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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss at Kansas City

Posted on 11 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having their three-game winning streak snapped in a 27-24 loss to Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Depending on your perspective, an overtime defeat to the AFC’s best team can be viewed as a moral victory or the “same old Ravens” with a highly-ranked defense wilting late, but it’s tough not to lament a missed opportunity with Pittsburgh losing and other wild-card contenders winning.

2. After the defense did an impressive job against Patrick Mahomes for much of the game, his fourth-and-9 wizardry was more a greater of him being the best player on the field than a colossal collapse from the Ravens like last year against Cincinnati. Sometimes you just have to accept that.

3. Playing in one of the most difficult road environments in the NFL, Lamar Jackson showed poise and ranked fifth in ESPN’s total QBR metric for Week 14. A limited passing game remains a concern, but the rookie made some key throws, none bigger than his go-ahead touchdown to John Brown.

4. Matt Judon was the best Raven on the field as he registered a sack, five quarterback hits, and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. His second-half surge has been critical for both the present and future with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to become free agents.

5. Between Marlon Humphrey being late lining up over Tyreek Hill and Eric Weddle failing to tackle Hill to prevent the first down, I found Kansas City’s third-and-19 conversion late in the first half to be a bigger gaffe than the aforementioned fourth down. It led to a Chiefs touchdown, too.

6. It’s difficult to predict how much change this roster might endure this offseason, but improving at the safety position figures to be fairly high on the priority list. It wasn’t a stellar day for Weddle or Chuck Clark, who at least recorded Baltimore’s first interception in over two months.

7. Kenneth Dixon was as impressive running the ball as he’s looked since his rookie season, rushing for a touchdown and 59 yards on just eight carries. You just keep your fingers crossed that he’ll stay healthy now.

8. Perhaps Jackson’s most impressive play of the game was his scramble drill resulting in a dump-off to Dixon for a 21-yard reception on a first-and-20 situation early in the second half. That play would have been a sack or incompletion for all but maybe a couple quarterbacks in the league.

9. Remember how mediocre the special teams were in the first half of the season? The Ravens now rank fifth in Football Outsiders’ latest season ratings. Cyrus Jones’ return ability has played a big role in that, but the rest of the group has tightened up as well.

10. The Ravens didn’t attempt a pass on first down until the first play of the second half and did it just five times total. Why’s that unusual? One of the biggest cries from the analytics community is to pass more frequently on first down. Again, zigging while everyone else zags.

11. Suggs played a season-high 70 snaps and registered a half-sack, another quarterback hit, and a pass breakup. The 36-year-old has played well of late, but that workload has to be concerning. Meanwhile, Tyus Bowser saw only 14 snaps and Tim Williams was essentially a healthy scratch.

12. Many hoped Jackson playing quarterback might jump-start fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst, but the rookie tight end failed to register a catch for the second straight week. This shouldn’t be shocking given his early-season foot injury and the recent history of rookie tight ends, but it’s no less disappointing.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-17 win over Oakland

Posted on 27 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over the .500 mark with the 34-17 win over Oakland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The first half was an example why I can’t really trust this Ravens offense, regardless of who the quarterback is. Marty Mornhinweg calling nearly twice as many pass plays as runs after compiling 267 rushing yards the previous week is the kind of thing we’ve seen too often.

2. No moment better epitomized the second-half philosophical shift than Ronnie Stanley gesturing to the sideline for more runs after a nine-yard rush on the third play of the second half. The left tackle easily had one of the best run-blocking games of his career on Sunday.

3. If the Ravens stick with Lamar Jackson and a run-heavy approach to try to limit the number of possessions of explosive opposing offenses, they’ll need to do better than going 4-for-8 inside the red zone over the last two games. That percentage would rank 27th in the NFL for 2018.

4. My favorite part of the 74-yard strike to Mark Andrews wasn’t the perfect throw, but it was Jackson dipping his shoulders to really sell the play-fake, which kept Raiders cornerback Rashaan Melvin’s eyes in the backfield a moment too long as Andrews blew right past him.

5. Matt Judon’s three sacks on three straight defensive snaps not only sealed the victory, but they put Derek Carr in historic — and familiar — company. The last time a quarterback was sacked by the same player on three straight plays was in 2002, per NFL Research. That quarterback? David Carr. Remarkable.

6. Judon’s strip-sack led to Baltimore registering its first takeaway since Week 7, but the defense is still looking for its first interception since the first quarter of the Week 5 loss at Cleveland. Rookie sensation Gus Edwards was still on the practice squad at that point.

7. Cyrus Jones returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown was a cool moment, but the former Gilman star should thank Anthony Levine and Patrick Onwuasor for their early blocks and Chris Moore and Judon for springing him all the way. That return was executed beautifully all the way around.

