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Ravens’ season-ending dud only reconfirms issues for offseason

Posted on 01 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens played exactly like a team whose season had come to an end in Pittsburgh a week earlier.

Despite practically taking offense at the notion that their season-ending trip to Cincinnati was meaningless throughout the week, Baltimore’s performance against the Bengals was nothing short of offensive on Sunday, particularly in the first half of the 27-10 defeat. But it shouldn’t change anything once you move past the New Year’s Day sting and take consolation in a better draft pick a few months from now.

It was a meaningless game, remember?

We weren’t going to learn anything about the Ravens that we didn’t already know, even if you were surprised to see them sleepwalk against a Bengals team that had been out of the playoff race for weeks.

We’d already seen this offense make it look incredibly difficult to move the ball throughout the season with few exceptions. This group once again made it look like the Ravens were playing 11-on-15 football for much of the afternoon.

Joe Flacco threw more than 40 passes for the 11th time this season, and the ninth-year quarterback failed to eclipse the 300-yard mark for the seventh of those performances, illustrating how inefficient this pass-heavy attack has been all year.

This offense needs to be blown up and rebuilt with the top objective of getting Flacco playing at a higher level in a more balanced attack. Other than a couple decent performances late in the season, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg showed little evidence of being able to do the job after replacing Marc Trestman in October. Sunday just reiterated that point when he called for a pass on first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 2 that resulted in a Flacco interception and later made the silly call to throw to offensive lineman Alex Lewis on a third-and-2 inside the Bengals’ 10.

The Ravens offense needs better coaching and more talent, especially with veteran wide receiver Steve Smith retiring.

More alarming than the season-long offensive ineptitude, however, has been the collapse of a defense that ranked first overall just a few weeks ago. The Ravens did nothing to bounce back from the ugliness of last week’s fourth quarter, allowing a Bengals offense without A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, and Giovani Bernard to score on each of its first four possessions.

That’s unacceptable.

After arguably doing the finest coaching job of his time in Baltimore through the first 12 games of the season, defensive coordinator Dean Pees is fairly under fire with the Ravens allowing 26 or more points in each of their final four games. The absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith was significant, but that can’t excuse an undermanned Cincinnati offense moving against them with little resistance.

Was the defense tired down the stretch from carrying the offense for most of the season? What happened to a run defense that looked impenetrable just a few weeks ago?

The Ravens defense did an admirable job holding up without a consistent pass rush for much of the year, but that ability vanished down the stretch. Until Elvis Dumervil sacked Andy Dalton to conclude the third quarter on Sunday, Baltimore had gone almost 10 full quarters without a quarterback takedown.

Coaching changes or not, general manager Ozzie Newsome must address the pass rush with Terrell Suggs turning 35 next season and the 32-year-old Dumervil a possible salary-cap casualty. The secondary also needs more depth with injuries continuing to be a problem for Jimmy Smith.

Yes, it was alarming to see the Ravens go through the motions on Sunday, especially after head coach John Harbaugh was praised last season for the way his injury-depleted team continued to play hard down the stretch of a 5-11 campaign. But those players hadn’t experienced anything resembling the kind of gut-punch they took from the Steelers on Christmas.

The Ravens were ready to go home long before they took the field on Sunday, and what resulted wasn’t pretty. It was a bad look for both the coaching staff and the players — plain and simple.

But we’d already seen all there was to see from a team that wasn’t good enough in 2016.

How the Ravens performed in a meaningless game — good or bad — wasn’t going to change that.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 27 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling 31-27 to Pittsburgh on Christmas Day to be eliminated from postseason contention, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The sting of a Ravens loss shouldn’t discount appreciation for what was a classic between these AFC North adversaries. This rivalry has lost some juice in recent years, but both teams deserve praise for one that was as good as it gets without being a playoff game.

2. That sentiment aside, the fourth-quarter defense must be addressed. I’ve been a supporter of defensive coordinator Dean Pees and believe he has done a good overall job with a unit lacking star power, but the Ravens have allowed 102 of their 294 total points in the final period this season.

