Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Ravens quarterback situation finally appears coming to a head

Posted on 11 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This figures to be one of the more interesting weeks in Ravens history, and it has nothing to do with Tampa Bay coming to town.

With Joe Flacco medically cleared for game action and about to log a full week of practice and head coach John Harbaugh reiterating Monday that Lamar Jackson “should be fine” despite leaving Sunday’s loss in Kansas City with an ankle injury, the Ravens can no longer kick the can down the road with their quarterback position. Frankly, there’s little reason to think Jackson won’t — and shouldn’t — remain the starting quarterback with the Ravens having won three of their last four and rushing for nearly 230 yards per game over that time, a style conducive to controlling the clock and keeping their defense fresh.

But this isn’t like Trent Dilfer replacing Tony Banks or the debate between Elvis Grbac and Randall Cunningham years ago. Potentially telling the best quarterback in franchise history — one who won you a Super Bowl six years ago — he’s no longer “the guy” should be a delicate matter. Harbaugh didn’t announce his Week 15 starter on Monday, but he was asked if he expected Flacco to be active and to play against the Buccaneers.

“I haven’t had a chance to sit down with all the parties yet [who are] involved,” Harbaugh said. “I think it stands to reason that if Joe is ready to go, then he’ll be part of the game plan. He’s too good of a player not to be. We’ll just figure that out as we go this week — to what degree, how it works. Everybody will know going in. Perhaps except everybody outside, mostly, unless I change my mind on that. I’m excited. If we get Joe back, it’s good because it’s another good player.”

There was nothing definitive in that answer, of course, but it doesn’t sound as though the Ravens simply intend to make Flacco the No. 3 quarterback — and game-day inactive — with Robert Griffin III remaining the primary backup to Jackson as some have suggested doing. A factor in that thought process would be not wanting to risk a serious injury to Flacco that would complicate the organization’s presumed intentions to either trade or release the 33-year-old this offseason, but deliberately removing him from the equation wouldn’t be a decision based on trying to win now, especially with Jackson having missed snaps in each of the last two games.

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This offense is certainly unconventional and has run the ball exceptionally well with Jackson at the helm, but let’s not pretend there isn’t room for improvement. Many have cited the Ravens averaging 27 points per game over the last four weeks compared to the 23.7 per contest from Weeks 1-9, but that includes three touchdowns provided by the defense and special teams after neither unit offered a single return score in the first nine games. Removing those from the equation leaves an offense averaging 21.75 points per game while producing just 148 passing yards per contest.

Running the ball and controlling time of possession — the latter didn’t happen against the Chiefs in Week 14 — isn’t a formula that guarantees points or victories, leaving one to wonder if there’s another element to add to this revamped offense.

Are there ways to utilize Flacco’s throwing arm in smaller doses?

Some — like CBS Sports analyst and former NFL quarterback Tony Romo on Sunday — have suggested using Flacco in two-minute situations or when facing a multi-score deficit, but are there other possibilities? What about using a hurry-up attack — something with which Flacco has succeeded in the past — for a series against a winded defense after a long Jackson-led scoring drive and a quick three-and-out from your own defense?

Yes, playing two quarterbacks would be unconventional and doesn’t sound sustainable, but we’ve said the same thing about an offense running the ball more frequently than anyone in the NFL over the last month and we’re not talking about a 50-50 split here. If Ravens coaches were willing to risk disrupting their veteran quarterback’s rhythm to get Jackson on the field earlier in the season, why wouldn’t they at least consider a Flacco package — a “Flacckage” — to occasionally mix into a run-heavy attack? That wouldn’t mean Jackson wouldn’t pass the ball or the Ravens would never run with Flacco on the field, but it would give opposing defenses something else to consider.

If the Ravens have already embraced the weirdness, why not ponder getting a little weirder? We hear all the time that two-quarterback systems don’t work, but it’s not something that’s been tried all that frequently in the modern NFL, especially with two options who are viable in different ways. Considering each of the last four games have been one-score encounters in the fourth quarter and the Ravens can’t assume they’re going to keep getting touchdowns from their defense and special teams, why not consider a wrinkle that could potentially net an extra score over the course of 60 minutes?

Of course, that’s assuming all egos can be put aside. No veteran quarterback is going to be doing cartwheels at the notion of playing second fiddle after a decade as the starter, but Flacco should be eager to prove he’s both healthy and a legitimate starting option for another team next year. Why wouldn’t the Ravens try to benefit from that motivation as their rookie quarterback still searches for consistency as a passer?

