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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-0 win over Green Bay

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens getting back to the .500 mark with a 23-0 victory at Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the third time in 2017 that the Ravens defense has forced five turnovers in a game. That’s quite a change from two years ago when the group ranked 30th in the NFL with 14 takeaways for the entire season.

2. Jimmy Smith intercepting a pass in the end zone on the opening drive was the latest example why the cornerback has been the team MVP. You wonder how different this one might have been if the Packers finished that drive with a touchdown or at least a field goal.

3. The offense coming away with a total of three points off three turnovers on the Packers’ first three possessions sure doesn’t say much for the work put in by Marty Mornhinweg’s side of the ball during the bye week.

4. Brett Hundley was awful for Green Bay, but credit the Ravens defense for confusing the inexperienced quarterback with an abundance of looks. Eight different defensive backs played 18 or more snaps as defensive coordinator Dean Pees employed various sub packages.

5. Whether rushing the passer, setting the edge, or dropping into coverage, Matt Judon is steadily improving and was arguably the best player on the field with two sacks and a forced fumble. His development is encouraging with the still-dependable Terrell Suggs now 35.

6. Joe Flacco had an OK day despite being under duress, but his interception on a pass intended for Danny Woodhead was baffling. He wasn’t pressured on the throw, and at no point did Woodhead separate from Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That can’t happen when approaching the red zone.

7. It was refreshing to see Mike Wallace grab a one-handed touchdown for a quarterback who hasn’t gotten enough help from his receivers. This isn’t the Big 12 where you can expect to get open with no one within 10 yards in coverage. Contested catches are a must to be successful.

8. Willie Henry is rapidly becoming a big part of sub packages as an interior rusher and even dropped into zone coverage on at least one occasion against the Packers. It’s crazy to think how important he’s become to the rotation when many wondered if he’d even make the 53-man roster.

9. Yes, Flacco should have been granted a timeout on the play, but Ryan Jensen still can’t snap the ball three feet over the quarterback’s head to torpedo a promising drive. The center has enjoyed a breakout season, but his shotgun snapping was also shaky in Tennessee.

10. We may have witnessed the changing of the guard as Marlon Humphrey replaced Brandon Carr as a starting cornerback in the first half. It’s a good problem to have as Carr has played admirably, but it grows more difficult every week to keep the rookie first-round pick off the field.

11. Much focus was on James Hurst’s problems replacing Ronnie Stanley, but Austin Howard also had real difficulty against the Packers. He isn’t listed on the injury report, but he’s recently been wearing a harness on his left shoulder and hasn’t looked 100 percent. That’s something to monitor.

12. Anyone dismissing the defense’s accomplishments because of the poor quarterbacks they’ve faced this season should note that the 2000 Ravens’ four shutouts came against Kent Graham, Scott Mitchell, Tim Couch, and a broken-down Troy Aikman in his final season. Regardless of the opponent, give this 2017 unit credit.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 40-0 win over Miami

Posted on 29 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning the third-largest margin of victory in franchise history and their second shutout of the season in a 40-0 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Will the real Ravens stand up? After close games were the theme of the last few seasons, all but two of eight contests have been decided by multiple scores and one of those came on a garbage-time touchdown in Minnesota on the game’s final play. It’s more volatility than mediocrity.

2. The Baltimore defense gave up a 21-yard run to Jay Ajayi on the second play of the game and surrendered 24 more yards on 18 carries the rest of the way. Dean Pees effectively used run blitzes, and players tackled better than they had in weeks. It was about time.

3. I’d be more willing to listen to the argument that Joe Flacco started his slide late if Kiko Alonso had shown any semblance of an effort to divert his path to the quarterback. The hit was reckless at best and malicious at worst.

4. Ryan Jensen earned quite a few fans after coming to the defense of his quarterback by immediately going after Alonso. I’m not big on retaliation in most instances, but an offensive lineman has to stick up for the most important player on the team after a hit like that.

