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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-23 loss to New Orleans

Posted on 23 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 4-3 in their 24-23 loss to New Orleans, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith played poorly in his first start with Marlon Humphrey sidelined, but some criticism was over the top. Being suspended didn’t change the reality of him coming back from a torn Achilles, an injury that takes time for someone to return to previous form. Michael Thomas is also terrific.

2. Especially with the Saints down to their third-string left guard during Sunday’s game, you’d like to see the pass rush manage more than one sack and three quarterback hits. It’s very tough to beat a great offensive team without more disruption in the pocket or a game-changing turnover.

3. I’m all for trying to keep opponents guessing, but eight different Ravens running the ball at least once Sunday says plenty about the current state of a ground attack that ranks 31st in the NFL in yards per carry. The only team worse (Arizona) just fired its offensive coordinator.

4. Of the 16 times running backs carried the ball, 10 went for two or fewer yards and only one netted a first down. I’d be much more interested in upgrading the offensive line before the trade deadline, but exploring other running backs should be a consideration as well.

5. Both Drew Brees and Sean Payton talked about the 20-play opening drive setting the tone and allowing the Saints to jump ahead in time of possession despite not scoring. The Ravens defense surrendered only seven points through three quarters, but that long series took a toll later in the game.

6. Of course, that drive would have ended quickly had the special teams stopped a fake punt attempt after what looked like an initial three-and-out. I’m a big Jerry Rosburg guy, but there have been too many lapses with multiple special-teams units this season.

7. Coming off two quiet games, John Brown made seven catches for 134 yards — season highs — and a touchdown. Considering he caught all seven targets, why not go to him even more, especially in the first two fourth-quarter drives when he was thrown to just once for 17 yards?

8. Mark Andrews caught a touchdown Sunday, but tight ends have combined for 11 receptions for 84 yards over the last three games. Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams are helping offensive tackles in pass protection, but you want more when dressing four tight ends. Hayden Hurst needs to be more involved.

9. Lamar Jackson’s usage continues to be debated, but it was good seeing him pass in a third-down situation, something the Ravens must be willing to do if he’s going to play. His first NFL touchdown on a read-option run was a great example of how to properly use him.

10. I agreed with kicking the extra point, but there would have been at least an argument to go for the win if the Ravens had a running game. I wouldn’t have loved their chances in overtime after Brees had carved up the defense on three straight drives. Challenge traditional thinking.

11. The Ravens are 8-13 in games decided by a single possession since the start of 2016 and dropped to 0-2 this season. Common sense would tell you a playoff-hopeful team should be .500 or better in this department. Fourth quarters like Sunday’s have loomed large.

12. The debut of the purple-on-purple uniform — non-“Color Rush” edition — was the sixth different combination used by the Ravens since the start of the preseason, and they haven’t even worn their black alternates or the aforementioned purple tops with gold numbering yet. Watch out, Oregon.

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flaccoravens

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Signs there, but Ravens still learning how to become really good team

Posted on 22 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Nothing really changed about the Ravens with their 24-23 loss to New Orleans.

The defense remains at or near the top of most statistical categories after holding the high-powered Saints — with an extra week to prepare coming off a bye, mind you — to 12 points below their season average, a number many fans would have taken going into Sunday’s game. Even while struggling to run the football, the offense ranks in the top half of the league, which is substantial improvement from the last few years.

We did learn Justin Tucker is human after all, but he remains the best kicker in the NFL and has won a slew of games over the years, earning him plenty of slack for missing the game-tying extra point.

To be clear, there’s no shame in losing to the Saints, who might be the second-best team in the NFC and are viewed by many as a serious Super Bowl contender. Perhaps you expected John Harbaugh’s team to go undefeated at M&T Bank Stadium, but New Orleans was easily one of the season’s two most difficult home games on paper — the other being Pittsburgh — entering the season. This loss hardly breaks them.

