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Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams added to Pro Bowl roster

Posted on 15 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will be sending a fourth player to this month’s Pro Bowl as defensive tackle Brandon Williams was named an injury replacement for Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins on Tuesday.

This marks Williams’ first career trip to the Pro Bowl after the 29-year-old collected 34 tackles, a sack, and one pass defensed in 16 starts this season. The run-stopping nose tackle played 564 snaps and ranked 36th among the NFL’s interior defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Interestingly, PFF graded Ravens teammate Michael Pierce fifth among all interior defenders, but he played just 408 snaps.

Williams has anchored Baltimore’s run defense since becoming a starter in 2014. This past season, the Ravens ranked fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (82.9) and third in yards per carry allowed (3.7), their best finishes in those departments since 2014.

“My wife and I couldn’t hold back our tears of excitement and joy to know that after six wonderful years in the NFL, and with God’s guidance, we have reached our goal of getting selected to the Pro Bowl!” Williams said in a statement released by the Ravens. “I couldn’t be more appreciative and thankful to everyone who has had a hand or vote in getting my dream to come true, and I look forward to playing the game in Orlando.

“I vowed to myself and to my wife that we could not take a trip to Hawaii until after I went to the Pro Bowl. Honey, pack your bags!”

Williams will join right guard Marshal Yanda, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle in representing Baltimore at the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27. The 2013 third-round pick is in the midst of a five-year, $52.5 million contract signed in 2017.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 20-12 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 18 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens collecting their fourth win in five games in a 20-12 final against Tampa Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marlon Humphrey turned in the best performance of his young career with an interception, four pass breakups, and a tackle for a loss. He reiterated why he’s been this defense’s best player this season and is probably deserving of being a Pro Bowl alternate.

2. Not counting the final three kneel-downs, the Ravens rushed 29 times for 168 yards in the second half with Gus Edwards carrying eight times for 60 yards in the fourth quarter. This running game has the effect of a great bullpen in baseball. If trailing late, you’re very likely done.

3. That may not have been possible if not for a fortunate first quarter. A drop by Chris Godwin could have been a Tampa Bay touchdown and Buccaneers linebacker Riley Bullough dropped a sure interception. Add those plays to the lost fumble, and the Ravens could have been trailing double digits.

4. Red-zone defense transformed two disastrous plays — Mike Evans’ 64-yard catch on third-and-20 and Cyrus Jones’ inexplicable punt muff — into little more than annoying blips on the radar. Baltimore entered the week just 25th in red-zone defense (65.7 percent) before going a critical 1-for-3.

5. Much has been made about whether Lamar Jackson can be effective in a two-minute drill, but he went 5-for-7 for 56 yards on an eight-play, 63-yard drive for a field goal to close the first half. That was encouraging after a rough start that included another fumble for the rookie.

6. Ten of Jackson’s 14 completions were to the middle of the field with only one traveling more than 20 yards through the air. It’s obvious where he’s most comfortable passing at this point, but the run-pass options and play-action plays open that portion of the field.

7. Brandon Williams has received criticism for not providing enough bang for the buck this season, but his third-and-1 stuff of Peyton Barber for a three-yard loss helped seal the win midway through the fourth quarter. He beat former teammate Ryan Jensen badly on that play.

8. Willie Snead’s 28-yard catch late in the second quarter and Edwards’ 26-yard run late in the fourth doubled the Ravens’ total number of plays of 25 or more yards since the bye. They had 13 over their first nine games. This is definitely a “grind-it-out” team now.

9. One of the more surprising parts of Sunday was Tampa Bay running for 68 yards on 15 carries in the first half. Credit the defense for limiting the Buccaneers to 17 rushing yards after intermission, but that early production from a pedestrian rushing attack in the rain was unexpected.

10. John Harbaugh confirmed Bradley Bozeman rotating with James Hurst at left guard was part of the game plan. Bozeman has improved since the preseason and is a solid bet to eventually be a starting interior lineman, especially with Alex Lewis’ inability to stay healthy.

