Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

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Ravens-Lions: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 02 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t own a victory over a team currently holding as much as a .500 record.

Five of their six wins have come against a rookie or backup quarterback.

Baltimore has the opportunity to fight back at both of those criticisms Sunday when Matthew Stafford and Detroit come to town. More importantly, the Ravens can improve their playoff chances as they enter Week 13 holding the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

John Harbaugh’s team is eyeing its first three-game winning streak since the first three weeks of the 2016 season while the 6-5 Lions are trying to stay in the hunt in a much tougher NFC playoff race. Detroit enters the weekend one game behind Atlanta for the final spot in the conference.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the first time since 2013 with the Ravens having won the last two meetings and owning a 3-1 advantage in the all-time regular-season series. The Lions are seeking their first win in Baltimore since defeating the Colts 13-10 at Memorial Stadium in 1977.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Detroit’s Golden Tate will lead both teams in receiving yards. The Lions own the 30th-ranked running game in the NFL, but no one has found room on the ground against the Ravens over their last four games anyway, making Tate much more critical. The slot receiver ranks sixth in the league in yards after the catch and 51 of his 63 catches have come on throws 10 or fewer yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Baltimore’s pass defense has mostly been superb, but nickel corner Lardarius Webb has had his issues in coverage and the middle of the field has been a vulnerable area that Tate can exploit.

2. Terrell Suggs will register a strip-sack for the third consecutive game. Harbaugh labeled the 35-year-old “Ponce de Leon” for seemingly finding the Fountain of Youth after his performance against Houston, and few would argue with Suggs registering two-sack efforts in both games since the bye week. He’s one-half sack away from reaching double digits for the seventh time in his career and will be lining up against Taylor Decker, a talented left tackle who has struggled since returning last month from offseason shoulder surgery. This matchup is one of the biggest swing factors of the game.

3. Stafford will throw two touchdown passes against a tough secondary. As I wrote earlier this week, the Ravens shouldn’t apologize for the opponents they’ve faced, but it’s fair to wonder just how good this secondary will be against tougher competition, which is what Stafford and the league’s 10th-ranked passing game will offer. The Ravens defense leads the NFL with 18 interceptions, but the Lions quarterback has tossed only six in 395 attempts. If Baltimore can’t sustain pressure against an offensive line that’s been pretty solid after a slow start, Stafford will be able to make some plays at every level.

4. Joe Flacco will toss a touchdown and two interceptions as his 2017 struggles continue. The Lions have had substantial issues stopping the run in recent weeks, but any defense not loading the box against Baltimore to force the ball in Flacco’s hands is crazy. It’s no secret this passing game is a total mess that hasn’t produced against even below-average pass defenses, and Detroit is tied for fifth in the NFL in takeaways despite ranking 23rd against the pass. Flacco’s comments after the Houston win reflect the frustration for the veteran, who’s eclipsed 200 passing yards only once since Week 5.

5. The lack of offensive balance and turnovers will catch up with the Ravens in a 20-16 loss. These teams are fairly equal in quality, but Baltimore is coming off a short week and its passing game is a much bigger weakness than anything the Lions are dealing with. Stafford isn’t going to totally pick the defense apart, but there will be some shock going up against a top quarterback that will put the Ravens behind and take them out of their formula of running the ball and being aggressive on defense to force turnovers. The Ravens have won the turnover battle in all six of their wins this season and have enjoyed at least a plus-2 margin in five of those. Short of that happening, they’ll drop a close one.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Houston

Posted on 28 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over .500 and into the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race with a 23-16 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was ugly, but Monday was the first time the Ravens have won a game in which they trailed all season. After wilting in some late-game situations earlier this season, the defense forced Tom Savage turnovers on Houston’s final two possessions. That’s how you finish off a close game.

2. Compliments for Terrell Suggs are regularly attached to some acknowledgement of him not being the player he once was, but it’s time to recognize this being the best he’s played in years. He was the best player on the field and is now quite possibly cementing his spot in Canton.

3. I’m running out of ways to describe this passing game that was facing a bottom-10 pass defense entering Week 12. Awful. Joe Flacco needs more help, but I struggle more each week to recognize what he’s bringing to the table. He committed no turnovers, but he misfired on countless throws.

4. What does it say for the offense that the punter turned in the best pass of the night? Sam Koch and Chris Moore executed nicely on the fake punt that swung the momentum, but credit Jerry Rosburg. His special teams units are exceptional every year and make a real difference.

