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Ravens-Titans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 14 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens conclude their three-game road trip at Tennessee seeking their first 4-2 start since 2014, the last time they qualified for the playoffs.

They’ll try to do it with defensive lineman Michael Pierce, who makes his return to action after missing two of the last three games with a lingering foot injury. For the first time all season, the Ravens will have both Pierce and Willie Henry available along the defensive line, strengthening a deep rotation that also includes Brandon Williams, Brent Urban, and Chris Wormley.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams is also active after missing last week’s game in Cleveland with a hamstring injury.

Despite missing Thursday’s practice with a hip injury and being listed as questionable on the final injury report, slot cornerback Tavon Young is active and will play against the Titans. As expected, starting cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and dime back Anthony Levine (hamstring) are also active after being listed as questionable on Friday.

There were two notable healthy scratches as 2017 second-round linebacker Tyus Bowser and defensive lineman/fullback Patrick Ricard were deactivated prior to Sunday’s game. It’s a disappointing development for Bowser, who has struggled on special teams and hasn’t played many defensive snaps in his second season. Ricard is the victim of Pierce and Henry both being active and the Ravens now having four active tight ends with Hayden Hurst returning to action last week. .

Former New England cornerback and Gilman product Cyrus Jones will be making his Ravens debut while just-promoted running back Gus Edwards will play in his first NFL regular-season game. Jones is expected to be in the returner mix after Tim White was waived this past week.

The middle of the Titans defense will be in bad shape as starting inside linebackers Wesley Woodyard (shoulder) and Will Compton (hamstring) are both inactive. Compton was ruled out on Friday, but Woodyard had been listed as questionable on the final injury report after practicing on a limited basis all week. Their absence should be good news for the Baltimore running game as well as the Ravens’ collection of tight ends in the passing game.

Starting safety Kenny Vaccaro will miss his second straight game with an elbow injury.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Carl Cheffers.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Nashville calls for rain showers and temperatures in the high 60s with a 55-percent chance of precipitation and winds five to 10 miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with purple pants, the combination they debuted in Week 2. Tennessee is donning navy blue jerseys with navy blue pants for Week 6.

Sunday marks the 20th all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Tennessee holding a 10-9 advantage. The Ravens are seeking their first win at Nissan Stadium since the 2008 postseason as the Titans prevailed 23-20 in the last meeting there on Nov. 5, 2017.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
DL/FB Patrick Ricard
LB Tyus Bowser
OL Hroniss Grasu
DL Zach Sieler

TENNESSEE
LB Wesley Woodyard
LB Will Compton
DL Bennie Logan
S Kenny Vaccaro
OT Tyler Marz
OL Aaron Stinnie
CB Kenneth Durden

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Ravens dealing with “good problems to have” as J. Smith, others return

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens had just secured one of their biggest road wins in years as head coach John Harbaugh met with general manager Ozzie Newsome on the post-game bus in Pittsburgh.

Not only had they just beaten an elite quarterback on the road for the first time in over three years, but the Ravens were on the verge of welcoming back their top cornerback, a 2018 first-round pick, and an important member of their defensive line rotation. The thought of a 3-1 team getting even better is certainly exciting for an organization that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2014, but those returns will impact both the 53-man roster and which 46 players are active for games, leading Harbaugh and Newsome to discuss their plans in the aftermath of the 26-14 win over the Steelers.

“We have some tough decisions to make, but those are good problems to have,” Harbaugh said. “When you’re not going to be able to activate a really good, productive player, as hard as that is — especially on the player — it’s probably a good thing for your team. It means you’ve got some depth and you’re healthy.”

Headlining the list of returnees is veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith, whose four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy expired on Sunday. The 30-year-old reported to Owings Mills Monday morning and is expected to practice this week and play at Cleveland on Sunday. The Ravens currently have an exemption for Smith that allows them to delay making room on the 53-man roster until later in the week.

How Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will distribute the snaps at cornerback remains to be seen as current starters Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr have played well over the first quarter of the season. Humphrey, Baltimore’s 2017 first-round pick, brings the most upside of the group and is considered the No. 1 cornerback of the future, but Carr — one of the most respected players in the Ravens locker room — has started an incredible 164 consecutive games in his career and has played some of his best football in years with Pro Football Focus grading him as the NFL’s 19th-best corner through Week 4.

