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Flacco defends Ravens offense despite awful Week 3 performance

Posted on 28 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco made no excuses for the Ravens offense’s performance in the 44-7 loss to Jacksonville this past Sunday.

The 10th-year quarterback threw for a career-worst 28 yards in easinly one of the worst game of his career. Jaguars signal-caller Blake Bortles threw for more yards on his first attempt of the game, illustrating just how impotent the Baltimore offense was in London.

But Flacco doesn’t think that poor showing should skew the narrative about the Baltimore offense so far in 2017. The group may rank dead last in the NFL in total yards per game and passing offense through the first three weeks of the season, but Flacco says those numbers don’t paint an accurate picture.

“I think we’re getting ahead of ourselves when we all of a sudden say we haven’t played well for three weeks,” Flacco said. “We played terribly last week. There is no way around that, but the other two weeks, we did what we had to do to win football games. I don’t think that is anything that we can hang our heads over.”

Flacco has a point — at least to some degree. In the season opener, the defense forced five turnovers to make it easy for the offense as the Ravens ran 42 times for 157 yards to protect a big second-half lead at Cincinnati. Baltimore again benefited from five takeaways in Week 2, but the offense did produce 21 first-half points before playing ball control in the second half. The ground game hasn’t been spectacular, but it’s averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry to rank 11th in the NFL.

It’s an acceptable formula if you remain on a historic pace for creating turnovers, but therein lies the problem. What happens when the Ravens defense doesn’t play at an unbelievable level?

Our first glimpse at that reality certainly wasn’t pretty as the offense showed no ability to help out the other side of the ball. When Flacco’s best defense is that the offense did what they needed to do in the first two games of the season, how does anyone really know what to expect when the Ravens start playing tougher competition such as Pittsburgh and Oakland the next two weeks?

The problems on offense are plentiful, but the state of the offensive line is far and away the biggest issue, greatly impacting other phases of the unit in the process. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is now the only holdover from last year’s starting offensive line, and even he hasn’t played at a high level so far in 2017 with Pro Football Focus ranking him 38th among all offensive tackles. Head coach John Harbaugh did express satisfaction with the combination of Matt Skura and Jermaine Eluemunor in Sunday’s loss, but the fact that the Ravens have already used three different players in place of injured six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda doesn’t speak well for their confidence level.

There just isn’t a lot of upside or reason for optimism with the group.

“I wasn’t at all displeased with the way the two right guards played,” said Harbaugh of Skura and Eluemunor. “But across the board, we had an issue here, an issue there that ended up hurting us against a defense that played really well, and it snowballed on us.”

The line is the biggest reason for concern, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other problems. Flacco continues to check down and throw short passes at an alarming rate, even on the occasions when there isn’t pressure in the pocket. His 5.3 yards per attempt rank last in the NFL and will not quell concerns about the health of his back as he’s already thrown four interceptions in just 69 attempts.

Perhaps more appalling than anything has been the disappearance of the wide receivers, who have caught a total of 13 passes. Thirty-five players in the league currently have more receptions while Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman have caught only four passes for 26 yards between them. The trio of Jeremy Maclin, Wallace, and Perriman should be a relative strength of the offense, but you’d never know it when watching the Ravens operate so far in September.

Flacco again pointed to game situations to defend the poor numbers, but he acknowledged the need for improvement moving forward.

“If you don’t get everybody involved and get those guys’ confidence going and level of play really going, you have no shot,” Flacco said. “Football is a team game, and it is about getting everybody going and everybody involved. The more that we can do that, the better it is going to suit us.”

Sunday’s game will provide an interesting test. The Ravens return home to M&T Bank Stadium where Pittsburgh hasn’t won since 2012, but the Steelers currently rank second in total defense and pass defense and third in the NFL in points per game allowed.

Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense are off to a slow start in September, but they have too much talent to expect them to be down for long. The Ravens offense is going to have to show it can pick up the slack, but we have no idea if the group is capable without an otherworldly performance by the defense.

Last Sunday’s test was a colossal failure, but the Ravens want to prove that was an aberration.

