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Ravens to add veteran Michael Brockers to revamped defensive line

Posted on 16 March 2020 by Luke Jones

After giving up the fourth-highest rushing total in franchise history in the 28-12 playoff loss to Derrick Henry and Tennessee, the Ravens knew they needed to revamp their defensive line.

That process continued Monday as Baltimore agreed to a three-year, $30 million contract with former Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers, according to NFL Network. The deal is reportedly worth $21 million guaranteed, representing the second major financial commitment made up front by general manager Eric DeCosta after the acquisition of five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell.

The 6-foot-5, 305-pound Brockers is entering his ninth season after spending his entire career with the Rams. The 2012 first-round pick from LSU is regarded as one of the better run-stopping linemen in the league, forming an impressive tandem with two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Brockers, 29, has collected 54 or more tackles in each of the last three seasons and collected 23 sacks for his career.

Though not regarded as much of a pass rusher, Brockers graded sixth among all interior defenders against the run by Pro Football Focus last season. That ability coupled with Campbell’s superb reputation will provide quite a transformation for a run defense that ranked an unimpressive 21st in yards per carry allowed (4.4) and 19th in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric. Their massive size and ability to move around on will give defensive coordinator Wink Martindale plenty of options in his multi-look system.

The Ravens haven’t played much “base” 3-4 defense in recent years, but the trio of Brockers, Campbell, and Brandon Williams offers no shortage of strength and size, which should help a transitioning linebacker group in 2020. Of course, Baltimore hopes its record-setting offense continues to provide the other side of the ball with sizeable leads as it did throughout the 2019 season.

Brockers’ pending signing very likely means the end of defensive tackle Michael Pierce’s time in Baltimore as the Ravens are now projected to be very tight against the salary cap with several other positions still to address. Pierce is an unrestricted free agent coming off a turbulent 2019 that included weight problems in the spring and fairly underwhelming play compared to his previous seasons.

In 123 career games, Brockers has collected 344 tackles, nine pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He piled up 63 tackles, three sacks, and one pass breakup last season, the sixth time in his eight years that he’s played all 16 games. Brockers has missed just five games in his career.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hugs Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff after an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Rams

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning a franchise-record fourth straight road game in a 45-6 rout of the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Five games into what was to be a daunting stretch of six of seven contests against teams over .500, Baltimore is 5-0 by a margin of 202-62. The Ravens haven’t trailed in a game in five weeks, a stretch of 18 quarters. It’s really not supposed to be this easy.

2. Much like they couldn’t know Ray Lewis or Ed Reed would be Hall of Famers when they fell to them, the Ravens didn’t foresee Lamar Jackson being the MVP favorite in his second year or they wouldn’t have risked losing him multiple times. But their innovative vision has been brilliant.

3. Despite 22 quarterbacks having more pass attempts, Jackson pulled into a tie with Russell Wilson for the NFL lead with 24 touchdown passes. He’s doubled his season total over the last three weeks and is now nine shy of Vinny Testaverde’s single-season team record. He also runs pretty well.

4. Against a top-tier rush defense, Baltimore ran for a season-high 285 yards, the fifth-highest total in team history. Between that and Jackson’s 76-percent completion percentage since the bye, I’m not sure how much you’d stop them right now even if the NFL allowed opponents to use a 12th defender.

5. Playing with an offense that scores touchdowns on its first six possessions is much different than protecting a late one-score lead, but the intensity maintained by the Ravens defense was impressive. That group has become a very worthy partner that will be needed more at some point — I think.

6. You hope for the best for Matt Skura, who had many doubters this offseason and has played rock-solid football in the middle of the offensive line. However, the Ravens have to be pleased with how undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in at center, a position he never played in college.

7. The group was already improving, but the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the healthy return of Jimmy Smith returned the Ravens defense to a level its more accustomed to being. Both are in contract years and have been dynamic contributors in the secondary, especially Peters.

8. Speaking of dynamic talents, there hasn’t been a better defensive player in football over the last five years than Aaron Donald, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner. Making the Rams defensive tackle an utter non-factor is the offensive line’s most impressive feat of the season.

9. Running the ball on third-and-12 from the Los Angeles 34 and then going for a fourth-and-1 shows how John Harbaugh, Greg Roman, and this staff are playing chess while most of the league plays checkers. That’s a compliment typically reserved for Bill Belichick and New England, but it’s fitting.

10. A sideline camera showing Sam Koch and Justin Tucker whenever the Ravens approach — and then forgo — a potential kicking situation would be entertaining. Koch has punted just four times since the bye week. He’s getting plenty of work as the holder, however.

11. My only nitpick from Monday — other than the Rams’ Big Bird uniforms — was Jackson taking a few too many hits, especially when the game was out of hand. I believe in his ability to avoid contact, but there’s no need to test that when up by four or five touchdowns.

12. Hearing Jackson talk Super Bowl, I recall Brian Billick’s words to the 2000 Ravens after clinching a playoff spot in Week 15: “The time is here. It’s time to go to a Super Bowl.” Competitive windows aren’t guaranteed; the moment is now for a team capable of winning it all.

