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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss at Kansas City

Posted on 11 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having their three-game winning streak snapped in a 27-24 loss to Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Depending on your perspective, an overtime defeat to the AFC’s best team can be viewed as a moral victory or the “same old Ravens” with a highly-ranked defense wilting late, but it’s tough not to lament a missed opportunity with Pittsburgh losing and other wild-card contenders winning.

2. After the defense did an impressive job against Patrick Mahomes for much of the game, his fourth-and-9 wizardry was more a greater of him being the best player on the field than a colossal collapse from the Ravens like last year against Cincinnati. Sometimes you just have to accept that.

3. Playing in one of the most difficult road environments in the NFL, Lamar Jackson showed poise and ranked fifth in ESPN’s total QBR metric for Week 14. A limited passing game remains a concern, but the rookie made some key throws, none bigger than his go-ahead touchdown to John Brown.

4. Matt Judon was the best Raven on the field as he registered a sack, five quarterback hits, and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. His second-half surge has been critical for both the present and future with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to become free agents.

5. Between Marlon Humphrey being late lining up over Tyreek Hill and Eric Weddle failing to tackle Hill to prevent the first down, I found Kansas City’s third-and-19 conversion late in the first half to be a bigger gaffe than the aforementioned fourth down. It led to a Chiefs touchdown, too.

6. It’s difficult to predict how much change this roster might endure this offseason, but improving at the safety position figures to be fairly high on the priority list. It wasn’t a stellar day for Weddle or Chuck Clark, who at least recorded Baltimore’s first interception in over two months.

7. Kenneth Dixon was as impressive running the ball as he’s looked since his rookie season, rushing for a touchdown and 59 yards on just eight carries. You just keep your fingers crossed that he’ll stay healthy now.

8. Perhaps Jackson’s most impressive play of the game was his scramble drill resulting in a dump-off to Dixon for a 21-yard reception on a first-and-20 situation early in the second half. That play would have been a sack or incompletion for all but maybe a couple quarterbacks in the league.

9. Remember how mediocre the special teams were in the first half of the season? The Ravens now rank fifth in Football Outsiders’ latest season ratings. Cyrus Jones’ return ability has played a big role in that, but the rest of the group has tightened up as well.

10. The Ravens didn’t attempt a pass on first down until the first play of the second half and did it just five times total. Why’s that unusual? One of the biggest cries from the analytics community is to pass more frequently on first down. Again, zigging while everyone else zags.

11. Suggs played a season-high 70 snaps and registered a half-sack, another quarterback hit, and a pass breakup. The 36-year-old has played well of late, but that workload has to be concerning. Meanwhile, Tyus Bowser saw only 14 snaps and Tim Williams was essentially a healthy scratch.

12. Many hoped Jackson playing quarterback might jump-start fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst, but the rookie tight end failed to register a catch for the second straight week. This shouldn’t be shocking given his early-season foot injury and the recent history of rookie tight ends, but it’s no less disappointing.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-16 win over Atlanta

Posted on 04 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving their playoff hopes by way of a 26-16 win over Atlanta, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We’d be talking differently if the defense had been even average in the first half when time of possession was balanced and the offense bumbled more than rumbled. If Atlanta scores to go up 17-7 after taking over at midfield with 3:05 left, how does the second half change?

2. The sum is greater than the parts for a defense continuing to rank first in points allowed and total yards. No individual really stands out as being all that deserving of making the Pro Bowl, but this group was terrific against the Falcons.

3. Marlon Humphrey would top my list of defensive players to at least consider as he currently ranks as the 10th-best cornerback in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. His strong play on Sunday continued a surge that began after he returned from his October thigh injury.

4. Rewatching the game honestly made me feel worse about how Lamar Jackson played in his first road start, but the difference between him and other quarterbacks is what he’ll always provide with his legs if healthy. Traditional passers have bad games, but what else are they contributing when they do?

