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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-23 loss to New Orleans

Posted on 23 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 4-3 in their 24-23 loss to New Orleans, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith played poorly in his first start with Marlon Humphrey sidelined, but some criticism was over the top. Being suspended didn’t change the reality of him coming back from a torn Achilles, an injury that takes time for someone to return to previous form. Michael Thomas is also terrific.

2. Especially with the Saints down to their third-string left guard during Sunday’s game, you’d like to see the pass rush manage more than one sack and three quarterback hits. It’s very tough to beat a great offensive team without more disruption in the pocket or a game-changing turnover.

3. I’m all for trying to keep opponents guessing, but eight different Ravens running the ball at least once Sunday says plenty about the current state of a ground attack that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per carry. The only team worse (Arizona) just fired its offensive coordinator.

4. Of the 16 times running backs carried the ball, 10 went for two or fewer yards and only one netted a first down. I’d be much more interested in upgrading the offensive line before the trade deadline, but exploring other running backs should be a consideration as well.

5. Both Drew Brees and Sean Payton talked about the 20-play opening drive setting the tone and allowing the Saints to jump ahead in time of possession despite not scoring. The Ravens defense surrendered only seven points through three quarters, but that long series took a toll later in the game.

6. Of course, that drive would have ended quickly had the special teams stopped a fake punt attempt after what looked like an initial three-and-out. I’m a big Jerry Rosburg guy, but there have been too many lapses with multiple special-teams units this season.

7. Coming off two quiet games, John Brown made seven catches for 134 yards — season highs — and a touchdown. Considering he caught all seven targets, why not go to him even more, especially in the first two fourth-quarter drives when he was thrown to just once for 17 yards?

8. Mark Andrews caught a touchdown Sunday, but tight ends have combined for 11 receptions for 84 yards over the last three games. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are helping offensive tackles in pass protection, but you want more when dressing four tight ends. Hayden Hurst needs to be more involved.

9. Lamar Jackson’s usage continues to be debated, but it was good seeing him pass in a third-down situation, something the Ravens must be willing to do if he’s going to play. His first NFL touchdown on a read-option run was a great example of how to properly use him.

10. I agreed with kicking the extra point, but there would have been at least an argument to go for the win if the Ravens had a running game. I wouldn’t have loved their chances in overtime after Brees had carved up the defense on three straight drives. Challenge traditional thinking.

11. The Ravens are 8-13 in games decided by a single possession since the start of 2016 and dropped to 0-2 this season. Common sense would tell you a playoff-hopeful team should be .500 or better in this department. Fourth quarters like Sunday’s have loomed large.

12. The debut of the purple-on-purple uniform — non-“Color Rush” edition — was the sixth different combination used by the Ravens since the start of the preseason, and they haven’t even worn their black alternates or the aforementioned purple tops with gold numbering yet. Watch out, Oregon.

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mariota

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 October 2018 by Luke Jones

A stretch of three consecutive road games concludes Sunday with the Ravens having the chance to position themselves favorably in the AFC and put last week’s ugly loss in Cleveland behind them.

A win puts Baltimore at 4-2 with four of the next five games coming at home — albeit against some tough competition — but a loss creates more doubts about this year being any different from the last couple in which Baltimore fell short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as these onetime AFC Central rivals meet for the 20th time in the all-time regular-season series with Tennessee holding a 10-9 advantage. The Ravens are 2-3 against the Titans in the John Harbaugh era — counting their dramatic 13-10 road win in the 2008 postseason — and Tennessee won last year’s Week 9 meeting at Nissan Stadium, a 23-20 final.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will set a season high in rushing yards in a workmanlike effort. The Tennessee defense ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per play and tied for third in points per game surrendered, but the Titans are banged up at linebacker and are vulnerable to the run (4.4 yards per attempt allowed) when opponents have shown some patience. The Ravens must be more consistent getting positive yards — eight of the 20 carries split between Collins and Buck Allen went for no gain or worse last week — but Marty Mornhinweg can’t be so quick to bail on the running game.

