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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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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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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-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 18 November 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 12:35 p.m.)

The Ravens come out of the bye week trying to snap a three-game losing streak and save their season against Cincinnati while starting a new quarterback.

With 11th-year starter Joe Flacco officially deactivated with a right hip injury, rookie Lamar Jackson will make his first NFL start, becoming the last of the five 2018 first-round quarterbacks to start a game this season. Jackson will also be the first quarterback other than Flacco to start a meaningful game for Baltimore since Kyle Boller midway through the 2007 season.

No pressure, right?

With Flacco on the game-day inactives list for the first time in his career — he was immediately placed on injured reserve after he tore his ACL in 2015 — veteran Robert Griffin III is active for the first time this season. How much he might play remains to be seen, but you’d expect offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to continue to occasionally use two-quarterback formations — only this time with two mobile options on the field.

After missing the Pittsburgh game with an ankle injury, left tackle Ronnie Stanley is active, but it was Jermaine Eluemunor lining up as the starting left tackle during pre-game warmups. Stanley was talking to members of the training staff as well as head coach John Harbaugh and offensive line coach Joe D’Allesandris, making it unclear if he was always going to be the emergency backup or potentially tweaked his ankle warming up.

Offensive lineman James Hurst remains sidelined with a back injury, meaning rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. will make his fourth straight start at right tackle.

Running back Ty Montgomery will be making his Ravens debut. The former Green Bay Packer was acquired at the trade deadline late last month, but he was a healthy scratch against the Steelers in Week 9. He joins starter Alex Collins, veteran Buck Allen, and rookie Gus Edwards to form a quartet of active running backs against Cincinnati.

While the Ravens will be without their starting quarterback for Week 11, the Bengals will be without seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) as well as starting linebackers Preston Brown (knee) and Nick Vigil (knee). The impact of Green not playing speaks for itself, but the absences of Brown and Vigil will put pressure on reserves Hardy Nickerson and Vincent Rey to keep Jackson and the Baltimore running game in check. The good news for the Bengals, however, is the return of outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who missed the last two games with a hip injury.

Bengals wide receiver John Ross is also active after being limited with a groin injury this week.

Sunday’s referee is Walt Coleman.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the high 40s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their black jerseys with black pants while Cincinnati dons white tops with black pants for Week 11.

Sunday marks the 46th all-time meeting between these teams with the Bengals holding a 23-22 series advantage. Cincinnati has won eight of the last 10 against the Ravens and is seeking its third season sweep in the last five years. That is one of the more telling factoids of the post-Super Bowl XLVII era that features just one playoff appearance for Baltimore.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
OT James Hurst
LB Tim Williams
WR Jordan Lasley
OL Hroniss Grasu
TE Maxx Williams
DL Zach Sieler

CINCINNATI
WR A.J. Green
CB KeiVarae Russell
LB Preston Brown
LB Nick Vigil
OT Cedric Ogbuehi
WR Josh Malone
DT Adolphus Washington

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday could possibly mark the start of a new era for the Ravens.

Or at least the soft opening of one.

With Joe Flacco not expected to play after sustaining a hip injury two weeks ago, Baltimore will enter a meaningful game with someone else at quarterback — the 2015 team was already buried when Flacco tore his ACL — for the first time since Kyle Boller relieved an injured Steve McNair midway through a disastrous 2007 season that ended with Brian Billick’s dismissal. Eleventh-year head coach John Harbaugh hopes for a different outcome as the Ravens aim to beat Cincinnati to snap a three-game losing streak and preserve their playoff hopes.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North rivals meet for the 46th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Bengals holding a 23-22 advantage. The Ravens are 9-12 against Cincinnati in the Harbaugh era, and they’ve lost eight of the last 10 meetings, which includes the 34-23 defeat at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 2.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will throw for a touchdown and run for another. My expectation is the rookie first-round pick from Louisville making his first NFL start, but a stomach illness forcing him to miss Thursday’s practice wasn’t ideal, leaving open the possibility of Robert Griffin III starting. Either way, Jackson will have a larger role as Marty Mornhinweg tries to take advantage of his mobility and set him up with high-percentage throws to tight ends and running backs from big formations, especially early on. Jackson doesn’t have to be the reason the Ravens win; he just can’t be why they lose.

2. Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon will carry the Cincinnati offense with a touchdown apiece. In 11 career games against Baltimore, A.J. Green has averaged 4.8 catches for 80.5 yards and has caught nine touchdowns, making his absence significant for a struggling Bengals offense. However, Boyd has emerged as one of the NFL’s best slot receivers — a critical factor with Baltimore’s issues covering the middle of the field — and has also made plays on the outside. Mixon ranks 11th in the league in yards per carry (4.9) while the Ravens have given up over 100 rushing yards in four of their last five games.

