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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) scrambles against the Cleveland Browns during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Cleveland. The Ravens won 31-15. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 16 win at Cleveland

Posted on 23 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs for the first time in team history in a 31-15 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The turning point of Sunday’s victory was the 14-0 run over the final 78 seconds of the first half, but the defense forcing a three-and-out between those two touchdown drives without cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith on the field was enormous.

2. I saw a little Ben Roethlisberger in Lamar Jackson’s second touchdown pass in which he evaded pressure in the pocket and then muscled an end-zone throw to Mark Andrews. His speed and agility are givens, but Jackson doesn’t get enough credit for his strength.

3. Jackson recorded his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season — equaling the total produced by all Ravens players from 2015-17 — and now owns the ninth 1,200-yard rushing season in franchise history. Not bad for a quarterback.

4. The Baltimore run defense has been fairly scrutinized despite a shiny ranking in yards per game allowed, but it answered the bell holding Nick Chubb to 45 yards after he embarrassed the Ravens in Week 4. The dime package sometimes springs leaks against the run, but not this week.

5. The decline of the ground game was a major part of the post-Super Bowl XLVII era with the Ravens producing only one 1,000-yard rusher — Justin Forsett in 2014 — over six seasons. To now have only the seventh 1,000-yard rushing duo in NFL history with one being their quarterback is remarkable.

6. You never want to see fumbles, but it really is amazing that miscues at the mesh point between Jackson and Mark Ingram have been so rare this season. John Harbaugh will now hope his team got that seemingly overdue sloppiness out of its system after a season-high three fumbles.

7. On a day when the defense had some trouble getting off the field due to several drive-extending penalties, Chuck Clark was credited with four pass breakups to continue his breakout season. Two of those breakups came on Cleveland’s final three-and-out of the first half.

8. Mark Andrews is three receiving yards shy of Todd Heap’s single-season team record for a tight end, but a tender ankle could impact his Week 17 status. He may need to settle for becoming the third Raven to catch 10 touchdowns in a season, joining Michael Jackson and Torrey Smith.

9. Ingram will have nearly three weeks to recover from a left calf strain, but Justice Hill scoring his first NFL touchdown should provide a confidence boost if the Ravens need to lean on the rookie a little more in the postseason. The fourth-round pick’s opportunities have been limited.

10. L.J. Fort having two interceptions wiped away by a penalty and a replay review prompted me to look up whether he’d ever picked off a pass. His only career interception came in his first NFL game seven years ago — in Cleveland. Quite the coincidence that likely prompted some memories.

11. We know the 2019 Ravens’ legacy will ultimately be defined in the postseason, but Football Outsiders ranks them very favorably among the greatest regular-season teams of the last 35 years. Knowing the best team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl, remember to enjoy the journey — even as the favorite.

12. We place such importance on the postseason while oddly marginalizing it in the record book. That’s why I had bristled some over this year’s team being recognized as having the longest winning streak in franchise history when the 2000 Ravens won 11 in a row overall. They’re now even.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) hands off to running back Mark Ingram (21) during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 December 2019 by Luke Jones

The records and honors continue to pile up for the NFL’s best team, but the Ravens have a simple objective in the penultimate game of the regular season.

A win over Cleveland locks up the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, something the Ravens haven’t enjoyed in their accomplished history dating back to 1996. Topping the Browns would also give Baltimore its 13th win of the regular season, matching the 2006 team for the most in franchise history.

A victory is paramount, but the Ravens can continue to rewrite the record book Sunday as Pro Bowl quarterback Lamar Jackson is just one touchdown shy of setting a new franchise record for touchdown passes while running back Mark Ingram is 37 yards shy of giving Baltimore just the seventh 1,000-yard rushing duo in NFL history. Jackson and Ingram would be the first teammates to do that since DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart in Carolina in 2009.

As expected, Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley is active and will start after missing the Week 15 win over the New York Jets due to a concussion. Stanley had been officially listed as questionable on the final injury report, but he was a full participant in practice all week, eliminating uncertainty about his status.

Reserve inside linebacker Chris Board (concussion) is also active after sitting out in Week 15.

There were no other surprises on Baltimore’s inactives list with an unusually healthy roster at this late stage of the season.

Browns defensive end Olivier Vernon (knee) is inactive for the sixth time in the last seven games, which doesn’t help a Cleveland front that’s already without suspended Pro Bowl pass rusher Myles Garrett. Tight end David Njoku was a healthy scratch for the Browns.

