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Ngata trade proved to be winner for Ravens

Posted on 26 January 2016 by Luke Jones

There is plenty to question about the offseason that preceded a disappointing 5-11 campaign for the Ravens in 2015.

But the decision to trade five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata proved to be a good one.

Of course, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens were never going to allow Ngata to carry a $16 million salary cap figure in the final season of a five-year, $61 million contract, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try to keep him. The organization attempted to work out an extension like it did with Terrell Suggs a year earlier, but the sides didn’t come to an agreement before the 2006 first-round pick was traded to Detroit in the final moments before free agency began on March 10.

It turns out that the Ravens were probably fortunate not to extend Ngata. As Hall of Fame baseball executive Branch Rickey used to say, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

The trade was praised by many at the time, but the possibility of Ngata producing another Pro Bowl season and the Ravens struggling mightily up front was still there.

Ngata wasn’t awful in Detroit, but he hardly played at a Pro Bowl level as he registered a career-low 24 tackles in 14 games and dealt with hamstring and calf injuries. Pro Football Focus graded him as the league’s 39th-best interior defender in 2015 while Brandon Williams was 21st and Timmy Jernigan 49th. The production certainly didn’t warrant the $8.5 million base salary he was paid by the Lions, who were desperate to fill the void left behind by four-time Pro Bowl selection Ndamukong Suh.

Meanwhile, the Ravens drafted outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith with the fourth-round pick they received from Detroit and used their new fifth-round selection to trade up a few spots in the second round to take tight end Maxx Williams. Time will tell whether these players will make major contributions after mostly-quiet rookie seasons that did finish on high notes, but the potential value alone trumps what Baltimore might have gotten from Ngata in 2015.

If we’re being honest, the Ravens probably missed the 345-pounder to some degree as the run defense ranked 12th in the NFL and allowed 4.0 yards per carry after finishing fourth and surrendering just 3.6 per attempt in 2014. His primary replacement Jernigan shook off a slow start to play well in the second half of 2015, but he was stronger as a pass rusher than as a run-stopping defender at Ngata’s old 3-technique spot.

Ngata would have made the defensive line more stout, but his expensive presence hardly would have transformed the Ravens from a 5-11 team into a 10-6 playoff contender. If the Ravens had signed him to an extension last winter, we’d also be wondering how much football he has left in the way we’re now asking about his longtime teammate Suggs, who will be coming off his second Achilles tendon tear in four years and carries a $7.45 million cap figure for 2016.

The 32-year-old Ngata has expressed desire to re-sign with Detroit, but he is not committed to playing beyond 2016, which should make Ravens fans feel even better about the organization not signing him last winter. Given the issues Baltimore has with its salary cap, the fewer contracts awarded to aging players near the end of their careers, the better.

It became apparent over the course of the 2015 season that the Ravens need to get younger at several key spots, something they’ve done along the defensive line without significant drop-off. Ngata was one of the best players in the 20-year history of the franchise, but parting ways with an aging defensive tackle was the right call with only minimal short-term fallout.

Little went right for the Ravens in one of the most disappointing seasons in team history, but the Ngata trade has already proven to be a winner without even knowing what Smith and Maxx Williams will offer in the future.

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Allen’s benching a head-scratcher in lost season for Ravens

Posted on 20 December 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens’ performance on Sunday matched their new uniform pants.

Ugly.

Of course, we’re used to this by now as the 4-10 Ravens clinched just the fifth campaign of double-digit losses in franchise history with the 34-14 defeat against Kansas City. For the second straight week, it was a Buck Allen fumble in the first half transforming a close game into a lopsided affair.

This time, however, head coach John Harbaugh had seen enough and benched the rookie fourth-round pick for the remainder of the game after Chiefs safety Tyvon Branch returned the fumble 73 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter.

“You play the best players. At running back, the best players don’t fumble,” said Harbaugh, who added that the benching “probably” won’t continue next week. “Fumbling — it is what it is. You have to hold on to the football. He knows that. I have a lot of love and respect for Buck. No way is Buck going to be banished by any stretch. He has done a lot for us. He has a great future for us.”

Allen took the demotion in stride and said himself that fumbling is unacceptable, but what is really accomplished by benching him for the rest of the game, especially when you’re 4-9 and in evaluation mode for the rest of 2015? If you’re still in playoff contention and are afraid of him putting the ball on the turf again, then, fine, go in a different direction if you have a better option.

But what did Harbaugh hope to gain by keeping Allen out for the remainder of the game with just two weeks remaining in a lost season?

Benching him for the rest of the first half and using Terrance West — a former third-round pick with his upside of his own — as the No. 1 option would have been a reasonable punishment, but making the rookie sit for nearly 48 minutes of action and giving former practice-squad member Terrence Magee his playing time only created a bigger headline and more embarrassment for the lone bright spot of a disappointing rookie draft class in 2015.

