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Humphrey, Jefferson questionable for Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay

Posted on 14 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Facing a Tampa Bay offense entering Week 15 with the most passing yards in the NFL, the Ravens hope to have their entire starting secondary back on the field on Sunday.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (groin) returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and was listed as questionable on the final injury report. The 2017 first-round pick missed most of the second half of last Sunday’s loss at Kansas City and missed workouts on Wednesday and Thursday. Humphrey hurt his groin late in the Week 13 win over Atlanta.

“He’s just trying to get this strong and make sure it’s right,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He was out there today. We’ll have to watch the tape and talk to [head athletic trainer Ron Medlin] — and Marlon, of course — and see how he looked and how he felt.”

Humphrey’s absence would be significant as Baltimore lost games to New Orleans and Carolina earlier this season when the talented defensive back was sidelined with a thigh injury. Rookie Anthony Averett saw extensive snaps in his place against the Chiefs.

Safety Tony Jefferson hopes to make his return after a two-game absence with an ankle injury. He practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and also received the questionable designation. Second-year safety Chuck Clark has filled in for Jefferson since Week 12.

“If I was making the decision, he would be playing on Sunday,” Harbaugh said. “So, we’ll see what the trainers say, but I thought he did well.”

Left guard Alex Lewis was listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his second straight game with a lingering shoulder issue. The third-year offensive lineman was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, but he didn’t participate on Thursday or Friday. Veteran James Hurst would presumably make his second straight start at left guard.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was listed as questionable on the final injury report, but he is set to serve as the backup to rookie starter Lamar Jackson after practicing fully all week. Sunday will mark the first time in Flacco’s career he will not start a game in which he’s been active, but it remains unclear whether the 11th-year quarterback will have any role beyond serving as a traditional backup.

How the Ravens would adjust their run-heavy attack under Jackson to the less mobile Flacco on the fly would be interesting.

“We have plans, and Joe feels really good about the things that we would immediately go to when he’s in the game,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “I went through it the past couple weeks, really. We have more than enough for Joe to be able to go in and have some success without sort of reverting back.”

Cornerback Tavon Young (groin) and defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) were also listed as questionable for Sunday, but both practiced fully on Friday after missing practice time earlier in the week.

The Buccaneers officially ruled out veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb) and safety Justin Evans (toe) and listed defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (knee/hip) as questionable for Sunday.

In other Ravens news, national scout Milt Hendrickson is expected to leave the organization to become Green Bay’s new assistant general manager, according to Packers insider Bob McGinn. Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst reportedly wanted to hire Hendrickson last spring, but an interview request was denied by Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome.

The Weather.com Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for rain and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 90-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)

TAMPA BAY
OUT: S Justin Evans (toe), WR DeSean Jackson (thumb)
QUESTIONABLE: DT Beau Allen (wrist), CB Carlton Davis (knee), OT Demar Dotson (knee), S Isaiah Johnson (concussion), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee/hip), LB Adarius Taylor (non-injury)

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FILE - In this Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, file photo, Baltimore Ravens defensive back Marlon Humphrey (29) celebrates his interception with teammate Tony Jefferson in the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions in Baltimore. As a member of the Alabama football, Marlon Humphrey knew what to expect against non-league foes such as Mercer and Kent State. Now a rookie starting cornerback with the Ravens, he finds himself in a similar situation entering Sunday’s game against the winless Cleveland Browns. (AP Photo/Gail Burton, File)

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Ravens without Humphrey, T. Young for Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 12 December 2018 by Luke Jones

While fully healthy at the quarterback position for the first time since early November, the Ravens are dealing with several injury concerns in the secondary ahead of their Week 15 meeting with Tampa Bay.

Cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey (groin) and Tavon Young (groin) and safeties Tony Jefferson (ankle) and Anthony Levine (ankle) all missed practice on Wednesday as Baltimore prepares for an offense ranking first in the NFL in passing yards per game. Humphrey and Young both exited last Sunday’s loss at Kansas City with lingering groin injuries while Jefferson is trying to avoid missing his third straight contest.

