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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 26 October 2017 by Luke Jones

You may want to put the children to bed early on Thursday.

After several surprisingly-strong editions of Thursday Night Football this season, the Ravens and their 31st-ranked offense welcome Miami and its 32nd-ranked offense to M&T Bank Stadium in what’s anything but a sexy matchup on paper. Standing at 3-4 with back-to-back road games looming, Baltimore desperately could use a win to remain relevant in the AFC while the enigmatic Dolphins aim for their fourth straight victory.

Injuries are again a major story for the Ravens offense as five wide receivers are listed as either doubtful or questionable and tight end Benjamin Watson is also questionable, making you shudder at the potential limitations of a passing game that’s been poor even when much healthier this season. On the bright side, the defensive line is in better shape than it’s been in some time with none of its current members listed on the injury report.

It’s time to go on the record as the Dolphins play the Ravens for the fifth consecutive season with the latter winning three of the last four meetings. The all-time regular-season series is tied 6-6, but Baltimore owns a 3-1 advantage at home with the only loss coming at Memorial Stadium back in 1997.

Below are five predictions for Thursday:

1. Griff Whalen will catch a touchdown pass. There’s no rhyme or reason to this one other than Whalen being one of two wide receivers not listed on the injury report this week. Vince Mayle scored a touchdown in Week 5, Bobby Rainey in Week 6, and Chris Moore last week in Minnesota, so let’s make it four weeks in a row for a nondescript Ravens player to find the end zone. For this offense to score a touchdown, you’d figure it has to be something weird, right?

2. The Ravens will hold Miami under 100 yards rushing. The thought of making such a prediction with the opponent sporting the league’s 29th-ranked running game would have been stating the obvious in the past, but Baltimore ranking dead last in rushing yards allowed per game and 23rd in yards per carry allowed is far more jarring than any of the ugliness witnessed with the offense. Especially with Brandon Williams healthy, this defense has too much talent to continue to be this poor against the run. Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi and his offensive line have also been very ordinary this season.

3. Miami defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will collect a sack and force a fumble. Even if starting right guard Matt Skura returns from injury, the interior offensive line has a nightmare on its hands trying to contain the monstrous defensive lineman. Look for the Ravens to run outside and for Joe Flacco to try to roll and use some bootlegs to minimize Suh’s ability to disrupt the middle of the pocket, but it’s difficult envisioning the five-time Pro Bowl selection not having a big impact in this one.

4. Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore will have more passing yards than Flacco, but a critical interception will swing the outcome. Miami is better off with Moore playing instead of Jay Cutler, but the backup isn’t the second coming of Frank Reich, either. If the Ravens can contain an underwhelming running game, the pass defense can play with the aggressiveness it showed in the first two weeks of the season coming away with a total of eight interceptions. Jarvis Landry is certainly a concern, but Baltimore’s cornerbacks have been playing at a high level and may not have to contend with DeVante Parker, who is questionable to play with an ankle injury.

5. The Ravens will prevail in an ugly 16-13 final to temporarily ease some of the tension in Owings Mills. I don’t believe this is a good football team, but I also think Miami is a suspect 4-2 outfit with a minus-20 point differential and one of the worst offenses in the NFL. If Jeremy Maclin can play, the Ravens should be able to move the ball just enough to put themselves in position to score some points to complement an energized defense. Playing at home on a short week and being the more desperate team at the midway point of the season, Baltimore is getting as close to must-win territory as a team with any realistic playoff aspirations can be in late October. If the Ravens lose, it could be an unsettling weekend at 1 Winning Drive with many already clamoring for change before Thursday’s game.

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Maclin, Wallace, Perriman questionable for Thursday night game

Posted on 25 October 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are once again dealing with major injury questions at wide receiver as they host Miami for a nationally-televised Thursday game.

Of the seven receivers on the active roster, five are listed on the injury report with starters Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Mike Wallace (concussion) as well as 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman all listed as questionable to play against the Dolphins. Maclin and Wallace were once again limited participants in Wednesday’s practice while Perriman was upgraded to full participation, a possible sign that he’s passed the concussion protocol after missing last week’s game in Minnesota.

