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Ravens-Raiders: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 01 October 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens continue to hear the talk about whether or not they’re for real.

Their first 3-0 start since 2009 certainly hasn’t come against the most formidable opponents, but the Oakland Raiders are a team many tabbed to take a significant step forward into the AFC playoff picture this season. The Ravens will face their biggest challenge to date on Sunday, but it represents an opportunity to silence the critics doubting just how good they really are.

A 4-0 record would give Baltimore its best start since 2006 and a significant boost in trying to get back to the postseason after missing the playoffs in two of the last three seasons since Super Bowl XLVII.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens look to remain undefeated against Oakland at home in their all-time history. Baltimore holds the 6-2 advantage in the overall regular-season series — and won the only playoff meeting at the end of the 2000 season — despite the Raiders prevailing 37-33 in a Week 2 contest in Oakland last year.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Elvis Dumervil will collect a sack and play roughly 20 snaps in his 2016 debut. Expectations should be tempered after Dumervil missed virtually the entire summer and the first three games of the season coming back from offseason foot surgery, but the Raiders are a mess at right tackle due to injuries and will likely start seventh-round rookie Vadal Alexander. Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan will have their work cut out for them against the rest of a terrific Oakland offensive line led by ex-Raven Kelechi Osemele, but Dumervil will slip by Alexander for a sack.

2. Khalil Mack will pick up two quarterback takedowns in exploiting a vulnerable Baltimore offensive line. The Ravens are dealing with offensive line issues of their own with rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley doubtful to play with a foot injury and rookie left guard Alex Lewis questionable after suffering a concussion. That’s bad news as Mack has yet to collect a sack in 2016, but it’s only a matter of time before the 2015 Pro Bowl selection breaks out. The Ravens will use tight ends to aid in pass protection on the left side, but Mack and outside linebacker Bruce Irvin will be a problem.

3. Terrance West will become the first Ravens running back to score a touchdown in 2016. Oakland sports the NFL’s 29th-ranked rush defense and has given up 5.1 yards per carry, leaving no excuse for offensive coordinator Marc Trestman not to get his running game going. Veteran Justin Forsett is averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, but he is the Ravens’ best back in pass protection, complicating matters for an offense leaning on the pass. West will receive the bigger load and will find the end zone, but Baltimore will still be looking ahead to Kenneth Dixon’s potential return next week.

4. Joe Flacco and Derek Carr will both throw for over 275 yards and two touchdowns. The Raiders have been successful running the football with multiple backs, but they will find more success in the air as Carr gets the ball out quickly to neutralize the Ravens’ A-gap blitzing and overall pass rush. Meanwhile, Flacco will come out throwing against a defense that improved in Tennessee Week 3 but has given up 340 yards per game through the air. The Ravens will mix in a few more deep shots while continuing to work the ball to Dennis Pitta and Steve Smith in the short-to-intermediate passing game.

5. The Ravens offense will finally break through to be the difference in a 30-27 win over Oakland. This one will be somewhat of a shootout with Baltimore being more exposed in coverage than it was over the first three weeks, but the defense will still make a few stops when needed. A passing offense that has looked quite promising at times will finally play a more complete game. The Raiders are a talented team more than capable of winning on Sunday, but they’ve lost 18 of their last 19 games played in the Eastern time zone dating back to 2009 and are playing a long-distance road game for a second straight week. The Ravens are better than many of us thought and will show it with a “style-points” win.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 3 win in Jacksonville

Posted on 27 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 for the first time since 2009 with a 19-17 victory at Jacksonville on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Much praise has already been offered to the fourth-quarter performance of the Ravens defense, but the numbers were just sensational. Jacksonville ran 17 plays for four net yards while Baltimore collected four sacks, two interceptions, and two batted passes. That’s how you finish games.

2. Mentioning last week how methodical the Jacksonville defense has forced the Ravens to be, Joe Flacco threw 40 times with only completions of 20 or more yards. The Jaguars used deep safeties and an underwhelming running game didn’t help matters, but the Ravens must take more vertical shots.

3. Speaking of the running game, many want Terrance West to receive the bulk of the carries, but the Ravens don’t trust him as much in pass protection, which can’t be overlooked in a pass-happy offense. Still, you hope rookie Kenneth Dixon can eventually give a sputtering ground attack a spark.