“He’s close,” said head coach John Harbaugh of Jefferson’s status. “He tells me he’s going to play, and [the training staff] says we need to see him run full speed, so we’ll be looking for that this week. He told me he was going to play last week. He told me he was going to play the week before that, so that’s Tony. But I have my fingers crossed.”

Offensive lineman Alex Lewis (shoulder) returned to practice after missing last week’s game, but it remains to be seen whether he or veteran James Hurst will receive the starting nod at left guard. Hurst returned to action after a six-game absence to start in place of Lewis against the Chiefs. Harbaugh confirmed rookie Orlando Brown would remain the starting right tackle, the position Hurst held over the first six games of the season before being sidelined with a back injury.

Quarterbacks Lamar Jackson (ankle) and Joe Flacco (hip) were full participants in practice after Harbaugh announced Jackson will remain Baltimore’s starter moving forward. Jackson confirmed his ankle was “100 percent” after exiting late in the overtime loss to the Chiefs.

The Buccaneers were without veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb) and starting safety Justin Evans (toe) for Wednesday’s workout. Both have missed recent games with their respective injuries.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury), CB Tavon Young (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), QB Lamar Jackson (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)

TAMPA BAY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Justin Evans (toe), WR DeSean Jackson (thumb), S Isaiah Johnson (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Carlton Davis (knee), OT Demar Dotson (knee), DT Gerald McCoy (shoulder), DE Jason Pierre-Paul (knee/hip)

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With Ravens’ starting decision made, pressure ramps up for Lamar Jackson

Posted on 12 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens made their quarterback decision official on Wednesday.

With no remaining ambiguity regarding the health of Joe Flacco’s hip, head coach John Harbaugh revealed rookie Lamar Jackson would remain the starter while the greatest quarterback in franchise history assumes the backup role for the first time in his NFL career. The news was hardly shocking with the Ravens having won three of the last four games thanks in large part to their revamped run-heavy offense, but it made the announcement no less delicate when demoting an individual who’s meant so much to the organization.

Whether you agreed with the decision or not, Harbaugh deserves credit for controlling the story and not subjecting the 33-year-old quarterback who helped win him a Super Bowl, a rookie preparing for his fifth NFL start, or the rest of the locker room to media questions about who would — or should — play on Sunday. Any perceived competitive edge gained by delaying the announcement just didn’t outweigh the human element this time around.

In truth, the epilogue for the Flacco era can wait a few more weeks as even Harbaugh acknowledged the distinct possibility of the veteran being called upon to help win the Ravens a game for any number of reasons, but things are now different for Jackson despite his best efforts to suggest otherwise. The first-round pick from Louisville and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner is no longer just the talented understudy filling in for the injured starter or the quarterback of the future gaining some experience.

He’s the guy.

“It’s our team — all of us together. It’s our team,” said Jackson when asked if Wednesday’s announcement made the Ravens “his” team. “I don’t go out there and block. I don’t go out there and catch the ball. I don’t make tackles. I just do my part. It’s all of our team.”

Of course, we know it’s a team game and the 21-year-old’s humility is impressive, but the starting quarterback is different from any other player. It’s why they make the big bucks for achieving glory and often receive too much blame when things go awry. Flacco knows that all too well by now.

Over the last four weeks, Jackson was being graded on two scales: his present play and his long-term viability as a franchise quarterback. That still holds true, but current expectations are heightened when you’ve been deliberately chosen to start over a veteran with a proven track record.

To be clear, Jackson doesn’t suddenly need to become someone he’s not. The game plan shouldn’t change as this decision was much more about the best team fit than one quarterback being better than the other. But Jackson is no longer “just a rookie” being pressed into starting duty anymore like he was last month or even this past Sunday.

Fellow 2018 first-round picks Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, and Josh Rosen are starting for teams already eliminated from postseason contention, minimizing any pressure for results. Top overall pick Baker Mayfield has been the star of this year’s quarterback crop, but his playoff hopes are microscopic at this point. Even a rookie Flacco had only an equally-unproven Troy Smith and journeyman Todd Bouman waiting in the wings in 2008, meaning the Ravens were going to sink or swim with their rookie quarterback.