2. Running back Dion Lewis will lead the Titans in receptions. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota appears to be over his early-season elbow injury, but he’s averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt and will need to be selective in his attempts to push the ball down the field against a pass defense allowing an NFL-low 5.9 yards per attempt. That will lead to opportunities for Lewis, who has 21 catches on the season. The Ravens will try to counter that by frequently using Anthony Levine in the dime package, but Lewis will find some room against Baltimore linebackers underneath and in the flat.

3. The Baltimore defense will force two turnovers to frustrate Mariota and the Tennessee offense. Trying to poke too many holes in a defense that allowed only 12 points in 70 minutes of play last week is unfair, but the Ravens surprisingly have only six takeaways through their first five games after leading the league last year and only forced one against a rookie quarterback last week. Mariota will try to force some intermediate-to-deep throws to former first-round pick Corey Davis, but Jimmy Smith now having a game under his belt makes the Ravens secondary that much more dangerous.

4. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will collect a sack and be disruptive much of the day. Casey is easily Tennessee’s best defensive player and is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, meaning the Ravens better be prepared to give Alex Lewis and Matt Skura as much help as they can. Baltimore will run away from Casey and roll the pocket away from him at times, but he’s fully capable of taking over like Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins did in Week 2. Space on inside runs will certainly be at a premium, but the Ravens have had more success running to the perimeter anyway. 

5. A late Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst will be the difference in a 20-13 win. What better way to win against Dean Pees than to break through in the fourth quarter against his strong Titans defense? Flacco is excited to involve the first-round tight end in the offense as he’s a fan of Hurst’s skill set, and the rookie should be more comfortable in his second NFL game. Ravens defenders said all the right things about their former defensive coordinator this week and hold no animosity, but they’re motivated to show they’re better than ever with more freedom and flexibility under Wink Martindale than they had with Pees. This is an AFC separator game the Ravens could really use, and they’ll get the job done despite it not being all that pretty at times.

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Lack of quality plaguing Ravens running game more than quantity

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh noted his team had run the ball 25 times when the inevitable question came about the run-pass ratio from Sunday’s 12-9 loss at Cleveland.

Baltimore had also run a season-high 84 plays, but the 11th-year coach made his position clear on Monday.

“I don’t understand the question, why it’s a topic,” Harbaugh said. “You have to do whatever you have to do to move the ball and score points. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of that up until this last game. We just need to put more points on the board. Nine points — three, three, and three — is tough to win games that way. That’s the bottom line.

“But this run-pass balance thing, I don’t understand why it’s a topic.”

He’s right about both his offense — which ranked in the top 10 in multiple categories entering Week 5 — and the overall run-pass obsession many have when spitting out stats about win-loss records and running the ball a certain number of times that confuse correlation with causation. Simply put, teams run when they win, not win because they run. You sometimes wonder if some would prefer running the ball more — no matter how effectively — to their team actually winning games, but today’s NFL is a pass-heavy league and analytics-based principles such as throwing more frequently on first down improve your chances of winning compared to the traditional three yards and a cloud of dust. Like it or not, that mindset isn’t changing anytime soon.

The difference Sunday from previous weeks, however, was that the Ravens weren’t passing the ball effectively while they averaged a season-best 4.6 yards per carry, well ahead of what they’d done in the first four games. Joe Flacco produced 2018 worsts in both yards per attempt (5.3) and completion percentage (51.8 percent) on Sunday, but Baltimore continued to chuck it anyway with the veteran quarterback recording a season-high 56 attempts, territory in which few quarterbacks consistently function well. There were certainly occasions when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could have worked an additional run into the mix.

Passing on 11 of 14 plays inside the red zone was particularly questionable as Flacco threw an ugly interception on a second-and-goal play from the 2 in the second quarter that proved to be one of the most critical plays of the game. Harbaugh and the Ravens frequently view the goal line to be four-down territory — which is the correct mindset — so why not try to pound the ball into the end zone again after Buck Allen was stopped on the previous down?

