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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 22 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Keep it simple.

Running the football and stopping the run might be as clichéd as it gets when reciting keys to a game, but the Ravens can’t afford to get cute against Denver with three straight road games — two against 2017 playoff teams — looming after Sunday’s home affair. Meanwhile, the Broncos have started 2-0 for the sixth straight year, but winning their first two games — both at home just like this season — didn’t mean much a year ago on their way to a 5-11 campaign in head coach Vance Joseph’s first year.

A win resets positive vibes and puts the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati in the rear-view mirror, but a defeat would conjure memories of last season when the Ravens couldn’t handle their business at home against underwhelming opponents such as Chicago in Week 6 and the Bengals in Week 17, two losses that led to them falling short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens play Denver for the 12th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Broncos holding the 6-5 advantage. Baltimore holds a 5-1 edge in games played at M&T Bank Stadium. Of course, the Ravens are 2-0 against Denver in their playoff history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will double his season total for touches in a better commitment to the run. When you’re crushing an opponent through the air in Week 1 and falling behind by three touchdowns in Week 2, the volume of rushing attempts is always going to suffer. However, the explosive Collins averaging only 10 touches per game isn’t a winning formula, and the Ravens have gained just 3.3 yards per carry so far in 2018, meaning they must be more productive when Marty Mornhinweg does call for runs. Denver led the NFL at just 3.3 yards per carry allowed a year ago and is surrendering 3.6 per attempt so far in 2018, so don’t expect a monster day for Collins. He’ll be more involved, however.

2. Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay will receive a rude awakening after a historic start to his career. The rookie became the first undrafted player in NFL history with more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games, meaning he’s firmly on the opposition’s radar now. The Ravens are concerned with Linday’s speed, which plays more to the edges as Denver continues to employ principles of Gary Kubiak’s outside-zone system. The potential absences of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Michael Pierce are clear concerns, but the ability of outside linebackers and defensive ends to contain will be just as critical. The Ravens will hold Lindsay to under 60 yards.

3. Brandon Carr will continue a hot start by intercepting Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. Lost in the disappointment of last week’s performance against the Bengals was how well the veteran continued to play as Pro Football Focus grades Carr as the third-best cornerback in the NFL through two weeks. He won’t continue playing at that elite level, but the Ravens will need him and Marlon Humphrey to lock down the outside because Mosley’s potential absence and Tavon Young’s Week 2 struggles leave concerns about covering the middle of the field. That said, Keenum has already thrown four interceptions in his first two games and will be pressured into throwing another key one.

4. Von Miller will record a sack, but the Ravens offensive line will bounce back. The Ravens are one of only four opponents the six-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t registered a sack against — he did share one with Elvis Dumervil in the 2012 playoffs — but Miller will present big problems for right tackle James Hurst, leaving tight end Nick Boyle to help him out as much as possible. The key will be Ronnie Stanley elevating his play against rookie first-round pick Bradley Chubb on the opposite side. The offensive line needs to play better collectively, but Stanley has graded just 45th among offensive tackles by PFF. He’ll be better, and the Ravens will protect the pocket more effectively than last week.

5. Joe Flacco will be turnover-free and efficient in a balanced 23-16 win over the Broncos. Whenever Flacco has a monster game throwing the ball at will like he did in Week 1, we’re quickly reminded that he isn’t one of the few quarterbacks who can consistently thrive throwing the ball 40-plus times in a game. The Ravens need to be more productive on the ground moving forward, especially playing four of their next five on the road after Sunday. Denver is talented enough to come into Baltimore and win if John Harbaugh’s team sleepwalks again early, but the Ravens are a better team playing at home and the Broncos’ narrow home wins over Seattle and Oakland were hardly statement games. A win puts the Ravens back on track, but a loss could set off an early-season slide. Home-field advantage and extra rest following a Thursday game will be the difference in a win lacking style points.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-23 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens dropping their first road game of the season in a 34-23 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Third down was the defense’s demise in the first half as each of the Bengals’ four touchdown drives included a breakdown that kept Baltimore from getting off the field. Third-down penalties from Tony Jefferson and Terrell Suggs negated stops that would have led to likely field goals on two drives.

2. The Ravens defense found its footing in the second half, but no sacks and no takeaways will rarely add up to erasing a 21-point deficit. You wonder how the game might have turned out had Eric Weddle’s second foot been in on Andy Dalton’s end-zone throw on Cincinnati’s second drive.

3. Joe Flacco’s accuracy problems were more reminiscent of the last few seasons that the sharper quarterback observed throughout the preseason and in Week 1. Even several of his completions were delivered in ways that hindered receivers from picking up additional yardage.

