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Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional-round weekend

Posted on 14 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the NFL divisional round now in the books, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The league’s top four scoring offenses advanced to the conference championship games with only one of those teams — New England — ranking in the top 10 in scoring defense. Remember that as Eric DeCosta weighs tough defensive roster decisions against the need to build an offense around 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson.

2. Since the 2012 Ravens, no team playing in the wild-card round has made the Super Bowl. In fact, no team even playing a road playoff game since then has made it. Rest and home-field advantage remain way more important than being the hot upstart “nobody wants to see in January.”

3. After dominating Baltimore last week, the Chargers’ “quarter” defense had no answers for New England using big personnel and running right at them. The Patriots carving up Los Angeles didn’t make former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg or the rest of the Baltimore offensive staff look any better.

4. Fans and even a player or two predictably suggested the Ravens would have put up a better fight against the Patriots. I’ll hear that with Baltimore’s defense, but Bill Belichick having an extra week to prepare for a rookie quarterback and a limited offense? That may not have been pretty.

5. New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas continued a remarkable 125-catch regular season with 12 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia. He was selected five spots after Kamalei Correa in the 2016 draft. Sorry for ruining your day.

6. Watching the divisional round reiterated how badly the Ravens need more talented pass catchers who can gain yards after the catch. They ranked 27th in the NFL in yards after the catch this season after their wide receivers ranked 31st in that category in 2017.

7. I couldn’t help but wonder if Haloti Ngata was playing his final NFL game with Philadelphia on Sunday. His star faded a long time ago, but a 340-pound defensive tackle lasting 13 seasons is really impressive. The five-time Pro Bowl selection is an instant shoo-in for the Ring of Honor.

8. The Patriots are the last team Ravens fans want to see winning the Super Bowl, but Albert McClellan was one of the most respected players in the Baltimore locker room for a long time. His special-teams prowess has fit well in New England as he recovered a fumble on Sunday.

9. Jared Goff going to the NFC Championship two years after an awful rookie season should be all the evidence needed to see why it’s unfair to draw strong conclusions about a quarterback so quickly. I’m fascinated to see how Jackson looks after a full offseason to refine his passing ability.

10. Having already announced plans to retire, former Raven Benjamin Watson will accomplish a rare feat if the Saints win the Super Bowl. The 38-year-old spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve, but he won a Super Bowl with the Patriots that year. Those would be quite the bookends.

11. Speaking of long careers, Joe Flacco arrived in Baltimore eight years after Tom Brady in New England, had a memorable 11-year-run that included a Super Bowl MVP award and a couple playoff wins in Foxboro, and will depart while the 41-year-old is still standing. How is that possible?

12. This isn’t related to the Ravens, but the video below tells my favorite story of the weekend.

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Ravens dealt early-season blow at tight end position

Posted on 24 August 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have been dealt their first summer injury that will impact the start of the 2018 season.

According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, 2018 first-round tight end Hayden Hurst is likely to miss three to four weeks with a stress fracture in his foot, which will keep him out of the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo. On Friday, Hurst will undergo a procedure to insert a screw in his foot to aid with the healing process. He had practiced without any apparent incident earlier this week, making the news surprising going into Saturday’s preseason contest at Miami.

It’s a tough early-season blow for a talented skill player the Ravens were expecting to contribute immediately as both a receiver and blocker. Hurst’s absence increases the roster chances of Maxx Williams as Baltimore uses tight ends prominently in its run-blocking schemes and the former second-pick is a good blocker despite never realizing his full potential due to injuries. Veteran Nick Boyle is Baltimore’s best blocking tight end and was already a lock to make the roster.

Turning 25 on Friday, Hurst was already trying to defy the history of NFL tight ends typically struggling as rookies by becoming a reliable target for quarterback Joe Flacco, so a foot injury won’t help his cause.The 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hurst caught five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown in the preseason.

