Tag Archive | "Anquan Boldin"

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 2: “We know what kind of quarterback we have”

Posted on 26 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 3 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens had clobbered Pittsburgh in the 2011 opener in Baltimore.

But that didn’t matter now as they traveled to Heinz Field to take on a Steelers team that had won four straight entering November. A loss would drop the Ravens to third place behind both Pittsburgh and surprising Cincinnati in the AFC North, making their Week 9 clash on Sunday Night Football a crucial one.

Doubts about quarterback Joe Flacco persisted despite his comeback win in Pittsburgh the previous year as the Ravens had lost their home rematch in December — costing themselves the AFC North and a first-round bye in the process — and had blown a 14-point halftime lead in the their 2010 divisional-round defeat to the Steelers. Flacco was far from the only reason the Ravens lost those games, but he hadn’t played particularly well in some key moments as questions continued about his ability to lead his team to a championship. A stretch of lackluster performances in October hadn’t helped perceptions either.

The game started with a bang as Ray Rice took an inside hand-off, cut left, and galloped 76 yards for an apparent touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, reminiscent of the way the Ravens had begun the Week 1 blowout win. However, rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith was flagged for holding, negating the score and setting the tone for what would be a defensive battle for much of the night. The teams combined for five field goals in the first half with Billy Cundiff’s 51-yarder sending the Ravens to the locker room with a 9-6 lead at intermission.

The Steelers drove to the Baltimore red zone on the first drive of the second half before 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs intercepted Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the short flat. With that turnover, the Ravens methodically moved down the field and took advantage of a 23-yard pass interference penalty as Rice’s 4-yard touchdown run increased the lead to 16-6 with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter.

The Steelers weren’t going away, however, as Roethlisberger bounced back from his mistake to lead an 11-play, 80-yard drive resulting in a 1-yard touchdown run for Rashard Mendenhall to make it 16-13 early in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens then marched to the Pittsburgh 36 before an all-too-familiar feeling of dread returned. On third-and-8, Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison sacked Flacco, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Steelers. Moving to the Baltimore 25 on five plays, Roethlisberger scrambled right on third-and-5 and found Mike Wallace in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:59 to play.

On the ensuing possession, three straight Flacco incompletions resulted in a punt that Steelers receiver Antonio Brown returned to his own 46. The Ravens were in serious trouble as Pittsburgh had the ball, good field position, and a 20-16 lead with 4:30 remaining.

After converting a big third down, the Steelers moved into field-goal range before making a costly error. On fourth-and-5 from the 29, indecisiveness struck the Pittsburgh sideline as Roethlisberger initially lobbied to go for the first down and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was late sending kicker Shaun Suisham onto the field, resulting in a delay of game. With Suisham kicking into the tricky open end of Heinz Field, a 47-yard attempt would have been far from a sure thing, but the penalty instead prompted a Jeremy Kapinos punt that pinned the Ravens back at their own 8-yard line.

Ninety-two yards were needed with just 2:24 and one timeout remaining, a far more difficult position than the previous fall when Flacco had found T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the game-winner in Pittsburgh.

A 21-yard completion over the middle to Anquan Boldin got the Ravens out of the shadow of their own end zone at the two-minute warning. A 13-yard sideline strike to seldom-used undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams moved them to their own 42. A few plays later, Baltimore faced a fourth-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 49 when Flacco again found Boldin over the middle for 10 yards to extend the game.

But that’s when the drive began going sideways. On second-and-8 from the 37, Flacco escaped pressure, climbed the pocket, and threw deep to a wide-open Smith, who dropped the ball in the end zone. Boldin would catch the third-down pass to move the chains on the next snap, but the veteran receiver then dropped a perfect throw over the middle that would have moved the Ravens inside the 10.

As Cris Collinsworth remarked on the NBC broadcast, “Joe Flacco is doing a great job on this drive, and his receivers are completely letting him down.”

Facing third-and-10 from the 26, Flacco and the Ravens still had a timeout, but only 16 seconds remained. Undeterred by Smith’s drop moments earlier, Flacco threw deep to the sideline as the second-round rookie gave a veteran-like nudge to Steelers cornerback William Gay and caught the redemptive touchdown with eight seconds to go.

There was instant silence in Pittsburgh. In a throwback rivalry in which the most defining moments had always gone the other way, the Ravens finally enjoyed theirs in the national spotlight.

