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How did Ravens offense stack up at each position in 2016?

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We know the sum of their parts didn’t add up to a trip to the postseason for the Ravens, but where exactly did their offensive players stack up at each position across the NFL in 2016?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few realistically have the time — or want to make the effort — to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop an informed opinion.

How many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans this season?

What about the Los Angeles Rams linebackers or the San Diego Chargers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither the NFL1000 nor PFF should be viewed as the gospel truth of evaluation and they have their limitations, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive players rank at their respective positions, according to those outlets:

QB Joe Flacco
NFL1000 ranking: 27th
PFF ranking: 26th
Skinny: These kinds of sites have rarely been kind to the veteran over the years (Football Outsiders also ranked him 29th), but Flacco must be better in 2017 if the Ravens are to return to the playoffs.

RB Terrance West
NFL1000 ranking: 38th
PFF ranking: 12th
Skinny: West may not be a game-changing back, but he did enough to establish himself as a regular contributor in an NFL backfield after his career was at a crossroads just a year ago.

RB Kenneth Dixon
NFL1000 ranking: 39th
PFF ranking: 23rd
Skinny: The 2016 fourth-round pick was trending upward late in the season and displays impressive toughness for a 212-pound back, making him the early favorite to be the starter in 2017.

FB Kyle Juszczyk
NFL1000 ranking: first
PFF ranking: first
Skinny: You can debate how much value a fullback brings to an offense in today’s NFL, but there was apparently no arguing over who was the best all-around talent at the position in 2016.

WR Steve Smith
NFL1000 ranking: 20th
PFF ranking: 37th
Skinny: The 37-year-old didn’t catch as many passes or finish with as many receiving yards as Mike Wallace, but replacing the retired Smith is clearly one of the top challenges of the offseason.

WR Mike Wallace
NFL1000 ranking: 24th
PFF ranking: 42nd
Skinny: The speedy Wallace profiles best as a No. 2 wideout, but the Ravens couldn’t have asked for much more from the 30-year-old as he posted his first 1,000-yard campaign since 2011.

WR Breshad Perriman
NFL1000 ranking: 78th
PFF ranking: 88th
Skinny: The 2015 first-round pick flashed at times, but these sites agree with the consensus opinion that the Ravens can’t count on the inconsistent Perriman to step into a starting role in 2017.

WR Kamar Aiken
NFL1000 ranking: 102nd
PFF ranking: 95th
Skinny: Targeted 77 fewer times than he was in 2015, Aiken didn’t receive enough opportunities, but he didn’t always take advantage of those chances, either, and is a likely departure via free agency.

TE Dennis Pitta
NFL1000 ranking: 16th
PFF ranking: 50th
Skinny: The fact that Pitta caught more passes than any tight end and was ranked so low by both outlets reflects a yards per catch (8.5) average that was 55th of 56 players with 60 or more receptions.

TE Crockett Gillmore
NFL1000 ranking: 45th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2014 third-round pick showed exciting potential in 2015, but he’s played in just seven of Baltimore’s last 20 regular-season games because of various injuries.

TE Darren Waller
NFL1000 ranking: 75th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens have quite an inventory of tight ends — all with baggage — but Waller has the most upside if the former receiver puts in the work and continues learning the finer points of the position.

TE Nick Boyle
NFL1000 ranking: 85th
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Delaware product looks like a reliable blocker as a No. 2 or No. 3 tight end, but two performance-enhancing drug suspensions in two years make him difficult to trust in the long run.

LT Ronnie Stanley
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among left tackles
PFF ranking: 25th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: A four-game absence due to a foot injury disrupted an encouraging rookie season, but Stanley allowed only one sack over his final eight games and made PFF’s top 25 players under age 25 list.

RT Rick Wagner
NFL1000 ranking: 21st among right tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among all offensive tackles
Skinny: Wagner isn’t a Pro Bowl talent, but the Ravens would be wise to retain his rock-solid services if the free-agent bidding doesn’t get out of hand this offseason.