Sunday’s defeat was a missed opportunity, however, and a reminder that the Ravens are still learning how to truly become a very good team. The components are there for a return to the playoffs and to perhaps make some noise if they get there, but just 13 players remain from Baltimore’s last playoff team in 2014, meaning a number of key individuals — including the last four draft classes — are still seeking what it takes to make it to January.

You have to finish when owning a 17-7 lead entering the fourth quarter, something the Ravens have struggled to do against top-flight teams these last few seasons. Yes, they went toe to toe with the Saints in an intense game and were only an extra point from likely forcing overtime, but let’s not pretend the last couple non-playoff teams were always blown out in such affairs either. The truth is this one hurt because the Ravens have had more than their share of “moral victories” as some have tried to label this one to be.

Holding future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and the Saints offense to a single touchdown through three quarters is a very impressive feat, but surrendering 17 points in the final three drives — not counting Brees’ final kneel-down — left the defense licking its wounds. The turning point really came late in the third quarter when Brees converted a third-and-8 pass to wide receiver Michael Thomas as safety Tony Jefferson was bringing the 39-year-old quarterback to the ground. From there, the run began in a way not unlike an NBA team erasing a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit in the blink of an eye.

Just like when playing Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning several years back, the best defense is only going to hold down Brees for so long. That’s just reality in today’s offense-driven game, especially without a game-changing turnover or a few more sacks to help get you off the field in crunch time. You’re only going to make so many stops straight up when facing an explosive offense, and the Ravens defense just couldn’t make a big play when the momentum shifted.

More to blame than the defense was a Ravens offense that sleepwalked through most of the fourth quarter and didn’t awaken until a 10-point lead had turned into a seven-point deficit with just over two minutes remaining. Injuries along the offensive line and a shortage of possessions in the first half didn’t help the overall output, but responding to two long touchdown drives in the fourth quarter with a three-and-out and a turnover on downs against a below-average New Orleans defense isn’t a winning formula against a great opponent. Games against Brees have been rare for the Ravens, but they’ve played Brady and Ben Roethlisberger too many times not to know how a low-scoring affair can morph into a shootout at a moment’s notice. The offense wasn’t prepared to counter-punch until it proved too late with Tucker’s rare misfire.

Asked after the game about his 14-yard touchdown pass to John Brown that looked like it would tie the game with 24 seconds remaining, quarterback Joe Flacco regretted the offense not coming away with some points on the previous two drives. A poor running game didn’t help as the Ravens offense neither provided rest nor scoring reinforcements for its defense after the Saints came alive. Scoring 23 points usually isn’t going to get the job done against an elite offense.

How the Ravens respond over these next two weeks will go a long way in determining whether they’re closer to becoming a really good team. Rebounding from Sunday’s loss to top a tough Carolina team on the road and to beat Pittsburgh at home would give them a 6-3 record entering the bye week and put them in really good shape to contend for their first AFC North championship since 2012. Anything less feels too much like the last couple years and leaves a tiny margin for error down the stretch with road games still to be played at Atlanta, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers.

If the Ravens want to make it back to the playoffs, they’ll need to get on a roll at some point. It looked like they might have graduated after their huge road victory at Pittsburgh, but they produced a dud in Cleveland the next week. Their dominating shutout at Tennessee was followed by a potential win slipping through their fingers on Sunday.

At some point, they’ll have to break the pattern of one step forward and one step back to get to the next level.

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Ravens-Saints: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 21 October 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will be without three starters for Sunday’s meeting with New Orleans.

After suffering injuries late in the practice week, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh) and right tackle James Hurst were both deactivated, joining starting left guard Alex Lewis (neck) after he had already been declared out on Friday. Those absences leave the Ravens with just four healthy cornerbacks and six active offensive linemen against the Saints, less-than-ideal developments against one of the NFC’s best teams.

