Tag Archive | "Greg Roman"

Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) beats out San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) to make a touchdown catch in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Andrews aiming to “take the next step” after Ravens trade Hurst

Posted on 01 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens tight end Mark Andrews admitted he was surprised and disappointed when teammate and close friend Hayden Hurst was traded to Atlanta last month.

Along with veteran Nick Boyle, the 2018 draft picks formed the best tight end group in the NFL last season as the trio combined for 125 receptions, 1,522 yards, and 14 touchdowns. However, Hurst — selected seven spots before reigning MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round two years ago — sought a larger role and was third in the pecking order with Andrews shining as a 2019 Pro Bowl selection and Boyle being the top blocker in Baltimore’s run-first attack.

That contributed to general manager Eric DeCosta trading the 26-year-old Hurst and a fourth-round selection to Atlanta for a second-round pick and a fifth-round choice in this month’s draft.

“I’m excited for him to get more of an opportunity with Atlanta,” said Andrews, whose 10 touchdown receptions led all tight ends and tied for second in the NFL last season. “I know that he’s going to thrive there. He’s a great player. I love him to death, but it’s exciting for him as well. But, firstly, I’m sad. I know Nick is sad.

“The three-headed monster kind of got broken up a little bit, but again, we’re going to be just fine. Nick and I, we’ll do our jobs. Obviously, we’re going to find someone else to help us out.”

The Ravens still have fullback Patrick Ricard to use as a situational blocking tight end and will continue to evaluate 2019 practice-squad member Charles Scarff and any other options they add this offseason, but Hurst wasn’t your typical third-string option either. He played the same number of offensive snaps as Andrews last season as the Ravens used at least two tight ends on 42 percent of their plays and three tight ends just under 7.5 percent of the time, according to SharpFootballStats.com. And while Andrews has missed only one game over his first two seasons, he played through an ankle injury last year that limited his effectiveness at times, a notable point when weakening depth at a critical position.

Is Andrews capable of hitting another level of production? The numbers suggest yes as the 24-year-old was graded second among all tight ends by Pro Football Focus in the process of leading the Ravens in catches, receiving yards, touchdowns, and average yards per catch (minimum 15 receptions) last season. And he did it without the typical playing time of an elite tight end.

Of the six tight ends to finish with at least 750 receiving yards last season, Andrews finished a very distant last in snaps (457) and played 267 fewer than Austin Hooper, who was fifth in that group. That reflects the remarkable efficiency of the Baltimore passing game and indicates there could be some more meat on the bone as the Ravens offense evolves in 2020.

With Boyle already leading Baltimore tight ends with 769 regular-season snaps last season, the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Andrews is the one you’d expect to assume a larger share of snaps, receiving more opportunities in the passing game in the process. That may not result in the former third-round pick from Oklahoma reaching the same level of Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz in targets as we’re still talking about a unique offense anchored by the run, but Andrews eclipsing 80 catches and 1,000 yards next season would hardly seem out of the question.

Of course, the Ravens are expected to target another impact wide receiver in the draft and offensive coordinator Greg Roman may not lean quite as heavily on the tight end position with the talented Hurst no longer in the picture, but Andrews was on the receiving end of just under a quarter of Baltimore’s targets last year. His chemistry with Jackson was evident in their rookie season and only figures to continue to grow in their third year together.

“I’ve always been someone to want to take the next step and be great each and every year and get better each and every year,” Andrews said. “I think I had a good year last year. It’s all about improving on that. I don’t feel extra pressure because Hayden is gone. Obviously, Hayden helped that group out a ton, but I feel like with the pieces that we have and everything that we’re going to do moving forward, the coaches put me in great situations.”

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Ravens must walk fine line between evolving, fixing what isn’t broken

Posted on 04 March 2020 by Luke Jones

Free agency officially begins in two weeks and the 2020 draft is only 50 days away for the Ravens.

The sting of the best regular season in franchise history ending with an upset divisional-round loss lingers less than two months later. The mental challenge of moving on and trying to exorcise those playoff demons will persist long after general manager Eric DeCosta plays his offseason hand and head coach John Harbaugh has a better idea of what his team will look like in the coming weeks.

Yes, we’ve reached the point in the offseason when it feels as though every team — even Super Bowl champion Kansas City — has more questions than answers with no shortage of free-agent projections, mock drafts, and lists of needs to mull over.

How do the Ravens proceed if eight-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda indeed retires?

What will be the resolution with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and how will that impact a pass rush already desiring more juice?

Are there enough cap dollars and draft picks available to effectively retool a free-agent-laden front seven that already had its deficiencies last year?

What about — for the “I lost count”-th year in a row — wide receiver?

But this is when the Ravens — and their fans — need perspective more than a linebacker, guard, or defensive tackle. Going an NFL-best 14-2 with the best point differential in the league in more than a decade — with some of the aforementioned concerns, mind you — shouldn’t be an invitation for complacency, but there is a fine line between evolving and trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Baltimore surely took lessons from the Tennessee loss — needing to be able to play more effectively off schedule, for example — but a bad day at the office at the wrong time didn’t mean there was some fatal flaw in need of upheaval.

Having the most efficient running and passing games in the league and a top-tier defense isn’t an identity from which to stray too far despite how tempting it can be to be bold addressing weaknesses. That’s where you trust an analytics-minded front office and coaching staff to understand themselves and the entire body of 2019 work rather than to overreact to one heartbreaking loss or a couple failed fourth-and-1 plays. Of course, there’s work to do.