Of course, the Ravens dealt with a similar challenge last year with Smith nursing a sore Achilles tendon that ultimately gave out in early December. The trio shared snaps for a large portion of the 2017 season, but Baltimore also has slot cornerback Tavon Young to consider now, meaning it isn’t as simple as moving Carr into the nickel role as the organization did occasionally last year.

“It’s a good problem to have, the fact that we’ll have another really good player playing corner and we’ll have the chance to put another guy out there that can cover people,” Harbaugh said. “I think who starts and all that is one thing, but really, they’re all going to play. They’re going to play a lot, and that’s good for the Ravens.”

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst is likely to make his NFL debut this week, which will complicate the current tight end rotation of Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, and 2018 third-round pick Mark Andrews. At the start of the season, the outsider consensus was that Williams would have been the odd man out if Hurst had been healthy, but the 2015 second-round pick has already exceeded his receiving yardage total from last season and is second on the team in catches of 20 or more yards (three). Williams has caught all 12 of his targets for 119 yards and six first downs.

Even if the Ravens manage to keep four tight ends on the 53-man roster, it would be unlikely for all to be active on game days, creating a tough decision between blocking-minded veterans in Boyle and Williams and the two rookies carrying more upside as receivers. After a quiet summer, Andrews has been one of the biggest surprises of the young season with eight of his 10 catches going for first downs and an 11.9 yards per catch average.

Hurst was listed as questionable to play against Pittsburgh before ultimately being held out for a fourth straight game. The South Carolina product expressed optimism that he was ready to go last week, but he was only a limited participant in practices.

“I don’t think the docs and the trainers were comfortable with just the one week back,” Harbaugh said. “I’d have probably been more comfortable than they were, but it was smart. We’ll just have to see how he does this week. Obviously, he has a good chance to play, but he has to get through full practices and be ready to go.”

Harbaugh said defensive tackle Willie Henry will also return to practice this week, potentially giving the Ravens another inside pass-rushing threat to put pressure on Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield on Sunday. Henry appeared in line to secure the starting 3-technique spot this summer before undergoing surgery for an umbilical hernia in late August. His return would impact the playing time of Chris Wormley the most as the 2017 third-round pick has manned the 3-technique position in the base defense and is second behind only Brent Urban for most snaps among Baltimore defensive linemen this season.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 29 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Making predictions for a Ravens-Steelers game is often a fool’s errand.

We know it’s typically close — 17 of the last 23 meetings including the playoffs have been decided by a single possession — but something crazy usually happens in the process.

Safety Eric Weddle said this week these aren’t the same old Ravens and they’ve learned from the last two heartbreaking defeats at Heinz Field in which they held double-digit fourth-quarter leads, but this is the chance to prove it and make an early statement that 2018 will be different than the last three non-playoff seasons. Sunday night marks the fifth consecutive season the Ravens’ trip to Pittsburgh will be televised before a national audience.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series. Pittsburgh holds a 24-20 advantage and is 12-11 — including the playoffs — against Baltimore in the John Harbaugh era. The Steelers have won the last three meetings in this AFC North rivalry.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the Steelers wide receiver giving the Ravens the biggest headache. It remains to be seen how defensive coordinator Wink Martindale approaches the challenge of covering Antonio Brown, but the 6-foot-1 Smith-Schuster does most of his damage from the slot, presenting a challenge for the 5-foot-9 Tavon Young. The nickel corner was exposed in Cincinnati in Week 2 and is still looking to regain his rookie form after last year’s knee injury. The Ravens will change up their coverages, but the defense needs a strong night from Young in order to get off the field.

2. John Brown and Willie Snead will each catch a touchdown against an injury-depleted Steelers secondary. Pittsburgh ranks 28th in the NFL in pass defense and is expected to be without starting safety Morgan Burnett and nickel corner Mike Hilton. It will be interesting to see how Steelers cornerback Joe Haden is used, but no one in the Pittsburgh secondary can run with the speedy Brown, who leads the Ravens with 222 receiving yards. If the protection can slow a capable Pittsburgh pass rush, Brown could be in line for a big night while Snead should find room in the middle of the field.