3. If this is it for Steve Smith, Sunday was a strong final performance in the national spotlight as he caught seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown. He’s 35 yards shy of an 800-yard season, which is exceptional for a 37-year-old coming off a serious Achilles injury.

4. It looked like 2016 was going to be a breakout year for Timmy Jernigan after he collected a sack in each of the first three games, but he’s recorded just one quarterback takedown since the Week 8 bye and hasn’t even registered a tackle over the last three games.

5. Breshad Perriman had a bad drop on the Ravens’ final touchdown drive, but I liked seeing Joe Flacco go right back to him on the next play for a 15-yard completion on third-and-10. This is going to be a huge offseason for the 2015 first-round pick to improve.

6. Counting the postseason, Baltimore is 11-22 on the road since Super Bowl XLVII with two wins against teams that finished with a winning record. The first was the 2014 wild-card victory over Pittsburgh and the other against the Steelers last year when Mike Vick started in place of Ben Roethlisberger.

7. The toughness with which he runs is impressive, but Kenneth Dixon won’t become a three-down back until he improves in pass protection. That has to be a goal for both him and Terrance West to work on this offseason.

8. The Ravens masked it well this season, but their pass rush ultimately cost them. According to Pro Football Focus, Roethlisberger was pressured on just four of his 33 dropbacks. It’s tough trying to blitz with Jimmy Smith out, but the defense needs more disruption from a four-man rush.

9. Terrell Suggs deserves praise for how he played this year, but the 34-year-old has gone without a sack in his last four games and had a combined one tackle against New England and Pittsburgh this month. Ozzie Newsome needs to find high-impact help at the position to help him out.

10. We all know health is the major concern with Michael Campanaro, but watching him these last two weeks makes you wonder why the Ravens didn’t part ways with Devin Hester a month sooner. Campanaro, Perriman, and Chris Moore are young players who should play more against Cincinnati.

11. I understand it’s in a coach’s fiber to do everything he can to win, but the organization should consider the dangers of exposing its most important players to injury in a meaningless road game against the Bengals. Does anyone sincerely care about finishing 9-7 compared to 8-8?

12. The seat is warm for John Harbaugh after missing the playoffs in three of four years, but firing him would be harsh after only one truly lousy season (2015). A once-proud franchise, Buffalo has had six head coaches since Harbaugh’s hiring. Finding someone even as good is hardly a given.

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Ravens just not quite good enough when they needed to be

Posted on 26 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens and Steelers played a Christmas classic that removed any doubt about whether this rivalry is still among the best in the NFL.

Baltimore fought like hell until the bitter end and a four-point loss at Heinz Field is nothing to be ashamed of in the big picture, but this also wasn’t the AFC divisional round — as much as the one may have felt like a playoff game on Sunday. Being eliminated from postseason contention with a week to go in the regular season only reinforces a theme that’s become too familiar over the post-Super Bowl XLVII seasons under head coach John Harbaugh.

“We’re very close to being a very good football team,” Harbaugh said after the 31-27 loss. “We can be a great football team, but we’re not there yet. We haven’t gotten there this year, obviously. We’ve got to get there.”

Having now missed the playoffs in three of the last four years, the Ravens just aren’t quite good enough.

That was apparent on Sunday as a defense that had ranked in the top five all season inexplicably allowed three touchdowns in the final 12 minutes of play. There’s no excusing Dean Pees’ unit for surrendering a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in just over a minute that culminated with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown reaching over the goal line with nine seconds remaining.

Instead of cementing its status among the better units in franchise history, this defense has crumbled down the stretch, allowing 26 or more points in three straight games. You can’t put all of that on the absence of cornerback Jimmy Smith as an underwhelming pass rush was exposed badly against the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger rarely harassed in the pocket.

But before we put all blame on the defense for what amounted to the practical end of the Ravens’ season, let’s remember an 8-7 record is the result of a collection of missed opportunities and not just what was on display in Week 16.

An 0-4 October left very little margin for error while looking ahead to how difficult the December schedule would be. That loss to the woeful New York Jets in Week 7 is still painful and no less damaging two months later.

