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Ravens bringing back veteran pass rusher Pernell McPhee

Posted on 16 May 2019 by Luke Jones

The man replaced by Za’Darius Smith four years ago is returning to the Ravens to try to reclaim that again-vacated spot.

Veteran pass rusher Pernell McPhee will return to the team which which he won a Super Bowl and played the first four seasons of his NFL career. The 30-year-old is expected to sign a one-year deal to add more competition and depth to an inexperienced group of outside linebackers needing to replace Smith and potential future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs, who both departed as free agents.

McPhee played in 13 games for Washington last season, collecting 11 tackles (three for a loss), eight quarterback hits, two passes defensed, and no sacks in 204 defensive snaps. He spent the previous three seasons with Chicago, who signed the 6-foot-3, 265-pound pass rusher to a five-year, $38.75 million contract in 2015. Prior to playing against the Ravens for the first time in 2017, McPhee acknowledged being disappointed then-general manager Ozzie Newsome didn’t try to re-sign him after he recorded 7 1/2 sacks in his career-best 2014 season.

“It was still in my system — being a Raven, playing like a Raven,” said McPhee, who played in eight postseason games with Baltimore. “That’s how I was bred into this NFL world. That was my birth, just playing like a Raven, being a Raven. Not getting an offer from them, it hurt. But I will always salute Ozzie and coach [John] Harbaugh for giving me the opportunity to be a Raven.”

Knee and shoulder injuries prevented McPhee from living up to the expectations of that monster contract with the Bears as he recorded just 14 sacks in 36 games and was released after the 2017 season.

The 2011 fifth-round pick from Mississippi State was at his best with the Ravens as the coaching staff limited his snaps to keep him healthy and productive. He registered a total of 17 sacks as a situational rusher and played all 16 games in three of those four seasons.

With fourth-year veteran Matthew Judon projected to start at one outside linebacker spot, McPhee will compete with 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams and 2019 third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson for playing time in the pass-rush rotation. The veteran’s ability to rush from inside and outside positions could give him an edge in securing a roster spot.

Even if McPhee isn’t an ironclad lock to make the 53-man roster after the worst statistical season of his career, his arrival should put more pressure on the likes of Bowser and Williams, who have been disappointments through their first two seasons.

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correa

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Hall of Fame Game victory

Posted on 03 August 2018 by Luke Jones

CANTON, Ohio — With the Ravens kicking off the 2018 preseason with a 17-16 win over the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Kamalei Correa was a star at both outside and inside linebacker and collected three sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, two pass breakups, and six tackles. He needs to build on that after a quiet start to the summer, but seeing that performance from the former second-round pick was encouraging.

2. Hayden Hurst looked the part of a first-round pick with the ability to contribute as a rookie as he caught three passes, one for a touchdown in the third quarter. He had recently had some struggles in training camp, but the South Carolina product moved very well over the middle.

3. The Ravens defense coming away with an interception on the opening drive seemed fitting after leading the NFL in takeaways a year ago. I continue to like what I see from Chuck Clark as part of a deep and versatile secondary.

4. Lamar Jackson’s play reflected what we’ve seen throughout the spring and summer as he has a long way to go to be an NFL starting quarterback, but that’s fine. My biggest concern was seeing him take so many hits in the open field rather than running out of bounds or sliding.

5. The idea of waiting to play Jackson until the second half to alleviate some of the pressure had merit, but the offensive line surrendering five sacks even before intermission had to have John Harbaugh reconsidering that plan. The rookie quarterback didn’t exactly have much time in the pocket.

6. Thursday didn’t reflect well on the offensive line depth, but Orlando Brown Jr. was a bright spot as he allowed just one pressure on 48 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Even if James Hurst begins the season as the right tackle, the extensive reps for Brown are valuable.

7. It took under five minutes of play before the new helmet rule came into effect as Patrick Onwuasor was penalized and we saw a few more flags. Ravens players were recently advised by league officials to tackle as though they’re not wearing helmets. Yes, it’s likely to be a mess.