“We understand that we are going to be studied on both sides of the ball by every single team in the league very thoroughly.” Harbaugh said in January. “We’ll be the first team that they will pull the tape up on and watch. Our job is to stay ahead. Our job is to find the areas where we can come up with new ideas — expand, tweak, challenge people the way they challenged us or the way we anticipate them challenging us going forward.”

Losing Yanda would definitely be a big blow to a record-setting offense, but the 2017 Ravens were a last-second Week 17 collapse away from making the playoffs without him or reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, who was spending his last days at Louisville. Jackson’s unparalleled athleticism at the quarterback position will continue to make life easier for the offensive line and whoever might need to replace Yanda.

Few would argue that the Ravens would benefit from another wide receiver to make more plays outside the numbers, but the strength of the passing game remains the middle of the field with Jackson heavily targeting his tight ends, something unlikely to change as defenses across the NFL struggle to account for big, athletic tight ends. DeCosta and Harbaugh have expressed optimism about receivers being more open to playing in this unique run-first offense, but the right fit is more critical than adding “a true No. 1” who might grow unhappy with a fraction of the targets he’s used to seeing in a typical offense.

Speculation about trading tight end Hayden Hurst and mock drafts projecting the Ravens to take a running back in the first round would fall under the category of trying too hard to fix something that isn’t broken. The Yanda decision aside, this offense simply doesn’t need a ton of work beyond adding another pass-catching option at some point and implementing whatever system tweaks offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the staff cook up between now and September.

The defense is a different story with the front seven having multiple free agents, a list including Judon, defensive tackles Michael Pierce and Domata Peko, inside linebackers Josh Bynes and Patrick Onwuasor, and situational rushers Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward. However, nearly half of those players were added during the 2019 season, a testament to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale and the front office to at least identify viable placeholders and account for less-than-ideal conditions.

An edge defender or two, a three-down inside linebacker, and a defensive tackle with pass-rushing ability would all be welcome additions, but that’s an ambitious list for one offseason. There’s no guarantee the right pass rusher or inside linebacker will be on the board when Baltimore selects 28th overall in next month’s draft, and there are red flags everywhere with free-agent edge rushers — Judon included.

Regardless of what happens in free agency and the draft, the Ravens will continue to lean on an elite secondary, a defensive strength endorsed by analytics, and the frequent blitzing that made a rebuilt defense one of the league’s best over the second half of 2019. The identity is in place, which is more than many defensive units can say at this point. Last season proved the personnel doesn’t need to be perfect.

“I think we want to have really good players at all those positions,” DeCosta said in Indianapolis last week. “I’d love to have some elite pass rushers. I’d love to have some elite corners. I think Wink Martindale does an unbelievable job taking players, finding out what they can do, putting them in position to succeed, and they did that this year. What we were able to do on defense under Wink’s guidance with our coaches and our players — bringing in all those guys that we did — I thought that was masterful.”

The Ravens are bound to face some roster turbulence over the next few weeks. A year ago at this time, DeCosta didn’t know he’d be losing perennial Pro Bowl defenders C.J. Mosley and Terrell Suggs, and desperate teams frequently overpay players coming from winning organizations. Baltimore has never been in the business of “winning” the offseason, and that’s unlikely to change simply because of a little more salary cap space than usual this year. Long-term planning is too critical, especially with the elite talents up for contract extensions over the next couple years such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and Jackson.

The truth is I’d take this team essentially as it is — meaning all but sitting out free agency and having only an ordinary draft class — up against any conference opponent not named the Chiefs next fall. Even with the disappointment of January being so slow to dissipate, that is rare territory and speaks to the tremendous opportunity Baltimore has to improve this offseason.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the Ravens are going 14-2 again — only three teams have ever done that in back-to-back years — as unforeseen challenges await next season. They can’t count on the schedule to fall the right way or for their remarkably good health over the last two seasons to continue, but those are realities every team faces. That’s why the Ravens know they must continue to evolve without drastically altering what they do best.

“We’re not going to be sitting on our hands schematically,” Harbaugh said. “We are not going to be saying, ‘OK, we have this offense and this defensive system that was hard for people to deal with, and we are good.'”

But they are good. Very good.

That makes this year’s offseason uncertainty easier than usual to handle, regardless of how it all plays out.

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Extending Stanley should be one of Ravens’ top offseason priorities

Posted on 10 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens tried to get the left tackle position right for a long time after Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden’s retirement more than a decade ago.

University of Maryland product Jared Gaither flashed some early promise before fizzling out due to injuries and work ethic concerns. Michael Oher was a versatile gamer, but he was better at right tackle, which wasn’t what the Ravens envisioned for their 2009 first-round pick. Veteran Bryant McKinnie played well in 2011 and had a terrific 2012 postseason run, but the 30-something was never a long-term solution. The lucrative contract awarded to former Jacksonville first-round pick Eugene Monroe after a half-season of good play in Baltimore was a disaster.

But the Ravens finally nailed it with the sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft, selecting Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame. It wasn’t a flashy choice as future Pro Bowl selections Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, and Jalen Ramsey had just come off the board with the previous three picks and Baltimore had given Monroe a five-year, $37.5 million contract with $17.5 million guaranteed only two years earlier, but the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Stanley was rock solid from Day 1 and has only gotten better.

