Tag Archive | "c.j. mosley"

New York Jets inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) runs back and interception for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game as Buffalo Bills' Cole Beasley (10) watches Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

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Ravens receive two compensatory picks in next month’s draft

Posted on 10 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Trying to build on their franchise-record 14-2 mark in 2019, the Ravens have officially been awarded third- and fourth-round compensatory picks in next month’s draft.

Despite concerns about C.J. Mosley’s injury-riddled first season with the New York Jets hurting Baltimore’s compensation, general manager Eric DeCosta still received a third-round pick for the free-agent departure of the four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker. Mosley signed a market-setting five-year, $85 million contract last March, but he appeared in only two games due to a groin injury in 2019.

The Ravens also received a fourth-round compensatory pick for the free-agent departure of wide receiver John Brown to the Buffalo Bills. The free-agent exits of Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs were canceled out by the signings of safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram, who both made the Pro Bowl in their first year with Baltimore.

DeCosta is now scheduled to have a total of nine selections in this year’s draft: a first-round pick, a second-round pick, two third-round choices, three fourth-rounders, one fifth, and a seventh-round pick. The Ravens now have seven selections in the first four rounds and four picks in the top 106 spots of the 2020 draft, good capital to address some needs and continue to build long-term depth.

Baltimore received more than one compensatory pick for the first time since 2016.

Determinations for compensatory picks are based on a formula considering the salary, playing time, and postseason honors earned by unrestricted free agents who left their teams the previous offseason. Since the compensatory pick program started in 1994, the Ravens have led the NFL with 52 compensatory choices as the organization has often resisted signing unrestricted free agents over the years while making difficult decisions not to re-sign their own.

Below is a history of the Ravens’ compensatory picks since 1996 with the round in which the player was selected noted in parentheses:

1996: none
1997: LB Cornell Brown (sixth), QB Wally Richardson (seventh), S Ralph Staten (seventh), DT Leland Taylor (seventh)
1998: TE Cam Qualey (seventh)
1999: G Edwin Mulitalo (fourth)
2000: none
2001: none
2002: WR Javin Hunter (sixth), RB Chester Taylor (sixth), S Chad Williams (sixth)
2003: FB Ovie Mughelli (fourth), OT Tony Pashos (fifth), C Mike Mabry (seventh), S Antwoine Sanders (seventh)
2004: WR Clarence Moore (sixth), WR Derek Abney (seventh), G Brian Rimpf (seventh)
2005: QB Derek Anderson (sixth)
2006: RB P.J. Daniels (fourth), TE Quinn Sypniewski (fifth), P Sam Koch (sixth), CB Derrick Martin (sixth)
2007: LB Antwan Barnes (fourth), FB Le’Ron McClain (fourth), QB Troy Smith (fifth), LB Prescott Burgess (sixth)
2008: OL Oniel Cousins (third), OL David Hale (fourth), S Haruki Nakamura (sixth), RB Allen Patrick (seventh)
2009: none
2010: none
2011: CB Chykie Brown (fifth), DE Pernell McPhee (fifth)
2012: S Christian Thompson (fourth), CB Asa Jackson (fifth)
2013: FB Kyle Juszczyk (fourth), OT Rick Wagner (fifth), OL Ryan Jensen (sixth), CB Marc Anthony (seventh)
2014: TE Crockett Gillmore (third), DE Brent Urban (fourth), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (fourth), G John Urschel (fifth)
2015: CB Tray Walker (fourth), TE Nick Boyle (fifth), G Robert Myers (fifth)
2016:
DT Willie Henry (fourth), RB Kenneth Dixon (fourth), CB Maurice Canady (sixth)
2017: Traded third-round compensatory pick and DT Timmy Jernigan for Philadelphia’s third-round pick used to select DE Chris Wormley
2018: OL Bradley Bozeman (sixth)
2019: Traded third-round compensatory pick and two sixth-round picks for Minnesota’s third-round pick used to select WR Miles Boykin

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Ravens must walk fine line between evolving, fixing what isn’t broken

Posted on 04 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Free agency officially begins in two weeks and the 2020 draft is only 50 days away for the Ravens.

The sting of the best regular season in franchise history ending with an upset divisional-round loss lingers less than two months later. The mental challenge of moving on and trying to exorcise those playoff demons will persist long after general manager Eric DeCosta plays his offseason hand and head coach John Harbaugh has a better idea of what his team will look like in the coming weeks.

Yes, we’ve reached the point in the offseason when it feels as though every team — even Super Bowl champion Kansas City — has more questions than answers with no shortage of free-agent projections, mock drafts, and lists of needs to mull over.

