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Jackson joins Flacco as non-participant for Ravens on Thursday

Posted on 15 November 2018 by Luke Jones

An already-uncertain Ravens quarterback situation took another twist Thursday as rookie Lamar Jackson joined starter Joe Flacco as a non-participant in practice, creating more uncertainty for Sunday’s game against Cincinnati.

While Flacco sat out a second straight day with a right hip injury suffered against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, Jackson missed Thurday’s workout with an illness, leaving Robert Griffin III as the only quarterback taking part in the session. Jackson had been photographed by a member of Baltimore’s public relations staff enjoying the snow in Owings Mills a couple hours earlier.

You certainly wouldn’t expect a reported stomach bug to jeopardize Jackson’s availability for Sunday’s game, but missing practice time ahead of his potential first start isn’t ideal for a team desperate to snap a three-game losing streak and keep its playoff hopes alive. The consensus expectation has been Jackson stepping in if Flacco is out — which is appearing more likely — but could Thursday’s absence open the door for Griffin to start?

“My job is to make sure I’m always ready,” Griffin said on Wednesday. “Whether that’s during practice, after practice, maximizing the reps that I do get and making sure that, after practice, I’m getting the things that I feel like I need if I’m called upon that week to play. But that’s my job, that’s why they brought me here. They brought me here to be a pro; they brought me here to help this team if need be. I try to help the defense every week on scout team and do those things. If my number is called, I’ll be able to go out there and lead this team.”

Griffin, 28, hasn’t started an NFL regular-season game since the 2016 season finale when he was a member of the Cleveland Browns.

Safety Tony Jefferson (thigh) returned to practice as a limited participant, but offensive tackle James Hurst (back) failed to participant again, making it more likely he’ll miss his fourth consecutive game. Defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) missed Thursday’s workout after not being listed on the injury report the previous day.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) was listed as a limited participant for a second straight day.

The Bengals were once again missing superstar wide receiver A.J. Green (toe), making it all but certain he’ll miss Sunday’s game — the expectation all along. Starting linebackers Preston Brown (knee) and Nick Vigil (knee) also remained sidelined from practice, which is bad news for a Cincinnati defense that’s allowed more than 500 yards in each of the last three games.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DB Anthony Levine (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Tony Jefferson (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Tavon Young (ankle)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Preston Brown (knee), OT Jake Fisher (non-injury), WR A.J. Green (toe), TE Tyler Kroft (foot), WR Josh Malone (hamstring), LB Nick Vigil (knee), DT Adolphus Washington (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (hip), CB Darqueze Dennard (sternoclavicular), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), RB Joe Mixon (knee), G Alex Redmond (hamstring), LB Vincent Rey (groin), WR John Ross (groin)

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Flacco, Jefferson absent as Ravens return to practice field

Posted on 14 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Joe Flacco was nowhere to be found on the practice field, and head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t about to offer any more clarity on the Ravens’ quarterback situation on Wednesday.

The 11th-year quarterback continues to nurse a right hip injury, leaving his status uncertain for a crucial meeting with Cincinnati on Sunday. It was the first regular-season practice missed by Flacco in over two years as speculation persists about the possibility of rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson making his first career start. On Monday, Harbaugh left open the possibility of Flacco, Jackson, or even third-string veteran Robert Griffin III playing against the Bengals, who currently occupy the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff race.

“Rather than dip my toe in the water and start answering one question and then not answering the next one, I’m just not going to get into it and just leave it alone,” Harbaugh said before Wednesday’s practice. “I really don’t feel like we owe anybody any answers, so we’re just getting ready for the game.”

Flacco was receiving treatment while the locker room was open to reporters, leaving Jackson and Griffin to answer questions about the possibility of filling in for the veteran starter. Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in April’s draft, has played 86 offensive snaps in a hybrid role this season while Griffin has been inactive for each of the first nine games and hasn’t played in a regular-season contest since the finale of the 2016 season with Cleveland.

Griffin has been an integral part of Jackson’s development throughout the season and does provide more experience if Flacco can’t play and the Ravens deem the rookie unready to start such a pivotal game for Baltimore’s playoff hopes.

