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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of Memorial Day weekend

Posted on 20 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL’s virtual offseason program rolling on, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Team president Dick Cass confirmed again this week that the organization aims to be able to conduct training camp and has no expectation of the 90-man roster being at the Owings Mills facility before then. Time remains on teams’ side with the usual start to camp still two months away.

2. Two-time Pro Bowl receiver Adam Thielen said he wouldn’t have made it in the NFL had the pandemic taken place when he went undrafted in 2013. With Baltimore already having a deep roster and 10 draft picks, rookie free agents are missing out on valuable opportunities to impress.

3. Opinions vary on playing football this fall, but Dr. David Chao, former team physician of the San Diego Chargers, discussed key considerations in this video ranging from what to do about team meetings and locker rooms to considering face shields on helmets and alternatives for huddling. Really interesting stuff.

4. With Rooney Rule changes making headlines, the lack of diversity in NFL hiring remains disappointing with Ozzie Newsome going from a Hall of Fame playing career to becoming one of the best general managers of all time serving as the best example one needs. The league must do better.

5. Some have mentioned the peculiarity of having two preseason games against regular-season opponents (Dallas and Washington), but teams just don’t show enough in these exhibition contests for this to really matter anymore. Conducting joint practices with a regular-season opponent would be a different story.

6. A superb secondary and Wink Martindale’s propensity to blitz should ease short-term concerns at edge rusher, but Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jihad Ward, and Tyus Bowser are only under contract through 2020. Even if Jaylon Ferguson takes a step forward, something will have to give.

7. Calais Campbell has wasted no time making an impact locally as his foundation announced an initiative to provide 100 laptops to disadvantaged students. His superb play is a given, but adding a veteran like him during such unusual times will pay off even more on and off the field.

8. The recently retired Eric Weddle taking time to speak to Ravens players virtually was hardly surprising. He’ll relish more time with his family, but it’s difficult imagining him staying away from the game for very long.

9. Many have already dunked on the following tweet, but the 2012 defense did come up big in some critical spots despite its mediocre overall profile. Still, I would put at least 15 Ravens defenses ahead of that one without even needing to look up any stats. What an odd pairing.

10. Terrell Suggs had a forgettable Arizona homecoming, but he recently drew praise as a mentor from Cardinals edge rusher Chandler Jones, who led the NFL in sacks in 2017 and had 19 last year. It’s unclear whether he’ll return for an 18th season, but the ex-Raven became an underrated leader.

11. If you felt old hearing Ray Lewis turned 45 years old late last week, perhaps you’ll take consolation learning Cal Ripken will be 60 in August. You’re welcome.

12. I really could have gone without reading the latest example of what’s made Tom Brady so insane great over the years. At least Ryan Mallett learned something from the six-time Super Bowl champion?

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NFL reportedly expanding playoff field to 14 teams for 2020

Posted on 20 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The last-minute touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd in the 2017 regular-season finale knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs in one of the most painful moments in franchise history.

Under the NFL’s new proposed collective bargaining agreement, however, Cincinnati’s shocking fourth-and-12 score would have been of little consequence to John Harbaugh’s team that finished seventh in the AFC that season. According to multiple reports, the league is expected to expand the playoff format from 12 to 14 teams as early as the upcoming 2020 season, the first expansion of the field since the 1990 season. In other words, those 9-7 Ravens would have still gone to the playoffs.

The league is also hoping to increase the regular season from 16 to 17 games with the preseason being reduced to three contests.

Under the new playoff format, only the top team in each conference would earn a first-round bye with the other three division winners each hosting wild-card teams in the opening round of the playoffs, increasing the total number of first-round games from four to six. Such a change would intensify the battle for the coveted No. 1 seeds — which become even more valuable now — but it would also put more mediocrity in the playoffs as 15 of the 20 teams finishing seventh in their respective conferences over the last 10 seasons had fewer than 10 wins.

Was there too much of an appetite for that hypothetical first-round meeting between Devlin Hodges and Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City last month? Speaking of Pittsburgh, the new format would have meant four more playoff appearances for the Steelers over the last eight seasons, which probably wouldn’t have sat too well in these parts.

Of course, playoff expansion and a 17-game regular season — while conveniently ignoring player safety ramifications — will mean more money for both owners and players, and it’d be naive to think fans won’t continue to eat it up, making dissenting opinions like this one all but moot. It’s also fair to recognize there were only 28 teams in the NFL when the playoff field increased from 10 to 12 teams three decades ago, making a one-team increase in each conference more palatable.

