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Ravens-Buccaneers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 15 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The more things change for the Ravens, the more they stay the same as they host Tampa Bay on Sunday.

The quarterback and offense are different, but Baltimore entered the bye week with a 4-5 record, won three straight against underwhelming competition, and then lost a heartbreaker on the road against one of the best teams in the NFL. John Harbaugh’s team hadn’t done that since … wait for it … last year.

Still sporting a chance to win the AFC North and considered the favorite in a group of flawed teams currently vying for the No. 6 seed, will the Ravens get the job done this time around?

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for just the sixth time ever with the Ravens enjoying a 3-2 advantage. Baltimore has won the last three contests in the series as the Buccaneers haven’t won since 2002, which was their Super Bowl-winning season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Ex-Raven Ryan Jensen will be flagged for mixing it up with a former teammate. Ozzie Newsome was wise not to give Jensen a $42 million deal, but that doesn’t mean Baltimore hasn’t missed him as his departure was the biggest change in a sound running game from a year ago becoming inept in the first half of 2018. The Ravens liked Jensen’s fire and physicality, but he’s struggled in Tampa Bay with penalties and underwhelming play as Pro Football Focus ranks him 29th among centers. His propensity for playing through the whistle is a recipe for an altercation with someone like Matt Judon.

2. Kenneth Dixon will lead Baltimore in rushing. Last Sunday’s loss at Kansas City was easily the best Dixon has looked since his rookie season as he registered 80 total yards and a touchdown on nine touches. Meanwhile, Gus Edwards has averaged an ordinary 4.0 yards per carry over the last two games after racking up 5.8 per attempt in the previous two weeks. Edwards will remain heavily involved, but a healthy Dixon is the most versatile of the Ravens’ running backs and gives them some juice as a receiver. Now, you hold your breath that the 2016 fourth-round pick can stay on the field.

3. Tampa Bay’s James Winston will throw a critical interception to spoil a two-touchdown day. The Buccaneers haven’t won a road game since Week 1, but any team that’s beaten New Orleans and held a 14-3 halftime lead in last week’s rematch should have your attention. It’s been a turbulent year for Winston, but he’s thrown eight touchdowns and two picks while averaging 243 passing yards per game over the last four weeks. Meanwhile, Marlon Humphrey, Tony Jefferson, and Tavon Young aren’t 100 percent in the Ravens secondary. That’s a concern facing the league’s No. 1 passing attack that has one of the better receivers in football in Mike Evans.

4. Lamar Jackson will find Willie Snead for the slot receiver’s first touchdown since Week 1. It’s difficult figuring out where the rapport is between these two as Snead was Baltimore’s leading receiver in Jackson’s first start as well as in Kansas City, but the slot receiver had a total of one catch for eight yards in the wins over Oakland and Atlanta. The Ravens need to find more production out of their passing game down the stretch, and Jackson has been most successful throwing over the middle from spread formations, making Snead’s presence important. Tampa Bay ranks dead last in red-zone defense.

5. The Ravens will strengthen their playoff chances with an unspectacular 26-17 victory. My confidence level in a win remains high, but the Buccaneers are capable of giving any team problems with the way they throw the ball all over the field. Their fatal flaw has been an unthinkable 24 interceptions this season, but the Ravens rank 31st in the league with just 10 takeaways — six of them interceptions — and are banged up in the secondary. Playing another bad run defense will help, but the last four weeks have each been one-score games in the fourth quarter as the Ravens aren’t built to blow out teams without the defense or special teams contributing a touchdown or two. Harbaugh’s team won’t gain much from the eyeball-test perspective on Sunday, but a win is all that matters in mid-December.

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Questions plaguing the Ravens — and how assistant coaches answered

Posted on 07 November 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are below the .500 mark at the bye for the fourth straight season, leaving plenty of questions for both the rest of the season and beyond.

Below are some answers to questions posed to Baltimore position coaches this week and some thoughts on what they had to say:

Why was the offensive line able to run-block so effectively even without six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda last season and hasn’t this year?

Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris: “Some things happen that way. There are situational [runs where] we’ve done very well. In the red zone, in two-minute when we’ve had to do that, we’re really prospering in the situational area. Some of the run game sometimes has sputtered. It’s a hit-and-miss [thing], and hopefully we can improve it. The good news is we have a game coming up against Cincinnati, and we’ll see how we’ll improve in that area.”

My take: Coaches rarely throw their players under the bus, but there obviously isn’t much insight offered here. I’ll never pretend to be an offensive line expert or anything close to it, but Matt Skura ranks 19th among qualified centers, Alex Lewis 63rd among qualified guards, and James Hurst 58th among qualified offensive tackles in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. The Ravens were justified not committing lucrative money to Ryan Jensen — who PFF ranks a disappointing 27th among qualified centers this year — but his physicality was critical for the running game a year ago. The solid play of rookie Orlando Brown Jr. could allow the Ravens to shift Hurst to left guard where he was a little better last season. As for D’Alessandris mentioning the red zone, the Ravens rank 12th in the NFL with a 54 percent success rate on runs inside the red zone, according to Sharp Football. That still doesn’t come close to making up for ranking 31st in yards per carry overall.

