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Examining the Ravens’ 2019 class of free agents

Posted on 09 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The start of free agency is more than two months away, but the Ravens enter their most interesting offseason in recent memory after rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson helped lead them to the playoffs for the first time in four years.

The Ravens currently have an estimated 2019 salary cap commitment of roughly $163 million to 45 players (not including free agents or players recently signed to reserve-future deals), according to OverTheCap.com. The 2019 salary cap has not been set, but it is projected to rise from $177.2 million in 2018 to at least $188 million.

New general manager Eric DeCosta is likely to clear additional cap space by renegotiating or terminating the contracts of a few veteran players. Of course, that list will be headlined by former starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who will be traded or released after 11 seasons in Baltimore. A trade or pre-June 1 release will save $10.5 million in cap space while leaving $16 million in dead money on the 2019 cap, but Jackson’s $2.1 million cap number for next season makes that dead money easier to endure.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr, wide receiver Michael Crabtree, and safeties Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson are other potential candidates to be cap casualties. Those decisions will depend on how drastically DeCosta wants to reshape the roster and reset the salary cap in his first year replacing Ozzie Newsome.

Below is a look at Baltimore’s 2019 class of free agents:

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any team beginning on March 13 at 4 p.m.

RB Buck Allen The former fourth-rounder went from leading Ravens backs in snaps in some early games to being a healthy scratch late in the season, but his special-teams ability helps his value.

TE Nick Boyle He doesn’t offer too much as a receiver, but Boyle’s blocking ability was a critical part of Greg Roman’s run-game schemes, making his return a bigger priority than you might think.

WR John Brown The speedy wideout says he’s open to returning, but he caught only 10 passes for 128 yards in Jackson’s eight starts, which certainly didn’t do any favors for his market value.

QB Robert Griffin III The former first-round pick was a helpful mentor to Jackson and is open to returning as his primary backup unless he receives an opportunity to potentially start elsewhere.

RB Ty Montgomery – Acquired at the trade deadline, Montgomery is good in pass protection and averaged 5.5 yards per carry in limited duty, but the Ravens may want to look elsewhere.

LB C.J. Mosley – The Ravens would certainly love to keep the four-time Pro Bowl selection, but they may need to make him the NFL’s highest-paid inside linebacker to do it, making this a tougher call.

LB Za’Darius Smith The versatile pass rusher isn’t the type of player Baltimore has typically re-signed to a big contract in the past, but other in-house options haven’t exactly stepped up.

LB Terrell Suggs The 36-year-old plans to return for a 17th NFL season and wants it to be with the Ravens, but his quiet second half of the season and asking price will be factors to consider.

DE Brent Urban The oft-injured lineman played in all 16 games and didn’t put up gaudy numbers, but a return on another cheap deal doesn’t appear out of the question.

TE Maxx Williams Though he never lived up to his second-round draft standing and makes minimal impact as a receiver, Williams developed into a useful blocker over the last two seasons.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The following players have accrued three years of service and have expiring contracts. The Ravens can tender each with a restricted free agent offer, but other teams may then sign that player to an offer sheet. If that occurs, Baltimore has five days to match the offer and keep the aforementioned player. If the Ravens elect not to match, they would receive compensation based on which restricted tender they offered that player.

There are three different tenders — the values won’t be set until the 2019 salary cap is determined — that can be made: a first-round tender ($4.149 million in 2018) would award the competing team’s first-round selection, a second-round tender ($2.914 million in 2018) would fetch the competing team’s second-round pick, and a low tender ($1.907 million in 2018) would bring the competing team’s draft choice equal to the round in which the player was originally drafted. For example, a restricted free agent selected in the fifth round would be worth a fifth-round pick if given the low tender. If a player went undrafted originally and is given the low tender, the Ravens would only hold the right to match the competing offer sheet and would not receive any draft compensation if they chose not to.

With less-heralded restricted free agents, the Ravens frequently elect to forgo a tender and try to re-sign them at cheaper rates.

The original round in which each player was drafted is noted in parentheses:

RB Alex Collins (fifth) – Baltimore’s leading rusher in 2017, Collins once seemed like a good bet to receive a second-round tender, but a foot injury and disappointing production leave his future uncertain.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste (second) – The 6-foot-3 defensive back had a chance to make the team before breaking his arm late in the summer, but he could be back to compete for a spot on a cheap deal.

