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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 2 win over Houston

Posted on 22 September 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their seventh straight road game dating back to last October in the 33-16 final over Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. One of my bigger concerns — relatively speaking — was that the Ravens might be caught “peeking ahead” to their Week 3 showdown, but John Harbaugh’s team offered a rock-solid performance in which every phase contributed meaningfully at some point in the game. You can’t ask for more playing on the road.

2. Marcus Peters delivered one of the finest interceptions you’ll see. Following a motioning Randall Cobb in man coverage, Peters read Deshaun Watson’s eyes, abandoned Cobb in the flat, and made a diving catch on the pass intended for Brandin Cooks. Very few even attempt that play, let alone make it.

3. Whether Will Fuller was dealing with a sore hamstring or not, the secondary holding the Texans’ No. 1 receiver without as much as a target in 37 snaps is impressive. It also speaks to trading all-world wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins not being a genius move, Bill O’Brien.

4. The pass rush and the offensive line were underwhelming early with no sacks on Watson and three surrendered in the first half, but both groups rebounded after halftime. The defense finished with four sacks and 13 quarterback hits while Baltimore ran for 153 yards in the fourth quarter alone.

5. Lamar Jackson offered another strong passing performance despite lamenting his overthrow of an open Marquise Brown on the corner end-zone route in the second quarter. Through two weeks, Jackson leads the NFL in yards per passing attempt (9.8) and is second in completion percentage (77.6 percent).

6. It’s fun seeing L.J. Fort in the spotlight for his 22-yard fumble return for a touchdown, but the 30-year-old has been the steadiest performer at inside linebacker, playing well against the pass and doing the dirty work against the run. He’s invaluable for a position group with so much youth.

7. His first NFL carry didn’t end well last week, but Patrick Ricard has now caught 14 of 17 career targets as a receiver with the latest being Sunday’s nifty touchdown reception on a pass Jackson acknowledged was less than stellar. He now has four career touchdown receptions.

8. It’s funny to note that Ricard played more snaps than any of the three running backs as Week 1 conclusions drawn about Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins went out the window. Observers are too quick to dismiss Edwards, who’s only averaged 5.3 yards per carry for his career.

9. Houston did a quality job limiting Mark Andrews to just one catch for 29 yards, so it was encouraging to see Miles Boykin make a career-high four receptions for 38 yards. He made the first catch of the game for Baltimore and the first two receptions of the second half.

10. The CBS broadcast noted that Sunday marked the 12th consecutive regular-season game in which the Ravens haven’t trailed in the second half. They’ve also won five of their last six road games by double digits and 10 of their last 12 regular-season games by 14 or more points.

11. Such factoids are why I don’t quite understand early arguments about the Ravens being better than last year as if the 2019 team wasn’t already incredibly dominant. Through two weeks, Baltimore ranks first overall in DVOA, fifth in offensive DVOA, and third in defensive DVOA. Last year? First, first, and fifth.

12. Tavon Young suffered one of many serious Week 2 injuries, sparking debate about the absence of preseason games. If that were the reason, why didn’t we see many more in Week 1? Football is a violent sport in which injuries are inevitable. If anything, preseason games only increase that probability.

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What I learned sitting on the roof in Houston and watching Ravens beat Texans in an empty stadium

Posted on 22 September 2020 by Nestor Aparicio

I must admit that there were long stretches during the spring and summer when I didn’t think the NFL would be playing football this fall so I wasn’t sure that making any “decision” to attend a Baltimore Ravens game would even be made available. But now that I’m back from Houston on my Week 2 adventure on the Lamar Jackson victory tour, I have some guy-on-the-road observations from the strangest road trip since Tom Green unleashed the fury or the magical mystery tour to London and Wembley Stadium on a day when the history of the franchise changed three years ago this week.

A thousand days later and on Sunday afternoon I found myself on the roof of a billion-dollar deserted stadium bowl next to the ghost of The Astrodome, wearing a mask and avoiding all human contact. This, after entering a parking lot with just 38 cars for an NFL game as a tropical storm dumped inches of rain on the soil where I’ve watched two Super Bowl extravanganzas this century.

Houston had a problem even before Lamar Jackson arrived.

There were just two of us from the Baltimore media at NRG Stadium on Sunday – Jonas Shaffer of The Baltimore Sun and me. We sat 12 feet apart and I enjoyed his company because I don’t really know him very well. I hope he was amused by my unique brand of in-game comedy that is often a little more blue than I work on the internet.