Humphrey made an appearance on the field roughly 25 minutes before the inactives list was released Sunday afternoon, but he was only an observer while wearing a sweatsuit, making it clear he wasn’t preparing to play. His absence means veteran Jimmy Smith will make his first start of the season after playing on a rotational basis in the last two games. Smith will play opposite Brandon Carr on the outside with Tavon Young manning the nickel and Cyrus Jones serving as the fourth corner. Rookie cornerback Anthony Averett (hamstring) was deactivated for the fifth straight game after returning to practice on only a limited basis this week.

Hurst being scratched was surprising after the Ravens elected not to promote one of their three offensive linemen — Jermaine Eluemunor, Nico Siragusa, and Randin Crecelius — currently on the practice squad. Rookies Bradley Bozeman and Orlando Brown are expected to make their first NFL starts at left guard and right tackle, respectively, with Hroniss Grasu serving as the lone reserve lineman. Baltimore typically goes into every game with two active reserves for the offensive line, so an in-game injury or two could spark a major problem.

The Saints will have the services of right guard Larry Warford, who was listed as questionable on the final injury report with a back injury. New Orleans will be without left guard Andrus Peat, who was ruled out with a head injury on Friday.

New Orleans also deactivated reserve offensive tackle and former Towson University star Jermon Bushrod, who revealed this weekend that he’s mourning the death of his week-old daughter.

The Weather.com forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with temperatures in the low 50s. However, winds 15 to 25 miles per hour with occasional gusts approaching 40 miles per hour could create problems in the passing game. Winds are supposed to decrease as the game progresses.

Sunday’s referee is John Parry.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with purple pants — the first time we’ve seen this combination in a non-“Color Rush” capacity — while New Orleans dons white tops with black pants pants for Week 7.

Sunday marks the seventh all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 5-1 advantage and a 3-1 record in Baltimore. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is just one touchdown pass away from the 500th of his career, but the future Hall of Famer is 0-4 in his career against the Ravens, the only NFL team he has never defeated.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Marlon Humphrey
OL James Hurst
CB Anthony Averett
G Alex Lewis
WR Jordan Lasley
DL Zach Sieler
QB Robert Griffin III

NEW ORLEANS
G Andrus Peat
OL Jermon Bushrod
OL Will Clapp
DB J.T. Gray
DE Trey Hendrickson
DL Mitch Loewen
DT Taylor Stallworth

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday isn’t just an enticing showdown between the top scoring offense and best scoring defense in the NFL, but it serves as a measuring stick for both the Ravens and New Orleans.

Allowing a minuscule 12.8 points per game and ranking at or near the top in virtually every notable category, the Baltimore defense has faced the fourth-easiest slate of offenses so far this season, according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, the Saints are scoring a whopping 36.0 points per game against the second-easiest schedule of defenses to this point.

Regardless of the competition, each group’s body of work is very impressive, but this matchup offers the opportunity to prove just how great they truly are.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for just the seventh time with the Ravens holding a 5-1 advantage and a 3-1 record in Baltimore. As has been mentioned throughout the week, Drew Brees is 0-4 in his career against the Ravens, the only NFL team the future Hall of Fame quarterback hasn’t defeated over his 18 seasons.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Brees will throw his 500th and 501st career touchdowns as well as his first two interceptions of the year. The 39-year-old is off to a brilliant start with a 122.3 passer rating through five games, but he’s yet to face a defense quite like the Ravens, who are allowing just 6.0 yards per passing attempt. Marlon Humphrey’s status could be pivotal, but Jimmy Smith should be ready for a bigger workload with two games under his belt if the former can’t go. How nickel corner Tavon Young holds up defending Cameron Meredith or even Michael Thomas in the slot will be critical, but the Ravens will mix their coverages enough to force Brees into making a few more mistakes than usual.