Ball security is of the utmost importance — no one is saying it isn’t. But even the best running backs fumble sometimes as the great Adrian Peterson has seven this year. Allen has fumbled twice all season, hardly making this an epidemic despite one in each of the last two weeks.

“You have to hold on to the football,” Harbaugh said. “That football belongs to everybody in the organization, every fan, everybody that cares about the Ravens, and it’s a precious commodity. You don’t win football games when you turn the ball over.”

The eighth-year coach is correct, but you don’t win when players commit foolish penalties, either.

That begs the question why second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan wasn’t disciplined in a harsher manner for an inexcusable late hit on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith on a third-and-11 play that extended Kansas City’s opening drive. Instead of punting from their own territory, the Chiefs scored on a 38-yard run by Charcandrick West three plays later to give them a 7-0 lead.

In Week 2, Jernigan committed a senseless roughing-the-passer penalty on Oakland’s game-winning touchdown drive with less than two minutes to go, proving his talent has been overshadowed by a lack of discipline on more than one occasion. He was also flagged for unnecessary roughness in last week’s loss to Seattle.

“I took him out for a play and put him back in,” said Harbaugh when asked about Jernigan’s penalty after he had just explained Allen’s benching. “I don’t need to justify that. Timmy Jernigan is a guy that I’ve talked to about that. He understands where we’re at. I made the decision to keep him in the game.”

But has the 2014 second-round pick gotten the message?

It didn’t sound that way after the game.

“If he’s going to run along the sideline, I’m going to hit him every time,” Jernigan said. “I’m not going to apologize for that one any time. I was running to the ball, and I saw the quarterback running along the sideline.

“To me, it doesn’t look like the guy is noticeably slowing down and running out of bounds. If you’re along the sideline, I’m going to hit you. I don’t care who you are unless you make it obvious that you’re going out of bounds. If you’re running along the sideline, and you don’t go out, I’m going to have cameras in my face asking me why I didn’t hit you. And then the quarterback runs for an 80-yard touchdown. I feel like I’m just doing what I can to help the team.”

You’d really like to give Jernigan the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t see a replay of his obvious infraction before talking to reporters. But if he did see it and failed to recognize that Smith was obviously out of bounds when he hit him, it just reinforces the lack of discipline the Ravens have shown all season as they entered Week 15 ranked 25th in penalties and 29th in penalty yards.

Either way, benching Allen for the remainder of the game was excessive, especially after Jernigan came away with what amounted to barely a slap on the wrist. It’s not as though the latter is an established veteran or multi-time Pro Bowl selection beyond reproach.

The Ravens repeatedly hurting themselves on Sunday was nothing new in this disappointing season.

But Harbaugh abruptly sending a rookie to the doghouse was a head-scratcher.

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Youth comes up big for Ravens in thrilling victory

Posted on 01 December 2015 by Luke Jones

Monday will go down as one of the most thrilling finishes in the 20-year history of the Ravens as well as in the annals of Monday Night Football.

But as Crash Davis from “Bull Durham” would remind you, “The moment’s over.”

If you’re trying to focus on the long haul, what can the 4-7 Ravens really take away from Monday’s win that worsened their 2016 draft position?

Though all players and coaches continue to fight admirably with all 11 of Baltimore’s games being decided by a single possession in 2015, the performances of five players under the age of 25 might bring the most hope from Monday’s win as it relates to the Ravens’ goal of returning to a championship level.

Below is a look at each in no particular order of significance:

WR/RS Kaelin Clay
Age: 23
Impact: Prior to Monday, the rookie from Utah was best known for a major gaffe against Oregon last season, but the sixth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced his presence with authority by returning the Browns’ first punt of the game 82 yards for a first-quarter touchdown. Even better was the fact that Clay returned three other punts and two kickoffs without putting the ball on the ground, a factor that’s been a concern for Baltimore returners this season. Clay played only one offensive snap, so it remains to be seen what he can offer as a receiver, but his big return energized the Ravens early.

DE Brent Urban
Age: 24
Impact: After missing the first 26 regular-season games of his NFL career due to injuries, the 6-foot-7 Urban made a major impact in blocking Travis Coons’ 51-yard field goal attempt, which allowed safety Will Hill to return the ball 64 yards for the game-winning touchdown with no time remaining. The 2014 fourth-round pick also made two tackles in his 11 defensive snaps and offered a glimpse of why the Ravens elected to use their designation to return on him after he tore his biceps early in training camp. He will be one of the most intriguing young players to watch over the final five weeks of the season.

