Tag Archive | "Hayden Hurst"

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) celebrates his touchdown run against the New England Patriots with offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (79) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 10 January 2020 by Luke Jones

There was a time when Ravens-Titans was the best rivalry in the NFL.

Divisional realignment all too quickly separated these old AFC Central foes, but Baltimore and Tennessee met three times in the playoffs in a nine-year period with each of the encounters memorable. We all remember Ray Lewis, Eddie George, Ed Reed, and Steve McNair, but even lesser names such as Anthony Mitchell and Gary Anderson elicit a reaction from both fan bases to this day.

We’ll see if Saturday’s divisional-round meeting provides the next instant classic or simply serves as another checkpoint for 14-2 Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations after a 12-game winning streak to close the regular season. An upset win would send the Titans to their first AFC Championship appearance since the 2002 season while the Ravens aim to advance to the conference championship for the first time since 2012 and host the AFC title game for the first time in franchise history.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the fourth time in the postseason with Baltimore holding a 2-1 edge and the road team prevailing each time. The Ravens and Titans are tied 10-10 in their regular-season history with Harbaugh’s team winning the most recent meeting, a 21-0 shutout in Nashville last season.

Below are five predictions for Saturday night:

1. Lamar Jackson will become the fourth quarterback in NFL history to rush for 100 yards in a playoff game. Trying to predict what happens with Mark Ingram and his lingering calf injury is tricky, but there’s no questioning Jackson’s involvement in the ground game after he carried the ball 11 or more times in eight games this year. Titans coach Mike Vrabel quipped the best way to slow Jackson is to tie his shoelaces together, but it’ll be interesting to see how the 23-year-old comes out of the gate in the biggest game of his life after three weeks off. It makes sense for Greg Roman to throw in an extra designed run or two early on to help his young quarterback settle in, but Jackson will play like the MVP.

2. Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown will each score for the Titans. The Tennessee offense isn’t as diverse as Baltimore, but it isn’t devoid of unique talent with the 2019 rushing champion and a 1,000-yard rookie receiver who finished second in the NFL in yards per catch (20.2). With the Ravens using nickel and dime packages so often to play to their strength in the secondary, it’ll be interesting to see how Wink Martindale balances the need to contain Henry while not allowing Brown or Corey Davis to get loose for Ryan Tannehill to take play-action shots. The Ravens rank 21st in yards per carry allowed and 19th in run defense efficiency, but an early lead would really neutralize Henry’s impact.

3. Marcus Peters will intercept a pass to stall a Tennessee drive. In a similar way to how Tannehill helped transform a stagnant Titans offense into one of the NFL’s best units, the acquisition of the ball-hawking Peters was the biggest factor in the dramatic improvement of the Ravens defense from the first month of the season. With Peters and a healthy Jimmy Smith on the field, Baltimore allowed 200 net passing yards only once in the final eight regular-season games. The Titans rank first in the NFL in red-zone touchdown percentage, but the Ravens are third in red-zone defense, meaning something will have to give. Three of Tannehill’s six interceptions this season came inside the red zone.

4. Hayden Hurst and Nick Boyle will catch red-zone touchdowns. Tennessee will be without top cover linebacker Jayon Brown due to a shoulder injury suffered last week, which is bad news for a defense that’s already had its problems covering tight ends this season. However, the effectiveness of Pro Bowl selection Mark Andrews will be something to monitor as he continued to be limited with a right ankle injury this week and hasn’t appeared to move very well during practice time open to reporters. Even if Andrews isn’t 100 percent, Hurst and Boyle are very capable of making plays in the passing game and could take advantage of the Titans devoting more attention to the top option at the position.

5. A fast start will neutralize Tennessee’s game plan and propel the Ravens to a 30-16 win. As I wrote earlier this week, Baltimore starting strong could be the difference between a comfortable blowout and a game that goes down to the wire with the way the Titans like to play and their confidence level after a big win in New England last week. You always wonder how a team will respond after extensive time between meaningful games, but the culture created by an accomplished head coach should alleviate concerns of potential rust or coming out flat. The Ravens are the best team in the NFL, have the league’s MVP, and enjoy home-field advantage while Tannehill and the Titans have been a good story in the second half of the season that will come to its conclusion on Saturday night.