2. Willie Snead will lead the Ravens in receptions and catch a touchdown against his former team. The slot receiver downplayed the significance of this one, but you know it would mean plenty to show well after his nightmare 2017 that followed 141 catches and 1,879 yards in the previous two seasons. Twenty of Snead’s 30 receptions — tied with Michael Crabtree for the team lead — have gone for first downs this season as he’s been exactly what Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh envisioned. The Saints have had significant problems at the slot cornerback position since the injury to Patrick Robinson, setting up Snead to gain some payback with his second score of the year.

3. Saints running back Alvin Kamara will score the first second-half touchdown of 2018 against Baltimore. Much was made about Kamara receiving only nine touches in Mark Ingram’s return to action two weeks ago, but the former is averaging 9.2 yards per reception, which is prime Ray Rice territory out of the backfield. The Ravens have covered running backs well so far this season, but Kamara presents a different kind of challenge who will offset the efforts of the pass rush at times and test tackling ability. Baltimore is bound to give up a post-halftime touchdown at some point, and Kamara will get loose for a score to put that impressive streak to an end.

4. Za’Darius Smith will collect another sack for one of three total for the Ravens. The key to slowing Brees and the New Orleans offense is disguise and deception, which is what Wink Martindale has so masterfully used to this point in his early tenure as defensive coordinator. Because Brees gets the ball away so quickly, you cannot count on edge rushers to get to him and need your interior linemen to hit him or at least make him move his feet to throw off his timing. Saints left guard Andrus Peat is out and right guard Larry Warford is questionable, which should make things easier for Smith, Brent Urban, and Willie Henry. The inside rushers will do just enough to make life difficult for Brees.

5. Joe Flacco and the passing game will be the difference in a 27-23 Ravens victory. The sexy story all week has understandably been about the Baltimore defense trying to slow the Saints offense, but New Orleans ranks 30th in the league in pass defense and the Ravens have been a top 10 passing attack so far this season. Talented Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore may contain one side of the field, but Flacco should be able to make plays against the rest of the New Orleans secondary for a productive day. Brees and Saints head coach Sean Payton having the bye week to try to crack the code that’s been the Ravens defense does make you take pause, but home-field advantage and a more balanced roster will make the difference in a game that has the potential to be a regular-season classic.

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humphrey

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Humphrey questionable, Lewis out for Ravens against New Orleans

Posted on 19 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will be without a starting offensive lineman and could be without one of their starting cornerbacks for Sunday’s much-anticipated meeting with New Orleans.

Left guard Alex Lewis was officially ruled out after missing practices all week with the neck injury sustained at Tennessee, but an unexpected concern is the status of cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who was designated as questionable on the final injury report. The 2017 first-round pick suffered what’s being labeled a thigh injury during Thursday’s practice and did not take part in Friday’s walk-through session that was closed to reporters.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Humphrey is receiving treatment and that the Ravens would “just see how it goes” in terms of whether he’ll be available to try to help slow Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense. Of course, Baltimore would still have veteran cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith to start on the outside with Tavon Young manning the nickel, but the luxury of rotating fresh players at every level has been a calling card for the league’s No. 1 scoring defense this season.

You’d rather not have to test that depth against one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history and the league’s third-ranked passing offense.

“We just don’t talk about that stuff,” Harbaugh said. “You just move on. If he’s there, he’s there. If he’s not, he’s not, and that’s how you do it. It’s not something you give too much thought to. That’s how the league works.”

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has distributed snaps among his top three outside corners since Smith returned from a four-game suspension two weeks ago. Should Humphrey not be able to play against the Saints, the Ravens would be one injury away from having a problem on the outside as rookie cornerback Anthony Averett is just returning from a long-term hamstring injury and only practiced on a limited basis this week. The 5-foot-9 Young played extensively as an outside corner as a rookie two years ago, but both he and the recently-acquired Cyrus Jones are more ideal at the nickel.

Pro Football Focus has graded Humphrey as the 18th-best cornerback in the NFL — and Baltimore’s best — so far this season.