8. Per Sharp Football, the offense used two running backs and two tight ends 20 percent of the time — the league average is three percent — and used the shotgun 93 percent of the time on Sunday. Scoring four offensive touchdowns in two games is pedestrian, but it’s looked anything but that.

9. Remember how the Ravens didn’t allow a second-half touchdown in their first six games? Sunday marked the third straight contest in which they’ve allowed a touchdown on the first drive of the second half. Credit Wink Martindale’s group for clamping down after that, however.

10. The previous Mornhinweg criticism aside, one of my favorite calls of the game was Ty Montgomery’s third-and-5 run out of a three-wide set that moved the chains late in the third quarter. Teams should spread out and run on third downs of short-to-medium distance more often.

11. Joe Flacco wasn’t the only one who had Ed Reed on his mind as Terrell Suggs looked to lateral the ball on his 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown. I’m sure Reed was smiling as he watched, but not as much as John Harbaugh after Suggs decided to keep it.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for recognizing Colts Hall of Famer Lenny Moore on his 85th birthday and Orioles great Adam Jones, who raised $125,000 for the Living Classrooms Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore with his annual tailgate on Sunday. What blessings both men are.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 21-0 win over Tennessee

Posted on 16 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 4-2 in their 21-0 win at Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ravens defenders said all the right things about Dean Pees last week, but the group’s post-game celebration with Wink Martindale reflected how much the record-setting shutout in front of their old defensive coordinator really meant. They wanted to prove they’re a better defense now.

2. What gives Za’Darius Smith a slight edge over Terrell Suggs as the Ravens’ best pass rusher? His ability to pressure from the inside is so crucial with today’s quarterbacks getting the ball out as quickly as possible. He continues to be on the Pernell McPhee contract year plan.

3. One of the undersold aspects of this terrific defensive start is the depth the Ravens continue to use as 20 players took defensive snaps against the Titans. Rotating defensive linemen and edge rushers have long been common practices, but the Ravens are doing this at every level of their defense.

4. Getting Michael Crabtree involved early was a prudent move to help his confidence after last week’s performance, but remember this is a veteran who caught 25 touchdowns from 2015-17. The real test will be the next time he has a chance to make a defining catch in the closing minutes.

5. Converting 10 of the first 11 third downs of the game was impressive enough, but the Ravens moved the chains on four requiring nine or more yards. You want to avoid those third-and-long situations, but being able to convert some is a mark of a good offense.

6. The running game was functional, but I roll my eyes when someone praises the final run-pass balance as the key to winning. Building a 21-0 lead was the blueprint for running that frequently. Running more effectively remains critical as Baltimore averaged 2.4 yards per carry in the first half.

7. The 14th shutout in team history was aided by the Ravens only playing 44 defensive snaps, an incredibly low number. The defense had much to do with that, of course, but credit the offense for putting together three drives of seven or more minutes each. That’s complementary football.

8. Joe Flacco had a good day, particularly on third down, but his interception on a deep throw down the middle to Willie Snead late in the first half was a little too aggressive with three timeouts and a minute remaining. Titans safety Kevin Byard’s catch also should have been reviewed.

9. Cyrus Jones recorded a 26-yard punt return in his Ravens debut, but what a day to be able to share the field with former Gilman teammate and Titans kick returner Darius Jennings. I also liked seeing Chris Moore back as the kick returner even though he received only one opportunity.

10. Plays like the unnecessary roughness penalty for pushing Titans punter Brett Kern in the back late in the first half are preventing Matt Judon from taking the step from pretty good player to really good player. It happens too often and isn’t smart football.

11. Gus Edwards wasn’t spectacular, but 42 yards on 10 carries should warrant some more opportunities. He runs well for a 238-pound back and certainly brings more physicality to this running game.

12. Remember those old Ramon Harewood-Antonio Brown comparisons from the 2010 draft? A healthy scratch in Week 6, Tyus Bowser was selected 15 spots before JuJu Smith-Schuster in the 2017 second round. The difference this time is Smith-Schuster wasn’t an unknown while playing a position of great need. I’m just saying.

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Ravens-Titans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 14 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens conclude their three-game road trip at Tennessee seeking their first 4-2 start since 2014, the last time they qualified for the playoffs.

They’ll try to do it with defensive lineman Michael Pierce, who makes his return to action after missing two of the last three games with a lingering foot injury. For the first time all season, the Ravens will have both Pierce and Willie Henry available along the defensive line, strengthening a deep rotation that also includes Brandon Williams, Brent Urban, and Chris Wormley.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams is also active after missing last week’s game in Cleveland with a hamstring injury.

