Tag Archive | "chiefs"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 3 loss to Kansas City

Posted on 24 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first loss of the season in a 33-28 final at Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those criticizing the unsuccessful fourth down and two-point conversions must acknowledge John Harbaugh netted the Ravens six points by scoring touchdowns in two situations many coaches would “take the points” and kick field goals. You can’t have it both ways and judge only by the end result.

2. I agree going for two when down 11 sounds counterintuitive. However, are you then trusting a defense that forced two punts all day to get two stops in regulation and likely another in overtime to win? Playing for a tie doesn’t always give you the best chance to win.

3. I’d probably take more issue with the failed fourth down on the second drive if the Ravens didn’t pin Kansas City deep to conclude their following series and allow an 83-yard touchdown three plays later. This was a game about maximizing scoring over trying to play field position.

4. Now, the play calls themselves and the execution in those situations left much to be desired. The analytics would also support not going for it if the Ravens continue to struggle to convert, but this offense is built to succeed in short yardage.

5. The Ravens couldn’t have asked for a better early return from Mark Ingram, who is on pace to rush for over 1,300 yards despite averaging less than 15 carries per game. His leadership is also valued, but that carries much more clout when a player produces at a high level.

6. Lamar Jackson came back to earth in Week 3, but there’s no reason to be discouraged by that. His timing and accuracy never quite got on track against Kansas City’s secondary, but the 22-year-old continued to compete in the second half and still made some highlight plays in the process.

7. Jackson has now gone eight straight regular-season games without an interception. His field vision doesn’t receive enough credit, but he was lucky to see that streak continue Sunday after throwing multiple passes that could have been picked.

8. Anthony Averett has had the chance to show he can handle a full-time role, but it hasn’t gone well. In addition to struggling in coverage, Averett failed to recover a gift-wrapped fumble on the opening drive and missed a tackle on Mecole Hardman that led to a big gain.

9. Gus Edwards hadn’t looked as explosive or physical over the first two games, but he quelled concerns with 53 yards on seven carries and a 45-yard run wiped out by a questionable holding call. It’s challenging for Greg Roman to get him carries with Ingram running so well.

10. Sunday served as a reminder of the need to get other receivers more involved as Mark Andrews was slowed by a foot issue and the Chiefs took away the deep stuff to Marquise Brown. Willie Snead and Seth Roberts combining for five catches and 84 yards was a silver lining.

11. Miles Boykin received much hype and played well during training camp, but his rookie campaign is off to a slow start with just two catches for 16 yards in three games. One of Jackson’s prettier passes Sunday went through Boykin’s fingers on Baltimore’s final touchdown drive.

12. The offensive line wasn’t perfect against Kansas City, but Bradley Bozeman has rarely been mentioned over the first three games. That’s good news for a left guard position that was scrutinized all spring and summer.

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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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The analytics of local madness at John Harbaugh and Revolution science

Posted on 23 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

The cries of heresy and “fire the coach” came early in the Baltimore Ravens’ 33-28 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

Head coach John Harbaugh once again chose to go for it on 4th down and short from his own 30-something yard line in a move that would make every one of his football head coaching heroes from Doyt Perry to Bo Schembechler shiver with risk aversion and chuckle in disgust from the other sideline at the sheer stupidity of going against conventional wisdom.

Every one of us who has watched football all of our lives knows that you punt the ball there!

Clearly, John Harbaugh has lost his mind – again – and has been swept up in the emotion of Lamar Jackson and the possibilities of this 4th down revolution and a new way of life in the NFL where you never punt or relinquish control of the football!

“It was the worst coaching I’ve seen in the history of the league!” they screamed in Dundalk.

“What the hell is Harbaugh thinking?!?!?” they tweeted from Bel Air.

“Coach Dummy strikes again with another foolish decision!!!” the purple army in Hereford cried!

The Ravens later converted on a 4th and 3 and went on to score a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal.

Was that dumb luck or designed genius?

