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Ravens defense aiming to finish job against Kansas City this time

Posted on 20 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The numbers are very good for the Ravens defense so far.

Through two games, Baltimore is second in total defense, first in rush defense, fourth in points allowed, fifth in third-down defense, and tied for ninth inside the red zone. You’ll gladly take that kind of defensive profile over the course of the season with few concerns.

But what have we truly learned about the Ravens defense watching games against what could be the worst team in modern NFL history (Miami) and a rebuilding team with a rookie quarterback making his first career road start (Arizona)? Appropriately praising Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense for setting franchise records in Week 1 is one thing, but how do you judge a defense that does about what you’d expect of any good unit against such competition?

The Baltimore defense was always going to be good, but it’s a matter of just how good, a relevant question when you’re traveling to Arrowhead Stadium for the best game of Week 3.

“Miami was Miami. They’re struggling this year,” said six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas about the unit’s performance through two games. “But last week [against Arizona], we kind of felt a little type of way because we didn’t dominate like we wanted to dominate. It was a lot of well-schemed-up plays. We got to watch the tape, and we learned from those mistakes.

“Hopefully, we get them corrected once we get out there against Kansas City because it’s a copycat league.”

Yes, the Ravens were without cornerback Jimmy Smith — and will be again Sunday — and were already dealing with the loss of nickel corner Tavon Young, but surrendering 349 passing yards, 6.5 yards per play, and seven pass plays of 20 or more yards to Kyler Murray and the Cardinals don’t look like harbingers for success against 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s difficult to expect the same results on third down and inside the red zone against an offense that scored just over 35 points per game last year and has averaged nearly as many (34.0) in two road wins to begin 2019.

Still, the Ravens were that close to knocking off the Chiefs in a 27-24 overtime loss last December, which should give them plenty of confident going into Sunday.

It’s a different year, of course, with the likes of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, and Eric Weddle out of the picture, but the formula for success remains as the defense allowed just 24 points in regulation in that Week 14 clash, the Chiefs’ lowest output of the 2018 season. The Chiefs won’t have star wide receiver Tyreek Hill and starting left tackle Eric Fisher, but there’s still four-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and no shortage of speed at wide receiver.

Most importantly, they have Mahomes, whose sensational 48-yard completion to Hill on fourth-and-9 kept his team alive and allowed them to tie the game late in the fourth quarter last year.

“You have to handle the series of events,” defensive coordiantor Wink Martindale said. “He’s going to make plays. We know that going in. But what we can’t do is let him make too many plays, and then we have to play great red-zone defense.”

The Ravens did that for long stretches of last year’s game, holding Kansas City scoreless on four of five possessions in the third and fourth quarters and forcing field goals on two of five trips inside the red zone. With Jackson and the offense confident and playing at a higher level than last year, you’d love the Ravens’ chances to win with a comparable defensive performance. But if this one turns into a full-blown shootout, is the Ravens offense truly ready to go toe to toe with an proven heavyweight in a hostile environment for 60 minutes?

Keeping the Chiefs in the mid-20s on the scoreboard is easier said than done with their offense already completing 14 passes of 20 or more yards, two more than the explosive Ravens. That’s with the speedy Hill having played just 12 snaps before injuring his shoulder in the season opener, forcing the Chiefs to turn to veteran Sammy Watkins and younger options Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman.

Thomas believes he’s just the guy to limit those offensive explosions, something the Ravens didn’t do on Mahomes’ game-saving play to Hill last season. It’s a big reason why general manager Eric DeCosta made the four-year, $55 million investment in the former Seattle Seahawk’s services.

“I think that comes down to personnel,” Thomas said. “Luckily, the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end. I plan on eliminating all the big plays.”

It isn’t just about the vertical passing game as Kelce can frustrate defenses in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field and Kansas City uses its running backs as receivers out of the backfield as effectively as anyone. That creates quite the challenge for strong safety Tony Jefferson and Ravens linebackers, who all experienced hiccups in pass coverage last week. As head coach John Harbaugh noted, the Ravens will throw enough coverage looks at Kelce to “try to keep the batting average down just a little bit,” understanding he’s going to make his share of plays.