8. Breshad Perriman needs a big summer to make the team, so a Robert Griffin III slant pass going right through his hands for an interception was as bad a preseason start as he could have. The 2015 first-round pick not taking a single special-team rep wasn’t a great sign either.

9. Tim Williams didn’t fill up the stat sheet like Correa did, but PFF credited the 2017 third-round pick with six hurries to go along with a quarterback hit in 41 pass-rushing opportunities. He needs to show more of that against better competition as the preseason progresses.

10. With the top three running backs sitting, rookie Gus Edwards started and finished with 58 yards on 11 touches while displaying decent field vision. Fellow rookie Mark Thompson didn’t help his cause with a fumble. Kenneth Dixon’s inability to stay healthy could create the opportunity for a roster spot here.

11. Media predictably weren’t pleased to see Jackson’s debut delayed until the third quarter, but NBC had to be thrilled for the extra hook to keep the viewing audience engaged. The play in the second half was pretty ugly all the way around.

12. The best news from Thursday’s win was the Ravens escaping Canton without any notable injuries, according to Harbaugh. Cross your fingers and toes while knocking on wood, but the football gods have been kind to Baltimore in the health department so far.

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Ravens-Bears preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 01 August 2018 by Luke Jones

At a time when most teams are still settling into the training camp routine, the Ravens will kick off the NFL preseason schedule while celebrating the most iconic player in franchise history.

Baltimore will face the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night, the opening of induction weekend as Ray Lewis officially joins football immortality. This marks the first time the Ravens will be playing in the Canton, Ohio exhibition in their 23-year history.

“We’re excited. A really good couple weeks of practice, but it’s time to go play a game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s what you work for, a chance to play the game. It’s going to be a great opportunity for a lot of our players.”

It remains to be seen how many notable veteran players will take part as Harbaugh made it clear months ago that the likes of Joe Flacco, Eric Weddle, and Terrell Suggs would not play in the extra preseason contest preceding the typical four-week schedule. In recent years, participating teams have typically held out most starters and some key backups in the Hall of Fame Game with young players on the 90-man preseason roster receiving most of the playing time.

The message is clear for young players competing for a starting role or simply trying to be noticed in their quest to earn a spot on the 53-man roster or 10-man practice squad.

“Keep it simple, pay attention to what’s important, and that’s going to be knowing your assignment and playing hard,” Harbaugh said. “If you’re on defense, run to the football. If you’re on offense, make the catch, finish the play. Keep it simple, play football, and let the chips fly.”

Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Chicago will meet in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other meeting in 1998. However, the Bears won a 27-24 overtime contest at M&T Bank Stadium last October and lead the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

Baltimore has a 28-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and has won eight straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what the injury report would look like if one were to be released ahead of Thursday night’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include the extensive list of veteran players and starters expected to be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps), TE Mark Andrews, OL Greg Senat
DOUBTFUL: RB Kenneth Dixon
QUESTIONABLE: LB Tyus Bowser, S Tony Jefferson, S Kai Nacua, CB Bennett Jackson, TE Hayden Hurst, G Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), CB Maurice Canady (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

QB Lamar Jackson

Who else would top the list? It remains to be seen whether Jackson or Robert Griffin III will get the start, but all eyes will be watching how effectively the first-round rookie commands the huddle and offense in general. Quarterbacks coach James Urban wants Jackson to simply “compete and complete” on Thursday, taking what throws the defense gives him and using his athletic ability if receivers are covered. Predictably, Jackson has been inconsistent this summer, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a highlight play or two, especially against reserves with little shot of making the Bears’ 53-man roster. Jackson’s presence alone makes this arguably the most anticipated preseason in team history.

LB Kamalei Correa

Many thought a move back to outside linebacker might finally allow Correa to reach his full potential as a former second-round pick, but he’s had a quiet start to summer and is on the roster bubble. His best path to a roster spot continues to depend on special-teams play and serving in a versatile reserve role like Albert McClellan, but that’s not what Ozzie Newsome envisioned when drafting Correa in 2016.