Surely, Harbaugh wouldn’t be doing something that crazy and against any wisdom his father, brother or even his mentor and football guru Andy Reid would’ve given him from the other sideline in that sea of red?

In the postgame press conference outside the Arrowhead Stadium locker room when I pressed him about whether there is any 4th and short he doesn’t like, the new #RiverboatHarbaugh didn’t waver.

Instead, the Super Bowl-winning coach who decided to blow on the dice and repeatedly give the purple Lamar meter a short-yardage spin and allow Greg Roman to concoct some chaos at the line of scrimmage that will keep possession of the ball and a fresh set of downs, talked about math and odds.

Is this pigskin madness?

Or the budding genius of a football revolution where all decisions will be driven by science and data?

Time will tell.

But the Ravens haven’t come to these new-age decisions of “risk vs. reward” without plenty of science, human analysis and the off-the-field podium defense that John Harbaugh and everyone who comes next in line in the game of football and coaching edicts and norms will use for the media and fans:

“I did what the analytics told me to do!” said head coach X of City Y of Team Z in Sport Beta in the new age of managing by the new book.

Harbaugh has never painted by the numbers but he’s become a devotee to the good book of math and probability and science.

Any present baseball fan knows about analytics and the changing norms of the sport. It has created a different game and a huge generational debate within the inner circle of the game about the way science  says things are vs. the way they’ve always been done.

The Baltimore Orioles and the Angelos family have torn down an entire organization under the premise of the new math of baseball and sabermatricians and data nerds controlling every decision to – ultimately, they swear – bring you a better experience at Camden Yards.

(At least at some point…the Angelos boys promise! No, really…just a few more 100-loss seasons and they’ll make you proud!)

Eric DeCosta didn’t just meet Sig Mejdal and Mike Elias by accident last winter. They are charter members in a new society of sports executives utilizing highly-trained data specialists and sports scientists to analyze and change the way the games are played and every piece of information is measured.

When Elias and Mejdal took their baseball science data laboratory from St. Louis to Houston and lost 100 games in equal parts anonymity and disgrace every year – even while having their files hacked and data stolen Russian-style by Cardinals cyber crooks on an MLB database – the journalists and fans from Astros suburbia scoffed and stayed away.

The Houston Astros were a goofy baseball science experiment and losing every night. A laughingstock of the industry.

Then, suddenly, the Houston Astros were winning World Series games.

And now everyone in Major League Baseball is trying to tank for greatness and shift for progress and know where to be standing and where the ball is going to be hit before the pitch is thrown. Well, unless the hitter misses it or hits the juiced baseball into the second deck, right?

It isn’t very exciting but apparently it’s effective as a measuring tool to manage baseball games for a positive outcome. And we know the Angelos family is all about winning! And if this Elias and Mejdal thing doesn’t work out for the Orioles, at least the Angelos boys did what the analytics told them to do!

Now, on Sundays in the NFL, you are beginning to see the fruits of a similar experiment through science in the world of football where “conventional wisdom” will be pushed up against the history of the sport and downs and distances and probability.

“That is what the analytics are,” Harbaugh bellowed after a tough loss in

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Ravens-Chiefs: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The most anticipated meeting of Week 3 may not produce the offensive fireworks many anticipated as the undefeated Ravens go on the road to take on the 2-0 Kansas City Chiefs.

The weather could be a lingering factor as heavy rain fell throughout the night and morning in Kansas City with a light shower or thunderstorm still possible during the game. The field at Arrowhead Stadium was covered for the most significant precipitation, but it remains to be seen how the natural grass surface holds up. Temperatures will approach the mid-70s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

The field conditions will make ball security more critical than usual for both Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in this showdown of talented, young quarterbacks in the AFC.

Despite some concerns about a lingering foot injury, tight end Mark Andrews is active and will play. The 2018 third-round pick leads Baltimore in receptions and recorded back-to-back 100-yard receiving games to begin the season, a product of the great chemistry he’s developed with Jackson. Andrews’ effectiveness on a wet field will be worth monitoring as fellow second-year tight end Hayden Hurst could step into a larger role if necessary.

