Tag Archive | "Brandon Williams"

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 05 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The sizzle in this AFC North rivalry is currently lacking, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens and Pittsburgh aren’t both eager for a victory to reverse their early-season fortunes.

A victory would allow Baltimore to exhale after a two-game losing streak and would keep John Harbaugh’s team at least tied for first place in the division with two games to go until the Week 8 bye. The Steelers are trying to avoid falling to 1-4, a record from which only 14 teams since 1970 have rebounded to make the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals meet for the 51st time — counting the postseason — with Pittsburgh owning a 25-21 advantage in the regular season and a 3-1 edge in the playoffs. Including the playoffs, the Ravens are 12-13 against the Steelers in the Harbaugh era with 18 of those games decided by a single score.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Earl Thomas will come away with his second interception of the season. The truth is somewhere in between regarding Thomas’ start as he’s been neither dynamic nor the problem some have suggested him to be. Hearing him admit he’s still adjusting to playing different coverages from what he did in Seattle is disconcerting, but it’s not as though he’s been directly responsible for most of the big plays the Ravens have surrendered. The 30-year-old does need to be a bigger part of the solution, and a pick of second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph will be a step in the right direction.

2. James Conner and Jaylen Samuels will each score a touchdown. The Steelers have averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, so finding running room against a front expecting to have Brandon Williams back won’t be easy. However, Conner and Samuels caught a combined 16 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in Week 4 and will be facing a Baltimore linebacker group that’s been a total liability in coverage. As they did against Cincinnati, the Steelers will use gadget plays, screens, and short passes to keep life simple for Rudolph. The Ravens have struggled against those kinds of plays.

3. Lamar Jackson will rush for 75 yards and throw for two touchdowns. The Pittsburgh defense is moving in a better direction after a rough start, but the Steelers haven’t yet encountered the full Jackson experience, which is difficult for anyone to prepare for. We’ll see a more aggressive Jackson running to the edges like he did in Week 2, which will force Pittsburgh’s secondary to creep forward and create chances for the second-year quarterback to throw the ball down the field. The Ravens would love to get Marquise Brown going again after he had a total of six catches for 71 yards over the last two games.

4. Steelers defensive linemen Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt will combine for two sacks and force a fumble. One of the reasons why Jackson will run more frequently to the edges is to offset the advantage Pittsburgh has inside, especially with center Matt Skura questionable to play due to a knee injury. The Ravens did a solid job against the Cleveland front last week, but the Steelers’ interior line is a handful with Heyward and Tuitt off to great starts this season. Baltimore’s top-ranked rush offense will be seeing its biggest test inside the tackles so far this season.

5. The Baltimore defense will regroup — somewhat — in a 24-20 win over Pittsburgh. There are too many problems to expect the Ravens defense to just snap its fingers and be fine, but I still believe that group is better than the bottom-10 unit its shown to be so far this season. There will still be mistakes and the Steelers will throw plenty of bells and whistles at them, but Rudolph doesn’t appear to be capable yet of exploiting the Ravens’ woes like Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield did. Jackson and the offense will play an efficient game against a defense better than the numbers suggest, and the Ravens will escape Heinz Field with a victory for the second straight year.

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Skura, Williams questionable for Ravens’ tilt in Pittsburgh

Posted on 04 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The only man to play every offensive snap for the Ravens since the start of the 2018 season is questionable for Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh.

Center Matt Skura missed practice for the second straight day with a knee injury, leaving his availability uncertain for Week 5. The Ravens have expressed optimism about his status, but no Baltimore player who’s missed the final two practices of a week this season has played that Sunday.

“He had something happen in practice. I think there’s a real good chance he’ll play,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m very encouraged, so we’ll just have to see. If not, we’ll go with the guys we have.”

Starting left guard Bradley Bozeman is listed as the backup center on the depth chart included in this week’s game release, but the Ravens may not want to disrupt two positions on an offensive line that’s shown promising continuity through the first quarter of the season. Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari would be the other candidate to start in Skura’s place after being active as a reserve in each of the first four games of 2019.