RB Terrance West
Age: 24
Impact: We all know the local kid’s story and the baggage he already carries in only his second NFL season, but the 225-pound back showed good vision against his old team, rushing for 37 yards on seven carries in his Ravens debut. With Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro both out for the season, West will have every opportunity to make an impact for an offense lacking established weapons. It will be up to him to show the maturity and work ethic that will warrant more carries in the coming weeks, but the former Towson star made valuable contributions for his hometown team in Week 12.

DT Timmy Jernigan
Age: 23
Impact: After beginning the season in John Harbaugh’s doghouse due to a foolish roughing the passer penalty in Oakland, the 2014 second-round pick has quietly picked up his play over the last seven games, registering three sacks and eight quarterback hits. In 42 defensive snaps against Cleveland, Jernigan finished with three tackles, a half-sack, and three quarterback hits to wreak havoc in the pocket along with veterans Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty. Jernigan’s sack total doesn’t stand out, but he ranks second behind Dumervil with 10 quarterback hits and has been the Ravens’ best interior rusher.

RB Buck Allen
Age: 24
Impact: It helped facing the league’s 32nd-ranked run defense, but the 2015 fourth-round pick continued to impress in his first start, carrying 12 times for 55 yards and catching four passes for 29 yards that included a 13-yard touchdown in the second quarter. It remains to be seen whether the 220-pound Allen can consistently thrive running between the tackles, but his receiving ability out of the backfield is as dynamic as anyone the Ravens have used since Ray Rice at his best. After facing questions at running back for a few years now, the Ravens would love to see Allen show No. 1 back production.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 10 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Hosting Cleveland has been the Ravens’ closest experience to a homecoming game for more than 15 years.

Owning a 13-3 all-time mark over the Browns in Baltimore and winning 13 of the last 14 meetings overall, the Ravens have appeared to barely break a sweat if you only look at the win-loss record. But the narrative has changed ever so slightly with five of the last seven games being decided by one possession.

In the 2014 regular-season finale at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens trailed Cleveland in the fourth quarter before scoring 17 points to send them to victory and their sixth trip to the playoffs in seven years. Now, both teams are fighting for their 2015 lives with matching 1-3 records and plenty of question marks on both sides of the ball.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to overcome injuries to Steve Smith and Crockett Gillmore to improve their all-time record to 25-8 over the Browns and climb back into the early AFC playoff race.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to win their first game in Baltimore this season …

1. Justin Forsett will eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark for the second consecutive week. There’s a danger here of offensive coordinator Marc Trestman trying to outsmart himself as one could argue that the Ravens should come out throwing while Cleveland stacks the box trying to stop the run with Smith out. But why mess around when the Browns ranked last in the NFL in run defense last year and are 31st so far in 2015? Baltimore will use play-action fakes and Flacco will take shots here and there, but the Browns need to prove they can stop the run first and the Ravens will pound the ball until that happens. The offensive line play will pick up where it left off in Pittsburgh last week.

2. Browns running back Duke Johnson and tight end Gary Barnidge will combine to make 10 catches for 120 yards and a touchdown. Cleveland has allowed 14 sacks in four games this year and will be focused on stopping Elvis Dumervil coming off the edge, leading to lots of chips by Barnidge before quarterback Josh McCown checks down to him with short passes. The rookie Johnson has also proven to be an effective target out of the backfield, which could create issues for C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith. With the Ravens devoting safety attention to the big-play capability of Travis Benjamin, Browns tight ends and running backs will have more success in the passing game.

3. Darren Waller will catch the first touchdown of his NFL career. Anyone telling you they have a good idea how the passing game is going to shake out on Sunday is only guessing as you just don’t remove a talent like Smith from the equation without major adjustments needing to be made. Kamar Aiken will receive opportunities as the No. 1 guy, but his performances against Denver (one catch for minus-1 yard) and Cincinnati (zero catches) make it difficult to trust him. After making his first NFL reception on the Ravens’ game-tying drive at the end of regulation a week ago, the 6-foot-6 Waller will catch his first touchdown as Flacco throws him a pretty fade inside the red zone in the first half.

4. Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan will each collect their first sack of the 2015 season. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try his best to move Dumervil away from Joe Thomas, but the Ravens need to continue to get inside pressure to minimize the glaring void left behind by Terrell Suggs. Za’Darius Smith provided the boost last week, but it will be Williams and Jernigan stepping up on Sunday. More of a run-stopping tackle, Williams has had a Pro Bowl-caliber season and has been the Ravens’ best defensive player in 2015. Meanwhile, Jernigan’s second season has been a disappointment so far as he’s fallen behind rookie Carl Davis and needs a strong performance against the Browns.