It’s true that only six teams have more rushing attempts than the Ravens through Week 5, but they also lead the NFL in offensive plays run and only 10 teams have rushed less frequently than their 36.3 percent. When you match that with Baltimore winning all three of its games by double digits and trailing by multiple possessions in just one game (Cincinnati), you’re probably justified if you want to roll your eyes the next time you hear Mornhinweg say they want to run the ball. The Ravens are currently a passing team, and that had worked very well until Sunday.

The warranted criticism from Week 5 aside, the problem with the Ravens running game has been quality much more so than quantity. Clamoring for more rushes doesn’t exactly make a ton of sense when you rank 30th in the league in yards per carry (3.4). That’s not to say the ground game doesn’t need to improve with Sunday’s poor passing performance being a perfect example why.

“Yes, we’re concerned. We want to run the ball well,” Harbaugh said. “We’re working as hard as we can to do it. If the question is: Are you working hard at the run game? Yes, we’re working really hard at it. We want to be a really good running team just like we want to be a great passing team and great at everything else. We work hard at what we think we can do well.”

After adding three veteran wide receivers and drafting two tight ends, the Ravens passing more frequently than they did last year when they ran 43.6 percent of the time — 12th most in the NFL — seemed inevitable, but why has the running game struggled so much?

Assistant head coach Greg Roman and offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris were viewed as miracle workers last year when the Ravens averaged 4.0 yards per carry and finished 11th in rushing yards per game despite having four new starters along the offensive line. Even with the departures of center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Austin Howard, the healthy returns of guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis brought optimism that the unit would improve from a year ago.

The group has held up well in pass protection, but Lewis, center Matt Skura, and right tackle James Hurst have graded particularly poorly in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. As was the case on Sunday when Alex Collins ripped off a 19-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and Allen picked up 17 yards on a third-quarter run, most of their rushing success has come on the outside, which makes sense when two of your three interior linemen have been below-average run blockers.

It’s also worth noting the Ravens have been in the shotgun much more frequently this season — 63 percent compared to 48 percent last year, according to Sharp Football — which certainly impacts the dynamics of a ground attack. That’s not to say an offense can’t run effectively from the shotgun, but it’s a more passing-minded formation and the Ravens are also running a little less frequently out of the gun than they did last year (18 percent compared to 22 percent, per Sharp).

Only one of the five opponents Baltimore has faced this season is allowing fewer than 4.1 yards per carry and only Cleveland ranks in the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ run defense efficiency metric. In other words, the Ravens haven’t exactly been running against the 2000 version of themselves in the season’s first month.

Surely concerns over Collins fumbling the ball haven’t helped, but he leads all running backs in forced missed tackles per touch, which reflects a lack of running room and a need to keep giving him opportunities to break longer runs. Allen is a capable short-yardage back and better in the passing game, but his 2.8 yards per carry average compared to Collins’ 3.8 reflects less explosiveness. Neither back has the dynamic talent of a Ray Rice, but the pair did the job for the Ravens last year, making it difficult not to look at an offensive line still trying to find its footing in the running game.

Perhaps Sunday’s defeat serves as both a necessary reminder that you can’t do it all with the pass and a sign of better things to come for the ground attack, but the week-to-week volatility of the NFL makes it difficult to predict.

“You just keep working. You keep grinding,” Harbaugh said. “When we come out and run for 200 yards — which we will — it’s not going to be ‘fixed.’ The next game is going to be a new game. It’s not like you’re going to come out and run for 200 yards every week. Every week is a new week in the National Football League. You see a different defense, you see different fronts, different guys are healthy, different guys aren’t healthy, plays get made, plays don’t get made — things happen.

“I don’t think it’s as much of a trend as everybody wants to look at it. The big-picture trends just really aren’t there.”

Maybe so, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens getting to where they want to be by season’s end without having a better running game in their back pocket when they need it.

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jimmysmith

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Seven Ravens players designated as questionable for Cleveland game

Posted on 05 October 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Saturday 1:30 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have designated seven players as questionable and ruled two others out for Sunday’s AFC North meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams and cornerback Anthony Averett won’t play after missing practices all week with hamstring injuries while the list of questionable players is headlined by defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring), and rookie first-round tight end Hayden Hurst (foot).

