Tag Archive | "Greg Roman"

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Flacco-to-Jackson transition will prove challenging for Ravens

Posted on 27 April 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens took their quarterback of the future Thursday night.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh clearly stated Joe Flacco will remain their starter, but for how long? You don’t just trade back into the first round — surrendering a 2019 second-round pick in the process — and take Louisville’s Lamar Jackson to merely be a flier and long-term backup to light a fire under Flacco. Those picks are valuable commodities, especially for a team that’s made the playoffs just once in the last five years.

Drafting Jackson so early was a clear message that the Ravens have lost faith in their longtime starter.

It’s no secret that Flacco’s contract remains untouchable until next season while the consensus opinion is that the talented Jackson won’t be ready to play in the NFL right away. The Ravens would still be dealing with $16 million in dead money on their salary cap should they cut or trade Flacco next year, making it conceivable that he stays put for 2019 if he plays well this season or Jackson develops more slowly than they hope.

But how do the Ravens calibrate the present with Flacco while preparing for their future with Jackson?

Newsome said they want to win this year, but one of the major criticisms of the organization has been its inability to surround Flacco with more talent, something that wasn’t helped by drafting someone who will be standing on the sideline this season. Harbaugh cited New England as a recent example of a team contending while drafting a young quarterback early — Jimmy Garoppolo at the end of the second round in 2014 — but Flacco isn’t Tom Brady and the Patriots already had a championship-caliber roster in place. The Ravens really aren’t in a position to be using an early pick on a backup quarterback if they’re so determined to get back to the playoffs this season.

Beyond the question of whether Baltimore will adequately address its remaining needs, how do you go about developing Jackson appropriately? The idea of a first-round quarterback not playing right away was once commonplace, but that strategy is rarely executed successfully in today’s NFL for a variety of reasons, one of them being the overall shortage of practice time to adequately develop the player. There are only so many reps to go around, and an already-maligned veteran sharing valuable first-team reps with a developing backup isn’t a winning formula for Sundays.

Then again, the Ravens trying to utilize Jackson’s unique skills in some fashion during his rookie season should be a no-brainer. You can talk about practice reps and classroom time all you want, but there’s no substitute for live-game action and one of the major questions facing Jackson is his ability to handle pressure in the pocket, something not easily replicated in practice.

To little surprise, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was vague when asked how the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner would be handled during his rookie season.

“We talked about it just briefly on his visit about how we would go about these things,” Mornhinweg said. “So [quarterbacks coach James Urban] and myself and John plan together, pre-practice, all those things. It’s going to be important. As far as the future, we’ll see what happens there. Joe’s the quarterback of this football team. Lamar is going to develop all those things. So, we’ll see what happens.”

What about the coaches’ status in this equation?

Many have assumed Harbaugh and his staff would likely be dismissed without a return to the playoffs this coming season, but much has been made about the experiences of Mornhinweg and Urban resurrecting Michael Vick’s career in Philadelphia and assistant head coach Greg Roman tutoring Colin Kaepernick and Tyrod Taylor at previous stops. If Jackson’s development is truly the priority it needs to be after using a first-round pick on him, firing the coaching staff a year into his NFL career would seemingly set him back.

On Thursday, Harbaugh spoke in such glowing terms about a quarterback who doesn’t currently figure to be a major factor in 2018 that you wonder if he’s received assurances from owner Steve Bisciotti — who admitted he considered replacing him at the end of the 2017 season — that he’s not facing a playoffs-or-bust scenario and that his staff will be given sufficient time to oversee Jackson’s development. Otherwise, it’s difficult to imagine Harbaugh being thrilled about valuable draft capital being used solely for the future.

What about the relationship between Flacco and Jackson? The 33-year-old has always been viewed as a good teammate, but he’s never before been threatened by another quarterback on the roster, making you wonder how eager he’ll be to help tutor someone tabbed to take his job.

How will other Ravens players react if Flacco gets off to a lackluster start and the talented rookie is itching for his opportunity? Quarterback controversies can easily fracture a locker room if you’re not careful.

And we haven’t even mentioned how ugly it could get as soon as Flacco throws an interception or the offense has a few three-and-outs playing at home. A viable backup quarterback is always the most popular guy in town, meaning fan pressure to replace Flacco with Jackson at the first sign of trouble will be immense.

It all has the potential to be a very bumpy ride.

Regardless of your view on the Ravens’ decision on Thursday night, Jackson has impressive abilities and could eventually blossom into a dangerous NFL quarterback, but he’ll need proper coaching as well as a good roster surrounding him to succeed. A less-than-ideal salary cap situation, questions about the long-term status of the coaching staff, and the incumbent still being on the roster could all prove to be significant challenges as the torch is eventually passed.