Despite missing Thursday’s practice with a hip injury and being listed as questionable on the final injury report, slot cornerback Tavon Young is active and will play against the Titans. As expected, starting cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and dime back Anthony Levine (hamstring) are also active after being listed as questionable on Friday.

There were two notable healthy scratches as 2017 second-round linebacker Tyus Bowser and defensive lineman/fullback Patrick Ricard were deactivated prior to Sunday’s game. It’s a disappointing development for Bowser, who has struggled on special teams and hasn’t played many defensive snaps in his second season. Ricard is the victim of Pierce and Henry both being active and the Ravens now having four active tight ends with Hayden Hurst returning to action last week. .

Former New England cornerback and Gilman product Cyrus Jones will be making his Ravens debut while just-promoted running back Gus Edwards will play in his first NFL regular-season game. Jones is expected to be in the returner mix after Tim White was waived this past week.

The middle of the Titans defense will be in bad shape as starting inside linebackers Wesley Woodyard (shoulder) and Will Compton (hamstring) are both inactive. Compton was ruled out on Friday, but Woodyard had been listed as questionable on the final injury report after practicing on a limited basis all week. Their absence should be good news for the Baltimore running game as well as the Ravens’ collection of tight ends in the passing game.

Starting safety Kenny Vaccaro will miss his second straight game with an elbow injury.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Carl Cheffers.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Nashville calls for rain showers and temperatures in the high 60s with a 55-percent chance of precipitation and winds five to 10 miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with purple pants, the combination they debuted in Week 2. Tennessee is donning navy blue jerseys with navy blue pants for Week 6.

Sunday marks the 20th all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Tennessee holding a 10-9 advantage. The Ravens are seeking their first win at Nissan Stadium since the 2008 postseason as the Titans prevailed 23-20 in the last meeting there on Nov. 5, 2017.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
DL/FB Patrick Ricard
LB Tyus Bowser
OL Hroniss Grasu
DL Zach Sieler

TENNESSEE
LB Wesley Woodyard
LB Will Compton
DL Bennie Logan
S Kenny Vaccaro
OT Tyler Marz
OL Aaron Stinnie
CB Kenneth Durden

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Pierce still sidelined as Ravens return to practice field

Posted on 10 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are still waiting on the return of a key member of their defensive line ahead of a third consecutive road game at Tennessee on Sunday.

After suffering a setback with a lingering foot injury that kept him out of the Week 5 loss at Cleveland, defensive tackle Michael Pierce was absent from Wednesday’s practice and is in danger of missing his third game in four weeks against the Titans. The third-year defensive lineman was spotted in a walking boot prior to the Browns game, but he was not wearing it in the locker room before Wednesday’s workout.

Pierce’s absence in Week 5 was eased by the return of defensive tackle Willie Henry after a four-game absence, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t downplay how important Pierce is to the league’s top-ranked scoring defense. He missed the Week 3 win over Denver and played the following week in the victory over Pittsburgh before resurfacing on the injury report late last week.

“That’s a firm ‘maybe.’ I’m very hopeful, and I say that in all sincerity,” said Harbaugh about Pierce’s availability for Sunday. “I’m very hopeful. We’ll find out, but we could use him. He’s a factor inside. He’s a big difference.”

Six other players missed Wednesday’s practice, but the only real concern in that group appears to be rookie cornerback Anthony Averett, who has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring) also missed last Wednesday’s practice before practicing the rest of the week and playing against the Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams returned to practice after missing the Cleveland game due to a hamstring injury.

Rookie running back De’Lance Turner was listed as a limited participant on the injury report after tweaking his hamstring during the opening portion of practice open to reporters. Turner left the field with a member of the training staff, and it’s unclear whether he returned later in the session. If the injury is serious, the Ravens would have only two healthy running backs — Alex Collins and Buck Allen — on the 53-man roster, which would likely necessitate a roster move. Rookie running back Gus Edwards is on the practice squad after spending the spring and summer with the Ravens.

Harbaugh confirmed former New England cornerback and Gilman product Cyrus Jones will be in the mix for the return specialist job after being claimed off waivers on Monday. The Ravens have already used Janarion Grant and Tim White — who are both on the practice squad — in that role, but ball security was a problem for each of them. Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg will evaluate other in-house options in addition to Jones this week.

“He’s done it before, so he’s in the mix,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, the thing about Tim and Janarion, we could bring those guys up on Saturday if we wanted to. We just have to figure out the roster stuff. We have some other guys who are going to do it. John Brown is going to practice up back there. Of course, Willie [Snead] is back there practicing. I guess we’ll just kind of find out on Sunday and let them figure out who it’s going to be.”

Meanwhile, the Titans were without three starters for their Wednesday practice with two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan being the most notable. Lewan left Sunday’s loss at Buffalo with a foot injury and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam for it earlier in the week. He told reporters after Sunday’s game that he dealt with a similar injury last year despite playing in all 16 games.