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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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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, center, has the ball knocked loose as he is hit by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99), right, during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The fumble was recovered by Ravens defensive end Jihad Ward. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 14 win at Buffalo

Posted on 09 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their ninth straight game in a 24-17 final over Buffalo to officially clinch a playoff spot, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You thought it could be over when Baltimore received the ball with seven minutes left, but a clock-smothering offense was stonewalled, leaving it up to the defense. As Matthew Judon said, “We want to be the heroes sometimes.” Late (and questionable) penalties aside, the defense saved the day.

2. Despite holding an opponent under 20 points for the seventh time in eight games, the defense had some shakier coverage than the numbers suggest. Bills quarterback Josh Allen missed some shots and was harassed to the tune of six sacks and 12 hits. The difference in quarterback play was obvious.

3. Sunday wasn’t his best day as Lamar Jackson fought challenging elements and a tough defense for the second straight week, but he shook off a rough first half to go 11-for-15 for 115 yards and two touchdowns after intermission. You’re probably the MVP favorite when a three-touchdown day feels ho-hum.

4. Hayden Hurst has faced an uphill battle after a foot injury as a rookie, but his 61-yard touchdown to begin the second half was massive and he’s caught 26 of 32 targets this season. Has Hurst really been a disappointment or has Mark Andrews’ phenom status simply hurt his perception?

5. The only thing better than Marcus Peters’ breakup of Allen’s fourth-down throw to John Brown to seal the victory was his Stone Cold Steve Austin-like celebration. He bounced back from last week’s rough showing against San Francisco in a big way with three pass breakups and four tackles.

6. When the 4-2 Ravens began a stretch of six of seven against teams over .500 in October, you probably hoped for a 5-2 mark and would have lived with a 4-3 record. Baltimore went 7-0 with a plus-150 point differential and is 7-1 against teams currently 8-5 or better. Domination.

7. Credit the Bills defense for limiting the Ravens to a season-low 118 rushing yards. To hold Jackson to his lowest rushing total since Week 1 and Mark Ingram to just 3.3 yards per carry was impressive and helps explain why Greg Roman was so out of sync as a play-caller.

8. Sam Koch’s seven punts more than doubled his previous season high (three). He hadn’t punted more than four times in any of Jackson’s first 19 regular-season starts, so you hope his kicking leg is recovered enough in time for Thursday night.

9. With their offense shattering franchise records left and right, you could have made some money betting on the Ravens being part of the first NFL game this season in which both teams had fewer than 100 yards of offense in the first half. Sports are funny.

10. Marquise Brown has four catches for minus-one yard and the Ravens have logged only two plays of 20 or more yards that weren’t aided by penalty over the last two games. Dealing with foot and ankle issues, the rookie could probably use a January bye week as much as anyone.

11. Jaylon Ferguson rebounding from last week’s performance against San Francisco was encouraging as the rookie registered a sack, three quarterback hits, and three tackles. His continued development will be critical down the stretch, especially against outside runs.

12. The Ravens tied the franchise record with their sixth road win of 2019 and extended their team-record away winning streak to five. Because of that, they will very likely play just one more road game this season — unless you want to consider Miami on Feb. 2.

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Ravens-Rams: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 24 November 2019 by Luke Jones

You win on the road in the regular season to play at home in January.

The 8-2 Ravens travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in hopes of improving to 5-1 on the road and winning what would be a team-record fourth straight regular-season away game. Baltimore hasn’t posted a winning road record since 2010, but an explosive offense and a rapidly improving defense have traveled well, making John Harbaugh’s team the best in the NFL in the eyes of many.