The process sure will be fascinating to watch.

And it could be very problematic.

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How did Ravens running backs stack up to the rest of the NFL in 2017?

Posted on 24 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few put in the necessary time and effort to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop any kind of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens running backs ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Alex Collins
2017 offensive snap count: 378
NFL1000 ranking: 12th
PFF ranking: 5th
Skinny: The 23-year-old was a terrific addition for a below-average offense and finished ninth in yards per carry, but his 2.96 yards per attempt average over the last three games and a slight 210-pound frame make it fair to take pause before assuming he’ll automatically thrive with a bigger workload next season.

Buck Allen
2017 offensive snap count: 466
NFL1000 ranking: 46th
PFF ranking: 33rd
Skinny: The 2015 fourth-round pick rebounded from a disappointing 2016 to emerge as a solid No. 2 back by averaging 3.9 yards per carry and scoring six touchdowns. Allen caught 46 passes, but his 5.4 yards per catch ranked last in the NFL among qualified players and reflected his limited elusiveness.

Danny Woodhead
2017 offensive snap count: 157
NFL1000 ranking: 55th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A significant hamstring injury cost Woodhead nearly nine full games, and he has now appeared in only 29 contests over his last four seasons because of injuries. Though the 32-year-old returned in November, he averaged just 6.1 yards per catch and didn’t eclipse 50 yards from scrimmage once.

Terrance West
2017 offensive snap count: 66
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A calf injury suffered in Oakland in Week 5 cost West multiple games, but the writing was on the wall when he was healthy again as Collins had secured the starting gig and Allen was the more versatile backup. The Baltimore native will be an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to return.

2018 positional outlook

With Collins under team control for two more years and Allen still having a year remaining on his rookie deal, the running back position is clearly in better shape than the other skill spots on this offense. The wild card is Kenneth Dixon, who will be coming off a major knee injury and two drug-related suspensions. A healthy and motivated Dixon paired with Collins would be intriguing, but the latter showed enough success in Greg Roman’s blocking schemes to have confidence in him entering 2018 as the starter, especially with guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis back in the fold. Woodhead remains under contract, but Baltimore could save $1.8 million in salary cap space by releasing him. The Ravens should keep their eyes peeled for game-changing talent at any position and could still add a running back later in the draft, but you wouldn’t expect the position to be a top priority to address this offseason.

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Ravens keep run-game architect Roman, hire new quarterbacks coach

Posted on 05 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The man who orchestrated a 2017 turnaround for the Ravens running game is staying put.

Senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman has re-signed with Baltimore despite growing concerns that he might depart for an opportunity elsewhere. Head coach John Harbaugh has promoted him to the title of assistant head coach, but Roman will continue his work with the tight ends as well as overseeing the running game.

“I’m thrilled to be back with the people and organization that is the Ravens,” Roman said to the team’s official website. “I enjoy coming to work every day and look forward to building upon what we did this year.”

After finishing 26th in run offense in 2015 and 28th in 2016, the Ravens hired Roman to rediscover the ground productivity that had disappeared since Gary Kubiak’s lone season in 2014. Abandoning their zone-heavy schemes in favor of a more multiple approach under Roman, the Ravens finished 11th in the NFL in rushing yards per game despite being without six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda for most of the year and losing projected starting left guard Alex Lewis for the season during training camp.

Picked up after being cut by Seattle at the end of the preseason, second-year running back Alex Collins flourished in Baltimore, ranking 11th in the NFL with 973 rushing yards and averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

A day after leaving open the possibility of adding a quarterbacks coach, Harbaugh hired James Urban, who had worked in Cincinnati as the wide receivers coach for the last seven years. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg coached the quarterbacks the last three seasons, but Urban will take over those duties and previously served as the quarterbacks coach for Philadelphia from 2009-10 when Mornhinweg was the offensive coordinator for the Eagles. Urban worked with the accomplished Donovan McNabb as well as Michael Vick, who enjoyed a renaissance Pro Bowl season under his tutelage in 2010.

“I want to win football games, do what it takes to win football games, and put people in place to win football games,” Urban said in a statement. “The Ravens are about tough, physical, disciplined football, and those are appealing things to me. Obviously, Marty and I coached together for seven years, and he has guided me in many ways — in terms of what I believe about quarterback play and offensive play. I am really excited to be back with Marty and to go to work.”

