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Suggs is back, but what does he have left for the Ravens?

Posted on 15 August 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs’ comeback from a torn Achilles tendon is much different this time around.

Unlike four years ago when he made a Herculean return in less than six months to help the Ravens win the AFC North and Super Bowl XLVII, the severe injury to his left heel suffered 11 months ago allowed no chance for a return in 2015. The 33-year-old took his time to rehab, disappearing from the public eye aside from a surprise sideline appearance to watch the Ravens beat Pittsburgh last December and the news of a traffic-related arrest in early March.

Having spoken to the media just once since tearing his left Achilles tendon in the 2015 opener, Suggs took the practice field Monday with little ceremony or warning beyond head coach John Harbaugh acknowledging last week that he had been holding the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker back from returning. He didn’t speak to reporters after the workout, instead issuing a statement through the team declaring that “Darth Sizzle” was back.

Appearing to be in good shape and moving well, Suggs participated sparingly in Monday’s practice and was quieter than usual on the sideline as veteran defensive end Lawrence Guy jokingly introduced himself to the “new” player at one point. Suggs did loosen up as the session went on, shimmying to the music blaring through the on-field speakers and later telling defensive teammates that backup quarterback Ryan Mallett was about to throw them an interception.

Taunting a quarterback in the middle of practice? Suggs was officially back.

What his return truly means for the Ravens’ chances in 2016, however, remains to be seen. We just don’t know what kind of player he will be as he enters his 14th season in Baltimore and comes back from his second Achilles injury — this one to the opposite leg — in a four-year period. Even when he returned from the first injury at age 30, Suggs wasn’t really himself again until the following year as he collected only two sacks in eight regular-season games in 2012.

At the conclusion of a nightmare 2015 season in which Suggs was one of 20 players to finish the year on injured reserve, the Ravens’ brass made it clear how much the 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year was missed. Already entering the season trying to fill the void of free-agent departure Pernell McPhee, the Ravens were forced to use both Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw in every-down capacities after they had essentially platooned in previous years. Za’Darius Smith was also forced to step into a bigger-than-expected role as a fourth-round rookie.

Baltimore finished tied for 17th in the NFL with 37 sacks after collecting 49 the year before. Without Suggs’ exceptional ability against the run, the defense allowed 4.0 yards per carry for just the second time in franchise history.

“Once we lost [Suggs], it was different in the second half of the season than it was the first half,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “We really totally adapted the scheme the second half of the season because we knew we didn’t have him anymore. Meanwhile, we had already committed to the first half and we tried to adapt, but it wasn’t as good as we wanted it to be.

“Having him in there for a full season would be a great thing.”

Besides Suggs’ obvious football talents, the Ravens missed his energy and leadership as the face of the defense in the post-Ray Lewis era. The talent level and coaching primarily came under fire in a 5-11 season, but the unit sorely lacked the swagger that’s been part of its DNA for the better part of two decades in Baltimore.

The arrival of veteran newcomer Eric Weddle this offseason has brought needed leadership in the secondary, but the Ravens still hadn’t been nearly as boisterous during summer practices without Suggs.

“It is different, especially without ‘Sizz’ keeping everybody with a smile on their face with his sayings and his character coming through,” sixth-year linebacker Albert McClellan said over the weekend. “It is a little different. We haven’t found anybody to act like that.”

The Ravens know what Suggs brings in terms of intangibles and experience, but what kind of production will they get from him in 2016?

Expecting him to be the player that he was in 2014 isn’t a given as Father Time eventually catches up to everyone — even those not coming off serious injuries. Young options such as Smith and 2016 draft picks Kamalei Correa and Matt Judon have flashed promise, but expecting any passing-of-the-torch scenario would be premature at best.

Is Suggs capable of playing just under 80 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps at a high level like he did in his last full season? Or, will he be better suited for a situational role as this late stage of his career?

“I think it’s going to depend on the team and what kind of scheme they run, whether it’s a running team, passing team, or if they’re a wide-open team,” Pees said. “The good thing is I think we have some guys that can play and can spell guys. I don’t know if anyone would have to play a 70- or 80-play game. I’m hoping we don’t have to play 80-play games on defense. Time will tell.”