I have missed seven games – that’s total, home and away – in the history of the franchise that Art Modell brought from Cleveland in 1996. Most of them were when my wife was battling leukemia in the lost season of 2015. And one of them was last weekend against the Cleveland Browns to begin the 2020 season, when the NFL and the team are mandating that every media organization (except The Baltimore Sun) only get one media seat in the press box. My dude Luke Jones has covered the team for a decade at WNST (and soon at Baltimore Positive) so he took our seat at the stadium in Baltimore and I’m going to do the road games.

Until times get better…

The observations from my world-traveling soul about airports and hotels and crawfish etouffee and the people who are moving mostly freely about the country during a plague are probably far more wide-ranging and significant than my thoughts about Greg Roman’s offense and the marvel of watching No. 8 scamper 14 yards for another first down whenever he seems to choose.

I’ll be talking football and Super Bowl 55 Tampa dreams with half of Kansas City this week at AM 1570 as we unleash the new Baltimore Positive and WNST platform.

And you can trust that I will have plenty to say about Lamar Jackson v. Patrick Mahomes from my studio office all week – and my couch next Monday night.

But, from the “stick to sports” side, let me start by stating the absolute obvious, but something that I think that sometimes gets lost on a maniac like me who has dedicated his entire life, business, sweat and debt – past and future – to Baltimore and the concept of a community sports team pulling a city together in all of the appropriate ways to inspire and move forward our society.

I love football.

I really love football.

I love being at the game. I love the people. I love chatting with the players and coaches. I love the strategy. I love the draft. I love the pageantry. I love the sound. I love the history. I love the fans. I love the conversation, especially when it comes from intelligent people and astute football observers.

I was up all night Friday, drinking wine and talking football with a dear old friend. In a way only he can speak it. There is nothing I enjoy more.

I love that I saw Joe Namath play my first time at a Colts game at Memorial Stadium.

I love that my son, who is celebrating his 36th birthday today, saw Ray Lewis walk onto the field there 23 years later.

I have loved all 27 Super Bowl games that I have attended. My Radio Row weeks always produce some of the most memorable work of my career.

I love being the ultimate historian of modern Baltimore football and the experience of what the Ravens have done for my city and its people. I loved stopping my life for months at a time to write the Purple Reign books. I loved hosting the live radio shows from The Barn and every other place you’ve ever come to see a show. I loved having you on my roadtrips – everywhere from Seattle to San Diego, from Miami to Foxboro, from Tampa to New Orleans.

I know what Bob Irsay did. I also know what Johnny Unitas and Ray Lewis have done. I watched one of them in handcuffs. I watched Ray Rice punch his wife in a glass elevator. I watched Brian Billick lift a trophy in Tampa and then become magnanimous enough to become my business partner at WNST to raise money and awareness for Living Classrooms Foundation. I watched John Harbaugh lift a similar object in New Orleans with my wife and son next to me a dozen years later. Y’all still send me pictures and videos and memories from the purple 2:52 parade up Poydras to the Superdome and tell me it was the greatest thing I’ve ever done.

I appreciate that.

But, like the history of the franchise we love, there are warts as well.

I can still confirm that the Pro Bowl is total shit and those preseason games we’ve been getting bilked for are clearly archaic given what we’ve seen the past two Sundays on the couch. I bought two PSLs that I relinquished because I couldn’t find anyone to buy a ticket after “The Knee” on foreign soil.

And I know what greedy, Trumped-up hypocrisy has been involved in lining the pockets of the Bob Krafts and Jerry Jones and Stan Kroenkes while Colin Kaepernick spoke some uncomfortable truths to their white power and privilege that is still being heard louder than ever in the silence of empty stadia during the national anthem while he has been very effectively blackballed by the powers that be in the National Football League.

Here. I took this video so you can see what the Ravens sideline looked like during the National Anthem and talk among yourselves…

And, while you might be feeling a little “divided” by their peaceful actions during the politically-charged part of every Sunday in America, you also now you know how they came together 30 seconds later and played very capable football – together – during a plague.

All in.

During a worldwide pandemic.

To win a football game.

There are several Trumpers involved in the Ravens

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Young, Ravens find themselves in unfortunate but familiar position

Posted on 21 September 2020 by Luke Jones

What was expected became official Monday as the Ravens learned slot cornerback Tavon Young would miss essentially a third full season in a frustrating five-year career that began with such promise.

The 2016 fourth-round pick from Temple who quickly emerged to start 11 of his 16 games as a rookie has played in just 17 contests since then due to various injuries. Injuring his left knee — the same one surgically repaired three years ago — on Baltimore’s sixth defensive play in the 33-16 win over Houston on Sunday, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Young finds himself in an all-too-familiar position on the sideline.

