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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Indianapolis

Posted on 26 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their first winning season since 2014 after a 23-16 victory over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Critics say this defense hasn’t been very good when it hasn’t forced turnovers, but isn’t that true of many units? Sure, there’s been some variance in the overall performance, but give me the group more dynamic taking the ball away over a more “consistent” unit that’s ordinary in that department.

2. The offense continues to play at a higher level in December, but the Ravens have scored just three touchdowns in seven trips inside the red zone the last two weeks since going 4-for-4 against Pittsburgh. Justin Tucker field goals in that area aren’t going to cut it in January.

3. Both Alex Collins and Michael Campanaro put the ball on the ground against the Colts, but the Ravens have committed only two turnovers in the last six games since the bye. That’s strong evidence supporting the notion that this offense was way too conservative through the first three months.

4. Maurice Canady saved the day with his fourth-down pass breakup to preserve a one-score lead, and his emergence sure gives the Ravens some good cornerback depth moving forward. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Canady are all under contract for 2018.

5. Jack Doyle didn’t put up monster numbers, but he was the latest tight end to give the Ravens issues in coverage. It’s tough not to be nervous about that deficiency with a potential matchup with Kansas City’s three-time Pro Bowl selection Travis Kelce looming in the wild-card round.

6. I understand frustration and even boos when a player isn’t performing, but the Bronx cheers for Breshad Perriman’s 8-yard reception in the third quarter felt a little too mean-spirited for my taste, especially since the guy has barely played since the bye anyway.

7. Speaking of disappointing early picks, Maxx Williams caught his first touchdown in over two years. He’s done a solid job as a blocker this year, but that’s not exactly what Ozzie Newsome had in mind when he traded up in the second round of the 2015 draft to take him.

8. Buck Allen has averaged an ordinary 3.7 yards per carry overall, but he’s done a solid job in short-yardage situations despite not being a bruising back. He was initially stuffed on fourth-and-1 on the opening drive and reached for the first down with second effort.

9. Remember when some wondered if Kamar Aiken might eventually develop into a poor man’s version of Anquan Boldin after leading the Ravens with 75 receptions in 2015? He has 14 catches on 42 targets with Indianapolis this season and a combined 43 catches in 30 games since that campaign.

10. Frank Gore was never viewed as the best running back in the NFL at any point, but the 34-year-old is closing in on 14,000 career rushing yards in an era when backs increasingly have a shorter shelf life. Longevity is an underrated quality, especially in this sport.

11. The Ravens could end up making a January run, but their strength of victory ranks 13th of 16 AFC teams and would still be 10th if you remove the two wins over 0-15 Cleveland. Even after their early injuries, not making the playoffs with this schedule would be extremely disappointing.

12. Baltimore surprisingly broke out its black jerseys despite having already worn the alternate tops two other times this year. The black-on-white look — the Ravens’ seventh different uniform combination of the season — is an underrated one.

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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 22 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have no need for an out-of-town scoreboard for Christmas.

Two wins will punch their ticket to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season. Those two contests come against opponents with a combined one win since Thanksgiving, leaving no need for John Harbaugh’s team to pay attention to what other teams are doing this weekend.

Indianapolis comes to town Saturday riding a five-game losing streak and is winding down a lost season without injured franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts’ struggles are likely to cost former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano his job after six years as head coach.

Of course, Baltimore has dealt with its own trials this season with 14 players on injured reserve, many of those coming on the offensive side of the ball. However, a post-bye surge has many viewing the Ravens as an intriguing threat come January.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to win for the fifth time in six games and improve their all-time regular-season mark against Indianapolis to 4-8. Including the postseason, Baltimore is 4-4 against the Colts at M&T Bank Stadium with the last meeting coming in the 2012 playoffs, a 24-9 victory in Ray Lewis’ final game in front of the home crowd.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. Joe Flacco will continue his late-season surge with two touchdown passes. There are many reasons why the Ravens have averaged 36.3 points per game over the last three weeks, but the improved play of the quarterback is the biggest as Flacco has thrown five touchdowns and one interception with a 94.5 passer rating during that time. Making that more impressive has been those performances coinciding with Jeremy Maclin mostly being a non-factor. With Maclin not expected to play, look for Flacco to try to go to tight end Benjamin Watson over the middle with Mike Wallace continuing to make plays on the outside against the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. Each will have a touchdown reception.

