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Ravens defense begins OTAs sporting different look

Posted on 23 May 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ first open organized team activity didn’t offer a great look at a defense that’s undergone substantial change this offseason.

As if the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, and Brent Urban weren’t enough, six other notable defensive players weren’t participating in Thursday’s voluntary workout, leaving only a few established veterans, role players, and unproven young talents on the practice field. The list of absentees was headlined by six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, the blockbuster free-agent acquisition handpicked to help fill voids in leadership and play-making ability. Other defensive players not taking part were cornerback Jimmy Smith, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Tony Jefferson, who is still working his way back to full strength from offseason ankle surgery and was a sideline observer.

Though led by one of the NFL’s best and deepest secondaries, the Ravens defense faces major questions at the inside and outside linebacker positions ahead of the 2019 season

“There are a lot of stories you’ve seen about new faces on the Ravens, but you guys see a lot of new faces and I see a lot of new opportunities,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “A lot of guys, especially in my [2017] draft class and the class last year, are stepping into bigger roles — including myself — so I look forward to that as an opportunity and for new guys to make plays and make names for themselves and to become those household names.”

As expected, Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were lining up as the starting inside linebackers after sharing time at the weak-side inside backer spot next to Mosley last year, but trying to project the starting outside linebacker opposite Judon is anyone’s guess after Suggs manned the spot for the last 15 years. The Ravens hope some combination of third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson and 2017 draft picks Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams will emerge, but the low-risk signings of Pernell McPhee, 30, and Shane Ray, 26 last week delivered the message that young players won’t be handed snaps without first earning them.

McPhee, who played for the Ravens from 2011-14, and Ray combined for only one sack with their former teams last season, but they rank first and third, respectively, among current Baltimore players in career sacks, illustrating the lack of established edge rushers on the roster.

“That certainly made it more interesting over there, and those two guys are both in really good shape,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “They both came in, and obviously, they were preparing and training for when their opportunity would come. You get in a situation like that, and you don’t always know when it’s going to come and not everybody does a good job of that. They did a good job of that. They were out there today. You saw them competing, so they looked good.”

Absences on the offensive side of the ball were more related to health as rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) only observed and guard Alex Lewis continues to recover from offseason shoulder surgery. Right guard Marshal Yanda was not present, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection has skipped voluntary OTAs in the past.

The most interesting absence Thursday was running back Kenneth Dixon, who likely stands fourth in his position’s hierarchy behind free-agent addition and two-time Pro Bowl selection Mark Ingram, 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards, and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill. Despite averaging an impressive 5.6 yards per carry upon returning from a knee injury late last season, Dixon is entering the final year of his rookie contract, a variable that often leaves a player’s job security vulnerable when competing at a deep position. His history of injuries and drug-related suspensions also works against him.

“He was here the last few days,” Harbaugh said. “Where was he today? I don’t know. They don’t have to tell us. There’s no rule.”

Cornerback and punt returner Cyrus Jones and rookie defensive tackle Gerald Willis were also absent, but Willis did sustain an apparent leg injury during rookie camp earlier this month.

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens’ 90-man roster following rookie camp

