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Looking at former Ravens set to hit free agency

Posted on 12 February 2016 by Luke Jones

The start of NFL free agency is less than a month away.

This is the time of year when teams not only look at their own free agents, but they start to explore who else might become available. A full list was comprised by Pro Football Talk that included more than a few familiar names who could spark discussion among Ravens fans about a potential return.

Below is a look at ex-Ravens set to officially hit the open market on March 9:

OLB Jason Babin
2015 team: Arizona
Ravens-related thought: It’s tough to recall many players who received as much attention and produced as little as Babin did for the Ravens as he failed to register a defensive statistic in two October games.

WR Anquan Boldin
2015 team: San Francisco
Ravens-related thought: No, the Ravens shouldn’t bring back the 35-year-old as Kamar Aiken fits that skill set, but trading Boldin in 2013 was still one of Ozzie Newsome’s worst decisions in recent memory.

G Chris Chester
2015 team: Atlanta
Ravens-related thought: The 2006 second-round pick was disappointing in his first couple seasons in Baltimore, but he’s carved out a really nice career that includes 127 starts over a decade in the NFL.

C Gino Gradkowski
2015 team: Atlanta
Ravens-related thought: Denver cut him at the end of the summer and Gradkowski played in just three games this season, putting his career at a crossroads after struggling as a starter in Baltimore in 2013.

K Shayne Graham
2015 team: Atlanta
Ravens-related thought: Many fans forget that the Ravens signed the veteran to fill in for an ailing Billy Cundiff late in the 2011 regular season, just a few weeks before “you know what” happened.

SS James Ihedigbo
2015 team: Detroit
Ravens-related thought: If the Ravens had known Matt Elam would be such a disappointment, they likely would have kept Ihedigbo after his strong 2013 season, but Will Hill now plays the same position.

ILB Rolando McClain
2015 team: Dallas
Ravens-related thought: Inside linebacker is a potential need depending on what happens with veteran Daryl Smith, but Baltimore can’t be foolish enough to venture down this road again, right?

DT Haloti Ngata
2015 team: Detroit
Ravens-related thought: It will be interesting to see what market exists for an accomplished 32-year-old defensive tackle, but a reunion seems unlikely unless Ngata is willing to take a very team-friendly deal.

RB Bernard Pierce
2015 team: Jacksonville
Ravens-related thought: It’s hard to believe how quickly Pierce flamed out after averaging 4.9 yards per carry in his rookie season and being on the verge of threatening Ray Rice for the starting job.

RB Bobby Rainey
2015 team: Tampa Bay
Ravens-related thought: The undrafted free agent from Western Kentucky was a good story a few years ago, but he fell out of the Buccaneers’ backfield picture and the Ravens are set at the position.

RS Jeremy Ross (restricted)
2015 team: Oakland
Ravens-related thought: You can’t last as a return specialist in the NFL if you can’t secure the football, a lesson Ross learned with the Ravens as well as with a few other teams in his career.

CB Cassius Vaughn
2015 team: San Diego
Ravens-related thought: The veteran corner had two different stints with the Ravens in 2015, but it would be difficiult to view him as anything more than offseason roster depth at this point.

CB Cary Williams
2015 team: Washington
Ravens-related thought: Williams was better than some want to give him credit for during his time in Baltimore, but his struggles in Seattle last year will dim interest for his services this offseason.

CB Josh Wilson
2015 team: Detroit
Ravens-related thought: The former Terp will be 31 next month and played well for the Ravens in 2010, but his career appears to be winding down after he suffered a season-ending knee injury in November.

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Harbaugh critical of Ross, Jackson for mistakes in Sunday’s loss

Posted on 16 November 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh dissected plenty that went wrong in the 22-20 loss to Jacksonville, but the criticism was particularly strong for special-teams players Jeremy Ross and Asa Jackson.

Ross’ fumbled punt early in the fourth quarter led to a go-ahead touchdown for Jacksonville and was the return specialist’s second lost fumble in the last three games. It was Baltimore’s fourth turnover of the second half after quarterback Joe Flacco threw two interceptions and fumbled in the third quarter.

“The muffed punt killed us. It was one of the four turnovers that shouldn’t happen,” said Harbaugh, who acknowledged that the Ravens will need to decide whether to replace Ross at punt returner. “It wasn’t an easy catch. The ball was moving from left to right and behind him, but it’s still a catch that you have to make in that situation for sure.”

Harbaugh’s words were even more critical for Jackson, who cost the Ravens a combined 30 yards in penalties on a low block in the first quarter and an unnecessary roughness foul in the third period. Jackson committed another unnecessary roughness penalty against Arizona in Week 7.