“The thing I try to preach to Lamar is he’s been doing this his whole life,” Griffin said. “It’s a new level, but the cream always rises to the top. I think he’s done a good job of adjusting his level of play as he’s gotten more and more game reps. I think even throughout the preseason you could see from his first start to the last time he played, he just continued to get better. That’s what you want to see out of a young guy.

“If he gets the nod, or if I get the nod, to go out there and lead this team, we’re all going to be there for each other.”

Flacco wasn’t the only Ravens starter absent from Wednesday’s workout as safety Tony Jefferson (thigh) and offensive lineman James Hurst (back) did not participate. Jefferson missed practice time with a hamstring injury two weeks ago prior to playing 80 of 81 defensive snaps in the loss to Pittsburgh, making his absence a concerning development after the bye week.

Hurst hasn’t practiced since Oct. 19 and has missed the last three games with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. stepping into the starting lineup at right tackle. With Brown holding his own, some have opined about the possibility of moving Hurst to left guard — where he played last season — but his absence now extending beyond the bye week isn’t encouraging.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) returned to practice after missing the Steelers game, but he was listed as a limited participant and wasn’t taking part in full-team drills during the portion of the workout open to media. Outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) was also a limited participant after missing Week 9.

In addition to firing defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Monday and inviting former Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson to rejoin the organization, head coach Marvin Lewis and the Bengals are dealing with key injuries of their own. The list is headlined by seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, whose status is in serious doubt as he continues to recover from a toe injury that sidelined him for last Sunday’s blowout loss to New Orleans.

The Bengals were also without starting linebackers Preston Brown (knee) and Nick Vigil (knee) while outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hip) was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice. Burfict has missed the last two games while Vigil has missed the last three contests.

Cincinnati cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick also missed practice as he recovers from a concussion sustained in Week 10.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), S Tony Jefferson (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Tavon Young (ankle)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Preston Brown (knee), WR A.J. Green (toe), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), TE Tyler Kroft (foot), WR Josh Malone (hamstring), LB Nick Vigil (knee), DT Adolphus Washington (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (hip), CB Darqueze Dennard (sternoclavicular), G Alex Redmond (hamstring), LB Vincent Rey (groin), WR John Ross (groin)

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Ravens still want to win, but weighing possible outcomes no easy chore

Posted on 13 November 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens want to make the playoffs and still have a reasonable chance to do so despite losing four of their last five games before their bye week.

Football Outsiders currently has their playoff chances at 32.7 percent while ESPN’s Power Football Index estimates their odds at 36.1 percent with Tennessee being the only No. 6 seed hopeful with better playoff odds (41.9 percent and 43 percent, respectively) in the AFC. The Ravens aren’t the favorites and must show improvement in multiple areas, but making it isn’t just a pipe dream, especially when sizing up the rest of the wild-card competition.

The hip injury to Joe Flacco has sparked much outside conversation about first-round pick Lamar Jackson and whether he might be the better option even if the former is healthy down the stretch, but head coach John Harbaugh expressed his stance on Monday as the Ravens returned to work to begin preparations for the Cincinnati Bengals. And it sounds as though he still believes Flacco — at least a healthy version of him — gives Baltimore its best chance to win now.

“If Joe can play, he’ll play,” Harbaugh said. “He’s rehabbing to play. Joe does not have to practice to play. He’s practiced the whole season; he’s practiced for 11 years. But he might practice, so we’ll just have to see how it goes. It’s up in the air; we’re not worried about it. We’re blessed with a good quarterback room, and that’s a good thing, that’s a positive thing.”

But let’s put Flacco’s Week 11 status and the current quarterback debate aside, at least until we have more information in the next few days.

What’s really best for the Ravens over the remainder of the 2018 season and beyond?

Let’s remove the long shot of Flacco suddenly recapturing his 2012 mojo and leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl — or even an AFC championship game appearance — from consideration. We’ll also throw out the possibility of Jackson taking over and being an instant superstar because history suggests that’s an unreasonable expectation. Either of those outcomes would alter the perception of both the quarterback position and the future of the coaching staff compared to where most opinions stand now.