WR Jordan Lasley

Lasley has been as advertised coming out of UCLA, flashing big-play ability and showing inconsistent hands. He’s an emotional player, which can serve as a strength or a detriment depending on the situation. Fortunately, the Ravens don’t need Lasley to step into an impact role immediately, but seeing him connect with Jackson a few times Thursday night will have fans daydreaming about the future.

LB Kenny Young

Defensive coordinator Don Martindale went out of his way to mention the 2018 fourth-round pick being in the thick of the competition with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor for the weak-side inside linebacker spot, a surprising development based on practice reps to that point. Since then, Young has seen some snaps with the starting defense, but making an impact in pass coverage would certainly help his cause.

RB Mark Thompson

With third-year running back Kenneth Dixon sidelined with what’s believed to be a hamstring issue, the Ravens will be taking an even closer look at their trio of undrafted rookie running backs: Thompson, Gus Edwards, and De’Lance Turner. Thompson’s 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame immediately stands out, but the Florida product has shown some ability as a receiver out of the backfield to go with his physicality.

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jefferson

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Ravens to play Chicago in 2018 Hall of Fame Game

Posted on 13 February 2018 by Luke Jones

Newly-elected Hall of Fame linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher will be followed to Canton by their former teams as the Ravens will play the Chicago Bears in the 2018 Hall of Fame Game.

As many speculated with Lewis being a headliner inductee, the Ravens will participate in the annual exhibition game at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium in Ohio on Thursday, Aug. 2. The 8 p.m. kickoff will mark the first time in team history that the Ravens will play in the Hall of Fame Game.

Lewis, Urlacher, and the rest of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2018 will be enshrined on Saturday, Aug. 4 with a significant contingent of Ravens fans expected to be in attendance.

Tuesday’s announcement means John Harbaugh’s team will play five preseason games this summer instead of the traditional four and will be permitted to start training camp as early as July 18, a week earlier than normal. Despite the benefit of extra practice time, participating teams usually proceed with great caution in the Hall of Fame Game by resting most of their prominent players as Dallas and Arizona each held out upwards of 30 players in last year’s contest.

The Bears will be playing in the Hall of Fame Game for a record-tying fifth time and are coming off a 5-11 campaign that included a 27-24 upset victory over the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium last October. Four of Chicago’s five victories last season came in a clean sweep of the AFC North.

Those interested in joining WNST.net for Ray Lewis’ Hall of Fame induction in Canton can sign up for our various trip options HERE.

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Brandon Williams returns to struggling Ravens run defense

Posted on 18 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Wearing his customary Incredible Hulk shirt under his jersey and shoulder pads Wednesday, Brandon Williams practiced fully for the first time in over a month.

The Ravens hope the defensive tackle’s return brings a superhero-like impact to their struggling run defense. It’s certainly needed with Baltimore ranking an unheard-of 30th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game (141.3) and 21st in yards per carry (4.3). Both marks would shatter franchise-worst records for a defense that’s prided itself in shutting down opposing running games for two decades.

Is the standout defensive lineman the savior as the Ravens try to get back on track in Minnesota on Sunday?

“I’m just a guy,” said Williams, who hasn’t played since injuring his left foot in the first half of the 24-10 win over Cleveland on Sept. 17. “I’m just a guy who’s working to get back on the field. That’s all I’m doing. Today, it felt good. I have two more days [of practice] to go, and then hopefully, I’ll be back soon.”

At the time of Williams’ halftime exit in that Week 2 victory, the Ravens had allowed a stingy 3.4 yards per carry on 34 season attempts. They’ve surrendered an unimpressive 4.4 yards per rush since then as defensive end Brent Urban was lost for the season in Week 3 and emerging reserve Carl Davis has also missed action in recent weeks.

With the defensive line banged up and relying heavily on inexperienced backups, nose tackle Michael Pierce laughed at the notion of Williams proclaiming himself to be “just a guy” for a defense that had extraordinary expectations entering the 2017 season.

“That’s one of our key defensive pieces,” said Pierce, who has continued to play well despite receiving more attention from offensive lines in Williams’ absence. “Anytime you have him back, that frees up other guys to make plays. Double teams will start coming off of me, and they’ll start focusing on him more and free me up and free our ends up. It just frees everybody up. It definitely keeps our linebackers clean and that’s something we take pride in.”