11. I couldn’t help but wonder what Joe Flacco was thinking as Jackson struggled with the elements early, especially after the former starter threw for 513 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover in the first two rain-heavy home games of 2018 against Buffalo and Denver.

12. The Ravens are 8-6 entering Week 16 with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance for the third straight season. Even with a new quarterback and the drastic change in offensive style of play, Ravens fans can hardly be blamed if they can’t shake feelings of déjà vu.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-16 win over Atlanta

Posted on 04 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving their playoff hopes by way of a 26-16 win over Atlanta, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We’d be talking differently if the defense had been even average in the first half when time of possession was balanced and the offense bumbled more than rumbled. If Atlanta scores to go up 17-7 after taking over at midfield with 3:05 left, how does the second half change?

2. The sum is greater than the parts for a defense continuing to rank first in points allowed and total yards. No individual really stands out as being all that deserving of making the Pro Bowl, but this group was terrific against the Falcons.

3. Marlon Humphrey would top my list of defensive players to at least consider as he currently ranks as the 10th-best cornerback in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. His strong play on Sunday continued a surge that began after he returned from his October thigh injury.

4. Rewatching the game honestly made me feel worse about how Lamar Jackson played in his first road start, but the difference between him and other quarterbacks is what he’ll always provide with his legs if healthy. Traditional passers have bad games, but what else are they contributing when they do?

5. Matt Ryan had thrown for 250 yards in every game this season and Julio Jones had registered six straight 100-yard receiving days before being smothered by Baltimore. Ryan had only 54 passing yards in the second half while Jones didn’t have a catch after the game’s first drive. Crazy.

6. Jackon’s fumble returned 74 yards for a touchdown by Vic Beasley was cringe-worthy enough, but Kenneth Dixon didn’t earn any pats on the back for his effort to bring Beasley down. Dixon did finish with 37 rushing yards in only his second game of the last two seasons.

7. Between Michael Pierce destroying a double team on the fourth-and-1 stop in the second quarter and Brandon Williams pressuring Ryan on Tavon Young’s fumble return for a touchdown, the defense received excellent play from its two mountains in the middle.

8. The two-minute drill resulting in a field goal late in the first half wasn’t pretty and was even head-scratching toward the end, but it was good to see Jackson operate that scoring drive as fair questions persist about what this offense will do if required to go into catch-up mode.

9. With Austin Hooper’s late score, the Ravens have now allowed a touchdown catch to a tight end in five of the last six games. I’m sure Kansas City’s Travis Kelce will bring some restless nights for Wink Martindale this week.

10. Chris Moore finished with more offensive snaps than John Brown and Michael Crabtree while Buck Allen only played on special teams in Atlanta. This offense sure has changed quickly, hasn’t it?

11. Sam Koch being a career 5-for-5 passer for 69 yards is one of the cooler stat lines in team history. The 13th-year punter is a good athlete and doesn’t get enough credit for how good he’s been for a long time. He throws a pretty ball, too.

12. How often do you see a 14-play drive lasting more than eight minutes result in a not-exactly-a-gimme 45-yard field goal? As I wrote earlier this week, embrace the weirdness. Maybe that should be this team’s new hashtag the rest of the way.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-21 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 20 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens snapping their three-game losing streak and moving into the No. 6 spot in the AFC with a 24-21 win over Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I feel for Gus Edwards as the rookie free agent rushing for 115 yards would have been the big story if not for Lamar Jackson. Others have noted this, but his running style reminds of Le’Ron McClain, which was perfect against a bad defense already dealing with a mobile quarterback.

2. The Ravens defense managed only one sack and again failed to generate a turnover, but a simplified game plan that included press coverage and few blitzes did the trick to neutralize Andy Dalton’s short passes. Of course, A.J. Green not playing really helped.