5. The better quarterback and the team with the home-field advantage will do enough to earn a 20-13 win. It’s unfair to expect too much from Joe Flacco when you look at the group of pass-catchers he’ll be throwing to on Sunday, but he needs to limit his mistakes, something he didn’t do in Pittsburgh last week. He won’t post gaudy numbers, but Flacco will play smarter football than McCown and the Baltimore defense will clamp down on a Cleveland offense short on playmakers in a sometimes-ugly, points-challenged contest. Neither team has shown many signs of being a good football team so far, but the Ravens own the edge playing at home in Week 5 and they’ll take advantage of it.

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With pains at receiver, Ravens facing Cleveland at perfect time

Posted on 06 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Expecting to take the field without the services of Steve Smith on Sunday, the Ravens are hurting at the wide receiver position entering Week 5.

Their projected No. 1 receiver against the Browns, Kamar Aiken, has just 11 receptions for 165 yards and a touchdown through the first four games of the season. Those numbers don’t even match what the 36-year-old Smith did in Week 3 against Cincinnati alone.

That’s why the Ravens’ 191-yard rushing performance in last Thursday’s win at Pittsburgh couldn’t have come at a better time. Prior to Week 4, Baltimore had averaged just 3.3 yards per carry in its 0-3 start, perhaps the most surprising development of the early season.

Now, head coach John Harbaugh hopes the ground performance against the Steelers is a sign of better things to come.

“Sometimes you have to keep pounding that rock,” Harbaugh said. “They made a lot of plays against the run — especially early — and finally it kind of opened up toward the end there a little bit more. But it’s always important for us. It’s something that we count on doing well, and we need to continue to improve. I don’t think we’re where we need to be with the run game, yet. That’s something we need to continue to work on really hard.”

With Smith sidelined and starting tight end Crockett Gillmore still recovering from a calf injury, the Ravens are playing the 1-3 Browns at a perfect time. Cleveland brings the league’s 32nd-ranked defense in total yards and its rush defense ranks 31st in giving up 141.5 yards per game.

The Browns rank 29th in allowing 4.8 yards per carry, which comes a year after their defense surrendered more rushing yards than any team in the NFL. Those 2014 struggles prompted the selection of defensive tackle Danny Shelton with the 12th overall pick of this spring’s draft, but the 339-pounder’s presence has yet to make a major difference for the Browns’ front.

Of course, quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens will need to do enough through the air to prevent the Cleveland defense from consistently stacking the box, but there appears to be little reason why Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Buck Allen won’t find running room to move the chains and take pressure off an undermanned group of pass-catchers. The Ravens will need a produtive running game moving forward, especially until Smith is ready to return to action.

Even if they’re playing at M&T Bank Stadium where the Browns haven’t won since 2007, Harbaugh made it clear that the Ravens are in no position to take Cleveland lightly.

“I mean, hey, we’re 1-3, too,” Harbaugh said. “We have two 1-3 teams going at it here. We’re battling to be third place in the division right now. That’s where we stand, and that’s a tall order and we have work to do. But they have a heck of a front seven. They have good pass rushers on both edges. They have some of the most talented secondary players in the league, and we’ve seen them up close and personal every time we play them.”

Pass-rushing reinforcements

The Ravens enter Week 5 tied for sixth in the NFL with 11 sacks, but the pass rush remains a topic of concern for the league’s 16th-ranked pass defense.

The good news was the boost defensive coordinator Dean Pees received from Za’Darius Smith, who collected the first two sacks of his NFL career in the third quarter of the win at Pittsburgh. In 19 snaps, the rookie collected two other tackles in addition to his takedowns of Mike Vick, flashing the skills he showed at Kentucky that prompted the Ravens to draft him in the fourth round.

“I think he has really been ramping up his intensity level,” Harbaugh said, “how he plays from one play to the next, understanding at this level the edge that you have to play on to be successful, and how hard you have to play. He applied that in that Pittsburgh game better than he has at any point in time. He has always been good, but not really good enough to make a difference until this game, and that was really good to see.”

With Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw taking on heavier workloads since the season-ending injury to Terrell Suggs, the Ravens need Za’Darius Smith and veteran Jason Babin to be productive when asked to spell the starters.

Making his Ravens debut after being inactive for two games, Babin only played seven snaps and did not record any official statistics, but Pro Football Focus credited him with a quarterback hurry.

“He was really disciplined with his pass rush,” Harbaugh said. “The thing we asked our guys to do in this game was be very disciplined with their pass rush and treat it almost like run defense, because you have  a guy back there who can throw and can run and can really hurt you with him arm and with his legs.”

Challenging Jernigan

One of the quieter stories of the early season has been the demotion of second-year defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who has been replaced by rookie Carl Davis in the base defense in each of the last two games.

The 2014 second-round pick missed the season opener with a knee injury and started against Oakland in Week 2, but a foolish roughing-the-passer penalty on the Raiders’ game-winning drive landed him behind Davis on the depth chart. Jernigan played just 17 of 63 defensive snaps against the Steelers, but the Ravens will need him to be a major part of their inside pass rush as the season progresses.

