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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 15 win over Philadelphia

Posted on 20 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens surviving in a 27-26 win over Philadelphia on Sunday to remain one game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t believe hangovers and letdowns in sports are as common as we think, but the Ravens had a difficult time moving past their performance against New England. Perhaps that partially explains why the offense showed such late recklessness and the defense reacted slowly to being punched in the mouth.

2. After losing touches to Kenneth Dixon in recent weeks, Terrance West made a statement with 122 yards from scrimmage, his highest total since Week 6. The Baltimore native’s career was a mess a year ago, but he’s done a fine job reestablishing himself as a legitimate NFL running back.

3. Praised by some recently as being better than the 2000 Ravens, the run defense gave up a season-worst 169 rushing yards to the Eagles and has allowed 3.9 yards per carry over the last five games. Philadelphia did a great job getting to the second level running the zone stretch.

4. Despite this hardly being his best campaign, Joe Flacco is 212 yards away from his first 4,000-yard season. The problem is he’s also on pace to shatter his career high for passing attempts (614 in 2013) and is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, the second-lowest mark of his career.

5. Justin Tucker improved to a remarkable 10-for-10 on field goals from 50 yards and beyond for the season. That’s more than he’d made in his last two years combined. No one can accuse him of resting on his laurels after a big payday.

6. Barring an unforeseen spike in offensive production leading to a deep playoff run, I don’t see how the Ravens can stick with Marty Mornhinweg as their offensive coordinator in 2017. The spark for which they were looking when John Harbaugh fired Marc Trestman never materialized.

7. The Ravens rushed for a season-high 151 yards against the Eagles, but they’ve gained more than 3.8 yards per carry in an away game just once this year. As Terrell Suggs likes to say, you need to pack your defense and your running game to win on the road.

8. Speaking of Suggs, I couldn’t help but wonder which Ravens veterans we were possibly seeing for the final time at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. Because of age or contract status, Suggs, Steve Smith, Elvis Dumervil, Dennis Pitta, and Lardarius Webb are among the fair question marks.

9. His four-game absence in October put a damper on his rookie season, but Ronnie Stanley is playing more and more like the sixth overall pick that the Ravens envisioned this spring. It probably hasn’t hurt having five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda playing next to him, either.

10. Shareece Wright showed in the second half of last season that he’s capable of playing at an acceptable level as a starting cornerback. The Ravens can only hope his solid — albeit mostly untested — performance against the Eagles puts him in the right frame of mind for Pittsburgh.

11. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have gone at least 6-2 at home in all but one season. The problem is a 10-20 regular-season road record since Super Bowl XLVII. They’ll need to win their first road games in three months over these next two weeks.

12. I’m late with this prediction, but my Ravens picks for this year’s Pro Bowl would be Tucker, Yanda, safety Eric Weddle, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

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Alarming lack of offensive leadership nearly costs Ravens dearly

Posted on 19 December 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens got the 27-26 win in the end, but they still couldn’t help themselves on Sunday.

Leading 27-17 with less than seven minutes remaining, Joe Flacco had just completed a third-down pass to Mike Wallace, who sprinted all the way to the Philadelphia 11 for a 54-yard pickup that should have all but sealed a must-win game against the struggling Eagles. Facing an opponent that had relied on its ground attack all day, Baltimore needed only to run the ball to chew away more time and, at worst, kick a field goal to make it a 13-point lead.

Even novice football fans would say to run it to drain the clock or force Eagles head coach Doug Pederson to start using his timeouts early.

Yes, the Ravens defense had struggled more than expected on Sunday, but rookie quarterback Carson Wentz had shown no evidence throughout the day that he would be able to orchestrate two touchdown drives in the final few minutes. Instead of showing common football sense, head coach John Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, and quarterback Joe Flacco gave the Eagles new life.

According to ESPN, the Ravens’ win probability stood at 99.2 percent when they took a timeout with 6:21 remaining to contemplate their first-and-10 play from the 11. In lieu of a running game that averaged 6.3 yards per carry on Sunday, Mornhinweg called a pass play and Flacco threw an unthinkable interception to Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks, who returned the ball to the Philadelphia 40 to spark an unlikely comeback.