3. Pittsburgh tight ends and running backs will combine for 13 catches and a touchdown reception. Le’Veon Bell won’t be out there, but Steelers running backs and tight ends combined for 24 catches and two touchdown catches last December. The Ravens won’t have quite that much trouble, but C.J. Mosley will be less than 100 percent and the Steelers won’t hesitate to test Tony Jefferson and Weddle in coverage. Even with so much attention paid to Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster, running back James Conner and tight ends Jesse James and Vance McDonald can’t be ignored.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect his first full sack against the Steelers since 2013. The personal rivalry between Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger goes back to 2004, but the seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker has just one-half sack in his last eight games against Pittsburgh. The Steelers will be welcoming right guard David DeCastro and right tackle Marcus Gilbert back to the lineup, which will only increase the challenge of pressuring the pocket. The Ravens finished with three sacks in the last meeting when Roethlisberger threw an absurd 66 passes. That can’t happen again if they want to win.

5. Joe Flacco and the offense will show up, but the Ravens defense falls short in a 31-27 loss. A rivalry once known for low-scoring affairs saw a whopping 77 points scored in the Week 14 contest played at Heinz Field last year. This one will follow a similar script as the Ravens offense will move the ball and score points, but the absence of Jimmy Smith once again looms large. After incorrectly picking Baltimore to win in Pittsburgh last December and watching Andy Dalton carve up the secondary in the first half of the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati, I need to see the Ravens prove they can get over the hump this time around. If it’s a different outcome, special teams could be the difference as Justin Tucker remains the best kicker in the NFL and Pittsburgh’s Chris Boswell is a total mess now.

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 22 September 2018 by Luke Jones

Keep it simple.

Running the football and stopping the run might be as clichéd as it gets when reciting keys to a game, but the Ravens can’t afford to get cute against Denver with three straight road games — two against 2017 playoff teams — looming after Sunday’s home affair. Meanwhile, the Broncos have started 2-0 for the sixth straight year, but winning their first two games — both at home just like this season — didn’t mean much a year ago on their way to a 5-11 campaign in head coach Vance Joseph’s first year.

A win resets positive vibes and puts the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati in the rear-view mirror, but a defeat would conjure memories of last season when the Ravens couldn’t handle their business at home against underwhelming opponents such as Chicago in Week 6 and the Bengals in Week 17, two losses that led to them falling short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens play Denver for the 12th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Broncos holding the 6-5 advantage. Baltimore holds a 5-1 edge in games played at M&T Bank Stadium. Of course, the Ravens are 2-0 against Denver in their playoff history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will double his season total for touches in a better commitment to the run. When you’re crushing an opponent through the air in Week 1 and falling behind by three touchdowns in Week 2, the volume of rushing attempts is always going to suffer. However, the explosive Collins averaging only 10 touches per game isn’t a winning formula, and the Ravens have gained just 3.3 yards per carry so far in 2018, meaning they must be more productive when Marty Mornhinweg does call for runs. Denver led the NFL at just 3.3 yards per carry allowed a year ago and is surrendering 3.6 per attempt so far in 2018, so don’t expect a monster day for Collins. He’ll be more involved, however.

2. Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay will receive a rude awakening after a historic start to his career. The rookie became the first undrafted player in NFL history with more than 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games, meaning he’s firmly on the opposition’s radar now. The Ravens are concerned with Linday’s speed, which plays more to the edges as Denver continues to employ principles of Gary Kubiak’s outside-zone system. The potential absences of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Michael Pierce are clear concerns, but the ability of outside linebackers and defensive ends to contain will be just as critical. The Ravens will hold Lindsay to under 60 yards.

3. Brandon Carr will continue a hot start by intercepting Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. Lost in the disappointment of last week’s performance against the Bengals was how well the veteran continued to play as Pro Football Focus grades Carr as the third-best cornerback in the NFL through two weeks. He won’t continue playing at that elite level, but the Ravens will need him and Marlon Humphrey to lock down the outside because Mosley’s potential absence and Tavon Young’s Week 2 struggles leave concerns about covering the middle of the field. That said, Keenum has already thrown four interceptions in his first two games and will be pressured into throwing another key one.

