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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 17 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in just over a week and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties

We continue on the offensive line, a group that was truly a tale of two halves last season as the Ravens ranked 31st in yards per carry over the first nine weeks and were the NFL’s best rushing team over the final seven games of 2018. Lamar Jackson taking over at quarterback played a colossal part in that improvement, of course, but Pro Football Focus ranked Baltimore as its 10th-best offensive line by the end of the season — and 11th in its 2019 preseason rankings — and Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens eighth in pass protection.

The Ravens have an offensive line that isn’t unique from most in the league in that they have three undisputed starters, another they’d probably like to upgrade in a perfect world, and a significant question mark at the fifth starting spot. That profile fits most teams — including plenty of playoff contenders — as overall offensive line play has suffered in recent years, but the Ravens have continuity on their side as all eight linemen to play 94 or more offensive snaps last season are returning, an advantage offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris will certainly enjoy going into the summer.

Below is a look at the offensive linemen who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Marshal Yanda
Skinny: The Ravens sorely missed the 34-year-old after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury early in 2017, but it didn’t take Yanda long to shake off the rust last year as he graded as PFF’s fourth-best guard in the NFL and made his seventh Pro Bowl in the last eight seasons. The 2007 third-round pick from Iowa is another Pro Bowl or two away from really having an excellent case for induction in Canton one day, but the Ravens are happy to have him back continuing to lead a young offensive line.

Old Reliable — Yanda
Skinny: Despite signing a one-year extension through 2020, Yanda is playing on a year-by-year basis at this point with his health being a major factor determining how much longer he will suit up. His understated leadership will be even more important this year with key veterans such as Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle no longer on the roster.

Under Fire — Alex Lewis
Skinny: All things equal, the 27-year-old may still be the best option at left guard, but his career has been marred by injuries and he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract. Recovering from offseason shoulder surgery is a challenge by itself, but the 2016 fourth-round pick’s decision to rehab away from the team facility probably doesn’t help him in any tiebreaker situation for a roster spot in the eyes of decision makers. It’s now or never for Lewis to stay healthy and realize his potential.

Up-and-Comer — Orlando Brown Jr.
Skinny: The 2018 third-round pick wasn’t dominant as a rookie, but he was solid in his first 10 starts and graded as PFF’s 47th-best offensive tackle. Brown may not be a great athlete — his combine numbers spelled that out — but what he lacks from a measurable standpoint is made up for with intellect and an advanced understanding of angles, which is such a critical part of line play. The Ravens are right to have high expectations for Brown entering his first full year as a starter.

Sleeper — Greg Senat
Skinny: The former college basketball player from Wagner missed his rookie season with a foot injury, but the Ravens could use a backup left tackle — and have a starter entering the penultimate year of his rookie contract — and clearly liked Senat’s upside when drafting him in the sixth round last year. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound lineman largely remains an unknown, but the Ravens don’t have as many options at offensive tackle as they do for the interior spots, making his roster chances better than you think.

The Rest — Ronnie Stanley, Matt Skura, Jermaine Eluemunor, James Hurst, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Patrick Mekari, Patrick Vahe, Darrell Williams
Skinny: This season could determine whether Stanley will remain in the solid-to-above-average tier of left tackles or put the Ravens on notice that they’ll need to make him one of the highest-paid left tackles in the game in the not-too-distant future. … Skura is maligned by fans and media and is far from an All-Pro center, but the Ravens have a higher opinion of the former practice-squad member than most of the outside world. He was graded as the NFL’s 23rd-best center by PFF. … Eluemunor was the surprising choice to line up as the first-team left guard this spring, but John Harbaugh wasn’t impressed with his conditioning and downplayed any notion of him being the favorite to start in the fall. … Hurst’s $4.75 million salary cap number is on the high side if he doesn’t win the starting left guard job, but the Ravens have always valued his versatility across the offensive line. … Bozeman will get practice reps at center and the guard spots, but spring workouts offered no indication of him being in serious contention for Skura’s starting job as some predicted early in the offseason.

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Baltimore Ravens Tim Williams, (56), and Brandon Williams, (98), warm up at the team's  NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at end of mandatory minicamp

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp in Owings Mills this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marquise Brown not being “certain” to be ready for the start of training camp doesn’t mean this is turning into another Breshad Perriman situation, but it’s fair to be a little uneasy he’s not yet running full-speed. Ask Jimmy Smith or Hayden Hurst how long a foot injury can linger.