5. You never want your quarterback sustaining a concussion, but you wonder if something like this galvanizes John Harbaugh’s team moving forward. The Ravens haven’t played with nearly the same edge in recent years as they used to, and being ticked off can be a good thing if properly channeled.

6. The secondary showed several looks, but my favorite was Marlon Humphrey entering the game as an outside corner in the nickel with Brandon Carr moving to the slot. The rookie first-rounder played 37 of 66 snaps and needs to remain heavily involved no matter the status of the veteran starters.

7. I had to smile seeing C.J. Mosley protect the ball with both arms as he crossed the goal line on his interception return. He wasn’t going to repeat what happened against Washington last year. You have to appreciate someone learning from a mistake.

8. Not that the offense was lighting it up before Flacco’s exit, but the previous two weeks showed how critical it is for Jeremy Maclin to be on the field for the passing game to even be functional. His 34-yard touchdown reception came on Flacco’s prettiest throw of the season.

9. Breshad Perriman didn’t have a catch despite playing 49 offensive snaps. He has four receptions on 19 targets — one more catch than Danny Woodhead — despite ranking fifth in snaps among all Ravens skill players. His dramatic regression from 2016 when he was at least a contributor is impossible to ignore.

10. Despite dealing with Achilles tendinitis, Jimmy Smith is playing his best football since at least the first half of the 2014 season and entered Sunday as Pro Football Focus’ seventh-highest graded cornerback. Even if you take away his two defensive touchdowns this season, he’s still been terrific.

11. The Dolphins have won 13 of their last 18 regular-season games, but that stretch includes two losses to the Ravens by a combined 78-6 margin. Talk about having a team’s number. Counting the playoffs, Baltimore is now 7-1 against Miami in the Harbaugh era.

12. Compared to other teams’ editions of “Color Rush” uniforms, the all-purple look is relatively easy on the eyes. I’d even be curious to see how the purple pants look with the white and black jerseys.

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Harbaugh sticks up for Mornhinweg amidst Ravens’ offensive woes

Posted on 17 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens sporting one of the worst offenses in the NFL, John Harbaugh had to know the question was coming about offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

What gives the 10th-year head coach confidence that Mornhinweg has the struggling unit going in the right direction?

“I think Marty’s a great coach. There’s no question in my mind about it,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve seen him over the years. I know what he can do. I know what he’s trying to do. I know what all the coaches are trying to do.

“You do everything you can to put your guys in position to make plays, and you’re in it together. The players are in it together; the coaches are in it together. We’re fighting together to try and do it.”

Baltimore currently ranks 28th or worse in the NFL in total yards per game, passing yards per game, yards per passing attempt, and third-down conversion percentage. The Ravens’ 19.0 points per game rank 24th, but the defense and special teams have combined to score three touchdowns over the last two games and three of their nine offensive touchdowns on the season have come on drives of 40 or fewer yards.

In other words, the offense has received plenty of help and is still scoring at a below-average level.

The only saving grace of the unit has been the running game as the Ravens rank seventh in rushing yards per contest and 10th in yards per carry, but much of that credit goes to senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman, who was specifically hired to revamp a rushing attack that had struggled the previous two seasons. That success has led many to wonder if Roman might be the better choice to lead the offense if the Ravens continue to struggle to such a dramatic degree.

To be fair, Mornhinweg has endured a slew of injuries to offensive players dating back to organized team activities and wasn’t the one who chose to exhaust most offseason resources on the defense despite a below-average offense from last season losing several key players. Nine of the 16 Ravens currently on injured reserve are offensive players, a list that doesn’t include former tight end Dennis Pitta.

“Anytime you try to pin the blame on any one person in a team sport like this, that’s always going to be a mistake,” Harbaugh said. “That’s nonsensical. It just doesn’t work that way. But I understand that’s how it works. We all understand that.”