Fullback and defensive tackle Patrick Ricard (back) is active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) and safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) are inactive after being officially ruled out Friday.

Hoping to repeat last December’s effort in which Mahomes was hit 15 times in the 27-24 overtime loss, the Ravens have activated rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson to give them an additional pass-rushing option. Ferguson was a healthy scratch for each of the first two games, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has remained complimentary of his progress since the start of training camp.

Kansas City will be without Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill (shoulder) and starting left tackle Eric Fisher (groin) against the Ravens, but veteran running back LeSean McCoy (ankle) is active for Sunday’s game. Claimed off waivers by the Chiefs earlier this week, former Ravens offensive tackle Greg Senat is inactive.

The referee for Sunday’s game is John Hussey.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with black pants while the Chiefs don red jerseys with white pants for their home opener.

Sunday marks the ninth all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Kansas City holding the 5-3 advantage. However, Baltimore is 3-1 in four trips to Arrowhead, which includes a 2010 wild-card playoff win.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
CB Jimmy Smith
S Brynden Trawick
ILB Otaro Alaka
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

KANSAS CITY
WR Tyreek Hill
RB Damien Williams
OT Greg Senat
OT Eric Fisher
C Nick Allegretti
OT Martinas Rankin
DL Khalen Saunders

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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 September 2019 by Luke Jones

What more could you ask for in Week 3?

Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale suggested we could be seeing the next Brady-Manning rivalry as Lamar Jackson and Baltimore travel to Kansas City to take on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s an exciting thought after last December’s 27-24 classic in which the Chiefs narrowly prevailed in overtime.

In his second season, Jackson has taken a gigantic leap to draw comparisons to Mahomes, whom no one expected to be the 2018 NFL MVP at this time a year ago in his first full season as a starter. These two will be exciting to watch for years to come, and these teams meeting again in January wouldn’t be surprising, regardless of Sunday’s outcome.

It’s time to go on the record as these 2018 division winners meet for the ninth time in the all-time regular-season series. Kansas City holds a 5-3 advantage, but the Ravens have won two of the three regular-season games played at Arrowhead Stadium as well as the 2010 wild-card playoff game.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Willie Snead will be more involved with 75 receiving yards and a touchdown. With rookie Marquise Brown among the league leaders in receiving yards and touchdowns, the lack of production from the other wide receivers — six catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns in two games — hasn’t been an issue so far. However, as opponents focus more on slowing Brown as well as tight end Mark Andrews, Jackson will need to turn to others with Snead’s ability over the middle making him a logical choice. The veteran slot receiver had five catches for 61 yards against the Chiefs last year and will provide an effective safety net for Jackson playing in front of his first raucous road crowd of the season.

2. Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones will record two sacks. The Chiefs may not have too many defensive players who scare you, but Jones is among the best inside pass rushers in the NFL, posing a problem for center Matt Skura and left guard Bradley Bozeman. Inside pressure gave the Ravens major problems in last year’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, and Jones’ 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame regularly disrupts passing lanes. Controlling the pass rush will be a critical objective for both teams as the Chiefs will be without starting left tackle Eric Fisher, but Jones has the ability to wreck a game inside if you don’t have a good plan to account for him.

3. Jackson and Mahomes will each throw their first interception of 2019 in otherwise strong performances. The early-season comparisons between the two are striking as the young quarterbacks have each thrown seven touchdowns and haven’t thrown a single pick in a combined 134 pass attempts. In fact, Jackson’s last interception in the regular season came against Oakland last Nov. 25 while Mahomes has thrown only one since Ravens safety Chuck Clark picked him off last Dec. 9. With rain in Sunday’s forecast and both quarterbacks eager to put on a show in a big game early in the season, we’ll see a couple turnovers mixed into impressive games from Mahomes and Jackson.

