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How did Ravens outside linebackers stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 28 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — 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 closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens outside linebackers ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Inside linebackers
Offensive linemen

Matthew Judon
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 840
PFF ranking: 44th among edge defenders
Skinny: Baltimore’s sack leader is polarizing with PFF ranking him 51st in pass-rush win rate and labeling 35 of his 62 pressures as unblocked or coming in cleanup situations while ESPN viewed his win rate more favorably until some late-season fade. Ranking fourth in the NFL in quarterback hits, Judon is certainly valuable, but how that aligns with what he’ll ultimately be paid is the difficult question.

Jaylon Ferguson
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 535
PFF ranking: 88th among edge defenders
Skinny: A healthy scratch for two games to begin the season, injuries pushed the 2019 third-round pick from Louisiana Tech into a starting role after the bye week. Ferguson showed growth as a run defender as the season progressed, but he registered just 2 1/2 sacks and nine quarterback hits, not adding much bite to a pass rush that needed more impact.

Tyus Bowser
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 401
PFF ranking: 38th among edge defenders
Skinny: The 2017 second-round pick had the best season of his career with five sacks and flashed in pass coverage, but inconsistency and struggles playing the run continued to hold him back from a larger role. Bowser is the Ravens’ most experienced outside linebacker under control for 2020, but he is entering a contract year and must build on his improvement in what could be a bigger role.

Jihad Ward
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 402
PFF ranking: 99th among edge defenders
Skinny: Ward’s numbers certainly didn’t stand out with just seven tackles and one sack, but Ravens coaches and teammates praised his dirty work in the rotation after signing in early October. The former second-round pick was solid setting the edge and would also line up inside in obvious passing situations, the kind of positional versatility Baltimore valued after Pernell McPhee was lost for the season.

Pernell McPhee
2019 defensive snap count (including postseason): 260
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Signed to a one-year, $1.03 million contract to return to Baltimore last spring, the Super Bowl XLVII champion was everything the Ravens could have expected with 19 tackles and three sacks before he tore his triceps in Week 7. The 31-year-old seems unlikely to be a top priority and was forced into playing too many snaps last season, but he still fits the profile of a solid rotation option at the right price.

2020 positional outlook

The Judon decision may very well define the offseason as the Ravens must choose whether to use more than half of their projected salary cap space for the franchise tag, make him one of the NFL’s highest-paid edge rushers, or lose him and then be forced to make multiple additions to this position group. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale relied on the blitz more than anyone in the league last year, but the Ravens ranked only 21st in the NFL with 37 sacks, making it clear that work needs to be done at this position even if Judon stays put. This will be a big offseason for Ferguson, who didn’t show enough to justify penciling him in for more than a rotational role if the Ravens are serious about improving off the edge. Like last season, a strong secondary and Martindale’s aggressive mindset can cover up for some deficiencies, but Baltimore needs to be more disruptive with a conventional four-man rush than what we saw last year.

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Want or need? Assessing Ravens position groups entering offseason

Posted on 21 January 2020 by Luke Jones

Need is a relative term when assessing the Ravens roster after a franchise-best 14-2 regular season that set all kinds of franchise and NFL records.

The sting of their divisional-round loss to Tennessee will linger for a long time, but perspective is critical when sizing up a roster that included the best offense in the league and one of the top defenses by season’s end. That’s not to say improvements aren’t in order and change isn’t inevitable with 17 Baltimore players set to become unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens would easily remain a playoff-caliber team on paper after even a ho-hum offseason of free-agent departures and only pedestrian additions. Having an MVP quarterback, an innovative offense with no unrestricted free agents of real consequence, and a great secondary will go a long way in covering up any deficiencies elsewhere.

Yes, the early playoff exit was a bitter disappointment and a missed opportunity as the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but this isn’t a roster in need of major surgery as much as some fine-tuning after having a bad game at the wrong time. It’s an enviable place when you have close to $30 million in salary cap space and a fresh batch of draft picks in April. But as John Harbaugh often likes to recite the quote attributed to former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, “Every day you either get better or you get worse; you never stay the same.”