5. Running the ball and stopping the run is this team’s formula for success. Baltimore averaged 4.5 yards per carry to bounce back from some recent lackluster performances and allowed only 2.6 yards per carry. The defense ranks third in the NFL in fewest yards per carry allowed since Week 8.

6. A mere look at his torn jersey said all you needed to know about the fits DeAndre Hopkins gave Ravens cornerbacks. Jimmy Smith has played at an All-Pro level this season, but Hopkins made even him look bad several times.

7. Marlon Humphrey played just seven snaps because of a leg injury, which meant Smith saw his highest volume of snaps since Week 6. That’s something to monitor with the Ravens getting ready for Detroit on a short week and the veteran already missing practice time every week.

8. Give the coaching staff and the offensive line credit for making adjustments against Jadeveon Clowney, who dominated in the opening quarter. He had a quiet second half and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as the Ravens effectively used double teams and chip blocks.

9. Penalties were a problem with seven — all but one against the defense — for 89 yards, but that was only the fourth time this year the Ravens have had more than 60 yards in penalties. That’s a major improvement from where they’ve been in recent years.

10. The two-minute offense at the end of the first half was hardly a thing of beauty, but the drive resulting in a 53-yard field goal was probably one of the better ones we’ve seen this season. That’s not saying very much, but at least Justin Tucker continues to be money.

11. After Flacco broke his second knee brace in two seasons, he admitted that he’s thought about not wearing one. Seeing him move around without it makes me think it could be worth the risk for improved mobility within the pocket if nothing else.

12. Speaking as someone who doesn’t pay to attend games and wouldn’t tell others how to spend their money, it was still sad seeing thousands of empty seats for the first Monday night home game in over five years. Games like that used to be a big deal in this town.

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 26 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The schedule couldn’t set up much better down the stretch, but consistency is a must for the Ravens.

After winning in Green Bay last week to move into the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race, Baltimore seeks back-to-back victories for the first time since the first two weeks of the season, a reflection of how inconsistent the 2017 campaign has been for John Harbaugh’s team. The Ravens will be facing a Houston Texans squad that’s lost three of its last four, however, and is still reeling from the loss of rookie quarterback sensation Deshaun Watson at the beginning of the month.

With rookie offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor expected to be their only injury-related scratch on Monday night, the Ravens arguably have their healthiest 53-man roster since early in the season, an important factor for a team trying to make the playoffs for the first time in three years. Four of the final six games are at home with only two contests coming against teams currently owning winning records, factors leaving Baltimore with no excuse not to be playing in January.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to move above the .500 mark for the first time since early October by improving their all-time regular-season mark to 7-2 over Houston. The Texans have won two of the last three meetings between the teams, but Baltimore is 4-0 against them at M&T Bank Stadium, which includes a victory in the 2011 postseason.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Joe Flacco will eclipse 235 passing yards for just the second time this season. Houston has the NFL’s 26th-ranked pass defense, but this prediction is more about the Texans ranking seventh in run defense and allowing just 3.7 yards per carry. The Ravens have struggled to run the ball in recent weeks, averaging under 3.4 yards per rush in three of their last four games. Teams are keying on Alex Collins, meaning Flacco and the passing game should have more opportunities to push the ball down the field. It won’t be all that efficient, but the Ravens will find some modest success through the air.

2. Jeremy Maclin will find the end zone for the third time at home this season. Veteran Kareem Jackson has been the weak link in the Texans secondary and will line up as the slot cornerback in sub packages, which should bode well for Baltimore’s best receiver. Maclin appeared to be finding his stride with Flacco before the bye, but he took a step back last week with just 34 receiving yards against the Packers. The Ravens will need to move the chains on some third-and-intermediate situations, and Maclin is the right man to handle that situation and will catch his fourth touchdown as a Raven.

3. Texans receiver DeAndre Hopkins will catch a touchdown in a mostly-quiet night. Houston quarterback Tom Savage has targeted Hopkins a whopping 39 times over the last three games, which equals Mike Wallace’s targets for the season. Hopkins usually lines up on the same side of the field as Jimmy Smith, which is great news for the Ravens as the veteran corner is enjoying the best season of his career. It will be interesting to see if Texans coach Bill O’Brien moves Hopkins around formations to get him away from Smith, but his production will be modest, regardless of how often he’s targeted.