Based on their deficiencies from last year and where younger options are in their development, the Ravens need the “old” Suggs — not an old one — to surface if they’re to be a serious contender in the AFC in 2016.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Carolina

Posted on 12 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the preseason with a 22-19 win over Carolina, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Terrance West and Buck Allen combined for three touchdowns, but I was most impressed with the quickness of Kenneth Dixon, who ran for a game-high 44 yards on nine carries. He has the potential to be a home-run hitter as a change-of-pace back, which is something the Ravens need.

2. With Jerraud Powers and Kyle Arrington both struggling, I’d like to see Tavon Young and Terrence Brooks get more opportunities at the nickel. Young played sparingly, but he has shown good ball skills in practices. Brooks’ size is an intriguing option there, especially since Baltimore’s starting safeties are undersized.

3. First-round rookie Ronnie Stanley performed well in his first start, and Harbaugh made a point to praise the young left tackle’s strong desire to play despite suffering a recent injury. I wonder if that was a coincidence after ex-Raven Eugene Monroe started just 17 games over the last two years.

4. The Kaelin Clay muffed punt and John Harbaugh’s post-game comments lead you to believe the 2016 punt returner may not be on the current roster. The Ravens were right to cut Jacoby Jones two offseasons ago, but they’ve surely had their problems replacing him.

5. After a fast start to camp, Kamalei Correa had a relatively quiet night, failing to record a statistic in 21 defensive snaps. He appeared to play exclusively as an edge defender, making you wonder if Zach Orr has a bigger lead in the inside linebacker competition than we thought.

6. Entering his sixth year, linebacker Chris Carter was facing second- and third-team offensive linemen, but he showed impressive quickness off the edge and also made plays at inside linebacker. Versatility and his special-teams ability will help in his bid to win a job.

7. Speaking of edge defenders, Victor Ochi has flashed potential on more than one occasion during camp, but the rookie free agent only saw the field for seven snaps. That makes you wonder if the Ravens are trying to hide him in an effort to sneak him onto the practice squad.

8. Starting in place of Marshal Yanda, Vlad Ducasse may have been the Ravens’ most impressive offensive lineman, making terrific blocks on Dixon’s 19-yard run and Allen’s 19-yard touchdown catch. He’s not a sure bet to make the roster, but he has made 22 starts in six NFL seasons.

9. The Ravens only suited up five receivers, making it concerning that Keenan Reynolds wasn’t targeted once despite playing 29 offensive snaps. Everyone is rooting for the former Navy standout, but he remains a work in progress with a long way to go as both a punt returner and receiver.

10. Built similarly to Brandon Williams, rookie nose tackle Michael Pierce showed impressive push inside to collect three tackles and split a sack with Carter. Making the 53-man roster might appear to be a tall order, but the Samford product has definitely turned some heads.

11. After calling plays from the upstairs booth the last few seasons, defensive coordinator Dean Pees was on the sideline during Thursday’s game. It will be interesting to hear his rationale for the change and whether it will carry over to the regular season.

12. The fans’ reaction to Michael Phelps winning his 22nd Olympic gold medal on Thursday night was hardly surprising, but the enthusiasm shown by players watching the replay of the race on the video board was a memorable moment late in a pedestrian preseason game.

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Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees listens to a reporter's question at a news conference after an NFL football training camp practice on Saturday, July 26, 2014, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Pees staying, Monachino leaving Ravens coaching staff

Posted on 07 January 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Head coach John Harbaugh says he won’t be making any changes to his 2016 coaching staff, but he will be losing a key defensive assistant.

Linebackers coach Ted Monachino has been hired as the new defensive coordinator in Indianapolis, joining friend and former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. The Colts fired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky earlier this week, and Monachino immediately emerged as the top candidate to replace him.

Having coached the Baltimore outside linebackers since 2010, Monachino is extremely close with six-time Pro Bowl selection Terrell Suggs and served as his defensive line coach at Arizona State.

“That’s a great opportunity for him,” Harbaugh said. “It speaks to the quality of the guys that we have.”

Some had thought Monachino might be the eventual successor to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who will return despite the Ravens finishing 24th in the NFL in points allowed and shattering the franchise record for fewest takeaways in a season with only 14. First-year defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt will also return after drawing criticism as Baltimore allowed 30 touchdown passes and collected a league-worst six interceptions, both franchise worsts.