Fellow rookie tight end Mark Andrews, a third-round pick from Oklahoma, has been hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the spring and summer and hasn’t stood out in the preseason with just two catches for seven yards.

Hurst caught a combined 92 passes for 1,175 yards and three touchdowns over his final two seasons at South Carolina and was regarded as having some of the most reliable hands in the draft class. Boyle and Williams combined for just 43 catches last year while top receiving tight end Benjamin Watson signed with New Orleans in the offseason.

Hurst’s early absence as well as the disappointing performance of the young wide receivers on the preseason roster could help create a path to a roster spot for tight end Darren Waller. Formerly a wide receiver, the 6-foot-6 Waller is coming off a yearlong drug suspension, but he brings the size and athletic upside to be a red-zone target and a bigger slot option. Waller has also shown the ability to contribute on special teams in the past, which could further enhance his case to make the team over 2017 special-teams contributor Vince Mayle.

The Hurst news comes just three days after the NFL announced Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith would be suspended for the first four games of the season without pay for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

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Former Ravens tight end Watson returns to New Orleans on one-year deal

Posted on 28 March 2018 by Luke Jones

After contemplating retirement earlier this offseason, former Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is going back to New Orleans.

On Wednesday, the 37-year-old agreed to a one-year contract with the Saints, the team he left two offseasons ago to sign a two-year, $8 million deal with Baltimore. Watson was reportedly moving toward a deal with Kansas City last week, but a reunion with future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees proved too enticing as he caught a career-high 74 passes for 825 yards and six touchdowns with New Orleans in 2015.

Watson led the Ravens with 61 receptions and tied for the team lead with four touchdown catches last season, completing an impressive comeback after missing the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon. He was highly respected on the field and for his work in the community as he was the team’s 2017 nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award and recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award, but Baltimore hopes to add more youth and play-making ability to the position to go along with blocking tight ends Nick Boyle and Maxx Williams.

How the Ravens will do that remains to be seen with few appealing options remaining on the free-agent market and history suggesting it’s an unwise gamble to count too heavily on a rookie tight end. This year’s draft class lacks an elite talent at the position, but Dallas Goedert of South Dakota State, Mike Gesicki of Penn State, and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews are considered good prospects

“We’re going to try and get one,” said head coach John Harbaugh at the owners meetings in Orlando on Tuesday. “Not to take anything away from Maxx and Nick — I think those guys have skills and stuff. I think they both have excellent hands and they can make plays for you, especially underneath moving the chains and those kinds of things. But I also think those guys are excellent blockers. They’ve proven that. Those guys have a huge role on our team. I love those two guys.

“A pass-catching tight end is someone that can stretch the field, make some big plays for us. That’s something that we want to have.”

Watson is the Ravens’ third unrestricted free agent to sign elsewhere this offseason, joining center Ryan Jensen (Tampa Bay) and wide receiver Mike Wallace (Philadelphia). He will be entering his 15th NFL season and has caught 495 passes for 5,485 yards and 42 touchdowns over his career spent with New England, Cleveland, New Orleans, and Baltimore.

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How did Ravens tight ends stack up to rest of NFL in 2017?

Posted on 26 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few put in the necessary time and effort to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop any kind of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens tight ends ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Running backs
Defensive linemen

Benjamin Watson
2017 offensive snap count: 699
NFL1000 ranking: 7th
PFF ranking: 55th
Skinny: The 37-year-old led Baltimore in receptions returning from last year’s Achilles injury, but he gained just 8.6 yards per catch and nearly a third of his 522 receiving yards came against Cleveland. His true value falls somewhere between these two rankings, but the free agent is considering retirement.

Nick Boyle
2017 offensive snap count: 696
NFL1000 ranking: 34th
PFF ranking: 27th
Skinny: Boyle became a linchpin blocker for Greg Roman’s diverse run-game schemes, but he is limited as a receiver, making him no better than a solid No. 2 tight end. The 2015 fifth-round pick caught a career-high 28 passes, but a 7.3 yards per catch average reflects his lack of speed.