4. Travis Kelce will have over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown reception. The Baltimore defense mixed up its coverages last December as the All-Pro tight end caught seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, but Kelce also drew a pass interference call to set up an easy 1-yard touchdown. Tony Jefferson missed last year’s meeting with the Chiefs and figures to match up against Kelce at times, but I just don’t see a particularly encouraging solution to slowing him, a problem Kansas City could also face with Andrews. With Tyreek Hill out this time around and the Ravens focused on limiting big plays, Mahomes will turn to Kelce frequently in the intermediate portion of the field.

5. The Chiefs will pull out a 31-27 win in a close game that lives up to the hype. I like the Ravens’ chances in this one more than I did last year with the improvement of Jackson and the passing game, but there was some leaky coverage Miami wasn’t capable of exploiting in Week 1 and more breakdowns against Arizona last week, a concerning trend when playing Andy Reid’s dynamic passing game on the road. I expect the Ravens to use some ball control like last year to try to keep the Chiefs offense off the field, but the between-the-tackles running game hasn’t been as consistent early on, which will leave the ball in Jackson’s hands more frequently. The 22-year-old quarterback will have a good day, but I’m just not sure the Baltimore defense is on the 2018 group’s level or that a talented but young offense is quite ready yet for a full-blown shootout if that’s what happens Sunday. I’ll give a slight nod to Kansas City, but the Ravens will have no reason to feel discouraged about their efforts in this one.

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Ravens list Andrews, Ricard as questionable for Kansas City game

Posted on 20 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens listed standout tight end Mark Andrews and defensive lineman/fullback hybrid Patrick Ricard as questionable for Sunday’s much-anticipated tilt in Kansas City.

Both are set to play against the Chiefs after practicing Thursday and Friday, but Andrews remained a limited participant with a lingering foot issue while Ricard (back) practiced fully Friday. Andrews’ effectiveness will be worth monitoring, but the ailment didn’t seem to hinder him much in Week 2 as he registered eight receptions for 112 yards and a touchdown in the 23-17 win over Arizona.

As expected, the Ravens officially ruled out safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (right knee) after neither practiced this week. Head coach John Harbaugh said Smith is making progress in his recovery from the Grade 2 medial collateral ligament sprain sustained early in the season opener at Miami.

“He’s doing well. He’s very positive,” Harbaugh said. “We can’t say for sure; he hasn’t run yet. But he’s close to that. He’s on schedule, and we’ll know more in the next probably two weeks.”

Smith’s status is more notable with the Ravens’ reported interest in Jacksonville cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who played in the Jaguars’ win over Tennessee Thursday night. The two-time Pro Bowl cornerback was coveted by the Ravens in the 2016 draft and would require a substantial price in a potential trade as well as a lucrative contract to retain his services beyond the 2020 season.

Without Ramsey’s name being mentioned, Harbaugh was asked Friday how much he pays attention to potential player acquisitions and trade rumors.

“I see the direction we’re going with that,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “I keep track of most of it. I don’t know anything about that, and obviously, you can’t and you would never comment on another player on another team. It’s just not what you do and it’s illegal, according to league rules.

“But I’m like fans; I read it. It adds a little interest because if someone gets traded to a team that we’re playing or away from a team that we play, that matters to us. If we’re ever involved in one of those, then that really matters to us. But it’s not something you could ever comment on anyway.”

The Chiefs are in a worse place than Baltimore from a health standpoint after officially ruling out three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill (shoulder), starting left tackle Eric Fisher (groin), and running back Damien Williams. Running back LeSean McCoy (ankle) was designated as questionable, but the veteran was able to practice fully Friday.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale downplayed the significance of Hill’s absence while complimenting the creative play-calling of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid.