LB Patrick Onwuasor (undrafted) – A strong second half could prompt the Ravens to use a second-round tender on him to deter teams from pursuing him and to serve as insurance for Mosley.

DT Michael Pierce (undrafted) – Baltimore’s best defensive lineman this season, Pierce will likely receive the second-round tender and could be in line for a substantial payday after the 2019 campaign.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. Typically, the Ravens tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo After missing the entire 2018 season, the 6-foot-3 wideout will compete for a roster spot after flashing from time to time in his first training camp in 2017.

RB Gus Edwards One of the great stories of 2018, the 238-pound back will go into his second season trying to maintain the starting job in a run-heavy offensive attack.

OL Jermaine Eluemunor The 2017 fifth-round pick spent a few weeks on the practice squad early in the season and will again be competing for a job on the 53-man roster

C Matt Skura The former practice-squad member started all 16 games at center, but it will be interesting to see if the Ravens seek an upgrade at this important position along the offensive line.

RB De’Lance Turner It’s easy to forget Turner received a practice-squad promotion before Edwards, but he’ll be fighting for a spot after spending most of the season on injured reserve.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-17 loss to Chargers

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ season coming to an end in a 23-17 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I understand John Harbaugh wanted to make it a one-score game when he had Justin Tucker try a 50-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 late in the third quarter, but the decision was surprising based on analytics and his team’s psyche. Even before the miss, it felt like a demoralizing choice.

2. The Ravens made clear they were just about finished with Joe Flacco during the draft and reached the point of no return when Harbaugh officially benched him. Considering the Chargers’ pass rush, I didn’t have an issue with leaving someone who hadn’t played in over two months on the bench.

3. In the big picture that shouldn’t be ignored, Lamar Jackson remaining in the game and finding some late success was important. Harbaugh benching him at the first sign of trouble would have been a tough message for Jackson — and the entire locker room — to forget this offseason.

4. Lost in the disappointment was another strong defensive performance as the Chargers were held to one touchdown and Philip Rivers averaged just 5.0 yards per passing attempt. Prior to the fourth quarter, this game very much reminded me of the excruciating 2006 playoff loss to Indianapolis.

5. Was fumbling on three consecutive offensive plays or going two hours in real time between pass completions the more embarrassing feat? It’s remarkable the Ravens didn’t lose by four touchdowns.

6. Matthew Judon registered two tackles for a loss and five quarterback hits in another superb effort. He really elevated his play down the stretch, which is significant since he’s the only starting-caliber outside linebacker under contract for 2019.

7. James Hurst is a hard worker and a high-character individual, but Sunday was a reminder that he’s better suited to be a versatile backup and not a starter. Pro Football Focus credited him with surrendering three sacks and a quarterback hit and gave him a 0.0 pass-blocking grade. Ouch.

8. Scheduled to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Onwuasor elevated his standing down the stretch as he recorded another forced fumble and a sack. With C.J. Mosley uncertain to return as an unrestricted free agent, Onwuasor’s emergence is even more significant.

9. The snap count was skewed by the final two drives, but I still can’t believe heavy formations and power rushing weren’t bigger factors against the Chargers’ quarter defense employing seven defensive backs. Nick Boyle played a season-low 18 snaps while Maxx Williams’ 17 were his fewest since Week 12.

10. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns don’t make up for a disappointing season from Michael Crabtree. It’ll be interesting to see how the wide receiver position plays out this offseason after the dramatic shift toward the running game, but his $9.33 million salary cap number for 2019 doesn’t sound appealing.

11. Playing fewer snaps than last season resulted in just 1 1/2 sacks after Week 7 for Terrell Suggs, who reconfirmed his desire to continue playing for the Ravens while acknowledging that may not happen. Even if Suggs signs a cheap short-term deal, Eric DeCosta really must address this position.

12. I understand players reacting to fans booing in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss and admire their desire to stick up for Jackson, but they needed to move on by Monday’s media availability instead of fanning the flames. Robert Griffin III provided both an experienced and measured response HERE (4:00 mark).

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 22-10 win over Chargers

Posted on 24 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving closer to a playoff berth in their 22-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Remember how we expected Patrick Onwuasor to be unseated by Kenny Young? Onwuasor has 55 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks, three pass breakups, an interception, and two forced fumbles. His strip of Antonio Gates was as clutch as it gets. Not bad for a former rookie free agent from Portland State.