How do the Ravens proceed if eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda indeed retires?

What will be the resolution with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and how will that impact a pass rush already desiring more juice?

Are there enough cap dollars and draft picks available to effectively retool a free-agent-laden front seven that already had its deficiencies last year?

What about — for the “I lost count”-th year in a row — wide receiver?

But this is when the Ravens — and their fans — need perspective more than a linebacker, guard, or defensive tackle. Going an NFL-best 14-2 with the best point differential in the league in more than a decade — with some of the aforementioned concerns, mind you — shouldn’t be an invitation for complacency, but there is a fine line between evolving and trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Baltimore surely took lessons from the Tennessee loss — needing to be able to play more effectively off schedule, for example — but a bad day at the office at the wrong time didn’t mean there was some fatal flaw in need of upheaval.

Having the most efficient running and passing games in the league and a top-tier defense isn’t an identity from which to stray too far despite how tempting it can be to be bold addressing weaknesses. That’s where you trust an analytics-minded front office and coaching staff to understand themselves and the entire body of 2019 work rather than to overreact to one heartbreaking loss or a couple failed fourth-and-1 plays. Of course, there’s work to do.

“We understand that we are going to be studied on both sides of the ball by every single team in the league very thoroughly.” Harbaugh said in January. “We’ll be the first team that they will pull the tape up on and watch. Our job is to stay ahead. Our job is to find the areas where we can come up with new ideas — expand, tweak, challenge people the way they challenged us or the way we anticipate them challenging us going forward.”

Losing Yanda would definitely be a big blow to a record-setting offense, but the 2017 Ravens were a last-second Week 17 collapse away from making the playoffs without him or reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who was spending his last days at Louisville. Jackson’s unparalleled athleticism at the quarterback position will continue to make life easier for the offensive line and whoever might need to replace Yanda.

Few would argue that the Ravens would benefit from another wide receiver to make more plays outside the numbers, but the strength of the passing game remains the middle of the field with Jackson heavily targeting his tight ends, something unlikely to change as defenses across the NFL struggle to account for big, athletic tight ends. DeCosta and Harbaugh have expressed optimism about receivers being more open to playing in this unique run-first offense, but the right fit is more critical than adding “a true No. 1” who might grow unhappy with a fraction of the targets he’s used to seeing in a typical offense.

Speculation about trading tight end Hayden Hurst and mock drafts projecting the Ravens to take a running back in the first round would fall under the category of trying too hard to fix something that isn’t broken. The Yanda decision aside, this offense simply doesn’t need a ton of work beyond adding another pass-catching option at some point and implementing whatever system tweaks offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the staff cook up between now and September.

The defense is a different story with the front seven having multiple free agents, a list including Judon, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Domata Peko, inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, and situational rushers Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward. However, nearly half of those players were added during the 2019 season, a testament to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and the front office to at least identify viable placeholders and account for less-than-ideal conditions.

An edge defender or two, a three-down inside linebacker, and a defensive tackle with pass-rushing ability would all be welcome additions, but that’s an ambitious list for one offseason. There’s no guarantee the right pass rusher or inside linebacker will be on the board when Baltimore selects 28th overall in next month’s draft, and there are red flags everywhere with free-agent edge rushers — Judon included.

Regardless of what happens in free agency and the draft, the Ravens will continue to lean on an elite secondary, a defensive strength endorsed by analytics, and the frequent blitzing that made a rebuilt defense one of the league’s best over the second half of 2019. The identity is in place, which is more than many defensive units can say at this point. Last season proved the personnel doesn’t need to be perfect.

“I think we want to have really good players at all those positions,” DeCosta said in Indianapolis last week. “I’d love to have some elite pass rushers. I’d love to have some elite corners. I think Wink Martindale does an unbelievable job taking players, finding out what they can do, putting them in position to succeed, and they did that this year. What we were able to do on defense under Wink’s guidance with our coaches and our players — bringing in all those guys that we did — I thought that was masterful.”

The Ravens are bound to face some roster turbulence over the next few weeks. A year ago at this time, DeCosta didn’t know he’d be losing perennial Pro Bowl defenders C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, and desperate teams frequently overpay players coming from winning organizations. Baltimore has never been in the business of “winning” the offseason, and that’s unlikely to change simply because of a little more salary cap space than usual this year. Long-term planning is too critical, especially with the elite talents up for contract extensions over the next couple years such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and Jackson.

