Tag Archive | "bengals"

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 24: New hope

Posted on 06 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 25 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Quarterback had mostly been a wasteland in the 12-year history of the Ravens.

Vinny Testaverde (1996) and Steve McNair (2006) were single-season bright spots and Trent Dilfer admirably managed a run-heavy offense as a historic defense carried the 2000 Ravens to a Super Bowl championship, but the quarterback position had been littered with accomplished veterans well past their prime, failed draft picks, and overwhelmed journeymen. Fifteen different quarterbacks had started games for Baltimore from 1996-2007 and just three had started all 16 games in a season while some top-shelf defenses led by future Hall of Fame players were largely wasted.

The inability to develop 2003 first-round pick Kyle Boller eventually cost Super Bowl XXXV winner Brian Billick his job after the 2007 campaign as John Harbaugh, brother of ex-Ravens quarterback Jim Harbaugh, became the third head coach in franchise history. Three months later, the Ravens unsuccessfully attempted to trade up for Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan and settled for Joe Flacco of FCS-level Delaware — who had carved up Navy for 434 yards and four touchdowns the previous October to land on the local radar — with the 18th overall pick of the 2008 draft.

The organization was excited about the strong-armed, 6-foot-6 quarterback’s potential, but there were few serious thoughts of Flacco being the Week 1 starter as Boller and 2017 fifth-round pick Troy Smith entered training camp as the more likely candidates to win the starting job. Flacco’s preseason debut was a disaster as he went 0-for-3 and lost a fumble in fourth-quarter action in New England, strengthening the perception that he wasn’t yet ready to be the starter.

But circumstances would change very quickly.

Boller suffered a season-ending shoulder injury the next week while a serious tonsil infection hospitalized Smith and kept him sidelined for weeks. Flacco became the emergency starter in the third preseason game at St. Louis, finishing an underwhelming 18-for-37 for 152 yards and a touchdown. The 23-year-old had shown some improvement over the final three preseason games, but he still didn’t look ready for the starting gig as expectations for a team coming off a 5-11 season sank even lower.

Exactly a month after that ugly preseason opener, Flacco made his first NFL start as the Ravens began the 2008 season against Cincinnati at M&T Bank Stadium. His arm wasn’t much of a factor as he went 15-for-29 for just 129 yards, but his legs provided the highlight play of the game in the midst of a 229-yard running output by Baltimore that included a 42-yard score from Mark Clayton and a surprising 86-yard performance by fullback Le’Ron McClain.

With the Bengals showing a blitz up the middle late in the third quarter and the Ravens leading 10-3, Flacco called an audible to a bootleg and galloped 38 yards for the touchdown as the crowd roared and chanted, “Let’s go, Flacco!” It was a refreshing expression of hope after years of disappointment and frustration at the quarterback position that occasionally turned nasty and embarrassing.

“I kind of thought I heard [the chant], but I wasn’t really sure. I thought, ‘Why would they be doing that?,'” said Flacco as he laughed after the 17-10 win. “Hey, if I can keep them on my side like that, it will be a good time.”

That optimism would be rewarded as the surprising Ravens went 11-5 and the rookie signal-caller was unspectacular but steady enough, a standard so many of his predecessors had failed to meet. Baltimore would win two road playoff games and advance to the AFC Championship to begin a franchise-record run of five straight trips to the playoff, three conference championship appearances, and a win in Super Bowl XLVII that capped one of the greatest individual playoff runs in NFL history by Flacco.

No one really knew what Flacco would become after that improbable touchdown run in the 2008 opener, but that day was the first of 137 consecutive regular-season and postseason starts by a single Ravens quarterback, an idea that previously felt all but impossible.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 draft

Posted on 29 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the 2020 NFL draft in the books and the Ravens shifting attention toward an unprecedented virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore’s draft haul has been widely praised as it is, but Eric DeCosta also used 2020 fifth-round picks to acquire Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Calais Campbell. We know many draft choices don’t pan out, of course, but the Ravens sure took advantage of value.