2. Lamar Jackson registered his lowest rushing total as a starter (39 yards) while throwing for a career-high 204 yards. How he responded immediately after the Chargers took the lead early in the third quarter was impressive. Dwell on the inconsistencies if you want, but traits are there to really like.

3. Tavon Young’s fumble return will be remembered, but Za’Darius Smith’s drive-ending sack on the previous possession was just as critical. The Chargers had possessed the ball for more than seven minutes and converted three third downs before Smith drove them out of field-goal range.

4. Mark Andrews has now registered more catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns than Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta, and Ed Dickson had as rookies combined. He isn’t fast by conventional measures, but his combination of good hands, physicality, and elusiveness has certainly worked at this level so far.

5. After a quiet game last week, Terrell Suggs didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but he registered a season-high eight pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. A more limited snap count would be ideal, but the slow development of Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams has much to do with that.

6. A total of 223 yards and three trips inside the red zone in the first half should net more than six points. Both the play-calling and execution left a lot to be desired, especially with two of those drives ending inside the 10-yard line.

7. After failing to collect an interception in seven straight games, the defense has four interceptions in the last three games. Brandon Carr’s pick on the first play from scrimmage set the tone while Marlon Humphrey’s put an exclamation point on the night. Wink Martindale insisted the interceptions would come eventually.

8. Until Gus Edwards’ 21-yard run with under two minutes to play, the Ravens had gained only 21 rushing yards on their first 10 carries of the second half. Kansas City held them to 3.6 yards per carry after the first quarter. Baltimore is going to need more through the air.

9. Running the ball on third-and-12 at your opponent’s 39 isn’t completely unheard of if you’re simply playing for a field goal, but Kenneth Dixon picking up 19 on the play is another example of how unconventional these last six games have been.

10. Speaking of weird, Willie Snead didn’t have a catch after leading the way in receptions and receiving yards the previous two weeks. In Jackson’s six starts, Snead has been Baltimore’s leading receiver three times. He had a total of one catch for eight yards in the other three contests.

11. I’m still not sure what to make of the timing of the John Harbaugh announcement or the Ravens making it without even having an extension completed, but a win over the Chargers goes a long way in defusing reaction. Of course, an upset loss to Cleveland would change perceptions dramatically.

12. Based on what I see on social media, debates about the offense’s sustainability and Jackson’s ceiling continue, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. I don’t know where this will end or if Jackson will be Baltimore’s quarterback for the next decade, but the last six weeks have been fun.

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With biggest December win in years, Ravens can now be called contenders

Posted on 23 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The plot points were there for the same old story to play out for the Ravens on Saturday night.

They had dominated the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half, but an offense that had produced 223 yards — 119 on the ground — netted only six points by halftime after going 0-for-3 inside the red zone.

Lamar Jackson’s 68-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Mark Andrews and Justin Tucker’s 56-yard field goal created a 16-10 lead with just over 20 minutes to play, but the Ravens would go three-and-out on their next three possessions, gaining a total of eight yards. That newfound formula of running the ball and controlling the clock was nowhere to be found as the first 10 rushes of the second half produced only 21 yards and the Ravens possessed the ball for less than 12 minutes.

When Sam Koch’s punt from his own end zone was returned 24 yards by Desmond King to the Baltimore 39, the stage was set for eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers on a short field with three minutes to go. A defense that had dominated throughout the night would need one more stop to keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive.

We knew how this movie ended in Pittsburgh on Christmas two years ago and against Cincinnati last New Year’s Eve, not to mention other late-game failures that have factored into the Ravens missing the playoffs in four of the last five years. Only two weeks ago, a fourth-and-9 miracle from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill with under two minutes to go thwarted an upset bid in Kansas City.

Another commendable effort with a “yeah, but…” attached.

“We’ve had our backs to the wall all year,” head coach John Harbaugh told his team in the post-game locker room in Carson, California. “For whatever reason, we’ve been fighting our ass off, but we haven’t been able to punch through.”

Those words came after linebacker Patrick Onwuasor punched the ball out from future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates and slot cornerback Tavon Young returned the fumble 62 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 22-10 lead. Several plays later, top corner Marlon Humphrey sealed Baltimore’s biggest December win in years with an end-zone interception.

