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Twelve Ravens thoughts prior to start of organized team activities

Posted on 15 May 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to begin organized team activities in Owings Mills next week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens won’t be at full strength when they begin organized team activities next week, but OTAs provide the first real look at the 2018 team. Observations will be blown out of proportion, but it’s another welcome checkpoint on the road to the start of the season.

2. Next week will hopefully conclude the ridiculous opening chapter of the Joe Flacco-Lamar Jackson saga in which some have tried to make you believe Flacco has ignored the rookie’s calls and texts, stolen his dog, and even asked Thanos to snap his fingers and make him disappear.

3. The coaching staff should do what it can to utilize Jackson’s explosive athleticism without disrupting the rhythm of the offense or hindering his long-term development. Flacco doesn’t have the rope this time around to balk at the notion of a “high school offense” like he did several years ago.

4. Baltimore returns all but one player — Lardarius Webb — who played a defensive snap last season. That’s a remarkable level of defensive continuity in the era of the salary cap. Now it’s up to new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to take this group to another level.

5. It’s easy to forget about Tavon Young after he sustained a season-ending knee injury nearly one year ago, but he ranked 30th among qualified cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system during his rookie season in 2016. This secondary has so many options.

6. Kenneth Dixon was a quiet winner during draft weekend when the Ravens didn’t select a running back. Baltimore could really use his play-making ability to complement Alex Collins, but Dixon needs to prove he’s healthy and committed to being a professional after his knee injury and two drug suspensions.

7. I’ll buy stock in Martindale utilizing Tony Jefferson more effectively than Dean Pees did, but restructuring his contract is questionable after his underwhelming first season in Baltimore. As others have suggested, this makes you think the extension with C.J. Mosley that would have cleared needed cap space isn’t close.

8. Bradley Bozeman had quite the career at Alabama and could one day develop into a productive player, but this isn’t a diamond in the rough at a small school that was simply overlooked. Suggestions that the sixth-round rookie could be the starting center are premature.

9. I’m curious to see what Nico Siragusa’s level of participation will be this spring after he suffered such a serious knee injury last summer. He would be an interesting name to throw into the center mix if he’s fully recovered, but little has been said about his status.

10. Quincy Adeboyejo was already far from a lock to make the 53-man roster, but the second-year wide receiver underwent surgery on his left leg Tuesday and didn’t exactly comment as though it were something minor. You hate seeing injuries, especially this time of year.

11. With the Ravens not using meaningful draft capital or free-agent dollars on a pass rusher, either Tyus Bowser or Tim Williams needs to take a big step forward in the way Matt Judon did a year ago. You can’t expect Terrell Suggs to continue leading the way forever.

12. A rookie quarterback and a large draft class should benefit from both a longer training camp due to the Hall of Fame Game as well as joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis, but John Harbaugh must strike the right balance in keeping players healthy and fresh.

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Ravens open voluntary offseason workout program

Posted on 16 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Photo courtesy of the Baltimore Ravens)

The Ravens began their voluntary offseason workout program for the 2018 season in Owings Mills on Monday.

The opening phase of the nine-week program lasts two weeks and is limited to strength and conditioning work as well as physical rehabilitation. Coaches are not permitted to lead players in on-field workouts during this first part of the offseason program.

This phase of the program is voluntary, but most players beyond select veterans are quietly expected to attend regularly.

The Ravens will provide media access on Tuesday, but photos and videos released by the team showed many players in attendance on the first day, a list including new wide receiver Michael Crabtree, quarterbacks Joe Flacco and Robert Griffin III, tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams, fullback Patrick Ricard, defensive linemen Michael Pierce and Carl Davis, safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, cornerback Maurice Canady, long snapper Morgan Cox, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Tyus Bowser, and running backs Alex Collins, Buck Allen, and Kenneth Dixon among others.

In a series of moves that were mere formalities, Baltimore officially signed Collins, wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo, defensive back Stanley Jean-Baptiste, tight end Vince Mayle, linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, and offensive linemen Maurquice Shakir and Matt Skura to their exclusive-rights tenders on Monday.

The next phase of the program lasts three weeks and consists of on-field workouts that may include individual instruction and drills as well as team practice as long as the offense and defense do not work against each other. No live contact is permitted.