2. Lamar Jackson finished offseason workouts with multiple touchdown passes in a short red-zone period Thursday, an area of the field in which he struggled this spring. He fared better overall in 7-on-7 drills than full-team work, but he raised his level of consistency as the spring progressed.

3. Asked about his plans between now and training camp, Jackson said he’s organizing throwing sessions with teammates and will work with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris in Florida. He also “might” work with quarterback guru Tom House, but that sounded less certain. You definitely like the work ethic.

4. Earl Thomas admitted he has his challenging days coming back from his second lower left leg fracture in three years, but he feels like he’s “in the right spot” physically. We’ll get a better feel for the 30-year-old in the summer, but he appears to be gelling nicely with the rest of the secondary.

5. It was interesting how open Thomas was in describing the Baltimore defense as “very complex” compared to the straight Cover 3 looks he ran in Seattle. He admits the complexity and on-field communication have been adjustments, but that’s not surprising.

6. Trying to predict passing and receiving numbers in an offense anchored by the run is difficult, but Mark Andrews is my early pick to lead the Ravens in most receiving categories. He was the best pass-catching target on the field and is playing with an edge, something this offense needs.

7. Unlike Michael Pierce, Matthew Judon reported to minicamp in good shape and practiced like he hadn’t skipped organized team activities. Asked by a reporter if his agent has had contract talks with the Ravens, Judon replied, “They said they were going to pay me what they pay you.” Alrighty then.

8. John Harbaugh described left guard as “a competitive spot” and identified James Hurst as the slight favorite at this early stage despite Jermaine Eluemunor taking the first-team reps there this spring. The coach also mentioned Eluemunor needing to get in better shape. In other words, that spot is wide open.

9. It was interesting that Alex Lewis was not mentioned by name in that mix after Harbaugh revealed the oft-injured guard was in charge of his own rehabilitation from offseason shoulder surgery and the team hadn’t seen him until this week. That’s an interesting choice ahead of a contract year.

10. Harbaugh and Wink Martindale confirmed Kenny Young and Chris Board are competing for a starting inside linebacker spot next to Patrick Onwuasor in the base defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Board is in the lead based on practice rep distribution.

11. The retiring Jerry Rosburg worked his final practice Thursday and was honored in a team-wide celebration the previous day. The Ravens will miss his superb special-teams coaching, but his thoughtful remarks and underrated sense of humor will be missed by reporters. Best wishes to him.

12. I appreciated Martindale’s candid comments about the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle and how the defense is impacted. I especially enjoyed the subtle shade thrown on the “next man up” phrase that’s become one of the worst cliches in sports in recent years.

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Ravens finished with fewest adjusted games lost in 2018

Posted on 14 May 2019 by Luke Jones

While Lamar Jackson and a top-ranked defense received much of the credit for a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence last season, the Ravens enjoying their best health in years certainly didn’t hurt.

Finishing 2018 with only seven players on injured reserve, it’s no secret Baltimore avoided major injuries on its way to the AFC North championship. According to at least one metric, however, John Harbaugh’s team was the healthiest in the NFL after being one of the teams most impacted by injuries in 2017.

You often see the number of players on injured reserve cited in these types of discussions, but that alone doesn’t really offer the most insightful picture from team to team. How many on IR were starters compared to rotation players, special-teams contributors, or merely training camp bodies who had no chance of making the roster before getting hurt? How many on each team went to IR in September as opposed to the final weeks of the regular season? What about teams that had more players pushing through injuries than those having relatively clean injury reports most weeks?

Football Outsiders uses a metric called adjusted games lost to attempt to quantify just how much teams were stricken with injuries. Instead of simply counting the number of games lost for each player on IR, the metric weighs the projected role of each injured player (starter, key reserve, bench-warmer, etc.) and also considers those listed on weekly injury reports who ended up playing at less than 100 percent. In other words, the metric doesn’t treat the absence of a Pro Bowl player or starter the same as a developmental player essentially being stashed on IR and doesn’t ignore players competing with ailments that could limit performance levels.

The Ravens finished with the fewest adjusted games lost in 2018 (29.7) and their lowest total since 2011 when they finished 12-4 and advanced to the AFC championship game. While running back Alex Collins and defensive tackle Willie Henry were the most notable Baltimore players finishing the season on IR, offensive linemen Alex Lewis (6.9) and James Hurst (6.3), quarterback Joe Flacco (4.0), and defensive backs Marlon Humphrey (2.9) and Tony Jefferson (2.9) also counted in the total calculation.

