Tag Archive | "cincinnati"

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Ravens aiming to get back to their roots in Week 3

Posted on 18 September 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Mosley’s potential absence will be difficult for Ravens to endure

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ biggest loss wasn’t on the scoreboard Thursday night.

The 34-23 defeat to Cincinnati was surely disappointing, but the absence of three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could bring bigger consequences than a divisional defeat. It remains unclear how much time he’ll miss after sustaining a bone bruise in his left knee on the first defensive series of the game.

After Mosley limped off the field at the conclusion of that initial three-and-out for the Baltimore defense, the Bengals scored touchdowns on their next four possessions as former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young manned the inside linebacker spots.

“That’s your middle linebacker. We’ve got two young guys in there playing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They played hard, they fought, but they didn’t play perfect. That’s going to hurt you for sure. It hurt us with the coverage underneath mostly, a little bit in the run game.”

Young, a fourth-round pick from UCLA, has impressed early and looked poised to wrest the starting job away from Onwuasor sooner than later, but both lack experience. Depending on how much time Mosley is expected to miss, the Ravens could re-sign veteran Albert McClellan or add another linebacker with experience. They could also use more sub packages featuring safety Tony Jefferson or dime back Anthony Levine in the box, but the complications run deeper than simply replacing Mosley’s play.

One of the much-discussed developments of the offseason was new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale giving more pre-snap responsibility to veterans like Mosley, safety Eric Weddle, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to adjust defensive alignments, blitzes, and coverages based on what the opponent shows them at the line of scrimmage. It certainly makes sense to take advantage of players’ wisdom, but there was always the question of how an in-game injury might impact that process.

More than one veteran in the post-game locker room acknowledged some on-field confusion after Mosley’s exit as Onwuasor relayed calls in the defensive huddle from the sideline for the rest of the first half. Safety Eric Weddle took over the role in the third quarter as the defense seemed to find its footing and allowed only six more points.

“It’s not an excuse why we lost,” said Weddle, who also relayed defensive calls in the huddle at times when he played for San Diego. “When you play like crap in the first half in all three phases, then that’s just going to happen. You dig yourself a hole. Hopefully, C.J. won’t be out too long, but we battled back and fought our tails off in the second half. It’s too far of a hole when you don’t play the way you’re supposed to play.”

The only extended action Mosley has missed in his NFL career was due to a hamstring injury in 2016. He sustained the injury in the second half of a Week 5 loss to Washington and missed the next two games, which were losses to the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

Stanley also ailing

Mosley wasn’t the only key player to leave Thursday’s game as left tackle Ronnie Stanley went to the sideline with 2:18 to play and didn’t return.

Stanley said he was “fine” after the game, but he wouldn’t discuss what happened or whether he would miss any time, deferring injury questions to Harbaugh. He appeared to grab his right arm after trying to block Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins on a Joe Flacco incomplete pass to Buck Allen, and NFL Network’s field microphone also picked up a player screaming at the same time.

Starting right tackle James Hurst moved to left tackle for the final 12 plays of the game with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. entering on the right side. Stanley looked to be favoring his right arm on the sideline as well as in the post-game locker room, but the lack of extensive medical attention after his departure and his availability to reporters after the game are signs that the injury may not be serious.

According to NFL Network, the Ravens worked out interior offensive linemen Wesley Johnson, Hroniss Grasu, and Jordan Morgan on Saturday to address their concerns inside, so they can hardly afford to be without their starting left tackle for any amount of time.

Road woes continue

Since their 2014 postseason win over Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, the Ravens have gone 8-17 in regular-season away games.

Those road wins have come against the following starting quarterbacks: Michael Vick in his final season, Josh McCown (twice), Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, and DeShone Kizer. You never apologize for the level of competition you face as injuries are part of the game, but when Dalton is the best signal-caller the Ravens have beaten in over three years and he’s won five of the last six meetings against them in Cincinnati, they can’t exactly claim to be road warriors anytime soon.

The Ravens are scheduled to face Roethlisberger, Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers in their seven remaining road games. Five of those quarterbacks have been to Pro Bowls.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 13 September 2018 by Luke Jones

CINCINNATI — The Ravens look to begin a season 2-0 for the third straight year as they meet Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football.

There were no surprises on their inactives list after cornerback Maurice Canady (thigh), tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were already ruled out on Wednesday. For the second straight week, reserve quarterback Robert Griffin III is a healthy scratch, meaning rookie Lamar Jackson will be Joe Flacco’s only backup against the Bengals.