Below is a look at what positions the Ravens absolutely need to address or simply would like to upgrade between now and the start of the 2020 season:

Edge defender/outside linebacker — NEED

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made it work after the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, but this position group remains a major concern with 2019 Pro Bowl selection Matthew Judon and depth pieces Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward set to become free agents. Tyus Bowser took a step forward with five sacks in his third season and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson showed growth as the year progressed, but viewing either as a definite 2020 starter would be too optimistic based on the body of work. Even if Baltimore gives Judon a blank check or the franchise tag to keep him, finding an additional impact outside linebacker is a clear objective. The Ravens blitzed more than any team in the NFL to create pressure in 2019, but more impactful four-man rushes would make this defense even more dangerous. Setting the edge against the run was also an inconsistency that was often masked by Baltimore holding so many big leads that forced opponents to abandon the ground game.

Wide receiver — WANT

I have been a broken record about Baltimore’s deficiency at wide receiver for years and noted during the Tennessee loss that another impact option would be really useful, but classifying wide receiver as a want goes back to keeping the proper perspective. You wouldn’t expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to move away from featuring the tight ends with the success Lamar Jackson has passing to that trio between the numbers, and rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown showed unique ability despite being hampered by foot and ankle issues. When you add the presence of veteran Willie Snead and the potential of 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin, the requisite floor and upside are there — even if barely — to think the Ravens can win a Super Bowl. Still, adding a dynamic wide receiver to make plays when Baltimore trails and to have a presence outside the numbers would take Jackson and the NFL’s leading scoring offense to another level, a frightening thought for opponents.

Interior offensive line — WANT*

The asterisk is connected to eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and his decision whether to return for a 14th season. If Yanda comes back, the Ravens remain in good short-term shape on the offensive line as undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in respectably at center for Matt Skura, whose major knee injury makes him a question mark until at least training camp. However, Yanda’s retirement would make this a significant need with 2019 fourth-round guard Ben Powers not exactly making an impact as a rookie and the Ravens losing a Hall of Fame talent in a position group not sporting a ton of experience. You feel more confident about Skura or Mekari at center, Bradley Bozeman at left guard, and Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle because of Yanda’s presence and elite play. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley may help fill the leadership void, but you just don’t replace a special player like Yanda.

Inside linebacker — NEED

This year marked only the seventh time in 24 seasons in which the Ravens didn’t receive a Pro Bowl invitation at this position, speaking to the impossible standard created by Ray Lewis and the commendable run from C.J. Mosley before his free-agent departure last March. General manager Eric DeCosta deserves credit for the in-season additions of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort to stabilize the position, but that came after the organization underestimated the problems Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and Chris Board would have stepping into larger roles. Martindale effectively mixed and matched Bynes, Fort, and Onwuasor while often dropping safety Chuck Clark into the box in sub packages, but finding a complete three-down linebacker would decrease the likelihood of the defense getting caught with a second level that’s either too light against the run or too slow in coverage. Re-signing Bynes would certainly be on the table, but a younger every-down option would be preferable. Baltimore doesn’t need an All-Pro inside linebacker to have a great defense, but substituting so frequently was less than ideal.

Interior defensive line — NEED

Giving a big contract to Michael Pierce wouldn’t appear to be in the plans with Brandon Williams still having two years remaining on his deal and Pierce not making a strong argument for the Ravens to commit to him after weight concerns in the offseason and a solid but unspectacular 2019 campaign. Baltimore’s pursuit of six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy last spring highlighted a desire to find an interior pass rusher, but Chris Wormley and 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack are the only other defensive linemen under contract for the 2020 campaign beyond the soon-to-be 31-year-old Williams. In other words, the Ravens have much work to do here to fortify their depth against the run while trying to find an inside option or two who can also get after the quarterback.