The 23-20 win proved to be the difference in the Ravens winning their first division title in five years and clinching a first-round bye. But it meant more than that for Flacco, who had orchestrated the most brilliant drive of his career. The touchdown pass in Pittsburgh the previous year had flashed his late-game ability, but leading a 92-yard march in a Sunday night road game against his biggest adversary was special, especially considering the aforementioned drops and the celebrated Ravens defense had given up 14 points in the final quarter.

No, Flacco wasn’t Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning and never would be, but he had touched greatness when it mattered most. And while the misfortunes of Cundiff and Lee Evans 2 1/2 months later in New England meant the Ravens would wait another year to finally taste Super Bowl glory, that 2011 win in Pittsburgh eliminated any doubt that such a postseason run was possible, whether Flacco’s critics wanted to admit it or not.

“Maybe people will stop putting him down now. We know what kind of quarterback we have,” Boldin said after the season-sweeping win over the Steelers. “There was no panic with our offense, and I think you saw that. A lot of it starts with our quarterback. He was real poised.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 5: “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle”

Posted on 19 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 6 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2012 Ravens were a tough team to figure out.

Long before they’d win Super Bowl XLVII or go through a brutal December, there were fair questions about a group that had won two games by over 30 points, lost one by 30 points, and barely squeaked by some of the worst teams in the league over the first three months of the season. The Ravens were certainly good, but were they as great as an 8-2 start often suggests?

For much of their Week 12 clash with San Diego, the answer appeared to be no. The Ravens offense sleepwalked through the first half at Qualcomm Stadium, managing no points and just 90 total yards as the Chargers led 10-0 at intermission.

A 54-yard completion from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith on the opening drive of the second half set up a Justin Tucker field goal, but the offense again went quiet until midway through the fourth quarter. Doing the heavy lifting throughout the day to keep the score close, the Baltimore defense surrendered a long drive resulting in a field goal to give San Diego a 13-3 lead with 7:51 remaining in regulation.

The time was now for Flacco and the offense to come alive if the Ravens wanted to win their fourth straight game. The fifth-year quarterback did exactly that, going 7-for-8 for 86 yards on a drive ending with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta to shrink the deficit to 13-10 with 4:19 to go.

Inspired by the reappearance of the offense, the Ravens defense forced a quick three-and-out and Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones returned the punt 23 yards to the Baltimore 40. After picking up one first down, however, the ensuing drive quickly began unraveling.

A rare Marshal Yanda holding penalty pushed the Ravens back into their own territory. And following back-to-back incompletions, Flacco was sacked and stripped by Chargers outside linebacker Antwan Barnes on third-and-20, setting up what seemed to be an impossible situation entering the two-minute warning.

What could the Ravens do on fourth-and-29 from their own 37-yard line? Take a deep shot to Smith or Jones in hopes of at least drawing a pass interference flag? Throw a strike down the seam to Anquan Boldin and see if the tough-as-nails receiver breaks a tackle or two?

With time to throw and looking downfield, Flacco checked down with a short pass to the right flat just beyond the line of scrimmage.

Really?

You’ve got to be kidding.

Seriously?

“It was really kind of a Hail Mary situation,” Flacco said after the game. “We were running down the field and I was hoping because they were playing so soft, sometimes you can kind of get in behind one of those guys and catch them flat-footed and maybe find a soft spot and rip a ball real quick into somebody. I didn’t really see anything like that. I didn’t want to just throw a Hail Mary.

“I wanted to give somebody a chance.”

Ray Rice, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who often carried the Ravens offense in those years, got that opportunity.

With an effort one could hardly believe, Rice eluded a few tacklers, cut all the way across the field to the left, and got a crushing Boldin block on Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle before lunging for the first down. A replay review moved back the initial spot of the miraculous play, but a measurement still gave the Ravens a first down, keeping the drive alive.

A 38-yard Tucker field goal moments later tied the game and the Ravens won with another Tucker 38-yarder late in overtime, but all that transpired the rest of the way couldn’t come close to matching Rice’s extraordinary effort. What we didn’t know was how critical the victory would be at a time when many were pondering the 9-2 Ravens chasing a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

The win over the Chargers would be the Ravens’ last for a month as they’d lose their next three games and fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would be replaced by Jim Caldwell. It’s impossible to know how losing to San Diego might have impacted the remaining five games on the schedule — the Ravens rested multiple starters in their Week 17 loss at Cincinnati, for example — but finishing 10-6 compared to 9-7 was the difference between winning the AFC North and being the No. 6 seed.

The significance in the big picture only added to the mystique and real-time insanity of “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle” as the fifth-year running back nicknamed the play.