“It is a torn ACL. It’s only a torn ACL, so that’s a positive,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the extent of the damage. “He’ll have surgery and go into rehab, and he’ll fight his way back. There’s no question about it. Our hearts go out to him on that, and we’ll be supporting him all the way.”

Since signing Young to a three-year, $25.8 million extension in February of 2019, the Ravens have gotten just one full game out of their slot cornerback, forcing coordinator Wink Martindale to make adjustments to a defense using at least five defensive backs roughly 87 percent of the time last season. The latest injury leaves Young’s future uncertain with two more years remaining on his contract — general manager Eric DeCosta could release him next offseason to save $3 million in salary cap space — but the Ravens must adjust quickly before their massive Week 3 showdown with Kansas City.

As was the case for much of last season when Young was out with a neck injury, the Ravens moved All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey inside to defend the slot against the Texans on Sunday, but Harbaugh wasn’t ready to commit to that being the primary strategy moving forward.

“We’ll see where we go. Knowing that we have options in the slot is really valuable,” Harbaugh said. “Of course, we put safeties in there too, but knowing that Marlon can go in there and play the way he did yesterday and last season is a big plus. We’ll just try to figure out what we’re going to do next during the course of the week, and we’ll have a plan for Monday night.”

In addition to Humphrey, there’s also the question of what a secondary reshuffling might mean for 32-year-old cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was just settling into a new hybrid role that included playing safety in the dime package and sometimes matching up with tight ends in coverage. With Young exiting the game early in the first half, Smith played 50 of 59 defensive snaps with much of that action coming at his old outside cornerback spot with Humphrey moving to the nickel.

The other in-house option on the 53-man roster would be third-year cornerback Anthony Averett, who played 23 snaps as an outside cornerback in Sunday’s win. The 2018 fourth-round selection from Alabama struggled last season after showing promise as a rookie, but he’s also held to a very high standard playing behind arguably the best cornerback duo in the league in Humphrey and fellow Pro Bowl selection Marcus Peters.

On Monday, Harbaugh provided an endorsement for Averett’s play against the Texans that included giving up some completions in coverage and committing an illegal contact foul with which the Baltimore coach disagreed. The 5-foot-11, 184-pound cornerback finished the day with four tackles.

His emergence would allow the Ravens to keep Smith at his hybrid role in the dime package at the very least.

“Anthony is not a concern for us. He’s practiced really well, [and] he’s played well when he’s played,” Harbaugh said. “He’s kind of biding his time. This will certainly be his opportunity to step in there and show what he can do. He’s played really well on special teams this year. We’re not concerned about Anthony. We’re excited to see him play.”

Baltimore also has young cornerbacks Terrell Bonds and Khalil Dorsey on its practice squad after both made a good impression during training camp. Dorsey is 5-foot-9 and Bonds 5-foot-8, making both more suitable options at the nickel. If Smith moves back to outside corner on a full-time basis, the Ravens could explore using veteran Anthony Levine more extensively in the dime package or take a look at rookie seventh-round safety Geno Stone, who’s been a healthy scratch for each of the first two games.

Injury report

Wide receiver and veteran special teams contributor Chris Moore (broken finger) and rookie defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (right knee) missed their second straight game on Sunday, but it’s unclear whether either is a realistic option to return to action against the Chiefs.

“I’d say that they have a chance to practice this week at some point in time to some degree,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how much they’re able to do. Chris Moore, if he is able to do enough, he could play special teams; he could jump right in there.

“Justin, he’s a rookie, so we’d have to see enough to feel comfortable with him out there Monday night. But from a health standpoint, this is the week that both of those guys have a shot.”

With Madubuike sidelined, fifth-round rookie Broderick Washington has been an active member of the defensive line rotation, but he played only three snaps against the Texans after seeing 28 in the season opener against Cleveland.

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Fourth down continues giving Ravens extra edge over opponents

Posted on 21 September 2020 by Luke Jones

Houston coach Bill O’Brien knew the same truth that Kevin Stefanski and Cleveland did playing against the Ravens the previous week.

The Texans weren’t good enough to beat Baltimore playing it safe.

That’s why they went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 34 despite trailing just 3-0 on the final play of the first quarter. Houston failed to convert as blitzing safety DeShon Elliott didn’t bite on quarterback Deshaun Watson’s play fake and forced an incompletion to tight end Darren Fells, who was tightly covered by linebacker Patrick Queen.

As if keeping up with the NFL’s best offense from a year ago weren’t difficult enough, Sunday marked the 13th consecutive regular-season game in which the Ravens held an opponent to 21 or fewer points.