Sunday’s referee is Alex Kemp.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cleveland calls for sunny skies and temperatures reaching the high 40s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with black pants while the Browns don brown tops and brown pants for their home finale.

Sunday marks the 42nd all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with the Ravens enjoying a lopsided 30-11 advantage. Baltimore is 19-4 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era, but the Browns are aiming to salvage a disappointing season with their first season sweep of the Ravens since 2007.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
CB Anthony Averett
CB Iman Marshall
OL Parker Ehinger
DT Justin Ellis
G Ben Powers

CLEVELAND
DE Olivier Vernon
TE David Njoku
WR Taywan Taylor
S J.T. Hassell
OT Kendall Lamm
G Drew Forbes
TE Pharaoh Brown

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2019 by Luke Jones

A Ravens win over Cleveland would tie the overall franchise record of 11 in a row in 2000, match the team record for wins in the regular season, and serve as a slice of revenge for the Browns’ upset victory in Week 4.

But Sunday is all about Baltimore clinching the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the postseason for the first time in team history.

“We have to go play our best game, and then there are going to be rewards for that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But we have to go play our best game. We have to beat a very good football team, and that’s the challenge.”

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 42nd time in the regular season with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 30-11 advantage and a 19-4 mark in the Harbaugh era. Cleveland is seeking its first season sweep since 2007, which was also the last time the Browns had a winning season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will begin the game with scores on their first two drives. Baltimore has scored on its opening drive 10 out of 14 times this season and has failed to score on its first three possessions of a game only once, which was the Browns’ 40-25 win at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 4. A fast start would further deflate a Cleveland team that looked completely disinterested in last week’s loss at Arizona, but a lethargic beginning for the Ravens might energize the Browns enough in their home finale to make this one interesting. If the Ravens haven’t suffered a letdown to this point, why would you expect one now?

2. Nick Chubb will rush for 90 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens will point out how much their personnel has changed since Cleveland ran for a season-high 193 yards against them in Week 4, but the Baltimore run defense still ranks 22nd in yards per carry allowed and 21st in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric. Despite ranking fifth in rushing yards allowed per game since they’re frequently holding big leads, the Ravens remain vulnerable on the edges, especially when playing in their preferred dime package. The Browns’ ground game is another reason why it’s critical for Baltimore to start fast.

3. Baltimore will crack 200 rushing yards for the eighth time this season. Mark Ingram needs 37 yards to give a team two 1,000-yard rushers in a season for the first time since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams did it for Carolina in 2009. The Browns are giving up 4.9 yards per carry and surrendered 6.0 yards per attempt in the Week 4 meeting. Just 336 rushing yards shy of the NFL’s 16-game single-season record owned by the 1978 New England Patriots, the Ravens will put themselves within easy striking distance of that entering Week 17. The edge here is mental as much as it’s physical.

4. Lamar Jackson will throw two touchdown passes and run for another. The Pro Bowl quarterback needs one touchdown pass to set a new franchise single-season record. However, two more touchdown throws will put the 22-year-old with Steve Young (1994) and Cam Newton (2015) as the only players in NFL history to have 35 touchdowns passes and seven touchdown runs in a single season. Both won the MVP award in those years with Jackson looking like a slam dunk for that honor as well. Ideally, Sunday would be Jackson’s last action of the regular season, so he’ll finish with a strong showing.

5. A plus-two turnover margin will help the Ravens to a 34-16 win. Week 4 still serves as a reminder of the talent the Browns possess, but the strong culture in Baltimore that’s helped cultivate the brilliant start to Jackson’s career serves as a stark contrast to what’s happened in Cleveland with first-year head coach Freddie Kitchens seemingly in over his head and the talented Baker Mayfield regressing in his second season. Mayfield has thrown for over 300 yards in each of his first three games against the Ravens, but he’s also thrown a total of five interceptions in those meetings. Meanwhile, Jackson has only nine interceptions in his 21 career starts. Taking care of the football matters, and it will in this one as the Ravens improve to 13-2 and cement the No. 1 seed while the Browns clinch another losing season.

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Ravens’ health “best we’ve been all year” ahead of trip to Cleveland

Posted on 20 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — December is often a month of attrition in the NFL as the grueling 16-game regular season winds down, but don’t ask the Ravens about that.