“It was just total will,” Rice said after the 16-13 overtime win. “Once I made the first guy miss when I cut back across the grain, I actually saw the defense had to flip their hip and I kept eyeing the first down. I looked and said, ‘Should I keep running to the sideline or should I just keep trying to get up field?’ And that’s what I did. I just kept getting upfield.”

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engram

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on training camp preparations and other topics

Posted on 10 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens coaches returning to the Owings Mills headquarters this week and the NFL releasing protocols for training facilities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The July 28 report date for training camp is seven weeks away, but much work remains regarding COVID-19 protocols. The recent expansion and renovations of the team facility helps, but spacing lockers six feet apart for a 90-man roster will be quite a challenge by itself.

2. NFL Network’s report on the possibility of the preseason schedule being shortened was hardly a surprise since there was growing support for that long before the pandemic. The bigger question might be whether that sparks permanent change to the exhibition schedule.

3. Pittsburgh moving its camp to Heinz Field raises a fair question for teams that already struggled to find space for 90 players before even factoring in social distancing. A shorter preseason makes you wonder if that high number is absolutely necessary if you want to minimize health risks. Difficult questions.

4. Patrick Queen, Devin Duvernay, and Malik Harrison are the only 2020 Ravens draft picks yet to sign, but we’re approaching the time when you’d expect those rookie deals to get done. Of course, the pandemic could always complicate that timing.

5. Social media hardly provides a complete picture of the work so many players are putting in right now, but James Proche has logged recent workouts with Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, and Trace McSorley. Good for the sixth-round rookie wide receiver getting acquainted with Baltimore quarterbacks.

6. You won’t find a more respected person in the organization than tight ends coach Bobby Engram, who was nominated for the PFWA’s George Halas Award for overcoming adversity to succeed. I recommend this piece from The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec if you’re unfamiliar with the Engram family’s story.

7. The value of the return specialist isn’t what it used to be due to rule changes in the game, but I can’t recall the last time we weren’t talking about that spot being a question mark around this time of year. The days of Jacoby Jones?

8. In contrast, Sam Koch is the only player to have any punts for the Ravens since 2006 and Justin Tucker is the only one to make a field goal since 2012. That continuity is just remarkable compared to most teams. Tennessee had four different kickers last season alone.

9. We’ve talked so much about inside linebacker the last couple years that I couldn’t help but notice Ravens coaching analyst and former player Zach Orr celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday. He thankfully escaped football without serious injury, but you wonder how much better he might have become.

10. Dick Cass, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, Steve Smith, Calais Campbell, and Queen were among the current and former Ravens joining over 1,400 sports figures in signing a letter to Congress requesting an end to qualified immunity. I applaud them for making their voices heard.

11. Have you ever imagined what might have happened if Baltimore signed Colin Kaepernick? Does he replace a Joe Flacco who had a bad back in 2017? Reunited with Greg Roman, does Kaepernick thrive and keep the starting job? Does Lamar Jackson then wind up elsewhere? Quite the potential butterfly effect.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for putting out the following video for high school and college graduates. We all had different school experiences, but I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy those final weeks or to celebrate these accomplishments with friends and family.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 11: Saluting Heinz Field

Posted on 05 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 12 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Before there was “January Joe,” real questions persisted about Joe Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.

His rookie season brought encouraging signs and easily cleared the low bar of the Kyle Boller era, but Flacco was mostly along for the ride as a terrific defense and a bruising rushing attack led the 2008 Ravens to an AFC Championship game appearance. His play took a substantial step forward in the 2009 regular season, but a Week 17 hip injury severely hampered him in January as he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in two playoff games.

Even the start of the 2010 season was rough as Flacco threw five interceptions over the first two games, making a Week 4 trip to Pittsburgh feel like a pivotal test in the third-year quarterback’s development. Winless at Heinz Field since 2006, the Ravens were taking on a Steelers team that was 3-0 despite backup quarterback Charlie Batch filling in for the suspended Ben Roethlisberger. If Baltimore couldn’t come away with a win in Pittsburgh this time around, you wondered when it would ever happen for Flacco and third-year head coach John Harbaugh.

But anything can go in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry as a defensive struggle ensued.

With the Ravens trailing 14-10 after a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run midway through the final quarter, Flacco had the opportunity to make his mark and quiet his doubters. Thanks in large part to completions of 21, 11, 10, and 11 yards, the Ravens had two shots from the Pittsburgh 2 to take the lead with less than three minutes to play.