3. The Baltimore defense will awaken with three sacks and an interception against Andy Dalton. As I wrote this week, Wink Martindale’s group needs to step up if the Ravens want to save their season and survive this less-than-ideal quarterback situation. They have only two sacks in their last three games and just one takeaway in their last four while the Bengals offensive line surrendered three quarterback takedowns and 11 other pressures in 28 dropbacks against New Orleans last week. After repeatedly noting how many batted balls they have this season, it’s about time the Ravens catch one.

4. Alex Collins will eclipse 80 rushing yards for the first time all season. Much is made about Jackson’s presence helping the running game, but a Pro Football Weekly article illustrated it’s more than that. Collins has averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 29 attempts from “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end) and just 2.97 yards on 33 carries from “12” personnel (one running back, two tight ends). What does that mean? No matter the quarterback, the Ravens should spread defenses out more when running and scale back the heavy formations that haven’t worked as effectively as they did last season.

5. The Ravens will survive in a 20-17 final to stop the pre-bye bleeding. Even against a Cincinnati defense that’s been disastrous in recent weeks and just fired coordinator Teryl Austin, expectations need to be tempered for a rookie quarterback making his first start in a critical game for a struggling playoff-hopeful team. That doesn’t mean Jackson won’t make some plays, but anyone labeling him an instant upgrade from Flacco is both placing too much pressure on a 21-year-old and disrespecting the veteran quarterback. Baltimore needs to go old school in this one by relying on the running game and a healthier defense that should be eager to prove it’s better than the last few weeks have reflected. If you’re asking what’s underneath the hood for this team right now, the losses to Carolina and Pittsburgh weren’t encouraging going into the bye. That said, I’d like to believe the Ravens aren’t quite ready to wave their playoff hopes goodbye, and the Bengals have lost three of four and are banged up at multiple positions. Given the current adversity for both teams, my honest feeling going into this one is closer to the old ¯\(ツ)/¯ emoji, but I’ll give the home team the benefit of the doubt.

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Flacco listed as doubtful by Ravens after missing practice all week

Posted on 16 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After failing to practice all week while nursing a hip injury, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was officially listed as doubtful for Sunday’s meeting with Cincinnati.

With the 33-year-old expected to miss only the seventh game of his career with a hip injury, rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson or veteran Robert Griffin III will start at quarterback as Baltimore tries to right its season against the Bengals. Jackson practiced fully after missing Thursday’s workout with an illness and assured reporters that he was “good” on Friday.

The common assumption early in the week had been Jackson making his first NFL start if Flacco were unable to play, but the former’s Thursday absence was “not ideal,” according to head coach John Harbaugh. Griffin has been inactive for each of the first nine games of the season, but the Ravens kept him on the 53-man roster to mentor Jackson and potentially serve as a short-term insurance policy as the starter in the event of a Flacco injury — at least early in the season.

“I would not name a starter,” said Harbaugh, who again wouldn’t rule out Flacco prior to Friday’s injury report being released. “There will be a quarterback starting. I can guarantee that. There will be a quarterback starting. And, every play, there will be at least one quarterback on the field.”

Short of becoming the first Raven in at least several years to play after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report, Flacco will be included on the game-day inactives list for the first time in his career. When he suffered his season-ending knee injury in the second half of the 2015 season, Flacco was placed on injured reserve and came off the 53-man roster two days later.

If Jackson starts, his performance against the Bengals could go a long way in both shaping the short-term quarterback picture and determining the long-term future of Flacco, who will carry a $26.5 million salary cap figure and $18.5 million base salary for the 2019 season. Jackson playing at a high level to spark a struggling offense after the bye would make for an interesting decision once Flacco is again healthy enough to play, but the Ravens will settle for a Week 11 win any way they can get it.

Right tackle James Hurst (back) was officially ruled out and will miss his fourth straight game, but left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) was upgraded to full participation in Friday’s practice and was listed as questionable to play against the Bengals. Stanley sat out the Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh.

Safety Tony Jefferson (thigh) and cornerback Tavon Young (ankle) were also listed as questionable, but both were practicing fully by the end of the week, leaving little doubt about their status.

Running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) has returned to practice and will join cornerback Maurice Canady (thigh) as Baltimore’s two designations to return from IR. Neither will play in Week 11, but both players have now begun their 21-day practice windows before the Ravens must make a determination about their roster status. Harbaugh had previously said the team was waiting for league approval to allow Dixon to practice, which led to speculation that he was potentially facing discipline. The 2016 fourth-round pick served two drug-related suspensions while on IR last season.

