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Pondering Flacco-Harbaugh comments, Woodhead, J. Smith, Jernigan

Posted on 10 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Joe Flacco expressing a desire for the Ravens offense to be more aggressive is nothing new.

The 10th-year quarterback has made similar claims in past seasons with different offensive coordinators. And with Baltimore sporting a losing record and the NFL’s 30th-ranked offense, something has to give over the final seven games.

“We need to go after it. We can’t sit back and just expect us to not lose football games,” Flacco said. “There is always a part of that come late in games and depending on the nature of the game, but we have to go and attack. We’re a 4-5 football team. You always look at teams in these positions and say, ‘Man, they have nothing to lose.’ And we should feel that way. We have to go out there and leave it all out there.”

John Harbaugh appeared to take exception with Flacco’s assertion that the offense hasn’t been playing to win. The retort came two days after the head coach was asked to justify Marty Mornhinweg remaining as his offensive coordinator moving forward.

It’s apparent Harbaugh doesn’t want the assistant taking all the blame for the offense’s shortcomings.

“I can’t speak for Joe. That’s what we try to do every single week,” Harbaugh said. “We open up the offense. We run schemes with our run game. We’re getting after people on defense. We try to win every single game. Players have to go out there and play great. They have to execute. If you’re talking about offense, we need to complete passes, we need to run the ball well, we need to protect our quarterback, we need to go up and make catches, we need to execute, we need first downs, we need to score points.

“It’s not about play-calling. It’s about all of us together going out there and playing winning football in all three phases.”

The difference in opinion is even more interesting in light of the recent comments made by former tight end — and Flacco’s close friend — Dennis Pitta to WBAL indicating that the quarterback has only one read in the passing game before being instructed to check down. It’s obvious that Flacco continues to rely more on short passes while attempting fewer intermediate passes than ever and struggling to connect on deep balls this season.

No matter what Harbaugh says, no one can honestly watch the Ravens offense and classify it as an aggressive unit, but the real question is if that’s by design to protect Flacco, who struggled in Marc Trestman’s more complex system. Even if the Ravens coaching staff is deliberately trying to shield the quarterback from himself, Flacco being tied for third in the NFL with 10 interceptions suggests the strategy isn’t working anyway.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle as the veteran signal-caller has certainly left plays out on the field and the play-calling has been less than inspiring for much of the season.

Woodhead effect

There’s much excitement about the expected return of running back Danny Woodhead after the bye, but it’s fair to wonder if his presence could be counterproductive to an offense needing to be more aggressive throwing the ball down the field.

It’s great to cite his three catches for 33 yards on the opening drive of the season in Cincinnati as evidence for how he can help, but that’s still a small sample size for a player who’s now missed 35 games over the last four seasons. You hope Woodhead can stay healthy enough to pick up more yards after catches than understudy Buck Allen, but Flacco relying too heavily on the 32-year-old could further stunt the other areas of the passing game that need improvement.

It’s great to have more options, but the Ravens will need much more than Woodhead’s presence to make meaningful improvement on the offensive side of the ball.

Jimmy Smith’s health

Jimmy Smith has arguably been the Ravens’ best player this season and currently ranks fifth among qualified corners in Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

But seeing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman tear his Achilles tendon on Thursday Night Football made me wonder how Smith will hold up down the stretch. Sherman told reporters after the game that his Achilles had been bothering him for most of the season before it finally ruptured, which should make you take pause since Smith has been dealing with what he’s described as Achilles tendinitis for much of the year.

There’s no way of knowing how similar Smith’s situation might be to Sherman’s or if he’s in great danger of suffering the same fate, but you’d hate to see the best season of his career derailed by another injury.

Jernigan receives lucrative contract

Former Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is off to a good start in Philadelphia, but who predicted him getting a reported four-year, $48 million extension with $26 million guaranteed just nine games into his Eagles career?

The 2014 second-round pick ranks 16th among qualified interior defensive linemen by PFF and has flourished playing next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, but I’d still be leery of paying him that much, especially considering how badly he faded down the stretch in his final season with the Ravens.

I suppose it’s a risk the Eagles can take when having one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL playing on a rookie contract.

Unleash Bowser

Linebackers coach Wink Martindale believes rookie Tyus Bowser is going to be a “star” while Harbaugh wants to see the second-round pick play more after strong practices in recent weeks.

Since a standout Week 2 performance in which he intercepted a pass and collected a sack, however, Bowser has played a total of 54 defensive snaps in seven games. With the Ravens still searching for more pass-rushing production off the edges, the Houston product and fellow rookie Tim Williams need to be more in the mix down the stretch.