Pierce hadn’t been included on the injury report all week before missing Friday’s practice, a concerning development since he missed the Denver game two weeks ago with a foot injury. Smith practiced on a limited basis on Friday, but he didn’t appear close to 100 percent during the media viewing portion of the workout, leaving Baltimore’s depth at outside linebacker potentially vulnerable. Hurst was still only a limited participant in practices all week, leaving some question as to whether he’ll be active against the Browns after missing the first four games of the season.

One player not listed on the injury report who will make his 2018 season debut on Sunday is cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Ravens officially elevated Smith to the 53-man roster on Saturday as he’ll officially make his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

“He obviously did a really good job of staying in shape [and] worked hard over the period of time that he was away,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That was good to see. He’s getting in football shape; I think he mentioned that. That’s part of it. You have to play the game to play the game. But I feel good about where he’s at and anticipate him playing on Sunday and playing well.”

Baltimore waived rookie cornerback Darious Williams to make room for Smith on the active roster, leaving the Ravens with four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns. Williams appeared in three games and would seem to be a logical candidate for the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring), and running back Alex Collins (knee) were all full participants on Friday, leaving little doubt about their status for Week 5. Collins wasn’t even listed on the final game status injury report, backing up Harbaugh’s Friday assertion that the starting back was fine.

After practicing all week on a limited basis for the first time since undergoing hernia surgery in late August, defensive tackle Willie Henry was listed as questionable for Sunday.

“He looked good. Willie hasn’t done quite as much because of the nature of his injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see about that and see how he responds to practice today and things like that. Really, the other part of that is going to be the roster and where we’re at with the 46-, 53-[man roster] numbers and the injuries and things like that. That will all kind of play into that decision. He probably could go. Whether he will or not, I’ll probably know within 24 hours.”

Starting left guard Alex Lewis was a late addition to the injury report after being limited with a shoulder issue on Friday. Whether it’s the same shoulder that was surgically repaired last August is unclear, but Lewis was listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, the Browns officially ruled out reserve middle linebacker James Burgess with a knee injury and designated starting outside linebcker Christian Kirksey (illness) and starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) as questionable.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast for Cleveland calls for partly cloudy skies with scattered thunderstorms and temperatures reaching the mid-70s. There is a 40-percent chance of rain with winds five to 10 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot). DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (hamstring)

CLEVELAND
OUT: LB James Burgess (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Christian Kirksey (illness), S Damarious Randall (heel)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-14 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning their first road victory of the season in a 26-14 final over Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You can’t harp on the Ravens not being able to beat an elite quarterback on the road and not give proper credit when they do — without Jimmy Smith. That was their best win since the 2014 playoffs and puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

2. Despite a 96.9 season passer rating, Joe Flacco was annoyed about the offense squandering opportunities to score more points Sunday. Tell me again that his improvement is all about Lamar Jackson — which implies he didn’t care before — and not about the organization putting better talent around him.

3. John Brown already has a team-best six catches of 20 or more yards, which would have ranked second behind Mike Wallace’s 11 for the entire 2017 season. His 22.5 yards per catch average is third in the NFL. He’s fun to watch, and his chemistry with Flacco can still improve.

4. The biggest criticism of the defense in recent years has been the inability to close in critical games. Anthony Levine was responsible for ending all three of Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter drives by breaking up a third-down pass to force a punt, intercepting another, and batting away a fourth-down attempt. Clutch.

5. Too much is usually made about halftime adjustments, but Wink Martindale’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown after intermission in four games — allowing just nine points total — and pitched a second-half shutout at Heinz Field. He’s clearly doing something right.

6. John Harbaugh wisely expressed confidence Monday that Alex Collins will improve his ball security as he did last year, but his goal-line fumble completely changed a game that was bordering on becoming a blowout. The running game remains a concern, but the Ravens must stick with Collins’ upside.

7. Kenny Young played 24 defensive snaps compared to Patrick Onwuasor’s six, signaling a shift in the competition for the inside linebacker job next to C.J. Mosley. That said, both must improve in coverage or we’ll continue to see Martindale use Levine (28 snaps) as a dime more frequently.