No matter what the Ravens roll out against the Buccaneers on Sunday, it figures to be a fascinating week with Harbaugh not tipping his quarterback hand just yet.

“I’ll just have to let you know. It could entail anything right now,” Harbaugh said. “I know what we want to do; I have a plan. We have a plan. We talked about it. We have to talk to the guys about it, and whether we share that publicly, we’ll decide as the week goes on.”

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Ravens-Chiefs: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 09 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Despite initial reports to the contrary, Joe Flacco is inactive for the fourth straight week as the Ravens attempt to upset Kansas City on Sunday.

After registering his first full practice since early November on Friday, the veteran was considered to serve as the backup quarterback before the Ravens ultimately activated Robert Griffin III again. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his fourth straight start after leading the Ravens to three straight wins to move into the No. 6 spot in the AFC. Flacco was listed as questionable on the final injury report after making substantial progress this week in his return from a right hip injury.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is active and will play despite missing practice time this week with a groin injury. His presence will be critical as Baltimore attempts to slow Kansas City’s top-ranked scoring offense. As expected, safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) will miss his second straight game, meaning Chuck Clark will once again start in his place.

Offensive lineman James Hurst is active for the first time since Week 6, making his return from a back injury that sidelined him for the last six games. With Alex Lewis out with a lingering shoulder issue after missing practices all week, Hurst or rookie Bradley Bozeman will start at left guard with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. continuing to man the right tackle spot.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) was deactivated for the fifth straight game.

After being listed as questionable on the final injury report, Chiefs safety Eric Berry (heel) will need to wait another week to make his 2018 season debut. Berry and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) were officially deactivated on Sunday morning. Newly-signed wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is also inactive.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Tony Corrente.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Kansas City calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the mid-30s with light and variable winds and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with purple pants while the Chiefs don red jerseys with white pants for Week 14.

Sunday marks the eighth all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Kansas City holding the 4-3 advantage. However, Baltimore is undefeated in three trips to Arrowhead Stadium, which includes a 2010 wild-card playoff victory.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
WR Jordan Lasley
OLB Tim Williams
S Tony Jefferson
G Alex Lewis
DL/FB Patrick Ricard
DL Zach Sieler

KANSAS CITY
S Eric Berry
OL Kahlil McKenzie
WR Kelvin Benjamin
WR Sammy Watkins
RB Charcandrick West
OL Jimmy Murray
TE Deon Yelder

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Flacco questionable for Kansas City game after logging full practice

Posted on 07 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was listed as questionable to play in Sunday’s game against Kansas City after logging his first full practice since early November.

Head coach John Harbaugh left open the possibility of Flacco being active and serving in a backup capacity against the Chiefs, but rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson is still expected to make his fourth consecutive start after leading Baltimore to three straight wins. Flacco had yet to be cleared for game action as of early Friday afternoon, but he moved around better in practices this week, which could leave the Ravens with an interesting decision for Week 15 and the remainder of the season.

The 11th-year starter has been sidelined since injuring his right hip in the Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 4, but the Ravens have reeled off three consecutive 200-yard rushing performances with the speedy Jackson at quarterback, leaving many to believe the rookie better fits their newfound identity. Flacco returned to practice on a limited basis prior to the Week 13 win in Atlanta.

“He threw. He handed off. I mean, really, what more do you want me to say?” said Harbaugh about Flacco’s progress. “He played quarterback. He looked good; he looked like he always looks. It didn’t look like there were any ill effects from the hip or anything like that. I think we did the right things. It looks to me like — [from] my amateur eye — it looks like it was the right thing and looks like it was the right thing to give him the rest. We’ll see what the docs say.”

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey was also listed as questionable on the final injury report after returning to practice on a limited basis on Friday. Harbaugh said he expects Humphrey to play after a groin injury kept him out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday. The 2017 first-round pick’s availability and effectiveness will be critical going up against the Chiefs’ third-ranked passing attack.

Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) is expected to make his return after a six-game absence. Hurst practiced fully on Friday and could be in line to start at left guard with Alex Lewis missing practices all week and being listed as questionable with a lingering shoulder injury. Baltimore’s right tackle through the first six weeks of the season, Hurst started primarily at left guard last season.

