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Ravens regular-season moment No. 1: Beating Jacksonville

Posted on 29 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 2 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE and the entire top 25 list HERE.

Novelty and nostalgia had defined the Baltimore Ravens.

A new generation of Baltimoreans finally had a team after 12 years in the NFL doldrums, but the Ravens were much closer to being the Bengals than the Steelers in those early years, going 16-31-1 in their first three seasons and finishing no higher than fourth in the old AFC Central. General manager Ozzie Newsome was building a promising foundation anchored by left tackle Jonathan Ogden and middle linebacker Ray Lewis — two Pro Bowl talents and the first two draft picks in team history — but no one knew exactly when or if that work would pay off.

From playing their first two seasons at Memorial Stadium and hiring Ted Marchibroda as their first head coach to the Baltimore Colts marching band playing and Johnny Unitas and other legends attending games, the Ravens were draped in Baltimore football history. It was a smart and heartwarming nod to the past, but the organization ultimately needed its own legacy after relocating from Cleveland in 1996.

Those Ravens were somewhere between the old Browns and the new Colts, but they were nowhere near NFL relevancy.

The 1999 campaign brought flashes in December with the Ravens winning for the first time in Pittsburgh and blowing out eventual AFC champion Tennessee on their way to an 8-8 finish, but a couple good performances playing out the string after a 3-7 start couldn’t be viewed as a definitive breakthrough. Brian Billick’s second year as head coach would tell the truth.

Baltimore opened the 2000 season with an impressive 16-0 win at Pittsburgh, building on the significant defensive improvement shown during the previous season. But the bigger test would come in Week 2 when the Ravens hosted Jacksonville for the home opener at PSINet Stadium.

The Ravens had never beaten the Jaguars, who had become the class of the AFC Central shortly after their expansion start in 1995. An 0-8 mark consisting of squandered leads, the occasional blowout, and plenty of last-minute heartbreak best illustrated how far Baltimore still needed to come while Jacksonville was coming off its fourth straight postseason appearance, a 14-2 record, and a trip to the AFC Championship game.

No breakthrough appeared imminent in the first quarter as Pro Bowl quarterback Mark Brunell and Pro Bowl wide receiver Jimmy Smith shredded the Baltimore defense for 45- and 43-yard touchdown passes and Billick’s team trailed 17-0 at the end of the period. These looked like the same old Ravens.

Still trying to cement the starting job after a solid finish to 1999, quarterback Tony Banks threw a touchdown to rookie wide receiver Travis Taylor to put the Ravens on the board, but the rest of the second quarter wasn’t much better than the first with the Jaguars adding two more field goals to take a 23-7 lead into halftime. This wasn’t what anyone in Baltimore had wanted, but old habits die hard, especially against Jacksonville.

“At halftime, I told them one thing,” Billick said. “What I told them was, win or lose, it will make no difference. The second half will define who we are. How we conduct ourselves will define the kind of team we are.”

The Ravens took those words to heart coming out of the locker room as the offense needed only four plays to find the end zone with Banks throwing another touchdown to Taylor. A two-point conversion cut the deficit to 23-15 and brought a previously frustrated sold-out crowd to life.

A Banks interception on the next drive led to the fourth Mike Hollis field goal of the day, but the 27-year-old quarterback bounced back with a touchdown pass to fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, making the score 26-22 late in the third quarter. The stage was set for a thrilling final period.

After punting on their first possession of the fourth quarter, the Ravens collected their second takeaway of the day when outside linebacker Jamie Sharper forced a fumble and recovered the ball at the Jacksonville 12. Banks threw a touchdown to the speedy Jermaine Lewis on the next play as Baltimore took a 29-26 lead with 10 minutes to go.

Maybe it would be different this time.

That optimism only grew after safety Kim Herring intercepted Brunell on the next drive, setting up a 44-yard field goal by Matt Stover to increase the lead. The Jaguars answered with a 48-yard field goal as Baltimore still held a 32-29 advantage with time dwindling.

Having forced two turnovers leading to 10 points in the fourth quarter, the Ravens defense had regrouped from that ugly first half and now had its opportunity to cement that elusive first win against Jacksonville. However, Brunell and Smith still had 2:42 left to torment Baltimore one last time.

