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Brandon Williams returns to struggling Ravens run defense

Posted on 18 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Wearing his customary Incredible Hulk shirt under his jersey and shoulder pads Wednesday, Brandon Williams practiced fully for the first time in over a month.

The Ravens hope the defensive tackle’s return brings a superhero-like impact to their struggling run defense. It’s certainly needed with Baltimore ranking an unheard-of 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (141.3) and 21st in yards per carry (4.3). Both marks would shatter franchise-worst records for a defense that’s prided itself in shutting down opposing running games for two decades.

Is the standout defensive lineman the savior as the Ravens try to get back on track in Minnesota on Sunday?

“I’m just a guy,” said Williams, who hasn’t played since injuring his left foot in the first half of the 24-10 win over Cleveland on Sept. 17. “I’m just a guy who’s working to get back on the field. That’s all I’m doing. Today, it felt good. I have two more days [of practice] to go, and then hopefully, I’ll be back soon.”

At the time of Williams’ halftime exit in that Week 2 victory, the Ravens had allowed a stingy 3.4 yards per carry on 34 season attempts. They’ve surrendered an unimpressive 4.4 yards per rush since then as defensive end Brent Urban was lost for the season in Week 3 and emerging reserve Carl Davis has also missed action in recent weeks.

With the defensive line banged up and relying heavily on inexperienced backups, nose tackle Michael Pierce laughed at the notion of Williams proclaiming himself to be “just a guy” for a defense that had extraordinary expectations entering the 2017 season.

“That’s one of our key defensive pieces,” said Pierce, who has continued to play well despite receiving more attention from offensive lines in Williams’ absence. “Anytime you have him back, that frees up other guys to make plays. Double teams will start coming off of me, and they’ll start focusing on him more and free me up and free our ends up. It just frees everybody up. It definitely keeps our linebackers clean and that’s something we take pride in.”

The blame for the porous run defense doesn’t fall solely on the defensive line as both Davis and second-year defensive tackle Willie Henry have performed admirably despite their limited NFL experience. But plugging in solid rotational contributors isn’t the same as having the man who was awarded a $52.5 million contract in the offseason to be the anchor in the trenches.

The “next man up” mantra is the refrain uttered after any injury, but Williams is a difference-making talent on a team frankly in need of more game-changers.

“This machine has working parts to it, and you need all of your parts,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s always great to have one of the best interior linemen back on the team.”

With Williams potentially returning to play against the Vikings, the Ravens hope the low point for their defense came last week when they allowed a franchise-record 231 yards on 54 attempts, which allowed Chicago to win with a rookie quarterback making his first career road start.

It’s all been a frustrating experience for the 2013 third-round pick, who hadn’t missed a game since his rookie season.

“Not being in the game and watching your brothers go out to battle, it is always tough to watch,” Williams said. “You want to be out there and you want to help, but there is nothing you can do. It stinks watching from the sidelines, but hopefully I can get right and get back out there soon.”

Williams may not be “just a guy” for the Ravens, but teammates acknowledged Wednesday that they all need to pick up their play after such a disappointing month. The problems stopping the run haven’t solely occurred between the tackles as outside linebackers haven’t set the edge consistently and inside linebackers and safeties have missed too many tackles.

Baltimore will catch a break Sunday with Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook now out for the season after suffering a torn ACL a few weeks ago, but it will take more than Williams’ return for this defense to regroup and reclaim its place as a top-10 run defense, a title held in 14 of the last 18 seasons.

“I think he’s a part of the answer,” said Pierce of his defensive line partner. “Everybody should be accountable for their gap integrity on each and every play. You just see leaks here and there from myself and from everybody on the defense. We have to clean that up, and he’s going to be a big help just taking on those double teams and freeing up guys.

“It’s a big help, but at the end of the day, everybody has to be accountable.”

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Opportunistic Ravens defense pitches shutout in the season opener

Posted on 11 September 2017 by Dennis Koulatsos

This was a vintage Baltimore Ravens defensive performance, one that may have even been worthy of applause by their 2000 record setting counter parts.  That version kept 5 teams from scoring on them that season, and held teams to an average of 10 points a game.

For all of the talk about the plethora of great players at skill positions on the Cincinnati Bengals, their offensive line was exposed, particularly by the fierce Ravens pass rush.  Andy Dalton never got comfortable, never found a rhythm, as time and time again his throws were hurried.