Maxx Williams
2017 offensive snap count: 315
NFL1000 ranking: 71st
PFF ranking: 24th
Skinny: Injuries have derailed the former second-round pick’s career as he was little more than a glorified fullback, catching 15 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown in 11 games. Breshad Perriman headlines the painful shortcomings of the 2015 draft, but Williams has been nearly as disappointing.

Vince Mayle
2017 offensive snap count: 21
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former wide receiver was a solid special-teams contributor, but he didn’t catch a pass and carried the ball twice all season, scoring a touchdown in Oakland. Given his lack of opportunity despite the position needing more speed, Mayle can’t be viewed as anything more than organizational depth.

2018 positional outlook

My big question after Dennis Pitta’s hip injury last spring was whether the Ravens had real depth or only inventory at tight end, and the latter proved to be true by season’s end. Darren Waller’s suspension and Crockett Gillmore’s season-ending knee injury were unfortunate developments, but neither was surprising when considering their respective histories. Watson was a good story coming back from a major injury and has tremendous character, but the veteran leading the Ravens in catches says all you need to know about the state of this passing game. Boyle is a good blocking tight end, but Williams lacks the speed and athleticism to be a difference-maker at the position like the Ravens envisioned when they traded up to draft him three years ago. One of the major priorities of the offseason must be to add a tight end with some game-changing ability, whether it’s through the draft, free agency, or a trade.

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Examining the Ravens’ 2018 class of free agents

Posted on 03 January 2018 by Luke Jones

Free agency won’t begin until March 14, but the Ravens face arguably the most pivotal offseason in team history after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years and seeing fan support dwindle in 2017.

As has become Baltimore’s annual story, salary cap space will be a problem as the Ravens currently hold an estimated 2018 Rule of 51 commitment of just under $170 million, according to Spotrac.com. The 2018 salary cap won’t be set until March, but it is projected to rise from $167 million in 2017 to somewhere between $174 million and $178 million. Since the aforementioned commitment doesn’t include any of their pending free agents, the Ravens will clearly have difficult decisions to make with some cap analysts already painting a very gloomy picture about their lack of cap space and their limited flexibility.

This comes with the reality that the Ravens have substantial work to do to their roster — especially on the offensive side of the ball — if they want to escape the land of mediocrity in which they’ve resided since Super Bowl XLVII.

Of course, the Ravens can create cap space by renegotiating, extending, or terminating veteran contracts and will surely do some combination of that. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, cornerback Brandon Carr, running back Danny Woodhead, right tackle Austin Howard, defensive back Lardarius Webb, and linebacker Albert McClellan stand out as veteran candidates who could become cap casualties this winter.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

The Ravens will have the opportunity to retain any of the following 12 unrestricted free agents before they can officially sign with any other team beginning on March 14 at 4 p.m.

CB Brandon Boykin: Once considered one of the better slot corners in the league, Boykin was placed on injured reserve in early September and is not expected to return.

OL Luke Bowanko: The veteran saw action in all 16 games and made one start, but the returns of guards Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis, and Nico Siragusa from injuries make him expendable.

WR Michael Campanaro: The River Hill product played in a career-high 13 games and did nice work as a punt returner, making him a candidate to be re-signed at a cheap price.

TE Crockett Gillmore: The 6-foot-6, 266-pound Gillmore showed intriguing potential in 2015, but he’s missed 29 of Baltimore’s last 36 games due to injury, making his return highly questionable.

OL James Hurst: The once-maligned reserve offensive tackle found a niche as a serviceable starting left guard in 2017, but the aforementioned returning depth inside probably makes him expendable.

C Ryan Jensen: His emergence as a formidable starting center was a godsend with two backups handling the guard spots all year, but did the rest of the NFL also take notice in the process?