Rookie wide receiver and return specialist Janarion Grant is active and will play despite being listed as questionable to play with a hand injury. His ability to catch the ball will be something to monitor, especially early in the game.

A pair of rookie free agents will make their NFL debuts as cornerback Darious Williams and just-promoted running back De’Lance Turner are active. Williams is likely to serve in a special-teams capacity while Turner is now the No. 3 running back with Kenneth Dixon going on injured reserve on Wednesday.

The Bengals will be without starting middle linebacker Preston Brown, who is out with an ankle injury. Cincinnati is already dealing with the suspension of starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict, leaving its defensive vulnerable at the second level.

Thursday’s referee is Walt Anderson.

The Ravens have broken out a new uniform combination in prime time as they’ll wear purple pants with white jerseys for the first time in team history. These pants have a white and black side stripe and are similar to those introduced two years ago as part of the all-purple “Color Rush” uniforms. Cincinnati will wear black jerseys with white pants.

Thursday marks the 45th meeting in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 22 wins and the Bengals having a 14-8 record in their home stadium. The Ravens have lost five of the last six played at Paul Brown Stadium, but they broke a five-game losing streak in Cincinnati last year with a 20-0 win in Week 1.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Maurice Canady
DT Willie Henry
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
TE Hayden Hurst
DT Zach Sieler

CINCINNATI
WR Cody Core
WR Auden Tate
RB Mark Walton
LB Preston Brown
G Christian Westerman
OT Cedric Ogbuehi
DT Josh Tupou

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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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Ravens rule out running back Dixon before sending him to injured reserve

Posted on 12 September 2018 by Luke Jones

A disappointing start to Kenneth Dixon’s NFL career continued Wednesday with the Ravens placing the running back on injured reserve shortly after ruling him out for their Week 2 game in Cincinnati.

Appearing in his first regular-season game since the end of his rookie season, Dixon left late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Buffalo with a knee injury and didn’t return. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech missed the entire 2017 campaign after undergoing left knee surgery in July.

Dixon has appeared in just 13 career games because of multiple knee injuries and also served two drug-related suspensions while he was sidelined last season. He rushed for a game-high 44 yards on 13 carries and scored one of six Baltimore touchdowns against the Bills, but the 5-foot-10, 228-pound back missed a sizable portion of training camp with a hamstring injury, which prevented him from seriously challenging starter Alex Collins or top backup Buck Allen for more carries in the Ravens backfield.

It’s unclear just how long Dixon will be sidelined, but NFL Network reported earlier Wednesday that he was expected to miss “several” weeks. Dixon would be eligible to be designated to return later in the season after sitting out a minimum of eight weeks. Teams are allowed to bring back two players from IR over the course of the season and do not need to make the designation in advance.

To take Dixon’s place on the 53-man roster, the Ravens promoted undrafted rookie running back De’Lance Turner, who rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

The Ravens will also be without one of their top reserve cornerbacks against the Bengals as Maurice Canady was declared out with what’s listed as a thigh injury. The third-year defensive back missed the final three preseason games with a hamstring injury, but he played in the season opener and was even on the field for the final play of the game, making it unclear when he might have suffered a setback.

Canady’s absence means rookie cornerback Darious Williams is likely to be active after being a healthy scratch in Week 1. Baltimore was already dealing with the suspension of top cornerback Jimmy Smith, so not having the versatile Canady will further test the depth behind current starters Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr and nickel corner Tavon Young.

Rookie return specialist Janarion Grant was listed as questionable to play after being limited in practice with a hand issue, something worth monitoring going into Thursday’s game.

As expected, tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were declared out.

Only two Bengals players appeared on the final injury report as reserve wide receiver Cody Core (back) was listed as doubtful and linebacker Preston Brown (ankle) as questionable.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast at Paul Brown Stadium calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid- to low-70s as the evening progresses with little to no wind.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Maurice Canady (thigh), RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: WR/RS Janarion Grant (hand)

CINCINNATI
DOUBTFUL: WR Cody Core (back)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Preston Brown (ankle)

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Will the Ravens change the narrative without Jimmy Smith this time around?

Posted on 22 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The question has been asked over and over and is again relevant with Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith being suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season.

The circumstances are different since this isn’t a season-ending injury nor a team operating with a small margin for error late in the year, but the doubts remain.

How will the Ravens defense deal without the presence of its top cornerback?

If history is any indication, not well.