The rookie Jackson and a unique run-heavy offense have understandably dominated the headlines since the bye week, but a top-ranked defense pressured Rivers relentlessly with four sacks and eight quarterback hits, held Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon to 54 total yards, and bottled up Keenan Allen and other Chargers receivers in coverage. It was as dominant as a Ravens defense had looked in a critical game — for a full 60 minutes — in a long, long time.

And with that victory, the Ravens can now be considered contenders — while understanding they still need to take care of business next week. It was nearly 10 years ago to the day that the Ravens and a rookie quarterback visited the favorite Dallas Cowboys needing a Week 16 win to keep their playoff hopes alive. That team won and was playing in the AFC Championship four weeks later. The Ravens will hardly be Super Bowl favorites if they do qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but taking the mighty Chiefs to overtime in Kansas City and dominating the Chargers — considered the latest darling in the AFC — will force teams to take notice.

What perhaps made the win more impressive was how far from perfect the Ravens were. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn deemed it a “miracle” that his team even had a chance at the end after being “outcoached” and “outplayed” on Saturday night. The Ravens never got into their second-half formula that’s worked so well while winning five of the last six games, but Jackson’s beautiful touchdown strike came moments after the game appeared to be slipping away with Kenneth Dixon’s fumble and a quick Los Angeles touchdown to start the second half.

Yes, the offense should have done much more in that first half, making for a glass half-empty or half-full proposition. But the defense did it all, flashing a championship quality that’s been absent from the good statistical units of recent years by slamming the door on the Chargers’ final opportunity.

It’s a group composed of notable names still productive but past their prime, a Pro Bowl inside linebacker whose greatness is still debated, a potential future star in Humphrey, and a number of solid-to-good players who complement each other well. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has deployed that depth so effectively as Rivers — a future Hall of Famer arguably having his best season — became Baltimore’s latest victim on Saturday.

How far might the Ravens be able to go in January?

That question should wait another week, but their biggest victory in years spoke for itself on Saturday night. Anything is possible after changing the ending for which we all were bracing as Onwuasor stripped the ball and Young scooped and scored.

“We’re still not punched through,” added Harbaugh in his post-game speech, referring to next week’s tricky contest with Baker Mayfield and a much-improved Cleveland team. “We’ve still got one more win to get punched through.”

The difference is you now expect the Ravens to do it.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-17 win over Oakland

Posted on 27 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over the .500 mark with the 34-17 win over Oakland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The first half was an example why I can’t really trust this Ravens offense, regardless of who the quarterback is. Marty Mornhinweg calling nearly twice as many pass plays as runs after compiling 267 rushing yards the previous week is the kind of thing we’ve seen too often.

2. No moment better epitomized the second-half philosophical shift than Ronnie Stanley gesturing to the sideline for more runs after a nine-yard rush on the third play of the second half. The left tackle easily had one of the best run-blocking games of his career on Sunday.

3. If the Ravens stick with Lamar Jackson and a run-heavy approach to try to limit the number of possessions of explosive opposing offenses, they’ll need to do better than going 4-for-8 inside the red zone over the last two games. That percentage would rank 27th in the NFL for 2018.

4. My favorite part of the 74-yard strike to Mark Andrews wasn’t the perfect throw, but it was Jackson dipping his shoulders to really sell the play-fake, which kept Raiders cornerback Rashaan Melvin’s eyes in the backfield a moment too long as Andrews blew right past him.

5. Matt Judon’s three sacks on three straight defensive snaps not only sealed the victory, but they put Derek Carr in historic — and familiar — company. The last time a quarterback was sacked by the same player on three straight plays was in 2002, per NFL Research. That quarterback? David Carr. Remarkable.

6. Judon’s strip-sack led to Baltimore registering its first takeaway since Week 7, but the defense is still looking for its first interception since the first quarter of the Week 5 loss at Cleveland. Rookie sensation Gus Edwards was still on the practice squad at that point.

7. Cyrus Jones returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown was a cool moment, but the former Gilman star should thank Anthony Levine and Patrick Onwuasor for their early blocks and Chris Moore and Judon for springing him all the way. That return was executed beautifully all the way around.

8. Per Sharp Football, the offense used two running backs and two tight ends 20 percent of the time — the league average is three percent — and used the shotgun 93 percent of the time on Sunday. Scoring four offensive touchdowns in two games is pedestrian, but it’s looked anything but that.