2. The Baltimore defense will sack Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett five times. The second-year signal-caller has been intercepted just seven times all year, but that’s come at a price with Indianapolis surrendering a league-high 53 sacks, often a result of Brissett holding the ball too long. Making matters worse, the Colts just placed starting center Ryan Kelly on injured reserve and have ruled out starting right tackle Denzelle Good for Saturday’s game. Terrell Suggs will have the toughest matchup going up against above-average left tackle Anthony Castonzo, but Dean Pees shouldn’t hesitate to bring A-gap blitzes inside and various pressures against a shuffled right side of the Colts line.

3. Jack Doyle will catch the lone touchdown of the day for the Colts. Ravens linebackers and safeties rebounded nicely last week from their poor showing against Pittsburgh’s tight ends, but that position has still been a problem at various times and Doyle leads Indianapolis in receptions with 71. The secondary will be concerned with containing big-play wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, so the Ravens will concede some space underneath for Doyle to operate from time to time and Brissett will attempt to get rid of the ball quickly against an active pass rush. The Colts will have great difficulty moving the ball with any consistency, but they’ll put together a decent drive or two with Doyle in the middle of it.

4. Buck Allen will lead the way in a 135-yard effort for the running game. Starter Alex Collins isn’t listed on the injury report, but anyone who watched the Week 15 win at Cleveland saw the second-year running back was laboring on multiple occasions. With the playoffs looming, the Ravens would be wise to try to ease Collins’ workload by giving more carries to Allen, who has done a trustworthy job as the backup this season. Indianapolis ranks an unimpressive 29th in rushing yards allowed per game, but its 4.1 yards per carry surrendered ranks a solid 12th in the NFL. Collins will make his mark early in this game, but it will be Allen carrying it more in the second half as the Ravens protect a double-digit lead.

5. The Ravens will take care of business in a 27-10 win. Many fans felt some level of angst about Baltimore playing at the winless Browns last week, but it’s much more difficult envisioning a scenario in which Harbaugh’s team lays a home egg on Saturday. Indianapolis has played hard for the most part and would be a bigger threat in its own stadium, but an undermanned roster doesn’t have the horses to stick with an improved team smelling the playoffs. As was the case against the hapless Browns, the Ravens aren’t going to earn any style points by beating a three-win team, but they’ll clinch their first winning season since 2014 and give their fans a happier Christmas than last year’s crushing loss in Pittsburgh.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-10 win over Cleveland

Posted on 18 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving a step closer to securing a postseason berth in a 27-10 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The defense took advantage of rookie DeShone Kizer and the NFL’s most turnover-prone offense by forcing four turnovers that led to 14 points. Much of the damage hasn’t come against the stiffest competition, but a league-best 33 takeaways is impressive. Two years ago, the Ravens had only 14.

2. The offense didn’t light up the scoreboard like the previous two weeks, but still moving the ball despite the running game being a non-factor through the first three quarters is an encouraging sign. The Ravens were able to finish with 63 rushing yards on 11 carries in the final period.

3. This wasn’t the first time Matthew Judon was arguably the top player for the defense. He totaled a sack, two other tackles for a loss, and two more quarterback hits. His versatile play in all phases has been one of the most encouraging big-picture developments of the season.

4. Remember how completely helpless the passing game looked without Jeremy Maclin in two games earlier this season? He played only five snaps because of a left knee injury, but Joe Flacco still threw for a season-high 288 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions.

5. A major reason for that was Mike Wallace, who caught six passes for 89 yards with four of those going for first downs. Since the bye, Wallace is averaging 76.2 receiving yards per contest and 16.6 yards per catch. That equates to a 1,200-yard season over 16 games.

6. Terrell Suggs finished with an ordinary two tackles if you only looked at the standard box score, but he was consistently putting heat on Kizer and was credited with nine hurries by Pro Football Focus. He played a significant part in several good things that happened for the defense.

7. A read-option keeper for Flacco shouldn’t be called unless it’s the fourth quarter of a playoff game, but that play and the draw for a touchdown reflect the greater confidence in the quarterback’s health. Flacco also has a 94.5 passer rating with five touchdown passes over the last three games.