That was obvious in 2019 as Stanley took his above-average game to another level, earning his first trip to the Pro Bowl — he was a second alternate in 2018 — and being a first-team All-Pro selection in his fourth professional season. Pro Football Focus graded him as the best left tackle in the NFL, first among all offensive tackles in pass blocking, and 10th among all offensive tackles in run blocking. Stanley’s overall PFF grade steadily improved over his first three seasons before rising to an elite level, the kind of bump many had wanted to see as he moved a year closer to free agency.

“He has improved in everything he does,” said offensive coordinator Greg Roman after Stanley was named to the Pro Bowl in December. “I think a big part of that is improving every aspect of his preparation. The knowledge he’s accrued over the last couple of years, he’s a very intelligent young man. He’s really putting it to use. His consistency this year has been outstanding, which makes him deserving of that honor.

“He’s a constant work in progress, but run, pass, communication, assignment, technique, everything, he’s just really pushing the envelope every day on. It’s really showing on the field, and he’s a very important, key contributor to what we do.”

The focus of any offseason is understandably on new additions and a team’s own free agents scheduled to hit the open market, but that doesn’t mean extending Stanley, who remains under contract through 2020, isn’t a top priority by the time the Ravens kick off their 25th campaign in Baltimore this fall. Even if eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda returns for a 14th season, Stanley’s superb play and leadership shouldn’t be taken for granted with the rest of the starting offensive line all 26 year old or younger. And despite dealing with some nagging injuries at different points, Stanley has missed just three games due to injury — two because of concussions — over the last three seasons combined.

But he won’t come cheap. It’s difficult to quantify just how much MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson helps his offensive line by putting dual-threat stress on defensive fronts, but Stanley surrendered only six pressures all year and had a pass-blocking win rate of 98.7 percent, according to PFF. Those numbers trumped his peers by such a margin that dismissing his elite play solely because of Jackson’s presence would be patently unfair.

In other words, Stanley’s representation has every right to ask that he become the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL, especially since he won’t even turn 26 until next month. If you’re looking for a negotiating starting point, Tennessee and Taylor Lewan agreed to a five-year, $80 million contract that included $34 million fully guaranteed in the summer of 2018 when the left tackle was also entering his fifth-year option season, had two Pro Bowls under his belt, and was a year older than Stanley is now.

With the salary cap having risen more than $20 million since 2018 and the NFL entering the final year of its current collective bargaining agreement, the Ravens allowing Stanley to hit the open market next offseason could yield a similar result to last March when the New York Jets turned the market on its head by giving ex-Raven C.J. Mosley an $85 million contract with a $17 million average annual value, numbers that demolished the previous bests at the inside linebacker position. Stanley is set to make $12.866 million this season after general manager Eric DeCosta exercised his fifth-year option last spring.

Of course, it takes two sides to make a deal, but the Ravens doing everything they can to lock up a franchise left tackle to continue protecting their MVP quarterback in the midst of his rookie contract sounds like a no-brainer. It will be expensive, but Baltimore can’t afford to risk losing such a key piece to its record-setting offense, especially with Yanda walking away sooner than later.

Stanley isn’t Ogden — no one playing today is — but he’s the closest the Ravens have come at left tackle since the Hall of Famer hung up his cleats more than a decade ago. That’s just not the kind of player you let go after searching for him for so long.

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Yanda “to think about things” regarding future with Ravens

Posted on 17 January 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The future remains bright for the Ravens despite their stunning playoff loss to Tennessee, but one of their cornerstone players must still decide whether to return next season.

Eight-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda remains one of the best guards in football late in his brilliant career, but head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the 35-year-old will “think about things going forward” before potentially playing a 14th season. Yanda remains under contract for the 2020 campaign and is scheduled to make $7 million in base salary after signing a one-year extension last spring.

“I’m all for him playing Hall of Fame football for another year if he so chooses, and I did tell him that,” said Harbaugh, who spoke to Yanda after Saturday’s loss. “I let him know that, and we had a good hug and stuff. But he’ll do what’s right for his family, and whatever he does, we’ll respect it. I just couldn’t say enough good things — great things — about Marshal Yanda and his family.”

Graded as the NFL’s fourth-best guard by Pro Football Focus and selected to his eighth Pro Bowl in the last nine seasons, Yanda was voted a second-team All-Pro by the Associated Press and named to the All-NFL team by the Pro Football Writers of America after the Ravens offense set numerous franchise records and an NFL single-season rushing mark. The 2007 third-round pick out of Iowa ranks fourth on the franchise’s career Pro Bowl selections list behind only Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Ed Reed, three of his former teammates already enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Since missing most of the 2017 season with a broken ankle, Yanda has assessed his future on an annual basis, often noting the importance of being healthy at the conclusion of his career. The veteran lineman has missed only one game over the last two years, last month’s regular-season finale in which Harbaugh rested him and several other key starters.

Another Pro Bowl berth or two would fortify his Hall of Fame case at a position that’s historically been underrepresented in Canton, but Yanda takes pride in being a team-first player, making the disappointment of last Saturday’s loss and Baltimore’s bright prospects for 2020 more compelling reasons for his return than chasing an individual accomplishment. A Super Bowl XLVII champion and father of three children, the Iowa native didn’t shy away from calling the 2019 Ravens the best team on which he’d ever played during the season.

“I am not assessing my whole career and whatnot, but it definitely is a tough way to end,” said Yanda, who wouldn’t address his future immediately after Saturday’s loss. “How hot we ended the season, a 12-game [winning] streak, to have them come into our house and beat us at home, that’s tough.”

