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Three Ravens players receive PFWA honors

Posted on 15 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Three Ravens players received honors from the Professional Football Writers of America on Tuesday.

Kicker Justin Tucker was the only Baltimore player named to the 2018 PFWA All-NFL team, the third time he’s received that distinction in his career. The 29-year-old went 35-for-39 on field goal tries and 36-for-37 on extra points in 2018 and was also named the first-team All-Pro kicker by the Associated Press earlier this month despite not being picked for the Pro Bowl for the second straight season.

Tucker was one of three Baltimore players named to the PFWA All-AFC team with right guard Marshal Yanda and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley joining him. After missing nearly all of the 2017 season with an ankle injury, Yanda, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, started all 16 games and reclaimed his place as one of the best guards in football. Mosley recorded 105 tackles, a half-sack, one interception, and five passes defensed as he was also named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his five-year NFL career.

No Ravens were named to the PFWA All-Rookie team as New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon received the nod over Mark Andrews, the Baltimore rookie with the strongest case for inclusion. Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield was named the PFWA’s 2018 Rookie of the Year while New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard was tabbed Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Below is a look at the PFWA’s full All-NFL, All-AFC, All-NFC, and All-Rookie teams:

2018 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams*

WR – DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans*; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons, and Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (tie)

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles*

G – Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys&; Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

T – David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs

Defense

DE – Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings; J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

DT – Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles*; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams&

OLB – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears; Von Miller, Denver Broncos+

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks#

CB – Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots

S – Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears; Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

P – Michael Dickson, Seattle Seahawks

KR – Andre Roberts, New York Jets

PR – Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

ST – Adrian Phillips, Los Angeles Chargers

* – repeat selection from 2017

# – consecutive selections from 2016-18

& – consecutive selections from 2015-18

+ – consecutive selections from 2014-18

 

2018 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

RB – Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans; Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

WR – DeAndre Hopkins*, Houston Texans; Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers*

G – Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens

T – Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans*; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs*

Defense

DE – Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals; Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

OLB – Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

ILB – C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens

CB – Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots; Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins

S – Jamal Adams, New York Jets; Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens#

P – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans*

KR – Andre Roberts, New York Jets

PR – Andre Roberts, New York Jets

ST – Adrian Phillips, Los Angeles Chargers

* – repeat selection from 2017

# – consecutive selections from 2016-18

& – consecutive selections from 2013-18

 

2018 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams*

WR –Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons&; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints*

TE – George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles*

G – Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles*; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys&

T – Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints; David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers

Defense

DE – Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints*; Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings, and DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys* (tie)

DT – Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles*; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams&

OLB – Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins*; Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

CB – Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys

S – Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears; Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings*

Special Teams

PK – Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants

P – Michael Dickson, Seattle Seahawks

KR – Richie James, San Francisco 49ers

PR – Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

ST – Cory Littleton, Los Angeles Rams

* – repeat selection from 2017

# – consecutive selections from 2015-18

& – consecutive selections from 2014-18

 

2018 PFWA ALL-ROOKIE TEAM

Offense

QB – Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

RB – Saquon Barkley, New York Giants; Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

WR – Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons; DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers

TE – Chris Herndon, New York Jets

C – Billy Price, Cincinnati Bengals

G – Will Hernandez, New York Giants; Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

T – Mike McGlinchey, San Francisco 49ers; Braden Smith, Indianapolis Colts

Defense

DL – Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos; Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints; Da’Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions; Daron Payne, Washington Redskins

LB – Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts; Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears; Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys

CB – Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers, Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

S – Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals; Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Special Teams

PK – Jason Sanders, Miami Dolphins

P – Michael Dickson, Seattle Seahawks

KR – Tremon Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

PR – Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals

ST – Zeke Turner, Arizona Cardinals

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brandonwilliams

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Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams added to Pro Bowl roster

Posted on 15 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will be sending a fourth player to this month’s Pro Bowl as defensive tackle Brandon Williams was named an injury replacement for Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins on Tuesday.

This marks Williams’ first career trip to the Pro Bowl after the 29-year-old collected 34 tackles, a sack, and one pass defensed in 16 starts this season. The run-stopping nose tackle played 564 snaps and ranked 36th among the NFL’s interior defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Interestingly, PFF graded Ravens teammate Michael Pierce fifth among all interior defenders, but he played just 408 snaps.

Williams has anchored Baltimore’s run defense since becoming a starter in 2014. This past season, the Ravens ranked fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (82.9) and third in yards per carry allowed (3.7), their best finishes in those departments since 2014.

“My wife and I couldn’t hold back our tears of excitement and joy to know that after six wonderful years in the NFL, and with God’s guidance, we have reached our goal of getting selected to the Pro Bowl!” Williams said in a statement released by the Ravens. “I couldn’t be more appreciative and thankful to everyone who has had a hand or vote in getting my dream to come true, and I look forward to playing the game in Orlando.

“I vowed to myself and to my wife that we could not take a trip to Hawaii until after I went to the Pro Bowl. Honey, pack your bags!”