Six of the 10 teams with the fewest adjusted games lost made the postseason while just three of the 12 teams with the most adjusted games lost qualified, reinforcing how critical health is to success. “Next man up” is a popular rallying cry and a nice slogan for a t-shirt, but there are only so many injuries most teams can survive before chances for success are crippled.

“Everything transfers to the field. I heard somebody once say they don’t want the credit when things go right, and they don’t want the blame when things go wrong,” strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders said last month. “Certainly, there is always some luck involved with injuries, but I think our guys prepare and train really hard, probably harder than anybody. I think it’s definitely a positive factor. We just want to keep building on that each season.”

Below is a look at where the Ravens have finished in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost in recent years:

2018 – 29.7 (fewest in NFL)
2017 – 101.6 (sixth most in NFL)
2016 – 62.0 (11th fewest in NFL)
2015 – 96.1 (third most in NFL)
2014 – 52.6 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2013 – 49.8 (ninth fewest in NFL)
2012 – 57.4 (13th fewest in NFL)
2011 – 18.8 (fewest in NFL)
2010 – 50.9 (15th fewest in NFL)
2009 – 28.8 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2008 – 95.0 (third most in NFL)

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

Posted on 08 May 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of offseason workout program

Posted on 15 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their offseason workout program in preparations for the 2019 season this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The faux enthusiasm for players running and lifting weights dissipates quickly, but the start of the “voluntary” offseason program is a welcome checkpoint on the way to a new season. We’re less than five months away from kickoff for Week 1.

2. We know Lamar Jackson was again working with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris and have seen some videos on social media, but I’m fascinated to hear him discuss his offseason and to see what he’s specifically focused on improving.

3. Until we see the terms of the one-year deal extension for Marshal Yanda, I’m not making too much out of it beyond the removal of any doubt about his status for 2019. The 34-year-old has to have many of the same questions we all do about a team in transition.

4. Yanda will have a compelling case for Canton, but I can’t help but remember the start of his career when he missed most of 2008 and moved between guard and tackle for four years. He didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until his fifth season, which won’t help his chances.

5. Count me among those believing Eric DeCosta would prefer trading back from 22nd overall to accumulate more picks, but you ultimately need to have a willing partner. If the draft’s value is truly on the second day and early in the third, other teams are aware of that as well.

6. Baltimore’s positional needs are clear, but don’t forget the 2015 draft if you’re more concerned about DeCosta checking those boxes than maximizing value. It looked great on paper to pick Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Carl Davis to “replace” Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Haloti Ngata. Reality was different.

7. I enjoy the team projections put out by ESPN’s Mike Clay to gain a universal picture of where the league stands at this point in the offseason. Ravens fans won’t like seeing 7.6 projected wins, but I couldn’t strongly argue a bigger number at this point, illustrating how critical this draft will be.

8. Michael Pierce has deservedly received high praise and appears on his way to a good payday at some point in the next calendar year, but he’s played 400 snaps only once in his three seasons. How does a bigger workload translate if you’re considering giving him lucrative money?

9. With much conversation about the offensive line, James Hurst feels like a forgotten man after a back injury limited him to 10 games last year. He carries the roster’s 10th-highest cap number, so the pressure is on Hurst to show he’s fully recovered.

10. The Seth Roberts signing was a typical Ravens move and carries little risk, but the last former Oakland Raider with issues catching the football didn’t work out so well here. Roberts has dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes in his career, according to Pro Football Focus.

11. The regular-season schedule should be released this week with the Ravens set to play five playoff teams from a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how the league and its TV partners perceive Jackson and a run-heavy offense in terms of the number of scheduled prime-time games.

12. Strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders isn’t a household name, but countless players have praised his work over the last couple offseasons. Luck is a greater variable than we admit, but the Ravens had only seven players finish last season on injured reserve.

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Want, need, or desperate: Looking at Ravens roster a week into free agency

Posted on 20 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ roster has undergone massive changes in the last month.

Four of their top seven defensive players in terms of snaps played last season are gone, a group that accounted for nearly 40 percent of their sack total. Two of their top three wide receivers are no longer in the picture, leaving just two wide receivers on the current roster who have caught an NFL pass.

Of course, general manager Eric DeCosta hasn’t just been sitting on his hands, signing six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to upgrade from highly-respected veteran Eric Weddle and adding two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram to a ground attack that was already the best in the NFL in the second half of 2018. The Ravens also signed veteran cornerback Justin Bethel to enhance the special-teams units that will undoubtedly miss longtime coordinator Jerry Rosburg, whose pending retirement might be the most underrated loss of the offseason.