5. Matt Ryan had thrown for 250 yards in every game this season and Julio Jones had registered six straight 100-yard receiving days before being smothered by Baltimore. Ryan had only 54 passing yards in the second half while Jones didn’t have a catch after the game’s first drive. Crazy.

6. Jackon’s fumble returned 74 yards for a touchdown by Vic Beasley was cringe-worthy enough, but Kenneth Dixon didn’t earn any pats on the back for his effort to bring Beasley down. Dixon did finish with 37 rushing yards in only his second game of the last two seasons.

7. Between Michael Pierce destroying a double team on the fourth-and-1 stop in the second quarter and Brandon Williams pressuring Ryan on Tavon Young’s fumble return for a touchdown, the defense received excellent play from its two mountains in the middle.

8. The two-minute drill resulting in a field goal late in the first half wasn’t pretty and was even head-scratching toward the end, but it was good to see Jackson operate that scoring drive as fair questions persist about what this offense will do if required to go into catch-up mode.

9. With Austin Hooper’s late score, the Ravens have now allowed a touchdown catch to a tight end in five of the last six games. I’m sure Kansas City’s Travis Kelce will bring some restless nights for Wink Martindale this week.

10. Chris Moore finished with more offensive snaps than John Brown and Michael Crabtree while Buck Allen only played on special teams in Atlanta. This offense sure has changed quickly, hasn’t it?

11. Sam Koch being a career 5-for-5 passer for 69 yards is one of the cooler stat lines in team history. The 13th-year punter is a good athlete and doesn’t get enough credit for how good he’s been for a long time. He throws a pretty ball, too.

12. How often do you see a 14-play drive lasting more than eight minutes result in a not-exactly-a-gimme 45-yard field goal? As I wrote earlier this week, embrace the weirdness. Maybe that should be this team’s new hashtag the rest of the way.

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Ravens-Falcons: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 02 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With Joe Flacco inactive for the third straight week, rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will take his show on the road for the Ravens.

The 2018 first-round pick from Louisville will make the first away start of his career as the Ravens try to extend their two-game winning streak and improve their playoff positioning with a victory in Atlanta. A win and a solid performance very well could mean Jackson keeping the starting job despite Flacco (right hip) returning to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

As expected, running back Kenneth Dixon is active and will play for the first time since Week 1. Dixon was activated from injured reserve on Saturday as former starter Alex Collins was placed on IR with a foot injury. Despite being listed as questionable with an ankle injury, Gus Edwards will make his second straight start and is aiming for his third consecutive 100-yard rushing game, something no Baltimore running back has accomplished since Justin Forsett in 2014.

Slot cornerback Tavon Young will make his return after missing last week’s game with a groin injury. That’s a positive development for a defense trying to slow the Falcons’ fourth-ranked passing attack.

With Tony Jefferson out with an ankle injury, second-year safety Chuck Clark will make his first NFL start.

A surprising healthy scratch was fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, who had played 16 offensive snaps in each of the last two games. However, the Ravens could easily use blocking tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams to account for those fullback snaps.

The Falcons have the daunting task of slowing a Baltimore rushing attack that’s collected more than 500 rushing yards over the last two weeks, but the return of 2017 Pro Bowl linebacker Deion Jones is significant. Jones hasn’t played since injuring his foot in Week 1.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Brad Allen.

With the roof of Mercedes-Benz Stadium scheduled to be open for the 1 p.m. kickoff, the Weather.com forecast in Atlanta calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 70 degrees with winds five to 10 miles per hour and a 20-percent chance of rain.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with black pants while Atlanta dons its red jerseys and white pants for Week 13.

