Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Ten Ravens prophecies for the 2015 season

Posted on 13 September 2015 by Luke Jones

As many go through the endeavor of making division-by-division forecasts, these predictions focus on the Ravens and their quest to advance to the playoffs for the seventh time in eight years and to possibly win their third Super Bowl title in their 20th season in Baltimore.

A look back at last year’s predictions show a mixed bag — predicting Elvis Dumervil would take a step back before he went on to set the Ravens’ single-season sack record was particularly embarrassing — but it’s fun to envision how the next four months or so will play out.

Below is a new forecast to tear apart:

1. Joe Flacco will finally be named the team’s Most Valuable Player in his eighth season.

The fact that the quarterback hasn’t won a team MVP award from local media — for what it’s worth, I voted for him over winner Justin Forsett last year — illustrates how much he is taken for granted. After having arguably his best statistical season a year ago, Flacco will post similar numbers despite having a slew of inexperienced weapons behind 36-year-old Steve Smith, a testament to his ability.

2. Brandon Williams will play at a Pro Bowl level, but he will not receive that recognition.

The third-year nose tackle is one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets and the Ravens will need him to anchor the defensive line with Haloti Ngata now a member of the Detroit Lions. Williams will be Baltimore’s best defensive lineman by a wide margin, but playing a position where statistics don’t jump out will force him to wait another year to receive a Pro Bowl nod.

3. Rashaan Melvin will be starting over Lardarius Webb by the end of the year.

Even if you can forgive Webb’s play in 2014 because of a back injury, how much can he really bounce back as he turns 30 in October? A hamstring issue prevented the seventh-year cornerback from playing in the preseason, creating more questions about Webb’s durability. Though Melvin’s play in last year’s playoff loss to New England was brutal, the Ravens think they have something with the 6-foot-2 corner.

4. Will Hill and Crockett Gillmore will be players to take a step forward.

His troubled history is no secret, but Hill has done everything that Ozzie Newsome asked of him when he came to Baltimore last summer and the Ravens rewarded the 25-year-old safety with an extension through 2016. Gillmore is probably receiving too much hype after a quiet rookie year, but the Ravens would be very pleased if he can match Owen Daniels’ 2014 production (48 catches for 527 yards).

5. Marlon Brown and Chris Canty will be players to take a step back.

It seems unfair to pick Brown for this again, but he had a quiet summer and just never seems to play as big as his frame while the Ravens drafted the 6-foot-6 Darren Waller in May. The 32-year-old Canty was re-signed after being cut this offseason, but Brent Urban receiving the designation to return reflects the Ravens’ vision of him taking over the 5-technique defensive end spot sooner rather than later.

6. Third-round pick Carl Davis will be the Ravens’ most impressive rookie.

Without knowing what injured first-round pick Breshad Perriman can bring to the table after missing the entire preseason, Davis looks to be the most NFL-ready rookie that the Ravens have as he will receive plenty of time in the defensive line rotation and could push Timmy Jernigan to start. At 6-foot-5 and 320 pounds, Davis brings impressive size that could eventually make him a poor man’s Haloti Ngata.

7. Free safety Kendrick Lewis will be the disappointing veteran newcomer.

The 27-year-old has received positive reviews from coaches and teammates, but Lewis did not have a good preseason and was merely an average starting safety in Houston and Kansas City. He will be a better free-agent acquisition than monumental bust Michael Huff, but I’m not convinced that he’ll be a noticeable upgrade from Darian Stewart at the free safety spot.

8. Marshal Yanda, C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, and Kelechi Osemele will be Baltimore’s Pro Bowl selections.

The choices of Yanda and Mosley would hardly be surprising, but Smith and Osemele will receive recognition that they deserve. This will be especially meaningful for Osemele in the final year of his rookie deal as he’ll position himself for a payday that’s unlikely to come from the Ravens. Yanda will earn his fifth straight trip to the Pro Bowl to cement his status as one of the top players in franchise history.

9. This will be Terrell Suggs’ final season.

This is a shot in the dark and not at all an indictment of how I anticipate Suggs playing this year, but the soon-to-be 33-year-old admitted this spring that he pondered his football future and didn’t work out in the same way that he would in past offseasons. The six-time Pro Bowl selection knows he’s the last man standing from the old Baltimore guard, so it wouldn’t be stunning to see him call it a career after 2015.

10. The Ravens will qualify for the postseason as a wild card with a 10-6 record and will exit in the second round.

Too many questions on the offensive side of the ball will stunt the Ravens’ growth just enough to prevent them from winning the AFC North. With their questions in the passing game and Pittsburgh’s defensive problems, Cincinnati quietly has the most stability in the division and is built to be a strong regular-season team. That said, Baltimore will top the Bengals in a wild-card round meeting to extend the playoff misery of Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton. The Ravens will then lose a close one at Indianapolis in the divisional round before the Colts go on to win the AFC championship.

Bonus Super Bowl pick that no one asked for: Green Bay will prevail over Indianapolis as Aaron Rodgers wins his second championship in a 34-24 final in Santa Clara.

