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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 13 September 2018 by Luke Jones

CINCINNATI — The Ravens look to begin a season 2-0 for the third straight year as they meet Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football.

There were no surprises on their inactives list after cornerback Maurice Canady (thigh), tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were already ruled out on Wednesday. For the second straight week, reserve quarterback Robert Griffin III is a healthy scratch, meaning rookie Lamar Jackson will be Joe Flacco’s only backup against the Bengals.

Rookie wide receiver and return specialist Janarion Grant is active and will play despite being listed as questionable to play with a hand injury. His ability to catch the ball will be something to monitor, especially early in the game.

A pair of rookie free agents will make their NFL debuts as cornerback Darious Williams and just-promoted running back De’Lance Turner are active. Williams is likely to serve in a special-teams capacity while Turner is now the No. 3 running back with Kenneth Dixon going on injured reserve on Wednesday.

The Bengals will be without starting middle linebacker Preston Brown, who is out with an ankle injury. Cincinnati is already dealing with the suspension of starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict, leaving its defensive vulnerable at the second level.

Thursday’s referee is Walt Anderson.

The Ravens have broken out a new uniform combination in prime time as they’ll wear purple pants with white jerseys for the first time in team history. These pants have a white and black side stripe and are similar to those introduced two years ago as part of the all-purple “Color Rush” uniforms. Cincinnati will wear black jerseys with white pants.

Thursday marks the 45th meeting in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 22 wins and the Bengals having a 14-8 record in their home stadium. The Ravens have lost five of the last six played at Paul Brown Stadium, but they broke a five-game losing streak in Cincinnati last year with a 20-0 win in Week 1.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Maurice Canady
DT Willie Henry
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
TE Hayden Hurst
DT Zach Sieler

CINCINNATI
WR Cody Core
WR Auden Tate
RB Mark Walton
LB Preston Brown
G Christian Westerman
OT Cedric Ogbuehi
DT Josh Tupou

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Ravens try to put “fourth-and-12” behind them with trip to Cincinnati

Posted on 12 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were on their way to the playoffs while Marvin Lewis was on his way out the door as Cincinnati’s longtime head coach last New Year’s Eve.

Then, “fourth-and-12” happened, a play that needs no further description or analysis in Baltimore.

Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd with less than a minute remaining knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs and shook up both organizations to some degree. Instead of parting ways with his head coach, Bengals owner Mike Brown gave Lewis a two-year extension to continue a run that began in 2003. Changes to the Ravens were more nuanced after a third straight season without a postseason berth, this time with the backdrop of dwindling attendance down the stretch.

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti didn’t fire anyone, but he admitted a month later to at least briefly considering replacing John Harbaugh, who is now in his 11th season in Baltimore. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees followed through on plans to retire — something he had reconsidered in previous years — before resurfacing with Tennessee just a few weeks later. Pees surviving a second straight late-season collapse after the previous Christmas in Pittsburgh would have been a tough pill to swallow for disgruntled fans, and he apparently wasn’t interested in forcing the organization’s hand.

If that final pass had been knocked away, do the playoff-bound Ravens trade back into the first round to draft quarterback Lamar Jackson, a move interpreted by some as partly made to rejuvenate the fan base? For all the handwringing about Joe Flacco, the veteran threw 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions for an 89.1 passer rating in the final seven games of last season and was Pro Football Focus’ 11th-highest-graded quarterback in the second half of 2017 as he finally got over the back injury that sidelined him for the entire preseason.

Do we see the organization’s concerted effort to improve the passing game if the Ravens play in January and even manage to win a playoff game? Or would it have been the typical halfhearted approach on the offensive side of the ball that we’ve too often seen in recent years?

One thing is certain despite some players’ best efforts to claim the contrary. The stunning 31-27 loss is still on their minds as they travel to Cincinnati on Thursday night.

“If I were to say no, I’d be lying,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “We’ve still got that bitter taste in our mouths, but this is a new year, new look, new opportunity for us to go out there and set the tone early. Some things we want back from that game, but that’s the past.”

To be clear, this is far from a must-win game so early in the season, but the Ravens have gone into their bye week with losing records in each of the last two seasons, illustrating how little margin for error they’ve afforded themselves the last two Decembers. It remains to be seen how strong the Bengals will be in 2018, but the defending AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers look as vulnerable as they’ve been in quite some time with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell continuing his holdout, meaning any advantage gained now is valuable ahead of whenever he returns.