“We built our team to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are coming to our house this week, and we have a good football team,” Flacco said. “We have to continue to believe that and continue to go out there and do what we have been doing and do it a little better.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 44-7 loss to Jacksonville

Posted on 26 September 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thoughts and comments on Ravens win over the Browns

Posted on 18 September 2017 by Dennis Koulatsos

Here are my Monday morning thoughts after the Ravens solid performance over the Browns, and my view from my vantage point from the upper deck of M&T Bank Stadium:

  • The elation of being 2-0 was tempered by a season ending injury to future Hall of Fame guard Marshal Yanda.  He suffered a broken ankle when a Cleveland player rolled on his ankle.
  • Newly acquired G/T Tony Bergstrom replaced Yanda in the lineup, and played well for the 32 snaps that he was in.
  • Yanda hadn’t allowed a sack since game 7 of the 2015 season versus the Arizona Cardinals.
  • RB Terrance West definitely has a nose for the goal line. You can see by his body language just how much he wants the ball any time the Ravens get in the red zone.
  • Speaking of running backs, Buck Allen had a very nice game (highlighted by a 37 yard run) and fresh-up-from-the-practice-squad Alex Collins also shined.  Looks like the Ravens now have a 3-headed monster at the position, with 3 backs that have different skill sets to offer.
  • Although Collins put the ball on the ground – primarily due to second effort – he ran hard and decisively.  His “one cut plant the foot in the ground and go” style fits in well with Greg Roman’s power blocking scheme.
  • More Collins: much like Tony Jefferson he had a bad combine, and dropped to 5th round primarily because he ran a 4.59 40.  But when you roll the tape of him at Arkansas, you see vision, balance, toughness, and enough speed to get the job done.
  • Coach Harbaugh has to love the competition at running back.  The Ravens commitment to the run has served them well through 2 games, so expect more of the same going forward.
  • TE Benjamin Watson had a break out game with the Ravens. Targeted 8 times by QB Joe Flacco, he caught all of them for 91 years, and more importantly 40 after the catch. His blocking was also outstanding and contributed to the running game’s success.
  • The other two tight ends also received high grades for their blocking.  Nick Boyle really stood out, as he consistently sealed the edge and gave Ravens’ running back daylight to the outside. Maxx Williams’ status is up in the air, as he was seeing leaving the stadium in a walking the boot right after the game.
  • Austin Howard has done a nice job coming in as the team’s new right tackle.  He also had a nice game against a tough Cleveland front.
  • Brandon Carr’s veteran presence has been impressive on the field.  The Browns were definitely targeting him and he came up big, capping a nice day with a timely drive killing interception.
  • Joe Flacco was more accurate than usual, and looked a lot more comfortable moving around in the pocket versus one week ago.  Even in warm ups he was airing the ball out.
  • The interception Flacco threw was inexcusable and careless.  Jabrill Peppers and Jason McCourty were both playing very deep, and there was no way that Mike Wallace was going to out jump them for the ball.  Mike Wallace can win 50/50 foot races, but he’s not going to win many 50/50 jump balls.
  • Flacco was hot against the blitz.  Browns defensive coordinator Greg Williams blitzed early and often, but the Ravens QB was poised and able to deliver the ball to his open receivers.
  • The Cleveland linebackers had a horrible day, as they couldn’t cover the Ravens backs and tight ends.  Kudos to the Ravens offensive coordinators for a great game plan against them and great execution by the players.
  • Rookie CB Marlon Humphrey allowed only one pass to be completed against him, and it was for only 3 yards.  Talk about press coverage!  He just gets inside of people’s shirts and doesn’t let go.  He was on the field for only 11 plays, and I expect to see him continue to earn more playing time as the season progresses. He has the DNA to be a shutdown corner down the line.
  • Big ups to coach Harbaugh.  With just 5 ticks left on the clock right before halftime, the Ravens had the ball on the Browns’ 2 yard line.  My whole section – including me – were screaming “take the points!”  Of course we know that Flacco completed a pass to Jeremy Maclin in the end zone for the touchdown, which put the Ravens up by 14 points instead of 10.
  • Rookie LB Tyus Bowser got a sack and an interception.  He is big, fast, fluid and instinctive.  GM Ozzie Newsome really did a great job in finding some gems in this year’s NFL draft.
  • Terrell Suggs usually doesn’t have a great game against Joe Thomas, but in his defense, not many rush ends do.  Yesterday was an exception though, as Suggs clearly got the best of him.  He harassed the Browns’ QBs all day and his tenacity was rewarded by a strip sack.
  • WR Jeremy Maclin got his second touchdown in as many games as a Raven.  He’s going to keep Jimmy’s Famous Seafood’s kitchen busy popping out those great crabcakes for him all season long!
  • Safety Lardarius Webb got his second interception of the season, and it was a big one as it was in the endzone.  He also had a couple of big hits that got the attention of the Browns’ receivers.
  • The Ravens had a 7 minute edge in time of possession over the Browns. It was less than the 9 minutes they held the ball longer than the Bengals in the prior week, but even more so impressive as the Browns run defense in particular was a more stout group.
  • The Ravens now have 10 takeaways in 2 games, and have themselves turned over the ball 3 times this season, giving them a +7 in that area.
  • The Ravens rushed the ball 32 times for 136 yards.
  • Breshad Perriman had a ball bounce off of his hands on a slant pattern.  You could hear the “brick” sound all the way in the upper deck.  He really has to turn it on before the “bust” whispers get louder.
  • Love to see the Ravens get Mike Wallace more involved in the passing game.  I understand that Jeremy Maclin is a better player, but Wallace showed last year that he is still capable of being productive and putting up some good numbers.
  • We haven’t heard his named called the last 2 games, and that’s a good thing.  I’m talking about LG James Hurst. No news is good news.
  • Glad to see the Ravens improved in cleaning up penalties.  They had 7 for 45 yards, in sharp contrast to the undisciplined Browns’ 11 for 65 yards.
  • It’s natural to root for high draft picks to develop, but clearly WLB Patrick Onwuasor is a better player than Kamalei Correa.  For his part, Correa is a good team teammate as he is always smiling and supportive.  He has good body language.