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Familiar script plays out for Ravens in deflating loss at Tennessee

Posted on 05 November 2017 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-9 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 03 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first home defeat to Pittsburgh since 2012 in a 26-7 loss, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. From being shut out in the first half and Mike Wallace’s drop of a possible touchdown to the poor offensive line play and the all-too-slow tempo of the no-huddle attack in the fourth quarter, this Ravens offense is broken. And it’s tough to trust Marty Mornhinweg to fix it.

2. Even acknowledging the injuries and the poor offense, Dean Pees’ defense ranks 14th in points allowed per game, 21st in total yards per game, 16th in passing yards per game, and 20th in yards per carry allowed. That’s not nearly good enough considering the many resources used on this defense.

3. The running game has been the offense’s only redeeming quality, but 73 of the 82 rushing yards came on two plays while the other 13 carries produced a total of nine yards. It’s difficult staying on schedule without gaining at least a few yards each on those other plays.

4. Those wondering if the Ravens were wise to spend so much to re-sign Brandon Williams have seen a defensive line lacking a consistent push. Even in those short-yardage situations where the Ravens front appeared to make a stop, the Steelers were still able to get enough to move the chains.

5. It’s difficult to recall too many games when Ravens outside linebackers were so abysmal against the run. Pittsburgh gained most of its big yards on outside runs while Baltimore consistently failed to set the edge.

6. Alex Collins has lost two fumbles on just 25 carries, but the Ravens have no choice right now but to give him opportunities when he’s been their best offensive playmaker. He clearly needs to protect the football, but the risk-reward ratio remains in his favor — for now.

7. Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward might as well have changed his address to the Ravens backfield on Sunday. He absolutely dominated an undermanned and inexperienced offensive line.

8. John Harbaugh has received plenty of fair criticism for his use of challenges over the years, but give him credit for being on top of the Eric Weddle interception that followed a non-catch from Antonio Brown. If only the whistle hadn’t blown before an easy return for a touchdown.

9. Marlon Humphrey was immediately challenged upon entering the game and ran right with Brown on a long incompletion in the second quarter. I’m surprised that he’s mostly subbed in for Jimmy Smith, but the rookie continues to make a strong argument for a starting role opposite Smith.

10. He had a rough game against Jacksonville, but I didn’t quite get Tyus Bowser playing only eight defensive snaps against the Steelers. It’s not as though the other young outside linebackers have established themselves as consistent options and he was very good against Cleveland in Week 2.

11. I couldn’t help but think Harbaugh’s expressed frustration over Jaylen Hill’s slow-healing hamstring injury Monday had something to do with the struggles of Lardarius Webb at the nickel spot. There’s certainly a role for Webb in this defense, but he’s being exposed in pass coverage.

12. The poor throw from high-priced quarterback Joe Flacco and the inability of former first-round receiver Breshad Perriman to corral it in the third quarter epitomized how inept this offense has been. Even when the Ravens had a golden opportunity for a touchdown, they wasted it.

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Ravens offensive line shuffle continues during Sunday’s practice

Posted on 13 August 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens continue to shuffle their offensive line as they count down to their second preseason game at Miami later this week.

Two days after the organization announced second-year left guard Alex Lewis would undergo season-ending shoulder surgery, starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley was absent from practice. It’s unclear why Stanley wasn’t practicing after working without any visible issue Saturday morning, but recently-converted left guard James Hurst moved out to left tackle during the workout.

With designs of improving the running game after below-average production the last two seasons, the Ravens have lost three key interior linemen — Lewis, injured fourth-round rookie Nico Siragusa, and the retired John Urschel — since the start of training camp. During Sunday’s practice, Hurst, Matt Skura, Ryan Jensen, Marshal Yanda, and Austin Howard lined up from left to right as the first-team offensive line.

Stanley wasn’t the only notable new absence on Sunday as veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and rookie outside linebacker Tyus Bowser were also missing. Head coach John Harbaugh did not speak to reporters after practice to potentially provide any clarity on their status.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (back), wide receivers Breshad Perriman (hamstring) and Kenny Bell (hamstring), offensive tackle Stephane Nembot (undisclosed), cornerbacks Brandon Boykin (undisclosed) and Maurice Canady (knee), and inside linebacker Lamar Louis were also absent from Sunday’s practice.