Playing five of the next seven games away from M&T Bank Stadium will be a daunting stretch, so a road win over a divisional foe carries more clout than any notion of the Ravens exorcising demons from last season. The best way to prevent history from repeating itself isn’t just to execute in that critical moment, but it’s to play well enough over 16 games to not be in such a hanging-by-a-thread playoff position once again.

“How many losses did we have last year, seven?” Flacco said. “You can argue any one of those teams ended it. We didn’t play good enough in any of those games, and I don’t think we’re really thinking about that. I’m not thinking about that. I’m just thinking about how confident I am in this group that’s here right now and what we’re getting ready to go do.”

That Week 17 loss certainly appeared to alter the present with a revamped passing attack coming off a superb Week 1 and new coordinator Wink Martindale now running the defensive show. How Jackson fits in the present and as the potential quarterback of the future will also be intriguing to watch.

But you wonder how it all might have played out if “fourth-and-12” didn’t become a thing.

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humphrey

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 47-3 win over Buffalo

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the season with an emphatic 47-3 win over Buffalo, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the first time in franchise history a Baltimore defense did not surrender a first down in the first half. The Bills had 33 yards compared to the Ravens’ 26 points at intermission. J. Peterman would have had a better chance than Nathan Peterman, who was awful.

2. Wink Martindale added some defensive wrinkles, including swapping out a linebacker for an extra defensive lineman in some nickel looks. My favorite was Za’Darius Smith’s quarterback sack when he also sent Terrell Suggs, Tim Williams, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, and C.J. Mosley after rookie Josh Allen. Yes, six linebackers.

3. Marlon Humphrey was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Ravens player as he finished with four pass breakups and two tackles. He’ll have bigger challenges over the next few weeks, but the 2017 first-round pick was excellent against the Bills.

4. How many people looking out their windows Sunday morning would have predicted Joe Flacco throwing 32 passes in the first half? He had no issues throwing a wet football and was Baltimore’s highest-graded offensive player, according to PFF.

5. It’s easy to forget how the offense sputtered in the second quarter as the Ravens gained only eight yards on 15 plays before the final touchdown drive when Michael Crabtree caught the 12-yard score. A pretty throw and even prettier footwork. That was an example of why they signed him.

6. Tavon Young wouldn’t have been my guess to exploit a porous Buffalo line, but he became the first Baltimore defensive back since Bennie Thompson in 1996 to collect two sacks in a game and was strong against the run. Martindale calls the 5-foot-9 nickel a “pit bull” for good reason.

7. Not much was made of Alex Collins receiving only three preseason carries, but he found little room and lost a fumble. You do wonder if a few more live-game touches would have been beneficial for a player who’s had some past fumbling concerns. Of course, suspect blocking wasn’t his fault.

8. Janarion Grant offered good and bad with a 51-yard punt return and a fumble that fortunately rolled out of bounds in the first half. It’s easy to blame the rain, but Grant appeared to take his eyes off the ball with a defender bearing down. That can’t happen.

9. None had a negative impact, but the Ravens didn’t get much of a return on the five offensive snaps Lamar Jackson played before then relieving Joe Flacco in the second half. It’s something for which opponents must prepare, but you sometimes worry about upsetting the overall rhythm of the offense.

10. Mark Andrews didn’t stand out often over the summer, but the Ravens have to be pleased with his three catches for 31 yards in the first half. PFF gave him the second-best grade among offensive players.

11. Being able to rest key veterans in the second half bodes well for a quick turnaround at Cincinnati on Thursday, but young players receiving extensive regular-season action could pay off down the line. Inside linebacker Kenny Young and cornerback Anthony Averett stood out in particular.

12. At an ordinary 218 pounds, Buck Allen doesn’t look the part of a short-yardage back, but he has a knack for getting to the desired mark. He lined up as the fullback on his 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter and showed off a respectable Ray Lewis dance to boot.

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Ravens-Bills: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 09 September 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The 2018 season will begin with less-than-ideal weather conditions as the Ravens host the Buffalo Bills.

According to Weather.com, significant rain will fall throughout the afternoon with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and winds 10 to 20 miles per hour with stronger gusts possible. Going back to last December, this will be the third straight regular-season home game with poor weather conditions after last Week 16 included heavy rain and the 2017 finale brought the coldest temperature for a home game (19 degrees) in franchise history.