“I would probably anticipate this thing hopefully improving,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said on a Wednesday conference call. “But then we’ll have to see where he’s at at the end of the week and if he’s able to practice.”

Starting inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out in Week 5. Safety Kenny Vaccaro remains sidelined with an elbow injury and is unlikely to play against the Ravens.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB De’Lance Turner (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Will Compton (hamstring), OT Taylor Lewan (foot), S Kenny Vaccaro (elbow)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Wesley Woodyard (shoulder), LB Robert Spillane (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Dennis Kelly (illness)

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Ravens jettison another return specialist, claim Baltimore native

Posted on 08 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have jettisoned their second return specialist in the last three weeks and brought back a Baltimore native to their 53-man roster.

A day after fumbling a punt in the second quarter of the 12-9 overtime loss to Cleveland, wide receiver and return specialist Tim White was cut to make room for former New England cornerback and Gilman School product Cyrus Jones, who was claimed off waivers. White replaced rookie return specialist Janarion Grant in Week 3 and was averaging 8.3 yards per punt return and 22.5 yards per kick return, but ball security proved to be the last straw like it was for Grant, who fumbled a return in each of his two games on the active roster and is now on the practice squad.

White also lost a fumble in the preseason.

“It’s the tale of two Tims. The ball security is not where it needs to be,” said head coach John Harbaugh prior to Monday’s announcement. “He knows that, yet he made some really good decisions [against Cleveland]. He picked the one ball up off the goal line after they tapped it back and made some good decisions on fielding some punts and things like that. He should have had a punt return that we blocked somebody in the back on — shouldn’t have happened. I loved the decision-making and hated the ball security.”

Jones was claimed off waivers from the Patriots and spent two weeks on Baltimore’s practice squad last month after being cut by New England at the end of the preseason. The Patriots re-signed the former second-round pick from Alabama to their 53-man roster on Sept. 19, and he returned five punts for 45 yards and made one tackle on defense in two games.

It remains uncertain what role the Ravens envision for Jones, but his history of fumbles — five in his rookie season –is a major reason why the 2016 second-round pick from Alabama originally fell out of favor with the Patriots. Baltimore had only four healthy cornerbacks on Sunday with rookie Anthony Averett still sidelined with a hamstring injury, meaning Jones could offer more positional value than either White or Grant did as the No. 5 wide receiver on the roster.

The Ravens could elect to use No. 4 wide receiver Chris Moore as their kick returner — a role he held last year — and Jones as their punt returner. The 24-year-old didn’t return any kickoffs for the Patriots in his latest stint in Foxborough.

Former Ravens cornerback Darious Williams was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Rams on Monday. The undrafted free agent appeared in three games and was cut over the weekend to make room for returning cornerback Jimmy Smith.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2018 season opener

Posted on 04 September 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens add Baltimore native, two others to complete practice squad

Posted on 02 September 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 5:30 p.m. Sunday)

The Ravens valued familiarity in re-signing 10 players who were waived Saturday to their practice squad while also adding a Baltimore native to the mix.

Former New England cornerback and return specialist Cyrus Jones has joined his hometown team’s practice squad. The Gilman graduate was a 2016 second-round pick out of Alabama, but disappointing play and injuries led to him being waived by the Patriots this weekend.

The list of re-signed incumbents was headlined by 2017 fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa and third-year tight end Darren Waller. Baltimore also re-signed offensive lineman Randin Crecelius, running backs Gus Edwards and De’Lance Turner, defensive end Myles Humphrey, wide receiver Tim White, and running back Christopher Ezeala before inking defensive back Robertson Daniel and defensive lineman Christian LaCouture a day later. Ezeala carries an international exemption from the 10-man limit, giving the Ravens 11 players on their practice squad.

Siragusa missed his entire rookie season after suffering a very serious knee injury early in training camp last summer. The San Diego State product was slow to recover this offseason and is still trying to regain his pre-injury form, but he will now be able to continue his development while remaining with the organization.

Waller, a 2015 sixth-round pick, appeared in 18 games in his first two seasons and stood out as a good special-teams player, but he was suspended for the entire 2017 season for violating the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and has admitted to using marijuana in the past. The 25-year-old was in contention for a roster spot at the end of the preseason despite being reinstated by the league only last month.

Of the players waived by Baltimore on Saturday, defensive tackle Carl Davis (Cleveland) and offensive tackle Andrew Donnal (Detroit) were the only ones claimed by other teams. Defensive end Bronson Kaufusi was signed to the New York Jets’ practice squad on Monday.

The Ravens were not awarded any players off waivers, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t put in any claims as they were only 16th of the 32 teams on the priority list.

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