It’s clear the lack of discipline is wearing thin on the Baltimore coach after Jackson was already waived once at the end of the preseason for ball security issues in the return game.

“There’s no place for that,” Harbaugh said. “There’s absolutely no reason to leave your feet [on the first penalty]. I don’t care if you are slipping or not. You might be slipping, but if you are out of position to make the block, you don’t make that block, and you certainly don’t throw yourself back into a guy’s legs on a kickoff return. That’s blatantly illegal. And then blocking a guy after the ball is down and dead — that’s just foolish. That’s what we call a foolish penalty.

“For one guy to have three personal foul penalties in a season — in a career, let alone a season — let alone two in a game, is unacceptable.”

Webb at safety

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees revealed several new wrinkles after the bye week with the most interesting being cornerback Lardarius Webb lining up at safety for a number of plays in the nickel package.

Webb and starting free safety Kendrick Lewis swapped positions several times, often waiting until right before the snap in an effort to confuse Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles. The seventh-year defensive back also secured Baltimore’s first takeaway since Week 3 with a second-quarter interception while playing cornerback.

“We felt like he could be a factor in the back end, as far as chasing balls and being a ball hawk, and he may be kind of a natural that way,” Harbaugh said. “We tried him there on Tuesday and Wednesday of the bye week; he looked good.

“We built a couple packages for him, and we were able to play him at three different spots at least throughout the course of the game. They had a tougher time knowing where he was going to be, and I really think that’s something we can build on going forward.”

Arthur Brown sighting

All but forgotten as the Ravens’ 2013 second-round pick, inside linebacker Arthur Brown saw his first defensive snaps since the end of his rookie season on Sunday.

Brown was part of the nickel package for eight plays, but he did not register a defensive statistic. The Kansas State product was active for each of the first eight games of 2015 while only seeing action on special teams.

“He played fast and was excited to be out there,” Harbaugh said. “He ran to the ball, made a couple plays — nothing spectacular, but nothing that made you concerned, either. He had done a really good job in practice, and Arthur deserved a little more playing time. He did well with it.”

Urban could return this week

Starting his second week of practice, second-year defensive end Brent Urban is moving closer to making his NFL debut and could be activated in time to play St. Louis on Sunday.

“There’s a chance,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not something we’ve talked about yet, but I think physically — based on what I’ve seen physically — he’s ready to go. But again, we’ll talk about this week as we go.”

Urban was placed on injured reserve with the designation to return at the start of the season after suffering a torn biceps in early August.

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In last stand, Ravens fail to change losing tune

Posted on 15 November 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday represented the last stand for the 2015 Ravens.

After their win over San Diego two weeks ago, players and coaches talked about making a second-half run to climb back into an underwhelming AFC wild-card race. Coming off their bye, the Ravens had an extra week to make mid-season adjustments and to prepare for a 2-6 opponent that hadn’t won a road game in nearly two years.

Their most optimistic fans believed there was at least a small chance for the Ravens to turn around their season starting with a win over the lowly Jaguars. But that dream vanished with Elvis Dumervil’s face mask penalty with no time remaining, setting up Jason Myers’ 53-yard field goal to hand the Ravens a stunning 22-20 defeat.

Head coach John Harbaugh called it “as tough a loss as you’re ever going to see” as Baltimore fell to 2-7, but it was just the latest crushing defeat in the most disappointing season in franchise history. The Ravens are just bad enough to find new ways to lose close games on a weekly basis.

“I felt like we lost the game way before that,” said wide receiver Kamar Aiken, citing the Ravens’ slew of other mistakes and his own dropped passes. “It should have never gotten to that point.”

Dumervil’s penalty was just the last of several miscues over the final four minutes of the game after Jacksonville punted the ball back to the Ravens with 3:57 remaining.

The first play of that drive was a Joe Flacco pass to Kyle Juszczyk that resulted in six yards before the fullback ran out of bounds — stopping the clock. After then moving the ball to the Jacksonville 43, the Ravens elected to take a timeout on fourth-and-5 instead of letting the play clock expire and taking a five-yard penalty for a delay of game.

Arguably the best punter in the NFL this season, Sam Koch punted the ball into the end zone for his first touchback of the season, giving the Jaguars the ball at the 20 instead of inside their 10 with 1:06 left and no timeouts remaining.

The decision seemed inconsequential at the time, but how crucial did that extra second and field position turn out to be for the Jaguars?