Aiming to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, the Ravens will be without their top draft pick as rookie tight end Hayden Hurst will not play as he continues recovering from a stress fracture in his foot. Defensive tackle Willie Henry is also inactive after undergoing hernia surgery in late August. Third-year defensive lineman Michael Pierce will start in Henry’s place.

After much external debate this week about their backup quarterback plans, the Ravens will make rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson the game-day backup to starter Joe Flacco. Veteran Robert Griffin III is inactive, but he figures more prominently into Baltimore’s plans if Flacco were to miss an extended period of time.

As anticipated, cornerback Maurice Canady (hamstring) and inside linebacker Kenny Young (knee) are both active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The Ravens deactivated rookie cornerback Darious Williams, which should reinforce their confidence in Canady’s health after an extended absence. Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman is also unlikely to be slinging the ball all over the field in such poor conditions.

Two rookies, offensive tackle Orlando Brown and center Bradley Bozeman, will be the only active reserve offensive linemen for the Ravens on Sunday since second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor was a healthy scratch.

The most interesting inactive note on the Buffalo side was the healthy scratch of former Pro Bowl cornerback Vontae Davis, who signed with the Bills in February and was competing for a starting job with Phillip Gaines this summer. Gaines will start on the outside opposite standout Tre’Davious White with rookie Taron Johnson serving as the nickel.

Sunday’s referee is Shawn Hochuli, the son of retired NFL referee Ed Hochuli.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with white pants while Buffalo dons blue tops with white pants for Week 1.

Sunday marks the eighth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 4-3 series advantage. Buffalo is opening the season at M&T Bank Stadium for the second time in three years after Baltimore won a 13-7 final on Sept. 11, 2016. The Ravens are looking for their third straight season-opening win and are 7-3 in Week 1 games under head coach John Harbaugh.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Darious Williams
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
DL Zach Sieler
TE Hayden Hurst
DT Willie Henry

BUFFALO
CB Vontae Davis
TE Khari Lee
CB Ryan Lewis
WR Ray-Ray McCloud
OL Conor McDermott
LB Julian Stanford
G Wyatt Teller

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Ravens-Bills: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 September 2018 by Luke Jones

One team’s pain was another’s euphoria.

The Ravens will face the team that advanced to the postseason thanks to their fourth-and-12 collapse against Cincinnati in Week 17 last year when they host Buffalo to begin the 2018 season. That moment in time not only ended the Bills’ 17-year playoff drought, but it kept John Harbaugh’s team out of the postseason for a third straight year, the Ravens’ longest skid since their first four seasons in Baltimore.

With four of their next five games on the road, the Ravens can’t afford to stub their toe against the rebuilding Bills, a scenario that would leave everyone doubting whether 2018 will be any different than the last few years. It would also put even more heat on a number of coaches and players whose long-term futures are up in the air.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Buffalo meet for the eighth time in the all-time regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 4-3 advantage and a 4-1 mark at M&T Bank Stadium. This marks the second time in three years these teams will open the season in Baltimore as the Ravens won a 13-7 final in 2016.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Joe Flacco will begin 2018 on a solid note with 220 passing yards and two touchdowns.

After endless discussion about his health, the new wide receivers and tight ends, a new quarterbacks coach, his strong summer performance, and, yes, rookie Lamar Jackson, Flacco will finally have his first meaningful chance to begin silencing his critics. A rainy forecast could alter game strategy and he’s facing a pass defense that ranked ninth in yards per pass attempt allowed last season, but the 33-year-old faces a front seven not adept at pressuring quarterbacks, which will help lead to an efficient day.

2. Bills running back LeSean McCoy will finish with under 60 rushing yards.

The offseason focus was on the collapse against the Bengals, but the Ravens allowing a franchise-worst 4.1 yards per carry last year really stuck in their craw. The defense allowed 38 percent of its total rushing yards in the four games Brandon Williams missed, but Baltimore still surrendered 3.9 yards per attempt in games he played. The presence of Williams and Michael Pierce as well as the Bills losing three key starters from their offensive line will lead to a long day for the six-time Pro Bowl back.