“All-time worst call ever. I’ll take responsibility for it,” Harbaugh said. “I should have vetoed it right away. I like an aggressive mindset, but that was way too aggressive. It’s the worst play call we’ve had, and it’s my fault. It should have never happened. We should have never been in that situation as a result of that.”

At least Harbaugh took responsibility after the game, but how does a ninth-year head coach who’s won a Super Bowl allow that to happen? What was being discussed during that timeout?

The writing is on the wall for Mornhinweg with this latest example of lacking any feel for the game or the Ravens offense, but Harbaugh is ultimately responsible for his coaching staff. This was the kind of reckless decision that costs coaches their jobs if the final outcome goes the other way.

Saying the Baltimore defense needed to tighten up over those final two drives doesn’t excuse such a blunder in a must-win game. Opponents will sometimes get the best of you between the lines as the Eagles ran for an impressive 169 yards, but the Ravens needed much better from veteran coaches late in Sunday’s game.

And what about Flacco?

The execution was awful enough in trying to force a throw to wide receiver Steve Smith, but shouldn’t a veteran quarterback speak up if the head coach and offensive coordinator have lost their minds? Flacco’s leadership has been a hot topic throughout his career — often unfairly — but this was a time when you’d like a ninth-year quarterback to be a voice of reason and not be focused on his stat line.

“To be honest with you, my thought was, ‘Shoot, Marty is going to give me a third touchdown pass on the day,'” Flacco said. “I was kind of happy about it at that point — being selfish — but you’ve got to just to take care of the football and it’s a non-issue.”

It was a disappointing response from a veteran known for having a winning moxie.

No, Flacco doesn’t call the plays, but he isn’t just a trained robot out there, either.

Either way, that pick can’t happen.

Until C.J. Mosley deflected Wentz’s 2-point conversion pass that would have handed Harbaugh the worst defeat of his career, the defense couldn’t pick up the slack after the interception. That’s a concerning development with road games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati to conclude the regular season and the Ravens likely needing to win both to make the playoffs.

But the blame still comes back to an offense that had a solid day before that fourth-quarter meltdown from Harbaugh, Mornhinweg, and Flacco. No matter how you want to rank them, all deserved substantial blame for what happened.

“I’ve played a lot of football, so I’ve seen a lot worse,” said Smith, who is now in the final weeks of his 16th season. “I’ve witnessed a lot worse. Whatever, I’m not getting into that.”

No matter what the Ravens try to tell you or themselves, the numbers don’t lie. They haven’t been all that interested in running the football all year — even when they’ve done it well.

They were lucky it didn’t cost them their season on Sunday.

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Ravens-Eagles: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 18 December 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — One game at a time.

That’s been the message all week for the Ravens, who must put aside thoughts of a Christmas Day showdown with Pittsburgh to take care of the struggling Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon. Likely needing to win the final three weeks to qualify for the postseason, Baltimore can’t afford to overlook a team that’s lost six of seven since a promising 4-2 start.

Of course, the Ravens will be shorthanded in the secondary with cornerback Jimmy Smith sidelined with an ankle injury and already declared out on Friday. The league’s 11th-ranked pass defense has struggled mightily without Smith — giving up their four biggest passing totals in games in which he’s missed significant time this season — but the Eagles have struggled offensively behind rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and an underwhelming group of wide receivers.

After practicing on a limited basis all week, nickel cornerback Jerraud Powers has passed the concussion protocol and is active for Sunday’s game. Shareece Wright is expected to start in place of Smith opposite rookie cornerback Tavon Young in the base defense.

Despite being full participants in practice by the end of the week, both offensive lineman Alex Lewis (ankle) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring) are inactive. Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith is a healthy scratch for the third time in the last four games, continuing a disappointing season for the 2015 fourth-round pick.

As expected, third-year wide receiver Michael Campanaro is active and will make his 2016 debut as a return specialist for Baltimore. He was promoted from the practice squad this week to replace struggling veteran Devin Hester, who was waived on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Eagles will have wide receivers Jordan Matthews (ankle) and Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen) on the field despite both being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Matthews working in the slot against Powers could be a problematic matchup for the Ravens defense.

The Eagles deactivated offensive lineman Allen Barbre (hamstring) and will start Stefen Wisniewski at left guard. Rookie Isaac Seumalo will start in place of the injured Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee), becoming Philadelphia’s fifth right tackle of the season.

Eagles running back Darren Sproles (concussion) was ruled out on Friday.