This situation is different with so many players and coaches fighting for their futures with an organization entering a transition period as Eric DeCosta becomes the general manager this offseason.

Two Jackson first-half interceptions like we saw against Oakland or three fumbles as witnessed in the Atlanta game won’t be viewed through the same lens with an active Flacco waiting on the sideline rather than Robert Griffin III. That’s not to suggest perfection is expected by any stretch — Flacco is far from flawless — or that Jackson should be pulled at the first sign of trouble, but he’s starting meaningful December games for a franchise desperate to return to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

Based on the poise he displayed in Kansas City — the best performance of his four starts — that sealed the Ravens’ decision to stick with him, Jackson should be up for the challenge, at least in terms of the moment not being too big for him.

But Flacco’s hip injury and pending return is no longer the safety net as it was these last few weeks. And while Jackson said Wednesday was “the same as any other day,” that’s just not the case. A new job description brings greater expectations, and it will be exciting to see how he handles the pressure.

The Ravens are putting much trust in him as they leave past glory standing on the sideline.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss at Kansas City

Posted on 11 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having their three-game winning streak snapped in a 27-24 loss to Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Depending on your perspective, an overtime defeat to the AFC’s best team can be viewed as a moral victory or the “same old Ravens” with a highly-ranked defense wilting late, but it’s tough not to lament a missed opportunity with Pittsburgh losing and other wild-card contenders winning.

2. After the defense did an impressive job against Patrick Mahomes for much of the game, his fourth-and-9 wizardry was more a greater of him being the best player on the field than a colossal collapse from the Ravens like last year against Cincinnati. Sometimes you just have to accept that.

3. Playing in one of the most difficult road environments in the NFL, Lamar Jackson showed poise and ranked fifth in ESPN’s total QBR metric for Week 14. A limited passing game remains a concern, but the rookie made some key throws, none bigger than his go-ahead touchdown to John Brown.

4. Matt Judon was the best Raven on the field as he registered a sack, five quarterback hits, and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. His second-half surge has been critical for both the present and future with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to become free agents.

5. Between Marlon Humphrey being late lining up over Tyreek Hill and Eric Weddle failing to tackle Hill to prevent the first down, I found Kansas City’s third-and-19 conversion late in the first half to be a bigger gaffe than the aforementioned fourth down. It led to a Chiefs touchdown, too.

6. It’s difficult to predict how much change this roster might endure this offseason, but improving at the safety position figures to be fairly high on the priority list. It wasn’t a stellar day for Weddle or Chuck Clark, who at least recorded Baltimore’s first interception in over two months.

7. Kenneth Dixon was as impressive running the ball as he’s looked since his rookie season, rushing for a touchdown and 59 yards on just eight carries. You just keep your fingers crossed that he’ll stay healthy now.

8. Perhaps Jackson’s most impressive play of the game was his scramble drill resulting in a dump-off to Dixon for a 21-yard reception on a first-and-20 situation early in the second half. That play would have been a sack or incompletion for all but maybe a couple quarterbacks in the league.

9. Remember how mediocre the special teams were in the first half of the season? The Ravens now rank fifth in Football Outsiders’ latest season ratings. Cyrus Jones’ return ability has played a big role in that, but the rest of the group has tightened up as well.

10. The Ravens didn’t attempt a pass on first down until the first play of the second half and did it just five times total. Why’s that unusual? One of the biggest cries from the analytics community is to pass more frequently on first down. Again, zigging while everyone else zags.

11. Suggs played a season-high 70 snaps and registered a half-sack, another quarterback hit, and a pass breakup. The 36-year-old has played well of late, but that workload has to be concerning. Meanwhile, Tyus Bowser saw only 14 snaps and Tim Williams was essentially a healthy scratch.

12. Many hoped Jackson playing quarterback might jump-start fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst, but the rookie tight end failed to register a catch for the second straight week. This shouldn’t be shocking given his early-season foot injury and the recent history of rookie tight ends, but it’s no less disappointing.