Why have the Ravens run the ball more effectively with Lamar Jackson in the game and not as well with their conventional offense?

Assistant head coach Greg Roman: “Anytime you have a dynamic quarterback that can run, you have an extra running back on the field, so you change the math so to speak. Now it gives you the ability to run called quarterback runs or you can run some quarterback-read-type plays. You’re essentially adding a number to the offense, which puts a little more stress on the defense. That’s really it in a nutshell. I think each week we’ve thrown some new stuff at people they haven’t seen before, so it takes them a little bit to adjust to that as well. The second tier of your question: I think guys are working hard. We’re grinding at it. We’re close on some things, but we just need a little bit more precision — little bit more precise coaching, playing, everything. We’re working in that direction. The thing we’re doing a very good job of is certain situational [runs]. Running situations, guys are doing a phenomenal job. I think we have the most short-yardage situations in the league. If not, I’d be very surprised. Guys are doing really good in that area, and when we have to run it, we’re doing a good job. We’re just not getting the big hits right now. Generally speaking, those things will happen just by everybody being a little bit more precise.”

My take: There isn’t much else to add here, but Roman was mostly right about short yardage as the Ravens have run the second-most plays of one yard to go for a first down or touchdown in the NFL behind only New England. Their 79 percent success rate on short-yardage runs is 10th best in the league, according to Sharp Football. It’s difficult imagining the Ravens getting where they want to go without finding that aforementioned precision when Jackson isn’t on the field. They’re just too predictable now.

Where have the takeaways gone after leading the NFL in that category last season?

Secondary coach Chris Hewitt: “The way I look at it is, we’re playing a little bit more man coverage than we’ve done in the past. We’re not playing as much zone as we’ve done in the past. We’re doing a lot more man coverage. When you’re playing as much man coverage as you are, you have your back to the quarterback. You can’t see the quarterback throwing the ball out of his hands and then be able to get a break on the ball. Now, when we do play zone coverages, and we get an opportunity to catch the ball, we have to catch the ball. Those are the things that, as far as with the sacks and takeaways, those things come in bunches.”

My take: This was an interesting point that has merit. I wrote at length about their lack of takeaways last week and acknowledged luck as being an undeniable variable in the Ravens only having seven takeaways in nine games. They’re tied for second in the NFL in passes defended, meaning they’re still batting passes at the line of scrimmage and getting their hands on footballs downfield. That said, it’s fair to question whether certain veterans have slowed down from previous seasons, turning potential takeaways until mere pass breakups. Perhaps even more surprising than the lack of interceptions has been the Ravens forcing only four fumbles this season after forcing 17 in 2017.

Why has the defense struggled to get off the field on third down in recent weeks?

Hewitt: “When you’re playing the type of coverages that we play and people are throwing the ball short and intermediate routes, I equate it to I’ll take the paper cut instead of somebody stabbing me in the heart, so I’m not trying to give up any big plays. We’ll take those little short-to-intermediate routes. Now, going with that, obviously we have to get off the field on third down. That’s something that we haven’t done a very good job of over the last two weeks or so. In this last game, we were 10-for-16 getting [off the field] on third down, and that can’t happen. For us to become the defense that we want to be — and we’re still a great defense, obviously, we’re still ranked No. 1, No. 2 against the pass or whatever we are as far as statistics are concerned — it’s all about limiting the opportunities for the offense to continue to keep those drives going. Again, we have to do better on third down. That’s the most important thing: We have to do better on third down, get ourselves off the field. But on first and second down, we can’t give them third-and-short, either. We have to do a better job on first and second down stopping them on first and second down. Now, we have third-and-long situations. Now, we can get a chance to go after the quarterback. We can play different zone coverages. Now, we get our eyes back on the quarterback, and now we can intercept some balls. But, as far as playing man coverages, sometimes you’re going to win some, sometimes you’re going to lose some. But, the ones that you lose, you want those to be five yards instead of 30 yards.”

My take: The Ravens have allowed the sixth-fewest number of completions of 20 or more yards and surrendered their first pass play of 40 or more yards of the season against the Steelers on Sunday. As for needing to avoid third-and-short situations, seven of Pittsburgh’s 10 conversions came on plays requiring six yards or less for a first down. The Ravens still rank fifth in the league in third-down defense, but it hasn’t been trending in the right direction against dynamic offenses the last three weeks.

Why has Joe Flacco’s play declined after such a promising September?