Perhaps more than anything, we’ll truly find out about the pass rush that was scrutinized throughout the spring and summer. Thanks to promising starts by Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens lead the league with 20 quarterback hits over the first two weeks, but Pro Football Focus ranked Arizona 30th and Miami 32nd in its offensive line rankings entering the season. It’s nothing for which to apologize, of course, but drawing conclusions against that level of competition would be premature.

The good news for the Ravens is that the Chiefs will be depending on former Cleveland first-round bust Cam Erving at left tackle to protect Mahomes’ blind side. If Martindale’s defense wants to approach the 15 quarterback hits registered in Kansas City last December, that matchup will be one to exploit.

Amid the hype for Mahomes-Jackson II, the Ravens have a great opportunity to avenge last December’s loss while proclaiming themselves legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a win. It’s the kind of game in which we used to ask if the offense would be able to do enough, but times are certainly changing and a younger defense is aiming to prove its standard remains high in matchups such as these.

If the defense can again keep Mahomes and the Chiefs from lighting up the scoreboard, there’s no reason to think Jackson and an improved offense won’t get the job done. And if it again come down to the ball being in Mahomes’ hands late, there’s experience from which to draw.

“You have to play to the whistle,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He’s a guy that can extend the play — smart guy, big arm, strong arm. You’ve got to lock in each and every down. They have a lot of different movements and gadgets and a lot of different things going on with their offense, so you have to have disciplined eye control, 100 percent communication, and just play as a unit for 60 minutes.”

Sixty minutes, indeed.

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marquisebrown

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 2 win over Arizona

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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jimmysmith

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith exits Sunday’s win with knee injury

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The only damper on a spectacular record-setting performance by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in their 59-10 demolition of Miami Sunday was another injury to a secondary already testing its depth.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. The 31-year-old limped off the field and went to the locker room soon after inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor fell into Smith’s right knee on the sixth defensive snap of the game. Smith returned to the sideline in the second half wearing street clothes.

“It’s not a season-ending injury as far as we know right now,” head coach John Harbaugh. “It does not look like that at all. I’m sure he’ll get an MRI tomorrow. We’ll just see if it’s days or weeks or what. We’ll know tomorrow after we get the MRI.”

The Ravens were already dealing with the loss of standout slot cornerback Tavon Young, who sustained a season-ending neck injury last month. Rookie fourth-round cornerback Iman Marshall was also placed on injured reserve last week, but he remains eligible to return later in the season.

With Smith out, the Ravens turned to second-year cornerback Anthony Averett on the outside with veteran cornerback Brandon Carr now playing extensive snaps inside at the nickel in Young’s absence. Averett fell down in coverage on the Dolphins’ lone touchdown of the day to wide receiver Preston Williams late in the second quarter, but the 2018 fourth-round pick from Alabama finished with four tackles and a pass breakup.

“It’s always tough to see one of my boys go down,” said Carr, who played in his 177th consecutive regular-season game Sunday. “We put so much work into this game and we know it can be taken away at the blink of an eye, and that’s what happened to [Smith].

“Of course, the football game is the next-man-up mentality, and we had [Averett] that’s been champing at the bit to get out there and make some plays. He had his work cut out for him today, but he made some big plays for us and he had some fun.”

Injuries have been the story of the talented Smith’s career as he’s played more than 12 games in a season just twice in his first eight years. The 2011 first-round pick is in the final year of his contract and is making $9.5 million this season.

The Baltimore defense had two interceptions against the Dolphins with six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas picking off a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass on his first defensive series as a Raven and cornerback Marlon Humphrey intercepting Miami backup Josh Rosen on the first play of the fourth quarter.

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marquisebrown

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Marquise Brown listed as questionable, expected to play in Ravens opener

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are healthy going into their season opener against Miami, but Friday brought a twist to their injury report.

Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown didn’t take part in the week’s final practice, raising some concern about his surgically-repaired left foot that continues to be managed carefully. The first-round pick from Oklahoma was added to Thursday’s injury report despite being listed as a full participant. Since his practice debut on July 31, Brown has received occasional practices off in his recovery from a Lisfranc injury originally sustained in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 1.

