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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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Ravens stop bleeding, reboot season with win at Oakland

Posted on 09 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stopped the bleeding and rebooted their season with a 30-17 win at Oakland on Sunday.

A road defeat wouldn’t have doomed them for the remainder of 2017, but one wonders what the ramifications might have been for a third straight loss, this one against a backup quarterback in a league having nowhere close to even 32 quality starters. The Raiders were also without two of their top three cornerbacks in a rare instance in which the opposition’s game-day injury woes could actually compete with Baltimore’s.

It was nearly a year to the day that the Ravens fired Marc Trestman, and another poor performance might have led offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to a similar fate with critics pointing to senior offensive assistant Greg Roman as a logical alternative. But such talk was halted — at least for one week — when Joe Flacco delivered a pretty 52-yard strike to the speedy Mike Wallace on the first play from scrimmage.

That early aggressiveness coupled with the superb play of the offensive line proved to be the biggest keys in the victory as the Ravens jumped out to an early lead and produced a season-high 30 points. Their four plays of 25 or more yards eclipsed their total over their first four games (three) and deflated a struggling Raiders team also in need of a win Sunday.

It was easily Flacco’s best performance of the season as he completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards and ended his streak of 10 consecutive games with an interception. Entering Week 5 ranked last in the NFL among qualified quarterbacks with a career-worst 5.1 yards per attempt, the 10th-year quarterback averaged 8.54 yards per throw, his best single-game mark in nearly two years.

Not one to exaggerate or put much stock into any single win or loss over the course of his career, Flacco said Sunday’s win brought extra significance after admitting last week that the confidence of the entire offense wasn’t where it needed to be. The performance also reminded us what Flacco is capable of doing when the other variables are in proper place to help him succeed.

The running game and pass protection were strong despite the offensive line suffering its latest injury with right guard Matt Skura leaving with a knee injury early in the second half. Flacco also demonstrated better footwork, moving forward or sidestepping in the pocket to make several throws and to successfully avoid what little pressure Oakland was able to muster on Sunday. A Raiders front led by All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack failed to register a sack and recorded only two quarterback hits all day.

At least for one week, the Baltimore offense was capable of playing at a level high enough to win a game in which the defense didn’t play at an incredible level. Jimmy Smith’s fumble recovery for a touchdown certainly provided extra cushion in the first quarter, but the unit’s overall play was a far cry from the first two weeks of the season when it forced a whopping 10 turnovers and the offense needed only not to screw up.

The Ravens offense even responded to adversity after the the defense allowed a Marshawn Lynch touchdown late in the third quarter to make it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening minutes. Without as much as a first down in their first two drives of the second half, Flacco and the offense orchestrated a 72-yard drive of more than five minutes that included critical third-down conversions to Breshad Perriman and Wallace. Justin Tucker’s short field goal put Baltimore ahead by 10 with just over 13 minutes to go and all but ended Oakland’s real hopes for a comeback.

As John Harbaugh noted in his post-game press conference, this is a week-to-week league with results frequently lacking rhyme or reason. The offense isn’t close to being out of the woods yet as a lackluster performance at home against Chicago next week will prompt the return of the same doubts and questions.

But the Ravens managed to escape a challenging and travel-filled five-week stretch to open the season with a 3-2 record, once again tied with Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. They now face a reasonable run of alternating home and away games over the next four weeks that should keep them in the playoff hunt with any semblance of steady play going into their Week 10 bye.

To say the win at Oakland saved their season would be an exaggeration, but it did stop the substantial bleeding from the last two weeks. And there’s no telling what chain of events a third straight ugly loss might have triggered for a team in search of its first postseason berth in three years.

The Ravens instead came home with a winning record and newfound positive vibes.

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Ravens-Jaguars: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 23 September 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face a familiar opponent in unfamiliar territory on Sunday.

Playing Jacksonville for the fourth consecutive season, Baltimore will play its first ever game in London at the famous Wembley Stadium. The Ravens seek their third 3-0 start of the John Harbaugh era while the Jaguars try to rebound from an embarrassing home loss to Tennessee.