Rookie offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor left the field in the first half of Sunday’s session and didn’t return, adding even more concern to a decimated offensive line. Safety Eric Weddle also exited practice in the final 20 minutes, but it did not appear to be a serious issue.

Rookie wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo appeared to tweak his knee while making a sliding catch during a 7-on-7 passing drill, but he remained on the field for the duration of practice.

The highlight of the day occurred during 1-on-1 battles between the offensive line group and front-7 personnel with the former surprisingly getting the better of Baltimore’s younger defensive linemen and linebackers. The period concluded with an intense battle between Jensen and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith. The center was flagged as he threw Smith to the ground, which touched off a pileup of multiple players. Cooler heads quickly prevailed as the fight turned more playful than nasty in nature and nose tackle Michael Pierce provided the comic relief by throwing a penalty flag up in the air.

During a red-zone session, veteran cornerback Brandon Carr picked off a Ryan Mallett pass intended for tight end Nick Boyle, a turnover that likely would have resulted in a touchdown going the other way.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-3 win over Washington

Posted on 11 August 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their preseason opener in a 23-3 final over Washington, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I made my feelings clear about the Ravens defense at the conclusion of draft weekend, and the group didn’t disappoint in the preseason opener. Playing fast and physical, Baltimore held the Redskins to a measly 47 yards and four first downs in the first half. You could see the potential.

2. Brent Urban was the best player on the field, bringing inside pressure and consistently penetrating the backfield against the run. He finished with two forced fumbles, a sack, and four tackles to lead a revamped defense. Not bad for his debut as the starting 5-technique defensive end.

3. With eight key players sitting out, I’m not sure what anyone could have reasonably expected from the Ravens offense. The running game wasn’t overly productive at 3.6 yards per carry in the first half, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg stuck with it and the group played turnover-free football.

4. Those absences aside, Ryan Mallett did nothing to silence his detractors by averaging an ugly 3.2 yards per pass attempt. John Harbaugh said Mallett played “winning football” after the game, which was reminiscent of Brian Billick’s descriptions of Kyle Boller after the many defense-led wins of yesteryear.

5. The start of the game certainly felt familiar with the defense forcing a three-and-out, the offense going three-and-out, and Sam Koch placing a punt inside the 5-yard line.

6. After a miss from 43 yards that was negated by a penalty, Justin Tucker later restored order to the universe with a 59-yard field goal to end the first half. Yes, he’s missed a few more in camp than I recall in previous summers, but I’ll guess he’ll be OK.

7. Second-round pick Tyus Bowser had an strong debut with three tackles, a quarterback hit, and solid all-around work at outside linebacker, but fellow rookie Tim Williams struggled to set the edge and remains a work in progress as anything more than a situational pass rusher for now.

8. Rookie free agent Jaylen Hill showed why coaches have been impressed with him in practices as he defended the deep ball effectively and picked off Colt McCoy late in the first half. His night would have been even better had he not whiffed on a corner blitz.

9. Tim White made a superb adjustment on a 33-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum late in the third quarter and looked capable as the return specialist in the first half. The rookie free agent’s speed has stood out since organized team activities in the spring.

10. Keenan Reynolds returning a punt 46 yards was the feel-good moment of the night as Harbaugh’s smile on the sideline epitomized how much everyone is rooting for the former Navy star. He still has a long way to go to crack the 53-man roster, but he’s improved from last year.

11. The best news of the night was the Ravens seemingly escaping the game without any major injuries. In contrast, Washington lost linebacker Trent Murphy and safety Su’a Cravens to knee injuries. Coaches hold their breath every second of the preseason.

12. First-round pick Marlon Humphrey went through a rigorous pre-game workout and appears poised to return to practice after a week-long absence. However, Breshad Perriman was nothing more than an observer and doesn’t appear particularly close to returning from a hamstring injury.

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2017 Ravens training camp preview: Linebackers

Posted on 24 July 2017 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning this week, we’ll take a look at a position group for the 2017 Ravens every day as they aim to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

Quarterbacks
Defensive line
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers

LINEBACKERS

Projected depth chart:
RUSH – Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Randy Allen
MIKE – C.J. Mosley, Albert McClellan, Boseko Lokombo, Bam Bradley
WILL – Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor, Lamar Louis, Donald Payne
SAM – Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Brennen Beyer

Why to be impressed: Suggs remains the heart of the Baltimore defense, but Mosley made two Pro Bowls in his first three years and is positioned to become the long-term leader of the unit. Aiming to revamp the pass rush this offseason, Ozzie Newsome drafted Bowser and Williams to give the Ravens a total of four edge candidates under age 25 — Judon and Smith being the others — to work with Suggs.