9. Remember how the Ravens didn’t allow a second-half touchdown in their first six games? Sunday marked the third straight contest in which they’ve allowed a touchdown on the first drive of the second half. Credit Wink Martindale’s group for clamping down after that, however.

10. The previous Mornhinweg criticism aside, one of my favorite calls of the game was Ty Montgomery’s third-and-5 run out of a three-wide set that moved the chains late in the third quarter. Teams should spread out and run on third downs of short-to-medium distance more often.

11. Joe Flacco wasn’t the only one who had Ed Reed on his mind as Terrell Suggs looked to lateral the ball on his 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown. I’m sure Reed was smiling as he watched, but not as much as John Harbaugh after Suggs decided to keep it.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for recognizing Colts Hall of Famer Lenny Moore on his 85th birthday and Orioles great Adam Jones, who raised $125,000 for the Living Classrooms Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore with his annual tailgate on Sunday. What blessings both men are.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-14 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens earning their first road victory of the season in a 26-14 final over Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You can’t harp on the Ravens not being able to beat an elite quarterback on the road and not give proper credit when they do — without Jimmy Smith. That was their best win since the 2014 playoffs and puts them in the conversation as a legitimate contender in the AFC.

2. Despite a 96.9 season passer rating, Joe Flacco was annoyed about the offense squandering opportunities to score more points Sunday. Tell me again that his improvement is all about Lamar Jackson — which implies he didn’t care before — and not about the organization putting better talent around him.

3. John Brown already has a team-best six catches of 20 or more yards, which would have ranked second behind Mike Wallace’s 11 for the entire 2017 season. His 22.5 yards per catch average is third in the NFL. He’s fun to watch, and his chemistry with Flacco can still improve.

4. The biggest criticism of the defense in recent years has been the inability to close in critical games. Anthony Levine was responsible for ending all three of Pittsburgh’s fourth-quarter drives by breaking up a third-down pass to force a punt, intercepting another, and batting away a fourth-down attempt. Clutch.

5. Too much is usually made about halftime adjustments, but Wink Martindale’s defense has yet to allow a touchdown after intermission in four games — allowing just nine points total — and pitched a second-half shutout at Heinz Field. He’s clearly doing something right.

6. John Harbaugh wisely expressed confidence Monday that Alex Collins will improve his ball security as he did last year, but his goal-line fumble completely changed a game that was bordering on becoming a blowout. The running game remains a concern, but the Ravens must stick with Collins’ upside.

7. Kenny Young played 24 defensive snaps compared to Patrick Onwuasor’s six, signaling a shift in the competition for the inside linebacker job next to C.J. Mosley. That said, both must improve in coverage or we’ll continue to see Martindale use Levine (28 snaps) as a dime more frequently.

8. The third-and-1 completion to Maxx Williams to extend a long fourth-quarter drive drew praise — and controversy — because of his alignment. Flacco said after the game they’d practiced that play for two years, and it was the first time Williams had gotten through the line of scrimmage unscathed. Interesting stuff.


(Screen capture courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

9. My guess is the Ravens continue to carry four tight ends with the anticipated return of Hayden Hurst this week. However, with Williams and rookie Mark Andrews playing so well, you wonder if Nick Boyle would be the most vulnerable if a move needed to be made there.

10. Sunday night was an example of how to play strong defense without much of a pass rush as the Ravens faked blitzes, effectively disguised looks, and covered very well. Baltimore is tops in the NFL in yards per play allowed at just 4.4.

11. Tony Jefferson hasn’t made as many splash plays as you’d like after the Ravens gave him a four-year, $34 million contract, but his strip and recovery against Vance McDonald on Pittsburgh’s opening drive was spectacular. He fairly noted after the game how that could have been ruled an interception.

12. If you didn’t hear Harbaugh’s post-game press conference on Sunday night, take a listen at the 2:45 mark HERE. Kudos for recognizing the memory of Bobbi Engram, the daughter of wide receivers coach Bobby Engram, and giving her a game ball. Powerful stuff.

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Ravens take care of business with tough stretch looming

Posted on 24 September 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Beating Denver was hardly a headline-grabbing win, but it wasn’t difficult picturing Sunday’s game falling into that dreaded “bad loss” department if the Ravens weren’t careful.