8. C.J. Mosley rebounded from a poor outing in Pittsburgh as he batted down a couple passes, was stronger in pass coverage, and delivered the crushing hit on the Duke Johnson fumble. Sending Mosley after the quarterback a few times was a needed changeup after his recent struggles in coverage.

9. John Harbaugh was wise to mostly keep Alex Collins out of harm’s way in the second half as he was visibly laboring several times. As tough and physical as Collins is, we sometimes forget he’s only 210 pounds, which is much lighter than many of the league’s bruising-style backs.

10. For the second straight year, the Ravens surrendered Isaiah Crowell’s longest run from scrimmage for the season. The run defense has mostly been terrific since late October, but allowing a 96-yard touchdown drive exclusively via the ground in the second quarter was mystifying.

11. I didn’t like Marty Mornhinweg’s outside run call on fourth-and-goal from the 1, but credit Cleveland defensive end Carl Nassib for blowing up an attempted double team from Matt Skura and Austin Howard. He was more disruptive than top overall pick Myles Garrett throughout the day.

12. I understand reluctance to embrace the 2017 Ravens because of the early-season inconsistency, but some of the fear expressed about the Browns this week was over the top. Their horrendous minus-25 turnover difference says it all while Baltimore leads the NFL at plus-17. Taking care of the football really matters.

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Pondering Flacco-Harbaugh comments, Woodhead, J. Smith, Jernigan

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Joe Flacco expressing a desire for the Ravens offense to be more aggressive is nothing new.

The 10th-year quarterback has made similar claims in past seasons with different offensive coordinators. And with Baltimore sporting a losing record and the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense, something has to give over the final seven games.

“We need to go after it. We can’t sit back and just expect us to not lose football games,” Flacco said. “There is always a part of that come late in games and depending on the nature of the game, but we have to go and attack. We’re a 4-5 football team. You always look at teams in these positions and say, ‘Man, they have nothing to lose.’ And we should feel that way. We have to go out there and leave it all out there.”

John Harbaugh appeared to take exception with Flacco’s assertion that the offense hasn’t been playing to win. The retort came two days after the head coach was asked to justify Marty Mornhinweg remaining as his offensive coordinator moving forward.

It’s apparent Harbaugh doesn’t want the assistant taking all the blame for the offense’s shortcomings.

“I can’t speak for Joe. That’s what we try to do every single week,” Harbaugh said. “We open up the offense. We run schemes with our run game. We’re getting after people on defense. We try to win every single game. Players have to go out there and play great. They have to execute. If you’re talking about offense, we need to complete passes, we need to run the ball well, we need to protect our quarterback, we need to go up and make catches, we need to execute, we need first downs, we need to score points.

“It’s not about play-calling. It’s about all of us together going out there and playing winning football in all three phases.”

The difference in opinion is even more interesting in light of the recent comments made by former tight end — and Flacco’s close friend — Dennis Pitta to WBAL indicating that the quarterback has only one read in the passing game before being instructed to check down. It’s obvious that Flacco continues to rely more on short passes while attempting fewer intermediate passes than ever and struggling to connect on deep balls this season.

No matter what Harbaugh says, no one can honestly watch the Ravens offense and classify it as an aggressive unit, but the real question is if that’s by design to protect Flacco, who struggled in Marc Trestman’s more complex system. Even if the Ravens coaching staff is deliberately trying to shield the quarterback from himself, Flacco being tied for third in the NFL with 10 interceptions suggests the strategy isn’t working anyway.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle as the veteran signal-caller has certainly left plays out on the field and the play-calling has been less than inspiring for much of the season.

Woodhead effect

There’s much excitement about the expected return of running back Danny Woodhead after the bye, but it’s fair to wonder if his presence could be counterproductive to an offense needing to be more aggressive throwing the ball down the field.

It’s great to cite his three catches for 33 yards on the opening drive of the season in Cincinnati as evidence for how he can help, but that’s still a small sample size for a player who’s now missed 35 games over the last four seasons. You hope Woodhead can stay healthy enough to pick up more yards after catches than understudy Buck Allen, but Flacco relying too heavily on the 32-year-old could further stunt the other areas of the passing game that need improvement.

It’s great to have more options, but the Ravens will need much more than Woodhead’s presence to make meaningful improvement on the offensive side of the ball.