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 12 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Beginning their eighth season with head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way, the Ravens once again have high expectations as they travel to Denver on Sunday.

Playing the Broncos in Week 1 for the second time in three years, Baltimore hopes to wipe out the memory of the 2013 opener in which Peyton Manning threw an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 loss. Of course, much has changed for both teams since then with players coming and going and former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak taking over as head coach of the Broncos this season.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens play Denver for the 11th time in the all-time regular-season series and each team owns five wins. Baltimore carries a 1-4 regular-season record in Denver, but Harbaugh’s team did win its only playoff game against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Ravens are 2-0 against Denver in their playoff history.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens open their 20th season and try to improve to 6-2 in season openers under Harbaugh …

1. Steve Smith catches a long touchdown pass to exploit former teammate Darian Stewart in coverage. Knowing how underwhelming the ex-Ravens safety was playing the deep ball in 2014, Baltimore would love to have rookie Breshad Perriman’s speed to stretch the field against the weak link in the Broncos secondary, but the first-round pick hasn’t even practiced since spraining his knee on July 30. The Ravens will try to go vertical using the 36-year-old Smith, who is still capable of using a double move to blow past his man and catch a long bomb from Flacco against the right coverage. He’ll do exactly that against Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Stewart will be late with over-the-top coverage.

2. Lardarius Webb will not be able to keep up with Emmanuel Sanders while Jimmy Smith does his best to lock down No. 1 wideout Demaryius Thomas on the opposite side. It’s fair enough to wonder what we’ll see from Smith coming off last October’s season-ending foot injury, but at least the 27-year-old was able to play in the preseason. Webb has practiced for the last couple weeks and Harbaugh said he looks like the “old” Webb after dealing with a hamstring injury in August, but you can only hope the coach meant a better version than what we witnessed a year ago. Webb has a lot to prove and Sanders was a 2014 Pro Bowl selection. He’ll be good for a touchdown catch and 85 receiving yards.

3. Terrell Suggs will collect two sacks and get the best of Denver rookie Ty Sambrailo off the edge, but pressure up the middle will be scarce. The 13th-year rush linebacker should be licking his chops going against the second-round pick, but the key to disrupting Manning is pressure up the middle, making the expected absence of Timmy Jernigan problematic. Last year, the Ravens used a combination of Pernell McPhee, Haloti Ngata, and Jernigan for their inside rush, but none of them will be on the field for Sunday’s game, putting a lot on rookie Za’Darius Smith and run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams. Broncos center Matt Paradis is inexperienced, but the Ravens won’t have enough to exploit him in passing situations, leaving space for Manning to get the ball away quickly.

4. Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown will struggle to gain separation as the Broncos bring heat off the edges to disrupt Flacco’s timing. While Stewart might be a liability, the Broncos have a stout trio of cornerbacks in Talib, Harris, and the young Bradley Roby. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can use either Harris or Roby inside, which gives their defense the ability to show different looks in coverage. The Ravens have expressed confidence in Aiken as a starter, but I’m not convinced that he’s ready to be more than a No. 3 option, especially without a deep threat on the field. He and Brown will only combine for 50 receiving yards as the Broncos play tight man coverage and relentlessly try to bring outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware off the edges.

5. The Denver defense will be the biggest factor as the Ravens offense struggles to move the ball consistently in a 26-16 loss to the Broncos. As much as Manning has dominated the pre-game conversation, Denver’s real strength is its defense with few weaknesses at any level. Baltimore will do a decent job establishing the run, but Flacco will be too dependent on Smith to make plays through the air, which will stall a couple promising drives. Ultimately, I see the Broncos taking a step back this season, but they’ll be too much to handle with a top 5-caliber defense and a healthy Manning early in the season. If this one were to be played later in the year, I’d like the Ravens’ chances a lot more, but Denver will score late to put a close one out of reach.

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Predicting the Ravens’ 2015 season week by week

Posted on 11 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Expectations are high as the Ravens begin their 20th season in Baltimore on Sunday.

Having made the playoffs — and won a postseason game — in six of the last seven years, the Ravens simply expect to be playing football in January and 2015 is no different despite fair questions on each side of the ball.

These predictions aren’t an exact science, of course, but it’s a fun exercise to envision how Baltimore fares over the course of the season. The writer also reserves the right to adjust his weekly predictions at any point during the year based on injuries and other currently-unknown variables.

In other words, don’t take these premonitions too seriously and don’t bother keeping track over whether my Week 12 or Week 15 or Week 17 pick during the season matches what you see below. None of us really know what’s going to happen, and that’s what makes it fun, right?