Williams will join right guard Marshal Yanda, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle in representing Baltimore at the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27. The 2013 third-round pick is in the midst of a five-year, $52.5 million contract signed in 2017.

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jackson

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering wild-card weekend

Posted on 05 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens preparing for their first playoff game in four years against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The 68-yard touchdown highlighted a career passing day for Lamar Jackson in Week 16, but he also made some good decisions on check-downs and short throws in the first half. He’ll need more of that to offset the Chargers’ pass rush the second time around.

2. No matter what happens, the 21-year-old gaining playoff experience as a rookie is invaluable — and exciting — for the future. Joe Flacco posted a 50.8 passer rating with one touchdown and three interceptions in his first postseason run before eventually becoming “January Joe.” Be sure to keep that perspective.

3. Taking nothing away from the Ravens’ dominant defensive performance, seven of the eight Chargers penalties were committed by the offense with a few wiping out big gains and stalling any momentum for Philip Rivers. Like in Week 16, Clete Blakeman will be Sunday’s referee.

4. Za’Darius Smith will again be a key figure trying to exploit an underwhelming interior offensive line. The pending free agent has positioned himself for quite a payday with 8 1/2 sacks. Following up what he did in the first meeting against the Chargers — 1 1/2 sacks — will only strengthen that.

5. Los Angeles would be wise to spread the Ravens defense out more frequently and throw to running backs on the perimeter to try to offset the pass rush that made Rivers miserable. Chargers running backs did Rivers no favors in pass protection the first time around anyway.

6. Baltimore isn’t trending in the right direction in the red zone and on third down the last two weeks, going 1-for-7 and 7-for-27 in those respective categories. You can only expect other areas of the game to overcome those deficiencies for so long without substantial improvement.

7. How the Chargers fare against this running game the second time around will be fascinating, but the absences of linebacker Jatavis Brown and nose tackle Brandon Mebane loom large. You never want to test your depth against a rushing attack known for wearing down its opposition.

8. Mark Andrews led all rookie tight ends in receiving yards, yards per catch, yards after the catch, and first-down receptions, per Pro Football Focus. The third-round pick’s emergence as a big-play threat and reliable target has been critical when Jackson has needed to throw.

9. Only 12 players on the current roster were in the organization the last time the Ravens appeared in the playoffs four years ago, but Jimmy Smith was on injured reserve then and Flacco is now the backup quarterback. Things sure change quickly, don’t they?

10. Speaking of Flacco, his comment admitting the backup job is “not the most fun position in the world” predictably drew criticism from the same folks who’d likely bash him for not being a competitor if he said he enjoyed his new role. I won’t miss this kind of nonsensical criticism.

11. Justin Tucker was an AP first-team All-Pro selection while Marshal Yanda and C.J. Mosley were second team. Reporters receive much criticism — some deserved — for awards and Hall of Fame voting, but players, coaches, and fans are the ones voting for the Pro Bowl that again excluded the NFL’s best kicker.

12. Whether the Ravens advance or not, you just know Kansas City and New England coaches have spent more time on their bye week preparing for Baltimore’s rushing attack than for any other AFC team playing this weekend. It’s a scary matchup for anyone.

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Ravens’ rematch with Chargers carries much intrigue with playoff stakes

Posted on 03 January 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are entering unusual territory for Sunday’s wild-card tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Not only will it be their first home playoff game in six years, but the opponent is a team Baltimore saw — and defeated — just two weeks ago. Teams play their divisional foes twice per season, of course, but you rarely see a return bout after just 15 days, making the second meeting between these AFC teams that much more interesting after the Ravens’ convincing 22-10 win in Carson, California on Dec. 22.

The chess match is on against a familiar opponent who is also 8-0 in games played outside Los Angeles.

“Are they going to game-plan us the same way that they did the first game, or are they going to completely change the game plan?” right guard Marshal Yanda said. “Are we going to change the game plan? You really don’t know exactly if they’re going to stick to the script or if they’re going to install a new game plan. You just have to look at their entire body of work, their entire 16-game season.”

The last time the Ravens played the same team twice in such a short period of time was in 2012 when they beat Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in Week 11 and fell to the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium two weeks later. That same season, Denver clobbered John Harbaugh’s team in Baltimore in mid-December, but you may recall the underdog Ravens faring a little differently at Mile High four weeks later on the way to the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.

No better examples are needed to remind nothing is assured for Baltimore — even with home-field advantage — despite its convincing road victory over Philip Rivers and the Chargers in Week 16. We constantly try to jump to conclusions from what we see in this league in a given week and are frequently sent back to the drawing board, which is what makes the NFL so much fun. The truth is we’re dealing with small sample sizes and many variables in contrast to the other sports that play many more games in a season.

But that brings us to Lamar Jackson and a Ravens running game that’s taken the league by storm over the last two months. Opponents have tried their best to simulate Jackson in practices by using a mobile quarterback or even a speedy player at another position, but his speed and agility have no parallel at the position in today’s game. Teams can watch film and prepare as much as possible, but experiencing this ground attack for the first time is different as the Ravens have rushed for at least 194 yards in six of the last seven games and Jackson set a single-season record for rushing attempts (147) by a quarterback despite starting only seven games.