Not only would a change at center be unsettling with Pittsburgh’s interior defensive line regarded as one of the NFL’s best, but 97 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps this season have come from the shotgun or pistol formation, according to SharpFootballStats.com. Accuracy problems with snaps are detrimental to the timing of read-option and run-pass option plays that require a precise mesh point between the quarterback and running back.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was also listed as questionable on the final injury report, but he practiced fully Friday, a good sign for his availability after he missed last Sunday’s loss to Cleveland due to a knee injury. Punt returner and reserve cornerback Cyrus Jones was also designated as questionable after being limited in Friday’s practice with a foot issue.

Tight end Mark Andrews wasn’t listed with a game status after practicing fully Friday, a sign that his health continues to improve after being hampered by a foot injury since Week 2. He sat out Wednesday’s practice and worked on a limited basis Thursday.

Harbaugh said he expects the Ravens to make a 53-man roster addition prior to Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline for Week 5 after placing reserve safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) on injured reserve Thursday. That move would presumably be a promotion from the practice squad.

Trawick had returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday after a two-game absence, but Harbaugh said he’s now a candidate for a designation to return later in the season, a decision that doesn’t have to be made right now.

“It’s just a move we decided to make. It’s kind of the way it worked out,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not really as much medical. I mean he’s not ready to play yet, so we’ve got a little time there.”

As expected, cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) was officially ruled out and will miss his fourth straight game. This marks the seventh time in his nine seasons in which the oft-injured defensive back will miss at least four contests in a campaign.

The Steelers are dealing with their own health concerns as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe) and tight end Vance McDonald (shoulder) are questionable to play, but both practiced fully Friday. Running back James Conner (ankle) wasn’t listed with a game status despite sitting out the first two practices of the week, meaning he’ll play against the Ravens.

Pittsburgh fullback Roosevelt Nix (knee) was officially ruled out.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday in Pittsburgh calls for cloudy skies with occasional showers and temperatures approaching the mid-70s. There’s a 40-percent chance of rain with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Cyrus Jones (foot), C Matt Skura (knee), DT Brandon Williams (knee)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: LB Anthony Chickillo (foot), RB Roosevelt Nix (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Vance McDonald (shoulder), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe), LB Vince Williams (hamstring)

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B. Williams practices as Thomas says Ravens teammates on “same page”

Posted on 03 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams returned to practice, safety Earl Thomas says the two are “on the same page” after last Sunday’s post-game dispute.

An NFL Network report indicated the two were involved in a “heated” discussion after Williams missed the Week 4 loss to Cleveland with a knee injury. The veteran lineman hadn’t been on the injury report until Saturday and was deactivated after a lackluster on-field workout before Sunday’s game. Without their run-stopping tackle anchoring the defense, the Ravens gave up a season-worst 193 yards in the 40-25 loss to the Browns.

Baltimore is allowing 4.9 yards per carry, which currently ranks 27th in the NFL.

“We talked about it. I just want him out there,” said Thomas about his spat with Williams. “He’s a Pro Bowler. We’re better when he’s out there, so I was a little frustrated. I just wanted to see what was going on with him because I knew he had practiced earlier in the week. I didn’t know.

“It just kind of hit me out of the blindside, but hopefully he’ll play this week. We’ll get it fixed.”

Williams practiced on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday’s session, a positive sign for his availability for Sunday’s trip to Heinz Field to take on Pittsburgh. However, the Ravens were without center Matt Skura, who missed Thursday’s workout with a knee issue. Starting left guard Bradley Bozeman is listed on the team’s depth chart as the backup center, but undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari would be another option if Skura weren’t able to play.

Tight end Mark Andrews (foot) was a limited participant on Thursday after receiving the previous day off. He has now missed parts of four straight practice weeks, but he appeared to be moving better against the Browns than he did in the previous week’s loss to Kansas City, catching four passes for 31 yards and a touchdown in Week 4.

There is no shortage of urgency with the Ravens having lost two straight and not wanting to fall to 0-2 in AFC North play against the Steelers, who registered their first win of the season Monday night.

