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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of offseason workout program

Posted on 15 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their offseason workout program in preparations for the 2019 season this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The faux enthusiasm for players running and lifting weights dissipates quickly, but the start of the “voluntary” offseason program is a welcome checkpoint on the way to a new season. We’re less than five months away from kickoff for Week 1.

2. We know Lamar Jackson was again working with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris and have seen some videos on social media, but I’m fascinated to hear him discuss his offseason and to see what he’s specifically focused on improving.

3. Until we see the terms of the one-year deal extension for Marshal Yanda, I’m not making too much out of it beyond the removal of any doubt about his status for 2019. The 34-year-old has to have many of the same questions we all do about a team in transition.

4. Yanda will have a compelling case for Canton, but I can’t help but remember the start of his career when he missed most of 2008 and moved between guard and tackle for four years. He didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until his fifth season, which won’t help his chances.

5. Count me among those believing Eric DeCosta would prefer trading back from 22nd overall to accumulate more picks, but you ultimately need to have a willing partner. If the draft’s value is truly on the second day and early in the third, other teams are aware of that as well.

6. Baltimore’s positional needs are clear, but don’t forget the 2015 draft if you’re more concerned about DeCosta checking those boxes than maximizing value. It looked great on paper to pick Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Carl Davis to “replace” Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Haloti Ngata. Reality was different.

7. I enjoy the team projections put out by ESPN’s Mike Clay to gain a universal picture of where the league stands at this point in the offseason. Ravens fans won’t like seeing 7.6 projected wins, but I couldn’t strongly argue a bigger number at this point, illustrating how critical this draft will be.

8. Michael Pierce has deservedly received high praise and appears on his way to a good payday at some point in the next calendar year, but he’s played 400 snaps only once in his three seasons. How does a bigger workload translate if you’re considering giving him lucrative money?

9. With much conversation about the offensive line, James Hurst feels like a forgotten man after a back injury limited him to 10 games last year. He carries the roster’s 10th-highest cap number, so the pressure is on Hurst to show he’s fully recovered.

10. The Seth Roberts signing was a typical Ravens move and carries little risk, but the last former Oakland Raider with issues catching the football didn’t work out so well here. Roberts has dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes in his career, according to Pro Football Focus.

11. The regular-season schedule should be released this week with the Ravens set to play five playoff teams from a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how the league and its TV partners perceive Jackson and a run-heavy offense in terms of the number of scheduled prime-time games.

12. Strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders isn’t a household name, but countless players have praised his work over the last couple offseasons. Luck is a greater variable than we admit, but the Ravens had only seven players finish last season on injured reserve.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Flacco trade to Denver

Posted on 13 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens set to trade longtime quarterback Joe Flacco to Denver for a fourth-round pick next month, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Credit Eric DeCosta for extracting value from an inevitable divorce, especially after the organization hadn’t even tried to be coy about its intentions. I was skeptical he’d find a trade partner. Taking the entire $16 million dead money hit in 2019 will leave a clean salary cap for 2020.

2. Flacco will be remembered in part for what he never became — below-average post-Super Bowl numbers bear that out — but he was the best quarterback in team history and, most importantly, a champion. The Ravens are lucky he passed their way after years wasted in the quarterback doldrums.

3. It’s easy to say Flacco didn’t live up to his historic contract signed after his 2012 postseason, but the organization never adjusted upon seeing he couldn’t do it by himself, continuing to prioritize defense and putting far fewer resources into the offense. The letdown was mutual at the very least.

4. He’d never admit something that’s subconscious anyway, but I don’t think Flacco has recovered mentally from his 2015 ACL injury. Some free-agent departures on the offensive line didn’t help, but his tendencies to check down and feel pressure even when it wasn’t there became more pronounced after the injury.

5. The Ravens dumping Anquan Boldin remains indefensible six years later, but the post-Super Bowl fall of Ray Rice was even more devastating to Flacco’s career considering what he produced as a receiver out of the backfield. Baltimore still hasn’t come close to replacing that element.

6. Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are among the best Ravens ever, but they didn’t own a single playoff win until 2008. Flacco benefited greatly from them too, of course, but you wonder what could have been if he’d come along five years earlier instead of Kyle Boller.