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Ravens quarterback situation finally appears coming to a head

Posted on 11 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This figures to be one of the more interesting weeks in Ravens history, and it has nothing to do with Tampa Bay coming to town.

With Joe Flacco medically cleared for game action and about to log a full week of practice and head coach John Harbaugh reiterating Monday that Lamar Jackson “should be fine” despite leaving Sunday’s loss in Kansas City with an ankle injury, the Ravens can no longer kick the can down the road with their quarterback position. Frankly, there’s little reason to think Jackson won’t — and shouldn’t — remain the starting quarterback with the Ravens having won three of their last four and rushing for nearly 230 yards per game over that time, a style conducive to controlling the clock and keeping their defense fresh.

But this isn’t like Trent Dilfer replacing Tony Banks or the debate between Elvis Grbac and Randall Cunningham years ago. Potentially telling the best quarterback in franchise history — one who won you a Super Bowl six years ago — he’s no longer “the guy” should be a delicate matter. Harbaugh didn’t announce his Week 15 starter on Monday, but he was asked if he expected Flacco to be active and to play against the Buccaneers.

“I haven’t had a chance to sit down with all the parties yet [who are] involved,” Harbaugh said. “I think it stands to reason that if Joe is ready to go, then he’ll be part of the game plan. He’s too good of a player not to be. We’ll just figure that out as we go this week — to what degree, how it works. Everybody will know going in. Perhaps except everybody outside, mostly, unless I change my mind on that. I’m excited. If we get Joe back, it’s good because it’s another good player.”

There was nothing definitive in that answer, of course, but it doesn’t sound as though the Ravens simply intend to make Flacco the No. 3 quarterback — and game-day inactive — with Robert Griffin III remaining the primary backup to Jackson as some have suggested doing. A factor in that thought process would be not wanting to risk a serious injury to Flacco that would complicate the organization’s presumed intentions to either trade or release the 33-year-old this offseason, but deliberately removing him from the equation wouldn’t be a decision based on trying to win now, especially with Jackson having missed snaps in each of the last two games.

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This offense is certainly unconventional and has run the ball exceptionally well with Jackson at the helm, but let’s not pretend there isn’t room for improvement. Many have cited the Ravens averaging 27 points per game over the last four weeks compared to the 23.7 per contest from Weeks 1-9, but that includes three touchdowns provided by the defense and special teams after neither unit offered a single return score in the first nine games. Removing those from the equation leaves an offense averaging 21.75 points per game while producing just 148 passing yards per contest.

Running the ball and controlling time of possession — the latter didn’t happen against the Chiefs in Week 14 — isn’t a formula that guarantees points or victories, leaving one to wonder if there’s another element to add to this revamped offense.

Are there ways to utilize Flacco’s throwing arm in smaller doses?

Some — like CBS Sports analyst and former NFL quarterback Tony Romo on Sunday — have suggested using Flacco in two-minute situations or when facing a multi-score deficit, but are there other possibilities? What about using a hurry-up attack — something with which Flacco has succeeded in the past — for a series against a winded defense after a long Jackson-led scoring drive and a quick three-and-out from your own defense?

Yes, playing two quarterbacks would be unconventional and doesn’t sound sustainable, but we’ve said the same thing about an offense running the ball more frequently than anyone in the NFL over the last month and we’re not talking about a 50-50 split here. If Ravens coaches were willing to risk disrupting their veteran quarterback’s rhythm to get Jackson on the field earlier in the season, why wouldn’t they at least consider a Flacco package — a “Flacckage” — to occasionally mix into a run-heavy attack? That wouldn’t mean Jackson wouldn’t pass the ball or the Ravens would never run with Flacco on the field, but it would give opposing defenses something else to consider.

If the Ravens have already embraced the weirdness, why not ponder getting a little weirder? We hear all the time that two-quarterback systems don’t work, but it’s not something that’s been tried all that frequently in the modern NFL, especially with two options who are viable in different ways. Considering each of the last four games have been one-score encounters in the fourth quarter and the Ravens can’t assume they’re going to keep getting touchdowns from their defense and special teams, why not consider a wrinkle that could potentially net an extra score over the course of 60 minutes?