The Ravens failing to make the playoffs and rolling with Flacco until falling out of the race — potentially leaving little time for Jackson to make an impression — would certainly be the path of least resistance to major changes. You’d like to see Flacco play more like he did in September to help his potential trade value, but keeping him for another year under this scenario would be a bigger indictment of Jackson’s behind-the-scenes development than a show of faith in what will be an expensive 34-year-old quarterback next season.

What if Flacco and the Ravens regroup to finish 9-7 and sneak into the playoffs for the first time since 2014? Would that be enough to call off what currently feels like the inevitable? Would a win in the wild-card round do it?

Flacco’s future would still be tied to Jackson’s readiness, but Harbaugh is only under contract through the 2019 season and you wouldn’t expect him to be receptive to another one-year extension, which could create a messy situation. Kansas City didn’t hesitate to trade 2017 Pro Bowl quarterback Alex Smith this past offseason to usher in the Patrick Mahomes era while Tennessee still fired head coach Mike Mularkey even after winning a first-round playoff game last January, leaving recent precedent to make bold changes — right or wrong — even after some modest success.

If you’re owner Steve Bisciotti, would the Ravens winning their remaining home games and squeaking out a road win over Atlanta, Kansas City, or the Los Angeles Chargers to slide into the playoffs drastically change your mind about a coach you admitted to considering firing a year ago or a quarterback whose eventual replacement was drafted this past April? Would you make a long-term commitment to keep Harbaugh if he forces your hand?

It’s a difficult call even when you remove sentimentality from the picture.

But that brings us to Jackson and how he fits into the decision-making process the rest of the way.

If the 21-year-old fills in for an injured Flacco on Sunday — or takes over in the next few weeks — and plays pretty well the rest of the way, wouldn’t you have to consider keeping a coaching staff that appears to have his development on the right track even if the Ravens fall short of the playoffs? Does it make sense to force Jackson to start over if he displays enough signs to suggest what the current staff is doing is working? Wasn’t one of the selling points of drafting the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner the fact that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, quarterbacks coach James Urban, and assistant head coach Greg Roman had successfully worked with quarterbacks with similar skill sets in the past?

The current staff being let go at the end of 2018 is a potential scenario many pointed to when criticizing the Jackson pick in the first place.

That brings us to the possibility that Jackson really struggles while making some starts down the stretch, which wouldn’t be a shocking development for a rookie quarterback. That would mean no playoffs and easier justification for dismissing the current staff, but you’d also wonder how attractive the job might be to certain coaching candidates. Making any definitive judgments on Jackson based on a handful of games would be patently unfair, of course, but we’re also not talking about a Jared Goff, who was the first overall pick in Jeff Fisher’s final season with the Los Angeles Rams. Jackson would have fallen to the second round had Ozzie Newsome not traded up, so you do wonder how eager some candidates might be to work with him compared to an earlier pick like Baker Mayfield in Cleveland or even the opportunity to be part of the process to handpick your own quarterback elsewhere — like Harbaugh with Flacco a decade ago.

Then again, it was never a secret that Jackson would best fit a coach who embraces his unique skill set and will scheme accordingly rather than trying to fit him into a more conventional system. Those individuals are certainly out there.

Of course, this is all a big-picture look at the Ravens, something naturally done with an organization at a crossroads during its bye week. The current focus is on trying to figure out who’s going to be under center on Sunday and beating the Bengals, a team dealing with its own turmoil this week. Winning the next two games would put the long-term discussion on the back burner just like when the Ravens won in convincing fashion at Heinz Field to improve to 3-1 six weeks ago.

A lot can change in a short period of time.

“We’ll write the story of the Ravens’ 2018 season by how we play in the next seven weeks,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “That’s what our guys are juiced up for. All the other stuff is just fluff; it’s just noise; it’s just banter. It’s bar room talk.”

Maybe so, but these next seven weeks will be pivotal in determining the long-term outlook of the organization. Winning remains the priority for now, but how that relates to the future is more complicated.

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Sunday off proves fruitful for Ravens’ playoff hopes

Posted on 12 November 2018 by Luke Jones

The status of injured quarterback Joe Flacco may have dominated the weekend conversation, but a Sunday off still proved fruitful for the Ravens and their playoff hopes as they return to work this week.