An NFL Network report last weekend indicated Maclin would make his return Thursday night, but there was optimism the previous two weeks when he was a limited participant in practices before ultimately being deactivated. Wallace’s status is in doubt after he suffered a concussion just three days ago.

Making matters worse, slot receiver Michael Campanaro (shoulder) and reserve Chris Matthews (thigh) were both designated as doubtful to play, leaving 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore and the recently-signed Griff Whalen as the only fully-healthy receivers on the roster.

The pass-catching woes don’t stop there as tight end Benjamin Watson missed his second straight day of practice and is questionable to play with a knee injury. The 36-year-old leads the team with 24 receptions despite averaging just 7.3 yards per catch.

Third-year tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) was officially ruled out on Wednesday as he’s appeared in just three games this season.

Right guard Matt Skura (knee) was upgraded to full participation Wednesday and was listed as questionable to play after missing the last two games. Rookie fifth-round pick Jermaine Eluemunor has struggled in a starting role since Skura injured his knee in the Oct. 8 win over Oakland.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was designated as questionable for the fourth straight week as he continues to deal with Achilles tendinitis, but his status is not believed to be in real question after he practiced on a limited basis Tuesday and Wednesday.

Safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, and defensive back Anthony Levine were also listed as questionable, but all five practiced fully on Wednesday, a good indicator for their availability against Miami.

The Dolphins officially ruled out starting left guard Anthony Steen (foot) in addition to quarterback Jay Cutler (ribs). Left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) was listed as a full participant on Wednesday, but he was listed as questionable, leaving Miami in an uneasy position on the left side of the offensive line.

Wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle) as well as starting defensive linemen Andre Branch (groin) and Jordan Phillips (ankle) are all questionable after being listed as limited in Wednesday’s practice.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast in Baltimore calls for clear skies and temperatures dipping into the low 50s with calm winds up to five miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Terrance West (calf), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), WR Chris Matthews (thigh), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: S Tony Jefferson (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (back), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), LB Patrick Onwausor (knee), WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), LB Terrell Suggs (knee), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), TE Benjamin Watson (knee), S Eric Weddle (ankle)

MIAMI
OUT: QB Jay Cutler (ribs), G Anthony Steen (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: DE Andre Branch (groin), WR DeVante Parker (ankle), DT Jordan Phillips (ankle), OT Laremy Tunsil (knee)

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With wounded pride, Ravens defense trying to regroup quickly

Posted on 25 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense would like to consider itself a wounded animal.

Desperate, but still dangerous.

And with an offense that wasn’t particularly good to begin with and hopelessly decimated by injuries, this defense needs to do the heavy lifting if the Ravens are to be relevant in the second half of the season. Of course, that kind of consistent performance hasn’t been there with Baltimore ranking a disappointing 18th in total defense and 13th in points allowed per game.

It’s a far cry from the offseason chatter from fans, media, and even some players suggesting this would be a special defense that could ultimately rival the finest units in franchise history.

“We still can be historic. We still can be magical,” said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was a member of some of those great defenses of yesteryear. “So, [forget] hype — you know what I’m saying? We know who we are, and we know what we’re about.”

For the better part of two decades, the Ravens have been about stopping the run above anything else, making their 32nd-ranked rush defense entering Week 8 all the more shocking. They’re allowing 145.3 rushing yards per game and 4.4 yards per carry, marks that would easily shatter team records for futility.

A year ago, Baltimore carried the best run defense in the NFL into Week 15 before some late-season struggles dropped the unit to fifth. That defense allowed only four runs of 20 or more yards all season, but this year’s Ravens have already relinquished seven rushes greater than 20 yards, including two in last Sunday’s 24-16 loss to Minnesota. The current group has forfeited 160 or more yards on the ground in four of the last five games after giving up that many in a contest only once in 2016.

No matter how pitiful the other side of the ball has been, it’s an embarrassing development for a franchise that hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in yards per carry allowed since its inaugural season in 1996.