4. Tony Jefferson will return a takeaway for a touchdown. I’ve predicted a Jefferson interception three other times this season, so I naturally decided to quadruple down on that as a guest on Ravens Unscripted this week. The starting safety has received grief from teammates for not having a pick — especially after rookie Marlon Humphrey came away with his first in Week 11 — but Jefferson has played better in recent weeks after a disappointing start. Playing behind a bad offensive line and timid against a strong defense, Savage will have a pass tipped at the line with Jefferson taking it the other way.

5. The Ravens defense will mostly dominate and the offense will mostly stay out of the way in a 20-10 win over Houston. Expecting another shutout from Baltimore would be unfair, but this Texans offense hasn’t been the same since Watson’s injury and won’t find very much success against a defense-strong team playing its first Monday night home game in over five years. Meanwhile, Flacco and the offense will have its challenges while managing to do just enough against a Texans defense that’s a shell of its former self without J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus. It won’t be pretty and won’t prompt ESPN to be clamoring for more Ravens home games moving forward, but the victory is all that matters.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-0 win over Green Bay

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens getting back to the .500 mark with a 23-0 victory at Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the third time in 2017 that the Ravens defense has forced five turnovers in a game. That’s quite a change from two years ago when the group ranked 30th in the NFL with 14 takeaways for the entire season.

2. Jimmy Smith intercepting a pass in the end zone on the opening drive was the latest example why the cornerback has been the team MVP. You wonder how different this one might have been if the Packers finished that drive with a touchdown or at least a field goal.

3. The offense coming away with a total of three points off three turnovers on the Packers’ first three possessions sure doesn’t say much for the work put in by Marty Mornhinweg’s side of the ball during the bye week.

4. Brett Hundley was awful for Green Bay, but credit the Ravens defense for confusing the inexperienced quarterback with an abundance of looks. Eight different defensive backs played 18 or more snaps as defensive coordinator Dean Pees employed various sub packages.

5. Whether rushing the passer, setting the edge, or dropping into coverage, Matt Judon is steadily improving and was arguably the best player on the field with two sacks and a forced fumble. His development is encouraging with the still-dependable Terrell Suggs now 35.

6. Joe Flacco had an OK day despite being under duress, but his interception on a pass intended for Danny Woodhead was baffling. He wasn’t pressured on the throw, and at no point did Woodhead separate from Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That can’t happen when approaching the red zone.

7. It was refreshing to see Mike Wallace grab a one-handed touchdown for a quarterback who hasn’t gotten enough help from his receivers. This isn’t the Big 12 where you can expect to get open with no one within 10 yards in coverage. Contested catches are a must to be successful.

8. Willie Henry is rapidly becoming a big part of sub packages as an interior rusher and even dropped into zone coverage on at least one occasion against the Packers. It’s crazy to think how important he’s become to the rotation when many wondered if he’d even make the 53-man roster.

9. Yes, Flacco should have been granted a timeout on the play, but Ryan Jensen still can’t snap the ball three feet over the quarterback’s head to torpedo a promising drive. The center has enjoyed a breakout season, but his shotgun snapping was also shaky in Tennessee.

10. We may have witnessed the changing of the guard as Marlon Humphrey replaced Brandon Carr as a starting cornerback in the first half. It’s a good problem to have as Carr has played admirably, but it grows more difficult every week to keep the rookie first-round pick off the field.

11. Much focus was on James Hurst’s problems replacing Ronnie Stanley, but Austin Howard also had real difficulty against the Packers. He isn’t listed on the injury report, but he’s recently been wearing a harness on his left shoulder and hasn’t looked 100 percent. That’s something to monitor.

12. Anyone dismissing the defense’s accomplishments because of the poor quarterbacks they’ve faced this season should note that the 2000 Ravens’ four shutouts came against Kent Graham, Scott Mitchell, Tim Couch, and a broken-down Troy Aikman in his final season. Regardless of the opponent, give this 2017 unit credit.

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Ravens may not be pretty, but playoff hopes looking bright

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens aren’t a pretty football team.

You’d be hard-pressed to argue that they’re good as they own a mediocre 5-5 record, haven’t won back-to-back games in over two months, and rank 13th in the AFC in strength of victory, a reflection of not owning a single win against a team currently sporting a winning record. Having one of the worst offenses in the NFL certainly doesn’t help the overall perception — or make it any easier to win football games.

But here the Ravens stand holding the final wild-card spot in the AFC playoff picture entering Thanksgiving. And a look around the rest of the conference leaves you doubting the capabilities of any others in the “second division” to seriously challenge for that No. 6 seed.