4. John Harbaugh quipped that rookie linebacker Kamalei Correa needs extra work on the JUGS machine after dropping an interception that could have been a touchdown, but it was good to see the second-rounder make on impact with his first defensive action. Now he needs to build on that.

5. I had concerns after his Week 1 performance in which he had only 19 receiving yards on eight targets, but Steve Smith looked like his old self against Jacksonville, gaining yards after the catch and making four receptions in the fourth quarter. Maybe Jalen Ramsey did him a favor?

6. Many have criticized Shareece Wright after two rough games in a row, but shouldn’t Jimmy Smith be traveling with a receiver as talented as Jacksonville’s Allen Robinson? Wright does need to be better in coverage, but the Ravens gave Smith a big contract for those types of matchups.

7. Just 8-for-19 on tries from at least 50 yards in the previous two seasons, Justin Tucker is living up to a fat contract by nailing all three tries from that range so far, including the game-winning 54-yarder in Jacksonville. He’s easy to take for granted, but he shouldn’t be.

8. It’s ironic that Flacco’s franchise record of 21 consecutive completions ended on his best throw of the day that was dropped in the end zone by Mike Wallace. It wasn’t the best day for the veteran receiver or Breshad Perriman, who also dropped a couple of passes.

9. One of the big differences in the defense has been the improved pass coverage from the inside linebackers. C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr are getting better depth in their drops, and both came away with interceptions on Sunday.

10. Brent Urban gave the Ravens’ their 10th blocked kick since 2014, which proved to be the difference in the game. Special teams can be a great equalizer in overcoming deficiencies on offense or defense, and blocks have swung momentum two weeks in a row.

11. Alex Lewis did leave Sunday’s game with a concussion, but the Ravens listing the same seven inactives for the third straight week illustrates how healthy they’ve remained since the start of the regular season. They need Elvis Dumervil and Dixon to return, but they should feel fortunate otherwise.

12. Harbaugh says he isn’t superstitious, but his gray T-shirt worn on the sideline two weeks in a row will apparently be donned again against Oakland. It’s a more relaxed look for the ninth-year coach than we’re used to seeing, and it reminds a bit of Bill Belichick with the hoodie.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Week 2 win in Cleveland

Posted on 19 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens completing the second-largest comeback in franchise history with a 25-20 victory at Cleveland on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After a quiet performance in the opener, C.J. Mosley came up with the game-saving interception in the closing seconds, but he also added six tackles — two for losses — and a quarterback knockdown. This was the kind of high-impact performance we didn’t see from Mosley last season.

2. You had to feel good for Dennis Pitta having that kind of game in his return to the place where he suffered his second career-threatening hip injury. He took full advantage of the defense respecting the Ravens’ speed and effectively worked underneath against Cleveland.

3. It will be interesting to see how Kenneth Dixon fares when he returns, because the running game hasn’t been getting it done. Averaging 3.0 yards per carry, the Ravens need better blocking from their offensive line, but neither Justin Forsett nor Terrance West looks like a true No. 1 back.

4. His return for a defensive two-point conversion grabbed the attention, but Tavon Young is quietly playing at a high level for a rookie fourth-rounder. Sharing time with Anthony Levine as the slot cornerback, Young made two key open-field tackles on the final defensive series of the game.

5. Never one to shy away from being aggressive, John Harbaugh forgoing a 45-yard field goal try to go for a fourth-and-2 to start the second quarter was a panic move, especially with a running game that’s been abysmal in those spots. Take the points from your high-paid kicker that early.

6. Others have played well, but Timmy Jernigan has been Baltimore’s best defensive player through two games. The 2014 second-round pick leads the team with two sacks, four tackles for a loss, and five quarterback hits and has provided a much-needed interior rush presence.

7. The presence of veterans Steve Smith and Mike Wallace figured to impact the production of Kamar Aiken, but the leading receiver last season has been an afterthought so far with just two receptions on three targets. The Ravens would certainly like to get him more involved.

8. I was impressed with Browns rookie Corey Coleman, who caught two touchdowns and went over 100 receiving yards. With Josh Gordon coming off suspension, Cleveland could have had a fun little passing game if not for the left shoulder injury to Josh McCown that’s believed to be serious.