The Ravens offense may have come to play for the most part on Christmas, but how many times could we really say that about this below-average group in 2016? Marty Mornhinweg did little to spark the offense after the firing of coordinator Marc Trestman in October and showed no better commitment to the running game, instead allowing Joe Flacco to set a career high in passing attempts without the kind of productivity to justify the imbalance.

Even on Sunday, the Ravens entered Pittsburgh territory on all five of their drives in the first half and managed just six points by intermission. Tight end Darren Waller’s inability to secure a touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter served as a turning point as it forced Baltimore to settle for a short field goal and a 20-10 lead instead of a two-touchdown cushion.

Baltimore’s normally-superb special teams have been propped up by Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker, but a return game that stuck way too long with veteran Devin Hester did no favors for an offense that would have benefited from better field position all season. On Sunday, a bad snap cost the Ravens a chance for three points early in the second quarter.

Not good enough.

With the season finale in Cincinnati now a meaningless endeavor, attention shifts to the future.

Harbaugh’s not wrong in saying this team wasn’t that far away — they’re 8-7, not 3-12 — but the crucial question is whether the Ravens are moving in the right direction or falling further away. It’s difficult to say this is a better football team now than it was in September, and that’s a big concern.

The Ravens at least improved from last year’s 5-11 disaster that wasn’t all about injuries despite what many wanted to believe. That should be remembered when determining what changes need to be made this offseason.

Still, this team is depending heavily on a number of veterans who aren’t getting any younger or better at this stage of their careers. Unlike Flacco, who was relying on a 37-year-old receiver expected to retire at the end of the season and a 31-year-old tight end coming back from two major hip injuries, Roethlisberger turned to two Pro Bowl talents in their primes in Brown and Le’Veon Bell when it mattered most.

As we’ve now said for a few years, the Ravens need to find dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball to make the difference in these close games that we see around the league on a weekly basis. The early returns from the 2016 draft have been very encouraging, but this roster is still feeling the effects of lackluster drafts in recent years.

Is this coaching staff capable of getting the most out of its players, especially younger ones who need to develop? There have been more questions about play-calling and game management this year than in the past, and the Ravens are one of the most penalized teams in the league.

Is Harbaugh willing to make changes to his staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball where the Ravens have struggled substantially in three of the last four seasons? Is the head coach’s message stale after nine seasons?

Questions that seemed silly just a couple seasons ago should now be asked with another quiet January in Baltimore. Of course, owner Steve Bisciotti has the only opinion that really matters, but both Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome have to explain why this team wasn’t good enough and how they plan to improve next year and moving forward.

Seats are getting warm now.

The Ravens weren’t quite good enough this year, but are they moving in the right direction or stuck in neutral?

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 29 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens topping Cincinnati in a 19-14 final on Sunday to remain tied for first place in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t know what else there is to say about the excellence of Justin Tucker, but I sure hope he receives an opportunity one of these days to attempt a 65-yard field goal to set the NFL record. And then gets another chance to kick an even longer one.

2. The Ravens have more field goals (27) than anyone in the NFL, but they rank ahead of only Houston and Los Angeles with 19 touchdowns. That combination has earned them a 6-5 record, but it’s not a formula that will work against upper-tier teams.

3. Coming off his second Achilles injury in a four-year period and currently playing with a torn biceps, Terrell Suggs played a season-high 61 snaps and had two strip-sacks. Though not the consistent force he was in his prime, he’s earned even more respect as a player this season.

4. Don’t forget that Sam Koch’s safety went down as a run for minus-23 yards in the final statistics. Otherwise, the Baltimore running game gained 115 yards on 29 carries, a respectable average of just under 4.0 yards per attempt compared to the official 3.1 mark.

5. It’s difficult to recall a defensive line batting down four passes on a single drive, let alone doing it on the final series of a one-score game. It was a brilliant way to offset an inconsistent pass rush for much of the afternoon.

6. Nothing illustrated the up-and-down nature of the offense more than its third-down conversion rate against the Bengals. After going a strong 5-for-10 in a 16-point first half, the Ravens were 0-for-6 after intermission. Baltimore ranks last in the NFL with a 33.3 percent conversion rate on the season.