“Timmy is getting better and better,” Harbaugh said. “He really stepped it up the last week or so — in practice and in games. He’s very capable of being a real factor inside there, and it’s especially true when he plays a certain way, when he really gets after it, when he cuts it loose. That’s what we’re trying to get him to do — get off the ball, get off blocks, run to the football, be a physical force in there, and play fast.

“Sometimes, too much thinking is not good. He knows the defense now, and we expect him to play with a real high motor. And when he does that, he’s very effective.”

Returning questions in return game

With Michael Campanaro now out for the season with a back injury, the Ravens have gone back to the drawing board with their return game.

The latest depth chart lists veteran Lardarius Webb as the No. 1 punt returner, but the kick returner is listed as “to be determined.” Newly-acquired Chris Givens has experience returning kicks in St. Louis while Taliaferro and Allen also practiced handling kickoffs over the summer.

However, the Ravens’ best option might be on their practice squad where receiver Jeremy Ross currently resides. Ross returned kicks and punts in Detroit for two years and scored a touchdown doing each during the 2013 season.

“We’ll look at all our options. We have guys on the roster that can do it,” Harbaugh said. “Chris is a guy that can do it, too, as far as the kick return stuff. We’ll just see where we’re at come Sunday on that, but it could be someone here. Obviously, it could be somebody outside, too.”

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 37-33 loss in Oakland

Posted on 22 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll examine five numbers stemming from the Ravens’ latest game, this one being the surprising 37-33 loss at Oakland in Week 2 …

1 — Combined tackles from Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Carl Davis
Skinny: With issues at outside linebacker due to the season-ending injury to Terrell Suggs, the Ravens need the early-round draft investments they’ve made on the defensive line to come up big and they didn’t in Oakland. The lack of a pass rush and poor coverage in the secondary were bad enough, but the Ravens also allowed 5.1 yards per carry, much of that due to the ineffectiveness of the defensive line.

10 — Years it’s been since the Ravens started a season 0-2
Skinny: Maybe the Ravens should refrain from wearing the commemorative jersey patches for their 20th season in Baltimore. They also wore a jersey patch in 2005 for their 10th season in Charm City when they last started 0-2. It’s certainly been a credit to the organization that 0-2 starts have been few and far between, but the timing of the last two are a strange coincidence.

11 — Missed tackles by the Ravens counted by Pro Football Focus
Skinny: Truthfully, you might have expected the number to be even higher as Baltimore posted its highest total of tackling miscues since last season’s Week 9 debacle in Pittsburgh. Much attention has been paid to the lack of a pass rush on Sunday, but the poor tackling on short passes was even more detrimental since the ball was coming out quickly quite often.

62 — Snaps played by Elvis Dumervil
Skinny: This was Dumervil’s highest single-game total in his three seasons with the Ravens and is a concern as the defense tries to account for Suggs’ absence on the field. Baltimore needs to have the fresh Dumervil who collected the franchise’s single-season record with 17 sacks a year ago. A worn-down version of him trying to be Suggs will only make the pass rush worse over the course of the season.

351 — Net passing yards for Derek Carr and the Raiders offense
Skinny: Why is this number significant? It’s the highest total allowed by a Baltimore defense against a non-Pro Bowl quarterback since rookie Andy Dalton and Cincinnati finished with 364 net passing yards on Nov. 20, 2011. If you want to eliminate Dalton since he made his first Pro Bowl later that season, Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the last signal-caller never to make a Pro Bowl to post that many net passing yards against the Ravens when he finished with 382 as Buffalo’s quarterback on Oct. 24, 2010.

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Harbaugh: “Our defense has to step up and play like the Ravens play”

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh didn’t mince words in assessing a defense that allowed 37 points in Sunday’s disappointing loss to the Oakland Raiders to drop the Ravens’ record to 0-2.

The performance was out of character for a franchise known for its defensive tradition over 20 seasons in Baltimore. The eighth-year head coach put his players and coaches on notice that the defense needs to be fixed quickly as the Ravens now try to become the 25th 0-2 team to bounce back to make the playoffs since 1990.

“If we’re going to have a chance to be a successful football team, our defense has to step up and play like the Ravens play,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the expectation. That’s where the bar is set, and we’re going to have the guys out there that do that. And it’s on us as coaches to put the right guys out there, teach them to do the right things, and have the right schemes in place.”

Not only were the Ravens playing an Oakland offense that was shut out by Cincinnati through three quarters the previous week, but they was feeling confident about a defense that didn’t allow an offensive touchdown against future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning and a talented Denver offense in the season opener.