Posted on 08 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Thursday 2:30 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for nearly four more months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a much better idea of what John Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to work with for the 2019 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any given player. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities later this month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player now as much will change before the Ravens even get to training camp in July. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens always look for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the spring and summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Jalan McClendon
Skinny: How the coaching staff uses McSorley and how he develops will determine whether Baltimore carries three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for a second straight year and only the second time in the last decade. Comparisons to New Orleans’ Taysom Hill — who is much bigger — will continue.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala, Tyler Ervin
Skinny: Suggesting someone who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year could be on the bubble speaks to the great backfield depth. Dixon could also be a trade chip entering the final year of his contract, but a history of injuries and suspensions could prompt a tough decision. Don’t sleep on Turner either.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley
LONG SHOT: Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: With Baltimore expected to again use multiple tight ends and run the ball so frequently, the brass won’t feel compelled to keep more than four or five receivers unless others prove deserving of a spot. This is a critical preseason for Scott and Lasley, who played zero snaps as rookies last year.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman, Charles Scarff
Skinny: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman may prefer having another blocking tight end in the mix to replace Maxx Williams, but it’s premature to handicap the chances of these candidates. Keizer spent much of last year with the organization, giving him a slight experience edge over the two rookies.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Jermaine Eluemunor, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Bozeman’s ability to play center makes him a safe bet while Hurst’s $4.75 million cap number and injury-riddled 2018 leave his status in at least some question until he proves his back problems are behind him. Time could be running out for Lewis, who just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: Kalil Morris
Skinny: This is a tough group to handicap after the duo of Williams and Pierce, but Henry is the best interior rusher on the roster despite missing most of 2018. Sieler is a good bet to make it as a 5-technique end, but the talented Willis could be the wild card after surprisingly going undrafted.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Alvin Jones, Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Board leading the team in special-teams tackles as a rookie leaves him safe at this point. The competition for a potential roster spot behind him is wide open, however, with Thomas, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, headlining a group lacking experience. They’re listed as bubble players by default.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Matt Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Contributions on special teams and the shortage of strong-side or “Sam” backers give Bowser a clear edge over Williams, who appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was a healthy scratch by season’s end. There should be opportunities for the long shots to try to put themselves on the radar.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: There isn’t a deeper group of corners in the NFL, leaving the Ravens with a good problem trying to decide which ones to keep. Jones returning kickoffs in addition to punts would cement his spot — he only did the latter last year — while the oft-injured Canady is in the final year of his rookie deal.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott is the one to watch in this group as he showed promise before breaking his forearm in the preseason last year and could potentially push Clark for some playing time in sub packages. Levine’s positional versatility remains an invaluable part of Wink Martindale’s defense.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: The Ravens will hope Vedvik kicks the football like he did last summer to improve his trade value at the end of the preseason. Beyond that, there’s little to see here.

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How did Ravens cornerbacks stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 15 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens cornerbacks ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen
Running backs

Brandon Carr
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 876
PFF ranking: 35th among cornerbacks
Skinny: The 32-year-old played and started in every game for the 11th straight year and was one of the most reliable performers on a top-ranked defense, finishing with 45 tackles and two interceptions. He also filled in effectively in the slot, making him more valuable at a $7 million salary cap figure for 2019.

Marlon Humphrey
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 718
PFF ranking: 11th among cornerbacks
Skinny: Humphrey emerged as one of Baltimore’s best players in his second season and appears on the cusp of becoming a Pro Bowl cornerback. Per PFF, his 52.5-percent catch rate allowed was the seventh best in the league while his 22.5-percent forced incompletion rate ranked third best.

Jimmy Smith
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 611
PFF ranking: 81st among cornerbacks
Skinny: Returning from a torn Achilles tendon and a four-game suspension to begin 2018, Smith struggled for much of the season before playing better down the stretch. A $15.85 million cap figure and $9.5 million salary for 2019 make it very possible the veteran has played his final game for Baltimore.

Tavon Young
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 602
PFF ranking: 75th among cornerbacks
Skinny: A sports hernia hindered him late in the year, but the slot corner played better than his PFF grade indicates, especially after missing the 2017 season with a knee injury. Young is entering the final year of his rookie contract and plays bigger and tougher than his 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame suggests.

Anthony Averett
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 71
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fourth-round rookie from Alabama missed five games with a hamstring injury, but he showed promise when he filled in for an injured Humphrey against Kansas City in Week 14. Optimism about his talent and development could make it easier to move on from Smith this offseason.

Maurice Canady
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 10
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: After emerging as a solid slot cornerback in the second half of 2017, Canady sustained a hamstring injury in the season opener and missed nine games. He returned in late November to contribute on special teams, but injuries have prevented him from consistently staying on the field.