Having described Brown as “full-go” physically at the start of the week, head coach John Harbaugh said he didn’t suffer a setback and would play against the Dolphins despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The extent of his Week 1 involvement is unclear after the 5-foot-9, 170-pound speedster missed so much practice time in the spring and at the start of training camp and played only 19 offensive snaps in the preseason — none of them with starting quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“He’s doing well. Really, it’s everybody getting those first plays in, getting those first hits in, et cetera,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. “It was good that he got a little time in the preseason, but certainly, you don’t get the sense at all that it’s going to be too big for him. He definitely belongs.”

The Ravens also listed cornerbacks Brandon Carr (hip) and Cyrus Jones (finger) and defensive tackle/fullback Patrick Ricard (foot) as questionable after all practiced fully Friday, leaving very little doubt about their availability. Carr was limited in Wednesday’s practice, but Sunday will mark his 177th consecutive regular-season game — all of them starts.

Not listed on this week’s injury report was quarterback Robert Griffin III, who didn’t play in the preseason while recovering from a fracture in his right thumb. Griffin continued to practice on a limited basis all summer and will back up Jackson against the Dolphins.

“I’m ready to go. I’m excited. Really, in my role, no one wants to see me go out there,” said Griffin as he laughed. “And I’m not rooting for anything to happen to anybody. My job is to help L.J., help him lead this team, and if called upon, be ready to roll.”

With Griffin fully cleared to play, rookie quarterback Trace McSorley will likely be inactive as the third quarterback. Temperatures in Miami are expected to near 90 degrees Sunday afternoon, which could prompt the Ravens to activate an extra lineman or two on either side of the ball.

Picking among 53 healthy players is always a good problem to have — even in Week 1.

“You’ve got to put seven guys down, so we’ll just do it based on versatility and game plan really,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t feel like there’s anybody that we wouldn’t want up. There’s nobody that couldn’t play and contribute. All 53 guys could play for us, so we’ll just have to take the 46 that help us the most this week.”

Running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was waived from injured reserve with an injury settlement Friday. Harbaugh confirmed earlier this week that Dixon would be “moving on” from the organization.

For the Dolphins, starting wide receiver Albert Wilson was designated as questionable after being limited in practices all week with a hip injury originally suffered last season. Starting safety Bobby McCain (shoulder) is also questionable after being limited throughout the week.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: Marquise Brown (foot), CB Brandon Carr (hip), CB Cyrus Jones (finger), FB/DL Patrick Ricard (foot)

MIAMI
QUESTIONABLE: CB Johnson Bademosi (hip), DE Charles Harris (wrist), LB Trent Harris (foot), G Danny Isidora (hamstring), S Bobby McCain (shoulder), WR Albert Wilson (hip)

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Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cyrus Jones (27) celebrates his interception on a pass from Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Tanner Lee with teammates, including defensive back DeShon Elliott (32), during the second half of an NFL football preseason game, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Return game to remain fluid for Ravens entering season

Posted on 05 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens confirmed Cyrus Jones is “the guy” as the primary punt returner entering the 2019 season, but that doesn’t mean the Marquise Brown experiment is over.

Despite muffing two punts in the preseason finale against Washington, the 2019 first-round pick will continue to field punts in practice in hopes of it paying off at some point down the line. Jones prevailed in the summer competition with Tyler Ervin, who was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville last weekend, but special teams coach Chris Horton still views the speedy Brown as a wild card to potentially provide a spark.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver didn’t register a punt return in his decorated career at Oklahoma, but he returned nine punts for 182 yards and recorded a 73-yard touchdown return for College of the Canyons — a California junior college — in 2016. That’s a far cry from returning punts in the NFL, however.

“We put a guy out there in a game situation and we want to see if he can do it,” said Horton about Brown’s struggles fielding punts against Washington. “When [he] put those two balls on the ground, it just told me and told our coaches we just have to continue to practice him back there and continue to get him more reps. He’s going to be a guy that we can put back there and give us a little bit of excitement.”