On third-and-goal, Flacco’s pass to a blanketed Derrick Mason was broken up at the goal line. After a timeout, the Baltimore quarterback then threw incomplete to Anquan Boldin, turning the ball over on downs with 2:40 left and only one timeout remaining. Flacco and the Ravens looked like they would come up short in Pittsburgh yet again.

But instead of sulking over the offense’s inability to put the ball in the end zone, the Baltimore defense stuffed Mendenhall on three consecutive runs to force the Steelers to punt from their own 3. A Pittsburgh holding penalty on Daniel Sepulveda’s 47-yard punt gave the Ravens possession at the Steelers’ 40 with 1:08 remaining. It was the latest miscue in a mistake-prone game for Pittsburgh that included two missed field goals by Jeff Reed to keep the Ravens within striking distance.

If not now, then when?

Flacco connected on three straight passes to put the ball on the 18 with 37 seconds remaining. On the next play with Ray Rice and Todd Heap picking up a blindside blitz perfectly, Flacco pumped and hit veteran wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in stride in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Houshmandzadeh — the former Cincinnati Bengal who had just joined the Ravens a few weeks earlier — saluted a stunned Pittsburgh crowd while the normally stoic Flacco pumped his fist in celebration.

The Ravens defense finished it off with a Ray Lewis interception on the Steelers’ next play from scrimmage to give Flacco and Harbaugh their first win in Pittsburgh.

Of course, the moment didn’t transform the young quarterback into “January Joe” overnight as Flacco would experience some more hiccups and the Ravens would suffer another crushing playoff defeat at Heinz Field a few months later. But the touchdown to Houshmandzadeh showed what the Delaware product could do in a critical moment against the toughest of opponents on the road.

“I think there are going to be a lot of defining moments for Joe, but this is going to be one of them,” Harbaugh said after the dramatic 17-14 win to improve his team’s record to 3-1 on the season. “This is going to be one that all the Ravens fans are going to remember for a long time.”

The best was yet to come.

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tuckerdetroit

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 23: “I got this”

Posted on 08 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 24 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Baltimore loves its kickers.

Steve Myhra’s short field goal introduced us to “sudden death” in the 1958 NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium.

Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard kick with five seconds remaining gave the Colts a 16-13 win over Dallas in the mistake-laden Super Bowl V.

Two-time Pro Bowl selection Toni Linhart helped the Bert Jones-era Colts to the first of three straight AFC East championships in 1975 with a 31-yarder in overtime to beat Miami in the thick fog at Memorial Stadium.

A Ravens Ring of Honor member, Matt Stover is still beloved around town today and kicked offense-challenged teams to many victories for over a decade, including two in the midst of a nightmare five-game stretch without scoring a touchdown in 2000.

Billy Cund– never mind.

None compare to Justin Tucker, the 2012 undrafted free agent from Texas who had to try out at rookie minicamp just to be signed to Baltimore’s 90-man offseason roster. Months later, the rookie had not only won the job, but he’d make the biggest kick in franchise history, a 47-yard field goal in single-digit temperatures to upset Denver in double overtime in the divisional round.

Tucker’s excellence would become even more evident in his second season. The 2013 Ravens were a much different team coming off the win in Super Bowl XLVII. Future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were gone, top wide receiver Anquan Boldin had been inexplicably traded away, and tight end Dennis Pitta had missed most of the season with a devastating hip injury suffered early in training camp. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco struggled mightily without his top two receivers from the previous year while a diminished Ray Rice and the running game had completely collapsed, leaving the Ravens with one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

But John Harbaugh’s team had rallied from a 4-6 start to win three straight games and crawl back into playoff contention going into a Monday game at Detroit in Week 15. Tucker had been much of Baltimore’s offense that season, hadn’t missed a field goal since Week 2, and would be named to his first Pro Bowl and be voted team MVP later that month, but the Ravens would never need him more than on that night.

Tucker’s work in the first half was nothing extraordinary as the Ravens had moved the ball pretty well before stalling in the red zone three different times, settling for field goals of 29, 24, and 32 yards to give them a 9-7 lead at intermission. The second half was a different story as the 24-year-old connected from 49 yards in the third quarter and hit from 53 yards away halfway through the last period to give Baltimore a 15-10 lead.

Unfortunately, a Ravens defense that had played well wilted late as quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions drove 80 yards for a touchdown and a 16-15 lead with 2:27 remaining. A loss would all but sink Baltimore’s playoff hopes, but a 27-yard strike from Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a third-and-15 gave the Ravens life in Detroit territory just before the two-minute warning.