“We got the word this morning that he was OK to practice for his situation,” Harbaugh said. “It was a unique situation. I can’t get into it because I’m not allowed to, but also, it would be up to him to explain whatever he would want to about that.”

Cornerback Jaylen Hill also began practicing earlier in the week, but he was unable to take part in Friday’s workout, which is cause for concern in his recovery from an ACL injury suffered last December. He is on the reserve physically unable to perform list.

The Ravens’ quarterback situation is far from ideal, but the Bengals roster is more banged up as seven-time Pro Bow wide receiver A.J. Green (toe) was listed as doubtful and five others were ruled out for Sunday’s game. That list of inactives will include starting linebackers Preston Brown (knee) and Nick Vigil (knee) as well as tight end Tyler Kroft (foot), who has been placed on season-ending IR.

Starting outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hip) was designated as questionable after practicing on a limited basis all week.

The Ravens will wear their alternate black jerseys for the second straight game.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game calls for cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the high 40s with winds light and variable and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OT James Hurst (back), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: QB Joe Flacco (right hip)
QUESTIONABLE: S Tony Jefferson (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), CB Tavon Young (ankle)

CINCINNATI
OUT: LB Preston Brown (knee), TE Tyler Kroft (foot), WR Josh Malone (hamstring), LB Nick Vigil (knee), DT Adolphus Washington (knee)
DOUBTFUL: WR A.J. Green (toe)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Vontaze Burfict (hip), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), WR John Ross (groin)

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Coming off bye, Ravens defense as we know it could be making last stand

Posted on 15 November 2018 by Luke Jones

The focus on the Ravens has been apparent coming off the bye week.

The future of John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco has dominated the big-picture discussion. An uncertain quarterback situation for Week 11 took another turn Thursday with 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson missing practice with an illness, joining Flacco and his injured hip on the injury report and leaving Robert Griffin III as the only quarterback on the field in Owings Mills.

Playing a banged-up Flacco, a rookie who’s never made an NFL start, or a veteran who was out of the league in 2017 and hasn’t started a regular-season contest in nearly two years doesn’t inspire great confidence in a must-win game. The Cincinnati defense being a disaster over the last month certainly eases concerns, but that only goes so far in a division rivalry in which the Ravens have lost eight of the last 10 meetings. Say what you want about Marvin Lewis and the Bengals, but they’ve had Baltimore’s number in this post-Super Bowl XLVII era.

So, what about the Ravens defense that sported such shiny overall numbers in the first half of the season?

It’s that side of the ball to which more salary-cap dollars are tied this season — even taking into account Flacco’s $24.75 million number for the offense. The defense carries seven of the nine highest cap numbers on this year’s roster and absorbed 13 of the organization’s 17 Day 1 and 2 draft picks from 2013-17.

But it’s also surrendered 76 points over the last nine quarters of play, albeit against three scoring offenses ranked in the top 10. The Ravens have one takeaway over their last four games and haven’t intercepted a pass since Oct. 7. Since a franchise-record 11-sack performance at Tennessee in Week 6, Baltimore has a combined two sacks in three games — all of them losses.

This wasn’t a unit constructed to be just OK or only really good against bad offenses, a reality more important with an uncertain quarterback situation for Sunday’s game. The defense was able to get healthier over the bye week, and it must regroup if the Ravens want to save their season.

“Teams have been trying to keep us off-balance, whether it’s with personnel, whether it’s with tempo, and, of course, to try to attack our schemes,” said cornerback Brandon Carr about the struggles in recent weeks. “But the great thing about this league [is] we got a bye. We got a week off and an opportunity for us to self-evaluate ourselves, figure out where our weaknesses are, areas we can fix, and that’s what we’ve been doing throughout last week and carrying over to this week.”

The successful quick passing used by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in Week 2 served as a basic blueprint for teams to offset the pass rush and limit opportunities to create turnovers as the Ravens didn’t record a single sack or takeaway in that 34-23 Thursday night defeat. It’s not a novel approach in today’s game, but New Orleans, Carolina, and Pittsburgh were able to control the game on third down with quick throws over the middle of the field, a problem the Ravens hope to have solved over the bye.

Expected to be without seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green on Sunday, the Bengals figure to do more quick passing as Dalton is tied for the NFL’s fifth-quickest average time to throw from snap to release.