2. Marlon Humphrey’s fifth-year option being exercised was elementary as he’s projected to make $10.244 million in 2021, but he’s already been a team MVP and a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection prior to turning 24. He’s one more big year away from commanding top-of-the-market money at cornerback.

3. The career of D.J. Fluker has been pedestrian compared to first-round expectations, but his signing is a reminder of keeping expectations in check for rookies, especially without normal offseason workouts. Ideally, a young guy with a higher ceiling seizes the right guard job, but Fluker raises the position’s floor.

4. Whenever anticipating a position battle, I remember how much angst there was about the Ravens making no meaningful addition to replace right tackle Michael Oher in 2014. Rick Wagner, who had barely played as a fifth-round rookie, stepped in as an immediate upgrade for the next three seasons.

5. Speaking of competition, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser had to be pleased to see no edge defenders taken in this draft class. Ferguson will compete to start and was in no roster danger, of course, but players like Bowser in the final year of their contract are always vulnerable.

6. J.K. Dobbins will try to break this post-Super Bowl XLVII run of second-round picks: Bowser (2017), Kamalei Correa (2016), Maxx Williams (2015), Timmy Jernigan (2014), and Arthur Brown (2013). Talk about “meh,” but I suppose the Ravens did OK trading their 2018 and 2019 second-rounders.

7. How the ground game shakes out with four running backs and the greatest single-season rushing quarterback in NFL history will be interesting — there’s only one football — but there’s no shortage of motivation. Mark Ingram was essentially put on notice and Gus Edwards and Justice Hill dropped down the pecking order.

8. Devin Duvernay will be an interesting wild card with good hands and an uncanny ability to gain yards after the catch. Considering how many screens he ran at Texas, I wouldn’t be surprised to occasionally see him lining up in the backfield and also motioning into jet sweeps.

9. After drafting exactly one wide receiver (Breshad Perriman) in the first three rounds from 2012-2018, the Ravens have selected three (Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Duvernay) in the last two drafts. Somewhere, Joe Flacco shrugs his shoulders.

10. Not only is Mike Tomlin getting inside information from Maryland wide receiver Dino Tomlin, but former Terps interim head coach Matt Canada became Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks coach in January. Anthony McFarland and Antoine Brooks landing with the Steelers was hardly a shock.

11. The gap is sizable between the Ravens and the rest of the AFC North on paper right now, but Cincinnati and Cleveland had strong drafts and Pittsburgh appeared to do OK despite trading its first-round pick for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick last fall. Much talent was added to the division.

12. I’m not going to pretend to have any great insights into the Ravens’ reported (and unofficial) class of rookie free-agent signings, but I just hope the addition of Kennesaw State fullback Bronson Rechsteiner means his uncle shows up in Owings Mills at some point.

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NFL reportedly expanding playoff field to 14 teams for 2020

Posted on 20 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The last-minute touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd in the 2017 regular-season finale knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in one of the most painful moments in franchise history.

Under the NFL’s new proposed collective bargaining agreement, however, Cincinnati’s shocking fourth-and-12 score would have been of little consequence to John Harbaugh’s team that finished seventh in the AFC that season. According to multiple reports, the league is expected to expand the playoff format from 12 to 14 teams as early as the upcoming 2020 season, the first expansion of the field since the 1990 season. In other words, those 9-7 Ravens would have still gone to the playoffs.

The league is also hoping to increase the regular season from 16 to 17 games with the preseason being reduced to three contests.

Under the new playoff format, only the top team in each conference would earn a first-round bye with the other three division winners each hosting wild-card teams in the opening round of the playoffs, increasing the total number of first-round games from four to six. Such a change would intensify the battle for the coveted No. 1 seeds — which become even more valuable now — but it would also put more mediocrity in the playoffs as 15 of the 20 teams finishing seventh in their respective conferences over the last 10 seasons had fewer than 10 wins.