8. The third-and-1 completion to Maxx Williams to extend a long fourth-quarter drive drew praise — and controversy — because of his alignment. Flacco said after the game they’d practiced that play for two years, and it was the first time Williams had gotten through the line of scrimmage unscathed. Interesting stuff.


(Screen capture courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

9. My guess is the Ravens continue to carry four tight ends with the anticipated return of Hayden Hurst this week. However, with Williams and rookie Mark Andrews playing so well, you wonder if Nick Boyle would be the most vulnerable if a move needed to be made there.

10. Sunday night was an example of how to play strong defense without much of a pass rush as the Ravens faked blitzes, effectively disguised looks, and covered very well. Baltimore is tops in the NFL in yards per play allowed at just 4.4.

11. Tony Jefferson hasn’t made as many splash plays as you’d like after the Ravens gave him a four-year, $34 million contract, but his strip and recovery against Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh’s opening drive was spectacular. He fairly noted after the game how that could have been ruled an interception.

12. If you didn’t hear Harbaugh’s post-game press conference on Sunday night, take a listen at the 2:45 mark HERE. Kudos for recognizing the memory of Bobbi Engram, the daughter of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and giving her a game ball. Powerful stuff.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-14 win over Denver

Posted on 25 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 2-1 in their 27-14 win over Denver, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Joe Flacco is on pace for 4,741 yards and 32 touchdowns, which would set career highs. His 6.89 yards per attempt could still tick up more and he now needs to play well on the road, but Flacco ranks ninth in Total QBR, a metric usually unkind to him.

2. If we’re going to praise Flacco after he dealt with the lack of pass-catching talent in recent years, Marty Mornhinweg also deserves credit for the strong offensive start. He put together a superb game plan to help neutralize the Denver pass rush and the offensive line excelled in pass protection.

3. The running game ranks 31st at 3.1 yards per attempt. It’s still early, but the comments citing the need to just break a long run are reminding me of 2013 when the Ravens ranked last in yards per carry (3.1). Offensive success won’t continue without better production on the ground.

4. After registering a sack, four quarterback hits, and seven total pressures, Za’Darius Smith now ranks ninth among edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ pass rushing productivity this season. His improvement and ability to pressure from the inside have made for a strong start to a contract year.

5. Kenny Young continues to impress after recording a team-high 10 tackles. The rookie makes his share of mistakes, but you don’t notice because of the speed and aggressiveness with which he plays. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’ll do with more experience and knowledge of the defense.

6. It was a dubious beginning for Ronnie Stanley as he was beaten by rookie Bradley Chubb for a sack on the second play from scrimmage, but he was strong after that, finishing with PFF’s second-highest grade for a Baltimore offensive player behind Flacco. The Ravens need more of that.

7. I’ve been in favor of giving Tyus Bowser more defensive snaps, but it was his whiff on a block that led to Sam Koch’s punt being blocked and an early 7-0 deficit. That’s not going to garner more favor with the coaching staff.

8. Chris Wormley is only 12 defensive snaps shy of matching his rookie season total. His play hasn’t jumped off the page, but he’s been solid filling in at the 3-technique spot for Willie Henry and is stronger and more versatile than he was a year ago.

9. Three of the five field goals made by Justin Tucker have been from 52 yards or longer. Dating back to last year, he’s made eight straight from 50 or more. Remember when Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell made the Pro Bowl instead of him?

10. Regression to the mean is inevitable with the Ravens going 12-for-12 in the red zone to begin the season — Philadelphia ranked first last year at 65.45 percent — but you have to be encouraged by the offensive diversity with seven different players already scoring touchdowns.

11. Mark Andrews is one of the biggest surprises of the young season. Seeing him make plays down the seam makes it that much more enticing to think about what the intermediate passing game could look like when Hayden Hurst returns in the not-too-distant future.

12. Buck Allen leads the Ravens with four touchdowns. He has to be on John Harbaugh’s fantasy team, right?

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 22 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Keep it simple.