7. Of the Ravens’ 17 Day 1 and 2 draft picks from 2013-17, Crockett Gillmore, Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Ronnie Stanley were the only offensive players selected. Flacco’s hefty contract never explained that.

8. Durability was one of Flacco’s biggest strengths early in his career, but injuries have either disrupted his preparation or cost him games in each of the last four seasons. It’s tough seeing that trend improving as the 34-year-old enters his 12th year in the NFL.

9. I never understood the criticism of Flacco not making his receivers better. Steve Smith and Mike Wallace became 1,000-yard receivers again after appearing to be in decline elsewhere. Torrey Smith’s numbers crashed as soon as he departed. Who are these former Ravens receivers who suddenly blossomed elsewhere?

10. It’s strange to think exactly six years, two months, and one day after the “Mile High Miracle,” the Broncos will officially welcome Flacco to Denver. I’m guessing Rahim Moore and Jacoby Jones won’t be at the introductory press conference.

11. Flacco didn’t perform to his record contract, but he remained a good teammate and never complained about the aforementioned variables that didn’t help his cause. Yes, he made a ton of money, but that hasn’t stopped other high-priced athletes from being malcontents over the years.

12. What would you really change about the Flacco era? The Ravens weren’t letting the Super Bowl MVP walk, and he had extraordinary contract leverage. The success early in his career should far outweigh the last several years in which he and Baltimore remained competitive but weren’t quite good enough.

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 29 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday’s scenario for the Ravens appeared highly unlikely eight weeks ago.

A three-game losing streak and a hip injury to Joe Flacco made 4-5 Baltimore look like a team going nowhere fast, but a revamped run-heavy offense led by rookie Lamar Jackson and the top-ranked defense in the NFL have sparked the Ravens to five wins in their last six games. That surge and Pittsburgh’s late-season slide have put John Harbaugh’s team in position to win its first AFC North championship since 2012 with a victory over Cleveland on Sunday.

However, the Browns have also been resurrected by the strong play of their first-year quarterback. The Ravens got a glimpse of what Baker Mayfield could do in Cleveland’s 12-9 overtime win in Week 5, but the top overall pick from Oklahoma has only gotten better since Hue Jackson’s dismissal, throwing 14 touchdowns and just four interceptions with a 115.2 passer rating over the last six games — five of them wins for the Browns.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 40th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a colossal 29-10 advantage and an 18-3 mark in the John Harbaugh era. Cleveland is seeking its first season sweep since 2007, which was also the last time the Browns finished a campaign with a winning record.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Terrell Suggs will record his 20th career sack against Cleveland. Most attention has been on Flacco’s expected departure and Harbaugh’s uncertain future, but Sunday could be Suggs’ final regular-season game with the Ravens, especially if Eric DeCosta chooses to make more drastic roster changes that wouldn’t include re-signing the 36-year-old. No team has surrendered more sacks to the seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker in his career, and left tackle Greg Robinson has the lowest Pro Football Focus grade along a Browns offensive line that’s surrendered only three sacks over the last six games.

2. Breshad Perriman will catch a touchdown pass against his former team. No, I’m not forecasting the doomsday scenario of a last-second Mayfield-to-Perriman touchdown to knock the Ravens out of the playoffs — I’m not that rotten — but the former first-round bust has found a place as a solid contributor in Cleveland, catching 13 passes for 295 yards and a touchdown in 199 snaps. Injuries and poor hands predictably made him an unpopular figure in Baltimore, but it had become apparent after his lost 2017 season that Perriman needed a fresh start if he was going to get his career on track.

3. The rookie quarterbacks will combine for four turnovers in their first meeting. This game’s short-term consequences overshadow the big-picture possibility of this being the first of many meetings between two former Heisman Trophy winners playing in the same division, which is fun to ponder as a football fan. That said, the Browns defense ranks second in the NFL in takeaways while the Ravens have forced five turnovers over the last three weeks after lacking in that department all year. Mayfield and Jackson will both make impressive plays, but each will show their inexperience as well.

4. Gus Edwards will rush for 100 yards and a touchdown to protect a second-half lead. At first glance, Cleveland ranking 24th in rush defense bodes well for the Ravens, but the Browns have held their last three opponents — who all rank in the top 12 in yards per carry — to a combined 3.3 yards per attempt. Kansas City and the Los Angeles Chargers quietly contained the Baltimore rushing attack in the second half, but I expect Browns coach and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to sell out to contain the edges against the speedy Jackson, which will open more inside running lanes for Edwards.