Mornhinweg certainly doesn’t deserve all of the blame for the offensive failures, but the same was true for former offensive coordinators Cam Cameron and Marc Trestman when Harbaugh fired them in 2012 and 2016, respectively. The one-year anniversary of Trestman’s dismissal fell last week, and the Ravens offense currently ranks worse statistically than it did last year in nearly every major category.

Injury report

Harbaugh didn’t offer much clarity on the status of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who missed Sunday’s game against Chicago with a shoulder injury.

Maclin practiced all week on a limited basis and even went through a pre-game workout on Sunday morning, but the Ravens coach didn’t indicate how close the veteran wideout was to being able to play. The Ravens failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time all season in the 27-24 loss to the Bears

“I don’t really know how close it was. That’s up to the doctors,” Harbaugh said. “That would be something you have to ask them. They don’t really tell us how close a guy is. There is no percentage on that that I am aware of.”

In addition to Maclin’s absence, the Ravens lost both wide receiver Breshad Perriman (concussion) and tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) in the second quarter Sunday. Harbaugh had no update on either member of the 2015 draft class.

“We hope to have all of our guys back next week,” Harbaugh said. “We will just have to see how it shakes out.”

Defensive tackles Brandon Williams (foot) and Carl Davis (hamstring), guard Matt Skura (knee), running back Terrance West (calf), cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring), and linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) were all inactive on Sunday. It was the first time this season that the Ravens didn’t have a single healthy scratch among their seven game-day inactives.

Jimmy Smith increases workload

After being limited to seven snaps in the Week 5 win at Oakland, cornerback Jimmy Smith played 69 of 80 snaps against the Bears, a positive sign for a standout defensive player who’s been limited by Achilles tendinitis in recent weeks.

“He made it out of the game great. Jimmy did well,” Harbaugh said. “He was good. He’s probably sore from the game, but he played all the snaps. He played excellent. I thought all our corners played exceptionally well.”

With Smith nearly back to full strength, rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey played only 12 defensive snaps while veteran starter Brandon Carr played all but two on Sunday. The Ravens didn’t run their nickel and dime packages nearly as frequently with the Bears running the ball a whopping 54 times for 231 yards.

Kaufusi doesn’t help thin defensive line

That heavy volume in the Chicago running game led to a long day for an already-thin defensive line.

Baltimore’s three starters up front — Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, and Chris Wormley — all played at least 54 defensive snaps with Henry finishing with a whopping 68, a very high total for a defensive lineman. In contrast, reserve 5-technique defensive end Bronson Kaufusi played only five defensive snaps, leading one to wonder if he may have sustained an injury at some point over the course of the game.

“He was healthy. You have to play well, and he’s learning, to be honest with you,” Harbaugh said. “We had to stop the run, and we needed a little more physicality in there. Fifty-four snaps [for each starting defensive lineman] is probably a lot, but we had 80 defensive snaps [total]. You earn your snaps.”

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Ravens defense passes first test facing familiar problem

Posted on 09 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Jimmy Smith’s 47-yard fumble return for a touchdown in Sunday’s 30-17 win over Oakland came at a price for the Ravens.

The veteran cornerback felt his tender Achilles tendon flare up toward the end of the run, putting the defense in an all-too-familiar position as he played just four defensive snaps in third-down situations the rest of the way. But unlike past instances when the secondary all but collapsed without its best talent on the field, the Ravens persevered to hold Raiders quarterback EJ Manuel to 159 yards and a single touchdown pass for the game.

Perhaps it would have played out differently had two-time Pro Bowl selection Derek Carr been under center, but the Ravens passed their first test in the exact situation for which they’d prepared this offseason. It’s unknown whether the lack of drop-off in Smith’s absence will prompt the Ravens to sit him down for some period of time in hopes of his Achilles improving for the second half of the season.

“We just have guys that we can play. We are very good with the guys that we have,” Harbaugh said. “We want Jimmy out there. He is a topnotch corner. I think he is one of the best corners in football. I am a big Jimmy Smith fan.”