Of course, poor health continues to be a major part of the story for the Ravens as a staggering 15 players have already been placed on injured reserve — along with practice-squad member Jeremy Langford — and four additional players have already been ruled out for Week 3.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its second consecutive win over the Jaguars, who still lead the all-time series with an 11-9 mark that largely stems from the days of the old AFC Central. The Ravens have won nine of the last 12 meetings dating back to the 2000 season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Even without Brandon Williams, Baltimore will hold Leonard Fournette to less than 3.5 yards per carry. The Jaguars rank ninth in the NFL in rushing yards per game while the Ravens defense has been leakier against the run than you’d expect at 4.0 yards per carry allowed. There was plenty of debate in the offseason about whether giving Williams a lucrative deal was the best use of cap resources when you considered the young depth on the defensive line that includes nose tackle Michael Pierce. We’ll find out how that group looks against a rookie running back with exceptional talent.

2. Mike Wallace and Allen Hurns will catch touchdown passes for their respective teams. The Baltimore receiver was sure to emphasize that he wants to win more than anything when he talked about wanting the ball more this week, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg does need to get the downfield passing game going. Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is dealing with an ankle injury, which should leave his secondary vulnerable to a big play. Meanwhile, Hurns has been forced to pick up the slack for the injured Allen Robinson, and the Ravens have given up some yards through the air so far.

3. The Ravens will finish with under 100 rushing yards in their first full game without Marshal Yanda. Only Denver recorded more carries than the Ravens over the first two weeks of the season and the Jaguars have given up 136.0 yards per game on the ground, but the loss of a six-time Pro Bowl guard will impact any team’s ability in the trenches. Harbaugh has expressed confidence in new right guard Tony Bergstrom, but he struggled last week and will have his hands full with defensive tackle Malik Jackson. It also doesn’t help that starting running back Terrance West is dealing with a calf issue.

4. Tony Jefferson will record his first interception for one of two Ravens’ takeaways on the day. It’s incredible to think Baltimore has already surpassed its interception total from the entire 2015 season, but Jefferson is the lone member of the starting secondary not to grab one thus far, which has earned him plenty of ribbing from defensive teammates. The Jaguars will do everything they can to keep the game out of the hands of maligned quarterback Blake Bortles, but he’s thrown 53 interceptions in 48 career games and will be picked off by Jefferson at a critical moment of a low-scoring game.

5. Justin Tucker will shine in a grind-it-out 16-13 victory for Baltimore. The Jaguars’ experience playing overseas and the need to adjust to the five-hour time change are legitimate concerns for the Ravens, who were 2-6 on the road last season and haven’t played well away from M&T Bank Stadium for years now. It won’t be a pretty performance, but Tucker will hit a field goal from beyond 50 yards and add two more to put on a good show for the soccer faithful in London. With Pittsburgh and Oakland looming in the next two weeks, the Ravens would very much like to win this one.

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Breaking down the 2017 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 02 September 2017 by Luke Jones

A year after the Ravens surprisingly released veteran running back Justin Forsett on final cut-down day, there were no real surprises in the formulation of the first 53-man roster for the 2017 season.

The acquisitions of reserve offensive linemen Tony Bergstrom and Luke Bowanko likely pushed veteran Jeremy Zuttah and former practice-squad member Matt Skura off the roster, but cornerback Robertson Daniel and linebacker Brennen Beyer were the only other players from last year’s team not to survive Saturday’s final cuts and neither saw meaningful action in 2016.

More roster changes are inevitable in the coming days as Baltimore has already made two trades to augment its offensive line depth and could look for another running back or a veteran inside linebacker. General manager Ozzie Newsome should have another roster spot to play with once cornerback Maurice Canady is placed on injured reserve as expected. Still recovering from knee surgery, Canady needed to be on the initial 53-man roster to remain eligible for a designation to return later in the season.

The Ravens will certainly scan the open market for potential additions to enhance the roster that’s already been assembled as hundreds of players hit the waiver wire on Saturday. Beginning Sunday, they will also put together a 10-man practice squad with a number of Baltimore players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.