The truth is I’d take this team essentially as it is — meaning all but sitting out free agency and having only an ordinary draft class — up against any conference opponent not named the Chiefs next fall. Even with the disappointment of January being so slow to dissipate, that is rare territory and speaks to the tremendous opportunity Baltimore has to improve this offseason.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Ravens are going 14-2 again — only three teams have ever done that in back-to-back years — as unforeseen challenges await next season. They can’t count on the schedule to fall the right way or for their remarkably good health over the last two seasons to continue, but those are realities every team faces. That’s why the Ravens know they must continue to evolve without drastically altering what they do best.

“We’re not going to be sitting on our hands schematically,” Harbaugh said. “We are not going to be saying, ‘OK, we have this offense and this defensive system that was hard for people to deal with, and we are good.'”

But they are good. Very good.

That makes this year’s offseason uncertainty easier than usual to handle, regardless of how it all plays out.

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Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Josh Bynes is introduced onto the field prior to an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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How did Ravens inside linebackers stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 24 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens inside linebackers ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends

Patrick Onwuasor
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 503
PFF ranking: 73rd among off-ball linebackers
Skinny: Viewed by many as a priority to extend after a strong 2018 season, Onwuasor flopped in his move to “Mike” linebacker and suffered a Week 5 ankle injury that cost him two games. The 27-year-old remained a solid blitzer upon returning to the weak-side spot, but he surrendered a 118.6 passer rating in coverage and was closer to being an afterthought than an impact player in the second half of the season.

Josh Bynes
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 431
PFF ranking: sixth among off-ball linebackers
Skinny: The October signing of the Super Bowl XLVII champion slowed the heartbeat of a position group in total disarray after the opening month of the season. Though not an every-down player in Baltimore’s multiple defense, the 30-year-old Bynes saw more action than any other inside linebacker down the stretch and was quite solid in coverage, proving to be a crucial in-season addition.

L.J. Fort
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 270
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: After previously drawing offseason interest from the Ravens, Fort also arrived after Week 4 and was graded favorably by PFF in more situational playing time. A good special-teams player and a capable nickel linebacker, the 30-year-old signed a two-year, $5.5 million extension in November and is the only safe bet to be part of the inside linebacker picture in 2020 at this point.

Chris Board
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 64
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The North Dakota State product created some buzz last summer and looked like he might be the next undrafted inside linebacker to earn a starting gig in Baltimore before late-summer injuries slowed his momentum. That preseason hype proved to be a greater indictment of former fourth-round pick Kenny Young, however, as Board played only a few defensive snaps after Week 4.

Otaro Alaka
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 0
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A good preseason landed the rookie free agent from Texas A&M on the 53-man roster, but a hamstring injury eliminated any chance of him getting a look at inside linebacker as Alaka was placed on injured reserve in late September. He’s a name to watch this spring and summer, but the Ravens didn’t see enough of him as a rookie to assume he’s a viable rotation option at this point.

2020 positional outlook

Few would fault Eric DeCosta’s decision not to match the market-altering contract the New York Jets gave four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley — especially after the ex-Raven missed all but two games with a groin injury in 2019 — but gambling on the youth and athleticism of Onwuasor, Young, and Board proved to be unwise, prompting an in-season reconstruction that worked surprisingly well. Still, there’s a reason why so many mock drafts have projected Baltimore to take Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen with the 28th overall pick. Even with the increasing popularity of the dime and nickel packages in recent years, a three-down linebacker would help stabilize the front seven and leave the Ravens less vulnerable against the run, a deficiency that was exposed in the playoff loss to Derrick Henry and Tennessee. The Ravens don’t need to find the next Ray Lewis, but drafting an inside linebacker early, re-signing Bynes to platoon with Fort, and continuing to develop Alaka and Board as long-term depth options would put the Ravens in better shape at this position for 2020 and beyond.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws a pass under pressure by Buffalo Bills defensive end Trent Murphy (93) during the second half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The Ravens won 24-17. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

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Lamar Jackson “day-to-day” with quad issue as Ravens turn toward Jets

Posted on 09 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Needing to quickly turn their sights toward a Thursday meeting with the New York Jets, the Ravens are dealing with injuries to three of their most important offensive players.

Star quarterback and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson was listed as a limited participant for Monday’s walk-through with a quad issue and only arrived on the field at the conclusion of the media viewing portion of practice. Jackson appeared to be walking with a slight limp and is believed to have sustained the injury on the low hit from Buffalo defensive end Trent Murphy that drew a roughing the passer penalty early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-17 win. The 22-year-old finished the game without any noticeable effects, throwing a short touchdown pass to Willie Snead to end the same drive and rushing twice for four yards before his final two kneel-downs to end the game.

Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III handled the starter reps during the open portion of the walk-through, but Tuesday and Wednesday should provide a better idea of Jackson’s status for Week 15.