“We know what this game entails. It’s a rivalry,” Andrews said. “We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. We have a bunch of fighters in this locker room, a bunch of resilient guys, and I trust these guys.”

Reserve safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) was placed on injured reserve a day after returning to practice on a limited basis. Trawick had missed each of the last two games with the injury. The Ravens did not immediately announce a corresponding roster move.

Meanwhile, the Steelers are dealing with their own health concerns as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe), running back James Conner (ankle), and tight end Vance McDonald (shoulder) have yet to practice this week. McDonald didn’t play in Week 4 while Smith-Schuster and Conner were banged up in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Mark Andrews (foot), DT Brandon Williams (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Anthony Chickillo (foot), RB James Conner (ankle), G Ramon Foster (non-injury), TE Vance McDonald (shoulder), RB Roosevelt Nix (knee), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Mark Barron (non-injury), DT Cameron Heyward (quadricep), C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury), LB Vince Williams (hamstring)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 4 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 01 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens losing their second straight game in a 40-25 setback against Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With 10 of the previous 15 games between these teams decided by one score despite the Ravens’ dominant record, you couldn’t help but think the Browns would “Brown” when Baltimore made it 24-18. Instead, the Ravens didn’t even touch Nick Chubb on his 88-yard touchdown run. Just brutal.

2. The first turnover of the season was inevitable, but Mark Ingram’s fumble in the third quarter summed up the day for the offense. Averaging 5.9 yards per play, the Ravens moved the ball well, but they made too many mistakes at the wrong times.

3. The defense deserves most of the blame for the two-game losing streak, but the offense has scored a total of 13 first-half points the last two weeks. That’s usually not going to get the job done, especially with the current state of this defense.

4. John Harbaugh noted Cleveland was content playing off in coverage to give the Ravens short passes — mostly to the outside — as Lamar Jackson was 6-for-8 for 34 yards in the first half. Still, Greg Roman has to find a better way to test a unit missing both starting cornerbacks.

5. There was no shortage of new defensive looks as Wink Martindale used four safeties — the starters, Chuck Clark, and DeShon Elliott — on occasion and removed Patrick Onwuasor in certain sub packages after he’d previously been an every-snap linebacker. Twenty-one players saw at least seven snaps. Martindale is exploring answers.

6. Tony Jefferson took over the defensive huddle and wore the green-dot helmet to relay the calls from the sideline, a decision made to streamline communication for the secondary and take some responsibilities off Onwuasor’s plate. Baltimore has to get its inside linebackers to play better.

7. Per OverTheCap.com, no team has more money tied to the safety position over the next two years than Baltimore, but Pro Football Focus has graded Earl Thomas 19th and Jefferson 75th among qualified safeties through Week 4. These two need to be a much bigger part of the solution.

8. Brandon Williams’ absence didn’t mean an opportunity for rookie Daylon Mack as much as bigger workloads for Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and Patrick Ricard. Mack played nine snaps while the veteran trio set season highs in snaps by significant margins. That takes a toll, especially later in the game.

9. Just how problematic has the defense been with surrendering big plays? The Ravens have already allowed six pass plays of 40 or more yards, one shy of last season’s total. Only two teams — Oakland and Jacksonville — have surrendered more completions of 20 or more yards so far.

10. His final stat line wasn’t the most accurate portrayal of his day, but Jackson’s first interception of the season was a product of needing to be aggressive down multiple scores with time dwindling. I’ll take that over dinking and dunking without the necessary urgency. The quarterback wasn’t the problem Sunday.

11. The hand-wringing over the third-quarter scuffle between Marlon Humphrey and Odell Beckham Jr. is getting ridiculous. Each team should be happy its player wasn’t kicked out of the game and just move on.

12. Justice Hill returning kicks looked like a good move to utilize his speed, but his latest drop to open the second half led to Chris Moore replacing him. Coverage has been good, but the Ravens could really use more production out of their kick returns, which rank 21st.

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No shortage of questions about play, leadership of Ravens defense

Posted on 30 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The post-game reaction was what you’d expect after the Ravens defense offered one of the worst home performances in franchise history in the 40-25 loss to Cleveland.