The Ravens will hope Urban has a positive impact on Joe Flacco, who is coming off one of the more trying seasons of his 10-year career. His 5.72 yards per attempt average was the worst of his career and ranked last among qualified NFL quarterbacks. Excluding Flacco’s injury-shortened 2015 campaign, his 3,141 passing yards were his lowest total since his rookie year. Flacco did rebound over the final five games of the season, throwing nine touchdowns and posting a 91.4 passer rating while tossing only two interceptions.

Urban began his NFL coaching career with the Eagles in 2003 when Harbaugh was still the special teams coordinator under Andy Reid. The 44-year-old remained in that organization until being hired by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis in 2011.

“Playing the Bengals twice a year, we’ve seen what a good job James does,” Harbaugh said in a statement. “He’s highly regarded around the league, including by Ozzie [Newsome] and Marty. We were all excited when he became available.”

The Ravens have yet to fill their vacant defensive coordinator position after the retirement of Dean Pees earlier this week, but former Indianapolis head coach and one-time Baltimore defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale are believed to be the top candidates for the job.

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Ravens still sounding too comfortable until they prove otherwise

Posted on 04 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A few summers ago, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh walked to the interview podium wearing a shirt with an appropriate slogan for a sweltering training camp practice.

Get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Many are wondering if the Ravens are just plain comfortable these days despite having missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons. Harbaugh’s decision to retain offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg certainly doesn’t do anything to debunk that perception. We may never know if the Ravens might have even retained defensive coordinator Dean Pees had he not chosen to retire.

Having just finished his first decade in Baltimore, Harbaugh began Thursday’s press conference not by lamenting his team not being good enough in 2017, but he instead expressed deep pride in his players’ hard work to be the best they could be. That’s a noble sentiment and not necessarily untrue, but it’s not the opening message your fan base wants to hear four days after one of the biggest collapses and worst home losses in team history. This is a results-driven business in which praise for hard work and doing your best rings hollow when you fail in such a crucial situation.

Announcing he was retaining Mornhinweg made it even worse.

“I believe in these coaches. I understand the job that they did this year because I see it close up,” said Harbaugh, who cited the the Ravens being the second-highest scoring team in the NFL after their bye week. “I think our offense made a heck of a lot of progress, especially considering the adversity that we faced and the challenges we were up against this year. That’s why we are rolling.”

Of course, the passing game being the worst in the NFL through the first three months of the season was a major reason why the Ravens needed to win six of their last seven games to make the playoffs. Let’s also not overlook the first half of Sunday’s game when the offense had seven straight three-and-outs and managed only two first downs to contribute to a double-digit deficit against Cincinnati. It’s no secret the Ravens didn’t exactly play a whopper of a schedule after the bye week either. Even as Joe Flacco showed much-needed improvement down the stretch, there were still plenty of head-scratching calls to point to.

Mornhinweg certainly dealt with difficult circumstances, ranging from the front office’s lack of commitment to improving the offense in the offseason to Flacco’s summer back injury and Marshal Yanda’s season-ending ankle fracture in Week 3. But does the December improvement and his overall body of work that began as the quarterbacks coach in 2015 — the first of three straight seasons in which Flacco’s yards per attempt rate has dropped — provide enough justification to retain him for another season?

Making matters more unsettling, the Ravens could lose senior offensive assistant and run-game guru Greg Roman, who is not under contract for 2018 and could garner consideration as an offensive coordinator elsewhere. His departure would renew fears about a ground attack that improved markedly this season after being woefully inadequate the previous two seasons under Marc Trestman and then Mornhinweg. A fair argument could be made to promote Roman and hire an outsider to work with Flacco and oversee the passing game, but the status quo will instead remain at the coordinator spot.

Is it continuity or complacency?

Let’s not forget this is the same head coach and organization that fired their offensive coordinator when the Ravens were 9-4 and already a safe bet to make the playoffs in mid-December of 2012. If you’re not going to shake things up after missing the postseason for the third straight year, when will you again?

Regardless of who’s calling the plays as the offensive coordinator, Harbaugh knows the Ravens must add playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. Criticize Mornhinweg all you want, but having to count on the likes of Michael Campanaro and Quincy Adeboyejo with your season on the line isn’t exactly giving a coach a great chance to succeed.

“I think if anyone looks at the needs on our team, that’s where we’re going to be looking to fill our roster,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not giving away any secret there. Everybody in the league knows that. We have to do that.”

The problem is you could have pulled that same quote from 2013 or 2014 or 2015 or last year. That’s where the front office and scouting department come into the picture and must own their shortcomings.