7. The decision to call an end-around hand-off to Mike Wallace on the final drive was questionable at best, but I applaud any extra attempts to get him the football otherwise. His explosive speed needs to be utilized as much as possible.

8. It came down to the numbers game with Elvis Dumervil returning, but Za’Darius Smith being a healthy inactive illustrates how much finding an edge pass rusher remains a priority this offseason. Rookie Matt Judon flashes potential, but Smith’s second season has been a disappointment.

9. Kamar Aiken caught a pass to move the chains on a key third down on each of the first two scoring drives and wasn’t targeted again after that. No one expected him to be Baltimore’s leading receiver again this season, but he shouldn’t have fewer receptions than Kyle Juszczyk.

10. I’m still surprised how reluctant some have been to embrace this defense. It may lack much star power, but this has been a top 5 unit all year. If your standard is the 2000 Ravens or you’re waiting for the next Ray Lewis to appear, you’ll never be satisfied.

11. Many are clamoring for the Ravens to use the no-huddle offense even more, but it bogged down after a fast start against Cincinnati. This group hasn’t shown the kind of precision or communication required to run it exclusively, but it can still be used plenty.

12. Coaches always receive criticism when teams lose, but John Harbaugh deserves praise for the way he handled the game-ending safety. He said all teams have that strategy in their special-teams playbook, but I highly doubt that.

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Loss doesn’t change Ravens’ outlook all that much

Posted on 21 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The 27-17 loss to Dallas was disappointing, but the outlook for the Ravens’ season really didn’t change all that much on Sunday.

A mediocre team hung tough throughout the first half before the superior Cowboys seized control over the final 30 minutes. The final result certainly didn’t make the Ravens or their fans happy, but isn’t that what’s supposed to happen when a .500 team plays on the road against one of the best teams in the NFL?

If we’re being honest, what did we learn about the Ravens at AT&T Stadium that we didn’t already know?

Sure, we can calm down with the discussion about where this defense ranks among the best groups in franchise history. The NFL’s top-ranked run defense may have fared well against Ezekiel Elliott early, but the Cowboys’ No. 1 rushing attack ultimately won that marquee battle with 118 yards on the afternoon.

Though still a very good defense statistically, the Ravens have now twice shown — the first instance being the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants — that they can’t stop a potent passing attack with an elite receiver without Jimmy Smith on the field. Sunday was also one of the few occasions all year in which the defense was exposed for not having a consistent pass rush as rookie quarterback Dak Prescott was hardly touched after the opening quarter.

This defense may not be special, but it’s still good enough to keep the Ravens in games against virtually anyone. A group that has forced turnovers and consistently gotten off the field on third down all year could do neither on Sunday, which tells much of the story of the game.

The Cowboys proved why they’re one of the best offenses in football by controlling the line of scrimmage.

Meanwhile, the Baltimore offense started fast with an impressive six-play, 90-yard touchdown drive on its second possession before punting on four of its next five possessions. Over that time, the Cowboys turned an early 7-0 deficit into a 24-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Again, that script is nothing new for a Ravens offense that’s failed to score 20 or more points in five of 10 games this season.

Quarterback Joe Flacco completed plenty of short passes and had a solid day statistically, but he went 0-for-4 on passes traveling at least 20 yards through the air. The Ravens offense could neither consistently make big plays — outside of Steve Smith — nor sustain drives to keep the Dallas offense off the field.

Seventeen points just isn’t going to get it done when you’re playing a top five offense on the road in today’s NFL.

And, of course, yellow flags crushed the Ravens in all three phases of the game as they finished with a season-high 136 yards in penalties. From center Jeremy Zuttah’s three backbreaking penalties to stall drives to Matt Judon’s offside infraction on a fourth-quarter kickoff that would have backed the Cowboys up to their own 10, Baltimore shot itself in the foot repeatedly.

But we know that’s nothing new once again.