9. For a team that regularly says it takes pride in being physical, the Ravens sure like to use shotgun formations and run outside in short-yardage situations.

10. It’s no secret that third-down defense was an issue on Sunday, but Dean Pees’ unit deserves credit for settling down midway through the second quarter. After the Browns converted six of their first seven third downs, the Ravens made stops on six of the final eight.

11. Not lost in victory was poor clock management late. First, Forsett ran out of bounds with 3:00 left. The Ravens proceeded to take their final timeout, throw an incompletion, and kick a field goal with 2:53 remaining instead of forcing Cleveland’s final timeout or taking it to the two-minute warning.

12. We always talk about Joe Flacco having an even-keeled personality, but you could tell how fired up he was after the win, complimenting his teammates for being a “bunch of freaking men” in coming back. No matter their deficiencies, the Ravens always have a chance with him at the helm.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Winning on the road isn’t easy in the NFL.

Even in John Harbaugh’s first five seasons that included a Super Bowl title, three AFC championship game appearances, and at least one playoff victory each year, a 21-19 road mark in the regular season was solid but hardly sensational. However, an 8-16 record away from M&T Bank Stadium over the last three seasons is a clear reflection of a team having only made the playoffs once over that stretch.

After their Week 1 victory against Buffalo, the Ravens take their show on the road for the first time in 2016 against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore seeks its eighth win in the last nine trips to Cleveland. The Ravens lead the all-time regular-season series with a 25-9 mark and are 12-5 at FirstEnergy Stadium dating back to the year it opened in 1999. The teams split a pair of games in 2015, but the Ravens have won 14 of the 16 games played in the series during the Harbaugh era.

1. The defensive line will pay tribute to the late Clarence Brooks by holding Cleveland to under 3.0 yards per carry. Coming off a 2015 season in which they rushed for an average 4.0 yards per attempt, Cleveland averaged 5.7 yards per rush against Philadelphia, snapping off four runs of 16 yards or more. That said, Brandon Williams and the Ravens front were stout against Buffalo in giving up only 2.7 yards per carry and will surely want to honor the memory of their longtime defensive line coach, who died Saturday. Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will find little room throughout the afternoon.

2. An ineffective pass rush will lead to a long touchdown pass to Browns receiver Corey Coleman. The defense will be without Elvis Dumervil and possibly Za’Darius Smith, once again leaving defensive coordinator Dean Pees little choice but to blitz to generate pressure. It won’t be easy for a rusty Terrell Suggs going up against nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, either. The Ravens know they must disrupt Josh McCown in the pocket after he threw for over 450 yards in a game against them last year, but he’ll get too much time at some point and the speedy Coleman will shake free for a big score.

3. The Baltimore running game still won’t click fully, but Terrance West will lead in rushing against his old team. West received more carries than veteran starter Justin Forsett in the opener, but the former found little running room, averaging only 2.7 yards per pop. With a one-possession lead in the second half, offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will lean on West to wear down an inexperienced Cleveland front. The average still won’t be where the Ravens want it, but West will run for 65 yards to help protect the lead with Forsett chipping in 50 of his own against the Browns.

4. Dennis Pitta will catch his first touchdown in 33 months. The veteran tight end downplayed his return to the place where he sustained his second hip fracture and dislocation two years ago, but there wouldn’t be a more appropriate place for him to make his first touchdown reception since Dec. 8, 2013. After surprisingly playing 82 percent of the offensive snaps against Buffalo while making a key 27-yard reception, Pitta will build on that solid performance with a red-zone score. Concern about his health will remain in observers’ minds, but you have to be happy for the 31-year-old in his comeback.

5. Joe Flacco will play how he usually does against the Browns in a 23-13 victory. In 15 career games against Cleveland, the 31-year-old has completed 61.3 percent of his passes for 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions while averaging roughly 215 passing yards per game. Trestman won’t ask Flacco to take many chances in this road game, but the quarterback will be efficient while, most importantly, protecting the football. Some will complain about another grind-it-out performance lacking style points, but the Ravens will happily leave Cleveland holding their first 2-0 start since 2009.

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Ravens open the season one and oh!

