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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 06 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their third straight loss and fourth in their last five games in a 23-16 final against Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore will never take the next step by settling for 23-yard field goals against a high-scoring offense. The analytics did support those decisions to kick, but I would have considered going for the fourth-and-3 from the 5 in the second quarter. “Take the points” isn’t always the best strategy.

2. As I’ve written other times, Joe Flacco is far from the only reason for the recent offensive struggles, but he hasn’t been a big enough part of the solution either. He was under duress quite a bit Sunday, but he easily missed a half-dozen throws working from a satisfactory pocket.

3. Insinuating Flacco didn’t throw to Lamar Jackson out of spite is taking quite a leap to trash the character of someone who’s never done anything to warrant such treatment. It’s not like his ability to see the field or go through progressions has never been criticized, so why get personal?

4. How the middle of the field continues to be such a problematic area for the pass defense when C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Tony Jefferson account for $22.625 million on the 2018 salary cap is a tough pill to swallow.

5. Orlando Brown Jr. continues to be a bright spot. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t allow a pressure against Pittsburgh and has yet to allow a sack or quarterback hit this season. The right tackle spot should be his with James Hurst potentially moving to left guard when healthy.

6. Matthew Judon hasn’t taken the leap many predicted this season, but he registered Baltimore’s lone sack as well as two hits and two hurries against the Steelers, according to PFF. The Ravens need to see more of that with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to hit free agency.

7. Like Drew Brees’ third-down completion while in the grasp of Jefferson in Week 7, I thought the defense forcing a three-and-out right after Alex Collins’ touchdown might be the turning point. Instead, a holding penalty, a sack, two passes short of the chains, and a punt quickly dashed that thought.

8. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that Jimmy Smith played better with Marlon Humphrey back in action and Wink Martindale once again rotating those two and Brandon Carr on the outside. The defense has certainly had its recent issues, but that luxury should still pay off down the stretch.

9. Those saying Jackson’s use is disrupting offensive rhythm received ammunition when he entered for a run of no gain immediately following Flacco strikes to Michael Crabtree and Chris Moore. If you want to run there, why not hand to Collins on an uptempo play instead of broadcasting what you’re doing?

10. Brandon Williams noted after the game that teams are approaching the Ravens defense differently and aren’t playing “actual football” by running so many sweeps and screens to take interior players like him out of the equation. There’s that whole “needing to adapt” theme popping up again.

11. Don’t look now, but the Ravens are on track to lead the NFL in passing attempts for the third time in the last four years. They also rank in the bottom five in yards per passing attempt for the fourth straight season. Jamal Lewis weeps.

12. Regardless of what happens over these next two months, I’ll maintain that John Harbaugh is a good football coach. However, he doesn’t do himself any favors with a rookie mistake like not using his timeouts ahead of the two-minute warning to conserve more clock.

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Takeaways largely absent as Ravens try to get back on track

Posted on 02 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Anthony Levine’s interception undoubtedly brought a sigh of relief to the Ravens sideline at Pittsburgh in Week 4.

Though already leading 23-14 with under four minutes remaining, Baltimore had blown double-digit fourth-quarter leads at Heinz Field in each of the previous two seasons. But Levine picking off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended any thought of history repeating itself again.

That takeaway was the exclamation point on a 26-14 victory that propelled the Ravens to a 3-1 start. Since then, however, John Harbaugh’s team has lost three of four games while forcing only two turnovers: a Tavon Young interception at Cleveland and a Michael Pierce fumble recovery against New Orleans. Those takeaways occurred in the opening quarter and didn’t dramatically move the meter in eventual one-score defeats for a team now standing at 4-4 and entering a critical rematch with the Steelers on Sunday.

Despite the last five quarters in which the Ravens have allowed an unseemly 53 points, the defense remains at or near the top of many statistical categories. But after collecting a league-leading 34 takeaways last season and tying for the NFL lead in interceptions in 2016, Baltimore has forced just seven turnovers in its first eight games, which is tied for 21st in a league in which 13 teams have played seven games compared to the Ravens’ eight.

It’s as much surprising as it is concerning for a defense needing to get back on track against Pittsburgh. In a rivalry in which 17 of the last 24 games — counting the playoffs — have been decided by a single possession, turnovers become even more important than they already are in any given week.