On second-and-15 from the Jacksonville 40, Ravens safety Kendrick Lewis dropped what would have been the game-clinching interception. That missed chance came just two plays before Dumervil’s critical mistake on a play in which virtually everyone on the field had stopped playing except for Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles and the Pro Bowl outside linebacker.

But the Ravens had other failed chances and errors — including four second-half turnovers — that put them in position for the final bizarre play to matter. There may have been some new post-bye wrinkles with more three-tight sets on offense and new personnel groups on defense — the previously-missing 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown even played — but the same mistakes came at critical times as the Ravens committed nine penalties for 121 yards.

It used to be that the Ravens had to play poorly and a team like Jacksonville would need to be nearly perfect to have a real chance to win in Baltimore, but let’s not pretend that the Jaguars were a juggernaut with their collection of dropped passes, a 26-yard field goal miss, and questionable play-calling throughout the day.

Sunday was 60 minutes of mediocre football played between two bad teams, with the Ravens blinking hardest at the end.

“We’re just not the type of team that’s finding ways to win right now,” said Flacco, who committed three turnovers in the third quarter despite three touchdown passes on the day. “We’re not good enough to [win] football games at the end. You can look at how crazy it is no matter what. We have chances to close those games out. We’re just leaving room for stuff like this to happen.”

You can keep pointing to closes losses and dwelling on misfortune.

Instead of turning a corner after their bye week and making a statement that the second half of 2015 would be a different story, the Ravens played the same losing tune in the end. And it wiped out what faint hope might have remained in their lost season.

M&T Bank Stadium used to be a place where the Ravens were almost invincible, but they’re now 1-3 at home with losses to Cleveland and Jacksonville, perennial doormats of the AFC. There’s just no explanation for it other than being a bad team, even if the Ravens and their fans might feel like the football gods were conspiring against them on that final play.

“We are not catching those breaks,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “It’s a flag here, dropped picks, and [missed] opportunities, and we’re not coming up with them.

“It’s not the universe; it’s us.”

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Late first-half fumble pushes Ravens back into all-too-familiar pattern

Posted on 27 October 2015 by Luke Jones

It was beginning to feel like old times for the Ravens late in the second quarter.

Holding a 10-7 lead with just over three minutes left in the first half, the offense had just orchestrated one of its finest drives of the 2015 season and a much-maligned defense had responded by forcing a three-and-out to force the Arizona Cardinals to punt for a second straight possession. Still with two timeouts remaining, the Ravens had visions of growing their advantage before halftime.

They had temporarily made you forget the misery of a 1-5 start, and they suddenly didn’t look like the substantial underdogs that they were entering Monday night.

Of course, that all changed when punter Drew Butler kicked to return man Jeremy Ross, who was promptly stripped of the ball by Cardinals cornerback Justin Bethel. Arizona recovered the fumble on the Baltimore 25-yard line, and replay upheld the ruling on the field.

An unnecessary roughness penalty by Asa Jackson on the punt and pass interference penalties by Lardarius Webb and Brynden Trawick pushed Arizona even closer to the end zone before quarterback Carson Palmer connected with receiver Michael Floyd for a 3-yard touchdown to give the Cardinals a 14-10 lead just before halftime.

The Ravens wouldn’t lead again as neither the offense nor the defense would play as well the rest of the way.

Rinse and repeat.

The “Groundhog Day” narrative intact.

Of course, the fumble wasn’t without controversy as Ross claimed that his knee was down before the ball was jarred lose. It was a close call — one that likely wouldn’t have been overturned by replay had he originally been ruled down by contact — but it’s just the latest example of the Ravens failing to make their own breaks.

We wouldn’t have been discussing the play had Ross simply done his job by securing the ball, something he’s failed to do at previous stops in his NFL career. If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that teams leaving plays in the hands of officiating are going to get burned and they rarely have anyone to blame but themselves.

Yes, there were many other variables factoring into Monday’s game, ranging from suspect officiating and faulty headsets to shoddy tackling and Joe Flacco’s underthrow on what should have been a touchdown to Chris Givens early in the second quarter. But Ross’ fumble completely changed the momentum of the game and the Ravens never recovered despite Flacco and the Ravens nearly pulling off a comeback before an end-zone pass intended for Crockett Gillmore was intercepted in the final seconds.

Because of mounting injuries and a severe lack of playmakers, the Ravens simply don’t have the margin for error that they create on a weekly basis. You can complain about officiating all you want — there was plenty to gripe about on Monday night — but the Ravens were still their own worst enemy in the end.