Lewis’ absence was expected after he was carted off the field on a stretcher early in the fourth quarter of the 21-0 win over the Titans and later diagnosed with a pinched nerve, according to Harbaugh. What remains to be seen is how the Ravens approach their offensive line for Week 7 with starting right tackle James Hurst likely playing a pivotal role. Since Hurst hadn’t practiced at left guard — where he started last season — all last week, the Ravens chose not to disrupt two different line positions and simply inserted rookie Bradley Bozeman at left guard in place of Lewis.

With a full week to prepare, the Ravens may shift Hurst to left guard and start rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle. Brown has played 37 offensive snaps this season and has occasionally served as a sixth offensive lineman in certain packages, but he played extensively as the first-team right tackle during the preseason and is considered the right tackle of the future.

“We’re not showing our hand. On the other side of the coin, it’s really not a big deal,” said Harbaugh, who was pleased with how both Brown and Bozeman practiced this week. “It’s really not a big deal. Guys get hurt for both teams. Guys play, guys don’t play, guys come back. It’s just part of the process.

“We’ve done well with injuries. We’ve been very blessed so far this year, and we’re not worried about that.”

(Update: On Saturday, Hurst was added to the injury report with a questionable designation because of a back issue, but the Ravens did not promote an extra offensive lineman to the 53-man roster, making it likely the veteran lineman will at least be active on Sunday.)

The Saints have placed wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (knee) on injured reserve and ruled out starting left guard Andrus Peat with a head injury. Starting right guard Larry Warford was listed as questionable with a back injury.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game in Baltimore calls for sunny skies and temperatures reaching the mid-50s, but winds 15 to 25 miles per hour could create problems for both passing games.

Returning to M&T Bank Stadium after playing four of their first six games on the road, the 4-2 Ravens will now reap the benefits of playing four of their next five at home. However, the next three opponents — New Orleans, Carolina, and Pittsburgh — all made the playoffs last season while their first post-bye game will be against Cincinnati, who is tied with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North.

“It’s a good place to be. The challenge is they’re all really good teams, and that’s how the NFL works,” Harbaugh said. “Wouldn’t rather have them anywhere else — that’s for sure — than with our fans and in our stadium here in Baltimore.”

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Alex Lewis (neck)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring)

NEW ORLEANS
OUT: G Andrus Peat (head), DT Taylor Stallworth (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Jermon Bushrod (non-injury), G Larry Warford (back)

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humphrey

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Cornerback Humphrey limited during Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 18 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to face one of the best passing games in the NFL in Week 7, the Ravens added starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey to their injury report on Thursday.

The 2017 first-round pick was listed as a limited participant with a thigh issue, making it unclear whether he sustained an injury during practice or if it’s something with which he was already dealing. Humphrey’s status will come into better focus on Friday when the Ravens conduct their final practice ahead of their meeting with New Orleans. Slot cornerback Tavon Young missed last Thursday’s practice with a hip issue before practicing the next day and playing without any apparent limitations against Tennessee.

Even if Humphrey’s availability were to be in doubt, the Ravens would simply turn to Jimmy Smith, who has played 62 snaps in a rotational capacity in each of the last two games. Smith was suspended for the first four games of the season and is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon sustained last December.

“He’s starting to play. He’s getting used to playing again in the second week, and you can see it,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We didn’t play that many plays, but he was doing some things really well and receivers were having a hard time getting off the line of scrimmage. It was fun to see.”

As expected, veteran cornerback Brandon Carr practiced fully after sitting out the previous day. He has missed the last four Wednesday practices with what’s listed as a knee issue, so there had been no real concern regarding his availability to play against the Saints.

Left guard Alex Lewis remains sidelined with a neck injury that appears likely to keep him sidelined for Sunday’s game. Rookie right tackle Orlando Brown says he’s prepared to play should the Ravens elect to place him in the starting lineup while moving veteran James Hurst over to left guard. Rookie Bradley Bozeman is another option to start at left guard after he filled in for Lewis in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win over the Titans.

