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Pierce, Boykin, four other Ravens listed as questionable for Sunday’s game

Posted on 29 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens listed six players as questionable for Sunday’s tilt against NFC-leading San Francisco, but all but one participated fully in the final practice of the week.

Wide receiver Miles Boykin was the only player absent from the field on Friday and was seen walking through the locker room with his ankle heavily taped. The rookie third-round pick is coming off his best showing since the bye with a two-catch, 54-yard effort in the 45-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams and hadn’t been on the injury report until Friday, leaving his status for Week 13 up in the air.

Defensive tackle Michael Pierce appears on track to potentially make his return from a right ankle injury that’s sidelined him since the Week 10 win in Cincinnati. He was a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday before practicing fully on Friday, a positive development for the nose tackle’s availability against an offense ranking second in the NFL behind only Baltimore in rushing yards per game.

“You know I’m not going to go down that street of whether or not he’s going to do anything yet,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “But yes, it was good to see him out there for three days in a row.”

Defensive tackle Domata Peko (knee) missed the first two practices of the week while tight end Nick Boyle, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and left guard Bradley Bozeman were all limited in some form with ankle injuries this week, leading to questionable designations.

The 49ers officially ruled out starting defensive end Dee Ford with quad and hamstring injuries, but left tackle Joe Staley (finger) and running back Matt Breida (ankle) are both questionable and could return to game action this week after practicing on a limited basis.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: WR Miles Boykin (ankle), TE Nick Boyle (ankle), G Bradley Bozeman (ankle), LB Matthew Judon (ankle), DT Domata Peko (knee), DT Michael Pierce (ankle)

SAN FRANCISCO
OUT: DE Dee Ford (quad, hamstring), WR Dante Pettis (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Matt Breida (ankle), OT Joe Staley (finger)

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Ravens-Rams: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 24 November 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

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

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

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

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

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

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Revisiting 2019 Ravens predictions coming out of bye week

Posted on 28 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Looking back at preseason predictions can be an amusing or embarrassing exercise, but that’s what makes it fun, right?

If we truly knew how the Ravens’ 2019 season would play out, I’d spend less time writing about it and more time pondering my retirement plans at the nearest sportsbook. As it relates to the present, I originally envisioned Baltimore being 4-3 at the bye with the result of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh games flipped and a loss at Seattle in Week 7. I certainly didn’t anticipate the rest of the AFC North being a combined 4-17 entering Monday, which bodes very well for the Ravens the rest of the way.

Let’s review how my 10 Ravens predictions for 2019 are holding up through the bye week and adjust where necessary:

1. Lamar Jackson won’t break Michael Vick’s season rushing record for a quarterback, but his 3,000 passing yards and 60-percent completion percentage will be positive steps in his development.

Remember Week 1 when Lamar Jackson ran the ball only three times, one of those being an end-of-half kneel? The 22-year-old quarterback has registered double-digit carries in four of the last six games, leads the NFL in yards per carry (6.9), and is 10th overall in rushing. He’s not only going to shatter Vick’s record (1,039 yards in 2006), but Jackson will finish with just over 3,400 passing yards and a completion percentage over 60 percent. We’re watching a special talent who has shown marked improvement from his rookie year and is firmly in the MVP discussion halfway through the season.

2. The defense will register 37 sacks and see its pressure rate fall to the bottom half of the league.

I was too generous in the sack department as Baltimore is currently on pace to finish with 27 quarterback takedowns, but there is at least some evidence suggesting the pass rush is better than the sack total indicates if you look at quarterback hits and ESPN Analytics’ pass rush win rate. Of course, Pernell McPhee’s season-ending injury complicates that argument and puts more pressure on Eric DeCosta to land a pass rusher by Tuesday’s trade deadline. The biggest factor helping the pass rush could be the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the return of Jimmy Smith, who should provide better coverage in the secondary. Put me down for 30 sacks by season’s end.

3. Mark Ingram will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

The former New Orleans Saint has been as advertised with a 4.7 yards per carry average and is on pace to gain 1,074 rushing yards. However, it’s fair to note that opposing defenses have been more successful slowing the Baltimore ground game between the tackles in recent weeks as Ingram has averaged only 3.2 yards per attempt over the last three contests. Opponents must make a conscious choice between accounting for runs between the tackles and trying to prevent Jackson from killing them off the edge. With that push-pull dilemma, Jackson and Ingram will become the first teammates to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams for Carolina in 2009.