Meanwhile, the 6-4 Rams are aiming to record their fourth win in five games as they enter Week 12 three games out in the NFC West and 1 1/2 games behind the second wild-card spot in the NFC. The urgency is certainly there for Los Angeles to take care of business at home.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the seventh time ever in the regular season and first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 4-2 margin and are 2-0 in the Harbaugh era, but this is their first ever trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Marcus Peters will register an interception against his former team. The Ravens defensive back insists he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder returning to Los Angeles after being traded last month, but that won’t stop the man Wink Martindale called a cornerback “savant” from preying on Rams quarterback Jared Goff, whose superb first two seasons under coach Sean McVay feel like a long time ago. Peters came away with an interception against Kansas City on Monday Night Football last year, and he’ll pull off the same trick against another former team.

2. Brandin Cooks will catch a touchdown as the Rams use a no-huddle approach. Teams need to be aggressive and step outside their comfort zone if they want to have a real chance to beat Baltimore on either side of the ball right now. An up-tempo, no-huddle attack is a risky proposition with the Ravens’ ability to control the clock on the other side, but it neutralizes Martindale’s ability to substitute and tests the stamina of what’s still an ordinary group of pass rushers. New England had some success with this strategy in Week 9, but no Baltimore opponent has really tried it since then.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw touchdowns to Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. The Rams have a talented trio at cornerback, but Ravens wide receivers aren’t a big part of the passing attack anyway, which will make it interesting to see how Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tries to use top corner Jalen Ramsey. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton is strong in coverage and safety Taylor Rapp is capable as well, but their responsibilities against the run will make it difficult to consistently stick with Baltimore’s tight ends. Hurst has caught 20 of his 24 targets and is long overdue for a score.

4. Aaron Donald will record a sack for the sixth straight game. You need Pro Bowl-caliber talent and discipline at every level to have any meaningful chance of slowing down Jackson and the Ravens offense, but the biggest key might be having an interior player who can control the line of scrimmage against the run and pass. Pittsburgh’s Cam Heyward did it in Week 5 — the Ravens’ worst offensive showing of 2019 at just 3.8 yards per play — and Donald is widely considered the NFL’s best defensive player. Marshal Yanda, Matt Skura, and Bradley Bozeman will have their hands full.

5. Another strong dual-threat showing from Jackson will be the difference in a 27-16 win. The more desperate Rams coming away with a victory wouldn’t shock me as this is one of Baltimore’s more difficult remaining games on the schedule and I’m not expecting Harbaugh’s team to win out looking from a macro perspective. At the same time, it’s tough envisioning the Los Angeles defense getting enough stops and a middling Rams offense producing enough touchdown drives for the math to add up unless the Ravens beat themselves with turnovers and penalties. Over the last four games, Baltimore has committed just three turnovers with ex-Raven Cyrus Jones and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III accounting for two. This team is making explosive plays and playing smart football, a good formula for winning anywhere. It doesn’t hurt having the current MVP favorite on your side either.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win at Cincinnati

Posted on 12 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their fifth consecutive game in a 49-13 final at Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After posting a 158.3 passer rating 30 miles from his hometown in Week 1, Lamar Jackson had another perfect day 100 miles from where he won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville. Playing like that in front of so many who watched him on his path to NFL stardom is special.

2. Being traded in the middle of a contract year can be a challenging transition, but Marcus Peters has now returned two interceptions for touchdowns over his first three games as a Raven. A cornerback with a boom-or-bust reputation is putting himself in position for a huge payday.

3. Marquise Brown has caught seven of eight targets for 128 yards and a touchdown since returning from an ankle sprain. The rookie performing like this at less than 100 percent continues to be impressive and encouraging for his future if he can stay healthy.

4. The Ravens haven’t posted a winning road record in the regular season since 2010, but they’re 4-1 in away games this season and 6-2 on the road since Jackson became the starter last year. Road success in the regular season is what allows teams to play at home in January.

5. Brandon Williams has played some of the best football of his career in recent weeks, which included a season-best seven tackles in 59 defensive snaps with Michael Pierce exiting Sunday’s game early. Williams’ Week 4 spat with Earl Thomas feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

6. Nick Boyle had four catches for a career-high 78 yards and has now set a new single-season high in receiving yards nine games into 2019. Mark Andrews headlines, but all three Baltimore tight ends have been superb, combining to catch 71.6 percent of targets for 949 yards and seven touchdowns.