3. Michael Crabtree and Nick Boyle will catch touchdowns from Flacco.

There is much excitement about the vertical potential of John Brown, but Bills head coach Sean McDermott emphasizes taking away the big play as his defense allowed the seventh-fewest number of passes of 20 or more yards and an NFL-low three completions of 40 or more yards last season. With that in mind and the forecast not looking promising, Crabtree will do what he does best in the red zone and the blocking-minded Boyle will catch Bills linebackers napping for a touchdown score of his own.

4. Buffalo quarterback Nathan Peterman will throw two interceptions and be sacked five times.

Did I mention the Bills offensive line lost three key starters? Buffalo was wise to go with Peterman over rookie first-round pick Josh Allen in a Week 1 road game, but that doesn’t mean the former won’t be completely overwhelmed. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is a Ryan family pupil who will call everything he can to try to pressure the pocket. Peterman won’t be as historically bad as he was in tossing five interceptions in one half against the Los Angeles Chargers last year, but it won’t be pretty.

5. The Ravens will take an early lead and ride Alex Collins in the second half to a 27-10 win.

The coming weeks will reveal just how good the Ravens really are, but I’d be surprised if the Bills aren’t one of the worst five teams in the NFL after gutting a roster that was very fortunate to sneak in the playoffs last year. Harsh weather can always be an equalizer, but Baltimore will build an early lead and lean on Collins to do some heavy lifting after receiving only three carries in the preseason. The Ravens need to start the season on a winning note with three AFC North road games looming in the next four weeks, so there’s no overstating how disappointing a home loss would be against a team that looks bad on paper. They’ll take care of business in decisive fashion.

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humphrey

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2018 season

Posted on 07 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Instead of going through the exercise of making league-wide predictions, the following focus on the Ravens and their goal to return to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season:

1. Joe Flacco will not have a career season, but he will throw 25 touchdowns for the third time in his 11 years. 

Coming off a career-worst 5.7 yards per attempt campaign, the 33-year-old is healthier than he’s been in three years, has a more diverse group of weapons, likes new quarterbacks coach James Urban, and, yes, feels some heat after Baltimore drafted a first-round quarterback. As the better part of the last five years taught us, you don’t want Flacco throwing the ball 600-plus times, but the aforementioned variables matched with a strong running game will lead to his best season since 2014. His 11 interceptions will be the third-lowest total of his career while a 7.0 yards per attempt average will elevate him to the middle of the pack, which is where he always was statistically when he played his best regular-season football.

2. Lamar Jackson will finish his rookie campaign with three touchdowns in a change-of-pace role.

Some national pundits continue to push the idea of Jackson taking Flacco’s job at some point in 2018, but the decision to retain Robert Griffin III should provide further confirmation that the rookie just isn’t ready to handle the starting duties. That said, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg would be crazy not to pick his spots to get Jackson on the field, especially as a runner. It won’t be a massive role as some defenses will be prepared for any trickery and Mornhinweg will need to be careful not to upset the overall rhythm of the offense, but Jackson will offer excitement and play a key role in helping the Ravens win a game or two over the course of the season.

3. Rookies Orlando Brown and Kenny Young will be starting by mid-October.

The Ravens beginning the season with James Hurst as the starting right tackle isn’t surprising as they’ve frequently given the initial nod to veterans in past position competitions. That said, Hurst has struggled on the outside in the past while Brown was impressive in his first preseason, making his poor combine performance that dropped him to the third round of the draft a distant memory. Meanwhile, Young will begin the season sharing first-team snaps with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor and has shown an impressive nose for the football at the weak-side inside linebacker spot. C.J. Mosley said this week that someone needs to emerge eventually, and Young has the skills to do just that.

4. Alex Lewis and Za’Darius Smith will take a step forward.

Lewis has received much fanfare since becoming a Week 1 starter as a rookie two years ago, but he’s played in only 10 of a possible 32 games and needs to stay on the field to help an interior line with questions at the center spot. The starting left guard received looks at center in camp, an idea that could be revisited at some point. Many noted Tim Williams’ play in the preseason, but Smith was also very disruptive and enters a contract year. Often compared to ex-Raven Pernell McPhee when drafted in 2015, Smith’s 10 sacks over his first three year eclipsed McPhee’s 9 1/2 from 2011-2013. Smith has often done the dirty work as a pass rusher, but he’ll see a bigger payoff in the sack department this season.