After again pumping most of their resources into the defense last offseason, will general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens finally change up their post-Super Bowl XLVII approach or offer more of the same? Will this organization do something to finally address its blind spot at the wide receiver position? Or will they stick with what’s comfortable?

You’d think jobs are depending on it, but many assumed that to be the case a year ago.

Those fans demanding a pound of flesh were likely always going to be disappointed short of owner Steve Bisciotti waking up on New Year’s Day and electing to clean house, but there’s still little evidence of a renewed sense of urgency after another January that will be spent watching the playoffs at home. The Ravens can’t keep using the “one play away” argument and expect their fans to buy it, evident by the thousands of empty seats at M&T Bank Stadium down the stretch.

Now 40-40 with only one playoff win since raising the Lombardi Trophy in New Orleans 59 months ago, Harbaugh still looked and sounded quite comfortable at the podium on Thursday, evident by the lack of changes to his staff.

It will now be up to the front office to change the Ravens’ perception to offer fans more hope for 2018 and beyond.

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Flacco expects Mornhinweg to return as Ravens offensive coordinator

Posted on 01 January 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will have a new defensive coordinator in 2018, but it remains to be seen whether other changes are coming to the coaching staff.

Head coach John Harbaugh hasn’t addressed the status of his staff beyond issuing a statement on Dean Pees’ retirement on Monday, but Joe Flacco said he expects offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to return next season. The veteran quarterback was asked about the importance of building continuity with the coordinator and play-caller, who took over for Marc Trestman in October of 2016.

“It’s always huge. Our relationship is growing,” Flacco said. “It’s always evolving. It’ll definitely be a big thing moving forward.”

Of course, Flacco doesn’t make the coaching staff decisions, but it’s worth noting he had just met extensively with Harbaugh before speaking with reporters in the locker room Monday afternoon. You wouldn’t think the veteran signal-caller would have wanted to comment on his offensive coordinator’s status if he was aware a change was coming, but that doesn’t mean any decision has been made.

The Ravens finished ninth in the NFL in points per game and ranked second in points scored after their Week 10 bye, but the offense reaped the benefits of a defense that led the league in takeaways and was easily among the worst in the NFL over the first three months of the season. Baltimore finished just 27th in total yards, 29th in passing offense, and 11th in rush offense.

Even with Flacco’s uptick in performance in December, he finished last among qualified quarterbacks in yards per passing attempt (5.72) and posted his lowest passer rating (80.4) and QBR (46.0) since 2013.

“We were dealing with a lot to be honest with you,” said Flacco, pretty clearly alluding to his summer back ailment and the slew of other injuries the offense sustained over the summer and early in the season. “We were trying to do our best to play winning football and put ourselves in position to win the football games the best that we could [and] the way that set up for our football team.

“I think that we had to win football games in certain ways in the early part of the year due to a lot of things. We were trying to play to that style and do those things. We just weren’t good enough at it.”

The status of senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman could also impact Mornhinweg’s future if the Ravens do not want to lose the man who coordinated an improved ground attack in 2017. If Roman draws interest as a potential offensive coordinator elsewhere, might Harbaugh and the Ravens consider promoting him and parting ways with the current offensive coordinator?

Retaining Mornhinweg this past year wasn’t a popular decision among fans, so maintaining the status quo would be a tough sell despite the improvement shown over the final month or so. Regardless of the offensive coordinator, the Ravens must upgrade the talent level at the skill positions after pumping few resources into the offense last offseason.

Wide receivers Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro as well as tight end Benjamin Watson are set to become unrestricted free agents. Starting center Ryan Jensen and offensive lineman James Hurst — who filled in for the injured Alex Lewis at left guard all season — are also scheduled to hit the open market in March.

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Amid Ravens’ offensive line trials, Jensen emerging as answer at center

Posted on 12 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ask any Ravens player which teammate is most likely to get into a scuffle in training camp, and the answer would be unanimous.

It’s the man who’s helped stabilize the middle of an offensive line that’s endured more than its share of injuries this season. And after years of competing and scrapping in relative obscurity, center Ryan Jensen has been one of the Ravens’ biggest surprises in his first full season as a starter.

“He gets a little feisty; he’ll throw a helmet here and there,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He’s a great competitor, and you want that kind of play with all your players, especially on the o-line. He’s not going to let anyone [bully] him. He’s always going to get the better end of it. Playing against him in practice, that keeps you aware.

“Even though you think he’s being a butthole, he’s actually making you better because you’re protecting yourself.”