“They’ve been a little more conservative in some ways,” said Harbaugh about how opponents have approached a defense with a reputation for taking the ball away so far this season. “Some of it’s on us — we haven’t made plays on the ball all the time like we need to. Sometimes the ball hasn’t gone our way. But we haven’t caused very many fumbles, and we haven’t gotten our hands on as many balls as we did last year, for sure. We have to find a way to do that. I’m disappointed in that for sure. That’s something that we need to do better.”

The Ravens have forced only four fumbles — falling on two — in their first eight games this season after forcing 17 and recovering 12 last year, a dramatic decline for a defense that regularly practices stripping the ball away from the opposition. Their five interceptions are tied for 19th in the league after finishing first with 22 last season. And though Baltimore’s 41 passes defended are on a comparable pace to last season’s total of 80 for 16 games, opponents are passing more frequently than they did through the first eight games of 2017.

The turnover decline isn’t easy to explain since so much of the defensive personnel is identical to last season, and the few changes — Brent Urban and Tavon Young being healthy — are viewed as upgrades. Truthfully, the defense continuing to rank so highly while playing so much “straight-up” football is a testament to the unit, but it’s also difficult to sustain.

“We’re conscious of that. We run [to] the ball. We’re doing the same things as we’ve always done,” safety Eric Weddle said. “The opportunities are there. We dropped a couple picks early on this season. We’ve got forced fumbles, and they’ve bounced the other way. They’re going to start coming, and when they do, it’s going to make our defense even stronger and our team better. We’ve had about six quarters of not-very-good football, and everything else has been solid.”

To be clear, the Ravens defense hasn’t been completely devoid of big plays. Baltimore leads the league with 27 sacks — including a team-record 11 in the 21-0 shutout at Tennessee on Oct. 14 — but 22 of those came in three games against the Titans, the Browns, and Buffalo, meaning the defense has just five total in its other five games.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale hasn’t hesitated to dial up more blitzes this year than predecessor Dean Pees and remains confident that the turnovers will arrive in bunches if his group remains true to itself, quipping Thursday how it’s difficult to pick off a screen pass on second-and-long.

The Ravens know they must remain disciplined in their effort to force turnovers, but you also wonder how a fourth-quarter turnover against the Browns or the Saints could have made the difference in one-score defeats. An interception or forced fumble can also be so critical in sparking a comeback, something that never materialized in Cincinnati or Carolina. The absence of starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey certainly didn’t help against the Saints and Panthers these last two weeks.

“They’re going to come. There’s no doubt,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “It’s not like we’re doing something so much more crazy on defense that we’re not trying to get those. As corners, me, Brandon [Carr] and Marlon, we have to get our hands on the ball more, create some plays ourselves, and then some tips and overthrows, hopefully, a couple of lucky passes.

“It’s good to be lucky as well.”

Yes, any number of football studies will tell you luck is a bigger element in forcing turnovers than coaches, players, media, and fans want to admit. But studies also confirm just how critical prevailing in the turnover battle is with teams coming out on top winning almost 80 percent of the time.

That element of chance is an unsettling reality as the Ravens try to avoid a third straight loss and recalibrate their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“We’re minus-four. You can put it right on that if you want,” said Harbaugh, referencing his team’s turnover differential through eight games. “If we’re not minus-four, what’s our record? If we’re even? If we’re plus-four, what’s our record? It’s probably completely flipped. It’s a big part of it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 36-21 loss at Carolina

Posted on 30 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens dropping to 4-4 in their 36-21 loss at Carolina, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The pass rush has produced a total of one sack since dropping Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota a team-record 11 times and didn’t take down Cam Newton once. Twenty-two of Baltimore’s league-leading 27 sacks came against Tennessee, Buffalo, and Cleveland. Is a bit more consistency too much to ask?

2. With the way the first half was going, the head-scratching Joe Flacco interception with no Ravens receiver even in the area felt inevitable. Pass protection wasn’t great and there were again too many drops, but Flacco went 0-for-9 with two picks on throws traveling 15 or more yards downfield. Yuck.

3. The running game was buoyed by three gains of 13 or more yards early on, but Baltimore averaged a season-best 5.6 yards per carry, one of the few positives from Sunday. I don’t see a successful playoff push without improvement on the ground. The October numbers support that.