In 2014, the Ravens made the playoffs despite Smith missing the second half of the year with a Lisfranc injury, but their season came to an end as Tom Brady picked apart a helpless Rashaan Melvin and New England erased two 14-point leads to prevail in the divisional round. In reality, it was remarkable the Ravens had even gotten that far after cycling through the likes of Asa Jackson, Chykie Brown, Danny Gorrer, and Dominique Franks in the secondary, but they’ll always wonder what could have been had Smith not been injured.

Two years ago, Baltimore entered its Week 14 contest with the Patriots ranked first in total defense, tied for second in scoring defense, seventh in pass defense, and 11th in red-zone defense. A high ankle sprain sidelined Smith early in that game and for the remainder of the season as the Ravens would finish seventh in total defense, ninth in scoring defense, ninth in pass defense, and 18th in red-zone defense. More painful than those numbers, however, was Antonio Brown extending the ball over the goal line in the final seconds in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day, ending the Ravens’ playoff hopes in the process.

After Smith’s season-ending Achilles tendon tear last December, the Ravens slipped from seventh to 12th in total defense, second to sixth in scoring defense, second to 10th in pass defense, and fifth to 11th in red-zone defense. And, of course, Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd on fourth-and-12 earned a painful place in Baltimore football lore as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third straight season.

There are too many other variables at work to place all blame on one player’s absence, but there is too large a sample of advanced stats, conventional numbers, and anecdotal evidence that brings you to the same conclusion.

The Ravens defense hasn’t been the same without Smith, but will it be different this time around?

“I don’t think you can just look at it that way with Jimmy because there were other guys that were out during that time,” said first-year defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, specifically referencing the 2017 season. “I think that the toolbox is full. It’s full with our players and our depth, and it’s full with our coverages that we can go to if someone is struggling. I don’t see that in the very near future, but we have those things we can go to with that.”

Martindale makes a fair point as promising nickel cornerback Tavon Young missed all of last season with a torn ACL sustained in the spring. It’s also fair to note after going 2-5 in games in which Smith missed significant action in 2016, the Ravens improved to 4-2 in that department last year with those losses coming in heartbreaking fashion at Pittsburgh in Week 14 and to the Bengals in the season finale.

In Smith’s absence to begin the season, the projected top threesome of Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and Young definitely looks better on paper than Lardarius Webb, Melvin, and Anthony Levine in 2014 or Young, Shareece Wright, and Jerraud Powers down the stretch two seasons ago.

The defense still wilted last December with Carr and Humphrey at the outside spots and Maurice Canady playing the nickel, but the Ravens will hope the 32-year-old Carr defies Father Time for another season, Young provides an upgrade in the slot, and Humphrey takes another step or two forward after his impressive rookie season. Opponents’ 53.5 passer rating when targeting the 2017 first-round pick ranked second among NFL rookie cornerbacks behind New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore (45.3), who was voted the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The 6-foot, 197-pound Humphrey looking like a No. 1 cornerback would certainly enhance Baltimore’s chances in September road contests against A.J. Green and Cincinnati in Week 2 and Antonio Brown and Pittsburgh in Week 4. It would also improve the secondary’s long-term outlook as the organization will weigh what to do with Smith and his $15.85 million salary cap number for 2019 after the season. Humphrey’s draft status, size, and ability in press coverage make it no secret the Ravens envision him taking the mantle from Smith sooner or later with the latter’s off-field problems and injury history likely accelerating that transition.

Beyond the top three, the Ravens hope the versatility of Canady — who’s practiced more as an outside corner this summer — and the upside of fourth-round rookie Anthony Averett will provide quality reinforcements if an injury or two occurs before Smith is eligible to return in October. And there’s always the possibility of general manager Ozzie Newsome revisiting interest in free agent Bashaud Breeland or scouring the market for another veteran cornerback.

The spotlight will be on Baltimore’s corners, but survival without Smith is truly a team effort as the front seven will need to create more pressure in the pocket and stop the run effectively to account for any adjustments needing to be made in the back end of the defense. Unlike previous years, the Ravens will have the benefit of more time to regroup if the secondary struggles to find its footing, but dropping a division road game or two — even in September — could leave a difficult path the rest of the way.

“We have a lot of depth. Some guys are just going to have to step up early,” said Martindale, who will put his schematic fingerprints on the matter after replacing former defensive coordinator Dean Pees. “We’re still working on that and how we’re going to do that. I’m not going to sit and say for the rest of the league, and especially for Buffalo and the next three games, on how we’ll do it.

“They’ll just have to see. We have plenty of players that can play.”