Judon’s free agency

Addressing the front seven of the defense is expected to be one of Baltimore’s top offseason tasks with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon headlining a list of unrestricted free agents.

With Judon coming off a career year that included a team-high 9 1/2 sacks and a fourth-place league finish in quarterback hits (33), Harbaugh acknowledged re-signing him would be “pretty hard” despite the Ravens “very much” wanting him back for 2020 and beyond.

“There’s no question that that’s a priority for us, and that’s something that’s really important to us,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to try to get as many of these guys re-signed as we can. Matt is probably right at the top of the list for sure. There are a lot of things that can go into that as we all know — the business part of it.”

Offensive assistants staying put

Quarterbacks coach James Urban and tight ends coach Bobby Engram both interviewed for coaching positions with Philadelphia before withdrawing from consideration, according to Harbaugh.

Urban was a candidate for the Eagles’ offensive coordinator job while Engram had been linked to their wide receivers coach opening, a position he held with Baltimore from 2014-18. The Ravens keeping their coaching staff intact after a 14-2 season would have to be considered a mild upset after offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale unsuccessfully interviewed for head coach openings with Cleveland and the New York Giants respectively.

“It looks like our staff is going to stay together. I can tell you that,” Harbaugh said. “I’m not saying anything couldn’t happen. There are always things brewing for a certain period of time.”

Pro Bowl plans

After agreeing to coach the AFC squad, Harbaugh said he hasn’t actively recruited any of Baltimore’s 13 Pro Bowl selections to play in next week’s spectacle, but the expected NFL MVP will indeed be going to Orlando.

Noncommittal about his Pro Bowl status after the loss to the Titans, second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson will play in the NFL’s exhibition for the stars. For now, the Ravens are scheduled to have 12 players take part in the game after right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. was added to the AFC roster and cornerback Marcus Peters dropped out earlier this week.

“Lamar wants to go. He’s fired up. I did know that,” Harbaugh said. “He told me he couldn’t wait. He didn’t have anything planned. He had no arrangements made. He didn’t know anything. He didn’t know what day he had to be there yet, but he’s excited.”

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Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following playoff loss to Tennessee

Posted on 14 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens seeing their season come to an end in a shocking 28-12 divisional-round playoff loss to Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those wondering how Baltimore would handle playing from behind couldn’t have liked the answer, but perception wasn’t helped watching Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City erase a 24-point deficit like it was nothing and Russell Wilson nearly bringing Seattle back at Lambeau. Improvement there is the next step for this offense.

2. Lamar Jackson was the first to say he didn’t play very well, but drops were a big problem as you could point to as many as seven passes that should have been caught — even if some weren’t on target. Another impactful wide receiver would be ideal in Jackson’s continued development.

3. I’m not sure why Gus Edwards received so few touches with Mark Ingram not 100 percent, but the last drive of the first half (13 dropbacks) and the fourth quarter (27 dropbacks) really skewed the run-pass ratio on which many are dwelling. Still, Greg Roman seemed out of sorts.

4. Committing to run is tough when gaining 38 yards on the first 22 first-down plays. However, as Twitter user @Yoshi2052 noted, there wasn’t a designed run on first down after the 9:03 mark of the second quarter. Baltimore netted one yard or worse on 24 of 40 first-down snaps. Yuck.

5. Tennessee’s 217 rushing yards were the fourth most allowed by the Ravens in team history. A run defense ranking 21st in yards per carry allowed (a franchise-worst 4.4) and 19th in efficiency benefited from playing with big leads all season. Upgrades at inside and outside linebacker are in order.

6. It was a tough time for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon to have one of his worst games. His missed tackle on a Ryan Tannehill third-down scramble extended the Titans’ first touchdown drive, and he missed another on Derrick Henry’s soul-crushing 66-yard run in the third quarter.

7. Sorry, I’m not going to knock John Harbaugh for doing what he did all year on fourth-and-1 situations after the Ravens went 8-for-8 in that department during the regular season. You’re going to bust sometimes at the Blackjack table, and it just happened at the worst possible time — twice.

8. The Titans were set up on a short field for three of their four touchdowns, but the Baltimore defense offered no sudden-change impact or resistance inside the red zone. The Ravens just couldn’t make the game-changing play on either side of the ball all night.

9. Few Ravens players stood out against Tennessee in positive ways, but Marquise Brown reminded once again why his future is bright with an offseason to now get his surgically-repaired foot 100 percent. His slight stature will always be a concern, but some unique ability is there.

10. Special teams offered no favors with a Brynden Trawick hold and a silly De’Anthony Thomas foul for blocking after calling a fair catch backing Baltimore up on second-quarter drives. The latter may have been the difference in needing to settle for a field goal before halftime.

11. After dominating with a 7-1 record and an incredible plus-159 point differential on the road this season, the Ravens fell to 3-4 in all-time home playoff games. They obviously earned the top seed with a 14-2 record, but home-field advantage probably wasn’t all that critical for this particular team.

12. While some opine about rust, is it possible blowing out Pittsburgh without Jackson in Week 17 left the Ravens feeling a bit too invincible going into the bye week as the world sang how great they were? It’s all conjecture, of course. The best team doesn’t always win. 

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Ravens must endure “hard truth” until back on January stage

Posted on 13 January 2020 by Luke Jones

A few Ravens players described it as a nightmare, hoping to wake up Saturday morning with a mulligan.

