Tag Archive | "Justin Tucker"

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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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Tucker, Yanda receive 2016 PFWA honors

Posted on 16 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The honors keep coming for Ravens kicker Justin Tucker.

Already named to his second Pro Bowl and his second AP All-Pro team, the fifth-year kicker was named to the Professional Football Writers of America All-NFL team for the second time in his career. Tucker completed one of the greatest seasons ever for a kicker, going 38-for-39 on field goal attempts and remarkably making all 10 of his tries from 50 yards and beyond.

His only miss of the season came on a block in Week 14 when New England’s Shea McClellin jumped over long snapper Morgan Cox in an impressive display of athleticism.

Tucker was the only Raven named to the PFWA All-NFL squad, but six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was voted to the PFWA All-AFC team for the fifth time in his career. Yanda continued to play at an elite level in 2016 despite a shoulder injury that cost him three games and forced him to move from his customary right guard spot to the left guard position.

The injury forced Yanda to pull out of the Pro Bowl, but the veteran lineman was also named to the second-team AP All-Pro team earlier this month.

Former Ravens guard Kelechi Osemele was also named to the PFWA All-NFL and All-AFC teams in addition to being invited to his first Pro Bowl and being named to the first-team All-Pro squad in his first season with the Oakland Raiders.

2016 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers#; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons*

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

G – Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys*; Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders

T – Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys#; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns&

Defense

DE – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders*

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams*; Damon Harrison, New York Giants

OLB – Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Von Miller, Denver Broncos#

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

CB – Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs; Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos

S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs*; Landon Collins, New York Giants

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams*

KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings*

PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots

 

* – repeat selection from 2015

# – consecutive selections from 2014-16

& – consecutive selections from 2013-16

 

2016 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Tom Brady, New England Patriots#

RB – Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers, DeMarco Murray, Tennessee Titans

WR – Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers&; T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Rodney Hudson, Oakland Raiders*

G – Kelechi Osemele, Oakland Raiders; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens#

T – Donald Penn, Oakland Raiders; Joe Thomas, Cleveland Browns&

Defense

DE – Jadeveon Clowney, Houston Texans; Khalil Mack, Oakland Raiders*

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals*; Ndamukong Suh, Miami Dolphins*

OLB – Lorenzo Alexander, Buffalo Bills; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

MLB – Dont’a Hightower, New England Patriots

CB – Marcus Peters, Kansas City Chiefs*; Aqib Talib, Denver Broncos

S – Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs*; Devin McCourty, New England Patriots

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

P – Pat McAfee, Indianapolis Colts

KR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

PR – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

ST – Matthew Slater, New England Patriots@

 

* – repeat selection from 2014

# – consecutive selections from 2014-16

& – consecutive selections from 2013-16

@ – consecutive selections from 2011-16

 

2016 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals

WR – Odell Beckham Jr.*, New York Giants; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons*

TE – Greg Olsen, Carolina Panthers#

C – Travis Frederick, Dallas Cowboys

G – T.J. Lang, Green Bay Packers; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys#

T – Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys#; Trent Williams, Washington Redskins*

Defense

DE – Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks; Brandon Graham, Philadelphia Eagles

DT – Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams*; Damon Harrison, New York Giants

OLB – Vic Beasley, Atlanta Falcons; Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

CB – Janoris Jenkins, New York Giants; Patrick Peterson, Arizona Cardinals*

S – Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Green Bay Packers; Landon Collins, New York Giants

Special Teams

PK – Matt Bryant, Atlanta Falcons

P – Johnny Hekker, Los Angeles Rams&

KR – Cordarrelle Patterson, Minnesota Vikings*

PR – Marcus Sherels, Minnesota Vikings

ST – Dwayne Harris, New York Giants

 

* – repeat selection from 2015

# – consecutive selections from 2014-16

& – consecutive selections from 2013-16

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Playing out the string.