5. Matt Skura and Brandon Carr will take a step back.

Skura went from the practice squad at the start of last season to starting 12 games and filling in respectably at right guard, but expectations are higher this year as he attempts to replace Ryan Jensen at the center position. There is concern about his ability to stand his ground against hefty defensive tackles and give a clear path to pulling guards, a staple in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes. The 32-year-old Carr is one of the most respected players in the locker room and will continue his amazing streak of 160 consecutive starts on Sunday, but he’ll find himself spending more time on the sideline once top cornerback Jimmy Smith returns from his four-game suspension in October.

6. Marlon Humphrey will tie for the team lead in interceptions and be named a Pro Bowl alternate.

We know the Ravens defense has struggled without Smith over the years, making Humphrey that much more critical entering his second season. The 2017 first-round pick could be asked to travel with elite receivers such as A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, and Antonio Brown in Smith’s absence, so the opening month will be a test run for him as the No. 1 guy. The Alabama product has the skills to be a shutdown corner, and it’s no secret that Smith has played all 16 games only twice in his career and is scheduled to carry a $15.85 million salary cap figure in the final year of his contract next season. Humphrey will play at a level making it easier to move on from Smith next offseason.

7. Michael Crabtree will have the most touchdown catches in a season by a Raven since 2014.

The former Oakland Raider and San Francisco 49er provides the highest floor of the three free-agent additions at wide receiver, and Flacco will depend on him to be his most dependable target in the red zone. The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Crabtree may have difficulty running away from defensive backs at this point, but his ability to make contested catches will be critical on third down and inside the opponent’s 20. He has only one 1,000-yard season in the last five years, but his 25 touchdown receptions over his last three campaigns are exactly what the Ravens are looking for in 2018. Crabtree will catch the most touchdowns by a Raven since Torrey Smith snatched 11 in his final season in Baltimore.

8. Alex Collins will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

A slight 205-pound frame makes you take pause when predicting monster numbers for the breakout performer from a year ago, but Collins has excellent feet and is a perfect fit in this multi-look ground attack. He is carrying a few extra pounds to try to account for a bigger workload this season, but expecting him to carry the ball 20-plus times every week would seem like a recipe to wear him down. The Ravens would be wise to do what they can to keep their starter fresh and throw carries in the direction of reliable backup Buck Allen and the talented Kenneth Dixon, but Collins is the guy and should be able to build on what he did in an impressive 2017 season.

9. Marshal Yanda and C.J. Mosley will make the Pro Bowl.

The offensive line did its best and improved over the course of last season, but there’s no understating how devastating Yanda’s Week 2 loss was to the offense’s ceiling. His streak of six straight trips to the Pro Bowl was snapped, but the 33-year-old is healthy and primed to continue building on a career resume that could garner some Hall of Fame consideration when it’s over. Contract talks have been very quiet with Mosley, who had a healthy offseason and is eager to take an already-impressive start to his career to the next level. With defensive coordinator Wink Martindale putting more responsibility on his leaders to make calls and adjustments on the fly, Mosley will remind just how valuable he is.

10. The Ravens will go 10-6, return to the playoffs, and advance to the divisional round.

After predicting 8-8 finishes in the last two years, I’m buying stock in a revamped and healthier offense being more consistent and finishing in the top half of the league, which would be marked improvement. I also think there hasn’t been enough discussion about the personnel continuity on defense, something that should more than make up for any early hiccups in the transition to Martindale as coordinator. There’s little question that big changes will be in order if the Ravens fail to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. Despite a tougher schedule that includes a very competitive NFC South, I see a top-five defense and an improved Flacco guiding the Ravens into January and winning a playoff game.

Bonus Super Bowl pick no one asked for: New Orleans 31, Los Angeles Chargers 24

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees earns a second ring and retires after edging out Philip Rivers, the man who took his place in San Diego once upon a time.

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Even with three quarterbacks, Ravens shouldn’t overthink game-day plans

Posted on 06 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After months of discussing and practicing ways to incorporate explosive rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson in the flow of the offense, the Ravens are suddenly tight-lipped.

It’s hardly surprising since this is what NFL coaches do the week of a game that actually counts, but the decision to keep Robert Griffin III — giving Baltimore three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster to begin a season for the first time since 2009 — has led many to wonder what the game-day plan will be at the position behind starter Joe Flacco. Teams may activate only 46 players for each game.