4. Flacco wasn’t helped by an offensive line that played poorly for most of the night as even Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley had difficulties against the Bengals front. This group had no answers for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

5. Putting two blockers on Atkins makes sense, but Yanda and James Hurst double-teaming backup defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow and tight end Nick Boyle being left alone to block Dunlap on Flacco’s third-quarter interception was as baffling as it gets. Dunlap hit Flacco’s arm to force the errant throw.

6. Too much is made of run-pass ratios and the Ravens were always going to go into a heavier pass mode after falling behind big, but Marty Mornhinweg still needs to get Alex Collins more than four touches in the second half. Buck Allen shouldn’t be matching Collins in snaps either.

7. Matt Judon’s roughing the passer foul in the first half fell into the category of needing to be smarter than that in today’s quarterback-sensitive NFL, but the holding call on Tavon Young on a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter was nothing short of awful. Touching a receiver isn’t a hold.

8. Considering the overall lack of pressure generated against the Bengals, I’d like to have seen Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser get more playing time than their combined 19 defensive snaps, especially after both played well in Week 1. Just like with Lamar Jackson, there’s an endgame to consider as well.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged considering kicking a field goal on the last drive to make it a one-score game, but not doing so was confusing as Flacco continued throwing underneath. No, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, but if that’s your argument, just kneel the ball a few times and go home.

10. Flacco throwing a one-yard pass to Allen on fourth-and-2 midway through the third quarter was an all-too-familiar occurrence. The play call itself was questionable enough, but the throw wasn’t even out in front of Allen to guide him to the mark.

11. That aside, I’m amazed by how many always oppose going for fourth downs or two-point tries in any situation that isn’t overwhelmingly obvious. Punting on short fields, forgoing two-pointers in logical situations, and kicking field goals inside the 5 are examples of playing not to lose rather than to win.

12. After crushing the mustard-colored pants worn for one game in 2015, I really liked the new purple pants with the white jerseys. Now just add similar side stripes to the black pants that look too much like tights. Let’s also see those purple pants with the black jerseys.

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Mosley’s potential absence will be difficult for Ravens to endure

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ biggest loss wasn’t on the scoreboard Thursday night.

The 34-23 defeat to Cincinnati was surely disappointing, but the absence of three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could bring bigger consequences than a divisional defeat. It remains unclear how much time he’ll miss after sustaining a bone bruise in his left knee on the first defensive series of the game.

After Mosley limped off the field at the conclusion of that initial three-and-out for the Baltimore defense, the Bengals scored touchdowns on their next four possessions as former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young manned the inside linebacker spots.

“That’s your middle linebacker. We’ve got two young guys in there playing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They played hard, they fought, but they didn’t play perfect. That’s going to hurt you for sure. It hurt us with the coverage underneath mostly, a little bit in the run game.”

Young, a fourth-round pick from UCLA, has impressed early and looked poised to wrest the starting job away from Onwuasor sooner than later, but both lack experience. Depending on how much time Mosley is expected to miss, the Ravens could re-sign veteran Albert McClellan or add another linebacker with experience. They could also use more sub packages featuring safety Tony Jefferson or dime back Anthony Levine in the box, but the complications run deeper than simply replacing Mosley’s play.

One of the much-discussed developments of the offseason was new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale giving more pre-snap responsibility to veterans like Mosley, safety Eric Weddle, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to adjust defensive alignments, blitzes, and coverages based on what the opponent shows them at the line of scrimmage. It certainly makes sense to take advantage of players’ wisdom, but there was always the question of how an in-game injury might impact that process.

More than one veteran in the post-game locker room acknowledged some on-field confusion after Mosley’s exit as Onwuasor relayed calls in the defensive huddle from the sideline for the rest of the first half. Safety Eric Weddle took over the role in the third quarter as the defense seemed to find its footing and allowed only six more points.

“It’s not an excuse why we lost,” said Weddle, who also relayed defensive calls in the huddle at times when he played for San Diego. “When you play like crap in the first half in all three phases, then that’s just going to happen. You dig yourself a hole. Hopefully, C.J. won’t be out too long, but we battled back and fought our tails off in the second half. It’s too far of a hole when you don’t play the way you’re supposed to play.”

The only extended action Mosley has missed in his NFL career was due to a hamstring injury in 2016. He sustained the injury in the second half of a Week 5 loss to Washington and missed the next two games, which were losses to the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

Stanley also ailing

Mosley wasn’t the only key player to leave Thursday’s game as left tackle Ronnie Stanley went to the sideline with 2:18 to play and didn’t return.