Sunday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with Baltimore holding a slight 3-2 advantage. The Falcons held a 2-1 home advantage at the Georgia Dome, but the Ravens are playing at their new stadium for the first time.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
S Tony Jefferson
OT James Hurst
LB Tim Williams
FB/DL Patrick Ricard
DL Zach Sieler
WR Jordan Lasley

ATLANTA
K Giorgio Tavecchio
RB Brian Hill
CB Blidi Wreh-Wilson
S Keith Tandy
S Ryan Neal
DE Steven Means
OT Matt Gono

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Ravens place Collins on IR, activate running back Dixon

Posted on 01 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have made a substantial change to their backfield depth ahead of Sunday’s game at Atlanta.

Former starting running back Alex Collins has been placed on injured reserve to make room for the activation of running back Kenneth Dixon, who had been on IR since suffering a knee injury in the Week 1 win over Buffalo. Dixon was designated to return to practice two weeks ago and is in line to play in just his second game in the last two seasons as Baltimore aims for its third straight win against the Falcons in Week 13.

Collins was listed as a full participant in Friday’s practice, but the third-year back had been dealing with a foot injury since before the bye week and was deactivated for last week’s win over Oakland. Despite rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson’s dramatic impact on the running game, Collins rushed for just 18 yards on seven carries against Cincinnati two weeks ago while rookie Gus Edwards impressively ran for 115 yards to all but officially win the starting job moving forward.

“It’s just day-to-day with Alex right now as far as I know,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “That’s where we’re at with that.”

One of the feel-good stories of 2017 after emerging from the practice squad to rush for 973 yards and average 4.6 yards per carry, Collins never got on track this season as he averaged 3.6 yards per carry despite a team-high eight touchdowns. He will be a restricted free agent, leaving the Ravens with an interesting decision in an offseason expected to bring substantial changes to the roster.

A 2016 fourth-round pick out of Louisiana Tech, the talented Dixon has seen the start of his NFL career derailed by injuries and off-field issues. After running for 382 yards and averaging 4.3 yards per carry in 12 games as a rookie, Dixon missed the entire 2017 season with a knee injury and also served two drug-related suspensions. He rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in the 2018 opener against Buffalo before hurting his knee and being placed on IR a few days later.

With Edwards and veteran Ty Montgomery recently emerging as a formidable 1-2 punch in Baltimore’s revamped rushing attack, Dixon will need to stay healthy to provide viable depth in a running back group that also includes Buck Allen.

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Ravens’ health concerns growing in midst of tough stretch

Posted on 17 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ run of good health through the spring and summer hasn’t continued into a critical early stretch of the season that includes four of the next six games on the road.

Three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley may have avoided a serious left knee injury in the first quarter of Thursday’s loss at Cincinnati, but when he’ll return to action remains to be determined. No further clarity came Monday as the Ravens continue preparations to host Denver in Week 3.

“It’s just what was reported. It’s a bone bruise, and that’s good news,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t a structural issue, so we’ll just see how that thing comes along and keep our fingers crossed.”

Harbaugh confirmed veteran safety Eric Weddle will continue to relay calls in the defensive huddle in Mosley’s absence after taking over those responsibilities in the second half against the Bengals.

The re-signing of veteran Albert McClellan may offer a clue for Mosley’s Week 3 status as the only healthy inside linebackers on the 53-man roster had been second-year starter Patrick Onwuasor, 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young, and rookie free agent Chris Board. McClellan, 32, has made 23 career starts and has the ability to play all four linebacker positions in the Ravens defense, bringing more experience to the group.

“He knows everything we do. He gives us a lot on special teams as well,” Harbaugh said. “He can play middle linebacker. … I would say [he] kind of solidifies us in there a little bit having so many young players in the group.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley also left the Bengals game with what appeared to be a right arm injury, a concerning development with All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller coming to town on Sunday. With Stanley sidelined for the final 12 plays, right tackle James Hurst moved to the left side with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. assuming his position.

After the game, Stanley wouldn’t discuss what led to his departure or whether his status would be in question for Sunday’s game, only saying he was “fine” physically and deferring to Harbaugh for more details.

“We’ll just go with that. He said he’s fine, [so] he’s fine,” said Harbaugh as he smiled. “We’ll see. I don’t know, we’ll see. I think he’s OK. We’ll see.”