Understanding the start of the 2019 regular season is still more than five months away, which of the Ravens’ positional groups require the most work and carry the most concern right now? Some value free agents remain and Baltimore has enough cap space to make another notable signing or two, but going into the draft with multiple needs usually leaves an organization in danger of either reaching in lieu of maximizing value or being left out at a key position or two altogether.

Which positions do the Ravens want to upgrade, need to address, or desperately must improve between now and the start of the season?

Backup quarterback – NEED

Starter Lamar Jackson is the only quarterback currently on the roster as the Ravens have yet to strike a deal with Robert Griffin III to return. It’s difficult to feel good about anyone replacing Jackson’s unique skill set for an extended stretch of time in an offense being specifically built for the 22-year-old, but Griffin would certainly fit better than most quarterbacks out there. Perhaps more important than the system fit is Griffin’s presence as a mentor as it was no secret the two hit it off last season. Ultimately, we’re still talking about a very young quarterback here who can benefit from an experienced veteran. Josh Johnson could be a backup to the backup plan, but it’s difficult to find too many logical fits for the job in terms of both playing style and intangibles.

Edge defender/outside linebacker – DESPERATE

The short-term and long-term outlooks at this position are very concerning with Matthew Judon being the only proven commodity and scheduled to hit the open market himself next offseason. Expectations were high for 2017 second-round pick Tyus Bowser and 2017 third-round pick Tim Williams when they were drafted, but they’ve been non-factors in their first two seasons. Sure, the presence of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith cut into potential opportunities, but the Ravens would have loved nothing more than to put the aging Suggs on more of a pitch count these last two seasons, making this a critical year for Bowser and Williams. With Smith receiving a big payday in Green Bay, the Ravens also lost his versatility to rush the passer from the inside, another issue needing to be addressed. Free agents such as Justin Houston and Ezekiel Ansah are still available, but DeCosta very much needs to add a veteran and draft a pass rusher to adequately address the void here.

Interior offensive line – WANT

Make no mistake, the Ravens would benefit greatly from finding at least one upgrade at guard or center, especially with seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda entering the final year of his contract and turning 35 in September. However, the Ravens had the NFL’s best running game over the final two months of last season and finished 10th in Pro Football Focus’ end-of-year offensive line rankings and eighth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. With a full offseason for recovery and improvement, the Ravens finding a solid left guard out of the trio of James Hurst, Alex Lewis, and Bradley Bozeman isn’t unreasonable and Matt Skura improving in his second full season at center isn’t out of the question. Baltimore will have the option to use the same Week 1 starting offensive line in consecutive years for the first time since 2014 and 2015. An upgrade or two would be great, but don’t dismiss the value of continuity along the offensive line.

Inside linebacker – NEED

Regardless of your feelings on C.J. Mosley’s true worth or ability, you don’t lose a four-time Pro Bowl selection in his prime without having significant questions about replacing him. Patrick Onwuasor emerged late last season and Kenny Young flashed in his 369 defensive snaps as a rookie, but the two played in a platoon — along with dime back Anthony Levine — that enhanced their strengths and masked their weaknesses. The Ravens might be able to get by with Onwuasor and Young in starting roles, but it would certainly deviate from the value they’ve put on the inside linebacker position historically. DeCosta could still look to sign a veteran such as Zach Brown or Brandon Marshall, but it’d be surprising if the Ravens aren’t at least aiming to add an inside linebacker in the first three or four rounds of the draft.

Wide receiver – DESPERATE

With apologies to the solid Willie Snead and special-teams standout Chris Moore, you’d have a difficult time arguing against this current group of wide receivers being the worst in the NFL on paper. Yes, I know the Ravens want to run the ball and arguably value tight ends more than anyone in the league, but that won’t help as much when facing a strong run defense, falling behind multiple scores, or trailing late in games. There’s also the question of Jackson’s development and wanting to maximize the return on that investment for the long haul, something that will be easier to do with a standout wide receiver at his disposal. The problem is this wasn’t a particularly good free-agent class of wide receivers to begin with and most of the top names have already come off the board with options like Dontrelle Inman not getting anyone excited. Like at outside linebacker, the best course of action appears to be adding a veteran and using some meaningful draft capital — not late-round fliers — for a receiver or two. No matter what happens, it’s tough envisioning this position not being a concern going into the season, but that’s hardly unfamiliar territory.