3. Considering the defense had at least five defensive backs on the field for all but a few plays, holding Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard to a combined 19 rushing yards on 14 carries was very impressive and a critical development in the game.

4. Time of possession was certainly a byproduct of the run-heavy offense as the defense was on the field for just 55 snaps and less than 22 minutes. Perhaps that wasn’t as critical coming off the bye week, but it can still pay off down the stretch.

5. I’ve already written much about him, but I’m impressed with Jackson’s willingness to continue looking downfield as he scrambles like he did on the 23-yard completion to John Brown and the 19-yard dart to Mark Andrews. Those were easily his best plays of the day.

6. Justin Tucker making his 56-yard attempt at the end of the first half and Randy Bullock missing his 52-yard try late in the fourth quarter served as a reminder of how important the kicking game is in a grind-it-out affair. Tucker’s now made nine straight from 50 or more yards.

7. After giving up an acrobatic touchdown catch to John Ross despite good coverage, Marlon Humphrey atoned with a pass breakup against Cody Core to seal the win. Forcing Dalton to throw 36 times to collect 211 yards was a solid day at the office for the Ravens defense.

8. I’m not making much of Willie Snead’s blowup on the sideline that he and John Harbaugh downplayed after the game, but this is the potential risk if the Ravens stick with such a run-heavy approach. I want wide receivers who want the ball.

9. C.J. Mosley recorded his highest Pro Football Focus grade of 2018 as he recorded five tackles and a pass breakup while appearing to move better than he was before the bye. The 2014 first-round pick hasn’t had the ideal contract year as he ranks 28th among qualified linebackers, per PFF.

10. I’ve said repeatedly that coaches should go for it more on fourth down, but it felt panicky for the Ravens to try to convert the fourth-and-1 from their own 45 with 25 minutes to play in a low-scoring game. The failed challenge of the spot made it worse.

11. PFF grades Brandon Williams 69th among interior defensive linemen, which ranks behind Michael Pierce (fifth), Brent Urban (42nd), and Chris Wormley (64th). I don’t necessarily buy that, but are the Ravens getting enough value from their expensive run-stopping nose tackle in today’s pass-happy NFL? He played 24 snaps on Sunday.

12. As you could see from Harbaugh’s post-game speech, the Ravens were fired up — almost euphoric — after a much-needed victory. Jackson’s first start was fun to watch, but let’s remember they scored 24 points against an extremely poor defense in a close game that easily could have gone the other way.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 06 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their third straight loss and fourth in their last five games in a 23-16 final against Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore will never take the next step by settling for 23-yard field goals against a high-scoring offense. The analytics did support those decisions to kick, but I would have considered going for the fourth-and-3 from the 5 in the second quarter. “Take the points” isn’t always the best strategy.

2. As I’ve written other times, Joe Flacco is far from the only reason for the recent offensive struggles, but he hasn’t been a big enough part of the solution either. He was under duress quite a bit Sunday, but he easily missed a half-dozen throws working from a satisfactory pocket.

3. Insinuating Flacco didn’t throw to Lamar Jackson out of spite is taking quite a leap to trash the character of someone who’s never done anything to warrant such treatment. It’s not like his ability to see the field or go through progressions has never been criticized, so why get personal?

4. How the middle of the field continues to be such a problematic area for the pass defense when C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Tony Jefferson account for $22.625 million on the 2018 salary cap is a tough pill to swallow.

5. Orlando Brown Jr. continues to be a bright spot. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t allow a pressure against Pittsburgh and has yet to allow a sack or quarterback hit this season. The right tackle spot should be his with James Hurst potentially moving to left guard when healthy.

6. Matthew Judon hasn’t taken the leap many predicted this season, but he registered Baltimore’s lone sack as well as two hits and two hurries against the Steelers, according to PFF. The Ravens need to see more of that with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to hit free agency.