G Marshal Yanda
NFL1000 ranking: first among all guards
PFF ranking: first among all guards
Skinny: It’s amazing that Yanda continued to play at an elite level after a left shoulder injury eventually forced him to move from right guard to the left side, but he’s just a special player.

G Alex Lewis
NFL1000 ranking: 35th among all guards
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Switching between tackle and guard so frequently in the first half of the season hurt the rookie’s development, but Lewis was settling in nicely at left guard before his Week 10 ankle injury.

G Vladimir Ducasse
NFL1000 ranking: 47th among all guards
PFF ranking: 59th
Skinny: Re-signed to the roster in October, the 29-year-old played the way you’d realistically expect him to and shouldn’t be viewed as anything more than veteran depth if he were to be re-signed.

C Jeremy Zuttah
NFL1000 ranking: 26th
PFF ranking: 13th
Skinny: Though PFF graded Zuttah as a slightly above-average center in 2016, the Ravens believe upgrading this position is a major key to improving their below-average offense next season.

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Ravens back in familiar position with Smith’s expected retirement

Posted on 28 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The free-agent signing of Steve Smith more than two years ago helped rectify one of the biggest mistakes in Ravens history.

But his “89 percent” likely retirement following Sunday’s season finale in Cincinnati puts the franchise back in an all-too-familiar position.

Even at age 37 and coming off a horrific Achilles injury, Smith still served as quarterback Joe Flacco’s most reliable weapon in a trying season. He may not have enjoyed the same team success in his three seasons in purple, but Smith put up similar numbers to those produced by Anquan Boldin, the man he eventually replaced after a post-Super Bowl XLVII trade blew up in the Ravens’ faces in the 2013 season.

“I feel very fortunate to be with him,” Flacco said. “His competitive nature and the way he plays his game and the talent that he has, he’s definitely unique and a rare breed. Anytime you get a chance to play with a guy that’s really a legend in this game is, count yourself lucky.”

Once the Ravens sort out their offensive coaching staff for next season, replacing Smith will be one of the top priorities of the offseason.

The cupboard isn’t completely bare at wide receiver with Mike Wallace under contract for 2017 and on the cusp of completing a 1,000-yard season, but the speedy veteran fits better as the No. 2 wideout to stretch the field vertically with explosive plays. Expecting him to be the well-rounded top guy would likely fetch similar results to what happened in 2013 when Torrey Smith was miscast as a No. 1 receiver.

There’s also 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman, but injuries and inconsistency have made it difficult for the Ravens to plan for him to be anything more than a No. 3 option with upside entering next season. It’s much too soon to declare Perriman a bust, but he has a lot of work to do to become a integral cog.

Kamar Aiken led the Ravens with 944 receiving yards in 2015 and has shown physicality that you like to see in a possession receiver, but he’s also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent and has been unhappy with his diminished role this season. That leads you to believe he’ll be looking to move on this winter.

Whether general manager Ozzie Newsome pursues an accomplished veteran such as Pierre Garcon in free agency or once again dips his toes into draft waters that have been unkind in the past, the Ravens will need a receiver to aggressively work the intermediate portion of the field and to gain yards after the catch. Even with his speed not being what it was in his early days with Carolina, Smith always played bigger and tougher than his 5-foot-9, 195-pound frame suggested.

“He’s powerful. He’s not very big, but he’s so explosive, so powerful, can change directions like that,” Flacco said. “He’s just so strong for his size — not even just for his size. He’s just a strong dude. The ferociousness that he runs with the ball, how he runs with the ball, so many things. I think that comes out in people saying ‘competitiveness.’ He’s just got a lot of ability, and he’s not afraid.”

Of course, Smith brought much more to the table than what showed up in the box score.

Like Boldin, he provided attitude to an offense led by the even-keeled Flacco. His intensity occasionally ruffled feathers — including when he got into a fight with veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb during his first minicamp in Owings Mills — but teammates on both sides of the ball respected that fire.