Dalton was sacked a total of 5 times, and threw 4 interceptions.  Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was stout against the run, and continuously collapsed the pocket, creating space for his teammates to break through.  Edger rusher Terrell Suggs mocked father time as he came up with 2 sacks.  C.J. Mosley showed why he may very well be the best inside linebacker in the league in defending the pass, as he came up with a huge interception in the Ravens’ end zone.  That was the turning point in the game.

The Ravens offense was efficient, tough and resilient.  The offensive line did a great job overall, creating holes for running backs Terrance West and Buck Allen.  They combined for 40 carries and over 150 yards rushing, while giving Baltimore a 9 minute advantage in time of possession.

Our own Peter DiLutis texted me during the game “MVP Greg Roman,” and he couldn’t have been more right.  Although his official title may be “senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach” you could clearly see his fingerprints all over this offense.  It was refreshing to watch, particularly after two seasons of abandoning the run.

Quarterback Joe Flacco may wish to “sling the pill” all over the field, but that’s made the Ravens spectators the last two post-seasons versus participants.  We all know that he’d much rather throw the ball 4o times per game rather than hand it off – and as a competitor I guess that’s a good thing.  But that’s not what wins ball games.

Somehow Flacco needs to understand this.  Someone needs to sit him down and frame a conversation in a way that he will understand, in a way that he will buy in.  Maybe it will sink in that he has to do what’s in the best interest for the overall greater good of the team….versus himself.  In the red zone he threw into triple coverage.  He made poor choices.

That’s part of the problem with these canon armed quarterbacks.  They fall in love with their arms, thinking the can put the ball in the smallest of windows. That is why an Alex Smith can have great success in the NFL.  What he lacks in arm power he makes up for with intellect, unselfishness and in being a field general.

Of course Flacco – as he said – would rather win 42-0.  What he needs to understand is that as this offensive line jells together, and the running game grows, he will have a chance to put up some big numbers.  When the running game is going strong, the safeties will have to come up in the box.  The cornerbacks will have to play closer to the line of scrimmage.  This will give him ample downfield opportunities via the play action pass.

I absolutely loved the offensive line play.  It looked to me that all of the linemen were firing off of the ball, as the new blocking scheme made an obvious positive difference.  The misdirection plays and counters were particularly enjoyable to watch.  Terrance West said the offense “ran like the same 5 plays all day,” but it didn’t matter.  They ran them from different formations, gave the Bengals defense different looks, and most importantly they executed well.

And now for the negatives. Center Ryan Jensen is tough, but he has to clean up the penalties that were called on him.  For that matter the entire team does.  Running back Danny Woodhead reinjured his hamstring and was carted to the locker room.  His status is unknown at this time, but it doesn’t look good. Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith sprained his knee, and his status is also up in the air at this time.  Both players stood out as Woodhead had great chemistry with Flacco and was a difference maker in the Ravens’ opening drive, while Smith had a sack prior to leaving the game.

Going forward the team needs to stick to this same formula that got them the shutout yesterday. They need to run the ball, or at least try to run the ball without abandoning it too quickly.  They need Joe Flacco to take care of the ball, not turn it over. They need to save him from himself.

Looking ahead the Cleveland Browns come to town this Sunday for the Ravens home opener, after losing a tough one to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Their quarterback is DeShone Kiser, who I think has a very high ceiling.  However he is a rookie and M&T Stadium is no place to start your second NFL game and first one away from the friendly confines of your home field.

It will be loud, as I expect the Ravens’ 12th man to show up.  This fan base is used to being energized by an aggressive, nasty and opportunistic defense.  Kiser is tough, but for now he holds the ball too long.  That’s a recipe for disaster against the Ravens defense.  I’m not taking the Browns lightly, and I am not overconfident, certainly not after one game in.  But it would not surprise me if the Browns – like the Bengals – do not put up any points on the board this Sunday.

If the Ravens execute the same script against the Browns as the Bengals, if they take care of the ball and do not turn it over, there is no reason that they won’t start the season with a 2-0 record.

 

 

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2017 Ravens training camp preview: Defensive line

Posted on 19 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning next week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2017 Ravens every day as they aim to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

Quarterbacks

DEFENSIVE LINE

Projected depth chart:
DE – Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Chris Wormley
NT – Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce
DT – Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard

Why to be impressed: Williams is one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL, evident by Ozzie Newsome’s decision to give him a five-year, $52.5 million contract in March. Pierce was one of the surprises of the 2016 season as the undrafted rookie free agent ranked second among NFL defensive tackles in run-stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus.