But the organization also knows injuries have plagued the talented defensive back throughout his career. It was just last year when the Ravens went 2-5 in games in which Smith missed significant time, a major reason why they missed the postseason for the third time in four seasons.

General manager Ozzie Newsome addressed that reality by signing free-agent veteran Brandon Carr and drafting Marlon Humphrey in the first round, the first time he’d taken a cornerback on the opening day of the draft since picking Smith in 2011. And while Humphrey’s selection with the 16th overall pick raised a few eyebrows with the roster having more pressing needs, the Alabama product again looked the part in Week 5 as he frequently faced Raiders wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

The Oakland veteran entered Sunday having produced four touchdown receptions and 199 receiving yards in his last two contests against the Ravens, but Humphrey mostly held his own playing man-to-man coverage. Crabtree’s 41-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter came against Carr in coverage after Manuel escaped the pocket to extend the play. The No. 1 receiver finished with six catches for 82 yards overall.

“Crabtree is pretty special. We have had some experience with him, haven’t we, in Baltimore?” Harbaugh said. “He is a great one. Marlon didn’t back down. Marlon is confident. They got him on the three-stop nines or hitch [routes], if you want to call them that, versus press. Marlon played him a certain way. That was really the plan.

“Hindsight being 20-20, I think we might have played that with a little different technique than we did and helped Marlon out a little bit. Those are great learning experiences.”

Not only is Humphrey continuing to learn on the job, but he’s affording the Ravens the luxury of being able to rest their top corner without the fear of a collapse coming.

Injury report grows

Smith wasn’t the only injury concern emerging on Sunday as running back Terrance West (left calf), right guard Matt Skura (knee), and defensive tackle Carl Davis (hamstring) left the game and didn’t return.

On Monday, Harbaugh deferred to an NFL Network report indicating West would not be a long-term absence, but he didn’t offer any details on a timeline for his return or about a contingency plan at running back. Buck Allen and Alex Collins are the only healthy running backs currently on the roster, meaning Baltimore will likely look to add depth in the short term.

“We have to see if we can execute it right now in terms of what we’re going to do, who we’re going to look at,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just wait until we know. I don’t want to start putting the plans out there until we know if we can pull it off.”

According to The Sun, Skura could miss two to four weeks with a medial collateral ligament sprain in his knee. That means rookie Jermaine Eluemunor will likely be the next man up at the position, and the offensive line will need to adjust to another starting combination.

“It just doesn’t matter,” Harbaugh said. “It is not something we think about. It is not something we quantify. We don’t waste any energy thinking about that. You just go and get ready for the next game.”

Monday night scouting

Harbaugh and the Ravens had the rare opportunity to scout their next two opponents — Chicago and Minnesota — by merely turning on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

Rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky was making his first NFL start for the Bears and is expected to start his first road contest at M&T Bank Stadium this Sunday.

“Normally on these Monday nights, I get home maybe at halftime and decide if I want to stay awake or not. Usually the answer is no,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “Sometimes if it’s an AFC North team, you have to do it, or the Patriots or somebody like that.

“But this game we’ll be watching. I will get home in time to watch this one.”

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Ravens offense not even talking a good game at this point

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco acknowledged this week that the Ravens offense isn’t playing with as much confidence as it needs to.

It was an honest assessment considering the quarterback and the unit rank near the bottom of the NFL in numerous categories, but how do you go about raising that confidence level in hopes of it carrying over to Sundays? Do coaches add new wrinkles to the playbook, invite more player input during meetings, or even try something as simple as having a little more fun during practices to put minds at ease?

Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was posed that simple question on Thursday.

“Just a little juice, you know? Hey, we’ve got proud men here,” Mornhinweg said. “We talked about this the other day. We’ve got a lot of proud men and a lot of confident guys. When you go through a couple weeks like this, confidence is a great weapon. I think it’s the best weapon known to mankind. Confidence is at an all-time high.”