Was there too much of an appetite for that hypothetical first-round meeting between Devlin Hodges and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City last month? Speaking of Pittsburgh, the new format would have meant four more playoff appearances for the Steelers over the last eight seasons, which probably wouldn’t have sat too well in these parts.

Of course, playoff expansion and a 17-game regular season — while conveniently ignoring player safety ramifications — will mean more money for both owners and players, and it’d be naive to think fans won’t continue to eat it up, making dissenting opinions like this one all but moot. It’s also fair to recognize there were only 28 teams in the NFL when the playoff field increased from 10 to 12 teams three decades ago, making a one-team increase in each conference more palatable.

But there’s always the long-term concern of any sport — even the mighty NFL — hurting its regular-season product when loosening the exclusivity of its playoff field. Sure, leagues love bigger TV deals for the playoffs, but ask the NBA and NHL — and their fans — what that’s done for interest in their 82-game regular seasons over the years when more than half of their teams make the postseason. Major League Baseball is reportedly considering expanding its playoff field again after already devaluing its uniquely long regular season over the last 25 years and having significant problems with profit-hungry owners not doing all they can to try to win.

When was the last time a team you felt was deserving was left out of the playoffs?

If the NFL increases its playoff field to 14 teams, what’s to stop the league from going to 16 in a few years to generate even more TV revenue in January and February? Can you imagine the insane money if you just let everyone in and create a 32-team NCAA-like tournament?

From the players’ perspective, that’s why postseason expansion should be accompanied by an increase in team and league-wide spending requirements. Adding more playoff teams lowers the benchmark to qualify, which gives more profit-minded owners less incentive to spend to the cap. If a team doesn’t view itself as a No. 1 seed contender, why not pocket a little more money and hope 8-8 or 9-7 still gets you a hat and T-shirt by the end of the regular season? That line of thinking just became easier.

Increasing revenue is great and an extra playoff team in each conference is hardly the end of the world, but lowering the competitive bar has potential drawbacks down the road that aren’t always apparent.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win at Cincinnati

Posted on 12 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their fifth consecutive game in a 49-13 final at Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After posting a 158.3 passer rating 30 miles from his hometown in Week 1, Lamar Jackson had another perfect day 100 miles from where he won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville. Playing like that in front of so many who watched him on his path to NFL stardom is special.

2. Being traded in the middle of a contract year can be a challenging transition, but Marcus Peters has now returned two interceptions for touchdowns over his first three games as a Raven. A cornerback with a boom-or-bust reputation is putting himself in position for a huge payday.

3. Marquise Brown has caught seven of eight targets for 128 yards and a touchdown since returning from an ankle sprain. The rookie performing like this at less than 100 percent continues to be impressive and encouraging for his future if he can stay healthy.

4. The Ravens haven’t posted a winning road record in the regular season since 2010, but they’re 4-1 in away games this season and 6-2 on the road since Jackson became the starter last year. Road success in the regular season is what allows teams to play at home in January.

5. Brandon Williams has played some of the best football of his career in recent weeks, which included a season-best seven tackles in 59 defensive snaps with Michael Pierce exiting Sunday’s game early. Williams’ Week 4 spat with Earl Thomas feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

6. Nick Boyle had four catches for a career-high 78 yards and has now set a new single-season high in receiving yards nine games into 2019. Mark Andrews headlines, but all three Baltimore tight ends have been superb, combining to catch 71.6 percent of targets for 949 yards and seven touchdowns.

7. In a combined 30 snaps between offense and defense, Patrick Ricard had a big block on Mark Ingram’s touchdown run, recorded a tackle for no gain, logged a strip-sack returned by Tyus Bowser for a touchdown, and had another tackle for a minimal gain. That’s quite a splash.

8. The “Heisman Package” resulted in a 12-yard gain as Jackson pitched to Robert Griffin III on the option. As John Harbaugh said, “Guys like to have fun,” but I’m now expecting Vinny Testaverde, Ricky Williams, and Troy Smith to come back if they’re serious about this Heisman thing.