“We felt like we needed possessions in the game, so we decided to go for it,” O’Brien said. “We put a play out there, they called timeout, we changed the play. The play didn’t work, we didn’t convert it. But that’s just the way it works. They did a better job than us on that, and we just need to work hard to improve.”

It’s easy to mock the play call — Houston didn’t run the ball on third-and-1 either — and its execution, but the decision to go for the first down as well as Stefanski calling one of the worst fake punts we’ve seen in recent memory last week illustrates the predicament for overmatched opponents facing the Ravens. Teams can play by the book to keep the score respectable and hope Baltimore stubs its toe enough times, or they’re forced to step outside their comfort zone and risk ridicule, something John Harbaugh and the Ravens have shown little resistance to doing in recent years. At this point, there’s nothing uncomfortable about fourth down for the Ravens, giving them an additional edge when inferior opponents merely try to keep the score close rather than give themselves the best possible chance to win.

After the Texans failed to convert that fourth-and-1 to end the opening quarter, O’Brien’s bigger mistake was settling for a Ka’imi Fairbairn field goal on fourth-and-6 from the Baltimore 17 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. Trailing 23-10 against a team that had punted just twice all day, the Texans kicking a 35-yard field goal maintained a two-score deficit in the game and signaled O’Brien was expecting his defense to get two more stops just to give Watson and the offense a chance.

That’s a lower-percentage play than going for it on fourth-and-6.

Meanwhile, Harbaugh answered any lingering questions about whether those two failed fourth-and-1 plays in the shocking postseason loss to Tennessee would alter his thinking in 2020. With the Ravens facing a fourth-and-1 from the Houston 30 and leading 23-13 with just over 12 minutes remaining, a Justin Tucker field goal would have kept it a two-possession game and maintained a faint glimmer of hope for the Texans. That’s why Harbaugh decided to go for it and offensive coordinator Greg Roman sent sixth offensive lineman Patrick Mekari onto the field. Taking a direct snap and running left behind an unbalanced line and great blocks from Mekari, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, tight end Nick Boyle, and fullback Patrick Ricard, running back Mark Ingram galloped 30 yards for the touchdown to give Baltimore an insurmountable 30-13 lead.

“Mark executed it really well as far as setting up the scheme itself in terms of his angles. And then the offensive line and tight ends just blocked it great,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a critical play. It’s something we had been preparing for that kind of situation. I give Greg and the offensive coaches and the players — the guys who executed it — all the credit. They’re the ones that made it happen, and that was big. It was a big play in the game.

“It was the turning point in the game. Gave us a little breathing space, and I’m proud of them for that.”

Of course, Harbaugh wasn’t finished showing off his fourth-down mettle on the following possession, electing to go for a fourth-and-1 from his own 36 with 6:32 remaining and a 30-16 advantage. Failing to convert would have kept the door cracked ever so slightly for the Texans and left Harbaugh open to loud second-guessing in the event of a miracle Houston comeback, but converting meant being able to continue chewing away at the clock.

And perhaps it served as a boost of bravado for a decorated running game that hadn’t gotten untracked over the first seven quarters of the 2020 season. Unlike Ingram’s touchdown, there was nothing fancy about this formation or play as quarterback Lamar Jackson plowed straight ahead behind center Matt Skura for the first down.

“That was, what, maybe a three- or four-inch thing. It was that close and we just felt like we could get it with that short,” said Harbaugh about his rationale to go for the first down. “They were lined up in there to stop the sneak. They knew what was coming. I don’t think it was tricking anybody. It was just our offensive line getting the push, Lamar being determined to get it. I think that was all just grit and guts to get that one.”

Grit and guts indeed.

The Ravens drained nearly three more minutes from the clock before Justin Tucker’s 20-yard field goal for the final 33-16 score. Those fourth-down conversions headlined a 153-yard rushing performance in the final quarter after Baltimore had run for an ordinary 77 yards over the first three periods.

The first two weeks of a new season have shown that opponents recognize the need to break away from convention to have a chance against Baltimore, but the Ravens have maintained their fourth-down edge on both sides of the ball, making them that much more difficult to beat.

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Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram (21) scores on a touchdown run as Houston Texans cornerback Gareon Conley (22) tries to stop him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ravens-Texans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 20 September 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens seek their 14th consecutive regular-season win on Sunday and hope to remain healthy in the process.

While injuries ravaged a number of notable NFL players in Sunday’s early games, Baltimore entered its Week 2 encounter with Houston in relatively good shape from an injury standpoint. Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), running back Justice Hill (thigh), and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) were deactivated for the second straight week, but Hill was able to practice fully by the end of the week, an indication that the Ravens simply didn’t have a game-day role for the fourth-string running back in his second season.