To make room for the returning McClellan on the 53-man roster, the Ravens placed backup cornerback Maurice Canady on injured reserve on Monday. Canady has been dealing with a hamstring injury since mid-August, but his versatility will be missed behind current starters Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey and nickel back Tavon Young. Top cornerback Jimmy Smith isn’t eligible to return from his four-game suspension for two more weeks, leaving the Ravens thin at a position that once enjoyed impressive depth.

Harbaugh confirmed Canady and running back Kenneth Dixon — who was placed on IR with a knee injury last week — are viable options to be designated for return later in the season. Both have to miss a minimum of eight weeks.

“If both those guys came back, those would be our two [designation] guys for the year,” said Harbaugh, citing the two-player limit to activate from IR. “I think it’s a wise choice by Ozzie [Newsome] and Eric [DeCosta] to make the move the way they did and just see how it plays out.”

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and third-year defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) will not return to practice this week, meaning they will miss their third straight game to begin the season. At the time of Hurst’s injury, Harbaugh confirmed the NFL Network report suggesting Hurst could miss three to four weeks, but Friday will mark four weeks since a screw was inserted in his foot to aid in the healing of a stress fracture, making one wonder if the talented first-round pick will be ready to play at Pittsburgh in Week 4, a key AFC North encounter.

Rookie third-round pick Mark Andrews has stepped up after a quiet summer, catching six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in two games.

“He’s kind of a gamer,” Harbaugh said. “He steps up and make plays, and that’s what we thought we had when we drafted him. He’s worked very hard in practice, and to see that show up in the games is good. He’s a pass catcher, but, I’ll tell you [he’s] a better run blocker than probably anybody thought. In the games, he kind of steps it up, so that’s a very big plus for us.”

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 13 September 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens had little time to revel in a blowout Week 1 victory with their Thursday trip to Cincinnati.

The second game of the season hardly approaches must-win territory, but each team has an opportunity to improve to 2-0 in the AFC North while Pittsburgh is coming off a tie with lowly Cleveland and continuing to experience life without Le’Veon Bell. A Thursday road game is a daunting challenge, but the early-season timing is a plus, especially after head coach John Harbaugh enjoyed the luxury of resting a number of key veterans in the second half of the 47-3 win over Buffalo.

“When you get late in the year, your bodies have just taken such a beating already,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I’m not really saying this from personal experience, but just talking to some of the guys playing along the line of scrimmage, I think it’s definitely an advantage to do it early when you haven’t kind of taken the brunt of the whole season.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals collide for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 22 wins and the Bengals enjoying a 14-8 advantage in Cincinnati. The Ravens have lost five of the last six played at Paul Brown Stadium, but they came away with an impressive 20-0 win there to open the 2017 season.

Below are five predictions for Thursday night:

1. Bengals receiver A.J. Green will catch a touchdown in a mostly quiet night when matched against Marlon Humphrey. Lost in the agony of “fourth-and-12” was the defense holding the Pro Bowl wideout to two catches for 17 yards in the 2017 finale, a surprising feat without Jimmy Smith. The Ravens typically haven’t used their top corner to travel with elite receivers in recent years, but Wink Martindale would be wise to pick his spots for Humphrey to do just that. Green will find the end zone and be more productive this time around, but the Ravens won’t let him wreck the game.

2. Alex Collins and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon will both eclipse 75 total yards with a touchdown apiece. Not that it was needed with the passing game carving up the Bills, but the Ravens struggled to run the ball, averaging just 1.5 yards per carry in the first half and 3.4 for the game. Their offensive line will fare better against a Bengals front that gave up 4.2 yards per carry in 2017. Meanwhile, Mixon nearly eclipsed 100 yards against Baltimore last December and had 149 total yards last week. Neither back will find a ton of running room, but they’ll help keep their offenses on schedule.

3. Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins will register a sack and give Matt Skura big problems. One of the best matchups of the last several years in the NFL has been Atkins against six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda as both are among the absolute best at their positions, but the bigger concern is how Skura and the still-inexperienced Alex Lewis will hold up against the 300-pound defensive tackle. The coaching staff will use double teams and as much misdirection as they can, but Atkins will be disruptive against the run and pressure the pocket more than anyone did for Buffalo.

4. C.J. Mosley will collect a sack and an interception to set up a touchdown. The Pro Bowl inside linebacker didn’t have a monster statistical output in Week 1, but he was part of a strong effort to bottle up LeSean McCoy. Two of Mosley’s eight career interceptions have come against Cincinnati, and his coverage will be vital as Andy Dalton relies on short throws to tight ends and running backs to offset Baltimore’s rush. He’ll add another pick to put the Ravens on a short field and register a quarterback takedown as Martindale tests Bengals rookie center Billy Price with stunts and A-gap blitzes.

5. Joe Flacco and the passing game will come back to earth, but the Ravens will do just enough in a 20-17 win. It’s no secret the 11th-year quarterback has struggled against the Bengals throughout his career, and former Baltimore assistant Teryl Austin figures to show some new wrinkles in his first year running the Cincinnati defense. However, Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban spent the last seven years as a Bengals assistant, giving him some useful intel to combat their defense. Thursday games are rarely pretty because of the truncated time to prepare in addition to the physical challenges of a short week, which will keep scoring down as both teams plod through this one. If you subscribe to the idea of a playoff-hopeful team needing to go no worse than .500 on the road, this looks like one of the more reasonable games on the schedule to secure a victory. It won’t be pretty, but I’m buying more stock in the Ravens than the Bengals at this point as Harbaugh’s team will improve to 2-0.

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Ravens rule out running back Dixon before sending him to injured reserve

Posted on 12 September 2018 by Luke Jones

A disappointing start to Kenneth Dixon’s NFL career continued Wednesday with the Ravens placing the running back on injured reserve shortly after ruling him out for their Week 2 game in Cincinnati.

Appearing in his first regular-season game since the end of his rookie season, Dixon left late in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over Buffalo with a knee injury and didn’t return. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Louisiana Tech missed the entire 2017 campaign after undergoing left knee surgery in July.

Dixon has appeared in just 13 career games because of multiple knee injuries and also served two drug-related suspensions while he was sidelined last season. He rushed for a game-high 44 yards on 13 carries and scored one of six Baltimore touchdowns against the Bills, but the 5-foot-10, 228-pound back missed a sizable portion of training camp with a hamstring injury, which prevented him from seriously challenging starter Alex Collins or top backup Buck Allen for more carries in the Ravens backfield.

It’s unclear just how long Dixon will be sidelined, but NFL Network reported earlier Wednesday that he was expected to miss “several” weeks. Dixon would be eligible to be designated to return later in the season after sitting out a minimum of eight weeks. Teams are allowed to bring back two players from IR over the course of the season and do not need to make the designation in advance.

To take Dixon’s place on the 53-man roster, the Ravens promoted undrafted rookie running back De’Lance Turner, who rushed for 159 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

The Ravens will also be without one of their top reserve cornerbacks against the Bengals as Maurice Canady was declared out with what’s listed as a thigh injury. The third-year defensive back missed the final three preseason games with a hamstring injury, but he played in the season opener and was even on the field for the final play of the game, making it unclear when he might have suffered a setback.

Canady’s absence means rookie cornerback Darious Williams is likely to be active after being a healthy scratch in Week 1. Baltimore was already dealing with the suspension of top cornerback Jimmy Smith, so not having the versatile Canady will further test the depth behind current starters Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr and nickel corner Tavon Young.

Rookie return specialist Janarion Grant was listed as questionable to play after being limited in practice with a hand issue, something worth monitoring going into Thursday’s game.

As expected, tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were declared out.