“He’s really throwing the ball well in rhythm right now, so we need to be physical with the receivers at the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “I know we’re in the top five for sure — maybe second — with batted balls. We’ve had some success in the past with knocking some of the balls that he’s thrown up in the air and we’ve come down with them. We just haven’t come down with them yet this year.”

Green’s absence is a major development for a Cincinnati offense that’s dropped to 25th in total yards and 11th in scoring per game after averaging more than 30 points per contest through Week 5. He caught three first-half touchdowns to help the Bengals jump to a 21-0 lead in the first 17 minutes of the first meeting this season.

However, the Ravens have learned the hard way about slot receiver Tyler Boyd, evident by his shocking fourth-and-12 touchdown catch to knock them out of the playoffs last December and his six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown in the Week 2 defeat. Boyd has caught 52 passes for 685 yards and five touchdowns this season, serving as a dangerous No. 2 receiver who can exploit that problematic middle portion of the field.

“The past two games, we didn’t really give him much respect, and he’s definitely shown us we should,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “The time they beat us last year, he went [and] did a lot of good things.”

Much has been said about these final seven games being the swan song for Harbaugh and Flacco in Baltimore, but an older institution could also be on the verge of change. It’s no secret that defense has been king in this town since Ozzie Newsome’s selection of Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis with the 26th overall pick of the 1996 draft, and that mindset has remained despite the current offensive revolution in the NFL.

Even after Flacco and the offense led the way to victory in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens remained obsessed with returning the defense to a dominant level. They invested more early draft picks and free-agent dollars on that side of the ball while asking Flacco — a quarterback who had never put up overly impressive regular-season numbers — to make it work with supporting casts that were inferior to even those of other high-paid quarterbacks. The approach has resulted in defenses that still haven’t finished a single season in the top five in total yards or points allowed, offenses that have typically ranged from inept to mediocre, and one playoff appearance — and win — since that last Super Bowl.

This April’s draft may have finally signaled the start of a philosophical shift as the Ravens used their first four picks on offensive players, something they hadn’t done since 2000. With Jackson tabbed to be the quarterback of the future and veteran defensive players like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle, and Carr either in the final year of their contracts or carrying bloated cap figures for 2019, Eric DeCosta will have the chance to remake this roster in his first year as general manager.

Building an explosive offense around a young quarterback on a rookie contract should be the priority as defense just doesn’t carry a team like it once could.

Harbaugh and Flacco might be receiving the headlines, but Baltimore’s longtime identity is also holding on by a thread. And given the uncertainty at the quarterback position this weekend, a throwback defensive performance would certainly be appreciated — the kind in which Lewis and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed would simply say, “We’ve got this.”

“There’s no magic potion to it; we definitely need to win,” Suggs said. “That comes by any means necessary. You’re like, ‘What do we need to do?’ We have to play winning football.”

The Ravens will try it this way one more time.

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Jackson joins Flacco as non-participant for Ravens on Thursday

Posted on 15 November 2018 by Luke Jones

An already-uncertain Ravens quarterback situation took another twist Thursday as rookie Lamar Jackson joined starter Joe Flacco as a non-participant in practice, creating more uncertainty for Sunday’s game against Cincinnati.

While Flacco sat out a second straight day with a right hip injury suffered against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, Jackson missed Thurday’s workout with an illness, leaving Robert Griffin III as the only quarterback taking part in the session. Jackson had been photographed by a member of Baltimore’s public relations staff enjoying the snow in Owings Mills a couple hours earlier.

You certainly wouldn’t expect a reported stomach bug to jeopardize Jackson’s availability for Sunday’s game, but missing practice time ahead of his potential first start isn’t ideal for a team desperate to snap a three-game losing streak and keep its playoff hopes alive. The consensus expectation has been Jackson stepping in if Flacco is out — which is appearing more likely — but could Thursday’s absence open the door for Griffin to start?

“My job is to make sure I’m always ready,” Griffin said on Wednesday. “Whether that’s during practice, after practice, maximizing the reps that I do get and making sure that, after practice, I’m getting the things that I feel like I need if I’m called upon that week to play. But that’s my job, that’s why they brought me here. They brought me here to be a pro; they brought me here to help this team if need be. I try to help the defense every week on scout team and do those things. If my number is called, I’ll be able to go out there and lead this team.”

Griffin, 28, hasn’t started an NFL regular-season game since the 2016 season finale when he was a member of the Cleveland Browns.

Safety Tony Jefferson (thigh) returned to practice as a limited participant, but offensive tackle James Hurst (back) failed to participant again, making it more likely he’ll miss his fourth consecutive game. Defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) missed Thursday’s workout after not being listed on the injury report the previous day.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) was listed as a limited participant for a second straight day.