5. The defense will lead the Ravens back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 in a 23-16 win. Since Week 11, Baltimore ranks second in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric while the Browns are fourth, which speaks to how formidable both teams have become down the stretch. In a game I expect to be close throughout, I’ll take the team that has the best overall unit on either side of the ball, and that’s the Ravens defense. Wink Martindale has this defense playing at an elite level even when the Baltimore offense has bogged down as it did in the second half of the Chargers game. The Ravens need to be ready to play against an improving team with a quarterback already moving toward folk-hero status in Cleveland. The Browns would love nothing more than to knock the original Browns out of the playoffs for the fourth straight year, but the Ravens’ narrative change that began last week against the Chargers will continue in Week 17, leading to a happy New Year in Baltimore after a few nervous moments.

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Ravens-Redskins preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 29 August 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens conclude their longer-than-usual preseason schedule against Washington on Thursday night as final decisions loom to formulate their first 53-man roster of the 2018 season.

The next few days mark one of the most difficult times of the year for teams saying goodbye to players who’ve spent months — even years — proving their worth both on and off the field. Teams must trim their rosters from 90 to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Saturday.

“I would say that we care about our guys, [and] our guys matter to us,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We love our players. … Yet as far as the decisions that are made, no, there’s no sentimentality. It’s all about what gives you the best football team that you can have.”

Very few starters will play in the preseason finale with the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo less than two weeks away, but the Ravens presumably still have a few roster spots up for grabs. One of the biggest remaining questions is how general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh will fill out their depth along the offensive line behind the top six of Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Alex Lewis, Matt Skura, James Hurst, and rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr.

Brown has impressed in the competition with Hurst for the starting right tackle job, but the depth behind those established players remains unproven with second-year linemen Jermaine Eluemunor and Nico Siragusa and rookies Bradly Bozeman and Greg Senat vying for roster spots. Senat being sidelined with a case of turf toe could make him a candidate for injured reserve, but the Ravens surely would like to see one or two of these candidates step up on Thursday to make the decisions easier.

“I feel like it’s developing. I think we have some guys,” said Harbaugh of the offensive line depth. “Orlando has really probably proven himself as a viable guy. Then after that, I think those guys are in the process of developing into viable guys. But we have candidates. In that, I mean they haven’t probably done it consistently as well as the other guys, but they’ve done it enough to make you feel like they can do it and they just have to keep stacking [good days].”

Of course, Newsome could still look for outside help to shore up the offensive line between now and the start of the season, but that’s a task many executives prioritize this time of year. The Ravens acquired guards Luke Bowanko and Tony Bergstrom in the days leading up to last year’s opener.

Thursday marks the 11th time the Ravens and Washington will face off in the preseason with Baltimore owning a 7-3 advantage. The all-time regular-season series is tied 3-3 with the Redskins winning the last two meetings in 2012 and 2016.

The Ravens own a 32-12 record in the preseason in the Harbaugh era and have won an improbable 12 straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Thursday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include the many veterans expected to be held out of action as is typically done in the final preseason affair.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DT Willie Henry (hernia surgery), CB Maurice Canady (muscle strain), OT Greg Senat (toe), S DeShon Elliott (forearm), LB Alvin Jones, LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps)
DOUBTFUL: S Bennett Jackson
QUESTIONABLE: LB Patrick Onwuasor, RB Gus Edwards (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), OL James Hurst, G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle)

Five players to watch Thursday night

QB Robert Griffin III

The former NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year has been one of the feel-good stories of the summer, returning from a one-year league hiatus to make a strong impression to put himself in the running for a roster spot. There’s little debating Griffin being the better quarterback than rookie Lamar Jackson in the present, but the Ravens haven’t kept three quarterbacks to begin a regular season since 2009 and have other roster considerations, especially with the recent injuries to tight end Hayden Hurst and defensive tackle Willie Henry. This decision is more about the current confidence level in Jackson to step in for Flacco in the event of an injury, but watching Griffin against his old team will be fun either way.

DT Carl Davis

Despite starting nine games last year, the 2015 third-round pick could land on the wrong side of the roster bubble as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, but Henry being sidelined opens up a spot in the defensive line rotation. Davis’ ability to play multiple positions in the trenches make him a more attractive piece, but a strong Thursday performance would serve him well before final decisions are made. The Ravens have also done everything they can to hoard defensive linemen in recent years.