Jimmy Smith’s health

Jimmy Smith has arguably been the Ravens’ best player this season and currently ranks fifth among qualified corners in Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

But seeing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tear his Achilles tendon on Thursday Night Football made me wonder how Smith will hold up down the stretch. Sherman told reporters after the game that his Achilles had been bothering him for most of the season before it finally ruptured, which should make you take pause since Smith has been dealing with what he’s described as Achilles tendinitis for much of the year.

There’s no way of knowing how similar Smith’s situation might be to Sherman’s or if he’s in great danger of suffering the same fate, but you’d hate to see the best season of his career derailed by another injury.

Jernigan receives lucrative contract

Former Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is off to a good start in Philadelphia, but who predicted him getting a reported four-year, $48 million extension with $26 million guaranteed just nine games into his Eagles career?

The 2014 second-round pick ranks 16th among qualified interior defensive linemen by PFF and has flourished playing next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, but I’d still be leery of paying him that much, especially considering how badly he faded down the stretch in his final season with the Ravens.

I suppose it’s a risk the Eagles can take when having one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL playing on a rookie contract.

Unleash Bowser

Linebackers coach Wink Martindale believes rookie Tyus Bowser is going to be a “star” while Harbaugh wants to see the second-round pick play more after strong practices in recent weeks.

Since a standout Week 2 performance in which he intercepted a pass and collected a sack, however, Bowser has played a total of 54 defensive snaps in seven games. With the Ravens still searching for more pass-rushing production off the edges, the Houston product and fellow rookie Tim Williams need to be more in the mix down the stretch.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-20 loss to Tennessee

Posted on 07 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their fifth defeat in seven games in a 23-20 final at Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Many are mocking John Harbaugh’s claim that the Ravens remain in the playoff race, but he isn’t wrong when you see the remaining schedule and mediocrity of the wild-card candidates. Still, I can’t help but think Sunday’s loss tipped the scales in the wrong direction, especially from a tiebreaker standpoint.

2. It’s becoming very difficult to justify Breshad Perriman being on the field. His inability to effectively use his size and speed reflects an utter lack of confidence, and he doesn’t contribute on special teams. He wants to do well, but the 2015 first-round pick looks completely lost.

3. Jeremy Maclin had his best game as a Raven, catching eight passes on nine targets for 98 yards. He’s had his problems staying healthy, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be targeted more frequently with so many others underperforming in this passing game.

4. I didn’t have a problem with the decision to go for it on fourth down to begin the final quarter, but how do you fail to even try to block inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who didn’t do anything out of the ordinary on the play? That’s elementary football right there.

5. Delanie Walker was the latest tight end to give the Baltimore pass defense problems. He caught all five passes thrown his way, and his 25-yard reception was a key plays of the Titans’ final touchdown drive. Per Football Outsiders, the Ravens entered Week 9 ranked dead last covering tight ends.

6. Nick Boyle’s absence was a big loss for the running game as Harbaugh even labeled him a “centerpiece” for what they do from a blocking standpoint. It was just the third time this season the Ravens have been held under 100 yards rushing.

7. The run defense held the formidable duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to a combined 45 yards on 17 carries. Since surrendering the 21-yard run to Jay Ajayi on the second play from scrimmage in Week 8, the Ravens have given up 97 rushing yards on 39 attempts. That’s more like it.

8. Whether it’s his back or Father Time, Joe Flacco isn’t showing enough mobility in the pocket to consistently be successful. On third-and-4 early in the third quarter, he needed to step up and to the right against a three-man rush, but he instead retreated backwards and was flagged for grounding.

9. I groaned seeing Flacco — with plenty of time — throw a 1-yard pass to Benjamin Watson on third-and-10 at the Tennessee 13 on Baltimore’s opening drive. You certainly don’t want to do anything foolish to jeopardize a field goal, but that’s not even trying, whether by design or execution.

10. On the principle of his superb special-teams play alone, Chris Moore should be receiving opportunities over Perriman at this point. I’m not convinced he can do a serviceable job, either, but he has one fewer catch in 162 fewer offensive snaps this season.

11. I liked the option look employed by the Ravens with Buck Allen and Alex Collins on the fourth-and-2 run in the second quarter. With Marty Mornhinweg remaining the offensive coordinator, you can only pray much more creativity is in the works over the bye week.