7. Like Drew Brees’ third-down completion while in the grasp of Jefferson in Week 7, I thought the defense forcing a three-and-out right after Alex Collins’ touchdown might be the turning point. Instead, a holding penalty, a sack, two passes short of the chains, and a punt quickly dashed that thought.

8. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that Jimmy Smith played better with Marlon Humphrey back in action and Wink Martindale once again rotating those two and Brandon Carr on the outside. The defense has certainly had its recent issues, but that luxury should still pay off down the stretch.

9. Those saying Jackson’s use is disrupting offensive rhythm received ammunition when he entered for a run of no gain immediately following Flacco strikes to Michael Crabtree and Chris Moore. If you want to run there, why not hand to Collins on an uptempo play instead of broadcasting what you’re doing?

10. Brandon Williams noted after the game that teams are approaching the Ravens defense differently and aren’t playing “actual football” by running so many sweeps and screens to take interior players like him out of the equation. There’s that whole “needing to adapt” theme popping up again.

11. Don’t look now, but the Ravens are on track to lead the NFL in passing attempts for the third time in the last four years. They also rank in the bottom five in yards per passing attempt for the fourth straight season. Jamal Lewis weeps.

12. Regardless of what happens over these next two months, I’ll maintain that John Harbaugh is a good football coach. However, he doesn’t do himself any favors with a rookie mistake like not using his timeouts ahead of the two-minute warning to conserve more clock.

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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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Ravens-Bills: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 September 2018 by Luke Jones

One team’s pain was another’s euphoria.

The Ravens will face the team that advanced to the postseason thanks to their fourth-and-12 collapse against Cincinnati in Week 17 last year when they host Buffalo to begin the 2018 season. That moment in time not only ended the Bills’ 17-year playoff drought, but it kept John Harbaugh’s team out of the postseason for a third straight year, the Ravens’ longest skid since their first four seasons in Baltimore.

With four of their next five games on the road, the Ravens can’t afford to stub their toe against the rebuilding Bills, a scenario that would leave everyone doubting whether 2018 will be any different than the last few years. It would also put even more heat on a number of coaches and players whose long-term futures are up in the air.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Buffalo meet for the eighth time in the all-time regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 4-3 advantage and a 4-1 mark at M&T Bank Stadium. This marks the second time in three years these teams will open the season in Baltimore as the Ravens won a 13-7 final in 2016.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Joe Flacco will begin 2018 on a solid note with 220 passing yards and two touchdowns.

After endless discussion about his health, the new wide receivers and tight ends, a new quarterbacks coach, his strong summer performance, and, yes, rookie Lamar Jackson, Flacco will finally have his first meaningful chance to begin silencing his critics. A rainy forecast could alter game strategy and he’s facing a pass defense that ranked ninth in yards per pass attempt allowed last season, but the 33-year-old faces a front seven not adept at pressuring quarterbacks, which will help lead to an efficient day.

2. Bills running back LeSean McCoy will finish with under 60 rushing yards.

The offseason focus was on the collapse against the Bengals, but the Ravens allowing a franchise-worst 4.1 yards per carry last year really stuck in their craw. The defense allowed 38 percent of its total rushing yards in the four games Brandon Williams missed, but Baltimore still surrendered 3.9 yards per attempt in games he played. The presence of Williams and Michael Pierce as well as the Bills losing three key starters from their offensive line will lead to a long day for the six-time Pro Bowl back.

3. Michael Crabtree and Nick Boyle will catch touchdowns from Flacco.

There is much excitement about the vertical potential of John Brown, but Bills head coach Sean McDermott emphasizes taking away the big play as his defense allowed the seventh-fewest number of passes of 20 or more yards and an NFL-low three completions of 40 or more yards last season. With that in mind and the forecast not looking promising, Crabtree will do what he does best in the red zone and the blocking-minded Boyle will catch Bills linebackers napping for a touchdown score of his own.

