Tag Archive | "Joe Flacco"

Screen Shot 2017-12-11 at 8.07.56 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Painful loss to Pittsburgh should still bring hope for Ravens

Posted on 11 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — No matter the circumstances or stakes, losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers is about as painful as it gets for the Ravens.

That’s the burden of a tremendous rivalry as the sting of Sunday’s heartbreaking 39-38 defeat will linger throughout the week and possibly a little longer. Suffering their first regular-season sweep at the hands of the Steelers since 2008, many players were despondent in the locker room after squandering a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, conjuring memories of last year’s defensive collapse on Christmas.

Baltimore was one stop or one drive away from a huge victory at Heinz Field, but we know close only counts in horseshoes, right? Terrell Suggs was among those who didn’t want to hear about any moral victory of the Ravens giving Pittsburgh everything it could handle and then some as they led by nine points with less than seven minutes to go.

Coaches, players, media, and fans alike understand giving up 19 points in the final 13 minutes is inexcusable as Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards — 228 in the fourth quarter — and Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards, but there’s a critical difference with this one compared to last season’s Week 16 collapse. That loss left the Ravens to think all offseason about how close they came before Brown extended the ball over the goal line and eliminated them from playoff contention with that dramatic last-second touchdown.

Sunday certainly hurt, but the loss only narrowed the margin for error the rest of the way as they try to secure a wild-card spot and their first trip to the playoffs since 2014. A division title would have remained a long shot even with a win, so the task is clear for the Ravens as three wins against three sub-.500 opponents will still guarantee them some January football.

A narrow loss to Pittsburgh — the expected outcome in the eyes of most observers entering Week 14 — shouldn’t meaningfully alter anyone’s outlook for the final three weeks. If you don’t believe in the Ravens’ ability to beat Cleveland, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati, were you honestly expecting a competitive game against the Steelers in the first place?

A deep breath and 24 hours bring some needed perspective for the long-term outlook.

Had Chris Boswell missed the 46-yard field goal in the final minute or the Ravens simply made one more game-changing play down the stretch, euphoria undoubtedly would have replaced disgust and the focus would have been on a strong offensive showing for the second straight week rather than the terrible defensive performance. Concerns about the defense still would have been warranted had the Ravens figured out a way to escape western Pennsylvania with a win, but that wouldn’t have been the primary topic of discussion.

A signature win would have helped the eyeball test, but it wouldn’t have suddenly made Baltimore the new favorite in the AFC. A return trip to Heinz Field next month would have still labeled the Ravens as the underdog against the Steelers. This remains a flawed team, and a win wouldn’t have changed that if we’re being honest.

The silver lining from Sunday is that the offense was able to duplicate last week’s impressive production against Detroit. It’s no secret that this group has been the Ravens’ biggest weakness, but scoring a combined 82 points the last two games brings more optimism down the stretch. Alex Collins continues to look like a difference-maker while Joe Flacco has thrown for 538 yards and four touchdowns the last two weeks, marked improvement from what we’ve seen most of this season.

We knew this offense needed to improve if the Ravens were going to pose any threat in a potential trip to the postseason, and it’s finally showing signs of progress.

On the other hand, the defense is fairly being criticized after being carved up by Roethlisberger and giving up 59 points in its last six quarters of action, but the Ravens will now play three bottom-10 offenses to try to make necessary corrections and better adjust to life without top cornerback Jimmy Smith. Sunday certainly brought validation to the criticism regarding the lack of elite offenses on the schedule and the group’s ability without Smith on the field, but this defense has been good enough over the course of the season to at least envision better results on that side of the ball if the teams were to meet a third time.

It was only three years ago that the Ravens were blown out by the Steelers in their first full game without Smith and returned to Heinz Field two months later to win in the opening round of the playoffs. Regardless of how it ended Sunday night, a one-point road loss to an 11-2 team shouldn’t prompt any fear if given the chance to roll the dice again, and there isn’t much more you can ask for beyond that.