Not only does Mornhinweg not answer the original question, but he contradicts the starting quarterback’s opinion by saying the group’s confidence is greater than ever. That’s not exactly a good look when media and fans are demanding answers from one of the worst offenses in the league through the first month of the season.

Now in his third season as the quarterbacks coach, Mornhinweg is doubly responsible for Flacco ranking 32nd in passing yards, last among qualified quarterbacks with a career-worst 5.1 yards per attempt, and 31st of 32 qualified quarterbacks with a 65.0 passer rating. So, what is he having the 10th-year veteran work on during practices?

“There’s a lot of specific things, and that goes with every position,” Mornhinweg said. “These more than a handful of plays last ballgame — details. It’s really every position, you know? Details, and then you end up getting those four, five, six, seven plays in a game that may make a little bit of a difference.”

Again, what?

To be clear, talking to the media is far from Mornhinweg’s primary job responsibility and he’s never been an eloquent speaker, something the team’s official website has even had fun with on occasion. However, failing to answer fair questions with any substance isn’t amusing when many fans are calling for a coordinator change and already weren’t thrilled with John Harbaugh’s decision to retain him in January.

Is there any sign the offensive coordinator is seeing that a breakout could be coming?

“We’ll see, we’ll see,” Mornhinweg said. “You keep working hard, you keep preparing, good things tend to happen.”

You can only hope he’s a better communicator with his players than he is with the media or there truly is no hope for an offensive turnaround.

Pees blames himself for run defense issues

A week after suggesting the Ravens’ problems in London stemmed from a lack of intensity, defensive coordinator Dean Pees took the blame for Pittsburgh gaining 173 rushing yards on 42 carries in Week 4.

The Ravens’ outside linebackers did a poor job setting the edge, but Pees said he didn’t have his defense prepared for the type of pulling the Steelers employed with their interior linemen on outside runs.

“It’s not the players fault. It’s my fault,” Pees said. “The Steelers — I give them credit — [offensive line coach Mike Munchak] and those guys did a different scheme on some of their pullers than what we had ever seen. They did. It was different than what I’ve seen the Steelers run. But it’s my job to get it adapted and fixed and corrected and put the guys in a better position than what they were put in.”

Pees did try to cherry-pick the final numbers by saying that the Ravens held the Steelers to 2.3 yards per carry on 36 of their 42 attempts — any defense is going to look much better when you remove the top six plays — but at least he took responsibility for a run defense needing to be better than it’s shown so far. The Ravens currently rank 26th in rushing yards allowed per game (127.3) and 20th in yards per carry allowed (4.2).

Secondary shuffling

We’re unlikely to see any notable changes if cornerback Jimmy Smith misses Sunday’s game in Oakland, but the Ravens secondary could stand to benefit from a facelift in the near future.

With nickel corner Lardarius Webb struggling in coverage and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey looking like the real deal, the Ravens should look to move the latter into the starting lineup and continue experimenting with Brandon Carr at the nickel spot as they’ve done on a few occasions this year. Impressive rookie free agent Jaylen Hill could also be in the nickel mix once he gets back into football shape from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for over a month.

Webb’s best role at this point is at the safety position, which gives the Ravens an opportunity to be more creative with their sub packages while also keeping the veteran involved in the defense.

Safety Tony Jefferson hasn’t made a major impact so far, but one could question whether he’s being used properly. His strength is playing closer to the line of scrimmage against the run and in pass coverage against tight ends, but Pees has used him as more of a traditional safety so far. Sliding Jefferson down to a hybrid dime position in many passing situations would allow the Ravens to take the weak-side inside linebacker off the field — a position that’s been an issue — and to move Webb to the back end of the defense where he played next to Eric Weddle last year.

Anything that maximizes their $34 million investment in Jefferson and gets Humphrey on the field should be on the table.