It’s similar to a hitter stepping to the plate against a pitcher with triple-digit heat, nasty breaking stuff, and an unorthodox delivery for the first time after poring over the scouting reports and watching video in preparation. But in the same way batters have the chance to adjust in subsequent plate appearances, the Chargers’ ninth-ranked run defense will now have the opportunity to provide a meaningful answer to the question we’ve been asking for weeks.

How sustainable is the Ravens’ high-volume running game as opposing defenses are further exposed to it and given more time to prepare?

At first glance, the Chargers surrendering 159 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per carry in Week 16 isn’t worthy of praise, but they fared better against Jackson’s legs and the NFL’s second-ranked rushing attack than any other post-bye opponent. After registering a robust 5.4 yards per carry in the first half, the Ravens managed just 21 yards on their first 10 carries of the second half, contributing to three straight three-and-outs that kept the struggling Chargers within striking distance until Tavon Young’s late fumble return for a touchdown. Jackson carried 13 times for just 39 yards on the night, easily his lowest rushing total since Joe Flacco was still the starting quarterback and the rookie was playing sparingly.

“We weren’t as efficient in the second half as we needed to be,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who caught a 68-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Week 16 win. “That’s probably one of those things [where] they played a good game and we fell off a little bit.”

It’s not as though opposing defenses haven’t attempted to adjust during games by keeping a safety in the box more frequently, using “Bear” or heavy fronts, or even utilizing pre-snap movement with defensive linemen pinching inside like Cleveland did in the fourth quarter. But this will be the first time an opponent has been able to go back to the laboratory with a full week to prepare and adjust after facing the real thing.

A few teams have managed to slow Baltimore’s ground game — at least somewhat — as Kansas City gave up only 3.8 yards per carry after halftime compared to 6.1 yards per attempt in the first half. The Browns surrendered 4.5 yards per carry in the second half last Sunday after being gashed to the tune of an absurd 8.5 yards per carry over the first two quarters. But only the Chargers have managed to shut down the Baltimore run over the final 30 minutes as the Ravens defense was forced to win the game.

Los Angeles’ propensity for frequently using safeties like rookie sensation Derwin James in the box and more athletic linebackers matches up better with Jackson on the edges.

“We know his speed. I watched him in college as well. His speed is really good,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. “We know that you have to protect the perimeter with this guy. On the edge, one-on-one — he can win. He’s like a running back with the ball in his hands.”

Such a strategy of using lighter players in the box would seemingly leave the Chargers vulnerable against inside runs. That proved true in the first half as Gus Edwards ran for 60 yards on eight carries, but the 238-pound rookie managed just 11 yards on five carries in the second half before finally breaking off a late 21-yard gain when the game was already decided.

We’re still dealing with such a small sample size, mind you, but did the Chargers manage to finally crack the code? Will Ravens run-game guru Greg Roman cook up something new that Los Angeles coordinator Gus Bradley and his defense won’t be able to handle? Or does Jackson build on what he did through the air against the Chargers after throwing for a career-high 204 yards the first time around?

A return meeting this soon with such high stakes couldn’t be more fascinating.

“They’re skilled. They’re well-coached. They’re disciplined. They make it hard,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg of the Chargers. “They’re really good on defense, and that’s the way I perceive this group that we’re playing. They’ll do a couple of things [differently] during the game — we’ll do a few things [too] — because of the last ball game.

“But every game is its own entity.”

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tavonyoung

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Ravens carry season of good health into wild-card weekend

Posted on 02 January 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A number of factors have gone into the Ravens’ first trip to the playoffs in four years, ranging from Lamar Jackson and an explosive running game to the continued dominance of one of the best defenses in the NFL.

But a season of good health might be as big a reason as any, especially after the long list of injuries that plagued Baltimore through the better part of the last three non-playoff seasons. The Ravens haven’t needed to make a 53-man roster move in over a month and just two players from the Week 1 active roster — running back Alex Collins and defensive tackle Willie Henry — are currently on injured reserve.

The Ravens finished with the sixth-most adjusted games lost in the NFL last season, but the projected starters on the offensive and defensive units for Sunday’s wild-card meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers have missed a total of just 14 games due to injury this season. Seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was sidelined for that many alone last season.

“I think it’s been big,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The fact that we were healthy, the healthiest we’ve been all year, credit goes to the players for how hard they work and for our strength and conditioning and performance people. What a great job they’ve done. The continuity of practice and then games and having a full roster is really important.”

Ironically, it was the hip injury to longtime quarterback Joe Flacco that forced Jackson into the starting lineup and resulted in the transformation of a pass-heavy offense into an unconventional unit that’s run the ball more than any team in the league since Week 11. A starting quarterback missing multiple games is usually a death knell for a team’s playoff hopes, but it speaks to just how unusual this season has been for the Ravens and how healthy they’ve remained at other positions to thrive through such a transition.