4. Mark Andrews and Patrick Onwuasor will take a step forward.

If there was one prediction I was confident about prior to the season, it was Andrews breaking out as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Even with some nagging injuries and a nightmare Week 7 showing against the Seahawks, Andrews is on pace to become the first tight end in team history to go over 1,000 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Onwuasor has taken a step back after struggling at the “Mike” linebacker position and missing the last two games with a high ankle sprain. How that impacts his value going into free agency will be interesting, but his return to the weak-side spot should be a plus for him and the pass rush when considering Onwuasor’s ability to blitz and the 5 1/2 sacks he collected last year.

5. Gus Edwards and Jimmy Smith will take a step back.

Since averaging an underwhelming 3.35 yards per carry in the first two games, Edwards has been very productive at 5.2 yards per carry over the last five contests. The problem continues to be few chances when you’re behind arguably the most dynamic running quarterback in NFL history and a two-time Pro Bowl back in the pecking order. Edwards could see a few more carries here and there, but there’s only one football to go around. Smith’s knee injury on the sixth defensive snap of the season was unfortunate in a contract year, but it’s the story of his career as he’s now missed at least four games in seven of his nine seasons. The 31-year-old does have time to rebuild some value and give the Ravens a boost the rest of the way, but we’ll always wonder how much better Smith might have been with good health.

6. Ben Powers will be starting at left guard by the bye week.

Based on comments made by offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris last week, there’s little reason to believe Bradley Bozeman won’t be starting at left guard against New England. The second-year lineman hasn’t been great every week, but Pro Football Focus has graded him 42nd among qualified guards, a reminder that there just isn’t as much quality around the league as fans and some media want to believe when scrutinizing individual teams. Powers has been a healthy scratch every week and received a lengthy look at left guard early in training camp before falling out of the starting race, factors leading one to believe the 2019 fourth-round pick isn’t beating down the door for a starting gig at this point. If anything, fellow rookie Patrick Mekari would seem to be the first in line to replace Bozeman.

7. A rough November will cost the Ravens their chance at winning the AFC North.

This month’s schedule remains challenging with three of the four opponents sporting no worse than a 5-3 record and even lowly Cincinnati coming off its bye to host the Ravens in Week 10, but John Harbaugh’s team clearly has some room for error with the rest of the AFC North under .500. Even a disastrous November coupled with Pittsburgh or Cleveland reeling off a perfect month would leave the Ravens in the thick of the division race entering December. More importantly, the convincing road win over the Seahawks provided much confidence that the Ravens can at least hold their own with five of the next six games coming against teams owning winning records.

8. Miles Boykin will tie the franchise rookie record for touchdown receptions with seven.

If you’d told me at the start of the season that one of Baltimore’s two rookie wide receivers would have 21 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns at the bye, I would have picked Boykin after Marquise Brown missed the entire spring and a large portion of the summer recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Boykin does have two touchdowns and has recorded his two longest catches over the last two games, but he has much work ahead to match the record shared by Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. If fully healthy — a fair question after a two-game absence — Marquise Brown has the better chance to break it.

9. Marlon Humphrey, Marshal Yanda, and Earl Thomas will be named to the Pro Bowl.

Despite being a little less consistent than last season, Humphrey has made enough splash plays to keep himself in position for his first Pro Bowl invitation with a strong finish to the season. The 35-year-old Yanda is no longer the best guard in football, but he continues to play at a high level to presumably receive the nod for the eighth time in his career. Thomas hasn’t been spectacular, but he has played well and benefits from a strong reputation around the league in the same way Eric Weddle did. I’ll add Jackson and Andrews to my list of Pro Bowl picks with Ronnie Stanley being a first alternate.

10. A December rally will lead to a 9-7 finish and another trip to the playoffs.

With the current state of the AFC North and the Ravens off to a 5-2 start, anything less than a division championship and a home playoff game would be a big disappointment, but the final month of the season does look more difficult than it did several weeks ago with San Francisco still undefeated and playoff-hopeful Buffalo likely having much to play for in Week 14. I thought throughout the offseason that the Ravens had a higher ceiling — and a lower floor — than in recent years because of their youth, but Jackson’s development was always going to be the biggest factor determining their fate. With the second-year quarterback playing like a legitimate MVP candidate, I see the Ravens going 11-5 and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs. A deeper postseason run no longer feels farfetched if they can stay healthy the rest of the way.

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Questions about the 2019 Ravens — and how Baltimore coaches answered

Posted on 23 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are over .500 at their bye week for the first time since 2014, creating plenty of optimism for the rest of the 2019 season and beyond.