4. According to Pro Football Focus, Jimmy Smith gave up five of six targets thrown into his coverage for 58 yards. He ranks 106th out of 110 qualified corners in PFF’s grading system. I’ll stand by what I wrote last week, but the Ravens really need to start seeing improvement.

5. It was a forgettable day for the league’s top-ranked defense, but slot cornerback Tavon Young played well, allowing only one catch for minus-two yards and making two tackles. He’s quietly played well since his rough outing at Cincinnati in Week 2.

6. Baltimore’s fake punt from its own 10 early in the first half was unmarked territory in the NFL for at least the last 25 years, but an illegal shift on Morgan Cox wiped out the conversion. Watching the all-22 replay, I’m with John Harbaugh in not seeing what Cox did.

7. Allowing the fourth-and-7 conversion to set up Graham Gano’s 54-yard field goal to end the first half was embarrassing for Wink Martindale and the defense. How no one thought to call a timeout there is a bad look for both the coaching staff and veteran players.

8. After knocking off early rust, Marshal Yanda has again settled in as one of the NFL’s best guards, ranking fifth among all qualified guards in PFF’s grading system. In addition to giving others plenty of help, Yanda has occasionally even pulled on play-action to protect Flacco’s blindside this season.

9. Considering the resources that have been devoted to the safety and inside linebacker positions, the Ravens’ inability to consistently cover tight ends and the middle of the field remains very frustrating. Sunday was a rough day for C.J. Mosley and Tony Jefferson in particular.

10. Some criticism for the Lamar Jackson short-arm incompletion to Willie Snead and praise for the rookie’s play in garbage time from fans and media seemed over the top. If Baltimore falls out of playoff contention, I’m all for evaluating for the future by starting Jackson. Until then, just stop.

11. The left-side combination of Jermaine Eluemunor and Hroniss Grasu for 19 plays gave off quite a preseason feel. Being down to your third-string options on the blindside is a sobering thought with Pittsburgh coming to town. Get well, Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis. And James Hurst and Bradley Bozeman.

12. In order to finish with the 10-6 record that usually makes a team a strong bet to at least secure a wild card, the Ravens will need six wins in their remaining eight games. Baltimore hasn’t pulled off a 6-2 stretch since going 9-2 to begin the 2012 season.

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Ravens corners Humphrey, Smith absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 24 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Coming off one of the worst performances of his career, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is now dealing with a physical concern ahead of Sunday’s trip to Carolina.

Smith (groin) and second-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh) were absent from Wednesday’s practice, leaving their status against the Panthers in question. Humphrey missed the first game of his NFL career against New Orleans this past Sunday, and head coach John Harbaugh was tight-lipped when asked about his status for Week 8.

It remains unclear whether Smith’s absence was more of a precautionary measure early in the week, but he was present in the locker room prior to practice. Matching up extensively against Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, Smith surrendered five receptions and a touchdown on the six times he was targeted in coverage and also committed two pass interference penalties in the 24-23 loss.

“We’ve all had games like that. I’ve had horrible games. You never hope you do, but it happens,” safety Eric Weddle said. “You just get back on the horse and look at what you did, get back to technique and working hard in practice. Practice takes a lot of the areas that you may not have been very good at in the game — that can make up for a lot — and get you back playing the way you want to.

“Jimmy is a pro; he’s going to work hard.”

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) was also absent from practice, but this was the fifth straight Wednesday he’s sat, making it more of a rest day despite the injury description. Weddle and wide receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree also received a veteran rest day.

The return of left guard Alex Lewis to practice was an encouraging sign less than two weeks after he was stretchered off the field with a neck injury in Tennessee. The third-year lineman was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday and has a “good chance” to play against Carolina, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

“I had some numbness, but that was scary,” said Lewis of the pinched nerve he suffered on Oct. 14. “Once I got into the ambulance on the way to the hospital, it started to go away. I’m just thankful now that I can be walking around here and be back on the team.”

Right tackle James Hurst (back) and rookie interior lineman Bradley Bozeman (calf) did not take part in Wednesday’s workout as the Ravens remain thin along the offensive line. Harbaugh expressed optimism about Hurst’s chances of playing this Sunday after his back flared up late last week, forcing him out of the Saints game. Making his first NFL start in place of Lewis in Week 7, Bozeman was in and out of Sunday’s game after sustaining a calf injury.