After picking up a first down to move into Ravens territory and now facing a third-and-6 from the 40 with 1:55 to go, Brunell faced a heavy blitz and heaved one deep toward wide receiver Keenan McCardell. What happened next seemed to be the cruelest trick yet in the Ravens-Jaguars history as the ball deflected off McCardell’s hands and right to Smith, who broke a Duane Starks tackle and jogged into the end zone for the go-ahead score. It was Smith’s third touchdown catch of the day as he finished with a whopping 15 catches and 291 yards, the most by an opponent in Ravens history.

Here we go again.

Despite erasing a 16-point halftime deficit to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were trailing 36-32 with 1:45 to play and back in a familiar position with the Jaguars on the verge of improving to 9-0 against them. Only a few fans moved toward the exits while the remainder sat quietly, lamenting how this had happened again.

But the Ravens finally changed the script as Banks completed a pair of throws to little-used receiver and special-teams veteran Billy Davis — who made only one other catch all season — to move the Ravens into Jacksonville territory. A 12-yard completion to Ayanbadejo moved Baltimore to the 29-yard line before Banks spiked the ball to stop the clock with 48 seconds left.

To this point, the start of former Denver tight end Shannon Sharpe’s tenure with the Ravens had been quiet as he didn’t register a catch in the season opener and had only two receptions for 21 yards in the ongoing shootout. Newsome had not only been looking for more production at tight end with the high-profile signing that February, but he valued Sharpe’s pedigree as a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and a two-time Super Bowl champion for a franchise that was still learning how to win.

The time was perfect for a lesson.

Sharpe took off right down the seam at the snap and caught a 29-yard rope for the touchdown. The 32-year-old tight end danced and smiled in the end zone while Banks lifted his arms in celebration upon throwing his fifth touchdown of the game, a new team record.

The catch brought a roar louder than anything experienced in the brief history of the 69,000-seat stadium opposite Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Thousands of voices were lost, ears rang, and the upper deck swayed as Stover kicked the extra point to give the Ravens a 39-36 lead with 41 seconds left.

Goosebumps.

There would be no miracle answer from Jacksonville this time as safety Corey Harris intercepted Brunell on the last play of the game. Chants of “Let’s go, Ravens!” bounced down the ramps as departing fans celebrated.

Novelty and nostalgia had been replaced by an arrival.

It didn’t matter that it was only a Week 2 victory. Banks would lose his starting job to Trent Dilfer six weeks later and the Ravens would go five straight games without scoring a touchdown in the middle of that 2000 championship season, but that wasn’t the point. From that exhilarating moment, they were no longer the old Browns or even the new Colts. The Ravens were a viable NFL franchise and here to stay.

The last-minute win over Jacksonville had changed everything.

“It says we’re headed in the right direction,” said defensive end Michael McCrary, who had joined the Ravens in 1997. “It said that the offense had the confidence and composure to go down the field and score. It was a huge turnaround from our teams of the past.

“We’ve never beaten them, and we needed to know as a team where we stood.”

Now two decades later, the Ravens own two Super Bowl championships, have multiple Hall of Famers, and are among the NFL’s model franchises.

But that was the moment that started it all.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 22: Win or “get run out of town”

Posted on 12 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 23 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

My father cried when the Colts moved to Indianapolis.

My grandparents felt the all-too-familiar twinge in their stomachs at any mention of the Indianapolis Colts or one of their players breaking a franchise record previously held by Johnny Unitas, Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry, or Lydell Mitchell. Losing the franchise was bad enough, but the stolen identity and history cut even deeper.

Long before the Ravens arrived in 1996, Baltimoreans vowed to win another Super Bowl before the Irsay family and the Colts would bring one to Indianapolis.

Those types of reactions and sentiments were commonplace, and the wound still hadn’t healed — if it ever would, really — when the Colts returned to Baltimore to play the Ravens on Nov. 29, 1998, 15 years after their final game at Memorial Stadium. The Colts had gotten the best of the Ravens in the teams’ first meeting in Indianapolis two years earlier, but this would be the first time Baltimore fans could root against the once beloved horseshoe in person. And they were ready.

The problem was the Ravens weren’t in the first half as a defense still another year away from greatness gave up an unseemly 339 yards and trailed 24-13 at intermission. Rookie quarterback Peyton Manning was having the best game of his infant career while Pro Bowl running back Marshall Faulk had two long touchdowns in that first half to put the Colts in front by double digits.

A last-place Indianapolis team with just two wins on the season slapping around the Ravens was a difficult pill to swallow, but the home team battled back in the second half. After the sides exchanged touchdowns in the third quarter, Baltimore quarterback Jim Harbaugh found Floyd Turner in the corner of the end zone for a 22-yard score to open the last period and trim the deficit to 31-28. An energized Ravens defense then forced a three-and-out, and Priest Holmes raced 36 yards for the go-ahead touchdown moments later as nearly 69,000 fans basked in the first lead of the day with 13:07 to play.