“He did well. I think he looks good, has a legit chance to go and play,” Harbaugh said. “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t ready. Barring a setback, he should be ready to go.”

Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) was listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his second straight game after not practicing all week. Second-year safety Chuck Clark will start in his place.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs listed wide receiver Sammy Watkins as doubtful after he suffered a setback with the foot injury that’s kept him out of two of their last three games. Kansas City signed veteran wideout Kelvin Benjamin on Friday, but the former first-round pick is unlikely to be active on Sunday.

The Chiefs hope to welcome back five-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, who has yet to play this season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in the 2017 opener and dealing with setbacks in his recovery. Berry practiced on a limited basis all week and was listed as questionable on the final injury report.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Kansas City calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the high 30s with winds light and variable.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: S Tony Jefferson (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), LB Tim Williams (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)

KANSAS CITY
DOUBTFUL: WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: S Eric Berry (heel), TE Demetrius Harris (knee/illness)

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kelce

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Ravens defense facing biggest challenge yet in Kansas City

Posted on 06 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith compared Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to a young Brett Favre.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said the second-year quarterback reminds him of Joe Montana and called Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill “the fastest human being I’ve ever seen wear a helmet.” The coach also noted how you don’t stop Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce as much as you merely try to limit his big plays.

You’d say the top-ranked Ravens defense is buttering up its opponent until you dive into the numbers for an offense averaging 37.0 points and 437.2 yards per game. With a quarter of the regular season to go, Mahomes has already thrown 41 touchdowns while Hill and Kelce have each eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards with a combined 20 touchdown catches.

Even after holding Atlanta to just nine offensive points in last week’s victory, the Ravens understand what awaits at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s a road challenge unlike any they’ve encountered this season.

“We know we have to go out and play great to have a chance to win this game, let alone stop them,” safety Eric Weddle said. “In reality, holding this team to what we did [against the Falcons last week] is probably not going to happen. But we can make things tough on them. We can create turnovers. We can hold them in the red zone.”

Those prospects don’t sound as encouraging when you consider Baltimore is tied for 30th in the NFL with just nine takeaways and hasn’t intercepted a pass since Week 5. The Ravens have surrendered a league-best 17.8 points per game, but their red-zone defense is an underwhelming 25th with opponents maximizing their opportunities inside the 20, rare as they might be.

Those red-zone issues largely stem from problems covering tight ends, which is even more concerning against a unique talent like Kelce. Despite ranking second in passing yards allowed per game, the Ravens have allowed a touchdown reception to a tight end in five of the last six games and rank 25th in the NFL against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric.

Kelce has caught 79 passes for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns this season and lines up all over the field, making him a matchup nightmare for even the best defenses. According to ESPN, he ranks second in the league in receiving yards from the slot and first in yards after the catch from the slot, meaning Kelce should be treated more like a receiver than a tight end typically covered by a linebacker or safety.

Might the Ravens be better served using one of their big cornerbacks like Smith or Marlon Humphrey to travel with Kelce when he lines up away from the tackle box?

“It’s interesting. I didn’t think about that,” said Smith as he smiled when presented with the possibility. “I don’t know, maybe our coaches might think of something like that. That would be something for them to look at.”

The Ravens will need to vary their fronts and coverages — one of their biggest strengths — to try to keep the Chiefs guessing. As Martindale said, “If they know what you’re in, they will slaughter you.”

Home cooking for Chiefs defense?

Many have cited the Ravens’ need to continue to run the ball effectively to control the clock and limit Kansas City’s possessions, but assumptions that they’ll be able to score plenty might be premature.

Kansas City ranks 31st in total defense, 22nd in rush defense, 32nd in pass defense, and 27th in points allowed per game, but the splits suggest a more formidable defense playing at home. The Ravens should take comfort in the Chiefs allowing an ugly 5.3 yards per carry at home, but they’ve surrendered just 17.6 points per game at Arrowhead Stadium, which is less than the 18.7 points per game allowed by Baltimore on the road this year.

The Chiefs have registered eight of their 11 interceptions and 21 of their 39 sacks in their five home games, a profile that doesn’t bode well for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a passing game that’s been inconsistent at best over these last three weeks. The Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards in each of their last three games, but they’ve managed just five offensive touchdowns and have gone 5-for-10 inside the red zone over that stretch.

They’ll need to do better than that to have a good chance on Sunday, and the Kansas City defense may not be as cooperative as many are assuming at first glance.