Below are some early impressions of the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: The Ravens and their fans will continue to hold their breath until Flacco stays on the field and shows his back is no longer a concern after he was sidelined for the entire summer. However, the fact that there are only two quarterbacks on the roster leads you to believe the organization is confident that Flacco is truly healthy and ready to go. At the very least, you’d expect the Ravens to re-sign Josh Woodrum or another quarterback to the practice squad for some extra depth.

RUNNING BACKS (3) — Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Buck Allen
Analysis: This group lost much of its upside after Kenneth Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury right before training camp, but the unrest on the offensive line this summer made it difficult to evaluate the backs. Woodhead figures to be a major part of the passing game if healthy, but how well West fares as the No. 1 back will depend on how effectively the line gels. This is a position the Ravens should explore upgrading, especially if they can find a back possessing some return skills.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5) — Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore
Analysis: The competition among a batch of young receivers on the preseason roster never really materialized as Moore, a 2016 fourth-round pick, did little to distinguish himself and still landed on the roster. The major question will be how quickly Flacco can build a rapport with Maclin, who didn’t sign with the Ravens until the week of mandatory minicamp in mid-June. It’s difficult to identify a trustworthy red-zone threat in this group, but that’s been a problem for this offense for years. 

TIGHT ENDS (4) — Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle
Analysis: Few would have guessed Mayle would be one of four tight ends on the roster when there were questions months ago about how the Ravens would pick among six viable options. The losses of Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, and Darren Waller subtracted production, physicality, and upside from the equation, but Boyle has been solid and Watson and Williams are healthy. It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will get enough production from these tight ends as blockers or receivers.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Austin Howard, Jermaine Eluemunor, Tony Bergstrom, Luke Bowanko
Analysis: The Ravens finally have their projected starting offensive line on the practice field, but there are plenty of questions beyond Yanda and Stanley. Newsome attempted to address the depth by making two trades, but neither Bergstrom nor Bowanko are established commodities. Beyond taking a leap of faith that Greg Roman’s blocking schemes will work their magic, there isn’t a ton to love about this group on paper, which is unsettling when your quarterback is just returning from a back injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Chris Wormley, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard
Analysis: Eight defensive linemen in a 3-4 base system are too many, but the Ravens are smart not wanting to lose a talented defensive lineman just to keep an inferior player elsewhere. You would think the organization will attempt to use its defensive line depth to potentially acquire talent at another position of need or will eventually try to stash one with a injury. Of course, don’t dismiss the possibility of Ricard being used more as a fullback and blocking tight end to help justify the high number here.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor, Bam Bradley
Analysis: Correa hasn’t seized control of the starting job next to Mosley, leaving the door open for Onwuasor or even Bradley to potentially push him for playing time further into the season. The loss of special-teams standout Albert McClellan really hurts their depth as he could play any of the four linebacker positions, a valuable asset on Sundays with only 46 players active. Bradley earned his job with a strong summer, but a veteran addition to compete with Correa would ease some concerns.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams
Analysis: Entering his 15th year, Suggs remains the soul of the defense and is still an above-average three-down outside linebacker, but you have to be intrigued with the young talent and depth here. Judon and Bowser have battled for the starting “Sam” linebacker spot with both looking like viable options while Za’Darius Smith solidified his roster standing as a situational rusher. Williams is raw, but he has shown impressive potential as a pure rush specialist, something this defense needs.

CORNERBACKS (6) — Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Jaylen Hill, Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady
Analysis: The Ravens haven’t had this kind of outside corner depth in a long time with Humphrey likely to push the veteran Carr for his starting spot at some point in 2017. Tavon Young’s spring knee injury was a blow to the nickel spot, but the undrafted Hill may have been the best story of the summer after only receiving a tryout during rookie camp weekend. With safeties Lardarius Webb and Anthony Levine expected to play the nickel and dime spots, respectively, five cornerbacks are likely enough.