Though the Ravens are closing out a regular season at Paul Brown Stadium for the fifth time in the last six years, this marks the first time that neither Baltimore nor Cincinnati is going to the playoffs since 2007 when John Harbaugh was still the special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Even with nothing to play for beyond pride, the Ravens have declared their intentions to play all healthy veterans, a move that some have criticized in fear of a serious injury to a key player.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will miss the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have shut down several injured veterans such as wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (back) in recent weeks.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the 42nd time in franchise history with Baltimore owning a 21-20 edge. The Ravens are seeking their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2011 and can also secure a 5-1 AFC North record, their best division mark since going 6-0 in that same season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Justin Tucker will attempt a 60-plus-yard field goal. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker is a remarkable 10-for-10 on tries from 50 yards and longer and needs only one more to have sole possession of the single-season NFL record. The weather in Cincinnati should reach the mid-40s with minimal wind, conditions that are suitable enough to try a long field goal. Tucker has had one of the best kicking seasons in NFL history and deserves a chance to hit a season-long field goal at the very least.

2. Mike Wallace will reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011. This is hardly going out on a limb with the first-year Raven just 16 yards shy of the mark, but Baltimore should make a conscious effort to get Wallace involved early after he was held to just four catches for 21 yards in Pittsburgh last week. Though the Ravens haven’t always utilized him well this season, Wallace has provided them with the vertical threat they sorely lacked after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure.

3. Andy Dalton will throw for two touchdowns against a secondary once again without Jimmy Smith. It’s not a coincidence that the five highest passing totals allowed by the Baltimore defense this season have come in games in which the No. 1 cornerback missed significant time, a clear indication of the lack of depth in the secondary. The Ravens found a fourth-round gem in rookie Tavon Young, but finding another outside corner should be a priority this offseason.

4. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown and produce 80 receiving yards in his final NFL game. Joe Flacco throws to Smith often anyway, so there’s no reason to think the 37-year-old won’t be featured heavily. The mantra “Play like a Raven” has become a cliché in recent years, but the former Carolina Panther epitomizes the idea with the kind of intensity and physicality on which the success of this franchise was built. The Ravens are fortunate to have had the future Hall of Famer pass their way.

5. The Ravens will win in Cincinnati for the first time in exactly five years in a 23-17 final. Rarely have the Ravens ever looked like they were going through the motions under Harbaugh, which is why I expect them to play hard despite having their playoff hopes crushed last week in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Bengals have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks while rumors have circulated about Marvin Lewis’ future. With an opportunity to send Steve Smith out on a positive note, the Ravens will win their first road game in over three months and finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record.

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Tucker living up to big contract and then some for Ravens

Posted on 29 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Kickers are a volatile bunch, making a long-term investment in one a risky proposition.

Former Pro Bowl selection Blair Walsh lost his job earlier this season just 16 months after Minnesota made him one of the highest-paid kickers in the NFL. Former Raven Billy Cundiff’s infamous miss in the 2011 AFC Championship came one day shy of exactly a year after he’d signed a five-year extension on the heels of a Pro Bowl campaign.

It’s safe to say Ravens kicker Justin Tucker has lived up to his record-setting contract and then some in the first season of a four-year, $16.8 million that included a record $10.8 million guaranteed for a kicker. His near-perfect season was recognized Thursday when the local media voted him the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season.

Tucker was named to his second Pro Bowl last week and has missed just one field goal in his last 19 games dating back to last December. He’s quite a weapon for an offense that struggled frequently in 2016.

“It is not only his volume of work; it is the kicks he has made in circumstances and yardage,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He has had a lot of long range kicks, a lot of wind and things to deal with in the stadiums we have played in. He has been spot-on. He has been excellent.”

An MVP honor being given to a kicker is viewed by many as an indictment on the rest of the 53-man roster — especially when it happens twice in four years — but that sentiment shouldn’t diminish Tucker’s greatness in 2016. Despite being tied for 26th in touchdowns scored this season, the Ravens could thank their kicker’s incredible consistency for keeping them in the playoff hunt until Pittsburgh eliminated them last Sunday.