Was the offense able to make the game-changing play — or just move the ball with any consistency at all — in the second half? The Ravens punted on their first four possessions after intermission before a blocked punt by Asa Jackson set them up on the 1-yard line, the first time the offense had been in Arizona territory in the second half.

Did the defense coax Palmer and the Cardinals offense into a critical mistake? The unit is still looking for its first takeaway since Week 3.

After the Ravens looked like their old selves for a sizable portion of the first half, the Ross fumble merely pushed John Harbaugh’s team back into an all-too-familiar pattern that resulted in another loss by a single possession. Perhaps the most sobering part of Monday’s loss was that you felt like the Ravens had played better than they have in recent weeks — they were facing one of the better teams in the NFC on the road, after all — but it still wasn’t enough to overcome their deficiencies.

Yes, the Ravens compete to make games interesting, but they continue doing just enough to keep losing every week.

And their 2015 season has spiraled out of control as a result.

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Ravens-Cardinals: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 25 October 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens normally relish a prime-time game to show the country just how good they are.

But there’s nowhere to hide on Monday night as they limp into Arizona with a 1-5 record to take on a Cardinals team atop the NFC West.

To say John Harbaugh and Baltimore don’t have a shot would be silly — it’s the NFL, after all — but there’s not much reason for optimism looking at this matchup on paper or if you’ve simply watched the Ravens play this season. Making matters worse is the health of the secondary as cornerback Lardarius Webb (hamstring) and safety Kendrick Lewis (knee) are both questionable for the league’s 27th-ranked pass defense that will try to slow Carson Palmer and the NFL’s ninth-best passing attack.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the Cardinals for the first time since 2011, a game that produced the largest comeback victory in franchise history. Holding a 4-1 all-time record against Arizona, Baltimore will be playing its first game at University of Phoenix Stadium while the Cardinals seek their first win over the Ravens since a 1997 contest played at Memorial Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens attempt to win their fifth consecutive game against the Cardinals …

1. Justin Forsett will touch the ball 25 times and score a touchdown with more than 100 yards from scrimmage. If you’re looking for a weakness on their defense, the Cardinals have been underwhelming stopping the run as they’ve allowed 4.1 yards per carry, ranking 21st in the NFL. The Ravens will surely want to keep one of the most prolific offenses in the league on the sideline as much as possible, so controlling the clock and trying to play field position would figure to be the best way to do it. With Patrick Peterson likely clamping down on Steve Smith for much of the night, the Ravens will need Forsett to keep them in third-and-manageable situations to make this one close.

2. Joe Flacco will throw an interception to Tyrann Mathieu that will set up an Arizona score. The Cardinals rank fourth in the NFL with 13 takeaways and have intercepted opponents a league-leading 11 times in six games. This is bad news for Flacco, who has thrown seven interceptions so far this season. With little fear of the Ravens beating the Arizona secondary deep, the free safety Mathieu will have a chance to display his ball-hawking skills and that will pay off with a pick and a long return to put the Cardinals on a short field. General manager Ozzie Newsome needs to find more explosive weapons for his quarterback, but that doesn’t excuse Flacco from committing costly turnovers this year.

3. Jimmy Smith will do a solid job shadowing Larry Fitzgerald, but John Brown and Michael Floyd will catch touchdowns against the Ravens secondary. Webb figures to return to action, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees will still be faced with the dilemma of how to handle the nickel package with neither Kyle Arrington nor Shareece Wright inspiring trust. It makes sense to allow Smith to take on the 6-foot-3 Fitzgerald, but Brown provides a speed threat that the Ravens will need to account for and Floyd also brings good size inside the red zone. Baltimore can hope Brown’s hamstring issue limits his speed, but there are just too many weapons for a poor pass defense to neutralize.

4. Jeremy Ross will catch his first touchdown pass as a member of the Ravens. He’s not a long-term fix, but the former Detroit Lion has five catches for 58 yards in limited snaps over two games compared to Marlon Brown’s 10 receptions and 84 receiving yards while playing extensively in six contests. In other words, it’s time to see what Ross and others such as Chris Givens and Darren Waller can do with Brown being so unproductive. Ross brings some experience at receiver from his days in Detroit and adds much-needed speed to the equation. That will pay off with Flacco throwing his first touchdown to a wide receiver not named Smith or Kamar Aiken this season.

5. Palmer will become the latest quarterback to burn Baltimore in a 31-17 final. There’s a mixed history between Palmer and the Ravens, but none of that means anything with this defense being a shell of what it used to be and the veteran revitalized with a flash group of weapons to throw to. Baltimore will compete for a large portion of this game, but the Cardinals are just a much better football team right now. All five of the Ravens’ defeats this year have been by six or fewer points, but that streak will come to an end with a double-digit loss. It’s difficult to recall the last time there was so much pessimism while previewing an upcoming Ravens game, but that’s what happens when you’re 1-5.