Without further ado, here are my game-by-game predictions of how the Ravens’ 2015 season will play out:

Sunday, Sept. 13 at Denver Broncos – 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens may be be drawing the 39-year-old Peyton Manning at the wrong time, but the offense not being at its best against one of the NFL’s best defenses will be the difference in the opener.
Prediction: Denver 26, Baltimore 16

Sunday, Sept. 20 at Oakland Raiders – 4:05 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The arrivals of Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, and Khalil Mack give the Raiders more hope than they’ve enjoyed in years, but this team still won’t be very good early in 2015.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Oakland 16

Sunday, Sept. 27 vs. Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: After the long trip out west, the Ravens will be hungry to play in front of their home crowd and, more importantly, to exact some revenge on the Bengals for beating them in the 2014 opener.
Prediction: Baltimore 27, Cincinnati 16

Thursday, Oct. 1 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:25 p.m. (CBS/NFL Network)
Synopsis: After two straight years of Pittsburgh playing in Baltimore on a Thursday night, the Ravens return the favor and won’t quite be able to keep up with one of the best offenses in the NFL.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 33, Baltimore 27

Sunday, Oct. 11 vs. Cleveland Browns – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens will be coming off extra rest and Cleveland will be playing its second straight road game after a trip to San Diego the previous week, so this one could get ugly.
Prediction: Baltimore 34, Cleveland 13

Sunday, Oct. 18 at San Francisco 49ers – 4:25 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The 49ers still might have the talent to be tough at home, but ex-Ravens Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin won’t have enough help as Baltimore comes away with an ugly victory on the road.
Prediction: Baltimore 22, San Francisco 16

Monday, Oct. 26 at Arizona Cardinals – 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Synopsis: Making their first trip to Arizona since 2003, the Ravens will face a team that won’t be as good as it was a year ago, but a prime-time road game at the end of another long trip out west spells trouble.
Prediction: Arizona 26, Baltimore 17

Sunday, Nov. 1 vs. San Diego Chargers – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: Playing on a short week after a Monday night road game often signals danger, but the Ravens won’t allow Philip Rivers and San Diego to beat them in Baltimore for a second straight year.
Prediction: Baltimore 31, San Diego 23

Sunday, Nov. 8 — BYE
Overview: Considering the Ravens play five of their first seven on the road, you would have to think head coach John Harbaugh would be quite pleased with a 5-3 record midway through the season.

Sunday, Nov. 15 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: Jacksonville will be improved this year — especially as the season progresses — but the well-rested Ravens will handle their business with ease unlike last year’s closer-than-expected meeting.
Prediction: Baltimore 33, Jacksonville 16

Sunday, Nov. 22 vs. St. Louis Rams — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Synopsis: St. Louis has a tough defense, but there’s little reason to think Nick Foles and the Rams offense will pose much of a threat in one of the most hostile environments in the NFL.
Prediction: Baltimore 23, St. Louis 13

Monday, Nov. 30 at Cleveland Browns – 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Synopsis: While this game will likely serve as the Browns’ Super Bowl, the Ravens are prone to one or two clunkers on the road per season and this will be one of those nights in Cleveland.
Prediction: Cleveland 24, Baltimore 16

Sunday, Dec. 6 at Miami Dolphins – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens turned South Florida into M&T Bank Stadium South in each of the previous two years and will do it again in an important road victory to begin the final month of the season.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Miami 23

Sunday, Dec. 13 vs. Seattle Seahawks – 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Synopsis: This one will be hyped as a potential Super Bowl preview, but the defending NFC champions will use an exceptional defensive performance to hand the Ravens their only home defeat of 2015.
Prediction: Seattle 17, Baltimore 13

Sunday, Dec. 20 vs. Kansas City – 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Synopsis: The Ravens haven’t lost to Kansas City in over a decade and Harbaugh will get the best of mentor Andy Reid in battle between two playoff contenders.
Prediction: Baltimore 24, Kansas City 14

Sunday, Dec. 27 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers – 8:30 p.m. (NBC)
Synopsis: The Pittsburgh defense will continue to struggle away from Heinz Field late in the season as the Ravens earn the season split over their AFC North rival in another close game.
Prediction: Baltimore 27, Pittsburgh 21

Sunday, Jan. 3 at Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 p.m. CBS)
Synopsis: In an AFC North title game, the Ravens will fall short to Cincinnati in their fourth straight loss at Paul Brown Stadium, forcing them to settle for a 10-6 record and the AFC’s No. 5 seed.
Prediction: Cincinnati 26, Baltimore 23

Wild Card Round at Cincinnati Bengals
Synopsis: Playing Cincinnati in consecutive weeks, the Ravens atone for their Week 17 loss by handing Andy Dalton and the Bengals a first-round playoff loss for the fifth consecutive year.
Prediction: Baltimore 26, Cincinnati 17

Divisional Round at Indianapolis Colts
Synopsis: The Ravens will give the No. 1 seed in the AFC everything it can handle, but it will be Andrew Luck’s time and Baltimore loses a nail-biter in the closing seconds.
Prediction: Indianapolis 27, Baltimore 23

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Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (L) talks to Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) prior to the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

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Ravens need offensive stability to survive early-season peril

Posted on 09 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens and their fans have annually fed off a perceived lack of respect from prognosticators and pundits.

That’s what makes the start of the 2015 season — the Ravens’ 20th in Baltimore — so unique as more than one national media outlet has picked John Harbaugh’s team to win the Super Bowl. It’s not a position in which many players are used to being despite six trips to the playoffs over the last seven years.