The blame for the porous run defense doesn’t fall solely on the defensive line as both Davis and second-year defensive tackle Willie Henry have performed admirably despite their limited NFL experience. But plugging in solid rotational contributors isn’t the same as having the man who was awarded a $52.5 million contract in the offseason to be the anchor in the trenches.

The “next man up” mantra is the refrain uttered after any injury, but Williams is a difference-making talent on a team frankly in need of more game-changers.

“This machine has working parts to it, and you need all of your parts,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s always great to have one of the best interior linemen back on the team.”

With Williams potentially returning to play against the Vikings, the Ravens hope the low point for their defense came last week when they allowed a franchise-record 231 yards on 54 attempts, which allowed Chicago to win with a rookie quarterback making his first career road start.

It’s all been a frustrating experience for the 2013 third-round pick, who hadn’t missed a game since his rookie season.

“Not being in the game and watching your brothers go out to battle, it is always tough to watch,” Williams said. “You want to be out there and you want to help, but there is nothing you can do. It stinks watching from the sidelines, but hopefully I can get right and get back out there soon.”

Williams may not be “just a guy” for the Ravens, but teammates acknowledged Wednesday that they all need to pick up their play after such a disappointing month. The problems stopping the run haven’t solely occurred between the tackles as outside linebackers haven’t set the edge consistently and inside linebackers and safeties have missed too many tackles.

Baltimore will catch a break Sunday with Vikings rookie running back Dalvin Cook now out for the season after suffering a torn ACL a few weeks ago, but it will take more than Williams’ return for this defense to regroup and reclaim its place as a top-10 run defense, a title held in 14 of the last 18 seasons.

“I think he’s a part of the answer,” said Pierce of his defensive line partner. “Everybody should be accountable for their gap integrity on each and every play. You just see leaks here and there from myself and from everybody on the defense. We have to clean that up, and he’s going to be a big help just taking on those double teams and freeing up guys.

“It’s a big help, but at the end of the day, everybody has to be accountable.”

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jefferson

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss to Chicago

Posted on 17 October 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first home defeat to a rookie quarterback in 20 years in the 27-24 loss to Chicago, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After earning a stop-the-bleeding win last week, the putrid Ravens offense resurfaced and was responsible for just 11 of the team’s 24 points. Marty Mornhinweg may not deserve all blame, but he should take a cue from Chicago’s playbook that included a halfback pass. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

2. Forgive the baseball comparison, but we were reminded that the Ravens are to wide receivers what the Orioles are to starting pitching. This is a major weakness, but the organization never commits to fixing the issue for the long haul. Sunday was an embarrassing performance from that group.

3. Matthew Judon followed a strong Week 5 with the best game of his career by leading the defense with 12 tackles, two sacks, and two other tackles for a loss. With Terrell Suggs having just turned 35, the Ravens need their young edge rushers to grow up sooner than later.

4. In the first 21 seasons in Baltimore, the Ravens defense never finished worse than 23rd in rushing yards per game and only once (1996) finished worse than 10th in rushing yards per attempt. They currently rank 30th and 21st in those categories. Is this really only about Brandon Williams’ absence?

5. Supporters who refuse to find fault in Joe Flacco are as tiresome as those who want to blame him for everything, but I don’t know how anyone who actually watched the game can criticize him above everything else. He certainly made some mistakes, but did you see those receivers play?

6. Tony Jefferson was beaten for two touchdown passes and ranks 60th among safeties in Pro Football Focus’ grading system after finishing fifth last year. Fellow safety Eric Weddle has also struggled, but the Ravens need to start seeing a better return on the $19 million guaranteed to Jefferson in March.

7. I felt good for Bobby Rainey returning a kickoff for a touchdown after being hit by his own man and alertly getting up. Five years after signing with Baltimore as a rookie free agent and playing for three other teams, Rainey finally appeared in a game for the Ravens.