Smith brought the kind of swagger to the offense that was typically found on many Ravens defenses of yesteryear. Of course, performance on the field is paramount, but that ferocity is something Baltimore frankly needs more of after missing the playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

The intangibles will be difficult to replace, no matter how the Ravens go about replacing Smith’s production.

“Whether it is walking around the locker room yelling at someone or on the field [during] one-on-ones, he is definitely one of a kind,” said safety Eric Weddle, who shared a close friendship with Smith long before he signed with Baltimore this past offseason. “You have to get adjusted to that, just his personality and how big it is and to know this is who he is. This is what drives him. This is what makes him special.”

And with Smith’s decision to walk away, the Ravens are back in a familiar spot looking for someone special at wide receiver.

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Jimmy Smith practices fully for second straight day

Posted on 01 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens appear set to welcome back their top cornerback to action as Jimmy Smith practiced fully for the second straight day on Thursday.

Counting down to Sunday’s meeting with the Miami Dolphins, the Baltimore secondary is on track to be at full strength in a pivotal game in the AFC playoff picture. Miami ranks 28th in passing yards per game, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill is eighth in the NFL in yards per attempt, a reflection of how heavily the Dolphins have leaned on their running game this season.

Miami could be without former first-round receiver DeVante Parker (back), but Smith’s return would help greatly in covering 2015 Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry and vertical threat Kenny Stills. Smith missed the last two game with a back injury described as “muscular” by head coach John Harbaugh.

“Hopefully, he’s back. I’m not going to say he is or not,” safety Eric Weddle said. “He’s looked good the last couple days, so let’s just hope he doesn’t have a setback. Obviously, you get one of your best corners back, it’s going to help you.”

Guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (thigh) were full participants after sitting out Wednesday’s workout. Meanwhile, linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah were given a veteran day off as has become routine in recent Thursday practices.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), running back Lorenzo Taliferro (hamstring), and guard Alex Lewis (ankle) were once again absent from practice. Second-year running back Buck Allen also sat out with what was labeled a non-football injury, but he was seen in the building on Thursday.

In addition to Parker, the Dolphins did not have center Mike Pouncey (hip) or linebacker Jelani Jenkins (knee/hand) on the field for Thursday’s practice. Left tackle Brandon Albert (wrist) and left guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) were limited participants for the second straight day and appear on track to return after missing last week’s game against San Francisco.

Miami middle linebacker Kiko Alonso (hamstring) was added to the injury report as a limited participant.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Javorius Allen (non-football injury), TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (back), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Jelani Jenkins (knee/hand), WR DeVante Parker (back), C Mike Pouncey (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Branden Albert (wrist), LB Kiko Alonso (hamstring), G Jermon Bushrod (calf), RB Kenyan Drake (knee), CB Xavien Howard (knee), DT Earl Mitchell (back), G Laremy Tunsil (shoulder)

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Jimmy Smith returns to Ravens practice after two-game absence

Posted on 30 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens welcomed cornerback Jimmy Smith back to the practice field as they prepare for Sunday’s showdown with the red-hot Miami Dolphins.

After missing the last two games with a back injury, Smith appeared to be working on a limited basis as the Ravens practiced indoors due to Wednesday’s rain. Head coach John Harbaugh described Smith as “close” to returning on Monday, so his presence two days later was a good sign for his Week 13 status.

Despite Smith not taking part in all drills during the open portion of practice, he was listed as a full participant on Wednesday’s injury report.

Five players were missing from Wednesday’s workout, a list that included wide receiver Kamar Aiken (thigh), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (hamstring), tight end Crockett Gillmore (hamstring), and guards Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Alex Lewis (ankle). Yanda was given Wednesday off for the second straight week.

Aiken was the only surprise among the nonparticipants, but his head coach downplayed his absence.

“He should be fine for Sunday,” Harbaugh said. “He had a bruise. We will see how it develops.”

A scary moment during Wednesday’s practice occurred when wide receiver Steve Smith appeared to tweak his right leg while going against cornerback Shareece Wright in a 1-on-1 drill. Smith limped off and was laboring on the sideline, but he finished practice without any further issue.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) was present and participating fully after playing in his first game since Week 5 on Sunday. His fourth-quarter strip-sack against Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton helped preserve a 19-14 win for the Ravens.