Matthew Judon compared it to a car crash.

Lamar Jackson said the offense got “too excited” and out of its element “a little too fast” after falling behind early.

There was much blame to go around and plenty of theories why top-seeded Baltimore suffered a stunning 28-12 loss to Tennessee in the divisional round, but Marlon Humphrey’s words stung most for a team that had gone an NFL-best 14-2, won 12 straight games, and rewritten both the franchise and league record books during a magical regular season.

“We’ve been here two years in a row, and we’ve lost,” said Humphrey, citing last January’s wild-card home defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers. “I think you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror, and I think this team right now, its identity is to get in the playoffs and choke. It is what it is. That’s just the hard truth.”

The “choke” word is harsh, but it comes from someone who won a national championship and finished as runner-up in his other collegiate season at Alabama, where the standard is college football’s highest. When you dominate the NFL for three months before seeing your Super Bowl aspirations crumble in three hours against a 9-7 team in your home stadium, there are few scenarios in the sporting realm where the term is more appropriate. Setting numerous records and finishing with the NFL’s highest point differential (plus-249) since 16-0 New England in 2007, the Ravens indeed fell short of the expectations they’d created for themselves, let alone what media or fans anticipated going into the playoffs.

No matter how disappointing Saturday night was in Baltimore, the future remains as bright for the Ravens as any team in football. Jackson was far from his best — as you could say about virtually every other Raven against the Titans — but the dynamic 23-year-old will be the NFL MVP and leads a young, innovative, and record-setting offense with virtually everyone under contract for 2020. Barring something completely unforeseen, coordinators Greg Roman and Wink Martindale will both return after failing to land head coaching jobs elsewhere. And thanks to having a franchise quarterback entering the third season of his rookie contract, general manager Eric DeCosta begins the offseason with over $30 million in salary cap space before any potential maneuvering to clear more room.

But there are no guarantees, which makes laying the divisional-round egg that much more difficult to accept. Despite how easy the Ravens made it look all season, so much has to go remarkably well to go 14-2 and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, some of it out of a team’s control. That’s not to say such a sterling record or the top seed is a requisite for a championship — the 2000 and 2012 teams send their regards — but luck plays a bigger part in a Super Bowl run than most want to admit. A first-round bye and playing at home is like being able to hedge your bets, much like John Harbaugh did by wisely not risking injury to Jackson and the handful of other key starters in the regular-season finale against Pittsburgh.

Optimists will frame this as part of Baltimore’s journey to its next Super Bowl title, recalling the heartbreak of the 2011 AFC Championship game and how the 2012 Ravens would go on to finish the job despite not achieving the same level of regular-season success. On the other hand, the 2006 Ravens lost at home to Indianapolis in the divisional round and regressed from a then-franchise-best 13-3 record to a 5-11 injury-plagued disaster in 2007.

Of the previous five NFL teams to secure a No. 1 seed and lose in the divisional round, two got to the Super Bowl the next year and lost, one fell in the divisional round again, another lost a wild-card playoff game, and the most recent — the 2016 Dallas Cowboys — failed to even reach the postseason the following year. The Denver Broncos (2012) would wait three years to win a Super Bowl while the Patriots (2010) wouldn’t win their next NFL championship for four more years after losing in the divisional round as No. 1 seeds. Those other three are still waiting for that redemptive Super Bowl title years later.

The Ravens indeed let a massive opportunity slip through their fingers, no matter how promising the future looks on paper.

The next 12 months will be a grind, for everyone from DeCosta and Harbaugh to Jackson and every other returning Raven who left the field in disappointment Saturday night. There are probably parallels you can draw with the infamous Super Bowl loser hangover except there being no January success from which Baltimore can draw after so much regular-season success.

Compartmentalizing and not giving into any thoughts of complacency or obsession about the postseason will be an unspoken challenge in the coming days, weeks, and months. As Harbaugh likes to say, you’re either getting better or you’re getting worse, a message he’ll surely convey over and over to his players from the moment they return to the team facility for the start of the offseason training program in April.

Fair or not, every shred of success next season will be met by a detractor saying, “That’s great, but what about January?” And there’s little the Ravens will really be able to say or do about that until next postseason — if all goes according to plan, of course.

Saturday’s defeat shouldn’t ruin what was the best regular season in franchise history. But much like the 2006 team that previously held that distinction and was much fun in its own right, these Ravens disappointed mightily in the postseason, the time when legacies are defined and feelings entrenched.

That’s just the hard truth.

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Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards runs for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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With Ingram limited, Edwards ready for main role if called upon

Posted on 08 January 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With running back Mark Ingram still not practicing after apparently suffering a setback, the Ravens aren’t panicking ahead of their divisional playoff meeting with Tennessee.

As offensive coordinator Greg Roman put it, the Ravens “really don’t have to skip a beat” if Ingram can’t play, evident by their 223-yard rushing performance against a tough Pittsburgh defense in the regular-season finale two weeks ago. That’s not to say Baltimore isn’t hoping to have its Pro Bowl running back, who hasn’t played or practiced since injuring his left calf against Cleveland in Week 16.

“It’s day to day, so we’ll see. But that’s how it is in this league,” Roman said. “You’ve just got to be ready to adapt and adjust as it happens. Like in the course of a game, it happened a couple weeks ago against Cleveland. We had to make some adjustments there.”