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Webb returns to Ravens practice while J. Smith remains sidelined

Posted on 06 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens defensive back Lardarius Webb returned to practice Thursday while top cornerback Jimmy Smith remained sidelined with an Achilles issue.

It remains unclear whether Smith will be ready to play against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees expressed great confidence in rookie Marlon Humphrey stepping into a starting role if necessary. Humphrey was periodically filling in for Smith throughout the Week 4 loss to Pittsburgh, an indication that the veteran wasn’t right physically.

“He is fast, physical, big, he uses his hands, and he is into the game plan,” said Pees about the Ravens’ 2017 first-round pick from Alabama. “He has all those things that you want a [defensive back] to possess. I think that he is just a really good player, a really good talent, and I think we have done a good job of bringing him along and not throwing him in there too fast.

“Kind of each week, he gets more and more plays, and now he has himself in a little bit of a rotation-type thing.”

Tight ends Benjamin Watson (calf) and Maxx Williams (ankle) and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (foot) remained absent from practice. The latter two are almost certain to miss their third straight game.

Meanwhile, the Raiders surprisingly welcomed starting quarterback Derek Carr back to the practice field just days after he suffered a fracture in his back in Denver. He is still not expected to play against Baltimore, but Oakland will take satisfaction knowing he is ahead of schedule in his recovery.

Starting wide receivers Amari Cooper (knee) and Michael Crabtree (chest) and starting defensive end Mario Edward (back) were upgraded to full participation after sitting out on Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), TE Benjamin Watson (calf), DT Brandon Williams (foot), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Jeremy Maclin (hand), DB Lardarius Webb (thigh)

OAKLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Gabe Jackson (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB David Amerson (concussion), QB David Carr (back), CB Gareon Conley (shin), RB DeAndre Washington (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Amari Cooper (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (chest), DE Mario Edwards (back)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-9 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 03 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first home defeat to Pittsburgh since 2012 in a 26-7 loss, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. From being shut out in the first half and Mike Wallace’s drop of a possible touchdown to the poor offensive line play and the all-too-slow tempo of the no-huddle attack in the fourth quarter, this Ravens offense is broken. And it’s tough to trust Marty Mornhinweg to fix it.

2. Even acknowledging the injuries and the poor offense, Dean Pees’ defense ranks 14th in points allowed per game, 21st in total yards per game, 16th in passing yards per game, and 20th in yards per carry allowed. That’s not nearly good enough considering the many resources used on this defense.

3. The running game has been the offense’s only redeeming quality, but 73 of the 82 rushing yards came on two plays while the other 13 carries produced a total of nine yards. It’s difficult staying on schedule without gaining at least a few yards each on those other plays.

4. Those wondering if the Ravens were wise to spend so much to re-sign Brandon Williams have seen a defensive line lacking a consistent push. Even in those short-yardage situations where the Ravens front appeared to make a stop, the Steelers were still able to get enough to move the chains.

5. It’s difficult to recall too many games when Ravens outside linebackers were so abysmal against the run. Pittsburgh gained most of its big yards on outside runs while Baltimore consistently failed to set the edge.

6. Alex Collins has lost two fumbles on just 25 carries, but the Ravens have no choice right now but to give him opportunities when he’s been their best offensive playmaker. He clearly needs to protect the football, but the risk-reward ratio remains in his favor — for now.

7. Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward might as well have changed his address to the Ravens backfield on Sunday. He absolutely dominated an undermanned and inexperienced offensive line.

8. John Harbaugh has received plenty of fair criticism for his use of challenges over the years, but give him credit for being on top of the Eric Weddle interception that followed a non-catch from Antonio Brown. If only the whistle hadn’t blown before an easy return for a touchdown.

9. Marlon Humphrey was immediately challenged upon entering the game and ran right with Brown on a long incompletion in the second quarter. I’m surprised that he’s mostly subbed in for Jimmy Smith, but the rookie continues to make a strong argument for a starting role opposite Smith.