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Yanda injury puts more pressure on Ravens defense to be special

Posted on 17 September 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens deserved to feel good about their 24-10 win over Cleveland Sunday to improve to 2-0 on the young season.

The defense was its own toughest critic after the game for allowing seven plays of 20 or more yards, but the Browns managed only 10 points, went 2-for-12 on third down, finished 0-for-1 in the red zone, and committed five turnovers. You’ll gladly take that kind of defensive performance in those four major categories while working to iron out the other kinks.

But the loss of six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda to a season-ending ankle injury put a damper on the post-game locker room and was on the minds of even those on the opposite side of the ball. That’s how badly this one hurts for the Ravens.

“He is a leader. There is not a word in English dictionary that can describe — well, I can’t find one right now — what Marshal is to us,” said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Yanda’s teammate for the last decade. “It hurts. That hurts to lose your bell cow. But, the Ravens, our motto is ‘the next man up.’ We are going to miss him.”

The offensive line had already lost above-average right tackle Rick Wagner to free agency, starting left guard Alex Lewis and 2017 fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa to season-ending injuries in training camp, and fourth-year interior lineman John Urschel to a surprising retirement in late July. Those types of losses test an offensive line’s depth, but Yanda has long been the glue and heart of the group. He’s that rare talent who raises the play of those around him, meaning an already-suspect unit becomes even more troubling without him moving forward.

Other than quarterback Joe Flacco, Yanda was probably the player the Ravens offense could least afford to lose.

The Ravens did manage to rush for 69 yards on 20 carries in the second half to help protect a 21-7 halftime lead after Yanda was injured on the first play of scrimmage in the third quarter, but it’s not as simple as plugging in recently-acquired journeyman Tony Bergstrom at right guard and assuming all will be fine. It’s the latest challenge — and the biggest one yet — for an offense that’s been ravaged by injuries over the last 3 1/2 months.

“Even before I came here, everybody in the league knows about Marshal, how special he is, his excellence on the offensive line, and the way guys gravitate toward him, the leader that he is,” 14th-year tight end Benjamin Watson said. “It’s definitely going to hurt. Football is a team game. We’re going to put 11 on the field, and someone is going to play.”

Making the injury more frustrating is that the offense showed progress from Week 1 when it rode the coattails of a defensive shutout and really only needed to run the football at a functional level. Against the Browns, Flacco used an array of bootlegs and play-action passes to throw for two touchdowns and 217 yards with only one interception. The Ravens also rushed for 136 yards and averaged a solid 4.3 yards per carry.

But you can’t help but feel the Yanda injury represents at least a couple steps back after the stride forward on Sunday. Filling that colossal void won’t be easy, putting more pressure on the defense to continue playing at an elite level in the meantime.

Perhaps the group is up to the challenge after forcing 10 turnovers in the first two weeks of the season, an output incredibly just four shy of Baltimore’s total number of takeaways for the entire 2015 season. The competition will get tougher in the coming weeks, but this Ravens defense looks like it can be special.