Losses by Cincinnati and Miami left Baltimore only one game out of the final AFC wild-card spot, an encouraging development as John Harbaugh’s team tries to rebound from its current three-game losing streak after a week of rest. The Bengals were particularly miserable in their 51-14 home defeat to New Orleans and will travel to M&T Bank Stadium in Week 11 after allowing an NFL-record 2,117 yards over their last four games — three of them losses. The Ravens learned firsthand a few weeks ago how impressive the Saints are, but Cincinnati playing so poorly coming off its bye should serve as a morale boost for other AFC teams vying for the No. 6 spot the Bengals are currently occupying.

After falling at Green Bay, the Dolphins enter their bye week having lost five of their last seven to erase the good vibes of a 3-0 start. And despite advancing to last year’s AFC Championship and still being considered dangerous on paper, Jacksonville may have seen its fate all but sealed Sunday after sustaining a fifth consecutive loss in a 29-26 final at Indianapolis to fall to 3-6.

The news wasn’t all positive, however, as Tennessee pulled off a surprising 34-10 blowout win over New England to move a full game ahead of Baltimore. Of course, the Ravens own a head-to-head tiebreaker with the 5-4 Titans, who will now play back-to-back road games against the Colts and AFC South-leading Houston.

Their 29-26 win over the Jaguars gave the Colts a third straight victory and officially made them a team of interest in the wild-card race. Indianapolis plays its next two games at home against the Titans and Dolphins, but the Ravens have the superior conference record at the moment to keep them ahead in the wild-card standings.

Of course, none of this means much if the Ravens don’t win their next two home games against the defense-challenged Bengals and hapless Oakland to get themselves back above .500 ahead of a daunting December featuring road games at Atlanta, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers. A loss in either of these next two games will shift all focus to the organization’s future and anticipated changes.

Below is a look at the AFC wild-card standings at the end of Week 10:

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on current quarterback situation

Posted on 11 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With Joe Flacco dealing with a hip injury and many clamoring for the Ravens to begin the Lamar Jackson era, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The last two days of speculation are an example why it’s usually a good idea to pump the brakes in such situations. Whether Flacco plays against Cincinnati remains uncertain, but the number of fans and even some media who’ve so eagerly thrown dirt on his Baltimore tenure is disappointing.

2. The Ravens will try to make the best of the situation by keeping the Bengals guessing as much as possible this week. Marvin Lewis’ defense being awful of late and A.J. Green’s status being in doubt certainly should help Baltimore’s chances.

3. I look forward to watching Jackson play whenever that time comes, but the definitive takes ranging from him providing an instant upgrade to him not being an NFL-caliber quarterback are silly. Based only on the limited role Jackson’s fulfilled so far, no one really knows how he’ll fare initially.

4. My educated guess is that the Ravens would run the ball more effectively while taking a substantial hit in the passing game. I don’t believe that net result is improving — or matching — their chances to make the playoffs compared to a healthy Flacco playing the rest of the way.

5. As I pointed out in my rest-of-the-season predictions piece that was torpedoed by news of Flacco’s injury, Baltimore’s next five opponents rank in the bottom 10 in Football Outsiders’ weighted defense metric, which should bode well for either quarterback.

6. A retiring Hall of Fame executive, a general manager in waiting, a Super Bowl-winning head coach and quarterback on the hot seat, other key veterans potentially on their last ride, a rookie first-round quarterback, and less-than-ideal — but hardly impossible — postseason hopes. Awkward much?

7. If Flacco only needs to miss the Bengals game, what do the Ravens do after that? If they lose, do you just stick with Jackson — no matter how he plays — with their playoff hopes even more remote? If they win and the rookie doesn’t play poorly, do you keep rolling with him? Again, awkward.

8. The best-case scenario has always been Flacco playing well and Jackson showing strong behind-the-scenes development to prompt an offseason trade. What remains as a three-year, $63 million non-guaranteed deal should have some appeal for a quarterback-needy team with a strong roster. This injury doesn’t help that cause.

9. Flacco’s most undervalued trait for a long time was his availability as he didn’t miss a game through his first 7 1/2 seasons, but a 2015 ACL tear, last year’s back injury, and his current hip ailment show durability rarely lasts.