Running the football and stopping the run might be as clichéd as it gets when reciting keys to a game, but the Ravens can’t afford to get cute against Denver with three straight road games — two against 2017 playoff teams — looming after Sunday’s home affair. Meanwhile, the Broncos have started 2-0 for the sixth straight year, but winning their first two games — both at home just like this season — didn’t mean much a year ago on their way to a 5-11 campaign in head coach Vance Joseph’s first year.

A win resets positive vibes and puts the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati in the rear-view mirror, but a defeat would conjure memories of last season when the Ravens couldn’t handle their business at home against underwhelming opponents such as Chicago in Week 6 and the Bengals in Week 17, two losses that led to them falling short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens play Denver for the 12th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Broncos holding the 6-5 advantage. Baltimore holds a 5-1 edge in games played at M&T Bank Stadium. Of course, the Ravens are 2-0 against Denver in their playoff history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will double his season total for touches in a better commitment to the run. When you’re crushing an opponent through the air in Week 1 and falling behind by three touchdowns in Week 2, the volume of rushing attempts is always going to suffer. However, the explosive Collins averaging only 10 touches per game isn’t a winning formula, and the Ravens have gained just 3.3 yards per carry so far in 2018, meaning they must be more productive when Marty Mornhinweg does call for runs. Denver led the NFL at just 3.3 yards per carry allowed a year ago and is surrendering 3.6 per attempt so far in 2018, so don’t expect a monster day for Collins. He’ll be more involved, however.

2. Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay will receive a rude awakening after a historic start to his career. The rookie became the first undrafted player in NFL history with more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games, meaning he’s firmly on the opposition’s radar now. The Ravens are concerned with Linday’s speed, which plays more to the edges as Denver continues to employ principles of Gary Kubiak’s outside-zone system. The potential absences of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Michael Pierce are clear concerns, but the ability of outside linebackers and defensive ends to contain will be just as critical. The Ravens will hold Lindsay to under 60 yards.

3. Brandon Carr will continue a hot start by intercepting Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. Lost in the disappointment of last week’s performance against the Bengals was how well the veteran continued to play as Pro Football Focus grades Carr as the third-best cornerback in the NFL through two weeks. He won’t continue playing at that elite level, but the Ravens will need him and Marlon Humphrey to lock down the outside because Mosley’s potential absence and Tavon Young’s Week 2 struggles leave concerns about covering the middle of the field. That said, Keenum has already thrown four interceptions in his first two games and will be pressured into throwing another key one.

4. Von Miller will record a sack, but the Ravens offensive line will bounce back. The Ravens are one of only four opponents the six-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t registered a sack against — he did share one with Elvis Dumervil in the 2012 playoffs — but Miller will present big problems for right tackle James Hurst, leaving tight end Nick Boyle to help him out as much as possible. The key will be Ronnie Stanley elevating his play against rookie first-round pick Bradley Chubb on the opposite side. The offensive line needs to play better collectively, but Stanley has graded just 45th among offensive tackles by PFF. He’ll be better, and the Ravens will protect the pocket more effectively than last week.

5. Joe Flacco will be turnover-free and efficient in a balanced 23-16 win over the Broncos. Whenever Flacco has a monster game throwing the ball at will like he did in Week 1, we’re quickly reminded that he isn’t one of the few quarterbacks who can consistently thrive throwing the ball 40-plus times in a game. The Ravens need to be more productive on the ground moving forward, especially playing four of their next five on the road after Sunday. Denver is talented enough to come into Baltimore and win if John Harbaugh’s team sleepwalks again early, but the Ravens are a better team playing at home and the Broncos’ narrow home wins over Seattle and Oakland were hardly statement games. A win puts the Ravens back on track, but a loss could set off an early-season slide. Home-field advantage and extra rest following a Thursday game will be the difference in a win lacking style points.

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Ravens linebacker Mosley makes surprising return to practice

Posted on 20 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Just a week after many feared the worst when C.J. Mosley was carted to the locker room in Cincinnati, the Ravens linebacker made a surprising return to practice on Thursday.