Tucker has gone an exceptional 37-for-38 on field goal attempts with his only blemish a 34-yard attempt that was blocked on an impressive display of athleticism from New England’s Shea McClellin in Week 14. Twenty-four of those successful field goals have been from 40 yards or longer as he regularly turned drives stalling short of the red zone into valuable points.

He’s one of only five qualified kickers not to have missed an extra point this season, and he and Dan Bailey of Dallas are the only full-time kickers not to have missed one since the extra point became a 33-yard try last season.

Of the Ravens’ six wins by a single possession in 2016, Tucker hit three or more field goals three times and at least two field goals in all six. He’s also hit two game-winning field goals in the fourth quarter this season, extending his reputation for delivering in clutch situations. And after receiving some criticism for going just 8-for-19 on tries from 50 yards and beyond in the previous two seasons, Tucker has gone an amazing 10-for-10 on attempts from that long range in 2016.

In other words, Baltimore having no more than an average kicker this season would have likely resulted in a losing season and elimination from playoff contention a couple weeks sooner.

Upon being named team MVP, Tucker was sure to credit long snapper Morgan Cox and holder Sam Koch as well as Rosburg and kicking consultant Randy Brown for their parts in his success, but the most accurate kicker in NFL history deserves the praise he’s received and then some.

“We have a great group around here, and I can’t brag on them enough,” Tucker said. “To be able to turn our hard work into accolades is very cool, but at the same time, we know we still have work to do.”

Tucker hasn’t done it alone, but he’s the one making the big bucks.

And he was worth every penny in 2016 as other teams around the league experienced headaches at the kicker position.

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Ravens just not quite good enough when they needed to be

Posted on 26 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens and Steelers played a Christmas classic that removed any doubt about whether this rivalry is still among the best in the NFL.

Baltimore fought like hell until the bitter end and a four-point loss at Heinz Field is nothing to be ashamed of in the big picture, but this also wasn’t the AFC divisional round — as much as the one may have felt like a playoff game on Sunday. Being eliminated from postseason contention with a week to go in the regular season only reinforces a theme that’s become too familiar over the post-Super Bowl XLVII seasons under head coach John Harbaugh.

“We’re very close to being a very good football team,” Harbaugh said after the 31-27 loss. “We can be a great football team, but we’re not there yet. We haven’t gotten there this year, obviously. We’ve got to get there.”

Having now missed the playoffs in three of the last four years, the Ravens just aren’t quite good enough.

That was apparent on Sunday as a defense that had ranked in the top five all season inexplicably allowed three touchdowns in the final 12 minutes of play. There’s no excusing Dean Pees’ unit for surrendering a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in just over a minute that culminated with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown reaching over the goal line with nine seconds remaining.

Instead of cementing its status among the better units in franchise history, this defense has crumbled down the stretch, allowing 26 or more points in three straight games. You can’t put all of that on the absence of cornerback Jimmy Smith as an underwhelming pass rush was exposed badly against the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger rarely harassed in the pocket.

But before we put all blame on the defense for what amounted to the practical end of the Ravens’ season, let’s remember an 8-7 record is the result of a collection of missed opportunities and not just what was on display in Week 16.

An 0-4 October left very little margin for error while looking ahead to how difficult the December schedule would be. That loss to the woeful New York Jets in Week 7 is still painful and no less damaging two months later.

The Ravens offense may have come to play for the most part on Christmas, but how many times could we really say that about this below-average group in 2016? Marty Mornhinweg did little to spark the offense after the firing of coordinator Marc Trestman in October and showed no better commitment to the running game, instead allowing Joe Flacco to set a career high in passing attempts without the kind of productivity to justify the imbalance.

Even on Sunday, the Ravens entered Pittsburgh territory on all five of their drives in the first half and managed just six points by intermission. Tight end Darren Waller’s inability to secure a touchdown catch early in the fourth quarter served as a turning point as it forced Baltimore to settle for a short field goal and a 20-10 lead instead of a two-touchdown cushion.