Talking about depth is always preferable to having to use it. Only then do you really find out whether it’s quality or overhyped inventory.

It’s an all-too-familiar and uncomfortable position, but the Ravens hope to have the right answer this time.

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Ravens to play two prime-time road games as part of 2018 schedule

Posted on 19 April 2018 by Luke Jones

Barring a flex scheduling change during the season, the Ravens will not host any prime-time games in 2018.

Baltimore opens the season at home against the Buffalo Bills for the second time in three years, but John Harbaugh’s team will face the challenge of playing four of its first six games away from M&T Bank Stadium, a stretch that includes two prime-time road games against AFC North rivals in the opening month and three straight road contests. The Ravens travel to Cincinnati for a Thursday game in Week 2 and will then try to exorcise their recent demons at Heinz Field for Sunday Night Football in Week 4.

For the first time since 2003, the Ravens will not play a Monday night game in the regular season.

In a peculiar twist, all three divisional road games will be completed by Week 5, the earliest the Ravens will have done this in franchise history. They will play just one AFC North team in the season’s final six weeks when Cleveland comes to Baltimore for Week 17.

After playing five of their first eight games on the road, the Ravens will stay home for the entire month of November, a period that includes their Week 10 bye.

The Ravens will play eight games against playoff teams from last season: Pittsburgh (twice), Buffalo, Kansas City, Tennessee, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Carolina. They have seven games against opponents who finished below .500 in 2017: Cincinnati (twice), Cleveland (twice), Denver, Tampa Bay, and Oakland.

For now, 11 of the Ravens’ 16 regular-season games are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday starts, but many of those games are subject to flexible scheduling (see below).

2018 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 9 vs. Buffalo Bills — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: The Bills ended their 17-year playoff drought thanks to the Ravens’ Week 17 collapse last December, but this is a team in transition with A.J. McCarron at the helm — for now.

Thursday, Sept. 13 at Cincinnati Bengals — 8:20 p.m.
Skinny: The Bengals knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in one of the more stunning defeats in franchise history, an outcome that likely saved Marvin Lewis’ job.

Sunday, Sept. 23 vs. Denver Broncos — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Case Keenum was one of the feel-good stories of the 2017 season, but the Broncos have fallen on hard times since their Super Bowl victory a couple years ago.

Sunday, Sept. 30 at Pittsburgh Steelers — 8:20 p.m.
Skinny: Will the Ravens avoid losing a last-second heartbreaker at Heinz Field for the third straight year? This marks the fifth straight year the trip to Pittsburgh will be televised nationally.

Sunday, Oct. 7 at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Hue Jackson has already declared Tyrod Taylor his quarterback for the 2018 season, which means the Browns’ first-round pick will likely be at the helm by Week 5.

Sunday, Oct. 14 at Tennessee Titans — 4:25 p.m.
Skinny: The Week 9 loss in Nashville last year proved to be the difference between the Titans making the playoffs and the Ravens being left out for the third straight year.

Sunday, Oct. 21 vs. New Orleans Saints — 4:05 p.m.
Skinny: The Saints are very talented and Drew Brees will be enshrined in Canton one day, but he’s a surprising 0-4 in his career against the Ravens.

Sunday, Oct. 28 at Carolina Panthers — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: The hype for this one will pale in comparison to the 2014 meeting as Steve Smith now enjoys retirement, but the Panthers did add Torrey Smith to their receiver group this offseason.

Sunday, Nov. 4 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: There’s something not right about these rivals wrapping up the season series three weeks before Thanksgiving, but the Steelers snapped their four-game losing streak in Baltimore last year.

Sunday, Nov. 11 BYE
Skinny: The bye will be in Week 10 for the second straight year and has fallen no earlier than Week 8 in seven straight seasons.

Sunday, Nov. 18 vs. Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: You’re telling me it’s not part of the NFL bylaws for the Ravens to play the Bengals in Week 17? This will be only the second time in nine years that hasn’t happened.

Sunday, Nov. 25 vs. Oakland Raiders — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Michael Crabtree put up huge numbers against Baltimore as a Raider, so we’ll see if he has a similar impact playing against his former team.

Sunday, Dec. 2 at Atlanta Falcons — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Who else is looking forward to reigniting those tired Matt Ryan-Joe Flacco debates stemming from the 2008 draft?

Sunday, Dec. 9 at Kansas City Chiefs — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Patrick Mahomes has big shoes to fill after the Chiefs traded Alex Smith, who led them to the playoffs in four of the last five seasons.