Suggs on L.T.’s heels

Following the win in Atlanta, Martindale received a call from his son informing him 16th-year linebacker Terrell Suggs was now only one sack away from passing Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list.

“I won’t tell you what I told my son because I’m going to keep it clean up here, but I said, ‘Wow!’” Martindale said. “You don’t think about that because we see ‘Sizz’ all the time, every day.”

Suggs recorded the 132nd sack of his career against the Falcons in Week 13, just a half shy of the New York Giants legend’s total. It’s fair noting Taylor accumulated his 132 1/2 in 13 seasons, but Suggs moving into 13th place on the all-time list with his next quarterback takedown will only strengthen his case for Canton one day.

The 36-year-old needs 3 1/2 sacks in the final four games to record the eighth double-digit sack campaign of his career.

Injury report

Humphrey missed his second straight practice with a groin injury, heightening concerns about his availability for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) and left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) also missed Thursday’s session.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was a limited participant once again and is moving around better in practices than he did last week, but it remains unclear whether he’ll be cleared to be active for Week 14. Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) continues to be limited after both he and head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope earlier this week for his potential return after a six-game absence.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Demetrius Harris (illness/knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Anthony Hitchens (quadriceps/rib)

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Humphrey misses practice as Ravens brace for Kansas City offense

Posted on 05 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to play the highest-scoring offense in the NFL is challenging enough, but the Ravens did so without top cornerback Marlon Humphrey on Wednesday.

The 2017 first-round pick was absent from practice with what was listed as a groin issue on the official injury report. Humphrey played 48 of 53 defensive snaps in Sunday’s 26-16 win over Atlanta, but he appeared to pull up gingerly on the failed 2-point conversion try with under five minutes remaining, which was Atlanta’s final offensive play of the game.

Since returning from a thigh injury that cost him two games in late October, Humphrey has emerged as one of the best young cornerbacks in the NFL, ranking 10th at his position in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. He finished with two pass breakups in a defensive effort that limited Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan to a paltry 131 passing yards in Week 13.

Marlon just works hard. He’s talented,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday. “He’s a very serious guy as you all know, and he takes his technique very seriously. He chases perfection in everything that he does. He works at it, and he wants to be good.”

Humphrey’s potential absence would spell trouble in the effort to slow Kansas City’s third-ranked passing attack. The 22-year-old missed the New Orleans and Carolina games — both losses — in which the Ravens surrendered a total of 60 points, their worst two-game stretch of the season.

Sunday will mark the second time this season in which the Ravens enter a week as the top scoring defense going up against the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense.

“When we played New Orleans, it was the same type of thing, and we kick ourselves in the butt about that game still,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the 24-23 defeat in Week 7 that started a three-game losing streak. “I think [we’re] just going for it. It’s December; it’s playoffs. When you go against a team like this, it’s a real test to see if you can beat them in the playoffs. They’re looking like they’re a team that’s going to go, so it’s going to be that type of challenge.”

Veteran quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was back at practice after missing his third straight game and was once again a limited participant like he was last Thursday and Friday. Harbaugh reiterated the 33-year-old’s activity level would be ramped up from last week, but it appears likely that rookie Lamar Jackson will make his fourth consecutive start on Sunday against the Chiefs as Flacco had yet to be cleared for game action at the start of the week.

Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle), left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder), slot cornerback Tavon Young (groin), and defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) also missed Wednesday’s practice for injury-related reasons. The latter three played against the Falcons despite dealing with their respective ailments, but Jefferson appears in danger of missing his second straight game, which would mean another start for second-year safety Chuck Clark.

As he did all last week, veteran offensive lineman James Hurst (back) practiced on a limited basis and remains hopeful of making his return after a six-game absence. His return coupled with Lewis’ ongoing physical challenges would leave offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris with the option of shifting Hurst to left guard, the position he played last season. Rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. has started the last six games at right tackle.

The Chiefs continue to deal with the on-field and off-field fallout of Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt’s release late last week, but every member of their current 53-man roster was practicing, which included five-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry (heel) and starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot). Berry is aiming to make his season debut while Watkins has missed two of Kansas City’s last three games — with a bye week included in that stretch — because of a foot injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury), CB Tavon Young (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Tim Williams (ankle)

KANSAS CITY
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Demetrius Harris (knee), LB Anthony Hitchens (quadriceps/rib)

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Time has come for Ravens to embrace the weirdness

Posted on 03 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are weird.