Many fans and media had wondered if Pees’ job might be in jeopardy, but Harbaugh expressed confidence in his entire coaching staff while acknowledging they will make adjustments in schemes and other processes this offseason. With Pees and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman both set to return, the Ravens will begin consecutive seasons with the same coordinators for the first time since 2009 and 2010 with Greg Mattison and Cam Cameron.

“I know what kind of coach Dean Pees is,” Harbaugh said. “I look at the season and the improvements that we made — especially in the back end — throughout the course of the season, and that’s what you look for. You’re going to face struggles and trials, and things don’t always play out the way you want them to.”

The Baltimore defense improved substantially in the second half of the season after ranking 25th in total defense through the first eight weeks. The Ravens finished eighth in the league in total defense — they also finished in the same spot in 2014 — and were second in yards allowed over their final eight games.

Harbaugh hopes that second-half improvement will carry over to 2016.

“We were up and down and inconsistent throughout the first eight games of the season, for sure,” Harbaugh said. “We went to battle and went to work to correct those things and found a way to correct most of them throughout the course of the season.

“We still have plenty of work to do, but I trust Dean. I know he’s a very good coach and all those guys — I know they’re good coaches. You work side by side with a bunch of guys through a season like this, you find out what they’re made of, and I like our guys.”

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Report: Indianapolis interested in Ravens’ Monachino as coordinator

Posted on 06 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Though the Indianapolis Colts surprisingly retained Chuck Pagano as their head coach, they could now be after a top Ravens defensive assistant.

After firing defensive coordinator Greg Manusky on Tuesday, the Colts consider Baltimore linebackers coach Ted Monachino to be a strong candidate to replace him, according to FOX Sports. A Ravens assistant since 2010, the 49-year-old Monachino has been considered by some as the eventual successor to current defensive coordinator Dean Pees and is highly respected within the organization.

Monachino is extremely close with six-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs after also serving as his defensive line coach at Arizona State. He has been mentioned as a defensive coordinator candidate in the past, but he has never served in that capacity at the collegiate level or in the NFL.

Head coach John Harbaugh has often said he won’t stand in the way of his assistants receiving promotions elsewhere and has seen a number of assistants do exactly that over the years.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 02 January 2016 by Luke Jones

For the first time since Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens enter a game knowing it will be their last one of a season.

Their playoff hopes may have been all but crushed by Halloween, but John Harbaugh and his team have looked toward the future and believe they’re already laying the groundwork for the 2016 season despite 20 players — eight of them starters — currently residing on injured reserve. Last Sunday’s 20-17 upset win over Pittsburgh served as their version of a Super Bowl in Baltimore’s first season with double-digit losses since 2007.

Of course, a number of Ravens could be playing their final game with the franchise on Sunday as offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, and kicker Justin Tucker headline a list of pending free agents this offseason. Specifics remain cloudy, but Baltimore will undergo a number of changes this winter in an effort to bounce back from the first losing season of the Harbaugh era.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Cincinnati for the 40th time in franchise history and own a 20-19 mark. Baltimore has lost four straight and five of the last six to the Bengals, who are trying to clinch a first-round bye with a win and a Denver loss.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to wrap a disappointing 2015 season on a high note with back-to-back wins over Pittsburgh and Cincinnati …

1. Ryan Mallett will come back down to earth after a surprising Ravens debut. I still can’t quite believe how easy it looked for the quarterback against the Steelers as he made good decisions and commanded the huddle less than two weeks after being signed. That said, Mallett was playing at home and against a defense inferior to the one he’ll see this week. The Bengals are effective disguising their blitzes and coverages before the snap, which will result in choppier results from the Baltimore offense playing in a hostile environment. Mallett showed against Pittsburgh why the Ravens envision him as their 2016 backup to Joe Flacco, but he’ll make more mistakes and turn it over twice in his second start.

2. The Ravens secondary will not hold down A.J. Green like it did against Antonio Brown. Asked how to stop the Bengals’ five-time Pro Bowl receiver, defensive coordinator Dean Pees joked, “Make him inactive.” The Ravens threw everything but the kitchen sink at Brown in coverage last week and held him to seven catches for 61 yards, but Green is a different player because of his 6-foot-4 frame. It will be interesting to see if Jimmy Smith shadows Green, but the cornerback had one of his worst games of the season against him in Week 3. Green’s recent numbers have been stunted with AJ McCarron starting, but that will change as he goes over 100 receiving yards and catches a touchdown.