“We’ll see. It’s less than 24 hours after the game — just about — so it’s hard to say,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday evening. “It’s not a serious injury in that sense, but this is day-to-day and we play Thursday night. We’ll see where we’re at.”

Complicating matters is the health of standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is in the concussion protocol despite playing all 60 offensive snaps against the Bills. His potential absence would be significant for even a fully healthy Jackson and the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense as Pro Football Focus has graded Stanley as the top left tackle in the league in 2019.

With such a quick turnaround doing the Ravens no favors this week, it’s unclear whether Stanley or tight end and top receiver Mark Andrews (knee) — who exited in the first half of Sunday’s game — will be able to play against the Jets.

“I’m not going to get into injuries. We just got done playing the game 24 hours ago,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to play a game Thursday night. The guys that are ready to play will play, the guys that aren’t won’t, so just look at the injury report and take it from there.”

Defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) and linebacker Chris Board (concussion) also missed practice after exiting Sunday’s game early.

A win over the Jets would clinch the AFC North division title for the 11-2 Ravens, but they can also clinch a first-round bye with a win and a loss by either New England or Kansas City in Week 15. The Ravens need only two wins in their final three games to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs without any other help.

The Jets listed 14 players as non-participants or limited during Monday’s practice. That list includes Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams (ankle), who didn’t practice and missed Sunday’s game against Miami. Running back Le’Veon Bell was a full participant after sitting out Week 14 with an illness.

There are no shortage of former Ravens on the New York roster with guard Alex Lewis, safety Bennett Jackson, cornerback Maurice Canady, and running back Ty Montgomery among them. However, one familiar face Baltimore won’t see Thursday is four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who was placed on injured reserve last week.

Mosley is in the first season of a five-year, $85 million contract signed in March, but a serious groin injury could have negative ramifications for the Ravens, who were expecting to net a third-round compensatory pick in next year’s draft for the departure of their star inside linebacker. With Mosley playing in just two games this season, that draft choice could end up being only a fourth-round choice.

“We love him and appreciate everything he did for us,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a tough break with the groin, but he’ll bounce back. He’s a great player, a hard worker and a good guy, but I haven’t really thought that much about it.”

Below is Monday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Mark Andrews (knee), LB Chris Board (concussion), S Anthony Levine (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Lamar Jackson (quad), DE Jihad Ward (elbow)

NEW YORK
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Jamal Adams (ankle), OL Chuma Edoga (knee), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (calf), CB Brian Poole (concussion), RB Bilal Powell (ankle/illness), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee), DL Quinnen Williams (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Matthias Farley (ankle), DL Henry Anderson (shoulder), OL Kelvin Beachum (ankles), DL Steve McLendon (knee/hip), RB Ty Montgomery (foot/hip), DL Nathan Sheperd (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Le’Veon Bell (illness), CB Maurice Canady (shoulder), OL Tom Compton (ankle), QB Sam Darnold (knee/left thumb), QB David Fales (right elbow), LB Paul Worrilow (quad)

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Ravens extend Ricard through 2021, activate Trawick from injured reserve

Posted on 03 December 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens announced a two-year extension for fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard, keeping their most versatile contributor under contract through the 2021 season.

A 2017 rookie free agent from Maine, Ricard was scheduled to become a restricted free agent next March, but he has emerged as one of the NFL’s best fullbacks this season, serving as a devastating blocker for the league’s top rushing attack and catching eight passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. The 6-foot-3, 303-pound Ricard came to the Ravens as a defensive lineman, but he’s gained a more notable role as an offensive player.

“Is there a better fullback in the league? I don’t know. I’ll let somebody else decide that,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said last month. “But he’s playing his position at a high level, and if he can help us win the game, we’ll do whatever and how much of it we need to do.”

Ricard has played 249 snaps on offense and 135 on defense this season, becoming the first NFL player to play at least 100 snaps on each side of the ball in a decade. He currently leads all AFC fullbacks in voting for this year’s Pro Bowl. The 25-year-old has also collected one sack, nine tackles, one forced fumble, and a pass breakup on defense.

Baltimore also announced veteran safety and special-teams contributor Brynden Trawick has been activated from injured reserve. Trawick was designated to return to practice last month and spent the last eight games on IR with an elbow injury.

On Monday, the Ravens waived reserve safety Bennett Jackson to clear room on the 53-man roster. Jackson was claimed off waivers by the New York Jets, who placed linebacker C.J. Mosley on injured reserve with a groin injury. The former Raven appeared in only two games in the first season of a lucrative five-year, $85 million contract, a development that could cause Baltimore’s projected third-round compensatory pick to drop to a fourth-rounder in next year’s draft.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts going into Week 9

Posted on 29 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens coming off their bye week with a 5-2 record and a two-game lead in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The winless Miami Dolphins were the big only “buyers” on a toothless trade deadline day, but remember the Ravens acquired two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters two weeks ago for a benched linebacker and a 2020 fifth-round pick. That’s a lot more than other contenders could say.