It’s fair to be ticked off about such a frustrating loss for the Ravens. Harbaugh and his team certainly are.

But it didn’t end their season this time around, and there was enough good to take away from the performance to ponder the possibilities of a third meeting sometime next month.

That is, if the Ravens handle their business between now and then.

Comments Off on Painful loss to Pittsburgh should still bring hope for Ravens

flaccosteelers

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 09 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t really need to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

A one-game lead for the final wild-card spot, a strong tiebreaker profile, and three remaining games — two at home — against teams that are a combined 20 games below .500 make Baltimore’s chances to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 very strong already. But a victory would bring the elusive signature win that would make the doubters — and perhaps John Harbaugh’s team itself — start to believe the Ravens are capable of being a legitimate threat in January.

Meanwhile, the Steelers hope to extend their seven-game winning streak, but a defeat would still leave them within striking distance of New England, who will visit Heinz Field next week with the upper hand for the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. The immediate incentive for Pittsburgh to win Sunday would be to clinch the AFC North title, but its three-game advantage with four weeks to go leaves quite a margin for error in the division race.

In other words, the renewal of this intense rivalry lacks the same stakes as last year’s Christmas Day affair that essentially served as a division championship game.

Last week’s serious back injury suffered by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has been on the minds of both teams as the former Pro Bowl selection’s future on and off the field remains unclear. With many Pittsburgh players planning to wear cleats paying tribute to their injured teammate, how the Steelers respond emotionally playing at home could certainly be a factor for at least the beginning of Sunday night’s game.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North rivals meet for the 44th time in the regular-season series with the Steelers holding a slight 23-20 advantage to go with a 3-1 edge in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh has won the last two meetings and is in search of its first regular-season sweep of the Ravens since 2008. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 22 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. Danny Woodhead will have his best game as a Raven with 60 receiving yards and a touchdown. The focus on Shazier’s injury has rightly been on his health and not on football, but the Steelers will miss his presence in pass coverage as he recorded an interception and four breakups against Baltimore’s underneath passing game in Week 4. With Cam Heyward and a strong Pittsburgh front dominating the line of scrimmage in that first meeting, Joe Flacco may have to rely on more short passing and less of Alex Collins and the running game. With outside linebacker Arthur Moats filling in on the inside, this is the game Woodhead and the Ravens need to exploit an advantageous matchup.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will finish with 115 total yards of offense. It’s no secret the run defense has been superb since Brandon Williams’ return in late October, but Bell’s huge game in Week 4 was more about the inability to set the edge on outside runs and to handle the Steelers’ pulling interior linemen on counters than struggles inside as he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry between the tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens will be hellbent to slow Bell as a runner, but linebackers C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor have been vulnerable in pass coverage and this is where Bell will find more of his success. He’ll extend a streak of 57 or more receiving yards to four straight games.

3. Mike Wallace and Martavis Bryant will catch long touchdowns for their respective teams. With Steelers cornerback Joe Haden still out and their safeties inclined to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage to help the inside linebackers in coverage, there should be some opportunities for the Ravens to take deep shots and Wallace has been playing his best football of the year since the bye. On the flip side, Baltimore will do whatever it can schematically to prevent Antonio Brown from killing a secondary without Jimmy Smith, but that will leave Marlon Humphrey or Brandon Carr occasionally on an island matched up with Bryant, who is still dangerous despite a disappointing season.

4. Joe Flacco will be efficient and play turnover-free football for the third straight week. The 10th-year quarterback is coming off his best game of the year and needs to play more like that down the stretch if the Ravens are to become a realistic threat in the AFC. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler will do more to try to confuse Flacco and mix up coverages than Detroit did a week ago, but his fourth-ranked defense ranks a pedestrian 14th in the NFL in takeaways. Pass protection needs to hold up better than it did in the first meeting between these teams, but Flacco will effectively find Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin in the short-to-intermediate area of the field.