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Arizona possesses what Ravens lack in 2015

Posted on 22 October 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will look across the field on Monday night and see exactly what they’re lacking in 2015.

Playmakers on both sides of the ball have led the Arizona Cardinals to a 4-2 record atop the NFC West as well as the best point differential (plus-88) in the NFL. Baltimore’s shortage of playmakers has contributed to the worst start in franchise history and five defeats all decided by six points or fewer.

Offensively, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has a trio of talented receivers — future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, second-year speedster John Brown, and former first-round pick Michael Floyd — on which to rely. That combination of experience, speed, and height has helped Arizona produce the league’s seventh-ranked passing game and 33.8 points per game.

In contrast, Joe Flacco has a 36-year-old Steve Smith playing at a high level and a group of unheralded receivers behind him who have struggled to make a meaningful impact. Making matters worse, the Ravens offense will be facing the league’s ninth-ranked pass defense than includes Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and hybrid safety Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary.

The Cardinals often-explosive offense has lacked consistency — evident by a Week 4 home loss to St. Louis and last week’s 25-13 defeat in Pittsburgh — but it’s not easy envisioning Baltimore’s 27th-ranked pass defense being able to keep up with Arizona’s speed. Even pedestrian offenses have picked apart the Ravens secondary this season, so what will a top 10 unit be able to do?

And given how slowly the Ravens offense has started most games this season, Monday night could get ugly if we see a similar opening act.

Return game progress

One of the few bright spots from the Week 6 loss to San Francisco was another good performance by returner Jeremy Ross, who broke a 41-yard kick return late in the first quarter.

A second look at the return, however, indicated that Ross could have made it even better had he cut behind a block from rookie Nick Boyle toward the right sideline instead of shifting inside where three tacklers were waiting. His special teams coordinator agreed with that sentiment on Thursday.

“We honestly should’ve gotten more out of it than we did,” Jerry Rosburg said. “We didn’t finish it very well, but at least we got it set up. So, we’re making progress. I like what he has done. He has been working really hard on the reads and ball security. He has gotten a lot better.”

In addition to averaging 29.5 yards per kick return and 10.0 yards per punt return, Ross has caught five passes for 58 yards in limited action as a receiver in two games. Given the lack of big-play ability the Ravens have shown on either side of the ball, would Rosburg encourage the speedy Ross to be more aggressive taking kicks out of the end zone like Jacoby Jones was in his three years in Baltimore?

“It depends on what kind of deep kick it is,” Rosburg said. “There are different kinds of deep kicks — high-hanging deep kicks. Even Jacoby didn’t have a green light. Sometimes, he ran the red light.”

Wright bouncing back?

Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t mince words in criticizing the newly-acquired Shareece Wright after he was burned for two touchdowns in the 25-20 loss to the 49ers, but the Ravens will likely be counting on him again this week.

Starter Lardarius Webb is expected to return from a hamstring injury, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees prefers using Webb inside in the nickel package. This leaves the Ravens with Wright or Kyle Arrington to play on the outside opposite Jimmy Smith, and Arrington has also struggled when asked to play on the outside this season

“I really liked the way he responded this week,” said Pees of Wright. “It was going to be interesting to come out here and go through the film with him and come back out here and watch and see how he responded this week. So far, he has responded great. Now, I’ll tell you again Monday night after we get done [playing].

“Sometimes it takes [failure]. We all learn by mistakes, and hopefully that will be his case.”

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Examining Ravens receivers, draft history, Yanda, Maryland product

Posted on 20 October 2015 by Luke Jones

It doesn’t require a football savant to assess the Ravens’ wide receiver picture these days.

The 36-year-old Steve Smith has been terrific, turning in another strong performance with a broken back on Sunday. Even after missing a game, Smith is tied for 13th in the NFL in receptions (36) and ranks 12th in receiving yards (510) entering Week 7.

Everyone else? Not so much.

Though he often disappears for long stretches in games, Kamar Aiken at least has done enough to prove himself as a decent complementary piece, but only as a No. 3 or No. 4 option. His 18 catches for 265 yards and two touchdowns are respectable, but he’s been targeted 34 times to accumulate those numbers. Aiken has shown decent hands in his two years with the Ravens, but he still struggles to gain enough consistent separation to be considered a starting-caliber player.

Still, Aiken is the second-best option the Ravens have with Breshad Perriman remaining sidelined with a knee injury.