Against the Raiders offense, however, everything went wrong as second-year quarterback Derek Carr threw three touchdown passes and Oakland accumulated 448 yards of offense. The Ravens collected just one sack and Pro Football Focus credited them with 11 missed tackles, their highest total since last year’s Week 9 blowout loss in Pittsburgh.

“We had missed tackles. We had missed assignments. We had breakdowns in coverage. We had missed alignments,” Harbaugh said. “We played about as unsound as you can play in a lot of different ways. We had effort for the most part, but I’ll even say we didn’t have the kind of effort we need to have on defense — the kind of all-out, flying-around effort that we expect from a Ravens’ defense.”

Playing without the injured Terrell Suggs, the Ravens struggled to create any semblance of consistent pressure on Carr as Elvis Dumervil played his highest number of snaps (62) since his days with the Denver Broncos and Courtney Upshaw didn’t capitalize on more opportunities to rush. As a result, Carr had a career day through the air with his 351 yards.

Harbaugh was quick to point out that Oakland designed plenty of short passes to neutralize the rush, but he did not forgive the inability of linebackers and defensive backs to neutralize those throws.

“When a team is determined to get the ball out fast, then you’re not going to get a lot of quarterback hits and you’re not going to get a lot of sacks,” Harbaugh said. “What you have to do is defend those quick throws, and we didn’t defend the quick throws as well as we need to because of the missed tackles and some of the missed alignments.

“If you force those throws to be no-gains, one gain, minus-2, 3-yard gains, when the ball is coming out fast, then you force them to hold the ball a little bit longer and to gain some yards and you get to the quarterback. That’s the No. 1 issue there.”

Though there’s truth to Harbaugh’s point, the Ravens didn’t get to Carr when he took deeper drops either, further making the decision to deactivate veteran newcomer Jason Babin puzzling after he was signed to provide more depth behind Dumervil, Upshaw, and rookie Za’Darius Smith.

Against an underwhelming offense, the Ravens showed no sign of being close to figuring out their pass-rush equation without Suggs.

“I think he had way too much time on the [bootlegs],” Harbaugh said. “He was able to stand back there on the keepers and boots almost forever and throw the ball. We have to figure out how to get that changed. But from a pass-rush standpoint, those are the two situations — the quick throws and the boots.”

Penalties on final drive

Two critical penalties hurt the Ravens on Oakland’s game-winning touchdown drive as defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan committed a senseless roughing-the-passer foul that marched the Raiders into field-goal range and safety Will Hill was flagged for holding before he made what looked to be the game-clinching interception with under a minute remaining.

Harbaugh offered a strong opinion on each one, with one player being chastised and the other forgiven.

“The Timmy Jernigan one was a foolish penalty — really inexcusable,” Harbaugh said. “There was no reason for that whatsoever at any time during the game, but especially in two-minute. But that was just a way late hit, and I don’t understand that one. It hurt us.

“The other one, I’m still looking for it. I don’t see it on tape, so I’m not sure what to tell Will on that. It looked like a good play to me.”

Second long trip out west being reconsidered

After previously saying they planned to stay out west for the week between their Oct. 18 game at San Francisco and Oct. 26 contest at Arizona, the Ravens are now reconsidering those plans.

Harbaugh said it would be a “no-brainer” to stay in Phoenix if the week were shorter between games — the second game takes place on a Monday night — but critics will understandably wonder how much the results of their first extended trip between the Denver and Oakland games will factor into a decision expected to be made in the next few days.

“If we stay [out there], it’ll be because we and the players feel like it would be the best thing,” Harbaugh said. “And if we don’t, it would be because we’d rather get back here and be in our home confines. [We’ll decide] which is best, especially in a long week.”

No word on Perriman

Injured rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) was seen doing some light running during his pre-game workout on Sunday, an increased level of activity shown from previous weeks when he was restricted to making catches from a stationary position.

The Ravens coach added no clarity when asked whether that was a sign of the first-round pick being close to finally returning after he sprained his knee on July 30.

“Not that I’ve been told,” Harbaugh said. “I have no update on it.”

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An 0-2 start all that matters for hodge-podge Ravens

Posted on 21 September 2015 by Luke Jones

All we really know about the Ravens right now is that they’re 0-2 and in last place in the AFC North and that’s what matters.

The defense isn’t as bad as it played in Sunday’s 37-33 loss to Oakland, but it’s probably not as strong as it looked in Denver, either.

The offense isn’t as poor as it looked in Week 1 — really, it couldn’t have been much worse — but scoring 33 points against a bad Raiders defense isn’t the best barometer to conclude that all is fine with Marc Trestman’s unit.

Optimists will say John Harbaugh’s team was two plays away from being 2-0 in two road games out west despite playing poorly. They’ll maintain that the Ravens will be fine if the Week 1 defense and the Week 2 offense can simply show up at the same time.