“I was very excited,” Harbaugh said. “I told you before I’d be happy to see him out there making plays, and right on cue, he did it. He looked like himself. He looked very explosive. I know he’s excited also.”

The Dolphins saw the limited return of left tackle Brandon Albert (wrist) and left guard Laremy Tunsil (shoulder) to practice, but starting center Mike Pouncey (hip) remained sidelined. None of those three starters on their offensive line played against San Francisco in Week 12.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (back)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Kenyan Drake (knee), LB Jelani Jenkins (knee/hand), DT Earl Mitchell (back), WR DeVante Parker (back), C Mike Pouncey (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Brandon Albert (wrist), G Jermon Bushrod (calf), CB Xavien Howard (knee), G Laremy Tunsil (shoulder)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 29 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens topping Cincinnati in a 19-14 final on Sunday to remain tied for first place in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t know what else there is to say about the excellence of Justin Tucker, but I sure hope he receives an opportunity one of these days to attempt a 65-yard field goal to set the NFL record. And then gets another chance to kick an even longer one.

2. The Ravens have more field goals (27) than anyone in the NFL, but they rank ahead of only Houston and Los Angeles with 19 touchdowns. That combination has earned them a 6-5 record, but it’s not a formula that will work against upper-tier teams.

3. Coming off his second Achilles injury in a four-year period and currently playing with a torn biceps, Terrell Suggs played a season-high 61 snaps and had two strip-sacks. Though not the consistent force he was in his prime, he’s earned even more respect as a player this season.

4. Don’t forget that Sam Koch’s safety went down as a run for minus-23 yards in the final statistics. Otherwise, the Baltimore running game gained 115 yards on 29 carries, a respectable average of just under 4.0 yards per attempt compared to the official 3.1 mark.

5. It’s difficult to recall a defensive line batting down four passes on a single drive, let alone doing it on the final series of a one-score game. It was a brilliant way to offset an inconsistent pass rush for much of the afternoon.

6. Nothing illustrated the up-and-down nature of the offense more than its third-down conversion rate against the Bengals. After going a strong 5-for-10 in a 16-point first half, the Ravens were 0-for-6 after intermission. Baltimore ranks last in the NFL with a 33.3 percent conversion rate on the season.

7. The decision to call an end-around hand-off to Mike Wallace on the final drive was questionable at best, but I applaud any extra attempts to get him the football otherwise. His explosive speed needs to be utilized as much as possible.

8. It came down to the numbers game with Elvis Dumervil returning, but Za’Darius Smith being a healthy inactive illustrates how much finding an edge pass rusher remains a priority this offseason. Rookie Matt Judon flashes potential, but Smith’s second season has been a disappointment.

9. Kamar Aiken caught a pass to move the chains on a key third down on each of the first two scoring drives and wasn’t targeted again after that. No one expected him to be Baltimore’s leading receiver again this season, but he shouldn’t have fewer receptions than Kyle Juszczyk.

10. I’m still surprised how reluctant some have been to embrace this defense. It may lack much star power, but this has been a top 5 unit all year. If your standard is the 2000 Ravens or you’re waiting for the next Ray Lewis to appear, you’ll never be satisfied.

11. Many are clamoring for the Ravens to use the no-huddle offense even more, but it bogged down after a fast start against Cincinnati. This group hasn’t shown the kind of precision or communication required to run it exclusively, but it can still be used plenty.

12. Coaches always receive criticism when teams lose, but John Harbaugh deserves praise for the way he handled the game-ending safety. He said all teams have that strategy in their special-teams playbook, but I highly doubt that.

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Ravens list Stanley as doubtful to play against Oakland

Posted on 30 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens do not expect to have their starting left tackle for Sunday’s meeting with Pro Bowl pass rusher Khalil Mack and the Oakland Raiders.