A ball-control drive resulting in a Matt Stover 47-yard field goal increased the advantage to 38-31 with 2:49 to go, giving Ray Lewis and the defense the opportunity to seal the most meaningful win in team history to that point. Manning and the Colts drove to the Baltimore 24 with 1:13 remaining as Ravens fans held their breath and cringed at thoughts of overtime as Indianapolis took its final timeout.

On second-and-1, Manning’s pass to the left flat caromed off Faulk and into the arms of reserve safety Ralph Staten, who then offered more drama with his fumble that was recovered by Ravens cornerback DeRon Jenkins.

Game over.

Nothing could erase the past and Manning would become a painful thorn in the Ravens’ side in the years to come, but Baltimore had its measure of revenge that was 15 years in the making. Moments after the final kneel-down, Harbaugh presented the game ball to Unitas, who was a fixture on the sideline at Ravens home games in those years.

The gesture was a scene out of a movie in which past meets present. It was perfect.

“I could tell how much it meant to the fans,” said Harbaugh, whose older brother would one day become the winningest coach in Ravens history. “They turned on the Colts shortly after they came out there. They turned on us shortly after that. It was either get run out of town, laughed out of town, or win the game.”

The Ravens would win only one more game that year as Harbaugh and head coach Ted Marchibroda — both with former ties to Indianapolis — would move on in the offseason, but no one could take away the entire city’s satisfaction in handing the Colts a loss on the football field.

Two years later, Baltimoreans would cry tears of joy as the Ravens won their first Super Bowl and the city’s first in 30 years. Indianapolis wouldn’t have its first until after the 2006 season.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts with virtual offseason program underway

Posted on 05 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens and the NFL now in the early stages of the virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Don Shula was the winningest coach in NFL history and won two Super Bowls, but he’s remembered in Baltimore for 1964 NFL championship game and Super Bowl III losses in which the Colts were heavy favorites. There’s probably a lesson in there not to judge early postseason failures too harshly.

2. In a statement released on Shula, John Harbaugh shared the memory of being able to work with the legendary Miami coach when he served as a mentor coach with the Philadelphia staff for a week in the early 2000s. What an experience that had to be for an aspiring coach.

3. I’d rather watch paint dry than keep tabs on Antonio Brown, but his Photoshopped post of him wearing a Ravens uniform created more buzz. I take Steve Bisciotti at his word on his domestic abuse stance, but the longer Eric DeCosta gives non-answers on Brown, the longer unnecessary speculation persists.

4. The NFL releasing the 2020 schedule will be fun, but this feels premature with the uncertainty of the pandemic. With the draft, we know those players will definitely be playing football at some point. In this case, waiting another month or so would provide a better picture of reality.

5. Am I the only one who wonders if the value of a full 90-man offseason roster outweighs the challenge of trying to keep an even larger group of players and coaches coronavirus-free during an eventual training camp? Of course, we’re still at least 2 1/2 months away from that.

6. Rookie fourth-round guard Ben Bredeson said he sees “a lot of glaring similarities” between the Harbaugh brothers. We’ll see if Bredeson, a four-year starter for the Wolverines, works out better than other recent Michigan draft picks Willie Henry and Chris Wormley.

7. The list of notable seventh-round picks for the Ravens is a short one with DeAngelo Tyson, Ralph Staten, and Michael Campanaro, and Anthony Allen being the best ones. The field vision and pedigree of Iowa safety Geno Stone make him more interesting than the usual seventh-rounder.

8. Both Bredeson and Stone expressed excitement and relief that J.K. Dobbins, a former Big Ten rival, is now on their side after giving both of their schools problems. You don’t have to sell them on what the Ravens are getting with the standout running back.

9. Sixth-round wide receiver James Proche says he’s learning the Ravens playbook by adopting some helpful study habits from his mother, who’s currently in nursing school. That’s just another example of the unique circumstances created by this pandemic.

10. Proche admitted he was tracking how many catches Devin Duvernay made last season. Proche tied for first in the nation with LSU’s Justin Jefferson at 111 while Duvernay was third at 106. I suspect the competition between the two will carry over to training camp.

11. The signing of veteran Jake Ryan became official Tuesday, but the landscape of the inside linebacker position sure changed with the selections of Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison. Ryan still has a chance to stick if he can shine on special teams.