The third and final phase of the program lasts four weeks and permits teams to conduct a total of 10 days of organized team practice activity (OTAs), which are also voluntary. No live contact is permitted, but teams may conduct 7-on-7, 9-on-7, and 11-on-11 drills.

Teams may hold one mandatory minicamp for all veteran players during that final phase of the offseason program.

Earlier this month, the NFL released the following dates for the Ravens’ OTA and mandatory minicamp schedule, but these have been subject to change in the past:

First Day: April 16
OTA Offseason Workouts: May 21-22, May 24, May 29, May 31-June 1, June 4-5, June 7-8
Mandatory Minicamp: June 12-14

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How did Ravens inside linebackers stack up to rest of NFL in 2017?

Posted on 31 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 wide receivers ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Running backs
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers

C.J. Mosley
2017 defensive snap count: 1,078
NFL1000 ranking: 3rd among inside linebackers
PFF ranking: 37th among linebackers
Skinny: He’ll always be unfairly compared to Ray Lewis, but the 2014 first-round pick made his third Pro Bowl in four seasons despite dealing with an array of nagging injuries late in the season. His pass coverage still needs to improve, but signing Mosley to a long-term contract is on the to-do list this spring.

Patrick Onwuasor
2017 defensive snap count:
648
NFL1000 ranking:
38th among inside linebackers
PFF ranking:
41st among linebackers
Skinny:
The 25-year-old was the latest in a long line of former rookie free agents to start at inside linebacker for the Ravens, beating out Kamalei Correa for the weak-side spot. Onwuasor shows the aggressive physicality you like, but he needs to be more consistent to remain in a starting role.

Kamalei Correa
2017 defensive snap count:
147
NFL1000 ranking:
59th among inside linebackers
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
The Ravens saw Correa as a tweener and moved him inside as a rookie because of immediate need and short arms that were expected to be a hindrance on the edge. The move hasn’t worked, and a return to his college spot may be in order to try to salvage value from a disappointing second-round pick.

Bam Bradley
2017 defensive snap count:
2
NFL1000 ranking:
n/a
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
The rookie from Pitt was one of the good stories of the preseason as he made the 53-man roster before tearing an ACL in Week 2. With Onwuasor being inconsistent as a starter and Correa not living up to expectations, Bradley is a sleeper at this position to watch in the preseason.

2018 positional outlook

The Ravens appeared to be in really good shape at this position before the unfortunate retirement of Zachary Orr last January, and they predictably experienced drop-off with his replacements. The use of the dime package helps minimize deficiencies at the inside linebacker spot, but Baltimore needs more from both Mosley and whoever else is on the field as covering tight ends was a significant issue throughout the season. With Mosley in line for a big payday and only under contract through the 2018 season, the Ravens need to be economical with any efforts to improve at the other spot. Special-teams standout and veteran linebacker Albert McClellan remains under contract after missing the entire 2017 season with a torn ACL, but the presence of so many younger options could lead to him being a casualty of a tight salary cap this offseason.

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Can Martindale take Ravens defense to another level?

Posted on 18 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is no stranger to feeling pressure.

Try having one of the best defensive minds in NFL history looking over your shoulder while coaching in an NCAA Division-IAA playoff game. Having worked with both Rex and Rob Ryan, Martindale called their father, the late Buddy Ryan, a “big influence” on his coaching career on Thursday. The two-time Super Bowl champion assistant and former NFL head coach spent his later years in the state of Kentucky where Martindale made his final collegiate coaching stop.

“I called a game at Western Kentucky, and he was standing next to me on the sideline at a playoff game,” said Martindale, who worked for former Hilltoppers head coach Jack Harbaugh from 2001-02 and finished his stint there a year later. “You want to talk about pressure? That was a little bit of pressure — not blitzing when he wanted to blitz.”

With the Ravens coming off a second straight season in which the defense’s failure to get a late stop left them short of the playoffs, the former linebackers coach steps into a role surrounded by high expectations. And with most of the offseason focus expected to be on the other side of the ball — though we’ve made that incorrect assumption in the past — Martindale will be asked to reach another level with a defense that’s received a plethora of resources in recent years.

Upon being promoted last week, the 54-year-old received congratulatory messages from many of the greatest defensive players in franchise history, ranging from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Haloti Ngata and current 16th-year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. Martindale also received strong endorsements from other current players such as Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, showing he has plenty of support in the locker room despite not being a sexy choice for fans who were intrigued by the possibility of Chuck Pagano returning to Baltimore.