Despite coming off extra rest and facing a 2-0 team that was probably more paper tiger than strong contender — no one really knows in today’s NFL — Baltimore was missing two of its best defensive players (C.J. Mosley and Jimmy Smith) as well as two key defensive linemen (Michael Pierce and Willie Henry) against one of the league’s strongest rushing attacks. No team stays fully healthy all season, of course, but missing that many chess pieces on one side of the ball is going to be problematic against any opponent with talent and a competitive pulse, which the Broncos certainly had.

A blocked punt leading to a 7-0 deficit right off the bat and a blocked field goal later in the first half — even if illegal — provided the weirdness typically witnessed in recent years when a banged-up Ravens team has dropped a home game to an underwhelming opponent such as Washington two years ago (Jamison Crowder’s 85-yard punt return) or Chicago last year (Adrian Amos’ 90-yard interception return). It’s easy to remember the 2016 Christmas loss to Pittsburgh and “fourth-and-12″ last season, but the aforementioned early-season home defeats were nearly as damaging to their playoff hopes.

There was no panic after Sunday’s nightmare start as the defense pressured Broncos quarterback Case Keenum in the pocket and pitched a shutout after the opening quarter and the offense finished the day with 20 unanswered points and was a perfect 3-for-3 inside the red zone.

“It’s early. You have 58 1/2 minutes to get back in the game, and it’s 7-0,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 25 of 40 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown. “At some point during the course of the 16-game season — obviously we’ve already lost one and we’ve already [been] behind a little bit — there’s nothing you can do about it. You’ve just got to go out there and continue to execute and just let the game come to you, and that’s what we were able to do.”

Perhaps what was so encouraging about Sunday’s 27-14 win was that the Ravens overcame both injuries and some shortcomings to improve to 2-1 in relatively comfortable fashion.

Having two kicks blocked in the same game is often a recipe for disaster and out of character for a special-teams group that’s normally superb. Impressive rookie inside linebacker Kenny Young led the Ravens defense in tackles (10) and Patrick Onwuasor collected a critical interception when Denver was threatening to make it a one-score game with nine minutes remaining, but the Ravens did struggle to stop the run without Mosley and Pierce up the middle, allowing 5.0 yards per carry even as speedy rookie Phillip Lindsay was ejected in the first half. And despite a two-score lead for most of the second half, the offense again struggled to run the ball, averaging only 2.8 yards per carry.

There’s reason to anticipate improvement in each of those areas, however, based on track record and reasonable health. If the offensive line rebounded from its Week 2 struggles in pass protection to hold the Broncos’ vaunted pass rush to just two sacks — none by Von Miller — the Ravens can still figure on improving on the ground in the coming weeks as this group gels.

Improvement in those areas will be needed as the Ravens play four of their next five games on the road with four of those opponents having qualified for the playoffs a year ago. It isn’t difficult envisioning John Harbaugh’s team winning or losing any of these next five games with even a Week 5 trip to Cleveland looking more uncertain than usual after the standout debut of No. 1 pick Baker Mayfield. Anything less than a 3-2 record over this stretch would put the Ravens in the all-too-familiar position of having little margin for error in the second half of the season, which is why stubbing their toe against the Broncos just wasn’t an option for a team desperate to get back to the playoffs after a three-year absence.

No, Sunday won’t be remembered as the season’s biggest win, but it won’t be that bad loss that helps keep the Ravens out of the playoffs, either.

“I’m sure the outside looking in were like, ‘Uh-oh, the same old Ravens,’ right?” said safety Eric Weddle about the rough first quarter. “It ain’t the same Ravens. I’m telling you that right now.”

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Ravens’ health concerns growing in midst of tough stretch

Posted on 17 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ run of good health through the spring and summer hasn’t continued into a critical early stretch of the season that includes four of the next six games on the road.

Three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley may have avoided a serious left knee injury in the first quarter of Thursday’s loss at Cincinnati, but when he’ll return to action remains to be determined. No further clarity came Monday as the Ravens continue preparations to host Denver in Week 3.

“It’s just what was reported. It’s a bone bruise, and that’s good news,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t a structural issue, so we’ll just see how that thing comes along and keep our fingers crossed.”

Harbaugh confirmed veteran safety Eric Weddle will continue to relay calls in the defensive huddle in Mosley’s absence after taking over those responsibilities in the second half against the Bengals.

