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Ravens-Bears: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 14 October 2017 by Luke Jones

A week after the season appeared on the verge of crashing downward, the Ravens picked up one of their better road wins in recent years to move back into a tie for first place in the AFC North.

Now they begin a four-game stretch that could propel them into an enviable position within the conference playoff picture by the time their Week 10 bye arrives. Of course, Chicago will have other intentions in rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s first career road start for a team off to a disappointing 1-4 start.

The Ravens are once again banged up as starting right guard Matt Skura and running back Terrance West won’t play and defensive tackle Brandon Williams and rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams are expected to sit out against the Bears. Cornerback Jimmy Smith is also questionable for the second straight week as he continues to deal with Achilles tendinitis.

It’s time to go on the record as the Bears play the Ravens in Baltimore for just the third time ever. Chicago leads the all-time series by a 3-2 margin and won the last meeting played at Soldier Field in 2013, but Baltimore has won both games at M&T Bank Stadium.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Tony Jefferson will grab his first interception as a Raven. The free-agent newcomer is second on the team in tackles, but we’ve yet to see Jefferson make a dynamic impact, which might be a product of how he’s been used as much as anything else. He collected a sack against Oakland blitzing in the dime, and that’s a package the Ravens should use more often considering how strong he is playing close to the line of scrimmage. Baltimore linebackers have had problems covering tight ends, so look for Jefferson to match up with Zach Miller, who figures to be a popular target for a rookie quarterback on the road.

2. Bears rookie Tarik Cohen will finish with more total yards than starter Jordan Howard. The latter was one of the surprise rookies of last season, but he’s off to a rather ordinary start this season with a 4.0 yards per carry average. Meanwhile, the 5-foot-6 Cohen has done quite a Darren Sproles impression by averaging 5.4 yards per carry and catching 25 passes in his first five games. Regardless of which back is touching the ball, the Ravens need to tighten up their run defense, which ranks an unimpressive 23rd in yards allowed per game and 20th in yards surrendered per rush attempt at 4.3.

3. Breshad Perriman will catch his first touchdown of the season. It speaks volumes about how disappointing the 2015 first-round pick has been with the way such a big deal was made over his 13-yard reception on a third down late in the third quarter against Oakland. Perriman ranks eighth on the team in receptions and receiving yards despite averaging just over 41 offensive snaps per game. John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have both spoken about the need to get Perriman more involved in the passing game, so look for the Ravens to try that as they did successfully last week with Mike Wallace.

4. A plus-three turnover advantage will allow Baltimore to lean on its running game in the second half. Trubisky has a strong arm and can move around, which will lead to him having his moments if the Ravens’ pass rush loses containment like it did on a few occasions against EJ Manuel. However, the rookie lacks enough talent at the wide receiver position to consistently be able to push the ball down the field and will make mistakes due to impatience. The Ravens defense has forced only two turnovers over the last three games after forcing 10 in their first two games. That changes on Sunday.

5. The Ravens will improve to 12-0 at home against rookie quarterbacks in the Harbaugh era with a 23-10 victory. Chicago sports a solid defense that will give Flacco and the offense some problems, but the Bears haven’t been dynamic enough to create turnovers, which is the only realistic path I envision for them to pull off an upset on Sunday. On the flip side, John Fox’s team would like to be able to lean on its running game, but the Ravens will make yards tough to come by in that department and do enough offensively to force the Bears to put the ball in Trubisky’s hands in the second half. This one will have a similar feel to the Week 2 home victory over Cleveland with a score almost identical.

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Would Kubiak change his mind for Denver job?

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than 24 hours after Gary Kubiak announced he would return to the Ravens for the 2015 season, questions are again being asked about his future in Baltimore.

As soon as the Denver Broncos revealed they were parting ways with head coach John Fox on Monday, the Baltimore offensive coordinator’s name was being mentioned as an intriguing candidate along with former Broncos coach Mike Shanahan, who still resides in Denver. Of course, Kubiak has deep ties to the organization after spending nine years as the backup quarterback to John Elway and 11 years as an assistant coach under Shanahan.

With Elway now the general manager of the Broncos and making the surprising change at head coach, one wonders if he’d be interested in having his close friend take over in Denver. Kubiak reiterated his fondness for Baltimore in taking his name out of the running for other head coaching gigs Sunday night, but no one could really blame the 53-year-old for viewing the Broncos as a dream job for which he’d at least consider changing his mind.

Even one of Kubiak’s current players, wide receiver Torrey Smith, offered a cryptic response to the news of Fox being out in Denver:

There were rumors over the weekend that Fox could be dismissed if the Broncos fell to Indianapolis, so you would assume Kubiak had at least some inkling of the Denver job becoming open. With the former Houston Texans head coach regarded by the Ravens as a man of great integrity and character, the initial expectation is that Kubiak will remain as the team’s offensive coordinator.

The future of Peyton Manning is a hot topic in Denver, so it will be fascinating to see how he factors into the equation for any potential candidate for the head job.

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh will meet with the media at 2 p.m. Tuesday and will undoubtedly be asked about the updated status of his offensive coordinator.

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Steve Smith not looking to be Boldin, Andre Johnson in Kubiak’s system

Posted on 15 March 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope that much of what new wide receiver Steve Smith brings to the field won’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet every week.