The Ravens and Eagles will be meeting for the fifth time in the regular season with Philadelphia holding a 2-1-1 advantage. Baltimore will be trying to avoid going 0-4 against the NFC East this season, but is 13-7 at home in the month of December under ninth-year head coach John Harbaugh.

The forecast for Sunday’s game calls for light rain and cloudy skies with temperatures starting in the high 50s and dropping into the 40s later in the afternoon. There will also be winds up to 17 miles per hour, which could present an issue for the passing and kicking games.

It will also be interesting to see how the grass surface holds up after there were complaints about the footing from the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Craig Wrolstad.

The Ravens will be wearing black jerseys with black pants while Philadelphia dons its white tops with green pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Jimmy Smith
RB Buck Allen
LB Lamar Louis
OL Ryan Jensen
OL Alex Lewis
TE Crockett Gillmore
LB Za’Darius Smith

PHILADELPHIA
WR Paul Turner
CB Dwayne Gratz
RB Darren Sproles
DE Steven Means
OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai
OL Allen Barbre
DT Taylor Hart

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Ravens-Eagles: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 December 2016 by Luke Jones

It was a tough week for the Ravens.

After a humbling 30-23 loss to New England that never felt that close, veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs acknowledged the Ravens were “a little messed up” after oozing confidence the previous week. Of course, they had to turn the page quickly knowing they’ll likely need to win out to earn an AFC North championship and a home playoff game.

On the other side, Philadelphia has lost four straight and six of its last seven after a promising 4-2 start under first-year head coach Doug Pederson. Much like Baltimore, the Eagles have struggled on the road and haven’t won an away game since Week 2.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the fifth time in regular season history with the Eagles holding the advantage with a 2-1-1 mark. The Ravens are 1-0-1 against Philadelphia in Baltimore.

Below are five predictions for Sunday …

1. Kenneth Dixon will rush for a career-high 75 yards and a touchdown. I’m a fool for predicting prosperity for a running game in which the Ravens have shown a lack of interest for most of the season, but a rainy and windy forecast for Sunday’s game should force offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to commit to the ground attack. Dixon was one of the few bright spots against the Patriots and continues to pry away touches from incumbent starter Terrance West. The Eagles are 15th in the NFL against the run, meaning Dixon should be able to find room to help keep the offense on schedule.

2. Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will disrupt the pocket as Joe Flacco throws for a touchdown and an interception. The offensive line has improved its play in recent weeks, but right guard Vlad Ducasse and right tackle Rick Wagner will have their hands full against Cox and Graham, who have combined for 10 1/2 sacks this year. Their pressure will prevent Flacco from exploiting cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin and will force him to check down often. The passing game will be better than it was against New England, but it will be another up-and-down performance.

3. Eagles receiver Jordan Matthews will rack up 90 receiving yards and a score. The absence of Jimmy Smith spells problems for the Ravens, but that will be minimized against rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and a mediocre group of receivers. Matthews does present an issue while working primarily out of the slot and is capable of putting up good numbers if he’s finally over a lingering ankle injury. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees would be wise to have rookie Tavon Young travel with Matthews, but the third-year wideout is more likely to have success against slot corner Jerraud Powers.

4. Elvis Dumervil will collect 1 1/2 sacks against Philadelphia’s fifth right tackle of the season. The Eagles have had significant issues at the position since Lane Johnson began serving a 10-game ban, and the Ravens should be aggressive in going after Wentz instead of allowing him to stand in the pocket. If rookie Isaac Seumalo gets the nod at right tackle, Dumervil needs to exploit him while fellow veteran Terrell Suggs is matched up against tough left tackle Jason Peters. Knowing the secondary is missing its top corner, the Ravens must get Dumervil and the rush cranked up for the final stretch.

5. The Ravens will prevail in a 21-17 final over the Eagles. It’s always tricky bouncing back from a Monday night road game, but Philadelphia is playing out the string and the Ravens have proven to be a good team at M&T Bank Stadium with a 5-2 home record. The weather makes this one a little more unpredictable and it’s still difficult to trust the Baltimore offense, which will make this a closer game that some might expect. Even without Smith in the secondary, the defense will rise to the occasion to protect a late lead and put the Ravens in position for their showdown with Pittsburgh next week.