“Win, and it will take care of itself,” said head coach John Harbaugh, whose team plays only two more opponents currently holding winning records the rest of the way. “It’s not like we don’t know what’s happening. We certainly know who does what.”

While their remaining schedule and the ineptitude of other so-called wild-card contenders might be the biggest factors working in the Ravens’ favor entering the final stretch, their defense is certainly playing at a playoff-caliber level after recording its third shutout of the year in Green Bay. No matter who the opposing quarterback is, that’s not a feat to be taken lightly, especially on the road.

The Ravens lead the NFL with 16 interceptions and are tied for first in takeaways (23) with Jacksonville. Their second-ranked pass defense is allowing the fewest passing yards per game by a Baltimore unit since 2008. And though the run defense still ranks only 17th in yards per carry allowed, the Ravens have surrendered only 2.94 yards per rushing attempt over the last three games as Brandon Williams has settled back in as the anchor of the defensive line after his four-game absence.

The defense continues to chase consistency — the final touchdown surrendered at Tennessee is a recent exhibit of that — but ranking sixth in the league in yards allowed and third in points surrendered makes a pretty strong case that the group is peaking at the right time and can carry the offense-challenged Ravens to the postseason for the first time in three years. The three shutouts are one shy of the four recorded by the 2000 Ravens, regarded by many as one of the greatest defenses of all time.

“It don’t mean s–t if we don’t make the playoffs,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s good, but if we don’t get in [the playoffs], you all won’t even remember them. It’s a good thing to build on, but we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep getting these wins.”

Continuing to win would be easier if the league’s 31st-ranked offense can show any semblance of improvement down the stretch. Despite the five-turnover, six-sack output from the defense against the Packers, the Ravens compiled just 219 yards on 57 offensive plays, finished 3-for-14 on third down, and managed only three points off three first-half turnovers at Lambeau Field.

Even without left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the lineup, that’s just not good enough if the Ravens have any visions of making a meaningful playoff run. They must rediscover their running game after averaging less than 3.4 yards per carry in three of their last four games, and it’s going to take much more than the return of running back Danny Woodhead for this passing game to be considered even mediocre.

The defense might be strong enough to carry the Ravens to victory in any of their six remaining games, but the offense is also inept enough to lose each of those contests, making these final six weeks all the more unsettling despite the favorable circumstances.

You can’t and shouldn’t blame quarterback Joe Flacco for all of the offensive struggles, but now would be the time for something more closely resembling “January Joe” to start getting revved up with December rapidly approaching. Even with the many variables working against him, Flacco must be better.

Their third road win of the season and a very favorable environment in the AFC have established the Ravens as clear-cut playoff contenders, but they still have a long way to go to prove they can be any sort of a viable threat to make noise if left standing in January.

Their circumstances for a playoff push may be pretty, but the Ravens certainly aren’t.

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Ravens-Packers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 18 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Sunday presents an important opportunity for the Ravens as they make their first trip to Lambeau Field since 2009.

Many have labeled it a “must-win” game for a 4-5 team coming off its bye, but a simple look at the underwhelming AFC wild-card picture makes that notion hold less weight from a mathematical standpoint. Of course, the Ravens could certainly use a road win from a psychological standpoint as they try to get on a roll to both secure their first trip to the playoffs since 2014 and show they have the potential to morph into some semblance of a threat in January.

Baltimore couldn’t ask for a much better situation on the side of the Green Bay Packers, who continue to be without six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers and are now missing their top two running backs due to injuries. Versatile safety Morgan Burnett will also miss Sunday’s game for the Packers defense.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to get back to the .500 mark by securing their first ever win in Green Bay. The Packers have a 4-1 advantage in the all-time regular-season series and have won all three meetings in their home stadium.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Danny Woodhead will lead the Ravens in catches while Jeremy Maclin will be tops in receiving yards. The return of the diminutive Woodhead is a major headline, but part of me wonders if his presence could be somewhat counterproductive for a passing game needing to push it down the field more consistently. Meanwhile, Maclin is coming off his best game of the year and will have a favorable matchup against slot corner Damarious Randall. These two veterans will be key as a Ravens offense without Ronnie Stanley faces a defense ranking ninth in the NFL in yards per carry allowed.