The main adjustment would be turning to top backup Gus Edwards, who averaged 5.3 yards per carry this season and rushed for a career-high 130 yards against the Steelers in Week 17. The former rookie free agent from Rutgers led the Ravens in rushing last season and has served as one of the best short-yardage backs in the NFL this season, rushing for first downs on 34.6 percent of his attempts this season.

Averaging 5.3 yards per carry and rushing for 1,429 yards over his first two seasons, the 6-foot-1, 238-pound back is eager to show the Titans — or anyone else — he’s capable of being the feature back. Pro Football Focus has graded Edwards 26th among running backs this season.

“I like to take every rep with that mindset that it’s my opportunity to show what I can do,” Edwards said. “It’s unfortunate what Mark is going through right now, but I’ve got to step up. That’s why I’m here. I’m here to make plays, and I’m here to run the ball and help my team win games.”

While there should be little question about Edwards’ ability to run effectively against Tennessee’s 12th-ranked rush defense, the Saturday forecast calls for rain showers that could test the chemistry between Edwards and quarterback Lamar Jackson at the mesh point of Baltimore’s frequent read-option plays. The second-year back cited plenty of practice reps with Jackson as reason not to be concerned, but a couple miscues in the turnover department are seemingly what the Titans need in their effort to pull off a second-round upset.

Edwards had a fumble in each of the final two games of the regular season, but neither came on the hand-off from the quarterback.

“Ball handling and ball security comes into mind,” said Edwards of the wet forecast. “It’s a big part of the game, especially in the playoffs and especially in our offense where we’re running the ball so much. We definitely have to keep that in mind and protect the football.”

Should Ingram not be able to play in Saturday’s game, the Ravens may elect to promote either Byron Marshall or the newly signed Paul Perkins as a third running back behind Edwards and rookie Justice Hill on the game-day roster.

Tight end Mark Andrews is the only other Baltimore player on the injury report for a health-related reason as he continues to be limited with a right ankle injury sustained in Week 16. His availability doesn’t appear to be in question, but his speed and mobility will be worth monitoring after a three-week layoff from game action.

The Ravens made a 53-man roster move Wednesday by placing reserve offensive lineman Parker Ehinger (shoulder) on injured reserve and signing veteran offensive tackle Andre Smith. The longtime Cincinnati Bengal and former first-round pick from Alabama has made 98 starts in his NFL career and last appeared in a game in November.

Meanwhile, the Titans were again without inside linebacker Jayon Brown (shoulder) and cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (foot) for Thursday’s practice. Wide receiver Adam Humphries (ankle) is not expected to play and has been sidelined since early December.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Mark Ingram (calf), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Mark Andrews (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Jayon Brown (shoulder), LB Kamalei Correa (illness), WR Adam Humphries (ankle), CB Adoree’ Jackson (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Nate Davis (illness), RB Dion Lewis (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Cody Hollister (ankle), WR Kalif Raymond (concussion)

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As honors pour in, Jackson keeps sights on bigger prize for Ravens

Posted on 04 January 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With Lamar Jackson always quick to credit teammates for his individual success, it’s no wonder another Ravens player would try to accept the quarterback’s latest honor.

As the announcement was being made that Jackson had been voted as team MVP unanimously by the local media, Matthew Judon made a beeline to the podium at the conclusion of Baltimore’s bye week, drawing much laughter. You get the sense Jackson wouldn’t have minded the Pro Bowl outside linebacker receiving the honor, which speaks to the gravitational pull of his leadership within the organization.

“Anyone could have been MVP, I feel. Everyone is MVP because without them, there’s no me,” said Jackson, who was also named to the Associated Press first-team All-Pro team Friday. “I thank the coaching staff, [reporters], my teammates. It’s a team award to me.”

The honors have continued to pour in for the NFL MVP favorite in his second season, but Jackson remains focused on fulfilling the promise he made the night he was drafted less than two years ago — bringing the Ravens their next Super Bowl. Last January’s playoff loss continues to motivate Jackson as he’ll finally have his next postseason chance in the divisional round next Saturday.

Jackson says that hasn’t altered his preparation this week — though an illness did — but his individual accolades and a 14-2 regular season don’t mean anything if the Ravens don’t feel the urgency to play their best football after their bye week.

“You have to go into each and every game the same way,” Jackson said. “This playoff game is a Super Bowl game because if you don’t win, you’re out. You’re going home until next season. I’m treating every game like it’s a Super Bowl game until I’m in there and it says ‘Super Bowl’ across.”

Coordinator interviews

Head coach John Harbaugh said Wink Martindale’s Saturday meeting with the New York Giants and Greg Roman’s meeting with Cleveland on Thursday are the only head coach openings for which his coordinators have scheduled to interview as of yet.

However, the organization granting those requests hasn’t stopped players from trying to keep their coordinators in Baltimore.

“I think he would make a great head coach,” said Judon about Martindale. “But I don’t want to talk about it because I don’t want to lose him. We’ve got some unfinished business. At the end of the season, whenever it happens, talk to me then about it and you’ll see how I feel.”

In his second season as defensive coordinator, Martindale navigated his unit’s early struggles and in-season changes for the Ravens to finish fourth in total defense, third in scoring defense, and fourth in Football Outsiders’ efficiency metric.

Meanwhile, Roman has orchestrated a record-setting offense that’s indeed revolutionized the NFL as Harbaugh predicted in the offseason. With the Ravens setting a single-season league rushing record and becoming the first team in NFL history to average 200 rushing yards and 200 passing yards per game in the regular season, Jackson wants other teams to get in line for their shot at hiring his offensive coordinator.

