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Ravens acquire Green Bay running back Montgomery at trade deadline

Posted on 30 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome chose not to stand pat at his final trade deadline, acquiring running back Ty Montgomery from Green Bay on Tuesday afternoon.

Baltimore hopes Montgomery’s ability to catch passes out of the backfield as well as to carry the ball will bring more versatility to an offense that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per carry and averaged just 18.5 points per game in October. In a reduced role this season, Montgomery has rushed for 105 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries and made 15 receptions for 170 yards. He first rose to some prominence in 2016 when he converted from the wide receiver position to running back to gain 457 yards on 77 carries and make 44 receptions for 348 yards in 15 games. Injuries limited the 216-pound Montgomery to eight games last season as he rushed for 273 yards on 71 carries and caught 23 passes for 173 yards.

The Ravens released veteran linebacker Albert McClellan to make room on their 53-man roster. It’s possible McClellan could be re-signed in the near future, especially with Baltimore currently carrying four running backs on the active roster. Still on injured reserve with a knee injury sustained in Week 1, running back Kenneth Dixon is eligible to begin practicing at any point now, which could further crowd the backfield.

To complete Tuesday’s trade, the Ravens sent a 2020 seventh-round draft pick to the Packers, who were apparently looking to move on from Montgomery after his critical fumble in Sunday’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams. An NFL.com report indicated the 25-year-old was unhappy about his reduced role and didn’t follow coaches’ instructions to kneel a kickoff for a touchback late in the second half, instead bringing it out of the end zone and fumbling. The turnover prevented Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers from having another chance against the Rams defense in the 29-27 final.

Montgomery, a 2015 third-round pick from Stanford, will make the remainder of his $716,500 base salary for the 2018 season — roughly $379,000 — before becoming an unrestricted free agent. It’s unclear how he’ll fit into the offensive game plan or whether the Ravens will want him to return kicks, but Montgomery fumbled twice in his last four games with the Packers.

Many had clamored for Newsome to acquire help along the offensive line as three linemen — left guard Alex Lewis, right tackle James Hurst, and reserve Bradley Bozeman — did not play in Sunday’s 36-21 loss at Carolina due to injuries. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley also missed 19 snaps after quarterback Joe Flacco was driven into the back of his left leg in the third quarter. Head coach John Harbaugh would not discuss his status for this coming Sunday’s meeting with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“I’m not going to get into all that,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”

It remains unclear whether Hurst (back) or Lewis (neck) will be ready to return to action after sitting out the last two games. Bozeman (calf) was active for the Panthers game, but he did not play as Hroniss Grasu took all 68 snaps at the left guard spot.

With Stanley sidelined, 2015 fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor filled in at left tackle for a large portion of the second half.

“He did pretty well. It was mostly pass protection; he’s good in pass protection,” said Harbaugh about Eluemunor, who was promoted from the practice squad last week. “He’s stout and firm, and he handled the bull rushes really well — probably the best of all of our guys throughout the course of the game. I was very encouraged by that.”

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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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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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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-23 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens dropping their first road game of the season in a 34-23 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Third down was the defense’s demise in the first half as each of the Bengals’ four touchdown drives included a breakdown that kept Baltimore from getting off the field. Third-down penalties from Tony Jefferson and Terrell Suggs negated stops that would have led to likely field goals on two drives.

2. The Ravens defense found its footing in the second half, but no sacks and no takeaways will rarely add up to erasing a 21-point deficit. You wonder how the game might have turned out had Eric Weddle’s second foot been in on Andy Dalton’s end-zone throw on Cincinnati’s second drive.

3. Joe Flacco’s accuracy problems were more reminiscent of the last few seasons that the sharper quarterback observed throughout the preseason and in Week 1. Even several of his completions were delivered in ways that hindered receivers from picking up additional yardage.

4. Flacco wasn’t helped by an offensive line that played poorly for most of the night as even Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley had difficulties against the Bengals front. This group had no answers for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

5. Putting two blockers on Atkins makes sense, but Yanda and James Hurst double-teaming backup defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow and tight end Nick Boyle being left alone to block Dunlap on Flacco’s third-quarter interception was as baffling as it gets. Dunlap hit Flacco’s arm to force the errant throw.

6. Too much is made of run-pass ratios and the Ravens were always going to go into a heavier pass mode after falling behind big, but Marty Mornhinweg still needs to get Alex Collins more than four touches in the second half. Buck Allen shouldn’t be matching Collins in snaps either.

7. Matt Judon’s roughing the passer foul in the first half fell into the category of needing to be smarter than that in today’s quarterback-sensitive NFL, but the holding call on Tavon Young on a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter was nothing short of awful. Touching a receiver isn’t a hold.