Quarterbacks coach James Urban: “Some of the big plays we’ve just missed on or just got edged or just didn’t have enough time, missed a couple throws that I’m sure he’d like to have back. But I think it’s not just one thing. I wish I could say, ‘It’s this one thing,’ or, ‘We need to do this more.’ That’s one thing that’s frustrating: We don’t turn the ball over and score 16 points [against Pittsburgh] — that’s not very common. But you miss two opportunities in the red zone. We were very, very good in the red zone for a long stretch. I think it’s a combination of several things. Joe was playing at a very high level. Joe is a tough sucker; he’s mentally tough. We just have to get over the hump. We just have to make a few more plays, and then it’ll just all happen naturally.”

My take: Remember how we were saying the early success for Flacco and the passing game wouldn’t continue without incorporating an effective running game? Since the Week 4 win at Pittsburgh, the 11th-year quarterback is averaging 5.8 yards per passing attempt and owns a 73.7 passer rating. He’s also leading the NFL in passing attempts, territory he shouldn’t approach. Haven’t we seen this movie before? You can harp on Flacco needing to be better all you want — that’s true, to be clear — but when has he ever played well for an extended period of time without a solid running game? That’s not magically changing.

Is it challenging for Flacco to find and maintain his rhythm with Jackson coming in and out of the game?

Urban: “It’s as much or as little as you allow it to be. That’s my experience. That goes back to years ago when Marty [Mornhinweg] and I were doing it with Donovan McNabb and Michael Vick. As much as you allow it to be a distraction, it’ll be a distraction. Joe has been great with that. He sees the production. He sees the plays that we’ve been able to use and utilize, and he understands that we’re just trying to get our best players out on the field to help us win.”

My take: This is a tricky balance since the Ravens haven’t shown the ability to sustain a ground game without the gadgetry involving Jackson. It’s impossible to quantify, but I don’t know how anyone could deny there being occasions when the offense loses its rhythm and becomes disjointed when the starting quarterback completes a couple passes and then is told to go out wide to stand as a receiver. As Andy Benoit of Sports Illustrated said this week, “When you watch Ravens film and see how the Lamar Jackson package impacts the down-to-down rhythm, there’s no way Flacco doesn’t hate it.”

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Lack of quality plaguing Ravens running game more than quantity

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh noted his team had run the ball 25 times when the inevitable question came about the run-pass ratio from Sunday’s 12-9 loss at Cleveland.

Baltimore had also run a season-high 84 plays, but the 11th-year coach made his position clear on Monday.

“I don’t understand the question, why it’s a topic,” Harbaugh said. “You have to do whatever you have to do to move the ball and score points. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of that up until this last game. We just need to put more points on the board. Nine points — three, three, and three — is tough to win games that way. That’s the bottom line.

“But this run-pass balance thing, I don’t understand why it’s a topic.”

He’s right about both his offense — which ranked in the top 10 in multiple categories entering Week 5 — and the overall run-pass obsession many have when spitting out stats about win-loss records and running the ball a certain number of times that confuse correlation with causation. Simply put, teams run when they win, not win because they run. You sometimes wonder if some would prefer running the ball more — no matter how effectively — to their team actually winning games, but today’s NFL is a pass-heavy league and analytics-based principles such as throwing more frequently on first down improve your chances of winning compared to the traditional three yards and a cloud of dust. Like it or not, that mindset isn’t changing anytime soon.

The difference Sunday from previous weeks, however, was that the Ravens weren’t passing the ball effectively while they averaged a season-best 4.6 yards per carry, well ahead of what they’d done in the first four games. Joe Flacco produced 2018 worsts in both yards per attempt (5.3) and completion percentage (51.8 percent) on Sunday, but Baltimore continued to chuck it anyway with the veteran quarterback recording a season-high 56 attempts, territory in which few quarterbacks consistently function well. There were certainly occasions when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could have worked an additional run into the mix.

Passing on 11 of 14 plays inside the red zone was particularly questionable as Flacco threw an ugly interception on a second-and-goal play from the 2 in the second quarter that proved to be one of the most critical plays of the game. Harbaugh and the Ravens frequently view the goal line to be four-down territory — which is the correct mindset — so why not try to pound the ball into the end zone again after Buck Allen was stopped on the previous down?

It’s true that only six teams have more rushing attempts than the Ravens through Week 5, but they also lead the NFL in offensive plays run and only 10 teams have rushed less frequently than their 36.3 percent. When you match that with Baltimore winning all three of its games by double digits and trailing by multiple possessions in just one game (Cincinnati), you’re probably justified if you want to roll your eyes the next time you hear Mornhinweg say they want to run the ball. The Ravens are currently a passing team, and that had worked very well until Sunday.

The warranted criticism from Week 5 aside, the problem with the Ravens running game has been quality much more so than quantity. Clamoring for more rushes doesn’t exactly make a ton of sense when you rank 30th in the league in yards per carry (3.4). That’s not to say the ground game doesn’t need to improve with Sunday’s poor passing performance being a perfect example why.