Mosley was a limited participant after many assumed him playing in Week 3 would be out of the question due to a bone bruise in his left knee. His presence on the field hardly guarantees he’ll suit up against Denver on Sunday, but Mosley jogged, hit the sled, and even practiced backpedaling during the portion of practice open to media. The three-time Pro Bowl selection has missed only two games in his NFL career and has played in games in the past after logging minimal practice time during the week.

The news wasn’t as encouraging for defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who remains sidelined with a foot injury. Pierce didn’t appear to leave last Thursday’s game early and even spoke to reporters after the 34-23 loss to the Bengals, but his absence would be significant as the Ravens try to slow the NFL’s second-ranked rushing attack. The reserve nose tackle is Baltimore’s highest-graded player in Pro Football Focus’ system through the first two weeks of the 2018 season.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (right elbow) practiced on a limited basis for a second straight day. The Ravens hope to have him at close to full strength to help an offensive line ranked just 28th by PFF so far this season.

Starting running back Alex Collins was a full participant in Thursday’s workout after sitting out the previous day with an illness.

The Broncos welcomed starting quarterback Case Keenum to practice after he missed Wednesday’s session due to knee soreness, but three other key veterans remained absent.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: , DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Tim Williams (illness)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Matthew Judon (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), OT Ronnie Stanley (elbow)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Alex Collins (illness)

DENVER
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Adam Jones (thigh),  LB Brandon Marshall (knee), DT Domata Peko (non-injury), OT Jared Veldheer (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Dymonte Thomas (abdomen)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Case Keenum (knee), LB Shane Ray (wrist), CB Bradley Roby (wrist)

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Stanley practices while Mosley, four other Ravens sit out Wednesday

Posted on 19 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Six days after playing their last game, the Ravens remain banged up while continuing preparations to host undefeated Denver in Week 3.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley headlined a list of five non-participants as he continues to recover from a bone bruise in his left knee sustained on the first defensive series in Cincinnati. Running back Alex Collins (illness), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were also absent on Wednesday.

It remains unclear whether Mosley will be able to play against the Broncos, but safety Eric Weddle will wear the coach-to-player communication receiver in his helmet and relay calls in the defensive huddle if the three-time Pro Bowl linebacker is out. Of course, Mosley’s absence would put more pressure on young inside linebackers Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young to pick up the slack.

“If C.J. doesn’t play and those linebackers get the practice reps this week, then that will be a big plus, especially with young guys,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But all those guys are in their meetings. They know how we’re playing stuff. Some guys have more experience than other guys, and that’s just how it works. The next guy has to be ready to go. Whoever plays, plays, and they need to play well.”

In more positive injury news, left tackle Ronnie Stanley practiced on a limited basis after missing the final 12 plays of the Bengals loss with an elbow injury. Stanley wore a bulky brace on his right arm while taking part in offensive line drills during the portion of practice open to reporters.

Outside linebacker Matthew Judon was also limited in Wednesday’s practice with a hamstring injury.

The Ravens signed cornerback Makinton Dorleant to their practice squad after New England re-signed cornerback and Baltimore native Cyrus Jones off the Baltimore practice squad. Dorleant, a Northern Iowa product, was with Kansas City in the preseason.

Meanwhile, the Broncos held out starting quarterback Case Keenum from practice due to knee soreness, but head coach Vance Joseph confirmed in a conference call that it was a precautionary measure and Keenum would be back on the field on Thursday. Starting inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee), starting right tackle Jared Veldheer (concussion), and former Bengals cornerback Adam Jones (thigh) were also held out on Wednesday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Alex Collins (illness), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Matthew Judon (hamstring), OT Ronnie Stanley (elbow)

DENVER
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Adam Jones (thigh), QB Case Keenum (knee), LB Brandon Marshall (knee), T Jared Veldheer (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Shane Ray (wrist), CB Bradley Roby (wrist)

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Ravens aiming to get back to their roots in Week 3

Posted on 18 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens had made it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening period and needed a defensive stop in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati last Thursday.

Instead, the Bengals marched 65 yards and took more than six minutes off the clock before Randy Bullock’s 28-yard field goal made it a 31-23 deficit with 2:59 remaining. Just under half of that yardage came on the ground as Cincinnati rushed six times for 32 yards, including Joe Mixon’s 21-yard cutback run that was the key play in setting up an easy field goal.

