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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-16 win over Atlanta

Posted on 04 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving their playoff hopes by way of a 26-16 win over Atlanta, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We’d be talking differently if the defense had been even average in the first half when time of possession was balanced and the offense bumbled more than rumbled. If Atlanta scores to go up 17-7 after taking over at midfield with 3:05 left, how does the second half change?

2. The sum is greater than the parts for a defense continuing to rank first in points allowed and total yards. No individual really stands out as being all that deserving of making the Pro Bowl, but this group was terrific against the Falcons.

3. Marlon Humphrey would top my list of defensive players to at least consider as he currently ranks as the 10th-best cornerback in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. His strong play on Sunday continued a surge that began after he returned from his October thigh injury.

4. Rewatching the game honestly made me feel worse about how Lamar Jackson played in his first road start, but the difference between him and other quarterbacks is what he’ll always provide with his legs if healthy. Traditional passers have bad games, but what else are they contributing when they do?

5. Matt Ryan had thrown for 250 yards in every game this season and Julio Jones had registered six straight 100-yard receiving days before being smothered by Baltimore. Ryan had only 54 passing yards in the second half while Jones didn’t have a catch after the game’s first drive. Crazy.

6. Jackon’s fumble returned 74 yards for a touchdown by Vic Beasley was cringe-worthy enough, but Kenneth Dixon didn’t earn any pats on the back for his effort to bring Beasley down. Dixon did finish with 37 rushing yards in only his second game of the last two seasons.

7. Between Michael Pierce destroying a double team on the fourth-and-1 stop in the second quarter and Brandon Williams pressuring Ryan on Tavon Young’s fumble return for a touchdown, the defense received excellent play from its two mountains in the middle.

8. The two-minute drill resulting in a field goal late in the first half wasn’t pretty and was even head-scratching toward the end, but it was good to see Jackson operate that scoring drive as fair questions persist about what this offense will do if required to go into catch-up mode.

9. With Austin Hooper’s late score, the Ravens have now allowed a touchdown catch to a tight end in five of the last six games. I’m sure Kansas City’s Travis Kelce will bring some restless nights for Wink Martindale this week.

10. Chris Moore finished with more offensive snaps than John Brown and Michael Crabtree while Buck Allen only played on special teams in Atlanta. This offense sure has changed quickly, hasn’t it?

11. Sam Koch being a career 5-for-5 passer for 69 yards is one of the cooler stat lines in team history. The 13th-year punter is a good athlete and doesn’t get enough credit for how good he’s been for a long time. He throws a pretty ball, too.

12. How often do you see a 14-play drive lasting more than eight minutes result in a not-exactly-a-gimme 45-yard field goal? As I wrote earlier this week, embrace the weirdness. Maybe that should be this team’s new hashtag the rest of the way.

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Sizing up the 2018 Ravens roster entering fourth preseason game

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With two preseason games remaining, it’s time to to once again examine the Ravens’ 53-man roster as we move closer to final cuts being made next weekend.

My current assessment suggests as many as 44 players would be considered safely on the roster if the deadline were to come now. This number is higher than in recent years and reflects the lack of roster turnover on the defensive side of the ball, the team-record-tying 12 selections in this year’s draft, and the absence of any season-ending injuries being sustained so far this summer.

My rough assessment of the 91 players currently on the roster — fullback Christopher Ezeala carries an international player roster exemption — lists 20 on the bubble. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with some position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game. It’s also important to consider any player’s contract status as the organization is more likely to retain a player with multiple years of control remaining compared to one similar — or even marginally better — in talent who’s nearing the end of his contract.

Though general manager Ozzie Newsome, coach John Harbaugh, and the rest of the coaching staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, arbitrarily trying to pinpoint a specific number of tight ends or inside linebackers or wide receivers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens are always looking for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their specific positions when filling out the end of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate the total number of players currently on the roster at that given position. Bubble players who are underlined are the ones making the cut for the projected 53-man roster as of Aug. 24. You can check out last week’s projection HERE.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Joe Flacco, Lamar Jackson
BUBBLE: Robert Griffin III
LONG SHOT: Josh Woodrum
Skinny: Harbaugh said the decision whether to keep Griffin will “go right to the wire” next week, but I continue to see too many other useful players at other positions for the Ravens to carry three quarterbacks for the first time since 2009. This decision has always been much more about Jackson than Griffin, so seeing the rookie make strides over the last two preseason games would ease concerns.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (8)
IN: Alex Collins, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Patrick Ricard
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Gus Edwards, Mark Thompson, De’Lance Turner
PRACTICE SQUAD ROSTER EXEMPTION: Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dixon showed Monday exactly what the organization needed to see to eliminate any notion of him being on the bubble, but durability continues to be a concern with the 2016 fourth-round pick. Edwards is closer to being a practice-squad candidate than to having much of a chance to making the team, but it was interesting to see him line up as a fullback in a short-yardage situation on Monday.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Jordan Lasley, Jaleel Scott, Tim White, Janarion Grant, Breshad Perriman
LONG SHOT: Andre Levrone, DeVier Posey
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Quincy Adeboyejo
Skinny: The young wide receivers are the most disappointing position group of the summer as Lasley has regressed and Scott appears in great danger of becoming the first fourth-round pick in franchise history to be cut as a rookie. Returner candidates White and Grant each fumbled against the Colts and haven’t done enough to warrant a spot while Perriman still hasn’t played a single special-teams play.