Only two Bengals players appeared on the final injury report as reserve wide receiver Cody Core (back) was listed as doubtful and linebacker Preston Brown (ankle) as questionable.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast at Paul Brown Stadium calls for clear skies and temperatures in the mid- to low-70s as the evening progresses with little to no wind.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Maurice Canady (thigh), RB Kenneth Dixon (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: WR/RS Janarion Grant (hand)

CINCINNATI
DOUBTFUL: WR Cody Core (back)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Preston Brown (ankle)

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Breaking down the 2018 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 01 September 2018 by Luke Jones

It’s important to remember Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome will continue to explore additions and other changes to the roster with a move or two likely before the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo, but below is a breakdown of the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (3) — Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin III, Lamar Jackson
Analysis: The skeptic would say the Ravens drafted a quarterback in the first round and don’t even trust him to be the backup, but a few players going on injured reserve in recent days made it easier to keep Griffin on the 53-man roster — at least for now. I still believe Jackson would be perfectly fine handling the No. 2 job, but I’m indifferent to backup quarterback conversation and the Ravens would be in trouble with either reserve at the helm if Flacco were to miss more than a game or two.

RUNNING BACKS (4) — Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
Analysis: There were no surprises with this group other than perhaps Dixon not making a stronger push for touches behind Collins and Allen this summer. The 2016 fourth-round pick remains a wild card in this rushing attack, but health issues have continued to stunt his development. Ricard could find himself earning even more snaps on the defensive line than at fullback after the summer he had.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) — Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley, Janarion Grant
Analysis: Lasley and Grant were the last men standing in a very underwhelming competition among the young wide receivers and return specialists in camp. It would have been a bad look for the Ravens to cut a fifth-round pick with their draft history at the wide receiver position, and Grant cleanly beat out Tim White despite losing a fumble in the preseason. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens scan the waiver wire for another option in the return game.

TIGHT ENDS (4) — Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
Analysis: Hurst’s absence due to a foot injury made Williams’ blocking ability indispensable in Baltimore’s run-blocking schemes, but the Ravens need someone to emerge in the passing game until the first-round rookie returns. Andrews, a third-round rookie, finally had a strong showing against backups in the final preseason game, but he had an underwhelming summer beyond that.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown Jr., James Hurst, Jermaine Eleumunor, Bradley Bozeman
Analysis: Head coach John Harbaugh should feel good about right tackle after the rookie Brown’s performance in the preseason, but center remains a concern with Skura looking shaky and the Ravens apparently preferring to keep Lewis at guard after giving him some center reps this summer. Hurst’s versatility is valuable, but Eluemunor and Bozeman didn’t inspire confidence with their preseason play. Adding a quality depth piece or two should be the top priority for Newsome in the coming days.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (6) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Chris Wormley, Zach Sieler, Willie Henry
Analysis: With Henry sidelined for a few weeks due to hernia surgery, I thought the Ravens might value Carl Davis’ versatility a little more, but there’s more than enough depth to feel good about this group as Ricard gives them a seventh defensive lineman. Wormley worked outside and inside this summer, so the Ravens hope he can add some quality versatility after a quiet rookie year. Is this the year Urban finally stays healthy and fulfills his potential?

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
Analysis: Albert McClellan’s release suggests the knee injury suffered by Young in the preseason finale isn’t too serious. Onwuasor figures to receive the veteran courtesy in what will be an early timeshare at the spot next to Mosley, but the fourth-round rookie Young looks too promising to keep off the field for long. Board is the latest rookie free-agent linebacker to make the Ravens roster, joining the likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, and Onwuasor over the years.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
Analysis: Williams looked like the most improved player on the roster this summer and should receive more pass-rushing snaps after an underwhelming rookie campaign. A groin injury cost Bowser valuable practice time, but he needs to take a step forward as the backup “Sam” linebacker to Judon. Suggs is still going strong entering his 16th season, but younger options showing improvement would allow the Ravens to keep the 35-year-old on more of a pitch count to keep him fresh late in the year.