“That’s the kiss of death to us,” veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You don’t want to start at the beginning of the season at the top. You want to finish the end of the season at the top. That really doesn’t mean anything to us.”

Many love how Baltimore looks on paper, but are things quite that rosy when you take a closer look at the roster? After twice holding a 14-point lead to New England in the divisional round last January, the Ravens are a chic Super Bowl pick to many, but they also lost a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, a starting wide receiver, a starting tight end, an impact pass rusher, and another offensive coordinator.

Yes, the puzzle pieces fell into place during the 2015 draft as the Ravens addressed virtually all of their positional needs on paper — there’s that phrase again — but how quickly will those young players be ready to make significant contributions, particularly on the offensive side of the ball? Relying on inexperienced players can be a dangerous proposition, especially when first-round rookie receiver Breshad Perriman missed all of training camp with a knee injury and is not expected to play in Sunday’s opener.

The preseason discussion centered around the upside of a passing game in transition, but Torrey Smith will be nowhere to be found and Owen Daniels will be lining up for the opposing side when eighth-year quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens take the field in Denver. Beyond the ageless Steve Smith, the Ravens don’t have a single receiver who made more than 24 catches a year ago and none of those options stand out as a vertical threat in Perriman’s absence. Their trio of young tight ends have a combined total of 10 catches in the NFL, which equals Dennis Pitta’s output in last year’s season opener.

No one can really know what to expect at the beginning of the season.

As if those realities weren’t unsettling enough, playing five of their first seven games on the road could mean a hell of a second-half climb to the postseason if the Ravens start slowly in 2015. Only six times in franchise history have the Ravens won more than four road games, but it will be critical for Harbaugh’s team to come out of those first seven with at least two victories away from M&T Bank Stadium to hold no worse than a 4-3 record.

The first two months won’t be easy, no matter how much you like the Ravens going into 2015.

“Who cares? Nobody cares. Nobody cares what our issues are,” said Harbaugh, citing how every team faces challenges with the schedule every year. “As a matter of fact, our opponents are looking and our enemies are looking very favorably upon our challenges, and they’re hoping that our challenges will bring us down. We have to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Even with a franchise quarterback they have every reason to trust, the Ravens will lean heavily on the play of their offensive line, the best unit they have on either side of the football. In addition to create running lanes for 2014 Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett, the line will need to give Flacco — and his receivers and tight ends trying to create separation — plenty of time in the passing game.

More than any excitement about Perriman or second-year tight end Crockett Gillmore or any of the other young offensive players should be the continuity that the Ravens enjoy on their offensive line with all five starters and their top two reserves returning from last season. We saw in 2013 what happens to an offense with questionable playmakers when the offensive line doesn’t perform.

It wasn’t pretty.

Harbaugh can only hope the stability up front allows the Ravens to navigate the early-season peril while their young pass-catchers gain their bearings.

“I would always argue that football starts in the trenches,” Harbaugh said. “It probably ends with playmakers making plays to make the difference in the game, but if you’re not good upfront on both sides, it’s hard to overcome that. Your playmakers and your quarterback and your cover guys have to be so good, that it’s just hard to play that way. We’d always want to start and build our team inside-out.”

A strong offensive line will go a long way, but the questions will remain about the cast of young receivers and tight ends until they prove otherwise.

Drafted to replace Torrey Smith and to stretch the field, Perriman hasn’t shown the Ravens what he can do since spring workouts when the threat of contact wasn’t there. Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown were nice complementary pieces in 2014, but are either ready to fill bigger shoes? Will Michael Campanaro stay healthy enough to contribute in the slot and can the 6-foot-6 Darren Waller become a much-needed threat inside the red zone?

The organization loves the potential of tight end Maxx Williams, but even the best tight ends in the NFL such as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham didn’t break out in their rookie seasons.

The Ravens can only pray that Steve Smith fights off Father Time for a final season while Flacco develops the necessary rapport to win with the other options behind the 36-year-old wideout. If anything is certain, the Ravens should feel confident that their quarterback will help the young receivers and tight ends be as good as they can be.

It’s just unclear whether that will be good enough.

“We have guys that can do it, and it’s all about going out there and playing,” Flacco said. “That’s part of being in the NFL. Some guys are going to pop up, and you’re going to make players out of guys, and guys are going to prove that they are players. That’s just what it’s all about. It’s not about going out there and having a bunch of proven guys on your team who are all 38 years old.”

Harbaugh has reminded us on more than one occasion that Sunday is just the beginning of a long season.

The Ravens certainly look like a team that could be very dangerous in December and January, but that may not be enough in Week 1 against the Broncos, who have Super Bowl aspirations of their own. It won’t be easy on Sunday, just like it won’t be easy over the first several weeks of the season.

But Baltimore hopes it has enough offensive stability in the right places to come out of the stretch in position to make a strong second-half run.