Posted on 12 September 2016 by Dennis Koulatsos

 

It was far from pretty and even farther from perfect, but is sure was nice.  After last season’s brutal opening road schedule and dismal 5-11 record, it was indeed downloadvery nice for the Ravens to come out of the gate with a win.

Rex Ryan’s team had a very difficult time moving the ball on the Ravens’ defense, particularly in the opening and final quarter. Shareece Wright was downright amazing, as he finished with 9 tackles, three of them behind the line of scrimmage.  He was also solid in pass coverage.

The communication seemed to be much better for the back end of the defense, in stark comparison to a  year ago.  Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Wright seemed to be on the same page for the bulk of the game.

According to our friends at Pro Football Focus, Weddle had the highest overall grade on the team, followed by Wright.  On the offensive side of the ball the standouts were QB Joe Flacco, RG Marshall Yanda (penalties aside he was lights out), and Mike Wallace.

The offense looked out of sync at times, but that was to be expected, as this was the first time a lot of the players were on the field at the same time.  Their pace and rhythm should improve as the season matures.

Standouts for the Bills were primarily on the defensive side as LB Preston Brown and rush end Jerry Hughes were generally disruptive and presented the Ravens offensive line with all kinds of problems.  It is also noteworthy that the Ravens started two rookies on the left side, tackle Ronnie Stanley and guard Alex Lewis.

The Bills’ offense struggled and their highest graded offensive player was TE Charles Clay.  Tyrod Taylor struggled to find open receivers down field, and was held in check by the Ravens’ defense. Shady McCoy got around the edge a couple of times, but he was also held under wraps without inflicting any significant damage.

The Bills’ coaching staff is getting some criticism this morning by their fan base as well as the media. The narrative is that they got schooled by the Ravens’ coaching staff, pointing out that the Ravens have been in the playoffs 6 out of the last 8 years under coach Harbaugh. Their clock management and untimely personal foul penalties are particularly coming under scrutiny. The undisciplined tag that’s been following Rex Ryan around has reared it’s ugly head once again.

As for the Ravens, for me the biggest red flag was Marc Trestman and his play calling. It was downright maddening to see the team come out time and again on third and short with Flacco in a shotgun formation. For a team that vowed to commit to the run this year, they sure did pass a lot.  The team ran the ball 45% of the time as there were 28 running plays against 34 pass plays.  When you take into account the 4 “runs” that Joe Flacco was given credit for (including game ending kneel-downs in the victory formation) the ratio drops to 41%.

For a team that has a lead blocker and thumper in Kyle Juszczyk, and a back who has displayed great heart and determination in short yardage situations in Terrance West, it defies logic to see both of them on the bench while Flacco is in the gun formation.  Given Flacco’s knee situation, it is crystal clear and understandable that the Ravens have taken the QB sneak out of their playbook.  But there are so many solid and creative things they can do on short yardage situations.  That was evident as I watched the Sunday Night scrum between the Cardinals and the Patriots.  Both offensive coordinators showed multiple looks and formations, and the Ravens would be wise to roll the tape and “borrow” a few things here and there.

For a while there I had to check to make sure that Cam Cameron was still at LSU vs. the Ravens’ sideline. Trestman was run out of Chicago and overwhelmingly the primary gripe from players and fans alike was that his offense was too pass happy. I sure hope coach John Harbaugh intervenes and makes sure that the Ravens game plan is run heavy this week as the team travels to Cleveland.

In a memorable loss to Jacksonville years ago, when Ray Rice carried the ball something like 8 times, I’ll never forget a quote by Terrell Suggs that has stuck with me through the years. After that loss he said that “when you go on the road, you pack your defense and your running game.”  I think that is great advice, and the Ravens need to pay attention here.

Turnovers are hard to overcome in the NFL, particularly on the road when you’re also facing significant crowd noise. Running the ball tends to be easier for an offense to execute.  The Ravens need to force turnovers by Cleveland QBs, whether it’s RGIII (he has a shoulder injury) or Josh McCown, run the ball, play solid defense, and let the game come to them.  Control the ball, control the clock, take the crowd out of the game, and come home two and oh.

 

 

 

 

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Ravens-Bills: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 10 September 2016 by Luke Jones

A fast start is always welcomed in a new season, but it’s especially critical for the Ravens coming off a 5-11 campaign.