2. Packers edge rushers Nick Perry and Clay Matthews will combine for two sacks and a forced fumble. The offensive line has been a house of cards that’s held up OK when the starting five are healthy, but it’s frequently fallen apart when less than 100 percent. That will hold true again with Stanley likely to miss Sunday’s game with a concussion. This group can’t afford to be without its best player, and James Hurst being Stanley’s likely replacement means a backup left tackle and backup left guard will be protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside. That’s a frightening proposition, especially on the road.

3. Tony Jefferson will grab his first interception as a Raven. Several defensive players were very complimentary of Packers backup Brett Hundley, but no one is buying the notion of him being the second coming of Rodgers. The third-year quarterback has shown some modest improvement, but he figures to continue relying on short passes, which should give Jefferson opportunities when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. The Ravens defense leads the NFL in interceptions and will grab one for the fourth consecutive game to assist an offense struggling to move the football.

4. Randall Cobb will have 75 total yards and a touchdown to lead the Green Bay offense. It’s been a quiet year for the slot receiver, but the absences of running backs Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery will force Packers head coach Mike McCarthy to get creative with Cobb, who can line up virtually anywhere in a formation. It’ll be interesting to see how the Ravens defense accounts for him as Maurice Canady took away most of Lardarius Webb’s snaps at the nickel against Tennessee. With Baltimore’s outside corners being so strong this year, Cobb will be featured in the middle of the field.

5. The offense will once again hold the Ravens back in a 16-13 loss to the Packers. Green Bay has cracked the 20-point mark just once since Rodgers broke his collarbone in mid-October, and the Baltimore defense will do plenty to make life difficult for an inexperienced quarterback. However, the loss of Stanley is a major blow for an offense that hasn’t been productive enough even with the 2016 first-round pick in the lineup. Don’t believe the sentiment that the Ravens are “finished” if they drop to 4-6 since four of their last six games come at home against less-than-imposing teams, but a loss will surely reinforce major doubts about this team’s ability to stack wins and gain momentum for the stretch run.

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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2017 season

Posted on 14 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The next seven weeks could be the most pivotal stretch for the Ravens in a decade.

A strong finish — perhaps just an OK one — would send Baltimore to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and at least temporarily calm concerns about the long-term outlook of the organization. A poor finish would mean missing the postseason for the fourth time in five years and bracing to see how owner Steve Bisciotti might react after exercising much patience with head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome in recent years.

It’s difficult to predict who the Ravens really are with all four of their wins coming by multiple scores and each of their five defeats including double-digit deficits at some point during the contest. On the bright side, the Ravens face only three more opponents currently owning winning records, meaning they won’t be able to point to a difficult schedule if they’re on the outside looking in come early January. However, none of Baltimore’s four victories this season have come against teams currently above .500.

Below are five predictions for the remainder of the 2017 season:

1. Jimmy Smith will be named team MVP and be invited to his first Pro Bowl. Injuries have always prevented the 2011 first-round pick from reaching and sustaining greatness, but the veteran cornerback is in the midst of the best season of his career. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith carries the NFL’s lowest opponent passer rating in coverage and has graded as the fifth-best corner in football. You only hope the bye week was beneficial for the Achilles tendinitis he’s battled for much of the season, but he’s continued to play at an elite level despite that ailment. He’s been the Ravens’ best player.

2. Alex Collins will become Baltimore’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett in 2014. With a passing attack ranking last in the NFL in yards per game and yards per attempt, the Ravens must rush at a high level to win and the surprising Collins has been substantially better than anyone else carrying the ball with 521 rushing yards. Even with his lighter 210-pound frame, the second-year back should be poised for a heavy workload down the stretch after carrying the ball only 93 times so far this year. Collins won’t continue to average 5.6 yards per carry, but he’ll remain a major contributor.

3. Breshad Perriman will be a healthy scratch at some point down the stretch. The Ravens desperately want to see their 2015 first-round pick pan out, but it isn’t happening and he has regressed to the point that he’s hurting the team when the ball is thrown his way. After catching an underwhelming 50 percent of his targets last season (33-for-66), Perriman has caught just seven of the 27 passes thrown his way, a major reflection of a dysfunctional passing game. Unlike Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro, Perriman doesn’t contribute on special teams and isn’t playing with any confidence.