Why to be concerned: Offseason departures Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy were solid contributors against the run and as interior rushers in passing situations. Urban was underrated in his 150 defensive snaps last year, but Davis, Henry, and Kaufusi were all injured and combined for zero snaps in 2016 and — along with the rookie Wormley — will be expected to make meaningful contributions.

2017 outlook: The Ravens ranked fifth in the league in holding opponents to 3.7 yards per carry last year and should remain stout against the run with Williams staying put for the long haul. There is plenty of talent in this group on paper, but the lack of overall experience is a concern entering the preseason and the Ravens need some combination of young players to emerge as impactful inside pass rushers.

Prediction: Given more extensive opportunities to get after the quarterback this season, Williams will collect a career-high five sacks.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to training camp

Posted on 14 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With the start of Ravens training camp now less than two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The addition of Brian Billick to the preseason broadcast team is a good move and the latest step that should lead to his induction into the Ravens’ Ring of Honor. Nearly a decade after his dismissal, it’s time for the Super Bowl XXXV champion coach to be recognized.

2. Darren Waller was hardly a sure thing to become a major contributor in 2017, but he brought the most athleticism of any tight end on the roster. I’m concerned with this group, especially if Maxx Williams’ return from knee surgery doesn’t go smoothly.

3. I wish Zach Orr nothing but the best in his attempt to play football again, but his claim late last month that he’d taken the advice of only one doctor to retire completely contradicted his comments in January and made the Ravens look bad. That wasn’t a good look.

4. The hiring of Greg Roman has probably been undersold with much of the criticism and concern expressed for the offensive line, but he also had Pro Bowl running backs Frank Gore and LeSean McCoy at his previous stops. He’ll have a chance to cement his genius with this offensive personnel.

5. Lorenzo Taliaferro could have the opportunity to be a meaningful offensive piece, especially early in the season with Kenneth Dixon’s suspension. A Le’Ron McClain-type role at fullback wouldn’t be out of the question, but he must first prove he can stay on the field.

6. The hype for the defensive backfield is through the roof, but the re-installation of Chris Hewitt as secondary coach is worth monitoring. The talent wasn’t as good when he was in charge in 2015, but communication was a total mess. Of course, the cerebral Eric Weddle should alleviate that concern.

7. This will mark the third straight summer in which Jerry Rosburg will field questions about the return specialist job. I understand the desire not to have a one-trick pony filling the role — Devin Hester didn’t work out anyway — but this offense needs all the field position it can get.

8. Brandon Williams is a beast and Michael Pierce impressed as a rookie, but the Ravens need several unknowns to fill larger roles on the defensive line. Stopping the run shouldn’t be a problem, but the pass rush is a different story with interior rushers Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy gone.

9. The addition of Jeremy Maclin certainly helps, but it’s still tough to feel dramatically better about this offense than last year’s group. Despite the efforts of some to skew the narrative, the defensive struggles late in 2016 shouldn’t mask how inadequate the offense was all year.

10. Breshad Perriman’s development may not be as critical for 2017 with Maclin’s addition, but he needs to play well enough to look like a slam-dunk starter for 2018. As we recently witnessed with Matt Elam, it can take years — and many dollars — to recover from a first-round bust.

11. This is a pivotal time for Joe Flacco. A poor season from the 32-year-old could cost people jobs and bring a new coaching regime that wouldn’t be as invested in him. His contract makes him bulletproof through 2018, but he must be better than he’s been the last two years.

12. My final thought isn’t on the Ravens, but I thoroughly enjoyed seeing their old foe Peyton Manning host the ESPY Awards, a show I hadn’t watched in years. I never would have imagined that kind of comedic timing watching the often-robotic quarterback work early in his career.

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Notes and observations from Ravens’ second week of OTAs

Posted on 02 June 2017 by Luke Jones

Ravens cornerback Tavon Young’s torn ACL Thursday was the latest reminder that the only substantial news to come from spring workouts is typically negative in nature.

Sure, many have gushed about how third-year wide receiver Breshad Perriman has looked this spring, but the significance of Young’s injury outweighs anything else happening on the field as players practice in helmets, jerseys, and shorts. Injuries can occur whether a player is participating in voluntary organized team activities or working out on his own, but you hate seeing an important member of the defense lost for the season several weeks before training camp even begins.