Below are some answers to questions posed to Baltimore coaches this week and some thoughts on what they had to say:

What about the current state of the pass rush?

Defensive line coach Joe Cullen: “Hits aren’t good enough. We want to get [quarterbacks] down. Obviously, you want to affect the quarterback. The other day we had one sack, but I thought we affected that quarterback similar to the [Patrick] Mahomes game a year ago when we had a lot of hits, hurries, and it flustered him a little bit. Now, obviously, we’d like to get him down, and we will. We’ll keep working on that, but we just have to keep working together. Sometimes it’s the rush not getting there, and we have great coverage. Sometimes the rush is really good, maybe the coverage [isn’t], but when we hone in on our rush and our coverage is working like it did the other day, the sacks will come. It’s like a hitter. He hits a line drive off the wall, and he’s not going back to the dugout all upset. The home runs will come, just like the sacks will come. As long as you keep doing the little things – getting off the ball, making your moves, powering if you’re a power rusher and then making sure the rush lanes are all involved, and when you blitz, blitz; things of that nature – they’ll come.”

My take: The Ravens are tied for fourth in the NFL with 45 quarterback hits and have five fewer sacks than any other team with at least 40 quarterback hits this season, lending credence to Cullen’s general point about some regression to the mean being inevitable. However, Baltimore entered Week 7 with the highest blitz rate in the NFL while ranking only 23rd in pressure rate, according to Pro Football Focus. Hitting the quarterback after the ball is out doesn’t mean the play was disrupted, a reality that becomes more costly when relying on blitzes that will compromise coverage in the back end of the defense if they don’t get home. The quality of the pass rush is probably better than its No. 25 ranking in sacks (12) would indicate, but the number of hits is likely buoyed with more rushers being sent on average. The Ravens can expect tighter coverage on the back end with the addition of Marcus Peters and the return of Jimmy Smith, but the loss of Pernell McPhee puts even more pressure on Eric DeCosta to try to find some pass-rushing help by Tuesday’s trade deadline.

How impressive is Lamar Jackson’s ability to avoid hard contact when he takes off?

Quarterbacks coach James Urban: “I’m pleased that he’s been able to avoid the big hits, of course. Listen, he has a unique ability. Within that, we talk about getting all you can get, and then get down or get out [of bounds]. And you see him routinely trying to get outside, and we’re trying to do those sorts of things to avoid some of those hits. But for the most part, I would say that it’s him sticking to our game plan and how we talk about things.”

My take: You might be able to count on one hand the number of times Jackson has taken a hard hit as a runner that made you hold your breath this year as he’s been coached to avoid cutting back toward the middle and offensive coordinator Greg Roman rarely calls designed Jackson runs between the tackles. However, Jackson ranks 21st overall in rushing attempts, 17th in pass attempts, and ninth in most sacks taken this season, a high volume of plays in which the ball is in his hands for an extended period of time. It’s worth noting Kyler Murray, Andy Dalton, and Matt Ryan have totaled more plays in which they’ve attempted a pass, taken a sack, or run the ball, which would support Jackson’s workload — while unique — hardly being out of control. Quarterbacks are susceptible to injuries in the pocket or as a runner, but the Ravens have seemingly done a good job trying to minimize risk while understanding anyone can be injured on any given play and not trying to eliminate what makes Jackson so special.

Why is Patrick Onwuasor better at the weak-side inside linebacker spot than at the “Mike” position? 

Linebackers coach Mike Macdonald: “I think he’s just more natural at the dime spot … or “Will” — whatever you want to call it. What happens is when you’re over there, you’re a little bit more on the edge of the defense. There’s a little bit more blitzing to be involved in. He’s a great blitzer, so you’re really asking him to do the things that he’s naturally really gifted at doing, using his length, that sort of thing. Yes, I’d say dime is more of his natural spot, and you can see it in his production.”

My take: The Ravens severely miscalculated what they had at inside linebacker this offseason following the free-agent departure of C.J. Mosley, but the veteran signings of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort have stabilized the position in a matter of weeks. Macdonald revealed Onwuasor played roughly half of the Pittsburgh game with a high ankle sprain, but the fourth-year linebacker should be back for the New England game. A three-man rotation should keep each player fresh and allow defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to play to each individual’s strengths while continuing to use sub packages with one or even no linebackers on the field. Onwuasor had 5 1/2 sacks last season, so the move back to his original position could be a meaningful boost to the pass rush.

How do you explain Miles Boykin’s slow start after such a strong summer from the third-round rookie wide receiver?