4. Buffalo quarterback Nathan Peterman will throw two interceptions and be sacked five times.

Did I mention the Bills offensive line lost three key starters? Buffalo was wise to go with Peterman over rookie first-round pick Josh Allen in a Week 1 road game, but that doesn’t mean the former won’t be completely overwhelmed. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is a Ryan family pupil who will call everything he can to try to pressure the pocket. Peterman won’t be as historically bad as he was in tossing five interceptions in one half against the Los Angeles Chargers last year, but it won’t be pretty.

5. The Ravens will take an early lead and ride Alex Collins in the second half to a 27-10 win.

The coming weeks will reveal just how good the Ravens really are, but I’d be surprised if the Bills aren’t one of the worst five teams in the NFL after gutting a roster that was very fortunate to sneak in the playoffs last year. Harsh weather can always be an equalizer, but Baltimore will build an early lead and lean on Collins to do some heavy lifting after receiving only three carries in the preseason. The Ravens need to start the season on a winning note with three AFC North road games looming in the next four weeks, so there’s no overstating how disappointing a home loss would be against a team that looks bad on paper. They’ll take care of business in decisive fashion.

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His future with Ravens unresolved, Mosley keeping focus on field

Posted on 05 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The list of goals taped to the locker of Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is there for everyone to see.

Lead league in tackles.

Lead linebackers in interceptions.

First-team All-Pro.

Pro Bowl.

Defensive MVP.

Super Bowl MVP.

Ambitious, for sure, but we’re talking about someone who was named to three Pro Bowls and voted a second-team All-Pro linebacker three times by age 25. He finished second among NFL linebackers in interceptions two years ago and tied for third in the league in solo tackles last season. This spring, he took the advice of new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale — his former linebackers coach — to remind himself of what he wants to accomplish in 2018.

“I’ve always had my goals, but putting them up so I can see them, that’s kind of a new step for me,” said Mosley, who also keeps the list on his phone since he quips that he’s always on it. “It’s just something to look at every day when I’m kind of tired and just gives me a little motivation to keep going, keep pushing.”

Mosley has reason to be motivated beyond on-field accolades or helping the Ravens return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The former first-round pick is entering the final year of a rookie contract that will pay him $8.718 million in 2018.

Many expected a long-term extension to be high on the Ravens’ offseason agenda with fellow defensive leaders Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle now entering their 16th and 12th seasons, respectively, but a deal hasn’t yet come to fruition. Mosley has repeatedly said he wants to remain a Raven and go down as the second-best inside linebacker in franchise history behind the recently-enshrined Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who just happened to reach every goal on Mosley’s list over the course of his 17-year career.

As Martindale revamped the defensive system this offseason to put more responsibility on his veteran leaders to make calls on the fly, Mosley faithfully attended voluntary workouts while others around the league with similar contract situations stayed away from their teams in the spring and even into the summer in some cases. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker says his focus remains on the field as begins his fifth season against Buffalo on Sunday.

“Right now, I’ve got my last year to play out,” Mosley said. “I guess maybe further down the road, it might become more of an issue – maybe not, I don’t know. Like I’ve said before, those are the types of things that I let my agent (Jimmy Sexton) and them work [on] upstairs. I’ll talk to my agent and we’re trying to get somewhere with it, so that’s about all I can tell you right now.”

Despite that last hint of optimism, there has been no progress towards a deal. It remains unclear how much Mosley is asking for or how much the Ravens are willing to pay, but his impressive resume would lead one to believe his representation seeks a contract north of the five-year, $62 million extension signed by Carolina’s Luke Kuechly three years ago that included $27 million guaranteed. The record-setting deals recently signed by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack emphatically set new standards at their positions, another factor to consider as Mosley — or any other standout defensive player — moves closer to free agency.