No, the Bengals’ rushing attack didn’t gash the Ravens, but 108 yards on 28 carries over the course of the night helped control the tempo after quarterback Andy Dalton connected with wide receiver A.J. Green for three touchdown passes in the game’s first 17 minutes.

“It was OK — not great. It needs to be better. It’s not to our standards,” said head coach John Harbaugh of his run defense. “All our guys will probably echo that. We have a high, high standard. It might be good enough for other teams around the league, but it’s not going to be good enough for us.”

Lost in the heartbreak of “fourth-and-12” and the focus on Jimmy Smith’s absence at the end of last season was the declining standard of the rush defense. Stopping the run has defined the Ravens more than any other quality over two-plus decades in Baltimore as they finished in the top 10 in yards per carry allowed for 20 straight seasons and had only four finishes outside the top nine in rushing yards surrendered from 1999-2016.

In 2017, however, the Ravens finished just 16th in yards per carry allowed and surrendered a full 4.0 yards per carry — without rounding up or down — for the first time in franchise history last season. They also ranked 15th in rushing yards per game surrendered. The four-game absence of run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams in the first half of the season didn’t help those numbers, but the Ravens still allowed more than 3.9 yards per carry in the 12 games he played, which would have left them 10th in the NFL.

It was less than two years ago when the Ravens ranked first in run defense entering Week 14 of the 2016 season and some were even singing the group’s praises from a historical context. Baltimore lost three of the final four games that season while giving up 544 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry to drop them from that all-time-great conversation to fifth in the league. The Ravens’ run defense has had strong games since then, but the unit has yet to recapture its aura or same level of consistency.

To be clear, the run defense hardly qualifies as a weakness, but when you devote the kind of resources the Ravens have to the defensive side of the ball in terms of cap dollars and draft picks in recent years, you’d like to see more dominant results and less wavering at critical times. It’s certainly something Harbaugh’s team wants to get back to in 2018, beginning with Sunday’s tilt against 2-0 Denver.

The surprising Broncos enter Week 3 ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense and are trying not to put too much on the right shoulder of quarterback Case Keenum, who is coming off a surprising 2017 season with Minnesota after years as a journeyman. Despite being listed third on the Broncos’ current depth chart, rookie running back Phillip Lindsay is third in the league in rushing and became the first undrafted player in NFL history to eclipse 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games.

“It’s incredible, these [rookie] free agent running backs around the league,” Harbaugh said. “He’s fast — that’s what stands out about him. He’s quick, he’s kind of fearless. They put him in good situations, [and] they get the ball to both rookie backs — [Royce] Freeman from Oregon, too.

“They get the ball outside quick on the edge a couple different ways. They run a lot of draws really well, some screens. They get him in space. The offensive line has done a good job, but this kid is running and he’s making plays with his speed and his fearlessness.”

The Ravens could be without three-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley on Sunday, but it will be up to the rest of the front seven to slow the backfield trio of Lindsay, Freeman, and Devontae Booker. Even with talented Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to consider, the Ravens will try to force Keenum to beat them through the air as he’s already thrown four interceptions in two home games with his new team.

On the flip side, Baltimore needs to get its own running game going after averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in the first two weeks. Game situation has certainly impacted the ground attack as the Ravens were throwing the ball against Buffalo at will in the season opener and the Bengals exploded to an early 21-point lead last Thursday, but quarterback Joe Flacco throwing 50-plus times just hasn’t been a formula for success over the years.

Running back Alex Collins has touched the ball just 20 times for 109 total yards over the first two contests after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards and ranking ninth in the league in yards per carry last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins has forced 10 missed tackles on those 20 touches in 2018, which would suggest a need to block better and to give him the ball more frequently.

“We’re not in any way pleased with the numbers,” Harbaugh said. “And we’re very determined to run the ball well because we think it fits our offense. It’s something that opens everything else up, so we have to get that going.”

Stopping the run and running the ball, two staples of success the Ravens need to rediscover entering a critical early-season stretch that includes four road games in the next six weeks.

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