A win in Week 1 allows for a deep breath and thoughts that this year will be different. A home defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bills will only make John Harbaugh and his players think, “Here we go again.”

It’s time to go on the record as Baltimore and Buffalo meet for the seventh time in the all-time regular-season series with both teams previously winning three apiece. The Ravens are 3-1 against the Bills at M&T Bank Stadium and 3-0 in games against Buffalo head coach Rex Ryan, who spent a decade as an assistant in Baltimore before serving as the head coach of the New York Jets for six years.

1. A suspect Buffalo pass rush will allow Joe Flacco to go vertical to Mike Wallace for a long first-half touchdown. You can expect a Ryan defense to throw the kitchen sink at rookie offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis, but the Bills had just 21 sacks a season ago and are without suspended defensive tackle Marcell Dareus for the first four games. The Ravens will want to try out their revamped vertical passing game against the league’s 19th-ranked pass defense from a year ago, and Flacco will get enough time to throw a strike to Wallace, whom he praised over the summer.

2. Tyrod Taylor will run for 60 yards and a touchdown as the Baltimore front struggles to keep him in the pocket. The Ravens are fully aware of Taylor’s athleticism, but the absence of Elvis Dumervil will leave an inexperienced rusher such as Za’Darius Smith or Matt Judon opposite Terrell Suggs on the other side. Pressuring a mobile quarterback is tricky because you don’t want him to flush him from the pocket, meaning you must stay disciplined in rush lanes and not get too wide or crash inside. This will be a problem for overzealous young rushers and will lead to scrambling opportunities.

3. As Jimmy Smith tries to lock down Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Charles Clay will catch touchdowns. After Dean Pees said Watkins reminded him a bit of Randy Moss, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith mirror him with safety help whenever possible. However, Woods and Clay are capable of making plays and this pass defense didn’t play at a high level in the preseason. In trying to prevent Watkins from going off, the Ravens will give up passing yards to other targets while primarily staying in their base defense to account for the league’s top-ranked running game from a year ago.

4. Terrance West will score a touchdown in an otherwise so-so day for the running game. It will be interesting to see how many opportunities the Ravens give veteran starter Justin Forsett early before West begins to get his touches. Buffalo ranked 16th in run defense a year ago and the Ravens have made it clear that they want to be better on the ground, but it will be a work in progress with a new left side of the offensive line in place. There won’t be a ton of running room, but West looks like the best candidate to get goal-line carries and he’ll push one into the end zone.

5. Flacco will throw for 240 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Ravens to a 27-21 win over the Bills. If Baltimore wants to be taken seriously as a playoff contender, this is a game you must win playing at home. The Bills defense doesn’t pose a big threat, but Flacco will want to get rid of the ball quickly as he did in his only preseason action last month. Look for lots of underneath passing to the likes of Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, and Dennis Pitta while mixing in deep shots to Wallace and Breshad Perriman. It will be enough for a solid Week 1 win and Baltimore’s first victory in an opener since 2012.

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Will committee approach work for Ravens running backs?

Posted on 09 September 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The dynamics of the running game have certainly changed in the pass-happy NFL in recent years.

Look no further than the Ravens a year ago when they rushed only 383 times, a franchise single-season low and four fewer attempts than Jamal Lewis had by himself in a historic 2003 season. In 2015, only one running back in the NFL — Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson — carried the ball more than 300 times and just 15 backs had as many as 200 carries.

Those realities coupled with the Ravens’ depth at running back have everyone wondering if we’ll see a timeshare approach in 2016. Veteran Justin Forsett is expected to begin the season as the starter, but general manager Ozzie Newsome’s willingness to potentially lose him in the unorthodox roster shuffling this past week reflected confidence in the young trio of Terrance West, Kenneth Dixon, and Buck Allen.

“We are very deep. This is probably the most talented group that we have had since I have been here,” said Forsett, entering his third year with Baltimore. “We push each other, and it is going to take all of us anyway at the end of the day to go out there and perform. I’m confident with all of us.”

But how feasible is the committee approach?

Head coach John Harbaugh used the strategy to perfection in his first season as Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice each had over 100 carries and combined to run for over 2,000 yards, but Rice quickly emerged as a Pro Bowl running back the following season.