It will need to be with the offense now forced to find its new footing after losing the best guard in football.

“No one can replace Marshal Yanda — no one person,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But I think we traded for [Bergstrom] for a reason, and our scouts believed in him. It looks like a good trade. Everyone is going to have to collectively raise their effort level, their execution level to make up for the loss of a player like Marshal.”

Fair or not, that “everyone” will include a defense that’s already been rather spectacular.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 15 September 2017 by Luke Jones

What will the Ravens defense do for an encore?

After recording their first shutout since 2009 in a 20-0 victory over Cincinnati, the Ravens host Cleveland in M&T Bank Stadium’s 20th home opener. And a defense that picked off Bengals veteran Andy Dalton four times and collected five sacks will face a rookie quarterback. Under head coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore hasn’t lost a home game to a first-year quarterback.

A victory would give the Ravens their fourth 2-0 start in Harbaugh’s 10 seasons while the Browns are trying to avoid an 0-2 start that would put them in a last-place tie with Cincinnati. Both teams are on the road next week.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens look to improve to 17-2 against the Browns in the Harbaugh era. Baltimore swept the season series last year and is 27-9 against Cleveland and 14-4 against the AFC North opponent at home in the all-time series.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Buck Allen will lead the Ravens in receptions filling in for the injured Danny Woodhead. Much discussion this week has centered around the novelty of Michael Campanaro taking on Woodhead’s responsibilities, but a 191-pound receiver isn’t a threat to run between the tackles or pass block in the backfield. It’s easy to forget after Allen’s disappointing 2016 campaign, but he caught 45 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns in 393 offensive snaps as a rookie. He’s the best in-house bet to try to replicate Woodhead, and the Ravens need him to do a decent impression for the offense to click.

2. Baltimore will register its first defensive touchdown in nearly two years. Despite finishing tied for fourth in the NFL with 28 takeaways a year ago, the Ravens defense wasn’t able to take any of those back to the end zone, which hurt with a below-average offense that often struggled to finish drives. Lardarius Webb came very close last week with his interception off a batted pass that was returned to the Cincinnati 2. Given the ability and depth of this defense going against a rookie quarterback, Sunday feels like the overdue time for the first defensive score since C.J. Mosley’s fumble return on Sept. 27, 2015.

3. Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer will show some moxie orchestrating a touchdown drive despite being sacked four times. The second-round pick from Notre Dame had his moments against Pittsburgh, but the challenge is even tougher on the road against a defense vying to be the NFL’s best. Kizer was sacked seven times in Week 1, but a few of those were a result of him holding the ball too long. The Ravens aren’t going to shut out their opponent and have five takeaways every week, but they’ll still create pressure against an offensive line better than the one they faced in the season opener.

4. Joe Flacco will connect with Mike Wallace for a long touchdown in an otherwise run-heavy day for the offense. The Ravens won’t carry the ball 40-plus times again, but it’s easy to be committed to the run when holding a lead at home like they will Sunday. That said, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg does want to see more from Flacco and the passing game with some tough games approaching in the not-too-distant future. Browns cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Jamar Taylor are shaky at best, meaning Wallace will find enough space for a deep ball after a quiet Week 1 performance.

5. The Ravens will steadily remain in control in a 23-10 win to improve to 2-0 on the season. Cleveland has an improved roster and now needs to find out whether Kizer can be that elusive franchise quarterback the organization has lacked for decades. The Ravens will have their struggles moving the ball consistently against a decent front, but the Browns offense just isn’t going to do enough to seriously challenge in this game. It will be interesting to see what kind of progress Cleveland has made when these teams meet again in December, but the Ravens shouldn’t have too much trouble in Week 2.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 20-0 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 12 September 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens posting their first shutout since 2009 in a 20-0 win over Cincinnati to begin the 2017 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. C.J. Mosley’s end-zone interception in the second quarter was the turning point. Between that red-zone turnover and Andy Dalton’s poor throw to a wide-open Cody Core streaking down the sideline on the next drive, the Bengals could have led 10-3 late in the half. Instead, the Ravens dominated after that.

2. If that Mosley pick was the turning point, the 17-play drive lasting nearly 10 minutes in the third quarter killed what was left of Cincinnati’s spirit. The Ravens converted three times with runs on third-and-short on that long march. How many times has that happened in recent years?