3. Maxx Williams will finish with the best game of his rookie season. It’s been a quiet year for the second-round pick, but his 26 catches for 215 yards and a touchdown have outdone the likes of Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta, and Crockett Gillmore in their respective rookie years. The 21-year-old needs to mature physically and improve his agility and quickness this offseason, but he’s been targeted 10 times over the last two games and should have an advantage when matched up against Cincinnati’s coverage-challenged linebackers. With the Bengals strong in the secondary, Mallett will look Williams’ way over the middle portion of the field and he’ll catch a touchdown and surpass 50 receiving yards.

4. Giovani Bernard and Buck Allen will each catch touchdown passes against linebackers who struggle in coverage. McCarron and Mallett will see check-downs to their backs as their best friend. Daryl Smith and C.J. Mosley have both struggled against the pass this year, so look for the Ravens to again use Zach Orr in some obvious passing situations in an effort to slow Bernard out of the backfield. Meanwhile, the Bengals’ trio of A.J. Hawk, Rey Maualuga, and Vontaze Burfict simply lack the athleticism to cover, which should create some open space for Allen. Neither quarterback will put up big-time numbers, but their running backs will help in moving the ball through the air.

5. The Ravens will conclude the 2015 season with a 24-17 loss, their 14th game decided by one possession. You couldn’t help but be impressed by the way Baltimore played against its arch rival in Week 16, but the Bengals are a more balanced team than Pittsburgh and have something to play for in the regular-season finale. The Ravens will compete despite their personnel deficiencies and misfortune, but I just can’t see Mallett playing at such a high level again on the road and against a better defense that’s given Flacco problems over the years. Ultimately, a couple crucial mistakes will be the difference as Baltimore is left wondering what might have been in the final game of a lost season.

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Ravens preparing to go with Clausen if Schaub can’t play

Posted on 10 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Veteran quarterback Matt Schaub failed to practice for a second straight day as the Ravens continued preparations for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks.

That meant backup Jimmy Clausen received the lion’s share of the practice reps on Thursday as he could face Seattle for the second time this season. Clausen filled in for injured Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in Week 3, a 26-0 loss in which he threw for just 63 yards against the NFL’s fourth-ranked pass defense.

Offensive coordinator Marc Trestman says Schaub continues to prepare mentally in their meeting room, but the Ravens are doing everything they can on the practice field for Clausen to prepare to make the start at M&T Bank Stadium if needed. Of course, Clausen only joined the Ravens on Nov. 24, making his learning curve a challenging one.

“We have a menu of things that we can run,” Trestman said. “Last night, we sat down after practice and went over the things we feel really good about. We’ll continue to pare it down and get to the things that he feels the best with — both running and throwing the football — and that’s what we’ll do on Sunday.

“But we have enough in [the game plan] that we can stretch the field vertically and horizontally. We have a run game in where we have an adequate menu of runs and things that he can do. I think we feel good about that.”

Should Clausen start on Sunday, he would become just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to start two games against the same opponent in a season while playing for two different teams.

“I’ve been through this with Jimmy before in Chicago where we had to get him ready quickly as well,” Trestman said. “I think it’s something that we’ll do well with.”

Offensive line shuffling?

Right tackle Rick Wagner (ankle) returned to practice on Thursday, but the Ravens practiced without either starting tackle a day earlier, leading some to believe whether they might do some shuffling along the offensive line.

James Hurst has started six games in place of left tackle Eugene Monroe this season — including the last two — but Pro Football Focus has graded the second-year lineman 75th out of 76 offensive tackles this season. In the past, Baltimore has used guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda at tackle, and offensive line coach Juan Castillo regularly cross-trains his players to be able to play multiple positions in an injury pinch.

“If you’re out here for an entire practice, you see that we move people around,” Trestman said. “Juan does a nice job of giving everybody opportunities to get work at different places because of our injury situation. Everybody has to be ready to do different things. We move people around during practice.”

Pees sounds off

Asked if he could ever recall coaching a defense that hadn’t received an offensive holding call in its favor for 10 consecutive games, defensive coordinator Dean Pees couldn’t help but take the bait despite knowing the NFL’s policy to not criticize officiating.

“Am I allowed to comment on lousy officiating?” said Pees as he laughed. “No, probably not. I don’t even know if I had that [coaching] at Elmwood High School in 1975. Hey, it is what it is. They see what they see. They don’t see what they don’t want to see.”