Cornerback Tavon Young was the only Raven to miss Wednesday’s practice for an injury-related reason as he continues to play through a groin issue that sidelined him in Week 12 and has cost him practice time for multiple weeks. Wide receiver Chris Moore (shoulder) was a full participant on Wednesday despite leaving in the fourth quarter of the Week 17 win over Cleveland.

The Chargers present a more interesting injury picture this week as tight end Hunter Henry could make his season debut after rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered last spring. Henry remains on the physically unable to perform list after returning to practice last month, but reports have indicated he will take first-team reps this week in hopes of playing.

Henry caught a combined 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons and appeared poised for a breakout 2018 before injuring his knee during organized team activities.

“We’re not quite sure where he’s at right now,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said in a conference call. “He hasn’t been on the football field since April. The expectations wouldn’t be real high to be honest with you. We’ll evaluate him at the end of the week, and we’ll see where he’s at.”

Los Angeles outside linebacker Jatavis Brown is expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering an ankle injury in Week 17, a significant development as the Chargers try to slow Baltimore’s rushing attack. However, Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon (ankle) was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and is expected to play.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Tavon Young (groin), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (shoulder), WR Chris Moore (shoulder)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Jatavis Brown (ankle), NT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Austin Ekeler (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Jahleel Addae (shoulder), G Dan Feeney (knee), RB Melvin Gordon (ankle), OT Sam Tevi (groin)

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carrgoodguy

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Humphrey named 2018 Ravens MVP; Carr chosen as media “Good Guy”

Posted on 28 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the more unusual seasons in recent memory brought an interesting choice for the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player award.

Longtime quarterback Joe Flacco may have been the choice after the first quarter of the season while the man who replaced him, rookie Lamar Jackson, helped spark a second-half rebound that’s left Baltimore a win away from securing its first AFC North title since 2012. However, the constant in a season filled with ups and downs has been a defense ranking first in the NFL in total yards and points allowed entering Sunday’s regular-season finale against Cleveland.

That’s why standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey was ultimately selected as the 2018 Ravens MVP on Friday with Jackson finishing second and seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda ranking third in votes from the local media. The 2017 first-round pick from Alabama has broken out this season to become one of the better cornerbacks in the AFC and leads the Ravens in pass breakups (14) and is tied for the team lead in interceptions (two) despite missing two October games with a thigh injury. Humphrey enters Week 17 ranked as the NFL’s fifth-best cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

His performance has been particularly superb in the second half of the season as he made key plays to secure victories over Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, and the Los Angeles Chargers, feats that haven’t gone unnoticed.

“I guess you know it when you see it. Hey, actions speak louder than words, right?” said head coach John Harbaugh about Humphrey’s recent knack for finishing off games. “The proof is in the pudding. But he does a good job of that, and that’s what it’s all about and that’s how you win games. You make plays at the end to win games, especially in this league.”

The second-year cornerback declined to accept the honor or to be present for an informal ceremony with a team spokesman saying that Humphrey didn’t want to separate himself from his teammates.

Veteran cornerback Brandon Carr was voted as the local media’s “Good Guy,” an honor bestowed upon a player who goes above and beyond normal media obligations to be cooperative and make himself available to reporters. The 32-year-old is also the Ravens’ nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year award and is very active with charitable causes related to children’s literacy, breast cancer, social justice, and serving underprivileged youth.

“Some things may be harder than others to publish, but you have to do it,” said Carr about being named “Good Guy” by media. “But, also, thank you for the voice you give the fans to get their feedback and just their gauge of the team [and] what’s going on. We all have a job to do; I appreciate you for doing yours as well.”

Wide receiver Willie Snead, safety Tony Jefferson, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and Yanda also received votes for the “Good Guy” award. As a token of gratitude, the local media will make a donation in Carr’s name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

Below is a history of the team MVP and “Good Guy” selections (in that order) dating back to their introduction by the local media in 2003:

2003: Jamal Lewis, Gary Baxter
2004: Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver
2005: Adalius Thomas, Jamal Lewis
2006: Steve McNair, Bart Scott
2007: Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason
2008: Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs
2009: Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson
2010: Haloti Ngata, Chris Carr
2011: Ray Rice, Bernard Pollard
2012: Ray Rice, Arthur Jones
2013: Justin Tucker, Joe Flacco
2014: Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith
2015: Marshal Yanda, Jimmy Smith
2016: Justin Tucker, Zachary Orr
2017: Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle
2018: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr

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Yanda, two other Ravens voted to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 18 December 2018 by Luke Jones

After a broken ankle ended Marshal Yanda’s run of six straight Pro Bowl selections last year, the Ravens right guard has begun a new streak.

Yanda, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle were officially named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday while kicker Justin Tucker was named a first alternate and left tackle Ronnie Stanley a second alternate for the exhibition game, which will take place in Orlando on Jan. 27.

