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marquisebrown

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Ravens, Buffalo mostly healthy going into Sunday’s meeting

Posted on 06 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are officially listing four players as questionable for Sunday’s game in Buffalo, but all are expected to play against the 9-3 Bills.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), and wide receiver Seth Roberts (knee) were limited earlier in the week, but each practiced fully on Friday, eliminating any real doubt about their availability. Despite a physical battle with San Francisco last week, the Ravens have to be pleased with their current state of health, especially with a Thursday game against the New York Jets looming after the Week 14 meeting with the Bills.

Baltimore conducted a light indoor practice on Friday.

“We do feel good about where we’re at. We are healthy, and we do understand we play Thursday,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re kind of taking that into consideration from a big-picture standpoint with all the different ways that we’re working. But really, the focus is just Sunday. We know what we’re going to be in for.”

The Bills are also healthy with reserve offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe being the only player on their final injury report. Nsekhe was declared out for Sunday’s game after missing practice all week with an ankle injury that’s sidelined him since Week 11.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Buffalo calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds 15 to 25 miles per hour and only a small chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: WR Marquise Brown (ankle), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), WR Seth Roberts (knee)

BUFFALO
OUT: OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle)

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Old question flipped as high-powered Ravens take on Rams

Posted on 23 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The question would have been flipped if the Ravens had traveled to Los Angeles to take on the eventual NFC champion Rams a year ago.

How do you make enough stops against an elite offense and produce enough touchdown drives of your own to pull off the upset?

It was the challenge going up against Peyton Manning or Tom Brady for years and most recently facing the Kansas City Chiefs. But that’s all changed in 2019 with MVP favorite Lamar Jackson and the NFL’s top-scoring offense on Baltimore’s side. The Ravens have scored at least 40 points in a game three times — they’d done it only 14 times in their previous 23 years — and have scored no fewer than 23 points in a single game all season after averaging 24.3 per contest last year.

The debate is no longer whether this Ravens offense can be “figured out” as defensive coordinators have lost plenty of sleep trying — and failing — this season. The more realistic challenge is whether an opposing unit can slow it down, something a Rams defense with Pro Bowl talent at every level might be capable of doing on Monday night.

But that brings us to the second part of the original question that’s becoming more problematic for opponents and will be for a middle-of-the-pack Rams offense on Monday. A Ravens defense that was largely a mess after the season’s opening month has arguably been the NFL’s best over the last five weeks. That improvement has made Baltimore the best team in football entering Week 12.

“Go back to the Seahawks game. They got that turnover, and they gave us a boost,” said Jackson, referencing Marcus Peters’ interception return for a touchdown late in the first half of Week 7 win. “We started off very slow, and we needed that edge from our defense. Those guys showed it, and they’ve been proving it each and every week. It just helps us, relying on those guys to stop offenses — great offenses at that.”

The Ravens scored two defensive touchdowns in that road win and held Russell Wilson and Seattle to a season-low 16 points. After the bye, Baltimore registered another defensive touchdown and held Tom Brady and New England to 20 points, the Patriots’ third-worst output of the season. But the most impressive defensive showing of the season came last Sunday when Deshaun Watson and Houston managed only a single touchdown in a 41-7 final, a rare game in which the Ravens offense started slowly with a scoreless first quarter before exploding with points on seven of its next eight drives. Such a slow start two months ago might have left Baltimore in an early hole, but the defense didn’t flinch against one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Jackson and the offense haven’t needed help very often this season, but this newfound balance in the midst of a six-game winning streak — the Ravens’ longest in 19 years — is what transforms a Super Bowl hopeful into the favorite to win it all. Offense may drive the modern NFL, but just ask the Patriots how important their defense was in last year’s Super Bowl after being a middling unit during the regular season.

Through the first month of the season, the Ravens looked more like a team that would have to win shootouts against elite competition, something they fell short in doing against Kansas City in Week 3. Surrendering 33 points and more than 500 yards of offense to the Chiefs was one thing, but Cleveland coming into M&T Bank Stadium the following week to score 40 and go over the 500-yard mark was the breaking point. Changes were in order for defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s unit that had lost outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle in the offseason and was searching for its identity.

“Every team makes mistakes on the field. But early in the year when a guy would make a mistake, another guy didn’t just fall into that place and cover for him,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “I think it was new guys and some new spots. It took us a while to gel, but now we’ve been gelling. Yes, there have still been some same mistakes, but guys are covering for guys and we’re seeing things a little bit differently just because the communication and really knowing each other has really helped out.

“That’s really come from Wink, too. We put our foot down after those two losses and said, ‘Look, if we’re going to be a great defense, we have to do some things a little differently.'”