“Yes, we’re concerned. We want to run the ball well,” Harbaugh said. “We’re working as hard as we can to do it. If the question is: Are you working hard at the run game? Yes, we’re working really hard at it. We want to be a really good running team just like we want to be a great passing team and great at everything else. We work hard at what we think we can do well.”

After adding three veteran wide receivers and drafting two tight ends, the Ravens passing more frequently than they did last year when they ran 43.6 percent of the time — 12th most in the NFL — seemed inevitable, but why has the running game struggled so much?

Assistant head coach Greg Roman and offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris were viewed as miracle workers last year when the Ravens averaged 4.0 yards per carry and finished 11th in rushing yards per game despite having four new starters along the offensive line. Even with the departures of center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Austin Howard, the healthy returns of guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis brought optimism that the unit would improve from a year ago.

The group has held up well in pass protection, but Lewis, center Matt Skura, and right tackle James Hurst have graded particularly poorly in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. As was the case on Sunday when Alex Collins ripped off a 19-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and Allen picked up 17 yards on a third-quarter run, most of their rushing success has come on the outside, which makes sense when two of your three interior linemen have been below-average run blockers.

It’s also worth noting the Ravens have been in the shotgun much more frequently this season — 63 percent compared to 48 percent last year, according to Sharp Football — which certainly impacts the dynamics of a ground attack. That’s not to say an offense can’t run effectively from the shotgun, but it’s a more passing-minded formation and the Ravens are also running a little less frequently out of the gun than they did last year (18 percent compared to 22 percent, per Sharp).

Only one of the five opponents Baltimore has faced this season is allowing fewer than 4.1 yards per carry and only Cleveland ranks in the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ run defense efficiency metric. In other words, the Ravens haven’t exactly been running against the 2000 version of themselves in the season’s first month.

Surely concerns over Collins fumbling the ball haven’t helped, but he leads all running backs in forced missed tackles per touch, which reflects a lack of running room and a need to keep giving him opportunities to break longer runs. Allen is a capable short-yardage back and better in the passing game, but his 2.8 yards per carry average compared to Collins’ 3.8 reflects less explosiveness. Neither back has the dynamic talent of a Ray Rice, but the pair did the job for the Ravens last year, making it difficult not to look at an offensive line still trying to find its footing in the running game.

Perhaps Sunday’s defeat serves as both a necessary reminder that you can’t do it all with the pass and a sign of better things to come for the ground attack, but the week-to-week volatility of the NFL makes it difficult to predict.

“You just keep working. You keep grinding,” Harbaugh said. “When we come out and run for 200 yards — which we will — it’s not going to be ‘fixed.’ The next game is going to be a new game. It’s not like you’re going to come out and run for 200 yards every week. Every week is a new week in the National Football League. You see a different defense, you see different fronts, different guys are healthy, different guys aren’t healthy, plays get made, plays don’t get made — things happen.

“I don’t think it’s as much of a trend as everybody wants to look at it. The big-picture trends just really aren’t there.”

Maybe so, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens getting to where they want to be by season’s end without having a better running game in their back pocket when they need it.

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Harbaugh says Ravens offensive line in better shape than last offseason

Posted on 27 March 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens lost two 2017 starters from their offensive line this month, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t sound concerned speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday.

Of course, they’ll welcome back six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda this year as well as third-year lineman Alex Lewis, who started eight games as a rookie and was considered an ascending talent before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery last August. But Baltimore didn’t pick up its 2018 option on right tackle Austin Howard and lost free-agent center Ryan Jensen to Tampa Bay, who made him the NFL’s highest-paid player at the position.

This marks the second straight year the Ravens will need to replace the previous season’s starters at those positions.

“You compare it to last year, I think we are in better shape than we were a year ago at this time really,” Harbaugh said. “We actually have more flexibility, more depth than we did a year ago, and it turned out pretty well for us. I thought [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] did a really good job with those guys obviously. Marty [Mornhinweg], Greg Roman, all of our coaches did a great job, and it showed up in the fact that these guys are signing big contracts around the league.

“We’ve got some prospects there. I love the way the offensive line is set up right now.”

Harbaugh made it clear the Ravens have substantial plans for James Hurst, who signed a four-year, $17.5 million contract extension that included a $5 million signing bonus earlier this month. Making 15 of his 16 starts at left guard in place of the injured Lewis last season, Hurst is now expected to move to right tackle.

It’s a position where he’s made only two career starts, but the 6-foot-5, 317-pound lineman practiced there last spring and summer and received sparkling reviews from a notable teammate.

“Actually, Terrell Suggs said, ‘Hey man, this is the next Rick Wagner. He’s going to set the record this year,’” said Harbaugh about Hurst’s performance at right tackle last summer. “That’s how he felt going against him in training camp. I remember him saying that. Then, we had the injury to Alex and we moved him inside. That shows you how versatile he is. That’s how we’ll start off, but it could change.”