Riding a 10-game winning streak and needing a victory in Cleveland on Sunday to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, Baltimore didn’t have a single player absent or even limited in practices for health-related reasons this week, the first time all season. That’s not to say the Ravens haven’t suffered their share of injuries along the way, but a 12-2 team already viewed as the Super Bowl favorite couldn’t ask for better health at this late stage of the regular season.

“The best we’ve been all year that way. Everybody is practicing [fully],” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s pretty unusual. First time, I think it’s happened for us this year — I think. You guys will have to go back and make sure that’s true, but they’ve done a great job of taking care of themselves. A couple days [off after the Thursday game] did help us, and now we have to go make it matter on Sunday afternoon.”

The Ravens officially listed left tackle Ronnie Stanley and reserve inside linebacker Chris Board as questionable for Sunday’s game, but both practiced fully all week and are expected to make their return after missing the Week 15 win over the New York Jets due to concussions.

The Browns listed six players as questionable, but all practiced on at least a limited basis on Friday. Defensive end Olivier Vernon (knee) is considered a game-time decision after missing five of the last six games, but starting defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (back) and starting center JC Tretter are expected to play for Cleveland.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cleveland calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report for Week 16:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: LB Chris Board (concussion), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion)

CLEVELAND
QUESTIONABLE: RB Dontrell Hilliard (neck), OT Kendall Lamm (knee), S Eric Murray (knee), DT Sheldon Richardson (back), C JC Tretter (knee), DE Olivier Vernon (knee)

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Opponent doesn’t matter as Ravens seek final clinching win in December

Posted on 19 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Sunday’s game in Cleveland isn’t about the Ravens settling a score or exacting revenge against the last team to beat them nearly three months ago.

It’s not about strengthening Lamar Jackson’s position as the MVP favorite, showcasing a record-tying 12 Pro Bowl selections, or collecting more style points in extending their winning streak to 11.

Division rivalry games in December usually carry great meaning, but the class of the AFC North has been clear since Halloween. The final objective for John Harbaugh’s team in the regular season is a single victory to clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Nothing more, nothing less.

The Browns are just another opponent, regardless of their surprising 40-25 win in Baltimore on Sept. 29.

“We can control our own fate, have two home games no matter what if we win the first playoff game and have that first-round bye,” said 13th-year right guard and Super Bowl XLVII champion Marshal Yanda. “That’s obviously what we’re fighting for, and that’s a huge deal for sure. That shouldn’t change the way we play [Sunday], but obviously, we understand that’s in front of us.”

Much has changed since that first meeting when the Ravens allowed an ugly 40 points, 530 yards, and 193 rushing yards, all season highs. Of the 21 Baltimore players to play defensive snaps in that Week 4 effort, 12 are either in a reduced defensive role, on injured reserve, or out of the organization entirely. Seven players who played 17 or more defensive snaps last week — cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Domata Peko, inside linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, and rotational pass rusher Jihad Ward — were either not with the organization for that first meeting or out due to injury while another major contributor, starting safety Chuck Clark, played just 14 snaps in Week 4.

That in-season facelift has transformed the Ravens defense from a bottom-10 unit after the first month of the season to one ranking in the top seven in most major categories entering Week 16. Since giving up 30 points in the second half of that Week 4 loss, the Ravens haven’t given up more than 23 in an entire game, improvement that’s cemented their position as the Super Bowl favorite.

“When you get new guys coming in, it’s not one of those, ‘Hurry up and get going, and you’ll get with us when you get with us,’” said Williams, who missed the loss to the Browns due to a knee injury. “We’re picking everybody up, trying to get everybody on the same page. If you come in here, you have to help us to win. We want to get you to your peak as fast as possible.”

The defensive performance in that loss has been the more popular topic of discussion this week, but how the offense fared that day could bring the more relevant lesson for Sunday’s tilt. In a season in which their top-ranked, record-setting scoring offense has come away with points on 10 of its 14 opening drives, the Ravens punted on each of their first three possessions against the Browns and scored just seven points in the first half, allowing the visitor to play with a lead for most of the afternoon.

A repeat of that slow start could give a Cleveland team all but officially eliminated from playoff contention the incentive and energy to play up to its talent level, a rare occurrence in 2019. On the flip side, a fast beginning for the Ravens would sour an already disenchanted crowd for Cleveland’s home finale and likely return the 6-8 Browns to the lifeless funk they showed in a 38-24 loss at Arizona last week.