12. The idea of getting to be Lamar Jackson in a virtual reality game sounded like a blast until I began wondering what that might mean for the well-being of my ACLs.

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Former Baltimore Colts great Mike Curtis dies at 77

Posted on 20 April 2020 by WNST Staff

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Former Baltimore Colts defensive end Ordell Braase dies at 87

Posted on 25 March 2019 by WNST Staff

Former Baltimore Colts star Ordell Braase died at age 87 on Monday.

The former NFL defensive end had been battling Alzheimer’s disease in recent years.

Braase, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, was part of three NFL championship teams in his 12 seasons with Baltimore and was highly regarded despite being overshadowed by future Hall of Fame defensive end Gino Marchetti for much of his career. He also joined former teammate and Hall of Famer Art Donovan on the long-running radio and television show, “Braase, Donovan and Fans”

His death was first reported by The Sun.

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Even with win, Ravens see playoff margin for error shrink in Week 15

Posted on 17 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens handled their business with a 20-12 win over Tampa Bay to maintain control of the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race on Sunday.

The problem was no other results falling favorably in their quest to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014, making Saturday’s trip to Los Angeles to take on the red-hot Chargers close to a must-win affair. You can thank losing efforts by New England, Dallas, and the New York Giants for Baltimore’s margin for error all but evaporating in Week 15.

Players in the post-game locker room were split on whether they’d watch Pittsburgh’s late-afternoon clash with the Patriots as a Steelers loss would have given the Ravens the lead in the AFC North. However, Mike Tomlin’s team snapped its three-game losing streak to remain in first place and broke a five-game slide against New England with a 17-10 win. With the Steelers traveling to New Orleans in Week 16 and hosting last-place Cincinnati in the season finale, the Ravens need to win their final two games at the Chargers and at home against Cleveland to have any realistic hope of winning their first division title since 2012.

While many were focused on the happenings at Heinz Field, Indianapolis and Tennessee both registered wins to improve to 8-6, decreasing Baltimore’s chances of securing a wild-card spot with a 9-7 record. With the Colts hosting the 5-9 Giants and the Titans hosting a 7-7 Washington team down to its third-string quarterback next weekend before meeting each other in Week 17, one of those AFC South teams appears likely to finish 10-6.

What does that mean?

The Ravens could desperately use their first victory over a team with a winning record since Week 6 when they take on Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Barring an unlikely sequence of events, there will be no backing into the playoffs for John Harbaugh’s team, which is probably fair since Baltimore currently owns the worst strength of victory (.415) among the remaining AFC playoff contenders. If the Ravens can’t beat a playoff-caliber team in December, do they really deserve to play into January?

The good news is the Ravens are almost guaranteed to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record as either the division winner or the second wild card.

“I think the thing that plays in our favor is all we have to do is win and we should be in,” said cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who shined in Sunday’s win with an interception and four pass breakups. “It definitely feels good, and I feel like the team, we all were on board to get this one. Next, we have the Chargers.”

Below are the Ravens’ playoff scenarios entering Week 16:

* Baltimore is eliminated from the AFC North race with a loss to the Chargers and a Pittsburgh win.

* Baltimore is eliminated from AFC wild-card contention with a loss and wins by Indianapolis and Tennessee.

* Baltimore is eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to the Chargers and wins by Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and Indianapolis.

* Baltimore cannot clinch a playoff berth in Week 16.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-17 win over Oakland

Posted on 27 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over the .500 mark with the 34-17 win over Oakland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The first half was an example why I can’t really trust this Ravens offense, regardless of who the quarterback is. Marty Mornhinweg calling nearly twice as many pass plays as runs after compiling 267 rushing yards the previous week is the kind of thing we’ve seen too often.

2. No moment better epitomized the second-half philosophical shift than Ronnie Stanley gesturing to the sideline for more runs after a nine-yard rush on the third play of the second half. The left tackle easily had one of the best run-blocking games of his career on Sunday.

3. If the Ravens stick with Lamar Jackson and a run-heavy approach to try to limit the number of possessions of explosive opposing offenses, they’ll need to do better than going 4-for-8 inside the red zone over the last two games. That percentage would rank 27th in the NFL for 2018.

4. My favorite part of the 74-yard strike to Mark Andrews wasn’t the perfect throw, but it was Jackson dipping his shoulders to really sell the play-fake, which kept Raiders cornerback Rashaan Melvin’s eyes in the backfield a moment too long as Andrews blew right past him.