Even with his impressive accomplishments over his first four seasons, opinions vary in some circles as to how great Mosley truly is. The quality of his pass coverage has come under scrutiny as Pro Football Focus noted his problems last season, but the website still graded him 11th among linebackers in that category, perhaps a reflection of the scarcity of quality three-down linebackers in today’s game. It’s also worth noting Mosley dealt with a nagging ankle injury over the second half of last season when his difficulties covering tight ends were more pronounced.

Following in the footsteps of one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, Mosley has been held to Lewis’ impossible standard by some — consciously or not — despite his efforts to assume the mantle. Though clearly less demonstrative than the theatrical Lewis, Mosley gets his point across in his own way, according to teammates and coaches.

His stabilizing presence makes it easy to forget he was actually the Ravens’ second attempt at picking Lewis’ long-term successor after 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown — a player general manager Ozzie Newsome traded up to draft — was a disappointment. Selected with the 17th overall pick in 2014, Mosley was an immediate starter and became the first Ravens rookie to ever make the Pro Bowl.

“I feel like C.J. can go as high as he wants to go and be whoever he wants to be,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “He’s got that much talent. He’s got that much leadership ability, and I’ll follow him anywhere. I think C.J. can be, is, [and] will be forever a premier linebacker in this league.”

Of course, Mosley playing out the final year of his contract wouldn’t mean he’s destined to depart next offseason. Williams briefly hit the free-agent market last year before the Ravens made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league with a five-year, $52.5 million deal. Baltimore has used the franchise tag to retain the rights of former Pro Bowl defensive players such as cornerback Chris McAlister, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the $14.961 million cost to tag a linebacker — inside or outside — in 2018 will likely climb next year.

Perhaps the wait-and-see approach with Mosley is indicative of the Ravens’ overall transition. Newsome will step down after 2018, leaving successor Eric DeCosta to consider the futures of several key figures, ranging from Suggs to even head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco.

Only 26, Mosley would seemingly be a pillar for the next era of Ravens football, especially if he can check off a few more items from the list on his locker.

“C.J. is one of the premier players in this league,” said Suggs, who is also in the final year of his contract as he begins his 16th season in Baltimore. “Like I’ve said before, not everybody can come through these doors and be considered a Raven for life. So far, I think his resume shows that, and I think he’s one of those rare guys that’s going to be a lifer here.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2018 season opener

Posted on 04 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens opening the 2018 season by hosting Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’m more optimistic about the Ravens than I’ve been in a few years, but it has very little to do with the 5-0 preseason beyond staying pretty healthy. The Indianapolis game was the only time Baltimore played at full strength — or close to it — against another team at full strength.

2. Is it more surprising that Alex Collins, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead combined to touch the ball only eight times in the preseason or that no one is talking about that? To be clear, that’s not a criticism, but it speaks to the unknown still at work here.

3. Is anyone else tired of talking about the backup quarterback situation? A healthy Joe Flacco playing at a higher level is the key to this season — not whether Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III is backing him up. In a perfect world, Griffin doesn’t take a snap all season.

4. Bills coach Sean McDermott made the right call naming Nathan Peterman his starting quarterback and protecting first-round pick Josh Allen from playing on the road against a tough Baltimore defense that’s frequently eaten rookie quarterbacks alive over the years. That won’t save Peterman though.

5. Remember how the Ravens had $17 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2015, the year they finished 5-11? Fresh off their first playoff appearance of the millennium, the Bills are carrying an unthinkable $53.1 million in dead money on this year’s cap. You can’t win that way.

6. Willie Henry’s early absence could change things, but I like the decision to shift Brandon Williams back to nose tackle after he played more of the 3-technique spot with Michael Pierce at the nose last year. Williams is excellent against the run, so you want to maximize his biggest strength.

7. The practice-squad signings of Cyrus Jones and Tim White should signal to Janarion Grant not to get too comfortable as the return specialist. I’m not convinced the Ravens have found their answer in this department or if that individual is currently in the organization.