Very weird.

There’s nothing conventional about possessing the ball for more than 24 minutes in the second half or running nearly twice as often as you pass in today’s NFL. You don’t plan for your punter to make the best throw of the day or your starting quarterback to fumble three times and pass for 125 yards in your biggest road game of the season to date.

But that all happened as the Ravens won — again.

Nothing about this is ideal, nor should it be viewed as any kind of long-term blueprint for talented rookie Lamar Jackson, who is an electric runner with a long way to go to become an all-around franchise quarterback. To be clear, that’s to be expected after only three starts, but his athleticism and upside cannot dismiss concerns about ball security, a shortage of plays in the passing game, inconsistent mechanics and accuracy, and not doing the little things such as throwing the ball away instead of taking a loss. If nothing else, we can all agree Jackson running more often than he passes is not a recipe for keeping him healthy for the long haul, a reality that shouldn’t be completely ignored in the present.

In a perfect world, a healthy Joe Flacco would be under center as the Ravens make their December push for the playoffs. The 33-year-old would have a strong running game in the conventional sense, a stout and healthy offensive line, and wide receivers who consistently gain separation and catch the football to allow him to potentially channel past postseason success.

But that’s not reality, which is why Jackson’s skill set is the better fit for what the Ravens have become over the last three weeks in which they’ve gone from a 4-5 team circling the drain to one holding the No. 6 spot in the AFC and just a half-game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North. A healthy Flacco and a more conventional offense may have also won three straight against struggling teams, but we can’t say that for sure, making it a difficult sell to a rejuvenated locker room that you’re just going to pivot back toward the hypothetical.

Perhaps the rise of Gus Edwards and bye-week adjustments would have led to a better running game with Flacco at quarterback than what we saw with running back Alex Collins over the first half of the season, but we’ve watched the Ravens rush for a remarkable 716 yards over the last three weeks with Jackson’s speed putting incredible pressure on opposing run defenses. Baltimore ran for just 834 yards over its first nine games, and no one could objectively argue that the ground game would be as explosive with an immobile quarterback on the field these last three weeks.

That’s more of a knock on the front office and coaching staff for not being able to field a productive running game by conventional measures, but here we are going into Week 14. Giving yourself the best chance to win in December isn’t about what’s fair to any individual player — even one who won you a Super Bowl several years ago.

It’s time to embrace the weirdness and let it ride in a way similar to how Brian Billick embraced “the dark side” on the way to an eventual Super Bowl win 18 years ago. As head coach John Harbaugh said after Sunday’s 26-16 win in Atlanta, no one really knows exactly where this is going, which should make it fun.

Perhaps the best way to describe what the Ravens have become is a warped version of that 2000 team. This defense doesn’t compare to that historic unit, of course, but holding the league’s 11th-ranked scoring offense to 131 yards and nine points — Jackson’s second fumble resulted in the other Falcons touchdown — was a terrific road performance. No one is ready to confuse Edwards with a young Jamal Lewis, but the rookie free agent’s 5.0 yards per carry and physical style have been a godsend. And if Jackson can limit the turnovers, he at least represents a much more athletic version of Trent Dilfer for now.

None of that is to suggest the Ravens fit the profile of a team poised to make a deep run in January. They might lose by three touchdowns in Kansas City this Sunday, but you could have said the same about the struggling team we saw before the bye week. The Ravens’ best chance — even if still not a good one — is to play keep-away from Patrick Mahomes and the high-powered Chiefs offense while hoping their own offense becomes more efficient inside the opponent’s 30, something that remains a pressing concern.

Unforeseen circumstances have led to the Ravens discovering a nightmare-inducing running game that’s allowed them to dominate the time of possession, proving the opportunity for the defense to be fresher late in games. The Chiefs will offer the ultimate test as we continue to wonder how long this approach can be sustained. A disastrous performance could lead to reassessing — especially if Flacco is fully healthy and looks good in practice — but we said the same thing last week before Baltimore recorded only its second December road win in the last four years.

There will be plenty of time to debate what Jackson will ultimately become, but keeping him on the field does add the long-term benefit of him gaining experience while the Ravens try to “weird” their way to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

It’s time to just go with it and enjoy the ride.

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Ravens-Falcons: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 02 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With Joe Flacco inactive for the third straight week, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will take his show on the road for the Ravens.