LB Steven Johnson: The veteran journeyman did a solid job on special teams in 10 games, but his spot and opportunity will likely go to a younger and cheaper player in 2018.

QB Ryan Mallett: With Joe Flacco turning 33 later this month and battling inconsistency and some health concerns in recent years, the Ravens should be looking to draft a backup with more upside.

DE Brent Urban: The 6-foot-7 specimen looked poised for a strong year during the preseason, but he’s missed 39 games in four seasons, making him a poor candidate in which to invest any real money.

WR Mike Wallace: Market demand will be a major factor here, but the Ravens will be looking at needing to add two to three impactful receivers if Wallace exits and the disappointing Maclin is cut.

TE Benjamin Watson: The 37-year-old was a good story coming back from last year’s torn Achilles tendon to lead the team in catches, but the Ravens really need more of a play-maker at this position. 

RB Terrance West: The Baltimore native and Towson product turned his career around with the Ravens, but he will likely be seeking a better opportunity elsewhere in 2018.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS – none in 2018

EXCLUSIVE-RIGHTS FREE AGENTS

These seven players have less than three years of accrued service and can be tendered a contract for the league minimum based on their length of service in the league. If tendered, these players are not free to negotiate with other teams. The Ravens usually tender all exclusive-rights free agents with the thought that there’s nothing assured beyond the opportunity to compete for a spot. Exclusive-rights tenders are not guaranteed, meaning a player can be cut at any point without consequence to the salary cap.

WR Quincy Adeboyejo: The rookie turned some heads early in training camp and received a Week 17 promotion from the practice squad, but he’ll need to earn his way onto the 2018 roster.

RB Alex Collins: Given the present challenges with the cap, Collins falling into the Ravens’ laps was a major development of the season as he’ll be the clear favorite to be the 2018 starter at a cheap cost.

CB Stanley Jean-Baptiste: Promoted to the active roster after Jimmy Smith tore his Achilles tendon in early December, Jean-Baptiste will be in the mix next summer to try to make the roster.

TE Vince Mayle: Though not a factor as an offensive player, Mayle was a consistent special-teams contributor and has a chance to reprise that role next season.

LB Patrick Onwuasor: With the disappointing development of Kamalei Correa, Onwuasor started 12 games at the weak-side inside spot, but the Ravens could use some more competition here.

OL Maurquice Shakir: Promoted from the practice squad at the end of October, Shakir was inactive for eight games and will have the chance to compete for a job next summer.

G Matt Skura: The former undrafted free agent and practice-squad member did a respectable job filling in for the injured Yanda and could be in the mix at center if Jensen departs via free agency.

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Ravens-Colts: Five predictions for Saturday

Posted on 22 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have no need for an out-of-town scoreboard for Christmas.

Two wins will punch their ticket to the playoffs for the first time since the 2014 season. Those two contests come against opponents with a combined one win since Thanksgiving, leaving no need for John Harbaugh’s team to pay attention to what other teams are doing this weekend.

Indianapolis comes to town Saturday riding a five-game losing streak and is winding down a lost season without injured franchise quarterback Andrew Luck. The Colts’ struggles are likely to cost former Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano his job after six years as head coach.

Of course, Baltimore has dealt with its own trials this season with 14 players on injured reserve, many of those coming on the offensive side of the ball. However, a post-bye surge has many viewing the Ravens as an intriguing threat come January.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to win for the fifth time in six games and improve their all-time regular-season mark against Indianapolis to 4-8. Including the postseason, Baltimore is 4-4 against the Colts at M&T Bank Stadium with the last meeting coming in the 2012 playoffs, a 24-9 victory in Ray Lewis’ final game in front of the home crowd.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. Joe Flacco will continue his late-season surge with two touchdown passes. There are many reasons why the Ravens have averaged 36.3 points per game over the last three weeks, but the improved play of the quarterback is the biggest as Flacco has thrown five touchdowns and one interception with a 94.5 passer rating during that time. Making that more impressive has been those performances coinciding with Jeremy Maclin mostly being a non-factor. With Maclin not expected to play, look for Flacco to try to go to tight end Benjamin Watson over the middle with Mike Wallace continuing to make plays on the outside against the NFL’s 30th-ranked pass defense. Each will have a touchdown reception.