The depth chart released by the public relations staff this week lists veteran slot receiver Willie Snead as the second-string punt returner and Brown as the No. 3 option.

The kick return spot remains more fluid with Chris Moore again topping the depth chart after leading the Ravens with 22 returns for 491 yards last season. Rookie running back Justice Hill is an intriguing option despite returning only one kickoff for nine yards in the preseason and not serving in that capacity at Oklahoma State.

“We have guys that we can throw back there,” Horton said. “Chris Moore has done an outstanding job for us. We love what Justice Hill brings. We gave Cyrus some opportunities in the preseason. We’ll go forward, and you guys will find out on Sunday.”

Rookie first-round pick added to injury report

Deemed “full-go” physically by head coach John Harbaugh earlier this week, Brown was added to Thursday’s injury report with a foot issue presumably related to his January surgery that sidelined him during spring workouts and for the start of training camp.

Brown was listed as a full participant in practice, but it was a reminder that he’s returning from a Lisfranc injury that will continue to be monitored and managed when necessary.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (hip) practiced fully after being limited Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (foot), CB Brandon Carr (hip)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Trent Harris (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Johnson Bademosi (hip), G Danny Isidora (hamstring), S Bobby McCain (shoulder), LB Andrew Van Ginkel (foot), WR Albert Wilson (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Charles Harris (wrist)

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carr

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Ravens healthy, excited for season opener in Miami

Posted on 04 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens may not have escaped the preseason without a significant injury, but they can’t complain about the health of their active roster going into Sunday’s opener in Miami.

All 53 players practiced Wednesday with only veteran cornerback Brandon Carr limited with what was listed as a hip injury. Of course, slot cornerback Tavon Young was lost for the season with a neck injury sustained last month, but he is the only one of the six Ravens players on injured reserve who was a definitive part of their 2019 plans.

“We are excited. We’re healthy,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We already lost Tavon, which is tough. We’re disappointed with that, and he’ll be back next year stronger than ever. But our guys are ready to go. We just want to go play football and see where we’re at and go from there.”

Despite so much attention on second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and a rebuilt offense, free safety Earl Thomas is set to make his Ravens debut after signing a lucrative four-year, $55 million contract in March. The former Seattle Seahawk will be playing in his first regular-season game since breaking his lower left leg for the second time in three years last Sept. 30, but there have been no apparent concerns or setbacks from the rod that was inserted in his leg following the injury.

Thomas, 30, appeared in two preseason games this summer, playing 27 snaps and making two tackles. The six-time Pro Bowl safety is healthy going into the opener and has received favorable reviews from Jackson, who said Thomas is “everywhere back there” during practices.

“I have no complaints at this point,” said Thomas, who received occasional veteran days off from practice over the course of training camp. “I’m running. I feel good. I want to watch my weight a little bit, and on Sundays, just fly around.”

The rebuilding Dolphins have made more headlines about the players they’ve traded away recently, but reserve linebacker Trent Harris (foot) was the only Miami player to miss Wednesday’s practice. Starting wide receiver Albert Wilson was limited with a hip injury.

Below is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Brandon Carr (hip)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Trent Harris (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Johnson Bademosi (hip), G Danny Isidora (hamstring), DT John Jenkins (illness), S Bobby McCain (shoulder), LB Andrew Van Ginkel (foot), WR Albert Wilson (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Charles Harris (wrist)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-15 preseason win over Philadelphia

Posted on 23 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens extending their preseason winning streak to 16 games in a 26-15 victory over Philadelphia, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A Philadelphia crowd paying upwards of $40 just to park didn’t get to watch either starting quarterback in what used to be the regular season’s “dress rehearsal.” The chasm between football decisions and entertainment value — the NFL’s ultimate purpose — is wider than ever. The preseason stinks and must be addressed.

2. If eliminating preseason games isn’t an option, reimagine them. Joint practices are all the rage now, so let’s watch both teams’ starters compete in a controlled scrimmage and then the reserves still play a 30-minute live game. Lower prices and create a festival atmosphere with autographs, music, and more.