The silver lining is that this unfortunate development comes more than three months before the start of the regular season, giving the Ravens ample time to evaluate and figure out what they want to do at the nickel spot. Veteran Brandon Carr and first-round pick Marlon Humphrey are outside corners and wouldn’t appear to be suited to play inside, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Chris Hewitt have time to experiment with different alignments and evaluate young options like Maurice Canady, who had three interceptions in Thursday’s practice and showed some swagger playing with the first-team nickel defense after Young was helped off the field.

At 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, Canady doesn’t look the part of a traditional slot corner, but his size would be useful inside if he can show the necessary footwork and quickness to stick with shiftier receivers. Of course, reserve safety and onetime cornerback Lardarius Webb may also fit into the nickel picture, but you’d like to be able to use him in deep center field if the Ravens have visions of being creative with new safety Tony Jefferson and using the dime package more often.

** Young wasn’t the only Ravens player to go down with an injury recently as wide receiver Michael Campanaro and defensive tackle Carl Davis were missing from Thursday’s practice.

According to head coach John Harbaugh, Campanaro will be out for “a little while” with a sprained toe. Harbaugh said that it wasn’t serious, but toe ailments are tricky for any player, let alone a slot receiver who relies on his sudden change of direction. It’s unfortunately the latest ailment for a talented player who has never been able to stay on the field for an extended period of time.

Davis, who lined up as the 3-technique defensive tackle with the starting defense last week, is dealing with a strained pectoral muscle, but Harbaugh said he will return to practice soon. In his absence, Michael Pierce was lining up at the nose with Brandon Williams moving to the 3-technique spot.

Cornerback Sheldon Price was helped inside after bumping his head during practice and was being evaluated for a concussion.

Others not participating in Thursday’s OTA included Webb, cornerbacks Kyle Arrington (concussion) and Carlos Davis (lower leg), linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley (offseason shoulder surgery), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (offseason shoulder surgery) and Jarell Broxton, and tight ends Benjamin Watson (Achilles tendon), Max Williams (knee), and Darren Waller. Continuing to be held out of voluntary workouts, Suggs was once again in the building and has been a consistent presence in Owings Mills this spring.

** The starting offensive line displayed a new wrinkle as John Urschel worked at center and Ryan Jensen played right guard after their positions were flipped last week.

“Both of those guys are taking reps at center,” said Harbaugh, who noted that 2016 practice-squad member Matt Skura is also in the mix. “They are both going to have to play center and guard. Most of those guys inside do play all three positions. Marshal plays center. I do not know if you knew that, but he is kind of an emergency center.”

** It’s interesting to note that quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t been wearing his left knee brace in the two OTA workouts open to media after saying earlier this spring that he would continue wearing one. It may just be because these are non-contact workouts — though it’s not uncommon for an overzealous young lineman to forget that from time to time — but Flacco wore the brace for every practice that wasn’t a walk-through last season.

Thursday wasn’t the best day for the veteran signal-caller as he threw multiple interceptions. One did come on a pass bouncing off the hands of second-year wideout Chris Moore.

** Veteran running back Danny Woodhead had a good day as a receiver out of the backfield, making an impressive one-handed catch and showing good agility. The early reviews have been positive for a 32-year-old coming off a major knee injury, but durability will be a question as he’s played in just 21 games over the last three seasons.

** Lorenzo Taliaferro appears to be working exclusively as a fullback, which should help his cause to make the 53-man roster with so many tailbacks ahead of him on the depth chart. He and undrafted rookie fullback Ricky Ortiz worked off to the side from the running backs in individual drills Thursday.

** Perriman offered Humphrey a reminder of the speed he’ll see at the next level, beating the rookie cornerback inside on a slant for a short completion and blowing past the rest of the defense for a long touchdown.

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Five questions for start of Ravens organized team activities

Posted on 23 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now holding their first week of organized team activities and opening up Thursday’s workout to the media, below are five questions surrounding John Harbaugh’s team in late May:

1. What will the offensive line look like?

Many have said the Ravens are returning to their roots with such an offseason focus on improving their defense, but the accompanying thoughts of relying on the running game have come without any high-profile additions to an offensive line that no longer sports above-average right tackle Rick Wagner or center Jeremy Zuttah. Is John Urschel or Ryan Jensen even as good as Zuttah, let alone better? Is there a real solution at right tackle in a motley crew of candidates that includes James Hurst, Jermaine Eluemunor, De’Ondre Wesley, and Stephane Nembot? The biggest wild card could be where Alex Lewis ends up despite an internal belief at the end of last season that his best position was left guard. New senior offensive assistant Greg Roman and new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris deserve the chance to leave their mark on this group, but you need a dominant offensive line to play ball-control football and the Ravens have a long way to go to prove they can have that kind of a group.