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Ravens officially rule out Jimmy Smith for Philadelphia game

Posted on 16 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will be without their best cornerback as they meet Philadelphia in their home finale on Sunday afternoon.

After missing practices all week with a right ankle sprain, Jimmy Smith was officially ruled out on Friday and will miss his third full game of the season. Smith was injured late in the first quarter of Monday’s 30-23 loss at New England and didn’t return.

Though the Eagles are tied for 21st in passing offense behind rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and an underwhelming group of wide receivers, Smith’s status remains uncertain with a crucial showdown at Pittsburgh looming on Christmas Day. It’s no secret that the Baltimore pass defense has struggled dramatically without him on the field, allowing their four biggest passing totals of the season in games in which Smith missed substantial action.

The Ravens gave up a season-high 401 passing yards to the Patriots in Week 14.

“You hate to lose one of your best corners, but you definitely have to continue to play ball,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We have something we’re trying to do. We can’t let us losing a guy on defense stop us.”

Other than Smith, the Ravens are in relatively good shape from a health standpoint with no other players ruled out or listed as doubtful. Nickel cornerback Jerraud Powers (concussion), tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), defensive back Anthony Levine (toe), and guard Alex Lewis (ankle) were designated as questionable to play against the Eagles.

Powers remains on the last step of the NFL’s concussion protocol and practiced on a limited basis all week. Of course, his status is more significant now with Smith out and Shareece Wright already expected to be in the starting lineup.

Gillmore, Levine, and Lewis were full participants in Friday’s practice.

Meanwhile, the Eagles officially ruled out veteran running back Darren Sproles, who sustained a concussion in last Sunday’s loss to Washington. Starting right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is also out with a knee injury.

Wide receiver Jordan Matthews (ankle) was designated as questionable after participating fully in practices on Thursday and Friday.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Craig Wrolstad.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast calls for rain with temperatures reaching the high 50s and winds up 16 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (toe), G Alex Lewis (ankle), CB Jerraud Powers (concussion)

PHILADELPHIA
OUT: RB Darren Sproles (concussion), OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: G Allen Barbre (hamstring), TE Brent Celek (stinger), WR Dorial Green-Beckham (abdomen), LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (illness), WR Jordan Matthews (ankle)

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Ravens lose veteran scout to Philadelphia

Posted on 11 May 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have lost East regional scout Andy Weidl to Philadelphia where he will reunite with former Baltimore national scout Joe Douglas.

On Wednesday, the Eagles officially announced the hiring of Weidl as their assistant director of player personnel. They also hired Douglas, who spent last season as the director of college scouting for the Chicago Bears and will now become Philadelphia’s new vice president of player personnel.

With the Ravens since 2005, Weidl had served as the organization’s East regional scout since the 2013 draft and was responsible for scouting the entire eastern section of the United State, which included players from the ACC, American Conference, Big Ten, MAC, and SEC. He also evaluated and provided crosschecking scouting reports on players deemed “draftable” by the scouting department.

Both Douglas and Weidl were respected members of the scouting department valued by general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta, and director of college scouting Joe Hortiz.

“I have known Joe for several years and have admired his work with both the Ravens and the Bears,” Eagles executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said on Wednesday. “He is a guy that we had targeted from the outset. I feel that we are very fortunate to have him lead our player personnel department. Ozzie Newsome and [Bears general manager] Ryan Pace spoke very highly of him and his work. He is passionate about football, passionate about scouting, and he played a vital role in the success of the Ravens over the last decade.

“Andy also comes from the Ozzie Newsome tree of talent evaluators in Baltimore, and he has a great working relationship with Joe. I spoke with Tom Donahoe, who hired Andy in Pittsburgh, and he had nothing but great things to say about his work ethic. Like Joe, you can sense his drive for scouting right off the bat, and he has spent his entire career working for an opportunity like this. We are very pleased to have him join us.”

Players drafted from Weidl’s territories over the years included five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, defensive tackle Arthur Jones, wide receiver Torrey Smith, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

Weidl played his college football at Villanova where he graduated with a degree in communications in 1996. He had previous NFL stops with the Steelers and New Orleans before joining the Ravens more than a decade ago.