8. Considering the overall lack of pressure generated against the Bengals, I’d like to have seen Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser get more playing time than their combined 19 defensive snaps, especially after both played well in Week 1. Just like with Lamar Jackson, there’s an endgame to consider as well.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged considering kicking a field goal on the last drive to make it a one-score game, but not doing so was confusing as Flacco continued throwing underneath. No, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, but if that’s your argument, just kneel the ball a few times and go home.

10. Flacco throwing a one-yard pass to Allen on fourth-and-2 midway through the third quarter was an all-too-familiar occurrence. The play call itself was questionable enough, but the throw wasn’t even out in front of Allen to guide him to the mark.

11. That aside, I’m amazed by how many always oppose going for fourth downs or two-point tries in any situation that isn’t overwhelmingly obvious. Punting on short fields, forgoing two-pointers in logical situations, and kicking field goals inside the 5 are examples of playing not to lose rather than to win.

12. After crushing the mustard-colored pants worn for one game in 2015, I really liked the new purple pants with the white jerseys. Now just add similar side stripes to the black pants that look too much like tights. Let’s also see those purple pants with the black jerseys.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 13 September 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens had little time to revel in a blowout Week 1 victory with their Thursday trip to Cincinnati.

The second game of the season hardly approaches must-win territory, but each team has an opportunity to improve to 2-0 in the AFC North while Pittsburgh is coming off a tie with lowly Cleveland and continuing to experience life without Le’Veon Bell. A Thursday road game is a daunting challenge, but the early-season timing is a plus, especially after head coach John Harbaugh enjoyed the luxury of resting a number of key veterans in the second half of the 47-3 win over Buffalo.

“When you get late in the year, your bodies have just taken such a beating already,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I’m not really saying this from personal experience, but just talking to some of the guys playing along the line of scrimmage, I think it’s definitely an advantage to do it early when you haven’t kind of taken the brunt of the whole season.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals collide for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 22 wins and the Bengals enjoying a 14-8 advantage in Cincinnati. The Ravens have lost five of the last six played at Paul Brown Stadium, but they came away with an impressive 20-0 win there to open the 2017 season.

Below are five predictions for Thursday night:

1. Bengals receiver A.J. Green will catch a touchdown in a mostly quiet night when matched against Marlon Humphrey. Lost in the agony of “fourth-and-12” was the defense holding the Pro Bowl wideout to two catches for 17 yards in the 2017 finale, a surprising feat without Jimmy Smith. The Ravens typically haven’t used their top corner to travel with elite receivers in recent years, but Wink Martindale would be wise to pick his spots for Humphrey to do just that. Green will find the end zone and be more productive this time around, but the Ravens won’t let him wreck the game.

2. Alex Collins and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon will both eclipse 75 total yards with a touchdown apiece. Not that it was needed with the passing game carving up the Bills, but the Ravens struggled to run the ball, averaging just 1.5 yards per carry in the first half and 3.4 for the game. Their offensive line will fare better against a Bengals front that gave up 4.2 yards per carry in 2017. Meanwhile, Mixon nearly eclipsed 100 yards against Baltimore last December and had 149 total yards last week. Neither back will find a ton of running room, but they’ll help keep their offenses on schedule.

3. Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins will register a sack and give Matt Skura big problems. One of the best matchups of the last several years in the NFL has been Atkins against six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda as both are among the absolute best at their positions, but the bigger concern is how Skura and the still-inexperienced Alex Lewis will hold up against the 300-pound defensive tackle. The coaching staff will use double teams and as much misdirection as they can, but Atkins will be disruptive against the run and pressure the pocket more than anyone did for Buffalo.

4. C.J. Mosley will collect a sack and an interception to set up a touchdown. The Pro Bowl inside linebacker didn’t have a monster statistical output in Week 1, but he was part of a strong effort to bottle up LeSean McCoy. Two of Mosley’s eight career interceptions have come against Cincinnati, and his coverage will be vital as Andy Dalton relies on short throws to tight ends and running backs to offset Baltimore’s rush. He’ll add another pick to put the Ravens on a short field and register a quarterback takedown as Martindale tests Bengals rookie center Billy Price with stunts and A-gap blitzes.