12. No play better epitomized the Baltimore offense than when Ryan Jensen snapped the ball wildly, Flacco threw behind the receiver, and Watson bobbled the catch for a 1-yard loss late in the third quarter. As CBS analyst Rich Gannon described it perfectly, “They make the easy things look difficult.”

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Familiar script plays out for Ravens in deflating loss at Tennessee

Posted on 05 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The script was all too familiar for the Ravens in a 23-20 loss to Tennessee on Sunday.

Some of the names have changed, but we’ve seen this defeat over and over and over again since Super Bowl XLVII.

A comatose offense that stumbles its way into some decent football late — but only after putting itself in a sizable hole. A defense that perseveres at a high level until needing to make a big stop in crunch time. And an array of little things from special-teams penalties to debatable coaching decisions sprinkled into a one-possession loss.

It might as well be 2013 or 2015 or 2016. Having lost five of their last seven going into their bye week, the Ravens are firmly in that mediocre spot that’s become their residence for the last five years. And they’ll need a strong finish to avoid missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season.

What else really needs to be said about an offense that’s summarily broken? Even with a solid running game, the unit hasn’t been good enough, so you didn’t need to be Vince Lombardi to predict what would happen when the Titans were able to shut down the surprising Alex Collins on Sunday.

The problems are abundant and the solutions aren’t there from a coaching or talent standpoint.

On a day when veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the team’s only dependable pass-catcher, had his best performance of the season, 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman again looked like someone not belonging on the field as he failed to high-point two deep passes — one leading to an interception — and dropped another pass in an awful first half. Fellow speedster Mike Wallace was also a non-factor until catching a 1-yard touchdown in the final minute when the Ravens trailed by two possessions.

Joe Flacco doesn’t have nearly enough help around him, but he’s also slow to react to certain situations and threw a bad interception on the first drive of the second half. As has been the case for a few years now, the veteran quarterback isn’t the offense’s biggest problem, but he hasn’t been enough of an answer, either.

By design or by execution, the horizontal passes well short of the chains on third downs continue to be maddening.

You’d like to think the bye could spawn some new ideas and the return of the oft-injured Danny Woodhead might help, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has now had the reins of this group for 20 regular-season games and has yet to show himself as any kind of meaningful asset. Are the Ravens miraculously going to have an offensive breakthrough with the week off while maintaining the status quo?

Of course, the defense isn’t without blame despite a strong showing for much of the day. The two touchdowns allowed through the first three quarters came on short fields, and Eric Weddle’s interception set up Baltimore’s first touchdown of the game to make it a 16-13 deficit with nine minutes remaining.

But when the Ravens needed one more stop to give the offense a chance to tie or take the lead, the defense crumbled, allowing two third-down conversions and a touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Eric Decker with 3:58 to go. Yielding a couple first downs or even a field goal wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but you just can’t give up seven in that spot. Tennessee ran fewer plays and trailed in time of possession, so you can’t say it’s because Dean Pees’ group was tired.

The defense couldn’t finish, which has been the story way too often for some statistically-strong units over the last several years. It’s the reason why the front office chose to ignore the offense this offseason to focus on strengthening a top 10 defense from a year ago, but the problem reared its head again on Sunday.

To be clear, this is a good defense, but the group hasn’t been great enough to overcome the major deficiencies on the other side of the ball or to justify the many resources exhausted on it this past offseason. The Ravens may have cleaned up their issues stopping the run over the last two weeks, but the pass rush still isn’t good enough to expect the group to become otherworldly down the stretch.

The little things also killed the Ravens on Sunday. Teams with such little margin for error can’t have Tyus Bowser line up illegally on a successful punt and then have Sam Koch shank one that sets up an easy Titans touchdown. Za’Darius Smith’s unnecessary roughness penalty was as ticky-tack as it gets, but even head coach John Harbaugh and teammate Eric Weddle said it was avoidable, especially knowing officials were on alert after Matt Judon’s borderline hit on Mariota earlier in the half.