But there’s always the long-term concern of any sport — even the mighty NFL — hurting its regular-season product when loosening the exclusivity of its playoff field. Sure, leagues love bigger TV deals for the playoffs, but ask the NBA and NHL — and their fans — what that’s done for interest in their 82-game regular seasons over the years when more than half of their teams make the postseason. Major League Baseball is reportedly considering expanding its playoff field again after already devaluing its uniquely long regular season over the last 25 years and having significant problems with profit-hungry owners not doing all they can to try to win.

When was the last time a team you felt was deserving was left out of the playoffs?

If the NFL increases its playoff field to 14 teams, what’s to stop the league from going to 16 in a few years to generate even more TV revenue in January and February? Can you imagine the insane money if you just let everyone in and create a 32-team NCAA-like tournament?

From the players’ perspective, that’s why postseason expansion should be accompanied by an increase in team and league-wide spending requirements. Adding more playoff teams lowers the benchmark to qualify, which gives more profit-minded owners less incentive to spend to the cap. If a team doesn’t view itself as a No. 1 seed contender, why not pocket a little more money and hope 8-8 or 9-7 still gets you a hat and T-shirt by the end of the regular season? That line of thinking just became easier.

Increasing revenue is great and an extra playoff team in each conference is hardly the end of the world, but lowering the competitive bar has potential drawbacks down the road that aren’t always apparent.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Super Bowl LIV

Posted on 03 February 2020 by Luke Jones

With Super Bowl LIV now in the books after Kansas City topped San Francisco, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After faltering as the top seed last year, the Chiefs lost their star quarterback for nearly three full games, held a 6-4 mark in November, and needed Week 17 help just to get a bye. That’s good inspiration for Baltimore, who will be hard-pressed to match its record-setting 14-2 campaign.

2. In case it weren’t obvious after the playoff loss to Tennessee, the Ravens offense’s need to be able to play off schedule more effectively was reinforced by Kansas City erasing double-digit deficits in each of its three postseason games. That’s not how you draw it up, but it’s remarkable nonetheless.

3. A year after winning NFL MVP, Patrick Mahomes became the youngest Super Bowl MVP quarterback and youngest to claim both honors. Lamar Jackson would be the youngest if he can repeat a Mahomes feat for a second straight season. These two facing off for years is going to be fun.

4. Terrell Suggs had two tackles and a quarterback hit as he won a second Super Bowl in his decorated 17-year career. In a SportsCenter interview, Suggs said he’ll take some time to ponder his future, but he’ll turn 38 in October. He’s unlikely to have a better ending than that.

5. Andy Reid could have hired a new special teams coordinator upon arriving in Philadelphia in 1999, but he chose to retain John Harbaugh, who had just completed his first year as an NFL assistant. The Ravens head coach had to feel good for his mentor finally winning that elusive ring.

6. The Baltimore defense will continue to lean on its superb secondary and plenty of blitzing, but watching the 49ers front four make Mahomes look so mortal for 3 1/2 quarters reiterated the work Eric DeCosta has to do in that department this offseason. Nick Bosa was a game-wrecker.

7. Former Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk scored San Francisco’s first touchdown and was one yard shy of a second in the third quarter. The 49ers paid a steep price for him in free agency three years ago, but he just finished his fourth straight Pro Bowl campaign. Not bad.

8. Steve Hutchinson being elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame was good for Marshal Yanda. The 12-year guard had seven Pro Bowls, five first-team All-Pro selections, and two second-team selections. Yanda has eight Pro Bowls, two first-team All-Pro selections, five second-team nods, and a Super Bowl ring.

9. I was surprised the vote for NFL Coach of the Year wasn’t a little closer between Harbaugh and Kyle Shanahan. Harbaugh was my choice, but the 49ers going from 4-12 a year ago to 13-3 is the kind of turnaround that often sways voters.

10. Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Colts legends Lenny Moore and Raymond Berry being part of the on-field ceremony honoring the NFL 100 all-time team reminded how tremendous Baltimore’s football history is. Johnny Unitas, John Mackey, Jim Parker, and Gino Marchetti were also selected.

11. After watching those introductions for both the 49ers and Chiefs, I vote for The Rock to be the hype man for every major sporting event. He’s the most electrifying man in all of entertainment after all.

12. According to Caesars Sportsbook, Kansas City opens as the Super Bowl favorite (6-1) for 2020 with Baltimore right behind at 7-1. Super Bowl LV will take place in Tampa, the same city the Ravens won their first NFL championship 20 years earlier. Sounds like a good story to me.