Tying Terrell Suggs for fourth place on the Ravens’ career Pro Bowl selections list with seven, the 34-year-old Yanda returned from last year’s ankle injury as well as offseason shoulder surgery to reclaim his place as one of the best guards in the NFL. He enters Week 16 ranked as the third-best guard in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Yanda has led a revitalized offensive line that’s helped the Ravens produce the league’s No. 2 rushing attack.

“With the injury last year, it was very hard for me not being out there with my brothers, and it has been a long road back this season,” said Yanda, who called the honor “a team award” after missing 14 games in 2017. “I am so thankful to be playing this great game I love and grateful to be a part of this incredible organization.”

Mosley and Weddle have each been named to three straight Pro Bowls and will represent the league’s top-ranked defense in both points allowed and total yards.

Despite battling an early-season knee injury, Mosley has led Baltimore with 91 tackles to go along with a half-sack and three pass breakups. Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, the 2014 first-round pick has now been named to four Pro Bowls, tying Peter Boulware for seventh most in team history.

Mosley has graded as the 37th-best linebacker in the NFL, according to PFF’s grading system.

“I want to thank the Ravens organization, our fans, my peers and the coaches for voting me in,” Mosley said in a statement released by the team. “We have a great defensive line, a terrific group of linebackers and a really strong secondary, and everyone plays a big role in each other’s success. … While it’s an honor to be a part of the Pro Bowl, hopefully I won’t be playing in it because our team is in the Super Bowl.”

After recording a total of 10 interceptions and 21 pass breakups over his first two seasons in Baltimore, Weddle has yet to record a pick and has registered just three pass breakups in 2018. However, teammates and coaches have continued to praise his leadership and cerebral presence as he’s relayed the calls in the defensive huddle since an injury forced Mosley out of action early in the season.

The six-time Pro Bowl selection — his first three came with the San Diego Chargers — ranks second on the team behind Mosley with 66 tackles this season.

“The Pro Bowl is something I never take for granted, and I’m pretty stoked about it,” said the 33-year-old Weddle, who’s graded as the league’s 21st-best safety by PFF this season. “Each year, you just work hard and try to play your very best. To receive recognition for what you do on the field — even if it may not show up in other areas — is awesome.”

Yanda and Mosley were named AFC starters while Weddle will serve as a reserve.

Baltimore’s biggest Pro Bowl snub was Tucker, who hasn’t been selected since 2016 despite continuing to be viewed as the consensus best kicker in the NFL. The most accurate kicker in league history, Tucker has gone 28-for-30 on field goal attempts this season with both misses coming on blocks. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in September and November and hasn’t missed a single kick since his shocking missed extra point — the only one of his career — at the conclusion of the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to New Orleans in Week 7.

The 29-year-old was named the first alternate behind New York Jets kicker Jason Myers.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was named a second Pro Bowl alternate while battling through a nagging ankle injury that’s caused him to miss only one game. The 2016 first-round pick enters Week 16 grading as the 19th-best offensive tackle in the NFL, according to PFF.

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jamesurban

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Questions plaguing the Ravens — and how assistant coaches answered

Posted on 07 November 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are below the .500 mark at the bye for the fourth straight season, leaving plenty of questions for both the rest of the season and beyond.

Below are some answers to questions posed to Baltimore position coaches this week and some thoughts on what they had to say:

Why was the offensive line able to run-block so effectively even without six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda last season and hasn’t this year?

Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris: “Some things happen that way. There are situational [runs where] we’ve done very well. In the red zone, in two-minute when we’ve had to do that, we’re really prospering in the situational area. Some of the run game sometimes has sputtered. It’s a hit-and-miss [thing], and hopefully we can improve it. The good news is we have a game coming up against Cincinnati, and we’ll see how we’ll improve in that area.”

My take: Coaches rarely throw their players under the bus, but there obviously isn’t much insight offered here. I’ll never pretend to be an offensive line expert or anything close to it, but Matt Skura ranks 19th among qualified centers, Alex Lewis 63rd among qualified guards, and James Hurst 58th among qualified offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. The Ravens were justified not committing lucrative money to Ryan Jensen — who PFF ranks a disappointing 27th among qualified centers this year — but his physicality was critical for the running game a year ago. The solid play of rookie Orlando Brown Jr. could allow the Ravens to shift Hurst to left guard where he was a little better last season. As for D’Alessandris mentioning the red zone, the Ravens rank 12th in the NFL with a 54 percent success rate on runs inside the red zone, according to Sharp Football. That still doesn’t come close to making up for ranking 31st in yards per carry overall.

Why have the Ravens run the ball more effectively with Lamar Jackson in the game and not as well with their conventional offense?

