Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

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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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Mosley, Stanley questionable, but expected to play against Houston

Posted on 25 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ prayers on inside linebacker C.J. Mosley were answered.

After an initial plea for divine intervention on the sideline and then downplaying the severity of Mosley’s sprained right ankle late in last week’s 23-0 win at Green Bay, head coach John Harbaugh proved to be right as the standout defensive player returned to practice as a full participant Saturday and will play against Houston on Monday night.

Mosley is officially listed as questionable on the final injury report after missing workouts earlier in the week, but he left no doubt regarding his status against the Texans.

“I’m playing, so I’m not worried about that,” Mosley said. “It wasn’t a high ankle sprain, so that’s what the doctors feared most [initially]. After we found out it wasn’t that, it was just about trying to get as much treatment as possible and rest.”

Mosley said the plan was for him to sit out practice through most of the week and wanted to return to the field Saturday for peace of mind more than anything else. The Ravens not playing until Monday night certainly helped in the recovery process.

A reflection of how good he’s feeling two days prior to Monday Night Football, the two-time Pro Bowl selection even took a playful jab at fellow inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor for his indirect role in the injury occurring just before the two-minute warning at Lambeau Field.

“I didn’t even see who landed on me. I was just trying to make a tackle,” Mosley said. “I blamed it on ‘Peanut’ since he wasn’t on the field. We [only] had 10 men, so I was about to call timeout, but I just let the play go on. It was probably his fault.

“It could have been bad because I was getting blocked back while I got landed on. Luckily, it was a minor sprain. I felt pretty decent out there today.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is also listed as questionable against Houston, but he will return to action after being cleared from the concussion protocol on Friday. He and right tackle Austin Howard (knee) — who was also designated as questionable — have been hampered with injuries recently, but the Ravens will have their normal offensive line on the field to try to slow standout pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney.

That continuity is of the utmost importance after Stanley’s absence against the Packers last week forced starting left guard James Hurst to left tackle and reserve Luke Bowanko into the starting lineup, leaving the Ravens weaker at both blindside positions.

“It’s good to have your guys, your starters out there,” Harbaugh said. “They’re the starters for a reason. And we’ll be going in there full strength Monday night, and we’re excited about that.”

As expected, starting cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) returned to practice as a full participant Saturday after missing workouts earlier in the week and is officially listed as questionable. The veteran has regularly missed practice time with tendinitis since early October and was also listed as questionable in each of the last six games before playing in them all, leaving very little doubt about his availability.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has been slowed by an ankle injury this week, but he is expected to play despite being listed as questionable. He received his usual veteran day off Saturday to conclude the practice week.

Baltimore officially ruled out rookie offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor with a shoulder injury. With only one of their seven game-day scratches in line to be because of injury, the Ravens arguably find themselves in the best shape from a health standpoint that they’ve enjoyed since the start of the season.

Meanwhile, the Texans officially ruled out second-year wide receiver Will Fuller as he continues to recover from cracked ribs. Star wideout DeAndre Hopkins will play despite being slowed by a foot injury in practices earlier in the week.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: OT Austin Howard (knee), LB C.J. Mosley (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion), LB Terrell Suggs (ankle), RB Terrance West (calf)

HOUSTON
OUT: OT Julien Davenport (shoulder), WR Will Fuller (ribs), OL Greg Mancz (shoulder)

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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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Woodhead working way toward return, Stanley limited with concussion

Posted on 15 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As anticipated during their bye week, the Ravens released their cleanest injury report in a long time Wednesday as they continue preparations for the Week 11 trip to Green Bay.

Much attention this week centers around a player not even listed on the report as running back Danny Woodhead remains on injured reserve while continuing to practice. It’s unclear whether the 32-year-old will be activated to play against the Packers, but the Ravens are itching to have the shifty back on the field for the first time since he re-injured his left hamstring on the first drive of the season on Sept. 10.

“I think you got a little taste of Danny the first week and what he can do,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, referencing his three catches on that opening drive in Cincinnati. “He’s also a guy that knows what he’s doing in [pass] protection and can give you a lot of things, obviously. We all know he’s a good athlete. He catches the ball out of backfield well and does a lot of those things.

“I know he’s out here working to get himself healthy and get himself going, so we’ll see.”

Signed to a three-year, $8.8 million contract at the start of free agency in March, Woodhead was expected to be a vital part of the short passing game that’s been high in volume but low in productivity this season. The ninth-year veteran has averaged 9.4 yards per reception in his career and has twice caught more than 75 passes in a season.

The Ravens have understandably been cautious with Woodhead, who originally injured the hamstring during the preseason and has now missed a whopping 35 games over his last four seasons with various injuries. A decision on his status must be made by next week when his 21-day window to practice expires.