This will be Martindale’s second stint as an NFL defensive coordinator after serving in that capacity with Denver in 2010. Having lost All-Pro defensive end Elvis Dumervil to a season-ending pectoral injury that summer, Martindale didn’t have much talent with which to work as the Broncos finished last in the league in total yards and points allowed and head coach Josh McDaniels was fired in December.

“I know it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to work out,” said Martindale, who was dismissed at season’s end and hired as Ravens inside linebackers coach a year later. “Not at the time, but eight years later, I’m glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It’s like I tell my guys — you either win or you learn.”

Martindale now inherits a talented defense that impressively pitched three shutouts and led the NFL in takeaways this season, but the unit finished sixth in points allowed, 10th in passing yards allowed, 15th in rushing yards allowed, and 12th in total yards surrendered and saw its performance slip over the final month when Baltimore blew late leads against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. The stunning home loss to the Bengals on New Year’s Eve resulted in John Harbaugh’s team missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

The Ravens are already devoting more cap space to their defense than the other side of the ball and have used 13 of their last 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks on defensive players. In other words, Martindale needs to find more consistency than retired defensive coordinator Dean Pees did with the current group and probably shouldn’t be expecting major additions this offseason.

“We’re close. Obviously, the last two years it has been the last play that’s knocked us out of it,” Martindale said. “We are going to work diligently — all of us — with our package and situational football. That’s going to be the next step I think that’ll skyrocket us. That is the big thing that I see.

“We are going to take our ‘good’ and make it great. We were really good. Let’s make it great.”

With numerous holes on offense and a limited amount of projected salary-cap space for 2018, Martindale could be the X factor for the defense. Of course, some recent draft picks will need to step up in a way similar to how Matthew Judon progressed this past season with Pro Bowl veterans such as Suggs and safety Eric Weddle not getting any younger and high-priced cornerback Jimmy Smith returning from a torn Achilles tendon.

But many will be eager to see how Martindale’s fingerprints compare to Pees, who was criticized for too many late-game collapses and not being more aggressive in certain situations. The new defensive coordinator emphasized that success is ultimately about the players and putting them in the right positions to succeed.

Without being disrespectful when asked how he’d compare to his predecessor, Martindale made his intentions clear.

“I think personality-wise and just calls, there’s going to be some things that are the same,” Martindale said. “And then there’s going to be some times where I’m going to pressure more. I think I have a more aggressive personality in calling a game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That’s some of the things I’ve learned from the past, so there’s that fine line — what quarterback you’re playing and things of that nature.”

Finding that fine line could be the difference for a good defense striving to be great.

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Three Ravens named to PFWA’s All-AFC team

Posted on 15 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Three Ravens players were named to the 2017 All-AFC team voted on by the Pro Football Writers of America, but it’s not the same trio going to the Pro Bowl later this month.

Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle also received All-AFC honors after finishing tied for second in the conference with six interceptions, returning one for a touchdown in Week 13 to earn AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. The 33-year-old finished with 63 tackles, one sack, and two forced fumbles in his second season with the Ravens.

Those miffed about Justin Tucker not making it to the Pro Bowl can take some satisfaction in him being named to the All-AFC team over Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker went 34-for-37 on field goals and did not miss an extra point this season, continuing his run as arguably the best kicker in the NFL over the last five years. He was also named to the PFWA’s 2016 All-AFC team.

The third Baltimore player named to the All-AFC team was punt returner Michael Campanaro, who led the conference in punt return average at 10.8 yards per attempt. He returned a fourth-quarter punt 77 yards for a touchdown to force overtime in the Week 6 loss to Chicago and was a positive contributor for one of the best special-teams units in the NFL.

Despite being named to this year’s Pro Bowl, linebackers C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs were not voted to the All-AFC team. Pittsburgh’s Ryan Shazier was voted the middle linebacker while Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney and Denver’s Von Miller were the outside linebackers for the conference.

No Ravens players were named to the 2017 PFWA All-NFL team.