Wide receivers coach David Culley: “During training camp and during the preseason, we didn’t really show a whole lot on offense. As the volume started coming in this offense — and I’ve always felt this way — as a wide receiver, it’s probably the toughest position because of the run game and the pass game when it comes to learning everything that you need to know. I think the volume got him a little bit, which affected him thinking about things instead of just reacting. I think it was more so of him just not being as comfortable as he was early when he was just playing and reacting and not thinking about things. But as the offense got more and more [complex], he started thinking about things, and I think that had a lot to do with that. But I think right now at this point, I think he’s in a good place with that.”

My take: What we’ve seen with Boykin is admittedly what I expected from fellow rookie Marquise Brown after the first-round pick missed the entire spring and a large chunk of the summer recovering from January foot surgery. Wide receivers making the jump from college to the pros is a difficult adjustment, but the good news is Boykin has reeled in his two longest receptions of the season over the last two games. Jackson could really use a steadier No. 3 option behind tight end Mark Andrews and Brown in the passing game, and Boykin is a logical candidate with his combination of size and speed.

How is Bradley Bozeman holding up as the starting left guard?

Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris: “Bradley has done a heck of a job, one heck of a job. I mean, you look at the people he’s had to block, from Week 1 to last weekend. He had to go against Chris Jones. He had to go against [Cameron] Heyward. He’s had to go against the young man that they activated last week from Alabama (Jarran Reed), his old teammate. He’s had the top inside people and has done one heck of a job. I’ve seen nothing but good growth. He’s improved as a puller. He’s improved as a good pass protector. We all make mistakes — coaches, players. We all have a little flaw here or there. The object is to correct it, and he’s correctable and works hard at it.”

My take: Considering how much concern the coaching staff had after giving lengthy looks to ex-Raven Jermaine Eluemunor and rookie fourth-round pick Ben Powers at left guard over the summer, the Ravens seem satisfied with Bozeman, who’s graded as the NFL’s 45th-best guard by PFF entering Week 8. His four-penalty showing against Cincinnati was ugly, but I don’t sense the same level of disenchantment from the coaching staff that I see from some fans on a weekly basis. The 2018 sixth-round pick from Alabama is far from a Pro Bowl lineman, but the reality around the league is that virtually every team has at least one spot bordering on problematic — or worse — in any given week.

How critical has Earl Thomas’ increasing comfort level been to the recent defensive improvement?

Defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt: “There was a lot of talk out there like he’s been making mistakes or whatever. But the first seven games now, seven games into it, he hasn’t busted any coverages. When he talks about his comfort level, it’s just about him being able to go out there and play free. But he hasn’t busted any coverages. He’s playing good football.”

My take: Any suggestion that Thomas hasn’t played well in his first year with the Ravens would be way off-base, but he’s recorded only one pass breakup since intercepting Ryan Fitzpatrick on the first defensive series of the season. Much of the criticism directed at Eric Weddle last season centered around him needing to make more plays on the ball, but we haven’t seen many splash plays from Thomas, even if chances have been rare. The six-time Pro Bowl safety recently commented that Martindale has given him the “green light” on defense, which you hope will lead to more game-changing plays. Thomas has graded as PFF’s 14th-best safety through Week 7, but his confidence in a more complex defensive system than what he was used to in Seattle appears to be growing, which should pay off in the second half of the season.

Is this the offensive revolution you envisioned prior to the season?

Head coach John Harbaugh: “As a great person once said, ‘Let he who has eyes, he who has ears…’ For those who are paying attention, there’s something pretty cool going on, and it’s right here in Baltimore. So, call it whatever you want. It’s pretty neat.”

My take: Taking nothing away from a coaching staff that wisely built an offensive system that caters to its quarterback’s strengths, Jackson himself is the “revolution” as he leads the NFL in yards per carry at 6.9. If you eliminate the 10 quarterback kneels he’s taken, Jackson is gaining 8.03 yards per rushing attempt. His passing has come back down to earth over the last few weeks, but this is still a 22-year-old quarterback who has already made substantial improvement as a passer and shows impressive intangibles in less than a full season of starts. I can’t wait to watch him for the rest of 2019 and beyond.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 3 loss to Kansas City

Posted on 24 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first loss of the season in a 33-28 final at Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those criticizing the unsuccessful fourth down and two-point conversions must acknowledge John Harbaugh netted the Ravens six points by scoring touchdowns in two situations many coaches would “take the points” and kick field goals. You can’t have it both ways and judge only by the end result.

2. I agree going for two when down 11 sounds counterintuitive. However, are you then trusting a defense that forced two punts all day to get two stops in regulation and likely another in overtime to win? Playing for a tie doesn’t always give you the best chance to win.