Harbaugh received much criticism for unsuccessfully going for a fourth-and-inches from the Tennessee 17 to begin the fourth quarter, but I’ll side with the decision despite the outcome. As the 10th-year coach noted, anyone would tell you going for it in that situation is a no-brainer from a win probability standpoint. Yes, kicking a field goal does make it a one-score game, but you’re then counting on your defense to not allow any more points and your offense to drive the length of the field again to score a touchdown, which was highly questionable at that point. Many cited Justin Tucker as the reason for taking the points, but having such a great kicker leaves me more inclined to go for the touchdown there, knowing I may not need to do very much later to get a shot at a 50- or 55-yard attempt to tie the game.

Sure, if you know your defense will force a turnover on the ensuing possession, you’ll take the three points every time, but we can’t assume subsequent events play out the same or that Tennessee would have played the same defense had the Ravens trailed by seven and not 10 on their final touchdown drive. The decision was certainly debatable and I didn’t like the play call itself, but it wasn’t the egregious error some made it out to be, especially when replays indicated that Buck Allen picked up the first down. Alas, it was a bad spot and a predictable review outcome on a type of challenge that’s difficult to win.

In the end, the Ravens were unlucky to go along with not being good enough on Sunday.

It added up to the kind of loss we’ve seen too many times in recent years.

Instead of securing a road win that could have put them in a good position with a very reasonable schedule after the bye, the Ravens face a steep climb with a losing record and a less-than-ideal tiebreaker profile in a mediocre AFC wild-card race. Six of the remaining seven games do look quite winnable on paper, but each is also a potential loss for such an inconsistent group.

And after Sunday’s bout of déjà vu, the Ravens aren’t showing signs that things will be different this time around.

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Ravens backfield could become crowded in near future

Posted on 31 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As surprising running back Alex Collins continues to see a larger role in the offense, the Ravens could find themselves with a crowded backfield in the non-too-distant future.

Averaging a league-best 6.0 yards per carry and ranking ninth in the NFL in rushing despite being 24th in carries, Collins is staking a strong claim to be Baltimore’s feature back. What that might mean for the rest of a group that includes two players currently injured — Danny Woodhead and Terrance West — remains to be seen.

“Guys who are productive, they always get more opportunities,” said head coach John Harbaugh of Collins. “That’s what he’s doing, and he has made the most of his opportunities. He is going to continue to get more and more opportunities.”

Harbaugh said Monday that Woodhead could return to practice this week for the first time since re-injuring his left hamstring in the season opener on Sept. 10. The Ravens would surely welcome back his prowess as a receiver out of the backfield, but his eventual activation from injured reserve would give them five running backs on the 53-man roster.

Re-signed on Oct. 10, Bobby Rainey would likely be the odd man out, but he has served as the primary kick returner in recent weeks and had a 96-yard touchdown against Chicago in Week 6. Return specialist and wide receiver Michael Campanaro is currently sidelined with a shoulder injury.

Buck Allen has done a respectable job filling Woodhead’s role since the season opener, but he is averaging 4.5 yards per reception and 3.6 yards per carry, underwhelming numbers for a back who’s touched the ball 131 times this season. Still, it would be unwise not to maintain an insurance policy on the roster for the oft-injured Woodhead, who has appeared in only 22 games over his last four seasons.

That brings us to Terrance West, who’s been sidelined since injuring his calf early in the Oct. 8 win at Oakland and should be returning sooner than later. Despite beginning the season as the starting running back, West has pretty clearly been unseated by Collins and was averaging only 3.5 yards per carry at the time of the injury. He also doesn’t play special teams, which wouldn’t help his cause to be active as a backup on game days.

These are factors the Ravens will have time to ponder, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh could be faced with a difficult choice — or two — soon after the bye week.

“It will have to be addressed whether we can hold on to five running backs or not — assuming Danny is healthy soon and he’s out there playing for us,” said Harbaugh, adding that it’s a good problem to have. “That’ll be a decision that will have to be made. That’ll be a roster-wide-type of decision. We’ll have to compare all of our options and try to keep the players that give us the best chance or make us the strongest team.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-16 loss to Minnesota

Posted on 23 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enduring their fourth loss in five games in a 24-16 final in Minnesota, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Resignation might be the Ravens’ biggest opponent at this point. Based on many of the post-game comments, they’re fighting doubts over whether this will improve. Terrell Suggs sounded as despondent as I’ve ever heard him and summed it up by saying, “Right now, we stink.” Indeed.