Of course, that’s assuming all egos can be put aside. No veteran quarterback is going to be doing cartwheels at the notion of playing second fiddle after a decade as the starter, but Flacco should be eager to prove he’s both healthy and a legitimate starting option for another team next year. Why wouldn’t the Ravens try to benefit from that motivation as their rookie quarterback still searches for consistency as a passer?

No matter what the Ravens roll out against the Buccaneers on Sunday, it figures to be a fascinating week with Harbaugh not tipping his quarterback hand just yet.

“I’ll just have to let you know. It could entail anything right now,” Harbaugh said. “I know what we want to do; I have a plan. We have a plan. We talked about it. We have to talk to the guys about it, and whether we share that publicly, we’ll decide as the week goes on.”

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Ravens secondary continues to be banged up entering Week 15

Posted on 10 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With another pass-heavy opponent on the schedule for Week 15, the Ravens continue to deal with health concerns in the secondary.

Not only did safety Tony Jefferson miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, but cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young sat out extended stretches of Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss at Kansas City. Humphrey and Young both missed practice time with groin injuries this past week and were limited to just 44 and 24 snaps, respectively, of Baltimore’s 86 total in Week 14.

Humphrey’s status is of particular concern as the Ravens now prepare to face a Tampa Bay offense ranking first in the NFL in passing yards per game (331.4) and third in yards per passing attempt (8.7). Baltimore is 0-3 in games in which the 2017 first-round pick has missed extensive time or sat out completely this season.

“It’s annoying. It takes a while for it to go away completely,” said head coach John Harbaugh of Humphrey’s injury. “Sometimes you can re-tweak it a little bit too. It’s probably something he’s going to be feeling for a while. It’s just the way groins are.”

With Humphrey and Young not taking their normal share of snaps against the Chiefs, Jimmy Smith played a season-high 84 snaps and Brandon Carr saw 68, his highest single-game total since Week 7.

Since sitting out the Week 12 win over Oakland, Young has played a total of 42 snaps over the last two games with Carr seeing more opportunities in the slot. Clearly not 100 percent against the Chiefs’ explosive offense, Humphrey played only a few snaps in the second half on Sunday as rookie fourth-round cornerback Anthony Averett saw 39 snaps, which more than doubled his season total.

Despite missing five games with a hamstring injury early in the season, Averett has impressed with his solid play in limited opportunities, helping give Baltimore its deepest secondary in recent years. He finished with two tackles against the Chiefs.

“Every round he’s gone out there, he’s done a good job,” Harbaugh said. “He only gets better. It just makes our corner situation even better than it was before. I was really pleased with how he played. It helped Marlon too as far as the long-term health for him.”

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Ravens-Chiefs: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 09 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Despite initial reports to the contrary, Joe Flacco is inactive for the fourth straight week as the Ravens attempt to upset Kansas City on Sunday.

After registering his first full practice since early November on Friday, the veteran was considered to serve as the backup quarterback before the Ravens ultimately activated Robert Griffin III again. Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his fourth straight start after leading the Ravens to three straight wins to move into the No. 6 spot in the AFC. Flacco was listed as questionable on the final injury report after making substantial progress this week in his return from a right hip injury.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is active and will play despite missing practice time this week with a groin injury. His presence will be critical as Baltimore attempts to slow Kansas City’s top-ranked scoring offense. As expected, safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) will miss his second straight game, meaning Chuck Clark will once again start in his place.

Offensive lineman James Hurst is active for the first time since Week 6, making his return from a back injury that sidelined him for the last six games. With Alex Lewis out with a lingering shoulder issue after missing practices all week, Hurst or rookie Bradley Bozeman will start at left guard with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. continuing to man the right tackle spot.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) was deactivated for the fifth straight game.