Woodhead would need to be activated by 4 p.m. Saturday to be able to play this week. On Wednesday, he offered no clues on whether that would happen.

“I don’t know the odds. I stay in my lane, and I work hard,” Woodhead said. “Whenever an opportunity comes for me, then that’s the opportunity that comes.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was surprisingly listed as a limited participant with a concussion. The 2016 first-round pick missed snaps in each of the last two games with a right shoulder issue, but it’s unknown if he suffered a concussion in the Week 9 loss at Tennessee or whether it possibly occurred during Wednesday’s padded practice.

For what it’s worth, Stanley was not on the field for the Ravens’ final offensive play against the Titans two weeks ago.

Tight end Nick Boyle was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice after missing the final game before the bye with a toe injury. Running back Terrance West (calf) and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (shoulder) also participated fully and appear primed to return after extended absences.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendinitis) was the only player on the 53-man roster not to practice, but that wasn’t surprising since the veteran defensive back has routinely missed Wednesday practices since early October.

Meanwhile, the Packers held out running back Ty Montgomery, who continues to deal with sore ribs and is a question mark to play. Fellow running back Aaron Jones is expected to miss at least a few weeks with a knee injury suffered in last Sunday’s win over Chicago, leaving rookie Jamaal Williams as the favorite to start on Sunday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (toe), WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), S Chuck Clark (thigh), RB Terrance West (calf), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

GREEN BAY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Bryan Bulaga (knee), S Morgan Burnett (groin), RB Aaron Jones (knee), RB Ty Montgomery (ribs)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Ahmad Brooks (back), CB Kevin King (shoulder), G Justin McCray (ankle), LB Nick Perry (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DT Quinton Dial (chest), QB Brett Hundley (hamstring), LB Joe Thomas (ankle)

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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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Ravens cut Rainey, claim offensive tackle from Rams

Posted on 13 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens made a roster move Monday that reflects their improved health coming off the bye week as they try to make a push for their first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

General manager Ozzie Newsome claimed offensive tackle Andrew Donnal off waivers from the Los Angeles Rams and cut running back and return specialist Bobby Rainey. The latter’s departure leads one to believe wide receiver Michael Campanaro will be ready to resume his return duties after missing the last two games with a shoulder injury. Rainey returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the Week 6 loss to Chicago.

Baltimore should also have improved depth at the running back position with Week 1 starter Terrance West returning to the practice field last week after a four-game absence due to a calf injury. West’s role moving forward is unclear, however, with the emergence of Alex Collins, who has averaged 5.6 yards per carry and is 13th in the NFL in rushing despite being tied for 27th in attempts.

The Ravens must wait until next year to welcome back the likes of guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis as well as running back Kenneth Dixon, but Sunday’s game at Green Bay will likely be the healthiest the active roster has been in quite some time. In addition to Campanaro and West, starting tight end Nick Boyle (toe) is expected to return and a plethora of others battling nagging injuries will benefit from the off-week.

“I could probably stand up here and give you the politically correct ‘coach speak’ and say nothing changes, but I’ll be honest with you: I’m excited,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m excited for the fact that we have our offensive weapons back — the ones that are still with us. I feel like we are more full strength than we’ve been all year.”

The Ravens could also welcome back veteran running back Danny Woodhead, who was designated to return to practice on Oct. 31 and is eligible to be activated against the Packers. Harbaugh wouldn’t commit to him playing this week, however, as Woodhead is making his way back from a severe hamstring injury that sent him to injured reserve after the season opener.

It’s wise for the Ravens to be cautious with Woodhead, whose activation would require a 53-man roster move. His 21-day practice window will conclude next week, meaning a decision would have to be made by that point to activate him or leave him on IR for the rest of the season.

“He’s going to try to practice tomorrow,” Harbaugh said. “Throughout the week, we’ll have to see how he comes along during the week with practice and see what happens. It’s kind of hard to predict.”

Donnal, a 2015 fourth-round pick from Iowa, has made six career starts and now gives Baltimore nine offensive linemen on the active roster, but starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley was dealing with a shoulder injury and missed snaps in each of the final two games before the bye week.

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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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perriman

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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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Familiar script plays out for Ravens in deflating loss at Tennessee

Posted on 05 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The script was all too familiar for the Ravens in a 23-20 loss to Tennessee on Sunday.

Some of the names have changed, but we’ve seen this defeat over and over and over again since Super Bowl XLVII.

A comatose offense that stumbles its way into some decent football late — but only after putting itself in a sizable hole. A defense that perseveres at a high level until needing to make a big stop in crunch time. And an array of little things from special-teams penalties to debatable coaching decisions sprinkled into a one-possession loss.