9. With the return of Jimmy Smith, the arrival of Peters, and the shift of Brandon Carr to safety and Chuck Clark to the box in the dime, Anthony Levine has played only 11 defensive snaps since the bye. Levine is a good player, but it speaks to improved secondary depth.

10. Sam Koch didn’t have to punt until the 1:14 mark of the fourth quarter in Cincinnati. His career low for punts in a season is 60, but the longtime Raven is currently on pace to punt only 37 times in 2019. Things sure have changed here in Baltimore.

11. Jackson did the heavy lifting, but CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan’s call of the electric 47-yard touchdown run was a lot of fun. Harlan is one of the more underrated broadcasters in the business. “He is Houdini!” will be remembered by Ravens fans for a long time.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one who thought of Tony Siragusa late in the Ravens’ 2000 playoff win over Tennessee when Jackson was shown wearing sunglasses on the sideline. Siragusa gets bonus points for taking those shades from Brian Billick and that being a more important game, however.

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Ravens defensive tackle Pierce “day-to-day” with ankle injury

Posted on 11 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Little went wrong in the Ravens’ blowout win over Cincinnati, but an ankle injury to defensive tackle Michael Pierce could loom large with AFC South-leading Houston coming to town Sunday.

The run-stopping lineman hurt his right ankle on the first defensive play against the Bengals and tried to return on the following drive before exiting the game for good after only two more snaps. Sunday’s X-ray was negative, but Pierce could miss some time, which would be significant for a run defense currently ranking eighth in yards per game allowed but only 18th in yards per carry surrendered.

“I would say he’s day-to-day right now. Nothing serious,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It won’t be a long-term injury, which is good news based on the MRI today. There’s a chance he’ll play on Sunday. We’ll just have to see how he does.”

With Pierce missing all but three defensive snaps on Sunday, the Ravens struggled to stop the Cincinnati run game, allowing 102 yards and 5.7 yards per carry in the first half before settling in to give up just 55 yards on 22 carries over the final two quarters. Baltimore allowed a season-worst 6.7 yards per carry in the Week 4 loss to Cleveland in which Brandon Williams sat out with a knee injury, making it clear the run defense isn’t the same without the two hulking defensive tackles in the middle.

With Pierce out, Williams made a season-high seven tackles and played 59 defensive snaps, the fifth-highest total of his career. Second-year defensive lineman Zach Sieler played a career-high 24 defensive snaps while third-year defensive end Chris Wormley picked up a sack and played 47 defensive snaps, the second-highest total of his career.

“Zach fought in there and got better as the game went on. He played well in the second half,” Harbaugh said. “‘Worm’ fought through there and had a lot of good plays. And like anything, probably plays he’d want to have back too and improve upon.

“But Brandon was a force. Brandon kind of took it upon himself to get that run stopped, especially in the second half. He played a lot of plays, played super hard, very physical in there. We needed him to, and he did a great job with it.”

Fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard was impressive in just 12 defensive snaps with a strip-sack and three other tackles, but his role on offense will make it challenging to manage his workload if Pierce can’t play against the Texans in Week 11.

Harbaugh confirmed rookie cornerback Iman Marshall could be activated from injured reserve as soon as this week. The fourth-round pick from USC has been sidelined with toe and hamstring injuries since early in the preseason, but he was designated to return from IR on Oct. 28, which triggered a 21-day window in which he can practice and the coaching staff can evaluate him. The Ravens would need to make a decision by early next week whether to active him to the 53-man roster or to leave him on IR for the remainder of the season.

Given the depth of the secondary, Marshall’s path to a game-day role would be on special teams, an area that’s taken some significant hits in recent weeks.

“We plan on bringing him up,” Harbaugh said. “Whether he’s active or not just kind of depends on how the roster shakes out. He has practiced well. He looks healthy, and hopefully he can contribute to us. … That’s an area that could use some bolstering, personnel-wise, so that’s one option for us.”