3. I’d probably take more issue with the failed fourth down on the second drive if the Ravens didn’t pin Kansas City deep to conclude their following series and allow an 83-yard touchdown three plays later. This was a game about maximizing scoring over trying to play field position.

4. Now, the play calls themselves and the execution in those situations left much to be desired. The analytics would also support not going for it if the Ravens continue to struggle to convert, but this offense is built to succeed in short yardage.

5. The Ravens couldn’t have asked for a better early return from Mark Ingram, who is on pace to rush for over 1,300 yards despite averaging less than 15 carries per game. His leadership is also valued, but that carries much more clout when a player produces at a high level.

6. Lamar Jackson came back to earth in Week 3, but there’s no reason to be discouraged by that. His timing and accuracy never quite got on track against Kansas City’s secondary, but the 22-year-old continued to compete in the second half and still made some highlight plays in the process.

7. Jackson has now gone eight straight regular-season games without an interception. His field vision doesn’t receive enough credit, but he was lucky to see that streak continue Sunday after throwing multiple passes that could have been picked.

8. Anthony Averett has had the chance to show he can handle a full-time role, but it hasn’t gone well. In addition to struggling in coverage, Averett failed to recover a gift-wrapped fumble on the opening drive and missed a tackle on Mecole Hardman that led to a big gain.

9. Gus Edwards hadn’t looked as explosive or physical over the first two games, but he quelled concerns with 53 yards on seven carries and a 45-yard run wiped out by a questionable holding call. It’s challenging for Greg Roman to get him carries with Ingram running so well.

10. Sunday served as a reminder of the need to get other receivers more involved as Mark Andrews was slowed by a foot issue and the Chiefs took away the deep stuff to Marquise Brown. Willie Snead and Seth Roberts combining for five catches and 84 yards was a silver lining.

11. Miles Boykin received much hype and played well during training camp, but his rookie campaign is off to a slow start with just two catches for 16 yards in three games. One of Jackson’s prettier passes Sunday went through Boykin’s fingers on Baltimore’s final touchdown drive.

12. The offensive line wasn’t perfect against Kansas City, but Bradley Bozeman has rarely been mentioned over the first three games. That’s good news for a left guard position that was scrutinized all spring and summer.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 1 win over Miami

Posted on 10 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their season opener in a record-setting 59-10 final at Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith missing “multiple weeks” with a knee injury will test the diminishing depth at cornerback, but the silver lining is an extended audition for Anthony Averett, whom the Ravens have viewed as possible starter material. Averett can now prove it with Smith in the final year of his deal.

2. You can’t expect an 83-yard touchdown every week, but Lamar Jackson’s first scoring throw to Marquise Brown came on a simple run-pass option against an eight-man box. Those backside double slants will kill defenses if Jackson simply plays pitch and catch.

3. Jackson’s “not bad for a running back” quip received much attention, but the image below shows a third-and-three play in which the left edge was clear and Ronnie Stanley was signaling for him to run to easily move the chains. A moment later, Jackson threw the beautiful bomb to Brown.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

4. Speaking of the 2019 first-round pick, just 14 snaps produced four catches, 147 yards, and two touchdowns. Just imagine what he might do when fully acclimated to the offense. For those keeping track, he’s now one touchdown shy of Breshad Perriman’s career total with Baltimore.

5. The pass rush produced three sacks and 12 quarterback hits, but failing to create havoc against that overwhelmed Dolphins line would have been a red flag. Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser played pretty well, but pass rush remains a real question mark until we see it against a better opponent.

6. Bradley Bozeman received praise from John Harbaugh and earned another start at left guard for Week 2 at the very least. He helped set the tone for the day with a excellent pull block to spring Mark Ingram for 49 yards on the first play from scrimmage.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

7. Patrick Onwuasor is so aggressive that he occasionally takes himself out of the play and still has to show consistency in coverage, but he’s the fastest linebacker Baltimore has had since a young Ray Lewis. He was incredibly active and played all but one defensive snap.

8. After a quiet first half, Mark Andrews became the monster reporters watched all summer with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown after intermission. Deep-strike passes may not be there every week, but you should get used to hearing “Jackson to Andrews over the middle.”

9. Leading 35-0, the Ravens had every right to run a fake punt with plenty of ballgame left late in the second quarter. However, going for a fourth-and-goal at the 3 with a 52-10 lead and under 10 minutes to go seemed a bit much or “Belichickian,” if you will.