10. This article is a reminder why most probably need to lower whatever expectations they have for the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner this season. It also means he shouldn’t be labeled a bust if he struggles with any extended playing time over these final seven games.

11. Per OverTheCap.com, Baltimore has an average ranking of 22nd in the NFL in cap spending on offense since 2013, which includes Flacco. Coupling that with mostly defense-heavy drafts since Super Bowl XLVII, the organizational commitment to offense must improve. This past offseason being praised so much reflects a low standard.

12. With the dumb conspiracy theories suggesting a fake injury for Flacco — despite numerous people observing a leg issue early in the Pittsburgh game — as an excuse for the Ravens to start Jackson, is it any wonder grocery stores in the greater Baltimore area were all out of tinfoil?

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A few words regarding rumors of Steve Bisciotti firing John Harbaugh during Ravens bye week

Posted on 05 November 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

I’ve covered Ravens since Day One in 1996 and Sunday was the first time I’ve been in a post-game locker room where questions were rapid fire in every direction regarding the job security of the head coach. Clearly, John Harbaugh is on the hot seat.

With all of the disappointment of the 4-5 start – I actually saw an angry douchebag cowardly fan berating poor Jermaine Eluemenor as I exited the stadium after the 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers – it’s expected that the fan base would be spurred on by a media that smelled blood in the water for John Harbaugh as well as Joe Flacco in the aftermath of what has been a lackluster month of football after a promising start in all three phases of the game.

I think there are several reasons that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti will not be firing John Harbaugh this week.

First, Bisciotti and Harbaugh are extremely close and their relationship and mutual respect run deep. Pulling the plug would reflect poorly on both of them.

Also, the Ravens locker room also hasn’t “quit” on Harbaugh. And there’s no one in any corner of the locker room that has shifted blame onto anyone other than themselves – as it should be when both sides of the ball as well as the special teams have all played a role in this spate of losses.

I have spent this century studying the management style of Bisciotti and I believe there’s no way he’d fire Harbaugh in midseason because it’s simply not how he manages. He’s far from impulsive. Plus, firing the coach makes the owner the biggest story during bye week and that’s not how Bisciotti rolls.

And finally – and most significantly – I believe that Bisciotti wouldn’t fire a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Harbaugh during a 4-5 bye week because it would devalue his brand and taint his ownership philosophy. In his eyes, that’s the kind of garbage the Browns and Raiders do.

It would be very un-Ravens like…

I’ve been wrong before but firing Harbaugh right now would admit a massive midseason panic for Bisciotti that I think is far too sloppy, too wasteful and simply not the way he operates.

But, it surely feels inevitable in some ways that a massive change will be coming for the Ravens this offseason barring a dramatic turnaround during this bye week of rest before the Cinncinati Bengals come to Baltimore in 13 days.

And while we’re at it on ownership and leadership – it’s important to note that the baseball team across the parking lot still doesn’t have a general manager or a manager or anyone to answer questions about their offseason after 115 losses. And they also ban the media members they don’t like from asking questions.

It’s tough times for leaders and sports fans in the Charm City. I will be opining at WNST.net and AM 1570 all week…

Appreciate your support in these troubles times for our sports franchises…

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Ravens aiming to get back to their roots in Week 3

Posted on 18 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens had made it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening period and needed a defensive stop in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati last Thursday.

Instead, the Bengals marched 65 yards and took more than six minutes off the clock before Randy Bullock’s 28-yard field goal made it a 31-23 deficit with 2:59 remaining. Just under half of that yardage came on the ground as Cincinnati rushed six times for 32 yards, including Joe Mixon’s 21-yard cutback run that was the key play in setting up an easy field goal.

No, the Bengals’ rushing attack didn’t gash the Ravens, but 108 yards on 28 carries over the course of the night helped control the tempo after quarterback Andy Dalton connected with wide receiver A.J. Green for three touchdown passes in the game’s first 17 minutes.

“It was OK — not great. It needs to be better. It’s not to our standards,” said head coach John Harbaugh of his run defense. “All our guys will probably echo that. We have a high, high standard. It might be good enough for other teams around the league, but it’s not going to be good enough for us.”