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Lamar Jackson continuing to wreck NFL establishment in thrilling fashion

Posted on 11 November 2019 by Luke Jones

Week 10 brought no shortage of excitement with 10 of 12 games decided by a single possession ahead of the marquee Seattle-San Francisco showdown on Monday night.

But none of it — not even the Patrick Mahomes jump pass — trumped Lamar Jackson’s 47-yard touchdown run that was made for Chris Berman’s famous “whoop!” on “NFL Primetime.” As head coach John Harbaugh said after the Ravens’ 49-13 demolition of Cincinnati, “They’ll be watching that run for decades and decades. That’s one that everyone in the country is going to see by tomorrow afternoon.”

It didn’t take nearly that long.

That Jackson’s highlight-reel run reminiscent of Hall of Fame running back Barry Sanders — watch some old highlights and tell me you don’t see it — came on a day in which he posted a perfect passer rating says it all about what we’re watching every Sunday. This goes beyond even the 22-year-old’s MVP candidacy that’s strengthening by the week or Baltimore’s growing Super Bowl aspirations, the goal that remains paramount to the 6-foot-2, 212-pound quarterback with thrilling athleticism and good passing acumen that’s still improving.

Playing just 100 miles from where he won the Heisman Trophy at Louisville on Sunday, Jackson continues to wreck the NFL quarterback establishment before our very eyes. Dwelling on long-term sustainability or trying to compare him to any quarterback who’s come before him is really missing the point and much of the fun. We haven’t seen anyone quite like this — certainly not in Baltimore or across the NFL.

A look at the numbers from his first 16 regular-season starts illustrates that point:

He’s been called a “cheat code” and compared to playing Madden, but video games wish they were as fun as Jackson in the flesh. There’s so much substance that accompanies the highlight-reel style, however.

Consider Sunday’s first play from scrimmage when Jackson stood tall with pressure in his face to deliver a 49-yard strike to Marquise Brown. What about evading Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and keeping his eyes downfield to find Nick Boyle over the middle for 10 yards? He took his hardest hit of the day — in the pocket — as he threw the pretty 20-yard touchdown to Brown on what would be his final play of the afternoon.

The spectacular plays garner the attention, of course, but the down-to-down consistency, good field vision, dramatically improved ball security, and better accuracy — all in his first full year as a starter — support why any lingering thought of “solving” Jackson and this offense borders on silly at this point. Sure, an opponent may devise a game plan to beat him and the Ravens in a given week, but there’s no “figuring out” a quarterback and an offensive system capable of punishing you in so many different ways.

The Ravens now own two of the four biggest margins of victory in the NFL this season. Jackson has produced two of the five perfect passer ratings, becoming only the second quarterback in league history to be perfect twice in the same season. He’s destroyed bad defenses and made game-changing plays at Seattle and against a New England defense that was off to a historic start through its first eight games. Jackson’s unique skill set and intangibles make his offensive teammates better and his defensive teammates grateful that he’s on their side. Opponents are simply left in awe after defeat.

Tough games remain down the stretch, but none are as imposing as their opponents seeing the Ravens on the schedule. The preparation is enough to give opposing coaches insomnia, let alone what awaits on game day. On Sunday, the Ravens improved to 7-2 for the first time since 2012 — the last time they won the Super Bowl — and won their fifth straight game in a season for the first time since 2006, which was the best regular-season campaign in franchise history at 13-3.

This goes beyond 2019, however, as the following sideline conversation between Harbaugh and Jackson showed:

“You know how many little kids in this country are going to be wearing No. 8 playing quarterback for the next 20 years because of you?”

I’m not smart enough to know exactly what the future will bring, but I’m wise enough not to try to put any ceiling on the Lamar Jackson Experience.

What we’re watching in our own backyard is special.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 10 November 2019 by Luke Jones

A little sickness wasn’t about to keep Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson from making his 16th career regular-season start.