8. John Harbaugh didn’t offer a glowing endorsement of Bronson Kaufusi after the rest of the defensive line was overworked and he barely played Sunday. Ronnie Stanley certainly hasn’t disappointed, but remember the Ravens could have traded the pick used on Kaufusi to move up for cornerback Jalen Ramsey in 2016.

9. The rushing attack had another strong day, but is the ceiling high enough for it to all but single-handedly win games in a fashion similar to what the Bears did? Considering how inept the passing offense has been across the board, that’s what it might take to be successful.

10. Harbaugh isn’t the only coach with this problem and this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned this, but it’s maddening how wasteful the Ravens are with timeouts. Burning one when you’re trailing by 11 points and about to attempt a 50-yard field goal with three minutes left is indefensible.

11. We’ll never know if Ozzie Newsome would have made another deal before the start of the season, but how delusional were the Ravens to even suggest they were confident at wide receiver before Maclin fell into their laps in mid-June? And, yes, I know I’m belaboring the point now.

12. The good news is the NFL reeks of mediocrity more than ever and the Ravens’ schedule appears even more favorable after the Aaron Rodgers injury. The bad news is that Sunday’s loss confirms that Baltimore could also lose any of its remaining 10 games. Yes, even the one in Cleveland.

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Harbaugh sticks up for Mornhinweg amidst Ravens’ offensive woes

Posted on 17 October 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens sporting one of the worst offenses in the NFL, John Harbaugh had to know the question was coming about offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

What gives the 10th-year head coach confidence that Mornhinweg has the struggling unit going in the right direction?

“I think Marty’s a great coach. There’s no question in my mind about it,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve seen him over the years. I know what he can do. I know what he’s trying to do. I know what all the coaches are trying to do.

“You do everything you can to put your guys in position to make plays, and you’re in it together. The players are in it together; the coaches are in it together. We’re fighting together to try and do it.”

Baltimore currently ranks 28th or worse in the NFL in total yards per game, passing yards per game, yards per passing attempt, and third-down conversion percentage. The Ravens’ 19.0 points per game rank 24th, but the defense and special teams have combined to score three touchdowns over the last two games and three of their nine offensive touchdowns on the season have come on drives of 40 or fewer yards.

In other words, the offense has received plenty of help and is still scoring at a below-average level.

The only saving grace of the unit has been the running game as the Ravens rank seventh in rushing yards per contest and 10th in yards per carry, but much of that credit goes to senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman, who was specifically hired to revamp a rushing attack that had struggled the previous two seasons. That success has led many to wonder if Roman might be the better choice to lead the offense if the Ravens continue to struggle to such a dramatic degree.

To be fair, Mornhinweg has endured a slew of injuries to offensive players dating back to organized team activities and wasn’t the one who chose to exhaust most offseason resources on the defense despite a below-average offense from last season losing several key players. Nine of the 16 Ravens currently on injured reserve are offensive players, a list that doesn’t include former tight end Dennis Pitta.

“Anytime you try to pin the blame on any one person in a team sport like this, that’s always going to be a mistake,” Harbaugh said. “That’s nonsensical. It just doesn’t work that way. But I understand that’s how it works. We all understand that.”

Mornhinweg certainly doesn’t deserve all of the blame for the offensive failures, but the same was true for former offensive coordinators Cam Cameron and Marc Trestman when Harbaugh fired them in 2012 and 2016, respectively. The one-year anniversary of Trestman’s dismissal fell last week, and the Ravens offense currently ranks worse statistically than it did last year in nearly every major category.

Injury report

Harbaugh didn’t offer much clarity on the status of wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who missed Sunday’s game against Chicago with a shoulder injury.

Maclin practiced all week on a limited basis and even went through a pre-game workout on Sunday morning, but the Ravens coach didn’t indicate how close the veteran wideout was to being able to play. The Ravens failed to score an offensive touchdown for the first time all season in the 27-24 loss to the Bears

“I don’t really know how close it was. That’s up to the doctors,” Harbaugh said. “That would be something you have to ask them. They don’t really tell us how close a guy is. There is no percentage on that that I am aware of.”

In addition to Maclin’s absence, the Ravens lost both wide receiver Breshad Perriman (concussion) and tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) in the second quarter Sunday. Harbaugh had no update on either member of the 2015 draft class.