SAFETIES (5) — Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark
Analysis: The depth here is strong after Jefferson was signed to a lucrative deal to be a major factor against the run and in covering tight ends. There is plenty of room for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be creative in the secondary with Webb and Levine having so much versatility. The rookie Clark will likely be more of a special-teams contributor than anything else, but the Ravens needed another safety with their primary backups projected to be so involved in sub packages.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its sixth consecutive season together. That continuity is just one reason why these three are so tremendous at what they do.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 13-9 win over Buffalo

Posted on 27 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 in the preseason with a 13-9 win over Buffalo, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The narrative remained the same for the third preseason game with the defense excelling and the offense struggling to move the ball. Maybe the defense will be up to the task in 2017, but winning 13-9 games leaves very little margin for error.

2. I’ve said this before, but the defensive depth continues to impress as there’s been little drop-off in play from the opening quarter to the final minutes of each game. Ozzie Newsome isn’t going to be able to keep a few defensive players who definitely would have stuck in the past.

3. After averaging 3.5 yards per carry in the first half of the first two preseason games, the Ravens gained 41 yards on 16 carries in the first two quarters against the Bills. The running game is even more important with Joe Flacco’s situation, but it hasn’t shown many encouraging signs.

4. Baltimore was credited with six passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. The secondary has been strong and the young outside linebackers have received plenty of attention, but this deep defensive front has been very disruptive this summer.

5. Watching Justin Tucker make tackles or even pick up a fumble in Miami last week makes for a fun story until he suffers a close call like he did on Saturday night. The Ravens really need their All-Pro kicker to show more restraint, especially in a meaningless preseason game.

6. Rather than asking whether Jaylen Hill makes the roster, I’m now wondering how long it will be before he carves out a meaningful role on the defense. Lardarius Webb has had a strong summer at the nickel, but there’s a reason why he was moved to safety two years ago.

7. Nothing enhances the enjoyment of preseason football more than a combined 17 penalties for 156 yards in the first half. Our poor eyes.

8. Patrick Onwuasor alternating series with Kamalei Correa at inside linebacker was one of the more interesting developments of the third preseason game. He’s only 227 pounds, but Onwuasor plays with a mean streak that was evident in his rookie season and just continues to improve.

9. Filling in for the injured Danny Woodhead, Taquan Mizzell presented himself well by catching six passes for 54 yards and a touchdown. His skill set is similar to Woodhead’s, which hurts his roster chances and makes him intriguing at the same time.

10. Bubble players filling a prominent role on special teams included Chris Matthews, Sheldon Price, Lorenzo Taliaferro, Robertson Daniel, and Vince Mayle. That doesn’t mean they’re all making the roster, of course, but that tends to be an indication of any tiebreaker with another bubble player.

11. Marshal Yanda has been one of my favorite players for a long time, but seeing him as the last offensive player out of the tunnel during stadium introductions says a lot about the current state of that side of the ball.

12. Breshad Perriman and Marlon Humphrey showed encouraging signs before the game. Perriman ran at three-quarters speed and was cutting and running routes effectively while Humphrey looked like someone ready to return to the field, backpedaling and sprinting at full speed.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-7 win over Miami

Posted on 18 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 2-0 in the preseason with a 31-7 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The offensive line was again a mess as third-stringer Jarrod Pughsley starting at right guard was surprising to even beat reporters. Evaluating this group without Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley on the field is very difficult, but there were too many penalties and not enough room in the running game.

2. You have to like the defensive depth as the starters were again impressive and the reserves held the Dolphins to just 17 yards in the second half. I also like seeing how frequently the Ravens are using Anthony Levine in the dime package. He’s a good fit for that role.

3. Ryan Mallett was better than last week, but he threw two interceptions and still isn’t pushing the ball downfield, a problem that Joe Flacco had in this offense last season. His third-down conversions to Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace were good throws, but there still wasn’t much to like here.

4. Both interceptions came on passes intended for rookie Quincy Adeboyejo, who didn’t present himself well on either. The first came on a deep route he ran poorly and the second was on a pass thrown behind him that was catchable. Quarterback and receiver have to take some blame on both.

5. Jaylen Hill finished with a team-leading three tackles and two pass breakups. At this point, the rookie free agent from Jacksonville State might have to play himself off the roster not to make the team. He looks like he belongs despite being undersized.