Stanley said he was “fine” after the game, but he wouldn’t discuss what happened or whether he would miss any time, deferring injury questions to Harbaugh. He appeared to grab his right arm after trying to block Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins on a Joe Flacco incomplete pass to Buck Allen, and NFL Network’s field microphone also picked up a player screaming at the same time.

Starting right tackle James Hurst moved to left tackle for the final 12 plays of the game with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. entering on the right side. Stanley looked to be favoring his right arm on the sideline as well as in the post-game locker room, but the lack of extensive medical attention after his departure and his availability to reporters after the game are signs that the injury may not be serious.

According to NFL Network, the Ravens worked out interior offensive linemen Wesley Johnson, Hroniss Grasu, and Jordan Morgan on Saturday to address their concerns inside, so they can hardly afford to be without their starting left tackle for any amount of time.

Road woes continue

Since their 2014 postseason win over Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, the Ravens have gone 8-17 in regular-season away games.

Those road wins have come against the following starting quarterbacks: Michael Vick in his final season, Josh McCown (twice), Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, and DeShone Kizer. You never apologize for the level of competition you face as injuries are part of the game, but when Dalton is the best signal-caller the Ravens have beaten in over three years and he’s won five of the last six meetings against them in Cincinnati, they can’t exactly claim to be road warriors anytime soon.

The Ravens are scheduled to face Roethlisberger, Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers in their seven remaining road games. Five of those quarterbacks have been to Pro Bowls.

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Even with three quarterbacks, Ravens shouldn’t overthink game-day plans

Posted on 06 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After months of discussing and practicing ways to incorporate explosive rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in the flow of the offense, the Ravens are suddenly tight-lipped.

It’s hardly surprising since this is what NFL coaches do the week of a game that actually counts, but the decision to keep Robert Griffin III — giving Baltimore three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster to begin a season for the first time since 2009 — has led many to wonder what the game-day plan will be at the position behind starter Joe Flacco. Teams may activate only 46 players for each game.

“We’ll see,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “We’ll see how that goes.”

Carrying three quarterbacks is far from a novel approach despite the Ravens’ near-decade-long trend of keeping just two, but teams rarely activate all three for games as each active spot is valuable when accounting for the many reserves and special-teams players who contribute to winning games. For one example, Pittsburgh kept three quarterbacks on its 53-man roster all last season, but only two were active for each game.

There were only two instances last season in which the Ravens activated a player and didn’t use him other than sole backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, speaking to how extensively they use backups and special-teams players. In Week 11, offensive tackle Andrew Donnal was active as left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed the game with a concussion, but he was only going to play in an emergency after being claimed off waivers just days earlier. In Week 16, running back Terrance West was activated after a long layoff due to injury, but he was only an insurance policy after starter Alex Collins was banged up in the previous week’s game.

The Ravens leaving themselves vulnerable in another area to devote a third game-day spot to a quarterback unlikely to play would be surprising.

So, if only two quarterbacks are active, do they go with Jackson or Griffin behind Flacco?

The organization certainly values Griffin’s presence to step in should something happen to Flacco that would force him out of action for a few games, but the immediate appeal of drafting Jackson was to utilize his unique skills in creative ways, adding a play-making element to this offense that’s sorely needed. Deactivating Jackson in favor of Griffin might put the Ravens in a slightly better position in the event of an in-game injury to Flacco, but it would also stunt the offense’s potential upside and strip the rookie of experience. We don’t know whether Jackson will become a successful franchise quarterback in the future, but there’s no doubting his ability to contribute in certain situations right away.

The truth is backups receive very few practice reps with the starting offense over the course of the week, inevitably throwing any team into some degree of panic when the starter goes down in the middle of a game. Should that happen to the Ravens with Jackson as the only backup, they should just embrace that chaos by breaking out gadget plays, relying on their rushing attack, and leaning on their stout defense to get them through the game. Of course, if Flacco were to miss the following week’s game as well, Baltimore would turn to Griffin as the starter with Jackson remaining in his same game-day backup and hybrid role. Such an arrangement would seem to be the logical balance between optimizing the use of game-day roster spots and taking advantage of Jackson’s explosive athleticism.

“We’ll do whatever is best for our team,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Any given Sunday, we’ll have the 46 guys up that give us the best chance to be successful, and we’ll just see what that is every week.”

Starting right tackle decided — for now

Mornhinweg confirmed veteran James Hurst will begin the season as the starting right tackle after the summer competition with rookie Orlando Brown.