“It’s a yucky taste in our mouth right now,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “All hands are on deck right now. All 11 guys, back end and the front seven, we’re going to iron this thing out. It’s a long season. We’re halfway there, and we’ve got a lot of great football to play still.”

Players and coaches — at least openly — have struggled to pinpoint the root of the problems stopping the run while the pass defense has quietly been a strength after being the Achilles heel of that side of the ball for years.

Most would still point to the four-game absence of standout defensive tackle Brandon Williams as the biggest reason for the struggles of the run defense, but the Ravens gave up 5.6 yards per carry — their second-worst mark of the year — with him returning to action against the Vikings in Week 7. The season-ending injury to 5-technique defensive end Brent Urban hasn’t helped, but he entered 2017 with all of 372 career defensive snaps under his belt and the Ravens had drafted 5-technique players — Bronson Kaufusi and Chris Wormley — in the third round in each of the last two drafts.

Outside linebackers haven’t consistently set the edge, but tackling at every level of the defense has also been suspect. Regarded by many as the defense’s biggest strength entering the season, high-priced safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson have each missed a critical tackle in Baltimore’s last two losses.

Long runs have come against sub packages sporting a lighter front and against the base defense with more bulk at the line of scrimmage.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has echoed the need to stop giving up big plays that are wiping away otherwise-respectable work, but those continue to happen for one reason or another.

“We’re struggling a little bit right now. I think we are pressing a little bit,” Pees said. “We have to get back to just letting it go and playing football and playing defense. I think we’re all pressing — me included — sometimes. That is usually not a good thing.”

If a turnaround is in the cards, you’d think it has to start Thursday against Miami, who owns the league’s last-ranked offense and is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. One could argue backup quarterback Matt Moore gives the Dolphins a better chance to win than Jay Cutler, but head coach Adam Gase will still want to limit his opportunities to make mistakes against a pass defense tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions.

With the Ravens looking completely inept on offense and with little visible hope for marked improvement there, opponents would be foolish to not try to grind out yards on the ground and diminish the chances of turning the ball over. That’s what has made the last few weeks so maddening with Baltimore clearly knowing what the opposing offense is going to do and still not being able to shut down the run.

If this wounded defense is ever going to fight back, facing one of the worst offenses in the NFL at home on a short week seems like the logical time to start.

“You want to be good. You want to dominate everywhere, every facet of the game,” Suggs said. “Now, we’ve just got to tighten the screws a little bit. We just have to stop the leakage. But like I said, we’re not hitting the panic button just yet. We’re going to be alright.”

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Four wide receivers still listed on Ravens injury report

Posted on 24 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Two days before an important AFC meeting with Miami, the Ravens remained banged up at the wide receiver position.

Despite practicing on a limited basis, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman remain in the concussion protocol and are uncertain to be available against the Dolphins. Perriman hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion on Oct. 15 while Wallace was injured during the second offensive series of the game in Minnesota on Sunday.

Veteran Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) is also practicing on a limited basis, but he’s been at the same participation level before sitting out the last two games, leaving Baltimore without a reliable possession receiver. It’s been a difficult balancing act trying to keep Maclin ready to play while also making sure his understudies receive enough work if their names are called instead as has been the case the past two weeks.

“A guy like Jeremy, we’re not really sure about him until game time,” quarterback Joe Flacco said Monday. “We have got a lot of work in practice with him, so that can hurt you in terms of reps for other guys and just getting comfortable with all that. But it’s all part of the game.”

Michael Campanaro (shoulder) remained absent during Tuesday’s walk-through practice, leaving Chris Moore, Chris Matthews, and the recently-signed Griff Whalen as the only wide receivers not listed on the injury report. Matthews missed last Sunday’s game with a thigh injury and was not on the field during the media viewing portion of Tuesday’s workout, but he is not listed on this week’s injury report.

Linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee), tight ends Benjamin Watson (knee) and Maxx Williams (ankle), and running back Terrance West (calf) were also non-participants on Tuesday. It doesn’t appear that Suggs’ status for Thursday is in real jeopardy at this point since he talked to reporters at his locker after practice.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), defensive back Anthony Levine (back), and outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) all practiced on a limited basis after sitting out Monday.