The second-year starter and NFL MVP candidate is active and will play despite being officially listed as questionable on the final injury report for the Week 10 tilt against winless Cincinnati. Jackson was a full participant in Friday’s practice and declared himself “good” after that workout, removing any doubt about his status. Jackson rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his first two games against the Bengals, who haven’t come close to finding an answer for the talented 22-year-old to this point.

The Ravens have made a change at punt returner with wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas replacing cornerback Cyrus Jones, who was a healthy scratch Sunday after losing a fumble in the second quarter of last week’s 37-20 win over New England. The speedy Thomas has extensive experience as a return man dating back to 2014, but his two fumbles earlier this season contributed to his release from Kansas City last month.

Wide receiver and special-teams standout Chris Moore is also inactive after a left thumb injury severely limited him in practices this week. That means Thomas is likely to also be a kick returner with rookie running back Justice Hill against the Bengals. Moore also serves as a gunner on the punt team, which means special teams coach Chris Horton will be replacing both gunners from last month’s meeting with Cincinnati when special-teams ace Justin Bethel was still on the roster.

As expected, wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle/thigh) and safety Earl Thomas (knee) are active and will play after being listed as questionable on the final injury report.

Rookie quarterback Ryan Finley will be making his NFL debut for the Bengals, but the fourth-round pick won’t have the services of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle), who was officially ruled out Friday after initially hoping to make his season debut this week. Cincinnati also deactivated left tackle Cordy Glenn despite him practicing fully all week, continuing an uncomfortable saga in which the veteran was suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team last month and hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion in the preseason.

Sunday’s referee is Scott Novak.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cincinnati calls for sunny skies and temperatures reaching the high 50s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with white pants while Cincinnati dons black tops with black pants for Week 10.

Sunday marks the 48th all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 24-23 edge after last month’s 23-17 victory at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore is aiming for its first season sweep of of the Bengals since 2011, but John Harbaugh’s team is just 1-6 in its last seven trips to Paul Brown Stadium.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Chris Moore
CB Cyrus Jones
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack
DE Ufomba Kamalu

CINCINNATI
CB Dre Kirkpatrick
CB Torry McTyer
G Alex Redmond
G/T Fred Johnson
LT Cordy Glenn
WR A.J. Green
QB Jake Dolegala

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 09 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens going from an electric prime-time home win over New England to a half-empty Paul Brown Stadium on a sleepy Sunday in November is the proverbial setup for a letdown.

John Harbaugh’s team has emerged as a legitimate Super Bowl contender over the course of its four-game winning streak, but the NFL has a way of humbling you when you get too high, making it critical for the Ravens to be focused and energized against winless Cincinnati coming off its bye.

It’s time to go on the record as these division foes face off for the 48th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Ravens owning a slight 24-23 advantage. However, Baltimore is just 1-6 in its last seven trips to Cincinnati and is seeking a season sweep for the first time since 2011.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will rush for 100 yards against the Bengals — again. I’ve often compared Jackson’s speed to that unique pitcher with a 100-mph fastball and a slider with impossible bite. You have no idea what you’re dealing with until you step in the box, and your chances are unlikely to improve until you see that pitcher a few times. The Bengals are familiar with Jackson’s speed by now, had an extra week to prepare, and won’t let him set a career high like he did with 152 rushing yards last month, but Carlos Dunlap being on the field this time around only goes so far for the NFL’s worst run defense.

2. A long punt return will set up a score for Cincinnati. Much attention this week was on Cyrus Jones and his fumble that gave new life to the Patriots, but it was a kick return for a touchdown last month that kept the Bengals competitive in a game the Ravens totally dominated statistically. With Justin Bethel gone and Chris Moore dealing with a substantial thumb injury, the Ravens could be using two different gunners on the punt team than they used in that first meeting with the Bengals. That’s notable against a special-teams group rated first in the NFL in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders.