2. The Baltimore defense will sack Indianapolis quarterback Jacoby Brissett five times. The second-year signal-caller has been intercepted just seven times all year, but that’s come at a price with Indianapolis surrendering a league-high 53 sacks, often a result of Brissett holding the ball too long. Making matters worse, the Colts just placed starting center Ryan Kelly on injured reserve and have ruled out starting right tackle Denzelle Good for Saturday’s game. Terrell Suggs will have the toughest matchup going up against above-average left tackle Anthony Castonzo, but Dean Pees shouldn’t hesitate to bring A-gap blitzes inside and various pressures against a shuffled right side of the Colts line.

3. Jack Doyle will catch the lone touchdown of the day for the Colts. Ravens linebackers and safeties rebounded nicely last week from their poor showing against Pittsburgh’s tight ends, but that position has still been a problem at various times and Doyle leads Indianapolis in receptions with 71. The secondary will be concerned with containing big-play wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, so the Ravens will concede some space underneath for Doyle to operate from time to time and Brissett will attempt to get rid of the ball quickly against an active pass rush. The Colts will have great difficulty moving the ball with any consistency, but they’ll put together a decent drive or two with Doyle in the middle of it.

4. Buck Allen will lead the way in a 135-yard effort for the running game. Starter Alex Collins isn’t listed on the injury report, but anyone who watched the Week 15 win at Cleveland saw the second-year running back was laboring on multiple occasions. With the playoffs looming, the Ravens would be wise to try to ease Collins’ workload by giving more carries to Allen, who has done a trustworthy job as the backup this season. Indianapolis ranks an unimpressive 29th in rushing yards allowed per game, but its 4.1 yards per carry surrendered ranks a solid 12th in the NFL. Collins will make his mark early in this game, but it will be Allen carrying it more in the second half as the Ravens protect a double-digit lead.

5. The Ravens will take care of business in a 27-10 win. Many fans felt some level of angst about Baltimore playing at the winless Browns last week, but it’s much more difficult envisioning a scenario in which Harbaugh’s team lays a home egg on Saturday. Indianapolis has played hard for the most part and would be a bigger threat in its own stadium, but an undermanned roster doesn’t have the horses to stick with an improved team smelling the playoffs. As was the case against the hapless Browns, the Ravens aren’t going to earn any style points by beating a three-win team, but they’ll clinch their first winning season since 2014 and give their fans a happier Christmas than last year’s crushing loss in Pittsburgh.

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Maclin listed as doubtful to play against Indianapolis

Posted on 21 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to be without one of their starting receivers against Indianapolis on Saturday as Jeremy Maclin has been designated as doubtful to play.

The veteran missed practices all week after suffering a left knee injury in the first quarter of last Sunday’s win at Cleveland. Maclin underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam earlier this week, but there have been few details about the injury or his progress beyond head coach John Harbaugh saying Monday that he hadn’t sustained a season-ending injury.

“I think he’s doing OK. I don’t know,” said Harbaugh hours before the final injury report was released. “We’ll just have to talk to him and talk to [head athletic trainer Mark Smith]. That’s kind of day to day at this point in time right up until the game, really. It could be even a game-time decision.

“I’ll know more probably by the end of this afternoon through his rehab today — whether he’s been able to run and things like that.”

Harbaugh left open the possibility of the Ravens promoting a wide receiver from the practice squad with rookie Quincy Adeboyejo being the most logical candidate. Baltimore would need to make a roster decision by 4 p.m. on Friday, however.