6. Say what you want about the absence of Flacco and the current state of the offensive line, but fumbles by Wallace and Terrance West in the first eight minutes of the game had to drive John Harbaugh crazy. This offense isn’t good enough to overcome potential turnovers and penalties.

7. It’s been a quiet camp for Maxx Williams, but his third-down reception to move the chains late in the first half and his 40-yard catch and run in the third quarter were eyebrow-raising plays. The 2015 second-round pick showed toughness and some explosiveness that hadn’t been seen this summer.

8. Donald Payne had one of the more impressive sequences of the night as the rookie linebacker forced a fumble on a kickoff midway through the second quarter and sprinted down the field to flatten the returner on the next one. That will grab the attention of Harbaugh and Jerry Rosburg.

9. The Ravens have been using Patrick Ricard as a fullback in practices for the last week or so, but that might say more about the current fullbacks on the roster. Regardless, it’s fun to see a 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive lineman playing that spot.

10. Josh Woodrum has played very well against second- and third-team defenders and is putting himself in the conversation for a spot on the practice squad, but he’s not going to be the one to supplant Mallett if the organization decides to upgrade the backup spot.

11. Justin Tucker picking up a fumble and trying to run reminded me of the scene in “Major League” when Willie Mays Hayes makes a basket catch to end an inning and manager Lou Brown welcomes him back to the dugout saying, “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever [expletive] do it again.”

12. We’re spoiled here in Baltimore and it was only a preseason game, but that showing from Miami was one of the worst special-teams performances I’ve seen in a long time.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-3 win over Washington

Posted on 11 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their preseason opener in a 23-3 final over Washington, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I made my feelings clear about the Ravens defense at the conclusion of draft weekend, and the group didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. Playing fast and physical, Baltimore held the Redskins to a measly 47 yards and four first downs in the first half. You could see the potential.

2. Brent Urban was the best player on the field, bringing inside pressure and consistently penetrating the backfield against the run. He finished with two forced fumbles, a sack, and four tackles to lead a revamped defense. Not bad for his debut as the starting 5-technique defensive end.

3. With eight key players sitting out, I’m not sure what anyone could have reasonably expected from the Ravens offense. The running game wasn’t overly productive at 3.6 yards per carry in the first half, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg stuck with it and the group played turnover-free football.

4. Those absences aside, Ryan Mallett did nothing to silence his detractors by averaging an ugly 3.2 yards per pass attempt. John Harbaugh said Mallett played “winning football” after the game, which was reminiscent of Brian Billick’s descriptions of Kyle Boller after the many defense-led wins of yesteryear.

5. The start of the game certainly felt familiar with the defense forcing a three-and-out, the offense going three-and-out, and Sam Koch placing a punt inside the 5-yard line.

6. After a miss from 43 yards that was negated by a penalty, Justin Tucker later restored order to the universe with a 59-yard field goal to end the first half. Yes, he’s missed a few more in camp than I recall in previous summers, but I’ll guess he’ll be OK.

7. Second-round pick Tyus Bowser had an strong debut with three tackles, a quarterback hit, and solid all-around work at outside linebacker, but fellow rookie Tim Williams struggled to set the edge and remains a work in progress as anything more than a situational pass rusher for now.

8. Rookie free agent Jaylen Hill showed why coaches have been impressed with him in practices as he defended the deep ball effectively and picked off Colt McCoy late in the first half. His night would have been even better had he not whiffed on a corner blitz.

9. Tim White made a superb adjustment on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum late in the third quarter and looked capable as the return specialist in the first half. The rookie free agent’s speed has stood out since organized team activities in the spring.

10. Keenan Reynolds returning a punt 46 yards was the feel-good moment of the night as Harbaugh’s smile on the sideline epitomized how much everyone is rooting for the former Navy star. He still has a long way to go to crack the 53-man roster, but he’s improved from last year.

11. The best news of the night was the Ravens seemingly escaping the game without any major injuries. In contrast, Washington lost linebacker Trent Murphy and safety Su’a Cravens to knee injuries. Coaches hold their breath every second of the preseason.