Jensen says he takes such a description from a teammate as a compliment and quips that his red hair explains why he’s so “ornery” on the field, but such a temperament can be a challenge for a young player trying to establish himself among veteran teammates. A 2013 sixth-round pick out of Division II Colorado State-Pueblo, Jensen didn’t appear in a game as a rookie after breaking his foot early in his first training camp and was then waived at the end of the 2014 preseason, which led to him spending most of that campaign on Baltimore’s practice squad.

If those setbacks weren’t enough to make Jensen wonder if he would ever become a full-time NFL starter, the 6-foot-4, 319-pound lineman was a healthy scratch for the final nine weeks of 2016 after he’d made three fill-in starts early in the season. He’d also started six games because of injuries late in 2015, but the Ravens always seemed to end up going in a different direction whenever he’d receive a look as a starter.

“My second year when I got released, there is always a little doubt that gets put in the back of your mind,” Jensen said. “Working through that is big.”

Despite appearing to fall out of favor last season, Jensen received a $1.797 million tender as a restricted free agent in March. And after incumbent starting center Jeremy Zuttah was traded to San Francisco later that month, head coach John Harbaugh and his staff liked that Jensen had gotten bigger and stronger in the offseason. Senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris wanted more size and physicality at the center position in the transition from an outside-zone blocking system to a multiple approach that would include more man blocking and downhill running.

As many continued to clamor for former New York Jets center Eric Mangold and the focus on the in-house competition remained on John Urschel before his abrupt retirement in late July, Jensen lined up as the starting center on the first day of training camp and never relinquished the job. In fact, he was the only constant on the field throughout the summer as projected starters at every other position battled injuries or were working their way back from offseason surgeries.

Jensen’s first career start at center was uneven as he helped the Ravens run for a season-high 157 yards in the season-opening win at Cincinnati, but he also committed three holding penalties, prompting critics to wonder if he could channel his aggressiveness to play with enough discipline. Since then, however, he hasn’t committed a penalty and is coming off arguably the best game of his career last Sunday in Oakland as he was graded out higher than any center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I feel good about my performance. I feel good about the offensive line performance,” said Jensen, who currently ranks third among centers in PFF’s grading system for 2017. “We have been meshing together really well. We have injuries and stuff like that, but we are plowing forward and we are getting there.”

Making Jensen’s emergence even more impressive has been the disruption at both guard positions. Second-year left guard Alex Lewis underwent season-ending shoulder surgery in August — and has since been replaced by James Hurst — and six-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda was lost for the year due to a broken ankle in Week 2, leaving Jensen to work with three different players at right guard since then. With Matt Skura now expected to miss action with a knee injury, the Ravens will be on their third different starting right guard in the season’s first six weeks.

Yanda’s absence in particular has forced Jensen to grow up quickly as he’s responsible for assessing the defense’s pre-snap alignment and making protection calls at the line of scrimmage.

“He is a great communicator. He’s a fine player. He’s a tough guy,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “You guys know how up front that stuff happens fast and furious. It is wicked fast, so the communication has to be there. We have been through several guys [at guard], and he has done a great job of sort of running the show there.”

An offense still trying to find its footing is also benefiting from his attitude. With so many of his offensive teammates having more reserved personalities, Jensen isn’t afraid to get in the face of an opponent, something the Ravens had lost in the offseason with the retirement of wide receiver Steve Smith.

Jensen has managed to harness his temper that was so often on display during those practice-field scuffles in Owings Mills over the last few years and is forcing the rest of the league to take notice of his play.

“Ryan is a confident person. I think he has always been that way,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “The thing that you see with him the most is how nasty he is on Sunday and the style that he plays with. We play football, so that’s what it’s all about.

“You need that kind of player. You love to have those guys on your side.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 44-7 loss to Jacksonville

Posted on 26 September 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens matching the team record for biggest margin of defeat in a 44-7 loss to Jacksonville in London, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We always try to determine blame after any loss, but you’ll rarely find a performance with such universal guilt to go around as Sunday’s. Even a couple days later, the stench remains overwhelming, but the Ravens can take solace in knowing it only counts as one loss in the standings.

2. It’s difficult finding reasons to be optimistic about an offensive line that started a former sixth-round pick and three former undrafted free agents against the Jaguars. You hope left tackle Ronnie Stanley becomes the group’s anchor, but the absence of Marshal Yanda was as nightmarish as feared.

3. The Ravens defense showed no ability to create pressure with a four-man rush, meaning defensive coordinator Dean Pees needs to be much more creative with stunts and blitzes. The loss of defensive end Brent Urban will hurt the inside pass rush in sub packages, too.