Harbaugh revealed defensive tackle Willie Henry was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after suffering a herniated disc in his back. The third-year defensive lineman does have a chance to return to play this season, but he would not be eligible to be activated until late December. The injury is a blow to Baltimore’s sub package as Henry was one of the defense’s best interior rushers last season.

“It’s going to fall on our shoulders to get more pressure on the quarterback,” defensive tackle Michael Pierce said. “We’re going to have to take up some of the slack he had in those dime packages and stuff like that. We’ve got our work cut out for us, and we’ve got to get to the passer.”

The Panthers held out former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith (knee) and starting defensive end Mario Addison (back) from Wednesday’s practice. Quarterback Cam Newton (right shoulder) and tight end Greg Olsen (foot) were limited participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), OT James Hurst (back), CB Jimmy Smith (groin), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck)

CAROLINA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Mike Adams (non-injury), DE Mario Addison (back), DE Julius Peppers (non-injury), LB Andre Smith (hamstring), WR Torrey Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Greg Olsen (foot), QB Cam Newton (right shoulder)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-23 loss to New Orleans

Posted on 23 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 4-3 in their 24-23 loss to New Orleans, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith played poorly in his first start with Marlon Humphrey sidelined, but some criticism was over the top. Being suspended didn’t change the reality of him coming back from a torn Achilles, an injury that takes time for someone to return to previous form. Michael Thomas is also terrific.

2. Especially with the Saints down to their third-string left guard during Sunday’s game, you’d like to see the pass rush manage more than one sack and three quarterback hits. It’s very tough to beat a great offensive team without more disruption in the pocket or a game-changing turnover.

3. I’m all for trying to keep opponents guessing, but eight different Ravens running the ball at least once Sunday says plenty about the current state of a ground attack that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per carry. The only team worse (Arizona) just fired its offensive coordinator.

4. Of the 16 times running backs carried the ball, 10 went for two or fewer yards and only one netted a first down. I’d be much more interested in upgrading the offensive line before the trade deadline, but exploring other running backs should be a consideration as well.

5. Both Drew Brees and Sean Payton talked about the 20-play opening drive setting the tone and allowing the Saints to jump ahead in time of possession despite not scoring. The Ravens defense surrendered only seven points through three quarters, but that long series took a toll later in the game.

6. Of course, that drive would have ended quickly had the special teams stopped a fake punt attempt after what looked like an initial three-and-out. I’m a big Jerry Rosburg guy, but there have been too many lapses with multiple special-teams units this season.

7. Coming off two quiet games, John Brown made seven catches for 134 yards — season highs — and a touchdown. Considering he caught all seven targets, why not go to him even more, especially in the first two fourth-quarter drives when he was thrown to just once for 17 yards?

8. Mark Andrews caught a touchdown Sunday, but tight ends have combined for 11 receptions for 84 yards over the last three games. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are helping offensive tackles in pass protection, but you want more when dressing four tight ends. Hayden Hurst needs to be more involved.

9. Lamar Jackson’s usage continues to be debated, but it was good seeing him pass in a third-down situation, something the Ravens must be willing to do if he’s going to play. His first NFL touchdown on a read-option run was a great example of how to properly use him.

10. I agreed with kicking the extra point, but there would have been at least an argument to go for the win if the Ravens had a running game. I wouldn’t have loved their chances in overtime after Brees had carved up the defense on three straight drives. Challenge traditional thinking.

11. The Ravens are 8-13 in games decided by a single possession since the start of 2016 and dropped to 0-2 this season. Common sense would tell you a playoff-hopeful team should be .500 or better in this department. Fourth quarters like Sunday’s have loomed large.

12. The debut of the purple-on-purple uniform — non-“Color Rush” edition — was the sixth different combination used by the Ravens since the start of the preseason, and they haven’t even worn their black alternates or the aforementioned purple tops with gold numbering yet. Watch out, Oregon.

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Cornerback Humphrey limited during Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 18 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to face one of the best passing games in the NFL in Week 7, the Ravens added starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey to their injury report on Thursday.

The 2017 first-round pick was listed as a limited participant with a thigh issue, making it unclear whether he sustained an injury during practice or if it’s something with which he was already dealing. Humphrey’s status will come into better focus on Friday when the Ravens conduct their final practice ahead of their meeting with New Orleans. Slot cornerback Tavon Young missed last Thursday’s practice with a hip issue before practicing the next day and playing without any apparent limitations against Tennessee.