Sunday, Dec. 16 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: Ryan Jensen returns to Baltimore after the Buccaneers made him the highest-paid center in the NFL last month.

*Saturday, Dec. 22 or Sunday, Dec. 23 at Los Angeles Chargers
Skinny: I suppose the NFL is taking flexible scheduling to a new level this year as the Ravens will be making their first ever trip to Los Angeles.

Sunday, Dec. 30 vs. Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m.
Skinny: If the Ravens again need to win their season finale to secure a playoff berth and still can’t do it this time around, I really don’t know what to tell you.

* = The NFL will determine by Week 8 whether the Ravens-Chargers game will be played on Dec. 22 or Dec. 23.  If the game is played Saturday, it will kick off at either 4:30 p.m. or 8:20 p.m.on the NFL Network. Should the game be selected for Sunday, it will begin at 4:25 p.m. on CBS.

Notes: Flexible scheduling can be applied in Weeks 5 through 17. A flex scheduling change would be announced at least 12 days before the game except for the final week of the season. For Week 17, the Sunday night game is announced no later than six days prior to Dec. 30.

Another wrinkle implemented in recent years is a select number of games being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring certain games to wider audiences.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Steve Bisciotti’s press conference

Posted on 03 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti holding his season-review press conference on Friday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The news of the day was Bisciotti revealing Ozzie Newsome would step down as general manager after 2018 with Eric DeCosta then taking over. Newsome doesn’t like the limelight and did release a statement confirming he’d retain a “significant” role, but he should have been the one to announce this.

2. Meanwhile, Bisciotti admitted firing John Harbaugh was a “consideration” after the season, but the owner refused to give a “playoffs or bust” edict for 2018. I respect that, but you’d think it would take some extreme circumstances to preserve Harbaugh’s job if Baltimore misses the postseason again.

3. It’s telling that Bisciotti remains steadfast to the long-term plan of DeCosta taking over as general manager while Harbaugh’s seat appears so warm, especially when looking at the lack of playmakers and underwhelming drafts in recent years that haven’t exactly helped the 53-man roster.

4. Beyond the Newsome news, Bisciotti acknowledging the loss of heralded scouts like Joe Douglas having a harmful effect was arguably the most significant nugget. The Ravens have developed many great scouts over the years, but infusing some experienced eyes from outside the organization wouldn’t hurt.

5. I haven’t put much stock into the narrative of the coaching staff having too much influence on recent drafts, but Bisciotti’s theory that the Ravens have “over-analyzed” their top 60 prospects in recent drafts with too many opinions is interesting. Is he talking about the scouts, the coaches, or both?

6. Bisciotti saying he has “bigger fish to fry” than finding Joe Flacco’s successor should squash notions of the Ravens drafting a quarterback early. It’s the only logical way to proceed now, but the clock is ticking before it becomes possible to cut him starting next year and especially after 2019.

7. I buy Flacco’s injured back being a major detriment to his play early in the season, but color me skeptical hearing Bisciotti say the offseason focus will be on acquiring weapons for the quarterback. Perhaps it’s fitting this presser took place on Groundhog Day since we’ve heard that one before.

8. Bisciotti comparing the losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati the last two seasons to Jacoby Jones’ touchdown against Denver falls flat when considering these defeats occurred in the regular season — not the divisional round. The “we’re close” narrative conveniently overlooks all the mediocrity leading up to those defining moments.

9. As the owner noted, the Ravens aren’t going 4-12 every season and remain competitive, but I couldn’t help but recall the days when Bisciotti would dwell on his team not securing enough home playoff games. In that context, it’s difficult not to feel the standard has diminished recently.

10. Baltimore is again tight against the salary cap, but the mention of restructuring Brandon Williams’ contract isn’t ideal when the 29-year-old already has scheduled cap figures north of $12 million from 2019-21. This practice typically results in diminished value from otherwise-still-productive veterans having cap numbers that are too expensive.

11. Bisciotti bristled at questions about the Ravens being stagnant and at a crossroads, but missing the playoffs four out of five years, a pending general manager change, a coach on the hot seat, an under-producing quarterback with recent health concerns, and declining attendance pretty much speak for themselves, don’t they?

12. Bisciotti deserves credit for answering questions and reaffirmed his passion for owning the Ravens. There’s work to do on and off the field, but fans should be encouraged to hear he’ll be around for the “foreseeable future” as owner. Old Colts fans can remind you the grass isn’t always greener.