Assistant head coach Greg Roman: “Anytime you have a dynamic quarterback that can run, you have an extra running back on the field, so you change the math so to speak. Now it gives you the ability to run called quarterback runs or you can run some quarterback-read-type plays. You’re essentially adding a number to the offense, which puts a little more stress on the defense. That’s really it in a nutshell. I think each week we’ve thrown some new stuff at people they haven’t seen before, so it takes them a little bit to adjust to that as well. The second tier of your question: I think guys are working hard. We’re grinding at it. We’re close on some things, but we just need a little bit more precision — little bit more precise coaching, playing, everything. We’re working in that direction. The thing we’re doing a very good job of is certain situational [runs]. Running situations, guys are doing a phenomenal job. I think we have the most short-yardage situations in the league. If not, I’d be very surprised. Guys are doing really good in that area, and when we have to run it, we’re doing a good job. We’re just not getting the big hits right now. Generally speaking, those things will happen just by everybody being a little bit more precise.”

My take: There isn’t much else to add here, but Roman was mostly right about short yardage as the Ravens have run the second-most plays of one yard to go for a first down or touchdown in the NFL behind only New England. Their 79 percent success rate on short-yardage runs is 10th best in the league, according to Sharp Football. It’s difficult imagining the Ravens getting where they want to go without finding that aforementioned precision when Jackson isn’t on the field. They’re just too predictable now.

Where have the takeaways gone after leading the NFL in that category last season?

Secondary coach Chris Hewitt: “The way I look at it is, we’re playing a little bit more man coverage than we’ve done in the past. We’re not playing as much zone as we’ve done in the past. We’re doing a lot more man coverage. When you’re playing as much man coverage as you are, you have your back to the quarterback. You can’t see the quarterback throwing the ball out of his hands and then be able to get a break on the ball. Now, when we do play zone coverages, and we get an opportunity to catch the ball, we have to catch the ball. Those are the things that, as far as with the sacks and takeaways, those things come in bunches.”

My take: This was an interesting point that has merit. I wrote at length about their lack of takeaways last week and acknowledged luck as being an undeniable variable in the Ravens only having seven takeaways in nine games. They’re tied for second in the NFL in passes defended, meaning they’re still batting passes at the line of scrimmage and getting their hands on footballs downfield. That said, it’s fair to question whether certain veterans have slowed down from previous seasons, turning potential takeaways until mere pass breakups. Perhaps even more surprising than the lack of interceptions has been the Ravens forcing only four fumbles this season after forcing 17 in 2017.

Why has the defense struggled to get off the field on third down in recent weeks?

Hewitt: “When you’re playing the type of coverages that we play and people are throwing the ball short and intermediate routes, I equate it to I’ll take the paper cut instead of somebody stabbing me in the heart, so I’m not trying to give up any big plays. We’ll take those little short-to-intermediate routes. Now, going with that, obviously we have to get off the field on third down. That’s something that we haven’t done a very good job of over the last two weeks or so. In this last game, we were 10-for-16 getting [off the field] on third down, and that can’t happen. For us to become the defense that we want to be — and we’re still a great defense, obviously, we’re still ranked No. 1, No. 2 against the pass or whatever we are as far as statistics are concerned — it’s all about limiting the opportunities for the offense to continue to keep those drives going. Again, we have to do better on third down. That’s the most important thing: We have to do better on third down, get ourselves off the field. But on first and second down, we can’t give them third-and-short, either. We have to do a better job on first and second down stopping them on first and second down. Now, we have third-and-long situations. Now, we can get a chance to go after the quarterback. We can play different zone coverages. Now, we get our eyes back on the quarterback, and now we can intercept some balls. But, as far as playing man coverages, sometimes you’re going to win some, sometimes you’re going to lose some. But, the ones that you lose, you want those to be five yards instead of 30 yards.”

My take: The Ravens have allowed the sixth-fewest number of completions of 20 or more yards and surrendered their first pass play of 40 or more yards of the season against the Steelers on Sunday. As for needing to avoid third-and-short situations, seven of Pittsburgh’s 10 conversions came on plays requiring six yards or less for a first down. The Ravens still rank fifth in the league in third-down defense, but it hasn’t been trending in the right direction against dynamic offenses the last three weeks.

Why has Joe Flacco’s play declined after such a promising September?

Quarterbacks coach James Urban: “Some of the big plays we’ve just missed on or just got edged or just didn’t have enough time, missed a couple throws that I’m sure he’d like to have back. But I think it’s not just one thing. I wish I could say, ‘It’s this one thing,’ or, ‘We need to do this more.’ That’s one thing that’s frustrating: We don’t turn the ball over and score 16 points [against Pittsburgh] — that’s not very common. But you miss two opportunities in the red zone. We were very, very good in the red zone for a long stretch. I think it’s a combination of several things. Joe was playing at a very high level. Joe is a tough sucker; he’s mentally tough. We just have to get over the hump. We just have to make a few more plays, and then it’ll just all happen naturally.”

My take: Remember how we were saying the early success for Flacco and the passing game wouldn’t continue without incorporating an effective running game? Since the Week 4 win at Pittsburgh, the 11th-year quarterback is averaging 5.8 yards per passing attempt and owns a 73.7 passer rating. He’s also leading the NFL in passing attempts, territory he shouldn’t approach. Haven’t we seen this movie before? You can harp on Flacco needing to be better all you want — that’s true, to be clear — but when has he ever played well for an extended period of time without a solid running game? That’s not magically changing.