Trying to find a No. 3 option has been a real problem as Marlon Brown isn’t getting the job done despite entering the year as the Ravens’ most-experienced option behind Smith. His successful 2013 rookie campaign feels like a distant memory now as the third-year receiver has just 10 catches for 84 yards on 23 targets.

The lack of production isn’t because of a lack of playing time, either, as Brown’s 188 snaps running pass routes rank 38th in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus data. Among the 95 receivers to run at least 100 routes this season, Brown ranks last with just 0.45 receiving yards per route.

Since catching 49 passes for 524 yards and seven touchdowns as a rookie, Brown hasn’t reached the end zone in his last 20 regular-season games and has also dropped three passes this season, giving Joe Flacco little reason to throw to him on the occasions when he does get open.

Should the Ravens turn elsewhere?

Rookie Darren Waller missed Sunday’s game with a concussion, but the duo of Jeremy Ross and Chris Givens outproduced Aiken and Brown against the 49ers. While the latter pair combined for just four catches, 31 yards, and a touchdown in 105 snaps, the speedier Ross and Givens totaled five catches for 52 yards in just 43 combined snaps.

Neither Ross nor Givens approach Brown’s height, but how often have you seen the 6-foot-5 receiver effectively use his size for that to matter?

It’s not a long-term solution by any means, but putting Ross or Givens — or both — on the field more often with Smith and Aiken at least gives Baltimore more speed, something sorely lacking in the passing game in 2015. And taking a longer look at Waller would also be wise in evaluating for the future as Brown just isn’t getting the job done with extensive opportunities.

Recent draft history

The Ravens need to improve their speed and play-making ability at the wide receiver and defensive back positions moving forward, but their recent draft history at those important spots helps explain how they’ve gotten to the point of being 1-5 in 2015.

Consider the wide receivers drafted by the Ravens since Torrey Smith in 2011:

Tandon Doss (2011 fourth round)
Tommy Streeter (2012 sixth round)
Aaron Mellette (2013 seventh round)
Michael Campanaro (2014 seventh round)
Breshad Perriman (2015 first round)
Darren Waller (2015 sixth round)

Of course, the fate of the last three on that list remains to be seen and most of these names were late-round picks, but general manager Ozzie Newsome and the Ravens brass have expressed confidence annually that they can find receiver talent in every round of a draft.

The commitment of resources to improving the position hasn’t been there, and the poor return speaks for itself.

The picture may even be uglier when looking at the defensive backs drafted since Jimmy Smith in 2011:

CB Chykie Brown (2011 fifth round)
S Christian Thompson (2012 fourth round)
CB Asa Jackson (2012 fifth round)
S Matt Elam (2013 first round)
CB Marc Anthony (2013 seventh round)
S Terrence Brooks (2014 third round)
CB Tray Walker (2015 fourth round)

Maybe Brooks and Walker still develop into quality players — even if drafting the latter in the fourth round was a reach — but the Ravens have used higher picks in the secondary than at wide receiver in recent years and have fetched similarly disappointing results.

Maybe Shareece Wright was the wrong individual with which to be upset over Sunday’s loss.

Yanda in unique company

Newsome has often spoken about the unique individuals drafted by the Ravens to earn a second contract after their rookie deal, but four-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda joined an even more exclusive group to receive a third payday with Baltimore.

Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden received contract extensions in 2000 and 2004 after being taken with the fourth overall pick in 1996. Future Hall of Fame inside linebacker Ray Lewis agreed to extensions in 1998 and 2002 and re-signed with Baltimore after becoming a free agent for the first time in 2009. Six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs received a third contract with Baltimore just two offseasons ago.

But plenty of other great players in franchise history have not — including future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed.

Yanda doesn’t play a glamorous position, but he’s been the best guard in football for a few years now and has quietly built a strong résumé as one of the best players in franchise history. The Ravens wisely recognized that by awarding the 2007 third-round pick a four-year extension last Friday.

Diggs shining in Minnesota

Using 20-20 hindsight to judge a draft is easy, but you still can’t help but wonder whether the Ravens should have pulled the trigger in drafting former Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs, who is earning major praise with the Minnesota Vikings for his last two games.

Freak injuries — a broken leg and a lacerated kidney — and poor quarterback play in College Park were significant reasons why the talented Diggs fell to the fifth round this spring, but no one can deny the 6-foot, 191-pound receiver’s athleticism. Even after drafting Perriman, the Ravens still could have used more speed at wide receiver and an intriguing option in an unclear return game picture.