Defensive end Carl Davis (shoulder), cornerback Maurice Canady (knee), and defensive back Anthony Levine (thigh) are all listed as questionable, but each practiced all week on at least a limited basis, leaving little doubt about their availability against the Colts. Davis and Canady were upgraded to full participation for Friday’s practice while Levine remained limited.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is officially listed as questionable for Week 16 after missing Friday’s practice with an illness, a day after outside linebacker Matthew Judon was limited due to being under the weather. The 2016 first-round pick’s status is not expected to be in any jeopardy, however.

Harbaugh said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was also sick Friday, but he was still on the practice field. The head coach was asked if the quirky assistant would be listed as a limited participant on the injury report.

“He is normally limited in different ways,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughter from reporters. “I’ll mention that to Ronnie though. Marty sucked it up and got out there.”

The Colts officially ruled out four players for Saturday’s game, a list that includes starting wide receiver Donte Moncrief (ankle), starting right tackle Denzelle Good (knee), and former Ravens cornerback Rashaan Melvin (hand).

According to Weather.com, the Saturday forecast calls for light rain and temperatures in the high 50s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 70-percent chance of precipitation.

On Friday, tight end Benjamin Watson was named the Ravens’ recipient of the 2017 Ed Block Courage Award. The 37-year-old leads the team with 49 receptions and is third in receiving yards after missing the entire 2016 season with a torn Achilles tendon sustained in the preseason.

“It’s one of the top awards in the National Football League,” Harbaugh said. “Overcoming adversity, dealing with the injury part of it and those kinds of things. He’s obviously done a tremendous job with the Achilles [recovery]. The way he’s playing right now, I think it speaks volumes. The fact that your peers — the players — vote for that award is quite a telling thing. Congratulations to Ben on that.”

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: WR Jeremy Maclin (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Maurice Canady (knee), DT Carl Davis (shoulder), DB Anthony Levine (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (illness)

INDIANAPOLIS
OUT: RT Denzelle Good (knee), CB Rashaan Melvin (hand), WR Donte Moncrief (ankle), TE Jason Vander Laan (concussion), TE Brandon Williams (concussion)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 39-38 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 12 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling in heartbreaking fashion in a 39-38 loss at Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The final outcome hurt, but the highest-scoring Ravens-Steelers game we’ve ever seen was as entertaining as it gets and again cemented this rivalry as the best in the NFL. There’s no reason for John Harbaugh’s team to fear a third meeting if that’s how it plays out.

2. Yes, you must vary coverage looks, but leaving Brandon Carr on an island against arguably the league’s MVP with the game on the line while deep safety Tony Jefferson was more concerned with Martavis Bryant down the seam is indefensible. It was bad play-calling, bad execution, or both.

3. Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 69 times and was sacked only three times and not picked once despite a couple of interceptable throws. The failure to generate pressure with a four-man rush and shortcomings in man coverage make for a deadly combination against an elite passing game.

4. Alex Collins gained 95 of his 120 rushing yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus. He’s been a godsend and won’t even become a restricted free agent until after next season, which is great news for an offense needing more skill-position talent. Keep feeding him the ball.

5. The interception that likely took three points off the board on the opening drive was brutal, but Joe Flacco followed his best performance of the season last week with another solid outing. I’ll take my chances if he can play more like this the rest of the way.

6. C.J. Mosley has had challenges in coverage in the past, but he was eaten alive and showed no explosiveness as Pittsburgh’s pedestrian tight ends feasted in the middle of the field. Injuries are taking their toll on him, and that has to be a concern the rest of the way.

7. On the flip side, Baltimore tight ends combined for one catch for one yard despite Benjamin Watson, Nick Boyle, and Maxx Williams playing a combined 107 snaps. The Ravens desperately need to find some speed at this position in the offseason.

8. The absence of Za’Darius Smith hasn’t been discussed much, but he’s normally part of the interior-rush rotation in sub packages and Chris Wormley was trusted to play just two snaps, leaving Brandon Williams and Willie Henry to play over 60 each. No wonder there wasn’t any inside pressure.