10. Despite Chris Board having a clear lead throughout the spring and summer competition, Kenny Young played eight more snaps at the weak-side inside linebacker position. A preseason concussion cost Board some time last month, but Young has apparently stepped it up in recent weeks.

11. In his first game as general manager, Eric DeCosta watched his two big free-agent acquisitions — Ingram and Earl Thomas — immediately make splash plays and his first ever draft pick catch two touchdowns in the opening quarter. DeCosta couldn’t have written a better opening script.

12. Reports of Miami players wanting out after the embarrassing loss raise a real question. Tanking in basketball or baseball is one thing, but putting your body on the line with no chance of winning in a sport with greater safety concerns and non-guaranteed contracts? I don’t blame them at all.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens begin their 2019 season where they dream it will culminate five months from now.

Miami will host Super Bowl LIV in early February, but the rebuilding Dolphins first stand in the way of a 1-0 start Sunday. The opener is a homecoming for second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both grew up less than 30 miles away from Hard Rock Stadium. The Ravens hope Sunday will be the start of a special connection between the first-round talents in the years to come, but the two did not play together in any preseason games.

After helping lead the Ravens to a 6-1 finish and their first AFC North championship since 2012 as a rookie, Jackson will become the first quarterback not named Joe Flacco to start an opener for Baltimore since the late Steve McNair in 2007. The 22-year-old is the second-youngest quarterback to make a season-opening start for the Ravens with only Kyle Boller being younger back in 2003.

As expected, Brown is active and will make his NFL debut after spending much of the offseason recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed the Oklahoma product “full-go” physically at the beginning of the week, but Brown was added to the injury report Thursday and missed Friday’s practice, a reminder that the condition of his foot remains a factor.

Despite not playing in the preseason while recovering from a fracture in his right thumb, Robert Griffin III is active and will serve as the backup quarterback a day after his wife gave birth to their daughter. Rookie quarterback Trace McSorley is inactive.

Third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson headlines the list of remaining inactives for Week 1. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was complimentary of Ferguson’s late-summer improvement earlier this week, but he is fifth in the pecking order at the edge rusher position and has yet to carve out a role on special teams, making his deactivation less surprising.

The Ravens also deactivated rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack, leaving them lighter in the trenches despite the Miami heat. That will be a real factor to watch over the course of the afternoon with just four true defensive linemen — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and part-time fullback Patrick Ricard — active.

With Bradley Bozeman expected to start at left guard after working with the starters throughout the week and in the latter stages of the preseason, rookie guard Ben Powers and second-year offensive tackle Greg Senat were healthy scratches. Baltimore will go into Week 1 with veteran James Hurst and rookie Patrick Mekari as backups who’ve shown more versatility.

Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (hip) and safety Bobby McCain (shoulder) are active despite being limited in practices throughout the week.

Sunday’s referee is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Miami calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures around 90 degrees at kickoff with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. However, it will feel like it’s over 100 degrees on the field Sunday afternoon, a factor to watch over the course of the game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Miami dons white jerseys and white pants at home for Week 1.

Sunday marks the sixth time in the last seven years that the Ravens and Dolphins have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 7-6 lead in the all-time regular-season series. Including the postseason, Harbaugh is 7-1 against Miami.

The Ravens are aiming for their fourth straight season-opening win and are 8-3 in openers under Harbaugh.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
OT Greg Senat
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

MIAMI
CB Ken Webster
Rb Myles Gaskin
RB Patrick Laird
G Shaq Calhoun
OL Chris Reed
OT Isaiah Prince
LB Trent Harris

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Ravens not tipping hand at left guard entering Week 1

Posted on 02 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have apparently decided on their starting left guard for Sunday’s season opener, but mystery will remain until pre-game warmups in Miami.

After trading initial preseason Jermaine Eluemunor to New England last week, Baltimore has chosen from the group of veteran James Hurst, second-year lineman Bradley Bozeman, and rookies Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari. Reasonable arguments could be made for any of the first three receiving the nod — Mekari struggled in a brief opportunity with the first-team line midway through the preseason — but none could be labeled an “established” starter based on track record or preseason performance, an uneasy proposition for a team with high expectations entering 2019.

Hurst was labeled the fallback option entering training camp, but the sixth-year swing lineman didn’t take any reps at left guard even in late-summer practices open to reporters. Powers, a fourth-round pick from Oklahoma, started at left guard in the preseason finale while the veteran linemen — Hurst included — rested, but most of the rookie’s summer reps came elsewhere after the opening week of camp in which he split first-team reps with Eluemunor. Bozeman took most of the first-team snap at left guard in the final open practices of the summer and started there in the third preseason game against Philadelphia, but he played right guard and center in the preseason finale.