Injury report

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Marlon Brown (back), DE Chris Canty (non-injury), TE Crockett Gillmore (back), OT Eugene Monroe (shoulder), QB Matt Schaub (chest), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Rick Wagner (ankle), DT Brandon Williams (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (non-injury), TE Maxx Williams (concussion)

SEATTLE
OUT: RB Marshawn Lynch (abdomen)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Michael Bennett (non-injury), Demarcus Dobbs (concussion), DT Jordan Hill (toe), DE Cliff Avril (non-injury)

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Landry remains threat despite Miami’s offensive woes

Posted on 03 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens won’t know exactly what to expect from a Miami offense under new leadership on Sunday.

Ranking 27th in the NFL in total offense, rush offense, and points per game, the Dolphins fired offensive coordinator Bill Lazor on Monday with quarterbacks coach Zac Taylor now taking over the play-calling duties and quarterback Ryan Tannehill having more input with the offensive game plan. It can’t get any worse for a group that’s averaged just 20.5 points per game and ranks 31st in the NFL in third-down conversions at just 27.7 percent.

Now in his fourth year after signing a $96 million extension in the spring, Tannehill hasn’t had a poor season statistically, but his offense simply hasn’t gotten on track in a disappointing 2015 season that began with the Dolphins expecting to compete for a playoff spot.

“It’s a little bit of everything and everybody has their own piece of it for sure, absolutely,” said second-year wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who is one of the few bright spots for Miami in 2015. “The key things are definitely turnovers and penalties. I think that has held us back thus far. If we find ways to eliminate that, then I think we can be an explosive offense.”

Building on a solid rookie season, Landry has become the Dolphins’ best offensive player in making 76 catches for 816 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown. The LSU product fell to the second round of the 2014 draft because of an underwhelming 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine, but his 358 yards after the catch are tied for fourth among NFL wide receivers this season.

Though his pass defense has made modest improvement in recent weeks and is now up to 24th in the league, defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows whatever new wrinkles the Dolphins might show are bound to include new ways to get the football to Landry. The Ravens will need to know where Landry is at all times as they try to not only win their third straight game but also win a game in Miami for the third consecutive season.

“There are guys like that who do not necessarily go out and run a 40 that absolutely blows everybody’s mind, but they are just really good football players– great eyes, quick, good vision,” Pees said. “Not every great [skill-position player] in the NFL has been a 4.3 guy. There are guys that have good vision. He is one of those guys that when he catches a ball, it’s like a punt return. He has quick feet, exceptional eyes. His yards come running after the catch, and he makes a lot of people miss.

“I can’t tell you what it is; it’s just it.”

Landry takes a high number of snaps in the slot, meaning it will primarily be the responsibility of cornerback Lardarius Webb to keep him in check when the Ravens are in the nickel package. Maligned due to health concerns and uninspiring play over the last couple years, the 30-year-old has quietly had a solid season playing in all but one of Baltimore’s 11 games.

Despite expressing kind words for the Ravens secondary, the 5-foot-11, 202-pound Landry will be licking his chops against a pass defense that has struggled mightily to defend the middle portion of the field. And Baltimore defenders need to be sure tacklers when he gets the ball in open space.

“Obviously, you see a group of veteran guys,” Landry said. “Guys that have definitely made plays, guys that have consistently made plays, and guys that look like to be still having production. I have a lot of respect for those guys.”

The Ravens will need to show even more respect for Landry, regardless of what else a revamped Miami offense might throw their way on Sunday.

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Jacksonville possesses exactly what Ravens lack at receiver

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s been a long time since the Jacksonville Jaguars had much of anything that the Ravens coveted.

But with nothing but question marks at the wide receiver position after the season-ending injury to Steve Smith in Week 8, the Ravens will find it difficult not to look across the field on Sunday and wish they were the ones who had the most talented receiving duo in the NFL that no one knows about. Second-year wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are quietly blossoming into standout performers in one of the least-heralded markets in the NFL.

“The ‘Allens’ — you don’t hear about them on ESPN SportsCenter every day,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “But whenever you pull out the numbers, their names start coming up and you’re wondering like, ‘Who are these guys?’ You pop on film and you’re like, ‘These are the guys. They can play ball.’ They just hide them because they’re in Jacksonville, so a lot of people don’t really pay attention to them.”