10. He had a rough game against Jacksonville, but I didn’t quite get Tyus Bowser playing only eight defensive snaps against the Steelers. It’s not as though the other young outside linebackers have established themselves as consistent options and he was very good against Cleveland in Week 2.

11. I couldn’t help but think Harbaugh’s expressed frustration over Jaylen Hill’s slow-healing hamstring injury Monday had something to do with the struggles of Lardarius Webb at the nickel spot. There’s certainly a role for Webb in this defense, but he’s being exposed in pass coverage.

12. The poor throw from high-priced quarterback Joe Flacco and the inability of former first-round receiver Breshad Perriman to corral it in the third quarter epitomized how inept this offense has been. Even when the Ravens had a golden opportunity for a touchdown, they wasted it.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 September 2017 by Luke Jones

Coming off one of the worst losses in team history and remembering what happened last Christmas Day, the Ravens should have no shortage of motivation against Pittsburgh on Sunday.

But it’s difficult knowing what to expect after such a shockingly poor performance in London and with the injuries continuing to mount. A Week 4 tilt is hardly a must-win game, but the Ravens surely would like to hold serve at home and escape the next two games with no worse than a 3-2 record going into the middle portion of the regular season.

The Steelers are coming off a disappointing loss of their own as their high-octane offense has been largely stuck in neutral through the first three weeks of the season. However, Pittsburgh does find itself in better shape than the Ravens from a health standpoint, a key factor in what’s always a very physical ballgame.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North foes meet for the 43rd time in the regular season with the Steelers holding a slight 22-20 edge as well as a 3-1 advantage in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh prevailed in dramatic fashion to clinch the division title last Dec. 25, but the Ravens have won six of the last eight meetings, a stretch that includes their only postseason victory since Super Bowl XLVII. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 21 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will lead the Ravens in rushing and will score his first touchdown. I’m not sure how real his 7.8 yards per attempt average is since he’s rarely carried the ball with a game’s outcome in doubt, but this sputtering offense is in desperate need of a spark and there’s no denying the urgency with which Collins has run. The Ravens have averaged 4.6 yards per carry since Marshal Yanda’s season-ending injury in Week 2, but most of that has come with a multi-score second-half lead over Cleveland and a huge deficit against Jacksonville and the Steelers are getting healthy with defensive end Stephon Tuitt returning. If the Baltimore passing game can’t get going again, Pittsburgh is likely to stack the box.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will crack 100 yards of offense for the first time this season. It’s been a slow start to 2017 for the Steelers’ Pro Bowl running back, but the Ravens will be without standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams and defensive end Brent Urban, putting pressure on young linemen lacking experience against a rock-solid Pittsburgh offensive line. Baltimore linebackers were undisciplined in pass coverage against Jacksonville, which is another reason for concern with Bell’s ability as a receiver out of the backfield. The Ravens may need to take some chances with their linebackers to boost their pass rush, but that will leave them vulnerable on underneath throws.

3. Terrell Suggs will break a six-game drought against the Steelers with a sack against Ben Roethlisberger. No defender has more career takedowns of the Pittsburgh quarterback than Suggs, but the Ravens’ pass rush was nonexistent against Jacksonville while trying to rely mostly on a four-man rush. Not only do they need another edge rusher to consistently emerge opposite Suggs, but the inside pass rush is a big question mark since Urban was a major part of that equation. It isn’t enough to merely make Roethlisberger uncomfortable as Baltimore also needs to keep him in the pocket to prevent the downfield improvisation with his receivers that so often gets a secondary in trouble.

4. Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will catch a touchdown despite being held to a season low for yards. The pain of last December’s game-winning score notwithstanding, the Ravens have generally done a respectable job against Brown while rarely having top cornerback Jimmy Smith travel with the All-Pro receiver. It will be interesting to see how much rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey plays — especially with 6-foot-5 receiver Martavis Bryant back in the fold — but the Ravens are better equipped to handle the Pittsburgh passing game than they were in the fourth-quarter collapse in Week 16 last year. Brown will inevitably get touches, but he won’t be the difference in the game.