“I’m just approaching it like I approach every other week,” said Brown, a third-round pick in April’s draft. “I don’t know what the coaches plan to do. They know I’m ready, so I’m just going to continue to work this week and develop my game.”

Both of the Saints’ starting guards sat out Thursday’s workout as Andrus Peat (head) had practiced on a limited basis the previous day and Larry Warford (back) was a new addition to the injury report.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), , S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

NEW ORLEANS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OL Jermon Bushrod (non-injury), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (knee), G Andrus Peat (head), DT Taylor Stallworth (ankle), G Larry Warford (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Terron Armstead (knee), CB Marshon Lattimore (concussion), WR Cameron Meredith (knee)

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Ravens-Saints showdown capable of giving both sides “nightmares”

Posted on 17 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A meeting between the NFL’s top scoring offense and best scoring defense feels like a heavyweight fight, but Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs didn’t offer the anticipated bravado.

Not when you’re facing a quarterback who just broke the career passing yardage record and is still going strong at age 39 in an offense averaging 36.0 points per game.

“They’re the kind of explosive offense that gives you nightmares,” said Suggs about Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. “It’s going to be a good, fun game. We get to play football against one of the premier quarterbacks, the premier offenses with explosive pieces.”

At the same time, Brees spent his bye week watching the Ravens defense collect a franchise-record 11 sacks in a 21-0 road shutout against Tennessee. Baltimore’s 12.8 points per game allowed this season looks like something out of 1978 rather than in 2018 when offense reigns supreme.

He’s faced them only four times, but Brees is fully aware the Ravens are the only team he’s never defeated in his 18-year career. Suggs — a rookie when Baltimore beat Brees for the first time when he was the quarterback of the San Diego Chargers in 2003 — tried to chalk up that past success to “luck” on Wednesday, but the future Hall of Fame quarterback has fallen prey to an abundance of defensive standouts from Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to Haloti Ngata and Elvis Dumervil over the years.

Now Brees will meet a deep and unpredictable defense that leads the league in sacks and has allowed only eight touchdowns in six games — none after halftime.

“They’re all over the place, and I think that’s just something we have to be aware of,” Brees said in a conference call with Baltimore media. “Making sure that we’re spot-on with our scheme and what we’re doing, making sure that the ball gets out on time, making sure we’re doing good things in the back end in regards to getting open. But yes, it’s a formidable defense. It’s a formidable pass rush.”

“All over the place” is an appropriate description as new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has employed extensive depth and more pre- and in-snap flexibility to keep opposing offenses guessing as to what the Ravens are doing. Whether disguising coverage and blitzes or even using “amoeba” looks (see below) with upwards of seven or eight players at the line of scrimmage before the snap, the Ravens have confused quarterbacks, forcing them into mistakes or holding the ball too long as the pass rush gets home.


(Screen shot courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

Of course, the Ravens are unlikely to confuse the veteran Brees to the same degree they baffled Nathan Peterman, Case Keenum, or Marcus Mariota, but their style of play is already the blueprint for trying to slow down a quarterback who processes information quickly and makes plenty of pre-snap adjustments. The concern is Brees and Saints head coach Sean Payton have had an extra week to study the Baltimore defense, adding another layer to an already-intriguing chess match.

“If he knows what you’re doing or what you’re going to do, you’re going to have a long day,” said Ravens slot receiver Willie Snead, who spent the last three seasons with the Saints. “I think disguise is going to be huge with the [defense] because they do have a great offense. Drew Brees is one of the best. You guys know that.

“But I think the way you get him off his game is you have to bring pressure. You have to mix it up, and you have to make sure that he doesn’t know what you’re doing. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Knowing you have to pressure Brees and doing it are two different things as he’s been sacked just eight times in five games this season and has been dropped just 28 times since the start of 2017. The New Orleans offensive line ranks fifth in Pro Football Focus’ most recent rankings with offensive tackles Terron Armstead and Ryan Ramczyk grading particularly well.