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

Posted on 07 February 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

OT Ronnie Stanley
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,085
PFF ranking: 17th among offensive tackles
Skinny: Stanley was fourth among qualified offensive tackles in PFF’s pass-blocking grades and was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl in his third season. The sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft may never become a perennial Pro Bowl tackle, but he’s been solid and reliable despite some nagging injuries.

G Alex Lewis
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 707
PFF ranking: 67th among guards
Skinny: Hopes were high for Lewis as he returned from shoulder surgery that cost him all of 2017, but injuries and disappointing play led to him being inactive for the final five weeks of the season. After another shoulder surgery this offseason, he likely finds himself on the roster bubble entering 2019.

C Matt Skura
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,189
PFF ranking: 23rd among centers
Skinny: The former practice-squad member and undrafted free agent probably held up as well as the Ravens could have expected in his first year as the starting center and was one of only two Baltimore linemen to start all 16 games. That doesn’t mean the organization shouldn’t seek an upgrade, however.

G Marshal Yanda
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,163
PFF ranking: fourth among guards
Skinny: After shaking off early rust from missing most of 2017 with an ankle injury, the 34-year-old reclaimed his spot as one of the NFL’s best guards and was named to his seventh Pro Bowl in eight years. Yanda is entering the last year of his deal and has been noncommittal about how much longer he’ll play.

OT Orlando Brown Jr.
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 760
PFF ranking: 47th among offensive tackles
Skinny: Considering how disastrous Brown’s showing was at last year’s scouting combine, the Ravens should be thrilled with the play of the third-round rookie over his first 10 starts. It’s fair to note Brown received help in many pass-blocking situations, but he still looks the part of a solid NFL starter.

OL James Hurst
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 676
PFF ranking: 68th among offensive tackles
Skinny: Many were surprised by the four-year, $17.5 million deal Hurst signed last March, but a back injury cost him the right tackle job and he struggled at left guard upon returning in December. He’s always been best suited for a backup role, but he carries a $4.75 million salary cap hit for 2019.

OL Bradley Bozeman
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 214
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: After being a two-year starter at Alabama, the sixth-round rookie flashed in limited playing time at left guard. Depending on what the Ravens do in free agency and the draft, Bozeman could compete for a starting job and has a strong chance to stick around as a versatile interior backup at the very least.

OL Jermaine Eluemunor
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 94
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Eluemunor spent a few weeks on the practice squad, but he elevated his organizational stock slightly and showed some versatility when he filled in for an injured Stanley at left tackle. The 2017 fifth-round pick will still need a strong spring and summer to secure a roster spot as a backup.

2019 positional outlook

Trying to evaluate the 2018 offensive line is difficult when considering the moving parts due to injuries and the dramatic shift in playing style when an injured Joe Flacco was replaced by Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The Ravens ranked 31st in the NFL at just 3.6 yards per carry through the first nine weeks of the regular season — a greater indictment of the line and running backs than Flacco — but they became the most prolific rushing team in the league over the final seven weeks of the regular season with Jackson at quarterback and young running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon replacing Alex Collins and Buck Allen. The offensive line certainly deserves credit, but it’s fair to ask how much with Jackson’s special athleticism putting great pressure on opposing run defenses. Baltimore’s offensive line was 10th in PFF’s season-ending rankings and ranked eighth in pass protection by Football Outsiders, but it’s difficult to look at the individual grades and not believe the Ravens would benefit greatly from an interior upgrade or two, especially factoring in Yanda’s advancing age and uncertain future.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-17 loss to Chargers

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ season coming to an end in a 23-17 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I understand John Harbaugh wanted to make it a one-score game when he had Justin Tucker try a 50-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 late in the third quarter, but the decision was surprising based on analytics and his team’s psyche. Even before the miss, it felt like a demoralizing choice.

2. The Ravens made clear they were just about finished with Joe Flacco during the draft and reached the point of no return when Harbaugh officially benched him. Considering the Chargers’ pass rush, I didn’t have an issue with leaving someone who hadn’t played in over two months on the bench.

3. In the big picture that shouldn’t be ignored, Lamar Jackson remaining in the game and finding some late success was important. Harbaugh benching him at the first sign of trouble would have been a tough message for Jackson — and the entire locker room — to forget this offseason.

4. Lost in the disappointment was another strong defensive performance as the Chargers were held to one touchdown and Philip Rivers averaged just 5.0 yards per passing attempt. Prior to the fourth quarter, this game very much reminded me of the excruciating 2006 playoff loss to Indianapolis.