7. In a combined 30 snaps between offense and defense, Patrick Ricard had a big block on Mark Ingram’s touchdown run, recorded a tackle for no gain, logged a strip-sack returned by Tyus Bowser for a touchdown, and had another tackle for a minimal gain. That’s quite a splash.

8. The “Heisman Package” resulted in a 12-yard gain as Jackson pitched to Robert Griffin III on the option. As John Harbaugh said, “Guys like to have fun,” but I’m now expecting Vinny Testaverde, Ricky Williams, and Troy Smith to come back if they’re serious about this Heisman thing.

9. With the return of Jimmy Smith, the arrival of Peters, and the shift of Brandon Carr to safety and Chuck Clark to the box in the dime, Anthony Levine has played only 11 defensive snaps since the bye. Levine is a good player, but it speaks to improved secondary depth.

10. Sam Koch didn’t have to punt until the 1:14 mark of the fourth quarter in Cincinnati. His career low for punts in a season is 60, but the longtime Raven is currently on pace to punt only 37 times in 2019. Things sure have changed here in Baltimore.

11. Jackson did the heavy lifting, but CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan’s call of the electric 47-yard touchdown run was a lot of fun. Harlan is one of the more underrated broadcasters in the business. “He is Houdini!” will be remembered by Ravens fans for a long time.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one who thought of Tony Siragusa late in the Ravens’ 2000 playoff win over Tennessee when Jackson was shown wearing sunglasses on the sideline. Siragusa gets bonus points for taking those shades from Brian Billick and that being a more important game, however.

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Five Ravens players to watch for rest of 2019 season

Posted on 25 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are 5-2 atop the AFC North and are enjoying their bye week with a winning record for the first time since 2014, but unknowns remain that will surely impact the rest of this season and beyond.

Which individuals a bit more on the periphery than budding stars such as Lamar Jackson and Marlon Humphrey could have a significant impact on the second half of the season as well as future decision-making?

Below are five players to watch for the remainder of the season:

WR Miles Boykin

It’s no secret that production from wide receivers not named Marquise Brown has been less than stellar this season, in part because of the lack of opportunities in a run-first offense prominently featuring tight ends. But the last few weeks have illustrated the need for another dependable option to emerge for the Ravens to alleviate some of the pressure on Jackson, who’s accumulated 56.7 percent of his season rushing attempts over the last three games in which Brown was either out or limited. Boykin has reeled in nine of his 13 targets, a percentage high enough to warrant more looks. After experiencing some growing pains, the 6-foot-4 wideout stepping up would improve the Ravens’ chances the rest of the way while easing some of the urgency for general manager Eric DeCosta to add more help at the position in the offseason.

S Chuck Clark

Since losing Tony Jefferson to a season-ending knee injury in Pittsburgh, the Ravens couldn’t have asked for more from Clark, who has played well in Jefferson’s absence and seamlessly assumed the responsibilities of relaying calls in the defensive huddle. Pro Football Focus has graded the 2017 sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech as the NFL’s 17th-best safety this season and much more favorably in pass coverage than Jefferson. Clark proved his worth as a valuable backup filling in for Jefferson last season, but a strong finish to the season could give him the inside track on the 2020 starting job with Jefferson entering the final year of his contract and scheduled to make $7 million in base salary while recovering from a major knee injury. Clark’s challenge now is to show week-to-week consistency.

OLB Jaylon Ferguson

Whether or not the right pass rusher at the right price becomes available for a successful trade before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, the Ravens will be depending on the third-round rookie from Louisiana Tech to step up with the versatile Pernell McPhee gone for the season with a triceps injury. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen confirmed Ferguson will be used in McPhee’s hybrid role in which he’ll line up as an edge defender or as an interior rusher in sub packages. That’s a lot to ask of someone who was a healthy scratch at the start of the season, but the silver lining is the Ravens will get a long look as how effective Ferguson can be at the next level, which contrasts how the first couple years played out with Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. That knowledge should assist in how to attack the pass rush this offseason.