4. Von Miller will record a sack, but the Ravens offensive line will bounce back. The Ravens are one of only four opponents the six-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t registered a sack against — he did share one with Elvis Dumervil in the 2012 playoffs — but Miller will present big problems for right tackle James Hurst, leaving tight end Nick Boyle to help him out as much as possible. The key will be Ronnie Stanley elevating his play against rookie first-round pick Bradley Chubb on the opposite side. The offensive line needs to play better collectively, but Stanley has graded just 45th among offensive tackles by PFF. He’ll be better, and the Ravens will protect the pocket more effectively than last week.

5. Joe Flacco will be turnover-free and efficient in a balanced 23-16 win over the Broncos. Whenever Flacco has a monster game throwing the ball at will like he did in Week 1, we’re quickly reminded that he isn’t one of the few quarterbacks who can consistently thrive throwing the ball 40-plus times in a game. The Ravens need to be more productive on the ground moving forward, especially playing four of their next five on the road after Sunday. Denver is talented enough to come into Baltimore and win if John Harbaugh’s team sleepwalks again early, but the Ravens are a better team playing at home and the Broncos’ narrow home wins over Seattle and Oakland were hardly statement games. A win puts the Ravens back on track, but a loss could set off an early-season slide. Home-field advantage and extra rest following a Thursday game will be the difference in a win lacking style points.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-23 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens dropping their first road game of the season in a 34-23 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Third down was the defense’s demise in the first half as each of the Bengals’ four touchdown drives included a breakdown that kept Baltimore from getting off the field. Third-down penalties from Tony Jefferson and Terrell Suggs negated stops that would have led to likely field goals on two drives.

2. The Ravens defense found its footing in the second half, but no sacks and no takeaways will rarely add up to erasing a 21-point deficit. You wonder how the game might have turned out had Eric Weddle’s second foot been in on Andy Dalton’s end-zone throw on Cincinnati’s second drive.

3. Joe Flacco’s accuracy problems were more reminiscent of the last few seasons that the sharper quarterback observed throughout the preseason and in Week 1. Even several of his completions were delivered in ways that hindered receivers from picking up additional yardage.

4. Flacco wasn’t helped by an offensive line that played poorly for most of the night as even Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley had difficulties against the Bengals front. This group had no answers for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

5. Putting two blockers on Atkins makes sense, but Yanda and James Hurst double-teaming backup defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow and tight end Nick Boyle being left alone to block Dunlap on Flacco’s third-quarter interception was as baffling as it gets. Dunlap hit Flacco’s arm to force the errant throw.

6. Too much is made of run-pass ratios and the Ravens were always going to go into a heavier pass mode after falling behind big, but Marty Mornhinweg still needs to get Alex Collins more than four touches in the second half. Buck Allen shouldn’t be matching Collins in snaps either.

7. Matt Judon’s roughing the passer foul in the first half fell into the category of needing to be smarter than that in today’s quarterback-sensitive NFL, but the holding call on Tavon Young on a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter was nothing short of awful. Touching a receiver isn’t a hold.

8. Considering the overall lack of pressure generated against the Bengals, I’d like to have seen Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser get more playing time than their combined 19 defensive snaps, especially after both played well in Week 1. Just like with Lamar Jackson, there’s an endgame to consider as well.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged considering kicking a field goal on the last drive to make it a one-score game, but not doing so was confusing as Flacco continued throwing underneath. No, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, but if that’s your argument, just kneel the ball a few times and go home.

10. Flacco throwing a one-yard pass to Allen on fourth-and-2 midway through the third quarter was an all-too-familiar occurrence. The play call itself was questionable enough, but the throw wasn’t even out in front of Allen to guide him to the mark.

11. That aside, I’m amazed by how many always oppose going for fourth downs or two-point tries in any situation that isn’t overwhelmingly obvious. Punting on short fields, forgoing two-pointers in logical situations, and kicking field goals inside the 5 are examples of playing not to lose rather than to win.

12. After crushing the mustard-colored pants worn for one game in 2015, I really liked the new purple pants with the white jerseys. Now just add similar side stripes to the black pants that look too much like tights. Let’s also see those purple pants with the black jerseys.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 47-3 win over Buffalo

Posted on 10 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the season with an emphatic 47-3 win over Buffalo, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the first time in franchise history a Baltimore defense did not surrender a first down in the first half. The Bills had 33 yards compared to the Ravens’ 26 points at intermission. J. Peterman would have had a better chance than Nathan Peterman, who was awful.