2. That Eric DeCosta inquired about Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams reaffirms the philosophy of having a strong secondary above all else on defense. Legitimate pass-rush concerns remain, but having Peters and a healthy Jimmy Smith helps reset the defense closer to its pre-summer state. We’ll see how it plays out.

3. Not counting Pittsburgh’s annual trip to Baltimore, I’m not sure the Ravens have played a more anticipated home game in the regular season since hosting New England for Sunday Night Football in 2012, a contest sandwiched between their AFC Championship meetings. I can’t wait.

4. After labeling Lamar Jackson “a big problem” for his defense, Bill Belichick is bound to show the young quarterback something he hasn’t seen before. However, the future Hall of Fame coach hasn’t seen a talent quite like Jackson either. I’ll repeat that throughout the week.

5. If you bristled over the talk about the Ravens’ schedule prior to the win at Seattle, pump the brakes on being too dismissive about the New England defense’s slate of opponents to this point. The numbers are simply ridiculous — even against bad competition — in today’s NFL.

6. The Ravens are 9-2 immediately following their bye in the John Harbaugh era with the only defeats coming in 2013 and 2015, two of Harbaugh’s three non-winning seasons. That doesn’t guarantee victory, but Baltimore usually plays its best with extra time to prepare, which isn’t a given in this league.

7. Former Raven Lawrence Guy has carved out a nice place for himself in New England, but his career highlight may now be his involvement in a play the “Butt Fumble” thought was embarrassing. Congratulations are in order for his first career interception.

8. I’ve been asked recently about Gus Edwards receiving more touches. Edwards has averaged 5.2 yards per carry since Week 3 while Mark Ingram — a more complete back — has been slowed some recently, but there’s only one football. I suspect we’ll see a few more carries for Edwards down the stretch.

9. After watching another uninspiring performance by Cleveland and Pittsburgh falling behind 14-0 to Miami before waking up to regroup, I remain convinced it would take quite a collapse by the Ravens to not win the AFC North in comfortable fashion. Those division foes aren’t reeling off a long winning streak.

10. The Willie Snead extension didn’t prove to be the harbinger of a deadline trade, but Baltimore had under $2 million in salary cap space and needed flexibility for inevitable roster maneuvering the rest of the way. It’s a solid move to keep a reliable slot receiver who’s a good blocker.

11. News of C.J. Mosley missing at least another five to six weeks with a groin injury was bad news for the Ravens’ projected third-round compensatory pick. The more time he misses, the greater the chance that selection becomes a fourth-rounder. Mosley missed just three games in five years with Baltimore.

12. The Ravens will be wearing their black jerseys for the first time this season, and Ed Reed will be in the house to receive his Hall of Fame ring at halftime. As if you needed more reason to be pumped for a game against Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots.

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Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (11) makes a one-handed touchdown catch in front of Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (24) during the first half of an NFL football game in Kansas City, Mo., Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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Loss in Kansas City reflects growing pains for revamped Ravens defense

Posted on 23 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Some growing pains were always likely for the Ravens defense, especially when playing the NFL’s MVP and best offense from a year ago in Week 3.

It was easy to be dismissive of the departure of several key veterans in the offseason, citing the bloated contracts they received with their new teams and a notion that they’re overrated or past their prime. Some even had the gall to suggest the exits of mainstays such as C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, and Eric Weddle would be addition by subtraction for a faster, younger defense in 2019.

That certainly wasn’t the case Sunday when the Ravens defense surrendered more than 500 yards in a 33-28 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Last December’s 27-24 overtime loss was far from perfect, but Baltimore allowed 61 fewer yards on 19 more plays in that contest that also included Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill and starting left tackle Eric Fisher, who both sat out with injuries Sunday. The Chiefs registered four plays of more than 35 yards compared to just one last year — Patrick Mahomes’ miracle 49-yard completion to Hill on fourth-and-9 to set up the tying score late in the fourth quarter.

No, the Ravens defense wasn’t good enough Sunday — few are against Mahomes and Kansas City — but that doesn’t mean head coach John Harbaugh or anyone else should be panicking. There wasn’t a more difficult game on the schedule going into the 2019 season, but the Ravens still fell by just five points despite neither side of the ball performing at its best. There’s no shame in a revamped defense being unable to match last year’s showing or Lamar Jackson and a young offense not quite being ready for a full-blown shootout in the season’s third game.