“We’ll see,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “We’ll see how that goes.”

Carrying three quarterbacks is far from a novel approach despite the Ravens’ near-decade-long trend of keeping just two, but teams rarely activate all three for games as each active spot is valuable when accounting for the many reserves and special-teams players who contribute to winning games. For one example, Pittsburgh kept three quarterbacks on its 53-man roster all last season, but only two were active for each game.

There were only two instances last season in which the Ravens activated a player and didn’t use him other than sole backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, speaking to how extensively they use backups and special-teams players. In Week 11, offensive tackle Andrew Donnal was active as left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed the game with a concussion, but he was only going to play in an emergency after being claimed off waivers just days earlier. In Week 16, running back Terrance West was activated after a long layoff due to injury, but he was only an insurance policy after starter Alex Collins was banged up in the previous week’s game.

The Ravens leaving themselves vulnerable in another area to devote a third game-day spot to a quarterback unlikely to play would be surprising.

So, if only two quarterbacks are active, do they go with Jackson or Griffin behind Flacco?

The organization certainly values Griffin’s presence to step in should something happen to Flacco that would force him out of action for a few games, but the immediate appeal of drafting Jackson was to utilize his unique skills in creative ways, adding a play-making element to this offense that’s sorely needed. Deactivating Jackson in favor of Griffin might put the Ravens in a slightly better position in the event of an in-game injury to Flacco, but it would also stunt the offense’s potential upside and strip the rookie of experience. We don’t know whether Jackson will become a successful franchise quarterback in the future, but there’s no doubting his ability to contribute in certain situations right away.

The truth is backups receive very few practice reps with the starting offense over the course of the week, inevitably throwing any team into some degree of panic when the starter goes down in the middle of a game. Should that happen to the Ravens with Jackson as the only backup, they should just embrace that chaos by breaking out gadget plays, relying on their rushing attack, and leaning on their stout defense to get them through the game. Of course, if Flacco were to miss the following week’s game as well, Baltimore would turn to Griffin as the starter with Jackson remaining in his same game-day backup and hybrid role. Such an arrangement would seem to be the logical balance between optimizing the use of game-day roster spots and taking advantage of Jackson’s explosive athleticism.

“We’ll do whatever is best for our team,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Any given Sunday, we’ll have the 46 guys up that give us the best chance to be successful, and we’ll just see what that is every week.”

Starting right tackle decided — for now

Mornhinweg confirmed veteran James Hurst will begin the season as the starting right tackle after the summer competition with rookie Orlando Brown.

It looked like the third-round pick might win the job as Hurst worked exclusively at right guard filling in for Marshal Yanda over the first few weeks of training camp and in preseason games, but Hurst began practicing at right tackle with the first-team line upon Yanda’s return to practice in August. Hurst has started 32 games in his career, but previous stints were all the result of injuries including left guard Alex Lewis’ season-ending shoulder injury last summer that led to Hurst starting all 16 games in 2017.

“Last year was kind of an injury circumstance with Alex,” Hurst said. “That was a goal. All preseason, I knew that I wanted to be a starter; I wanted to earn that starting spot and have that faith from the coaches. It’s very exciting for me, but it’s a stepping stone. You’ve got to build off that.”

The Ravens have frequently deferred to veterans in position battles in the past, but that doesn’t mean Brown won’t be able to unseat Hurst in the near future, especially if the veteran struggles on the outside as he did in past stints at both tackle spots.

“Orlando is coming. Orlando had just an outstanding preseason and training camp,” Mornhinweg said. “Orlando is ready to go. Now, that preparation is going to be key for him. James is a heck of a player, and Orlando’s on the come up.”

McClellan departs

The decision to release longtime reserve linebacker Albert McClellan may have been the Ravens’ most difficult last weekend.

Harbaugh has acknowledged the possibility of McClellan returning at some point, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg expressed his gratitude for the veteran’s contributions over the years.

“Albert made the meeting easy; he was amazing like you might expect him to be I guess,” Rosburg said. “Hopefully, I heard it mentioned that perhaps this is not over. I hope that’s the case, but we’ll see what goes on down the road. I know I owe a great deal to him personally. He’s been a big part of my life, and I know our club has been better for him being here, both as a player and a person.”

One of McClellan’s final acts was helping out the rookie who took his place on the 53-man roster. Chris Board, an undrafted free agent from North Dakota State, is expected to serve as a special-teams contributor and backup inside linebacker.