3. More encouraging than the production or any highlights was Marquise Brown playing 19 snaps in his preseason debut. We’ll see how his foot responds, but the Ravens had to feel good about where he is physically to play him that much, especially after he sat out Tuesday’s practice.

4. I still believe it’s wise to temper expectations for Brown and, to a lesser degree, Miles Boykin early in the season, but seeing both rookie wide receivers on the field made it easy to ponder their potential. Watching them grow with Lamar Jackson could be a lot of fun.

5. Tyus Bowser had a sack and another tackle for a loss, earning praise from John Harbaugh for his strong summer. I suspect the head coach is also trying to build his confidence, but Bowser’s ability to drop into coverage gives him an edge over the other younger options.

6. After struggling in the joint practices, Trace McSorley was impressive in the first half with the Eagles still playing a few defensive starters and many key reserves. He’s looking more and more like someone who could develop into a solid NFL backup in the right system. I’d keep him around.

7. Brandon Carr and Chuck Clark handled nickel duties with the starting defense, which reflects the committee approach Harbaugh and Wink Martindale have suggested following Tavon Young’s neck injury. Anthony Averett and Cyrus Jones also saw time in the slot.

8. One defensive back who wasn’t in the mix at the nickel was Maurice Canady, who struggled playing on the outside. His path to a job probably depends on what the Ravens do with Young and injured rookie Iman Marshall from a roster standpoint, but Thursday wasn’t very promising.

9. Mark Andrews caught only one pass, but that 25-yard catch and run had to bring back memories of former New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro for Eagles fans. I’m really looking forward to watching the second-year tight end play after a very impressive camp.

10. With Brandon Williams sitting out, I was surprised to see Patrick Ricard start next to Michael Pierce instead of Willie Henry. That says less about Henry and more about the versatile Ricard, who entered summer on the bubble and has played his tail off on both sides of the ball.

11. The penalty on DeShon Elliott for lowering his head to initiate contact early in the third quarter was as poor a call as I’ve seen this summer. That’s a perfect example of an official anticipating a foul rather than seeing it with his own eyes.

12. Though play ended with just under 12 minutes to go because of lightning, Zach Sieler playing only two defensive snaps makes you believe he’s on the wrong side of the bubble and a better candidate for the practice squad than the 53-man roster. He’s had a disappointing summer.

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tavon

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Ravens cornerback Tavon Young likely out for year with neck injury

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens haven’t been defeated in the preseason in nearly four years, but their talented secondary sustained a more significant loss earlier this week.

Slot cornerback Tavon Young is likely to miss the 2019 season with a neck injury sustained in practice. One of seven defensive backs held out of the preseason opener by the coaching staff last week, Young last practiced Sunday before sitting out the next two open workouts and Thursday’s 26-13 win over Green Bay.

Head coach John Harbaugh revealed the injury after the game.

“The doctors can explain it, but that’s a disc issue,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a serious injury. He could be out for the remainder of the season. We will know soon, but it doesn’t look good for Tavon.”

Signed to a three-year, $25.8 million contract extension with $13 million guaranteed in late February that temporarily made him the NFL’s highest-paid nickel back, Young collected 37 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and five pass breakups while returning two fumbles for touchdowns last season. The Ravens made a steep financial commitment to Young with the belief that he was rapidly becoming one of the league’s best slot corners, an increasingly important position with Football Outsiders counting Baltimore as using five or more defensive backs on 83 percent of its defensive snaps last season.

This would mark the second time in three years Young has missed an entire season after he suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2017. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Temple played in 15 of 16 regular-season games last season, but he missed the wild-card playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a lingering sports hernia that required surgery in January.

Asked whether the Ravens were waiting for a second opinion, Harbaugh seemingly expressed inevitability about Young’s fate for 2019.

“There is an outside chance that you opt to try to see if it will heal, but we’re not recommending that right now in his best interest,” Harbaugh said. “That’s always the first consideration is his long-term well-being. If he gets the procedure done — I don’t want to speak too early, but if he gets it done — he’ll be fine and good to go [for next year]. It’s probably the best thing to do.”