TE Hayden Hurst

His rookie year was a lost cause because of a foot injury that lingered throughout the season, but the former first-round pick has remained a bit player in Baltimore’s offense so far while fellow 2018 draft choice Mark Andrews is rapidly becoming one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Hurst has caught 14 of his 18 targets this season — the team’s highest percentage from any non-running back — but PFF has graded him as the worst run-blocking tight end in the league entering Week 8 while Andrews has shown marked improvement in that area. Hurst’s name has reportedly been mentioned in trade discussions, but there’s still time for him to carve out a more meaningful role in this offense, especially with the Ravens looking for a more prominent No. 3 pass-catching option behind Andrews and Brown.

CB Marcus Peters

The trade sending linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams paid immediate dividends with Peters returning an interception for a touchdown in the impressive 30-16 win over Seattle. Leading the NFL in picks (25) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (five) since his rookie season in 2015, Peters has a propensity for making big plays while also giving up some of his own, a high-variance quality that will be interesting to watch the rest of the way. He’ll be a free agent in March, which gives DeCosta another decision to make with Jimmy Smith also hitting the market and the team holding a 2020 option for Brandon Carr. There’s also the matter of planning for the massive extension the 23-year-old Humphrey will very likely command in the not-too-distant future.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 7 win at Seattle

Posted on 22 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning for the first time ever in Seattle and going into the bye week with a 5-2 record after a 30-16 victory, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Just three weeks after a disastrous performance against Cleveland, the Baltimore defense held the red-hot Russell Wilson and the Seahawks to 16 points while scoring two touchdowns of its own. Eric DeCosta and Wink Martindale deserve much credit for revamping and stabilizing this unit on the fly.

2. After taking two cross-country flights in just over 48 hours and learning a new defensive playbook in a few days, Marcus Peters couldn’t have had a more impressive Ravens debut with his 67-yard interception return for a score. It helped that he’d played Seattle two weeks earlier.

3. Taking away three quarterback kneels, Lamar Jackson averaged nearly 11 yards per carry on Sunday. Jackson is third in the NFL in rushing since Week 2 and has totaled more rushing yards than seven other teams. Don’t let understandable concern for his health cloud how special this really is.

4. Jackson ran all over the Seahawks despite having problems with which cleats to wear on the slippery CenturyLink Field turf. I had to chuckle over his post-game comment about a linebacker catching him being unacceptable. Quarterbacks usually say something like that about defensive tackles.

5. Earl Thomas didn’t make any game-changing plays against his old team, but you couldn’t help but feel he truly became a Raven on Sunday as so many teammates expressed strong desire to win for him. The veteran safety’s emotion after Jackson’s 30-yard run in the fourth quarter said it all.

6. The conditions weren’t easy, but Jackson and the offense need more from their pass catchers. Mark Andrews will rebound from his nightmare performance and Marquise Brown is expected back after the bye, but a more consistent No. 3 option feels like a must with some tough opposing defenses looming.

7. Josh Bynes was a familiar name and had made 40 career starts prior to returning to Baltimore, but L.J. Fort had made only three NFL starts and played more than 100 defensive snaps in a season just once. Fort’s play has been superb compared to even the most optimistic expectations.

8. The fourth-down touchdown in Seattle will be remembered for years to come, but it wouldn’t have been possible without Jackson’s third-down completion to Hayden Hurst earlier in that drive. It was an excellent throw on the run and a good catch on the sideline.

9. Seeing Marshal Yanda’s agreement with Jackson wanting to go for the fourth-and-8 and his post-touchdown reaction says much about the 22-year-old quarterback’s leadership. The seven-time Pro Bowl guard carries no bravado, so to see such genuine excitement was really something.

10. I was a little surprised to see John Harbaugh call for the field goal after the recent analytics talk, but how he handled Jackson’s desire to go for it is what makes him such a good coach. The decision was ultimately his, but he knows when to trust his players.