“We hope to have all of our guys back next week,” Harbaugh said. “We will just have to see how it shakes out.”

Defensive tackles Brandon Williams (foot) and Carl Davis (hamstring), guard Matt Skura (knee), running back Terrance West (calf), cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring), and linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) were all inactive on Sunday. It was the first time this season that the Ravens didn’t have a single healthy scratch among their seven game-day inactives.

Jimmy Smith increases workload

After being limited to seven snaps in the Week 5 win at Oakland, cornerback Jimmy Smith played 69 of 80 snaps against the Bears, a positive sign for a standout defensive player who’s been limited by Achilles tendinitis in recent weeks.

“He made it out of the game great. Jimmy did well,” Harbaugh said. “He was good. He’s probably sore from the game, but he played all the snaps. He played excellent. I thought all our corners played exceptionally well.”

With Smith nearly back to full strength, rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey played only 12 defensive snaps while veteran starter Brandon Carr played all but two on Sunday. The Ravens didn’t run their nickel and dime packages nearly as frequently with the Bears running the ball a whopping 54 times for 231 yards.

Kaufusi doesn’t help thin defensive line

That heavy volume in the Chicago running game led to a long day for an already-thin defensive line.

Baltimore’s three starters up front — Willie Henry, Michael Pierce, and Chris Wormley — all played at least 54 defensive snaps with Henry finishing with a whopping 68, a very high total for a defensive lineman. In contrast, reserve 5-technique defensive end Bronson Kaufusi played only five defensive snaps, leading one to wonder if he may have sustained an injury at some point over the course of the game.

“He was healthy. You have to play well, and he’s learning, to be honest with you,” Harbaugh said. “We had to stop the run, and we needed a little more physicality in there. Fifty-four snaps [for each starting defensive lineman] is probably a lot, but we had 80 defensive snaps [total]. You earn your snaps.”

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howard

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Long-held constants for Ravens go up in smoke in overtime

Posted on 16 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens had no business being in the game, yet they somehow entered overtime against Chicago with momentum on their side.

A defense that had given up a handful of big plays over the first 40 minutes of action had tightened up to force three three-and-outs and two fumbles on the Bears’ final five drives of regulation. Michael Campanaro’s 77-yard punt return for a touchdown — with a 2-point conversion — had miraculously tied the score at 24 with 1:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Even with a bumbling offense that was nothing short of dreadful all afternoon, how could you not like the Ravens’ chances starting over against a 1-4 opponent and a rookie quarterback in overtime? After all, Baltimore hadn’t lost a home game to a first-year signal-caller in 20 years.

The time of possession and number of plays run by each side was virtually identical at the end of four quarters, meaning there was no real excuse for the defense to be tired. And it showed on the opening possession of overtime when the Ravens forced another punt after only four plays.

Now is when we’re supposed to criticize the offense for a three-and-out after a bad punt had given Baltimore the ball at its own 40-yard line, but I haven’t the energy to belabor the point anymore. This disastrous unit is the product of injuries and a poor offseason approach from general manager Ozzie Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh, and there’s little reason to hope for meaningful improvement at this point. It’s not as though this group had been clicking even with wide receiver Jeremy Maclin on the field beyond last week’s win in Oakland, so to watch a completely broken passing game without him on Sunday wasn’t surprising.

Still, a Baltimore defense comprised of free-agent acquisitions and a slew of draft picks in recent years took the field with Mitchell Trubisky and the Bears backed up at their own 7 with 5:40 remaining. You had to know Chicago offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was going to call for a run in that situation, and that’s exactly what he did.

Bears running back Jordan Howard had rushed for 114 yards to that point, but he’d needed 32 carries to do it. That’s hardly great run defense as the Bears’ ground game had managed to remain functional throughout the day — allowing them to keep the game out of their rookie quarterback’s hands — but the Ravens had surrendered a very respectable 3.4 yards per carry in regulation.

Surely a franchise that’s prided itself in stopping the run for the better part of two decades wasn’t going to be beaten on the ground in overtime, right?