The objective is clear without any need for extra story lines or drama.

Win one more game against one more regular-season opponent.

“We know they want to sweep us,” Jackson said. “We’re the Ravens, and we’re having so much success this year. That’s what everybody wants to do: beat us. We just have to go into Cleveland and have a good game.”

Yanda strengthens Canton case

Few would have guessed Yanda would one day trail only three Hall of Famers on the Ravens’ all-time Pro Bowl selections list when he was entering his fifth season in Baltimore.

The 2007 third-round pick from Iowa had a solid reputation at that point in his career, but a serious knee injury in his second season and annual questions along the Baltimore offensive line had left Yanda as more of a super-utility lineman, moving back and forth between right guard and right tackle. That versatility prompted the Ravens to extend Yanda prior to the 2011 season, the year he’d finally settle in at right guard and earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

After eight Pro Bowls in a nine-year period — the one miss coming in a season in which he played in just two games due to a broken ankle — Yanda continues to build an impressive resume at a position not commonly recognized in Canton.

“It doesn’t matter if you’d made one or you’d made 15, it’s a special deal for sure,” Yanda said. “Everybody works extremely hard. Every year, you start at the bottom of the mountain and you’ve got to climb and you’ve got to put the work in.”

You wonder if he’d have a couple more Pro Bowls to his name and an easier case for the Pro Football Hall of Fame had he settled into the right guard spot sooner, but those early career circumstances may not even matter as his elite reputation continues to grow in his mid-30s.

Special teams mishaps

Special teams coach Chris Horton didn’t offer many specifics about his units’ difficulties in the Week 15 win over the New York Jets, but the urgency is there to rebound on Sunday.

How poor was the special-teams performance? It ranked as Football Outsiders’ worst single-game showing of any team this year in terms of DVOA, dropping the Ravens in special-teams efficiency from fourth to 14th for the season.

“They did some things on kickoff return that we got a chance to see, but we have to just stick to our details,” said Horton, who also cited communication issues on the blocked punt returned for a Jets touchdown. “We have to get off blocks, and we have to go make plays. It just came down to the little details that I always talk about.

“We’re back at it, and we’re looking forward to going out and playing another game.”

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Ravens sport clean bill of health ahead of Sunday’s trip to Cleveland

Posted on 19 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILS, Md. — The Ravens haven’t been immune to injuries over the course of 2019, but they couldn’t ask for a much better bill of health entering the penultimate week of the regular season.

Needing a win in Cleveland to clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, Baltimore hasn’t had a single player absent or limited during practice for a health-related reason through the week’s first two practices. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley and reserve inside linebacker Chris Board were full participants for the second straight day Thursday after missing last week’s 42-21 win over the New York Jets due to concussions sustained in Week 14.

Navigating their way through a short week for their 10th straight victory last Thursday, the Ravens had the reward of some extra rest last weekend, something that wasn’t taken for granted by even the best team in the NFL this late in the season.

“It’s definitely a positive for us, for any team,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “It’s a plus to get a little bit of time to get healed up and get rested up a little bit. We’ll have to come back and get sharp and make sure we practice really well and just get ready to play the game on Sunday. But I would say all in all, it’s a benefit.”

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was the only Ravens player not on the practice field Thursday as he received a veteran day off.

The 6-8 Browns couldn’t say the same about their injury outlook as starting defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (back) and starting center JC Tretter (knee) were again absent from practice on Thursday. Both played in last Sunday’s loss at Arizona and appear likely to play against the Ravens.

Nine Cleveland players were listed as limited participants on Thursday, a list including starting wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. (groin) and Jarvis Landry (hip), starting right tackle Chris Hubbard (knee), and top cornerback Denzel Ward (ankle). Starting defensive end Olivier Vernon (knee) was also limited and has missed five of the last six games.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Chris Board (concussion), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion), S Earl Thomas (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Sheldon Richardson (back), C JC Tretter (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Odell Beckham Jr. (groin), LB Tae Davis (knee), RB Dontrell Hilliard (neck), OT Chris Hubbard (knee), OT Kendall Lamm (knee), WR Jarvis Landry (hip), S Eric Murray (knee), DE Olivier Vernon (knee), CB Denzel Ward (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Porter Gustin (neck)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 4 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 01 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens losing their second straight game in a 40-25 setback against Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With 10 of the previous 15 games between these teams decided by one score despite the Ravens’ dominant record, you couldn’t help but think the Browns would “Brown” when Baltimore made it 24-18. Instead, the Ravens didn’t even touch Nick Chubb on his 88-yard touchdown run. Just brutal.