It looked like the third-round pick might win the job as Hurst worked exclusively at right guard filling in for Marshal Yanda over the first few weeks of training camp and in preseason games, but Hurst began practicing at right tackle with the first-team line upon Yanda’s return to practice in August. Hurst has started 32 games in his career, but previous stints were all the result of injuries including left guard Alex Lewis’ season-ending shoulder injury last summer that led to Hurst starting all 16 games in 2017.

“Last year was kind of an injury circumstance with Alex,” Hurst said. “That was a goal. All preseason, I knew that I wanted to be a starter; I wanted to earn that starting spot and have that faith from the coaches. It’s very exciting for me, but it’s a stepping stone. You’ve got to build off that.”

The Ravens have frequently deferred to veterans in position battles in the past, but that doesn’t mean Brown won’t be able to unseat Hurst in the near future, especially if the veteran struggles on the outside as he did in past stints at both tackle spots.

“Orlando is coming. Orlando had just an outstanding preseason and training camp,” Mornhinweg said. “Orlando is ready to go. Now, that preparation is going to be key for him. James is a heck of a player, and Orlando’s on the come up.”

McClellan departs

The decision to release longtime reserve linebacker Albert McClellan may have been the Ravens’ most difficult last weekend.

Harbaugh has acknowledged the possibility of McClellan returning at some point, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg expressed his gratitude for the veteran’s contributions over the years.

“Albert made the meeting easy; he was amazing like you might expect him to be I guess,” Rosburg said. “Hopefully, I heard it mentioned that perhaps this is not over. I hope that’s the case, but we’ll see what goes on down the road. I know I owe a great deal to him personally. He’s been a big part of my life, and I know our club has been better for him being here, both as a player and a person.”

One of McClellan’s final acts was helping out the rookie who took his place on the 53-man roster. Chris Board, an undrafted free agent from North Dakota State, is expected to serve as a special-teams contributor and backup inside linebacker.

“He definitely taught me a lot, especially as far as special teams,” Board said. “He was kind of my mentor throughout this whole process [with] me being a rookie not knowing what to expect. I definitely have some really big shoes to fill.”

Thursday’s injury report

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Maurice Canady (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Kenny Young (knee)

BUFFALO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury), WR Ray-Ray McCloud (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Julian Stanford (nose)

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Stanley, Hurst return to Ravens offensive line for Monday’s practice

Posted on 27 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the start of the regular season less than two weeks away, the Ravens welcomed back two key members of their offensive line for Monday’s practice.

Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley and the versatile James Hurst were taking part in the portion of practice open to media one week after suffering minor injuries in the preseason win at Indianapolis. Both sat out Saturday’s preseason contest at Miami, but head coach John Harbaugh said last week that their availability for the season opener wouldn’t be in doubt.

“It’s great to get healthy on the offensive line,” Harbaugh said. “It’s great to see those guys out there practicing. Just as I mentioned last week, they were short-term-type injuries, and that’s fortunately what they turned out to be.”

Stanley, Hurst, and six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda — who hasn’t played in the preseason after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery — are unlikely to play in Thursday’s preseason finale against Washington, but rookie Greg Senat was the only offensive lineman on the 90-man roster not practicing on Monday. The sixth-round offensive tackle from Wagner exited the first half of Saturday’s game with a foot injury and didn’t return, leaving his roster status for the regular season in question.

Tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery), cornerback Maurice Canady (muscle strain), safeties DeShon Elliott (forearm) and Bennett Jackson (undisclosed), and linebacker Alvin Jones (undisclosed) were also absent on Monday. Linebacker Bam Bradley (knee), cornerback Jaylen Hill (knee), and wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps) remain on on the physically unable to perform list and will not count against the 53-man roster to start the regular season.

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Ravens rest key veterans as health concerns begin to grow

Posted on 26 August 2018 by Luke Jones

Even on a night when quarterback Joe Flacco and several other key veterans were held out, the Ravens are suddenly managing a growing list of health concerns following the 27-10 preseason win over Miami.

It was only last week that Baltimore was flirting with the proverbial perfect game as no player had suffered a long-term injury in the month since training camp had opened, a stark contrast from last year when the Ravens lost multiple players to season-ending injuries long before the season even began. However, that run of good fortune came to a screeching halt with the announcement of cornerback Jimmy Smith’s four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy and the news that 2018 first-round tight end Hayden Hurst would miss multiple weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, a substantial blow to each side of the ball to start the season.