Lost in the heartbreak of “fourth-and-12” and the focus on Jimmy Smith’s absence at the end of last season was the declining standard of the rush defense. Stopping the run has defined the Ravens more than any other quality over two-plus decades in Baltimore as they finished in the top 10 in yards per carry allowed for 20 straight seasons and had only four finishes outside the top nine in rushing yards surrendered from 1999-2016.

In 2017, however, the Ravens finished just 16th in yards per carry allowed and surrendered a full 4.0 yards per carry — without rounding up or down — for the first time in franchise history last season. They also ranked 15th in rushing yards per game surrendered. The four-game absence of run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams in the first half of the season didn’t help those numbers, but the Ravens still allowed more than 3.9 yards per carry in the 12 games he played, which would have left them 10th in the NFL.

It was less than two years ago when the Ravens ranked first in run defense entering Week 14 of the 2016 season and some were even singing the group’s praises from a historical context. Baltimore lost three of the final four games that season while giving up 544 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry to drop them from that all-time-great conversation to fifth in the league. The Ravens’ run defense has had strong games since then, but the unit has yet to recapture its aura or same level of consistency.

To be clear, the run defense hardly qualifies as a weakness, but when you devote the kind of resources the Ravens have to the defensive side of the ball in terms of cap dollars and draft picks in recent years, you’d like to see more dominant results and less wavering at critical times. It’s certainly something Harbaugh’s team wants to get back to in 2018, beginning with Sunday’s tilt against 2-0 Denver.

The surprising Broncos enter Week 3 ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense and are trying not to put too much on the right shoulder of quarterback Case Keenum, who is coming off a surprising 2017 season with Minnesota after years as a journeyman. Despite being listed third on the Broncos’ current depth chart, rookie running back Phillip Lindsay is third in the league in rushing and became the first undrafted player in NFL history to eclipse 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games.

“It’s incredible, these [rookie] free agent running backs around the league,” Harbaugh said. “He’s fast — that’s what stands out about him. He’s quick, he’s kind of fearless. They put him in good situations, [and] they get the ball to both rookie backs — [Royce] Freeman from Oregon, too.

“They get the ball outside quick on the edge a couple different ways. They run a lot of draws really well, some screens. They get him in space. The offensive line has done a good job, but this kid is running and he’s making plays with his speed and his fearlessness.”

The Ravens could be without three-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley on Sunday, but it will be up to the rest of the front seven to slow the backfield trio of Lindsay, Freeman, and Devontae Booker. Even with talented Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to consider, the Ravens will try to force Keenum to beat them through the air as he’s already thrown four interceptions in two home games with his new team.

On the flip side, Baltimore needs to get its own running game going after averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in the first two weeks. Game situation has certainly impacted the ground attack as the Ravens were throwing the ball against Buffalo at will in the season opener and the Bengals exploded to an early 21-point lead last Thursday, but quarterback Joe Flacco throwing 50-plus times just hasn’t been a formula for success over the years.

Running back Alex Collins has touched the ball just 20 times for 109 total yards over the first two contests after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards and ranking ninth in the league in yards per carry last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins has forced 10 missed tackles on those 20 touches in 2018, which would suggest a need to block better and to give him the ball more frequently.

“We’re not in any way pleased with the numbers,” Harbaugh said. “And we’re very determined to run the ball well because we think it fits our offense. It’s something that opens everything else up, so we have to get that going.”

Stopping the run and running the ball, two staples of success the Ravens need to rediscover entering a critical early-season stretch that includes four road games in the next six weeks.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-23 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens dropping their first road game of the season in a 34-23 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Third down was the defense’s demise in the first half as each of the Bengals’ four touchdown drives included a breakdown that kept Baltimore from getting off the field. Third-down penalties from Tony Jefferson and Terrell Suggs negated stops that would have led to likely field goals on two drives.

2. The Ravens defense found its footing in the second half, but no sacks and no takeaways will rarely add up to erasing a 21-point deficit. You wonder how the game might have turned out had Eric Weddle’s second foot been in on Andy Dalton’s end-zone throw on Cincinnati’s second drive.

3. Joe Flacco’s accuracy problems were more reminiscent of the last few seasons that the sharper quarterback observed throughout the preseason and in Week 1. Even several of his completions were delivered in ways that hindered receivers from picking up additional yardage.