5. Joe Flacco and the passing game will come back to earth, but the Ravens will do just enough in a 20-17 win. It’s no secret the 11th-year quarterback has struggled against the Bengals throughout his career, and former Baltimore assistant Teryl Austin figures to show some new wrinkles in his first year running the Cincinnati defense. However, Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban spent the last seven years as a Bengals assistant, giving him some useful intel to combat their defense. Thursday games are rarely pretty because of the truncated time to prepare in addition to the physical challenges of a short week, which will keep scoring down as both teams plod through this one. If you subscribe to the idea of a playoff-hopeful team needing to go no worse than .500 on the road, this looks like one of the more reasonable games on the schedule to secure a victory. It won’t be pretty, but I’m buying more stock in the Ravens than the Bengals at this point as Harbaugh’s team will improve to 2-0.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 47-3 win over Buffalo

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the season with an emphatic 47-3 win over Buffalo, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the first time in franchise history a Baltimore defense did not surrender a first down in the first half. The Bills had 33 yards compared to the Ravens’ 26 points at intermission. J. Peterman would have had a better chance than Nathan Peterman, who was awful.

2. Wink Martindale added some defensive wrinkles, including swapping out a linebacker for an extra defensive lineman in some nickel looks. My favorite was Za’Darius Smith’s quarterback sack when he also sent Terrell Suggs, Tim Williams, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, and C.J. Mosley after rookie Josh Allen. Yes, six linebackers.

3. Marlon Humphrey was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Ravens player as he finished with four pass breakups and two tackles. He’ll have bigger challenges over the next few weeks, but the 2017 first-round pick was excellent against the Bills.

4. How many people looking out their windows Sunday morning would have predicted Joe Flacco throwing 32 passes in the first half? He had no issues throwing a wet football and was Baltimore’s highest-graded offensive player, according to PFF.

5. It’s easy to forget how the offense sputtered in the second quarter as the Ravens gained only eight yards on 15 plays before the final touchdown drive when Michael Crabtree caught the 12-yard score. A pretty throw and even prettier footwork. That was an example of why they signed him.

6. Tavon Young wouldn’t have been my guess to exploit a porous Buffalo line, but he became the first Baltimore defensive back since Bennie Thompson in 1996 to collect two sacks in a game and was strong against the run. Martindale calls the 5-foot-9 nickel a “pit bull” for good reason.

7. Not much was made of Alex Collins receiving only three preseason carries, but he found little room and lost a fumble. You do wonder if a few more live-game touches would have been beneficial for a player who’s had some past fumbling concerns. Of course, suspect blocking wasn’t his fault.

8. Janarion Grant offered good and bad with a 51-yard punt return and a fumble that fortunately rolled out of bounds in the first half. It’s easy to blame the rain, but Grant appeared to take his eyes off the ball with a defender bearing down. That can’t happen.

9. None had a negative impact, but the Ravens didn’t get much of a return on the five offensive snaps Lamar Jackson played before then relieving Joe Flacco in the second half. It’s something for which opponents must prepare, but you sometimes worry about upsetting the overall rhythm of the offense.

10. Mark Andrews didn’t stand out often over the summer, but the Ravens have to be pleased with his three catches for 31 yards in the first half. PFF gave him the second-best grade among offensive players.

11. Being able to rest key veterans in the second half bodes well for a quick turnaround at Cincinnati on Thursday, but young players receiving extensive regular-season action could pay off down the line. Inside linebacker Kenny Young and cornerback Anthony Averett stood out in particular.

12. At an ordinary 218 pounds, Buck Allen doesn’t look the part of a short-yardage back, but he has a knack for getting to the desired mark. He lined up as the fullback on his 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter and showed off a respectable Ray Lewis dance to boot.

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Flacco, Ravens offense offer proper cameo against Rams

Posted on 10 August 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — There was no other appropriate outcome for Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ starting offense on Thursday night.

Facing a Los Angeles Rams defense that played only one projected starter — outside linebacker Samson Ebukam — while several Pro Bowl talents sat, the Baltimore starters did exactly what was expected with a 10-play, 70-yard touchdown drive lasting just under five minutes.

The cameo was short but sweet for Flacco, who was playing in only his second preseason game since 2015.

“You know you’re probably only going to play 20 snaps or so,” said the 11th-year quarterback, who took 12 snaps if you count two plays negated by penalty. “You’ve got to get yourself ready to play an NFL football game, so it’s just these weird situations in the preseason. To go up there and have a drive like we did, it’s obviously the way we wanted it to go.”

The series began with an over-the-middle completion to rookie tight end Hayden Hurst for 12 yards and a first down. The first-round pick continues to impress with his soft hands and ability to make catches in traffic, something the Ravens have lacked over the middle since the days of a healthy Dennis Pitta.

On the first third down, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg called for a formation shift involving running back Buck Allen, who split out wide before motioning back to the backfield. The movement set up a soft pick from wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s inside route to give Allen just enough space from linebacker Bryce Hager to catch a short swing pass and move the chains.