9. Jeremy Maclin has eight catches on 24 targets over the last three games as his rapport with Flacco has gone the wrong way since the bye. Harbaugh’s lack of an answer when asked about this was telling. Maclin has been much more T.J. Houshmandzadeh than Steve Smith, a clear disappointment.

10. The emergence of Chris Moore has been encouraging as the special-teams standout had his best game as a pro with an impressive concentration catch for a 30-yard touchdown. You hope a hip injury doesn’t halt that momentum since the Ravens need all the help they can get at wide receiver.

11. Anthony Levine being able to tackle Bryant in the end zone on a third-quarter kickoff sure would have been an interesting variable to throw into the mix of a classic one-point game. It was just one of several plays after which the Ravens had to be asking, “What if?”

12. We know rules are catered toward offense, but some of the pass interference flags on both sides couldn’t have been more ticky-tack calls. That offers some context to these teams combining for 77 points and 747 net passing yards.

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Jimmy Smith suspended four games for PED violation

Posted on 04 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The aftermath of Jimmy Smith’s season-ending Achilles injury took on a different tone Monday as the Ravens cornerback was already facing a suspension.

As first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Smith has been suspended four games without pay for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substance policy. The seventh-year defensive back had been appealing the ruling, but he will now serve the ban while on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.

It remains unclear what substance Smith tested positive for or whether any usage may have been in response to the Achilles tendinitis he’d been dealing with for more than two months. With the 2011 first-round pick tearing his left Achilles tendon in Sunday’s win over Detroit, some have questioned whether he should have been playing in the first place, citing Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman sustaining his own Achilles rupture last month after experiencing pain in the weeks leading up to the injury.

Of course, it’s easy to feel that way after the fact and there’s no way of knowing if more extensive rest would have been beneficial or would have only delayed the inevitable.

“The doctors will tell you that you just can’t predict that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If you have the tightness or the soreness, it doesn’t [always] lead to a [tear], you know? Doing it for all of these years, I’ve seen them not tear, and I’ve seen them tear. Obviously, that’s what you kind of suspect, but that’s not what the doctors tell us, so that’s why guys continue to play.”

It’s possible that Smith could have been dealing with a partial tear, but former Ravens linebacker Elvis Dumervil played with a partially-torn Achilles two years ago and was even named to the Pro Bowl playing all 16 games that season. Partial tears still run the risk of a full rupture and frequently require the same reconstruction surgery and lengthy recovery and rehabilitation of a full tear.

Harbaugh’s assessment of the Ravens’ handling of Smith was in line with the reaction from Dr. David Chao, the former team doctor of the San Diego Chargers who now writes about sports injuries at ProFootballDoc.com.

“There is no reason for him to have not been playing,” Chao wrote Sunday. “There is a higher rate of rupture with antecedent Achilles pain, but the majority of players with Achilles tendinitis do not suffer tears.”

Unlike past instances when Smith was out of the lineup, Baltimore has greater depth in the secondary and will hand his starting job over to rookie first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, who ranks 45th among qualified cornerbacks in Pro Football Focus’ grading system this season. Humphrey shook off a rocky performance to intercept Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford in the fourth quarter of the 44-20 win.

With Humphrey and veteran Brandon Carr now serving as the starting outside cornerbacks, second-year nickel back Maurice Canady will likely see more practice time on the outside and will serve as their primary backup. A healthy scratch for the last three weeks, rookie Jaylen Hill could also be in the mix and turned heads during training camp to earn a roster spot before suffering a hamstring injury that kept him out for the first six weeks of the season.

The Ravens could also elevate cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste from their practice squad upon placing Smith on IR.

“Our secondary is the strength of our team, so we’re not going to sit back and be sorry for ourselves,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Maurice is back. Marlon’s got to step up. Jaylen’s got to step up. That’s why we have so much depth.

“Will the guys be as good as Jimmy? No, but we’ll step up and play well in his absence.”