Even if Humphrey’s availability were to be in doubt, the Ravens would simply turn to Jimmy Smith, who has played 62 snaps in a rotational capacity in each of the last two games. Smith was suspended for the first four games of the season and is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon sustained last December.

“He’s starting to play. He’s getting used to playing again in the second week, and you can see it,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We didn’t play that many plays, but he was doing some things really well and receivers were having a hard time getting off the line of scrimmage. It was fun to see.”

As expected, veteran cornerback Brandon Carr practiced fully after sitting out the previous day. He has missed the last four Wednesday practices with what’s listed as a knee issue, so there had been no real concern regarding his availability to play against the Saints.

Left guard Alex Lewis remains sidelined with a neck injury that appears likely to keep him sidelined for Sunday’s game. Rookie right tackle Orlando Brown says he’s prepared to play should the Ravens elect to place him in the starting lineup while moving veteran James Hurst over to left guard. Rookie Bradley Bozeman is another option to start at left guard after he filled in for Lewis in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win over the Titans.

“I’m just approaching it like I approach every other week,” said Brown, a third-round pick in April’s draft. “I don’t know what the coaches plan to do. They know I’m ready, so I’m just going to continue to work this week and develop my game.”

Both of the Saints’ starting guards sat out Thursday’s workout as Andrus Peat (head) had practiced on a limited basis the previous day and Larry Warford (back) was a new addition to the injury report.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), , S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

NEW ORLEANS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OL Jermon Bushrod (non-injury), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (knee), G Andrus Peat (head), DT Taylor Stallworth (ankle), G Larry Warford (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Terron Armstead (knee), CB Marshon Lattimore (concussion), WR Cameron Meredith (knee)

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 October 2018 by Luke Jones

A stretch of three consecutive road games concludes Sunday with the Ravens having the chance to position themselves favorably in the AFC and put last week’s ugly loss in Cleveland behind them.

A win puts Baltimore at 4-2 with four of the next five games coming at home — albeit against some tough competition — but a loss creates more doubts about this year being any different from the last couple in which Baltimore fell short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as these onetime AFC Central rivals meet for the 20th time in the all-time regular-season series with Tennessee holding a 10-9 advantage. The Ravens are 2-3 against the Titans in the John Harbaugh era — counting their dramatic 13-10 road win in the 2008 postseason — and Tennessee won last year’s Week 9 meeting at Nissan Stadium, a 23-20 final.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will set a season high in rushing yards in a workmanlike effort. The Tennessee defense ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per play and tied for third in points per game surrendered, but the Titans are banged up at linebacker and are vulnerable to the run (4.4 yards per attempt allowed) when opponents have shown some patience. The Ravens must be more consistent getting positive yards — eight of the 20 carries split between Collins and Buck Allen went for no gain or worse last week — but Marty Mornhinweg can’t be so quick to bail on the running game.

2. Running back Dion Lewis will lead the Titans in receptions. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota appears to be over his early-season elbow injury, but he’s averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt and will need to be selective in his attempts to push the ball down the field against a pass defense allowing an NFL-low 5.9 yards per attempt. That will lead to opportunities for Lewis, who has 21 catches on the season. The Ravens will try to counter that by frequently using Anthony Levine in the dime package, but Lewis will find some room against Baltimore linebackers underneath and in the flat.

3. The Baltimore defense will force two turnovers to frustrate Mariota and the Tennessee offense. Trying to poke too many holes in a defense that allowed only 12 points in 70 minutes of play last week is unfair, but the Ravens surprisingly have only six takeaways through their first five games after leading the league last year and only forced one against a rookie quarterback last week. Mariota will try to force some intermediate-to-deep throws to former first-round pick Corey Davis, but Jimmy Smith now having a game under his belt makes the Ravens secondary that much more dangerous.

4. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will collect a sack and be disruptive much of the day. Casey is easily Tennessee’s best defensive player and is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, meaning the Ravens better be prepared to give Alex Lewis and Matt Skura as much help as they can. Baltimore will run away from Casey and roll the pocket away from him at times, but he’s fully capable of taking over like Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins did in Week 2. Space on inside runs will certainly be at a premium, but the Ravens have had more success running to the perimeter anyway. 