11. Nearly 5 1/2 years after being selected in the sixth round of the 2014 draft by the New York Giants, reserve safety Bennett Jackson made his NFL debut with a tackle on the Ravens’ first kickoff of the game. What a special moment for the Notre Dame product and his family.

12. Remember that discussion about the October woes in recent years? After going 7-17 in October games from 2013-18, the Ravens went 3-0 with victories at Pittsburgh and Seattle, two of the more difficult places to play in the NFL. Not a bad way to go into the bye week.

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Confidence in Jackson evident as he plays Ravens “closer” in Week 2 win

Posted on 15 September 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens were clinging to a 23-17 lead in a game much closer than many anticipated.

The defense had forced back-to-back three-and-outs against Arizona, but impressive rookie quarterback Kyler Murray had made enough throws and Baltimore had experienced enough breakdowns in coverage over the course of Sunday afternoon to worry. Facing a third-and-11 at their own 44-yard line with 3:05 remaining, the Ravens punting the ball back to the Cardinals was an uncomfortable thought.

“You need a closer, man,” outside linebacker Matthew Judon said. “You need somebody to go out there, do the dirty work, and get it done.”

Such a third-and-long situation last year likely would have called for a run, which sometimes even worked and would have at least kept the clock running with Arizona out of timeouts. Or, perhaps a simple run-pass option to set up an easy underneath throw or the possibility of Lamar Jackson keeping the ball, getting to the edge, and outrunning the defense to move the chains.

Not anymore.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman showed just how confident the Ravens are in their 22-year-old quarterback and his arm with an empty backfield and speedy rookie Marquise Brown in the slot. Jackson went for the jugular.

“We’ve got to get the first down,” Jackson said. “There’s man coverage on him, no safety help over top, and he ran a great route. I just had to make a great throw. He came down with the catch. I had other options, but that was the best one to go to at the time.”

Even with tight coverage on the play, Cardinals cornerback Tramaine Brock didn’t have a chance. It was a perfect throw and a great catch for 41 yards.

“That was a great pass,” said Brown, who finished with eight catches for 86 yards. “I seen it in the air, I’m like, ‘Oh, this is money right here.’ I couldn’t mess that one up.”

Ballgame. You can cross another question off the list as Jackson made an MVP-like throw in the clutch to seal a narrow victory.

Following his record-setting performance in last week’s 59-10 blowout win over Miami, Jackson became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 270 yards and run for 120 in a game, dual-threat production that was needed with Ravens running backs gaining a pedestrian 62 yards on 17 carries. Any remaining critics — who are dropping like flies these days — will again try to point to below-average competition while ignoring the obvious.

The Ravens may have something really special on their hands.

That’s not to say Jackson was perfect on Sunday. After a first half closely resembling the Dolphins game by going 12-for-16 for 171 yards and two touchdown passes to Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, Jackson appeared frustrated at times in the second half, missing a few open throws and going 11-for-20 for 60 yards before the game-sealing strike to Brown. The second-year quarterback was happy with the win after the game, but he lamented penalties and missed opportunities that led to only six points in the second half.

It was another excellent performance, but one not good enough for Jackson, a quality that’s going to allow him to be as good as he can possibly be. That mindset is why teammates and coaches were so excited seeing his improvement throughout the offseason.

There will be some bumps in the road ahead, but the throw he delivered when the Ravens needed it most is why they’ll have plenty of confidence going into Arrowhead Stadium next week. After nearly grinding out an upset with its ball-control offense against the Chiefs last December, Baltimore now has to believe it can hang if this rematch turns into more of a shootout between Jackson and 2018 league MVP Patrick Mahomes.

After throwing for just under 600 yards and seven touchdowns — the latter already surpassing his total from his rookie campaign — in his first two games of 2019, Jackson has given future opponents much to consider beyond his legs, which were working just fine against the Cardinals. Defensive coordinators preparing for the Ravens won’t be getting much sleep until further notice.

“They’re going to have to figure it out for themselves,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But this league has a lot of smart people and a lot of great players. As Lamar well knows, they’ll be chasing our scheme. We’ll play one of the best teams in the league next week in Kansas City. The stadium will be rocking. It’ll be deafening.