The Ravens are deep in the secondary, but how they’ll replace Young remains to be seen. Return specialist Cyrus Jones has practiced as the second-team nickel corner this summer and started there against the Packers, but veterans Brandon Carr and Maurice Canady have also played in the slot in recent seasons and second-year cornerback Anthony Averett practiced inside extensively during spring workouts.

Labeled a “pit bull” by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale last season, Young brings toughness and physicality as a strong run defender and talented blitzer despite his slight 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame. His absence will be a substantial loss for a defense known for its unpredictability after he played in 58.2 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps last season, a percentage that was tempered by his sports hernia at various points.

“Obviously, Tavon is a huge part of this defense,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “That’s just a tough situation right now.”

The Ravens finished with the fewest adjusted games lost due to injury in the NFL last year, but Young is a more significant absence than any of the seven Baltimore players who finished 2018 on injured reserve. He is under contract through the 2022 season and carries a $3.651 million salary cap number for 2019.

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carr

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first five camp practices

Posted on 30 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying their first day off from training camp and still more than a week away from the preseason opener, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I wrote about Lamar Jackson the other day, but one topic I didn’t address was ball security after he led the NFL in fumbles last season. Correcting that is critical, but his fumbling problems really only showed up in games, making it difficult to gauge progress there thus far.

2. Brandon Carr played some nickel filling in for Tavon Young at times last year, but he’s received plenty of reps at safety in camp. The 33-year-old admits his “head spins sometimes” playing multiple positions, but that versatility will be valuable to this secondary and for him extending his career.

3. There’s been no shortage of praise for Miles Boykin, who’s made plays against the starting defense and was even compared to a young Michael Thomas by Willie Snead. He’s looked good, but pumping the brakes on the hype until the first couple preseason games would be wise. It’s still early.

4. I remain more bullish on Mark Andrews, who has been the best pass catcher on the field and is playing with some attitude and swagger. Given the structure of this offense and Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle, Andrews could really take off after a promising rookie year.

5. Wink Martindale praised Pernell McPhee for his early play and bringing “that old Raven rough, tough mentality” to the outside linebackers, but this position remains a concern. Tim Williams has flashed a little — he’s done that in previous summers — but the rest of the group has been quiet.

6. After starting the final 10 games last season and serving as the starting right tackle all spring, Orlando Brown Jr. has worked with the second team since missing the first full-squad workout with a failed conditioning test. I understand sending a message, but four practices seems sufficient.

7. Jermaine Eluemunor missed the first practice after failing the conditioning test, which came after John Harbaugh wanted him to be in better shape in the spring. Perceived as a quiet favorite to play left guard, Eluemunor has also missed two practices with a muscle issue. He’s squandering early opportunities.

8. We expected a competition between Chris Board and Kenny Young at inside linebacker, but Board has taken virtually all first-team reps next to Patrick Onwuasor in the base and nickel packages. Young isn’t practicing poorly, but he’s clearly third behind Board and Anthony Levine when considering Baltimore’s frequent dime usage.

9. Two early concerns continue to be frequent pre-snap penalties and bad snaps from the centers. The precision required to run such a unique offense can’t be overstated — even in July. As Greg Roman described the many false starts, “It’s hard to turn that lemon into lemonade when you jump.”

10. With the Ravens enjoying the deepest secondary in the NFL, it’s easy to forget about guys further down the depth chart, but Chuck Clark and Maurice Canady have practiced well. DeShon Elliott received much hype for his spring play, but Clark has been steadier early in camp.

11. Seth Roberts has quietly had a solid start to camp, showing some chemistry with Jackson on shorter passes. He’s not spectacular and had a history of drops in Oakland, but he’d go into my top three wide receivers with Willie Snead and Boykin instead of Chris Moore so far.

12. The Robert Griffin III injury isn’t ideal, but Trace McSorley should continue receiving more reps behind Jackson, especially with Josh Johnson declining an offer and journeyman Joe Callahan signing instead. McSorley has a huge opportunity to prove he’s deserving of a 53-man roster spot. He’s held up OK so far.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Cornerbacks

Posted on 09 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in a little over two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

We’ll start at cornerback, which is the deepest and most talented position group on the entire roster. Over the last five years, the Ravens have handed out a few sizable contracts at this position and used meaningful draft capital by selecting a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in five consecutive drafts. In other words, we’ve seen quite a shift from the days of Baltimore needing to sign street free agents such as Rashaan Melvin and Shareece Wright to immediately fill prominent roles because of poor depth.