Facing a second-and-25 a few plays later, Flacco hit John Brown and Crabtree on consecutive throws for a total of 47 yards. Brown took advantage of a matchup against linebacker Ramik Wilson, the result of a trips alignment in which Hurst was split outside the speedy receiver. Crabtree showed chemistry with his new quarterback on the next play by running up the field as Flacco rolled left, leading to a 30-yard completion on a third-and-8 to put the Ravens inside the red zone.

Baltimore looked like it would have to settle for a field goal until a third-down illegal contact penalty extended the drive. That was all Flacco would need as he finished it off with a play-action pass to fullback-defensive tackle Patrick Ricard in the flat for a 6-yard touchdown.

Frequently knocked for his mobility that’s suffered in recent years because of an ACL tear in 2015 and last summer’s back injury, Flacco moved effectively to extend plays and even managed to slide without breaking his knee brace on a scramble early in the drive. As has been the case all spring and summer, his passes were on point as he finished 5 of 7 for 71 yards and could have had another completion to Crabtree on a sideline throw that wasn’t corralled in traffic.

What more could you want in a limited sample?

“You get a sense of, ‘Hey, maybe we’re going to be good on offense,’” said head coach John Harbaugh, who called it a night for Flacco, Crabtree, Brown, and slot receiver Willie Snead after that touchdown. “But you want to see it in a game. And we’ll want to see it in another game. Then, we’ll want to see it in a regular-season game. We’re all going to feel that way about our offense and our defense.

“But to take this step at this time was really gratifying.”

Once again, it was a single preseason drive against another team’s backups. For some context, the Ravens offense struggled against the Rams’ first-team defense in Monday’s joint practice before bouncing back to move the ball more consistently the following day.

But taking care of business on that opening drive sure beat the alternative of a three-and-out, a turnover, or the listlessness too often on display in recent years.

The Ravens offense has practiced well, competing at a higher level against the talented Baltimore defense than it has in recent years. That hardly guarantees success when the season kicks off for real next month, but building mojo is important for a unit that couldn’t get out of its own way for much of last season, a big reason why the Ravens were again on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Thursday was a positive step for a quarterback and an offense with much to prove in 2018.

“Once the regular season starts, this isn’t going to mean anything,” Flacco said. “But what it does for our confidence as a group, our confidence as a team, that will carry us pretty far into the season. Hopefully, we can keep this going. I think we’ve got the guys to do it.”

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How did Ravens running backs stack up to the rest of the NFL in 2017?

Posted on 24 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few put in the necessary time and effort to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop any kind of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens running backs ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Alex Collins
2017 offensive snap count: 378
NFL1000 ranking: 12th
PFF ranking: 5th
Skinny: The 23-year-old was a terrific addition for a below-average offense and finished ninth in yards per carry, but his 2.96 yards per attempt average over the last three games and a slight 210-pound frame make it fair to take pause before assuming he’ll automatically thrive with a bigger workload next season.

Buck Allen
2017 offensive snap count: 466
NFL1000 ranking: 46th
PFF ranking: 33rd
Skinny: The 2015 fourth-round pick rebounded from a disappointing 2016 to emerge as a solid No. 2 back by averaging 3.9 yards per carry and scoring six touchdowns. Allen caught 46 passes, but his 5.4 yards per catch ranked last in the NFL among qualified players and reflected his limited elusiveness.

Danny Woodhead
2017 offensive snap count: 157
NFL1000 ranking: 55th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A significant hamstring injury cost Woodhead nearly nine full games, and he has now appeared in only 29 contests over his last four seasons because of injuries. Though the 32-year-old returned in November, he averaged just 6.1 yards per catch and didn’t eclipse 50 yards from scrimmage once.

Terrance West
2017 offensive snap count: 66
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A calf injury suffered in Oakland in Week 5 cost West multiple games, but the writing was on the wall when he was healthy again as Collins had secured the starting gig and Allen was the more versatile backup. The Baltimore native will be an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to return.

2018 positional outlook

With Collins under team control for two more years and Allen still having a year remaining on his rookie deal, the running back position is clearly in better shape than the other skill spots on this offense. The wild card is Kenneth Dixon, who will be coming off a major knee injury and two drug-related suspensions. A healthy and motivated Dixon paired with Collins would be intriguing, but the latter showed enough success in Greg Roman’s blocking schemes to have confidence in him entering 2018 as the starter, especially with guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis back in the fold. Woodhead remains under contract, but Baltimore could save $1.8 million in salary cap space by releasing him. The Ravens should keep their eyes peeled for game-changing talent at any position and could still add a running back later in the draft, but you wouldn’t expect the position to be a top priority to address this offseason.

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