2. Wink Martindale added some defensive wrinkles, including swapping out a linebacker for an extra defensive lineman in some nickel looks. My favorite was Za’Darius Smith’s quarterback sack when he also sent Terrell Suggs, Tim Williams, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, and C.J. Mosley after rookie Josh Allen. Yes, six linebackers.

3. Marlon Humphrey was Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded Ravens player as he finished with four pass breakups and two tackles. He’ll have bigger challenges over the next few weeks, but the 2017 first-round pick was excellent against the Bills.

4. How many people looking out their windows Sunday morning would have predicted Joe Flacco throwing 32 passes in the first half? He had no issues throwing a wet football and was Baltimore’s highest-graded offensive player, according to PFF.

5. It’s easy to forget how the offense sputtered in the second quarter as the Ravens gained only eight yards on 15 plays before the final touchdown drive when Michael Crabtree caught the 12-yard score. A pretty throw and even prettier footwork. That was an example of why they signed him.

6. Tavon Young wouldn’t have been my guess to exploit a porous Buffalo line, but he became the first Baltimore defensive back since Bennie Thompson in 1996 to collect two sacks in a game and was strong against the run. Martindale calls the 5-foot-9 nickel a “pit bull” for good reason.

7. Not much was made of Alex Collins receiving only three preseason carries, but he found little room and lost a fumble. You do wonder if a few more live-game touches would have been beneficial for a player who’s had some past fumbling concerns. Of course, suspect blocking wasn’t his fault.

8. Janarion Grant offered good and bad with a 51-yard punt return and a fumble that fortunately rolled out of bounds in the first half. It’s easy to blame the rain, but Grant appeared to take his eyes off the ball with a defender bearing down. That can’t happen.

9. None had a negative impact, but the Ravens didn’t get much of a return on the five offensive snaps Lamar Jackson played before then relieving Joe Flacco in the second half. It’s something for which opponents must prepare, but you sometimes worry about upsetting the overall rhythm of the offense.

10. Mark Andrews didn’t stand out often over the summer, but the Ravens have to be pleased with his three catches for 31 yards in the first half. PFF gave him the second-best grade among offensive players.

11. Being able to rest key veterans in the second half bodes well for a quick turnaround at Cincinnati on Thursday, but young players receiving extensive regular-season action could pay off down the line. Inside linebacker Kenny Young and cornerback Anthony Averett stood out in particular.

12. At an ordinary 218 pounds, Buck Allen doesn’t look the part of a short-yardage back, but he has a knack for getting to the desired mark. He lined up as the fullback on his 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter and showed off a respectable Ray Lewis dance to boot.

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Will the Ravens change the narrative without Jimmy Smith this time around?

Posted on 22 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The question has been asked over and over and is again relevant with Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith being suspended for the first four games of the 2018 season.

The circumstances are different since this isn’t a season-ending injury nor a team operating with a small margin for error late in the year, but the doubts remain.

How will the Ravens defense deal without the presence of its top cornerback?

If history is any indication, not well.

In 2014, the Ravens made the playoffs despite Smith missing the second half of the year with a Lisfranc injury, but their season came to an end as Tom Brady picked apart a helpless Rashaan Melvin and New England erased two 14-point leads to prevail in the divisional round. In reality, it was remarkable the Ravens had even gotten that far after cycling through the likes of Asa Jackson, Chykie Brown, Danny Gorrer, and Dominique Franks in the secondary, but they’ll always wonder what could have been had Smith not been injured.

Two years ago, Baltimore entered its Week 14 contest with the Patriots ranked first in total defense, tied for second in scoring defense, seventh in pass defense, and 11th in red-zone defense. A high ankle sprain sidelined Smith early in that game and for the remainder of the season as the Ravens would finish seventh in total defense, ninth in scoring defense, ninth in pass defense, and 18th in red-zone defense. More painful than those numbers, however, was Antonio Brown extending the ball over the goal line in the final seconds in Pittsburgh on Christmas Day, ending the Ravens’ playoff hopes in the process.

After Smith’s season-ending Achilles tendon tear last December, the Ravens slipped from seventh to 12th in total defense, second to sixth in scoring defense, second to 10th in pass defense, and fifth to 11th in red-zone defense. And, of course, Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd on fourth-and-12 earned a painful place in Baltimore football lore as the Ravens missed the playoffs for the third straight season.