The 2018 first-round pick from Louisville will make the first away start of his career as the Ravens try to extend their two-game winning streak and improve their playoff positioning with a victory in Atlanta. A win and a solid performance very well could mean Jackson keeping the starting job despite Flacco (right hip) returning to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

As expected, running back Kenneth Dixon is active and will play for the first time since Week 1. Dixon was activated from injured reserve on Saturday as former starter Alex Collins was placed on IR with a foot injury. Despite being listed as questionable with an ankle injury, Gus Edwards will make his second straight start and is aiming for his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game, something no Baltimore running back has accomplished since Justin Forsett in 2014.

Slot cornerback Tavon Young will make his return after missing last week’s game with a groin injury. That’s a positive development for a defense trying to slow the Falcons’ fourth-ranked passing attack.

With Tony Jefferson out with an ankle injury, second-year safety Chuck Clark will make his first NFL start.

A surprising healthy scratch was fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, who had played 16 offensive snaps in each of the last two games. However, the Ravens could easily use blocking tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams to account for those fullback snaps.

The Falcons have the daunting task of slowing a Baltimore rushing attack that’s collected more than 500 rushing yards over the last two weeks, but the return of 2017 Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones is significant. Jones hasn’t played since injuring his foot in Week 1.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Brad Allen.

With the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium scheduled to be open for the 1 p.m. kickoff, the Weather.com forecast in Atlanta calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70 degrees with winds five to 10 miles per hour and a 20-percent chance of rain.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with black pants while Atlanta dons its red jerseys and white pants for Week 13.

Sunday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with Baltimore holding a slight 3-2 advantage. The Falcons held a 2-1 home advantage at the Georgia Dome, but the Ravens are playing at their new stadium for the first time.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
S Tony Jefferson
OT James Hurst
LB Tim Williams
FB/DL Patrick Ricard
DL Zach Sieler
WR Jordan Lasley

ATLANTA
K Giorgio Tavecchio
RB Brian Hill
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
S Keith Tandy
S Ryan Neal
DE Steven Means
OT Matt Gono

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Flacco doubtful, Jefferson out for Ravens game in Atlanta

Posted on 30 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Despite returning to practice this week, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is expected to miss his third straight game against Atlanta on Sunday.

The 11th-year veteran was officially listed as doubtful after being a limited participant in workouts on Thursday and Friday, meaning rookie Lamar Jackson is poised to make his third straight start and first on the road. When asked if Flacco was an option for Week 13 before the final injury report was released, head coach John Harbaugh provided an interesting assessment of Baltimore’s quarterback situation moving forward.

“I’d say yes, he’s an option. There are still doctors involved at this point,” said Harbaugh, who added that Flacco is progressing well and looked better on Friday than he did Thursday. “I think the biggest thing … I was thinking of the best way to describe this because it’s not simple. It’s never as simple as one rule or one cliché as we’ve talked about before, but there’s a formula involved. I think the biggest things with situations like this are the two biggest factors, [which] are time and circumstances. Those are things we just don’t know. Time in terms of the medical aspect of it. Circumstances in terms of our team and where we’re at and how guys are playing, including the players involved.

“To me, it’s like any other position that way. It just gets more attention because it’s the quarterback. We’ll see where we’re at as we go.”

A strong performance from Jackson against the Falcons could very well mean Flacco not regaining the job he’s held for more than a decade in Baltimore.

Starting safety Tony Jefferson was officially ruled out with a left ankle injury, meaning second-year safety Chuck Clark will make his first NFL start. Jefferson left last Sunday’s win over Oakland and missed practices all week. It will be the first game he’s missed since joining the Ravens last year.

Despite returning to practice on a limited basis this week, veteran offensive lineman James Hurst was listed as doubtful and will miss his sixth consecutive game with a back injury as rookie Orlando Brown Jr. will continue to man the right tackle spot. Hurst hasn’t played since the Week 6 win over Tennessee, but the Ravens are hopeful that he could play against Kansas City in Week 14.

“James has looked good. He will not be ready to play in the game,” Harbaugh said. “He just needs more time on task in terms of practice and getting back in the weight room and all those things, but I’d say next week would be a legitimate chance for him. We’ll keep our fingers crossed for that.”

