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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 13 October 2018 by Luke Jones

A stretch of three consecutive road games concludes Sunday with the Ravens having the chance to position themselves favorably in the AFC and put last week’s ugly loss in Cleveland behind them.

A win puts Baltimore at 4-2 with four of the next five games coming at home — albeit against some tough competition — but a loss creates more doubts about this year being any different from the last couple in which Baltimore fell short of the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as these onetime AFC Central rivals meet for the 20th time in the all-time regular-season series with Tennessee holding a 10-9 advantage. The Ravens are 2-3 against the Titans in the John Harbaugh era — counting their dramatic 13-10 road win in the 2008 postseason — and Tennessee won last year’s Week 9 meeting at Nissan Stadium, a 23-20 final.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Alex Collins will set a season high in rushing yards in a workmanlike effort. The Tennessee defense ranks eighth in the NFL in yards per play and tied for third in points per game surrendered, but the Titans are banged up at linebacker and are vulnerable to the run (4.4 yards per attempt allowed) when opponents have shown some patience. The Ravens must be more consistent getting positive yards — eight of the 20 carries split between Collins and Buck Allen went for no gain or worse last week — but Marty Mornhinweg can’t be so quick to bail on the running game.

2. Running back Dion Lewis will lead the Titans in receptions. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota appears to be over his early-season elbow injury, but he’s averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt and will need to be selective in his attempts to push the ball down the field against a pass defense allowing an NFL-low 5.9 yards per attempt. That will lead to opportunities for Lewis, who has 21 catches on the season. The Ravens will try to counter that by frequently using Anthony Levine in the dime package, but Lewis will find some room against Baltimore linebackers underneath and in the flat.

3. The Baltimore defense will force two turnovers to frustrate Mariota and the Tennessee offense. Trying to poke too many holes in a defense that allowed only 12 points in 70 minutes of play last week is unfair, but the Ravens surprisingly have only six takeaways through their first five games after leading the league last year and only forced one against a rookie quarterback last week. Mariota will try to force some intermediate-to-deep throws to former first-round pick Corey Davis, but Jimmy Smith now having a game under his belt makes the Ravens secondary that much more dangerous.

4. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will collect a sack and be disruptive much of the day. Casey is easily Tennessee’s best defensive player and is one of the best defensive tackles in the league, meaning the Ravens better be prepared to give Alex Lewis and Matt Skura as much help as they can. Baltimore will run away from Casey and roll the pocket away from him at times, but he’s fully capable of taking over like Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins did in Week 2. Space on inside runs will certainly be at a premium, but the Ravens have had more success running to the perimeter anyway. 

5. A late Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst will be the difference in a 20-13 win. What better way to win against Dean Pees than to break through in the fourth quarter against his strong Titans defense? Flacco is excited to involve the first-round tight end in the offense as he’s a fan of Hurst’s skill set, and the rookie should be more comfortable in his second NFL game. Ravens defenders said all the right things about their former defensive coordinator this week and hold no animosity, but they’re motivated to show they’re better than ever with more freedom and flexibility under Wink Martindale than they had with Pees. This is an AFC separator game the Ravens could really use, and they’ll get the job done despite it not being all that pretty at times.

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Ravens-Titans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 05 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are getting healthier at the wide receiver position, but they’ll be without a key tight end for Sunday’s meeting with the Tennessee Titans.

After sitting out practices all week with a toe injury, Nick Boyle is officially inactive and will miss his first game of the season. Regarded as Baltimore’s best blocking tight end, Boyle is a key component in senior offensive assistant Greg Roman’s improved rushing attack, which is bad news as the Ravens face the league’s 10th-ranked run defense. Third-year tight end Maxx Williams will be asked to help pick up the slack as he’s active for just the second time since suffering an ankle injury in Week 2.

As expected, quarterback Joe Flacco (concussion) and wide receivers Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Mike Wallace (concussion) are all active and will start against the Titans. This is the first time both Maclin and Wallace have been on the field together since Week 5, an important development for a passing game ranking dead last in the NFL entering Week 9.

After being activated from injured reserve on Friday, second-year cornerback Maurice Canady will make his 2017 debut.

Rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams (thigh) is inactive for the fourth straight game. Despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report, he was a full participant in practices all week, which may mean his deactivation was more of a coaching decision than about his health.

Meanwhile, the Titans will have the services of their best receiver as tight end Delanie Walker is active despite missing practice time this week with an ankle issue. Walker will be joined on the field by rookie first-round wide receiver Corey Davis (hamstring), who is active for the first time since Week 2.

Sunday’s referee is John Hussey.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Nashville calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the high 70s with winds averaging 16 miles per hour and a 15 percent chance of precipitation. Expected wind gusts could cause problems in the passing and kicking games.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys and white pants while Tennessee dons navy blue jerseys with light blue pants.

Sunday marks the first time since 2014 that these former AFC Central rivals have met with the regular-season series currently tied 9-9 and the Ravens holding a 2-1 advantage in playoff contests. The Titans own a 5-4 home mark against Baltimore.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Michael Campanaro
RB Terrance West
S Chuck Clark
LB Tim Williams
OL Maurquice Shakir
TE Nick Boyle
DE Bronson Kaufusi

TENNESSEE
QB Brandon Weeden
WR Darius Jennings
CB Kalan Reed
DB Curtis Riley
LB Nate Palmer
G Quinton Spain
DE David King

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Possibilities wide open for Ravens in 2017 draft

Posted on 26 April 2017 by Luke Jones

Despite months of mock drafts, workouts, visits, and rumors, anyone invested in the Ravens is still asking the same question with the 2017 NFL draft nearly upon us.

Who will they take with the 16th overall pick?

Frankly, I don’t think the Ravens even have a good idea this year.

There’s always volatility when 15 other players are to be picked before you’re officially on the clock, especially in a year when there are no slam-dunk quarterbacks at the top of the board. Even last year when the Ravens were picking sixth, how many correctly predicted that they would select left tackle Ronnie Stanley? Even fewer thought the then-San Diego Chargers would take edge rusher Joey Bosa with the No. 3 pick, illustrating how little truthful information most teams give away to outsiders.

Adding to that unpredictability is a deep talent pool lacking clear definition beyond the top few projected selections. Ask 15 different draft experts to rank the No. 6 through No. 25 prospects in order and you’ll likely find less common ground than in typical years. That’s not a bad thing with many considering this the deepest collection of talent in a number of years, but predicting who might be there in the middle of the first round feels even more like a guessing game than usual.

It’s no secret that the Ravens have a number of pressing needs, which is both a blessing and a curse. Needing immediate help on the offensive line and at wide receiver, edge rusher, and inside linebacker and still wanting to enhance its depth at cornerback, Baltimore should have no reason to reach for a prospect over the first few rounds. Of course, that lengthy list of needs also reflects an incomplete roster and a lack of success since Super Bowl XLVII, making it even more important that the Ravens build on their encouraging 2016 draft with another strong class.

Their list of reported visits and meetings reflects those aforementioned needs and offers possible clues, but I’m reluctant to put too much stock into those encounters. It was only last year that the Ravens drafted Boise State linebacker Kamalei Correa after spending a total of 15 minutes with him at the scouting combine and never contacting him again until he was selected in the second round two months later.

Trading back in the first round would hardly be the sexiest development on Thursday night, but it could be the best one in a year when the Ravens have only seven scheduled picks. The problem could be finding a partner wanting to move up as reports this week have indicated that a number of teams are looking to trade back to take better advantage of a deep talent pool. As is typically the case, movement will likely depend on the fascination with the top three or four quarterbacks.

Because I’ve been asked, my official guess prediction is that the Ravens select Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis with the 16th overall pick, which probably means 10 other prospects are now more likely to be taken there. His skill set as an intermediate receiver is exactly what Joe Flacco and the passing game need, and his familiarity with Flacco’s brother, Tom, from college also makes for a fun story.

It also didn’t go unnoticed at the pre-draft press conference earlier this month that Eric DeCosta barely made mention of Davis when discussing the top receivers, instead talking more about Mike Williams of Clemson and John Ross of Washington. With Davis then taking an official visit a couple weeks later, was that perceived lack of interest a bit of a smoke screen from the assistant general manager?

If the Ravens do stay put at No. 16, there should be at least a few really good prospects staring them in the face, regardless of how the first 15 picks play out.