There are too many other variables at work to place all blame on one player’s absence, but there is too large a sample of advanced stats, conventional numbers, and anecdotal evidence that brings you to the same conclusion.

The Ravens defense hasn’t been the same without Smith, but will it be different this time around?

“I don’t think you can just look at it that way with Jimmy because there were other guys that were out during that time,” said first-year defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, specifically referencing the 2017 season. “I think that the toolbox is full. It’s full with our players and our depth, and it’s full with our coverages that we can go to if someone is struggling. I don’t see that in the very near future, but we have those things we can go to with that.”

Martindale makes a fair point as promising nickel cornerback Tavon Young missed all of last season with a torn ACL sustained in the spring. It’s also fair to note after going 2-5 in games in which Smith missed significant action in 2016, the Ravens improved to 4-2 in that department last year with those losses coming in heartbreaking fashion at Pittsburgh in Week 14 and to the Bengals in the season finale.

In Smith’s absence to begin the season, the projected top threesome of Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, and Young definitely looks better on paper than Lardarius Webb, Melvin, and Anthony Levine in 2014 or Young, Shareece Wright, and Jerraud Powers down the stretch two seasons ago.

The defense still wilted last December with Carr and Humphrey at the outside spots and Maurice Canady playing the nickel, but the Ravens will hope the 32-year-old Carr defies Father Time for another season, Young provides an upgrade in the slot, and Humphrey takes another step or two forward after his impressive rookie season. Opponents’ 53.5 passer rating when targeting the 2017 first-round pick ranked second among NFL rookie cornerbacks behind New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore (45.3), who was voted the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The 6-foot, 197-pound Humphrey looking like a No. 1 cornerback would certainly enhance Baltimore’s chances in September road contests against A.J. Green and Cincinnati in Week 2 and Antonio Brown and Pittsburgh in Week 4. It would also improve the secondary’s long-term outlook as the organization will weigh what to do with Smith and his $15.85 million salary cap number for 2019 after the season. Humphrey’s draft status, size, and ability in press coverage make it no secret the Ravens envision him taking the mantle from Smith sooner or later with the latter’s off-field problems and injury history likely accelerating that transition.

Beyond the top three, the Ravens hope the versatility of Canady — who’s practiced more as an outside corner this summer — and the upside of fourth-round rookie Anthony Averett will provide quality reinforcements if an injury or two occurs before Smith is eligible to return in October. And there’s always the possibility of general manager Ozzie Newsome revisiting interest in free agent Bashaud Breeland or scouring the market for another veteran cornerback.

The spotlight will be on Baltimore’s corners, but survival without Smith is truly a team effort as the front seven will need to create more pressure in the pocket and stop the run effectively to account for any adjustments needing to be made in the back end of the defense. Unlike previous years, the Ravens will have the benefit of more time to regroup if the secondary struggles to find its footing, but dropping a division road game or two — even in September — could leave a difficult path the rest of the way.

“We have a lot of depth. Some guys are just going to have to step up early,” said Martindale, who will put his schematic fingerprints on the matter after replacing former defensive coordinator Dean Pees. “We’re still working on that and how we’re going to do that. I’m not going to sit and say for the rest of the league, and especially for Buffalo and the next three games, on how we’ll do it.

“They’ll just have to see. We have plenty of players that can play.”

Talking about depth is always preferable to having to use it. Only then do you really find out whether it’s quality or overhyped inventory.

It’s an all-too-familiar and uncomfortable position, but the Ravens hope to have the right answer this time.

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Ravens-Rams preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 08 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Hall of Fame Game behind them, the Ravens have turned their attention to what is normally the first preseason contest of the summer.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed he will treat Thursday’s contest with the Los Angeles Rams like the typical preseason opener with veterans starters unlikely to play more than a couple series after most sat out entirely against Chicago last week. Of course, this game brings extra interest after the teams practiced together twice in Owings Mills this week, a move that provided the Ravens a useful litmus test.

“That’s a good team. Obviously, they have a very good defense, and I think they have a very good offense,” said Harbaugh about the defending NFC West champions. “It’s excellent to practice against a team like this. That’s why we were excited when Sean [McVay] said they wanted to come in and practice. It was very positive for us.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco is expected to play in just his second preseason game since 2015, creating more intrigue as he comes off one of the most difficult seasons of his career.