Below are the full All-NFL, All-AFC, and All-NFC teams:

2017 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers&; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

TE – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

G – David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys#

T – Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles; Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DE – Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars; Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams#; Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles

OLB – Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks*

CB – Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars; Xavier Rhodes, Minnesota Vikings

S – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans; Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings

Special Teams

PK – Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams#

KR – Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

 

2017 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots&

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers*; Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers+; DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

TE – Rob Gronkowski, New England Patriots

C – Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers

G – David DeCastro, Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders*

T – Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs and Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers (tie)

Defense

DE – Joey Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers; Calais Campbell, Jacksonville Jaguars

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals#; Malik Jackson, Jacksonville Jaguars

OLB – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Von Miller, Denver Broncos+

MLB – Ryan Shazier, Pittsburgh Steelers

CB – A.J. Bouye, Jacksonville Jaguars; Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville Jaguars

S – Kevin Byard, Tennessee Titans; Eric Weddle, Baltimore Ravens

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens*

P – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans

KR – Dion Lewis, New England Patriots

PR – Michael Campanaro, Baltimore Ravens

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots@

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

+ – consecutive selections from 2013-17

@ – consecutive selections from 2011-17

 

2017 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles

RB – Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams; Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints

WR –Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons#; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

TE – Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles

G – Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys&

T – Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles; Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams

Defense

DE – Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints; DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys

DT – Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams#

OLB – Chandler Jones, Arizona Cardinals; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

MLB – Luke Kuechly, Carolina Panthers

CB – Marshon Lattimore, New Orleans Saints; Darius Slay, Detroit Lions

S – Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings; Earl Thomas, Seattle Seahawks

Special Teams

PK – Greg Zuerlein, Los Angeles Rams

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams+

KR – Pharoh Cooper, Los Angeles Rams

PR – Jamal Agnew, Detroit Lions

ST – Budda Baker, Arizona Cardinals

 

* – repeat selection from 2016

# – consecutive selections from 2015-17

& – consecutive selections from 2014-17

+ – consecutive selections from 2013-17

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Examining the Ravens’ top 10 cap numbers for 2018

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face an all-too-familiar offseason after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but concerns about the 2018 salary cap have already surfaced with free agency still two months away.

It’s no secret that the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to create and sustain long-term success, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for championships. As things stand now, the Ravens will devote $109.503 million in 2018 cap space to their 10 players with the highest cap numbers. The 2018 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s believed to fall somewhere between $174 million and $178 million.

Below is a look at those 10 players:

1. QB Joe Flacco
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $24.75 million
Synopsis: This is hardly a new topic of discussion with most opinions formulated over the last five years unlikely to budge. Flacco certainly needs to play at a much higher level, but consider just two other members of the top 10 are offensive players and $17.625 million of the remaining $84.753 million in 2018 cap dollars for spots No. 2 through No. 10 are devoted to offensive talent. On top of that, only four offensive players have been taken with Baltimore’s 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks since Super Bowl XLVII. Is this a recipe for a balanced roster setting up its quarterback for success? The results don’t lie.

2. CB Jimmy Smith
2018 Week 1 age: 30
2018 cap number: $15.675 million
Synopsis: Smith is a great example of the dangers of restructuring contracts as adjustments made the last two years to create cap relief have added more than $4 million to his original 2018 cap number from when he signed his big extension in 2015. Smith will be coming back from a torn Achilles tendon and has played more than 12 games in a season just twice in his career, but cutting him would create more than $13 million in dead money for 2018. He was having the best season of his career before the early-December injury, but the organization is now stuck and can only hope he makes a successful comeback.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2018 Week 1 age: 29
2018 cap number: $11.545 million
Synopsis: There was a fair argument to be made whether re-signing Williams was the best use of cap resources last offseason, but the Ravens allowing more rushing yards than anyone in the NFL during his four-game absence in September and October made a very strong case in support of the decision. You’d like to see more productivity from Williams as a pass rusher at that salary, but he’s as good as interior defensive linemen come at stopping the run. His age makes you nervous from a long-term standpoint, but his cap figures remain relatively flat over the duration of his deal that runs through 2021.

4. G Marshal Yanda
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $10.125 million
Synopsis: There’s no underselling how much the Ravens missed the man regarded by many as the best guard in football over the last six or seven years, but the six-time Pro Bowl selection will be coming off a serious ankle injury and is entering his 12th NFL campaign, making his cap number something to monitor next season. If he returns to his previous level of play, his eight-digit cap cost remains well worth it, but it’s fair to worry if this is when Father Time begins catching up with Yanda, who will turn 34 in the first month of the new season.