3. I had to laugh at hearing some take exception with Joe Flacco’s quip that it wasn’t that fun for the offense while overlooking him saying winning was what mattered. So many complain about athletes being disingenuous in interviews, but then we never like what they have to say when honest.

4. Watching Terrell Suggs play at this stage of his career reminds me of Ray Lewis in his final few seasons. What he might lack physically compared to his younger self he makes up for with his impeccable mental preparation and instincts. He took Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to school.

5. Other than a few exceptions, the Ravens generated most of their pocket pressure without using blitzes against the Bengals. Sending an extra defender or two in the right spot is great, but the special defenses can wreak havoc on the quarterback with a four-man rush.

6. It didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Brandon Williams had one of the better games of his career as a pass rusher. His pressure on Dalton impacted the aforementioned poor pass that could have easily been a touchdown, and Pro Football Focus credited him with four quarterback pressures.

7. You can only hope Danny Woodhead is able to return sooner than later as you could see what kind of weapon he can be as a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot. Alas, the Ravens were aware of his injury history when they signed him in March.

8. Za’Darius Smith silenced critics with a strong preseason and looked like one of the best players on the field before injuring his left leg in the second quarter. Losing him would hurt Baltimore’s versatility as he can be used as an interior rusher in sub packages.

9. Buck Allen handled the No. 2 running back duties as his 21 carries more than doubled the nine total he received in his disappointing 2016 season. The running game wasn’t overwhelming, but it was up to the task of controlling the clock and protecting a sizable lead.

10. Between Marvin Lewis’ white-flag-waving punt from the Baltimore 43 with less than 10 minutes to go and trailing by 20 and Dalton throwing the ball away on fourth down inside the red zone on the following drive, the reaction is summed up nicely here:

11. Perhaps they haven’t yet realized, but it sure looks like the Bengals’ window with the current regime slammed shut after their colossal meltdown against Pittsburgh in the wild-card playoffs two years ago. Cincinnati’s offensive line made the Ravens’ questionable group look like the Dallas Cowboys.

12. I enjoyed seeing Zach Orr on the sideline and celebrating with Mosley after the latter’s key interception. You know Sunday had to be a bittersweet day for the retired linebacker, but he’ll have every opportunity to learn what it takes to be a coach or a scout this season.

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Season-opening win for Ravens brings different feeling

Posted on 11 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The results of the first week of the season can often be fool’s gold.

Even the mighty New England Patriots lost Week 1 contests in three of their five Super Bowl championship campaigns this century. In 2003, they were embarrassed in a 31-0 final at Buffalo before winning 17 of their next 18 games while the Bills would finish with a 6-10 record. That’s why no one with a brain is counting them out despite being beaten by Kansas City in decisive fashion at home last Thursday night.

Cincinnati will try to lean on that example after being dominated by the Ravens in a 20-0 final at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, but Baltimore hopes its first season-opening shutout since 2006 is a sign of better things to come after missing the playoffs in three of the last four years.

Of course, it was only last year that the Ravens won their first three games before finishing with an underwhelming 8-8 mark. But Sunday’s victory over the Bengals brought a different feeling, the kind that tempts observers to want to rethink their expectations for the new season.

Having not won in Cincinnati in nearly six years, head coach John Harbaugh and his team would have taken a victory no matter how close the score. Winning ugly is always better than losing with style, but a 13-12 final probably wouldn’t have sparked much enthusiasm beyond the typical satisfaction of any victory.

We just haven’t seen the Ravens overwhelm any opponent like that on the road in quite some time. In fact, it was just the third time since Super Bowl XLVII — and first since 2014 — that they won a regular-season away game by more than one possession, a telling reflection of their struggles away from M&T Bank Stadium in recent seasons.

They earned their first shutout since 2009, a stretch of time that contained some still-formidable defenses that included future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Perhaps a brutal offensive line will reveal the 2017 Bengals to be an outfit more closely resembling the Cleveland Browns than a playoff contender as the season progresses, but let’s not pretend the Ravens have blown out the perennial doormats of the AFC North in recent road meetings, either. Simply put, trying to make the final outcome all about the shortcomings of Andy Dalton and the Bengals sells the Ravens short for their sensational defensive work that included five sacks and five takeaways.

We know the Baltimore offense remains a significant work in progress, but the running game was effective enough Sunday to complement the superb defense as a rusty Joe Flacco didn’t even have to complete a pass in the second half. That exact formula won’t work every week, of course, but a similar model carried the 2008 Ravens to the AFC championship game when Flacco was a rookie starter.