Fans don’t want to hear it after the Ravens fell to 0-4 against teams currently holding winning records, but they do look better than they did a month ago, even if only because of improved health. Chalk it up to good fortune because of a down year in the AFC North, but the Ravens remain in solid position tied with Pittsburgh for first place with six games remaining.

The Steelers aren’t going anywhere and may face an easier path on paper, but the Ravens will now prepare for Cincinnati, who is suddenly looking closer in quality to the Cleveland Browns than to the top two teams in the division. The Bengals fell to 3-6-1 on Sunday while losing five-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard to long-term injuries, leaving no excuse for the Ravens not to snap their five-game slide against Cincinnati dating back to 2013.

You never want to lose, but the Ravens were playing a non-conference team better than them and appeared to escape Dallas without any serious injuries.

I suppose it’s deflating if you believed Baltimore’s second-half explosion against Cleveland to be a breakthrough, but playing the worst team in the NFL at home is a lot different than venturing down to “Jerry’s World” these days.

The Ravens are what their record suggests they are — not a very good football team — but a division title is still within their sights.

Sunday’s loss did very little to change that, especially if you were being realistic to begin with.

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Suggs, Yanda return to practice as Ravens hit bye week

Posted on 25 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With improving their health one of their biggest objectives during a much-needed bye week, the Ravens welcomed a pair of Pro Bowl players back to practice on Tuesday.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps) and right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) were present and working during the portion of the workout open to media. Suggs suffered a torn left biceps in the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants, an injury that kept him out of Sunday’s 24-16 loss to the New York Jets.

The 34-year-old intends to return for the Nov. 6 meeting with Pittsburgh as the Ravens try to snap a four-game losing streak to get their season back on track. The six-time Pro Bowl pass rusher played with a right biceps tear late in the 2012 season, giving him experience dealing with the injury.

“I come from an era where this is just a bump in the road,” said Suggs, who will wear an apparatus on his left arm similar to the one worn by Ray Lewis in the 2012 playoffs. “It may be season-ending for somebody else, but it is not season-ending for a Raven. I played through it before. It was always the plan. Last time I tore it, I missed the first game, came back, and struggled through the second game. Then, I slowly but surely got it back.”

Despite returning from his second Achilles tendon injury in a four-year period, Suggs leads the Ravens with five sacks and has provided the only semblance of a pass rush from the edge with Elvis Dumervil limited to just two games this season. Suggs is also an underrated defender against the run as the Ravens allowed a season-high 155 yards on the ground without him in Week 7.

Suggs acknowledges the pain tolerance involved in playing with the injury, but he doesn’t want to go to injured reserve unless he absolutely has to after missing 15 games last season. The 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year remains optimistic about the Ravens reversing their current woes with veteran players returning from injuries after the bye.

The 3-4 Ravens trail the Steelers by just one game and are tied with Cincinnati in the AFC North.

“We are getting a lot of the pieces back, and that can change a season,” Suggs said. “We are definitely banking on getting our veteran guys back. It all starts with the guys that we have now. That is why we are all here working. We are going to continue to work. We have a tremendous amount of fight; we are warriors. There isn’t any quit in us.”

Yanda was taking part in his first practice since injuring his shoulder in the Week 5 loss to Washington. Specifics about the injury remain unclear, but Yanda hadn’t missed a game since the end of the 2012 regular season, leading one to wonder how serious the ailment is and how it could hinder him the rest of the year.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) was once again practicing after missing his fourth straight game on Sunday. The rookie first-round pick has now worked on at least a limited basis in every practice open to media dating back to Oct. 13.

The entire offensive line group being on the practice field was an an encouraging sign for a Ravens offense that was held to an embarrassing 42 yards in the second half of the Jets loss. Baltimore has already used five different starting combinations along its offensive line this season.

Ten players remained absent from Tuesday’s practice, a list including Dumervil, wide receivers Steve Smith (ankle), Kamar Aiken, and Devin Hester (thigh), running back Terrance West (ankle), tight end Dennis Pitta, defensive backs Lardarius Webb (hamstring) and Shareece Wright (hamstring), and inside linebackers C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and Albert McClellan.