The Dolphins are in much better shape from a health standpoint as quarterback Jay Cutler (ribs) and left guard Anthony Steen (foot) were the only players on their 53-man roster not to practice on Tuesday. Wide receiver DeVante Parker (ankle) and left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) were limited participants in their return to the field.

Below is Tuesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), LB Terrell Suggs (knee), TE Benjamin Watson (knee), RB Terrance West (calf), TE Maxx Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Tony Jefferson (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (back), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), LB Patrick Onwausor (knee), WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), G Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), S Eric Weddle (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Jay Cutler (ribs), G Anthony Steen (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Andre Branch (groin), WR DeVante Parker (ankle), DT Jordan Phillips (ankle), OT Laremy Tunsil (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Jay Ajayi (knee/elbow), DE Terrence Fede (shoulder), CB Xavien Howard (shoulder), OT Ja’Wuan James (hand), C Mike Pouncey (knee/hip), TE Julius Thomas (knee)

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Ravens list 15 players on Monday’s injury report

Posted on 24 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens must quickly rebound from their fourth loss in five games while also dealing with an extensive list of injuries ahead of Thursday’s home meeting with Miami.

Seven players did not participate in Monday’s walk through, a list that included linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee), cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), and wide receiver Michael Campanaro (shoulder). Suggs played 51 snaps in Sunday’s defeat at Minnesota without any apparent incident, but Campanaro appeared to be favoring his shoulder on the sideline at one point before eventually returning to the game.

Campanaro is just the latest wide receiver to be banged up as Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Breshad Perriman (concussion) were inactive for Week 7 and Mike Wallace sustained a concussion in the first quarter on Sunday. All three practiced on a limited basis Monday, but Perriman and Wallace remain in the concussion protocol, according to head coach John Harbaugh. It remains uncertain whether any of the three will be ready to play in Week 8.

“We’ve had Jeremy out [practicing] the last two weeks, and he was unable to play,” Harbaugh said. “I guess right now I’m just like, ‘I don’t know.’ The way it’s been going with all that, we’ll see. Whoever you see jogging out there at kickoff, they’ll be playing. Up until that point, I don’t know.

“I probably would like to be coy with you and say, ‘I’m not going to talk about it,’ but, at this point, it’s just like, ‘We’ll see.’”

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was not on the injury report after making his return to action against the Vikings. He played 45 snaps and finished with five tackles, a quarterback hit, and a batted pass in his first game since Sept. 17.

Right guard Matt Skura (knee) returned to practice on Monday after missing the last two games.

Baltimore made a roster move Monday by signing tight end Gavin Escobar and cutting offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom for the second time in a week. It’s a curious addition as Escobar gives the Ravens five tight ends on the active roster, but Maxx Williams remains sidelined with an ankle injury. A 2013 second-round pick of Dallas, the 6-foot-6 Escobar has 30 career receptions for 333 yards and eight touchdowns over four seasons and never lived up to expectations as the heir apparent to Cowboys legend Jason Witten.

The Ravens offense needs all the help it can find at this point.

“I’m all for a red-zone track record for anybody,” said Harbaugh about Escobar. “We’ll just have to see how this all plays out. This is a little uncharted territory. I don’t know how many teams have had this many injuries on offense, so we’ll see how it plays out. We have a lot of tough guys.”

The Dolphins did not practice on Monday and only released a practice attendance estimate, but starting quarterback Jay Cutler is not expected to play against Baltimore after suffering multiple cracked ribs against the New York Jets on Sunday.