Trying to read the tea leaves leaves the left guard competition clear as mud, which is perfectly fine with 12th-year head coach John Harbaugh.

“We’ve decided. We have our starting lineup all set up, but we’re not going to share that information,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Why would we? What would be the advantage for us to do that?”

The Ravens haven’t entered a season with such uncertainty at left guard since 2012, a campaign that culminated with a Super Bowl championship. That’s not to suggest it’s ideal or a harbinger of success, but even the most serious contenders can survive a major question mark at a given position.

Harbaugh and the coaching staff surprised everyone in that 2012 opener by starting Ramon Harewood, who hadn’t played a single snap in the NFL over his first two seasons. That decision was part of the fallout of shifting Michael Oher to left tackle, rookie Kelechi Osemele to right tackle, and Bryant McKinnie to the bench, but Harewood lasted only five weeks at left guard before Baltimore turned to veteran Bobbie Williams from Weeks 6-10 and Jah Reid over the final seven games of the regular season. Of course, the Ravens inserted McKinnie back at left tackle, shifted Oher to right tackle, and moved Osemele inside to left guard for the postseason, and the rest was history.

In other words, the Week 1 starter at left guard isn’t guaranteed to even be there for the home opener, let alone the entire season. That was true last year when four different players started at left guard and Hurst and Bozeman split time at the position in the final games of the season. It was their combined struggles in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that led to an offseason full of handwringing about the position.

Days from kickoff, the only constant has been that concern.

Griffin, M. Brown “full-go” for opener

The Ravens will release their first injury report of the season Wednesday, but 2019 first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III are expected to be “full-go” against the Dolphins.

After missing spring workouts and the start of training camp while working his surgically-repaired foot back to full strength, Brown made his debut in the third preseason game, catching three passes for 17 yards in 19 snaps against the Eagles. His work in the preseason finale was limited to two punt returns, both of them muffs.

We’re unlikely to see Brown returning punts again anytime soon, but how extensive his involvement in the offense will be remains to be seen after missing so much practice time this spring and summer, a critical time for a rookie receiver’s development.

“He’s a rookie. He hasn’t had a lot of reps,” Harbaugh said. “He’s going to have to get up to speed quickly. We’ll have to be vigilant in what we ask him to do — things that he can do well.

“It’ll be a challenge for [opponents], too, to cover him. He’s really fast. He has great hands. That’s the challenge the other way.”

After sustaining a fracture in his right thumb on July 27, Griffin has been cleared for Week 1, according to Harbaugh’s “understanding right now.” The 29-year-old backup to starter Lamar Jackson didn’t play in the preseason, but he continued to practice on a limited basis throughout training camp.

Injured Dixon “moving on” 

The decision to place Kenneth Dixon on injured reserve raised questions from fans after the fourth-year running back rushed 13 times for a game-high 66 yards in the preseason finale and appeared to be OK after the 20-7 win over Washington.

The oft-injured Dixon missed some practice time during training camp and sat out the third preseason game with a sore knee, but many pundits had already predicted him to be on the outside looking in as he stood fourth on the depth chart at running back and was entering the final year of his rookie contract. That’s why many wondered if there was more to the story, even if Dixon did appear a little hobbled at a couple points against the Redskins.

“He’s hurt. He has a knee [injury],” Harbaugh said. “It’s actually a bone bruise that is a fracture, so he’s got a fractured knee. That’s not to say he would have necessarily made the team. It would have been based on how he played. He’s on IR; he’ll be [waived]-injured. Kenny will be moving on.”

Waiving Dixon with an injury designation would require the sides to reach an injury settlement unless he remains on IR until fully healthy. The 2016 fourth-round pick averaged an impressive 4.8 yards per carry as a Raven, but he played in just 18 games in three seasons with another injury putting an official end to his time in Baltimore.

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DeCosta, Ravens add future asset even with current concern

Posted on 29 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens still don’t have an answer at left guard while Jermaine Eluemunor might still develop into a starting-caliber NFL lineman.

That’s why general manager Eric DeCosta sending Eluemunor to New England didn’t quite add up with many assuming the return being only a throwaway late-round draft pick. Even with coaches’ frustration over the 2017 fifth-round pick’s conditioning and inconsistent play that prompted others to receive fleeting first-team reps, the Ravens continued giving him the bulk of the starter snaps throughout the spring and summer, making it evident they still preferred the 6-foot-4, 335-pound lineman over their other in-house options.