Cornerback — WANT

No one would classify cornerback as a need with 2019 Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey both under contract and slot cornerback Tavon Young expected to be ready for the offseason program after a season-ending neck injury suffered in August. However, you can never have enough depth at this critical spot with Jimmy Smith set to become an unrestricted free agent and Brandon Carr carrying a $6 million price tag for his 2020 option and transitioning to more of a safety role this past season. A modest short-term extension could make sense for Smith, but committing substantial money to someone who will be 32 in July and has played in more than 12 games in a season only twice in nine years doesn’t sound appealing. Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall bring some upside as recent fourth-round selections, but relying on either as the first wave of depth would be risky.

Special teams — WANT

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the first week of free agency last March reinforced their commitment to this phase of the game that goes beyond specialists Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, and Morgan Cox. With that in mind, Anthony Levine, Chris Moore, Brynden Trawick, Jordan Richards, and De’Anthony Thomas will all be unrestricted free agents after playing at least 120 special-teams snaps apiece for Baltimore this season. Whether re-signing a few members of that group or using resources to sign a veteran or two on the open market, the Ravens seem likely to address special teams after being underwhelming in that department — at least by their lofty standards — down the stretch.

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 14 win at Buffalo

Posted on 09 December 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, right, is tackled by Los Angeles Rams defensive end Dante Fowler during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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NFL milestone could come exactly as Lamar Jackson prefers it

Posted on 05 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The records and achievements have come at such a prolific rate for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that they’ve almost become white noise in an MVP-caliber season.

On Wednesday, the 22-year-old became the first Ravens quarterback to ever be named AFC Offensive Player of the Month after an incredible November that included 13 touchdown passes, three touchdown runs, a 76.2 completion percentage, a 143.7 passer rating, 777 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, no turnovers, and — what he cares about most — a 4-0 record. But his next potential feat isn’t a run-of-the-mill weekly award or an obscure record you’d need the Elias Sports Bureau to confirm.

A week after surpassing Randall Cunningham and Bobby Douglass on the single-season list, Jackson needs only 63 rushing yards — a total he’s eclipsed in nine of his last 11 games — to break Michael Vick’s NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. Vick rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006, but Jackson is currently on pace to run for an amazing 1,302 yards in his first full season as a starter. For context, a player rushed for 1,300 yards only eight times over the previous four NFL seasons and no Raven has reached that mark since Ray Rice (1,364) in 2011.

For a young player who’s tried to downplay weekly awards and MVP hype in favor of team-oriented goals throughout the season, this record certainly carries meaning.

“It would be an honor. Like I’ve said, Michael Vick is my favorite player,” Jackson said. “For me to do such a thing, it’s incredible. He had that record for a long time, and it will be pretty cool. But I’m focused on the win regardless.”

With winning always at the forefront of Jackson’s mind, breaking Vick’s record on the same day the Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win at Buffalo — and possibly their second straight AFC North division championship if Pittsburgh also loses at Arizona — would be exactly how he likes it.

Jackson has now rushed for at least 60 yards in nine straight games, the kind of consistency for which the best running backs in the league strive. That he’s continued to run at such a historic pace while also being a top 10-caliber passer — if not even better than that — is why he’s the clear favorite to be NFL MVP. It’s the stuff of video games if a game of Madden were as fun as watching the electrifying Jackson make defenders look silly in the open field.

“Lamar is a generational talent in my opinion running the ball, and a lot of people understand that,” right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “People want to stop him. People want to slow him down and all those different things. People haven’t really figured out how to do it yet. I’m sure there isn’t an answer.”

There really isn’t one at this point, but Jackson would gladly take a quiet day with his legs against the Bills as long as the Ravens officially punch their ticket for January football. And that mindset is part of what makes him so special.

Cleaning up run defense

The 174 rushing yards allowed — 146 by Raheem Mostert — in last Sunday’s 20-17 win over San Francisco grabbed the Ravens’ attention preparing for Buffalo’s fifth-ranked ground attack this week.