“Can we play better? We will play better, and we’ll learn a lot from that experience,” Harbaugh said. “That team is no better than us, but they played better than us. Let’s get better. Let’s play better. Let’s coach better. Let’s get ourselves to the point where we can go into a game like that and win.

“We weren’t good enough on Sunday based on the way we played. But we will be because these guys aren’t backing down.”

There are issues to correct, however.

The coverage breakdowns that surfaced in Week 2 when Arizona rookie Kyler Murray threw for 349 yards continued against Mahomes, who was much more adept at making the Ravens pay for their mistakes. Cornerback Jimmy Smith remains sidelined with a sprained MCL in his right knee while nickel corner Tavon Young was lost for the year in August, but the secondary can’t chalk up all hiccups to those absences — as significant as they might be.

Six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas presented an upgrade from the aging Weddle’s individual play, but the latter was the quarterback of the defense last year, diagnosing opponents’ plays and serving as a traffic cop for Wink Martindale’s deceptive schemes. That’s not to suggest Thomas, Tony Jefferson, or anyone else is incapable of filling that role, but it’s a different dynamic needing time to gel like the Ravens defense did down the stretch in 2018 after a shaky middle portion of the season.

Baltimore wasn’t tested by a woeful Miami offense in the opener and played well enough in the red zone and on third down to overcome coverage mistakes against the Cardinals, but it was the wrong time to be playing the Chiefs’ mighty offense, evident by Mahomes’ 83-yard touchdown strike to a wide-open Mecole Hardman on a drive that began on Kansas City’s own 4 in the second quarter.

“You never know the exact route you’re going to get, but there are principles involved in those coverages,” said Harbaugh, who added that the coaching staff must better prepare players for every situation. “We’ve had breakdowns two weeks in a row in different coverages. And that’s not good. That’s what costs you big gains when you’re playing good teams who are explosive as [the Chiefs] are and can make those plays. We just can’t have it. Our guys know it.”

The problems extend beyond the secondary as Ravens inside linebackers have struggled to hang with tight ends and running backs more frequently than the too harshly criticized Mosley would in coverage in the past. After platooning effectively last season, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young have made some splash plays in expanded roles, but the Ravens have missed the down-to-down consistency and aptitude of the four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker. Some overpursuit and difficulty shedding blocks also contributed to Kansas City averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

None of this is to suggest Mosley was worth the $17 million per year the New York Jets are paying him, but Sunday was a reminder why the Ravens were still trying to re-sign him before the bidding became too lucrative in the end. Replacing him is easier said than done — even if he wasn’t Ray Lewis.

“We have not been great in man coverage all the time,” said Harbaugh of his inside linebackers. “We’ve had some really good moments, and then we’ve had some not good moments. We had one situation where it was a half-roll pass in a certain zone coverage that we didn’t get back to the spot where we want to be, and they hit [Travis] Kelce over the middle one time. It’s different issues. We can be better there.”

Outside linebacker was discussed at great length throughout the spring and summer, but the same questions persist three weeks into the season. The Ravens have received quality play from starters Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, but Harbaugh called out 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams and their need to be better as the pair has combined for five tackles, zero sacks, and one quarterback hit in 125 combined snaps this season.

Harbaugh was more forgiving of rookie Jaylon Ferguson in his NFL debut, but setting the edge against the run — an underrated part of Suggs’ game even late in his career — has been problematic for the young outside linebackers, another reason why Martindale has leaned so heavily on Judon and McPhee. Against the Chiefs, Judon played 58 of 68 defensive snaps while McPhee took 56. More effective as a situational pass rusher on a limited pitch count throughout his career, McPhee has already played 118 snaps, more than halfway to his total of 204 with Washington last year.

Williams, Bowser, and Ferguson aren’t just going to be handed snaps, however.

“Those reps are definitely up for grabs. We’ll see who takes them,” Harbaugh said. “In my mind, those young guys, the reps are there. We need to give our older guys a break. They can’t be playing all those snaps all year.

“We want to play fast defense. We want to be rested and healthy. But none of those guys have stepped up in my mind and taken the reps yet. That’s disappointing, so we’ll see who’s the man for the job. The ball is in their court.”

The good news is most of the aforementioned players are young and capable of improving as the year progresses. The return of a healthy Smith in a few weeks should help calm the secondary at the very least while the Ravens search for more consistency and production at inside and outside linebacker.

Again, the Chiefs averaged just over 35 points per game last season. Concerns about the Ravens defense aren’t as severe as Sunday’s loss suggested just like the group wasn’t as good as the season-opening win over woeful Miami indicated. The truth lies in between with the Ravens having much work to do to become a top-flight defense rather than the ordinary group that experienced too many breakdowns Sunday.