“Let’s see, Hill runs about a 4.21 [40-yard dash]. They put in a guy that runs about a 4.22 40,” Martindale said. “So, they’re fast. And Andy Reid, we talk about all these young, innovative offensive coordinators. I hope he doesn’t get mad at me saying this, [but] he’s the grandfather. He’s the ‘O.G.’ of the innovators of offense. And the offense that he has there in Kansas City, everybody steals from.”

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Kansas City calls for rain and temperatures in the low 70s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour. Some heavy rain is possible, which would add an interesting twist to an exciting matchup.

“I heard that it could rain,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t really have any other thoughts on it other than we’ll just go play in it and try to make sure we do a good job with the ball handling and the footing and those kinds of things.”

Below is the final injury report for Week 3:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (knee), S Brynden Trawick (elbow)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Jimmy Smith (knee), S Brynden Trawick (elbow)

KANSAS CITY
OUT: OT Eric Fisher (groin), WR Tyreek Hill (shoulder), RB Damien Williams (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: RB LeSean McCoy (ankle)

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Ravens defense aiming to finish job against Kansas City this time

Posted on 20 September 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sixty minutes, indeed.

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Andrews, Ricard practice as Ravens move toward Kansas City showdown

Posted on 19 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens tight end Mark Andrews continues to deal with a nagging foot issue, but that didn’t keep him off the field Thursday.

Baltimore’s leader in receptions practiced on a limited basis after missing Wednesday’s workout, diminishing any doubt about his status for Sunday’s showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs. A major part of the NFL’s top-ranked offense through the first two weeks of the season, Andrews hopes the strong chemistry he’s developed with quarterback Lamar Jackson will travel to Arrowhead Stadium, the place the Ravens lost a 27-24 overtime heartbreaker last December.

“That was a big-time game, kind of a nail-biter game. A lot of guys kind of grew up in that game,” Andrews said. “I think Lamar being able to play a tight game like that was big for his growth. It’s one of those games that I don’t think a lot of people have forgotten to this day.”

Defensive lineman and fullback Patrick Ricard also returned to practice after missing Wednesday’s session with a back issue.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) and safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) were the only players on the 53-man roster not to participate in Thursday’s workout. Smith won’t play against the Chiefs while Trawick is appearing more likely to miss Sunday’s game, which would leave the Ravens without one of their best special-teams players and depending on younger options to pick up the slack.

“You’ll see we won’t lose a step with those guys,” special teams coach Chris Horton said. “The guys that we put in there, those guys have worked hard this [summer] to give themselves an opportunity go out and play. Whoever we put in there, we’re going to expect the same kind of effort, the same kind of physicality. And those guys will go out and play.”

Kansas City running back Damien Williams missed his second straight practice with a knee injury while fellow running back LeSean McCoy (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis.

Orioles manager Brandon Hyde was a visitor at Thursday’s practice as he spent some time chatting with head coach John Harbaugh and Pro Football Hall of Famer and Baltimore Colts legend Lenny Moore, who remains a frequent visitor in Owings Mills. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey stepped out of a defensive backs drill to greet Hyde and shake his hand.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE – CB Jimmy Smith (knee), S Brynden Trawick (elbow)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION – TE Mark Andrews (foot), DL/FB Patrick Ricard (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION – S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE – OT Eric Fisher (groin), WR Tyreek Hill (shoulder), RB Damien Williams (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION – RB LeSean McCoy (ankle)

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Andrews still dealing with foot issue as Ravens prepare for Kansas City

Posted on 18 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Mark Andrews didn’t register a catch in the 27-24 overtime loss at Kansas City last December, but the Ravens expect a much different output Sunday in a showdown between undefeated teams.

Andrews is not only becoming Lamar Jackson’s most reliable target, but the 2018 third-round pick is rapidly emerging as one of the NFL’s best tight ends as he enters Week 3 seventh in the league in receiving yards and first among all tight ends. Of his team-leading 16 receptions, six have gone for 20 or more yards and 12 have gone for first downs.