Howard ran outside left, eluded lunging Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, and was engaged by Eric Weddle. Instead of wrapping tight and waiting for reinforcements on a short gain, the 11th-year safety focused on trying to strip the ball and allowed the 224-pound back to break free for a 53-yard gain.

You can’t have two of your best defensive players whiff in that crucial situation.

Even after that disastrous play, the Ravens still had a chance to make a stop on third-and-11 from the 41, which would have made for a long field goal try at best. All they had to do was come up with a play against a rookie quarterback as they’d done so many times at home over the last 20 years, whether it was Peyton Manning in 1998 or DeShone Kizer earlier this year.

Trubisky stood up to pressure in the pocket, however, and delivered an 18-yard strike to a leaping Kendall Wright.

Ballgame.

Yes, the offense deserves the lion’s share of the blame for Sunday’s 27-24 defeat when it mustered just three field goals and a 2-point conversion in its home stadium. But this is a defense that was supposed to be great — that was the overwhelming focus of the offseason, after all — and really hasn’t been close to that level since the first two weeks of the season. Make no mistake, the absence of defensive tackle Brandon Williams has been a major factor, but using that as the sole explanation is letting the rest of the players and coaching staff off the hook.

A great defense doesn’t surrender the longest play of the game in overtime when you know a run is coming and doesn’t let a quarterback in his first career road start drive a stake through its heart on a third-and-long play.

Stopping the run and making life miserable for rookie quarterbacks at M&T Bank Stadium have been two constants for the Ravens over the years, but those went up in smoke when it mattered most.

As did their chances to win after they were fortunate to be given new life in the first place.

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Ravens-Bears: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 15 October 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens embark on a four-game stretch that could dramatically improve their playoff outlook by the time their Week 10 bye arrives next month.

The Chicago Bears are the first of four straight opponents currently dealing with concerns at quarterback as rookie first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky will make his first road start at M&T Bank Stadium, a place that’s been cruel to first-year quarterbacks over the years. In fact, the only rookie signal-caller to ever beat the Ravens in Baltimore was Arizona’s Jake Plummer at Memorial Stadium in 1997, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

In what comes as a surprise after he practiced all week on a limited basis, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) is inactive. The veteran wideout went through an on-field workout shortly before the inactive list was released Sunday morning, but overnight reports from ESPN and NFL Network indicated there was legitimate concern about his status for Week 6.

Maclin’s absence puts more pressure on Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman to produce against the league’s eighth-ranked pass defense. It could also trigger a greater workload for slot receiver Michael Campanaro, who would offer quarterback Joe Flacco more of a possession receiver option in the slot to go with Wallace and Perriman.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon) is active and will play despite missing two practices this week and playing only seven snaps in Oakland last Sunday. Smith told reporters Friday that he intended to play while continuing to manage the tendinitis that’s bothered him for a few weeks now.

Defensive tackle Carl Davis (hamstring) and cornerback Jaylen Hill (hamstring) are both inactive after being listed as questionable on the injury report. Tight end Maxx Williams (ankle) will make his return, however, after a three-game absence, which could lead to offensive coordinator featuring the tight ends more against Chicago.

As expected, defensive tackle Brandon Williams (foot) and outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) are inactive after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report. The good news is that the former practiced Friday for the first time since injuring his foot on Sept. 17, an encouraging sign for his availability at Minnesota next Sunday.

Running back Terrance West (calf) and right guard Matt Skura (knee) were officially declared out on Friday. Rookie Jermaine Eluemunor is expected to start in Skura’s place while Buck Allen and Alex Collins will share an increased workload in the backfield with West sidelined.

This marks the first time all year that the Ravens did not have a single healthy scratch among their seven inactive players as the injury bug continues to bite them hard.

There were no real surprises among Chicago’s inactives as wide receiver Markus Wheaton (groin) was officially ruled out on Friday. Starting inside linebacker Danny Trevathan is active and will play after serving a suspension last week.

Former Ravens running back Taquan Mizzell was a healthy scratch for the Bears.