4. Joe Flacco will avoid full-season career lows in passing yards and touchdowns — barely. I’ve been critical of the handling of the offense since Anquan Boldin was traded and believe the organization has repeatedly failed to provide enough help for Flacco, but coaching and the personnel around him can’t fully explain him being one of the league’s worst statistical quarterbacks. He’s on pace to throw for 2,757 yards, fewer than both his rookie year and 2015 when he missed six games. He’ll pick up his production, but it’s tough not to feel Flacco is a broken product of his environment and injuries.

5. The Ravens will finish 8-8 for the second straight year and will hope other wild-card contenders in the AFC continue to struggle. The schedule is favorable, but John Harbaugh’s team hasn’t secured a three-game winning streak since the first three games of 2016 and has only one over the last three seasons combined, a reflection of the Ravens’ inability to sustain success. With one of the worst offenses in the league and a good defense that hasn’t yet found a way to be consistently great enough to carry the load, Baltimore isn’t built to stack win after win and will look back at the Week 6 home loss to Chicago with particular regret. Don’t be totally shocked, however, if the Ravens or another team sneaks into the AFC playoffs with an 8-8 record. Yes, the conference is that bad beyond the top few teams.

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Pondering Flacco-Harbaugh comments, Woodhead, J. Smith, Jernigan

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Joe Flacco expressing a desire for the Ravens offense to be more aggressive is nothing new.

The 10th-year quarterback has made similar claims in past seasons with different offensive coordinators. And with Baltimore sporting a losing record and the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense, something has to give over the final seven games.

“We need to go after it. We can’t sit back and just expect us to not lose football games,” Flacco said. “There is always a part of that come late in games and depending on the nature of the game, but we have to go and attack. We’re a 4-5 football team. You always look at teams in these positions and say, ‘Man, they have nothing to lose.’ And we should feel that way. We have to go out there and leave it all out there.”

John Harbaugh appeared to take exception with Flacco’s assertion that the offense hasn’t been playing to win. The retort came two days after the head coach was asked to justify Marty Mornhinweg remaining as his offensive coordinator moving forward.

It’s apparent Harbaugh doesn’t want the assistant taking all the blame for the offense’s shortcomings.

“I can’t speak for Joe. That’s what we try to do every single week,” Harbaugh said. “We open up the offense. We run schemes with our run game. We’re getting after people on defense. We try to win every single game. Players have to go out there and play great. They have to execute. If you’re talking about offense, we need to complete passes, we need to run the ball well, we need to protect our quarterback, we need to go up and make catches, we need to execute, we need first downs, we need to score points.

“It’s not about play-calling. It’s about all of us together going out there and playing winning football in all three phases.”

The difference in opinion is even more interesting in light of the recent comments made by former tight end — and Flacco’s close friend — Dennis Pitta to WBAL indicating that the quarterback has only one read in the passing game before being instructed to check down. It’s obvious that Flacco continues to rely more on short passes while attempting fewer intermediate passes than ever and struggling to connect on deep balls this season.

No matter what Harbaugh says, no one can honestly watch the Ravens offense and classify it as an aggressive unit, but the real question is if that’s by design to protect Flacco, who struggled in Marc Trestman’s more complex system. Even if the Ravens coaching staff is deliberately trying to shield the quarterback from himself, Flacco being tied for third in the NFL with 10 interceptions suggests the strategy isn’t working anyway.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle as the veteran signal-caller has certainly left plays out on the field and the play-calling has been less than inspiring for much of the season.

Woodhead effect

There’s much excitement about the expected return of running back Danny Woodhead after the bye, but it’s fair to wonder if his presence could be counterproductive to an offense needing to be more aggressive throwing the ball down the field.

It’s great to cite his three catches for 33 yards on the opening drive of the season in Cincinnati as evidence for how he can help, but that’s still a small sample size for a player who’s now missed 35 games over the last four seasons. You hope Woodhead can stay healthy enough to pick up more yards after catches than understudy Buck Allen, but Flacco relying too heavily on the 32-year-old could further stunt the other areas of the passing game that need improvement.

It’s great to have more options, but the Ravens will need much more than Woodhead’s presence to make meaningful improvement on the offensive side of the ball.

Jimmy Smith’s health

Jimmy Smith has arguably been the Ravens’ best player this season and currently ranks fifth among qualified corners in Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

But seeing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tear his Achilles tendon on Thursday Night Football made me wonder how Smith will hold up down the stretch. Sherman told reporters after the game that his Achilles had been bothering him for most of the season before it finally ruptured, which should make you take pause since Smith has been dealing with what he’s described as Achilles tendinitis for much of the year.