Below is the first full injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Michael Campanaro (shoulder), DB Anthony Levine (back), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles), LB Terrell Suggs (knee), RB Terrance West (calf), TE Maxx Williams (ankle), LB Tim Williams (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Tony Jefferson (ankle), WR Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), LB Patrick Onwausor (knee), WR Breshad Perriman (concussion), G Matt Skura (knee), WR Mike Wallace (concussion), TE Benjamin Watson (knee), S Eric Weddle (ankle)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Andre Branch (groin), QB Jay Cutler (ribs), WR DeVante Parker (ankle), G Anthony Steen (foot), OT Laremy Tunsil (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Jay Ajayi (knee/elbow), OT Ja’Wuan James (hand), CB Byron Maxwell (foot), DT Jordan Phillips (ankle), C Mike Pouncey (knee/hip), TE Julius Thomas (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Terrence Fede (shoulder), CB Xavien Howard (shoulder)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-7 win over Miami

Posted on 18 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 2-0 in the preseason with a 31-7 win over Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The offensive line was again a mess as third-stringer Jarrod Pughsley starting at right guard was surprising to even beat reporters. Evaluating this group without Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley on the field is very difficult, but there were too many penalties and not enough room in the running game.

2. You have to like the defensive depth as the starters were again impressive and the reserves held the Dolphins to just 17 yards in the second half. I also like seeing how frequently the Ravens are using Anthony Levine in the dime package. He’s a good fit for that role.

3. Ryan Mallett was better than last week, but he threw two interceptions and still isn’t pushing the ball downfield, a problem that Joe Flacco had in this offense last season. His third-down conversions to Benjamin Watson and Mike Wallace were good throws, but there still wasn’t much to like here.

4. Both interceptions came on passes intended for rookie Quincy Adeboyejo, who didn’t present himself well on either. The first came on a deep route he ran poorly and the second was on a pass thrown behind him that was catchable. Quarterback and receiver have to take some blame on both.

5. Jaylen Hill finished with a team-leading three tackles and two pass breakups. At this point, the rookie free agent from Jacksonville State might have to play himself off the roster not to make the team. He looks like he belongs despite being undersized.

6. Say what you want about the absence of Flacco and the current state of the offensive line, but fumbles by Wallace and Terrance West in the first eight minutes of the game had to drive John Harbaugh crazy. This offense isn’t good enough to overcome potential turnovers and penalties.

7. It’s been a quiet camp for Maxx Williams, but his third-down reception to move the chains late in the first half and his 40-yard catch and run in the third quarter were eyebrow-raising plays. The 2015 second-round pick showed toughness and some explosiveness that hadn’t been seen this summer.

8. Donald Payne had one of the more impressive sequences of the night as the rookie linebacker forced a fumble on a kickoff midway through the second quarter and sprinted down the field to flatten the returner on the next one. That will grab the attention of Harbaugh and Jerry Rosburg.

9. The Ravens have been using Patrick Ricard as a fullback in practices for the last week or so, but that might say more about the current fullbacks on the roster. Regardless, it’s fun to see a 6-foot-3, 304-pound defensive lineman playing that spot.

10. Josh Woodrum has played very well against second- and third-team defenders and is putting himself in the conversation for a spot on the practice squad, but he’s not going to be the one to supplant Mallett if the organization decides to upgrade the backup spot.

11. Justin Tucker picking up a fumble and trying to run reminded me of the scene in “Major League” when Willie Mays Hayes makes a basket catch to end an inning and manager Lou Brown welcomes him back to the dugout saying, “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever [expletive] do it again.”

12. We’re spoiled here in Baltimore and it was only a preseason game, but that showing from Miami was one of the worst special-teams performances I’ve seen in a long time.

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Ravens offense in holding pattern ahead of second preseason game

Posted on 14 August 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The start of the 2017 season is less than four weeks away, but a Ravens offense entering training camp with a slew of questions has only added to that list and remains in a holding pattern.

Quarterback Joe Flacco still hasn’t practiced since reporting to Owings Mills with a back issue three weeks ago. The organization has already said the 10th-year veteran won’t play in any preseason contests, meaning he will go into the Sept. 10 opener at Cincinnati with no live-game action under his belt.

It’s hardly ideal after Flacco ranked 27th in the NFL in yards per attempt last year and saw roughly half of the team’s receiving production depart in the offseason. He’s also logged just two offseason practices with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who signed with Baltimore during its mandatory minicamp in June.

“There is no substitute for experience, especially in this situation,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, acknowledging the challenge of having Flacco miss so much valuable preseason time. “It looks like we are going to have just enough time there to get him ready as long as he keeps progressing. By all accounts, he is progressing pretty well.”