12. First-round pick Marlon Humphrey went through a rigorous pre-game workout and appears poised to return to practice after a week-long absence. However, Breshad Perriman was nothing more than an observer and doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a hamstring injury.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on first week of training camp

Posted on 01 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down their opening week of training camp, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Injuries have been a story for years, but the current run since June 1 is staggering. The Ravens revamped their training program over the last two offseasons in response to having a combined 39 players on injured reserve in 2014 and 2015. They’re not turning a blind eye to this.

2. The offense has definitely fared poorly with Joe Flacco sidelined, but let’s not shortchange the defense through all the criticism for Ryan Mallett and company. The collective quarterback play has often looked inept, but this Baltimore defense has much potential. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

3. Crockett Gillmore had lofty expectations in the final year of his rookie contract, making his latest injury a disappointment for a player who showed much promise in 2015. Assuming he doesn’t make a miraculous return this season, he will have missed 31 games over the last three campaigns.

4. The award for biggest change in body type goes to Matt Judon, who looks 20 pounds lighter than he did as a rookie. Aiming to be the strong-side outside linebacker, Judon dropped weight over the summer to be better in coverage. He’s looked the part in the first few practices.

5. Don’t sleep on Matt Skura, who is a reserve center and has filled in for Marshal Yanda during full-team drills. After spending last season on the practice squad, the Duke product has a big opportunity with John Urschel retired and Nico Siragusa now out for the year.

6. I’ve counted as many as 10 different players taking reps as a punt or kick returner so far. Undrafted rookie wide receiver Tim White is a name to watch, but this appears to be a wide-open competition, which is nothing new since Jacoby Jones’ release a couple years ago.

7. The injury was lost in the wash, but the indefinite loss of Maurice Canady is a tough blow after slot cornerback Tavon Young went down for the season in the spring. Lardarius Webb has been working in the slot with veteran newcomer Brandon Boykin off to a slow start.

8. The first-round selection of Marlon Humphrey didn’t receive much enthusiasm in April, but the 21-year-old has shown impressive composure and has made plays early in his first training camp. The presence of Brandon Carr eases the immediate need, but the Alabama product has impressed.

9. Maxx Williams deserves ample time to get his football legs back under him, but he hasn’t moved particularly well so far in his return from a secretive knee surgery that had never been performed on an NFL player. The Ravens could really use contributions from their 2015 second-round pick.

10. Young pass rushers take time to develop, but Tim Williams has stood out in individual drills. His quickness is evident as he blew past a rookie offensive tackle who hadn’t even gotten out of his stance Tuesday, and he’s even gotten the best of Ronnie Stanley from time to time.

11. Rookie free agents to watch in the preseason include defensive end Patrick Ricard and cornerback Jaylen Hill as well as White. It wouldn’t shock me to see Ricard become the next undrafted defensive lineman to stick, but we still have a long way to go.

12. How rough has the first week of training camp been? Justin Tucker even missed consecutive field goal tries from 49 yards on Tuesday, something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him do in practice. I’ll go out on a limb and predict that he’ll be OK, however.

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Continuity still rules at top of organization for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2017 by Luke Jones

As open positions go, the Indianapolis general manager job figured to present some appeal to Ravens assistant general manager Eric DeCosta.

Baltimore’s bitter feelings aside, the Colts have built a nice tradition of winning over the last two decades with much of the credit going to the arrival of Peyton Manning in 1998. Indianapolis currently has a franchise quarterback in the prime of his career in Andrew Luck, something most teams with a GM opening can’t proclaim.

DeCosta obviously knows head coach Chuck Pagano, who served as a defensive assistant for the Ravens for four years.

Colts owner Jim Irsay hardly has a spotless reputation, but Bill Polian ran his football team for 14 years before the recently-fired Ryan Grigson was in charge over the last five seasons. He’s far from perfect, but there are worse — and less patient — owners for which to work.

Still, DeCosta didn’t surface among the candidates the Colts announced they’d interview despite a report earlier this week about their wish to talk to him about the job. He’s once again staying put.