Drawing strong conclusions from preseason performance is unwise, but Flacco would like to continue building chemistry with three veteran newcomers at the wide receiver position as well as two rookie tight ends. The Ravens have emphasized the need to start fast in their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and would like to build some good mojo on the offensive side of the ball before the season opener on Sept. 9.

“You want to go out there, and you want to play well,” said Flacco, who missed the entire 2017 preseason with a back injury. “It’s obviously not at the point where it really, really counts, but I think it does a lot for the confidence of the team and the confidence of an offense to go out there and perform well.”

Thursday marks the fifth time the Ravens and the Rams will meet in the preseason with then-St. Louis winning the four previous meetings. However, Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

The Ravens own a 29-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won nine exhibition contests in a row.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Thursday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: S Tony Jefferson, G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: WR Tim White, OL Randin Crecelius, OL Maurquice Shakir
QUESTIONABLE: CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), TE Mark Andrews (hamstring), OT Greg Senat, RB Kenneth Dixon, LB Tyus Bowser, S Kai Nacua, CB Bennett Jackson

Five players to watch Thursday night

DE Brent Urban

The 6-foot-7, 300-pound Urban played nine uneventful snaps against the Bears last week, a positive step in his return from last season’s Lisfranc foot injury. The Baltimore defense would love to see him become an impact interior rusher in sub packages, but Urban needs to prove he’s healthy and will stay that way. A heavier workload and a couple disruptive plays would be positive developments on Thursday.

OT Orlando Brown Jr.

The rookie was the bright spot on a forgettable night in Canton for other young offensive linemen as he played 60 snaps. With Marshal Yanda back at practice this week, the expectation was that Brown would compete with James Hurst for a starting spot, but the Ravens kept Brown at right tackle when Yanda took limited reps on Tuesday. Another strong performance might make him the favorite over Hurst.

CB Tavon Young

The talented slot corner played 15 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game, but he should see more playing time this week against the Rams’ talented trio of Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods. Perhaps the biggest sign of the Ravens’ confidence in Young coming back from last year’s ACL injury was the decision to move Maurice Canady, last year’s primary nickel, to a reserve outside cornerback spot.

WR/RS Janarion Grant

Tim White was considered the favorite to win the return specialist job — if the Ravens keep someone solely to do that job — but he’s been sidelined since the first preseason game, opening the door for Grant. The Rutgers product flashes ability and made a spectacular cut on a punt return against the Rams on Tuesday, but he also drew a taunting penalty — and the ire of special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

OLB Tim Williams

On the heels of recording six pressures and a quarterback hit against the Bears, Williams was praised this week by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, who stated his belief that the 2017 third-round pick will become a “premier” pass rusher in the NFL. Of course, Williams carrying over last week’s performance against better competition would go a long way in growing his confidence.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following mandatory minicamp

Posted on 15 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp to conclude their offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A year ago at this time, tight end Dennis Pitta and cornerback Tavon Young had already been lost for the season. The Ravens are dealing with some minor ailments, but the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith to practice this week further signaled the good health so far.

2. Alex Lewis and John Brown being among those dealing with minor health concerns isn’t as encouraging. These two could be pivotal in determining whether this offense makes meaningful progress from last season, but they must stay on the field.

3. Lamar Jackson was given the keys to run Thursday’s practice from the quarterback position as several veterans rested on both sides of the ball, and he responded with his most consistent passing performance to date. The rookie knows he has a long way to go, but his confidence is impressive.

4. Some pundits have cherry-picked quotes complimenting Jackson while ignoring the parts about him being a work in progress, but anyone who’s watched this spring knows Joe Flacco has been head and shoulders above the other quarterbacks. Ignore any noise from those pushing a quarterback controversy this early in the game.

5. It’s been evident that new quarterbacks coach James Urban has stressed mobility, pocket movement, and footwork timing with Flacco. The quarterback being healthy and another year removed from the knee injury is crucial, but these skills have been lacking since Gary Kubiak was in Baltimore.