Cyrus Jones
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 5
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former Gilman standout is unlikely to fit into Baltimore’s defensive plans, but he offered a major lift as a punt returner, averaging 14.4 yards per attempt and returning one for a touchdown in Week 12. The ball security that doomed him in New England wasn’t a big issue this season.

2019 positional outlook

After enduring depth problems at cornerback for a few years, the Ravens have done a commendable job assembling a strong collection over the last couple offseasons, leaving them in solid position moving forward. Deciding what to do with Smith and his untenable cap number is the first item of business, but the veteran corner still has strong support within the organization, leaving open the possibility of working out a pay cut with incentives or even a modest short-term extension to lower his 2019 cap number. Some have speculated about Carr’s future in the same light, but his 2018 performance, superior durability, and cheaper cap number make him the better investment for the upcoming season. The Ravens have taken a cornerback with no lower than a fourth-round pick in four consecutive drafts, a streak I expect to continue if Smith is indeed released or traded in the coming weeks.

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for AFC wild-card game

Posted on 05 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Much has changed since the Ravens last hosted a playoff game six years ago.

Ray Lewis is in the Hall of Fame, Ed Reed will join him in a few weeks, and Joe Flacco has quite possibly already played his final snap as a Raven. Baltimore had made the playoffs just once since that last home playoff win over Indianapolis, but the start of the Lamar Jackson era seven weeks ago has created an energy not seen in these parts in quite some time. Winners of six of their last seven to clinch the AFC North title, the Ravens hope that vibe carries them to victory in Sunday’s wild-card game.

Standing in their way is the Los Angeles Chargers, who finished tied for the third-best record in football and had the misfortune of being in the same division as No. 1 seed Kansas City. Despite traveling to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. game, Anthony Lynn’s team is 8-0 in contests played outside Los Angeles this season, which included wins in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet in the postseason for the first time ever. Of course, the Ravens toppled the Chargers 22-10 in their Week 16 meeting to improve to 7-5 in the all-time regular-season series. Baltimore owns a 3-1 record against them at M&T Bank Stadium, but the teams split the last two games there in 2014 and 2015 with the outcomes decided by a combined four points.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. The Chargers will speed up the pace and spread out the Baltimore defense for an early touchdown. The Ravens controlled the tempo throughout the Week 16 meeting, harassing Philip Rivers with blitzes that the Chargers rarely had answers for. This time, I expect Los Angeles to use some no-huddle and empty formations to try to slow the pass rush and keep the Ravens off-balance early on. It’s worth noting Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen is healthier this time around and will find space for an early touchdown reception after being held to a quiet five catches for 58 yards in the first meeting.

2. Gus Edwards will rush for a career-high 120 yards and a score. The Chargers use the dime package more than anyone in the NFL, which helped them hold Jackson to just 39 rushing yards in Week 16. However, a lighter front leaves Los Angeles more susceptible to the dive plays so frequently run by Edwards. To their credit, the Chargers slowed down the 238-pound rookie in the second half, but he still managed 92 yards on 14 carries two weeks ago. Making matters worse, Los Angeles nose tackle Brandon Mebane isn’t expected to play, making the front seven even more vulnerable against power runs.

3. Jackson will run for more yards than Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon. We’ve spent ample time talking about the Ravens’ running game, but has anyone noticed what their rush defense has done since the bye week? Opponents are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and only two players have managed as much as 60 rushing yards against them over the last seven contests. Gordon is a dynamic player capable of leaving a huge mark in his first NFL playoff game, but he’s more likely to do that as a receiver out of the backfield. I also expect Jackson to find more daylight as the game progresses with the Chargers tweaking their front to account for the inside power runs.

4. A long Cyrus Jones punt return will set up a Ravens touchdown. The running game and a dominant defense have received most of the credit for the post-bye turnaround, but the special teams rose from a pedestrian 13th in special teams DVOA at the bye to sixth by season’s end. Football Outsiders rated Baltimore’s punt return unit second in the league while the Chargers’ punt unit was rated next to last. That disparity didn’t show up to any dramatic degree in Week 16, but Jones has offered a boost in the field-position game since becoming the punt returner and will break a long one on Sunday.