Perhaps it’s a sign that the Ravens brass doesn’t perceive things to be as dire and broken as some critics do. Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in early January that “the pitchforks are out” for head coach John Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years, but the Ravens owner also spent plenty of time expressing confidence in his guys and never gave the impression that 2017 was a nonnegotiable “playoffs-or-bust” scenario.

“You have a bad team when people are pointing fingers, and you see that with dysfunctional GMs and coaches that can’t get along and things like that, and we just don’t have that,” Bisciotti said. “I have a coach that is carrying a burden, I have a GM that is carrying a burden, and I have a quarterback that’s carrying a burden. They’re all stepping up and taking a greater percentage of the blame than they probably deserve. To me, that’s the definition of quality leadership.”

Bisciotti is a man of conviction and won’t fire people simply because the outside world is calling for it. It’s become obvious that DeCosta has a similar will after passing on plenty of chances to run other football teams over the last several years.

If DeCosta sensed the boss was on the verge of blowing things up next offseason, you’d think he would have at least wanted to explore the possibility with the Colts.

We’ll see if valuing continuity pays off for both Bisciotti and DeCosta over the next few years.

“I want my fans to know that I think John can coach better. I think Ozzie and Eric can draft better. I think Joe [Flacco] can play better,” Biscotti said earlier this month. “If all of them do it — and I think they’re capable and determined to be better — then I think next year we’re sitting here with a playoff-caliber team, and I really believe that. If you get improvement from quality people, I believe that they can collectively bring this team back to prominence.”

Birds of a feather

I wouldn’t expect many fans to be pulling for New England in Super Bowl LI anyway, but there are several former Ravens with the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

The list is headlined by 2012 second-round pick Courtney Upshaw, who has converted from outside linebacker to the defensive line for the Falcons. Guard Chris Chester was a reliable member of the Ravens’ offensive line for the first five years of his career and started 16 games for Atlanta in his 11th season.

Of course, Matt Schaub served as the Baltimore backup in 2015 and became the first Ravens quarterback not named Flacco to start a game since Troy Smith at the end of the 2007 season. Cornerback Deji Olatoye and wide receiver Aldrick Robinson also had brief stints with the Ravens.

Falcons tight ends coach Wade Harman spent 15 years with the Ravens and was part of the coaching staffs that won Super Bowls in 2000 and 2012.

If that’s not enough, Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn is a Salisbury graduate, adding another local flavor to the mix.

Give Tucker a chance

I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker hit a 75-yard field goal during Wednesday’s Pro Bowl practice.

There was no defensive line for Tucker to kick over and the ball was on a tee, but I’d still like to see AFC head coach Andy Reid give him a chance to try one from 65 yards or longer at some point during Sunday’s Pro Bowl. It’s a meaningless game, so why not?

No love for Juszczyk

It’s bad enough that Kyle Juszczyk’s last name was misspelled on his Pro Bowl practice shirt on Wednesday, but then the fullback was left out of the dodgeball tournament, something in which he wanted to take part.

I guess fullbacks still aren’t getting the respect they deserve.

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Ravens long snapper Cox invited to Pro Bowl for second straight year

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Despite missing the playoffs, the Ravens will have an even stronger presence at the Pro Bowl after long snapper Morgan Cox was added as a “need” player on Wednesday.

For the second straight season, Cox was invited to take part by Kansas City head coach Andy Reid as he continues to be viewed as one of the best long snappers in the NFL. The seven-year veteran will join kicker Justin Tucker, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and linebacker C.J. Mosley as participants while veteran guard Marshal Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, will not take part because of a shoulder injury.

“Playing in the Pro Bowl for a second time is a huge honor for me,” Cox said in a statement released by the team. “All the hard work that we put into this game is validated when you receive such an honor. I’m proud to represent a great organization like the Ravens, who are among the NFL’s best.”

Cox has snapped for two other Pro Bowl selections — Billy Cundiff in 2010 and Sam Koch last season — and will have the opportunity to play with his kicker in the Pro Bowl later this month. Tucker was named to his second Pro Bowl in late December and credited Cox’s work for making that possible.

This past season, the 2010 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee played in every game, snapping on all 80 punts, 39 field goal attempts (38 successful), and 27 extra points (all converted).

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