4. Flacco wasn’t helped by an offensive line that played poorly for most of the night as even Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley had difficulties against the Bengals front. This group had no answers for Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins and defensive end Carlos Dunlap.

5. Putting two blockers on Atkins makes sense, but Yanda and James Hurst double-teaming backup defensive tackle Ryan Glasgow and tight end Nick Boyle being left alone to block Dunlap on Flacco’s third-quarter interception was as baffling as it gets. Dunlap hit Flacco’s arm to force the errant throw.

6. Too much is made of run-pass ratios and the Ravens were always going to go into a heavier pass mode after falling behind big, but Marty Mornhinweg still needs to get Alex Collins more than four touches in the second half. Buck Allen shouldn’t be matching Collins in snaps either.

7. Matt Judon’s roughing the passer foul in the first half fell into the category of needing to be smarter than that in today’s quarterback-sensitive NFL, but the holding call on Tavon Young on a third-and-2 in the fourth quarter was nothing short of awful. Touching a receiver isn’t a hold.

8. Considering the overall lack of pressure generated against the Bengals, I’d like to have seen Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser get more playing time than their combined 19 defensive snaps, especially after both played well in Week 1. Just like with Lamar Jackson, there’s an endgame to consider as well.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged considering kicking a field goal on the last drive to make it a one-score game, but not doing so was confusing as Flacco continued throwing underneath. No, it likely wouldn’t have mattered, but if that’s your argument, just kneel the ball a few times and go home.

10. Flacco throwing a one-yard pass to Allen on fourth-and-2 midway through the third quarter was an all-too-familiar occurrence. The play call itself was questionable enough, but the throw wasn’t even out in front of Allen to guide him to the mark.

11. That aside, I’m amazed by how many always oppose going for fourth downs or two-point tries in any situation that isn’t overwhelmingly obvious. Punting on short fields, forgoing two-pointers in logical situations, and kicking field goals inside the 5 are examples of playing not to lose rather than to win.

12. After crushing the mustard-colored pants worn for one game in 2015, I really liked the new purple pants with the white jerseys. Now just add similar side stripes to the black pants that look too much like tights. Let’s also see those purple pants with the black jerseys.

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Mosley’s potential absence will be difficult for Ravens to endure

Posted on 15 September 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ biggest loss wasn’t on the scoreboard Thursday night.

The 34-23 defeat to Cincinnati was surely disappointing, but the absence of three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley could bring bigger consequences than a divisional defeat. It remains unclear how much time he’ll miss after sustaining a bone bruise in his left knee on the first defensive series of the game.

After Mosley limped off the field at the conclusion of that initial three-and-out for the Baltimore defense, the Bengals scored touchdowns on their next four possessions as former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young manned the inside linebacker spots.

“That’s your middle linebacker. We’ve got two young guys in there playing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They played hard, they fought, but they didn’t play perfect. That’s going to hurt you for sure. It hurt us with the coverage underneath mostly, a little bit in the run game.”

Young, a fourth-round pick from UCLA, has impressed early and looked poised to wrest the starting job away from Onwuasor sooner than later, but both lack experience. Depending on how much time Mosley is expected to miss, the Ravens could re-sign veteran Albert McClellan or add another linebacker with experience. They could also use more sub packages featuring safety Tony Jefferson or dime back Anthony Levine in the box, but the complications run deeper than simply replacing Mosley’s play.

One of the much-discussed developments of the offseason was new defensive coordinator Wink Martindale giving more pre-snap responsibility to veterans like Mosley, safety Eric Weddle, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to adjust defensive alignments, blitzes, and coverages based on what the opponent shows them at the line of scrimmage. It certainly makes sense to take advantage of players’ wisdom, but there was always the question of how an in-game injury might impact that process.

More than one veteran in the post-game locker room acknowledged some on-field confusion after Mosley’s exit as Onwuasor relayed calls in the defensive huddle from the sideline for the rest of the first half. Safety Eric Weddle took over the role in the third quarter as the defense seemed to find its footing and allowed only six more points.