5. S Tony Jefferson
2018 Week 1 age: 26
2018 cap number: $8.99 million
Synopsis: I never understood the organization’s infatuation with giving a box safety — accomplished as he may have been in Arizona — a four-year, $34 million contract, and nothing about Jefferson’s play in his first season refuted that notion as he often struggled in pass coverage. In fairness to him, the coaching staff needs to be more creative to better utilize his skills as a blitzer and run defender, but there was little evidence of him making the kind of splash plays that justify this price tag. This signing might be the poster child of the Ravens’ obsession with defense while neglecting the other side of the ball.

6. LB C.J. Mosley
2018 Week 1 age: 26
2018 cap number: $8.718 million
Synopsis: The 2014 first-round pick made his third Pro Bowl in four years, but nagging injuries took their toll at times and his pass coverage wasn’t as strong as you’d like to see from a player on the verge of a massive pay day. Signing Mosley to an extension this spring would lower his 2018 cap figure and keep him in Baltimore for the long haul, but he ranked an underwhelming 37th among qualified linebackers in Pro Football Focus’ grading system in 2017. Mosley will always be judged unfairly against the memory of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but he’s certainly lived up to his first-round billing.

7. S Eric Weddle
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $8.25 million
Synopsis: It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that a once-turnover-starved defense recorded more takeaways than anyone in the NFL over the last two seasons upon Weddle’s arrival. He shook off a shaky start to 2017 to finish tied for second in the league with six interceptions and serves as the quarterback of a secondary that has had fewer communication breakdowns over the last two years. Weddle has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years, but his increasing cap number does make you a bit nervous about his advancing age as he enters his 12th season. Two years in, this has been a very good signing.

8. WR Jeremy Maclin
2018 Week 1 age: 30
2018 cap number: $7.5 million
Synopsis: The Ravens hoped they were getting their next Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith as Maclin was envisioned as the next just-past-his-prime wide receiver to save the day in Baltimore, but Flacco’s back injury as well as Maclin’s various ailments never allowed the two to get on the same page, making this a very disappointing signing. Whether those realities will be enough to earn Maclin a second chance with the Ravens remains to be seen, but he’s never really felt like a good fit and you’d have to think both sides are probably better off moving on. Cutting him would save the Ravens $5 million in 2018 cap space.

9. CB Brandon Carr
2018 Week 1 age: 32
2018 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: The veteran served his purpose as an acceptable No. 2 cornerback and would have been a likely cut before Jimmy Smith’s Achilles injury that now makes it unclear whether the top corner will be ready for the start of next season. The Ravens may need to roll the dice on the promising trio of Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Maurice Canady holding down the fort if Smith isn’t quite ready to go by Week 1. Electing to keep Carr around would be understandable, but that’s an expensive insurance policy when the roster has so many other needs. Cutting him would save $4 million in space this offseason.

10. LB Terrell Suggs
2018 Week 1 age: 35
2018 cap number: $6.95 million
Synopsis: While Suggs is approaching the end of a brilliant career, I haven’t quite understood some of the speculation out there about him being a potential cap casualty as he comes off an 11-sack season and his first Pro Bowl invitation since 2013. Of the Ravens’ young edge defenders, only Matthew Judon has emerged to look the part of a rock-solid starter while the likes of Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams still have much to prove. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale would be wise to limit Suggs’ snaps more to keep him fresh next year, but he’s still a good value compared to some other names in the top 10.

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Suggs was fitting choice for Ravens MVP in grind-it-out season

Posted on 29 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Identifying a team MVP wasn’t a slam-dunk proposition in a grind-it-out season for the Ravens.

There were a number of reasonable candidates, ranging from surprising running back Alex Collins to Pro Bowl selections Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley, but none jumped off the page as the obvious choice. If not for injuries that cost them substantial portions of the season, defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Jimmy Smith would have garnered stronger consideration. And when you consider how dependent the Ravens have been on field position, even punter Sam Koch deserved mention for his strong campaign.