5. Matt Judon’s three sacks on three straight defensive snaps not only sealed the victory, but they put Derek Carr in historic — and familiar — company. The last time a quarterback was sacked by the same player on three straight plays was in 2002, per NFL Research. That quarterback? David Carr. Remarkable.

6. Judon’s strip-sack led to Baltimore registering its first takeaway since Week 7, but the defense is still looking for its first interception since the first quarter of the Week 5 loss at Cleveland. Rookie sensation Gus Edwards was still on the practice squad at that point.

7. Cyrus Jones returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown was a cool moment, but the former Gilman star should thank Anthony Levine and Patrick Onwuasor for their early blocks and Chris Moore and Judon for springing him all the way. That return was executed beautifully all the way around.

8. Per Sharp Football, the offense used two running backs and two tight ends 20 percent of the time — the league average is three percent — and used the shotgun 93 percent of the time on Sunday. Scoring four offensive touchdowns in two games is pedestrian, but it’s looked anything but that.

9. Remember how the Ravens didn’t allow a second-half touchdown in their first six games? Sunday marked the third straight contest in which they’ve allowed a touchdown on the first drive of the second half. Credit Wink Martindale’s group for clamping down after that, however.

10. The previous Mornhinweg criticism aside, one of my favorite calls of the game was Ty Montgomery’s third-and-5 run out of a three-wide set that moved the chains late in the third quarter. Teams should spread out and run on third downs of short-to-medium distance more often.

11. Joe Flacco wasn’t the only one who had Ed Reed on his mind as Terrell Suggs looked to lateral the ball on his 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown. I’m sure Reed was smiling as he watched, but not as much as John Harbaugh after Suggs decided to keep it.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for recognizing Colts Hall of Famer Lenny Moore on his 85th birthday and Orioles great Adam Jones, who raised $125,000 for the Living Classrooms Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore with his annual tailgate on Sunday. What blessings both men are.

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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 following third preseason victory

Posted on 21 August 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 3-0 in the preseason in a 20-19 win over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s OK to believe the Ravens have the depth to endure the potential suspension of Jimmy Smith and to still be worried about potential drop-off. The combination of Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr still looks good on paper, but a healthy Smith and a more experienced Humphrey could be special.

2. Kenneth Dixon needed to show up in his first preseason action and did exactly that with 56 yards from scrimmage on nine touches. He showed better speed than he had in practices and was able to gain yards after contact. Now, he needs to build on that performance.

3. Tim Williams still looks like the most improved player on the roster as he collected five tackles, a sack, and another quarterback hit while making a few good plays against the run. Pro Football Focus credited him and Za’Darius Smith with a combined 10 pressures. That’s an interesting rotational duo.

4. Remember the anticipated competition among the young wide receivers? It hasn’t materialized, continuing a summer tradition. The Ravens have never cut a fourth-round pick in his first season, but Jaleel Scott played only three offensive snaps and dropped a short slant pass late in the fourth quarter. Yikes.

5. The return specialist battle hasn’t been any better as both Tim White and Janarion Grant fumbled. There are too many crowded position groups to keep a returner you don’t trust to secure the ball. Chris Moore returning kicks and a veteran such as Willie Snead handling punts remain options.

6. After starting fast and then regressing in the second preseason game, Lamar Jackson did the opposite against Indianapolis, struggling mightily early before regrouping. His bullet touchdown to Moore reinforced the notion that he’s better throwing on the run than from the pocket. He remains a work in progress.

7. Michael Pierce feels like a forgotten man with Brandon Williams back at nose tackle and Willie Henry manning the 3-techinique spot in the base defense, but he gave Colts center Ryan Kelly fits and collected a tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. His 13 snaps were very disruptive.

8. Kenny Young continued to alternate series with incumbent starting inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, but the rookie fourth-rounder led the team with seven tackles and shows impressive closing quickness to the football. His fill and tackle on the late two-point try is exactly what you want to see.

9. Orlando Brown Jr. hasn’t played flawlessly, but his body of work continues to support him being deserving of starting at right tackle over James Hurst, who’s practiced there recently while still taking all live-game snaps at right guard. How can you not root for Brown after a tweet like this?

10. Despite Brown’s progress, the interior offensive line beyond Yanda remains a concern as the sight of former Ravens edge rusher John Simon bull-rushing Hurst back into Joe Flacco’s legs brought back unpleasant memories. This group struggled to protect Jackson in particular.