Tony Jefferson called it “disgusting.”

Matthew Judon described the “terrible” showing as unfit for “a standard that was set a long time ago.”

Earl Thomas labeled the day “frustrating as hell” after the Ravens had given up more than 500 yards and 33 points to Kansas City a week earlier.

Similar sentiments were offered throughout the locker room, but a comment made by Michael Pierce resonated for anyone who’s watched the Ravens surrender more than 500 yards and at least 33 points in back-to-back weeks for the first time in team history. The defensive tackle thoughtfully answered difficult questions from the podium outside the locker room, but he was eventually asked who had stepped up as leaders in the midst of a brutal day.

“Everyone knows who our leaders are.”

Do we though?

Do they?

It certainly isn’t Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, or C.J. Mosley. Their 17 combined Pro Bowls and three decades’ worth of institutional knowledge and football IQ are long gone, and the Ravens miss them. There’s no disputing that anymore.

To be clear, Pierce pointed to Thomas leading by example and Judon being more vocal, but the Ravens defense looked like a rudderless ship Sunday as the Browns punched the unit in the mouth repeatedly without resistance. There were more big plays surrendered, blown coverages and run-gap responsibilities, and some of the worst tackling ever observed from a Baltimore defense. The Ravens defense didn’t play tough or as a team, especially in the second half when the Browns scored 30 points.

Cleveland scored on five straight possessions from the end of the first half to midway through the fourth quarter. After Lamar Jackson’s touchdown pass to Mark Andrews and subsequent two-point conversion to cut the deficit to six with just under 10 minutes to go, the Ravens not only failed to make a stop, but they gave up a Nick Chubb 88-yard touchdown run on the next snap from scrimmage.

On that play, Thomas said he pulled up in an effort to avoid pulling his hamstring. To be clear, the six-time Pro Bowl safety and former Seattle Seahawk wasn’t going to run down the speedy Chubb — perhaps another issue entirely — but that business decision and an NFL Network report of “a heated discussion” between Thomas and Brandon Williams centered around the injured defensive tackle not playing Sunday are poor optics for someone who was signed to play at an elite level and help fill the leadership void.

But this isn’t about one player. The entire Ravens defense was a mess Sunday except for Marlon Humphrey, who was superb against three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for most of the game. That said, even the third-year corner admitted to being responsible for the busted coverage that led to Baker Mayfield’s 59-yard completion to Ricky Seals-Jones in the third quarter.

Entering Monday, the Ravens ranked 25th in total defense, 20th in scoring defense, and 29th in pass defense. Their 10th-ranked run defense is buoyed only by two still-winless teams not even challenging them on the ground in the first two games as Baltimore now ranks 26th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (4.9). Point to the absences of Williams and Jimmy Smith as well as the season-ending neck injury to Tavon Young as much as you want, but the Browns defense has managed to not completely fall apart these last two weeks despite most of its starting secondary being out.

It’s unclear to what degree the defensive issues can be fixed during the season. The young inside linebackers have been lost in coverage and undisciplined against the run. The veterans and youngsters at outside linebacker have been too inconsistent setting the edge. After Tyus Bowser’s sack on the game’s opening drive, the Baltimore pass rush didn’t hit Mayfield once the rest of the day. The high-priced safety tandem of Thomas and Jefferson has done little to prevent big play after big play these last three games. And, yes, the Ravens have definitely missed Smith and Young at cornerback.

But even before addressing the many on-field issues, who’s going to lead through this trying time? Which player is telling a dazed and wounded group that everything will be OK — with everyone believing him? If necessary, which veteran can provide a verbal boot to the ass that will be taken the right way?

This isn’t an individual knock on Thomas, Judon, Jefferson, or even second-stint veteran Pernell McPhee. Having untapped leadership qualities isn’t the same as establishing yourself as a leader, which must happen organically. That trust and responsibility can’t be forced, but the defense has undergone its greatest leadership exodus since Lewis and Reed walked out of the building in 2013. The difference then was Suggs and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata still being there.