“You put so much work into building up to the first game, the first regular season game,” Harbaugh said. “It seems like a pinnacle — it seems like an end — and you’re wondering what kind of a team you have, and you’re looking forward to seeing it. I know the fans are, and we are, too. Then, you sit back and you realize it’s just the first game. There’s going to be a whole journey after that, too, so this begins it.”

The Ravens hope that journey will end where many are predicting.

But there are plenty of questions that still need to be answered.

“You really don’t know. We can talk about how good we are all we want,” Flacco said. “That’s why I’m not really big on doing that. We have to go out there and play well.”

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Five questions pondering Ravens hype, running backs, pass rush, more

Posted on 04 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every Friday, I’ll ponder five topics related to the Ravens or Orioles (or a mix of both).

Five questions …

1. Is it just me or is Sports Illustrated picking the Ravens to win the Super Bowl a reflection of an AFC without a dominant team? Before you call me Lambasting Luke, I’m still betting on John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco to lead Baltimore to its seventh postseason appearance in eight years and I’ll buy that the Ravens could be very dangerous come January. But this is also a football team that lost a five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle, starting wide receiver, starting tight end, and impact pass rusher in the offseason, and their replacements are currently injured, unproven, or a combination of both. The secondary still lacks depth to make you feel comfortable and the return game is an absolute mess. To be clear, all teams have issues and question marks every season, but starting the season with five of their first seven games on the road isn’t a comfortable proposition with so much early uncertainty. Looking at it objectively, Ravens fans have no reason to feel slighted by the national media this summer.

2. Is it just me or should we probably not be surprised about the concern at the wide receiver position beyond Steve Smith? I’m as guilty as anyone for buying into the hype of a young group of receivers competing for roster spots this summer. No one predicted the knee injury to first-round rookie Breshad Perriman to linger so long, but the receivers behind him failed to quell concerns that Smith would be Flacco’s only trusted target entering the year. Perhaps we need to be more realistic in looking where these players came from when projecting how much impact they can bring. Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Jeremy Butler were all undrafted, and Michael Campanaro (seventh) and Darren Waller (sixth) are late-round picks. Yes, teams are uncovering more and more gems who are drafted late (Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown in the sixth round) or undrafted entirely (Victor Cruz of the New York Giants), but the Ravens have always struggled to draft and develop useful receivers.

3. Is it just me or could the Ravens’ consideration for giving Brent Urban the designation to return reflect vulnerabilities with their pass rush? The organization remains high on the 6-foot-7 defensive end’s potential, but we’re still talking about someone who’s never played as much as an NFL preseason game. The Ravens hope that rookie Za’Darius Smith can step into the hybrid role formerly occupied by Pernell McPhee, but they were hoping Steven Means could bring pass-rush impact before a groin injury ruined his summer. Teams do often use their I.R.-designated to return spot for role players — Asa Jackson received it last year, for example — but that typically occurs a few weeks into the season when you’re getting to a point where you won’t be able to use it waiting any longer. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are still forces off the edge and Timmy Jernigan shows rush ability when healthy, but the Ravens may view Urban as a high-ceiling — and necessary? — wild card later this year.

4. Is it just me or is it scary to think the Ravens’ only sure thing at running back is currently Justin Forsett? Rookie fourth-round Buck Allen has shown good hands catching passes out of the backfield, but the USC product averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in the preseason and is now the No. 2 running back with Lorenzo Taliaferro out with a sprained MCL. Terrence Magee and Fitz Toussaint had a few solid moments this summer, but neither are the type of back who inspires confidence, making you wonder if Ozzie Newsome needs to explore the market for a veteran addition in the coming days. Taliaferro’s injury was the last thing the Ravens needed with so many questions at receiver and tight end, but the good news is that they should feel confident in finding a veteran to run behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Still, who would have imagined a year ago that Forsett would not only be coming off a Pro Bowl season, but he would represent the only sure thing in the backfield entering 2015?

5. Is it just me or are halftime interviews completely worthless? Harbaugh drew plenty of criticism for his halftime interview in the third preseason game and rightly so as he needs to be better than that with both media and — more importantly — the fans with which he’s indirectly speaking in the process. The coach’s unkind words for Comcast SportsNet’s Brent Harris prompted many to compare him to brother Jim, who is clearly viewed as the more surly Harbaugh. With those sentiments understood, can you recall a time when a halftime interview brought anything memorable besides similar meltdowns by coaches or players? We live in an age where we want as much access as possible, but it seems counterintuitive to ask a coach or player to reflect meaningfully in the midst of competition. Perhaps a compromise would be to interview a coach just before the start of the second half after he’s addressed his team and has calmed his emotions from the first half, but the next halftime interview I hear bringing anything but bland coach speak or an unflattering exchange will be the first one.

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Beyond Smith, Flacco taking leap of faith through air entering 2015

Posted on 30 August 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As bizarre as it was seeing Steve Smith sit in the stands during Saturday’s 31-13 preseason loss to Washington, the Ravens secretly had to be pleased knowing their top receiver was out of harm’s way.

Of course, head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t thrilled with Smith being ejected from the game for his part in a brawl late in the first quarter, but the 36-year-old hardly played like a man retiring at the end of the season. In less than 15 minutes of action, Smith caught four passes for 95 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown in which he made the Washington secondary look like a junior-varsity unit.