OL Bradley Bozeman

The sixth-round rookie played extensively at center last Saturday and brings impressive collegiate experience as a multi-year starter at Alabama, but his lack of strength and slow feet have frequently been exposed. Harbaugh said he’s better suited for center than guard, but he’s not in the running to challenge projected starter Matt Skura, leaving something to be desired in terms of his versatility. In a perfect world, his development would continue on the practice squad, but the Ravens may not have that luxury.

LB Chris Board

Many had predicted one spot coming down to veteran Albert McClellan or 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa, but the latter being traded could prompt the Ravens to take a longer look at a young inside linebacker like Board, who has flashed this preseason. The North Dakota State product is hardly a household name and entered training camp as a long shot, but so did the likes of Zach Orr and Patrick Onwuasor in past summers. His usage on special teams Thursday could say much about his chances.

WR Breshad Perriman

It would be surprising if Thursday isn’t the final time Perriman suits up for the Ravens as he’s failed to impress as a receiver or special-teams player despite this being the first healthy summer of his career. Perhaps his time in Baltimore would have been different had he not gotten injured as a rookie, but a clean break is best for both sides. Perriman works hard and is well liked in the building, but he’ll have an easier time elsewhere where he’ll be viewed as a reclamation candidate and not as a first-round bust.

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Fourth-round rookie receiver Jaleel Scott placed on IR by Ravens

Posted on 27 August 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens brought some clarity to their young wide receiver competition by placing 2018 fourth-round pick Jaleel Scott on injured reserve on Monday morning.

The 6-foot-5, 210-pound product from New Mexico State had hoped to at least contribute as a red-zone threat in his rookie season, but he hadn’t stood out during training camp and failed to make a positive impression in the first three preseason games as he caught only one pass for nine yards. Scott’s chances to make the 53-man roster appeared to plummet last Monday when he played only three offensive snaps and dropped a pass late in the fourth quarter in Indianapolis. The 23-year-old did not play in Saturday’s win at Miami, which only increased doubts regarding his future.

Head coach John Harbaugh said Scott had sustained a “really serious” hamstring injury. The rookie had participated in practices last Wednesday and Thursday before sitting out Saturday’s game, which prompted scrutiny from outsiders that the organization was stashing him. The Ravens have never cut a fourth-round draft pick in their rookie season, a streak that will continue with Scott moving to IR and not counting against the 53-man roster while remaining with the organization.

What the rest of the receiver group will look like behind roster locks Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead, and Chris Moore is yet to be determined. Fifth-round rookie Jordan Lasley has flashed potential in the spring and summer, but he was having a disappointing preseason before rebounding to catch three passes for 30 yards against Miami. As advertised coming out of UCLA, Lasley has shown big-play capabilities in practice, but his hands have been maddeningly inconsistent.

There’s also the question of who will return kickoffs and punts for Baltimore. Tim White and Janarion Grant are competing for the job and have experienced struggles with both losing a fumble against the Colts. Grant received the bulk of the return opportunities against Miami, but White stood out as a receiver by catching three passes for a game-high 70 receiving yards in the 27-10 victory. Of course, there’s no guarantee either one will make the roster as the Ravens could seek outside return help or simply allow established veterans such as Chris Moore and Willie Snead to handle those responsibilities, saving a roster spot in the process.

Former first-round pick Breshad Perriman is also trying to make the team, but his fall down the depth chart and lack of special-teams contributions would appear to make his chances tenuous at best.

To take Scott’s place on the 53-man roster, the Ravens re-signed cornerback Robertson Daniel, who spent parts of the the last two seasons with the organization and was waived in early May. He appeared in one game for Baltimore in 2016 and adds another option to the mix with top cornerback Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four games of the regular season and the versatile Maurice Canady recently dealing with nagging injuries.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following second preseason victory

Posted on 12 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their 10th preseason game in a row in a 33-7 final over the Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Playing well in victory beats the alternative, but the Rams rested all but two projected starters and were playing their first preseason game while Baltimore starters played early and reserves and rookies were competing in their second exhibition contest. The action looked every bit like that.