4. Yes, the offensive line is a major problem, but Joe Flacco is showing the same flaws with poor footwork, anticipating pressure even when he has the time and space, and not pushing the ball down the field. Everything about this offense needs to be better, and that includes the quarterback.

5. Ravens wide receivers have combined for 13 catches this season. There are currently 35 players in the NFL with more. Relative to other position groups, the trio of Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, and Breshad Perriman should be an offensive strength, so there’s no excuse for such anemic production.

6. The fruits of Greg Roman’s work at least showed in the first two weeks, but I’m still waiting for a sign that the Ravens made the right call sticking with Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. The passing game largely remains a mess with no downfield push.

7. Jimmy Smith played well and a couple others had their moments, but the defense sure looked like it was believing its hype before making Blake Bortles look like Ben Roethlisberger. Given the resources used, this defense must be special for Baltimore to win, but that’s still easier said than done.

8. I’m hesitant to read too much into garbage time, but Alex Collins looked the part for the second straight week and runs with urgency. That should have Terrance West and Buck Allen looking over their shoulders in a muddled offensive backfield.

9. I laughed at the outrage expressed by some over Jacksonville’s fake punt with a 37-point lead. I do find it unwise to burn a gadget play in a blowout, but John Harbaugh and the Ravens have done that same thing multiple times on the winning end of past lopsided affairs.

10. It’s a shame Jermaine Eluemunor’s debut in his native country didn’t come with a better result. His first activation was fueled by last week’s season-ending injury to Yanda, but that’s still a pretty amazing story for a London native to play his first NFL game at Wembley Stadium.

11. Those expecting a victory in Week 3 were reminded how volatile this league is — and how underwhelming the Ravens have been on the road in recent years — but I feel for the thousands who made the trip. Losing happens, but they deserved better than an uncompetitive showing.

12. We’ll see whether Baltimore was wise to request not having its bye after the London trip. How the Ravens fare at home against Pittsburgh and at Oakland could go a long way in determining if they’re serious contenders or pretenders who feasted on two bad teams the first two weeks.

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Ready or not, Ravens about to pull back curtain on 2017 offense

Posted on 06 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ready or not, the Ravens are about to pull back the curtain on their offense after a summer full of injuries and unanswered questions.

Quarterback Joe Flacco declares that his back feels good and he’s ready to go after missing the entire preseason.

Longtime right guard Marshal Yanda says the Baltimore offense is more committed to the running game than ever after attempting more passes than any team in the NFL the last two seasons.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace believes the group merely needs to trust its abilities.

But even those wearing the deepest tint of purple-colored glasses have to be concerned if they’re being honest, especially with the Ravens opening the season in a place where they haven’t won in nearly six years. To no surprise, head coach John Harbaugh says he believes in his players and their schemes with Marty Mornhinweg in his first full season as offensive coordinator and new senior offensive assistant Greg Roman in charge of fixing a dormant ground attack.

“When you look back at all that stuff, it’s not always completely accurate,” said Harbaugh about outside expectations. “Teams rise up, and they’re better than people thought they’d be. You don’t have to justify it beforehand. You just go and play the games.”

After the Ravens prioritized defense in free agency and the draft and lost a whopping eight offensive players to season-ending injury, suspension, or retirement over the last three months, fans are being asked to take a leap of faith that the offense will be just good enough to complement a defense expected to be one of the best in the NFL this season. Frankly, even that middle-of-the-road standard is a lot to ask considering the personnel losses endured by the league’s 21st-ranked scoring offense from a year ago.

It doesn’t help that the preseason provided no meaningful answers with Flacco sidelined and the projected starting offensive line not playing a single game together. Roman was never going to show his full hand with a running game vowing to be more downhill and physical than in recent years, but a preseason average of 3.1 yards per carry doesn’t spark enthusiasm, either.

The line will have three new starters with two of them — center Ryan Jensen and left guard James Hurst — previously serving as backups and the other — former Oakland right tackle Austin Howard — only arriving in early August. General manager Ozzie Newsome thought so little of his offensive line depth that he acquired two of the Ravens’ three current reserves in separate trades in the last week.

That’s a pretty big leap.

The Ravens lost roughly half of their receiving production from last season while making only two meaningful additions in the skill-position department. Veteran running back Danny Woodhead — if healthy — should help fill the void in the underneath passing game left behind by tight end Dennis Pitta and fullback Kyle Juszczyk while ninth-year receiver Jeremy Maclin fell into Baltimore’s lap in June and will be trusted to become Flacco’s new safety net with Pitta and wide receiver Steve Smith no longer on the roster.