Flacco isn’t the only concern, however, as an offensive line that already saw two starters depart in the offseason has been further ravaged since late July. Starting left guard Alex Lewis and 2017 fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa suffered season-ending injuries after potential starting center John Urschel surprisingly retired at the start of camp, depleting the interior line depth. General manager Ozzie Newsome did sign right tackle Austin Howard earlier this month, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley is now dealing with an undisclosed injury that’s jeopardized his status for Thursday’s preseason game in Miami.

The Ravens have brought Howard and six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda along slowly after both underwent offseason shoulder surgery, but the clock is ticking to build cohesion on the offensive line. For now, it appears that James Hurst — who began the summer as the starting right tackle — will receive the first opportunity to replace Lewis and play next to new starting center Ryan Jensen.

Senior offensive assistant Greg Roman was hired in the offseason to revamp an ineffective running game, but the projected starting line has changed more than once since the start of camp and just hasn’t had sufficient time to gel. In the aftermath of Flacco’s extended absence, the Ravens will need the group to be even more effective.

“If you look around football, the line plays together,” said Mornhinweg about the need to build continuity. “Five or six guys play together pretty much throughout the year, and that way you can stay pretty consistent that way. Yes, it is important.”

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman has been sidelined with a hamstring injury since Aug. 1, marking the third straight year in which the 2015 first-round pick has missed most of training camp. An offense lacking playmakers sure could use Perriman’s upside as the Ravens try to make it back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

The questions remain with few answers apparent as the season is under a month away.

NOTES: The Ravens signed veteran quarterback Thad Lewis and waived quarterback Dustin Vaughan on Monday. Lewis brings more experience to the position after starting six games over his NFL career. … Maclin, safety Eric Weddle, and rookie outside linebacker Tyus Bowser returned to practice after each missed at least a portion of Sunday’s practice. … Wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo (knee) and offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor (undisclosed) were absent from Monday’s workout after being banged up a day earlier. … Cornerbacks Brandon Boykin (undisclosed) and Maurice Canady (knee), wide receiver Kenny Bell (hamstring), offensive tackle Stephane Nembot (undisclosed), and linebacker Lamar Louis (undisclosed) remained sidelined. … Former Ravens defensive tackle and Super Bowl XXXV champion Tony Siragusa visited practice.

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Schoop turning heads as Orioles’ lone All-Star representative

Posted on 10 July 2017 by Luke Jones

MIAMI — While getting on the American League team bus on Monday, Jonathan Schoop sounded like the young rookie that Nelson Cruz had mentored and remembered so fondly in their brief time together.

“We were joking around and he said, ‘I’m going to follow you around everywhere because I don’t know what to do,” said Cruz, a five-time All-Star selection who has spent the last three seasons in Seattle after playing for the Orioles in 2014. “He’s like a son for me. Age makes a difference. Now he has experience. He learned; he wants to learn. He’s always asking questions to get better.

“He’s finally got everything together.”

The quip signified how far the second baseman has come from playing in the shadow of several high-profile teammates over his first few seasons to being the lone Orioles representative at this year’s All-Star game. And while the exclusion of his teammates is viewed by many as a reflection of how difficult the last two months have been for the struggling Orioles, Schoop isn’t just a token inclusion from a club closer to the cellar than first place.

Tied for the team lead in home runs (18) and leading the Orioles in runs batted in (54), Schoop is on pace to shatter his career highs in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. His 1.9 wins above replacement lead all Orioles players while his .370 weighted on-base average — a stat holding significant prominence in the sabermetric community — is second behind only Houston’s Jose Altuve among qualified AL second basemen in 2017.

Schoop hitting for power isn’t surprising as we’ve watched him get stronger every season, but his improved plate discipline has turned heads and led to more consistency at the plate. His 19 walks in 352 plate appearances remain well below the league average, but he’s just two shy of the 21 he piled up in 647 trips to the dish in 2016.

It’s the product of a more confident and selective approach as he’s swinging at fewer pitches both inside and outside the strike zone.