5. A late Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst will be the difference in a 20-13 win. What better way to win against Dean Pees than to break through in the fourth quarter against his strong Titans defense? Flacco is excited to involve the first-round tight end in the offense as he’s a fan of Hurst’s skill set, and the rookie should be more comfortable in his second NFL game. Ravens defenders said all the right things about their former defensive coordinator this week and hold no animosity, but they’re motivated to show they’re better than ever with more freedom and flexibility under Wink Martindale than they had with Pees. This is an AFC separator game the Ravens could really use, and they’ll get the job done despite it not being all that pretty at times.

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Ravens jettison another return specialist, claim Baltimore native

Posted on 08 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have jettisoned their second return specialist in the last three weeks and brought back a Baltimore native to their 53-man roster.

A day after fumbling a punt in the second quarter of the 12-9 overtime loss to Cleveland, wide receiver and return specialist Tim White was cut to make room for former New England cornerback and Gilman School product Cyrus Jones, who was claimed off waivers. White replaced rookie return specialist Janarion Grant in Week 3 and was averaging 8.3 yards per punt return and 22.5 yards per kick return, but ball security proved to be the last straw like it was for Grant, who fumbled a return in each of his two games on the active roster and is now on the practice squad.

White also lost a fumble in the preseason.

“It’s the tale of two Tims. The ball security is not where it needs to be,” said head coach John Harbaugh prior to Monday’s announcement. “He knows that, yet he made some really good decisions [against Cleveland]. He picked the one ball up off the goal line after they tapped it back and made some good decisions on fielding some punts and things like that. He should have had a punt return that we blocked somebody in the back on — shouldn’t have happened. I loved the decision-making and hated the ball security.”

Jones was claimed off waivers from the Patriots and spent two weeks on Baltimore’s practice squad last month after being cut by New England at the end of the preseason. The Patriots re-signed the former second-round pick from Alabama to their 53-man roster on Sept. 19, and he returned five punts for 45 yards and made one tackle on defense in two games.

It remains uncertain what role the Ravens envision for Jones, but his history of fumbles — five in his rookie season –is a major reason why the 2016 second-round pick from Alabama originally fell out of favor with the Patriots. Baltimore had only four healthy cornerbacks on Sunday with rookie Anthony Averett still sidelined with a hamstring injury, meaning Jones could offer more positional value than either White or Grant did as the No. 5 wide receiver on the roster.

The Ravens could elect to use No. 4 wide receiver Chris Moore as their kick returner — a role he held last year — and Jones as their punt returner. The 24-year-old didn’t return any kickoffs for the Patriots in his latest stint in Foxborough.

Former Ravens cornerback Darious Williams was claimed off waivers by the Los Angeles Rams on Monday. The undrafted free agent appeared in three games and was cut over the weekend to make room for returning cornerback Jimmy Smith.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 07 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aim for their best five-game start since 2012 and will do so with first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst making his NFL debut in Cleveland.

The 25th overall pick of the 2018 draft underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his foot on Aug. 24 and is active after missing the first four weeks of the regular season. Hurst returned to the practice field on Sept. 26 and is apparently ready to go despite still being listed as a limited participant all week. Hurst’s arrival further strengthens a tight ends group that surprisingly ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (321) and second in receptions (31) through the first four weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.

After being activated on Saturday, cornerback Jimmy Smith will make his season debut after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Smith is also making his return from last year’s torn Achilles tendon and will see his first action since Dec. 3. With rookie cornerback Darious Williams being waived to make room for Smith and rookie Anthony Averett again out with a hamstring injury, the Ravens will have just four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns, but dime back Anthony Levine and reserve safety Chuck Clark are capable of playing the nickel in certain packages.

The bad news is the deactivation of defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who suffered a setback with a lingering foot issue late in the week and missed practice on Friday. Pierce sat out Week 3 with a foot injury before playing against Pittsburgh last Sunday night. His absence is not an encouraging development with the Browns ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

With Pierce out, defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) will make his season debut despite only returning to practice on a limited basis this week. Comments from coaches this week suggested the Ravens likely would have preferred holding him out one more game, but Pierce’s health certainly forced the issue.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring) is active after being listed as questionable on the injury report, but he didn’t appear to be 100 percent during Friday’s practice, which is something to monitor during Sunday’s game.