We’ve heard more and more about the committee approach in today’s NFL, but a look at the top 10 rushing offenses in the league last year showed little evidence of that strategy being employed as a feature back on each team averaged at least 15 carries per game at any given stretch in the season with only injuries significantly impacting the carry distribution. The only team in the top 10 that appeared to use more of a timeshare was sixth-ranked Kansas City and that was toward the end of the season after the Chiefs had already lost four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles in October.

The Ravens certainly hope to be more productive on the ground than they were a year ago when they finished 26th in rushing offense, but at least one of their backs will need to emerge to be better than a complementary option. If you only have four No. 2 running backs from an ability standpoint, that’s unlikely to get the job done.

According to offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, the workload will largely be determined by third-year running backs coach Thomas Hammock.

“I think our guys expect to be moved around,” Trestman said. “Thomas has a great feel for that, and he really handles that with John and my approval, so to speak. He did a great job with that last year, and I expect that [this year]. He has a good feel for when these guys need to come out, when they need a break, and if there is a play that they need to be in on. And if he feels like [a certain back] can get it done, he will get them in there.”

There’s a delicate balance between wanting to give opportunities to multiple back and making sure the most productive ones have the chance to get into the flow of the game. It’s a challenge that the Ravens could have throughout the season, especially after the talented rookie Dixon returns from a knee injury in a few weeks.

Coaches have downplayed that peril while acknowledging that the proof will be in the results, but at least one member of the Baltimore backfield provided an honest assessment about the difficulty of playing in a committee.

“I’m not going to sit here and lie to you, it’s tough getting in a rhythm as a running back,” said West, who carried the ball over 400 times in his final collegiate season at Towson in 2013. “A running back’s got to have a good feeling and feel the game out. Right now, I’m just taking advantage of opportunity. When my number’s called, I’m going to make the best of that one play or the three plays I have — however many plays I have.”

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Plenty of questions stemming from Ravens cutting Forsett

Posted on 04 September 2016 by Luke Jones

With several hours to process the surprise of the Ravens cutting running back Justin Forsett, below are a plethora of questions related to the decision:

1. The possibility of this outcome crossed my mind at a few points during Forsett’s underwhelming summer, but did the Ravens really cut their starting running back who made the Pro Bowl two years ago?

2. Will Baltimore bring him back after Week 1 when vested veteran salaries are no longer guaranteed for the whole season?

3. Would Forsett even want to return under such an arrangement?

4. After holding him out of two preseason games entirely and giving him a total of seven carries this summer, did the Ravens give the 30-year-old a fair chance to keep his job?

5. Given Forsett’s past success in Gary Kubiak’s offensive system, will the Denver Broncos come calling for his services?

6. With just two healthy tailbacks entering the season opener next Sunday, do the Ravens have enough depth at the position?

7. Terrance West shed weight and clearly impressed this summer, but can the Ravens really trust him as their starter with a history that resulted in two bad teams dumping him over the last calendar year?

8. Has Buck Allen shown enough to be a reliable No. 2 running back after his own unimpressive preseason that prompted many to question his job security?

9. Are the Ravens too confident that exciting rookie Kenneth Dixon will come back from a torn MCL in his left knee to pick up where he left off this summer?

10. Why didn’t general manager Ozzie Newsome or head coach John Harbaugh issue statements recognizing Forsett’s important contributions on and off the field in the same way they have for virtually any notable veteran to be released over the years?

11. Am I the only one who thought it was strange that Ravens players weren’t tweeting farewells or their support to Forsett, who has been a popular teammate over the last two years?

12. Was there any cryptic meaning in the tweet Forsett posted shortly after the news broke on Saturday afternoon?

13. Given the veteran’s reputation for having good field vision, are the Ravens really that comfortable with a revamped offensive line and a running game that averaged 3.6 yards per carry this preseason?

14. The Ravens are saving $3 million by cutting Forsett, but will the salary cap space be worth it?

15. Are the young backs ready to pick up the slack in pass protection, an area where Forsett excelled?

16. Will fullback Kyle Juszczyk have a more meaningful role in the offense this year?

17. How much will the backfield miss Forsett’s leadership on the field and in the classroom?

18. Will a trio of tailbacks totaling only 152 more career rushing yards than Forsett had in his 2014 Pro Bowl season alone make Ravens fans forget all about the veteran?