2. When Griff Whalen comes off the street to play 58 snaps, how do you expect anything different from this offense? Injuries don’t forgive the poor organizational approach, but “next man up” is merely a nice T-shirt slogan when an offense built to be average at best suffers this many.

3. Amazingly, seven NFL teams failed to score an offensive touchdown on Sunday as the Ravens avoided being the eighth with Chris Moore catching a touchdown as time expired. Since scoring five offensive touchdowns over the first two weeks, the offense has five in five games. Just brutal.

4. I didn’t buy Brandon Williams’ absence being the only reason the run defense was faring poorly, and the Ravens allowed over 160 rushing yards in his return. The defense isn’t getting any help from the offense, but too many resources have been used on this unit to be so underwhelming.

5. Mike Wallace didn’t always have the best reputation on some of his previous NFL stops, but I admire his strong desire to go back in the game after being concussed. And I’m glad he wasn’t allowed to.

6. How ironic it is that a litany of injuries at wide receiver left Michael Campanaro as the No. 1 guy still standing. He’s already set a career high for games played in a season, and I’m glad to see him stay on the field for an extended stretch.

7. After years of being the Achilles heel of the defense, cornerback has been its biggest strength as Brandon Carr has been a quality acquisition and grabbed his third interception of the season. It’s a shame to see the drop-off elsewhere.

8. Which was the more embarrassing moment for the offense Sunday: Buck Allen needing to line up at wide receiver or Joe Flacco tripping over his own two feet in the pocket? It’s a shame Todd Heap couldn’t come down from the radio broadcast booth to catch some passes.

9. Jaylen Hill performed well in his first NFL action, registering a tackle and a pass breakup in nine defensive snaps. I still wouldn’t be surprised to see him emerge as the nickel corner sooner than later.

10. How many times have you heard game broadcasters note the lack of urgency in Baltimore’s two-minute offense over the last couple years? It’s more like a two-hour offense too many times.

11. I’ve chuckled seeing some ask whether this offense is worse than the 2000 one. The answer is a resounding yes, and it’s not close. That group had the league’s fifth-ranked running game and a much better offensive line. This year’s offense might be the worst in team history.

12. I suppose it depends how the Ravens fare against Miami Thursday, but I don’t know how John Harbaugh doesn’t at least consider making some significant change with the extra break looming and the bye soon after that. How do you maintain the status quo with things trending this poorly?

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Ravens re-sign Rainey to add depth at running back

Posted on 10 October 2017 by Luke Jones

After losing running back Terrance West to a calf injury in Sunday’s win over Oakland, the Ravens have re-signed veteran Bobby Rainey to boost their depth in the backfield.

Head coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t specify a timetable for West’s return Monday, but an NFL Network report indicated he would miss some action. Rainey, 29, spent the entire preseason with Baltimore, rushing for 75 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. He is expected to work behind Alex Collins and Buck Allen, who combined for 128 yards on 33 carries against the Raiders in Week 5.

In five NFL seasons, Rainey has rushed for 1,053 yards and six touchdowns on 266 carries and has caught 71 passes for 530 yards and two touchdowns. He also has experience returning kickoffs and punts, which could factor into the Ravens’ special-teams plans.

Rainey received his start with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent from Western Kentucky in 2012, but he never appeared in a regular-season game with Baltimore and would eventually spend time with Cleveland, Tampa Bay, and the New York Giants.

To make room for Rainey on the 53-man roster, the Ravens waived offensive tackle Dieugot Joseph. He was inactive for each of his three weeks on the 53-man roster.

West is the latest injury to plague the Ravens backfield after 2016 fourth-round pick Kenneth Dixon was lost to a season-ending knee injury in July and veteran newcomer Danny Woodhead suffered a long-term hamstring injury in the season opener. Woodhead is currently on injured reserve, but he is expected to be able to return at some point in the second half of the season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome also made changes to his practice squad on Tuesday, signing defensive tackle Kapron Lewis-Moore and center Derrick Nelson while cutting tight end Ryan Malleck and cornerback Ronald Martin. Lewis-Moore was a sixth-round pick by Baltimore in the 2013 draft and spent this preseason with the Chicago Bears, who will visit M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

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