TIGHT ENDS (7)
IN: Hayden Hurst, Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews
BUBBLE: Maxx WilliamsDarren Waller, Vince Mayle
LONG SHOT: Nick Keizer
Skinny: The foot injury to Hurst improves the chances of Williams sticking to start the year since the Ravens use tight ends prominently in their run-blocking schemes. And with young wide receivers like Scott disappointing this summer and taking into account his special-teams skills, Waller could land on the roster as a red-zone and slot option while assuming Mayle’s special-teams role from last year.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (15)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, Orlando Brown Jr.
BUBBLE:  Nico Siragusa, Bradley Bozeman, Greg Senat, Jermaine Eluemunor
LONG SHOT: Andrew Donnal, Maurquice Shakir, Randin Crecelius, Justin Evans, Cameron Lee
Skinny: Siragusa and Eleumunor have gone in opposite directions with the former improving from the start of camp and the latter not playing like the most experienced member of this bubble group. You can probably flip a coin between Bozeman and Senat as the uncertainty at center and the lack of quality backup options behind Stanley help their roster chances, making it possible they both stick.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (10)
IN: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Brent Urban
BUBBLE: Zach SielerCarl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi
LONG SHOT: Myles Humphrey, Christian LaCouture
Skinny: Momentum continues for Sieler to make the roster while the veteran Davis hasn’t done as much to enhance his chances, prompting me to flip those two in the group’s overall hierarchy. Kaufusi’s standing as a former third-round pick is probably the only factor keeping him in any serious roster discussion, but he’s likely on the outside looking in with the versatile Ricard factoring into this group.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (6)
IN: C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young
BUBBLE: Albert McClellan
LONG SHOT: Chris Board, Alvin Jones
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Bam Bradley
Skinny: McClellan remains a very tough call and still shouldn’t be dismissed as his experience, special-teams ability, and versatility are valuable traits. Young had a strong performance against Indianapolis and appears to be closing the gap with Onwuasor for the starting job next to Mosley, but the weak-side inside spot remains a fair concern going into the regular season.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Kamalei Correa
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: There was much buzz about Correa’s great performance in the Hall of Fame Game, but he’s been quiet in the last two preseason contests and is still depending on his special-teams play and versatility to be the difference in earning a spot. Williams has looked like the most improved player on the roster and is also playing the run better than he did as a rookie last year.

CORNERBACKS (10)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Maurice Canady, Anthony Averett
BUBBLE: Stanley Jean-Baptiste
LONG SHOT: Darious Williams, Jackson Porter
SUSPENDED: Jimmy Smith
RESERVE PHYSICALLY UNABLE TO PERFORM LIST: Jaylen Hill
Skinny: Smith’s suspension and Canady being in and out of practice with nagging physical issues could prompt the Ravens to keep Jean-Baptiste, who has had a good summer and has impressive 6-foot-3 size on the outside. The argument against keeping him is be the versatility of players such as Canady, Young, Anthony Levine, and Chuck Clark, who can line up in multiple places in the secondary.

SAFETIES (7)
IN: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Kai Nacua, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Between Clark last year and Elliott this spring, the organization has found good value at the safety position in the sixth round, which is important considering how many cap resources are devoted to Weddle and Jefferson. This hasn’t been discussed much, but you would have liked to have seen Jefferson play more in the preseason after he didn’t have the most impressive debut year in Baltimore.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Trent Sieg
Skinny: Koch labeled Vedvik “one of the most impressive guys” he’s seen among the many camp bodies to come through Owings Mills and Westminster over so many summers. That’s high praise from a straight shooter like Koch as Vedvik definitely has the talent to catch on elsewhere.

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Chapter 18: Fast as _ _ _ _! The Mile High Miracle and Jacoby Jones

Posted on 29 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

 

“I told myself Joe might throw it to me if I haul my butt off the line,”

– Jacoby Jones (January 2013)

 

 

 

THE NFL PROVIDES PLENTY OF connectivity between its personalities, teams, cities, and rich history. The Ravens had never played a playoff game in Denver and had only faced the Broncos once in January – in the first playoff game in the franchise’s history. That was during the 2001 Super Bowl run when Trent Dilfer beat Brian Griese and Shannon Sharpe caught a miracle pass.