There were no surprises among the Cleveland inactives as reserve linebacker James Burgess (knee) was ruled out on Friday. Starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) and starting outside linebacker Christian Kirksey (illness) will play after being designated as questionable.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Clay Martin.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cleveland calls for cloudy skies and temperatures near 70 degrees with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 20-percent chance of rain.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while Cleveland is donning its all-brown “Color Rush” look previously seen for Thursday Night Football in Week 3.

Sunday marks the 39th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 29-9 advantage. The Ravens have won five straight meetings and are an overwhelming 18-2 against the Browns in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
OLB Tim Williams
OL Hroniss Grasu
DL Zach Sieler
DL Michael Pierce

CLEVELAND
QB Drew Stanton
WR Damion Ratley
CB Denzel Rice
CB Tavierre Thomas
LB James Burgess
OL Earl Watford
DL Chad Thomas

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 06 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aim for their first 4-1 start since 2012 when they travel to Cleveland for a Week 5 meeting with the Browns on Sunday afternoon.

That’s significant not only because it was the last time they won the Super Bowl, but the Ravens have made the playoffs and advanced to at least the divisional round every time they’ve won four of their first five games to begin a season, something they also did in 2000, 2006, 2010, and 2011. In contrast, a 3-1 start hasn’t always guaranteed January football as Baltimore missed the playoffs in 1997 and, most recently, two years ago. Coming off their biggest road victory in years in Pittsburgh last Sunday night, the Ravens have no room for complacency as they still play three of their next four away from M&T Bank Stadium — a stretch that includes three opponents that made the playoffs a year ago.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 39th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 29-9 edge and an 18-2 advantage in the John Harbaugh era. Cleveland hasn’t beaten the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium since the 2013 season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield will be intercepted twice in his first test against a top-tier defense. Mayfield’s arrival could mean the days of automatically chalking up two annual wins against the Browns are coming to an end, but Wink Martindale labeling Mayfield “this generation’s Brett Favre or John Elway” predictably drew mocking from even coaches in Cleveland. Mayfield will want to test the returning Jimmy Smith, who will rotate with outside corners Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr. That will lead to a pick for Smith, who will be playing for the first time since Week 13 of last season.

2. Willie Snead will stand out in another good performance from Joe Flacco. The Cleveland defense has given up plenty of yards, but the group leads the NFL with 13 takeaways and has more talent, meaning Flacco will need to play smart. The Brown lost starting corner Terrance Mitchell to injured reserve last week and have been vulnerable at the nickel with neither T.J. Carrie nor Briean Boddy-Calhoun holding up well. To offset the pass-rushing ability of Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, and surprising rookie Genard Avery, Flacco will lean on Snead and the tight ends over the middle.

3. Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson will each score a touchdown to keep it close. Carlos Hyde has the most carries in the league and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry while the rookie Chubb ran for 105 yards on three carries last week. No matter how talented Mayfield is, Cleveland will try to borrow the formula Chicago used to beat Baltimore last year when the Bears ran for over 200 yards and kept the pressure off Mitchell Trubisky. It won’t be nearly that extreme, but Chubb’s explosiveness and Johnson’s receiving ability will help keep the Ravens defense off balance.

4. The Ravens special teams’ edge will shine through at a critical moment. The likes of Mayfield and Garrett may eventually lead Cleveland to prominence, but the special teams have remained on brand as Cleveland has had kicks blocked and surrendered long returns early in the season. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric ranks the Browns last in the NFL in special teams. The Ravens have had their own hiccups, specifically with the punt team, but Justin Tucker and Sam Koch always give them an edge. The Browns will “Brown” in a crucial spot to help the Ravens maintain a lead.

5. Baltimore will grind its way to a 24-16 win. Four of the last five meetings in Cleveland have been decided by a single possession and each of the Browns’ two losses this season — both on the road — have come by one score, meaning the Ravens have no excuse to feel too confident in their second of three straight away from home. Mayfield will be making his first home start after coming off the bench two weeks ago to lead the Browns to their first win since 2016, meaning the Cleveland crowd will be fired up more than usual for a game against the team that once played there. The Ravens will be tested, but the composure displayed at Heinz Field last Sunday will show up again in a workmanlike win.

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