And while it’s way too premature — and unfair — to begin making comparisons to the 2000 Ravens, that was the blueprint for the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship team. You didn’t have to squint too hard to see a Trent Dilfer-like performance from Flacco on Sunday even though the overall expectations are obviously much higher for one of the highest-paid players in football.

It could all prove to be fool’s gold, but perhaps the Ravens defense can be really special while the offense improves over the course of the season. Or maybe the Bengals are just that bad. Or it’s some of both.

Only time will tell, but Sunday brought a feeling not experienced in these parts in quite some time. And you can’t blame Ravens fans for hoping it signals a return to being a serious contender after recent years of mediocrity.

Humphrey earning playing time

Rookie first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey didn’t receive extensive preseason action until the finale in New Orleans, but that didn’t stop defensive coordinator Dean Pees from using him in Week 1.

The Alabama product provided a bit of relief to starters Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr in a way you typically see defensive linemen and edge rushers rotated over the course of a 60-minute game. Humphrey didn’t record an official defensive statistic, but he did make a favorable impression in limited work.

“I thought Marlon played really well. He definitely earned more snaps,” Harbaugh said. “He played nine plays on defense and played really well on special teams. I would say he earned more snaps. He played well. All corners played exceptionally well.”

Smith, Carr, and nickel corner Lardarius Webb all recorded interceptions in the blowout victory.

Timeshare at inside linebacker

Starter Kamalei Correa registered a tackle for a loss and former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor tipped the Dalton pass intercepted by Carr in the first quarter in what amounted to a timeshare at the weakside inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley.

Correa played 27 defensive snaps compared to 20 for Onwuasor, but the lion’s share of the work at that position remains up for grabs as the defense tries to fill the void left behind by the retired Zach Orr.

“If they’re both playing at a Pro Bowl level, then you play them both,” said Harbaugh, who added that rookie Bam Bradley is also in the mix. “If one of them starts to separate from the other, then one would take the job. I’d like to see one of them playing at a Pro Bowl level. Neither of them are doing that right now. But they’re both playing well enough to win.”

Injury updates

Harbaugh provided no definitive outlook on the injuries sustained by running back Danny Woodhead and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith in the first half of Sunday’s win as both underwent MRI exams.

Woodhead is expected to miss some time after suffering a hamstring injury — the same ailment that kept him out for much of the summer — while Smith’s announced knee sprain may not be as serious as initially feared when he was carted to the locker room.

“We know it is not a structural knee thing,” Harbaugh said. “I think I know that. We think we know that, but we will know for sure once he gets out of the MRI.”

The absence of Woodhead could prompt the Ravens to promote a running back from the practice squad as former Chicago Bears starter Jeremy Langford and former Seattle Seahawk Alex Collins joined the organization last week. Terrance West and Buck Allen are the only healthy tailbacks on the current 53-man roster.

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Opportunistic Ravens defense pitches shutout in the season opener

Posted on 11 September 2017 by Dennis Koulatsos

This was a vintage Baltimore Ravens defensive performance, one that may have even been worthy of applause by their 2000 record setting counter parts.  That version kept 5 teams from scoring on them that season, and held teams to an average of 10 points a game.

For all of the talk about the plethora of great players at skill positions on the Cincinnati Bengals, their offensive line was exposed, particularly by the fierce Ravens pass rush.  Andy Dalton never got comfortable, never found a rhythm, as time and time again his throws were hurried.

Dalton was sacked a total of 5 times, and threw 4 interceptions.  Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was stout against the run, and continuously collapsed the pocket, creating space for his teammates to break through.  Edger rusher Terrell Suggs mocked father time as he came up with 2 sacks.  C.J. Mosley showed why he may very well be the best inside linebacker in the league in defending the pass, as he came up with a huge interception in the Ravens’ end zone.  That was the turning point in the game.

The Ravens offense was efficient, tough and resilient.  The offensive line did a great job overall, creating holes for running backs Terrance West and Buck Allen.  They combined for 40 carries and over 150 yards rushing, while giving Baltimore a 9 minute advantage in time of possession.

Our own Peter DiLutis texted me during the game “MVP Greg Roman,” and he couldn’t have been more right.  Although his official title may be “senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach” you could clearly see his fingerprints all over this offense.  It was refreshing to watch, particularly after two seasons of abandoning the run.