The re-signing of veteran Albert McClellan may offer a clue for Mosley’s Week 3 status as the only healthy inside linebackers on the 53-man roster had been second-year starter Patrick Onwuasor, 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young, and rookie free agent Chris Board. McClellan, 32, has made 23 career starts and has the ability to play all four linebacker positions in the Ravens defense, bringing more experience to the group.

“He knows everything we do. He gives us a lot on special teams as well,” Harbaugh said. “He can play middle linebacker. … I would say [he] kind of solidifies us in there a little bit having so many young players in the group.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley also left the Bengals game with what appeared to be a right arm injury, a concerning development with All-Pro outside linebacker Von Miller coming to town on Sunday. With Stanley sidelined for the final 12 plays, right tackle James Hurst moved to the left side with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. assuming his position.

After the game, Stanley wouldn’t discuss what led to his departure or whether his status would be in question for Sunday’s game, only saying he was “fine” physically and deferring to Harbaugh for more details.

“We’ll just go with that. He said he’s fine, [so] he’s fine,” said Harbaugh as he smiled. “We’ll see. I don’t know, we’ll see. I think he’s OK. We’ll see.”

To make room for the returning McClellan on the 53-man roster, the Ravens placed backup cornerback Maurice Canady on injured reserve on Monday. Canady has been dealing with a hamstring injury since mid-August, but his versatility will be missed behind current starters Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey and nickel back Tavon Young. Top cornerback Jimmy Smith isn’t eligible to return from his four-game suspension for two more weeks, leaving the Ravens thin at a position that once enjoyed impressive depth.

Harbaugh confirmed Canady and running back Kenneth Dixon — who was placed on IR with a knee injury last week — are viable options to be designated for return later in the season. Both have to miss a minimum of eight weeks.

“If both those guys came back, those would be our two [designation] guys for the year,” said Harbaugh, citing the two-player limit to activate from IR. “I think it’s a wise choice by Ozzie [Newsome] and Eric [DeCosta] to make the move the way they did and just see how it plays out.”

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and third-year defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) will not return to practice this week, meaning they will miss their third straight game to begin the season. At the time of Hurst’s injury, Harbaugh confirmed the NFL Network report suggesting Hurst could miss three to four weeks, but Friday will mark four weeks since a screw was inserted in his foot to aid in the healing of a stress fracture, making one wonder if the talented first-round pick will be ready to play at Pittsburgh in Week 4, a key AFC North encounter.

Rookie third-round pick Mark Andrews has stepped up after a quiet summer, catching six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown in two games.

“He’s kind of a gamer,” Harbaugh said. “He steps up and make plays, and that’s what we thought we had when we drafted him. He’s worked very hard in practice, and to see that show up in the games is good. He’s a pass catcher, but, I’ll tell you [he’s] a better run blocker than probably anybody thought. In the games, he kind of steps it up, so that’s a very big plus for us.”

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Mosley’s potential absence will be difficult for Ravens to endure

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ biggest loss wasn’t on the scoreboard Thursday night.

The 34-23 defeat to Cincinnati was surely disappointing, but the absence of three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could bring bigger consequences than a divisional defeat. It remains unclear how much time he’ll miss after sustaining a bone bruise in his left knee on the first defensive series of the game.

After Mosley limped off the field at the conclusion of that initial three-and-out for the Baltimore defense, the Bengals scored touchdowns on their next four possessions as former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young manned the inside linebacker spots.

“That’s your middle linebacker. We’ve got two young guys in there playing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They played hard, they fought, but they didn’t play perfect. That’s going to hurt you for sure. It hurt us with the coverage underneath mostly, a little bit in the run game.”

Young, a fourth-round pick from UCLA, has impressed early and looked poised to wrest the starting job away from Onwuasor sooner than later, but both lack experience. Depending on how much time Mosley is expected to miss, the Ravens could re-sign veteran Albert McClellan or add another linebacker with experience. They could also use more sub packages featuring safety Tony Jefferson or dime back Anthony Levine in the box, but the complications run deeper than simply replacing Mosley’s play.

One of the much-discussed developments of the offseason was new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale giving more pre-snap responsibility to veterans like Mosley, safety Eric Weddle, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to adjust defensive alignments, blitzes, and coverages based on what the opponent shows them at the line of scrimmage. It certainly makes sense to take advantage of players’ wisdom, but there was always the question of how an in-game injury might impact that process.