If Ray Lewis and Ed Reed had suddenly bolted in 2005 or 2006, Suggs probably wouldn’t have been the same leader then as he would eventually become. Weddle and Mosley certainly carried more clout over time than when they first arrived, making it difficult to simply point to Thomas as the solution.

It’s a process, but the Ravens must figure out these defensive woes much sooner than later.

There’s no shame in struggling on the road against the explosive Chiefs offense, but being embarrassed in your own building by the Browns rocks the foundation of what you claim to be.

And the defense doesn’t have that obvious leader to pick it up in the meantime.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 29 September 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will be without the anchor of their defensive line for a key AFC North battle with Cleveland.

A day after being added to the injury report, defensive tackle Brandon Williams was deactivated for Sunday’s game due to a knee injury. The 30-year-old is missing his first game since Week 6 of the 2017 season when Chicago rushed for 231 yards in a 27-24 overtime win over the Ravens.

Williams went through a pre-game workout with defensive line coach Joe Cullen and head athletic trainer Ron Medlin that included plenty of dialogue and deliberate, unimpressive movements. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale also watched closely while defensive lineman Chris Wormley assisted for the latter portion of the workout before Williams left the field.

After giving up 5.6 yards per carry in last Sunday’s loss in Kansas City, the Ravens not having Williams in the middle of the defensive line is a substantial loss. Rookie fifth-round pick Daylon Mack will make his NFL debut as part of the defensive line rotation.

As expected, tight end Mark Andrews (foot) and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (hip) are active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. How Andrews fares will be interesting after he practiced only once this week and registered just three catches for 15 yards against the Chiefs in Week 3.

As anticipated, the Browns deactivated starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams as well as starting safety Morgan Burnett for Week 4. All three sat out practices all week and are missing their second straight game, but Cleveland — led by its stout defensive line — still managed to hold the Los Angeles Rams to just 20 points last Sunday night.

On the positive side for the Browns, starting safety Damarious Randall will play after a two-game absence with a concussion.

Sunday’s referee is Shawn Hochuli.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures reaching the mid-80s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with purple pants while Cleveland dons white tops with orange pants for Week 4.

Sunday marks the 41st all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with the Ravens enjoying an overwhelming 30-10 advantage. Baltimore is 19-3 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era, but 10 of the last 15 contests have been decided by a single possession, including both parts of last season’s split.

The Ravens are inducting former head coach and Super Bowl XXXV champion Brian Billick into their Ring of Honor at halftime with more than 60 former players in attendance. Senior advisor of player engagement and former Ravens linebacker O.J. Brigance will also be honored on his 50th birthday.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
DT Brandon Williams
CB Jimmy Smith
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
S Brynden Trawick
G Ben Powers

CLEVELAND
CB Denzel Ward
CB Greedy Williams
S Sheldrick Redwine
S Morgan Burnett
DE Genard Avery
OT Kendall Lamm
WR Rashard Higgins

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Ravens add Brandon Williams to injury report, place Otaro Alaka on IR

Posted on 28 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens added defensive tackle Brandon Williams to their injury report Saturday, a potentially significant development ahead of their Week 4 meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Williams was designated as questionable to play with a knee issue. He hadn’t been on the injury report all week, but his potential absence Sunday would be a tough blow for a Baltimore defense that allowed 140 rushing yards in last week’s 33-28 loss in Kansas City.

It’s unknown how Williams hurt his knee, but the Ravens have rarely added a player to their injury report the day before a game in the past. Rookie fifth-round pick Daylon Mack would likely make his NFL debut as part of the defensive line rotation if the seventh-year defensive tackle can’t play.

Rookie inside linebacker Otaro Alaka was placed on injured reserve Saturday, but general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t make a corresponding move by the 4 p.m. deadline, meaning the Ravens have only 52 players on the roster going into Sunday. After suffering a hamstring injury during Wednesday’s practice, Alaka had already been ruled out for Week 4 against the Browns and was inactive for each of the first three contests of the regular season.