Rookie Ronnie Stanley was listed as doubtful for the Week 4 contest after missing practices all week with a lingering foot injury. Prior to the release of the final injury report, head coach John Harbaugh did not express concern that Stanley’s injury was a long-term issue even though he also missed a day of practice with the ailment last week.

“I don’t see it that way from what I’ve been told,” Harbaugh said. “I still think he has a chance for Sunday. You’ll see the [injury] report coming out later, but we’re not going to rule him out.”

Assuming Stanley does not play, it will be interesting to see how the Ravens proceed at left tackle with rookie left guard Alex Lewis (concussion) only returning to practice on a limited basis on Friday. With Lewis playing left tackle at Nebraska and seeing extensive time at that position in the preseason, many have concluded that he would serve as the true backup to Stanley at left tackle. However, Lewis’ absence during most of the practice time this week could lead to third-year tackle James Hurst receiving the start.

Lewis, a 2016 fourth-round pick, was listed as questionable on the final injury report.

Veteran outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil will make his 2016 season debut after missing the first three games while continuing to work his way back from offseason foot surgery. He was officially deemed to be questionable, but even Harbaugh acknowledged that the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher would play against the Raiders after practicing fully all week.

“It’s going to be interesting to see how he does,” Harbaugh said. “He hasn’t played in a long time — no preseason. Who knows? Maybe he’ll come out there like gangbusters or maybe he’ll have to knock some rust of. We’re just going to have to find out.”

To no surprise, rookie running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was listed as doubtful after only practicing on a limited basis this week. He would figure to have a good chance to make his season debut against Washington next week if his knee responds well to more practice time.

The Ravens listed defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (thigh) as questionable, but both were full participants in practice on Thursday and Friday. Return specialist Devin Hester (thigh) is also questionable after being listed as a limited participant all week.

The Raiders officially ruled out offensive tackles Menelik Watson (calf) and Austin Howard (calf), which likely opens the door for rookie Vadal Alexander to start at right tackle.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Ed Hochuli.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday calls for mostly cloudy skies, temperatures reaching the mid-70s, and only a slight chance of precipitation with light winds.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), CB Sheldon Price (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), RS Devin Hester (thigh), G Alex Lewis (concussion), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), G John Urschel (shoulder)

OAKLAND
OUT: S Nate Allen (quad), OT Austin Howard (ankle), OT Menelik Watson (calf)
QUESTIONABLE: C Rodney Hudson (knee), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), OT Matt McCants (knee)

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Left side of Ravens offensive line uncertain for Sunday

Posted on 29 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to face one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, the Ravens don’t know what the left side of their offensive line will look like against Oakland on Sunday.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot) and left guard Alex Lewis (concussion) were absent from practice for the second straight day, leaving their status up in the air for Week 4.

After being spotted in a walking boot in the locker room on Wednesday, Stanley was not wearing one on Thursday despite not talking to reporters. The 2016 first-round pick played in Week 3 despite missing a day of practice, but the foot issue has lingered, a definite concern with 2015 Pro Bowl defensive end Khalil Mack looming on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage on Sunday.

Lewis sustained a concussion late in the fourth quarter in Jacksonville and was replaced by Ryan Jensen at left guard. James Hurst is listed as the primary backup at left tackle on the Week 4 depth chart released by the public relations staff.

“We felt very good about Alex and Ronnie, and we will see what the trainers and doctors say,” offensive coordinator Marc Trestman said. “John [Harbaugh] determines at the end of the week how that goes, but we feel good about the guys we have.”

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (thigh) were full participants on Thursday after missing the opening practice of the week. Running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was a limited participant for the second straight day.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) practiced fully once again and confirmed that he will make his season debut on Sunday. Veteran teammate Terrell Suggs broke the news on Wednesday that Dumervil would play against the Raiders.

“I guess my guy already said it,” said Dumervil as he laughed. “‘That is what we are shooting for.’ I can’t use that anymore. I’m excited to go out in front of our crowd.”