8. I’m not sure how long rookie cornerback Darious Williams will be on the 53-man roster, but he began his Alabama-Birmingham career as a walk-on and stayed put through the football program’s temporary disbandment and two-year hiatus from playing games. That’s quite a journey to the NFL.

9. Four teams making waiver claims on Carl Davis and his release even after Henry’s injury should speak to the depth of the Baltimore defensive line. Seeing Cleveland grab the versatile Davis wasn’t remotely surprising.

10. The Ravens are starting their second decade of the John Harbaugh-Flacco era. Some would argue that isn’t a good thing, but that kind of continuity isn’t fully appreciated until it’s gone. Over the last decade, the Browns have had six head coaches and used 19 starting quarterbacks.

11. Questions remain about the circumstances that led to Kaare Vedvik being found with head and upper-body injuries early Saturday in East Baltimore. I feel for the 24-year-old as he had a good chance to be kicking in the NFL this year, but the outcome could have been much worse.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for naming Anquan Boldin their “Legend of the Game” for the opener. Does this reverse the “Boldin Curse” that’s resulted in four non-playoff seasons since he was traded for a sixth-round pick five weeks after Super Bowl XLVII?

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from second open OTA workout

Posted on 02 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The accuracy of Joe Flacco’s strong throwing arm has left something to be desired in recent seasons, but that hasn’t been the case this spring as he’s thrown countless deep strikes, including a few that receivers haven’t caught. Pushing the ball down the field more effectively is an absolute must.

2. Chris Moore made the plays of Thursday’s session with a deep one-handed sideline catch against Brandon Carr and a leaping touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. His continued development isn’t as critical after the offseason additions, but he showed some growth late last season.

3. On the flip side, Breshad Perriman hasn’t flashed in the same way he would in past springs, dropping passes and not having good awareness along the sidelines and in the end zone. A fresh start for him elsewhere might be what’s best for both parties at this point.

4. C.J. Mosley’s attendance at OTAs really speaks to his level of commitment to the organization. I wouldn’t have blamed him for skipping voluntary workouts since he’s still without a long-term contract extension, but his presence is a plus for new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

5. John Brown has shown the impressive speed employed in his 1,000-yard season for Arizona in 2015, but his 5-foot-11 listing looks generous. It will be critical for a red-zone target beyond Michael Crabtree to emerge with rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews being obvious candidates.

6. Lamar Jackson worked extensively with other rookies on a separate field from the first-team offense. Improving his footwork remains a priority as he still has a tendency to make flat-footed throws that sail and lack accuracy. It’s a process.

7. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Willie Henry take on a starting role this season with Brandon Williams shifting from the starting 3-technique spot back to the nose and Michael Pierce moving to a rotational role. This says much more about Henry’s improvement than any disenchantment with Pierce.

8. With Anthony Levine still sidelined from offseason foot surgery, second-year safety Chuck Clark has an opportunity to state a case for more involvement in the dime package. He dropped what could have been a pick-6 on a Flacco pass intended for Hurst on Thursday.

9. You wouldn’t know Tavon Young was only a year removed from his ACL injury by watching him practice. He’s the favorite to handle the nickel, a spot where he excels. Maurice Canady currently being hindered by a knee issue is allowing Young to take even more first-team reps.

10. Much was made about Alex Lewis getting his first look at center, but the offensive line alignment used during mandatory minicamp in two weeks will provide more meaningful insight on what the Ravens are thinking at the center position. Matt Skura is still very much in the conversation.

11. Uncertainty exists at every spot beyond left tackle and right guard, but Ronnie Stanley said how confident incumbents are in their second year with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and assistant head coach Greg Roman, who did admirable work with a patchwork unit last year.

12. Yes, the wide receiver group had some drops on Thursday, but I caution about drawing too many conclusions — good or bad — from a limited sample this time of year, especially with rookie players. This becomes a bigger concern, of course, if it’s still occurring regularly in training camp.

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