The Bengals were once again missing superstar wide receiver A.J. Green (toe), making it all but certain he’ll miss Sunday’s game — the expectation all along. Starting linebackers Preston Brown (knee) and Nick Vigil (knee) also remained sidelined from practice, which is bad news for a Cincinnati defense that’s allowed more than 500 yards in each of the last three games.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DB Anthony Levine (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Tony Jefferson (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Tavon Young (ankle)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Preston Brown (knee), OT Jake Fisher (non-injury), WR A.J. Green (toe), TE Tyler Kroft (foot), WR Josh Malone (hamstring), LB Nick Vigil (knee), DT Adolphus Washington (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (hip), CB Darqueze Dennard (sternoclavicular), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), RB Joe Mixon (knee), G Alex Redmond (hamstring), LB Vincent Rey (groin), WR John Ross (groin)

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Flacco, Jefferson absent as Ravens return to practice field

Posted on 14 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco was nowhere to be found on the practice field, and head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t about to offer any more clarity on the Ravens’ quarterback situation on Wednesday.

The 11th-year quarterback continues to nurse a right hip injury, leaving his status uncertain for a crucial meeting with Cincinnati on Sunday. It was the first regular-season practice missed by Flacco in over two years as speculation persists about the possibility of rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson making his first career start. On Monday, Harbaugh left open the possibility of Flacco, Jackson, or even third-string veteran Robert Griffin III playing against the Bengals, who currently occupy the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff race.

“Rather than dip my toe in the water and start answering one question and then not answering the next one, I’m just not going to get into it and just leave it alone,” Harbaugh said before Wednesday’s practice. “I really don’t feel like we owe anybody any answers, so we’re just getting ready for the game.”

Flacco was receiving treatment while the locker room was open to reporters, leaving Jackson and Griffin to answer questions about the possibility of filling in for the veteran starter. Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in April’s draft, has played 86 offensive snaps in a hybrid role this season while Griffin has been inactive for each of the first nine games and hasn’t played in a regular-season contest since the finale of the 2016 season with Cleveland.

Griffin has been an integral part of Jackson’s development throughout the season and does provide more experience if Flacco can’t play and the Ravens deem the rookie unready to start such a pivotal game for Baltimore’s playoff hopes.

“The thing I try to preach to Lamar is he’s been doing this his whole life,” Griffin said. “It’s a new level, but the cream always rises to the top. I think he’s done a good job of adjusting his level of play as he’s gotten more and more game reps. I think even throughout the preseason you could see from his first start to the last time he played, he just continued to get better. That’s what you want to see out of a young guy.

“If he gets the nod, or if I get the nod, to go out there and lead this team, we’re all going to be there for each other.”

Flacco wasn’t the only Ravens starter absent from Wednesday’s workout as safety Tony Jefferson (thigh) and offensive lineman James Hurst (back) did not participate. Jefferson missed practice time with a hamstring injury two weeks ago prior to playing 80 of 81 defensive snaps in the loss to Pittsburgh, making his absence a concerning development after the bye week.

Hurst hasn’t practiced since Oct. 19 and has missed the last three games with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. stepping into the starting lineup at right tackle. With Brown holding his own, some have opined about the possibility of moving Hurst to left guard — where he played last season — but his absence now extending beyond the bye week isn’t encouraging.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) returned to practice after missing the Steelers game, but he was listed as a limited participant and wasn’t taking part in full-team drills during the portion of the workout open to media. Outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) was also a limited participant after missing Week 9.

In addition to firing defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Monday and inviting former Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson to rejoin the organization, head coach Marvin Lewis and the Bengals are dealing with key injuries of their own. The list is headlined by seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, whose status is in serious doubt as he continues to recover from a toe injury that sidelined him for last Sunday’s blowout loss to New Orleans.

The Bengals were also without starting linebackers Preston Brown (knee) and Nick Vigil (knee) while outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hip) was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice. Burfict has missed the last two games while Vigil has missed the last three contests.

Cincinnati cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick also missed practice as he recovers from a concussion sustained in Week 10.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), S Tony Jefferson (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Tavon Young (ankle)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Preston Brown (knee), WR A.J. Green (toe), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), TE Tyler Kroft (foot), WR Josh Malone (hamstring), LB Nick Vigil (knee), DT Adolphus Washington (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (hip), CB Darqueze Dennard (sternoclavicular), G Alex Redmond (hamstring), LB Vincent Rey (groin), WR John Ross (groin)

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