Meanwhile, the Raiders were without starting right tackle Menelik Watson (calf) for the second consecutive day of practice.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (concussion), CB Sheldon Price (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), RS Devin Hester (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Kamar Aiken (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), G John Urschel (shoulder)

OAKLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Nate Allen (quadriceps), OT Austin Howard (ankle), OT Menelik Watson (calf)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Rodney Hudson (knee), RB Taiwan Jones (knee), OT Matt McCants (knee)

 

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 2 win in Cleveland

Posted on 19 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens completing the second-largest comeback in franchise history with a 25-20 victory at Cleveland on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After a quiet performance in the opener, C.J. Mosley came up with the game-saving interception in the closing seconds, but he also added six tackles — two for losses — and a quarterback knockdown. This was the kind of high-impact performance we didn’t see from Mosley last season.

2. You had to feel good for Dennis Pitta having that kind of game in his return to the place where he suffered his second career-threatening hip injury. He took full advantage of the defense respecting the Ravens’ speed and effectively worked underneath against Cleveland.

3. It will be interesting to see how Kenneth Dixon fares when he returns, because the running game hasn’t been getting it done. Averaging 3.0 yards per carry, the Ravens need better blocking from their offensive line, but neither Justin Forsett nor Terrance West looks like a true No. 1 back.

4. His return for a defensive two-point conversion grabbed the attention, but Tavon Young is quietly playing at a high level for a rookie fourth-rounder. Sharing time with Anthony Levine as the slot cornerback, Young made two key open-field tackles on the final defensive series of the game.

5. Never one to shy away from being aggressive, John Harbaugh forgoing a 45-yard field goal try to go for a fourth-and-2 to start the second quarter was a panic move, especially with a running game that’s been abysmal in those spots. Take the points from your high-paid kicker that early.

6. Others have played well, but Timmy Jernigan has been Baltimore’s best defensive player through two games. The 2014 second-round pick leads the team with two sacks, four tackles for a loss, and five quarterback hits and has provided a much-needed interior rush presence.

7. The presence of veterans Steve Smith and Mike Wallace figured to impact the production of Kamar Aiken, but the leading receiver last season has been an afterthought so far with just two receptions on three targets. The Ravens would certainly like to get him more involved.

8. I was impressed with Browns rookie Corey Coleman, who caught two touchdowns and went over 100 receiving yards. With Josh Gordon coming off suspension, Cleveland could have had a fun little passing game if not for the left shoulder injury to Josh McCown that’s believed to be serious.

9. For a team that regularly says it takes pride in being physical, the Ravens sure like to use shotgun formations and run outside in short-yardage situations.

10. It’s no secret that third-down defense was an issue on Sunday, but Dean Pees’ unit deserves credit for settling down midway through the second quarter. After the Browns converted six of their first seven third downs, the Ravens made stops on six of the final eight.

11. Not lost in victory was poor clock management late. First, Forsett ran out of bounds with 3:00 left. The Ravens proceeded to take their final timeout, throw an incompletion, and kick a field goal with 2:53 remaining instead of forcing Cleveland’s final timeout or taking it to the two-minute warning.

12. We always talk about Joe Flacco having an even-keeled personality, but you could tell how fired up he was after the win, complimenting his teammates for being a “bunch of freaking men” in coming back. No matter their deficiencies, the Ravens always have a chance with him at the helm.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 1 win over Buffalo

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the 2016 season with a 13-7 win over Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Joe Flacco easily could have been satisfied with a win in his first game back from knee surgery, but you could tell he wasn’t pleased with the performance and the failure to further exploit “cover 0” looks from Buffalo. I like that kind of attitude in a quarterback.

2. No one envisioned Shareece Wright as the Week 1 defensive MVP after a rough preseason, but he was outstanding against the run with three tackles for a loss and 11 tackles overall. His confidence can be fleeting — as it is for many cornerbacks — but he played with plenty of it.

3. Much was made about 10 different Ravens players making catches, but you wonder if offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s attempt to get so many players involved led to the clunky showing in the second half. Thirteen points were enough on Sunday, but this offense remains a work in progress.