“We’re going to have to be a much better football team next week than we have been last week or this week. That’s just the way the league works.”

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Ravens-Eagles preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 21 August 2019 by Luke Jones

Long viewed as the dress rehearsal for the regular season, the third preseason game between the Ravens and the Philadelphia Eagles isn’t expected to resemble that.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed most starters will play around 20 snaps for the third straight week, but that plan for quarterback Lamar Jackson may need to be revisted with three members of the projected starting offensive line dealing with health concerns. Meanwhile, it remains unclear if Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz will play Thursday after being held out of his team’s first two preseason contests by head coach Doug Pederson.

Starters seeing less and less playing time has brought the preseason schedule under greater scrutiny with many calling for a reduction in exhibition games. The Ravens have conducted two sets of joint workouts in each of the last two summers, a practice becoming more popular among NFL teams since it provides competition in a more controlled environment to curtail injuries.

“I just felt like we got a lot of work done,” said Harbaugh about the practices in Philadelphia and the possibility of eliminating some preseason contests. “I wouldn’t be opposed to that at all. I’m on record [saying] I don’t know how many of these preseason games we really need to play, but I also understand there’s a lot to the bargaining process. We’ll see what happens.”

Of course, this game remains very meaningful for players fighting for spots on the 53-man roster with final cuts only 10 days away. The preseason finale is often touted as the forum for bubble players to win jobs, but the reality is most roster decisions have already been made by that point and only a spot or two at most remains up for grabs.

Thursday represents the last best chance for many of these roster hopefuls.

“It’s going to be a measuring stick definitely,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “It’s one of those things that we talk about. This third preseason game, it’s getting down to crunch time now where guys are going to make the 53 or they’re not.

“The biggest message was, ‘If you think you’re on the bubble, you are.‘”

Thursday marks the 13th time the Ravens and Philadelphia will meet in the preseason with Baltimore holding a 7-5 edge. The all-time regular-season series is tied at 2-2-1.

The Ravens own a 35-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won a remarkable 15 in a row, a streak going back to the beginning of the 2016 preseason.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do in the regular season, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Thursday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of several will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle), CB Tavon Young (neck), QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), WR Seth Roberts, CB Iman Marshall (thigh), OT Greg Senat, OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: LB Chris Board (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Otaro Alaka, OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), WR Marquise Brown (foot), G Jermaine Eluemunor, RB Kenneth Dixon, RB Gus Edwards, LB Shane Ray, LB Nicholas Grigsby, DT Gerald Willis

Five players to watch Thursday night

TE Hayden Hurst

The 2018 first-round pick is healthy and has had his share of good days during training camp, but he’s recorded only one catch for minus-1 yard over the first two preseason games. Building confidence and consistency are keys for Hurst entering his second season, so you’d like to see him finish the preseason on a high note. With first-round rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown still not at full strength, Jackson and the passing game may need to lean even more heavily on the tight ends early in the season, making it important for Hurst to at least emerge as a productive complementary option to Mark Andrews.

LB Shane Ray

The Ravens have waited all summer for Ray to emerge, but it hasn’t happened to this point as he didn’t really stand out even playing against second- and third-team offensive linemen in the first two preseason games, which isn’t an encouraging sign for someone in his fifth season. The former first-round pick of the Denver Broncos missed practice time earlier this week, but he did return for Tuesday’s session, leading you to believe he should be able to play Thursday. The gap is hardly insurmountable, but Ray appears to be sixth in the pecking order at outside linebacker, which may not add up to a roster spot.

OL Bradley Bozeman

Despite not being strongly considered for the starting left guard job in camp, Bozeman has seemingly solidified his roster standing with solid play as the backup center in the preseason as well as an ability to fill in at either guard spot. The health status of the starting offensive line could press Bozeman into starting duty against the Eagles, which could provide him the chance to make a late pitch to be the left guard. The 2018 sixth-round pick from Alabama never did push Matt Skura for the starting center position as many anticipated this offseason, but he still looks the part of a versatile reserve.