If they’re convinced that Davis — or Williams — will be that true impact receiver that the offense needs, they shouldn’t waste time turning in their card, regardless of their rough draft history at the position.

If Derek Barnett or Takkarist McKinley feels like the successor to Terrell Suggs, then go for it.

If they see Temple’s Haason Reddick as a dynamic linebacker, draft him and then carve out a flexible role to best utilize his talents.

And with this draft class not having good offensive line depth, the Ravens shouldn’t dismiss taking Cam Robinson if he can immediately be a stud right tackle or Forrest Lamp if they’re convinced that he’s the next Marshal Yanda. Protecting Flacco and improving the running game are too important to this team’s success to pass up the right offensive line prospect in the right spot.

In other words, there can be more than one right answer for the Ravens at 16th overall.

General manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens just can’t afford to be wrong.

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Flacco unfazed by lack of offseason additions to Ravens offense so far

Posted on 19 April 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s no secret that the Ravens have invested heavily in revamping their defense this offseason while an offense that was below average in 2016 has been forced to wait.

With 32-year-old running back Danny Woodhead being the only free-agent addition and right tackle Rick Wagner, wide receivers Steve Smith and Kamar Aiken, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and center Jeremy Zuttah no longer on the roster, you could understand if Joe Flacco felt anxious, especially when a theme from the Ravens brass’ season-ending press conference was a desire to see better play from the veteran quarterback. But Flacco expressed little concern when asked about the holes that remain on his side of the ball with the NFL draft only a week away.

“It’s the NFL. We have a lot of good guys around here that we are focused on getting better and going out and winning football games with,” Flacco said. “I never really expect too much to happen in the offseason, and whatever does happen, happens. I have been around long enough to know that guys change teams and you get new guys and that can happen all the way up to the time the season starts. You never know.”

Flacco expressing confidence in the players currently on the roster is hardly surprising — it’s the appropriate public stance to take — but two openings on the offensive line and the lack of an intermediate receiver don’t exactly inspire confidence for a team trying to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

So, if the 32-year-old signal-caller isn’t concerned, has he at least approached general manager Ozzie Newsome with suggestions regarding a particular free agent or a positional need?

“If they ask my opinion, then I will give it to them,” said Flacco, who acknowledged hope that the Ravens would bring back former teammate Torrey Smith before he signed with Philadelphia last month. “But I don’t necessarily go up there and push one way or another. Obviously, there are certain things that I can feel strongly about.”

Asked about the possibility of the Ravens bringing back veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Flacco chose his words carefully while acknowledging that he had a great on-field relationship with the 36-year-old and that he could still help any team.

Reiterating his confidence in his current teammates, Flacco even went as far as saying he doesn’t think that the Ravens need another wide receiver.

“I think we have a lot of young, talented guys that are ready to make a name for themselves and are going to work really hard this offseason to get that done,” Flacco said. “Whenever you have guys that are working really hard and you have that camaraderie out here and everyone is looking to get better, you are just developing relationships. I think that is all going to help when we get to the field.”

It would be tough to fathom the Ravens not adding another wideout between now and the start of the season, but the organization is clearly counting on 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman and 2016 fourth-round pick Chris Moore to take steps forward this season. Veteran receiver Mike Wallace went out of his way to express his belief that Moore will surprise observers this season despite catching only seven passes as a rookie.

As for the draft, Flacco hasn’t watched any tape of the top prospects, but he did receive some unique perspective on Western Michigan wide receiver Corey Davis, who was a teammate of Flacco’s brother Tom. Considered one of the top three receiver prospects in the draft along with Clemson’s Mike Williams and Washington’s John Ross, Davis visited with the Ravens earlier this week and would bring the intermediate skill set that they currently lack at the position.

The 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver caught 97 passes for 1,500 yards and 19 touchdowns as a senior and finished his collegiate career with over 5,000 receiving yards and 52 touchdown receptions.

“My brother said, ‘Listen, this is all I know, but he was at another level,’” Flacco said. “He was a really good player. He thought he had really good hands. He thought he was really strong; he could run really well. That is all he knows, but he could definitely tell the difference between him and the guys he was seeing week to week.”

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