5. Another strong defensive effort will send Baltimore to the divisional round with a 20-17 win. The Chargers were my preseason pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but the first meeting showed this isn’t a great matchup for them. I expect their offense to put up a better fight than it did a couple weeks ago, but Rivers isn’t mobile enough to give the blitz-heavy Ravens the same degree of trouble as Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield did. Credit Los Angeles for doing a better job against the Baltimore running game than any other team over the last two months, but absences at the wrong spots on its dime defense will lead to the Ravens staying more consistent on the ground in the second half. It will be another close game because that’s just a product of the style these current Ravens play, but another complementary effort will be enough to defeat the Chargers for the second time in three weeks. John Harbaugh will improve to 6-0 in wild-card playoff games.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 20-12 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 18 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens collecting their fourth win in five games in a 20-12 final against Tampa Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marlon Humphrey turned in the best performance of his young career with an interception, four pass breakups, and a tackle for a loss. He reiterated why he’s been this defense’s best player this season and is probably deserving of being a Pro Bowl alternate.

2. Not counting the final three kneel-downs, the Ravens rushed 29 times for 168 yards in the second half with Gus Edwards carrying eight times for 60 yards in the fourth quarter. This running game has the effect of a great bullpen in baseball. If trailing late, you’re very likely done.

3. That may not have been possible if not for a fortunate first quarter. A drop by Chris Godwin could have been a Tampa Bay touchdown and Buccaneers linebacker Riley Bullough dropped a sure interception. Add those plays to the lost fumble, and the Ravens could have been trailing double digits.

4. Red-zone defense transformed two disastrous plays — Mike Evans’ 64-yard catch on third-and-20 and Cyrus Jones’ inexplicable punt muff — into little more than annoying blips on the radar. Baltimore entered the week just 25th in red-zone defense (65.7 percent) before going a critical 1-for-3.

5. Much has been made about whether Lamar Jackson can be effective in a two-minute drill, but he went 5-for-7 for 56 yards on an eight-play, 63-yard drive for a field goal to close the first half. That was encouraging after a rough start that included another fumble for the rookie.

6. Ten of Jackson’s 14 completions were to the middle of the field with only one traveling more than 20 yards through the air. It’s obvious where he’s most comfortable passing at this point, but the run-pass options and play-action plays open that portion of the field.

7. Brandon Williams has received criticism for not providing enough bang for the buck this season, but his third-and-1 stuff of Peyton Barber for a three-yard loss helped seal the win midway through the fourth quarter. He beat former teammate Ryan Jensen badly on that play.

8. Willie Snead’s 28-yard catch late in the second quarter and Edwards’ 26-yard run late in the fourth doubled the Ravens’ total number of plays of 25 or more yards since the bye. They had 13 over their first nine games. This is definitely a “grind-it-out” team now.

9. One of the more surprising parts of Sunday was Tampa Bay running for 68 yards on 15 carries in the first half. Credit the defense for limiting the Buccaneers to 17 rushing yards after intermission, but that early production from a pedestrian rushing attack in the rain was unexpected.

10. John Harbaugh confirmed Bradley Bozeman rotating with James Hurst at left guard was part of the game plan. Bozeman has improved since the preseason and is a solid bet to eventually be a starting interior lineman, especially with Alex Lewis’ inability to stay healthy.

11. I couldn’t help but wonder what Joe Flacco was thinking as Jackson struggled with the elements early, especially after the former starter threw for 513 yards and four touchdowns without a turnover in the first two rain-heavy home games of 2018 against Buffalo and Denver.