The 11th-year head coach also said former practice-squad member Matt Skura — who started 12 games at right guard last year — will receive the first crack at securing the starting center job as many anticipated. Nico Siragusa will also be in the mix if the 2017 fourth-round pick is fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury sustained last summer.

With Hurst moving outside, Lewis is in line to reclaim the left guard spot, but the 2016 fourth-round pick must prove he can stay on the field after missing 22 games in his first two seasons. In assistant head coach Greg Roman’s run schemes, guards are frequently required to pull, making the agile Lewis an ideal fit.

He also remains a consideration at center if Skura is not up to the challenge.

“We like Alex at left guard because what we do as an offense requires the guard to move, to be really athletic and do things like that,” Harbaugh said. “That’s part of the thing that Greg and Marty put in last year. We run a lot of different schemes — gap schemes and pull schemes and lead schemes — where the guards have to get out and do a lot of athletic things. Alex Lewis can run. He’s fast for an offensive lineman.”

Of course, Harbaugh was only speaking about offensive linemen currently on the roster as you’d expect the Ravens to be looking to add competition and depth in the draft since Hurst and Skura lack extensive NFL experience at their projected positions.

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Jensen leaves Ravens to become NFL’s highest-paid center

Posted on 17 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Who could have imagined Ryan Jensen’s first full season as a Ravens starter would be so profitable?

The 2013 sixth-round pick from Division II Colorado State-Pueblo has become the highest-paid center in the NFL after agreeing to a four-year, $42 million contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that includes $22 million guaranteed, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It’s quite a difference from a year ago when some wondered why the Ravens even tendered Jensen as a restricted free agent since he’d been a healthy scratch for the final nine games of the 2016 season and had seemingly fallen out of favor.

Winning the starting center job in training camp last summer, Jensen would start all 16 games and ranked ninth among qualified players at the position in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. He was the ideal fit at center in Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes, providing a strong anchor inside with both guards frequently pulling to open lanes in the running game. And he did it after projected starting left guard Alex Lewis underwent season-ending shoulder injury in training camp and six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was lost for the year due to a broken ankle in Week 2.

Friday’s lucrative contract was the culmination of an unlikely journey for Jensen, who didn’t play a snap as a rookie after breaking his foot in training camp. He was then cut at the end of the 2014 preseason and spent most of that regular season on the practice squad, only playing a few snaps on special teams at the end of that season. Jensen would finally became a contributor as a reserve offensive lineman over the next two seasons and made a total of nine starts between the two guard positions, but he still hadn’t established himself as a starting-caliber player.

The 6-foot-4, 319-pound lineman entered the spring of 2017 in a competition with the now-retired John Urschel for the starting center job after incumbent Jeremy Zuttah had been released. Putting on some bulk and responding well to new offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, Jensen would emerge as a leader on an offensive line that dealt with much adversity because of injuries.

Though no one can fault the Ravens for letting Jensen go at such an extravagant rate after just one full year as a starter, this marks the third straight offseason in which they’ve watched an above-average offensive lineman leave for a lucrative contract elsewhere after Kelchi Osemele did it in 2016 and Rick Wagner departed last year. Jensen’s exit also opens an all-too-familiar hole at center, a position at which the Ravens have struggled since the post-Super Bowl XLVII retirement of Matt Birk. It remains unknown what the organization’s plans are at the position, but Matt Skura would seem to be the top in-house candidate unless the Ravens were to do more radical line shuffling.

The offense will also miss Jensen’s attitude as he wasn’t afraid to play through the whistle — and sometimes after it — and provided toughness for a unit with a number of quieter personalities. The 26-year-old garnered praise from Ravens fans in Week 8 after he went after Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso for his penalized blow to the head of concussed quarterback Joe Flacco. Once describing himself as an “annoying little mosquito” on the field, Jensen would also ruffle the feathers of his defensive teammates from time to time in practice.

“He gets a little feisty; he’ll throw a helmet here and there,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “He’s a great competitor, and you want that kind of play with all your players, especially on the o-line. He’s not going to let anyone [bully] him. He’s always going to get the better end of it. Playing against him in practice, that keeps you aware.

“Even though you think he’s being a butthole, he’s actually making you better because you’re protecting yourself.”

Jensen is the second 2017 starter on the Baltimore offensive line to depart after right tackle Austin Howard was let go before the start of free agency.

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How did Ravens offensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2017?

Posted on 05 February 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few put in the necessary time and effort to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop any kind of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive linemen ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Running backs
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Inside linebackers

Ronnie Stanley
2017 offensive snap count: 1,010
NFL1000 ranking: 12th among left tackles
PFF ranking: 31st among offensive tackles
Skinny: The 2016 first-round pick may not have taken the leap toward Pro Bowl territory as many had hoped after a strong finish to his rookie campaign, but Stanley still did a good job protecting Joe Flacco’s blindside. It’s fair to want him to reach another level, but nagging injuries have held him back at times.