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

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (knee), S Brynden Trawick (elbow)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Mark Andrews (foot), CB Marlon Humphrey (hip), DT Brandon Williams (knee)

CLEVELAND
OUT: OT Kendall Lamm (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: S Morgan Burnett (quad), WR Rashard Higgins (knee), OT Chris Hubbard (foot), S Sheldrick Redwine (hamstring), CB Denzel Ward (hamstring), CB Greedy Williams (hamstring)

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Ravens can begin putting stranglehold on floundering AFC North

Posted on 26 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The first-place Ravens were disappointed with their Week 3 loss in Kansas City, but everyone else in the AFC North would gladly trade places right now.

Pittsburgh is 0-3 and has already lost future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the season. Cincinnati is winless under new head coach Zac Taylor and still without star wide receiver A.J. Green. Those teams face off Monday with only one avoiding going 0-for-September. Last year’s Houston Texans were the only 0-3 team in the last 20 years to rally to make the playoffs.

And then there’s Cleveland, the offseason division champions who added three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. and former Pro Bowl defensive linemen Olivier Vernon and Sheldon Richardson. The Browns won five of their last seven games last season with first overall pick Baker Mayfield leading the way and being hyped as the next big thing at the quarterback position.

Even Ravens head coach John Harbaugh touted Cleveland as the most talented team in the division in March, but the defending AFC North champions mostly bit their tongues over these last six months.

“In the media, they’re talking about OBJ and that [wide receiver] tandem and Baker Mayfield, the next savior,” safety Earl Thomas said. “He had a hot start [last year]. And then, to add on to that, coach ‘Harbs’ talked about it a couple of times in meetings, so guys kind of got tired of it.”

The Browns haven’t lived up to expectations so far under first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens, losing their first two home games and beating the injury-ravaged New York Jets for their only win. An offense with plenty of skill talent has been a bottom 10 group with Mayfield struggling behind a shaky offensive line. Their defense has played well the last two weeks, but the entire staring secondary missed last week’s loss to the Los Angeles Rams and only safety Damarious Randall has returned to practice so far this week.

Cleveland travels to Baltimore Sunday and plays three straight games against teams with winning records after that. In other words, it could get late very early for a team with playoff aspirations.

Meanwhile, the Ravens took full advantage of a soft first two weeks to now lead the NFL in total offense, rushing offense, and points per game behind quarterback Lamar Jackson, who has looked more like the young star many expected Mayfield to be this season. The 22-year-old says he wasn’t bothered by the attention being elsewhere this offseason as he focused on improving his passing ability.

“I didn’t care. I’m just worried about the Ravens. I don’t really care about other teams,” said Jackson, who’s thrown seven touchdowns with no interceptions and a 113.9 passer rating so far. “I don’t, so I really didn’t care at all. And they’re supposed to hype themselves up. We’re going to hype ourselves up. We’re just not going to do it out of the ordinary.”

The Ravens have plenty of motivation coming off the 33-28 loss to the Chiefs with an opportunity to now put a stranglehold on the AFC North by Columbus Day with three straight division games. But the Browns are desperate, knowing a loss would put them two games behind the Ravens with their schedule not letting up at all after that.

Even if overhyped, the Cleveland offense is seemingly too talented to continue to be this bad, an uncomfortable thought with the Baltimore pass defense experiencing too many coverage breakdowns and ranking just 27th in the NFL through three weeks. The Ravens would be wise to jump in front early rather than leaving Mayfield and the Browns in the game after they nearly overcame a double-digit deficit at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 17 last year.

Ten of the last 15 meetings between these teams have been decided by one score, even with the Ravens winning 12 of those games and the Browns being dreadful over most of that stretch.

“Cleveland always plays us pretty hard,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “They always give us everything they’ve got, given the history. We’re just ready for a battle on Sunday.”

The Ravens may have fallen short in proving they belong at the AFC’s elite level with Kansas City and New England, but these next three games can put them in the driver’s seat in the division. If they eye bigger goals in 2019, seizing control of the floundering AFC North is the first step.