CORNERBACKS (6) — Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett, Darious Williams
Analysis: This group isn’t as impressive at the top with Jimmy Smith serving a four-game suspension, but Young’s return from last year’s ACL injury and the 2018 fourth-round pick Averett’s strong summer make you feel better about the current depth. Williams’ inclusion on the roster was a surprise likely aided by Stanley Jean-Baptiste breaking his arm in the preseason finale. The key for the present and future will be Humphrey playing like a No. 1 corner, something he has the ability to do.

SAFETIES (4) — Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
Analysis: This group may lack someone with a dynamic center-field presence, but Weddle’s mental prowess and the versatility of the other three give new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the ability to use various sub packages in passing situations. The Ravens appear committed to playing Jefferson closer to the line of scrimmage more consistently, but this is a big year for him to justify the big contract he received last year.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its seventh consecutive season together. You rarely find continuity like that in the NFL.

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster entering fourth preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games remaining, it’s time to to once again examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster as we move closer to final cuts being made next weekend.

My current assessment suggests as many as 44 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the team-record-tying 12 selections in this year’s draft, and the absence of any season-ending injuries being sustained so far this summer.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar — or even marginally better — in talent who’s nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players who are underlined are the ones making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 24. You can check out last week’s projection HERE.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Harbaugh said the decision whether to keep Griffin will “go right to the wire” next week, but I continue to see too many other useful players at other positions for the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009. This decision has always been much more about Jackson than Griffin, so seeing the rookie make strides over the last two preseason games would ease concerns.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon showed Monday exactly what the organization needed to see to eliminate any notion of him being on the bubble, but durability continues to be a concern with the 2016 fourth-round pick. Edwards is closer to being a practice-squad candidate than to having much of a chance to making the team, but it was interesting to see him line up as a fullback in a short-yardage situation on Monday.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jordan Lasley, Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The young wide receivers are the most disappointing position group of the summer as Lasley has regressed and Scott appears in great danger of becoming the first fourth-round pick in franchise history to be cut as a rookie. Returner candidates White and Grant each fumbled against the Colts and haven’t done enough to warrant a spot while Perriman still hasn’t played a single special-teams play.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx WilliamsDarren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: The foot injury to Hurst improves the chances of Williams sticking to start the year since the Ravens use tight ends prominently in their run-blocking schemes. And with young wide receivers like Scott disappointing this summer and taking into account his special-teams skills, Waller could land on the roster as a red-zone and slot option while assuming Mayle’s special-teams role from last year.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE:  Nico Siragusa, Bradley Bozeman, Greg Senat, Jermaine Eluemunor
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: Siragusa and Eleumunor have gone in opposite directions with the former improving from the start of camp and the latter not playing like the most experienced member of this bubble group. You can probably flip a coin between Bozeman and Senat as the uncertainty at center and the lack of quality backup options behind Stanley help their roster chances, making it possible they both stick.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Zach SielerCarl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Momentum continues for Sieler to make the roster while the veteran Davis hasn’t done as much to enhance his chances, prompting me to flip those two in the group’s overall hierarchy. Kaufusi’s standing as a former third-round pick is probably the only factor keeping him in any serious roster discussion, but he’s likely on the outside looking in with the versatile Ricard factoring into this group.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Chris Board, Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: McClellan remains a very tough call and still shouldn’t be dismissed as his experience, special-teams ability, and versatility are valuable traits. Young had a strong performance against Indianapolis and appears to be closing the gap with Onwuasor for the starting job next to Mosley, but the weak-side inside spot remains a fair concern going into the regular season.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: There was much buzz about Correa’s great performance in the Hall of Fame Game, but he’s been quiet in the last two preseason contests and is still depending on his special-teams play and versatility to be the difference in earning a spot. Williams has looked like the most improved player on the roster and is also playing the run better than he did as a rookie last year.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
LONG SHOT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: Smith’s suspension and Canady being in and out of practice with nagging physical issues could prompt the Ravens to keep Jean-Baptiste, who has had a good summer and has impressive 6-foot-3 size on the outside. The argument against keeping him is be the versatility of players such as Canady, Young, Anthony Levine, and Chuck Clark, who can line up in multiple places in the secondary.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Between Clark last year and Elliott this spring, the organization has found good value at the safety position in the sixth round, which is important considering how many cap resources are devoted to Weddle and Jefferson. This hasn’t been discussed much, but you would have liked to have seen Jefferson play more in the preseason after he didn’t have the most impressive debut year in Baltimore.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: Koch labeled Vedvik “one of the most impressive guys” he’s seen among the many camp bodies to come through Owings Mills and Westminster over so many summers. That’s high praise from a straight shooter like Koch as Vedvik definitely has the talent to catch on elsewhere.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following third preseason victory