5. The Ravens will pull off the upset for their first signature win of the season in a 23-20 final. Perhaps I’m drinking too much purple Kool-Aid, but the Steelers are coming off a short and emotional week following a Monday night road game and have trailed in the second half of four of their last five games, illustrating how vulnerable they’ve looked at times despite a terrific 10-2 record. Baltimore has one last chance to earn a signature win and needs to build on its strong performance from a week ago to build confidence that the offense can be productive enough moving forward to have a real chance in the playoffs. The Steelers are the better team overall, but this week’s circumstances set up favorably for the Ravens to steal a road win in Pittsburgh and further improve their playoff positioning.

Comments Off on Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

weddle

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Twelve Ravens thoughts following 44-20 win over Detroit

Posted on 05 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens securing their first three-game winning streak since the start of last season with a 44-20 victory over Detroit, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Where has this offense been all year? While recording season highs in points and yards while committing no turnovers, the Ravens were aggressive and effectively used play fakes. The group’s response after Detroit made it a one-score game late in the third quarter was the best drive of the season.

2. Joe Flacco was superb with active feet in the pocket and his most accurate passing of the season. His best throw was the 23-yard back-shoulder connection to Mike Wallace as he was being hit. Flacco would have eclipsed 300 yards if not for four drops by receivers.

3. The key to the offensive success was first-down productivity as Baltimore averaged 7.7 yards on first down and still came in at 5.8 if you want to take away the outlier of Wallace’s 66-yard catch. Marty Mornhinweg deserves credit for mixing up tendencies to help keep the offense on schedule.

4. Eric Weddle got off to a rough start this season, but his strip-sack led to excellent field position for a touchdown in the second quarter and his interception returned for a touchdown capped a dominant fourth. The secondary needs his leadership more than ever with the Jimmy Smith injury.

5. There’s no overlooking his rough performance against the Lions, but Marlon Humphrey had already done enough as a rookie to inspire confidence moving forward. Offenses will be looking to attack him now, but he has a good demeanor and all the talent he needs to contribute in Smith’s place.

6. Wallace was in the slot on the 66-yard bomb from Flacco, an example of personnel shuffling within a formation to create a favorable matchup against a safety. Mornhinweg also used a trips bunch formation to get Jeremy Maclin free on a crossing route. The Ravens need more of this.

7. Seeing Willie Henry scoop up a fumble and run 16 yards was amusing enough, but the second-year defensive tackle diagnosed a screen to make a tackle for a loss and registered a quarterback hit. “Big Earl” continues to be a significant contributor in the rotation.

8. Patrick Ricard registered his first touchdown since high school Sunday, but the converted defensive lineman also delivered several impressive blocks and matched a season high with 18 offensive snaps. The rookie is making more of an impact at fullback recently.

9. Maurice Canady appears to have overtaken Lardarius Webb as the primary nickel. In addition to five tackles and the hit on Jake Rudock’s interception to Weddle, Canady recovered Michael Campanaro’s fumble. He plays with much confidence and aggression for someone with such little NFL experience.

10. I’ve been clamoring for Tyus Bowser to receive more opportunities in this defense, but the rookie whiffing when he had a straight path to Matthew Stafford in the second quarter isn’t going to help his cause in the short term.

11. He only missed a couple plays after passing concussion screening, but C.J. Mosley suffered a stinger for the second straight week. You hope there’s no underlying cause for those because the Ravens can’t afford to be without him.

12. The Lions had nine players on the field for Flacco’s key third-down throw to a wide-open Chris Moore on the touchdown drive early in the fourth. That summed up the uninspiring football Detroit played for large stretches of a game they needed to have in a crowded NFC playoff race.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts following 44-20 win over Detroit

wallace

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Smith’s injury reiterates Ravens need more of what they did Sunday

Posted on 03 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday’s performance by the Ravens felt very familiar.

Joe Flacco and the offense turned in their best performance of the season against Detroit nearly a year to the day after they blew out Miami, a playoff contender turned away at M&T Bank Stadium to begin the final month of 2016. The 44-20 win over the Lions lifted the Ravens to 7-5, the same record they owned after their 38-6 victory over the Dolphins last Dec. 4.