The challenge of pressuring Brees is compounded by how quickly he gets rid of the football, another obstacle for rushers trying to come off the edge. According to Next Gen Stats, Brees’ average time to throw of 2.52 seconds from snap to release is tied for second fastest in the league and is 0.04 seconds quicker than Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton, whose quick throws frustrated the Ravens in a Week 2 loss in which they didn’t record a single sack.

Those variables are why it’s critical for the inside pass rush to get Brees off his spot and keep him out of rhythm. That effort will be led by the surging Za’Darius Smith, who is coming off a career-best three-sack performance against the Titans. Smith estimated Wednesday that the coverage in the Ravens secondary just needs to give the front “three to four seconds” to get after Brees.

Easier said than done, but the Ravens don’t have to try to be something they’re not, which is good news when playing such an explosive offense. Ultimately, they’re hoping to give Brees some nightmares of his own while continuing their undefeated streak against one of the best quarterbacks of all time.

“We’ve got to do our best to not let him know what we’re in before the snap because we’re going to be dead if he does know,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It’s a fun challenge. The great ones always bring out the best in you, and they can bring out the worst in you too. If you make a mistake, it’s a touchdown. That’s the pressure you like.”

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Ravens may need to shuffle offensive line for Week 7

Posted on 17 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing for their most challenging matchup of the season to date, the Ravens could debut a new offensive line combination for Sunday’s tilt against New Orleans.

With left guard Alex Lewis sidelined from Wednesday’s practice while recovering from a neck injury suffered in the Week 6 win at Tennessee, the Ravens will weigh their options while still hoping he makes enough improvement to play against the Saints. It’s a possibility head coach John Harbaugh didn’t rule out at the beginning of the week, but the Ravens will be cautious with Lewis’ health.

“I guess I would label it, for lack of a better term and to go back to an old term, [to] be a pinched nerve,” Harbaugh said. “That just kind of heals. That can heal like that (snaps fingers) or it can take a little bit of time, so he’s really day-to-day is really the best way to describe it with that kind of injury.”

Should Lewis not play, the Ravens could choose to move right tackle James Hurst to left guard — the position he played in place of the injured Lewis last season — and start rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. at Hurst’s current spot. Brown received most of the reps as the first-team right tackle in training camp and the preseason while Hurst filled in at right guard for six-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda, who was working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, but the Ravens have gone with the more experienced option through the first six weeks of the regular season.

Rather than disrupt two positions early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game after Lewis was carted off the field on a stretcher, the Ravens kept Hurst at right tackle and inserted rookie sixth-round pick Bradley Bozeman at left guard to finish off a 21-0 win.

“He was prepared to play the left guard spot, and James was practicing the right tackle spot the whole time,” Harbaugh said after Sunday’s game. “We could do it the other way too if we had to, but that’s the way that [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] wanted to do it.”

Cornerback Brandon Carr was the only other Baltimore player to miss Wednesday’s practice for a health-related reason, but this is the fourth straight week he’s received a practice day off for a knee issue, removing doubt about his availability for Sunday’s game. Cornerback Anthony Averett made his return to practice after missing the last four games with a hamstring injury.

Returning from their Week 6 bye, the Saints held out wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (knee) from Wednesday’s practice. Left tackle Terron Armstead (knee) and wide receiver Cameron Meredith (knee) were limited participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), G Alex Lewis (neck), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring)

NEW ORLEANS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Ted Ginn Jr. (knee), DT Taylor Stallworth (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Terron Armstead (knee), G Andrus Peat (head), WR Cameron Meredith (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Marshon Lattimore (concussion)

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New Orleans elects not to match Snead’s offer sheet with Ravens

Posted on 20 April 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Monday 11:15 a.m.)