The Bills rank 10th in the NFL in rushing efficiency while the Baltimore run defense will try to bounce back from its worst game since the Week 4 loss to Cleveland. The Ravens did limit the 49ers to just nine yards on five carries in the fourth quarter after San Francisco had much success running outside.

“There were some edge issues that we had with Jaylon [Ferguson], and it was just a different look that a rookie hasn’t seen,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We worked on it because we know how this league is. If they see a scab scratched, they’re going to keep trying to attack it and we’ve worked on it. That’s been a point of emphasis for us going into this game. We just had too many missed tackles on that [40-yard touchdown run], and what I liked is how we bounced back in the second half.”

Should Ferguson’s Week 13 problems holding the edge carry over against Buffalo, veteran Jihad Ward seeing more snaps at outside linebacker wouldn’t be surprising.

Special moment for Humphrey

Marlon Humphrey said he’d never blocked a field goal in practice, college, or even high school, but his deflection of 49ers kicker Robbie Gould’s 51-yard attempt to end the first half proved to be a critical play in the three-point win.

The play sparked an enthusiastic embrace as part of a big day for the Baltimore special-teams units.

“We prepared, we talked about it. We said, ‘We have an opportunity,’ if we got in that situation,” special teams coach Chris Horton said. “I was really excited for him. It was our first blocked kick as a staff, so it was just a really exciting moment. And I think it was deserving of a big hug.”

Thursday’s injury report

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was the only player on the 53-man roster not to practice on Thursday as he received a veteran day off.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) was added to the injury report as a limited participant, which hasn’t been uncommon over the course of the season.

Below is the full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (ankle), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), WR Seth Roberts (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (illness), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

BUFFALO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury), RB Frank Gore (non-injury), OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle), G Quinton Spain (illness), RB T.J. Yeldon (illness)

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Five Ravens players to watch for rest of 2019 season

Posted on 25 October 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

WR Miles Boykin

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

S Chuck Clark

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

OLB Jaylon Ferguson

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

TE Hayden Hurst

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

CB Marcus Peters

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

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Ravens lose McPhee for season, cut Bethel to recoup compensatory pick

Posted on 21 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Coming off their best performance of the season in which two takeaways were returned for touchdowns, the Ravens still can’t catch a break on defense.

After leaving the game early in the second quarter of Sunday’s 30-16 win over Seattle, veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee is expected to miss the remainder of the season with what’s believed to be a torn triceps, according to head coach John Harbaugh. It’s a major blow to a pass rush that has recorded just 12 sacks over the first seven games of the season and has struggled to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks.

The 30-year-old had collected three sacks and started all seven games after signing a one-year, $1.03 million contract in May to return to Baltimore to help fill the void left by free-agent departures Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith and rejuvenate a career plagued by injuries in recent years. Expected to be more of a situational rusher before younger edge defenders struggled in the preseason, McPhee was averaging a career-high 42.5 defensive snaps per game through the first six weeks, serving both as an edge defender and as an interior rusher in obvious passing situations.

“He wanted to prove himself. He wanted to get back on track and demonstrate that he still could play,” Harbaugh said. “And to do it here, to be the leader that he was, he’s been instrumental. He’s been instrumental with the young guys. He’s been a very good player for us.

“I see no reason why he can’t recover from a triceps injury and be back next year stronger than ever.”

McPhee’s injury creates even more urgency for general manager Eric DeCosta to add pass-rushing help by the Oct. 29 trade deadline, but the Ravens started Monday with just $1.933 million in 2019 salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. With McPhee playing only 12 defensive snaps against Seattle, rookie Jaylon Ferguson played 46 defensive snaps, third-year outside linebacker Tyus Bowser played 22, and situational rusher Jihad Ward saw 39.

With limited resources available and not knowing how much other teams might ask for an impact pass rusher in a potential trade, the Ravens’ best bet for meaningful improvement might be the continued development of Ferguson, who was drafted in the third round out of Louisiana Tech in April and holds the NCAA Division I career sacks record previously set by Suggs. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Ferguson finished with three tackles (one for a loss) and a quarterback hit against the Seahawks.