19. Did the Ravens get too wrapped up in summer performance from younger players that can frequently turn out to be a mirage?

20. Will this long-winded list of questions look silly in the next couple days, weeks, or months, or did the Ravens just make a big mistake?

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Breaking down the 2016 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 03 September 2016 by Luke Jones

Former Pro Bowl running back Justin Forsett was easily the biggest surprise among several notable cuts on Saturday as the Ravens constructed their initial 53-man roster for the start of the 2016 season.

More changes are inevitable in the coming days as Baltimore has no clear-cut return specialist with third-year receiver Michael Campanaro being placed on injured reserve and rookie Keenan Reynolds being waived on Saturday. It remains to be seen whether general manager Ozzie Newsome will sign four-time Pro Bowl returner Devin Hester, who worked out and took a physical on Saturday morning.

The Ravens will certainly scan the open market for potential additions to enhance the roster that’s already been assembled. 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 is a look at the 53-man roster as it stood on Saturday evening with some early impressions:

QUARTERBACKS (2) — Joe Flacco, Ryan Mallett
Analysis: With Flacco practicing fully all summer, the Ravens will go with only two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for the seventh consecutive year. Journeyman Josh Johnson provided more competition for the backup job than anyone expected, but the distribution of playing time in the preseason never indicated that Mallett was in real danger of losing the No. 2 job.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4) — Terrance West, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Kyle Juszczyk
Analysis: Whether the Ravens ultimately bring back Forsett or not, his release signals a changing of the guard as West is now in line to receive the bulk of the work to begin the season after a very strong summer. For now, the Ravens have only two healthy tailbacks as Dixon will need at least couple more weeks to recover from a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5) — Steve Smith, Mike Wallace, Kamar Aiken, Breshad Perriman, Chris Moore
Analysis: After so much discussion this summer about carrying six or seven receivers, the Ravens kept only five as preseason standout Jeremy Butler did not make the team and Campanaro and Chris Matthews were both placed on IR. On paper, this is one of the most talented receiver groups in franchise history, but health concerns with Smith and Perriman are legitimate until proven otherwise.

TIGHT ENDS (3) — Crockett Gillmore, Dennis Pitta, Maxx Williams
Analysis: The season-ending injury suffered by veteran Benjamin Watson took some of the shine off this once-deep group, but Pitta and Williams did return to the practice field on Saturday. Suspended tight ends Darren Waller (four games) and Nick Boyle (10 games) are options later in the season, but it is unsettling that all three tight ends on the roster have had their share of injuries in recent years.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8) — Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Jeremy Zuttah, Marshal Yanda, Rick Wagner, John Urschel, James Hurst, Ryan Jensen
Analysis: The biggest surprise in this group was the decision to retain Hurst after he struggled mightily in place of the injured Eugene Monroe last year and was driven back into the left knee of Flacco to cause the season-ending injury. The left guard spot remains under the microscope as Lewis and Urschel are the top candidates to start there following the offseason departure of Kelechi Osemele.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (7) — Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Lawrence Guy, Carl Davis, Brent Urban, Willie Henry, Michael Pierce
Analysis: An undrafted rookie from Samford, Pierce earned a spot on the team with a strong training camp and a terrific preseason that culminated with a sack-strip and fumble recovery for a touchdown in New Orleans on Thursday night. Even after the season-ending injury to rookie third-rounder Bronson Kaufusi, the talent in this young group runs deep.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (6) — Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Albert McClellan, Za’Darius Smith, Matt Judon, Chris Carter
Analysis: The Ravens are counting heavily on Suggs and Dumervil to fight off Father Time, but the impressive preseason from Judon leads you to believe that he could be a real factor in the pass-rushing rotation as a rookie. Despite the overall depth, this group has some health concerns at the moment with Dumervil not 100 percent after offseason foot surgery and Smith out with an ankle injury.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3) — C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr, Kamalei Correa
Analysis: As many predicted, the Ravens finally parted ways with failed 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown, who saw a total of just 10 defensive snaps after his rookie season. The small number of players at this position is deceiving as both McClellan and Carter have experience at inside linebacker and defensive back Anthony Levine practiced extensively as a hybrid linebacker this summer.