The Ravens also welcomed back safety Matt Elam and have appointed him as their one player designated to return from IR. The 2013 first-round pick underwent knee surgery in August and could carve out a depth role in the secondary with veteran Kendrick Lewis being placed on IR over the weekend and Webb leaving Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury.

Despite the disappointing start to Elam’s career, coaches expressed optimism about his performance in the spring and summer before he injured his knee in the second preseason game.

“He was really, really playing very well and moving very well [before the preseason injury],” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “The only thing we need to see is now take it to the field in live action. Based on everything he did on the [practice] field and getting himself ready physically and mentally, he did everything he was supposed to do. Now we just have to hope we’re back there again, and we’ll see when he takes it to the field.”

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Ravens-Jets: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 22 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens need a break, but they could use a victory even more.

With several key starters sidelined with injuries and having lost their last three games, the Ravens are naturally looking forward to some rest with next week’s bye, but beating the New York Jets feels like a must if a realistic second-half run to the playoffs is in the plans. Falling to 3-4 would require a 7-2 finish just to get to 10 wins, and a challenging schedule awaits in November and December.

Meanwhile, the Jets are already all but finished with a 1-5 record and have made a change at quarterback. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Joe Flacco will be anywhere close to 100 percent after missing practices this week with a right shoulder injury, making the quarterback play iffy at best for both sides.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the Jets for the 10th time in their regular-season history. Baltimore has won eight straight matchups with the only New York victory coming in a 19-16 overtime final on Nov. 2, 1997.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will set a season high for rushes and a season low for passes to protect their quarterback. Flacco looked sharp throwing passes in Friday’s walk-through and the offensive line may welcome back both starting offensive tackles, but Baltimore still needs to be smart with its franchise quarterback. The problem is that the Jets rank sixth in run defense and are allowing just 3.4 yards per carry, the same as the Ravens’ No. 1 run defense. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will stick with the run to the tune of well over 30 carries while Flacco throws fewer than 33 passes, his season low.

2. Jets receiver Brandon Marshall will catch a touchdown against a banged-up Baltimore secondary. The New York passing game is hardly scary, but top cornerback Jimmy Smith was recovering from a concussion all week and will likely draw the difficult task of slowing the 6-foot-4 Marshall, who has 443 passing yards this season. Smith won’t get much help from a Ravens pass rush that has been ineffective all season and will be without both Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. The Jets have a poor offense, but injuries have made an improved Ravens defense more vulnerable.

3. The Ravens defense will pick off Geno Smith twice in his first start since 2014. The lowest scoring offense in the league is desperate to turn to Smith, who has thrown 36 interceptions in 32 career games in the NFL. After setting a franchise low with only six interceptions in 2015, Baltimore has picked off eight passes in the first six games of the season, which has certainly helped playing in close games. Look for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to dial up some blitzes and disguise coverages to confuse a quarterback who’s only playing because veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick has been downright awful.

4. Breshad Perriman will finally score his first NFL touchdown on Sunday. It’s been an underwhelming start to what is essentially the 2015 first-round receiver’s rookie season as Perriman has caught just 13 of the 29 passes thrown his way and has struggled to catch balls consistently. However, we’ve seen him flash his ability to make plays in the vertical passing game and it only feels like a matter of time before he finds the end zone. With the league’s 28th-ranked pass defense having to deal with Mike Wallace on the opposite side of the field, Perriman will catch a deep one for a score.

5. John Harbaugh’s team will limp into the bye feeling better about itself with a 23-16 win. Nothing is certain except death, taxes, and the Ravens playing in one-possession games. Perhaps Baltimore would win by multiple scores if the injury report weren’t such a mess, but you just can’t trust the Ravens to be anything but mediocre right now. That said, the Jets have been a disaster in Todd Bowles’ second season and not even playing at home makes you believe they’re a good bet to win. There will be penalties and self-inflicted mistakes because that’s what they do, but the Ravens will find a way to come home with a much-needed win before embracing a week off.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 5 loss to Washington

Posted on 11 October 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 after a 16-10 home defeat to Washington on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. There’s no real rivalry with Washington despite how the fans might feel, but it’s quite a coincidence that the Ravens have now fired an offensive coordinator after their last two losses to the Redskins. That sounds like something straight out of a college rivalry, doesn’t it?