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New Year’s Eve brings new low for Ravens in stunning defeat

Posted on 01 January 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens entered Sunday with roughly a 97-percent chance of making the playoffs, needing a win over Cincinnati or help from Miami or Jacksonville to punch their ticket.

An assist never came.

According to ESPN, their win probability still stood at 93.4 percent when Cincinnati burned its final timeout, facing a fourth-and-12 at the Baltimore 49 with 53 seconds to go. We know what happened next, and there’s no kind way to put it.

The Ravens choked. Once again, they couldn’t finish, an all-too-common theme of the post-Super Bowl XLVII era.

But this wasn’t arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history erasing two 14-point deficits against an undermanned Baltimore secondary in the 2014 playoffs. Or even Ben Roethlisberger finding Antonio Brown in the final seconds of a heartbreaking loss at Heinz Field last Christmas.

Those disappointments came on the road to superior teams, making them at least semi-tolerable after some time had passed. This one came in their own stadium where they’ve enjoyed one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL for nearly two decades.

Yes, the Ravens let Andy Dalton and Tyler Boyd — who entered the day with 17 receptions on the season — beat them on a 49-yard touchdown pass in the final minute. The Bengals, a losing team out of the playoffs and with nothing to play for on Sunday, ended Baltimore’s season this time.

What happens next is anyone’s guess. If owner Steve Bisciotti was full of “bewilderment” at the end of last season, how might he react to the Ravens missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years despite a schedule that couldn’t have set up any better down the stretch? Would major changes really shock you after the most stunning home loss in team history and an abysmal first half from a team that came out flat and unprepared?

Head coach John Harbaugh needs to answer for that second part, especially on the heels of an uninspiring performance against Indianapolis last week.

It’s easy — and completely fair — to point blame at defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who reportedly plans to retire anyway. Few could argue that a defense that’s received so many resources over the last few years wouldn’t benefit from some new blood in the coaching department. Even if Pees changes his mind, it’s difficult to envision him coming back from something like this for a second year in a row.

Frankly, this organization needs to take a long look in the mirror and realize it’s about more than just another late defensive collapse. The truth is the overall vision has been flawed since raising the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans five years ago. Ever since being led to a Super Bowl championship by Joe Flacco and their offense, the Ravens have been trying to chase the ghost of the 2000 defense, almost as if they were ashamed to have won their second championship in the manner they did.

General manager Ozzie Newsome signed Flacco to a big contract like any team would have in that position and has proceeded to pump virtually all meaningful resources into the other side of the ball while expecting the quarterback to be something he’s not. And please don’t say it’s all because of the quarterback’s salary cap number either as the Ravens have selected 13 defensive players with their 17 Day 1 and Day 2 picks over the last five drafts, the best avenue for finding inexpensive talent.

Even with all those picks as well as free-agent dollars exhausted, we’re still talking about the same defensive shortcomings while the offensive holes are mostly filled at the dollar store in hopes of being average if everything goes perfectly. The unbalanced approach has repeatedly netted a below-average offense and a good — but not great — defense with one playoff appearance in five years.

The Ravens can’t allow the finish to this season to fool them like it did a year ago when they went all in on defense in the offseason and barely touched the offense after the collapse against Pittsburgh. It was a commendable finish to 2017 by Flacco despite how little he had to work with and his own health concerns, but this offense was woeful over the first three months of the season and was inept in the first half of Sunday’s game, a big reason why the Ravens trailed by 14 midway through the third quarter.

The offense needs more skill-position talent and more innovative coaching.

This model of repeatedly trying to build a super defense while asking Flacco to do more with less just isn’t working. The truth is it’s really, really difficult to build a historic defense in today’s NFL, no matter how many resources you continue to pump into it.

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player will be turning 33 later this month and isn’t getting any younger. Flacco has his obvious flaws, but he’s proven to be good enough to win if this organization would make more than a halfhearted effort to build around him. Maybe the defense wouldn’t then find itself in quite as many of these late-game situations with little margin for error.

Frankly, I’ll still take my chances with Flacco and a better supporting cast around him over a defense that doesn’t have a 25-year-old Ray Lewis or Ed Reed walking through the door.

To be clear, this isn’t a call for Bisciotti to completely blow it up top to bottom. From Newsome to Harbaugh and others behind the scenes, there is a track record of past success that shouldn’t just be thrown away in haste.

But the same old practices aren’t working and haven’t for a while.

An embarrassing loss to the Bengals to ruin a trip to the playoffs should spark change, but it remains to be seen whether the Ravens will recognize that or just go down the same old path again.

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