Why to be concerned: The Ravens have not added a veteran inside linebacker to help fill the void left behind by Zach Orr and will be counting on Correa, who played a total of 48 defensive snaps as a rookie. So much youth looks great on paper, but Baltimore edge defenders not named Terrell Suggs have combined for 13 1/2 career sacks with the versatile McClellan accounting for three of those takedowns.

2017 outlook: There is plenty of intriguing upside in this group, but the Ravens need Suggs to continue fighting off Father Time in his 15th season and Judon and Smith to be productive while the likes of Bowser and Williams get their NFL feet wet. The presence of new strong safety Tony Jefferson could factor into the equation if Correa isn’t up to the challenge of being a three-down inside linebacker.

Prediction: The Ravens won’t have a single player with double-digit sacks for the third straight season, but four linebackers will record five or more in 2017.

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Suggs remains strong presence in new era for Ravens defense

Posted on 16 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Rookie second-round outside linebacker Tyus Bowser was 7 years old when the Ravens selected Terrell Suggs with the 10th overall pick of the 2003 draft.

First-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey was 6.

Having years ago referred to former teammate and soon-to-be Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis as Mufasa — a reference to the sage leader of the Pride Lands in “The Lion King” — Suggs understands he’s the last of his kind and he’s embraced that, even referring to himself as the Darth Vader of a new era.

“I like having fun with the younger guys,” said the 34-year-old, now entering his 15th season in the NFL. “They tell me how old they are, and I’m like, ‘Holy s–t.’ It’s weird, but I like it. It feels good.”

This spring was different for Suggs, who had always skipped the voluntary offseason workout program in the past and would work out on his own before showing up for mandatory minicamp in June. His weight and conditioning levels varied from year to year, sometimes sparking criticism when he wasn’t in the best of shape.

But after hearing rave reviews from those teammates who worked with Ravens director of performance Steve Saunders last offseason, the six-time Pro Bowl selection elected to give it a try. Having gone through spring workouts in Owings Mills — head coach John Harbaugh chose to hold him out of the voluntary spring practices open to the media — Suggs says he hasn’t felt this good in June in many years.

“It’s funny seeing him die in workouts and doing the running, lifting,” said safety Eric Weddle, who was one of the first to embrace Saunders’ rigorous methods. “It’s great for him. I think he knows that at this point in his career, he needs to be in the best shape of his life. He needs to be as strong as he can so he can get through the season. We need him.”

Suggs enjoyed a fine 2016 in his return from the second Achilles tendon tear of his career — especially considering he played with a torn biceps for much of the season — but his eight sacks marked his lowest total in a year not substantially abbreviated by injuries since 2009. He may no longer stand among the elite defensive players in the NFL, but the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year is still an above-average starting linebacker who plays the run very well and can conjure up a big play in a critical spot.

His boisterous behavior is evident at practices when he’s hooting and hollering at someone or taking owner Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart for a joyride on his way out to the back fields at the team facility, but Suggs does much more than keep the mood light in the locker room and in the huddle. Having learned from obsessive students of the game like Lewis and nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed early in his career, Suggs is constantly praised by those who know him best for his football intellect.

The Ravens hope he continues passing down those lessons to young players such as Bowser, 2016 fifth-round pick Matt Judon, and fourth-round rookie Tim Williams to rebuild a pass rush that had markedly declined over the last couple years.

“You can really tell a difference in our types of practice when he is here and when he is not here,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who added that Suggs looks like he’s 25 years old again. “It’s more fun for me when he is here, too. But when it is time to be serious, there’s nobody more serious. There is really nobody smarter on this defensive football team than Terrell Suggs.”

Suggs was noncommittal when asked how much longer he hopes to play or whether he has any visions of trying to match Lewis’ 17 years with the Ravens, but he made it clear that he doesn’t feel like it’s his time to “cross that bridge” to retirement yet. His contract runs through 2018 and is scheduled to pay him $4 million in base salary for each of the next two years.

His commitment to be in the building this spring hasn’t gone unnoticed as the Ravens made a conscious effort to get younger this offseason after missing the playoffs for the third time in four years. Seeing general manager Ozzie Newsome show the door to five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil likely served a reminder to Suggs about his own football mortality as he turns 35 in October.

“What I am so impressed with is the leadership by example that he has demonstrated in this offseason,” Harbaugh said. “He is out there doing it, and he is out there competing with the guys every day in the conditioning program. It is impressive to watch, and that is a great way to get guys attention if you want to be a leader.”