“They need to chill out. We have something to do right now,” said Jackson as he smiled. “We need him to focus because we need to focus. We’re trying to get somewhere. Let us do ours. You guys are going to have your turn when the season is over with. Just chill — we’re trying to get somewhere.”

Injury report

Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram missed practice all week while continuing to recover from a left calf injury sustained in Week 16, but the Ravens remain optimistic about a return for the divisional round.

“He’s on track to play,” Harbaugh said. “He should be practicing next week full speed.”

Wide receiver Marquise Brown, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and offensive linemen Ben Powers and Parker Ehinger were also absent from Friday’s practice as players now enjoy the weekend off.

Tight end Hayden Hurst returned to the field Friday after being one of several players under the weather this week, according to Harbaugh. Jackson practiced for the second straight day Friday and says he’s fully recovered from the illness with which he’d been dealing since last weekend.

“I really don’t get sick. It was like a stomach bug, kind of, but it was weird — nasty feeling, numbness,” Jackson said. “But I was good; I just couldn’t practice. I didn’t want to get around anybody on my team, especially when we need to work. We need to get better each and every day we can. But I’m over it. I’m good, I’m 100 [percent] right now.”

“Good Guy” award

In addition to Jackson predictably being voted team MVP, the local media chose right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. as the “Good Guy” winner.

The honor goes to a Ravens player who goes above and beyond regular media obligations to help reporters do their jobs. It was a tight vote among Brown, right guard Marshal Yanda, and wide receiver Willie Snead.

“You guys are very invested in us as a team and as individuals,” Brown said. “I just try to do my best to deliver. I do my job as a football player, which is talking to you guys and expressing my emotions.”

As a token of appreciation, local reporters will make a donation in Brown’s name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

Below is a history of the team MVP and “Good Guy” selections (in that order) dating back to the awards’ introduction by the local media in 2003:

2003: Jamal Lewis, Gary Baxter
2004: Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver
2005: Adalius Thomas, Jamal Lewis
2006: Steve McNair, Bart Scott
2007: Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason
2008: Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs
2009: Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson
2010: Haloti Ngata, Chris Carr
2011: Ray Rice, Bernard Pollard
2012: Ray Rice, Arthur Jones
2013: Justin Tucker, Joe Flacco
2014: Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith
2015: Marshal Yanda, Jimmy Smith
2016: Justin Tucker, Zachary Orr
2017: Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle
2018: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr
2019: Lamar Jackson, Orlando Brown Jr.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Jackson, eight other Ravens players absent from Tuesday’s practice

Posted on 31 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With an open week to work on fundamentals before learning their opponent for the divisional round, the Ravens hit the practice field without the expected NFL MVP on Tuesday.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson is one of a few players dealing with the flu, according to John Harbaugh. The 12th-year head coach had thought Jackson would practice on Tuesday, but the Ravens are wise to play it safe with no game this weekend and players already scheduled to be off on New Year’s Day before returning to work Thursday. Jackson has been dealing with the illness since at least the weekend.

Head athletic trainer Ron Medlin often sends players home when they’re under the weather in an effort to avoid the spreading of germs, but the locker room wasn’t open to the media on Tuesday, leaving it unclear if Jackson was at the team facility.

“We should be fine. He was on the sideline [Sunday]. I don’t think he felt great, but he was down there,” Harbaugh said Monday. “And I made a point to give him an elbow bump. There were no handshakes.”

Eight other Baltimore players were absent from Tuesday’s practice, a list including running back Mark Ingram (calf), tight ends Mark Andrews (ankle) and Hayden Hurst, offensive linemen James Hurst (arm) and Ben Powers, defensive backs Brandon Carr and Jordan Richards, and defensive lineman Chris Wormley.

On Monday, Harbaugh said Ingram remained “on schedule” to return for next week’s divisional round after completing a running workout while Andrews continues to be slowed by a minor ankle injury sustained in Week 16. The Pro Bowl tight end was a limited participant in last Friday’s practice and didn’t complete his usual pre-game warmup with the other Ravens tight ends prior to being deactivated for Sunday’s win against Pittsburgh.

“There was a chance he was going to go in the game,” Harbaugh said. “He was a game-time decision and didn’t feel good, didn’t feel right before the game. That’s why he was inactive.”

Baltimore isn’t required to release an injury report this week.

With the Ravens facing the lowest surviving seed of Houston, Buffalo, and Tennessee in the divisional round on Jan. 11, offensive coordinator Greg Roman acknowledged Ravens coaches are spending more time on the Titans this week since Baltimore played both the Texans and Bills in the second half of the regular season. The coaching staff will still revisit the latter two teams in their preliminary preparation before ultimately learning which one they’ll play by the conclusion of Saturday’s Bills-Texans and Titans-New England wild-card games.

Roman wouldn’t disclose when he would interview for Cleveland’s head coach opening, reiterating that his focus remains on preparing the Ravens offense for a long playoff run. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale confirmed the New York Giants have requested to interview him for their open head coach job, but he didn’t discuss any other specifics, repeating what he said last week that it would take a “dream” scenario for him to leave the Ravens.

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Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, right, talks with San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan, left, on the field before the start of the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Week 17 win reinforces Harbaugh as right choice for NFL Coach of the Year

Posted on 30 December 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens didn’t need to win Sunday’s game, evident by the decision to sit MVP favorite Lamar Jackson and five other Pro Bowl selections after clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed the previous week.