With Diggs on the board, the Ravens selected Walker from Texas Southern with the final selection of the fourth round. Ten picks later, Minnesota drafted the former Terp with the 146th overall pick.

A non-factor so far in his rookie season, the 6-foot-2 Walker may still have the superior career to validate the Ravens passing over a talent from their own backyard at that spot, but Diggs sure would look good in a different shade of purple than what he’s wearing these days.

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Ravens’ deficiencies at key positions costing them dearly

Posted on 19 October 2015 by Luke Jones

It’s too easy to criticize Shareece Wright after the Ravens’ 25-20 loss to San Francisco on Sunday.

The veteran cornerback had the debut from hell for his new team against his old one, twice being burned for touchdowns in pass coverage. But expecting any better from Wright after signing him off the street less than a week ago is akin to wondering why the car you picked out at the junkyard wouldn’t run without extensive work in the garage.

There was a reason Wright had been inactive four straight weeks for the 49ers before he was finally granted his release earlier this month. Despite being signed to a one-year, $3 million contract by San Francisco in March, Wright was graded by Pro Football Focus as the 103rd-best out of 108 cornerbacks to play at least 25 percent of his team’s snaps in 2014.

Head coach John Harbaugh was harsh in his assessment of Wright after the game, but the 5-foot-11 cornerback’s mere presence on the field Sunday was a damning indictment on the state of the 2015 Ravens. And it reflects general manager Ozzie Newsome’s failure to improve one of the most critical positions on the field for a second straight offseason.

Injuries are part of the story, but let’s not pretend that Lardarius Webb has played at a level near what the Ravens envisioned when signing him to a big contract more than three years ago. Will Davis flashed potential in two games before a season-ending knee injury, but he was only acquired when others such as Kyle Arrington and Rashaan Melvin already weren’t cutting it.

After a nightmarish 2014 at the cornerback position, Newsome signed the veteran Arrington — who hasn’t played well — and drafted Tray Walker from Texas Southern to address the problem. To think the fresh-off-the-street Wright was a better option than your fourth-round pick suggests you reached too far in drafting a project you can’t even trust as your No. 4 or No. 5 cornerback on the depth chart.

It doesn’t help that top cornerback Jimmy Smith has been slow to regain his pre-injury form and was burned for a 51-yard reception by the slow-footed Anquan Boldin that set up an eventual touchdown in the fourth quarter. Paid to be a shutdown corner in the offseason, Smith dropped a would-be interception in the first half with plenty of open field in front of him.

A pass rush too dependent on the blitz and suspect safety play — another position that’s struggled the last few years — haven’t done the cornerbacks any favors in 2015, but it’s a position that’s too important in this pass-happy era of the NFL to be this poor. Throwing Wright into such a meaningful role after only a few days to learn the defensive system and with no live-game action under his belt since the preseason was grasping at straws at best. The 49ers knew their former player’s weaknesses and didn’t hesitate to go after him while the Ravens left him on an island with no safety help on Torrey Smith’s 76-yard touchdown catch.

Of course, cornerback isn’t the only position of concern for the 1-5 Ravens as they continue to get little from any receiver not named Steve Smith, who caught seven passes for 137 yards and a touchdown but dropped two other throws in the end zone. Not a single wideout other than the veteran registered a catch in the first half on Sunday as the Baltimore offense started slowly and fell behind 16-3 early.

Kamar Aiken did catch a late fourth-quarter touchdown to make it a one-possession game, but watching Jeremy Ross and Chris Givens — two players who weren’t even with the Ravens in the preseason — playing late in the game again showed the failure that the offseason plan has been in replacing Torrey Smith.

Newsome and the Ravens could not envision first-round pick Breshad Perriman injuring his knee on the first day of training camp, but pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table on a rookie has blown up in their faces in 2015. Drafting Perriman wasn’t the real mistake; not having any semblance of a backup plan to stretch the field was the major error when you acknowledge the history of NFL first-round receivers who haven’t found immediate success on the field.

Watching Joe Flacco stand in the pocket time after time on Sunday — he amazingly wasn’t sacked once despite dropping back 53 times — with no one open to throw to was maddening. The quarterback needs to be better as he threw two inexcusable interceptions leading to six points for San Francisco, but how much can you really expect when he has exactly one reliable option who’s 36 and a collection of castoffs, undrafted free agents, and late-round picks to throw to?

Able to effectively run the ball and stop the run, the current Ravens may be built for success in past eras, but the passing game is more important than ever in today’s NFL. If you can’t throw the football, rush the passer, or play in coverage, you’re not going to win many games and that’s where the Ravens find themselves with only one victory in six weeks.