“I trust myself more and know that I can do it,” Schoop said. “I work every day and trust what the scouting report [says]. You know what [pitchers] are trying to do. You just have to achieve it and make sure you get the right pitch to hit. That’s part of my game that’s grown up a little bit more. I’m more patient and more selective.

“It’s not necessarily the walks, but just patience. Get the pitch to hit. Don’t chase too many pitches. Don’t swing at a pitcher’s pitch. It’s tough. They’re good. They get paid to strike you out and get you out.”

The 25-year-old has plenty of support this week from both family and teammates — former and current. Manny Machado has opened up his home to his close friend and will attend All-Star festivities as Schoop hopes to have a strong showing in honor of the Miami native who didn’t receive an All-Star invitation in a down season.

Schoop is representing more than just the Orioles and his family this week. He is the fourth Curacao native to appear in an All-Star Game, something in which he takes great pride after playing for the Netherlands in each of the last two editions of the World Baseball Classic. This year’s Midsummer Classic is the first with multiple selections hailing from the Dutch Caribbean island as Schoop is joined by Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen on the National League side.

“He’s come a long way,” said Jansen, a two-time All-Star selection who played with Schoop’s older brother. “He was always very talented, one of the most talented guys I ever saw play in Curacao growing up. Now he’s put it all together. He’s going to be a superstar. We could have seen this coming.”

Having stepped out from the shadow of Machado and other former Orioles All-Star selections in previous years, Schoop is finally making the baseball world take notice.

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Wild-card weekend drives home key points for Ravens

Posted on 09 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Watching wild-card weekend from home for the third time in the last four years, the Ravens had to be thinking what might have been.

They have no one to blame but themselves after losing three of their last four games to finish a mediocre 8-8, but a survey of the wild-card round field only reinforced the lack of high-quality teams in the NFL this year and in most seasons. As Bill Parcells famously said, you are what your record says you are, but you could argue that Baltimore was better than a few of the playoff teams if going off the eyeball test.

Oakland deserves a pass with the unfortunate injury to Derek Carr, but the Ravens would have certainly put up a better fight against Brock Osweiler and a Houston offense that was abysmal all season. The Texans finished minus-49 in point differential this season — Baltimore was plus-22 — and took advantage of a lousy AFC South with a 5-1 division record.

No one should have been surprised to see the Pittsburgh offense steamroll Miami after the Ravens scored 38 points against that same group last month. The Dolphins deserve credit for beating the teams they were supposed to under first-year head coach Adam Gase, but they registered only one victory against a team that finished with a winning record this season.

The Detroit Lions were a good story with so many exciting finishes, but they lost three straight to close the regular season, beat only one team that finished with a winning record, and finished with a minus-12 point differential.

The Ravens might have been an Antonio Brown tackle away from entering Week 17 atop the AFC North, but the defining stretch of the season was their winless October in which they lost to a non-playoff team at home (Washington) and dropped a 24-16 road contest to the woeful New York Jets. A single victory over that 0-4 stretch would have changed the dynamics of the final two weeks of the season.

Of course, being able to measure up to a few playoff squads doesn’t mean John Harbaugh’s team is close to being back at a championship level. Looking beyond the Texans’ lottery-winning draw of a Carr-less Raiders team on Saturday, the other three winners of the weekend — Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Green Bay — each possess dynamic playmakers, a truly special quarterback, or both.

The Ravens have a respectable collection of quality players — including the league’s best kicker and the top guard in the NFL — but they have nothing that measures closely to the impact provided by five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown and two-time Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell, who combined for four touchdowns and just under 300 yards from scrimmage in the Steelers’ 30-12 victory over Miami. And Joe Flacco didn’t come close to playing at a special level this year, either.

With Flacco arguably having more job security than anyone in the entire organization after signing a contract extension last year, general manager Ozzie Newsome better find him a playmaker or two if the Ravens’ fortunes are to markedly change for the better any time soon. It’s been a talking point for a few years now, but that makes it no less true after another non-playoff campaign.