5. The Pittsburgh defense will be too much for the Ravens in a 17-14 loss. This will be a close one as it almost always is in this rivalry. I fully expect the Baltimore defense to rebound from last week’s embarrassment and play well despite being banged up on the defensive line, but it’s difficult having faith in the Ravens to score points considering the current state of the offensive line and how uncomfortable Joe Flacco has looked trying to throw the football down the field. They’re also facing a Steelers defense that’s improved from recent years despite its clear issues against the run in Chicago. Roethlisberger hasn’t won a game at M&T Bank Stadium since 2010 and the Steelers haven’t won in Baltimore since Charlie Batch pulled off an upset in 2012, but the Ravens are the inferior team on paper because of their many injuries and haven’t shown enough on offense to make me believe they’re going to win this one.

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Breaking down the 2017 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 02 September 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 14-13 win over New Orleans

Posted on 01 September 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding a 4-0 preseason with a 14-13 win over New Orleans, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ryan Mallett playing in the exhibition finale can be taken as a good sign regarding Joe Flacco’s status, but it also reflects how disappointing his play was this summer that the coaching staff wanted to see him take more snaps after starting the first three preseason games.

2. Receiving his only extensive action of the preseason, Marlon Humphrey was strong in run support and showed the signs of why he’s a first-round talent. He was flagged twice, but that many live-game reps were valuable for the 21-year-old cornerback going into the regular season.

3. Chris Moore caught a 1-yard touchdown, but seeing him on the field in the fourth quarter of the final preseason game says a lot about his status. Even with Breshad Perriman missing a month, the second-year receiver did little to establish himself as a trustworthy option in the passing game.

4. It was a disappointing summer for the entire batch of young receivers behind veterans Mike Wallace and Jeremy Maclin. Yes, the quarterback play was poor, but this group got very little separation in routes, something Brian Billick observed repeatedly in Thursday’s telecast.

5. Carl Davis has been identified as a bubble player because of the depth on the defensive line, but he did everything he could to put that discussion to rest. His interception showed off his athleticism, and he was disruptive at the line of scrimmage.

6. Willie Henry also applied pressure in the pocket with three quarterback hits, but he committed his fifth penalty of the preseason. His talent makes him worthy of the 53-man roster, but that lack of discipline quickly lands you in the coaching staff’s doghouse.

7. With Albert McClellan suffering a season-ending knee injury last week, Bam Bradley had a great opportunity to state his case for a roster spot and responded with five defensive tackles and three special-teams stops. The Ravens could use a veteran inside backer for depth, but Bradley has impressed.

8. So many are rooting for Keenan Reynolds to play in the NFL, but his fumbled punt return was disappointing to see. Perhaps he’ll be invited back to the practice squad for another season, but I’m just not seeing it with the former Navy quarterback. I hope I’m wrong.

9. Tim Williams didn’t register a tackle or a sack, but you could again see how disruptive he can be as a pass rusher. His limitations as a special-teams player could hinder his game-day status to start the season, but the potential is there coming off the edge.

10. The top three are set, but the remaining short-term cornerback depth suddenly looks shaky with Sheldon Price sustaining a concussion Thursday and Jaylen Hill and Robertson Daniel apparently banged up as well. Brandon Boykin also missed the final three preseason games.

11. Bobby Rainey had a strong night running the football, but the veteran’s playing time throughout the summer doesn’t suggest he’s even on the bubble. At least he comes away with some solid tape for other teams to consider after cut-down day.

12. I had to chuckle when John Harbaugh started walking toward the center of the field after Saints kicker Wil Lutz missed a 59-yard field goal try and then realized there were still 13 seconds remaining. I can hardly blame the head coach for wanting fake football season to be over.

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