As expected, left tackle Ronnie Stanley (hip/ankle) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (hip) were active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Stanley was a full participant in Friday’s practice, signaling his availability was no longer in doubt after he missed most of the second half of the season opener due to a left ankle injury.

For the second straight week, Baltimore elevated veteran safety Jordan Richards from the practice squad. The 27-year-old took part in 17 plays on special teams in the Week 1 win over Cleveland.

Meanwhile, the Texans will be without backup running back Duke Johnson, who was deactivated after being limited in practices all week with an ankle injury. Houston elevated running back C.J. Prosise from the practice squad for Sunday’s game.

Sunday’s referee is Tony Corrente.

With rain falling throughout the day in Houston, the roof will be closed at NRG Stadium.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with white pants while Houston dons white tops and blue pants for its home opener in Week 2.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between these AFC teams in the regular season with the Ravens enjoying an 8-2 advantage. Baltimore hasn’t won a game in Houston since 2010, which was a 34-28 overtime final on Monday Night Football.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Chris Moore
S Geno Stone
RB Justice Hill
G Ben Bredeson
DT Justin Madubuike

HOUSTON
RB Duke Johnson
CB Cornell Armstrong
OLB Jonathan Greenard
ILB Peter Kalambayi
OT Charlie Heck
TE Pharaoh Brown

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 September 2020 by Luke Jones

The first NFL meeting between Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson was one of the most anticipated matchups of the 2019 season in the wake of their classic showdown in the ACC a few years earlier.

But the outcome was a flop from a competitive standpoint as the Ravens dominated Houston in a 41-7 blowout at M&T Bank Stadium. The fresh memory of that encounter has taken some of the air out of Sunday’s rematch, but the Texans are feeling much urgency trying to avoid an 0-2 start after their season-opening loss to Kansas City. Meanwhile, the Ravens are aiming to win their 14th consecutive regular-season game and seventh straight road contest dating back to last October.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Texans meet for the 11th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding a decisive 8-2 advantage as well as a victory in the only playoff game between these teams. Counting that postseason victory, the Ravens are 7-2 against Houston in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Rookie Devin Duvernay will score his first NFL touchdown. The third-round pick from Texas played only 11 offensive snaps in the opener, but it was interesting to see Greg Roman call a wide receiver screen to him for Jackson’s first pass of the season. Duvernay showed off his speed on a pair of kick returns for 64 yards, and his ability to gain yards after the catch was a major selling point for the Ravens. Finding ways to get him the ball in space figures to become a bigger priority moving forward, and Houston had its share of problems with open-field tackling in Week 1.

2. Houston’s J.J. Watt will register a sack and a forced fumble. The Ravens quietly had some problems along the offensive line in Week 1, particularly inside with Matt Skura making his return from last November’s knee injury and Tyre Phillips playing in his first NFL game. That wasn’t all that shocking, but Watt’s tendency to move around the line makes it paramount to identify where he is pre-snap. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year may not be the unstoppable force he once was after missing 32 games over the last four years, but he still dominates against the run at the very least.

3. Jackson will run for a touchdown and over 100 yards. There was much talk after last year’s opener about the Ravens quarterback rushing only three times — one of those being a kneel — in his record passing day against Miami, but Jackson proceeded to run 16 times for 120 yards the following week on his way to a record-setting rushing season. It’s natural to anticipate Jackson’s carries diminishing as he becomes a more and more dynamic passer, but last week’s issues running between the tackles and shaky protection feel like the latest setup for the Ravens to zig while an opponent zags.

4. Baltimore will sack Watson five times. Much of the defensive success last week stemmed from coverage as the Ravens pressured Baker Mayfield only 11.9 percent of the time despite blitzing on nearly 55 percent of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference. Watson’s tendency to hold the ball led to him being sacked six times by Baltimore last season, and a DeAndre Hopkins-less wide receiver group puts even more pressure on the star quarterback who’s now depending on Will Fuller as his top target. After playing in coverage more than usual in Week 1, Matthew Judon will register his first sack.

5. The Ravens will use a balanced effort in a 33-20 win over the Texans. With Baltimore clearly being the better team on paper, this matchup represents a noteworthy checkpoint with a big Monday night game with Kansas City looming next week. In the offseason, Jackson shared his belief that the Ravens got caught “peeking ahead” against Tennessee in the playoffs as so many were already counting down to a conference championship showdown with the Chiefs the following week. With this being their first road game in this COVID-19 world against a Houston team feeling urgency and coming off extra rest, the Ravens need to come out of the locker room focused and energized in what will be an empty NRG Stadium. That’s exactly what they’ll do in a game that won’t be a blowout due to a better showing from Watson this time around, but Baltimore will take control by the third quarter on the way to a 2-0 start and the aforementioned clash with the Chiefs.