It might as well be 2013 or 2015 or 2016. Having lost five of their last seven going into their bye week, the Ravens are firmly in that mediocre spot that’s become their residence for the last five years. And they’ll need a strong finish to avoid missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season.

What else really needs to be said about an offense that’s summarily broken? Even with a solid running game, the unit hasn’t been good enough, so you didn’t need to be Vince Lombardi to predict what would happen when the Titans were able to shut down the surprising Alex Collins on Sunday.

The problems are abundant and the solutions aren’t there from a coaching or talent standpoint.

On a day when veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the team’s only dependable pass-catcher, had his best performance of the season, 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman again looked like someone not belonging on the field as he failed to high-point two deep passes — one leading to an interception — and dropped another pass in an awful first half. Fellow speedster Mike Wallace was also a non-factor until catching a 1-yard touchdown in the final minute when the Ravens trailed by two possessions.

Joe Flacco doesn’t have nearly enough help around him, but he’s also slow to react to certain situations and threw a bad interception on the first drive of the second half. As has been the case for a few years now, the veteran quarterback isn’t the offense’s biggest problem, but he hasn’t been enough of an answer, either.

By design or by execution, the horizontal passes well short of the chains on third downs continue to be maddening.

You’d like to think the bye could spawn some new ideas and the return of the oft-injured Danny Woodhead might help, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has now had the reins of this group for 20 regular-season games and has yet to show himself as any kind of meaningful asset. Are the Ravens miraculously going to have an offensive breakthrough with the week off while maintaining the status quo?

Of course, the defense isn’t without blame despite a strong showing for much of the day. The two touchdowns allowed through the first three quarters came on short fields, and Eric Weddle’s interception set up Baltimore’s first touchdown of the game to make it a 16-13 deficit with nine minutes remaining.

But when the Ravens needed one more stop to give the offense a chance to tie or take the lead, the defense crumbled, allowing two third-down conversions and a touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Eric Decker with 3:58 to go. Yielding a couple first downs or even a field goal wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but you just can’t give up seven in that spot. Tennessee ran fewer plays and trailed in time of possession, so you can’t say it’s because Dean Pees’ group was tired.

The defense couldn’t finish, which has been the story way too often for some statistically-strong units over the last several years. It’s the reason why the front office chose to ignore the offense this offseason to focus on strengthening a top 10 defense from a year ago, but the problem reared its head again on Sunday.

To be clear, this is a good defense, but the group hasn’t been great enough to overcome the major deficiencies on the other side of the ball or to justify the many resources exhausted on it this past offseason. The Ravens may have cleaned up their issues stopping the run over the last two weeks, but the pass rush still isn’t good enough to expect the group to become otherworldly down the stretch.

The little things also killed the Ravens on Sunday. Teams with such little margin for error can’t have Tyus Bowser line up illegally on a successful punt and then have Sam Koch shank one that sets up an easy Titans touchdown. Za’Darius Smith’s unnecessary roughness penalty was as ticky-tack as it gets, but even head coach John Harbaugh and teammate Eric Weddle said it was avoidable, especially knowing officials were on alert after Matt Judon’s borderline hit on Mariota earlier in the half.

Harbaugh received much criticism for unsuccessfully going for a fourth-and-inches from the Tennessee 17 to begin the fourth quarter, but I’ll side with the decision despite the outcome. As the 10th-year coach noted, anyone would tell you going for it in that situation is a no-brainer from a win probability standpoint. Yes, kicking a field goal does make it a one-score game, but you’re then counting on your defense to not allow any more points and your offense to drive the length of the field again to score a touchdown, which was highly questionable at that point. Many cited Justin Tucker as the reason for taking the points, but having such a great kicker leaves me more inclined to go for the touchdown there, knowing I may not need to do very much later to get a shot at a 50- or 55-yard attempt to tie the game.

Sure, if you know your defense will force a turnover on the ensuing possession, you’ll take the three points every time, but we can’t assume subsequent events play out the same or that Tennessee would have played the same defense had the Ravens trailed by seven and not 10 on their final touchdown drive. The decision was certainly debatable and I didn’t like the play call itself, but it wasn’t the egregious error some made it out to be, especially when replays indicated that Buck Allen picked up the first down. Alas, it was a bad spot and a predictable review outcome on a type of challenge that’s difficult to win.

In the end, the Ravens were unlucky to go along with not being good enough on Sunday.

It added up to the kind of loss we’ve seen too many times in recent years.

Instead of securing a road win that could have put them in a good position with a very reasonable schedule after the bye, the Ravens face a steep climb with a losing record and a less-than-ideal tiebreaker profile in a mediocre AFC wild-card race. Six of the remaining seven games do look quite winnable on paper, but each is also a potential loss for such an inconsistent group.

And after Sunday’s bout of déjà vu, the Ravens aren’t showing signs that things will be different this time around.

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