Fun and camaraderie aside, Suggs wants to win. He hasn’t gone through a down period like this from a team standpoint since the end of the Brian Billick era and is counting on an extensive batch of defensive additions to help him get back to the playoffs.

Suggs may not have expressed any clear intention of trying to surpass Lewis for most years spent with the Ravens, but he did mention the way his former leader was able to go out on top with a championship.

“We can’t fall short anymore,” Suggs said. “It’s a terrible thing when you don’t capitalize on your potential. We’ve always had a capable team; we’ve just haven’t always capitalized on it. I think it’s time to cash in and don’t be one of the odd teams looking in when it becomes the second season in January.”

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Ravens finish signings for 2017 draft class

Posted on 18 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With organized team activities set to begin next week, the Ravens officially have all seven of their 2017 draft picks under contract.

The organization announced the signings of third-round defensive end Chris Wormley and third-round outside linebacker Tim Williams on Thursday, nearly two weeks after first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey and four other draft choices inked their contracts. Humphrey’s signing on May 5 was the earliest date the Ravens had signed a first-round draft choice in franchise history.

Wormley is expected to compete for the starting 5-technique defensive end spot previously held by veteran Lawrence Guy while Williams will be vying for a role as a situational pass rusher. The release of five-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil leaves a huge opening in a pass-rush rotation that also included six-time Pro Bowl selection Terrell Suggs, 2015 fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith, and 2016 fifth-round pick Matt Judon last season. Second-round outside linebacker Tyus Bowser will also factor heavily into the competition.

Having used their first four draft choices and virtually all of their free-agent resources on defensive players this offseason, the Ravens will be counting on their revamped defense to lead them back to the postseason for the first time since 2014.

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What to expect from each of Ravens’ seven 2017 draft picks

Posted on 30 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The picks are in for the 2017 draft, so what can we now expect from the Ravens’ seven selections?

Below is the early look at how each rookie fits:

CB Marlon Humphrey
Drafted: First round (16th overall) from Alabama
2017 projected role: One of the youngest players in the draft, Humphrey will compete with Brandon Carr for the starting job opposite Jimmy Smith and will serve as needed outside corner depth at the very least.
Long-term view: Having left other highly-touted players on the board, the Ravens better feel that Humphrey will eventually become a legitimate No. 1 cornerback. He has the size and pedigree that you like to see in a corner, but his struggles with the deep ball are something to monitor in his development.

LB Tyus Bowser
Drafted: Second round (47th overall) from Houston
2017 projected role: With Elvis Dumervil no longer on the roster and Albert McClellan the only established veteran behind Terrell Suggs, Bowser will compete for playing time at outside linebacker.
Long-term view: He is raw, but Bowser is a terrific athlete who has experience dropping into coverage, something the Ravens like in a starting “Sam” linebacker. His pass-rushing skills need further development, but his upside is very high for someone selected in the middle of the second round.

DE Chris Wormley
Drafted: Third round (74th overall) from Michigan
2017 projected role: Wormley will have every opportunity to compete with Brent Urban and Bronson Kaufusi for the starting 5-technique defensive end spot after Lawrence Guy’s free-agent departure.
Long-term view: The Ravens should have a good read on Wormley after he played for Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor, and he has the skill set to become a dependable starter in the base defense. He would further enhance his value if he can become a productive interior rusher in passing situations.

OLB Tim Williams
Drafted: Third round (78th overall) from Alabama
2017 projected role: Williams has a long way to go to be considered an every-down player, but his pass-rushing ability off the edge should put him in the mix for situational snaps in sub packages.
Long-term view: His off-field concerns and limited experience playing the run caused his slide down the draft board, but Williams showed impressive explosiveness off the edge playing in the SEC. He may only be a one-trick pony in the NFL, but getting to the quarterback is a premium skill for any team.

G Nico Siragusa
Drafted: Fourth round (122nd overall) from San Diego State
2017 projected role: A three-year starter at left guard for the Aztecs, Siragusa has the size and power to compete for a starting job if the Ravens move Alex Lewis or even Marshal Yanda out to right tackle.
Long-term view: The Ravens have had recent success selecting Day 3 offensive linemen as both Lewis and former right tackle Rick Wagner blossomed into starters in a short period of time. Siragusa’s physicality is his strength, making him a logical fit for Greg Roman’s power running game schemes.