“He played his best game, a very physical game and against a couple of really big, grabby tackles to say the least,” Harbaugh said. “He was strong at the point of attack and applied pressure, ran to the ball. He played really well.”

Sunday marked the third straight game in which a Baltimore defensive player was lost to a season-ending injury after starting strong safety Tony Jefferson sustained a torn ACL in Week 5 and reserve safety DeShon Elliott hurt his knee in Week 6.

Business decision with Bethel

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the opening week of free agency was always surprising because of the negative impact on the compensatory pick formula, but it spoke to how they valued the three-time Pro Bowl special-teams player.

Their hand was forced over the weekend, however, when Tennessee released former Baltimore defensive end Brent Urban, a move that would have stripped the Ravens of a projected 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick had Bethel remained on the roster through Week 10. Despite the 29-year-old leading Baltimore with four special-teams tackles this season, DeCosta simply couldn’t justify passing on an early Day 3 draft pick to keep someone who’s played only 16 defensive snaps this season.

Bethel was released Monday, giving the coaching staff time over the bye week to account for his departure.

“That’s tough for us because he’s playing [so well],” Harbaugh said. “I told him I think he’s the best special-teams player in the NFL, and he’s playing that way. That’s going to be a blow, and we’re going to have to find a way to overcome that.”

Full strength after bye week?

Despite the McPhee injury, Harbaugh expressed optimism about his team’s health coming out of the Week 8 bye with an exciting Nov. 3 showdown with New England looming.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) and inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle) have missed the last two games while cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) has been out since the season opener, but all are on track to return against the Patriots, according to Harbaugh. Reserve cornerback Maurice Canady also missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury suffered against Cincinnati in Week 6.

“We feel very confident we should have all those guys back barring a setback, so to speak, and I can’t even imagine what that would be right now,” Harbaugh said. “Very optimistic that we’ll be full strength coming out of the bye.”

Smith worked out on a limited basis last week before missing his sixth straight game, but neither Brown nor Onwuasor have seen the practice field since being injured in the Week 5 win at Pittsburgh.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 12 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Recent history tells us Sunday’s game with Cincinnati should be a major concern for the Ravens, but the present paints a different picture.

John Harbaugh’s team is not without its issues, of course, but the Bengals are 0-5 under new coach Zac Taylor, rank in the bottom six in both scoring offense and scoring defense, and have already ruled out six players for Week 6. That list includes seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap, two players who’ve tormented the Ravens over the years.

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals collide for the 47th time in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 23 victories and the Ravens enjoying a 15-8 advantage at home. However, Baltimore is 10-12 against the Bengals under Harbaugh and has lost three of the last five meetings at M&T Bank Stadium.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Rookie Jaylon Ferguson will register his first sack as part of a season-best four for the Baltimore defense. The Bengals drafted Jonah Williams in the first round to be their left tackle before he underwent shoulder surgery. Incumbent left tackle Cordy Glenn has yet to play this year due to a concussion while backup Andre Smith is also out with an ankle injury. Cincinnati has already allowed 20 sacks. If the Ravens can’t get their pass rush going this week, it could be hopeless.

2. Tyler Eifert will catch his first touchdown against the Ravens since 2016. Injuries derailed what looked like a promising career for the 2013 first-round pick, but Eifert is healthy and off to a decent start. Meanwhile, the Ravens could be without Patrick Onwuasor Sunday and lost Tony Jefferson for the season last week. The Bengals would be foolish not to test the inside linebackers and whoever is playing strong safety in coverage with tight ends and running backs in the passing game.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw for 200 yards and run for 100 without a turnover. The 22-year-old is coming off his worst passing performance of the season, but it’s hardly panic time with a young quarterback making his 13th career regular-season start. The game looks to be moving a little faster for Jackson than it was over the first couple games, but the Cincinnati defense has been woeful against both the pass and run, which should leave plenty of ways for offensive coordinator Greg Roman to get his quarterback moving in the right direction again.