Baltimore’s normally-superb special teams have been propped up by Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker, but a return game that stuck way too long with veteran Devin Hester did no favors for an offense that would have benefited from better field position all season. On Sunday, a bad snap cost the Ravens a chance for three points early in the second quarter.

Not good enough.

With the season finale in Cincinnati now a meaningless endeavor, attention shifts to the future.

Harbaugh’s not wrong in saying this team wasn’t that far away — they’re 8-7, not 3-12 — but the crucial question is whether the Ravens are moving in the right direction or falling further away. It’s difficult to say this is a better football team now than it was in September, and that’s a big concern.

The Ravens at least improved from last year’s 5-11 disaster that wasn’t all about injuries despite what many wanted to believe. That should be remembered when determining what changes need to be made this offseason.

Still, this team is depending heavily on a number of veterans who aren’t getting any younger or better at this stage of their careers. Unlike Flacco, who was relying on a 37-year-old receiver expected to retire at the end of the season and a 31-year-old tight end coming back from two major hip injuries, Roethlisberger turned to two Pro Bowl talents in their primes in Brown and Le’Veon Bell when it mattered most.

As we’ve now said for a few years, the Ravens need to find dynamic playmakers on both sides of the ball to make the difference in these close games that we see around the league on a weekly basis. The early returns from the 2016 draft have been very encouraging, but this roster is still feeling the effects of lackluster drafts in recent years.

Is this coaching staff capable of getting the most out of its players, especially younger ones who need to develop? There have been more questions about play-calling and game management this year than in the past, and the Ravens are one of the most penalized teams in the league.

Is Harbaugh willing to make changes to his staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball where the Ravens have struggled substantially in three of the last four seasons? Is the head coach’s message stale after nine seasons?

Questions that seemed silly just a couple seasons ago should now be asked with another quiet January in Baltimore. Of course, owner Steve Bisciotti has the only opinion that really matters, but both Harbaugh and general manager Ozzie Newsome have to explain why this team wasn’t good enough and how they plan to improve next year and moving forward.

Seats are getting warm now.

The Ravens weren’t quite good enough this year, but are they moving in the right direction or stuck in neutral?

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Yanda, Tucker, two other Ravens named to Pro Bowl

Posted on 20 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda continues to cement his legacy as one of the top players in franchise history after being named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl on Tuesday.

Kicker Justin Tucker and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley join him as second-time selections and fullback Kyle Juszczyk was named to the first Pro Bowl of his career. This marks the 11th straight year that the Ravens have had at least four players invited to the Pro Bowl.

Four other Baltimore players were named as second alternates for the 2017 Pro Bowl being played in Orlando on Jan. 29.

Despite dealing with a left shoulder injury that forced him to move from his usual right guard spot to left guard, Yanda has continued to play at a high level with Pro Football Focus grading him as the top guard in the NFL. The 32-year-old is now the fifth player to be named to six Pro Bowls with the Ravens, joining Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs.

The shoulder injury sustained on Oct. 9 sidelined him for three of the next four games, but the 2007 third-round pick avoided season-ending surgery by switching to the other side to better protect his damaged shoulder beginning in Week 11. His streak of six consecutive Pro Bowl selections is the second longest among NFL offensive linemen behind only Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas’ 10 straight.

“I want to thank my teammates and coaches for all the hard work we put in together,” Yanda said in a statement released by the Ravens. “Football is the ultimate team sport, and simply put, you don’t do anything in this league on your own.”

Tucker is in the midst of the best season of his career with his only missed field goal coming on a block in the Week 14 loss to New England. He is now 33-for-34 on the season and has made all 10 of his tries from 50 yards and beyond, which ties an NFL record.

Signed to a four-year, $16.8 million contract that included a record $10.8 million guaranteed for a kicker this summer, Tucker is the most accurate kicker in league history among those with at least 100 career attempts. The former undrafted free agent earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013.

Juszczyk, a 2013 fourth-round pick, has played more snaps than any fullback in the NFL and has caught 33 passes for 255 yards this season. The Ravens have used him extensively as a pass blocker in single-back sets to better protect quarterback Joe Flacco in the pocket.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers, coaches and fans as the AFC representative at fullback,” Juszczyk stated. “So much credit goes to the talented backs running behind me, the dominant offensive line in front of me, and a skillful quarterback throwing me the ball.”