But the strong play, mental prowess, and veteran leadership of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs made him a fitting choice to receive the local media’s award. Amazingly, it’s the first time the 35-year-old has received the honor, but his mere candidacy in his 15th season — along with his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl — may have helped cement his eventual place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Looking and sounding genuinely touched and surprised to be named team MVP, Suggs says his primary focus is on the Ravens clinching their first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

“This is flattering. I’m speechless. I didn’t know this was this award,” said Suggs, who initially thought he was receiving the local media’s “Good Guy” award on Friday. “This is awesome. It would be a sour note if we don’t win on Sunday, so that is pretty much my big focus right now. This is great among the achievements that we all have achieved this year, but we want to be having a football game next week.”

After changing up his offseason routine by training at the team’s Owings Mills facility rather than in his home state of Arizona, Suggs has enjoyed his finest season in a few years, recording a team-leading 11 sacks and forcing four fumbles. The 2003 first-round pick will play in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since 2014 and has played just over 76 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps, dismissing any notions about him becoming more of a situational player this season.

It’s an outcome few would have predicted after he suffered the second torn Achilles tendon of his career just two years ago.

Suggs has credited the revamped offseason regimen for improved health and conditioning, helping him record double-digit sacks for the seventh time in his career. His veteran teammates have also pointed to his presence at spring workouts and meetings as a positive influence on younger players as the Ravens were coming off their second straight season without a playoff berth.

His on-field production and colorful personality have been givens for years, but his underrated cerebral approach to the game has allowed him to continue playing at a high level despite his advancing age. Over the years, opponents have repeatedly noted Suggs’ ability to sometimes call out their offensive plays before the snap, a product of his rigid preparation.

“You see how much fun he is and how much energy he brings to practice,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I don’t think you fully understand what he’s like off the field studying. He is from the book of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and those guys.”

In a season in which the Ravens rebounded from a rash of early injuries and a 4-5 start, a healthy and productive Suggs receiving the MVP nod was an appropriate outcome as he moves closer to his eventual place in Canton.

Weddle receives “Good Guy” honor

The local media named Weddle the 2017 recipient of the “Good Guy” award, an honor bestowed upon the player deemed most helpful to reporters.

In his second season with the Ravens, the veteran safety has regularly been available after losses and during tough times when it isn’t as easy to talk to the media.

“The media out here is great. It’s always an obligation for us and for myself,” said Weddle, who was named to his fifth Pro Bowl earlier this month. “I’ve always said that I will always be honest and upfront — good, bad, or indifferent. I’m a man of my word and respect everyone’s jobs. It’s pretty sweet that you guys think that highly of me.”

As a token of their appreciation for Weddle’s cooperation this season, the local media will make a donation in his name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

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Suggs, Mosley, Weddle named to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 19 December 2017 by Luke Jones

At an age when many of the greatest players in NFL history were already a couple years into retirement, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is instead going back to the Pro Bowl.

The 35-year-old was one of three Baltimore players to receive this year’s honor, joining inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle. Suggs was named to his seventh Pro Bowl and first since the 2013 season, a feat that could cement his case for an eventual invitation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 14 games, Suggs leads the Ravens with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles while holding the franchise’s career record in each category. This is the seventh time in his career that the 2003 first-round pick and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year has reached double-digit sacks.

Suggs ranks 16th among all NFL edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system entering Week 16. He will serve as the reserve behind Denver’s Von Miller and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney in the AFC.

“I’m speechless,” said Suggs, who credited good health and hard work in the offseason for his best campaign in several years. “Every time you make it, it’s like making it for the first time all over again. It’s a really great feeling.”

Mosley continues an impressive start to his NFL career with his third invitation to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons. The 2014 first-round selection ranks sixth in the NFL with 121 tackles while adding two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The 25-year-old ranks 39th among qualified linebackers in PFF’s grading and will be the starting middle linebacker for the AFC.

“It’s always great to represent your teammates and the organization,” said Mosley, who gave much credit to his coaches. “All the blood, sweat, and tears you go through during the season — it’s all worth it to make the All-Star game. I give a lot of credit to the [defensive] line for keeping linemen off me.”

After being named an alternate and eventually being invited to play in last year’s game, Weddle has received the fifth Pro Bowl nod of his 11-year career with his first three coming as a member of the San Diego Chargers. The 32-year-old is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions and has six pass breakups and two forced fumbles in his second season with Baltimore.