The Ravens have taken another step in addressing the wide receiver position by signing restricted free agent Willie Snead to a two-year offer sheet that won’t be matched by New Orleans.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth $7 million, which includes a $2 million signing bonus and an additional $3.4 million in incentives. New Orleans had until Wednesday to match the offer and will not receive any compensation for the former undrafted free agent’s departure. According to the NFLPA, the Saints entered Monday with just over $6 million in salary cap space, a limited amount for a team that recently signed wide receiver Cameron Meredith.

Snead is coming off a forgettable season in which he caught only eight passes for 92 yards in 11 games. He was suspended for the first three games of 2017 for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy, a penalty stemming from charges of driving while intoxicated and failing to maintain proper control of a vehicle last June. The Ball State product also dealt with a hamstring injury for a large portion of last season, another factor leading to him falling out of the mix.

However, the 25-year-old was a major contributor for Drew Brees and the Saints offense in the previous two seasons, catching a combined 141 passes for 1,879 yards and seven touchdowns. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound Snead will serve as Baltimore’s slot receiver, a position general manager Ozzie Newsome had yet to fill after Jeremy Maclin was released and Michael Campanaro signed a one-year deal with Tennessee.

With the Ravens landing Snead, they have added a possession receiver and red-zone weapon in Michael Crabtree, an outside speed target in John Brown, and now a slot receiver to a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season. The three offer diverse skills and have all enjoyed success in the past, but they combined for just 87 catches for 1,009 yards and 11 touchdowns last season with Crabtree accounting for most of that production. In other words, Newsome has invested quite a bit in a trio of targets needing bounce-back seasons.

Signing Snead is expected to take the Ravens out of the running for former Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant, who hasn’t publicly expressed any interest in signing with Baltimore. The Ravens would be wise to still make drafting another receiver or two a priority this week since none of the aforementioned receivers can be viewed as long-term solutions at this point.

Snead worked out for the Ravens in late March and caught passes from quarterback Robert Griffin III, who also signed with the team earlier this month.

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Former Ravens tight end Watson returns to New Orleans on one-year deal

Posted on 28 March 2018 by Luke Jones

After contemplating retirement earlier this offseason, former Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is going back to New Orleans.

On Wednesday, the 37-year-old agreed to a one-year contract with the Saints, the team he left two offseasons ago to sign a two-year, $8 million deal with Baltimore. Watson was reportedly moving toward a deal with Kansas City last week, but a reunion with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees proved too enticing as he caught a career-high 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns with New Orleans in 2015.

Watson led the Ravens with 61 receptions and tied for the team lead with four touchdown catches last season, completing an impressive comeback after missing the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon. He was highly respected on the field and for his work in the community as he was the team’s 2017 nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, but Baltimore hopes to add more youth and play-making ability to the position to go along with blocking tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams.

How the Ravens will do that remains to be seen with few appealing options remaining on the free-agent market and history suggesting it’s an unwise gamble to count too heavily on a rookie tight end. This year’s draft class lacks an elite talent at the position, but Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State, Mike Gesicki of Penn State, and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are considered good prospects

“We’re going to try and get one,” said head coach John Harbaugh at the owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday. “Not to take anything away from Maxx and Nick — I think those guys have skills and stuff. I think they both have excellent hands and they can make plays for you, especially underneath moving the chains and those kinds of things. But I also think those guys are excellent blockers. They’ve proven that. Those guys have a huge role on our team. I love those two guys.

“A pass-catching tight end is someone that can stretch the field, make some big plays for us. That’s something that we want to have.”

Watson is the Ravens’ third unrestricted free agent to sign elsewhere this offseason, joining center Ryan Jensen (Tampa Bay) and wide receiver Mike Wallace (Philadelphia). He will be entering his 15th NFL season and has caught 495 passes for 5,485 yards and 42 touchdowns over his career spent with New England, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Baltimore.

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