“He definitely taught me a lot, especially as far as special teams,” Board said. “He was kind of my mentor throughout this whole process [with] me being a rookie not knowing what to expect. I definitely have some really big shoes to fill.”

Thursday’s injury report

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Maurice Canady (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Kenny Young (knee)

BUFFALO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury), WR Ray-Ray McCloud (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Julian Stanford (nose)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2018 season opener

Posted on 04 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens opening the 2018 season by hosting Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’m more optimistic about the Ravens than I’ve been in a few years, but it has very little to do with the 5-0 preseason beyond staying pretty healthy. The Indianapolis game was the only time Baltimore played at full strength — or close to it — against another team at full strength.

2. Is it more surprising that Alex Collins, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead combined to touch the ball only eight times in the preseason or that no one is talking about that? To be clear, that’s not a criticism, but it speaks to the unknown still at work here.

3. Is anyone else tired of talking about the backup quarterback situation? A healthy Joe Flacco playing at a higher level is the key to this season — not whether Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III is backing him up. In a perfect world, Griffin doesn’t take a snap all season.

4. Bills coach Sean McDermott made the right call naming Nathan Peterman his starting quarterback and protecting first-round pick Josh Allen from playing on the road against a tough Baltimore defense that’s frequently eaten rookie quarterbacks alive over the years. That won’t save Peterman though.

5. Remember how the Ravens had $17 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2015, the year they finished 5-11? Fresh off their first playoff appearance of the millennium, the Bills are carrying an unthinkable $53.1 million in dead money on this year’s cap. You can’t win that way.

6. Willie Henry’s early absence could change things, but I like the decision to shift Brandon Williams back to nose tackle after he played more of the 3-technique spot with Michael Pierce at the nose last year. Williams is excellent against the run, so you want to maximize his biggest strength.

7. The practice-squad signings of Cyrus Jones and Tim White should signal to Janarion Grant not to get too comfortable as the return specialist. I’m not convinced the Ravens have found their answer in this department or if that individual is currently in the organization.

8. I’m not sure how long rookie cornerback Darious Williams will be on the 53-man roster, but he began his Alabama-Birmingham career as a walk-on and stayed put through the football program’s temporary disbandment and two-year hiatus from playing games. That’s quite a journey to the NFL.

9. Four teams making waiver claims on Carl Davis and his release even after Henry’s injury should speak to the depth of the Baltimore defensive line. Seeing Cleveland grab the versatile Davis wasn’t remotely surprising.

10. The Ravens are starting their second decade of the John Harbaugh-Flacco era. Some would argue that isn’t a good thing, but that kind of continuity isn’t fully appreciated until it’s gone. Over the last decade, the Browns have had six head coaches and used 19 starting quarterbacks.

11. Questions remain about the circumstances that led to Kaare Vedvik being found with head and upper-body injuries early Saturday in East Baltimore. I feel for the 24-year-old as he had a good chance to be kicking in the NFL this year, but the outcome could have been much worse.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for naming Anquan Boldin their “Legend of the Game” for the opener. Does this reverse the “Boldin Curse” that’s resulted in four non-playoff seasons since he was traded for a sixth-round pick five weeks after Super Bowl XLVII?

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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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Predicting Ravens’ initial 53-man roster at end of 2018 preseason

Posted on 31 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the 2018 preseason in the books, the Ravens turn their attention toward the season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 9.

First, it’s time to go on the record with the final projection of Baltimore’s 53-man roster ahead of the regular season with general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh making cuts by 4 p.m. on Saturday. Of course, this will only be the first 53-man squad as the Ravens will explore outside moves and additions over the next few days.

Though the coaching staff and the front office are aware of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily keeping a specific number of receivers or linebackers or defensive linemen isn’t the most accurate way of projecting the roster. Ultimately, the organization wants to keep the best 53-player combination with positional preference serving more as a tiebreaker than as a hard rule that could potentially result in keeping an inferior player. In filling out the back end of their roster, the Ravens always look carefully at players’ special-teams abilities in addition to what they bring to their offensive or defensive positions. They must also consider recent injuries to players who won’t be available for the first few games of the season and make sure they’re covered from a depth standpoint.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players they are projected to keep at that position.