James Hurst
2017 offensive snap count:
1086
NFL1000 ranking:
49th among guards
PFF ranking:
58th among guards
Skinny:
The former undrafted free agent has been maligned throughout his career, but he showed substantial improvement at left guard after years of struggling at tackle. Set to become an unrestricted free agent in March, Hurst is a useful backup because of his versatility and work ethic.

Ryan Jensen
2017 offensive snap count:
1086
NFL1000 ranking:
8th among centers
PFF ranking:
9th among centers
Skinny:
After years of nondescript work as a backup, Jensen became the anchor of an offensive line that lost both starting guards to season-ending injuries before Week 3. In addition to strong blocking and physicality, the pending free agent offers a much-needed attitude and should be a priority to re-sign.

Matt Skura
2017 offensive snap count:
739
NFL1000 ranking:
75th among guards
PFF ranking:
76th among guards
Skinny:
Despite beginning the regular season on the practice squad, Skura soon emerged as the starting right guard after Marshal Yanda was lost for the season in Week 2. His ability to play all three inside spots makes him a valuable backup, but I’m not yet convinced he can be a starting center as some hope.

Austin Howard
2017 offensive snap count:
1082
NFL1000 ranking:
25th among right tackles
PFF ranking:
37th among offensive tackles
Skinny:
The veteran got a late start in training camp and was far from spectacular, but he provided the Ravens what they probably should have expected. Howard dealt with nagging injuries at various points, but he started all 16 games and remains under contract with a $5 million cap figure for the 2018 season.

Jermaine Eluemunor
2017 offensive snap count:
198
NFL1000 ranking:
73rd among guards
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
John Harbaugh made it clear that Eleumunor was a developmental prospect, but injuries forced him into action at various points. The London native brings intriguing upside for someone who hasn’t been playing football for long and is someone to watch over the spring and summer.

Marshal Yanda
2017 offensive snap count:
102
NFL1000 ranking:
n/a
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
There’s no understating how much Baltimore missed the six-time Pro Bowl guard as his dominant play and leadership have been mainstays. Yanda will be 34 and carries a $10.125 million cap figure in 2018, an uneasy combination for any player — even an elite one — coming off a major injury.

Luke Bowanko
2017 offensive snap count:
90
NFL1000 ranking:
n/a
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
The veteran appeared in all 16 games and made one start, but he’s scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent and is unlikely to be a priority to re-sign.

Andrew Donnal
2017 offensive snap count:
21
NFL1000 ranking:
n/a
PFF ranking:
n/a
Skinny:
The former Los Angeles Ram played sparingly upon being claimed off waivers in mid-November, but he’s under contract and could serve as a cheap replacement for Hurst as a reserve offensive tackle with some NFL experience.

2018 positional outlook

With all indications pointing to Yanda and 2016 starting left guard Alex Lewis being on schedule with their respective rehabs, the only major concern on paper is at center with Jensen likely to receive plenty of interest if he hits the open market. The Ravens have limited cap space and other major needs on the offensive side of the ball, but the center position has frequently been an Achilles heel since the retirement of Matt Birk after the 2012 season. A strong anchor at the position is critical in Greg Roman’s blocking schemes that include plenty of pulling guards, and merely turning the job over to Skura or 2017 fourth-round pick Nico Siragusa is very risky with neither having played an NFL snap at center. I’d be more inclined to go younger and cheaper at right tackle by releasing Howard to create more cap resources to re-sign Jensen, who finally blossomed into an above-average center in his first full year as a starter.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on quiet start to offseason

Posted on 19 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens still not having set a date for their season review press conference, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The brass never reveals every detail of its offseason game plan, but perhaps we can anticipate more candor than usual at the annual “State of the Ravens” since the summit at Steve Bisciotti’s Florida home will have already taken place. Fighting fan apathy has to be a major concern.

2. There’s little to take away from an introductory press conference, but Wink Martindale passed the test by citing his aggressive personality when calling a game. It’s unfair to judge him too harshly for his poor 2010 results in Denver, but the proof will be in the results this coming fall.

3. I’m sure no one in Cleveland will be shedding any tears, but only six NFL teams now have a longer playoff appearance drought than the Ravens. That really speaks to the parity of the league and should also tick some people off in Owings Mills.

4. John Harbaugh acknowledged the possibility of drafting a quarterback, but taking one any earlier than the third or fourth round would clash with the goal of getting back to the postseason in 2018. Aim to upgrade from Ryan Mallett and if you discover the successor to Joe Flacco, that’s perfect.

5. Marlon Humphrey looked the part of a budding No. 1 cornerback down the stretch. If he continues blossoming and Smith struggles in his return from a torn Achilles tendon next season, you’d have to think the latter could be a cap casualty in 2019 with a $16.175 million number scheduled.