** The four games had an average margin of victory of 19.0 points, making it the most lopsided wild-card weekend since 1981. Most expected all four home teams to prevail, but it was quite a contrast between Super Bowl contenders and pretenders this weekend.

** I couldn’t help but feel for the Raiders as they played in their first playoff game in 14 years without the benefit of their young franchise quarterback under center. Oakland should be back with such a talented group of young players on which to build, but return trips to the postseason can’t be taken for granted.

** It’s great to see Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney finally showing off the ability that warranted him being selected first overall in the 2014 draft after two disappointing seasons. He finished with an interception, two batted passes, and four quarterback pressures in a terrific performance against overwhelmed rookie quarterback Connor Cook.

** Even if Ben Roethlisberger wearing a walking boot after Sunday’s win was much ado about nothing, why in the world was the Pittsburgh quarterback and several other key starters still in the game so late in the fourth quarter?

** Can you imagine how long their fans would have been screaming about the Packers’ failed fourth-down run from the their own 42-yard line in the third quarter if it had resulted in the turning point of a New York Giants win at Lambeau Field? I suppose having a future Hall of Fame quarterback helps to cover up a bad coaching decision as Rodgers was sensational on Sunday.

** No, I don’t believe the Monday trip to Miami made by Odell Beckham Jr. — and several of his teammates — was the reason why the Giants lost to Green Bay, but it did fairly call his focus and priorities into question just days before the biggest game of his young NFL career.

Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is highly respected around the league and summed it up nicely via his Twitter account. Just because you have the right to do something doesn’t mean you should, and Beckham certainly fueled the flames of the story by turning in a lousy performance.

Maybe he should have asked Tony Romo if a pre-playoff vacation is worth the potential backlash.

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Sizing up Ravens’ playoff picture entering Week 16

Posted on 19 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens were lucky not to have their playoff hopes all but squashed on Sunday, but their 27-26 win over Philadelphia leaves them with an 8-6 record and multiple paths to the postseason.

The first is clear while the others involve assistance from other teams.

Winning road games at Pittsburgh and Cincinnati would give the Ravens their first AFC North division title since the 2012 season. Of course, that would require Baltimore to win its first games on the road since September.

Many are hyping the Christmas Day showdown at Heinz Field as an AFC North championship game, but it’s not enough for the Ravens to merely win on Sunday. The Steelers host the winless Cleveland Browns in their regular-season finale, meaning the Ravens would almost certainly need to win a road game against the Bengals for the first time since 2011 in order to secure the division championship.

A path to a wild card also remains — at least for now.

The Ravens completed Week 15 a game behind Miami for the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. A win for the 9-5 Dolphins at Buffalo on Christmas Eve would force Baltimore to beat the Steelers to stave off elimination for a playoff spot. A Miami loss would keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive in Week 17, no matter what happens against Pittsburgh.

Despite the daunting task of playing their two biggest division rivals on the road in consecutive weeks, the Ravens do have a 7-3 conference record working in their favor as a tiebreaker over fellow playoff contenders Tennessee, Denver, and Houston. Of course, Baltimore owns a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Dolphins via the 38-6 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 13.

Currently competing for the AFC South title, the Texans and the Titans meet in Week 17, meaning one is set to lose at least one more game.

If the Ravens are to make the playoffs while losing one more game, they would need the Dolphins to lose out and the other 8-6 wild-card contenders to each lose at least one more game.

Below is a look at the remaining schedule for the Ravens and the other contenders for the final wild card in the AFC:

PITTSBURGH (9-5, first place in AFC North)
Remaining opponents: Baltimore, Cleveland

HOUSTON (8-6, first place in AFC South via head-to-head tiebreaker over Tennessee)
Remaining opponents: Cincinnati, at Tennessee

MIAMI (9-5, No. 6 seed)
Remaining opponents: at Buffalo, New England

BALTIMORE (8-6, seventh in AFC via conference record)
Remaining opponents: at Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati

TENNESSEE (8-6, eighth in AFC via head-to-head tiebreaker over Denver)
Remaining opponents: at Jacksonville, Houston

DENVER (8-6, ninth in AFC)
Remaining opponents: at Kansas City, Oakland

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