2. Tim Williams followed Kamalei Correa’s standout performance in the Hall of Fame Game with five tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble to continue his strong summer. While those two see their stock rise, a groin injury isn’t helping Tyus Bowser’s bid for more playing time in 2018.

3. After watching Lamar Jackson run for his life in Canton, giving him a series with the first-team offensive line was a prudent move as he hit Chris Moore for a 36-yard completion and ran for a touchdown in highlight fashion. He looked more comfortable than last week, especially early on.

4. It was still another mixed-bag performance for Jackson, who took a sack on third down to create a longer field goal try that was unsuccessful and made an ill-advised throw from his end zone that should have been intercepted. My biggest concern remains the number of hits he’s willingly taking.

5. It was only nine defensive snaps, but no one expected Jimmy Smith to be playing this early in the preseason, a major credit to his rehab work. He moved well and closed quickly on a slant pass to keep it to a four-yard gain on the Ravens’ first defensive snap.

6. Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young being the second defense’s base cornerbacks and Maurice Canady and Anthony Averett the third unit’s reflect the embarrassment of riches at the cornerback position now. It’s quite a difference from the days of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown battling for the nickel job.

7. John Harbaugh said James Hurst still has the “inside track” in the right tackle competition, but Orlando Brown Jr. is doing everything he can to earn the job. He’s decreased his body fat from 31 percent in January to 19 percent now. The spot should be his sooner than later.

8. Patrick Ricard caught a touchdown from Joe Flacco and even ran a wheel route as a fullback, but he added 10 pounds in the offseason and his play along the defensive line is turning some heads as he finished with four tackles and a quarterback hit on Thursday.

9. I felt good for Breshad Perriman catching three passes for 71 yards and a touchdown, but the fact that he didn’t play until the second half was telling. Barring injuries, his status as a former first-round pick might be the only factor keeping him on the bubble at this point.

10. Zach Sieler is one reason why the Ravens face tough roster decisions along the defensive line. The seventh-round rookie from Ferris State registered a sack and a quarterback hit against the Rams and is keeping himself in the roster conversation.

11. Greg Senat received extensive work at left tackle and played about how you’d expect a sixth-round rookie to fare. It would be interesting to see if the Ravens would consider moving Brown to left tackle — his college position — if something happens to Ronnie Stanley. Alex Lewis could also slide outside.

12. Props to Harbaugh for channeling Michael Scott of The Office when he declined to discuss the Ravens once again escaping a preseason game without any notable injuries. “I’m not superstitious, but I am a little stitious.” Of course, I’m now expecting this reaction when the inevitable first big injury occurs.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Hall of Fame Game victory

Posted on 03 August 2018 by Luke Jones

CANTON, Ohio — With the Ravens kicking off the 2018 preseason with a 17-16 win over the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Kamalei Correa was a star at both outside and inside linebacker and collected three sacks, an interception, a forced fumble, two pass breakups, and six tackles. He needs to build on that after a quiet start to the summer, but seeing that performance from the former second-round pick was encouraging.

2. Hayden Hurst looked the part of a first-round pick with the ability to contribute as a rookie as he caught three passes, one for a touchdown in the third quarter. He had recently had some struggles in training camp, but the South Carolina product moved very well over the middle.

3. The Ravens defense coming away with an interception on the opening drive seemed fitting after leading the NFL in takeaways a year ago. I continue to like what I see from Chuck Clark as part of a deep and versatile secondary.

4. Lamar Jackson’s play reflected what we’ve seen throughout the spring and summer as he has a long way to go to be an NFL starting quarterback, but that’s fine. My biggest concern was seeing him take so many hits in the open field rather than running out of bounds or sliding.

5. The idea of waiting to play Jackson until the second half to alleviate some of the pressure had merit, but the offensive line surrendering five sacks even before intermission had to have John Harbaugh reconsidering that plan. The rookie quarterback didn’t exactly have much time in the pocket.

6. Thursday didn’t reflect well on the offensive line depth, but Orlando Brown Jr. was a bright spot as he allowed just one pressure on 48 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus. Even if James Hurst begins the season as the right tackle, the extensive reps for Brown are valuable.

7. It took under five minutes of play before the new helmet rule came into effect as Patrick Onwuasor was penalized and we saw a few more flags. Ravens players were recently advised by league officials to tackle as though they’re not wearing helmets. Yes, it’s likely to be a mess.