OT Jermaine Eluemunor
Drafted: Fifth round (159th overall) from Texas A&M
2017 projected role: Considering Eluemunor didn’t play football until high school and was only a one-year starter for the Aggies, expecting him to offer more than depth as a rookie would be ambitious.
Long-term view: The 6-foot-4, 330-pound lineman lacks experience and needs developing, but his rapid improvement from junior college player to SEC starter bodes well for his ceiling. Eluemunor has a long way to go to become an NFL starter at tackle or guard, but his physical tools make it a possibility.

S Chuck Clark
Drafted: Sixth round (186th overall) from Virginia Tech
2017 projected role: With the high-profile names ahead of him on the depth chart, Clark will be competing for a spot on the 53-man roster as a special-teams player and developmental defensive back.
Long-term view: A three-year starter for the Hokies, Clark has good instincts and is a good tackler, but little about him screams future NFL starter. With Lardarius Webb serving as the current No. 3 safety, Clark figures to have a decent chance to stick around if he can shine as a special-teams player.

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Revamped Ravens defense better live up to expectations

Posted on 29 April 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stayed true to their board, but that doesn’t change reality after going defense with their first four picks of the 2017 draft.

This is an unbalanced roster with the heaviest lifting of the offseason now in the books. Yes, general manager Ozzie Newsome reminded us again Saturday that the Ravens aren’t done building this year’s team, but there are only so many viable free agents still out there to move the meter in any meaningful way. Right now, Baltimore has a below-average offense that’s going to be difficult to improve dramatically without some substantial improvement from players already on the roster.

The Ravens may still add Nick Mangold or bring back Anquan Boldin, but there’s a reason why they’re still out there. They’re not “Plan A” guys anymore.

Of the seven Ravens players selected in the first three rounds over the last two drafts, just one — left tackle Ronnie Stanley — was an offensive player. It’s difficult to improve on that side of the ball if you’re not spending free-agent dollars or investing early draft picks, which will make life more difficult for quarterback Joe Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg as they will likely lean on unproven talent at wide receiver and on the offensive line.

Asked about the state of his offense after the first wave of free agency last month that included lucrative contracts for nose tackle Brandon Williams and safety Tony Jefferson and another deal for cornerback Brandon Carr, Newsome fairly pointed to the draft as the way to build the rest of the roster. But the Ravens came away with fourth-round guard prospect Nico Siragusa and fifth-round developmental right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor as their only picks for that side of the ball.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Ravens should have reached to draft offensive players purely out of need as they did appear to get good value with their picks, but the 2017 draft being so rich in defensive talent was a reason why the offense should have been a bigger focus in free agency. The outcome is an offense that’s lost a starting wide receiver, a starting right tackle, a starting center, and a Pro Bowl fullback and has netted only 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead and two Day 3 offensive linemen.

Which side of the ball had its coordinator fired again last year?

Like it or not, the Ravens prioritized building a great defense above anything else this offseason. The unit collapsed down the stretch in 2016, but the primary cause of that was the absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith as John Harbaugh’s team went 2-5 in games in which he missed meaningful time.

When Smith was on the field, the Ravens had a strong defense despite an underwhelming pass rush. And even with the resources used in both free agency and the draft to revamp the secondary and the pass rush, Smith’s availability remains arguably the biggest key for defensive success.

On paper, the Ravens defense does look better than the 2016 edition, but it will need to be great — possibly even special — to justify the use of so many resources and to make up for an offense with a ton of question marks. Taking that kind of a leap is no sure thing, especially in the modern NFL that is geared toward offense.

Will some combination of the pass-rushing group of Matt Judon, Za’Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser, and Tim Williams be ready to step up with Terrell Suggs set to turn 35 in October and Elvis Dumervil no longer on the roster? Is first-round rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey going to be ready to play at a high level if Smith goes down again for some period of time? Can Kamalei Correa hold down the inside linebacker spot vacated by the retired Zach Orr? Will defensive coordinator Dean Pees use so many new pieces effectively and maximize their versatility?

The excitement for the defense is understandable with so much youth and potential at every level, but remember there isn’t a 25-year-old Ray Lewis leading this group before waxing nostalgic about replicating the 2000 Ravens. Even if we’re looking for a more contemporary comparison — it’s a different game than it was nearly two decades ago — the 2015 Denver Broncos had a generational talent in Von Miller and two 1,000-yard receivers on the other side of the ball.

A winning blueprint leaning so heavily on defense is very difficult to execute.

But it’s where the Ravens find themselves after free agency and the draft.

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