Dissatisfied with a young group of inside linebackers that was struggling to fill the void left by Mosley, the Ravens signed veterans Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, moved Patrick Onwuasor from the middle back to his old weak-side position, and benched Kenny Young and Chris Board. Those changes paid immediate dividends in a road win at Pittsburgh with Bynes taking over as the “Mike” linebacker and recording an interception on the second defensive drive of the game. Bynes and Fort weren’t Pro Bowl-caliber additions, but they brought more down-to-down consistency to a position that had been highly problematic early on.

After the defense made incremental improvement against the Steelers and Cincinnati, general manager Eric DeCosta made the season-altering acquisition of Peters, sending only the benched Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Rams in return. A secondary that had lost slot cornerback Tavon Young and starting safety Tony Jefferson to season-ending injuries and veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith to a multi-week knee injury now had a legitimate play-maker in Peters to begin the daunting stretch of six out of seven games against teams with winning records.

Peters wasted no time making an impact, returning a Wilson interception 67 yards for a touchdown in his first game as a Raven and following that with another interception return for a score against Cincinnati two weeks later. Baltimore knew it was getting a two-time Pro Bowl selection who had led the NFL in interceptions since the start of 2015, but Peters’ football intellect is what has resonated with teammates and coaches since he arrived in Owings Mills less than six weeks ago.

“You really don’t know until a guy gets into your locker room and into the defensive meetings of how football smart they are,” Martindale said. “He’s a savant when it comes to playing corner and routes and everything else. That’s been really refreshing because as I’ve said many times, knowledge is power in this league. You can see with his play that he has a lot of knowledge, and that’s what has jumped out the most to me.”

Peters was the marquee addition, but the in-season reset of the defense has been a collaborative effort, starting with DeCosta and the pro personnel department bringing in the aforementioned names as well as other role players such as Jihad Ward, Domata Peko, and Justin Ellis to fortify depth. Martindale and his coaching staff have done an exceptional job making strategic adjustments and bringing new players up to speed to be able to contribute immediately. And incumbents have stepped up, ranging from longtime veteran Brandon Williams playing his best football in recent memory to former reserve safety Chuck Clark stepping into a starting role and relaying calls in the defensive huddle.

The details of the path weren’t anticipated, but this Ravens defense was always built for the secondary to lead the way, which is exactly what we’ve seen in recent weeks. The addition of Peters and Smith’s return from injury have made the group as versatile as ever, evident by the amount of dime and quarter looks deployed in which Clark moves into the box and veteran cornerback Brandon Carr enters at safety.

Such sub packages allow Martindale to be more selective with his use of inside linebackers, who have fared much better as situational contributors than every-down players. It’s a far cry from the days of the Ravens having a perennial Pro Bowl selection like Ray Lewis or Mosley in the middle, but the defense being so multiple is working.

Last week, the tight coverage on the back end finally paid off for a maligned pass rush that registered a season-high seven sacks against Watson and a top-10 passing game. What the Ravens lack in standout pass rushers they’ve made up for with lock-down coverage that forces quarterbacks to hold the ball — against frequent blitzing — or attempt throws into tighter windows. It’s a defensive roster-building philosophy endorsed by the football analytics community that’s now paying off with roster tweaking and improved health in the secondary.

Opponents are now discovering they not only need to find a way to slow Jackson and the Ravens offense but also crack a confident defense growing stingier by the week. Seattle, New England, and Houston learned the hard way, and the increasingly desperate Rams face that unenviable task Monday night.

Even if the talented Los Angeles defense is able to make some stops, will Rams quarterback Jared Goff and his offense be able to do enough against the Baltimore defense for it to matter?

“It just starts to reveal who we are and what we can be if we keep doing what we’ve been doing. It’s been fun. It’s been going by like that though,” said safety Earl Thomas as he snapped his fingers. “We’ve been at it with some tough opponents, but we’ve been standing up. It’s just been one after another.

“We’ve just been proving people wrong. Let’s just keep doing it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win at Cincinnati

Posted on 12 November 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over New England

Posted on 05 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 6-2 for the first time since 2012 after a 37-20 win over New England, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore couldn’t have asked for a better start with 17 points on the first three drives against a team that hadn’t allowed more than 14 points in an entire game. The Ravens gained 133 yards in that first quarter while the Patriots possessed the ball for all of 132 seconds.

2. You knew it couldn’t continue to be that easy when Cyrus Jones muffed the punt early in the second quarter. The Gilman product has been pretty sure-handed with the Ravens, but coughing one up against his original team had to bring back some unpleasant memories that hopefully won’t linger.