With eight catches for 112 yards and a touchdown in the 23-17 win over Arizona, Andrews became the first tight end in Ravens history to post back-to-back 100-yard receiving games.

“He knows how to get open. He knows how to use his body. He has a knack for the game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s not all Xs and Os on a card or a play sheet. A lot of it is the human element, the backyard part of it, the feel for where the defender is at, the connection between the quarterback and the receiver to be on the same page.

Andrews is thriving despite a lingering foot issue that again kept him out of Wednesday’s practice. The 24-year-old sat out last Friday’s workout before playing against the Cardinals, which does ease immediate concern about his availability against the Chiefs as long as he’s able to log some practice time by the end of the week.

Fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard (back), safety Brynden Trawick (elbow), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) also missed practice. Smith is not expected to play against Kansas City while Harbaugh has expressed uncertainty about Trawick’s status for Week 3.

Safety Earl Thomas received a veteran day off.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs will be without their starting left tackle against the Ravens as Eric Fisher is expected to undergo groin surgery this week. Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill also remains sidelined with a shoulder injury sustained in the season opener.

Kansas City’s top two running backs, Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy, also missed Wednesday’s practice.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Mark Andrews (foot), DL/FB Pat Ricard (back), CB Jimmy Smith (knee), S Earl Thomas (non-injury), S Brynden Trawick (elbow)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Eric Fisher (groin), WR Tyreek Hill (shoulder), RB LeSean McCoy (ankle), RB Damien Williams (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Laurent Duvernay-Tardif (elbow), OL Cam Erving (elbow), TE Travis Kelce (knee), QB Patrick Mahomes (ankle), WR Demarcus Robinson (elbow)

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Lamar Jackson has quickly changed who is in those purple seats downtown

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

I am usually the guy that local folks seek out to discuss Ravens game strategy or the mood around the locker room or the stats and the history of the franchise.

Needless to say, it’s a good time to put the purple flamingo back on the lawn in the Charm City. And, yes, I am working on Purple Reign 3 as we speak…

The Baltimore Ravens are 2-0. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins are 0-2. Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season. And I am headed to Kansas City to get my hands soaked in BBQ and my breathe wet with craft beer to watch the greatest show in the NFL right now with Patrick Mahomes and the looming game (and rematch) of the week.

And all of that has put me in a wonderful mood but there is only one story and one discussion around the Baltimore Ravens right now – and that’s Lamar Jackson.

(This is the part where I call him, “Mr. Jackson, if you’re Nasty!”)

Forget Janet and The Jackson 5 – this is The Jackson 53 here in Baltimore.

We all watched No. 8 run around last winter and excite us with the possibilities of a spread offense and a quarterback who is the fastest guy on the field. It saved the job of a head coach and rapidly got a Super Bowl MVP and parade leader benched, traded and (now somehow) quickly forgotten.

Joe Cool became Joe Who?

For eight months of an offseason fraught with massive changes and debate about the merits of our quarterback running into linebackers 15 times a game, we all said “Lamar Jackson needs to improve at throwing the football.”

Well…he has improved. That much is clear.

And even after a home win and the “feel goods” in the locker room after the game, it was also clear to anyone within breathing space of Lamar Jackson that he was not real pleased with his effort. He missed a few passes. He misread some things. His frustration was evident. And without throwing that over-the-shoulder dime to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown with the game on the line, it might’ve turned out differently.

He knew that and didn’t like it.

You might’ve been happy after the Ravens 23-17 victory but Lamar Jackson was fairly dissatisfied.

A few us saw him wait out Mark Ingram and talk at length with him at their locker. It was clear that Lamar wanted to climb in the backseat of Ingram’s car and go home with him to talk more football and watch more film but instead departed the stadium solo.

Tens minutes later, as I departed the stadium to walk home, I saw him creating this madness outside the media exit:

And then the video surfaced of him pulling over to sign more autographs for fans.

As a lifer PSL holder, my observations about Sunday didn’t have as much to do with the football team as they did the climate inside the

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