After Saturday’s game, head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the Hurst injury and reported timetable of three to four weeks for his return and then revealed projected starting defensive tackle Willie Henry would also miss the start of the season after undergoing surgery for an umbilical hernia. It’s a tough break for a player from which many are predicting a breakout season, but the defensive line is one of the Ravens’ deepest position groups on either side of the ball. Henry’s absence could prompt defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to revert to last year’s base upfront alignment that featured Michael Pierce at the nose tackle spot with Brandon Williams as the 3-technique defensive tackle. Williams had been playing the nose this summer with Henry at the 3-technique on the starting defensive line and Pierce in a reserve role.

“It’s not really football related, but maybe it had been there and it just opened up on him a little bit,” said Harbaugh of Henry’s hernia. “He had surgery for that, so he’ll be [sidelined] a few weeks.”

The news was much worse for rookie safety DeShon Elliott as Harbaugh said it “looks like” he fractured his forearm in the second half of Saturday’s win over the Dolphins. It’s unclear whether the sixth-round pick from Texas will miss the entire season, but he will almost certainly be placed on injured reserve with the possibility of being designated to return later in the year. The short-term silver lining would be not having to carry a fifth safety on the 53-man roster, but the Ravens had been impressed with Elliott’s physicality and nose for the football despite his inexperience and current place on the depth chart.

Fellow sixth-round rookie Greg Senat also left Saturday’s game with a foot injury after making the start at left tackle in place of the injured Ronnie Stanley. Senat missed the first two weeks of training camp with a foot injury, and he’ll be evaluated further on Sunday to determine how long he’ll be sidelined.

In addition to Flacco, wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead, tight end Nick Boyle, guard Marshal Yanda, linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle were held out for precautionary reasons. It was an unusual measure with this week of the preseason traditionally serving as the final tuneup for the opener, but Harbaugh provided sound reasoning that went beyond not wanting to play Flacco behind an offensive line missing three notable players.

“We’ve had so much good work in training camp,” Harbaugh said. “We were here a week early. We had the two joint practices. We had four great practices where our starters got lots of reps. And we had already played, going into this game, three preseason games. Even though those [veteran] guys didn’t play in the first game, they played significantly in the last two. We just felt like we had the work we needed.”

Flacco played only 31 snaps in the preseason, but he’s performed well in two games, completing 12 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 141.4. More importantly, he has practiced very well and remained healthy throughout the spring and summer, a quality the Ravens were very wise to preserve on Saturday.

In addition to the veterans who sat out, Stanley, offensive lineman James Hurst, cornerback Maurice Canady, safety Bennett Jackson, and linebacker Alvin Jones all missed the game for injury-related reasons. Stanley and Hurst are both expected to be ready to return well ahead of the Sept. 9 opener.

Another interesting absence from Saturday’s game was rookie wide receiver Jaleel Scott, who participated in practices this week and was not known to be dealing with an injury before sitting out. The fourth-round pick from New Mexico State has struggled this summer and played only three offensive snaps against Indianapolis last Monday, leading many to believe he could become the first fourth-round pick in Ravens history to be cut as a rookie.

Perhaps the Ravens have discovered an ailment that could conveniently land Scott on IR — and off the 53-man roster — or they’re attempting to hide him in hopes of passing him through waivers and re-signing him to the practice squad. Either way, Saturday was more evidence that the 6-foot-5 is unlikely to be on the active roster come Week 1.

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Ravens-Dolphins preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

Saturday brings what is traditionally viewed as the final tuneup before the start of the regular season, but it may not turn out that way for at least a few key members of the Ravens.

With as many as three possible starters on the offensive line potentially sitting out against Miami, two rookies — Greg Senat and Orlando Brown Jr. — could be manning the first-team offensive tackle spots against Dolphins defensive ends Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, who combined for 19 sacks last season and have an impressive total of 154 1/2 in their careers. Starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley and versatile offensive lineman James Hurst — who has served as the backup left tackle in past seasons — are not expected to play, begging the question whether starting quarterback Joe Flacco should even suit up if the inexperienced Senat is protecting the blindside.

Flacco has played only 31 snaps in the preseason, but he’s performed well in two games, completing 12 of 16 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 141.4. By all accounts, the 33-year-old is healthy and has had an excellent spring and summer, making you wonder if exposing him to a patchwork offensive line is worth the risk so close to the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo.

“We’ll see. It’s just going to really depend on how much Joe needs,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m confident in the guys we’ll put out there that they can protect Joe, and I’m confident that we can run schemes that will protect him. They have two really good pass-rushing ends obviously, and we have to make sure that we keep those guys under control, no matter who’s the quarterback.”