“It’s not an excuse why we lost,” said Weddle, who also relayed defensive calls in the huddle at times when he played for San Diego. “When you play like crap in the first half in all three phases, then that’s just going to happen. You dig yourself a hole. Hopefully, C.J. won’t be out too long, but we battled back and fought our tails off in the second half. It’s too far of a hole when you don’t play the way you’re supposed to play.”

The only extended action Mosley has missed in his NFL career was due to a hamstring injury in 2016. He sustained the injury in the second half of a Week 5 loss to Washington and missed the next two games, which were losses to the New York Giants and the New York Jets.

Stanley also ailing

Mosley wasn’t the only key player to leave Thursday’s game as left tackle Ronnie Stanley went to the sideline with 2:18 to play and didn’t return.

Stanley said he was “fine” after the game, but he wouldn’t discuss what happened or whether he would miss any time, deferring injury questions to Harbaugh. He appeared to grab his right arm after trying to block Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins on a Joe Flacco incomplete pass to Buck Allen, and NFL Network’s field microphone also picked up a player screaming at the same time.

Starting right tackle James Hurst moved to left tackle for the final 12 plays of the game with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. entering on the right side. Stanley looked to be favoring his right arm on the sideline as well as in the post-game locker room, but the lack of extensive medical attention after his departure and his availability to reporters after the game are signs that the injury may not be serious.

According to NFL Network, the Ravens worked out interior offensive linemen Wesley Johnson, Hroniss Grasu, and Jordan Morgan on Saturday to address their concerns inside, so they can hardly afford to be without their starting left tackle for any amount of time.

Road woes continue

Since their 2014 postseason win over Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, the Ravens have gone 8-17 in regular-season away games.

Those road wins have come against the following starting quarterbacks: Michael Vick in his final season, Josh McCown (twice), Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, EJ Manuel, Brett Hundley, and DeShone Kizer. You never apologize for the level of competition you face as injuries are part of the game, but when Dalton is the best signal-caller the Ravens have beaten in over three years and he’s won five of the last six meetings against them in Cincinnati, they can’t exactly claim to be road warriors anytime soon.

The Ravens are scheduled to face Roethlisberger, Tyrod Taylor, Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Patrick Mahomes, and Philip Rivers in their seven remaining road games. Five of those quarterbacks have been to Pro Bowls.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 13 September 2018 by Luke Jones

CINCINNATI — The Ravens look to begin a season 2-0 for the third straight year as they meet Cincinnati on Thursday Night Football.

There were no surprises on their inactives list after cornerback Maurice Canady (thigh), tight end Hayden Hurst (foot), and defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) were already ruled out on Wednesday. For the second straight week, reserve quarterback Robert Griffin III is a healthy scratch, meaning rookie Lamar Jackson will be Joe Flacco’s only backup against the Bengals.

Rookie wide receiver and return specialist Janarion Grant is active and will play despite being listed as questionable to play with a hand injury. His ability to catch the ball will be something to monitor, especially early in the game.

A pair of rookie free agents will make their NFL debuts as cornerback Darious Williams and just-promoted running back De’Lance Turner are active. Williams is likely to serve in a special-teams capacity while Turner is now the No. 3 running back with Kenneth Dixon going on injured reserve on Wednesday.

The Bengals will be without starting middle linebacker Preston Brown, who is out with an ankle injury. Cincinnati is already dealing with the suspension of starting linebacker Vontaze Burfict, leaving its defensive vulnerable at the second level.

Thursday’s referee is Walt Anderson.

The Ravens have broken out a new uniform combination in prime time as they’ll wear purple pants with white jerseys for the first time in team history. These pants have a white and black side stripe and are similar to those introduced two years ago as part of the all-purple “Color Rush” uniforms. Cincinnati will wear black jerseys with white pants.

Thursday marks the 45th meeting in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 22 wins and the Bengals having a 14-8 record in their home stadium. The Ravens have lost five of the last six played at Paul Brown Stadium, but they broke a five-game losing streak in Cincinnati last year with a 20-0 win in Week 1.

Below are Thursday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Maurice Canady
DT Willie Henry
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
TE Hayden Hurst
DT Zach Sieler

CINCINNATI
WR Cody Core
WR Auden Tate
RB Mark Walton
LB Preston Brown
G Christian Westerman
OT Cedric Ogbuehi
DT Josh Tupou

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