Is it challenging for Flacco to find and maintain his rhythm with Jackson coming in and out of the game?

Urban: “It’s as much or as little as you allow it to be. That’s my experience. That goes back to years ago when Marty [Mornhinweg] and I were doing it with Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. As much as you allow it to be a distraction, it’ll be a distraction. Joe has been great with that. He sees the production. He sees the plays that we’ve been able to use and utilize, and he understands that we’re just trying to get our best players out on the field to help us win.”

My take: This is a tricky balance since the Ravens haven’t shown the ability to sustain a ground game without the gadgetry involving Jackson. It’s impossible to quantify, but I don’t know how anyone could deny there being occasions when the offense loses its rhythm and becomes disjointed when the starting quarterback completes a couple passes and then is told to go out wide to stand as a receiver. As Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated said this week, “When you watch Ravens film and see how the Lamar Jackson package impacts the down-to-down rhythm, there’s no way Flacco doesn’t hate it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 36-21 loss at Carolina

Posted on 30 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens dropping to 4-4 in their 36-21 loss at Carolina, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The pass rush has produced a total of one sack since dropping Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota a team-record 11 times and didn’t take down Cam Newton once. Twenty-two of Baltimore’s league-leading 27 sacks came against Tennessee, Buffalo, and Cleveland. Is a bit more consistency too much to ask?

2. With the way the first half was going, the head-scratching Joe Flacco interception with no Ravens receiver even in the area felt inevitable. Pass protection wasn’t great and there were again too many drops, but Flacco went 0-for-9 with two picks on throws traveling 15 or more yards downfield. Yuck.

3. The running game was buoyed by three gains of 13 or more yards early on, but Baltimore averaged a season-best 5.6 yards per carry, one of the few positives from Sunday. I don’t see a successful playoff push without improvement on the ground. The October numbers support that.

4. According to Pro Football Focus, Jimmy Smith gave up five of six targets thrown into his coverage for 58 yards. He ranks 106th out of 110 qualified corners in PFF’s grading system. I’ll stand by what I wrote last week, but the Ravens really need to start seeing improvement.

5. It was a forgettable day for the league’s top-ranked defense, but slot cornerback Tavon Young played well, allowing only one catch for minus-two yards and making two tackles. He’s quietly played well since his rough outing at Cincinnati in Week 2.

6. Baltimore’s fake punt from its own 10 early in the first half was unmarked territory in the NFL for at least the last 25 years, but an illegal shift on Morgan Cox wiped out the conversion. Watching the all-22 replay, I’m with John Harbaugh in not seeing what Cox did.

7. Allowing the fourth-and-7 conversion to set up Graham Gano’s 54-yard field goal to end the first half was embarrassing for Wink Martindale and the defense. How no one thought to call a timeout there is a bad look for both the coaching staff and veteran players.

8. After knocking off early rust, Marshal Yanda has again settled in as one of the NFL’s best guards, ranking fifth among all qualified guards in PFF’s grading system. In addition to giving others plenty of help, Yanda has occasionally even pulled on play-action to protect Flacco’s blindside this season.

9. Considering the resources that have been devoted to the safety and inside linebacker positions, the Ravens’ inability to consistently cover tight ends and the middle of the field remains very frustrating. Sunday was a rough day for C.J. Mosley and Tony Jefferson in particular.

10. Some criticism for the Lamar Jackson short-arm incompletion to Willie Snead and praise for the rookie’s play in garbage time from fans and media seemed over the top. If Baltimore falls out of playoff contention, I’m all for evaluating for the future by starting Jackson. Until then, just stop.

11. The left-side combination of Jermaine Eluemunor and Hroniss Grasu for 19 plays gave off quite a preseason feel. Being down to your third-string options on the blindside is a sobering thought with Pittsburgh coming to town. Get well, Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis. And James Hurst and Bradley Bozeman.

12. In order to finish with the 10-6 record that usually makes a team a strong bet to at least secure a wild card, the Ravens will need six wins in their remaining eight games. Baltimore hasn’t pulled off a 6-2 stretch since going 9-2 to begin the 2012 season.

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Lack of quality plaguing Ravens running game more than quantity

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh noted his team had run the ball 25 times when the inevitable question came about the run-pass ratio from Sunday’s 12-9 loss at Cleveland.

Baltimore had also run a season-high 84 plays, but the 11th-year coach made his position clear on Monday.

“I don’t understand the question, why it’s a topic,” Harbaugh said. “You have to do whatever you have to do to move the ball and score points. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of that up until this last game. We just need to put more points on the board. Nine points — three, three, and three — is tough to win games that way. That’s the bottom line.

“But this run-pass balance thing, I don’t understand why it’s a topic.”