3. The Ravens defense will register a season-high four sacks and an interception. The combined three sacks collected over the last two games don’t tell the story of a pass rush showing recent improvement as Baltimore hit Russell Wilson eight times in Week 7 and Tom Brady 10 times last Sunday night. That pressure has been dependent on blitzing, something you’d expect Wink Martindale to use even more against a rookie quarterback. Unlike Wilson and Brady, however, Ryan Finley will hold the ball longer against tight coverage, allowing the Ravens to take him down in the pocket.

4. An up-tempo drive will lead to Finley’s first NFL touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd. The Patriots totaled 302 yards in the second and third quarters using a no-huddle attack that neutralized blitzes and prevented the Ravens from using their various sub packages, an approach likely to be copied in the coming weeks. Trusting Finley to operate without a huddle for the entire game would be too much to ask, but that strategy will help create some open throws. After being held to three catches for 10 yards in the first meeting, Boyd will have some modest success against Marlon Humphrey with a score.

5. Baltimore will again play “keep away” in the fourth quarter to prevail 24-16. The Ravens haven’t won three straight games by multiple scores since 2011 and are playing on the road against a team with nothing to lose coming off its bye, factors that should make one pause — at least a second — before simply expecting an easy win against a poor opponent. That said, the Ravens will have the chance to put together a nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter for the fourth straight game, a remarkable feat that drains any semblance of life from an opponent. This one won’t be the prettiest, but part of being a great team is handling inferior teams even when you’re not at your best, especially on the road. This is the kind of game that’s given the Ravens problems in recent years, but there will be no letdown as they extend their winning streak to five in a row, their longest within a single season since 2006.

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Jackson practices fully as Ravens list seven questionable for Cincinnati

Posted on 08 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after missing practice with an illness, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was back on the field for final preparations ahead of the Week 10 trip to Cincinnati.

The reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week was a full participant Friday and will play against the Bengals despite being officially listed as questionable on the final injury report. Asked if he was feeling better as he exited the locker room after practice, Jackson smiled and said, “Yes, sir, I’m good.”

Jackson will be making his 16th career regular-season start on Sunday as the Ravens seek their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2011.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed safety Earl Thomas (right knee) would play despite missing Friday’s practice, his second absence in three days. Listed as questionable for Sunday, Thomas has been limited with a knee issue since returning from the bye week, but he arguably played his best game of the season against New England last Sunday night.

In addition to Jackson and Thomas, the Ravens listed right guard Marshal Yanda (illnesss), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (left knee), and wide receivers Marquise Brown (ankle/thigh) and Chris Moore (thumb) as questionable. Yanda and Stanley were full participants on Friday and are good to go while Brown was limited, continuing the pattern of the Ravens managing the rookie wideout’s practice reps at the end of the week.

The biggest question among the official questionable designations appears to be Moore, whose left thumb was heavily wrapped in practices throughout the week. The reserve wide receiver and special-teams standout barely took part in any special-teams work throughout the week and only caught passes with his right hand, putting his status in real question.

(3:05 p.m. update — Rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack (knee/hip) was added to the injury report as questionable after being a limited participant on Friday.)

Meanwhile, the Bengals ruled out wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) after the seven-time Pro Bowl selection failed to practice all week. Cincinnati began the week expecting Green to make his season debut, but the 31-year-old experienced swelling in the left ankle he originally injured on the first day of training camp in late July.

Bengals left tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion) was listed as questionable after practicing fully all week, making it possible the veteran lineman makes his season debut.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday in Cincinnati calls for partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 57 degrees with winds five to 10 miles per hour and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: WR Marquise Brown (ankle/thigh), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DT Daylon Mack (knee/hip), WR Chris Moore (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), S Earl Thomas (knee), G Marshal Yanda (illness)

CINCINNATI
OUT: WR A.J. Green (ankle), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), G Alex Redmond (knee/ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: OT Cordy Glenn (concussion)

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Ravens preparing for unknown with Cincinnati rookie quarterback

Posted on 08 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith looked up Ryan Finley on YouTube “just to see what he’s like, see how he throws.”