More than one veteran in the post-game locker room acknowledged some on-field confusion after Mosley’s exit as Onwuasor relayed calls in the defensive huddle from the sideline for the rest of the first half. Safety Eric Weddle took over the role in the third quarter as the defense seemed to find its footing and allowed only six more points.

“It’s not an excuse why we lost,” said Weddle, who also relayed defensive calls in the huddle at times when he played for San Diego. “When you play like crap in the first half in all three phases, then that’s just going to happen. You dig yourself a hole. Hopefully, C.J. won’t be out too long, but we battled back and fought our tails off in the second half. It’s too far of a hole when you don’t play the way you’re supposed to play.”

The only extended action Mosley has missed in his NFL career was due to a hamstring injury in 2016. He sustained the injury in the second half of a Week 5 loss to Washington and missed the next two games, which were losses to the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

Stanley also ailing

Mosley wasn’t the only key player to leave Thursday’s game as left tackle Ronnie Stanley went to the sideline with 2:18 to play and didn’t return.

Stanley said he was “fine” after the game, but he wouldn’t discuss what happened or whether he would miss any time, deferring injury questions to Harbaugh. He appeared to grab his right arm after trying to block Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins on a Joe Flacco incomplete pass to Buck Allen, and NFL Network’s field microphone also picked up a player screaming at the same time.

Starting right tackle James Hurst moved to left tackle for the final 12 plays of the game with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. entering on the right side. Stanley looked to be favoring his right arm on the sideline as well as in the post-game locker room, but the lack of extensive medical attention after his departure and his availability to reporters after the game are signs that the injury may not be serious.

According to NFL Network, the Ravens worked out interior offensive linemen Wesley Johnson, Hroniss Grasu, and Jordan Morgan on Saturday to address their concerns inside, so they can hardly afford to be without their starting left tackle for any amount of time.

Road woes continue

Since their 2014 postseason win over Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, the Ravens have gone 8-17 in regular-season away games.

Those road wins have come against the following starting quarterbacks: Michael Vick in his final season, Josh McCown (twice), Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, and DeShone Kizer. You never apologize for the level of competition you face as injuries are part of the game, but when Dalton is the best signal-caller the Ravens have beaten in over three years and he’s won five of the last six meetings against them in Cincinnati, they can’t exactly claim to be road warriors anytime soon.

The Ravens are scheduled to face Roethlisberger, Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers in their seven remaining road games. Five of those quarterbacks have been to Pro Bowls.

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All but two Ravens practice ahead of Sunday’s season opener

Posted on 05 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After a late-summer run of injuries, the Ravens are again moving in the right direction from a health standpoint just days ahead of the 2018 season opener.

Tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were the only members of the 53-man roster not to participate in the first full practice of the week in preparation for Buffalo. Neither will play against the Bills on Sunday, but depth concerns at cornerback and inside linebacker were eased Wednesday by the returns of Maurice Canady and rookie Kenny Young. Both practiced on a limited basis after missing recent action.

With Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four games of the season, Canady is projected to be the top backup outside cornerback behind starters Brandon Carr and Marlon Humphrey, but he’d been sidelined since sustaining a thigh injury in a joint practice with Indianapolis on Aug. 17. The third-year defensive back finished last season as the primary nickel corner, but he’s primarily practiced on the outside this summer.

Young, a fourth-round pick out of UCLA, suffered a minor knee injury in the preseason finale against Washington last week, but he remains in competition with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor for the starting weak-side inside linebacker spot next to three-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley. This marks the second straight year in which Baltimore enters the season with a timeshare at that spot after Onwuasor competed for the job with former second-round pick Kamalei Correa early in 2017.

“He’s earned where he is right now,” said Mosley of Young. “Him and ‘Peanut’ both are doing a good job coming in and subbing in for each other. It can be hard sometimes because you want to get in a groove in a game, especially in the preseason, but they’re taking split-reps. That just comes with the talent that they both bring to the table. At some point, one of them is going to have to take that leap. Maybe it won’t be sooner than later, but as long as they’re doing the right things, I’m good with both of them on the field.”

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Maurice Canady (thigh), LB Kenny Young (knee)

BUFFALO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Ray-Ray McCloud (knee), LB Julian Stanford (nose)

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