However, this January 2013 game would forever change how NFL fans remember Broncos vs. Ravens.

Baltimore already had plenty of history with both John Elway and Peyton Manning, who had joined forces in the Mile High City. Peyton had now gone to his second NFL outpost and dropped another vicious regular season beating on the Ravens in Baltimore. The Elway history in Baltimore had aged 30 years, but was still very real and a debt unpaid for anyone who had a true sense of local football history and the magnitude of his actions in 1983. Elway was one of the building blocks that allowed the Ravens to exist if you consider that the Colts needed to leave Baltimore before Art Modell could come.

Both Elway and Manning had richly earned villain status in the Charm City. And once again Ozzie Newsome would endure one more battle with Elway and Denver, bringing back the sick history from his Cleveland Browns days. Newsome told author John Feinstein in 2004 that the last words his father ever said to him were: “Watch out for Elway!”

The Manning history was a much fresher scab in Baltimore.

The ugly, pre-halftime Flacco interception and the 98-yard futile chase by the lumbering quarterback was 27 days old, yet still fresh in the minds of his supporters and detractors. The replay ran all day, every day the week of the game. There was that famous picture of Flacco, face down at the goal line after chasing Chris Harris the length of the field that painted a tale of abject failure. It was a well-circulated meme in social media with a myriad of Charlie Brown-like captions.

Ten days after throwing the interception, the Ravens clinched the AFC North crown for the second straight year and made the playoffs for the fifth consecutive time. Flacco came to The Grill at Harryman House in Reisterstown as the guest of Dennis Pitta for a WNST.net & AM 1570 live radio show. He addressed the Harris interception with his usual droll sense of humor.

“It wasn’t any different than any other interception I’ve thrown for a touchdown the other way,” Flacco said. “It’s not good, but stuff like that happens. I try to limit it and do all the things you want to do to make sure it doesn’t happen. But if you play aggressively, you have to deal with it.”

“The next day I was able to try to joke around a little bit about it,” Flacco said. “At least I wanted to see what everybody thought of my blazing speed trying to catch that guy,” Flacco delivered with a smile, sitting next to his best

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Ravens special teams once again rank among NFL’s elite

Posted on 23 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens may have fallen from the overall ranks of the elite in recent years, but their special teams remain among the best in the NFL.

Baltimore ranked fourth in senior NFL writer Rick Gosselin’s 2017 special teams report and has now finished in the top five in six consecutive seasons, the only team to do so. Gosselin’s formula is determined by ranking all 32 teams in 22 kicking game categories and assigning points according to their order — one for best and 32 for worst.

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg’s group finished first or tied for first in kickoff returns, kickoff coverage, kickoff starting point, punts inside the 20, extra-point percentage, fewest points allowed, and fewest giveaways. The Los Angeles Rams finished atop the overall rankings this season followed by Kansas City, New England, the Ravens, and Dallas.

Kicker Justin Tucker, punter Sam Koch, and long snapper Morgan Cox have all been invited to Pro Bowls in recent years, but a number of other special-teams contributors stood out this season, ranging from kick returner and gunner Chris Moore to leading tackler Anthony Levine and punt returner Michael Campanaro. The group’s consistency over the years is a testament to Rosburg, who was even recognized as a “Gruden Grinder” by former ESPN analyst and new Oakland head coach Jon Gruden after the Monday night win over Houston in late November.

The Ravens continued to excel on special teams in 2017 despite the absence or departure of some key performers from past seasons such as linebacker Albert McClellan, tight end Darren Waller, safety Matt Elam, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

While Gosselin’s report is highly respected around the league, Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens as the best in the NFL this season in terms of special teams defense-adjusted value over average, or special teams DVOA. The DVOA was calculated using five major categories: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, and punt returns.

Making the first-place finish in DVOA more impressive was that the website ranked Baltimore 24th in the “hidden” category, which considers the advantage teams receive from elements generally out of their control such as opposing field goals and the distance of opponent punts and kickoffs. In other words, the Ravens special teams weren’t considered to be particularly lucky with variables out of their hands.

Regarded as one of the great special-teams minds around the league, the 62-year-old Rosburg will be entering his 11th season with the Ravens after being hired by head coach John Harbaugh in 2008.

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Suggs was fitting choice for Ravens MVP in grind-it-out season

Posted on 29 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Identifying a team MVP wasn’t a slam-dunk proposition in a grind-it-out season for the Ravens.

There were a number of reasonable candidates, ranging from surprising running back Alex Collins to Pro Bowl selections Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley, but none jumped off the page as the obvious choice. If not for injuries that cost them substantial portions of the season, defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Jimmy Smith would have garnered stronger consideration. And when you consider how dependent the Ravens have been on field position, even punter Sam Koch deserved mention for his strong campaign.