After such a seamless start to the summer, the Ravens officially learned this week they will be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith and first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst to begin the season, significant blows to both sides of the ball. Saturday will offer defensive coordinator Wink Martindale his best opportunity to see what the secondary will look like for the season opener as veteran Brandon Carr and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey will handle the starting outside spots while Smith serves his four-game ban for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Hurst’s absence certainly hurts a tight end group that combined to make only 43 receptions in the NFL last season.

Of course, those absences to begin the season will impact roster decisions as general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must formulate the initial 53-man squad next Saturday.

The Ravens have the additional challenge of a quick turnaround coming off a Monday night win in Indianapolis.

“I told the guys this is great preparation for the season because we’re going to have an oddball start to the season,” said Harbaugh, referencing the Week 2 trip to Cincinnati just four days after the opener. “We’re going to play Sunday-Thursday right out of the gate. Wow, what a great opportunity to prepare for that. We got just what we needed is the way we’re looking at it.”

Saturday marks the second time the Ravens and the Dolphins will face off in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other exhibition encounter last year. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series by a 7-6 margin and has won both postseason meetings, but this year will mark the first time since 2012 these teams won’t meet in the regular season.

The Ravens own a 31-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won 11 straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Saturday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: TE Hayden Hurst (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: CB Maurice Canady (muscle strain), OL James Hurst, LB Alvin Jones
QUESTIONABLE: RB Kenneth Dixon (hamstring), TE Mark Andrews (hamstring), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), S Bennett Jackson

Five players to watch Saturday night

WR Jaleel Scott

Past disappointing fourth-round picks such as Ron Johnson, P.J. Daniels, and Christian Thompson were never in real danger of being cut as rookies, but Scott saw only three offensive snaps against Indianapolis and dropped a pass in that limited playing time, making you wonder if he’s really even on the bubble at this point. He’ll need a strong finish to the preseason to avoid a dubious distinction, but the Ravens could still attempt to stash him on injured reserve or at least get him to the practice squad if he clears waivers.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste

Previously a long shot to make the team with six cornerbacks ahead of him in the pecking order, Jean-Baptiste now finds himself on the bubble with Smith going to the reserve-suspended list to start the season and Maurice Canady currently banged up. The 2014 second-round pick is with his sixth different organization as he’s been talented enough for teams to sign and too inconsistent to stick anywhere for long. His solid performance against the Colts included an interception and looks more important now.

OT Greg Senat

A former basketball player at Wagner, the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Senat is a raw prospect who could dramatically enhance his chances of making the 53-man roster with a good performance against the Dolphins. Both James Hurst and Alex Lewis have struggled in past stints as the reserve left tackle, so Senat holding his own with the first team would be an encouraging sign for the present and future.

DE Zach Sieler

The seventh-round pick from Ferris State received ample playing time beginning in the first half of the Colts game, a good indication of where he stands in his attempt to win a roster spot. Veterans Brent Urban and Carl Davis are not under contract beyond this season while Chris Wormley is the only other 5-technique defensive end who’s safely on the roster, making it more likely that Sieler makes the team.

TE Darren Waller

I didn’t like Waller’s chances a couple weeks ago as he returned from a one-year drug suspension, but the Hayden Hurst injury and an underwhelming wide receiver competition have created the opportunity for him to potentially take a spot. Formerly a wide receiver, Waller has a 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame that could be utilized in the red zone and as a bigger slot option, but can the organization really trust him?

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Banged-up offensive line could impact Ravens’ plans for Miami game

Posted on 22 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Going into what will be most starters’ final preseason tuneup on Saturday night, the Ravens are banged up along the offensive line.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley left Monday’s game in Indianapolis with what was labeled a minor knee sprain, and the versatile James Hurst quietly exited before fellow interior starters Matt Skura and Alex Lewis and was not present for Wednesday’s practice. The potential absence of both Stanley and Hurst — who has served as the backup left tackle in past seasons — could complicate Baltimore’s plans against Miami, and that’s not even considering the status of right guard Marshal Yanda, who is practicing but has yet to play in the preseason after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

Should those three not play against the Dolphins, it’s fair to wonder whether head coach John Harbaugh would alter his plans for quarterback Joe Flacco’s playing time.

“It’s always a part of the decision-making,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “However, it is football. And I’ll tell you what, with a backup man that’s fighting for a starting job, a good strategy is to put him in with the rest of the ‘ones’ and see how he does rather than put him in with the ‘twos’ or ‘threes.’ Sometimes you can’t get quite the evaluation, so there are a couple of those things that may happen as well.”