Unfortunately, history repeated itself again when cornerback Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon late in the first half, ending the best season of his career and leaving the defense without arguably its best player. It was Week 14 last year when the Ravens lost Smith to a high ankle sprain, an injury that torpedoed what had been the league’s top-ranked defense at the time.

That injury preceded three losses in the final four weeks as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The schedule is certainly more favorable this time around with just one game remaining against a winning team — next Sunday in Pittsburgh — and the final two contests coming at home.

Still, there’s no underselling the loss of Smith, especially for a team that’s relied so heavily on its defense all season.

“It’s different than it’s been before,” said head coach John Harbaugh, citing his defense’s struggles without its top corner in 2014 and last year. “We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of good, young players. We’ll step up, and we’ll still play at a really high level in the secondary. I’m very confident of that.”

The Ravens are better equipped to carry on without Smith after signing reliable veteran Brandon Carr — who’s amazingly never missed a game in his 10-year career — and drafting the talented Marlon Humphrey in the first round this past spring. Turning over a starting job to Humphrey is quite an improvement from a year ago when Shareece Wright stepped in for Smith opposite rookie Tavon Young.

But there will still be some drop-off, evident by Humphrey’s difficulties in coverage against speedy Lions receiver Marvin Jones. The Alabama product may eventually be as good as Smith — or even better — but expecting that immediately would be unfair and unrealistic.

That makes it even more critical for this Ravens offense to look more like it did Sunday the rest of the way.

Veterans Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle admitted after the game that the defense was feeling deflated after officially learning of Smith’s fate at halftime. Two touchdown drives orchestrated by Lions quarterback Mathew Stafford in the third quarter transformed a comfortable 20-0 lead into a one-possession game, but Flacco and the offense fought right back with a nine-play, 74-yard drive ending with a 7-yard touchdown run by Alex Collins to make it a 27-13 lead early in the final quarter.

Given the importance of the game and the way it was trending, that touchdown drive may have been the offense’s best and most important of the year to this point. The Ravens then answered a Stafford touchdown pass with another drive resulting in a field goal to put them up by multiple scores for good with 6:54 remaining.

“Well, we have to do our part at some point, right?” said wide receiver Mike Wallace, who finished with 116 yards on five catches. “The offense, we have to come up. Our defense has been incredible. Our special teams have been incredible. The offense, not so much.

“Today, we made strides. This game is about peaking at the right time, so hopefully we can do that.”

The convincing win tightened the Ravens’ grip on the No. 6 seed as they own a one-game lead as well as tiebreakers over the top three teams chasing them in the AFC wild-card race, but building on this performance will be of the utmost importance. Baltimore will be an underdog against the Steelers next Sunday night, but a good showing from Flacco and the offense for a second straight week would create more optimism about this team being able to make noise in January.

The defense should still be more than good enough that the Ravens won’t need to put 44 points on the board every week like they did Sunday, but any expectation of this unit continuing to carry an inept offense likely vanished as Smith collapsed to the ground with 4:21 to go in the second quarter. That unbalanced formula may still be good enough against a soft remaining regular-season schedule, but it certainly won’t fly in the playoffs.

Many saw that as the Ravens’ reality anyway, but losing an elite defensive talent brings it into sharper focus.

The offense stepped up to do the heavy lifting when the defense suddenly found itself on the ropes Sunday.

The coming weeks will determine whether that was merely an aberration or the start of the offense more consistently pulling its own weight.

The latter would make for a more interesting January.

Comments Off on Smith’s injury reiterates Ravens need more of what they did Sunday

suggs

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Comments Off on Ravens-Lions: Five predictions for Sunday

Screen Shot 2017-11-28 at 2.55.05 PM

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Houston

flacco

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Comments Off on Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Monday night

judon

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Comments Off on Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-0 win over Green Bay

suggs

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Comments Off on Ravens may not be pretty, but playoff hopes looking bright

cobb

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Comments (1)