2. Much has been made about the lack of rushing attempts, but the Ravens didn’t even have a tailback on the field for 27 offensive snaps. They view fullback Kyle Juszczyk has their best pass blocker, but that makes an offense awfully predictable if he’s never going to carry the ball.

3. Rookie Tavon Young has impressed at the nickel all season, but injuries pressed him into action as an outside cornerback in the base defense. Despite being only 5-foot-9, Young held up well against an above-average passing game and finished with three tackles.

4. Going from Marc Trestman to Marty Mornhinweg at offensive coordinator won’t matter if the Ravens can’t get their offensive line healthy and straightened out. According to Pro Football Focus, Baltimore surrendered a league-worst 23 quarterback pressures on Sunday. Playing with backups or not, that’s unacceptable against a bad defense.

5. After missing the first four games with a knee injury suffered in the preseason, rookie Kenneth Dixon touched the ball on all four of his offensive snaps in the first quarter and didn’t play after that. One only hopes that was a coaching decision and not another physical setback.

6. Anyone else reminded of Jacoby Jones in 2014 when watching Devin Hester? He’s put the ball on the ground twice in five games and isn’t playing with the confidence of a Hall of Fame returner as he twice made questionable decisions to let punts bounce in the final quarter.

7. Zach Orr missed a tackle on the return touchdown and C.J. Mosley fumbled his interception return through the end zone, but the inside linebacker play has been much better in 2016. Orr forced a fumble and recovered it in the second quarter while Mosley leads the team with three interceptions.

8. There were worse decisions, but the Ravens showing shotgun on fourth-and-2 from the Washington 8 before taking a delay of game to begin the second quarter was puzzling. Why not show a heavy formation and use a hard count to try to draw Washington offside there?

9. Despite being initially praised for addressing so many needs, the 2015 draft class hasn’t been much of a factor. Breshad Perriman has 10 catches, Maxx Williams and Carl Davis are on injured reserve, Za’Darius Smith has offered little as a pass rusher, and Buck Allen is barely seeing the field.

10. It’s a far cry from the 2000 Ravens, but this defense has been underappreciated so far. The offense and special teams have put a ton of pressure on Dean Pees’ group, but the Ravens rank seventh or better in total defense, run defense, pass defense, scoring defense, and third-down defense.

11. Making the defensive success more remarkable is how little the Ravens have gotten from their edge pass rushers. Terrell Suggs has four sacks and still flashes, but the 34-year-old isn’t a consistent force anymore. Meanwhile, Elvis Dumervil and Smith have been virtually invisible so far.

12. I felt all along that the Ravens needed to be 5-2 entering the bye with a second-half schedule including four games with Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and trips to Dallas and New England. It can still be done, but it won’t be easy with back-to-back road games at MetLife Stadium.

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Dumervil shooting to play in Jacksonville after return to practice

Posted on 22 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is hoping to make his return against Jacksonville on Sunday after practicing two straight days on a limited basis.

The five-time Pro Bowl selection hadn’t practiced since late August when he suffered a setback from offseason surgery. However, the 32-year-old said his foot has responded well to practices this week, making it possible that he will play against the Jaguars.

“I’m shooting to try and go out as soon as I can,” Dumervil said after Thursday’s workout. “I just have to continue to keep building that endurance, building that strength, and get that explosiveness where I feel like I’m me. I’m excited.”

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees wouldn’t commit to Dumervil’s availability for Week 3, but the Ravens would surely welcome his presence coming off the edge where they have yet to consistently generate pressure in the pocket. He accumulated 32 1/2 sacks over his first three seasons with Baltimore and broke the franchise’s single-season record with 17 in 2014

With fellow veteran Terrell Suggs suffering a season-ending Achilles tendon injury in last year’s opener, the pass-rushing duo hasn’t played a full game together since the Ravens’ postseason loss at New England on Jan. 10, 2015.