Pessimists will tell you Baltimore couldn’t win against a Peyton Manning-led offense that was completely out of sync in the opener or even beat one of the worst teams in the NFL in Week 2. And they’ll remind you again that just 24 of the 205 teams that have started a season 0-2 since 1990 have made the playoffs — roughly one team per year.

Contrary to the sentiments shared by much of a frustrated fan base, the season isn’t over as the aforementioned statistic includes plenty of bad teams that never had a good chance to make the playoffs long before the season began. Indianapolis started 0-2 a year ago before advancing to the conference championship game and Steve Smith’s old team — the Carolina Panthers — lost its first two games of 2013 before making it to the divisional round that January.

Even the two-time defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks are in the same boat as the Ravens right now.

But the Ravens are in danger of having the season spiral out of control before Columbus Day if they don’t get to work immediately. On Sunday, they return home to play an undefeated Cincinnati Bengals team that’s won three of their last four meetings and then travel to Pittsburgh four days later to play the Steelers on a short week.

If you think 0-2 is quite a hole to escape, an 0-4 start would be the Grand Canyon.

Two weeks in, we just don’t know what to make of this Ravens team other than the clear stigma of an 0-2 record. Is it the offense, the defense, or both? Is this just another Harbaugh-led team that struggles on the road and wreaks havoc on opponents at M&T Bank Stadium to ultimately land in the playoffs like six of the last seven years?

A defense that carried much promise a week ago looked every bit the part of a unit playing its first game without Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, or Ed Reed — the trinity of Ravens defensive excellence — since 1998. The pass rush was nonexistent, the coverage in the secondary was abysmal, the tackling was even worse, and Dean Pees’ coaching adjustments didn’t work.

Some media and fans tried to argue that the loss of Suggs would not be that severe, but the Ravens defense looked like a group sorely missing his play and leadership in Oakland. Even so, the outside linebacker’s absence alone can’t explain — or excuse — the poor performance throughout the defense.

The lack of the pass rush coupled with a 2014-like performance from the secondary will create much concern about the Ravens’ ability to stop opposing offenses, especially after second-year quarterback Derek Carr and the lowly Raiders picked them apart to the tune of 351 passing yards and three touchdown passes.

It didn’t help that untimely penalties doomed the defense on Oakland’s final scoring drive as a senseless roughing-the-passer foul by Timmy Jernigan put the Raiders in field goal position and a defensive holding penalty on Will Hill wiped out what would have been the game-clinching interception. Those types of mistakes, particularly the Jernigan penalty, aren’t indicative of winning teams.

If you’re looking for the silver lining, the offense made strides on Sunday with tight end Crockett Gillmore catching two touchdowns and wide receiver Kamar Aiken bouncing back from an early fumble to help back up Smith’s 10 catches and 150 receiving yards. Yes, an otherwise-strong Joe Flacco misfired on a few throws that could have led to more points — including one to a wide-open Steve Smith that would have meant a touchdown instead of a field goal on their penultimate drive — but you should beat the Raiders 100 times out of 100 when you score 33 points.

Trestman’s decision to throw on second-and-8 from the Oakland 13 on the play before Flacco’s errant throw to Smith was baffling as an incompletion stopped the clock with 2:19 remaining, but we knew all along that the offense would be a work in progress and the group did its job for the most part on Sunday.

Everything we’ve witnessed in the Harbaugh era suggests the Ravens are better than their 0-2 record indicates, but they’ve hit uncharted territory under the eighth-year coach as the franchise has lost its first two games for the first time since 2005. It’s in rough patches when Harbaugh is generally at his best, but he sees exactly what we’ve all witnessed over the first two weeks and can’t feel good about it.

A horrendous performance by the offense and a strong defensive effort in Week 1 followed by a good offensive showing and a nightmarish game from the defense in Week 2. You just don’t know what to expect at this point from either side of the ball.

Will the real Ravens step forward? They’re better than their 0-2 record, right?

Or, maybe they are a hodpe-podge group with the latest offseason of substantial changes finally catching up with them.

If they really are this bad, we’ll find out quickly with their two biggest divisional foes looming over the next 10 days.

If the Ravens are better than this, they have no choice but to start proving it immediately.

Because 0-2 tells you all that matters.

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Ravens-Raiders: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 20 September 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face a challenge in replacing the injured Terrell Suggs, but the man signed to take his spot on the 53-man roster this week was deactivated for Sunday’s meeting with the Oakland Raiders.

After head coach John Harbaugh deemed him ready to play on Friday, veteran outside linebacker Jason Babin was surprisingly among the Ravens’ seven inactives for Week 2. The 35-year-old was signed to a contract on Tuesday and practiced all week with his new team.