That’s not to say Baltimore won’t take advantage of the remnants of the 14th-year receiver’s ability in a career that includes five Pro Bowl selections, 12,197 receiving yards, and 67 touchdown receptions, but Smith’s intangibles were equally attractive to an offense that lacked a vocal leader willing to ruffle some feathers when needed last year. Smith has occasionally come under fire for his willingness to speak his mind and tell others what they might not want to hear, but coach John Harbaugh told the veteran during his free-agent visit that the Ravens want him to be himself.

The Ravens signed Smith to a three-year, $11 million contract on Friday afternoon.

“We’ve added one of the top competitors in the NFL to the Ravens,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said in a released statement. “Steve is a proven player who has performed his best in big games and on the biggest stages like the playoffs and Super Bowl. He adds toughness to our offense, big-play ability, and leadership to our team.”

Those intangibles aside, what should the Ravens expect from a wide receiver set to turn 35 in May?

From the start of the offseason when Newsome and Harbaugh spoke about the Ravens’ need to add a wide receiver who can move the chains and pick up the tough yards after a catch, it sounded as though they were envisioning Anquan Boldin’s replacement as someone who can line up in the slot and make difficult catches over the short-to-intermediate middle portion of the field. The similarities in attitude between Boldin and Smith are clear, but the 5-foot-9 Smith has relied more on his speed on the outside throughout his career while Boldin is bigger and slower but has always made catches in traffic.

You can hardly blame Smith for not wanting to be compared to someone else after being one of the better receivers in the NFL over the last decade.

“I’m not Anquan Boldin,” said Smith when asked if he can fill the void of the former’s departure from a year ago. “I respect the heck out of ‘Q,’ and what ‘Q’ brings to the table is what ‘Q’ brings to the table. I’m Steve Smith, and what I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table.

“We play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out. But we’re also individuals, and I’m not here to replace anyone. I’m here to be myself.”

Determining what role Smith will play isn’t easy as many believe he’s lost a step after recording only 64 receptions for 745 yards last season, his lowest totals since 2010 when the Carolina Panthers were the worst team in the NFL with a 2-14 record. And the Ravens offense will clearly present a different look under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

Smith met with Kubiak to discuss what his role would be in the Baltimore offense, using the coach’s offenses in Houston as a point of reference. The former Texans coach really didn’t have any player in Houston who compared to Smith in terms of physical makeup, but the veteran made it clear he’s not expecting to have the extensive role of No. 1 wide receiver Andre Johnson during all those years he played with Kubiak.

This is good news for an offense that can’t put all its hopes in a veteran receiver whose best days are behind him. Until proving otherwise, Smith should be a complementary option to fourth-year receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta as the featured parts of the passing game while Pitta and 6-foot-4 wideout Marlon Brown profile as better red-zone threats.

Quarterback Joe Flacco certainly doesn’t need a veteran nearing the end of his career demanding to be the focal point of the passing attack, so Smith’s position had to be a breath of fresh air for Harbaugh and his coaching staff.

“I know his system. I’ve seen his system,” Smith said about his discussion with Kubiak. “I’ve seen the very creative ways they’ve gotten other guys the ball. I want to be a part of that. One of the things I’ve seen for myself — I don’t see myself in coach Kubiak’s system like Andre Johnson. I see the complementary dude of Kevin Walter. I see how he contributed and how he was instrumental in getting Andre the ball but also getting his own opportunities.”

Smith said new teammate Torrey Smith is going to be a “fantastic” player, but it was interesting that the former Panther went out of his way to compare himself to Walter, who never recorded more than 900 yards in Kubiak’s offense. Walter’s run with the Texans came to an end in 2012, but he served as Houston’s No. 2 wideout behind the Pro Bowl receiver Johnson for several years and averaged 732.8 receiving yards per season as a possession receiver from 2007 through 2010.

Kubiak’s use of Walter in the slot fluctuated from year to year as he ran 45.8 percent of his routes from that spot in 2012 but ran less than 20 percent of his routes there in 2009 and 2010, two seasons in which he eclipsed 600 receiving yards. In contrast, Smith was rarely used in the slot under current Panthers coach Ron Rivera the last three seasons — only 15.5 percent of his routes last season and less than 10 percent of the time in 2011 and 2012 —  and was only used in the slot about a third of the time from 2007 through 2010.

Given the perception of his declining speed and lack of previous work in the slot, Smith compares favorably to former Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, who didn’t work very often in the slot after 2008 and caught 73 passes for 1,028 yards and seven touchdowns at age 35 in 2009. The Ravens would be thrilled if Smith can post numbers even remotely approaching those of the 5-foot-10 Mason that season. He isn’t the deep-ball threat that he was in his prime, but Smith doesn’t need to be with Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones as available vertical threats on the outside.

Perhaps the Ravens will simply need to rely on Kubiak’s creativity to maximize Smith’s ability at this stage of his career, but there’s no questioning how pleased they are to acquire a player with his pedigree to add to an offense that finished 29th in the league last season. And they hope his addition will be part of the solution to put Baltimore back among the elite in the AFC, even if there’s more work to be done on the offensive side of the ball.

“I believe and the Baltimore Ravens believe that I can help increase the chances of us being successful,” Smith said. “So that’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to swing for the fence, and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

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