6. Linebackers coach Mike Macdonald labeled Tyus Bowser the most productive linebacker of the spring as he even recorded an interception return for a touchdown on a Flacco pass. Bowser making a Matt Judon-like leap from his first to second year would create some much-needed long-term stability at outside linebacker.

7. Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs is again in great shape as he enters his 16th year and comes off his first double-digit sacks season since 2014. He’s entered that Ray Lewis and Ed Reed territory in that the Ravens won’t easily replace what he’s brought to the table for so many years.

8. It’s difficult to evaluate line play in the spring, but Orlando Brown Jr. definitely showed growth from rookie camp until the end of spring workouts. This next month will be critical for him to keep himself in good shape to continue that momentum into the summer.

9. Willie Snead is developing a good rapport with Flacco as they frequently connected over the middle. Flacco complimented the slot receiver for having “a knack for seeing the game the way the quarterback does.” You can see why Drew Brees liked him a couple years ago in New Orleans.

10. I’ve been as critical as anyone about this Ravens offense, but I do believe it has more intrigue and potential than it’s enjoyed the last few years. The problem is there are so few sure things, meaning the floor remains very low.

11. Hats off to John Harbaugh for offering this truth about spring workouts: “This isn’t football practice. This is just getting ready for football practice. … Nobody is going to make a play here that’s going to make the team.” We now return to our regularly-scheduled overreacting.

12. Between Eric Weddle dropping a Wolverine reference about Smith and Wink Martindale joking that Suggs must have done his offseason training in Wakanda, this week’s quotes were a Marvel fan’s dream. You just hope Thanos stays away from the roster when training camp gets underway.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from second open OTA workout

Posted on 02 June 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The accuracy of Joe Flacco’s strong throwing arm has left something to be desired in recent seasons, but that hasn’t been the case this spring as he’s thrown countless deep strikes, including a few that receivers haven’t caught. Pushing the ball down the field more effectively is an absolute must.

2. Chris Moore made the plays of Thursday’s session with a deep one-handed sideline catch against Brandon Carr and a leaping touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. His continued development isn’t as critical after the offseason additions, but he showed some growth late last season.

3. On the flip side, Breshad Perriman hasn’t flashed in the same way he would in past springs, dropping passes and not having good awareness along the sidelines and in the end zone. A fresh start for him elsewhere might be what’s best for both parties at this point.

4. C.J. Mosley’s attendance at OTAs really speaks to his level of commitment to the organization. I wouldn’t have blamed him for skipping voluntary workouts since he’s still without a long-term contract extension, but his presence is a plus for new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale.

5. John Brown has shown the impressive speed employed in his 1,000-yard season for Arizona in 2015, but his 5-foot-11 listing looks generous. It will be critical for a red-zone target beyond Michael Crabtree to emerge with rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews being obvious candidates.

6. Lamar Jackson worked extensively with other rookies on a separate field from the first-team offense. Improving his footwork remains a priority as he still has a tendency to make flat-footed throws that sail and lack accuracy. It’s a process.

7. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Willie Henry take on a starting role this season with Brandon Williams shifting from the starting 3-technique spot back to the nose and Michael Pierce moving to a rotational role. This says much more about Henry’s improvement than any disenchantment with Pierce.

8. With Anthony Levine still sidelined from offseason foot surgery, second-year safety Chuck Clark has an opportunity to state a case for more involvement in the dime package. He dropped what could have been a pick-6 on a Flacco pass intended for Hurst on Thursday.

9. You wouldn’t know Tavon Young was only a year removed from his ACL injury by watching him practice. He’s the favorite to handle the nickel, a spot where he excels. Maurice Canady currently being hindered by a knee issue is allowing Young to take even more first-team reps.

10. Much was made about Alex Lewis getting his first look at center, but the offensive line alignment used during mandatory minicamp in two weeks will provide more meaningful insight on what the Ravens are thinking at the center position. Matt Skura is still very much in the conversation.

11. Uncertainty exists at every spot beyond left tackle and right guard, but Ronnie Stanley said how confident incumbents are in their second year with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris and assistant head coach Greg Roman, who did admirable work with a patchwork unit last year.

12. Yes, the wide receiver group had some drops on Thursday, but I caution about drawing too many conclusions — good or bad — from a limited sample this time of year, especially with rookie players. This becomes a bigger concern, of course, if it’s still occurring regularly in training camp.

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