Posted on 21 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 in the preseason in a 20-19 win over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s OK to believe the Ravens have the depth to endure the potential suspension of Jimmy Smith and to still be worried about potential drop-off. The combination of Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr still looks good on paper, but a healthy Smith and a more experienced Humphrey could be special.

2. Kenneth Dixon needed to show up in his first preseason action and did exactly that with 56 yards from scrimmage on nine touches. He showed better speed than he had in practices and was able to gain yards after contact. Now, he needs to build on that performance.

3. Tim Williams still looks like the most improved player on the roster as he collected five tackles, a sack, and another quarterback hit while making a few good plays against the run. Pro Football Focus credited him and Za’Darius Smith with a combined 10 pressures. That’s an interesting rotational duo.

4. Remember the anticipated competition among the young wide receivers? It hasn’t materialized, continuing a summer tradition. The Ravens have never cut a fourth-round pick in his first season, but Jaleel Scott played only three offensive snaps and dropped a short slant pass late in the fourth quarter. Yikes.

5. The return specialist battle hasn’t been any better as both Tim White and Janarion Grant fumbled. There are too many crowded position groups to keep a returner you don’t trust to secure the ball. Chris Moore returning kicks and a veteran such as Willie Snead handling punts remain options.

6. After starting fast and then regressing in the second preseason game, Lamar Jackson did the opposite against Indianapolis, struggling mightily early before regrouping. His bullet touchdown to Moore reinforced the notion that he’s better throwing on the run than from the pocket. He remains a work in progress.

7. Michael Pierce feels like a forgotten man with Brandon Williams back at nose tackle and Willie Henry manning the 3-techinique spot in the base defense, but he gave Colts center Ryan Kelly fits and collected a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. His 13 snaps were very disruptive.

8. Kenny Young continued to alternate series with incumbent starting inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, but the rookie fourth-rounder led the team with seven tackles and shows impressive closing quickness to the football. His fill and tackle on the late two-point try is exactly what you want to see.

9. Orlando Brown Jr. hasn’t played flawlessly, but his body of work continues to support him being deserving of starting at right tackle over James Hurst, who’s practiced there recently while still taking all live-game snaps at right guard. How can you not root for Brown after a tweet like this?

10. Despite Brown’s progress, the interior offensive line beyond Yanda remains a concern as the sight of former Ravens edge rusher John Simon bull-rushing Hurst back into Joe Flacco’s legs brought back unpleasant memories. This group struggled to protect Jackson in particular.

11. Anthony Averett was terrific during the third-quarter goal-line stand with an assisted tackle, a pass breakup, and tight coverage on an incompletion on consecutive plays, continuing his solid preseason. Not bad for a fourth-round rookie who’s only fifth or sixth in the cornerback pecking order right now.

12. Flacco finished a solid but unspectacular night with good throws to Michael Crabtree and John Brown on his final touchdown drive, but his hard count inducing a neutral zone infraction didn’t go unnoticed. Varying the cadence has quietly been a focus this summer after too much predictability in the past.

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