The early exit — which eliminated any risk of Smith getting injured in a meaningless preseason game — may have been a blessing in disguise for the Ravens as their pass-catching group lacks a sure thing behind him. Without his No. 1 wideout, Joe Flacco completed just 2 of 6 passes for 24 yards before giving way to backup Matt Schaub late in the first half.

With all meaningful preseason action now in the books — it’s all but guaranteed that Harbaugh will sit most of his starters in Atlanta on Thursday — the Ravens still haven’t answered the questions at wide receiver and tight end that they faced entering the summer. And it’s becoming clear that Flacco will be taking a leap of faith when it comes to the rest of his targets entering the 2015 regular season.

Yes, potential is there as we saw with Crockett Gillmore’s negated 33-yard touchdown catch in which he broke three tackles on his way to the end zone. But the second-year tight end finished the night with just one catch for seven yards and has only made four receptions in the first three preseason games.

Unfortunately, much of the passing game’s upside wore street clothes on Saturday as rookies Breshad Perriman and Maxx Williams could only catch passes from reserve quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Bryn Renner on the sideline late in the first half. Perriman’s status for the season opener remains in question as he continues to recover from a sprained knee suffered on July 30, and Williams has had a disappointing summer, missing some practice time and performing inconsistently when he’s been on the field.

Second-year slot receiver Michael Campanaro has flashed his ability this summer, but he missed his second straight game on Saturday as his durability remains a real concern.

The other receivers who were on the field Saturday didn’t inspire much confidence, either.

Kamar Aiken caught two passes for 29 yards, but it was his offensive pass interference penalty that wiped out Flacco’s touchdown to Gillmore late in the first quarter. Currently penciled in as the starter opposite Smith, Aiken profiles better as a No. 3 receiver at this point and has struggled to gain separation in the preseason.

Entering his third year, Marlon Brown should be getting better, but his disappointing play this summer would probably have his roster spot in jeopardy if it weren’t for the current injuries and the lack of established options behind him.

Jeremy Butler was the surprise of spring workouts, but he’s looked like just another guy matching up against second- and third-team defenses. Rookie Darren Waller may show intriguing upside as a 6-foot-6 target, but the sixth-rounder is still more project than receiving threat at this point.

To be fair, better performances from these individuals in the preseason wouldn’t have fully eliminated the questions facing a passing game that’s trying to replace Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels — it is only the preseason, after all — but the Ravens would have felt a lot better about beginning the season with five of their first seven contests away from M&T Bank Stadium if they’d seen a little more to this point. As it stands, Flacco will be leaning heavily on the ageless Smith, but opposing defenses will be aware, which will likely lead to double teams and bracketed coverage until someone else emerges as a viable threat.

It’s clear that the Ravens need a healthy Perriman, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman and Flacco still don’t know what that looks like beyond his college tape and spring workouts that can only carry so much weight. Without their first-round pick, the Ravens lack speed on the outside, which should prompt secondaries to clamp down with tight man coverage to limit short-to-intermediate passing.

The Ravens need their young receivers and tight ends to grow up quickly with the season opener in Denver just two weeks away, but there just hasn’t been a lot of evidence to suggest that’s right around the corner.

I wouldn’t bet against Flacco making it work as he enters his eighth year and the Ravens are still built around their running game — making it critical that left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele are healthy after sitting out Saturday’s game — but it’s fair to feel uneasy with real games rapidly approaching.

So many questions and few answers in the passing game beyond Flacco zeroing in on Smith as the calendar turns to September this week.

The Ravens can only pray that their veteran receiver stays healthy while taking a leap of faith that the rest of their young wideouts and tight ends heal up and catch up quickly.

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Ravens-Redskins preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 28 August 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens see the regular-season light at the end of the tunnel as Saturday’s preseason game represents the final dress rehearsal for the 2015 regular season.

Starters are expected to play the entire first half as head coach John Harbaugh will get a final look at most of his starters. Baltimore has rarely played its full starting units in the preseason finale, and that trend isn’t expected to change next Thursday in Atlanta.

Of course, the Ravens want to make a better impression after taking a 40-17 beating at the hands of Philadelphia, but the third preseason game is more about looking ahead than dwelling on what happened against the Eagles — no matter how ugly it was.

“I think it is really important — nothing to do with the second game — but more so just so we can go into Week 1 and have as high a level of confidence as we possibly can,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw two interceptions in last Saturday’s loss. “You don’t want any doubt to be able to creep into anybody’s mind. You want all of the coaches and all of the players to have 100-percent confidence that we’re going to go in there and light it up. I think for that reason, we want to go out there and play the best we can just so we feel that extra energy going into the first week.”

Of course, competition remains at various positions, and Saturday marks the final game before the organization will pare the roster from 90 players to a maximum of 75 by Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday marks the ninth time that Baltimore will play Washington in the preseason. The teams are playing each other for the fifth time in the Harbaugh era.