2. The first turnover of the season was inevitable, but Mark Ingram’s fumble in the third quarter summed up the day for the offense. Averaging 5.9 yards per play, the Ravens moved the ball well, but they made too many mistakes at the wrong times.

3. The defense deserves most of the blame for the two-game losing streak, but the offense has scored a total of 13 first-half points the last two weeks. That’s usually not going to get the job done, especially with the current state of this defense.

4. John Harbaugh noted Cleveland was content playing off in coverage to give the Ravens short passes — mostly to the outside — as Lamar Jackson was 6-for-8 for 34 yards in the first half. Still, Greg Roman has to find a better way to test a unit missing both starting cornerbacks.

5. There was no shortage of new defensive looks as Wink Martindale used four safeties — the starters, Chuck Clark, and DeShon Elliott — on occasion and removed Patrick Onwuasor in certain sub packages after he’d previously been an every-snap linebacker. Twenty-one players saw at least seven snaps. Martindale is exploring answers.

6. Tony Jefferson took over the defensive huddle and wore the green-dot helmet to relay the calls from the sideline, a decision made to streamline communication for the secondary and take some responsibilities off Onwuasor’s plate. Baltimore has to get its inside linebackers to play better.

7. Per OverTheCap.com, no team has more money tied to the safety position over the next two years than Baltimore, but Pro Football Focus has graded Earl Thomas 19th and Jefferson 75th among qualified safeties through Week 4. These two need to be a much bigger part of the solution.

8. Brandon Williams’ absence didn’t mean an opportunity for rookie Daylon Mack as much as bigger workloads for Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and Patrick Ricard. Mack played nine snaps while the veteran trio set season highs in snaps by significant margins. That takes a toll, especially later in the game.

9. Just how problematic has the defense been with surrendering big plays? The Ravens have already allowed six pass plays of 40 or more yards, one shy of last season’s total. Only two teams — Oakland and Jacksonville — have surrendered more completions of 20 or more yards so far.

10. His final stat line wasn’t the most accurate portrayal of his day, but Jackson’s first interception of the season was a product of needing to be aggressive down multiple scores with time dwindling. I’ll take that over dinking and dunking without the necessary urgency. The quarterback wasn’t the problem Sunday.

11. The hand-wringing over the third-quarter scuffle between Marlon Humphrey and Odell Beckham Jr. is getting ridiculous. Each team should be happy its player wasn’t kicked out of the game and just move on.

12. Justice Hill returning kicks looked like a good move to utilize his speed, but his latest drop to open the second half led to Chris Moore replacing him. Coverage has been good, but the Ravens could really use more production out of their kick returns, which rank 21st.

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No shortage of questions about play, leadership of Ravens defense

Posted on 30 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The post-game reaction was what you’d expect after the Ravens defense offered one of the worst home performances in franchise history in the 40-25 loss to Cleveland.

Tony Jefferson called it “disgusting.”

Matthew Judon described the “terrible” showing as unfit for “a standard that was set a long time ago.”

Earl Thomas labeled the day “frustrating as hell” after the Ravens had given up more than 500 yards and 33 points to Kansas City a week earlier.

Similar sentiments were offered throughout the locker room, but a comment made by Michael Pierce resonated for anyone who’s watched the Ravens surrender more than 500 yards and at least 33 points in back-to-back weeks for the first time in team history. The defensive tackle thoughtfully answered difficult questions from the podium outside the locker room, but he was eventually asked who had stepped up as leaders in the midst of a brutal day.

“Everyone knows who our leaders are.”

Do we though?

Do they?

It certainly isn’t Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, or C.J. Mosley. Their 17 combined Pro Bowls and three decades’ worth of institutional knowledge and football IQ are long gone, and the Ravens miss them. There’s no disputing that anymore.

To be clear, Pierce pointed to Thomas leading by example and Judon being more vocal, but the Ravens defense looked like a rudderless ship Sunday as the Browns punched the unit in the mouth repeatedly without resistance. There were more big plays surrendered, blown coverages and run-gap responsibilities, and some of the worst tackling ever observed from a Baltimore defense. The Ravens defense didn’t play tough or as a team, especially in the second half when the Browns scored 30 points.