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) tries to throw a pass from his team's end zone as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (39) grabs him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. Hodges was penalized for an intentional grounding penalty and the Ravens were given two points on a the safety. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts during playoff bye week

Posted on 01 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying the bye week after a franchise-best 14-2 record and securing the AFC’s top seed for the first time in their 24-year history, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eliminating Pittsburgh and extending the franchise-record winning streak to 12 games were fun accomplishments, but escaping Week 17 without any major injuries was the real win. The Ravens haven’t stayed as healthy as last year when they had the fewest adjusted games lost in the NFL, but they’re close.

2. If you’ve wondered how much credit Greg Roman deserves for this offense, look to Sunday when the Ravens rushed for 223 yards against one of the league’s best run defenses without arguably the best rushing quarterback ever, a Pro Bowl running back, and two Pro Bowl offensive linemen. Case closed.

3. Finding the appropriate words to describe a historic season for Lamar Jackson isn’t easy, but I keep coming back to him leading the NFL in touchdown passes despite 25 quarterbacks attempting more passes and ranking sixth in rushing despite 22 players having more carries. Electrifying efficiency.

4. The Ravens failed to have a single 700-yard rusher in 2013 and 2015 and just barely had one last year, but they became just the second team in NFL history to produce three 700-yard rushers in one season, joining Carolina in 2011. Seven teams didn’t have one this season.

5. Despite making a career-low 28 field goals because of the record-setting offense, Justin Tucker scored exactly 141 points for the fourth consecutive season. His 57 extra points were 15 more than he’d ever made in a campaign. Surprising math to get to the same endpoint for the Pro Bowl kicker.

6. Brandon Carr is entering the final option year of his contract, but his move to safety could extend his career for another season or two. The 33-year-old remains solid in coverage and came close to three sacks as a blitzer last Sunday. His versatility and durability continue to be valuable.

7. The Ravens and Robert Griffin III weren’t thrilled with Pittsburgh repeatedly hitting the quarterback on read-option hand-offs, but you’d have to anticipate more of that against Jackson in the postseason. I can’t blame opponents for doing it as long as the hits don’t blatantly cross the line.

8. A day after signing a contract extension, Marcus Peters was the one who nixed John Harbaugh receiving a Gatorade shower, citing how the Ravens had more to accomplish. It’s still remarkable how little Eric DeCosta traded for Peters compared to what the Los Angeles Rams paid for Jalen Ramsey.

9. Mark Ingram’s status will continue to be monitored, but Gus Edwards besting him in yards per carry for the season (5.3 to 5.0) is a reminder that he’s a starting-caliber back. If Ingram isn’t quite ready for the divisional round, the Ravens should be fine with Edwards and Justice Hill.

10. Anthony Levine saw his season average fall from 60.0 yards per rush to 31.0 after a successful fake punt that netted two yards Sunday. The Ravens ran fakes to Levine with a 35-3 lead in Week 1 and in the fourth quarter of Week 17 with no playoff implications.

11. The Ravens finished the regular season with a plus-249 point differential, the NFL’s highest since undefeated New England in 2007 at plus-315. They’re also the seventh team in the 16-game season era to score 500 points and allow fewer than 300. Five of those first six made the Super Bowl.

12. I wasn’t surprised by Ravens fans’ cheers upon learning New England had fallen to Miami, but Kansas City becomes a bigger threat to Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations with a week off and playing at home in the divisional round. Jackson facing the Chiefs is the way it should be anyway.

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Road dominance allows Ravens to take home path to potential Super Bowl

Posted on 22 December 2019 by Luke Jones

There was the “Mile High Miracle” and gratifying redemption against Brady and Belichick in Foxboro seven years ago.

Long before that, the Ravens won a bloodbath in Nashville and silenced the “Black Hole” on the way to their first Super Bowl championship.

There’s no shortage of playoff memories for a franchise with two NFL titles, 12 playoff appearances, and 15 postseason victories over the last two decades, but the overwhelming majority — all but six of 24 playoff games — have taken place somewhere other than Baltimore. The Ravens embraced that role of the underdog road warrior the top contenders didn’t want to play in January despite owner Steve Bisciotti lamenting the lack of home playoff games over the years.

Times have certainly changed as MVP favorite Lamar Jackson and the Ravens clinched the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage for the first time in team history with a 31-15 win over Cleveland on Sunday. If we’re being honest, you’d probably like the Ravens’ chances against anyone at home, on the road, or even on Mars with the sensational Jackson at the helm right now, but the thought of needing to win only two home games to get to the Super Bowl is uncharted territory for this franchise.

Owning the league’s second-best home record since 2000, the Ravens always understood they needed to win more on the road in the regular season to play at home in January, but that’s easier said than done most years. In 2019, they didn’t just beat a franchise-record seven of eight away opponents in the bite-your-nails, too-close-for-comfort fashion you usually see in the NFL this season; John Harbaugh’s team flattened them.