CORNERBACKS (7) — Jimmy Smith, Shareece Wright, Jerraud Powers, Tavon Young, Will Davis, Maurice Canady, Sheldon Price
Analysis: The Ravens hope to have strength in numbers at this position, but Wright and Powers both struggled in the preseason and could be pushed by younger options as the season progresses. Price is the biggest surprise to make it among the youngsters, but the 6-foot-2 UCLA product practiced well in the spring and summer and has appealing size as an outside option.

SAFETIES (5) — Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Kendrick Lewis, Anthony Levine, Matt Elam
Analysis: Terrence Brooks didn’t have a stellar summer, but the 2014 third-round pick’s departure was surprising from a depth standpoint. With his return from knee surgery not believed to be close, Elam could still be placed on injured reserve with the thought of potentially designating him to return later in the season, but he needed to be on the initial 53-man roster to be eligible for that possibility.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Sam Koch, Morgan Cox, Justin Tucker
Analysis: This will mark five straight years in which these three have been together, a rare example of long-term stability in the NFL. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg may rest easy with this trio, but the Ravens enter a season without a true return specialist for a second straight year, an obvious concern that’s prompted them to work out the 33-year-old Hester.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on preseason win over Carolina

Posted on 12 August 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens kicking off the preseason with a 22-19 win over Carolina, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Terrance West and Buck Allen combined for three touchdowns, but I was most impressed with the quickness of Kenneth Dixon, who ran for a game-high 44 yards on nine carries. He has the potential to be a home-run hitter as a change-of-pace back, which is something the Ravens need.

2. With Jerraud Powers and Kyle Arrington both struggling, I’d like to see Tavon Young and Terrence Brooks get more opportunities at the nickel. Young played sparingly, but he has shown good ball skills in practices. Brooks’ size is an intriguing option there, especially since Baltimore’s starting safeties are undersized.

3. First-round rookie Ronnie Stanley performed well in his first start, and Harbaugh made a point to praise the young left tackle’s strong desire to play despite suffering a recent injury. I wonder if that was a coincidence after ex-Raven Eugene Monroe started just 17 games over the last two years.

4. The Kaelin Clay muffed punt and John Harbaugh’s post-game comments lead you to believe the 2016 punt returner may not be on the current roster. The Ravens were right to cut Jacoby Jones two offseasons ago, but they’ve surely had their problems replacing him.

5. After a fast start to camp, Kamalei Correa had a relatively quiet night, failing to record a statistic in 21 defensive snaps. He appeared to play exclusively as an edge defender, making you wonder if Zach Orr has a bigger lead in the inside linebacker competition than we thought.

6. Entering his sixth year, linebacker Chris Carter was facing second- and third-team offensive linemen, but he showed impressive quickness off the edge and also made plays at inside linebacker. Versatility and his special-teams ability will help in his bid to win a job.

7. Speaking of edge defenders, Victor Ochi has flashed potential on more than one occasion during camp, but the rookie free agent only saw the field for seven snaps. That makes you wonder if the Ravens are trying to hide him in an effort to sneak him onto the practice squad.

8. Starting in place of Marshal Yanda, Vlad Ducasse may have been the Ravens’ most impressive offensive lineman, making terrific blocks on Dixon’s 19-yard run and Allen’s 19-yard touchdown catch. He’s not a sure bet to make the roster, but he has made 22 starts in six NFL seasons.

9. The Ravens only suited up five receivers, making it concerning that Keenan Reynolds wasn’t targeted once despite playing 29 offensive snaps. Everyone is rooting for the former Navy standout, but he remains a work in progress with a long way to go as both a punt returner and receiver.

10. Built similarly to Brandon Williams, rookie nose tackle Michael Pierce showed impressive push inside to collect three tackles and split a sack with Carter. Making the 53-man roster might appear to be a tall order, but the Samford product has definitely turned some heads.

11. After calling plays from the upstairs booth the last few seasons, defensive coordinator Dean Pees was on the sideline during Thursday’s game. It will be interesting to hear his rationale for the change and whether it will carry over to the regular season.

12. The fans’ reaction to Michael Phelps winning his 22nd Olympic gold medal on Thursday night was hardly surprising, but the enthusiasm shown by players watching the replay of the race on the video board was a memorable moment late in a pedestrian preseason game.

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