But the strong play, mental prowess, and veteran leadership of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs made him a fitting choice to receive the local media’s award. Amazingly, it’s the first time the 35-year-old has received the honor, but his mere candidacy in his 15th season — along with his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl — may have helped cement his eventual place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Looking and sounding genuinely touched and surprised to be named team MVP, Suggs says his primary focus is on the Ravens clinching their first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

“This is flattering. I’m speechless. I didn’t know this was this award,” said Suggs, who initially thought he was receiving the local media’s “Good Guy” award on Friday. “This is awesome. It would be a sour note if we don’t win on Sunday, so that is pretty much my big focus right now. This is great among the achievements that we all have achieved this year, but we want to be having a football game next week.”

After changing up his offseason routine by training at the team’s Owings Mills facility rather than in his home state of Arizona, Suggs has enjoyed his finest season in a few years, recording a team-leading 11 sacks and forcing four fumbles. The 2003 first-round pick will play in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since 2014 and has played just over 76 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps, dismissing any notions about him becoming more of a situational player this season.

It’s an outcome few would have predicted after he suffered the second torn Achilles tendon of his career just two years ago.

Suggs has credited the revamped offseason regimen for improved health and conditioning, helping him record double-digit sacks for the seventh time in his career. His veteran teammates have also pointed to his presence at spring workouts and meetings as a positive influence on younger players as the Ravens were coming off their second straight season without a playoff berth.

His on-field production and colorful personality have been givens for years, but his underrated cerebral approach to the game has allowed him to continue playing at a high level despite his advancing age. Over the years, opponents have repeatedly noted Suggs’ ability to sometimes call out their offensive plays before the snap, a product of his rigid preparation.

“You see how much fun he is and how much energy he brings to practice,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I don’t think you fully understand what he’s like off the field studying. He is from the book of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and those guys.”

In a season in which the Ravens rebounded from a rash of early injuries and a 4-5 start, a healthy and productive Suggs receiving the MVP nod was an appropriate outcome as he moves closer to his eventual place in Canton.

Weddle receives “Good Guy” honor

The local media named Weddle the 2017 recipient of the “Good Guy” award, an honor bestowed upon the player deemed most helpful to reporters.

In his second season with the Ravens, the veteran safety has regularly been available after losses and during tough times when it isn’t as easy to talk to the media.

“The media out here is great. It’s always an obligation for us and for myself,” said Weddle, who was named to his fifth Pro Bowl earlier this month. “I’ve always said that I will always be honest and upfront — good, bad, or indifferent. I’m a man of my word and respect everyone’s jobs. It’s pretty sweet that you guys think that highly of me.”

As a token of their appreciation for Weddle’s cooperation this season, the local media will make a donation in his name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

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Suggs, Mosley, Weddle named to this year’s Pro Bowl

Posted on 19 December 2017 by Luke Jones

At an age when many of the greatest players in NFL history were already a couple years into retirement, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is instead going back to the Pro Bowl.

The 35-year-old was one of three Baltimore players to receive this year’s honor, joining inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Eric Weddle. Suggs was named to his seventh Pro Bowl and first since the 2013 season, a feat that could cement his case for an eventual invitation to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 14 games, Suggs leads the Ravens with 11 sacks and four forced fumbles while holding the franchise’s career record in each category. This is the seventh time in his career that the 2003 first-round pick and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year has reached double-digit sacks.

Suggs ranks 16th among all NFL edge defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system entering Week 16. He will serve as the reserve behind Denver’s Von Miller and Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney in the AFC.

“I’m speechless,” said Suggs, who credited good health and hard work in the offseason for his best campaign in several years. “Every time you make it, it’s like making it for the first time all over again. It’s a really great feeling.”

Mosley continues an impressive start to his NFL career with his third invitation to the Pro Bowl in his first four seasons. The 2014 first-round selection ranks sixth in the NFL with 121 tackles while adding two interceptions and three forced fumbles.

The 25-year-old ranks 39th among qualified linebackers in PFF’s grading and will be the starting middle linebacker for the AFC.

“It’s always great to represent your teammates and the organization,” said Mosley, who gave much credit to his coaches. “All the blood, sweat, and tears you go through during the season — it’s all worth it to make the All-Star game. I give a lot of credit to the [defensive] line for keeping linemen off me.”

After being named an alternate and eventually being invited to play in last year’s game, Weddle has received the fifth Pro Bowl nod of his 11-year career with his first three coming as a member of the San Diego Chargers. The 32-year-old is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions and has six pass breakups and two forced fumbles in his second season with Baltimore.