4. Andy Dalton will throw two interceptions to go with his 250 yards. The Bengals are averaging just 3.3 yards per carry this season and going against a Baltimore front with a healthy Brandon Williams, which will put it all on the Cincinnati quarterback’s right shoulder. Even without Green, the Bengals still have Tyler Boyd and the improving Auden Tate at the wide receiver position. The Ravens defense will bend, but Dalton will make too many mistakes playing from behind.

5. Three Ravens players will each rush for over 50 yards in a 27-14 win. Last season’s home victory over the Bengals was Jackson’s first start and the debut of a run-heavy offensive attack that took the league by storm down the stretch. Cincinnati is giving up 167.6 rushing yards per game and an unseemly 5.0 yards per carry this season. The Ravens will be more aggressive and balanced in the first half to jump in front before settling into last year’s second-half formula as Jackson, Mark Ingram, and Gus Edwards gash the Bengals on the ground and control the clock in a relatively comfortable win.

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With tough schedule ahead, Ravens defense hoping for another step forward

Posted on 10 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense took a step in the right direction in Pittsburgh.

Needing overtime to beat Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges — who still managed a 98.1 passer rating in relief of the injured Mason Rudolph — hardly qualifies as a breakthrough, but standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s strip and recovery against Pro Bowl wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was exactly what the Ravens needed for a 26-23 win and a long exhale after giving up a combined 73 points and over 1,000 yards the previous two weeks. The performance was far from perfect, but it was good enough, especially with a home game against winless Cincinnati looming on Sunday and the rest of the AFC North seemingly in disarray.

Executive vice president and former general manager Ozzie Newsome said it best to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale on the plane ride home to Baltimore.

“He said, ‘Just keep getting better. Just keep getting better,’” said Martindale, who praised his group’s improved tackling and situational work against the Steelers. “And that’s true. That’s the way this National Football League is.”

Of course, the road victory over their struggling division rival didn’t come without another significant setback as strong safety Tony Jefferson was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. Labeled the “heart and soul” of the defense by head coach John Harbaugh and having just taken over the responsibilities of relaying the calls in the defensive huddle, Jefferson was a veteran leader for a group already missing former Ravens Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, and C.J. Mosley. Jefferson’s loss on top of the existing concerns about the pass rush, inside linebacker, and the other injuries in the secondary is tough to take.

Third-year safety Chuck Clark is expected to take his place with 2018 sixth-round pick DeShon Elliott also stepping into a larger role in different sub packages. It’s hardly ideal, but Clark played well in two starts in place of Jefferson last year and has been praised repeatedly for his football intellect. The Ravens are about to find out what they have with their two younger options next to six-time Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas, who is still finding his own way in a more complex system than what he was used to in Seattle.

“We just have to go on with business as usual,” Thomas said. “Chuck will come in, and he’ll help out and I’ll fit right where I need to be. If I know the check-it and I see it, I’ll be vocal about it, but Chuck is going to take on that role as well.”

The Ravens were able to slow their heartbeat at inside linebacker with the addition of veteran Josh Bynes, whose performance as the “Mike” linebacker against Pittsburgh after only three practices and not being with an NFL team since March was nothing short of remarkable. The 30-year-old has rarely been a full-time starter in a nine-year career that began in Baltimore and will surely be tested by better offenses in the coming weeks, but the Ravens hope the stability he brought to the position in Week 5 will continue after the offseason plan to go exclusively younger and faster in the wake of Mosley’s free-agent departure clearly wasn’t working.

Bynes’ arrival has allowed the Ravens to move Patrick Onwuasor back to the weak-side position where he thrived down the stretch last season. It’s a move the fourth-year linebacker is on board with after his early struggles at Mosley’s old position. The shuffling led to 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young being a healthy scratch and fellow second-year linebacker Chris Board playing only one defensive snap against the Steelers.

“I felt way more comfortable. I was flying around,” said Onwuasor, who finished with seven tackles and one for a loss. “That was my natural position. It just felt like it fit me perfectly, and I think Wink could tell a little bit that I like that position a little bit better.”