6. Ryan Jensen won’t be easy to re-sign, but you’d hate losing someone who stabilized an important position that had been an issue since Matt Birk’s retirement. Just handing the job to Matt Skura and assuming everything will be OK is a risk. Jensen graded as PFF’s ninth-best center this season.

7. There’s no guarantee Smith will be ready for the start of 2018, but I’m inclined to move on from Brandon Carr to save $4 million in cap space if Tavon Young is cleared for spring workouts. There are too many holes on the opposite side of the ball to address.

8. Breshad Perriman finished 119th out of 119 qualified wide receivers in PFF’s grading system and regressed dramatically from a 2016 season in which he was at least a functional contributor with 499 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Doesn’t someone have to be accountable for this besides the player?

9. The thought of a healthy Kenneth Dixon teaming with starter Alex Collins next season is intriguing, but Dixon has a lot to prove after a major knee injury and two suspensions. Much like tight end Darren Waller, the Ravens shouldn’t count on him until he proves otherwise.

10. Much has been made of the offense’s post-bye improvement, but the Ravens scored only three offensive touchdowns in the first quarter all season and had none after Week 8. In the same way the defense must learn how to finish, this offense has to start faster.

11. I’m not ready to compare Jacksonville to the 2000 Ravens, but the swagger of its defense reminds me of old teams here. The Jaguars benefited from early draft picks and much cap space, but they’re a better version of what Baltimore tried to build this year.

12. I have interest and work responsibilities in other sports, but I’m still amazed how quickly many dive into draft discussion. I prefer waiting for at least the Senior Bowl and the combine for more context before discussing the same names for the next three months, but to each his own.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2018 class of free agents

Posted on 03 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Free agency won’t begin until March 14, but the Ravens face arguably the most pivotal offseason in team history after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and seeing fan support dwindle in 2017.

As has become Baltimore’s annual story, salary cap space will be a problem as the Ravens currently hold an estimated 2018 Rule of 51 commitment of just under $170 million, according to Spotrac.com. The 2018 salary cap won’t be set until March, but it is projected to rise from $167 million in 2017 to somewhere between $174 million and $178 million. Since the aforementioned commitment doesn’t include any of their pending free agents, the Ravens will clearly have difficult decisions to make with some cap analysts already painting a very gloomy picture about their lack of cap space and their limited flexibility.

This comes with the reality that the Ravens have substantial work to do to their roster — especially on the offensive side of the ball — if they want to escape the land of mediocrity in which they’ve resided since Super Bowl XLVII.

Of course, the Ravens can create cap space by renegotiating, extending, or terminating veteran contracts and will surely do some combination of that. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, cornerback Brandon Carr, running back Danny Woodhead, right tackle Austin Howard, defensive back Lardarius Webb, and linebacker Albert McClellan stand out as veteran candidates who could become cap casualties this winter.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following 12 unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any other team beginning on March 14 at 4 p.m.

CB Brandon Boykin: Once considered one of the better slot corners in the league, Boykin was placed on injured reserve in early September and is not expected to return.

OL Luke Bowanko: The veteran saw action in all 16 games and made one start, but the returns of guards Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis, and Nico Siragusa from injuries make him expendable.

WR Michael Campanaro: The River Hill product played in a career-high 13 games and did nice work as a punt returner, making him a candidate to be re-signed at a cheap price.

TE Crockett Gillmore: The 6-foot-6, 266-pound Gillmore showed intriguing potential in 2015, but he’s missed 29 of Baltimore’s last 36 games due to injury, making his return highly questionable.

OL James Hurst: The once-maligned reserve offensive tackle found a niche as a serviceable starting left guard in 2017, but the aforementioned returning depth inside probably makes him expendable.

C Ryan Jensen: His emergence as a formidable starting center was a godsend with two backups handling the guard spots all year, but did the rest of the NFL also take notice in the process?

LB Steven Johnson: The veteran journeyman did a solid job on special teams in 10 games, but his spot and opportunity will likely go to a younger and cheaper player in 2018.

QB Ryan Mallett: With Joe Flacco turning 33 later this month and battling inconsistency and some health concerns in recent years, the Ravens should be looking to draft a backup with more upside.

DE Brent Urban: The 6-foot-7 specimen looked poised for a strong year during the preseason, but he’s missed 39 games in four seasons, making him a poor candidate in which to invest any real money.

WR Mike Wallace: Market demand will be a major factor here, but the Ravens will be looking at needing to add two to three impactful receivers if Wallace exits and the disappointing Maclin is cut.

TE Benjamin Watson: The 37-year-old was a good story coming back from last year’s torn Achilles tendon to lead the team in catches, but the Ravens really need more of a play-maker at this position. 

RB Terrance West: The Baltimore native and Towson product turned his career around with the Ravens, but he will likely be seeking a better opportunity elsewhere in 2018.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS – none in 2018

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These seven 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. The Ravens usually 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: The rookie turned some heads early in training camp and received a Week 17 promotion from the practice squad, but he’ll need to earn his way onto the 2018 roster.