2. Are the front office and coaching staff really this confident in their wide receivers?

This offseason feels similar to 2013 when veteran Anquan Boldin was traded away for a sixth-round pick and nothing meaningful was done to replace him, leading to substantial problems for quarterback Joe Flacco and the passing game. There is no shortage of speed with Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Chris Moore, but who is going to be that short-to-intermediate receiver who moves the chains and makes tacklers miss like Steve Smith did over the last three seasons? With general manager Ozzie Newsome having not signed a free-agent wideout to this point and not taking one in last month’s draft, it’s become clear that the Ravens are counting on Perriman to live up to his first-round billing and Moore to emerge as another gem from last year’s impressive fourth-round haul. No matter how the likes of Perriman, Moore, and Michael Campanaro look practicing in shorts over the next few weeks, however, it remains almost inconceivable that the Ravens are again going down this path at this position.

3. How will new safety Tony Jefferson be used?

A four-year, $34 million contract is awfully rich for a traditional strong safety, so the bet here is that Jefferson will be deployed in a way unlike any other safety we’ve seen during defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ tenure. With the re-signing of veteran safety Lardarius Webb and the uncertainty at the weak-side inside linebacker spot due to the unfortunate retirement of Zach Orr, it makes sense for the Ravens to use the dime as their primary sub package with Jefferson essentially lining up as a hybrid linebacker in passing situations. His greatest strengths in Arizona were the ability to stop the run and to cover tight ends, which are critical responsibilities for a linebacker in a more conventional nickel alignment. Considering Webb played well in the second half of 2016 and will now be relegated to a part-time role, Jefferson needs to be a difference-making presence to justify the Ravens throwing him so much money that could have been used to address a below-average offense from a year ago.

4. Who steps into starting roles along the defensive line?

The Ravens have plenty of young options up front, but they will be replacing two starters in Timmy Jernigan and Lawrence Guy who also served as useful interior rushers in passing situations. Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry will be vying for the starting 3-technique defensive tackle job previously held by Jernigan while 2017 third-round pick Chris Wormley will compete with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for Guy’s old 5-technique defensive end spot. We’ve heard a lot about these names, but Pierce is the only one who saw extensive playing time a year ago and even he is only entering his second season. There isn’t a ton to take away from the non-contact nature of these spring practices, but it will be interesting to see who will be receiving the early reps with the first-team defense. The good news is that re-signed nose tackle Brandon Williams will be there to anchor the rest of a defensive line that will look quite different than it did in 2016.

5. Will Kamalei Correa begin living up to his second-round billing?

The Ravens passed on a few highly-touted prospects such as Myles Jack and Noah Spence to take Correa with the 42nd overall pick of the 2016 draft, making his rookie season that included only 48 defensive snaps that much more disappointing. With Orr having retired, the Ravens need someone to emerge as the starter in the base defense next to C.J. Mosley with Correa appearing to be the most logical candidate on paper. Outside opinions have been split on whether the Boise State product is better off playing inside or outside, but Newsome drafting edge defenders Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams last month signals where the Ravens stand in that debate. The coaching staff acknowledged that they may have put too much on Correa’s rookie plate by having him work at both inside and outside linebacker, but the Ravens need him to make a major leap in his second season or the groans from fans and media about another failed second-round pick will grow even louder. He has to at least begin looking the part this spring.

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Ravens face tough decision with Brandon Williams

Posted on 08 February 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens want Brandon Williams back, and the nose tackle would prefer to stay in Baltimore.

If only it were that simple.

Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta made it clear at the Senior Bowl last month that re-signing Williams is “a really important part of the puzzle” for the Ravens’ offseason. The fifth-year defensive lineman knows his worth — DeCosta offered him a reminder of that — but he says he won’t automatically go to the highest bidder in free agency, either.

“When you’re in Baltimore, you know what you’re getting,” Williams told WNST.net in Houston last week. “You know who you’re getting, you know who you’re dealing with, you know who your teammates are, you know who your coaches are. Going to a new team, new scheme, new plays, new playbooks, not knowing really what to expect over here. If it’s close enough to where I have to make that decision — where it comes down to that decision — I’m staying in Baltimore.