Martindale will continue to tinker with both the starting lineup and sub packages to find the optimal fits, especially in a secondary ravaged by injuries. Last week brought the promotion of veteran cornerback Maurice Canady to the starting lineup after second-year defensive back Anthony Averett had struggled in place of the injured Jimmy Smith, who will miss his fifth straight game with a knee injury. Brandon Carr continues to play most of the snaps at the nickel position after the preseason loss of Tavon Young, but the 33-year-old would ideally be on more of a pitch count to keep him fresh all year.

Still, the greatest concern remains with the pass rush as the Ravens are tied for 24th in the NFL with only nine sacks and 26th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, which is adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. Unlike the secondary that has Smith’s return to look forward to, there are no pass-rushing reinforcements on the way unless general manager Eric DeCosta pulls off a significant trade by the Oct. 29 deadline. Harbaugh and Martindale both expressed optimism this week about an increasing role for rookie Jaylon Ferguson, but 2017 third-round pick Tim Williams was waived just over a week ago after being advertised this offseason as part of the solution to replace Suggs and fellow free-agent departure Za’Darius Smith. Those two combined for 15 1/2 sacks last season and have a total of 8 1/2 for their new teams so far.

The Ravens have received three sacks apiece from starting outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, but they’re playing too many snaps, putting strain on their second-half performances as well as their long-term stamina for a 16-game season. Judon is playing 82.1 percent of the snaps on defense after taking 65.1 percent of them a year ago while McPhee is averaging a career-high 42.6 defensive snaps per game, far from ideal for a 30-year-old with an injury history.

Despite Martindale bringing plenty of blitzes in hopes of pressuring and overwhelming two inexperienced quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, the Ravens managed only one sack and three quarterback hits in nearly 65 minutes of play.

“When it really comes down to it, we have to win our one-on-ones up front,” Judon said. “We have to help our defense. We have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback and applying pressure and helping our secondary out, so they don’t have to cover forever.”

The reality is this is a much different defense than the top-shelf group that last played Cincinnati in Week 11 last season, meaning expectations for improvement must be realistic. Of the 11 defensive players who started against the Bengals in Lamar Jackson’s first NFL start 11 months ago, eight are either no longer with the organization or sidelined with long-term injuries. When dealing with that much change, you’ll gladly take another step or two in the right direction against a struggling opponent Sunday — even if the Bengals’ recent history of success against Baltimore shouldn’t be forgotten.

The schedule picks up considerably in Week 7 and beyond, meaning the Ravens must take advantage of this opportunity for a win and another confidence boost. Yes, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has broken the Ravens’ hearts in the past, but the Bengals have already allowed 20 sacks and rank in the bottom 10 in many offensive categories. The continued absence of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green will certainly help as the Baltimore secondary tries to find its way with another key cog now out of the picture.

“We’re seeing what we’re good at. We’re seeing what we’re struggling at, and we’re making the right corrections,” Thomas said. “It might not show up right off, but it’s going to pay off in the end.”

After Sunday, the Ravens will play six of their next seven games against teams currently holding winning records. The defense is going to need those growing pains and adjustments to start paying off much sooner than later.

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Ravens-Chiefs: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The most anticipated meeting of Week 3 may not produce the offensive fireworks many anticipated as the undefeated Ravens go on the road to take on the 2-0 Kansas City Chiefs.

The weather could be a lingering factor as heavy rain fell throughout the night and morning in Kansas City with a light shower or thunderstorm still possible during the game. The field at Arrowhead Stadium was covered for the most significant precipitation, but it remains to be seen how the natural grass surface holds up. Temperatures will approach the mid-70s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

The field conditions will make ball security more critical than usual for both Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson in this showdown of talented, young quarterbacks in the AFC.