Slot cornerback Tavon Young is questionable to play after missing last week’s game and practicing only on a limited basis all week. His potential absence would mean more inside opportunities for veteran Brandon Carr, who handled the bulk of the nickel snaps against the Raiders.

Running backs Gus Edwards (ankle) and Alex Collins (foot) were both listed as questionable after practicing fully, leaving questions about the possibility of Kenneth Dixon being activated to shore up the backfield depth for Week 13. The third-year running back has been on injured reserve since hurt his knee in Week 1 and was designated to return to practice two weeks ago.

Baltimore is already carrying four running backs on the roster with Edwards, Collins, Ty Montgomery, and Buck Allen and isn’t required to make a decision on Dixon’s roster status for another week.

“Just being ready to go and being healthy and ready to go and knowing the offense — all things that go into being ready to go,” Harbaugh said. “He’s real close. We’ll see. I think he’s also an option for Sunday, and we’ll see if he’s out there or not. We’d have to make the roster work as well.”

Atlanta did not list anyone on its final game status report as kicker Matt Bryant (back) returned to practice on a limited basis after a two-day absence and 2017 Pro Bow linebacker Deion Jones practiced fully. Jones is expected to play for the first time since injuring his foot in the 2018 season opener.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: S Tony Jefferson (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Alex Collins (foot), RB Gus Edwards (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), LB Tim Williams (illness), CB Tavon Young (groin)

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Red zone even more critical for revamped Ravens entering December

Posted on 30 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are zigging while everyone else zags entering December.

In a season in which Seattle is the only NFL team running the ball more often than not (50.58 percent), Baltimore has run on 96 of its 144 plays — exactly two-thirds — over the last two games, resulting in wins over Cincinnati and Oakland to improve to 6-5 and move back into the No. 6 spot in the AFC. The Ravens had rushed just 36.15 percent of the time prior to their Week 10 bye when it was revealed veteran quarterback Joe Flacco would miss action with a hip injury. The dramatic shift in style figures to continue this week in Atlanta with Flacco officially doubtful after only returning to practice on a limited basis Thursday and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson preparing to make his third straight start.

Over the last two weeks, the Ravens have increased their usage of the pistol formation and heavy sets featuring two running backs and two tight ends, which aren’t featured all that frequently in today’s NFL. Jackson’s remarkable mobility has put pressure on opposing defenses to account for two potential ball carriers in zone-read looks and run-pass options. That’s helped Jackson and rookie running back Gus Edwards rush for a combined 423 yards over the last two weeks. The entire Baltimore offense didn’t rush for that many yards over the final four games — three of them losses — before the bye.

The unconventional approach in a pass-happy league has led many to ask whether it’s sustainable as the Ravens try to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2014. It won’t be easy as John Harbaugh’s team plays three of its next four games on the road and the three away opponents — the Falcons, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers — possess offenses ranking in the top six in total yards per game and the top 11 in points per game.

Critics have fairly noted that the Bengals and Raiders have surrendered the most rushing yards in the NFL this year, but the Falcons and Chiefs rank even worse in yards per carry allowed. That’s why many believe the Ravens should stick with Jackson and their newfound approach in an effort to exploit bad run defenses and control the time of possession to limit the possessions for those explosive offenses. Over the last two weeks, the Ravens have possessed the ball more than 72 minutes compared to under 48 minutes for their opponents, an advantage the league’s top-ranked scoring defense certainly has appreciated.

However, the impressive rushing totals and big advantage in time of possession haven’t yet resulted in the offense scoring a tremendous number of points. Entering Week 11, the Ravens were averaging 23.7 points per game and scored 24 against the Bengals, who sport the worst defense in the league and have surrendered 34 or more in each of their other four contests since mid-October. Baltimore scored 34 points in last week’s win over Oakland, but that total was aided by Cyrus Jones’ punt return for a touchdown and Terrell Suggs’ fumble return for a score, which a team isn’t getting every week.

The two offensive touchdowns per game over the last two weeks would rank 26th in the NFL for the season and lags behind the 2.67 per contest registered from Weeks 1-9. Ideally, the run-heavy attack leads to longer drives to keep the opposing offense off the field, but that also means fewer possessions for yourself, making red-zone efficiency that much more important. The Ravens have scored touchdowns on only four of their eight trips inside the 20 over the last two games after entering Week 11 tied for ninth in the NFL at 66.7 percent.