“His whole thing is just making sure he knows where to line up,” Harbaugh said after Friday’s workout. “He has been in defenses [and is] a really smart guy. I’m very confident that he can line up and play good football. He played [during the preseason]. It’s not like he’s a guy that hasn’t been playing in training camp. He has been playing up until a week ago, so he’s in football shape, and he’s ready to go.”

The decision to deactivate Babin meant rookie Za’Darius Smith was expected to fill a significant role as Baltimore’s backup outside linebacker behind Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw. Smith, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, was a healthy inactive last week.

The Ravens also deactivated Rashaan Melvin (thigh) despite the third-year cornerback practicing on a limited basis all week. Rookie wide receiver Darren Waller (ankle) was active despite being added to the injury report on Friday.

As expected, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) and No. 2 running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) were active after practicing fully all week. Jernigan was expected to return to his starting spot along the Baltimore defensive line with rookie Carl Davis returning to a reserve role.

With starting left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) inactive, the Ravens included reserve offensive lineman Ryan Jensen among their 46 active players on game day. Second-year tackle James Hurst was expected to start in Monroe’s place.

Rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) was officially ruled out for Week 2 on Friday, but he reportedly increased his activity level in a pre-game workout by doing some light running. The first-round pick hasn’t practiced since spraining his knee on July 30.

For the Raiders, veteran safety Charles Woodson was active despite suffering a dislocated shoulder in Oakland’s season opener. He practiced on a limited basis Thursday and Friday.

These teams are meeting for the eighth time in the regular season with the Ravens holding a 6-1 advantage in the series. Baltimore is 1-1 playing in Oakland, but that does not include the Ravens’ win in the 2000 AFC championship game. The Raiders’ lone win against the Ravens came in the 2003 season while Baltimore has won four straight in the series.

The forecast for Sunday afternoon’s game in Oakland calls for sunny skies, temperatures in the high 80s, and winds up to 10 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Referee Pete Morelli and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game at O.co Coliseum.

The Ravens will be wearing white jerseys with black pants while Oakland will sport its black home tops with silver pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
LB Jason Babin
CB Rashaan Melvin
RB Terrence Magee
OT Eugene Monroe
DT Christo Bilukidi
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore
WR Breshad perriman

OAKLAND
CB Dexter McDonald
FB Jamize Olawale
OL Jon Feliciano
OL Matt McCants
DT Justin Ellis
WR Rod Streater
DE Benson Mayowa

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Monroe, Perriman ruled out for Sunday’s game in Oakland

Posted on 18 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Still sidelined after sustaining a concussion on the first series of the season opener last week, Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe was ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Oakland Raiders.

Monroe missed practice all week and has yet to be cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol, meaning second-year lineman James Hurst will likely start in Monroe’s place. Wide receiver Breshad Perriman was also ruled out for Week 2 as he has yet to practice since spraining his knee on the first day of training camp.

The good news for Baltimore was the expected availability of defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro after each suffered knee injuries in the preseason. Both were listed as probable to play after practicing fully all week. Running back Justin Forsett (shoulder) was also designated as probable after being limited during Wednesday’s practice but being a full participant the rest of the week.

Cornerback Rashaan Melvin (thigh) and rookie wide receiver Darren Waller (ankle) were listed as questionable to play against Oakland. Melvin has dealt with a hamstring issue since last month and was only a limited participant in practices this week while Waller was a new addition to Friday’s injury report, leading you to believe he may have injured his ankle during the final practice of the week.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed Friday that veteran newcomer Jason Babin will play on Sunday after being signed to replace the injured Terrell Suggs on the roster earlier this week.

With Monroe sidelined and two wide receivers on the injury report, the Ravens could choose to add one of their two practice-squad offensive tackles — rookie De’Ondre Wesley or veteran Tony Hills — or a receiver — Jeremy Ross and Jeremy Butler are on the practice squad — to the 53-man roster. Rookie running back Terrence Magee’s spot is likely vulnerable with Baltimore now having four healthy backs on the active roster.

Meanwhile, the Raiders expect to have their starting quarterback under center on Sunday after Derek Carr practiced fully all week and was listed as probable on their final injury report.

Despite suffering a dislocated shoulder in Oakland’s season-opening loss to Cincinnati, veteran safety Charles Woodson practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and is officially questionable for Sunday’s game.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Pete Morelli.

The game-day forecast in Oakland calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures around 90 degrees with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OT Eugene Monroe (concussion) WR Breshad Perriman (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Rashaan Melvin (thigh), WR Darren Waller (ankle)
PROBABLE: DE Chris Canty (non-injury), RB Justin Forsett (shoulder), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee)

OAKLAND
OUT: DT Justin Ellis (ankle), DE Benson Mayowa (knee), RB Jamize Olawale (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: S Charles Woodson (shoulder)
PROBABLE: QB Derek Carr (right hand)

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