The problems run deeper — injuries, costly penalties, questionable play-calling on both sides of the ball, and poor clock management are among them — but not having enough talent at wide receiver or in the secondary is a major part of the story.

Before the 2015 season began, Baltimore lacked speed and playmakers on both sides of the ball.

And Wright had nothing to do with that.

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Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, left, and defensive coordinator Dean Pees look on during an NFL football practice at the team's practice facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2013. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Harbaugh not considering any coaching changes

Posted on 12 October 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With the Ravens off to the first 1-4 start in franchise history, many fans are clamoring for changes in a season that began with high expectations.

Despite a slew of injuries to key players, fourth-year defensive coordinator Dean Pees has drawn much of the coaching criticism, but Harbaugh made his intentions clear Monday when asked whether he was considering any staff changes at this time.

“No, no way. No, our coaches are doing a good job,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve just got to collectively find a way to finish games and get the job done. We’ve got tough challenges that we’re facing, but we’ve got just the men for the job right here.”

After giving up 33 points and 505 total yards while allowing Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown to throw for 457 yards — the third-highest total allowed in franchise history — in Sunday’s overtime loss, the Ravens now rank 24th in points allowed per game (27.4) and 25th in pass defense (278.2 yards through the air per contest). McCown’s performance was the highest passing yardage total in the long history of the Browns.

In addition to already being without linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles) and defensive end Chris Canty (calf) prior to Sunday’s game, the Ravens lost linebacker Elvis Dumervil (groin) and cornerbacks Will Davis (torn ACL), Lardarius Webb (hamstring), and Kyle Arrington (concussion testing) over the course of the game.

Even with those substantial personnel losses, the Ravens allowing 24 points to Cleveland in a 25-minute span — the Browns had scored 24 in an entire game against Baltimore just once in the previous 12 meetings — is unacceptable to the standards of the organization and fans alike. But Harbaugh believes the answers still lie with the coaches and players already in the building as their four losses have come by a combined 17 points.

“We definitely believe in what we’re doing,” said Harbaugh, who also stated that he’s challenging his coaches to come up with new ideas. “We definitely have confidence in the players that we have and in the coaches that we have and in the schemes that we’re running.

“But you also look for ways to improve and get better, so we’re looking at schemes. We’re looking at things we can teach a little bit differently — the way we’re playing a technique on the defensive line or the way we’re playing a technique in the back end. More importantly, we want to play the things right all the time.”

Poor technique, poor tackling, costly penalties, and miscommunication have all plagued the defense so far in 2015. The Ravens also rank 31st out of 32 teams in third-down defense with opponents moving the chains a staggering 49.4 percent of the time.

Known as the Ravens’ biggest game-changing unit for the better part of two decades, the defense has squandered fourth-quarter leaders in three of four losses this season. It’s the kind of futility that should have everyone on alert — coaches and players.

Harbaugh knows the Ravens need to improve all the way around, but figuring out how is the challenge.

“We don’t need to play harder; we need to play better,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t need to coach harder; we need to coach better. We’ve got to find a way to make the difference. It’s making plays. It’s calling plays that give guys a chance to make plays in critical situations to get you over the hump.”

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Ravens promote receiver-returner Ross to 53-man roster

Posted on 10 October 2015 by Luke Jones

Needing help in the return game, the Ravens promoted wide receiver and return specialist Jeremy Ross to the 53-man roster ahead of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

Baltimore signed the 27-year-old to its practice squad at the start of the regular season after he was cut by Detroit in early September. Ross is expected to be in the return mix for the Ravens after second-year receiver Michael Campanaro suffered a season-ending back injury in Week 4, and he also gives them a fifth healthy receiver with Steve Smith and rookie Breshad Perriman currently injured.

Defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi was waived to make room on the roster after he was inactive for the first four games of the season.

After previously spending time with New England, Indianapolis, and Green Bay, Ross found success over the last two seasons with the Lions, returning a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns during the 2013 season. The 6-foot, 215-pound receiver also made 24 receptions for 314 yards and a touchdown last season.

Despite his ability in the return game, Ross has had problems with ball security, including a critical muffed punt for the Packers in a playoff loss to San Francisco during the 2012 season. The Cal product also fumbled three times as a return man for the Lions last season.

Playing in 34 games and making 15 starts in his four-year career, Ross was the only player in the NFL to score a touchdown by reception, punt return, and kickoff return during the 2013 season. He’s caught 30 receptions for 381 yards and two touchdowns while also averaging 12.3 yards per punt return and 25.2 yards per kick return in his NFL career.

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