QUARTERBACKS (2)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
OUT: Robert Griffin III, Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Even with Griffin sitting against Washington, I’ll stick with two quarterbacks, especially with the growth shown by Jackson over the last two games. I don’t think Harbaugh saying Griffin “looks like a starter” was by accident as the Ravens will try to find a trade partner in hopes of acquiring a modest depth piece such as an offensive lineman or someone with return experience. Of course, I won’t be shocked if Griffin stays, but it’s strange that a team that was content with Ryan Mallett backing up an ailing Flacco last year would suddenly change its backup standard so much with its first-round pick.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
OUT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: I’d be surprised not to see at least one of these rookie free agents on the practice squad as they all had their moments this preseason, but this group appears set. Ricard may also find himself with a bigger role in the defensive line rotation after the way he played this summer.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jordan Lasley
OUT: Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman, Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
INJURED RESERVE: Jaleel Scott
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: Neither White nor Grant did enough this summer to warrant a roster spot as a return specialist, but the Ravens should be able to get one of them to the practice squad while searching for an outside addition. Moore did a good job returning kickoffs last year, and Snead could serve as a conservative punt returner mostly calling fair catches. Lasley had a disappointing preseason, but he showed enough potential during training camp to justify not giving up on him so quickly.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Maxx Williams, Darren Waller
OUT: Vince Mayle, Nick Keizer
Skinny: With the young wide receiver competition never materializing and Hurst out for at least the first couple games, Waller surprisingly sneaks onto the roster primarily as a special-teams player, and his size and athleticism make him a potential option in the red zone and as a bigger slot receiver. Andrews’ performance in the preseason finale was encouraging as the Ravens need someone from this group to be at least a moderate factor in the passing game until Hurst returns from the foot injury.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, Orlando Brown Jr., James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, Jermaine Eluemunor
OUT:  Nico Siragusa, Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
INJURED RESERVE: Greg Senat
Skinny: Brown’s development at right tackle was one of the biggest positives of the summer, but the center position remains a concern and no one beyond the top six has inspired confidence as a depth piece. Newsome will likely be working the phones trying to add some veteran help for this group. Given his status as a former fourth-round pick, Siragusa making the roster wouldn’t be surprising, but he just doesn’t look 100 percent after last summer’s serious knee injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban, Zach Sieler, Carl Davis
OUT: Bronson Kaufusi, Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Before the news of Henry undergoing hernia surgery, I may have left Davis on the outside looking in, but his ability to play all three defensive line spots in the base defense makes him more attractive for the time being. Kaufusi had an excellent game against Washington, but he was way too quiet this summer and all last season to put too much stock into one performance.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board, Albert McClellan
OUT: Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: The Kamalei Correa trade and a potential knee injury for Young have changed the makeup of this position group. Board looks like the near-annual long shot the Ravens could keep and develop while he contributes on special teams. I had been predicting McClellan wouldn’t make it, but Correa and veteran departure Steven Johnson combined to play over 600 special-teams snaps last year. I’m not convinced Jerry Rosburg is just going to hand over that much responsibility to inexperienced players, and not playing McClellan on Thursday would be a tough way to send out the longtime Raven.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
OUT: none
Skinny: Tim Williams was the defensive star of the preseason and should receive more opportunities as a situational pass rusher, but Bowser missing so much of the summer with a groin injury has certainly tempered expectations of him taking a big leap in his second season.

CORNERBACKS (5)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
OUT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter, Robertson Daniel
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
INJURED RESERVE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Skinny: You have to feel for Jean-Baptiste, who looked like he was on his way to grabbing a roster spot before suffering what’s believed to be a broken arm in the preseason finale. Assuming Canady is ready to go for Week 1, the Ravens should be fine with only five cornerbacks since Anthony Levine is capable of playing some nickel in a game-day pinch. Regardless of the number of corners the Ravens keep, not having Smith for the first four games will be a challenge.

SAFETIES (4)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
OUT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
INJURED RESERVE: DeShon Elliott
Skinny: With the long-term injuries suffered by Elliott and Jean-Baptiste in consecutive weeks, Nacua may have an outside shot to stick on the roster as a special-teams player, but four safeties should be fine.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
OUT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: After watching him hit a 56-yard field goal to cap a very impressive summer, I get the feeling another team is going to be happy to have Vedvik in the not-too-distant future. A team with a lesser kicking battery would be thinking long and hard about making a change.

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