12. The Ravens are 8-6 entering Week 16 with their playoff hopes hanging in the balance for the third straight season. Even with a new quarterback and the drastic change in offensive style of play, Ravens fans can hardly be blamed if they can’t shake feelings of déjà vu.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 27-24 loss at Kansas City

Posted on 11 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having their three-game winning streak snapped in a 27-24 loss to Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Depending on your perspective, an overtime defeat to the AFC’s best team can be viewed as a moral victory or the “same old Ravens” with a highly-ranked defense wilting late, but it’s tough not to lament a missed opportunity with Pittsburgh losing and other wild-card contenders winning.

2. After the defense did an impressive job against Patrick Mahomes for much of the game, his fourth-and-9 wizardry was more a greater of him being the best player on the field than a colossal collapse from the Ravens like last year against Cincinnati. Sometimes you just have to accept that.

3. Playing in one of the most difficult road environments in the NFL, Lamar Jackson showed poise and ranked fifth in ESPN’s total QBR metric for Week 14. A limited passing game remains a concern, but the rookie made some key throws, none bigger than his go-ahead touchdown to John Brown.

4. Matt Judon was the best Raven on the field as he registered a sack, five quarterback hits, and 10 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. His second-half surge has been critical for both the present and future with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to become free agents.

5. Between Marlon Humphrey being late lining up over Tyreek Hill and Eric Weddle failing to tackle Hill to prevent the first down, I found Kansas City’s third-and-19 conversion late in the first half to be a bigger gaffe than the aforementioned fourth down. It led to a Chiefs touchdown, too.

6. It’s difficult to predict how much change this roster might endure this offseason, but improving at the safety position figures to be fairly high on the priority list. It wasn’t a stellar day for Weddle or Chuck Clark, who at least recorded Baltimore’s first interception in over two months.

7. Kenneth Dixon was as impressive running the ball as he’s looked since his rookie season, rushing for a touchdown and 59 yards on just eight carries. You just keep your fingers crossed that he’ll stay healthy now.

8. Perhaps Jackson’s most impressive play of the game was his scramble drill resulting in a dump-off to Dixon for a 21-yard reception on a first-and-20 situation early in the second half. That play would have been a sack or incompletion for all but maybe a couple quarterbacks in the league.

9. Remember how mediocre the special teams were in the first half of the season? The Ravens now rank fifth in Football Outsiders’ latest season ratings. Cyrus Jones’ return ability has played a big role in that, but the rest of the group has tightened up as well.

10. The Ravens didn’t attempt a pass on first down until the first play of the second half and did it just five times total. Why’s that unusual? One of the biggest cries from the analytics community is to pass more frequently on first down. Again, zigging while everyone else zags.

11. Suggs played a season-high 70 snaps and registered a half-sack, another quarterback hit, and a pass breakup. The 36-year-old has played well of late, but that workload has to be concerning. Meanwhile, Tyus Bowser saw only 14 snaps and Tim Williams was essentially a healthy scratch.

12. Many hoped Jackson playing quarterback might jump-start fellow first-round pick Hayden Hurst, but the rookie tight end failed to register a catch for the second straight week. This shouldn’t be shocking given his early-season foot injury and the recent history of rookie tight ends, but it’s no less disappointing.

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 21-0 win over Tennessee

Posted on 16 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 4-2 in their 21-0 win at Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Ravens defenders said all the right things about Dean Pees last week, but the group’s post-game celebration with Wink Martindale reflected how much the record-setting shutout in front of their old defensive coordinator really meant. They wanted to prove they’re a better defense now.

2. What gives Za’Darius Smith a slight edge over Terrell Suggs as the Ravens’ best pass rusher? His ability to pressure from the inside is so crucial with today’s quarterbacks getting the ball out as quickly as possible. He continues to be on the Pernell McPhee contract year plan.

3. One of the undersold aspects of this terrific defensive start is the depth the Ravens continue to use as 20 players took defensive snaps against the Titans. Rotating defensive linemen and edge rushers have long been common practices, but the Ravens are doing this at every level of their defense.

4. Getting Michael Crabtree involved early was a prudent move to help his confidence after last week’s performance, but remember this is a veteran who caught 25 touchdowns from 2015-17. The real test will be the next time he has a chance to make a defining catch in the closing minutes.