The problem is those two practiced together a total of two days prior to Flacco’s return to the field last weekend. The quarterback acknowledged that their on-field chemistry will be a work in progress in the early weeks of the season.

“Every guy has their own way of doing things, and you build a rapport with guys throughout the course of the year and throughout practice and all of that,” Flacco said. “But the other side of it is that Jeremy is a good player, and he knows how to get open. Things might not be perfect right now, but if he gets open, then I should be able to put the ball on him.

“We have been doing that since we have been six years old. You just have to go back to the basics of things. You can’t overthink things too much.”

No matter how much the Ravens chose to focus on improving their defense in the offseason, they need more from their offense to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. But is there enough to like about this group on paper to believe that will happen?

Though another year removed from his 2015 knee injury, Flacco is coming off back-to-back lackluster seasons and has a lot of catching up to do after being sidelined for more than a month. The aforementioned challenges on the offensive line certainly don’t quell concerns about the quarterback’s back. Backup Ryan Mallett’s play in the preseason made it pretty apparent that the Ravens are going nowhere if Flacco misses meaningful time.

A group of running backs led by starter Terrance West doesn’t appear to have much upside after the season-ending loss of Kenneth Dixon in July. The addition of two running backs to the practice squad certainly appears to reflect that line of thinking.

The current collection of tight ends combined for just six catches last season. Nick Boyle is a dependable blocker, but the Ravens need to get a return on their investments in the 36-year-old Benjamin Watson and 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams, who are both coming back from serious injuries a year ago.

The wide receiver trio of Maclin, Wallace, and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman probably inspires more confidence than any other offensive position group, but will the offensive line and running game be effective enough for Flacco to effectively utilize these weapons?

And after many called for Harbaugh to replace Mornhinweg since the 2016 offense showed little improvement when he took over for the fired Marc Trestman, the coordinator will be under great pressure to revitalize the downfield passing game and to bring new ideas to the table. He also needs to get more out of his quarterback as he continues to coach that position group.

Much has worked against their offense in the last few months, but the Ravens must find their way on that side of the ball and find it quickly. The Bengals — nor any other early-season opponent — aren’t going to feel sorry for them.

“We’re paid to do a job and paid to do a job at a high level,” Yanda said. “It doesn’t matter how much time you’re taking off, if you’re injured or sick — it doesn’t matter. You have to go out there and produce. We’re expected to go out there and play winning football on Sunday, and we’re preparing to do that.”

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Ravens need to ramp up rushing attack in third preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ideally, the Ravens would be putting the finishing touches on their 2017 preparations against Buffalo on Saturday night.

The third preseason game is typically the final tuneup for the starting units before they turn their sights toward the season opener in a couple weeks. The Baltimore offense instead remains in a concerning state of flux with several key players out once again against the Bills.

In fact, the Ravens could field an entire offense (see below) with players currently sidelined with injuries or already lost for the season, which tells you how difficult the last couple months have been for a group that already sustained some substantial losses in the offseason.

QB Joe Flacco
RB Kenneth Dixon
WR Breshad Perriman
TE Crockett Gillmore
LT Ronnie Stanley
LG Alex Lewis
C John Urschel
RG Nico Siragusa
RT Stephane Nembot
TE Dennis Pitta
WR Tim White

Of course, Flacco is expected to return to practice as soon as the beginning of next week, but his absence again makes it extremely difficult to evaluate the passing game. Even if backup Ryan Mallett improves from his uninspiring performance over the first two preseason contests, the Ravens will hope it’s the final time he’s seeing any meaningful playing time with the starters this season.

The focus should be on the running game. After hiring senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris to rebuild a ground attack that ranked 28th in rushing yards per game and 21st in yards per carry in the NFL last season, the Ravens need to see meaningful progress with four of their five projected offensive line starters expected to be on the field Saturday.

“Our run game, Joe D has done a great job, fantastic job,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who also praised Roman’s efforts to install a more downhill, physical attack. “You look at what that line has been through here recently — nobody has blinked. That’s big. We’ve got guys that have played multiple spots and continue to do that, and [they’re] playing pretty well there. That’ll be a big, big part of our football team if we can run the football against a really good defense.”

Despite positive remarks from Mornhinweg and head coach John Harbaugh this week, the Ravens have averaged just 3.5 yards per carry in the first half of their first two preseason games when starters and key backups have played. Considering six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has yet to see any preseason action and Stanley missed the Miami game, we can’t take much away from the first two games, but those numbers are all we have to go on so far and the running game wasn’t finding much room against a stout defensive front in training camp practices open to media.