3. The defense did strong work holding the Patriots to field goals on the final two drives of the first half, but kicking twice inside the 5 didn’t feel very “Belichickian.” Was it hubris that his defense had figured out the Ravens offense or some telling concern about his own offense?

4. To drain more than 17 minutes from the clock over its last two drives (not counting the final two kneels) speaks to this offense’s ability to crush an opponent’s soul. Lamar Jackson’s conversions to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead in that third-quarter drive were massive when leading by just four.

5. Earl Thomas played his best game as a Raven as he recorded a quarterback hit and grabbed his first interception since the opener. However, his best play came late in the second quarter when he broke up a Tom Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman at the goal line.

6. Marquise Brown didn’t post big numbers in his return from an ankle sprain, but his diving third-down reception and his catch and run for 26 yards set the tone on that opening drive. He wasn’t at full speed, but his presence is important for this offense to continue to thrive.

7. The rotation at inside linebacker was about what we expected, but Patrick Onwuasor reminded why he’s more effective playing the weak-side spot. He tied for the team lead with eight tackles, recorded a sack on a blitz, and forced the fumble returned for a touchdown by Marlon Humphrey.

8. Sunday was five seasons in the making for Nick Boyle, who caught his first career touchdown. Boyle is the constant in a tight end room that’s changed plenty since he was drafted in 2015 — three rounds after Maxx Williams — so it was cool seeing him enjoy the celebration with teammates.

9. Not only did Brandon Carr see extensive work at safety in the dime and quarter packages when Chuck Clark moved to linebacker, but he often played deep as Wink Martindale moved Thomas around the field. Carr, 33, rolls with the punches and embraces whatever the defense needs from him.

10. In addition to the conservative decisions to kick short field goals, New England committed four penalties that gave the Ravens first downs, headlined by a neutral-zone infraction turning a short field goal into a touchdown on the opening drive. A few of those flags were back breakers.

11. No team has advanced to the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye since the 2012 Ravens. At 6-2, the goal is no longer to simply win an underwhelming AFC North. Several tough opponents remain, but securing the first weekend off in January is more than doable.

12. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Lenny Moore being in the building was special and highlights how incredible Baltimore’s football history is. Seeing Reed watch from the sideline reminded me of the legendary Johnny Unitas watching the new Ravens years ago. Sunday night was an electric atmosphere.

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Five Ravens players to watch for rest of 2019 season

Posted on 25 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are 5-2 atop the AFC North and are enjoying their bye week with a winning record for the first time since 2014, but unknowns remain that will surely impact the rest of this season and beyond.

Which individuals a bit more on the periphery than budding stars such as Lamar Jackson and Marlon Humphrey could have a significant impact on the second half of the season as well as future decision-making?

Below are five players to watch for the remainder of the season:

WR Miles Boykin

It’s no secret that production from wide receivers not named Marquise Brown has been less than stellar this season, in part because of the lack of opportunities in a run-first offense prominently featuring tight ends. But the last few weeks have illustrated the need for another dependable option to emerge for the Ravens to alleviate some of the pressure on Jackson, who’s accumulated 56.7 percent of his season rushing attempts over the last three games in which Brown was either out or limited. Boykin has reeled in nine of his 13 targets, a percentage high enough to warrant more looks. After experiencing some growing pains, the 6-foot-4 wideout stepping up would improve the Ravens’ chances the rest of the way while easing some of the urgency for general manager Eric DeCosta to add more help at the position in the offseason.

S Chuck Clark

Since losing Tony Jefferson to a season-ending knee injury in Pittsburgh, the Ravens couldn’t have asked for more from Clark, who has played well in Jefferson’s absence and seamlessly assumed the responsibilities of relaying calls in the defensive huddle. Pro Football Focus has graded the 2017 sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech as the NFL’s 17th-best safety this season and much more favorably in pass coverage than Jefferson. Clark proved his worth as a valuable backup filling in for Jefferson last season, but a strong finish to the season could give him the inside track on the 2020 starting job with Jefferson entering the final year of his contract and scheduled to make $7 million in base salary while recovering from a major knee injury. Clark’s challenge now is to show week-to-week consistency.

OLB Jaylon Ferguson

Whether or not the right pass rusher at the right price becomes available for a successful trade before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, the Ravens will be depending on the third-round rookie from Louisiana Tech to step up with the versatile Pernell McPhee gone for the season with a triceps injury. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen confirmed Ferguson will be used in McPhee’s hybrid role in which he’ll line up as an edge defender or as an interior rusher in sub packages. That’s a lot to ask of someone who was a healthy scratch at the start of the season, but the silver lining is the Ravens will get a long look as how effective Ferguson can be at the next level, which contrasts how the first couple years played out with Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. That knowledge should assist in how to attack the pass rush this offseason.