Cleveland scored on five straight possessions from the end of the first half to midway through the fourth quarter. After Lamar Jackson’s touchdown pass to Mark Andrews and subsequent two-point conversion to cut the deficit to six with just under 10 minutes to go, the Ravens not only failed to make a stop, but they gave up a Nick Chubb 88-yard touchdown run on the next snap from scrimmage.

On that play, Thomas said he pulled up in an effort to avoid pulling his hamstring. To be clear, the six-time Pro Bowl safety and former Seattle Seahawk wasn’t going to run down the speedy Chubb — perhaps another issue entirely — but that business decision and an NFL Network report of “a heated discussion” between Thomas and Brandon Williams centered around the injured defensive tackle not playing Sunday are poor optics for someone who was signed to play at an elite level and help fill the leadership void.

But this isn’t about one player. The entire Ravens defense was a mess Sunday except for Marlon Humphrey, who was superb against three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for most of the game. That said, even the third-year corner admitted to being responsible for the busted coverage that led to Baker Mayfield’s 59-yard completion to Ricky Seals-Jones in the third quarter.

Entering Monday, the Ravens ranked 25th in total defense, 20th in scoring defense, and 29th in pass defense. Their 10th-ranked run defense is buoyed only by two still-winless teams not even challenging them on the ground in the first two games as Baltimore now ranks 26th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (4.9). Point to the absences of Williams and Jimmy Smith as well as the season-ending neck injury to Tavon Young as much as you want, but the Browns defense has managed to not completely fall apart these last two weeks despite most of its starting secondary being out.

It’s unclear to what degree the defensive issues can be fixed during the season. The young inside linebackers have been lost in coverage and undisciplined against the run. The veterans and youngsters at outside linebacker have been too inconsistent setting the edge. After Tyus Bowser’s sack on the game’s opening drive, the Baltimore pass rush didn’t hit Mayfield once the rest of the day. The high-priced safety tandem of Thomas and Jefferson has done little to prevent big play after big play these last three games. And, yes, the Ravens have definitely missed Smith and Young at cornerback.

But even before addressing the many on-field issues, who’s going to lead through this trying time? Which player is telling a dazed and wounded group that everything will be OK — with everyone believing him? If necessary, which veteran can provide a verbal boot to the ass that will be taken the right way?

This isn’t an individual knock on Thomas, Judon, Jefferson, or even second-stint veteran Pernell McPhee. Having untapped leadership qualities isn’t the same as establishing yourself as a leader, which must happen organically. That trust and responsibility can’t be forced, but the defense has undergone its greatest leadership exodus since Lewis and Reed walked out of the building in 2013. The difference then was Suggs and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata still being there.

If Ray Lewis and Ed Reed had suddenly bolted in 2005 or 2006, Suggs probably wouldn’t have been the same leader then as he would eventually become. Weddle and Mosley certainly carried more clout over time than when they first arrived, making it difficult to simply point to Thomas as the solution.

It’s a process, but the Ravens must figure out these defensive woes much sooner than later.

There’s no shame in struggling on the road against the explosive Chiefs offense, but being embarrassed in your own building by the Browns rocks the foundation of what you claim to be.

And the defense doesn’t have that obvious leader to pick it up in the meantime.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 29 September 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will be without the anchor of their defensive line for a key AFC North battle with Cleveland.

A day after being added to the injury report, defensive tackle Brandon Williams was deactivated for Sunday’s game due to a knee injury. The 30-year-old is missing his first game since Week 6 of the 2017 season when Chicago rushed for 231 yards in a 27-24 overtime win over the Ravens.

Williams went through a pre-game workout with defensive line coach Joe Cullen and head athletic trainer Ron Medlin that included plenty of dialogue and deliberate, unimpressive movements. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale also watched closely while defensive lineman Chris Wormley assisted for the latter portion of the workout before Williams left the field.

After giving up 5.6 yards per carry in last Sunday’s loss in Kansas City, the Ravens not having Williams in the middle of the defensive line is a substantial loss. Rookie fifth-round pick Daylon Mack will make his NFL debut as part of the defensive line rotation.

As expected, tight end Mark Andrews (foot) and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (hip) are active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. How Andrews fares will be interesting after he practiced only once this week and registered just three catches for 15 yards against the Chiefs in Week 3.