His slow start to the season helps explain why he ranks 30th among qualified NFL safeties in PFF’s grading system, but he has risen to 18th in pass coverage with a strong second half. His leadership and experience have been major reasons why the Ravens have ranked in the top 10 in pass defense all year and lead all 32 teams with 22 interceptions.

He will be the starting free safety for the AFC.

“I’ve never worked as hard as I did this past year to try and get better from last season and help this team and lead even more so,” said Weddle, whose 10 interceptions over the last two seasons lead all NFL safeties. “I’m ecstatic because I’ve done so much over the last year to get back to this point, to help my team win, and to hopefully get back to the playoffs.”

The biggest Ravens snub was kicker Justin Tucker, who was denied his third career trip to the Pro Bowl despite having missed only three field goal tries and not missing an extra point all season. He had misfires from 58 and 62 yards while a 46-yard attempt was blocked, but he has connected on five other field goals of 50 or more yards.

Tucker was named the first alternate behind Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell, who has benefited from the opportunity to make four game-winning field goals in the final minute this season. Considered the best kicker in the league by many, Tucker hasn’t had the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal in the fourth quarter all season.

Punter Sam Koch was also left out of the Pro Bowl despite leading the NFL with 37 punts inside the 20-yard line. Tennessee’s Brett Kern was named the AFC punter and leads the league in both gross and net average, but he has placed only 22 inside the 20.

This marks the 12th consecutive year that the Ravens will have had at least three players in the Pro Bowl.

The exhibition game will take place on Jan. 28 in Orlando with selections from the two teams playing in Super Bowl LII not taking part.

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Ravens use effective road formula to stay in playoff position

Posted on 17 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens beating 0-14 Cleveland was never going to bring any earth-shattering developments beyond the possibility of a serious injury to a key player.

Only an unthinkable loss jeopardizing their playoff chances would have spawned a major headline.

The Browns again showed Sunday why they’re the worst team in the NFL, but Baltimore did what was necessary to remain in the driver’s seat for an AFC wild-card spot with two games remaining. In the 27-10 victory, the Ravens forced four turnovers, played superb special teams, and turned in another solid offensive performance to continue that encouraging late-season trend.

Despite some angst from fans reluctant to embrace a team with just one win against opponents currently holding a winning record, Baltimore didn’t come close to becoming the first team to lose to the hapless Browns, after all. And two home wins against opponents with a combined 8-20 record will result in the first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

Rebounding from last week’s awful performance in Pittsburgh, the Ravens defense intercepted two passes and forced and recovered two fumbles to take the NFL lead from Jacksonville with 33 total takeaways. Questions understandably will persist about this unit’s performance against better offenses and better quarterbacks, but forcing turnovers on the road will be a key part of the formula for any potential run in January. Baltimore had a whopping 15 takeaways in its four road wins this season.

Nearly as important as those turnovers was the offense’s ability to protect the football on the road yet again. The Ravens committed no turnovers Sunday and had no more than one in six of their eight away games this season. Baltimore also has just one giveaway over the current three-game offensive surge.

It’s no secret that Joe Flacco and the passing game have been more aggressive — and productive — in recent weeks, but that change in mindset does little good if accompanied by carelessness with the football. Flacco threw for a season-high 288 yards against the Browns and has now been intercepted only once over the last four games.

An offense scoring points is paramount, but taking care of the ball gives you a chance, especially when lacking an abundance of playmakers.

Sunday also offered a reminder of how brilliant punter Sam Koch has been this season — and for a long time — as he dropped three punts inside the 5-yard line and two on back-to-back drives in the third quarter. That field position led to Za’Darius Smith’s strip-sack of DeShone Kizer and Brandon Williams’ recovery for a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 24-10 lead that wouldn’t be challenged again.

Punting is an underappreciated skill because of its direct association with offensive failure, but Koch has been an incredible asset for a team that’s so frequently depended on field position and the success of its defense this season. The 12th-year veteran may never be viewed as the biggest reason for any single victory, but the cumulative value he brings over the course of 16 games shouldn’t be dismissed.

The victory over the Browns netted the Ravens a 4-4 road record for the season, and that’s nothing to take for granted if you’ve been paying attention the last few years. John Harbaugh’s best teams were never particularly great away from M&T Bank Stadium, but a .500 away mark has often served as a benchmark for a postseason berth.

Bad road losses have contributed to the Ravens missing the playoffs in recent years, but they’ve managed to avoid those this year. In 2013, upset defeats at Buffalo and Cleveland contributed to a 2-6 road record and an 8-8 finish. Last year, it was an ugly loss to an eventual 5-11 New York Jets team in October that contributed to the Ravens having no margin for error while facing a brutal December schedule.

Say what you want about a team lacking a signature win against a projected playoff team, but the Ravens have only one bad loss — the Week 6 tilt against Chicago — on their résumé. Since mid-October, they’ve beaten the teams they were supposed to beat.