Sunday’s referee is Ed Hochuli.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures reaching the high 70s with winds up to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with white pants while Chicago dons white tops with blue pants.

Sunday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with the Bears enjoying a 3-2 advantage. However, the Ravens have won each of the two games played in Baltimore

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Jeremy Maclin
RB Terrance West
CB Jaylen Hill
OLB Tim Williams
G Matt Skura
DT Carl Davis
DT Brandon Williams

CHICAGO
OL Hroniss Grasu
DL John Jenkins
LB Nick Kwiatkoski
RB Taquan Mizzell
QB Mark Sanchez
LB John Timu
WR Markus Wheaton

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Ravens-Bears: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 14 October 2017 by Luke Jones

A week after the season appeared on the verge of crashing downward, the Ravens picked up one of their better road wins in recent years to move back into a tie for first place in the AFC North.

Now they begin a four-game stretch that could propel them into an enviable position within the conference playoff picture by the time their Week 10 bye arrives. Of course, Chicago will have other intentions in rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s first career road start for a team off to a disappointing 1-4 start.

The Ravens are once again banged up as starting right guard Matt Skura and running back Terrance West won’t play and defensive tackle Brandon Williams and rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams are expected to sit out against the Bears. Cornerback Jimmy Smith is also questionable for the second straight week as he continues to deal with Achilles tendinitis.

It’s time to go on the record as the Bears play the Ravens in Baltimore for just the third time ever. Chicago leads the all-time series by a 3-2 margin and won the last meeting played at Soldier Field in 2013, but Baltimore has won both games at M&T Bank Stadium.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Tony Jefferson will grab his first interception as a Raven. The free-agent newcomer is second on the team in tackles, but we’ve yet to see Jefferson make a dynamic impact, which might be a product of how he’s been used as much as anything else. He collected a sack against Oakland blitzing in the dime, and that’s a package the Ravens should use more often considering how strong he is playing close to the line of scrimmage. Baltimore linebackers have had problems covering tight ends, so look for Jefferson to match up with Zach Miller, who figures to be a popular target for a rookie quarterback on the road.

2. Bears rookie Tarik Cohen will finish with more total yards than starter Jordan Howard. The latter was one of the surprise rookies of last season, but he’s off to a rather ordinary start this season with a 4.0 yards per carry average. Meanwhile, the 5-foot-6 Cohen has done quite a Darren Sproles impression by averaging 5.4 yards per carry and catching 25 passes in his first five games. Regardless of which back is touching the ball, the Ravens need to tighten up their run defense, which ranks an unimpressive 23rd in yards allowed per game and 20th in yards surrendered per rush attempt at 4.3.

3. Breshad Perriman will catch his first touchdown of the season. It speaks volumes about how disappointing the 2015 first-round pick has been with the way such a big deal was made over his 13-yard reception on a third down late in the third quarter against Oakland. Perriman ranks eighth on the team in receptions and receiving yards despite averaging just over 41 offensive snaps per game. John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have both spoken about the need to get Perriman more involved in the passing game, so look for the Ravens to try that as they did successfully last week with Mike Wallace.

4. A plus-three turnover advantage will allow Baltimore to lean on its running game in the second half. Trubisky has a strong arm and can move around, which will lead to him having his moments if the Ravens’ pass rush loses containment like it did on a few occasions against EJ Manuel. However, the rookie lacks enough talent at the wide receiver position to consistently be able to push the ball down the field and will make mistakes due to impatience. The Ravens defense has forced only two turnovers over the last three games after forcing 10 in their first two games. That changes on Sunday.

5. The Ravens will improve to 12-0 at home against rookie quarterbacks in the Harbaugh era with a 23-10 victory. Chicago sports a solid defense that will give Flacco and the offense some problems, but the Bears haven’t been dynamic enough to create turnovers, which is the only realistic path I envision for them to pull off an upset on Sunday. On the flip side, John Fox’s team would like to be able to lean on its running game, but the Ravens will make yards tough to come by in that department and do enough offensively to force the Bears to put the ball in Trubisky’s hands in the second half. This one will have a similar feel to the Week 2 home victory over Cleveland with a score almost identical.

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