RB Alex Collins: Given the present challenges with the cap, Collins falling into the Ravens’ laps was a major development of the season as he’ll be the clear favorite to be the 2018 starter at a cheap cost.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste: Promoted to the active roster after Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon in early December, Jean-Baptiste will be in the mix next summer to try to make the roster.

TE Vince Mayle: Though not a factor as an offensive player, Mayle was a consistent special-teams contributor and has a chance to reprise that role next season.

LB Patrick Onwuasor: With the disappointing development of Kamalei Correa, Onwuasor started 12 games at the weak-side inside spot, but the Ravens could use some more competition here.

OL Maurquice Shakir: Promoted from the practice squad at the end of October, Shakir was inactive for eight games and will have the chance to compete for a job next summer.

G Matt Skura: The former undrafted free agent and practice-squad member did a respectable job filling in for the injured Yanda and could be in the mix at center if Jensen departs via free agency.

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Wallace eliminates any doubt about status for Cleveland game

Posted on 14 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Before reporters could even ask him the question in the Ravens locker room on Thursday, wide receiver Mike Wallace made it clear that he expects to play against Cleveland.

Absent from two straight workouts with a minor right ankle sprain sustained in the first quarter of last week’s loss to Pittsburgh, Wallace said he will practice Friday and downplayed any possibility of him not being able to play against the Browns. The speedy wideout missed only one series against the Steelers before returning early in the second quarter.

“I don’t think anybody’s at 100 percent, but I’ll be at about 99.9,” said Wallace as he laughed. “I’m going to be good; we’re going to be alright. Tape it up and go to work like Kobe [Bryant] at the end of the day. No matter what it’s going to be, we’re going to be out there. Come Sunday when we run out of the tunnel, I’m going to be out there.”

Wallace has caught 17 passes for 292 yards and a touchdown in four games since the Week 10 bye.

Center Ryan Jensen (ankle), wide receiver Chris Moore (hip), and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (shoulder) were upgraded to full participation, leaving the Ravens with very little drama from a health standpoint entering Week 15. Cornerback Maurice Canady (knee) was the only player to practice on a limited basis on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Browns were without three cornerbacks during their Thursday practice as starter Jamar Taylor (foot) and reserves Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee) and Darius Hillary (knee) sat out. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton (chest/ribs) was a limited participant for the second straight day.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Mike Wallace (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Maurice Canady (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), C Ryan Jensen (ankle), WR Chris Moore (hip), LB Za’Darius Smith (shoulder)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee), CB Darius Hillary (knee), CB Jamar Taylor (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RT Shon Coleman (shoulder/thumb), WR Matt Hazel (hamstring), TE David Njoku (foot/wrist), S Jabrill Peppers (knee), DT Danny Shelton (chest/ribs), C JC Tretter (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Josh Keyes (wrist)

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Ravens wide receiver Wallace sits out Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 13 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Several Ravens players are still feeling the effects from the physical battle in Pittsburgh while shifting their attention toward the Week 15 trip to Cleveland.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace was the only player on the 53-man roster to miss Wednesday’s indoor practice, but four others were limited participants during the workout. Wallace turned his right ankle in the first quarter of Sunday’s game, but he returned on the next drive after having it taped and finished with three catches for 72 yards.

Wallace was not in the locker room to talk with reporters after practice, but he was on the field for the team’s walk-through earlier in the day.

Cornerback Maurice Canady (knee), center Ryan Jensen (ankle), and wide receiver Chris Moore (hip) were all listed as limited. Moore left Sunday’s game with the injury in the second half, but his presence at practice this early in the week bodes well for his availability. The 2016 fourth-round pick is steadily emerging as an offensive contributor, catching a 30-yard touchdown pass and finishing with three receptions for a career-high 48 yards against the Steelers.

“He really made some plays,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “Chris came up, obviously, with a touchdown pass, which was big. The sideline catch — the diving catch — was big. He’s coming on. That’s exciting for us, and hopefully he’s out there next Sunday.”

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (shoulder) returned to practice as a limited participant after missing Sunday’s game against the Steelers.

Meanwhile, the winless Browns were without cornerbacks Jamar Taylor (foot) and Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee) for a walk-through practice. Defensive tackle Danny Shelton (chest/ribs) and rookie safety Jabrill Peppers (knee) were estimated as limited participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Mike Wallace (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Maurice Canady (knee), C Ryan Jensen (ankle), WR Chris Moore (hip), LB Za’Darius Smith (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun (knee), CB Jamar Taylor (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RT Shon Coleman (shoulder/thumb), WR Matt Hazel (hamstring), TE David Njoku (foot/wrist), S Jabrill Peppers (knee), DT Danny Shelton (chest/ribs), C JC Tretter (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Josh Keyes (wrist)

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