4. It wasn’t surprising since he essentially took Carl Davis’ roster spot, but Michael Pierce being on the field with Brandon Williams gave the Ravens plenty of beef inside against a Buffalo running game that tried to avoid running between the tackles. That should really help in short-yardage situations.

5. After starting all last season, Kamar Aiken and Crockett Gillmore saw a total of three targets on Sunday. You can debate whether that’s a good thing or not, but it does illustrate how much deeper this group of pass catchers is.

6. The time is now for Timmy Jernigan to elevate his game as a third-year player. He collected a sack and had a tackle for a loss as a disruptive force up front. Improved discipline and health are the only factors holding him back from being an above-average starter.

7. The entire offensive line was less than stellar, but the struggles of Jeremy Zuttah stood out as a cadence issue led to a lost fumble on a snap and he whiffed blocking Jerry Hughes on a sack that ended another drive in the first half.

8. He’s received much criticism, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees put together an excellent game plan that left Tyrod Taylor confused and guessing as to who was rushing and who was dropping into coverage. The challenge will now be effectively disguising fronts and coverages every week.

9. You had to feel great for Steve Smith being back on the field after a horrible Achilles injury, but I’m sure he’d like to have more than 19 receiving yards on nine targets. It will be interesting to see how his role evolves with improved overall talent at receiver.

10. The whiff on a potential sack leading to Buffalo’s longest offensive play was ugly, but Albert McClellan played well against the run in Courtney Upshaw’s old spot. His tackle of Reggie Bush for a loss derailed Buffalo’s opening drive of the second half that ended with a missed field goal.

11. Mike Wallace offered the line of the day on his 66-yard touchdown catch when he said, “If you have a safety on me, he’s dead every time.” You have to love that kind of speed — and swagger — that was sorely lacking in this passing game a year ago.

12. It’s difficult to evaluate the pass rush as the Ravens wanted to keep Taylor in the pocket, but edge rushers didn’t generate consistent disruption against backup offensive tackles. Getting Elvis Dumervil back will certainly help, but Terrell Suggs will hopefully show more as he knocks off rust.

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Ravens offense trying to turn potential into production in 2016

Posted on 07 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This Ravens offense looks promising on paper.

Some observers have even dared to say this is the most talented collection of skill players in the history of the franchise. Of course, we know that bar isn’t all that high with Baltimore being much more known for its defense over the last two decades.

But that doesn’t mean ninth-year quarterback Joe Flacco is ready to call this the deepest group he’s had around him, either.

“I think that has yet to be seen,” Flacco said. “We have to go out there and prove that we’re weapons and that we can do it in live games on Sundays. I think it’s a very promising group and I’m very excited about it, but we have to go out there and prove it.”

It’s easy to be excited about the healthy returns of Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman, and Dennis Pitta as well as the additions of veteran free agent Mike Wallace and rookie fourth-rounder Chris Moore, but the most critical factor will be how well the offensive line performs with two new pieces on Flacco’s blindside. From the moment he arrived in Owings Mills this spring, first-round pick Ronnie Stanley has looked the part of a starting left tackle, but the regular season brings an even faster speed to which he’ll need to adjust.

Fellow rookie Alex Lewis may join him in the starting lineup after third-year guard John Urschel missed much of the summer with a shoulder injury. For either option at left guard, replacing the accomplished Kelechi Osemele won’t be easy and will make life for Stanley even more challenging.

That left side of the offensive line is sure to be tested right away by a Buffalo defense that looks undermanned but will try to throw the kitchen sink at inexperienced linemen. Bills head coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was very complimentary of both Stanley and Lewis on Wednesday, but he’s also aware of their inexperience and will try to exploit it.

“I’ve never seen it before where two [rookies] start on the offensive line because that is tough,” Ryan said in a conference call with the Baltimore media. “There’s so much to it. But those two guys I’m sure have done a great job studying and things. But it’s not easy, that’s for sure.”