“It is good when you get one of your best players back on the field,” Suggs said. “We slowly, but surely, are getting our guys back. Whenever he is out there, we are going to rejoice, but until then, we are going to continue to work and get better.”

Rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) was a full participant in Thursday’s workout, reinforcing his expectation that he would not miss Sunday’s game despite being sidelined on Wednesday.

Running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was the only player on the Ravens’ active roster to miss Thursday’s practice because of injury. Suggs and veteran right guard Marshal Yanda received a day off as they did last week.

The Jaguars were missing five starters during Thursday’s workout, which has to be a concern for a team off to an 0-2 start despite plenty of optimism entering 2016.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), G John Urschel (shoulder)

JACKSONVILLE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Prince Amukamara (hamstring), OT Kelvin Beachum (concussion), CB Davon House (hamstring), TE Ben Koyack (knee), C Brandon Linder (knee), S DE Jared Odrick (triceps)
FULL PARTICIPATION: Johnathan Cyprien (knee/triceps), RB Chris Ivory (general medical issue), OT Jeremy Parnell (groin), WR Allen Robinson (illness)

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Winning on the road isn’t easy in the NFL.

Even in John Harbaugh’s first five seasons that included a Super Bowl title, three AFC championship game appearances, and at least one playoff victory each year, a 21-19 road mark in the regular season was solid but hardly sensational. However, an 8-16 record away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last three seasons is a clear reflection of a team having only made the playoffs once over that stretch.

After their Week 1 victory against Buffalo, the Ravens take their show on the road for the first time in 2016 against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its eighth win in the last nine trips to Cleveland. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with a 25-9 mark and are 12-5 at FirstEnergy Stadium dating back to the year it opened in 1999. The teams split a pair of games in 2015, but the Ravens have won 14 of the 16 games played in the series during the Harbaugh era.

1. The defensive line will pay tribute to the late Clarence Brooks by holding Cleveland to under 3.0 yards per carry. Coming off a 2015 season in which they rushed for an average 4.0 yards per attempt, Cleveland averaged 5.7 yards per rush against Philadelphia, snapping off four runs of 16 yards or more. That said, Brandon Williams and the Ravens front were stout against Buffalo in giving up only 2.7 yards per carry and will surely want to honor the memory of their longtime defensive line coach, who died Saturday. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will find little room throughout the afternoon.

2. An ineffective pass rush will lead to a long touchdown pass to Browns receiver Corey Coleman. The defense will be without Elvis Dumervil and possibly Za’Darius Smith, once again leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees little choice but to blitz to generate pressure. It won’t be easy for a rusty Terrell Suggs going up against nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, either. The Ravens know they must disrupt Josh McCown in the pocket after he threw for over 450 yards in a game against them last year, but he’ll get too much time at some point and the speedy Coleman will shake free for a big score.

3. The Baltimore running game still won’t click fully, but Terrance West will lead in rushing against his old team. West received more carries than veteran starter Justin Forsett in the opener, but the former found little running room, averaging only 2.7 yards per pop. With a one-possession lead in the second half, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will lean on West to wear down an inexperienced Cleveland front. The average still won’t be where the Ravens want it, but West will run for 65 yards to help protect the lead with Forsett chipping in 50 of his own against the Browns.

4. Dennis Pitta will catch his first touchdown in 33 months. The veteran tight end downplayed his return to the place where he sustained his second hip fracture and dislocation two years ago, but there wouldn’t be a more appropriate place for him to make his first touchdown reception since Dec. 8, 2013. After surprisingly playing 82 percent of the offensive snaps against Buffalo while making a key 27-yard reception, Pitta will build on that solid performance with a red-zone score. Concern about his health will remain in observers’ minds, but you have to be happy for the 31-year-old in his comeback.

5. Joe Flacco will play how he usually does against the Browns in a 23-13 victory. In 15 career games against Cleveland, the 31-year-old has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging roughly 215 passing yards per game. Trestman won’t ask Flacco to take many chances in this road game, but the quarterback will be efficient while, most importantly, protecting the football. Some will complain about another grind-it-out performance lacking style points, but the Ravens will happily leave Cleveland holding their first 2-0 start since 2009.

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