The abundance of talent includes multiple options to play the slot or outside and allows defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to rotate his cornerbacks much like you typically see with defensive linemen and pass rushers. Despite dealing with no long-term injuries at the position last season, the Ravens had four starting-caliber corners play over 600 snaps, but none took more than 876. It’s the kind of rotation that help keeps everyone fresh and opposing offenses guessing.

That’s a luxury few teams enjoy in today’s pass-crazy NFL, but secondary depth has become more important than ever with the Ravens defense using five or more defensive backs 83 percent of the time last season. Simply put, the nickel has really become their base defense rather than the traditional front seven.

Below is a look at several cornerbacks who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Marlon Humphrey
Skinny: Having just turned 23, the former first-round pick was voted team MVP by the local media last year and appears on the cusp of Pro Bowl stardom entering his third season, evident by Pro Football Focus naming him one of the NFL’s top 25 players under age 25 this offseason. He ranked third in the NFL in forced incompletion percentage and graded seventh among qualified cornerbacks in coverage, according to PFF. If he stays healthy, Humphrey could be one of the NFL’s best for years to come.

Old Reliable — Brandon Carr
Skinny: If his remarkable streak of never missing a game — while starting each one — in his first 11 seasons weren’t enough, the 33-year-old registered the eighth-lowest passer rating allowed in the NFL and was one of only three cornerbacks playing at least 500 coverage snaps not to surrender a touchdown in 2018, per PFF. Carr also filled in capably as a slot corner at times despite rarely playing there over the course of his career. The veteran isn’t a star, but he oozes dependability, an underrated trait in the NFL.

Under Fire — Jimmy Smith
Skinny: Many wondered if Smith would be back as he sports the second-highest salary cap number and 18th-highest cash payout among NFL cornerbacks in 2019, but Baltimore continues to bet on the upside of the 2011 first-round pick who’s played more than 12 games in the regular season only twice in his career due to injuries or suspensions. We’ve seen Smith, who turns 31 later this month, play at a superb level when right physically, but he needs a healthy and productive campaign with free agency looming.

Up-and-Comer — Anthony Averett
Skinny: The 2019 fourth-round pick from Alabama saw only 71 defensive snaps as a rookie, but most of that action came in the Week 14 loss at Kansas City, which was an impressive showing for the 24-year-old against an explosive offense. With Smith in the final year of his contract and Carr entering his 12th season, Averett is a candidate to step into a starting role as early as next season, but he’ll be asked to be a versatile game-day reserve capable of playing outside and inside in the meantime.

Sleeper — Terrell Bonds
Skinny: Formerly of the Memphis Express in the defunct Alliance of American Football, Bonds signed only after trying out during rookie camp and is a long shot to crack the 53-man roster in this deep group of cornerbacks. However, the 5-foot-8, 182-pound slot corner from Tennessee State was solid in the spring and intercepted Lamar Jackson twice in the same red-zone period during last month’s minicamp, which garnered plenty of attention. He’ll be fighting for a job in Baltimore or elsewhere this summer.

The Rest — Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Iman Marshall, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady, Stanley Jean-Baptiste
Skinny: Young’s three-year, $25.8 million contract extension reflects how highly the Ravens think of the slot corner, but the deal was panned elsewhere as a market setter for a relatively unproven player and others noted most of his success dating back to college has come as an outside corner. Agree or not, Baltimore sees a higher ceiling for the 25-year-old that will need to be reached. … The 29-year-old Bethel will really have to shine on special teams to justify the Ravens guaranteeing him $1 million despite the deep depth that was already in place at the position. … Jones, a Gilman School product, provided a spark as a punt returner down the stretch last season, but he may need to expand his return duties to kickoffs as well to secure his roster spot for 2019. … Canady has been a productive slot option in the past, but his injury history and expiring rookie contract are working against his roster chances.

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