11. Anthony Averett was terrific during the third-quarter goal-line stand with an assisted tackle, a pass breakup, and tight coverage on an incompletion on consecutive plays, continuing his solid preseason. Not bad for a fourth-round rookie who’s only fifth or sixth in the cornerback pecking order right now.

12. Flacco finished a solid but unspectacular night with good throws to Michael Crabtree and John Brown on his final touchdown drive, but his hard count inducing a neutral zone infraction didn’t go unnoticed. Varying the cadence has quietly been a focus this summer after too much predictability in the past.

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Monday brings first adversity to Ravens’ near-flawless summer

Posted on 20 August 2018 by Luke Jones

You couldn’t have asked for a better start to the summer for the Ravens.

Despite a longer-than-usual training camp in preparation for the Hall of Fame Game, John Harbaugh’s team has avoided major injuries so far. By most accounts, the Ravens have practiced well on both sides of the ball with quarterback Joe Flacco in particular having his best preseason in years. Even the best teams face their share of questions this time of year, but the summer had been as close to flawless as one could hope with Baltimore aiming to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

But adversity finally arrived Monday before the Ravens improved to 3-0 in the preseason with a 20-19 win over Indianapolis.

Jimmy Smith was suspiciously absent during pre-game warmups before The Athletic reported the eighth-year cornerback is facing a potential multi-week suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. The reason for the discipline remains unclear, but it possibly stems from a child custody case reported by The Sun last November that included accusations of domestic violence and illegal drug use. Smith did not face any criminal charges in the matter and denied the claims made by the mother of his first child.

Smith was scheduled to meet with league officials Monday as part of the appeal process, per The Athletic.

Harbaugh offered few details when asked about the veteran corner’s absence following the game. Smith has made an impressive return to the field after suffering a torn Achilles tendon last December, taking part in all but a few summer practices and playing nine snaps in the second preseason game on Aug. 9.

“A personal issue he was taking care of,” Harbaugh said, “so he was excused.”

Without knowing the circumstances leading to the discipline and speaking strictly from a football standpoint, Smith’s absence would be a difficult one for the Ravens to endure, but it’s one they’ve gotten used to dealing with in recent years. The oft-injured defensive back has played in all 16 games just twice in his first seven seasons and missed a total of 26 regular-season contests, the reason why he’s never achieved Pro Bowl status despite extended periods of strong play at various times in his career.

Smith’s season-ending Achilles tear last December was also accompanied by a four-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He said earlier this summer the failed test came from an unapproved pre-workout supplement.

Without Smith, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale would turn to dependable veteran Brandon Carr and 2017 first-round pick Marlon Humphrey, the same duo who started when Smith was lost last December. Returning slot cornerback Tavon Young and versatile third-year corner Maurice Canady would serve as the primary backups with 2018 fourth-round pick Anthony Averett also showing promise in his first training camp. It’s no secret the pass defense has struggled without Smith in recent seasons, but general manager Ozzie Newsome has gone to great lengths to improving the depth at the position in recent offseasons.

Smith’s potential suspension could explain why the Ravens recently expressed interest in free-agent cornerback Bashaud Breeland, a move that appeared peculiar because of their depth at the position. It remains unclear whether Baltimore would make a stronger push to sign the former Washington starter when — and if — a suspension becomes official.

The Ravens also faced their most significant injury scare of the preseason Monday night when an Indianapolis player fell into the right knee of starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the first quarter. The 2016 first-round pick was able to walk off the field and didn’t return, but it appears he avoided serious injury and was walking around on the sideline without the use of crutches later in the game.

“It’s not any kind of big tear. It’s a strain,” Harbaugh said. “I was told during the game a knee strain. I’m sure they’ll look at that more, but they are usually pretty darn accurate with those things.”

Stanley will have close to three weeks to get ready for the Sept. 9 opener against Buffalo, but his absence was a reminder of how tenuous the offensive line depth is as the Ravens try to figure out their best starting combination and identify two or three other reliable backups. Rookie sixth-round pick Greg Senat filled in at left tackle, but it’s unclear how Baltimore would proceed if Stanley were to miss any game action. James Hurst and Alex Lewis have filled in for Stanley in the past, but neither inspires much confidence at the position and both are better suited to play guard.

Six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda has yet to play in the preseason, but he is on track to be ready for Week 1.

The Ravens appeared to make it through another preseason win with Stanley being their only injury concern, but the Smith news provided the first real dent to their prospects for the new season.

Baltimore can only hope its cornerback depth will answer the challenge.

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