The Browns lack the established leadership to survive falling into such an early hole and are already barking back at early criticism. The Steelers aren’t throwing in the towel yet after recently trading for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick and tight end Nick Vannett, but it’s a lot to ask of second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph to keep them in the race after such a dismal start. And while the Bengals have tormented Baltimore in recent years, they’ve been spinning their wheels since 2015.

This could already be the Ravens’ division to lose — ESPN Analytics estimates their AFC North title odds at already more than 80 percent — but that early lead disappears if they don’t take care of business against the Browns. The next three weeks could set the tone for whether Baltimore will run away with the division — and set its sights higher — or be in the midst of another grind for the AFC North title.

“Every game is big, but these games, I feel like they count for two games,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an opportunity to win one and have your opponent not win one. And that’s big. The Browns are excellent. They have tremendous talent. They play very hard. You’ve seen this defense fly around. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, dealing with these guys. They’ll be fired up.

“We just have to go play good football and play our best football and be the Ravens.”

Below is Thursday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Otaro Alaka (hamstring), TE Mark Andrews (foot), CB Jimmy Smith (knee), S Brynden Trawick (elbow)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Marlon Humphrey (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Morgan Burnett (quad), WR Rashard Higgins (knee), OT Kendall Lamm (knee), DT Devaroe Lawrence (non-injury), S Sheldrick Redwine (hamstring), CB Denzel Ward (hamstring), CB Greedy Williams (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Joel Bitonio (abdomen), OT Chris Hubbard (foot), LB Adarius Taylor (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Odell Beckham Jr. (hip), LS Charlie Hughlett (shoulder), DT Devaroe Lawrence (non-injury), S Damarious Randall (concussion), K Austin Seibert (right hip)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at start of training camp

Posted on 25 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 24th training camp in Baltimore, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Brandon Williams carried on the tradition of driving Steve Bisciotti’s golf cart onto the field, but it was very different not seeing or hearing Terrell Suggs on the first day of practice. His trash talk and carrying on largely represented the soundtrack of training camp. Practice was much quieter.

2. Michael Pierce deserves credit for his candor discussing his weight and conditioning problems and the work he’s put in. He took a scale on his pre-planned trip to Italy and ate only seafood and lighter fare. He’s a better man than I would have been for laying off the pasta.

3. The start of practice was pretty ugly for Lamar Jackson, but he knocked off rust to throw the ball much better in the latter half. He was picked by Chuck Clark while rolling to his right, but Jackson made some strong intermediate and deep passes and showed more accuracy.

4. John Harbaugh said the offense “looked like it was the first day” as the line struggled to protect and the unit committed way too many pre-snap penalties. That’s typical for this time of year, but a run-first attack will need do the little things well to stay on schedule.

5. Patrick Onwuasor seems to be taking to a leadership role as he is now playing “Mike” linebacker and even offered an opening statement at the podium Thursday, a rarity for a player interview. He says he listened and learned plenty in his first three years to prepare for this opportunity.

6. Marquise Brown not being cleared for the first day was disappointing, but it’s wise not to push with the soreness he still feels when cutting. The sense is he should at least be a limited participant by next week, but concern will grow if that doesn’t happen. He needs reps.

7. After a hamstring injury limited him this spring, Miles Boykin showed good speed in his snaps with the first-team offense. He dropped a pretty deep ball from Jackson, but he rebounded to haul in a contested catch for a touchdown against Earl Thomas in coverage and made some other plays.

8. Despite failing his conditioning test and sitting out the first day, Shane Ray has a real opportunity to revitalize his career and carve out a big role if healthy. I’m not sure whether that says more about his spring work or the lack of confidence in the younger options.

9. Fellow veteran Pernell McPhee lined up as the starting rush linebacker opposite Matthew Judon on the first day. I’m interested to see how the 30-year-old’s reps are managed with his injury history in mind, but I still anticipate him being more of a situational inside rusher than anything else.

10. Ben Powers reaped the benefits of getting to play left guard with Alex Lewis and Jermaine Eluemunor not practicing and James Hurst filling in for Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle on the first day. This competition is wide open, but the rookie fourth-round pick is definitely in the mix.