8. Breshad Perriman needs a big summer to make the team, so a Robert Griffin III slant pass going right through his hands for an interception was as bad a preseason start as he could have. The 2015 first-round pick not taking a single special-team rep wasn’t a great sign either.

9. Tim Williams didn’t fill up the stat sheet like Correa did, but PFF credited the 2017 third-round pick with six hurries to go along with a quarterback hit in 41 pass-rushing opportunities. He needs to show more of that against better competition as the preseason progresses.

10. With the top three running backs sitting, rookie Gus Edwards started and finished with 58 yards on 11 touches while displaying decent field vision. Fellow rookie Mark Thompson didn’t help his cause with a fumble. Kenneth Dixon’s inability to stay healthy could create the opportunity for a roster spot here.

11. Media predictably weren’t pleased to see Jackson’s debut delayed until the third quarter, but NBC had to be thrilled for the extra hook to keep the viewing audience engaged. The play in the second half was pretty ugly all the way around.

12. The best news from Thursday’s win was the Ravens escaping Canton without any notable injuries, according to Harbaugh. Cross your fingers and toes while knocking on wood, but the football gods have been kind to Baltimore in the health department so far.

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Amid many doubts, Flacco trying to win the only way he can

Posted on 22 July 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In many ways, Joe Flacco can’t win at this point.

The writing appears to be on the wall with the Ravens drafting a quarterback in the first round, even if former Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson needs some seasoning. Despite the proclamations of Flacco still being the franchise guy, an organization wanting to win now isn’t using two second-round picks to trade up to the 32nd overall selection simply for a better backup or someone seen as a project.

Even Flacco’s biggest supporters must acknowledge the need for him to show meaningful improvement after a third consecutive lackluster season in which Baltimore once again missed the playoffs and he finished dead last among qualified passers in yards per attempt. Some fans and critics are already clamoring for Jackson and will even louder at the first hint of trouble for the 11th-year quarterback and a passing game that ranked 29th in the NFL last season.

On the flip side, a Flacco renaissance will be chalked up by many solely to Jackson’s arrival motivating the former Super Bowl XLVII Most Valuable Player. And even if Flacco does play better, he might still receive the Alex Smith treatment next offseason as Kansas City traded its Pro Bowl quarterback in March to clear the way for 2017 first-round pick Patrick Mahomes.

Is the rookie’s presence the reason why some see more of a bounce in Flacco’s step this offseason?

“I don’t know. Does it matter what I say?” said Flacco as he smiled. “I think you guys will probably link it to Lamar anyway.”

It’s human nature in any line of work to feel more urgency when your employer hires a threat to your job, but perhaps he’s pleased with the organization making more than its typical halfhearted effort — at times, less than that — to improve the offensive side of the ball. Much is made about Flacco’s expensive price tag while the front office has frequently received a pass for investing resource after resource after resource into a defense that’s still come up too small in defining moments of the last five years.

Flacco’s hefty contract may justify more free-agent dollars going toward the defense in recent years, but using all but four of 17 total picks in the first three rounds of the 2013-17 drafts on defense was asking a quarterback to do more with less than anyone in the NFL. Exactly one of those four offensive picks (left tackle Ronnie Stanley) has made a lasting impact while the other three are either gone (tight end Crockett Gillmore) or likely soon on their way out the door (wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams).

So little cheap labor with upside in addition to few impact free agents on his side of the ball for years, but it’s still all about his contract in the minds of many.

That the free-agent additions of wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Willie Snead — three players all coming off down seasons — and the early-round selections of tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews are viewed as a Herculean effort speaks to the lukewarm commitment to building a good offense since Super Bowl XLVII. These offseason additions still don’t make Baltimore anywhere close to a top 10 offense on paper, but they at least bring a more diverse skill set to the passing game to give Flacco a better chance to succeed in this make-or-break year.

“I know we brought in a lot of pieces, a lot of draft picks to help him do that,” said Snead, who has shown early chemistry with Flacco and caught a combined 141 passes in his first two seasons with New Orleans. “I think that’s all he needed — weapons. I think it’s all on him now to be able to make those plays, which I know he can.”

Perhaps even more important than the possibility of improved weapons is the veteran quarterback’s health. Flacco is another year removed from his 2015 knee injury and appears to be over the back injury that cost him all of last summer and hindered him well into the 2017 regular season.