CB Maurice Canady

The oft-injured defensive back entering the final year of his rookie deal looked to be the odd man out in a very deep group of cornerbacks, but the neck injury to Tavon Young has shortened a path to a roster spot for Canady, who has played well on the outside this summer. He served as Baltimore’s nickel back in the second half of the 2017 season, so it will be interesting to see if he receives more opportunities to compete in the slot against the likes of Cyrus Jones, Brandon Carr, and Anthony Averett. Canady’s injury history and contract status still make him vulnerable on cut-down day, but his chances have improved.

RB De’Lance Turner

Despite rushing for 58 yards on 11 carries in the first two preseason games, Turner looks to be no higher than fifth on the running back depth chart, which would suggest he’s really not even on the bubble. However, the burst he’s shown as a rusher coupled with his appearance on starting special-teams units would lead you to believe he’s vying for a job, especially since Kenneth Dixon is in the final year of his contract, has a long injury history, and doesn’t play special teams. No one suggests Turner is better than Dixon, but those variables work in the former’s favor if Baltimore wants to keep a fourth back behind Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of second preseason game

Posted on 13 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding open training camp ahead of the second preseason game against Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marlon Humphrey was consistently the best player on the field these last three weeks, but his attention to detail also stood out. When he wasn’t taking reps, you’d frequently see the third-year corner reviewing plays on a tablet. He’s on track for a Pro Bowl season if he stays healthy.

2. His practice return brought relief Tuesday, but I believe more every day that expectations for Marquise Brown need to be tempered, especially early in the season. The effects of a foot injury for a speed-dependent player and limited practice time don’t exactly set the rookie up for immediate success.

3. Eric DeCosta deserves praise for fetching a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik, who’s never played in an NFL regular-season game. It was wise not to get greedy knowing a couple misses Thursday could have made potential trade partners quickly reconsider interest. Baltimore’s kicker development is second to none.

4. We’ve spent much time talking about Lamar Jackson as a passer, but John Harbaugh described him as having “very high emotional IQ” to explain his natural leadership qualities and why teammates gravitate to him. There’s no way to quantify that, but it has to help at the quarterback position.

5. Along similar lines, defensive players seem to feed off Earl Thomas, who has picked his spots to show emotion and leads more by example. There’s been an adjustment for him playing in a more complex system than he did in with Seattle, but it’s going to be fun watching him.

6. Hayden Hurst had arguably his best practice of camp Tuesday, looking much more like the player we saw last summer before the foot injury. Besides health, a key for him is maintaining confidence and not letting a rough play linger in his mind, something Mark Andrews seems adept at doing.

7. With Iman Marshall missing three straight practices after appearing to have a thigh issue, many are assuming that could “stash” the rookie on injured reserve. That may prove true, but you hate seeing a young corner miss out on valuable reps with final cuts still more than two weeks away.

8. I wouldn’t have said Michael Floyd was even in the running for a roster spot prior to the preseason opener, but he’s turned in some of his best practices this last week. With Seth Roberts missing time and Brown’s status still spotty, Floyd has some daylight to make a push.

9. The Ravens are smart to play it safe with Marshal Yanda and a lingering foot issue, but I can’t help but think back to him acknowledging how big a factor health will be in determining how much longer he plays. This offensive line desperately needs him at his best.

10. With four cornerbacks missing practice and Maurice Canady only returning to the field Tuesday, how the Ravens line up in the secondary against the Packers could be interesting. It’s a reminder why Baltimore values depth at the position after being so shorthanded there several years ago.

11. I’ll never profess love for preseason football, but at least we’ll get to see Aaron Rodgers. Fans weren’t complaining, but it was a bummer not seeing him play when the Ravens went to Lambeau two years ago. The Packers will again play in Baltimore in the 2021 regular season.

12. If you already have an eye toward the season, 10 of the Ravens’ 16 games come against defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed last season. Yes, it’s a new year, but that’s reason for optimism, even if you’re not yet buying the Jackson hype.

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