11. We’ve spotlighted the early-round draft misses in recent years, but the 2016 rookie class that included second- and third-round busts Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi also produced Judon, a fifth-round pick, as well as Onwuasor and Pierce, two undrafted free agents. Talk about terrific value.

12. One of the biggest surprises to begin camp was seeing a beard-free Marshal Yanda, a sight I couldn’t remember in my time on the beat. The seven-time Pro Bowl right guard appears to be in good shape entering his 13th season.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Defensive line

Posted on 11 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in 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.

July 9 — Cornerbacks
July 10 — Running backs

We continue on the defensive line, a group that includes one of the best run-stopping duos in the NFL and only two players over age 25. However, with the free-agent departures of Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Brent Urban, the Ravens are looking for viable pass-rushing options both off the edge and inside. Smith and Urban frequently lined up as interior rushers last season, so defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will need at least a couple interior linemen to create pressure in the pocket. Returning veteran Pernell McPhee also has a chance to be part of that equation as someone moving to an interior spot in sub packages, but he’s officially listed as an outside linebacker.

It’s worth noting usage of the defensive line is certainly evolving in today’s game as the Ravens ran their “base” 3-4 defense just 16 percent of the time last season, according to Football Outsiders. With at least five defensive backs on the field an overwhelming majority of the time, there are fewer and fewer instances of the nose tackle, 3-techinique tackle, and 5-technique end all being on the field at the same time. Defensive linemen capable of both rushing the passer and stopping the run have always been valuable, of course, but one-dimensional run stoppers are finding fewer snaps with the ever-increasing emphasis on the passing game.

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

The Man — Brandon Williams
Skinny: One could certainly argue the 30-year-old hasn’t played up to the five-year, $52.5 million deal signed in 2017, but he remains one of the better run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL and anchored a defense that allowed only 3.7 yards per carry in 2018. Williams played in every game for the fourth time in the last five years while his 517 defensive snaps led all returning Baltimore defensive linemen.

Old Reliable — Williams
Skinny: With the second-oldest defensive lineman on the current roster just 26 years old, there’s no choice here other than the 2013 third-round pick, who was named to the 2018 Pro Bowl as an alternate.

Under Fire — Michael Pierce
Skinny: Before showing up with weight and conditioning concerns that prompted John Harbaugh to pull him off the practice field last month, the run-wrecking Pierce had a strong argument as “The Man” of this position group. Instead, he’s under the microscope in a contract year despite grading as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in the NFL in 2018. Assuming the 26-year-old gets into ideal shape, his next step will be further improving his pass-rush ability to enhance his market value.

Up-and-Comer — Chris Wormley
Skinny: Urban didn’t sign with Tennessee until after the draft and received only a small one-year commitment, making it clear the Ravens had more than enough confidence in Wormley stepping into a bigger role at the 5-technique spot after injuries prompted him to be more of a 3-technique option in his second season. PFF graded the 2017 third-round pick as the NFL’s 67th-best interior defender last year, but he should receive plenty of opportunities as an inside rusher.

Sleeper — Zach Sieler
Skinny: The 2018 seventh-round pick from Ferris State was Ozzie Newsome’s final draft selection as general manager and played only 17 snaps as a rookie, but the Ravens love his 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame and didn’t keep him on the 53-man roster all last season without having bigger plans in mind. If Wormley doesn’t take a step forward, Sieler could easily push for some of his snaps. 

The Rest — Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard, Daylon Mack, Gerald Willis
Skinny: Hernia surgery and then a season-ending back injury limited Henry to just three games and 82 snaps in 2018, but he appeared on the verge of securing a starting spot last summer and was coming off an impressive 2017 campaign in which he collected 3 1/2 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and five batted passes. Baltimore is counting on him to be healthy enough to serve as one of its primary interior rushers in the final year of his rookie deal. … Ricard’s versatility as a two-way player makes him more valuable, but he’s yet to stand out in limited defensive opportunities over his first two seasons. … Willis is a rookie free agent to watch after a turbulent college career that included multiple problems off the field and a 2018 campaign in which he recorded 18 tackles for a loss and four sacks to earn second-team All-America honors at Miami.

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