His slow start to the season helps explain why he ranks 30th among qualified NFL safeties in PFF’s grading system, but he has risen to 18th in pass coverage with a strong second half. His leadership and experience have been major reasons why the Ravens have ranked in the top 10 in pass defense all year and lead all 32 teams with 22 interceptions.

He will be the starting free safety for the AFC.

“I’ve never worked as hard as I did this past year to try and get better from last season and help this team and lead even more so,” said Weddle, whose 10 interceptions over the last two seasons lead all NFL safeties. “I’m ecstatic because I’ve done so much over the last year to get back to this point, to help my team win, and to hopefully get back to the playoffs.”

The biggest Ravens snub was kicker Justin Tucker, who was denied his third career trip to the Pro Bowl despite having missed only three field goal tries and not missing an extra point all season. He had misfires from 58 and 62 yards while a 46-yard attempt was blocked, but he has connected on five other field goals of 50 or more yards.

Tucker was named the first alternate behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell, who has benefited from the opportunity to make four game-winning field goals in the final minute this season. Considered the best kicker in the league by many, Tucker hasn’t had the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter all season.

Punter Sam Koch was also left out of the Pro Bowl despite leading the NFL with 37 punts inside the 20-yard line. Tennessee’s Brett Kern was named the AFC punter and leads the league in both gross and net average, but he has placed only 22 inside the 20.

This marks the 12th consecutive year that the Ravens will have had at least three players in the Pro Bowl.

The exhibition game will take place on Jan. 28 in Orlando with selections from the two teams playing in Super Bowl LII not taking part.

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 39-38 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 12 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling in heartbreaking fashion in a 39-38 loss at Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The final outcome hurt, but the highest-scoring Ravens-Steelers game we’ve ever seen was as entertaining as it gets and again cemented this rivalry as the best in the NFL. There’s no reason for John Harbaugh’s team to fear a third meeting if that’s how it plays out.

2. Yes, you must vary coverage looks, but leaving Brandon Carr on an island against arguably the league’s MVP with the game on the line while deep safety Tony Jefferson was more concerned with Martavis Bryant down the seam is indefensible. It was bad play-calling, bad execution, or both.

3. Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 69 times and was sacked only three times and not picked once despite a couple of interceptable throws. The failure to generate pressure with a four-man rush and shortcomings in man coverage make for a deadly combination against an elite passing game.

4. Alex Collins gained 95 of his 120 rushing yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s been a godsend and won’t even become a restricted free agent until after next season, which is great news for an offense needing more skill-position talent. Keep feeding him the ball.

5. The interception that likely took three points off the board on the opening drive was brutal, but Joe Flacco followed his best performance of the season last week with another solid outing. I’ll take my chances if he can play more like this the rest of the way.

6. C.J. Mosley has had challenges in coverage in the past, but he was eaten alive and showed no explosiveness as Pittsburgh’s pedestrian tight ends feasted in the middle of the field. Injuries are taking their toll on him, and that has to be a concern the rest of the way.

7. On the flip side, Baltimore tight ends combined for one catch for one yard despite Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle, and Maxx Williams playing a combined 107 snaps. The Ravens desperately need to find some speed at this position in the offseason.

8. The absence of Za’Darius Smith hasn’t been discussed much, but he’s normally part of the interior-rush rotation in sub packages and Chris Wormley was trusted to play just two snaps, leaving Brandon Williams and Willie Henry to play over 60 each. No wonder there wasn’t any inside pressure.

9. Jeremy Maclin has eight catches on 24 targets over the last three games as his rapport with Flacco has gone the wrong way since the bye. Harbaugh’s lack of an answer when asked about this was telling. Maclin has been much more T.J. Houshmandzadeh than Steve Smith, a clear disappointment.

10. The emergence of Chris Moore has been encouraging as the special-teams standout had his best game as a pro with an impressive concentration catch for a 30-yard touchdown. You hope a hip injury doesn’t halt that momentum since the Ravens need all the help they can get at wide receiver.

11. Anthony Levine being able to tackle Bryant in the end zone on a third-quarter kickoff sure would have been an interesting variable to throw into the mix of a classic one-point game. It was just one of several plays after which the Ravens had to be asking, “What if?”

12. We know rules are catered toward offense, but some of the pass interference flags on both sides couldn’t have been more ticky-tack calls. That offers some context to these teams combining for 77 points and 747 net passing yards.

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