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Ravens left tackle Stanley practices fully, listed as questionable for Week 2

Posted on 18 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens should have the services of left tackle Ronnie Stanley for their Week 2 trip to Houston after the 2019 Pro Bowl selection practiced fully on Friday.

Stanley was officially listed as questionable on the final injury report after missing practice on Wednesday due to a hip injury and being limited on Thursday. The 26-year-old injured his left ankle on the opening drive of the second half in last Sunday’s win over Cleveland, but that ailment wasn’t what kept him out of practice. Stanley appeared to be moving well during the portion of Friday’s workout open to reporters, running onto the practice field and later hitting a blocking sled without any limitations or signs of discomfort.

It’s good news for the Ravens after veteran backup D.J. Fluker struggled mightily in Stanley’s place and graded next to last among all offensive tackles to play a Week 1 offensive snap, according to Pro Football Focus.

Baltimore also listed cornerback Jimmy Smith (hip) and running back Justice Hill (thigh) as questionable for Sunday’s game. Smith missed Wednesday’s practice and remained a limited participant for the remainder of the week. The 32-year-old defensive back played in the season opener despite dealing with back spasms prior to the game, but it’s unclear if the hip ailment is related. Hill was upgraded to full participation on Friday, but the bigger question is whether the fourth-string running back will have a game-day role after rookie wide receiver Devin Duvernay handled kick returns effectively against the Browns.

The Ravens ruled out wide receiver Chris Moore (thigh) and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) for the second straight week as both have been sidelined since training camp.

Meanwhile, Houston didn’t listed three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt on its game status report despite the veteran defensive end being limited in practices with a hip issue this week. The Texans designated starting wide receiver Brandon Cooks (quad), starting right tackle Tytus Howard (ankle), and No. 2 running back Duke Johnson (ankle) as questionable, but all three practiced all week on a limited basis.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Justice Hill (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (hip), OT Ronnie Stanley (hip)

HOUSTON
QUESTIONABLE: WR Brandin Cooks (quad), OT Tytus Howard (ankle), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), ILB Peter Kalambayi (hamstring)

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Skura trying to build on Week 1 with rest of Ravens offensive line

Posted on 17 September 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens center Matt Skura was excited to be back in action for the first time since sustaining a serious knee injury less than 10 months ago, but he and the offensive line expected more from themselves in the aftermath of a 38-6 win over Cleveland.

The final score surprisingly wasn’t indicative of an uneven performance up front as Baltimore ran for a rather ordinary 111 yards on 30 carries, its lowest single-game total since the 2018 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. And though Lamar Jackson had an all-world, MVP-caliber day with three touchdown passes, an 80-percent completion percentage, and a 152.1 passer rating, Cleveland pressured him on 30 percentage of his dropbacks, according to Pro Football Reference.

Maintaining he’s “really close” to being 100 percent and that his surgically-repaired left knee “feels great,” Skura and the rest of the offensive line know they need to be better moving forward. It also reflects high expectations after last season when the Ravens ran for an NFL single-season record 3,296 yards and averaged a league-leading and franchise-record 33.2 points per game.

“Even though we didn’t have our best game as an offensive line and just me personally, it’s definitely good to just know that there’s so many more things that we can improve on,” Skura said. “And if we — including myself — clean up the little things, I think the game would’ve gone even further and we could’ve scored more points. That’s definitely encouraging.

“Just knowing that we can improve on those little technique things here and there, it was a good start. We didn’t have any preseason games to get those kinds of things out of the way.”

The Ravens next travel to Houston to take on a defense that gave up 166 rushing yards and nearly 5.0 yards per carry against a Kansas City rushing attack led by rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire in Week 1. The Texans are trying to fill the void left by the free-agent departure of standout defensive tackle D.J. Reader, making the interior an area the Ravens could try to exploit.

That’s also where the Ravens offensive line struggled the most in the opener with Skura and rookie right guard Tyre Phillips both having some difficulties.

“We have high standards, obviously,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “I thought [the running game] was very effective in getting done what we wanted to get done in certain areas, and then there are things we have to clean up. The next day, everybody was getting back to work on cleaning those things up, and it’s just something that we are going to try to get better and better at every week.”

Roman’s nightmare

Three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt has missed the last two meetings between the Ravens and Texans due to injury, but Roman described him as falling into the “nightmare category.”

In fact, the Baltimore coordinator even compares the 6-foot-5, 288-pound defensive end to Jackson with the way he manages to avoid high-impact contact.