As anticipated, the Browns deactivated starting cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams as well as starting safety Morgan Burnett for Week 4. All three sat out practices all week and are missing their second straight game, but Cleveland — led by its stout defensive line — still managed to hold the Los Angeles Rams to just 20 points last Sunday night.

On the positive side for the Browns, starting safety Damarious Randall will play after a two-game absence with a concussion.

Sunday’s referee is Shawn Hochuli.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures reaching the mid-80s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with purple pants while Cleveland dons white tops with orange pants for Week 4.

Sunday marks the 41st all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with the Ravens enjoying an overwhelming 30-10 advantage. Baltimore is 19-3 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era, but 10 of the last 15 contests have been decided by a single possession, including both parts of last season’s split.

The Ravens are inducting former head coach and Super Bowl XXXV champion Brian Billick into their Ring of Honor at halftime with more than 60 former players in attendance. Senior advisor of player engagement and former Ravens linebacker O.J. Brigance will also be honored on his 50th birthday.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
DT Brandon Williams
CB Jimmy Smith
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
S Brynden Trawick
G Ben Powers

CLEVELAND
CB Denzel Ward
CB Greedy Williams
S Sheldrick Redwine
S Morgan Burnett
DE Genard Avery
OT Kendall Lamm
WR Rashard Higgins

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 28 September 2019 by Luke Jones

There are always a few pivotal games that stand out in any season with Sunday’s tilt between the Ravens and Cleveland certainly shaping up to be one.

A win gives Baltimore a full two-game lead over every other AFC North team and drops the Browns to 1-3 with the accompanying “same old story” thoughts. However, a Ravens loss would pull Cleveland even in the division and put the winner of Monday’s Pittsburgh-Cincinnati game just one game behind.

With two more division games to immediately follow for the Ravens, Week 4 could help put them on a path to win the AFC North going away or provide a major jolt for the Browns.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns face off for the 41st time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a lopsided 30-10 advantage and a 19-3 mark under John Harbaugh. However, 10 of the last 15 meetings have been decided by a single possession, including both halves of last year’s split between the division foes.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will commit their first turnover of the season. Only six teams have forced fewer turnovers than Baltimore, but Harbaugh’s team is the only one in the NFL without a giveaway, which reflects Lamar Jackson’s growth in his first full year as a starter. Of course, some luck has been involved as well with the Ravens recovering both of their fumbles this season and Jackson getting away with a few passes that could have been intercepted last week. The law of averages will finally catch up to them.

2. Odell Beckham Jr. will catch a touchdown and Marlon Humphrey will register an interception matched up against each other. With Jimmy Smith out with a knee injury, Humphrey traveled with Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins for much of last week’s game, a strategy that should continue against the talented Beckham. Baker Mayfield has targeted his star wideout 30 times in three games and will continue throwing his way, which will give Humphrey chances to get his hands on passes. It’s worth noting the third-year corner was limited with a hip issue this week, however.

3. Jackson will throw touchdown passes to Nick Boyle and Seth Roberts. The Browns will try to copy Kansas City’s plan to take away deep shots to Marquise Brown, which should create underneath chances for others. That reality coupled with Mark Andrews’ lingering foot issue will make it important for Jackson to look beyond his top two pass-catching targets. Boyle’s first career touchdown is long overdue, and Roberts’ playing time is trending up with Miles Boykin struggling early. Cleveland is likely to be without three starters in its secondary, which sets up for Jackson to have a good game.

4. Myles Garrett will register multiple sacks for the third time in four weeks. Harbaugh admitted his offensive line hasn’t yet seen a defensive front this talented, which will set up some intriguing battles. Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. will have their hands full with Garrett and Olivier Vernon on the edges, but defensive tackles Sheldon Richardson and Larry Ogunjobi could also create some problems against the run and pass. Even more play-action and run-pass options than usual are in order to keep the Cleveland rush in check, but Garrett will continue his monster start to 2019.

5. Some strong running from Mark Ingram in the fourth quarter will help the Ravens preserve a tight 26-20 win. The body of work for each team so far and the home-field advantage suggest a Baltimore win, but the 1-2 Browns are already feeling pretty desperate with three more games against winning teams immediately following Sunday’s contest. The talent is still there for Cleveland and Mayfield is a better quarterback than he’s shown to be so far this season, but the likely absences of Browns cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams will keep the Ravens offense a step ahead. Baltimore will start 3-1 for the third time in the last four years and eighth time in the Harbaugh era.

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