The Achilles tear and suspension are the latest frustrating chapters of Smith’s career that’s been marred by injuries. This will mark the fifth time in his seven seasons that the Colorado product will have played in 12 or fewer games.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound corner was garnering serious Pro Bowl consideration and had arguably been Baltimore’s best player this season, leading the way for the NFL’s second-best pass defense entering Week 13.

“I know he’s going to be back,” said tight end Benjamin Watson, who suffered an Achilles tendon tear last year. “Jimmy’s a fighter, and Jimmy’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever been around. There’s no doubt he’ll be back soon.”

Smith has two years remaining on his current contract and is set to make $9 million in base salary next season. His 2018 salary cap figure is a hefty $15.675 million, but cutting him would save only $2.37 million and leave more than $13 million in dead money on the cap.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-20 loss to Tennessee

Posted on 07 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their fifth defeat in seven games in a 23-20 final at Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Many are mocking John Harbaugh’s claim that the Ravens remain in the playoff race, but he isn’t wrong when you see the remaining schedule and mediocrity of the wild-card candidates. Still, I can’t help but think Sunday’s loss tipped the scales in the wrong direction, especially from a tiebreaker standpoint.

2. It’s becoming very difficult to justify Breshad Perriman being on the field. His inability to effectively use his size and speed reflects an utter lack of confidence, and he doesn’t contribute on special teams. He wants to do well, but the 2015 first-round pick looks completely lost.

3. Jeremy Maclin had his best game as a Raven, catching eight passes on nine targets for 98 yards. He’s had his problems staying healthy, but there’s no reason he shouldn’t be targeted more frequently with so many others underperforming in this passing game.

4. I didn’t have a problem with the decision to go for it on fourth down to begin the final quarter, but how do you fail to even try to block inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who didn’t do anything out of the ordinary on the play? That’s elementary football right there.

5. Delanie Walker was the latest tight end to give the Baltimore pass defense problems. He caught all five passes thrown his way, and his 25-yard reception was a key plays of the Titans’ final touchdown drive. Per Football Outsiders, the Ravens entered Week 9 ranked dead last covering tight ends.

6. Nick Boyle’s absence was a big loss for the running game as Harbaugh even labeled him a “centerpiece” for what they do from a blocking standpoint. It was just the third time this season the Ravens have been held under 100 yards rushing.

7. The run defense held the formidable duo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry to a combined 45 yards on 17 carries. Since surrendering the 21-yard run to Jay Ajayi on the second play from scrimmage in Week 8, the Ravens have given up 97 rushing yards on 39 attempts. That’s more like it.

8. Whether it’s his back or Father Time, Joe Flacco isn’t showing enough mobility in the pocket to consistently be successful. On third-and-4 early in the third quarter, he needed to step up and to the right against a three-man rush, but he instead retreated backwards and was flagged for grounding.

9. I groaned seeing Flacco — with plenty of time — throw a 1-yard pass to Benjamin Watson on third-and-10 at the Tennessee 13 on Baltimore’s opening drive. You certainly don’t want to do anything foolish to jeopardize a field goal, but that’s not even trying, whether by design or execution.

10. On the principle of his superb special-teams play alone, Chris Moore should be receiving opportunities over Perriman at this point. I’m not convinced he can do a serviceable job, either, but he has one fewer catch in 162 fewer offensive snaps this season.

11. I liked the option look employed by the Ravens with Buck Allen and Alex Collins on the fourth-and-2 run in the second quarter. With Marty Mornhinweg remaining the offensive coordinator, you can only pray much more creativity is in the works over the bye week.

12. No play better epitomized the Baltimore offense than when Ryan Jensen snapped the ball wildly, Flacco threw behind the receiver, and Watson bobbled the catch for a 1-yard loss late in the third quarter. As CBS analyst Rich Gannon described it perfectly, “They make the easy things look difficult.”

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