After being listed as questionable on the final injury report, Chiefs safety Eric Berry (heel) will need to wait another week to make his 2018 season debut. Berry and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (foot) were officially deactivated on Sunday morning. Newly-signed wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin is also inactive.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Tony Corrente.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Kansas City calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the mid-30s with light and variable winds and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with purple pants while the Chiefs don red jerseys with white pants for Week 14.

Sunday marks the eighth all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Kansas City holding the 4-3 advantage. However, Baltimore is undefeated in three trips to Arrowhead Stadium, which includes a 2010 wild-card playoff victory.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
WR Jordan Lasley
OLB Tim Williams
S Tony Jefferson
G Alex Lewis
DL/FB Patrick Ricard
DL Zach Sieler

KANSAS CITY
S Eric Berry
OL Kahlil McKenzie
WR Kelvin Benjamin
WR Sammy Watkins
RB Charcandrick West
OL Jimmy Murray
TE Deon Yelder

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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The irresistible force meets the immovable object — or something like that.

The Ravens continue to fight the good fight in today’s offense-driven NFL and will test out their top-ranked defense in Kansas City. The 10-2 Chiefs own the league’s No. 1 scoring offense and rank fourth or better in total offense, passing offense, third-down offense, fourth-down offense, and red-zone offense.

After passing an important road test against Atlanta in impressive fashion last week, Baltimore will now see how its reliance on a revamped running game and stingy defense — a formula considered outdated by some — fares against the best team in the AFC. Sunday represents an opportunity for the Ravens to show they can be as dangerous as anyone in January.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the eighth time in the all-time regular-season series. Kansas City holds a 4-3 advantage, but the Ravens have won both regular-season games at Arrowhead Stadium as well as a 2010 wild-card playoff game on the road. The Chiefs won the most recent meeting between these teams in 2015, a 34-14 final in Baltimore.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens defense will intercept its first pass since early October, but pressure in the pocket will be rare. Yes, it’s been more than two months since Tavon Young intercepted a Baker Mayfield pass in the first quarter of the Week 5 loss in Cleveland. However, Patrick Mahomes is facing a disguise-heavy Baltimore defense for the first time in his career and has thrown 10 interceptions, proving he can occasionally be erratic despite his outstanding body of work. The problem will be getting to the young quarterback against an offensive line that’s surrendered only 20 sacks this season.

2. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will catch two touchdowns. Questions about Marlon Humphrey’s health complicate this topic as I believe a full-strength Ravens secondary would be wise to use Jimmy Smith or Humphrey to cover Kelce since he lines up plenty as a slot receiver. Baltimore has given up just 31 pass plays of 20 or more yards and two passes of 40 or more yards all season, so Wink Martindale will do everything he can to prevent the speedy Tyreek Hill from wrecking the game. That will leave the Ravens vulnerable underneath, however, with Kelce doing much of the damage.

3. Mark Andrews will continue to show chemistry with Lamar Jackson by catching a touchdown. The rookie tight end’s five catches for 140 yards over the last three games are nothing special at first glance, but that production has come on five targets, meaning Marty Mornhinweg and Jackson would be wise to utilize this connection more frequently. The Chiefs are vulnerable over the middle and have struggled to cover tight ends even more than Baltimore has this season, which should allow the Ravens to find some success through the air in that portion of the field.

4. Jackson will crack 190 passing yards for the first time in his career with underwhelming results. The Ravens will run the ball effectively against another bad rush defense, but a strong ground game isn’t as valuable as a prolific passing attack, making it inevitable that Jackson will need to make plays with his arm, something he was rarely able to do in Atlanta. The Chiefs defense carries one of the NFL’s worst overall statistical profiles, but eight of its 11 interceptions and 21 of its 39 sacks have come in just five home games, which is bad news if Baltimore falls behind.