Consider Baltimore’s five road victories of 14 or more points, three away wins by 36 or more, and astonishing point differential of plus-159 on the road. Only New England and San Francisco have better point differentials over their entire schedule this season. Kansas City, a Super Bowl contender and the only other team in the AFC with a 7-1 road record, scored 87 more points than its opponents away from Arrowhead Stadium this season, a gaudy number that pales in comparison to that of the Ravens.

It’s just another example of the Ravens making something difficult look incredibly easy this season. Demolishing doormats like Cincinnati and Miami on the road is one thing, but to embarrass the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams by 39 points on a Monday night and to topple a playoff team like Seattle by two touchdowns cements your standing as the class of the NFL.

That’s why there was no reason for panic Sunday despite the Ravens surprisingly going scoreless on their first four drives for the first time all season and falling behind in a game for only the second time since October. Despite the Ravens seemingly playing one of their worst halves of the season, it was only a matter of time before they came alive with two Jackson touchdown passes to Mark Andrews in the final 78 seconds of the second quarter to turn a six-point deficit into a 14-6 lead at intermission. One of their patented half-quarter touchdown drives to open the second half gave Baltimore control of the game for good.

A 16-point road win feeling like a flawed performance reflects how special this team has been since that upset home loss to the Browns to conclude September. After eleven straight wins — six of those on the road — the standard has climbed to a level we haven’t seen in this team’s impressive 24-year history.

The Ravens are no longer that underdog road warrior and can’t claim any disrespect as they top power rankings across the country and enjoy 12 Pro Bowl selections. They also won’t have to hop on a plane to play a game again until the potential trip to Miami for Super Bowl LIV. Other contenders still don’t want to play them, but the difference now is any of those opponents — the Patriots, the Chiefs, or any other team in the AFC field — will have to come to M&T Bank Stadium as the underdog.

Baltimore hasn’t hosted the AFC Championship game since Johnny Unitas and the Colts beat the Oakland Raiders at Memorial Stadium on Jan. 3, 1971, but this city now has its best chance to finally host another one.

You can thank the Ravens’ dominance on the road for that home opportunity.

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No reunion with Ravens as Suggs claimed by Kansas City

Posted on 16 December 2019 by Luke Jones

There will be no reunion between Terrell Suggs and the Ravens for the stretch run as the seven-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker was claimed off waivers by Kansas City on Monday.

Cut by Arizona in a transaction described by Cardinals head coach Kliff Kingsbury as “the best move for both parties” on Friday, Suggs was subject to waivers with Baltimore being last on the priority list with its NFL-best 12-2 record. Reports over the weekend indicated Suggs would likely only be willing to play for the Ravens, but that didn’t stop the Chiefs from claiming the veteran in an effort to boost a pass rush that lost defensive end Alex Okafor to a torn pectoral in Sunday’s win over Denver.

Even if Suggs doesn’t report, Kansas City has at least blocked the Ravens from potentially strengthening their already impressive standing as the favorite in the AFC. For what it’s worth, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was on Baltimore’s coaching staff from 2013-14.

Though Wink Martindale’s defense has had issues setting the edge against the run — something the 37-year-old still does effectively — and could use more juice for a pass rush that’s relied more heavily on the blitz than any team in the NFL, exactly how much Suggs has left in the tank is up for debate. After registering five sacks in the first seven games of 2019, the 17th-year linebacker logged only one-half sack in his final six games for the Cardinals. His second-half statistical fade is something the Ravens saw in recent years, making one wonder what impact the 2011 Defensive Player of the Year would really have made on the field the rest of the way.

There’s also the question of how Suggs would have fit in a locker room that’s changed substantially since his March free-agent departure. Though outside linebacker Matthew Judon seemed to provide an immediate endorsement for his former teammate to return and many Ravens players have remained in contact since his decision to sign with the Cardinals, Suggs is unquestionably a big personality that left some observers wondering if he’d upset the chemistry on a team only one win away from locking up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Then again, such concerns didn’t sound like much of an endorsement for the strength of that cohesiveness, especially when you acknowledge the number of defensive additions — including a loud personality in cornerback Marcus Peters — who have been absorbed seamlessly since the beginning of the season. The Ravens wanted to retain Suggs in March, aren’t exactly loaded at outside linebacker, and were pleased with the veteran’s leadership and professionalism late in his Baltimore career, leaving little reason to think a reunion couldn’t have worked well for both sides.

That became a moot point Monday, but the Ravens remain more than fine without Suggs as they aim for their 11th straight win in Cleveland on Sunday to clinch the top seed in the AFC.

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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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