Despite some concerns about a lingering foot injury, tight end Mark Andrews is active and will play. The 2018 third-round pick leads Baltimore in receptions and recorded back-to-back 100-yard receiving games to begin the season, a product of the great chemistry he’s developed with Jackson. Andrews’ effectiveness on a wet field will be worth monitoring as fellow second-year tight end Hayden Hurst could step into a larger role if necessary.

Fullback and defensive tackle Patrick Ricard (back) is active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) and safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) are inactive after being officially ruled out Friday.

Hoping to repeat last December’s effort in which Mahomes was hit 15 times in the 27-24 overtime loss, the Ravens have activated rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson to give them an additional pass-rushing option. Ferguson was a healthy scratch for each of the first two games, but defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has remained complimentary of his progress since the start of training camp.

Kansas City will be without Pro Bowl wide receiver Tyreek Hill (shoulder) and starting left tackle Eric Fisher (groin) against the Ravens, but veteran running back LeSean McCoy (ankle) is active for Sunday’s game. Claimed off waivers by the Chiefs earlier this week, former Ravens offensive tackle Greg Senat is inactive.

The referee for Sunday’s game is John Hussey.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with black pants while the Chiefs don red jerseys with white pants for their home opener.

Sunday marks the ninth all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with Kansas City holding the 5-3 advantage. However, Baltimore is 3-1 in four trips to Arrowhead, which includes a 2010 wild-card playoff win.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
CB Jimmy Smith
S Brynden Trawick
ILB Otaro Alaka
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

KANSAS CITY
WR Tyreek Hill
RB Damien Williams
OT Greg Senat
OT Eric Fisher
C Nick Allegretti
OT Martinas Rankin
DL Khalen Saunders

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Ravens-Cardinals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 15 September 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Old meets new as Terrell Suggs returns to M&T Bank Stadium as a member of the Arizona Cardinals against a young Ravens team with a new face of the franchise.

After a record-setting performance in the 59-10 win over Miami to open the 2019 season, the Baltimore offense will be introduced with 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson scheduled to be the last one out of the tunnel. Against the Dolphins, Jackson tied a team record with five touchdown passes and recorded the only perfect passer rating in Ravens history, a historic Week 1 performance that earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors.

Suggs embraced former Raven and close friend Haloti Ngata with a big hug on the sideline during warmups, but he didn’t interact with any Ravens coaches or players on the field. The movie buff posted a video on Instagram Saturday quoting “The Dark Knight” character Harvey Dent: “You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

As expected, tight end Mark Andrews (foot), wide receiver Marquise Brown (hip), and cornerback Marlon Humphrey (back) are all active despite missing practice time this week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report. With Jimmy Smith out with a right knee injury, the Ravens elevated Maurice Canady to the 53-man roster Saturday to add more depth at cornerback against rookie quarterback Kyler Murray and a Cardinals offense that used four-wide sets more than the rest of the NFL combined in Week 1.

Smith took the place of recently-waived offensive tackle Greg Senat, but the remaining six players on the inactive list were unchanged from Week 1 with third-round outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson and fourth-round guard Ben Powers both deactivated for the second straight week.

Arizona received a scare Sunday morning with starting left guard Justin Pugh coming down with an illness, but the seventh-year veteran is active.

Former Ravens wide receiver Michael Crabtree is active and will make his Cardinals debut. Former Ravens tight end Maxx Williams is also now with Arizona and caught up with several teammates prior to warmups.

Sunday’s referee is Ronald Torbert.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly skies and temperatures reaching the mid-80s with calm winds five to 10 miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys and purple pants for their home opener while Arizona dons red jerseys and white pants.

Sunday marks the seventh time the Ravens and Cardinals have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 4-2 advantage in the all-time regular-season series. The Ravens are 2-1 against Arizona at home with the only defeat coming at Memorial Stadium in 1997.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
CB Jimmy Smith
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

ARIZONA
OL Lamont Gaillard
OL Joshua Miles
OL Jeremy Vujnovich
OL Brett Toth
WR Andy Isabella
DL Jonathan Bullard
DL Michael Dogbe

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