Facing a fourth-and-8 from the 43 a few plays later and with his offense seemingly about to go for it, Harbaugh surprisingly called timeout with 43 seconds remaining and sent out Tucker to try a franchise-record 61-yard field goal for the lead. Having connected from 70 yards inside the domed Ford Field during pre-game warmups, the second-year kicker told coaches he was ready to win the game with his leg and lobbied for the chance on the sideline.

“I normally wouldn’t do this but I interjected and said, ‘No, I got this,'” Tucker said after making his team-record sixth field goal in the 18-16 win. “Thankfully, they gave me an opportunity, and the best part of it is I didn’t have to come back to the sideline feeling like a jerk if I missed it.”

With two or three yards to spare, Tucker made just the ninth field goal of at least 61 yards in league history and the second longest in the history of Monday Night Football. The Ravens would lose their final two games to miss the postseason for the first time in the Harbaugh era, but that wild kick and remarkable performance cemented Tucker’s status as the best kicker in the game for years to come.

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andrews

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 6 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 15 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their second straight game in a 23-17 final against Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday reminded how small the margin for error is in the NFL in a game Baltimore dominated statistically. A kick return and a fumble led to 10 first-half points for the Bengals and turned what could have been a comfortable win into a one-score game.

2. Lamar Jackson rushing a season-high 19 times predictably reignited the debate over how much running is too much, but Colin Kaepernick and Michael Vick are the only two NFL quarterbacks to ever run for more yards in a game. Let’s not forget we’re watching someone special here.

3. That we barely mentioned Jackson completing 63.6 percent of his passes for 236 yards speaks to how much he’s improved in that department. He didn’t have to make too many difficult throws against the Bengals, but he remains on pace for a 4,000-yard season through the air.

4. Jackson has a total of two fumbles through six games after fumbling at least once in each of his eight starts last year. It’s just another box the young quarterback has checked after so much fair concern about his ball security.

5. The defense allowed just 4.5 yards per play and played well despite the pass rush being a non-factor until late in the game. Andy Dalton does average the quickest time from snap to throw among quarterbacks with at least 90 attempts, but pressuring the passer remains a big problem.

6. I was intrigued to see Wink Martindale use four outside linebackers at one time to rush the passer with some success on a handful of plays. We saw that look a few times early last year and will probably see more of it moving forward.

7. Mark Andrews said he’s not going to stop being himself on the field, but Ravens tight ends should probably chill on the hurdling a little bit after his fumble. We’ve seen a few fun highlights, but a turnover that cost Baltimore points outweighs the minimal positives.

8. Even with Patrick Onwuasor out because of an ankle injury, Kenny Young and Chris Board failed to play a single defensive snap against the Bengals. Credit Eric DeCosta and the coaching staff for regrouping on the fly, but what an offseason miscalculation that was at the inside linebacker position.

9. You hoped Marquise Brown’s absence might lead to Jackson’s in-game chemistry growing with other wide receivers, but none registered more than three receptions or 28 receiving yards. The 18-yard gain to Miles Boykin on a run-pass option was encouraging, but that was about it.

10. Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort started at inside linebacker, Chuck Clark is wearing the green-dot helmet and starting at safety, Pernell McPhee is averaging a career high for snaps, and former practice-squad safety Bennett Jackson is now on the 53-man roster. Just how we pictured it this summer, right?

11. The Ravens are tied for the NFL’s easiest schedule thus far, but Dallas lost to the winless Jets and the Chargers were flattened by one-win Pittsburgh and its third-string quarterback. It’s a strange, week-to-week league that’s more about survival than expecting to play your best football for all 16 games.

12. Few would have expected Anquan Boldin to retire as a Raven after the organization foolishly traded him away after Super Bowl XLVII, but it was great seeing him back in Baltimore as Sunday’s “Legend of the Game.” He shared the following story during his retirement press conference:

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 2 win over Arizona

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens starting 2-0 for the third time in four years after a 23-17 win over Arizona, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Terrell Suggs’ return to Baltimore was uneventful as he finished with three tackles. He was paid handsomely to return to play in his home state, but I couldn’t help but wonder if witnessing the dramatic improvement from Lamar Jackson firsthand made him regret that decision a little more.

2. The zone coverage breakdowns were concerning — especially with Kansas City up next — but the situational defense was exactly what you want to see. The Cardinals were 3-for-12 on third and fourth downs and 1-for-4 inside the red zone. That’s how you survive giving up 6.5 yards per play.

3. We noted last week that Jackson didn’t throw much outside the numbers against Miami, but that wasn’t the case in Week 2 as he completed passes all over the field (see below), including his beautiful 41-yard completion to seal the six-point win. This is really getting fun.