The Ravens are 6-2 against Washington in the all-time preseason series and are 3-2 against them in their regular-season history. They are set to meet again in the 2016 regular season, a game that will take place at M&T Bank Stadium.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will come into question. This list, of course, will not include any veterans who may be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: WR Breshad Perriman (knee), CB Lardarius Webb (hamstring), G Kelechi Osemele (Achilles), LB Steven Means (groin), TE Dennis Pitta (hip), S Matt Elam (biceps), DE Brent Urban (biceps), TE Allen Reisner (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: OT Eugene Monroe (forearm), WR Michael Campanaro (soft tissue injury), OT Darryl Baldwin (undisclosed)
QUESTIONABLE: S Terrence Brooks (knee), OT James Hurst (concussion), TE Maxx Williams (undisclosed), OL Blaine Clausell (undisclosed)
PROBABLE: OT Rick Wagner (foot), OT Jah Reid (back), G John Urschel (concussion), DE Kapron Lewis-Moore (undisclosed), OL Ryan Jensen (undisclosed)

Five players to watch Saturday night

CB Asa Jackson

The Ravens are waiting for someone — anyone — to emerge as the return specialist while acknowledging there being few opportunities for authentic evaluation in the preseason, but Jackson appears to be the leader in the clubhouse and will return kickoffs and punts to begin Saturday’s game. The fourth-year cornerback hasn’t done much to stand out, but with Michael Campanaro again injured and rookie free agent DeAndre Carter muffing two kicks in two weeks, who else is there at this point? The Ravens want to avoid using Steve Smith and Lardarius Webb, their “aces in the hole” in the return game during the regular season, but you have to wonder if they’ll ultimately need to look elsewhere for a returner.

WR Kamar Aiken

With it appearing more and more likely that Breshad Perriman will bring a limited impact at the start of the season, the Ravens need Aiken to play like a starting receiver as he is set to lineup opposite veteran Steve Smith. The 26-year-old had an excellent spring and a strong start to the summer, but he’s been quiet in the preseason, catching only one pass for 13 yards in two games and not putting forth an impressive effort on the deep ball from Flacco that was intercepted in the first quarter of Saturday’s loss to the Eagles. Aiken shows the potential to be a solid short-to-intermediate receiver, so you’d like to see some success for him against Washington on Saturday.

CB Cassius Vaughn

Third-year cornerback Quinton Pointer garnered more attention early in the summer, but Vaughn has quietly put together two strong preseason performances. It’s fair to point out that the six-year veteran has matched up against second- and third-team offenses, but he has still been the Ravens’ highest-rated defensive player this summer, according to Pro Football Focus. At 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, Vaughn doesn’t over overwhelming size, but he’s played well enough to garner consideration for one of the final spots on the roster. Strong performances in the final two preseason games would go a long way for his chances of landing on the right side of the bubble.

RB Terrence Magee

The MCL sprain suffered by Lorenzo Taliaferro has created a golden opportunity for Magee or Fitz Toussaint as the Ravens will likely want to carry a third healthy running back behind starter Justin Forsett and rookie Buck Allen to begin the year. An undrafted rookie from LSU, Magee was never the man in Baton Rouge, but he’s shown good vision and a burst when given opportunities this summer. The 5-foot-9, 215-pound back led the Ravens in rushing with 44 yards on 11 carries against Philadelphia, so it will be interesting to see how the workload is split between him and Toussaint. It would be wise for the Ravens to give a couple carries to each in the first half to see what they can do behind a better line.

LB Brennen Beyer

Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome spoke throughout the offseason about the potential of outside linebacker Steven Means, but a groin injury has sidelined him for more than two weeks, opening the door for Beyer to put himself in the conversation with a strong finish to the preseason. A smart player who had a solid career at the University of Michigan, the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Beyer remains a better candidate for the practice squad with four outside linebackers — Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, and Za’Darius Smith — already locks for the roster, but he received a nice endorsement from former Ravens defensive coordinator and Michigan assistant Greg Mattison before he was signed in the spring.



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Harbaugh offers no timetable on Perriman’s return

Posted on 27 August 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s been four weeks since rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman injured his knee on the first day of training camp.

The Ravens and their fans are still wondering when the first-round pick will be back on the field with the season opener just over two weeks away.

“I’m asking, too. It’s just a slower healing than they expected,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Thursday. “I really don’t have a timetable right now. That’s really all I have to say on that.”

Perriman injured his knee making a diving catch on July 30, missing the final 20 minutes of the first full-squad practice. At the time, Harbaugh described the ailment as a bruise and estimated the 6-foot-2 receiver would return in a day or two before eventually labeling it a sprain a few days later. A magnetic resonance imaging exam came back “normal” on Aug. 17, but the recovery process has been slow as the organization has remained tight-lipped about his condition.

It’s appearing more and more likely that Perriman will miss the entire preseason as the questions now begin to turn toward his status for the start of the regular season in Denver on Sept. 13. It’s fair to assume that Perriman’s initial impact could be limited as he tries to play catch-up when he eventually does return to the practice field.