There’s still plenty of room and time to grow.

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Ravens linebacker Board leaves Thursday’s game with concussion

Posted on 15 August 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens took a hit at a position where they can hardly afford one in Thursday’s 26-13 preseason win over Green Bay.

Second-year inside linebacker Chris Board sustained a concussion and didn’t return after a helmet-to-helmet collision late in the first half. The 2018 undrafted free agent initially tried to stay in the game, but cornerback Maurice Canady noticed Board was woozy and signaled for the training staff before an injury timeout was called. Board was immediately taken to the locker room and declared out for the rest of the game at the beginning of the second half.

“He said he’s fine, but concussions are like that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll have to see how that goes. It doesn’t seem to be serious, but that’s one we will be very careful with.”

Depth at the position was already tenuous after the free-agent departure of four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and the Ravens choosing not to draft an inside linebacker or bring in an accomplished veteran to replace him. Fourth-year linebacker Patrick Onwuasor has stepped into Mosley’s old “Mike” position to positive reviews, but Board has held a clear edge over 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young as the starting weak-side inside linebacker this spring and summer.

The North Dakota State product finished with one tackle before his head injury.

Rookie inside linebacker Otaro Alaka was also shaken up on the opening kickoff of the second half, but he returned to action later in the third quarter. The Texas A&M product is considered the best of Baltimore’s rookie free agents at the position and would certainly be in the running for a roster spot if the team chooses to keep four inside linebackers.

Alaka registered a game-high six tackles, including two for a loss, in Thursday’s win.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Inside linebackers

Posted on 19 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in days and the preseason opener only a few weeks away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before veterans begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line

We continue at inside linebacker, a position at which the Ravens received a Pro Bowl berth in all but six of their first 23 seasons in Baltimore. General manager Eric DeCosta was right not to match the market-altering five-year, $85 million contract the New York Jets gave C.J. Mosley, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens won’t miss his play and leadership in the middle of the defense, especially with no other returning inside linebacker registering more than 434 defensive snaps last season.

A defense long defined by superb play at inside linebacker appears to be in the midst of a philosophical transition that started last year with a platoon at the weak-side spot that proved to be successful. How that will translate to replacing Mosley’s every-down contributions remains to be seen, but this certainly isn’t your father’s Ravens defense with two of the top three inside linebackers on the roster being former undrafted free agents and the other a former fourth-round pick.

Even in the lone season between the retirement of Hall of Fame middle linebacker Ray Lewis and Mosley’s selection in the first round of the 2014 draft, the Ravens drafted Arthur Brown in the second round with designs of him being the heir apparent, signed 10th-year veteran Daryl Smith, and still had multi-year weak-side starter Jameel McClain on the roster. After investing no major resources beyond a second-round restricted tender and a few rookie free-agent signings at the position this offseason, Baltimore is devoting just under $4.4 million in total salary-cap dollars to its top three inside linebackers for 2019. Cornerback Jimmy Smith and defensive tackle Brandon Williams each have cap numbers more than three times that this season.

Below is a look at the inside linebackers who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Patrick Onwuasor
Skinny: After headlining a three-man platoon that included dime back Anthony Levine a year ago, Onwuasor is expected to go from playing roughly 42 percent of the defensive snaps to stepping into the every-down “Mike” linebacker role, another reason why the Ravens gave him the $3.095 million second-round restricted tender. Undersized at a listed 226 pounds, Onwuasor played the best football of his career with 4 1/2 sacks and three forced fumbles over the final six games last year (counting the playoff loss), but that emergence must continue for this group to succeed without Mosley.

Old Reliable — Onwuasor
Skinny: A 26-year-old who played less than half the snaps last season and has just 26 career starts being the only conceivable choice for this category speaks to the paradigm shift at this position from the days of Lewis being one of the highest-paid players in the league. Pro Football Focus graded Onwuasor as its 40th-best linebacker last season, and his improvement in pass coverage and as a blitzer made a big difference down the stretch.

Under Fire — Kenny Young
Skinny: By no means should the 2018 fourth-round pick’s rookie campaign be considering anything but a positive as Young played just under 36 percent of snaps and contributed 51 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, and a forced fumble. However, many believed he’d unseat Onwuasor as a starter a year ago and he’s still being challenged at the weak-side spot. Young is at his best when playing downhill and using his speed, but his pass coverage must improve and he was sometimes thinking too much diagnosing plays last year.