4. Aside from a Kyler Murray 31-yard pass to KeeSean Johnson in the second quarter, Brandon Carr was stellar with a team-high seven tackles, the second sack of his career, and a pass breakup. Having the versatility to play the nickel is another reminder how valuable his 2017 signing was.

5. The only player to have more receiving yards than Marquise Brown in his first two NFL games was Anquan Boldin in 2003. So much for tempering expectations for a 22-year-old who missed the entire spring and a large portion of summer practice reps. He’s making it look easy.

6. As unexpected as Brown’s immediate success might be, Mark Andrews dominating over the first two games isn’t surprising. He’s caught 16 of the 17 passes on which he’s been targeted so far. Todd Heap’s single-season record of 855 receiving yards by a tight end is in real jeopardy.

7. Sacks are just part of the equation when evaluating a pass rusher, but Matthew Judon has collected one in each of the first two games. He didn’t hit the two-sack mark until Week 9 last season. His contract year is certainly off to a strong start.

8. Pernell McPhee split a sack with Patrick Ricard and played 40 snaps. That workload is more than you’d like to give the 30-year-old with an injury history, but McPhee is the only one offering much pressure when lining up inside.

9. The motion, pre-snap movement, and deception the Ravens are using has to be dizzying for opposing defenses. Jackson’s touchdown to Hayden Hurst came after the tight end flipped to the right side, chipped an edge rusher, went to the ground, and jumped up to catch an easy 1-yard score.

10. Unsuccessfully going for a fourth-and-3 from the Arizona 43 on the second drive drew some criticism, but it’s the aggressiveness we’ve come to expect from John Harbaugh. Give me the coach trying to win as opposed to playing not to lose like kicking three field goals inside the 5.

11. Ben Roethlisberger is out for the year, winless Cincinnati was throttled in its home opener, and Baker Mayfield and Cleveland hardly looked like a well-oiled machine against the injury-ravaged Jets after being embarrassed by 30 points at home in Week 1. The AFC North is Baltimore’s division to lose.

12. Change was a theme at the stadium with the debut of new public address announcer Greg Davis and Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” replacing U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name” for player introductions. My favorite change, however, was the return of the Ravens shield as the midfield logo.

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Changing Ravens’ song at wide receiver will be one of DeCosta’s biggest tasks

Posted on 26 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The early reviews have been positive for new Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta.

Many doubted the trade value for former starting quarterback Joe Flacco before DeCosta struck an agreement to send the former Super Bowl MVP to Denver for a fourth-round pick in April’s draft. The Ravens are counting on Tavon Young to still grow into the three-year, $25.8 million extension that makes him — at least temporarily — the NFL’s highest-paid slot cornerback, but the organization keeping a talented player entering his age-25 season is a welcome sight.

However, the Monday release of wide receiver Michael Crabtree ends the honeymoon for DeCosta. That’s not to say the veteran’s departure was unexpected or the wrong decision after a disappointing lone season in Baltimore, but it officially signals the latest instance of Phil Connors waking up to “I Got You Babe” in “Groundhog Day.”

The Ravens are about to embark on their latest rebuild of a wide receiver room that currently includes Willie Snead, Chris Moore, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley, and Quincy Adeboyejo — the latter three without a single NFL target to their names — so let’s get the usual platitudes out of the way.

We know it’s a challenging position to scout, draft, and develop. Top-shelf options on the free-agent market are expensive. Talented receivers could be on the board in any round of the draft. And, yes, there are other positions of need — like the interior offensive line — to address this offseason.

The aforementioned statements are both true and weary excuses. And the arrival of 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson has brought additional comments this offseason, ranging from the Baltimore brass stating a desire to have receivers with strong run-blocking ability to others stating wide receivers aren’t as important for a mobile quarterback in a run-first offense. There may be some truth in those sentiments, especially with a young tight end group trending upward, but that remains a limited outlook for the side of the ball that’s gotten the short end of the stick for years. And you’re forgiven for not being enthused about the idea of blocking-minded receivers when the organization can’t find those sporting the traditional requirements of the position.

Jackson needs high-quality wide receivers to help in his development if the Ravens truly hope to maximize their investment in a first-round quarterback. There’s no telling how Flacco’s early career would have gone without Derrick Mason or Anquan Boldin after that, but can you imagine what might have been had the Ravens not fumbled the position so much over the last several years? You hope a lesson has been learned, even with the organization now boasting an exciting young quarterback with a unique skill set.