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Ravens-Rams: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 24 November 2019 by Luke Jones

You win on the road in the regular season to play at home in January.

The 8-2 Ravens travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in hopes of improving to 5-1 on the road and winning what would be a team-record fourth straight regular-season away game. Baltimore hasn’t posted a winning road record since 2010, but an explosive offense and a rapidly improving defense have traveled well, making John Harbaugh’s team the best in the NFL in the eyes of many.

Meanwhile, the 6-4 Rams are aiming to record their fourth win in five games as they enter Week 12 three games out in the NFC West and 1 1/2 games behind the second wild-card spot in the NFC. The urgency is certainly there for Los Angeles to take care of business at home.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the seventh time ever in the regular season and first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 4-2 margin and are 2-0 in the Harbaugh era, but this is their first ever trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Marcus Peters will register an interception against his former team. The Ravens defensive back insists he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder returning to Los Angeles after being traded last month, but that won’t stop the man Wink Martindale called a cornerback “savant” from preying on Rams quarterback Jared Goff, whose superb first two seasons under coach Sean McVay feel like a long time ago. Peters came away with an interception against Kansas City on Monday Night Football last year, and he’ll pull off the same trick against another former team.

2. Brandin Cooks will catch a touchdown as the Rams use a no-huddle approach. Teams need to be aggressive and step outside their comfort zone if they want to have a real chance to beat Baltimore on either side of the ball right now. An up-tempo, no-huddle attack is a risky proposition with the Ravens’ ability to control the clock on the other side, but it neutralizes Martindale’s ability to substitute and tests the stamina of what’s still an ordinary group of pass rushers. New England had some success with this strategy in Week 9, but no Baltimore opponent has really tried it since then.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw touchdowns to Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. The Rams have a talented trio at cornerback, but Ravens wide receivers aren’t a big part of the passing attack anyway, which will make it interesting to see how Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tries to use top corner Jalen Ramsey. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton is strong in coverage and safety Taylor Rapp is capable as well, but their responsibilities against the run will make it difficult to consistently stick with Baltimore’s tight ends. Hurst has caught 20 of his 24 targets and is long overdue for a score.

4. Aaron Donald will record a sack for the sixth straight game. You need Pro Bowl-caliber talent and discipline at every level to have any meaningful chance of slowing down Jackson and the Ravens offense, but the biggest key might be having an interior player who can control the line of scrimmage against the run and pass. Pittsburgh’s Cam Heyward did it in Week 5 — the Ravens’ worst offensive showing of 2019 at just 3.8 yards per play — and Donald is widely considered the NFL’s best defensive player. Marshal Yanda, Matt Skura, and Bradley Bozeman will have their hands full.

5. Another strong dual-threat showing from Jackson will be the difference in a 27-16 win. The more desperate Rams coming away with a victory wouldn’t shock me as this is one of Baltimore’s more difficult remaining games on the schedule and I’m not expecting Harbaugh’s team to win out looking from a macro perspective. At the same time, it’s tough envisioning the Los Angeles defense getting enough stops and a middling Rams offense producing enough touchdown drives for the math to add up unless the Ravens beat themselves with turnovers and penalties. Over the last four games, Baltimore has committed just three turnovers with ex-Raven Cyrus Jones and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III accounting for two. This team is making explosive plays and playing smart football, a good formula for winning anywhere. It doesn’t hurt having the current MVP favorite on your side either.

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Ravens lose starting running back Forsett to broken arm

Posted on 22 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — An injury-plagued 2015 season got even worse for the Ravens in the first quarter of Sunday’s 16-13 win over the St. Louis Rams.

Starting running back and 2014 Pro Bowl selection Justin Forsett was lost for the rest of the season after suffering a broken right forearm in the first quarter. The veteran back was slammed to the turf by Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, and television replays showed his arm bending in a grotesque manner.

Forsett’s right forearm was immediately placed in an air cast before he was helped to the locker room.

“I kind of looked over his body and just saw his forearm and said, ‘OK. I’m not looking at that anymore.'” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who also suffered a season-ending knee injury in the fourth quarter. “I didn’t see much, but I knew it wasn’t good. It’s a shame, but we gutted it out and got a win.”

The Ravens immediately announced the severity of the injury as their starting offense has now lost its starting quarterback (Flacco), top two receivers (Steve Smith and Breshad Perriman), top two running backs (Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro), and starting center (Jeremy Zuttah) to season-ending injuries in 2015. With the Ravens having deactivated Terrance West prior to Sunday’s game, they were down to just two healthy running backs — rookies Buck Allen and Raheem Mostert — for the remainder of the game.

In Forsett’s absence, Allen accumulated 115 total yards despite only averaging 3.0 yards per carry against a stingy St. Louis defense. The 2015 fourth-round pick is expected to be the starter for the remainder of the season.

“He played like a pro. He played like a top-caliber NFL running back,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “You saw it out there. He made guys miss. He made plays in the passing game, plays in the run game. I thought our offensive line did a great job.”

Entering Sunday’s game, Forsett was averaging 4.2 yards per carry and had rushed for 26 yards on four carries against the Rams. The 30-year-old signed a three-year, $9 million in the offseason after rushing for a career-high 1,266 yards last season.

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