Sure, finishing a franchise-best 14-2 regular season, extending their team-record winning streak to 12 games, setting a few more records, and knocking AFC North rival Pittsburgh out of playoff contention were attractive carrots before the first-round bye, but none of those feats improved their chances of winning the Super Bowl, the ultimate goal for the best team in football. Sunday could have amounted to nothing more than three hours of holding your breath hoping Baltimore wouldn’t sustain any injuries that would harm a playoff run, and such a mindset would have been perfectly understandable.

But the 45 players who took part in Sunday’s game didn’t see it that way, perhaps the best testament yet to the culture overseen by head coach John Harbaugh — one that began being shaped years ago.

It would have been easy to coast in a game of no tangible consequence. Established veterans who did play could have taken exception to not being anointed as someone valuable enough to hold out. Young players could have lacked focus seeing Jackson and other veteran leaders in street clothes.

The Ravens not only won, but they flattened a Steelers team that had everything to play for. To perform in such a way without several of their best players should serve as an emphatic period for Harbaugh winning the NFL Coach of the Year award for the first time — in case you needed more convincing.

However, a look at recent award winners suggests Harbaugh probably isn’t the slam-dunk choice he should be with voters. The award is often bestowed on the coach who oversaw the most improvement in the win-loss department from the previous season — usually a difficult one — or who endured a degree of adversity that shapes a compelling narrative. How else do you explain Bill Belichick winning only three times in his two decades in New England?

On the surface, the Ravens’ four-game improvement in the win department from last year pales in comparison to Kyle Shanahan and San Francisco going from a 4-12 record in 2018 to a 13-3 mark and the top seed in the NFC. Baltimore lost several key veterans in the offseason, dealt with its share of injuries early on, and looked quite mortal after back-to-back losses in September to fall to 2-2, but Sean Payton navigating Drew Brees’ six-game absence and other injuries to a 13-3 record for New Orleans makes for a more compelling story.

Shanahan and Payton are two of several candidates worthy of consideration, but anyone trying to shortchange Harbaugh’s case on the grounds that he has the best team in the league, the overwhelming MVP favorite, 12 Pro Bowl selections, two coveted coordinators, and a highly respected front office is to ignore the process that brought Baltimore to this point as one of the best regular-season teams we’ve seen over the last three decades.

Even if you want to chalk up Jackson’s transcendent play to other teams simply being blind to his upside and impressive drive to be great, Harbaugh and the Ravens embraced his unique skills, promoted Greg Roman to offensive coordinator, and rebuilt their offensive system from the ground up this offseason to cater to his strengths even after a surprising 6-1 finish and trip to the playoffs last year. After Harbaugh spoke of an offensive revolution that drew plenty of skepticism this offseason, Baltimore rewrote the franchise record book, set a new NFL single-season rushing mark, and became the first team in league history to average more than 200 passing yards and 200 rushing yards per game. The Ravens used play fakes and pre-snap movement better than anyone in the league to put additional pressure on a defense already trying to account for what could be the greatest rushing quarterback in NFL history who also showed substantial improvement with his accuracy this season.

“John is the one who really orchestrated the vision for this offense and kind of set us on our way to do it and painted the perimeters and painted a picture of what he wanted it to look like and let us do our job,” said Roman, who’s now drawing interesting as a potential head coach elsewhere. “That speaks highly of a leader. But really, the three years I’ve been here, it’s all about football. It’s all about getting better, and that serves us all. We don’t waste time.”

Harbaugh also doesn’t waste in-game opportunity, which is why the football analytics community continues to praise the Ravens coach for his grasp of win probability and leverage on fourth downs in an age when so many coaches are still more concerned with merely prolonging the game or keeping the score respectable with conservative decisions rather than giving their teams the best chance to win.

It isn’t just about redefining offense in the NFL or going for it on fourth-and-short in their own territory, however. For years, Harbaugh has consulted with a leadership council of veterans to monitor potential issues in the locker room or to simply gauge when it might be time to take the foot off the gas for a given practice. Sometimes it’s a gesture as simple as allowing players to play music in the pre-game locker room to ease anxiety or to invite the families of coaches and players to spend time at the training facility.

This all goes into the culture that’s been shaped for years and has gone to new heights with the transcendent Jackson leading the way on the field. You don’t absorb as many newcomers on defense as seamlessly as the Ravens did in the middle of the season without talented coaches and a healthy locker room to make it work and to reap the rewards for a defense that’s become a very worthy partner to a record-setting offense.

Such an environment helps explain why the Ravens played with such tenacity in a game that didn’t mean much for their ultimate goal. Many within the organization have had important roles in creating that atmosphere over the years, but Harbaugh’s day-to-day vision has put the Ravens in position to do something special in 2019 with more to come in the new year.

“I wasn’t afraid to talk about this in March or April or May or June or July or August or September, and we got laughed at quite a bit, you know?” Harbaugh said. “But that’s OK. If they aren’t laughing at you, your dreams aren’t big enough. We’ve got big dreams, big goals, big ambitions, big faith, ‘big truss,’ alright? That was not planned either.

“We’re not afraid to step out there and speak from the heart on those kinds of things.”

That mindset and the success that’s followed make Harbaugh the right choice for NFL Coach of the Year, whether voters ultimately see it that way or not.

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