Coaches and players have watched video of the Cincinnati rookie’s preseason performance as well as his time as a three-year starter for an ACC program that’s produced three other current NFL starting quarterbacks. The Ravens have faced plenty of first-year quarterbacks over the years with much success, but preparing for a fourth-round pick who’s yet to take a regular-season snap can be unsettling, at least from a preparation standpoint.

“One of the coaches in the defensive meeting said, ‘What’s next? Are we going to watch the rival high school tapes before he went to N.C. State?'” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale as he smiled. “I’d like to say we’re prepared for him, but we’ll see on Sunday.”

The circumstances were different a year ago, but it was the Ravens making the switch from a longtime veteran starting quarterback to a rookie after their bye week. The transition from Andy Dalton to Finley won’t be nearly as dramatic as Baltimore going from pocket passer Joe Flacco to the unparalleled athleticism of Lamar Jackson, of course, but the winless Bengals should have the Ravens’ attention with the change at quarterback.

That’s probably not a bad thing for head coach John Harbaugh as he tries to keep his first-place team focused and motivated against an 0-8 outfit after the emotion that accompanied the 37-20 win over previously unbeaten New England last Sunday night.

“Seeing a quarterback for the first time is tough because you haven’t seen him,” Harbaugh said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get. They had to deal with that last year with Lamar when they came in here. The tables are turned a little bit on us that way, and we’re going to have to be very cognizant of that.”

Ironically, the 24-year-old Finley now becomes the oldest starting quarterback in the AFC North — Jackson is the youngest — as the Bengals want to evaluate the second player selected on Day 3 of this year’s draft. The popular opinion from pre-draft profiles was that the 6-foot-4, 207-pound does everything pretty well while lacking any standout traits. His accuracy, decision-making, and pocket mobility were frequently noted as strengths, but his arm strength and performance against the best competition in college left something to be desired.

After completing 64.5 percent of his passes and throwing 60 touchdowns over three seasons for the Wolfpack, Finley garnered positive reviews this preseason by completing 73.4 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns to just one interception, and posting a 99.3 passer rating in three games. It was enough for the 0-8 Bengals to want to sit Dalton, who sported a career-worst 79.2 passer rating this season, in favor of Finley.

“He’s kind of an older rookie in a sense with a lot of experience and all the traits that you look for in a quarterback,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “He throws with great anticipation and accuracy, good leadership skills. The coaches there at N.C. State spoke very highly of him, a kid that transferred in and was able to become a leader on the team following a really good quarterback in Jacoby Brissett.”

Finley won’t have the services of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, who had initially been expected to make his season debut this week. The receiver trio of Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, and Alex Erickson is capable of making plays, but the rookie is playing behind an offensive line regarded as one of the NFL’s worst, which is bad news against a Ravens defense that likes to blitz more than anyone.

Baltimore should anticipate plenty of quick passing to try to offset those realities, but Martindale is embracing the unknown of a rookie quarterback and an opponent coming off a bye week with extra time to prepare.

“That excites us because of the flexibility of our defense [and] how you can play different players in different spots,” Martindale said. “We’ll see. Just like New England went up-tempo the entire game and the adjustments that we made there, I thought obviously we came out on the right end.”

Coming out on the right end is all that matters for the Ravens at a venue where they’ve won only once in the last seven trips. Much has changed over the last 12 months, but you’d like to think the memory of so many struggles against the Bengals is too fresh to take this team too lightly.

It was less than a month ago when the Ravens nearly doubled the Bengals in total yards, but a Cincinnati kick return for a touchdown and a Mark Andrews fumble transformed what could have been a blowout into a 23-17 home win for Baltimore. That should be enough to take at least a few extra moments to try to get ready for an unknown quarterback.

“What would last week’s win mean if we go out there and just lay an egg?” Smith said. “Nobody wants to do that. It doesn’t take any extra motivation to want to go out and win a game. We know what we’re here for. It’s only better if we win. We don’t want to lose. That sucks.”

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