The offensive line protecting Flacco in the pocket is a nonnegotiable prerequisite for success, but opening holes in the running game proved to be a problem last season as the Ravens rushed for an underwhelming 3.9 yards per carry. An offense regularly trailing in most of its games a year ago was predictably going to lean more on the pass, but offensive coordinator Marc Trestman struggled to commit to the ground attack even when opportunities were there.

We know Flacco is at his best as a passer when he has the support of a strong running game, and head coach John Harbaugh has made it clear that improving in that area is a must.

Trying to figure out how the carries will be distributed will be interesting as veteran Justin Forsett is still expected to begin the year as the starter, but both Terrance West and the presently-injured Kenneth Dixon figure to factor more heavily into the equation as the season progresses. It sounds fine to say you’ll use a by-committee approach, but there’s a fine line between giving multiple backs opportunities and allowing the right one to get into a rhythm.

That trio of backs along with 2014 fourth-round pick Buck Allen all have their strengths and weaknesses, but at least one will need to prove capable of being a No. 1 kind of talent when it matters most.

“In the end, wisdom is in the results,” Harbaugh said. “We will all be judged how well we run the ball as a group. My goal is for all those guys to have success running the ball. I think they all bring something different to the table, style-wise [and] ability-wise.”

The same general thought process applies at wide receiver and tight end where health is clearly a factor for the 37-year-old Smith coming off an awful Achilles injury last November and for the 31-year-old Pitta, who hasn’t played in a game in nearly two years and missed most of training camp with a broken finger this summer. Even if those two stay healthy to go along with the rest of the bunch, the challenge is there for Trestman and Flacco to spread the ball around in a way that’s most productive for the overall offense.

More options in the vertical passing game will ideally open up the short-to-intermediate portion of the field for Smith, Pitta, Kamar Aiken, and Crockett Gillmore, but that comes with the understanding that there will be times when the Ravens want to best utilize that speed with certain substitution packages.

Whether you’re a talented first-year player or a 16th-year receiver with Hall of Fame credentials, there’s no room for ego when trying to bounce back from a 5-11 season.

“You know you are going to get your plays, but you are also ecstatic to be able to clear it out and open it up for other guys,” Smith said. “[If] I go down and run a route to open it up for Mike and Mike catches it, then I’m on the hunt. I get to peel back on somebody and knock the s–t out of them. That is what I am excited about, so I can play my role for Mike and Mike can play his role.

“Anyone can catch the ball, but can you be a team player to clear it out and understand the integrity of the play and what you are supposed to be doing for the other guy? That is the ultimate team player right there.”

The Ravens signed Wallace to provide an established speed presence on the outside that the offense sorely lacked a year ago, but the wild card for the aerial attack is Perriman, who is finally healthy after two different knee injuries and flashed his ability in the preseason finale last week.

With a 6-foot-2, 215-pound frame and blinding speed, Perriman is the type of talent at the wide receiver position that the Ravens have lacked throughout their history. We still have no idea whether his talent and size will translate to NFL success, but general manager Ozzie Newsome selected him in the first round last year to help take this offense to a different level.

Patience will be key, but the Ravens hope Perriman can eventually be a major factor in transforming a solid offense into a great one.

“We haven’t had a ton of work together, but [we] just have to keep it simple,” Flacco said. “Hit him in the chest and give him the chance to make plays. I think the more plays that he’s given the chance to make, the more he’s going the make and the more his confidence is going to go up.”

It all sounds great and looks promising a few days out from the season opener, but the Bills will be the first team to give the Ravens offense a real idea of how good it is. Potential is there, but questions exist wherever you look, including with Flacco as he comes back from the first serious injury of his entire career.

The schedule sets up for a potential fast start with only one playoff team from last year on the docket before the Ravens hit their bye in Week 8. But how quickly will it all come together for an offense with several new pieces as well as familiar faces returning from injury?

“I think I know what to expect from these guys,” Flacco said. “I’m really just excited about getting out there and doing it and making sure that we do it — not just go out there and play around. I want to go out there and I want to play well. That’s what I expect from our guys, and I think that’s what everybody else expects, too.”

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