5. Converting 10 of the first 11 third downs of the game was impressive enough, but the Ravens moved the chains on four requiring nine or more yards. You want to avoid those third-and-long situations, but being able to convert some is a mark of a good offense.

6. The running game was functional, but I roll my eyes when someone praises the final run-pass balance as the key to winning. Building a 21-0 lead was the blueprint for running that frequently. Running more effectively remains critical as Baltimore averaged 2.4 yards per carry in the first half.

7. The 14th shutout in team history was aided by the Ravens only playing 44 defensive snaps, an incredibly low number. The defense had much to do with that, of course, but credit the offense for putting together three drives of seven or more minutes each. That’s complementary football.

8. Joe Flacco had a good day, particularly on third down, but his interception on a deep throw down the middle to Willie Snead late in the first half was a little too aggressive with three timeouts and a minute remaining. Titans safety Kevin Byard’s catch also should have been reviewed.

9. Cyrus Jones recorded a 26-yard punt return in his Ravens debut, but what a day to be able to share the field with former Gilman teammate and Titans kick returner Darius Jennings. I also liked seeing Chris Moore back as the kick returner even though he received only one opportunity.

10. Plays like the unnecessary roughness penalty for pushing Titans punter Brett Kern in the back late in the first half are preventing Matt Judon from taking the step from pretty good player to really good player. It happens too often and isn’t smart football.

11. Gus Edwards wasn’t spectacular, but 42 yards on 10 carries should warrant some more opportunities. He runs well for a 238-pound back and certainly brings more physicality to this running game.

12. Remember those old Ramon Harewood-Antonio Brown comparisons from the 2010 draft? A healthy scratch in Week 6, Tyus Bowser was selected 15 spots before JuJu Smith-Schuster in the 2017 second round. The difference this time is Smith-Schuster wasn’t an unknown while playing a position of great need. I’m just saying.

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Ravens-Titans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 14 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens conclude their three-game road trip at Tennessee seeking their first 4-2 start since 2014, the last time they qualified for the playoffs.

They’ll try to do it with defensive lineman Michael Pierce, who makes his return to action after missing two of the last three games with a lingering foot injury. For the first time all season, the Ravens will have both Pierce and Willie Henry available along the defensive line, strengthening a deep rotation that also includes Brandon Williams, Brent Urban, and Chris Wormley.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams is also active after missing last week’s game in Cleveland with a hamstring injury.

Despite missing Thursday’s practice with a hip injury and being listed as questionable on the final injury report, slot cornerback Tavon Young is active and will play against the Titans. As expected, starting cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and dime back Anthony Levine (hamstring) are also active after being listed as questionable on Friday.

There were two notable healthy scratches as 2017 second-round linebacker Tyus Bowser and defensive lineman/fullback Patrick Ricard were deactivated prior to Sunday’s game. It’s a disappointing development for Bowser, who has struggled on special teams and hasn’t played many defensive snaps in his second season. Ricard is the victim of Pierce and Henry both being active and the Ravens now having four active tight ends with Hayden Hurst returning to action last week. .

Former New England cornerback and Gilman product Cyrus Jones will be making his Ravens debut while just-promoted running back Gus Edwards will play in his first NFL regular-season game. Jones is expected to be in the returner mix after Tim White was waived this past week.

The middle of the Titans defense will be in bad shape as starting inside linebackers Wesley Woodyard (shoulder) and Will Compton (hamstring) are both inactive. Compton was ruled out on Friday, but Woodyard had been listed as questionable on the final injury report after practicing on a limited basis all week. Their absence should be good news for the Baltimore running game as well as the Ravens’ collection of tight ends in the passing game.

Starting safety Kenny Vaccaro will miss his second straight game with an elbow injury.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Carl Cheffers.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Nashville calls for rain showers and temperatures in the high 60s with a 55-percent chance of precipitation and winds five to 10 miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with purple pants, the combination they debuted in Week 2. Tennessee is donning navy blue jerseys with navy blue pants for Week 6.