The Ravens’ 29th-ranked pass defense cannot lose sight of Robinson — a 2014 second-round pick from Penn State — or Hurns — a surpising undrafted free agent from Miami a year ago — who enter Week 10 ranked eighth and 18th in NFL receiving yards, respectively. The pair have combined to make 76 catches for 1,342 yards and 12 touchdowns in Jacksonville’s eight games in 2015.

Jacksonville has been without its other 2014 second-round receiver, Marquise Lee, for most of the season, but that hasn’t mattered with Robinson and Hurns emerging as dangerous weapons for young quarterback Blake Bortles, also in his second NFL season. Despite a 2-6 start, Jacksonville finally has hope for the future with such talent at the offensive skills positions.

“I think it’s super special,” Bortles said in a conference call with Baltimore media. “To be able to come in with those guys as rookies and to able to go through and grow and watch those guys grow [is special]. We got our first offseason together and did some work there and then continued to carry that over into the season.”

The debate continues in Jacksonville over which receiver is better as Robinson is considered the “home-run hitter” — 17 catches of 20 or more yards — while Hurns is steadier in catching a higher percentage of passes thrown his way with 36 receptions on just 59 targets.

Opposing defenses have generally matched their No. 1 cornerbacks against the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Robinson, but Hurns has now caught a touchdown in six consecutive games. Against a talented New York Jets secondary featuring Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine last Sunday, Robinson and Hurns each posted over 120 receiving yards in a narrow defeat.

“I think the biggest thing that I really noticed about them is their catch radius,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “They do a great job — when the ball is in the air — of finding the ball, locating the ball, and then catching it. That’s a good feeling for a quarterback when you can throw one up even when he’s covered and think the guy has a good chance of coming down with it.”

Coming off their bye and trying to win consecutive games for the first time all season, the Ravens know they face a below-average football team on Sunday, but Jacksonville has the ability to exploit Baltimore’s biggest weakness with the league’s 11th-ranked passing game. The Jaguars are an opponent that can’t be taken lightly or the Ravens could find themselves in a position similar to Week 5 when Cleveland won at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since 2007.

The Jaguars haven’t won in Baltimore since 1999 when Mark Brunell was their quarterback and the teams were part of the old AFC Central division. With the Ravens also holding a 2-6 record, they’re in no position to be taking any opponent lightly, and Robinson and Hurns will be ready to take full advantage if they do.

“A lot of people don’t really pay attention to them, but they’re making big plays,” Webb said. “They together are a great duo in the NFL. Our corners — me and Jimmy [Smith] — have to be on point with these guys and knowing where they are on the field. We have to make some disruptive plays to get this victory.”

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Criticism not sitting well with Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith

Posted on 12 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — By nearly all accounts, 2015 has been a difficult season for Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Coming back from last November’s season-ending Lisfranc surgery on his left foot was already challenging, but the pressure accompanying a four-year, $41 million contract extension has put the fifth-year defensive under a microscope. The results haven’t been pretty over the first eight games as teams frequently targeted the No. 1 cornerback and even defensive coordinator Dean Pees described Smith’s play as “tentative” late last month.

Asked about that criticism with the Ravens now back from their bye, Smith didn’t give the impression that he agreed with his coach’s assessment.

“Honestly, I don’t even want to … I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know,” said Smith, who was then asked if he believes he needs to play more aggressively. “I feel like I’ve just got to keep getting better, keep playing my game.”

Has the criticism been too harsh for Smith? There’s no disputing that he’s given up several big plays in the first half of the season from Amari Cooper’s 68-yard touchdown catch in Week 2 to a long fourth-quarter reception to Anquan Boldin in a Week 6 defeat.

Of cornerbacks playing at least 300 defensive snaps in 2015, Smith ranks 71st in Pro Football Focus’ grading system for the position. However, the 2011 first-round pick leads the Ravens with two interceptions, accounting for half of the team’s takeaways through the first eight games of the season.

Last week, defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt downplayed Smith’s struggles, saying that he’s “doing a great job” and making “dominating plays” despite the need for more consistency.

With Smith typically preferring to play more press coverage, you could argue that he hasn’t been used effectively, but no one could reasonably argue that he’s played like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, which is what the Ravens are paying him to be. He appeared on track to reaching that lofty territory last year when he was emerging as a Pro Bowl-caliber player before the unfortunate foot injury.