“I like Baltimore, my family is in Baltimore, my son is going to school [there], and stuff like that. I would pick that — if it’s close. If that’s the factor that makes or breaks the decision, then I’ll stay in Baltimore if it’s close.”

But where is the tipping point for each side?

Considered one of the best run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL, Williams will presumably attempt to use the five-year, $46.25 million deal — $24 million of it guaranteed — the New York Giants awarded Damon Harrison last offseason as a baseline, especially with the salary cap expected to rise again in 2017. Turning 28 later this month, Williams is unlikely to have another chance for a lucrative payday and is only a month away from having other teams vying for his services. The 2013 third-round pick didn’t imply last week that contract talks with the Ravens were ongoing, but that could certainly change at any moment.

On the flip side, how should the Ravens value Williams, who has not only been strong on the field but has been a high-character guy in the locker room and active in the community?

The beefy nose tackle is a very good player and has been a linchpin of the run defense, but the Ravens have also gone 13-19 over the last two seasons and must address a plethora of needs this winter. Giving Williams north of a $50 million contract would undoubtedly hinder the ability to improve other areas of the roster that haven’t been good enough.

If the Ravens were to lose Williams, would adding another defensive tackle even become their top priority when young options such as Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, and Willie Henry are waiting in the wings? It’s not ideal to weaken one of the roster’s biggest strengths, but Baltimore has shown a consistent ability to find talent on the defensive line through a variety of channels over the years with the undrafted Pierce being the latest example last season.

General manager Ozzie Newsome hasn’t invested big money in a defensive tackle since 2011 when he signed Haloti Ngata to a five-year, $61 million contract, but he was a better all-around player on a championship-caliber roster at the time. Losing Williams would definitely hurt, but exhausting too many resources to keep him could hurt a roster in need of playmakers on both sides of the ball.

When mired in mediocrity for the better part of four years, you can’t be afraid to be bold, which sometimes means taking a hit in the short term. If letting go of the talented nose tackle means the Ravens can bring in a high-impact wide receiver or cornerback, it’s worth it in the long run.

Williams is deserving of a big payday, but the Ravens doing whatever it takes to keep him isn’t going to magically get them over the hump in 2017. You can’t afford to be in love with your own players when your roster is in need of more than just subtle tweaks and there’s only so much salary-cap space to go around.

That’s why a deal may not make sense for either side in the end.

Even when they both want it.

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How did Ravens defense stack up at each position in 2016?

Posted on 12 January 2017 by Luke Jones

We know the sum of their parts didn’t add up to a trip to the postseason for the Ravens, but where exactly did their defensive players stack up at each position across the NFL in 2016?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few realistically have the time — or want to make the effort — to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop an informed opinion.

How many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Tennessee Titans this season?

What about the Los Angeles Rams linebackers or the San Diego Chargers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither the NFL1000 nor PFF should be viewed as the gospel truth of evaluation and they have their limitations, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Earlier this week, we looked at the rankings for Baltimore’s offensive players.

Below is a look at where Ravens defensive players rank at their respective positions, according to those outlets:

DE Timmy Jernigan
NFL1000 ranking: 17th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: 41st among interior defensive linemen
Skinny: The 2014 second-round pick appeared on his way to a breakout year, but he had only one sack after Week 7 and recorded one tackle over his last four games combined.

DE Lawrence Guy
NFL1000 ranking: 42nd among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: 36th among interior defensive linemen
Skinny: The 6-foot-4 lineman doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher, but he’s good against the run and was a solid contributor in his first full year as a starter.

DE Brent Urban
NFL1000 ranking: 40th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 2014 fourth-round pick saw only 150 defensive snaps this season, but his ratings suggest that more playing time should be in order in 2017.

DT Brandon Williams
NFL1000 ranking: 18th among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 38th among interior defensive linemen
Skinny: The fourth-year nose tackle saw more double teams and wasn’t as dominant as he was in 2015, but he is still on track to receive a strong payday as a free agent.

DT Michael Pierce
NFL1000 ranking: 31st among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 26th among interior defensive linemen
Skinny: The rookie free agent from Samford was one of the good stories of 2016 and will likely step into a starting role if Williams signs elsewhere this offseason.