And that’s all they have to do at home these final two weeks, thanks to another clean road performance on Sunday.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Houston

Posted on 28 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over .500 and into the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race with a 23-16 win over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It was ugly, but Monday was the first time the Ravens have won a game in which they trailed all season. After wilting in some late-game situations earlier this season, the defense forced Tom Savage turnovers on Houston’s final two possessions. That’s how you finish off a close game.

2. Compliments for Terrell Suggs are regularly attached to some acknowledgement of him not being the player he once was, but it’s time to recognize this being the best he’s played in years. He was the best player on the field and is now quite possibly cementing his spot in Canton.

3. I’m running out of ways to describe this passing game that was facing a bottom-10 pass defense entering Week 12. Awful. Joe Flacco needs more help, but I struggle more each week to recognize what he’s bringing to the table. He committed no turnovers, but he misfired on countless throws.

4. What does it say for the offense that the punter turned in the best pass of the night? Sam Koch and Chris Moore executed nicely on the fake punt that swung the momentum, but credit Jerry Rosburg. His special teams units are exceptional every year and make a real difference.

5. Running the ball and stopping the run is this team’s formula for success. Baltimore averaged 4.5 yards per carry to bounce back from some recent lackluster performances and allowed only 2.6 yards per carry. The defense ranks third in the NFL in fewest yards per carry allowed since Week 8.

6. A mere look at his torn jersey said all you needed to know about the fits DeAndre Hopkins gave Ravens cornerbacks. Jimmy Smith has played at an All-Pro level this season, but Hopkins made even him look bad several times.

7. Marlon Humphrey played just seven snaps because of a leg injury, which meant Smith saw his highest volume of snaps since Week 6. That’s something to monitor with the Ravens getting ready for Detroit on a short week and the veteran already missing practice time every week.

8. Give the coaching staff and the offensive line credit for making adjustments against Jadeveon Clowney, who dominated in the opening quarter. He had a quiet second half and wasn’t nearly as disruptive as the Ravens effectively used double teams and chip blocks.

9. Penalties were a problem with seven — all but one against the defense — for 89 yards, but that was only the fourth time this year the Ravens have had more than 60 yards in penalties. That’s a major improvement from where they’ve been in recent years.

10. The two-minute offense at the end of the first half was hardly a thing of beauty, but the drive resulting in a 53-yard field goal was probably one of the better ones we’ve seen this season. That’s not saying very much, but at least Justin Tucker continues to be money.

11. After Flacco broke his second knee brace in two seasons, he admitted that he’s thought about not wearing one. Seeing him move around without it makes me think it could be worth the risk for improved mobility within the pocket if nothing else.

12. Speaking as someone who doesn’t pay to attend games and wouldn’t tell others how to spend their money, it was still sad seeing thousands of empty seats for the first Monday night home game in over five years. Games like that used to be a big deal in this town.

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Familiar script plays out for Ravens in deflating loss at Tennessee

Posted on 05 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The script was all too familiar for the Ravens in a 23-20 loss to Tennessee on Sunday.

Some of the names have changed, but we’ve seen this defeat over and over and over again since Super Bowl XLVII.

A comatose offense that stumbles its way into some decent football late — but only after putting itself in a sizable hole. A defense that perseveres at a high level until needing to make a big stop in crunch time. And an array of little things from special-teams penalties to debatable coaching decisions sprinkled into a one-possession loss.

It might as well be 2013 or 2015 or 2016. Having lost five of their last seven going into their bye week, the Ravens are firmly in that mediocre spot that’s become their residence for the last five years. And they’ll need a strong finish to avoid missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season.

What else really needs to be said about an offense that’s summarily broken? Even with a solid running game, the unit hasn’t been good enough, so you didn’t need to be Vince Lombardi to predict what would happen when the Titans were able to shut down the surprising Alex Collins on Sunday.

The problems are abundant and the solutions aren’t there from a coaching or talent standpoint.

On a day when veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the team’s only dependable pass-catcher, had his best performance of the season, 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman again looked like someone not belonging on the field as he failed to high-point two deep passes — one leading to an interception — and dropped another pass in an awful first half. Fellow speedster Mike Wallace was also a non-factor until catching a 1-yard touchdown in the final minute when the Ravens trailed by two possessions.

Joe Flacco doesn’t have nearly enough help around him, but he’s also slow to react to certain situations and threw a bad interception on the first drive of the second half. As has been the case for a few years now, the veteran quarterback isn’t the offense’s biggest problem, but he hasn’t been enough of an answer, either.

By design or by execution, the horizontal passes well short of the chains on third downs continue to be maddening.