That 50-percent mark was able to cut it playing bad teams at home, but it won’t on the road against teams with top 10-caliber offenses. Relying too much on field goals with fewer overall possessions simply won’t add up.

“I have to do better, we have to do better, all of those things, but yes, it’s big,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg about red-zone efficiency. “We’ve put a little focus on that, just a little bit here, and we will do so [Thursday] and [Friday] as well on that part of the game. … It’s so important, especially if you don’t have all that many possessions. It becomes even more heightened.”

Unlike next week’s trip to Kansas City that will be a tall order no matter who’s at quarterback, Sunday should represent a reasonable challenge for the Ravens in Jackson’s first road start. Though the Falcons are coming off extended rest, they’ve also lost three straight games in which they’ve failed to score 20 points even once. Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn does have experience game-planning for a similar style of quarterback after the former Seattle defensive coordinator went up against San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick multiple times in the NFC West, but his current defense is allowing a brutal 5.1 yards per rushing attempt and 27.9 points per game while ranking 30th in the red zone (73.2 percent).

At the same time, the Falcons still possess an offense more dangerous than either of Baltimore’s last two opponents and have averaged 400 yards and 25.5 points per game this season. Ravens players and coaches are realistic about Atlanta’s ability to move the ball between the 20s, but a defense with superb numbers in most other categories ranks an underwhelming 22nd in red-zone touchdown percentage.

There are no guarantees with a rookie quarterback making his first road start as Jackson will face challenges not experienced in his home stadium. The Ravens must not only run the ball effectively to control the clock, but they must finish off those long drives with touchdowns to back up a defense that hasn’t created many turnovers or collected many sacks over the last five games. In turn, that defense must buckle down inside the 20 more than it has against better offenses this season.

“Just like I’ve told our [defensive backs], there are going to be some plays made,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “It’s just how are we going to handle the series of events?”

For the revamped Ravens feeling new life entering December, their playoff hopes could begin and end with how they fare inside the red zone on both sides of the ball.

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Flacco returns to field for first time since Nov. 4

Posted on 29 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Thursday brought a significant development to the Ravens quarterback situation as veteran Joe Flacco practiced for the first time since injuring his right hip on Nov. 4.

The 33-year-old threw passes and practiced handoffs along with rookie Lamar Jackson and veteran backup Robert Griffin III as Baltimore practiced indoors ahead of Sunday’s game at Atlanta. To little surprise, Flacco was limited as he took part in his first practice in nearly four weeks.

Given the length of his absence and his inability to practice fully this week, Flacco still appears unlikely to play against the Falcons, but head coach John Harbaugh has not yet named a starting quarterback for Week 13. Should he receive the nod, Jackson would be making his first career road start after leading the Ravens to wins over Cincinnati and Oakland the last two weeks.

Reports earlier in the week indicated Baltimore planned to start Jackson in Atlanta since Flacco hadn’t yet been fully cleared by doctors.

“There’s a process involved, and it has to do with the doctors and trainers and his rehab,” Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “He’s progressing very well; I can tell you that. He’s doing well, and there will be another step today and tomorrow and the day after that, and we’ll see where we’re at.”

Flacco wasn’t the only key player to return to practice on Thursday as rookie running back Gus Edwards was participating after sitting out Wednesday with an ankle injury. Since Edwards had spoken to reporters the previous day, there was little legitimate concern regarding his status.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (illness) and Tavon Young (groin), running back Alex Collins (foot), defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle), and outside linebacker Tim Williams were all present after sitting out Wednesday’s practice.

Safety Tony Jefferson remained sidelined with a left ankle injury sustained in last Sunday’s win over the Raiders. Second-year safety Chuck Clark would start in his place if Jefferson is forced to miss his first game of the season.

Wide receiver John Brown also sat out Thursday’s practice and has received occasional veteran days off over the course of the season.

Veteran offensive lineman James Hurst (back) practiced on a limited basis for a second straight day as he tries to return to the lineup after a five-game absence.

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (foot) practiced on a limited basis once again as optimism remains that he will return to action for the first time since Week 1. Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant missed his second straight day of practice with a back issue.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), S Tony Jefferson (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Alex Collins (foot), RB Gus Edwards (ankle), QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (illness), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (illness), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

ATLANTA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: K Matt Bryant (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LS Josh Harris (hip), S Kemal Ishmael (knee), LB Deion Jones (foot), WR Calvin Ridley (anke/elbow)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Brian Poole (finger)

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