5. Red-zone efficiency will be the difference as the Chiefs pull away in a 31-16 final. A convincing road win over the Falcons offers hope that the revamped Ravens might be able to upset Kansas City, but Atlanta has been going nowhere fast for much of the season while the Chiefs are on the fast track to the No. 1 seed. Much has been made about a running game that’s rushed for over 700 yards the last three weeks, but the Ravens have netted just five offensive touchdowns in 17 drives reaching the opponent’s 30-yard line. Running the ball and controlling the clock to try to limit scoring opportunities for Mahomes and the Chiefs offense is a sound strategy, but that only works when you’re finishing those long drives with touchdowns, something the Ravens haven’t done consistently enough to like their chances in this one. I’ll take the No. 1 offense over the No. 1 defense every time in today’s NFL, but the Ravens will still battle for large stretches of this one.

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Flacco questionable for Kansas City game after logging full practice

Posted on 07 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was listed as questionable to play in Sunday’s game against Kansas City after logging his first full practice since early November.

Head coach John Harbaugh left open the possibility of Flacco being active and serving in a backup capacity against the Chiefs, but rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson is still expected to make his fourth consecutive start after leading Baltimore to three straight wins. Flacco had yet to be cleared for game action as of early Friday afternoon, but he moved around better in practices this week, which could leave the Ravens with an interesting decision for Week 15 and the remainder of the season.

The 11th-year starter has been sidelined since injuring his right hip in the Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 4, but the Ravens have reeled off three consecutive 200-yard rushing performances with the speedy Jackson at quarterback, leaving many to believe the rookie better fits their newfound identity. Flacco returned to practice on a limited basis prior to the Week 13 win in Atlanta.

“He threw. He handed off. I mean, really, what more do you want me to say?” said Harbaugh about Flacco’s progress. “He played quarterback. He looked good; he looked like he always looks. It didn’t look like there were any ill effects from the hip or anything like that. I think we did the right things. It looks to me like — [from] my amateur eye — it looks like it was the right thing and looks like it was the right thing to give him the rest. We’ll see what the docs say.”

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey was also listed as questionable on the final injury report after returning to practice on a limited basis on Friday. Harbaugh said he expects Humphrey to play after a groin injury kept him out of practice on Wednesday and Thursday. The 2017 first-round pick’s availability and effectiveness will be critical going up against the Chiefs’ third-ranked passing attack.

Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) is expected to make his return after a six-game absence. Hurst practiced fully on Friday and could be in line to start at left guard with Alex Lewis missing practices all week and being listed as questionable with a lingering shoulder injury. Baltimore’s right tackle through the first six weeks of the season, Hurst started primarily at left guard last season.

“He did well. I think he looks good, has a legit chance to go and play,” Harbaugh said. “I’d be surprised if he wasn’t ready. Barring a setback, he should be ready to go.”

Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) was listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his second straight game after not practicing all week. Second-year safety Chuck Clark will start in his place.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs listed wide receiver Sammy Watkins as doubtful after he suffered a setback with the foot injury that’s kept him out of two of their last three games. Kansas City signed veteran wideout Kelvin Benjamin on Friday, but the former first-round pick is unlikely to be active on Sunday.

The Chiefs hope to welcome back five-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, who has yet to play this season after suffering a torn Achilles tendon in the 2017 opener and dealing with setbacks in his recovery. Berry practiced on a limited basis all week and was listed as questionable on the final injury report.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Kansas City calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures in the high 30s with winds light and variable.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: S Tony Jefferson (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), LB Tim Williams (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)

KANSAS CITY
DOUBTFUL: WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: S Eric Berry (heel), TE Demetrius Harris (knee/illness)

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Ravens defense facing biggest challenge yet in Kansas City

Posted on 06 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith compared Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to a young Brett Favre.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said the second-year quarterback reminds him of Joe Montana and called Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill “the fastest human being I’ve ever seen wear a helmet.” The coach also noted how you don’t stop Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce as much as you merely try to limit his big plays.

You’d say the top-ranked Ravens defense is buttering up its opponent until you dive into the numbers for an offense averaging 37.0 points and 437.2 yards per game. With a quarter of the regular season to go, Mahomes has already thrown 41 touchdowns while Hill and Kelce have each eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards with a combined 20 touchdown catches.