Quarterback Joe Flacco may wish to “sling the pill” all over the field, but that’s made the Ravens spectators the last two post-seasons versus participants.  We all know that he’d much rather throw the ball 4o times per game rather than hand it off – and as a competitor I guess that’s a good thing.  But that’s not what wins ball games.

Somehow Flacco needs to understand this.  Someone needs to sit him down and frame a conversation in a way that he will understand, in a way that he will buy in.  Maybe it will sink in that he has to do what’s in the best interest for the overall greater good of the team….versus himself.  In the red zone he threw into triple coverage.  He made poor choices.

That’s part of the problem with these canon armed quarterbacks.  They fall in love with their arms, thinking the can put the ball in the smallest of windows. That is why an Alex Smith can have great success in the NFL.  What he lacks in arm power he makes up for with intellect, unselfishness and in being a field general.

Of course Flacco – as he said – would rather win 42-0.  What he needs to understand is that as this offensive line jells together, and the running game grows, he will have a chance to put up some big numbers.  When the running game is going strong, the safeties will have to come up in the box.  The cornerbacks will have to play closer to the line of scrimmage.  This will give him ample downfield opportunities via the play action pass.

I absolutely loved the offensive line play.  It looked to me that all of the linemen were firing off of the ball, as the new blocking scheme made an obvious positive difference.  The misdirection plays and counters were particularly enjoyable to watch.  Terrance West said the offense “ran like the same 5 plays all day,” but it didn’t matter.  They ran them from different formations, gave the Bengals defense different looks, and most importantly they executed well.

And now for the negatives. Center Ryan Jensen is tough, but he has to clean up the penalties that were called on him.  For that matter the entire team does.  Running back Danny Woodhead reinjured his hamstring and was carted to the locker room.  His status is unknown at this time, but it doesn’t look good. Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith sprained his knee, and his status is also up in the air at this time.  Both players stood out as Woodhead had great chemistry with Flacco and was a difference maker in the Ravens’ opening drive, while Smith had a sack prior to leaving the game.

Going forward the team needs to stick to this same formula that got them the shutout yesterday. They need to run the ball, or at least try to run the ball without abandoning it too quickly.  They need Joe Flacco to take care of the ball, not turn it over. They need to save him from himself.

Looking ahead the Cleveland Browns come to town this Sunday for the Ravens home opener, after losing a tough one to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Their quarterback is DeShone Kiser, who I think has a very high ceiling.  However he is a rookie and M&T Stadium is no place to start your second NFL game and first one away from the friendly confines of your home field.

It will be loud, as I expect the Ravens’ 12th man to show up.  This fan base is used to being energized by an aggressive, nasty and opportunistic defense.  Kiser is tough, but for now he holds the ball too long.  That’s a recipe for disaster against the Ravens defense.  I’m not taking the Browns lightly, and I am not overconfident, certainly not after one game in.  But it would not surprise me if the Browns – like the Bengals – do not put up any points on the board this Sunday.

If the Ravens execute the same script against the Browns as the Bengals, if they take care of the ball and do not turn it over, there is no reason that they won’t start the season with a 2-0 record.

 

 

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Only one Ravens player missing from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 06 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens may have been hammered with injuries over the summer, but just one player from their current roster was absent from Wednesday’s practice.

Rookie cornerback Jaylen Hill has been sidelined with a thigh injury since last week and appears to be in danger of missing Sunday’s season opener in Cincinnati. It’s an unfortunate development for the undrafted free agent from Jacksonville State who earned a spot on the 53-man roster as one of the best stories of the preseason.

Cornerback Sheldon Price wore a red non-contact jersey and practiced on a limited basis after sustaining a concussion in the preseason finale last Thursday.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (back) was a full participant and is set to start against the Bengals despite missing the entire preseason. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman (hamstring), running back Danny Woodhead (hamstring), and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (knee) also practiced without any issue after dealing with injuries for much of the summer.

Already without linebacker Vontaze Burfice and cornerback Adam Jones because of suspensions, the Bengals are expected to be without safety Shawn Williams (elbow) and 2017 first-round wide receiver John Ross (knee) in the opener.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Sheldon Price (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (back), WR Jeremy Maclin (hand), WR Breshad Perriman (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), RB Danny Woodhead (thigh)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Ross (knee), TE C.J. Uzomah (ankle), S Shawn Williams (elbow)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Tyler Boyd (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (knee), HB Jeremy Hill (ankle), S George Iloka (knee)

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

Posted on 06 September 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a pretty big leap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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