That seemingly reached a breaking point, however, when Eluemunor left the field in a cart when the Ravens were practicing against Philadelphia early last week. He missed the Eagles game — Bradley Bozeman started at left guard — and hadn’t returned to first-team duties in the portion of practices open to reporters earlier this week.

Bill Belichick and the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots surrendering a 2020 fourth-round pick in exchange for Eluemunor and a 2020 sixth-round pick said plenty about both the embattled 24-year-old and DeCosta’s eye toward the future on the cusp of the 2019 campaign. Like the Ravens, New England clearly likes something in Eluemunor, which will make it interesting to see if renowned offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia can get the light bulb to come on for him. Even if that happens, the Ravens were compensated well for two potential seasons of Eluemunor and a sixth-round pick, making this trade quite different than sending the oft-injured Alex Lewis and his expiring rookie contract to the New York Jets for a conditional seventh-round pick carrying little value.

Of course, if the same issues follow Eluemunor to New England, the Ravens will have pulled off a steal.

Optimism remains high for 2019 as the Ravens plunge headfirst into the Lamar Jackson era, but DeCosta is positioned to be very active next offseason when Baltimore will be fully out from under the Joe Flacco contract from a salary-cap standpoint and is now projected to have nine picks in the first five rounds of the 2020 draft. That cap space and draft capital should be more than enough to meaningfully address any weaknesses — left guard, the pass rush, or anything else — that might not bring answers this fall. With Jackson’s fifth-year option taking his rookie contract through 2022, DeCosta recognizes the Ravens’ advantageous roster-building window remains open for quite some time.

Make no mistake, left guard remains a real concern with the season opener just 10 days away, but it’s not as though the Ravens were close to trusting Eluemunor even if he was the best blend of short- and long-term consideration. Perhaps Bozeman, James Hurst, 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, or some other lineman not currently on the roster will eventually stabilize the position, but the Patriots are now the ones tasked with trying to cultivate Eluemunor’s frustrating potential.

If the former Raven blossoms, DeCosta has a solid chance of recouping that value down the line anyway.

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Ravens trade Eluemunor, sixth-rounder to New England for fourth-round pick

Posted on 28 August 2019 by Luke Jones

A day after head coach John Harbaugh expressed uncertainty about the starting left guard competition, the Ravens jettisoned the man who’d been lining up there the most this spring and summer.

General manager Eric DeCosta made his third trade of the preseason Wednesday, sending third-year offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor to the New England Patriots for an undisclosed draft pick. The deal is pending the passing of a physical.

(Updated 12:15 p.m. Thursday: The Ravens traded Eluemunor and a sixth-round pick to the Patriots in exchange for a fourth-round pick, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.)

The 2017 fifth-round pick from Texas A&M appeared in 17 games and made three starts over his first two seasons, but he entered the spring practicing as the first-team left guard while former starter Alex Lewis recovered from offseason shoulder surgery. Eluemunor’s path for the starting job seemingly improved when Lewis was traded earlier this month, but conditioning concerns and inconsistently play drew the ire of the coaching staff and prevented him from ever seizing control of the job.

The problem is no one else has stepped forward with rookies Ben Powers and Patrick Mekari as well as second-year lineman Bradley Bozeman all receiving first-team reps at different points this summer to mixed reviews. Bozeman has most recently lined up as the starting left guard since Eluemunor sustained some sort of injury during the joint practices in Philadelphia last week, but versatile veteran lineman James Hurst has also been noted as an option at left guard this spring and summer and has started multiple games there in the past.

The position remains one of Baltimore’s biggest concerns with the opener less than two weeks away.

“I’m sure there are people in the building — coaches and such — who have their opinions, but I’m very open right now,” said Harbaugh about the left guard spot Tuesday. “It will probably, in all honesty, remain a competition until somebody establishes themselves as the established starter. There’s a difference between being a starter and an established starter.

“That person is going to have to continue to earn that by how they play into the regular season, and I’m quite sure a certain one or more guys will step up.”

The departure of the 6-foot-4, 335-pound Eluemunor also raises the question of who might back up starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Eluemunor started one game at left tackle in place of Stanley last season and played well there in the second preseason game against Green Bay. Hurst has struggled mightily playing the position in the past while 2018 sixth-round offensive tackle Greg Senat missed the last two preseason games and only returned to practice earlier this week.

DeCosta traded Lewis to the New York Jets for a 2020 conditional seventh-round pick and kicker Kaare Vedvik to Minnesota for a 2020 fifth-round pick earlier this month.

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