You’d like to think the bye could spawn some new ideas and the return of the oft-injured Danny Woodhead might help, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has now had the reins of this group for 20 regular-season games and has yet to show himself as any kind of meaningful asset. Are the Ravens miraculously going to have an offensive breakthrough with the week off while maintaining the status quo?

Of course, the defense isn’t without blame despite a strong showing for much of the day. The two touchdowns allowed through the first three quarters came on short fields, and Eric Weddle’s interception set up Baltimore’s first touchdown of the game to make it a 16-13 deficit with nine minutes remaining.

But when the Ravens needed one more stop to give the offense a chance to tie or take the lead, the defense crumbled, allowing two third-down conversions and a touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Eric Decker with 3:58 to go. Yielding a couple first downs or even a field goal wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but you just can’t give up seven in that spot. Tennessee ran fewer plays and trailed in time of possession, so you can’t say it’s because Dean Pees’ group was tired.

The defense couldn’t finish, which has been the story way too often for some statistically-strong units over the last several years. It’s the reason why the front office chose to ignore the offense this offseason to focus on strengthening a top 10 defense from a year ago, but the problem reared its head again on Sunday.

To be clear, this is a good defense, but the group hasn’t been great enough to overcome the major deficiencies on the other side of the ball or to justify the many resources exhausted on it this past offseason. The Ravens may have cleaned up their issues stopping the run over the last two weeks, but the pass rush still isn’t good enough to expect the group to become otherworldly down the stretch.

The little things also killed the Ravens on Sunday. Teams with such little margin for error can’t have Tyus Bowser line up illegally on a successful punt and then have Sam Koch shank one that sets up an easy Titans touchdown. Za’Darius Smith’s unnecessary roughness penalty was as ticky-tack as it gets, but even head coach John Harbaugh and teammate Eric Weddle said it was avoidable, especially knowing officials were on alert after Matt Judon’s borderline hit on Mariota earlier in the half.

Harbaugh received much criticism for unsuccessfully going for a fourth-and-inches from the Tennessee 17 to begin the fourth quarter, but I’ll side with the decision despite the outcome. As the 10th-year coach noted, anyone would tell you going for it in that situation is a no-brainer from a win probability standpoint. Yes, kicking a field goal does make it a one-score game, but you’re then counting on your defense to not allow any more points and your offense to drive the length of the field again to score a touchdown, which was highly questionable at that point. Many cited Justin Tucker as the reason for taking the points, but having such a great kicker leaves me more inclined to go for the touchdown there, knowing I may not need to do very much later to get a shot at a 50- or 55-yard attempt to tie the game.

Sure, if you know your defense will force a turnover on the ensuing possession, you’ll take the three points every time, but we can’t assume subsequent events play out the same or that Tennessee would have played the same defense had the Ravens trailed by seven and not 10 on their final touchdown drive. The decision was certainly debatable and I didn’t like the play call itself, but it wasn’t the egregious error some made it out to be, especially when replays indicated that Buck Allen picked up the first down. Alas, it was a bad spot and a predictable review outcome on a type of challenge that’s difficult to win.

In the end, the Ravens were unlucky to go along with not being good enough on Sunday.

It added up to the kind of loss we’ve seen too many times in recent years.

Instead of securing a road win that could have put them in a good position with a very reasonable schedule after the bye, the Ravens face a steep climb with a losing record and a less-than-ideal tiebreaker profile in a mediocre AFC wild-card race. Six of the remaining seven games do look quite winnable on paper, but each is also a potential loss for such an inconsistent group.

And after Sunday’s bout of déjà vu, the Ravens aren’t showing signs that things will be different this time around.

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Breaking down the 2017 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 02 September 2017 by Luke Jones

A year after the Ravens surprisingly released veteran running back Justin Forsett on final cut-down day, there were no real surprises in the formulation of the first 53-man roster for the 2017 season.

The acquisitions of reserve offensive linemen Tony Bergstrom and Luke Bowanko likely pushed veteran Jeremy Zuttah and former practice-squad member Matt Skura off the roster, but cornerback Robertson Daniel and linebacker Brennen Beyer were the only other players from last year’s team not to survive Saturday’s final cuts and neither saw meaningful action in 2016.

More roster changes are inevitable in the coming days as Baltimore has already made two trades to augment its offensive line depth and could look for another running back or a veteran inside linebacker. General manager Ozzie Newsome should have another roster spot to play with once cornerback Maurice Canady is placed on injured reserve as expected. Still recovering from knee surgery, Canady needed to be on the initial 53-man roster to remain eligible for a designation to return later in the season.

The Ravens will certainly scan the open market for potential additions to enhance the roster that’s already been assembled as hundreds of players hit the waiver wire on Saturday. Beginning Sunday, they will also put together a 10-man practice squad with a number of Baltimore players who were cut over the weekend potentially returning to the organization.