“He’s going to have to get back and get into shape, because it’s not like he’s just been hurt,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “He’s been missing a ton of time out there running with pads on, getting into that football shape. It is up to him to get back out there and try to do that as quickly as possible.

“I think when you’re dealing with guys that are pretty talented, it doesn’t take a ton of time to get in sync with each other. But, obviously, you’d like to have as much time as possible.”

Drafted with the 26th overall pick in this spring’s draft to replace speedy wideout Torrey Smith, Perriman brings a rare combination of speed and size that the rest of the receiving corps lacks. The 6-foot-2, 218-pound target’s absence leaves the Baltimore offense without a clear threat in the vertical passing game as the 36-year-old Steve Smith and younger options Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown all fit the profile of possession receivers.

Flacco said he felt good about the rapport he was building with Perriman during spring workouts, but he kept the injury in proper perspective, understanding the rookie’s speed won’t be fully utilized if he’s trying to play at less than 100 percent.

In his final season at Central Florida, Perriman caught 50 passes for 1,044 yards and nine touchdowns, averaging 20.9 yards per reception.

“You have to deal with injuries, and I think he’s doing a great job dealing with his and trying to get back out here,” Flacco said. “But it takes time. I wish we had him out [on the field]. I think he’s an awesome talent and he’s going to help us out a lot, but he’s not going to help us out if he can’t run. We’ve got to get him out here, and when he does get out here, I think we’ll be able to rely on him.”


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Flacco apparently anything but an “elite” party host

Posted on 26 August 2015 by Luke Jones

The debate has raged on for several years whether Joe Flacco is an “elite” NFL quarterback.

But in his latest Pepsi commercial, the Ravens quarterback is anything but an elite party thrower while showing off some fairly impressive acting chops. As the 30-year-old quarterback would likely say, “This is pretty hilarious.”

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Ravens don’t learn much from ugly night in Philly

Posted on 23 August 2015 by Luke Jones

PHILADELPHIA — Midway through the second quarter of the Ravens’ 40-17 preseason defeat to Philadelphia on Saturday, one question came to mind in regards to the abysmal performance.

How much uglier might it have been had Baltimore not practiced against the Eagles the previous three days?

Head coach John Harbaugh said his team had “plenty to learn” from one of the worst preseason performances in franchise history and cited the lack of game-planning against Chip Kelly’s unique offensive attack as a factor, but when Bryn Renner, Terrence Magee, Fitz Toussaint, and Tom Nelson figure prominently into your first scoring drive after you’ve already given up 30 points, it isn’t difficult to conclude how the night went.

What was reinforced on Saturday is that you’ll get your butts kicked in the NFL if you’re banged up and play poorly.

As frustrating as it was to watch, it was only a preseason game, making the performance ugly but inconsequential to the big picture as the Ravens will go back to work on Monday. Joe Flacco threw interceptions on the first two offensive possessions, the defense couldn’t stop the run, and the Ravens committed nine penalties for 82 yards in the first half — four others were declined by the Eagles over the first 30 minutes — but none of those factors should have anyone rethinking Baltimore’s expectations for the 2015 season just yet.

The injuries are concerning, however, as the absence of rookie Breshad Perriman was felt on Flacco’s first interception that came on a deep throw intended for Kamar Aiken, who is hardly a burner in terms of speed. Flacco isn’t free of blame as the pass was underthrown, but you couldn’t help but assume a play like that is designed for the speedy Perriman, who was taken in the first round of this year’s draft to replace Torrey Smith.

Perriman still hasn’t practiced since injuring his knee on July 30 and the Ravens are without a wideout who can stretch the field until the 6-foot-2 Central Florida product finally returns to action. Three weeks still remain before the season opener in Denver, but it’s fair to wonder how ready he’ll be to make a significant impact early in the season after missing so much valuable practice time this month.

The current state of the offensive line is also a mess as the night began with starters Kelechi Osemele and Rick Wagner sidelined and only got worse from there. James Hurst drew the start at right tackle in place of Wagner since backup right tackle Jah Reid was also out with back spasms, but Hurst exited the game with a concussion in the first quarter and was replaced by rookie De’Ondre Wesley, who promptly injured his knee.

It was unthinkable to see Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda move out to right tackle in a preseason game when the Ravens have a 90-man roster, but that’s what it came to late in the first quarter. Fortunately, Flacco’s health remained intact as the Ravens had to wonder if director of player development and Super Bowl XXXV right tackle Harry Swayne might need to suit up before the night was over.

How concerning are the injuries with nine offensive linemen — left tackle Eugene Monroe was also seen icing his arm on the sideline — currently less than 100 percent?

“Those guys are all slated to come back, to my knowledge,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see about Wesley. I don’t think there’s anybody else off the top of my head that wouldn’t be slated to come back. At one point, we had three guys playing out of position who had never practiced [at their new spots] before. I thought they did a pretty good job with that.

“That’s the preseason. That’s how it works.”

Thankfully, it was only the preseason.

Because the impact of the injuries and the overall sloppiness weren’t indicative of a team with high aspirations for 2015.

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