“He just knows how to defeat blocks and he does it in a very unique way,” Roman said. “Some people that would try to do that would absolutely end disastrously, but he’s got the balance, the quickness to be able to set up the offensive lineman or the blocker and then show them one thing and give them something else, but still be productive on the play. He has really good instinct on when to take those chances and understands angles in real time.

“It’s hard to get a really, really crushing block on him because he’s a very slippery but powerful player — very unique combination.”

Of course, with the 31-year-old Watt having missed 32 games from 2016-19, it’s fair to wonder if that sterling reputation is more reality or nostalgia at this point.

Proche A-OK

Rookie wide receiver James Proche drew criticism for allowing the first punt sent his way to bounce at the 18 and roll all the way to his own 1 in the second quarter of the Browns win, but special teams coordinator Chris Horton had a different outlook.

“From the outside, we look at it as an error. From the inside, we look at it as we gave our offense the ball back,” Horton said. “Our offense got possession of the football. James understands also that we like to catch every ball we possibly can. But looking at that punt, him being the punt returner, it’s his first opportunity to catch one, [and] he didn’t like the way it was coming down. I thought he made a great decision.”

Speaking positively about a rookie is wise, but Horton may have been singing a different tune had the Ravens been stuffed for a safety or committed a turnover so deep in their own territory on the ensuing drive.

Proche returned two other punts for 26 yards in his first career game.

Thursday’s injury report

After missing Wednesday’s practice with respective hip ailments, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and cornerback Jimmy Smith were limited participants.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger) and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee) remained absent and appear very likely to miss their second straight game. Running back Justice Hill (thigh) practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day after missing the season opener.

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury),
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Justice Hill (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (hip), OT Ronnie Stanley (hip)

HOUSTON
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (quad), OT Tytus Howard (ankle), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), ILB Peter Kalambayi (hamstring), DE J.J. Watt (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: FB Cullen Gillaspia (hamstring), OLB Jonathan Greenard (ankle)

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Ravens defense hoping to give Deshaun Watson another “one of those days”

Posted on 17 September 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens defense was up to its old tricks in the season-opening 38-6 victory over Cleveland.

After leading the NFL in blitz rate at 54.9 percent of opposing dropbacks last season, Baltimore sent at least one extra rusher against Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield 54.8 percent of the time last Sunday, according to Pro Football Reference. It was how defensive coordinator Wink Martindale generated a pass rush in 2019, relying on numbers and superb coverage in the secondary to finish a respectable 16th in pressure rate and second in quarterback knockdowns despite ranking 21st in sacks with just 37. The difference Sunday was less efficiency in that department as the Ravens applied pressure just 11.9 percent of the time despite Mayfield’s inability to take advantage, a testament to the play on the back end.

What that means this week as the Ravens travel to Houston to take on two-time Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson remains to be seen, but last November’s 41-7 demolition of the Texans at M&T Bank Stadium doesn’t guarantee a similar result for Week 2. Watson played arguably the worst game of his 2019 season that day, registering just 169 passing yards, 12 rushing yards, an interception, and no touchdowns while the Ravens registered a season-high seven sacks.

The 25-year-old Clemson product lacks the consistency of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson — the last two league MVPs — at this point in their respective careers, but he’s every bit as dangerous when playing at his best, meaning the Ravens can’t rest on their laurels.

“We’re not overconfident — trust me,” Martindale said. “He gets better every year. He’s a Pro Bowl quarterback for a reason. It was just one of those days last year. He is like a LeBron James-type player in the NFL instead of the NBA. He’s a general; he’s a point guard out there. We all respect his game.”

Watson’s style of play presents an interesting challenge as Pro Football Focus ranked his time to throw the second longest in the league behind only Jackson last season, which can lead to similarly spectacular throws and scrambles. But his style also leads to more sacks for which the Texans offensive line aren’t always to blame.

That was evident on the opening drive against the Ravens last year when he held the ball and scrambled in the pocket for a full 10 seconds before being stripped of the ball from behind for a turnover. That improvisation and patience are a double-edged sword, however, as Baltimore can’t ask its secondary to cover quite that long and expect similar results in the first road game of the season.

The pass rush needs the proper balance of discipline and explosiveness to contain a quarterback who so often goes against the grain.

“That’s what he does. He actually holds the ball longer than anybody in the league,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think their offensive line does a good job — the scheme is part of that — but it’s really mainly him. And he does it to create opportunities for the pass game. He’ll throw it. He’ll throw it to anybody. He’ll throw it deep. He’ll throw it short. He’ll throw it to every different receiver — you saw that last week — and he’ll run.”