Below are some early impressions of the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: The Ravens and their fans will continue to hold their breath until Flacco stays on the field and shows his back is no longer a concern after he was sidelined for the entire summer. However, the fact that there are only two quarterbacks on the roster leads you to believe the organization is confident that Flacco is truly healthy and ready to go. At the very least, you’d expect the Ravens to re-sign Josh Woodrum or another quarterback to the practice squad for some extra depth.

RUNNING BACKS (3) — Terrance West, Danny Woodhead, Buck Allen
Analysis: This group lost much of its upside after Kenneth Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury right before training camp, but the unrest on the offensive line this summer made it difficult to evaluate the backs. Woodhead figures to be a major part of the passing game if healthy, but how well West fares as the No. 1 back will depend on how effectively the line gels. This is a position the Ravens should explore upgrading, especially if they can find a back possessing some return skills.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5) — Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore
Analysis: The competition among a batch of young receivers on the preseason roster never really materialized as Moore, a 2016 fourth-round pick, did little to distinguish himself and still landed on the roster. The major question will be how quickly Flacco can build a rapport with Maclin, who didn’t sign with the Ravens until the week of mandatory minicamp in mid-June. It’s difficult to identify a trustworthy red-zone threat in this group, but that’s been a problem for this offense for years. 

TIGHT ENDS (4) — Nick Boyle, Benjamin Watson, Maxx Williams, Vince Mayle
Analysis: Few would have guessed Mayle would be one of four tight ends on the roster when there were questions months ago about how the Ravens would pick among six viable options. The losses of Dennis Pitta, Crockett Gillmore, and Darren Waller subtracted production, physicality, and upside from the equation, but Boyle has been solid and Watson and Williams are healthy. It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will get enough production from these tight ends as blockers or receivers.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Ryan Jensen, James Hurst, Austin Howard, Jermaine Eluemunor, Tony Bergstrom, Luke Bowanko
Analysis: The Ravens finally have their projected starting offensive line on the practice field, but there are plenty of questions beyond Yanda and Stanley. Newsome attempted to address the depth by making two trades, but neither Bergstrom nor Bowanko are established commodities. Beyond taking a leap of faith that Greg Roman’s blocking schemes will work their magic, there isn’t a ton to love about this group on paper, which is unsettling when your quarterback is just returning from a back injury.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Brent Urban, Bronson Kaufusi, Chris Wormley, Carl Davis, Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard
Analysis: Eight defensive linemen in a 3-4 base system are too many, but the Ravens are smart not wanting to lose a talented defensive lineman just to keep an inferior player elsewhere. You would think the organization will attempt to use its defensive line depth to potentially acquire talent at another position of need or will eventually try to stash one with a injury. Of course, don’t dismiss the possibility of Ricard being used more as a fullback and blocking tight end to help justify the high number here.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — C.J. Mosley, Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor, Bam Bradley
Analysis: Correa hasn’t seized control of the starting job next to Mosley, leaving the door open for Onwuasor or even Bradley to potentially push him for playing time further into the season. The loss of special-teams standout Albert McClellan really hurts their depth as he could play any of the four linebacker positions, a valuable asset on Sundays with only 46 players active. Bradley earned his job with a strong summer, but a veteran addition to compete with Correa would ease some concerns.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Terrell Suggs, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams
Analysis: Entering his 15th year, Suggs remains the soul of the defense and is still an above-average three-down outside linebacker, but you have to be intrigued with the young talent and depth here. Judon and Bowser have battled for the starting “Sam” linebacker spot with both looking like viable options while Za’Darius Smith solidified his roster standing as a situational rusher. Williams is raw, but he has shown impressive potential as a pure rush specialist, something this defense needs.

CORNERBACKS (6) — Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Jaylen Hill, Sheldon Price, Maurice Canady
Analysis: The Ravens haven’t had this kind of outside corner depth in a long time with Humphrey likely to push the veteran Carr for his starting spot at some point in 2017. Tavon Young’s spring knee injury was a blow to the nickel spot, but the undrafted Hill may have been the best story of the summer after only receiving a tryout during rookie camp weekend. With safeties Lardarius Webb and Anthony Levine expected to play the nickel and dime spots, respectively, five cornerbacks are likely enough.

SAFETIES (5) — Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Lardarius Webb, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark
Analysis: The depth here is strong after Jefferson was signed to a lucrative deal to be a major factor against the run and in covering tight ends. There is plenty of room for defensive coordinator Dean Pees to be creative in the secondary with Webb and Levine having so much versatility. The rookie Clark will likely be more of a special-teams contributor than anything else, but the Ravens needed another safety with their primary backups projected to be so involved in sub packages.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its sixth consecutive season together. That continuity is just one reason why these three are so tremendous at what they do.

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