TE Hayden Hurst

His rookie year was a lost cause because of a foot injury that lingered throughout the season, but the former first-round pick has remained a bit player in Baltimore’s offense so far while fellow 2018 draft choice Mark Andrews is rapidly becoming one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Hurst has caught 14 of his 18 targets this season — the team’s highest percentage from any non-running back — but PFF has graded him as the worst run-blocking tight end in the league entering Week 8 while Andrews has shown marked improvement in that area. Hurst’s name has reportedly been mentioned in trade discussions, but there’s still time for him to carve out a more meaningful role in this offense, especially with the Ravens looking for a more prominent No. 3 pass-catching option behind Andrews and Brown.

CB Marcus Peters

The trade sending linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams paid immediate dividends with Peters returning an interception for a touchdown in the impressive 30-16 win over Seattle. Leading the NFL in picks (25) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (five) since his rookie season in 2015, Peters has a propensity for making big plays while also giving up some of his own, a high-variance quality that will be interesting to watch the rest of the way. He’ll be a free agent in March, which gives DeCosta another decision to make with Jimmy Smith also hitting the market and the team holding a 2020 option for Brandon Carr. There’s also the matter of planning for the massive extension the 23-year-old Humphrey will very likely command in the not-too-distant future.

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Ravens beef up injury-depleted secondary with Peters addition

Posted on 15 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Having watched the Ravens secondary be ravaged by injuries since the start of training camp, general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t wait around until the Oct. 29 trade deadline to act.

Sending disappointing second-year inside linebacker Kenny Young and a reported 2020 fifth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams, Baltimore acquired two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters to boost a pass defense ranking a disappointing 25th in the NFL. Peters should immediately step into the starting lineup opposite standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey and help stabilize a secondary that’s gone from one of the league’s deepest to a question mark in only weeks.

A 2015 first-round pick out of Washington, Peters has led the NFL with 24 interceptions over the last five years and was named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first two seasons with Kansas City. Traded to the Rams after the 2017 campaign, the 26-year-old shook off a rough start with his new team last year to help Los Angeles advance to Super Bowl LIII.

Pro Football Focus has graded the 6-foot, 195-pound Peters as the 14th-best cornerback in the NFL this season, the final year of his rookie contract paying him $9.069 million. His uncertain contract status was believed to be the driving force behind the Rams’ decision to part with Peters despite having just placed other starting cornerback Aqib Talib on injured reserve this week.

(Updated 8 p.m. — The Rams acquired cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville in exchange for two first-round picks and a fourth-round pick Tuesday evening.)

In six games this season, Peters has registered two interceptions, 14 tackles, and four pass breakups.

The Ravens have been decimated by injuries at the cornerback position after losing above-average nickel back Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury in August and veteran starter Jimmy Smith to a Week 1 knee injury that’s sidelined him for the last five games. Making matters worse have been the recent season-ending knee injuries sustained by veteran starter Tony Jefferson and second-year reserve DeShon Elliott at the safety position. In Smith’s absence, Baltimore had been relying on unproven cornerbacks such as Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett, who had both been picked on in coverage at various points since Week 2.

With Smith believed to be nearing a return, it will be interesting to see how the secondary shakes out as the Ravens now have three high-profile cornerbacks who’ve mostly played on the outside in their careers. It’s worth noting, however, that Humphrey has lined up in the slot some when traveling with opponents’ No. 1 receivers in recent weeks.

Veteran Brandon Carr has served as the primary nickel in Tavon Young’s absence this season, but he did practice a good bit at safety in the spring and summer, giving defensive coordinator Wink Martindale another potential wrinkle. In response to their problems at inside linebacker, the Ravens played quite a few snaps in a dime package against Cincinnati in Week 6 that featured strong safety Chuck Clark moving to the “Mike” linebacker spot and Elliott playing on the back end next to free safety Earl Thomas.

After reportedly showing interest in Ramsey last month, DeCosta was still able to address an immediate concern without the same long-term risk by trading a young player who had fallen out of favor and a Day 3 pick. Should the Ravens choose not to re-sign Peters to a lucrative extension in the offseason, they would likely receive an attractive compensatory pick in the 2021 draft.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether DeCosta will be able to address a pass rush that’s been perceived as a greater concern than the depleted secondary since the start of the season. Having lost outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency, Baltimore is tied for 24th in the league with just 11 sacks in six games.

With a two-game lead in the AFC North and about to face six teams with a .500 or better record over their next seven games, the Ravens clearly signaled their strong intentions to contend in the AFC with Tuesday’s trade.

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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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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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