskins and Ravens a chance to gauge how well their teams click. But with the starters on both sides expecting to see limited action, the emphasis remains on finding those unsung players who can contribute on special teams and make the squad, or stand out enough to make another squad after final cuts are announced in September.
Last Matchup: Washington defeated the Ravens last October, 16-10 in Baltimore leaving the all-time series tied at 3-3.
Next Up: Washington heads home to take on the Green Bay Packers at FedEx Field on August 19th at 7:30 p.m. Baltimore travels to Hard Rock Stadium in Miami to take on the Dolphins at 7:00 p.m. on August 17th.