Rookie sixth-round pick Greg Senat has worked as the second-team left tackle in the preseason while Hurst has practiced at either right guard or right tackle. A former basketball player at Wagner, the 6-foot-6, 305-pound Senat is an intriguing prospect, but his lack of experience would be less than ideal protecting Flacco’s blindside this close to the start of the season.

Senat missed the start of training camp and the Hall of Fame Game with a lower leg injury before returning to practice in early August.

“Greg was hurt for a period of time,” Mornhinweg said. “The really good thing is — and we’ve had several players do this that have come in; they don’t have much work under their belt, but they’re getting better every day. He got better from last week to this week. That’s a good thing, and let’s see how far he can go in the next two weeks.”

Hurst’s absence could increase the likelihood of rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. beginning the season as the starting right tackle.

Returner competition

Monday wasn’t a banner game for return specialists Tim White and Janarion Grant, who each lost a fumble against the Colts, but the Ravens aren’t giving up on their potential.

Whether that means either makes the 53-man roster remains to be seen.

“They have the duty to the rest of the team to protect the football, and they know that,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “It’s two young players that got in situations where they didn’t realize that they needed to practice the ball-security habits that they both have. They have those skills, and in both those situations, they need to lock the ball down and they didn’t. Hopefully, the lesson has been learned.”

Ideally, one of the two would seize the job and be able to provide a spark in the field-position game, but the Ravens could elect to just go with established veterans better trusted to secure the ball. Wide receiver Chris Moore served as the primary kick returner for much of last season, but not a single player to return a punt last season remains on the roster, leaving less clarity for that role.

Slot receiver Willie Snead has fielded plenty of punts during spring and summer workouts, but he fumbled his only career punt return for New Orleans last season.

“He’s been efficient. He’s in every meeting. He’s locked in,” Rosburg said. “He comes out here and practices well, and we’ll see how it plays out down the road. Again, we still have two preseason games left, so we want to give those other guys an opportunity to show what they can do.”

Mornhinweg concerned with Jackson taking hits

More than a few observers have expressed concerns about the number of hits taken by rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in the preseason, a sentiment shared by Mornhinweg.

Shoddy pass protection from reserve offensive linemen has led to Jackson being sacked six times, but the former Heisman Trophy winner has taken multiple hits in the open field in lieu of trying to protect himself. It’s understandable for a rookie to be eager to make plays — especially playing before a national audience in two of the first three preseason games — but the Ravens clearly want him to stay healthy to continue his development.

“Yeah, that’s not good. You see what I’m saying? It’s just that simple,” Mornhinweg said. “Between the numbers, now, we want to get down underneath the hits unless you think you can score and typically you’re one-on-one. Outside the numbers, we want to get up and get out. And we’d rather get down a step too early than a step too late or get up and out a step too early than a step too late.

“That’s an ongoing process. Some of it is experience because he does have to filter through exactly what he can get away with and what he can’t in this league. It’s a little different situation here, a little different league, a little different speed, a little different quickness — all those things.”

Wednesday attendance

In addition to Stanley and Hurst, running back Kenneth Dixon, tight end Mark Andrews, defensive backs Maurice Canady and Bennett Jackson, and linebacker Alvin Jones did not participate in Wednesday’s practice.

Harbaugh noted after Monday’s game that Dixon was still not 100 percent after dealing with a hamstring injury for a large portion of camp. The third-year running back drew praise in his preseason debut by collecting 56 total yards on his nine touches, his first live-game action since 2016.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following third preseason victory

Posted on 21 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 in the preseason in a 20-19 win over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s OK to believe the Ravens have the depth to endure the potential suspension of Jimmy Smith and to still be worried about potential drop-off. The combination of Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr still looks good on paper, but a healthy Smith and a more experienced Humphrey could be special.

2. Kenneth Dixon needed to show up in his first preseason action and did exactly that with 56 yards from scrimmage on nine touches. He showed better speed than he had in practices and was able to gain yards after contact. Now, he needs to build on that performance.

3. Tim Williams still looks like the most improved player on the roster as he collected five tackles, a sack, and another quarterback hit while making a few good plays against the run. Pro Football Focus credited him and Za’Darius Smith with a combined 10 pressures. That’s an interesting rotational duo.

4. Remember the anticipated competition among the young wide receivers? It hasn’t materialized, continuing a summer tradition. The Ravens have never cut a fourth-round pick in his first season, but Jaleel Scott played only three offensive snaps and dropped a short slant pass late in the fourth quarter. Yikes.

5. The return specialist battle hasn’t been any better as both Tim White and Janarion Grant fumbled. There are too many crowded position groups to keep a returner you don’t trust to secure the ball. Chris Moore returning kicks and a veteran such as Willie Snead handling punts remain options.