Asked this past week to reflect on how challenging it was to step right into Week 1 last year after missing all of training camp and the preseason, Flacco still wasn’t interested in making excuses for his poor numbers. After registering just eight touchdown passes, 10 interceptions, a 72.7 passer rating, and just 5.3 yards per attempt over the first nine games of 2017, the Delaware product posted 10 touchdowns, three interceptions, an 89.1 passer rating, and 6.2 yards per attempt the rest of the way.

But it wasn’t enough to get the Ravens back to the postseason for the first time since 2014 or to prevent general manager Ozzie Newsome from drafting his likely successor.

“Hey, I wish we went out there last year and made the playoffs and won more games and wouldn’t have to deal with it,” Flacco said. “I wouldn’t have to deal with answering stuff, questions like that about making excuses and not getting that part of camp. That’s all in hindsight and it’s not the most ideal situation, but we should have made it work.”

The most observable difference with Flacco this spring and summer has been his mobility as his movement within the pocket has been more fluid and he’s looked faster on those rare occasions when he takes off running. That’s a reflection of better health and the arrival of new quarterbacks coach James Urban, who has emphasized improving his footwork that has slacked in recent seasons. No one ever accused Flacco of being a mobile quarterback, but better movement will be key with the Ravens trying to incorporate more run-pass options this season, another harbinger of Jackson.

With Stanley and right guard Marshal Yanda not practicing on Sunday, Flacco effectively stepped up in the pocket and moved his feet in response to constant pressure from the defensive front, even taking off once or twice to gain positive yardage.

“Many of those subtle movements are important, and once again he looks really healthy,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who estimated that a quarterback must deviate from his designed drop roughly half the time. “If you remember now, it’s been a couple years since he’s been healthy. He was really a fine, fine athlete [before the injuries], and he is a fine, fine athlete, especially for his size.”

Doubts surrounding his future will remain as Flacco is set to carry a $26.5 million cap figure with an $18.5 million base salary in 2019. Short of him being selected to his first Pro Bowl or making a deep playoff run, the Ravens may choose to move on from their longtime quarterback next offseason, especially if the gifted Jackson looks like the real deal in his development.

But Flacco has every intention of silencing such talk and at least delaying what many see as the inevitable in the only way he can — on the field.

“I think we’re going to win,” said Flacco, exuding the same confidence he had six years ago when he bet on himself as a pending free agent and led the Ravens to a championship. “And we’re not going to hear about it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on opening of training camp

Posted on 19 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens holding their first full-squad workout on Thursday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Much has been made about the risks of a longer training camp, but John Harbaugh believes it provides the opportunity to extend the normal three-day acclimation period to try to curtail early-camp injuries. We’ll see how it works out, but easing key veterans into action certainly makes sense.

2. With Joe Flacco conducting off-site passing sessions with his receivers last week, when do the playoff tickets go on sale? In seriousness, there’s no downside to doing it and the optics are favorable, but I’ve always filed this over-discussed topic more into the eyewash department than anything moving the meter.

3. You could have made good money if you’d wagered last December that Jimmy Smith would be taking part in 11-on-11 drills on the first day of training camp. The oft-injured cornerback turns 30 next week and enters a critical season as he carries a $16.175 million cap figure in 2019.

4. Harbaugh wouldn’t confirm ESPN’s report that the organization will pay Breshad Perriman his $649,485 roster bonus, but the 2015 first-round pick practiced Thursday and drew groans from fans when he dropped a routine pass during an individual drill. As I wrote recently, the Ravens hate giving up on early picks.

5. Inside linebacker depth behind C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor is a concern with Albert McClellan coming off an ACL injury and Bam Bradley’s return from his own ACL tear not imminent. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Baltimore explore a veteran addition, especially if Kenny Young is slow to develop.

6. It appears Matt Skura will get the first chance to nail down the starting center job. His 12 starts at right guard last year provided valuable experience, but he must prove he can be physical enough and won’t lose ground as a pass blocker up the middle.

7. Tony Jefferson labeled last year a learning experience and believes new defensive coordinator Don Martindale will effectively use his strength of playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Dean Pees didn’t always use Jefferson correctly, but the high-priced safety still needs to show much more this year.