But that’s where it’s tricky trying to determine whether anything will really change under a new general manager who isn’t new at all. DeCosta surely didn’t agree with every move made by his mentor and former general manager Ozzie Newsome over the years, but it would be just as naive to assume he was opposed to every misstep ultimately taken at the wide receiver position.

Considering the Ravens have selected just one wide receiver — Breshad Perriman — in the first three rounds of the last seven drafts despite the position being an annual concern, how do you explain away DeCosta’s responsibility knowing the draft has long been his baby? Before last year’s draft, he was asked about that recent track record and whether the organization valued the wide receiver position enough on their board compared to other teams around the league:

“To get a good player at any position, you’ve got to swing. You can get one at-bat in a baseball game and strike out and everyone’s going to say you’re a bad hitter. But if you get up four times and you hit two singles or two doubles, you’re a .500 hitter, so your whole perception changes. You’ve got to swing. We probably haven’t swung quite as much, quite honestly, for a lot of different reasons.

“I think that [with] the receiver position and skill players in general, what I see is a sense of inflation. The value of the skill players has been affected by inflation. Players are getting drafted probably higher than where we actually see their skill levels necessarily being. What I mean by that is we see players that we think are second-round or third-round players getting drafted in the first round. And we see first-round players at some of the skill positions that may be lower-half-of-the-first-round players sometimes getting drafted in the top half of the first round. I think some of that is because of the perception and the pressure to find skill players. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re any better than other players that they’re drafted in front of, but that the value of these players has changed.

“We have to make a decision. Are we going to react to that as well in order to get players? For instance, you might have a quarterback as being the 20th-best player in the draft, but the chances that you’re going to get him with the 20th pick are basically nonexistent. He’s going to be a top-10 player because he’s a quarterback. The various positions [and] the values of the various positions in terms of winning and losing football games, it seems like the media, the fan base, draft pundits, the NFL teams, everybody has a different opinion. But that makes the value of those skills players greater than probably if you just graded all those players clinically across board. They would be taken higher than what you have them rated, and we have to make a decision of do we want to participate in that inflationary process basically.”

Perhaps the decision to adapt is coming, but DeCosta’s assessment preceded the Ravens passing on first-round wide receivers DJ Moore and Calvin Ridley in favor of trading down to take tight end Hayden Hurst and trading back into the first round to select Jackson. Wide receivers Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley were grabbed in the fourth and fifth rounds, respectively, but neither appeared in a single game last season with Scott stashed on injured reserve and Lasley inactive every week.

The jury is still out, but the Ravens can’t continue to point to one failed first-round pick every decade as reason for not taking swings beyond late-round fliers at the position.

In the same way DeCosta deserves his portion of credit for the great success that includes two Super Bowl championships in the last two decades, he shares in the blame for the lack of draft success at the wide receiver position. And while they’ve found some success — and duds — signing past-their-prime receivers at a discount, this new era for the organization signals the need for a long-term answer or two.

There may be no better way for DeCosta to make his mark on the roster as the new man in charge than putting this longstanding criticism to bed and positioning his young quarterback to reach greater heights. No, wide receiver isn’t the only order of business this offseason, but it’s an important one deserving more than just the typical band-aid or two.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, or we’ll be back here again next year as Sonny & Cher plays in the background.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Flacco trade to Denver

Posted on 13 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to trade longtime quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick next month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Credit Eric DeCosta for extracting value from an inevitable divorce, especially after the organization hadn’t even tried to be coy about its intentions. I was skeptical he’d find a trade partner. Taking the entire $16 million dead money hit in 2019 will leave a clean salary cap for 2020.

2. Flacco will be remembered in part for what he never became — below-average post-Super Bowl numbers bear that out — but he was the best quarterback in team history and, most importantly, a champion. The Ravens are lucky he passed their way after years wasted in the quarterback doldrums.

3. It’s easy to say Flacco didn’t live up to his historic contract signed after his 2012 postseason, but the organization never adjusted upon seeing he couldn’t do it by himself, continuing to prioritize defense and putting far fewer resources into the offense. The letdown was mutual at the very least.

4. He’d never admit something that’s subconscious anyway, but I don’t think Flacco has recovered mentally from his 2015 ACL injury. Some free-agent departures on the offensive line didn’t help, but his tendencies to check down and feel pressure even when it wasn’t there became more pronounced after the injury.

5. The Ravens dumping Anquan Boldin remains indefensible six years later, but the post-Super Bowl fall of Ray Rice was even more devastating to Flacco’s career considering what he produced as a receiver out of the backfield. Baltimore still hasn’t come close to replacing that element.

6. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are among the best Ravens ever, but they didn’t own a single playoff win until 2008. Flacco benefited greatly from them too, of course, but you wonder what could have been if he’d come along five years earlier instead of Kyle Boller.

7. Of the Ravens’ 17 Day 1 and 2 draft picks from 2013-17, Crockett Gillmore, Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Ronnie Stanley were the only offensive players selected. Flacco’s hefty contract never explained that.

8. Durability was one of Flacco’s biggest strengths early in his career, but injuries have either disrupted his preparation or cost him games in each of the last four seasons. It’s tough seeing that trend improving as the 34-year-old enters his 12th year in the NFL.

9. I never understood the criticism of Flacco not making his receivers better. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace became 1,000-yard receivers again after appearing to be in decline elsewhere. Torrey Smith’s numbers crashed as soon as he departed. Who are these former Ravens receivers who suddenly blossomed elsewhere?

10. It’s strange to think exactly six years, two months, and one day after the “Mile High Miracle,” the Broncos will officially welcome Flacco to Denver. I’m guessing Rahim Moore and Jacoby Jones won’t be at the introductory press conference.

11. Flacco didn’t perform to his record contract, but he remained a good teammate and never complained about the aforementioned variables that didn’t help his cause. Yes, he made a ton of money, but that hasn’t stopped other high-priced athletes from being malcontents over the years.

12. What would you really change about the Flacco era? The Ravens weren’t letting the Super Bowl MVP walk, and he had extraordinary contract leverage. The success early in his career should far outweigh the last several years in which he and Baltimore remained competitive but weren’t quite good enough.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2018 season opener

Posted on 04 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens opening the 2018 season by hosting Buffalo on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’m more optimistic about the Ravens than I’ve been in a few years, but it has very little to do with the 5-0 preseason beyond staying pretty healthy. The Indianapolis game was the only time Baltimore played at full strength — or close to it — against another team at full strength.

2. Is it more surprising that Alex Collins, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead combined to touch the ball only eight times in the preseason or that no one is talking about that? To be clear, that’s not a criticism, but it speaks to the unknown still at work here.

3. Is anyone else tired of talking about the backup quarterback situation? A healthy Joe Flacco playing at a higher level is the key to this season — not whether Lamar Jackson or Robert Griffin III is backing him up. In a perfect world, Griffin doesn’t take a snap all season.

4. Bills coach Sean McDermott made the right call naming Nathan Peterman his starting quarterback and protecting first-round pick Josh Allen from playing on the road against a tough Baltimore defense that’s frequently eaten rookie quarterbacks alive over the years. That won’t save Peterman though.

5. Remember how the Ravens had $17 million in dead money on their salary cap in 2015, the year they finished 5-11? Fresh off their first playoff appearance of the millennium, the Bills are carrying an unthinkable $53.1 million in dead money on this year’s cap. You can’t win that way.

6. Willie Henry’s early absence could change things, but I like the decision to shift Brandon Williams back to nose tackle after he played more of the 3-technique spot with Michael Pierce at the nose last year. Williams is excellent against the run, so you want to maximize his biggest strength.

7. The practice-squad signings of Cyrus Jones and Tim White should signal to Janarion Grant not to get too comfortable as the return specialist. I’m not convinced the Ravens have found their answer in this department or if that individual is currently in the organization.

8. I’m not sure how long rookie cornerback Darious Williams will be on the 53-man roster, but he began his Alabama-Birmingham career as a walk-on and stayed put through the football program’s temporary disbandment and two-year hiatus from playing games. That’s quite a journey to the NFL.

9. Four teams making waiver claims on Carl Davis and his release even after Henry’s injury should speak to the depth of the Baltimore defensive line. Seeing Cleveland grab the versatile Davis wasn’t remotely surprising.

10. The Ravens are starting their second decade of the John Harbaugh-Flacco era. Some would argue that isn’t a good thing, but that kind of continuity isn’t fully appreciated until it’s gone. Over the last decade, the Browns have had six head coaches and used 19 starting quarterbacks.

11. Questions remain about the circumstances that led to Kaare Vedvik being found with head and upper-body injuries early Saturday in East Baltimore. I feel for the 24-year-old as he had a good chance to be kicking in the NFL this year, but the outcome could have been much worse.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for naming Anquan Boldin their “Legend of the Game” for the opener. Does this reverse the “Boldin Curse” that’s resulted in four non-playoff seasons since he was traded for a sixth-round pick five weeks after Super Bowl XLVII?

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