Sunday marks the 20th all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Tennessee holding a 10-9 advantage. The Ravens are seeking their first win at Nissan Stadium since the 2008 postseason as the Titans prevailed 23-20 in the last meeting there on Nov. 5, 2017.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
DL/FB Patrick Ricard
LB Tyus Bowser
OL Hroniss Grasu
DL Zach Sieler

TENNESSEE
LB Wesley Woodyard
LB Will Compton
DL Bennie Logan
S Kenny Vaccaro
OT Tyler Marz
OL Aaron Stinnie
CB Kenneth Durden

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Pierce still sidelined as Ravens return to practice field

Posted on 10 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are still waiting on the return of a key member of their defensive line ahead of a third consecutive road game at Tennessee on Sunday.

After suffering a setback with a lingering foot injury that kept him out of the Week 5 loss at Cleveland, defensive tackle Michael Pierce was absent from Wednesday’s practice and is in danger of missing his third game in four weeks against the Titans. The third-year defensive lineman was spotted in a walking boot prior to the Browns game, but he was not wearing it in the locker room before Wednesday’s workout.

Pierce’s absence in Week 5 was eased by the return of defensive tackle Willie Henry after a four-game absence, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t downplay how important Pierce is to the league’s top-ranked scoring defense. He missed the Week 3 win over Denver and played the following week in the victory over Pittsburgh before resurfacing on the injury report late last week.

“That’s a firm ‘maybe.’ I’m very hopeful, and I say that in all sincerity,” said Harbaugh about Pierce’s availability for Sunday. “I’m very hopeful. We’ll find out, but we could use him. He’s a factor inside. He’s a big difference.”

Six other players missed Wednesday’s practice, but the only real concern in that group appears to be rookie cornerback Anthony Averett, who has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring) also missed last Wednesday’s practice before practicing the rest of the week and playing against the Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams returned to practice after missing the Cleveland game due to a hamstring injury.

Rookie running back De’Lance Turner was listed as a limited participant on the injury report after tweaking his hamstring during the opening portion of practice open to reporters. Turner left the field with a member of the training staff, and it’s unclear whether he returned later in the session. If the injury is serious, the Ravens would have only two healthy running backs — Alex Collins and Buck Allen — on the 53-man roster, which would likely necessitate a roster move. Rookie running back Gus Edwards is on the practice squad after spending the spring and summer with the Ravens.

Harbaugh confirmed former New England cornerback and Gilman product Cyrus Jones will be in the mix for the return specialist job after being claimed off waivers on Monday. The Ravens have already used Janarion Grant and Tim White — who are both on the practice squad — in that role, but ball security was a problem for each of them. Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg will evaluate other in-house options in addition to Jones this week.

“He’s done it before, so he’s in the mix,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, the thing about Tim and Janarion, we could bring those guys up on Saturday if we wanted to. We just have to figure out the roster stuff. We have some other guys who are going to do it. John Brown is going to practice up back there. Of course, Willie [Snead] is back there practicing. I guess we’ll just kind of find out on Sunday and let them figure out who it’s going to be.”

Meanwhile, the Titans were without three starters for their Wednesday practice with two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan being the most notable. Lewan left Sunday’s loss at Buffalo with a foot injury and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam for it earlier in the week. He told reporters after Sunday’s game that he dealt with a similar injury last year despite playing in all 16 games.

“I would probably anticipate this thing hopefully improving,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said on a Wednesday conference call. “But then we’ll have to see where he’s at at the end of the week and if he’s able to practice.”

Starting inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out in Week 5. Safety Kenny Vaccaro remains sidelined with an elbow injury and is unlikely to play against the Ravens.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB De’Lance Turner (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Will Compton (hamstring), OT Taylor Lewan (foot), S Kenny Vaccaro (elbow)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Wesley Woodyard (shoulder), LB Robert Spillane (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Dennis Kelly (illness)

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