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Mark Eckel: Lots of people affected by Eagles trade

Posted on 24 April 2016 by WNST Staff

Mark Eckel has been covering the Philadephia Eagles for a long time, and there are not many moments that have created as much buzz as the Eagles trading up to the #2 spot in the 2016 Draft in an effort to, by all indications, select quarterback Carson Wentz.

When a trade of such magnitude is made, the ramifications are sure to be felt well into the future. Eckel touched on some of those possibilities.

“The future of a lot of people were affected by that trade,” Eckel said. “Obviously quarterback Sam Bradford’s future is up in the air. He won’t be an Eagle for much longer, maybe this year. The head coach Doug Pederson and GM Howie Roseman, both of their careers are kind of on the line with this pick, if it is Carson Wentz as we all have kind of come to the conclusion that it is. If Wentz is not the answer, if he is another Ryan Leaf, then Doug Pederson is not going to be a head coach for very long, and Howie Roseman probably won’t be involved in personnel very long.”

Mark went on to share many more in-depth thoughts regarding this blockbuster trade. To hear his complete conversation with Nestor, listen here:

 

 

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Eagles job “not even part of the conversation” for Harbaugh

Posted on 30 December 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — From the moment that Philadelphia announced the dismissal of head coach Chip Kelly on Tuesday, some Eagles fans and media mentioned John Harbaugh as a potential replacement.

Under contract through 2017, the Ravens head coach quickly dismissed any notion that he’d entertain the thought of returning to Philadelphia, where he spent a decade as a special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach.

“Is it flattering to be talked about on Philly talk radio? Usually not,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “No, it’s not even part of the conversation. I hope [the talk is] flattering.”

Though in the midst of the only losing season of his eight-year run in Baltimore, Harbaugh has been praised for his ability to keep the locker room united and to motivate his players in continuing to play hard after a 1-6 start and a slew of injuries to key players.

Asked once again whether he would consider interest from the Eagles after Baltimore’s season concludes against Cincinnati on Sunday, the 53-year-old made it clear that he doesn’t expect to go anywhere.

“No, it won’t be part of the conversation,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens practiced for three days with the Eagles in Philadelphia in August ahead of their preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. This marks the second straight year that they’ve practiced with a team that dismissed their head coach later in the same season after Jim Harbaugh parted ways with San Francisco at the end of 2014.

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Mike Tanier weighs in on Eagles huge win over rival Giants

Posted on 20 October 2015 by WNST Staff

Mike Tanier

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Suggs’ hit on Bradford probably unnecessary, but point spot on

Posted on 23 August 2015 by Luke Jones

Like it or not, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs has developed a reputation around the NFL for being a dirty player.

So, it came as no surprise that his penalized hit on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford drew plenty of criticism after Saturday’s game. Eagles tackle Jason Peters said he was “pretty sure he planned it” after the teams practiced together all week.

It was probably unnecessary for Suggs to hit Bradford in the knees, but a quarterback isn’t supposed to be treated as a “quarterback” when running the read option, a play in which one defensive player is responsible for the quarterback potentially keeping the ball while another defender targets the running back. When the league goes to desperate lengths to protect its quarterbacks, we’ll find plenty of examples like this one that make us ask where we draw the line and officials face the same problem in real time.

It’s not a defensive player’s job to stand there as the play develops and think, “Did he really sell the threat to run enough with that read-option play?” Any football player will tell you indecisiveness leads to big plays by the opposition and potential injury to yourself.

Ultimately, it’s a violent game in which players get hurt and have gotten hurt countless times. It’s not a defensive player’s responsibility to be thinking about a quarterback’s medical history, particularly if he’s executing a play in which he frequently serves as a runner.

Regardless of the play itself, Suggs’ comments after the game were spot on as it relates to Eagles coach Chip Kelly and the handling of his new quarterback in Philadelphia.

“When you run the read option, you have to know the rules,” Suggs said. “If you want to run the read option with your starting quarterback that has had two knee surgeries, that’s on you. That’s not my responsibility to update you on the rules. I could have hit him harder than that. I eased up.”

The comments sound harsh, but Suggs is right.

And whether the hit to the knee was intentional or not — hitting a ball carrier in that area isn’t illegal, just to be clear — Bradford is an easy target if the Eagles insist on using the read-option attack. He’s going to be hit and potentially hit in the knees.

This isn’t a matter of wishing ill will on Bradford as you hope he can finally stay healthy.

It’s just football.

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