Even after holding Atlanta to just nine offensive points in last week’s victory, the Ravens understand what awaits at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s a road challenge unlike any they’ve encountered this season.

“We know we have to go out and play great to have a chance to win this game, let alone stop them,” safety Eric Weddle said. “In reality, holding this team to what we did [against the Falcons last week] is probably not going to happen. But we can make things tough on them. We can create turnovers. We can hold them in the red zone.”

Those prospects don’t sound as encouraging when you consider Baltimore is tied for 30th in the NFL with just nine takeaways and hasn’t intercepted a pass since Week 5. The Ravens have surrendered a league-best 17.8 points per game, but their red-zone defense is an underwhelming 25th with opponents maximizing their opportunities inside the 20, rare as they might be.

Those red-zone issues largely stem from problems covering tight ends, which is even more concerning against a unique talent like Kelce. Despite ranking second in passing yards allowed per game, the Ravens have allowed a touchdown reception to a tight end in five of the last six games and rank 25th in the NFL against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric.

Kelce has caught 79 passes for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns this season and lines up all over the field, making him a matchup nightmare for even the best defenses. According to ESPN, he ranks second in the league in receiving yards from the slot and first in yards after the catch from the slot, meaning Kelce should be treated more like a receiver than a tight end typically covered by a linebacker or safety.

Might the Ravens be better served using one of their big cornerbacks like Smith or Marlon Humphrey to travel with Kelce when he lines up away from the tackle box?

“It’s interesting. I didn’t think about that,” said Smith as he smiled when presented with the possibility. “I don’t know, maybe our coaches might think of something like that. That would be something for them to look at.”

The Ravens will need to vary their fronts and coverages — one of their biggest strengths — to try to keep the Chiefs guessing. As Martindale said, “If they know what you’re in, they will slaughter you.”

Home cooking for Chiefs defense?

Many have cited the Ravens’ need to continue to run the ball effectively to control the clock and limit Kansas City’s possessions, but assumptions that they’ll be able to score plenty might be premature.

Kansas City ranks 31st in total defense, 22nd in rush defense, 32nd in pass defense, and 27th in points allowed per game, but the splits suggest a more formidable defense playing at home. The Ravens should take comfort in the Chiefs allowing an ugly 5.3 yards per carry at home, but they’ve surrendered just 17.6 points per game at Arrowhead Stadium, which is less than the 18.7 points per game allowed by Baltimore on the road this year.

The Chiefs have registered eight of their 11 interceptions and 21 of their 39 sacks in their five home games, a profile that doesn’t bode well for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a passing game that’s been inconsistent at best over these last three weeks. The Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards in each of their last three games, but they’ve managed just five offensive touchdowns and have gone 5-for-10 inside the red zone over that stretch.

They’ll need to do better than that to have a good chance on Sunday, and the Kansas City defense may not be as cooperative as many are assuming at first glance.

Suggs on L.T.’s heels

Following the win in Atlanta, Martindale received a call from his son informing him 16th-year linebacker Terrell Suggs was now only one sack away from passing Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list.

“I won’t tell you what I told my son because I’m going to keep it clean up here, but I said, ‘Wow!’” Martindale said. “You don’t think about that because we see ‘Sizz’ all the time, every day.”

Suggs recorded the 132nd sack of his career against the Falcons in Week 13, just a half shy of the New York Giants legend’s total. It’s fair noting Taylor accumulated his 132 1/2 in 13 seasons, but Suggs moving into 13th place on the all-time list with his next quarterback takedown will only strengthen his case for Canton one day.

The 36-year-old needs 3 1/2 sacks in the final four games to record the eighth double-digit sack campaign of his career.

Injury report

Humphrey missed his second straight practice with a groin injury, heightening concerns about his availability for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) and left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) also missed Thursday’s session.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was a limited participant once again and is moving around better in practices than he did last week, but it remains unclear whether he’ll be cleared to be active for Week 14. Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) continues to be limited after both he and head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope earlier this week for his potential return after a six-game absence.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Demetrius Harris (illness/knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Anthony Hitchens (quadriceps/rib)

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