There’s no way of knowing how similar Smith’s situation might be to Sherman’s or if he’s in great danger of suffering the same fate, but you’d hate to see the best season of his career derailed by another injury.

Jernigan receives lucrative contract

Former Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is off to a good start in Philadelphia, but who predicted him getting a reported four-year, $48 million extension with $26 million guaranteed just nine games into his Eagles career?

The 2014 second-round pick ranks 16th among qualified interior defensive linemen by PFF and has flourished playing next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, but I’d still be leery of paying him that much, especially considering how badly he faded down the stretch in his final season with the Ravens.

I suppose it’s a risk the Eagles can take when having one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL playing on a rookie contract.

Unleash Bowser

Linebackers coach Wink Martindale believes rookie Tyus Bowser is going to be a “star” while Harbaugh wants to see the second-round pick play more after strong practices in recent weeks.

Since a standout Week 2 performance in which he intercepted a pass and collected a sack, however, Bowser has played a total of 54 defensive snaps in seven games. With the Ravens still searching for more pass-rushing production off the edges, the Houston product and fellow rookie Tim Williams need to be more in the mix down the stretch.

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Flacco, Ravens must find middle ground in passing game

Posted on 08 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Much of the discussion about the Ravens offense during the bye week has focused on the deep ball and the pending return of running back Danny Woodhead.

But even in a losing effort, Sunday’s game in Tennessee offered hope for the biggest key in finding more production in the passing attack. In the final three quarters of the 23-20 defeat to the Titans, Joe Flacco completed eight of nine targets to veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin for 98 yards.

Four of those nine attempts traveled more than 10 yards through the air — all of them completions — and seven were to the middle of the field. Six of the eight receptions went for first downs in what amounted to Maclin’s best game as a Raven despite the lack of a touchdown catch.

It’s apparent that the short passing has been excessive and largely unproductive without a dynamic running back or tight end to pick up yards after the catch this season. And while Baltimore certainly needs to attempt — and connect on — a few more deep shots to Mike Wallace, those are always going to be lower-percentage throws when an offense lacks a transcendent talent such as Julio Jones.

The 10-to-20-yard range is the meat and potatoes for most effective passing games.

“It’s the chunk area, the intermediate area, especially inside,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Those are areas we need to make plays, and we had a few of those with Maclin [in Week 9]. They were in two-man-type coverages, and Jeremy did a nice job of getting open. Joe stepped up and made a couple nice throws there.

“Those are the kind of chunk plays that make the difference and move the chains.”

Intermediate throws just haven’t been there for the Ravens. According to ESPN’s passing splits, only 12.7 percent of Flacco’s attempts this season have traveled 11 to 20 yards downfield, an overwhelming career low for the 10th-year quarterback.

That’s way down from the 15.6 percent of his attempts traveling that range of distance last season, his previous career worst. For context, Flacco was entrusted as a rookie in a run-heavy offense in 2008 to attempt passes 11 to 20 yards through the air 23.1 percent of the time. Over most of his career, 17 to 21 percent of Flacco’s attempts traveled to that range.

Making matters worse, he’s completed only 14 of his 37 throws (37.8 percent) 11 to 20 yards through the air for two touchdowns, five interceptions, and a meager 5.97 yards per attempt. Over most of his career, he hovered in the 45-to-55-percent completion range for eight to nine yards per attempt.

Couple that with the reality of Flacco completing only five of his 17 attempts traveling more than 20 yards in the air — far too few deep shots in nine games — and it’s no surprise that moving the ball has been so difficult for this passing attack. Any offense constantly needing all three downs to move the chains is going to struggle.

“It seems that all of [our scoring drives] are just long ones, and it is tough to have a lot of those long drives and do that consistently,” Flacco said. “You have to have some of those quick strikes in you, so you do not have to convert four or five third downs every single drive in order to score a touchdown.”

Of course, there are many variables at work beyond the performance — and health — of Flacco himself. Injuries on the offensive line, suspect play-calling, and the lack of dynamic talent at the skill positions have all been major obstacles. The return of Woodhead should provide a bump in production on short passes, but that’s assuming the 32-year-old can stay on the field as he’s missed 35 games over the last four seasons.

The biggest key to improving the passing game down the stretch will be Maclin, who missed two games with a shoulder injury last month and was unable to build an on-field rapport with his new quarterback over the summer as Flacco was sidelined with a back issue. General manager Ozzie Newsome signed Maclin in mid-June to produce in the intermediate portion of the field, but he’s registered just 27 catches for 310 yards with almost half of that yardage coming over the last two games.