OLB Terrell Suggs
NFL1000 ranking: 17th among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: 40th among edge defenders
Skinny: The 34-year-old played with a torn biceps for much of the season and is nearing the end of his career, but he still plays the run at a high level and remained Baltimore’s best pass rusher.

OLB Za’Darius Smith
NFL1000 ranking: 36th among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: 93rd among edge defenders
Skinny: Instead of building on an encouraging rookie campaign, Smith struggled mightily against the run and managed only one sack in a disappointing season.

OLB Elvis Dumervil
NFL1000 ranking: 41st among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher was limited to just three sacks in eight games after undergoing offseason Achilles surgery and could be a salary-cap casualty this offseason.

OLB Matt Judon
NFL1000 ranking: 42nd among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: 83rd among edge defenders
Skinny: The Grand Valley State product flashed promise with four sacks in 308 defensive snaps, but the Ravens will be counting on him to show more consistency in 2017.

OLB Albert McClellan
NFL1000 ranking: 45th among 3-4 outside linebackers
PFF ranking: 99th among edge defenders
Skinny: McClellan sets the edge better than Smith or Judon, but the veteran is very limited as a pass rusher and in coverage and is better suited for his standout special-teams role of past years.

ILB C.J. Mosley
NFL1000 ranking: 11th
PFF ranking: 11th
Skinny: Selected to his second Pro Bowl in three years, Mosley bounced back from a shaky 2015 season and is rapidly establishing himself as one of the best inside linebackers in the NFL.

ILB Zachary Orr
NFL1000 ranking: 20th
PFF ranking: 82nd
Skinny: Orr had some tackling issues from time to time and isn’t an effective blitzer, but PFF’s ranking appears to be way too low for the man who led the Ravens in tackles this season.

CB Jimmy Smith
NFL1000 ranking: seventh
PFF ranking: 48th
Skinny: The Ravens experienced dramatic drop-off without their top corner, but he’s now missed 22 games in his career and the injury bug always seems to bite when he’s playing his best football.

CB Tavon Young
NFL1000 ranking: 72nd
PFF ranking: 30th
Skinny: The truth probably lies somewhere in between these rankings, but the rookie fourth-rounder was a pleasant surprise and looks to be no worse than a quality slot cornerback moving forward.

CB Jerraud Powers
NFL1000 ranking: 90th
PFF ranking: 70th
Skinny: Powers wilted down the stretch in coverage and against the run, which will likely prompt the Ravens to look elsewhere for depth in 2017.

CB Shareece Wright
NFL1000 ranking: 116th
PFF ranking: 80th
Skinny: After arguably being the best Ravens defensive player on the field in Week 1, Wright lost all confidence and became a frustrating liability as the season progressed.

S Eric Weddle
NFL1000 ranking: sixth among strong safeties
PFF ranking: first among all safeties
Skinny: After three years of cycling safeties in and out of the lineup, the Ravens finally found high-quality stability in the back end of the defense with Weddle’s arrival in 2016.

S Lardarius Webb
NFL1000 ranking: 10th among free safeties
PFF ranking: 16th among all safeties
Skinny: His switch from cornerback made him one of the highest-paid safeties in the league, but Webb grew into his new position after a slow start and played well in the second half of the season.

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suggs

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win over Cleveland

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back above .500 after a 28-7 victory over winless Cleveland on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Watching Terrell Suggs get the best of nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas was special. He’s playing with one arm and isn’t the consistent game-wrecker he used to be, but the 34-year-old turned in a vintage performance with a strip sack and a pass defense leading to an interception.

2. He recovered nicely to throw three touchdown passes, but Joe Flacco looked jumpy and frenetic in the pocket throughout the first half. The Ravens can only hope his second-half rebound is a sign of better things to come, but that third-quarter interception in the end zone was ugly.

3. Marty Mornhinweg should continue using the crossing routes and slants we saw in the second half against the Browns. There’s no reason not to use the speed of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman while letting Flacco get rid of the ball quickly.

4. We’ve talked plenty about Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, but nickel cornerback Jerraud Powers turned in a strong performance. He broke up a pass the only time a Cleveland quarterback threw his way and intercepted another that was knocked up into the air.

5. You could tell how relieved John Harbaugh was to be able to smile and exhale over the final few minutes of Thursday’s 21-point win. Twenty-two of your previous 24 games being decided by a single possession will take a toll.