“Different receiver” is a sore subject in Houston these days after Texans coach Bill O’Brien’s decision to trade four-time Pro Bowl selection DeAndre Hopkins to Arizona, leaving Watson without an elite No. 1 target. Despite a couple uncharacteristic drops in that loss against the Ravens, Hopkins was still Houston’s best player, catching seven passes for 80 yards.

Now, Watson is leaning on the oft-injured Will Fuller and the oft-traded Brandin Cooks as his top wide receivers while hoping former Pro Bowl selection David Johnson — acquired from the Cardinals in the Hopkins deal — brings some juice to the running back position. The results were mixed in the Texans’ 34-20 loss to the Super Bowl champion Chiefs in the season-opening game.

Of course, the Ravens aren’t the same on defense as that day they clobbered the Texans with changes at all three levels of their defense. Watson would be wise to test rookie inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison with underneath and intermediate throws to his tight ends and running backs. Third-year safety DeShon Elliott held up well in his first NFL start replacing Earl Thomas, but he’ll need to show strong discipline on the back end of the defense, especially when Watson improvises.

“With Watson running around and the things he can do and extend plays and the throws he makes on the run, it’s going to be very, very important,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be a big part of the game.”

Ultimately, the biggest challenge for the Ravens could be following the mantra uttered throughout the spring and summer — one week and one game at a time.

They know the Chiefs come to town next week in a Monday night game already being labeled an AFC Championship game preview, but the Hopkins-less Texans — who will have five-time Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt on the other side of the ball this time — are still talented enough to give them problems, especially if the Ravens get caught “peeking ahead” as Jackson suggested they did against Tennessee last January. Watson’s also going to want some revenge as Houston tries to avoid an 0-2 start.

“They have a great quarterback — one of the best in the NFL — and he has a good supporting cast,” said outside linebacker Matthew Judon, who collected two sacks and forced a fumble in last year’s victory. “We just can’t sleep on them. We’ve got to go out there and be us, be who we are. But we cannot think that they can’t make plays because they definitely can.”

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Stanley, Smith absent from Wednesday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 16 September 2020 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley left the season opener with an ankle injury early in the second half, but it was another ailment that kept him sidelined for Wednesday’s practice.

The 2019 Pro Bowl selection was listed as having a hip issue on the official injury report while Baltimore ramped up preparation for its Week 2 trip to Houston. On Monday, head coach John Harbaugh had anticipated Stanley being on the field for the first practice of the week, but that was when his ankle was believed to be his only health concern.

“I haven’t been told anything serious,” said Harbaugh about Stanley’s left ankle injury that occurred on the opening drive of the second half of the 38-6 win over Cleveland. “They’re working on him down in the training room. I’d say Wednesday we’ll have a pretty good idea. But I expect him to be out there practicing Wednesday. That’s my expectation at this point.”

With Stanley sidelined, the Ravens turned to veteran D.J. Fluker at left tackle for the final 24 offensive snaps of the Browns game.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith was also absent from Wednesday’s practice with what was listed as a hip injury. Though he ultimately played 24 snaps in Week 1, the 32-year-old defensive back was a Sunday morning addition to the injury report and given a questionable designation because of back spasms.

Wide receiver Chris Moore (finger), defensive tackle Justin Madubuike (knee), and defensive end Calais Campbell (veteran day) were also missing from the workout, but running back Justice Hill (thigh) returned to practice as a limited participant after missing the season opener.

Having placed rookie inside linebacker Kristian Welch on practice squad injured reserve, the Ravens signed veteran tight end Xavier Grimble to their 16-man practice squad. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Grimble was released by Indianapolis earlier this month after spending the previous four seasons with Pittsburgh. In 47 career games with the Steelers, the 27-year-old made 23 receptions for 239 yards and three touchdowns.

Benefiting from some extra rest since their season-opening loss to Kansas City last Thursday, the Texans had their entire 53-man roster on the practice field, but five-time Pro Bowl defensive end J.J. Watt (hip), wide receiver Brandin Cooks (quadriceps), right tackle Tytus Howard (ankle), and running back Duke Johnson (ankle) were all limited participants. Watt did not play in last November’s meeting between these teams, a 41-7 blowout win for Baltimore.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Calais Campbell (non-injury), DT Justin Madubuike (knee), WR Chris Moore (finger), CB Jimmy Smith (hip), OT Ronnie Stanley (hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Justice Hill (thigh)

HOUSTON
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Brandin Cooks (quad), OT Tytus Howard (ankle), RB Duke Johnson (ankle), DE J.J. Watt (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: FB Cullen Gillaspia (hamstring), OLB Jonathan Greenard (ankle)

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