6. After starting fast and then regressing in the second preseason game, Lamar Jackson did the opposite against Indianapolis, struggling mightily early before regrouping. His bullet touchdown to Moore reinforced the notion that he’s better throwing on the run than from the pocket. He remains a work in progress.

7. Michael Pierce feels like a forgotten man with Brandon Williams back at nose tackle and Willie Henry manning the 3-techinique spot in the base defense, but he gave Colts center Ryan Kelly fits and collected a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. His 13 snaps were very disruptive.

8. Kenny Young continued to alternate series with incumbent starting inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, but the rookie fourth-rounder led the team with seven tackles and shows impressive closing quickness to the football. His fill and tackle on the late two-point try is exactly what you want to see.

9. Orlando Brown Jr. hasn’t played flawlessly, but his body of work continues to support him being deserving of starting at right tackle over James Hurst, who’s practiced there recently while still taking all live-game snaps at right guard. How can you not root for Brown after a tweet like this?

10. Despite Brown’s progress, the interior offensive line beyond Yanda remains a concern as the sight of former Ravens edge rusher John Simon bull-rushing Hurst back into Joe Flacco’s legs brought back unpleasant memories. This group struggled to protect Jackson in particular.

11. Anthony Averett was terrific during the third-quarter goal-line stand with an assisted tackle, a pass breakup, and tight coverage on an incompletion on consecutive plays, continuing his solid preseason. Not bad for a fourth-round rookie who’s only fifth or sixth in the cornerback pecking order right now.

12. Flacco finished a solid but unspectacular night with good throws to Michael Crabtree and John Brown on his final touchdown drive, but his hard count inducing a neutral zone infraction didn’t go unnoticed. Varying the cadence has quietly been a focus this summer after too much predictability in the past.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following second preseason victory

Posted on 12 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their 10th preseason game in a row in a 33-7 final over the Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Playing well in victory beats the alternative, but the Rams rested all but two projected starters and were playing their first preseason game while Baltimore starters played early and reserves and rookies were competing in their second exhibition contest. The action looked every bit like that.

2. Tim Williams followed Kamalei Correa’s standout performance in the Hall of Fame Game with five tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble to continue his strong summer. While those two see their stock rise, a groin injury isn’t helping Tyus Bowser’s bid for more playing time in 2018.

3. After watching Lamar Jackson run for his life in Canton, giving him a series with the first-team offensive line was a prudent move as he hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard completion and ran for a touchdown in highlight fashion. He looked more comfortable than last week, especially early on.

4. It was still another mixed-bag performance for Jackson, who took a sack on third down to create a longer field goal try that was unsuccessful and made an ill-advised throw from his end zone that should have been intercepted. My biggest concern remains the number of hits he’s willingly taking.

5. It was only nine defensive snaps, but no one expected Jimmy Smith to be playing this early in the preseason, a major credit to his rehab work. He moved well and closed quickly on a slant pass to keep it to a four-yard gain on the Ravens’ first defensive snap.

6. Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young being the second defense’s base cornerbacks and Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett the third unit’s reflect the embarrassment of riches at the cornerback position now. It’s quite a difference from the days of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown battling for the nickel job.

7. John Harbaugh said James Hurst still has the “inside track” in the right tackle competition, but Orlando Brown Jr. is doing everything he can to earn the job. He’s decreased his body fat from 31 percent in January to 19 percent now. The spot should be his sooner than later.

8. Patrick Ricard caught a touchdown from Joe Flacco and even ran a wheel route as a fullback, but he added 10 pounds in the offseason and his play along the defensive line is turning some heads as he finished with four tackles and a quarterback hit on Thursday.

9. I felt good for Breshad Perriman catching three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, but the fact that he didn’t play until the second half was telling. Barring injuries, his status as a former first-round pick might be the only factor keeping him on the bubble at this point.

10. Zach Sieler is one reason why the Ravens face tough roster decisions along the defensive line. The seventh-round rookie from Ferris State registered a sack and a quarterback hit against the Rams and is keeping himself in the roster conversation.

11. Greg Senat received extensive work at left tackle and played about how you’d expect a sixth-round rookie to fare. It would be interesting to see if the Ravens would consider moving Brown to left tackle — his college position — if something happens to Ronnie Stanley. Alex Lewis could also slide outside.

12. Props to Harbaugh for channeling Michael Scott of The Office when he declined to discuss the Ravens once again escaping a preseason game without any notable injuries. “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.” Of course, I’m now expecting this reaction when the inevitable first big injury occurs.

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