6. Jeremy Zuttah has had his struggles this season, but he’s the only Baltimore offensive lineman to start all nine games. Give the center credit for pushing through back and ankle issues to play 72 of 82 offensive snaps, especially after left guard Alex Lewis left with an ugly ankle injury.

7. It’s looking more and more like the offensive line problems aren’t going to be fixed this season. Lewis had looked good at left guard the last two games while the status of five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda remains in question. Those are crippling losses.

8. Some of the gold numbers were difficult to read, but I give the “Color Rush” uniform a passing grade, especially compared to those of other teams. I’d like to see the striping on those purple pants added to the Ravens’ black pants that are too dull.

9. Every time Michael Pierce turns in another strong performance, I can’t help but think it pushes pending free agent Brandon Williams a little further out the door. The rookie free agent recorded a tackle for a loss and batted a pass at the line of scrimmage.

10. Josh McCown had past success against the Ravens, but Hue Jackson’s decision to bench Cody Kessler was still baffling. Kessler wasn’t great, but that was a quick hook for a rookie who had outplayed Flacco to that point and orchestrated a touchdown drive in the first half.

11. They can’t do it exclusively, but the no-huddle offense needs to become a bigger part of what the Ravens do after it led to two touchdowns in the second half. It could put some strain on the defense, but you have to do whatever it takes to get Flacco going.

12. Watching Steve Smith’s eyes light up when asked about doing the Ray Lewis dance reminds us how much the 37-year-old still feels like a kid. After getting permission from Lewis to do the dance, Smith watched some YouTube videos to make sure he got it right. Having fun matters.

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jernigan

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 1 win over Buffalo

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the 2016 season with a 13-7 win over Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Joe Flacco easily could have been satisfied with a win in his first game back from knee surgery, but you could tell he wasn’t pleased with the performance and the failure to further exploit “cover 0” looks from Buffalo. I like that kind of attitude in a quarterback.

2. No one envisioned Shareece Wright as the Week 1 defensive MVP after a rough preseason, but he was outstanding against the run with three tackles for a loss and 11 tackles overall. His confidence can be fleeting — as it is for many cornerbacks — but he played with plenty of it.

3. Much was made about 10 different Ravens players making catches, but you wonder if offensive coordinator Marc Trestman’s attempt to get so many players involved led to the clunky showing in the second half. Thirteen points were enough on Sunday, but this offense remains a work in progress.

4. It wasn’t surprising since he essentially took Carl Davis’ roster spot, but Michael Pierce being on the field with Brandon Williams gave the Ravens plenty of beef inside against a Buffalo running game that tried to avoid running between the tackles. That should really help in short-yardage situations.

5. After starting all last season, Kamar Aiken and Crockett Gillmore saw a total of three targets on Sunday. You can debate whether that’s a good thing or not, but it does illustrate how much deeper this group of pass catchers is.

6. The time is now for Timmy Jernigan to elevate his game as a third-year player. He collected a sack and had a tackle for a loss as a disruptive force up front. Improved discipline and health are the only factors holding him back from being an above-average starter.

7. The entire offensive line was less than stellar, but the struggles of Jeremy Zuttah stood out as a cadence issue led to a lost fumble on a snap and he whiffed blocking Jerry Hughes on a sack that ended another drive in the first half.

8. He’s received much criticism, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees put together an excellent game plan that left Tyrod Taylor confused and guessing as to who was rushing and who was dropping into coverage. The challenge will now be effectively disguising fronts and coverages every week.

9. You had to feel great for Steve Smith being back on the field after a horrible Achilles injury, but I’m sure he’d like to have more than 19 receiving yards on nine targets. It will be interesting to see how his role evolves with improved overall talent at receiver.

10. The whiff on a potential sack leading to Buffalo’s longest offensive play was ugly, but Albert McClellan played well against the run in Courtney Upshaw’s old spot. His tackle of Reggie Bush for a loss derailed Buffalo’s opening drive of the second half that ended with a missed field goal.

11. Mike Wallace offered the line of the day on his 66-yard touchdown catch when he said, “If you have a safety on me, he’s dead every time.” You have to love that kind of speed — and swagger — that was sorely lacking in this passing game a year ago.

12. It’s difficult to evaluate the pass rush as the Ravens wanted to keep Taylor in the pocket, but edge rushers didn’t generate consistent disruption against backup offensive tackles. Getting Elvis Dumervil back will certainly help, but Terrell Suggs will hopefully show more as he knocks off rust.

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