Mosley’s selection was arguably the biggest surprise of the four as he ranks just third on the team in tackles (72) entering Week 16. However, the 2014 first-round pick ranks second on the Ravens with three interceptions and has graded out as the seventh-best linebacker — not including edge defenders — in the NFL, according to PFF.

Two years ago, Mosley became the first Ravens player to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Safety Eric Weddle, nose tackle Brandon Williams, tight end Dennis Pitta, and Suggs were all named second alternates to the AFC squad.

All four had arguments for inclusion, but Weddle was regarded by many as a lock as he is PFF’s top-graded overall safety this season. The AFC starting safeties are New England’s Devin McCourty and Eric Berry of Kansas City with Oakland’s Reggie Nelson serving as a reserve.

Former Ravens left guard Kelechi Osemele was named to his first Pro Bowl. He was one of a league-best seven Oakland Raiders to be selected.

The 2017 Pro Bowl will return to the traditional AFC-NFC matchup after three years of using a non-conference format.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 15 win over Philadelphia

Posted on 20 December 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens surviving in a 27-26 win over Philadelphia on Sunday to remain one game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t believe hangovers and letdowns in sports are as common as we think, but the Ravens had a difficult time moving past their performance against New England. Perhaps that partially explains why the offense showed such late recklessness and the defense reacted slowly to being punched in the mouth.

2. After losing touches to Kenneth Dixon in recent weeks, Terrance West made a statement with 122 yards from scrimmage, his highest total since Week 6. The Baltimore native’s career was a mess a year ago, but he’s done a fine job reestablishing himself as a legitimate NFL running back.

3. Praised by some recently as being better than the 2000 Ravens, the run defense gave up a season-worst 169 rushing yards to the Eagles and has allowed 3.9 yards per carry over the last five games. Philadelphia did a great job getting to the second level running the zone stretch.

4. Despite this hardly being his best campaign, Joe Flacco is 212 yards away from his first 4,000-yard season. The problem is he’s also on pace to shatter his career high for passing attempts (614 in 2013) and is averaging 6.5 yards per attempt, the second-lowest mark of his career.

5. Justin Tucker improved to a remarkable 10-for-10 on field goals from 50 yards and beyond for the season. That’s more than he’d made in his last two years combined. No one can accuse him of resting on his laurels after a big payday.

6. Barring an unforeseen spike in offensive production leading to a deep playoff run, I don’t see how the Ravens can stick with Marty Mornhinweg as their offensive coordinator in 2017. The spark for which they were looking when John Harbaugh fired Marc Trestman never materialized.

7. The Ravens rushed for a season-high 151 yards against the Eagles, but they’ve gained more than 3.8 yards per carry in an away game just once this year. As Terrell Suggs likes to say, you need to pack your defense and your running game to win on the road.

8. Speaking of Suggs, I couldn’t help but wonder which Ravens veterans we were possibly seeing for the final time at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. Because of age or contract status, Suggs, Steve Smith, Elvis Dumervil, Dennis Pitta, and Lardarius Webb are among the fair question marks.

9. His four-game absence in October put a damper on his rookie season, but Ronnie Stanley is playing more and more like the sixth overall pick that the Ravens envisioned this spring. It probably hasn’t hurt having five-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda playing next to him, either.

10. Shareece Wright showed in the second half of last season that he’s capable of playing at an acceptable level as a starting cornerback. The Ravens can only hope his solid — albeit mostly untested — performance against the Eagles puts him in the right frame of mind for Pittsburgh.

11. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have gone at least 6-2 at home in all but one season. The problem is a 10-20 regular-season road record since Super Bowl XLVII. They’ll need to win their first road games in three months over these next two weeks.

12. I’m late with this prediction, but my Ravens picks for this year’s Pro Bowl would be Tucker, Yanda, safety Eric Weddle, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

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