Projected starter Terrance West has carried just 11 times on 21 yards in the preseason while backup Buck Allen has gained 61 yards on 18 rushing attempts. In addition to getting West into a flow ahead of the regular season, the Ravens must still figure out their fullback picture, which has included Lorenzo Taliaferro, rookie free agent Ricky Ortiz, and even defensive tackle Patrick Ricard.

On the offensive line, new right tackle Austin Howard needs to show improvement from his unimpressive preseason debut in Miami while Ryan Jensen must continue his solid work to hold off former starter Jeremy Zuttah for the center job. Unfortunately, the left side of the line is more complicated to judge with projected left guard James Hurst filling in at left tackle with Stanley still out.

The expected presence of Yanda on Saturday night hopefully allows the group to begin finding much-needed cohesion.

The Ravens made no secret in the offseason about their desire to revitalize a running game that’s been substandard in three of the last four seasons. That goal has become even more important with Flacco missing the entire summer and likely to be rusty going into the regular season.

Attempting more passes than any team in the NFL over the last two years hasn’t worked and will not be the winning formula for 2017.

“The history of the Ravens shows that you play great defense, you run the ball, you don’t turn the ball over, [then] you win and you’ll have a chance at the Super Bowl,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re going to show that and see where it takes us.”

With a defense showing great potential in 2017, the offense likely just needs to be average for the Ravens to have a good chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

We won’t learn much about the passing attack on Saturday, but the ground game making strides would make the Ravens feel much better with Flacco hopefully returning to the practice field next week.

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Flacco reportedly to miss start of training camp with back issue

Posted on 26 July 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have already endured a litany of injuries since the start of spring workouts, but the eve of training camp brought an unsettling development for their most important player.

According to multiple outlets, quarterback Joe Flacco will miss the start of camp with a disc issue in his back. It remains uncertain how long the 10th-year signal-caller will be out, but an NFL Network report suggested he could miss as much as three to six weeks, which wouldn’t leave a great deal of time ahead of the Sept. 10 season opener.

The Ravens have yet to comment publicly on Flacco’s health or status, but head coach John Harbaugh is scheduled to speak with the media after the first full-squad practice of the summer on Thursday morning. A recent media advisory sent out by the team’s public relations staff had Flacco scheduled to meet with reporters Friday, but it’s unclear whether that session will still take place.

The Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player hadn’t missed a game in his career until tearing the ACL and MCL in his left knee in the latter half of the 2015 season and missing the final six games. Flacco, 32, returned for the start of training camp last year and started all 16 games, but he missed some practice time with a tender shoulder ahead of the Week 7 loss to the New York Jets.

Though eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark for the first time in his career, Flacco is coming off a down season in which he threw only 20 touchdowns and averaged 6.4 yards per pass attempt, which ranked 27th out of 30 qualified quarterbacks. The Ravens are counting on a bounce-back campaign to help them return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“He is the guy that makes the whole offense go,” said wide receiver Mike Wallace on Wednesday before word of Flacco’s back discomfort surfaced. “Just getting more time with him and him being healthy the whole offseason and being able to work with him even more just puts us in a better position and a better place.

“Even though I think from Day 1 last year in training camp, he was ready to go, but just for him to be healthy and not have to worry about his knee at all and just get the time from Day 1 and [organized team activities] and everything, we all feel more confident.”

Of course, back problems can be volatile, so the Ravens will want to be cautious with their franchise quarterback at this early stage of the summer.

The injury leaves Baltimore with just two healthy quarterbacks — backup Ryan Mallett and the little-known Dustin Vaughan — for the start of camp. Even if Flacco were only to miss a week or two, the Ravens would likely prefer to add another quarterback to merely share practice reps.

A longer absence would bring a more compelling discussion as media and fans were already speculating Wednesday evening about the possibility of the Ravens adding veteran Colin Kaepernick, whose continued unemployment has led many to believe he’s been blackballed by the NFL after choosing not to stand for the national anthem as a form of protest during the 2016 season. In addition to playing for Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco, Kaepernick was tutored by current Ravens senior offensive assistant Greg Roman, the 49ers’ offensive coordinator from 2011-2014.

The Flacco news came just a day after second-year running back Kenneth Dixon underwent season-ending knee surgery. Baltimore also lost cornerback Tavon Young (knee) and tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) to season-ending injuries during spring OTAs. Tight end Darren Waller was also suspended for a year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

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