5. Was fumbling on three consecutive offensive plays or going two hours in real time between pass completions the more embarrassing feat? It’s remarkable the Ravens didn’t lose by four touchdowns.

6. Matthew Judon registered two tackles for a loss and five quarterback hits in another superb effort. He really elevated his play down the stretch, which is significant since he’s the only starting-caliber outside linebacker under contract for 2019.

7. James Hurst is a hard worker and a high-character individual, but Sunday was a reminder that he’s better suited to be a versatile backup and not a starter. Pro Football Focus credited him with surrendering three sacks and a quarterback hit and gave him a 0.0 pass-blocking grade. Ouch.

8. Scheduled to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Onwuasor elevated his standing down the stretch as he recorded another forced fumble and a sack. With C.J. Mosley uncertain to return as an unrestricted free agent, Onwuasor’s emergence is even more significant.

9. The snap count was skewed by the final two drives, but I still can’t believe heavy formations and power rushing weren’t bigger factors against the Chargers’ quarter defense employing seven defensive backs. Nick Boyle played a season-low 18 snaps while Maxx Williams’ 17 were his fewest since Week 12.

10. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns don’t make up for a disappointing season from Michael Crabtree. It’ll be interesting to see how the wide receiver position plays out this offseason after the dramatic shift toward the running game, but his $9.33 million salary cap number for 2019 doesn’t sound appealing.

11. Playing fewer snaps than last season resulted in just 1 1/2 sacks after Week 7 for Terrell Suggs, who reconfirmed his desire to continue playing for the Ravens while acknowledging that may not happen. Even if Suggs signs a cheap short-term deal, Eric DeCosta really must address this position.

12. I understand players reacting to fans booing in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss and admire their desire to stick up for Jackson, but they needed to move on by Monday’s media availability instead of fanning the flames. Robert Griffin III provided both an experienced and measured response HERE (4:00 mark).

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 20-12 win over Tampa Bay

Posted on 18 December 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens-Buccaneers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 16 December 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — For the first time in his NFL career, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco will not start a game in which he’s been active, officially signaling the start — or continuation — of the Lamar Jackson era.

The rookie will make his fifth straight start against Tampa Bay as Flacco assumes backup duties in his return from a hip injury that sidelined him for four games. Baltimore will aim for its fourth win in the last five games to further improve its playoff positioning in the AFC. The 7-6 Ravens enter the week holding the second wild-card spot and are only a game behind Pittsburgh in the loss column in the AFC North.

After doing some pre-game running and agility work to test out their respective groin injuries, cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young are both active after missing extensive snaps against Kansas City last week. Humphrey only returned to practice on a limited basis on Friday, making his status uneasy against the pass-happy Buccaneers.

Safety Tony Jefferson will make his return to the lineup after a two-game absence with an ankle injury.

As expected, left guard Alex Lewis is inactive and will miss his second straight game with a lingering shoulder injury. Veteran James Hurst is expected to start once again at left guard as rookie Orlando Brown Jr. continues to start at right tackle.

The most surprising inactive was running back Ty Montgomery, who is a healthy scratch. With third-year running back Kenneth Dixon collecting 80 yards on nine touches last week, Montgomery saw only three touches against the Chiefs. Reserve running back Buck Allen received the nod over Montgomery because of his various roles on special teams.

The Buccaneers already ruled out speedy wide receiver DeSean Jackson (thumb) and starting safety Justin Evans (toe) on Friday, but two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is active after being listed as questionable with knee and hip ailments.

The Weather.com forecast calls for periods of rain and temperatures reaching the mid-40s with winds 10 to 20 miles per hour and a 100-percent chance of precipitation. Those conditions figure to favor the run-heavy Ravens against Tampa Bay’s league-leading passing attack, but the rain isn’t expected to be as severe as it was on Saturday. Tarps were covering the M&T Bank Stadium field until 10:30 a.m.

Sunday’s referee is Ron Torbert.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with black pants while Tampa Bay dons white tops with white pants for Week 15.

Sunday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens winning the last three meetings to hold a 3-2 series advantage. The Buccaneers’ last win came in Baltimore in 2002.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley LB Tim Williams
G Alex Lewis
RB Ty Montgomery
DL Zach Sieler
FB/DL Patrick Ricard

TAMPA BAY
QB Ryan Griffin
WR DeSean Jackson
S Justin Evans
CB David Rivers
LB Adarius Taylor
DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
TE Tanner Hudson

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