Up-and-Comer — Chris Board
Skinny: A former rookie free agent who made the 53-man roster on special teams and is rapidly developing as an inside linebacker? The more things change, the more they stay the same, right? The North Dakota State product played only 14 defensive snaps last year, but he received a large portion of the first-team reps in the spring, often before Young. The Ravens love Board’s speed, so a three-headed platoon is likely to continue with Young, Board, and Levine all seeing time in various sub packages.

Sleeper — Matthew Thomas
Skinny: Any of the remaining inside linebackers on the roster could be considered a sleeper with the lack of depth behind the aforementioned trio, but the 23-year-old Thomas did appear in 10 games as a rookie with Pittsburgh last season before signing a reserve-future contract with the Ravens in January. The Florida State product is one of a few in the running to win a job if he can excel on special teams.

The Rest — Otaro Alaka, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka, a rookie free agent from Texas A&M, flashed with an interception of Robert Griffin III during minicamp and was graded as the top SEC linebacker in run defense by PFF last year. Jones spent time on the Baltimore practice squad last year after being waived at the end of the preseason. … Ejiya was tied for fourth in Conference USA with nine sacks last season.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Safeties

Posted on 16 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in just over a week 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.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends

We continue at safety, a position at which the organization has exhausted extensive resources since Ed Reed played his final game as a Raven in Super Bowl XLVII. After failed draft picks and several underwhelming value signings, Baltimore finally went all in at the position by giving out a free-agent contract totaling $26 million or more in three of the last four offseasons. Those dollars have given the Ravens one of the best safety groups in the NFL

This position isn’t quite as deep as cornerback, but the philosophy is similar with versatile pieces capable of filling different roles within the defense. This offers defensive coordinator Wink Martindale the option to rotate if he wants to give someone a breather or offer a different look to an opponent.

Below is a look at the safeties who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Earl Thomas
Skinny: The six-time Pro Bowl selection who helped lead Seattle’s “Legion of Boom” defense to a Super Bowl championship and another appearance in the big game gives the Ravens their first true center fielder at free safety since Reed. The defense will miss Eric Weddle’s football intellect on the back end, but Thomas provides a clear play-making upgrade and shouldn’t have too much difficulty adjusting to Baltimore’s more complex system from the direct Cover 3 looks he ran with the Seahawks. A four-year, $55 million contract including $32 million guaranteed automatically makes you “the man” of this group.

Old Reliable — Tony Jefferson
Skinny: Considering Thomas hasn’t played as much as a preseason game in a Ravens uniform, Jefferson is the default choice here as he’s become one of the defensive leaders after the departures of Weddle, Terrell Suggs, and C.J. Mosley in the offseason. The 27-year-old is at his best playing closer to the line of scrimmage and has missed only three games in his six-year NFL career. Critics may knock his four-year, $34 million contract or his intermediate-to-deep pass coverage, but the Ravens very much value what Jefferson brings to the field and the locker room.

Under Fire — Thomas
Skinny: The lucrative financial commitment made to Thomas came after he broke his lower left leg for the second time in three seasons last September and played in just 29 games over the last three seasons. The 30-year-old was playing at an elite level in the opening month of 2018, but you have to at least wonder what long-term toll the latest injury might have on his speed and agility entering his 10th season. Much is riding on Thomas remaining a special talent after so many key departures on defense left plenty of question marks among the front seven.

Up-and-Comer — DeShon Elliott
Skinny: The 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas missed his rookie year after breaking his forearm in the preseason, but he was arguably the biggest surprise of the spring, showing impressive range in pass coverage on a few highlight interceptions. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Elliott also stood out with some physical play early in last year’s training camp, so that coupled with coverage ability could make it difficult to keep the 22-year-old off the field if the same play-making ability flashes this summer.

Sleeper — Anthony Levine
Skinny: The 32-year-old really shouldn’t be a sleeper at this point, but he remains underappreciated — especially outside Baltimore — as one of the best dime backs in the NFL. After years of that sub package being an afterthought, Levine finally got his chance in the role a few years ago and has excelled. The longtime special-teams standout recorded pass breakups on two of the final four defensive plays in the win over Cleveland last December to clinch the AFC North title, just an example of how important he’s been to the Ravens’ defensive success over the last few years.

The Rest — Chuck Clark, Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Clark has been a rock-solid contributor as a backup safety and special-teams player over his first two seasons, but the deep depth across the secondary may mean it’s no lock the 2017 sixth-round selection from Virgina Tech makes the roster. Despite never appearing in an NFL regular-season game after being drafted by the New York Giants out of Notre Dame in 2014, Jackson is still chasing the dream after spending the 2018 preseason and part of the regular season on Baltimore’s practice squad.

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