He’s right about both his offense — which ranked in the top 10 in multiple categories entering Week 5 — and the overall run-pass obsession many have when spitting out stats about win-loss records and running the ball a certain number of times that confuse correlation with causation. Simply put, teams run when they win, not win because they run. You sometimes wonder if some would prefer running the ball more — no matter how effectively — to their team actually winning games, but today’s NFL is a pass-heavy league and analytics-based principles such as throwing more frequently on first down improve your chances of winning compared to the traditional three yards and a cloud of dust. Like it or not, that mindset isn’t changing anytime soon.

The difference Sunday from previous weeks, however, was that the Ravens weren’t passing the ball effectively while they averaged a season-best 4.6 yards per carry, well ahead of what they’d done in the first four games. Joe Flacco produced 2018 worsts in both yards per attempt (5.3) and completion percentage (51.8 percent) on Sunday, but Baltimore continued to chuck it anyway with the veteran quarterback recording a season-high 56 attempts, territory in which few quarterbacks consistently function well. There were certainly occasions when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could have worked an additional run into the mix.

Passing on 11 of 14 plays inside the red zone was particularly questionable as Flacco threw an ugly interception on a second-and-goal play from the 2 in the second quarter that proved to be one of the most critical plays of the game. Harbaugh and the Ravens frequently view the goal line to be four-down territory — which is the correct mindset — so why not try to pound the ball into the end zone again after Buck Allen was stopped on the previous down?

It’s true that only six teams have more rushing attempts than the Ravens through Week 5, but they also lead the NFL in offensive plays run and only 10 teams have rushed less frequently than their 36.3 percent. When you match that with Baltimore winning all three of its games by double digits and trailing by multiple possessions in just one game (Cincinnati), you’re probably justified if you want to roll your eyes the next time you hear Mornhinweg say they want to run the ball. The Ravens are currently a passing team, and that had worked very well until Sunday.

The warranted criticism from Week 5 aside, the problem with the Ravens running game has been quality much more so than quantity. Clamoring for more rushes doesn’t exactly make a ton of sense when you rank 30th in the league in yards per carry (3.4). That’s not to say the ground game doesn’t need to improve with Sunday’s poor passing performance being a perfect example why.

“Yes, we’re concerned. We want to run the ball well,” Harbaugh said. “We’re working as hard as we can to do it. If the question is: Are you working hard at the run game? Yes, we’re working really hard at it. We want to be a really good running team just like we want to be a great passing team and great at everything else. We work hard at what we think we can do well.”

After adding three veteran wide receivers and drafting two tight ends, the Ravens passing more frequently than they did last year when they ran 43.6 percent of the time — 12th most in the NFL — seemed inevitable, but why has the running game struggled so much?

Assistant head coach Greg Roman and offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris were viewed as miracle workers last year when the Ravens averaged 4.0 yards per carry and finished 11th in rushing yards per game despite having four new starters along the offensive line. Even with the departures of center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Austin Howard, the healthy returns of guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis brought optimism that the unit would improve from a year ago.

The group has held up well in pass protection, but Lewis, center Matt Skura, and right tackle James Hurst have graded particularly poorly in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. As was the case on Sunday when Alex Collins ripped off a 19-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and Allen picked up 17 yards on a third-quarter run, most of their rushing success has come on the outside, which makes sense when two of your three interior linemen have been below-average run blockers.

It’s also worth noting the Ravens have been in the shotgun much more frequently this season — 63 percent compared to 48 percent last year, according to Sharp Football — which certainly impacts the dynamics of a ground attack. That’s not to say an offense can’t run effectively from the shotgun, but it’s a more passing-minded formation and the Ravens are also running a little less frequently out of the gun than they did last year (18 percent compared to 22 percent, per Sharp).

Only one of the five opponents Baltimore has faced this season is allowing fewer than 4.1 yards per carry and only Cleveland ranks in the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ run defense efficiency metric. In other words, the Ravens haven’t exactly been running against the 2000 version of themselves in the season’s first month.

Surely concerns over Collins fumbling the ball haven’t helped, but he leads all running backs in forced missed tackles per touch, which reflects a lack of running room and a need to keep giving him opportunities to break longer runs. Allen is a capable short-yardage back and better in the passing game, but his 2.8 yards per carry average compared to Collins’ 3.8 reflects less explosiveness. Neither back has the dynamic talent of a Ray Rice, but the pair did the job for the Ravens last year, making it difficult not to look at an offensive line still trying to find its footing in the running game.

Perhaps Sunday’s defeat serves as both a necessary reminder that you can’t do it all with the pass and a sign of better things to come for the ground attack, but the week-to-week volatility of the NFL makes it difficult to predict.

“You just keep working. You keep grinding,” Harbaugh said. “When we come out and run for 200 yards — which we will — it’s not going to be ‘fixed.’ The next game is going to be a new game. It’s not like you’re going to come out and run for 200 yards every week. Every week is a new week in the National Football League. You see a different defense, you see different fronts, different guys are healthy, different guys aren’t healthy, plays get made, plays don’t get made — things happen.

“I don’t think it’s as much of a trend as everybody wants to look at it. The big-picture trends just really aren’t there.”

Maybe so, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens getting to where they want to be by season’s end without having a better running game in their back pocket when they need it.

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