The Ravens clearly want to lean on their eighth-ranked rushing attack as much as they can, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Flacco building on what they’ve accomplished with Maclin over the last two weeks is a must for this offense to become more functional.

Scheming ways to get him open beyond the chains and targeting him more frequently would help create more space underneath for the likes of Woodhead and tight end Benjamin Watson and more opportunities for deep shots to Wallace with a better chance of succeeding. Without production in the intermediate middle portion of the field, cornerbacks and linebackers can clamp down on underneath routes while allowing opponents to stay in two-high-safety looks that take away the deep passing game. That’s happened too often over the first nine games of the season.

Despite Sunday’s defeat to the Titans, the Ravens can only hope what they uncovered with Maclin was a sign of better things to come for the league’s worst passing attack. Big plays down the field and more yards after the catch on short throws underneath are certainly parts of the equation, but the Ravens need to create as many opportunities as they can for their best pass-catcher.

If this offense is going to improve enough to give the Ravens a real chance to make the playoffs down the stretch, Maclin needs to become the go-to guy in a way not different from how Flacco leaned on Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Smith at different points in his career. This passing game desperately needs to find that middle ground between underneath throws and deep shots.

“I said it all along: Jeremy is a good player, and he makes it easy,” Flacco said. “But the more time you get with him, the better and better it is.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-20 loss to Tennessee

Posted on 07 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their fifth defeat in seven games in a 23-20 final at Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Many are mocking John Harbaugh’s claim that the Ravens remain in the playoff race, but he isn’t wrong when you see the remaining schedule and mediocrity of the wild-card candidates. Still, I can’t help but think Sunday’s loss tipped the scales in the wrong direction, especially from a tiebreaker standpoint.

2. It’s becoming very difficult to justify Breshad Perriman being on the field. His inability to effectively use his size and speed reflects an utter lack of confidence, and he doesn’t contribute on special teams. He wants to do well, but the 2015 first-round pick looks completely lost.

3. Jeremy Maclin had his best game as a Raven, catching eight passes on nine targets for 98 yards. He’s had his problems staying healthy, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be targeted more frequently with so many others underperforming in this passing game.

4. I didn’t have a problem with the decision to go for it on fourth down to begin the final quarter, but how do you fail to even try to block inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who didn’t do anything out of the ordinary on the play? That’s elementary football right there.

5. Delanie Walker was the latest tight end to give the Baltimore pass defense problems. He caught all five passes thrown his way, and his 25-yard reception was a key plays of the Titans’ final touchdown drive. Per Football Outsiders, the Ravens entered Week 9 ranked dead last covering tight ends.

6. Nick Boyle’s absence was a big loss for the running game as Harbaugh even labeled him a “centerpiece” for what they do from a blocking standpoint. It was just the third time this season the Ravens have been held under 100 yards rushing.

7. The run defense held the formidable duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to a combined 45 yards on 17 carries. Since surrendering the 21-yard run to Jay Ajayi on the second play from scrimmage in Week 8, the Ravens have given up 97 rushing yards on 39 attempts. That’s more like it.

8. Whether it’s his back or Father Time, Joe Flacco isn’t showing enough mobility in the pocket to consistently be successful. On third-and-4 early in the third quarter, he needed to step up and to the right against a three-man rush, but he instead retreated backwards and was flagged for grounding.

9. I groaned seeing Flacco — with plenty of time — throw a 1-yard pass to Benjamin Watson on third-and-10 at the Tennessee 13 on Baltimore’s opening drive. You certainly don’t want to do anything foolish to jeopardize a field goal, but that’s not even trying, whether by design or execution.

10. On the principle of his superb special-teams play alone, Chris Moore should be receiving opportunities over Perriman at this point. I’m not convinced he can do a serviceable job, either, but he has one fewer catch in 162 fewer offensive snaps this season.

11. I liked the option look employed by the Ravens with Buck Allen and Alex Collins on the fourth-and-2 run in the second quarter. With Marty Mornhinweg remaining the offensive coordinator, you can only pray much more creativity is in the works over the bye week.

12. No play better epitomized the Baltimore offense than when Ryan Jensen snapped the ball wildly, Flacco threw behind the receiver, and Watson bobbled the catch for a 1-yard loss late in the third quarter. As CBS analyst Rich Gannon described it perfectly, “They make the easy things look difficult.”

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