8. Maxx Williams made a nice sideline catch off a Jefferson tip during an 11-on-11 session on Thursday. With rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews in the picture and Nick Boyle a better blocker, the 2015 second-round pick needs a strong and healthy summer to maintain his roster spot.

9. One of Thursday’s highlight defensive plays was Chuck Clark intercepting a Lamar Jackson pass that either went off Hurst’s hands or was tipped by Tavon Young in tight coverage. Clark could push Anthony Levine for dime snaps, especially with the latter missing much of the offseason with a foot injury.

10. Alex Collins being a veteran excused from practice early a year after he was cut by Seattle was surprising, but it speaks to the need to keep the undersized back fresh. After playing at 200 pounds last year, he’s carrying five extra pounds to see how his body responds.

11. The other quarterbacks in camp receive all the attention, but Josh Woodrum threw a beautiful deep touchdown to DeVier Posey in an 11-on-11 drill. I’ll set the over-under on my remaining mentions of Woodrum this summer at 3.5.

12. Speaking of quarterbacks, seeing Flacco, Jackson, and even Robert Griffin III throw the football reminds me how painful it was to watch Ryan Mallett with Flacco sidelined all last summer. It’s no wonder the passing game was an utter disaster over the first half of the 2017 season.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to start of training camp

Posted on 12 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning full-squad training camp workouts in less than a week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Alex Collins was no fluke in 2017, but he hit the 20-carry mark in just two games and averaged only 3.8 yards per carry over the second half of last season. His slighter 5-foot-10, 210-pound frame still suggests a need for an impactful complementary back like Kenneth Dixon to emerge.

2. I believe Michael Crabtree offers the highest floor and John Brown the highest ceiling of the wide receiver newcomers, but Willie Snead is my sneaky choice to stand out the most. Joe Flacco has been at his best when he’s had reliable slot options like Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.

3. For those inclined to blame Flacco for all of the offense’s problems, Pro Football Focus recently noted the 2017 wide receiver group generated the lowest rate of positively-graded plays and the highest rate of negatively-graded plays in the league last year. Yuck.

4. Speaking of 2017, I’m interested to see how Mike Wallace fares in Philadelphia after somewhat rebooting his career in Baltimore. Many say Flacco doesn’t elevate the play of his receivers, but wouldn’t these guys go elsewhere and at least do as well? Torrey Smith and Kamar Aiken, anyone?

5. Given the untapped youth and long-term questions at both inside and outside linebacker, John Harbaugh is showing great faith in new linebackers coach Mike Macdonald. Veterans Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley will be huge assets for the 31-year-old assistant, who was hired by the Ravens in 2014.

6. I’m curious to see who plays center on the first day of full-squad workouts next Thursday. Ryan Jensen topped the depth chart on the first day last year — even as John Urschel surprisingly retired — and never relinquished the spot. Will it be Matt Skura or Alex Lewis?

7. The Ravens ranked 24th in PFF’s preseason offensive line rankings. Whether you agree or not, the publication is spot on saying the group’s upside rests on Marshal Yanda. Is it realistic to expect him to be the same elite player coming off a major injury and being another year older?

8. I’m frequently asked about Lamar Jackson possibly starting over Flacco this year, but I only see it if the Ravens enter December with a 4-7 record and are out of the playoff race. Assuming Flacco and the offense haven’t played well under that scenario, Jackson playing would be a no-brainer.

9. I won’t hide from my criticism of the Ravens drafting a first-round quarterback this year, but that won’t temper my excitement to watch Jackson play this summer. I rarely look forward to “fake” football, but this is easily the most anticipated preseason for this organization in a long time.

10. It’s easy and fair to label Breshad Perriman, Kamalei Correa, Maxx Williams, and Bronson Kaufusi as potential cuts, but the Ravens rarely give up on former early picks until they absolutely have to. The disappointing Terrence Cody was even re-signed for another year. Just keep that in mind.

11. Close to 2,000 fans being able to attend training camp daily will be a plus for an organization needing to reconnect more strongly with its fans. The fallout of leaving Westminster was always going to be felt more at a time when the Ravens weren’t winning as frequently.

12. I get the rationale and advantages of the new digital ticket system, but the collector in me is bummed to see traditional game tickets go away. Hopefully the complimentary programs will continue to be distributed for years to come to appease those still desiring a physical souvenir from the game.

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