“I’ve just got to keep improving, getting better, just getting back to myself, pretty much,” Smith said. “You guys write one thing; I feel totally different than how you guys feel. I’m not going to get into that, but I’ve just got to keep playing ball.”

The good news is that Smith has stayed healthy after missing a total of 17 games in his first four NFL seasons. It’s reasonable to expect improvement over the second half of 2015 as he grows more confident with his surgically-repaired foot that he hasn’t wanted to discuss since training camp, leading many to wonder if he isn’t 100 percent physically.

The Ravens need much better from Smith than what they’ve seen so far in 2015.

Whether he agrees or not.

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Ravens coordinator says Jimmy Smith’s play too “tentative” in 2015

Posted on 29 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This was supposed to be Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith’s year.

Returning from last season’s Lisfranc injury and receiving a four-year, $41 million contract extension that included a $13 million signing bonus this spring, the 2011 first-round pick was to finally take his place among the best cornerbacks in the NFL. An interception returned for a touchdown against Peyton Manning in the season opener made it look like Smith was picking up right where he left off before last year’s injury.

But the season hasn’t gone that way.

Despite Pro Football Focus rating him as the ninth-best cornerback in the league at the time of his foot injury last October, Smith has found himself targeted frequently this season, beginning with a 68-yard touchdown he surrendered to rookie Amari Cooper in a Week 2 loss to Oakland and continuing on a near-weekly basis. Smith says he isn’t surprised by opponents going after a cornerback coming off a serious foot injury, but that expectation hasn’t prevented the 6-foot-2 defensive back from being beaten on crucial plays, whether it was by A.J. Green for the game-deciding touchdown in Week 3 or by Anquan Boldin for a long fourth-quarter reception two weeks ago.

“I think he has been tentative and not really letting it go,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “Whether that’s the injury, whether it’s not, I don’t [know] — only he can tell you that. I just haven’t seen him quite be the [same] productive player. It’s more [having] a lot of confidence and go up there and really be aggressive. It’s basically at the line of scrimmage, because he’s a big guy. When he gets his hands on you, he does a great job. I think sometimes he has been a little tentative, and I think he’ll say that, too.”

Dating back to the summer, Smith has said several times that he doesn’t want to talk about his surgically-repaired foot, leading many to believe that it’s remained an issue for the talented cornerback. Though he missed little practice time in the spring and summer, there have been occasions when Smith has appeared to be in discomfort or at least hasn’t trusted the foot.

Among 61 NFL cornerbacks who’ve played 200 or more snaps on passing plays this season, Smith ranks 53rd in PFF’s overall grades at the position. It’s a significant reason why a pass defense that already faced questions entering the season has ranked 28th in the NFL through the first seven weeks of the season.

Smith was paid handsomely to be the most reliable member of the secondary — and arguably the Ravens’ best defensive player — but he has instead joined his teammates in the struggles. The Colorado product is taking the difficult start in stride, but the Ravens can only hope that he regains his pre-injury form sooner rather than later.

“It’s probably just like anyone else coming off of [an injury],” Smith said. “Some things are going to happen that may not go your way, but you just keep fighting. It’s not like I’m out there just getting killed, so I’m not depressed or anything like that. The balls are going to come, I expect them to come, and I’ve got to make plays.”

At a position already dependent on confidence as well as sudden changes in direction, any lingering doubt or effect from the foot surgery would undoubtedly be detrimental to performance. Of course, health has been a concern in his career as Smith missed a total of 17 games in his first four seasons in Baltimore.

With a 1-6 record and playoff hopes all but lost, the Ravens are viewing the rest of the season through a long-term scope and they need Smith to begin playing like the difference-maker he was by the end of his first full season as a starter in 2013 as well as the first eight games of 2014. Facing a shortage of playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Ravens have more long-term money invested in Smith than any other defensive player currently on the roster to provide a game-changing return.

How does that happen?

“Keep playing. You have to go out there, and you have to practice it the same way,” said Pees, who added that it’s not a question of work ethic. “You can’t be tentative in practice no matter who you’re going up against on the scout team over there. You have to do it. I really do think it’s like anything else. The only way you build confidence is you have good things happen to you in a football game. Once that happens, it’s a lot easier.”

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