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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-21 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 20 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens snapping their three-game losing streak and moving into the No. 6 spot in the AFC with a 24-21 win over Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I feel for Gus Edwards as the rookie free agent rushing for 115 yards would have been the big story if not for Lamar Jackson. Others have noted this, but his running style reminds of Le’Ron McClain, which was perfect against a bad defense already dealing with a mobile quarterback.

2. The Ravens defense managed only one sack and again failed to generate a turnover, but a simplified game plan that included press coverage and few blitzes did the trick to neutralize Andy Dalton’s short passes. Of course, A.J. Green not playing really helped.

3. Considering the defense had at least five defensive backs on the field for all but a few plays, holding Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard to a combined 19 rushing yards on 14 carries was very impressive and a critical development in the game.

4. Time of possession was certainly a byproduct of the run-heavy offense as the defense was on the field for just 55 snaps and less than 22 minutes. Perhaps that wasn’t as critical coming off the bye week, but it can still pay off down the stretch.

5. I’ve already written much about him, but I’m impressed with Jackson’s willingness to continue looking downfield as he scrambles like he did on the 23-yard completion to John Brown and the 19-yard dart to Mark Andrews. Those were easily his best plays of the day.

6. Justin Tucker making his 56-yard attempt at the end of the first half and Randy Bullock missing his 52-yard try late in the fourth quarter served as a reminder of how important the kicking game is in a grind-it-out affair. Tucker’s now made nine straight from 50 or more yards.

7. After giving up an acrobatic touchdown catch to John Ross despite good coverage, Marlon Humphrey atoned with a pass breakup against Cody Core to seal the win. Forcing Dalton to throw 36 times to collect 211 yards was a solid day at the office for the Ravens defense.

8. I’m not making much of Willie Snead’s blowup on the sideline that he and John Harbaugh downplayed after the game, but this is the potential risk if the Ravens stick with such a run-heavy approach. I want wide receivers who want the ball.

9. C.J. Mosley recorded his highest Pro Football Focus grade of 2018 as he recorded five tackles and a pass breakup while appearing to move better than he was before the bye. The 2014 first-round pick hasn’t had the ideal contract year as he ranks 28th among qualified linebackers, per PFF.

10. I’ve said repeatedly that coaches should go for it more on fourth down, but it felt panicky for the Ravens to try to convert the fourth-and-1 from their own 45 with 25 minutes to play in a low-scoring game. The failed challenge of the spot made it worse.

11. PFF grades Brandon Williams 69th among interior defensive linemen, which ranks behind Michael Pierce (fifth), Brent Urban (42nd), and Chris Wormley (64th). I don’t necessarily buy that, but are the Ravens getting enough value from their expensive run-stopping nose tackle in today’s pass-happy NFL? He played 24 snaps on Sunday.

12. As you could see from Harbaugh’s post-game speech, the Ravens were fired up — almost euphoric — after a much-needed victory. Jackson’s first start was fun to watch, but let’s remember they scored 24 points against an extremely poor defense in a close game that easily could have gone the other way.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 17 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday could possibly mark the start of a new era for the Ravens.

Or at least the soft opening of one.

With Joe Flacco not expected to play after sustaining a hip injury two weeks ago, Baltimore will enter a meaningful game with someone else at quarterback — the 2015 team was already buried when Flacco tore his ACL — for the first time since Kyle Boller relieved an injured Steve McNair midway through a disastrous 2007 season that ended with Brian Billick’s dismissal. Eleventh-year head coach John Harbaugh hopes for a different outcome as the Ravens aim to beat Cincinnati to snap a three-game losing streak and preserve their playoff hopes.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North rivals meet for the 46th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Bengals holding a 23-22 advantage. The Ravens are 9-12 against Cincinnati in the Harbaugh era, and they’ve lost eight of the last 10 meetings, which includes the 34-23 defeat at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 2.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will throw for a touchdown and run for another. My expectation is the rookie first-round pick from Louisville making his first NFL start, but a stomach illness forcing him to miss Thursday’s practice wasn’t ideal, leaving open the possibility of Robert Griffin III starting. Either way, Jackson will have a larger role as Marty Mornhinweg tries to take advantage of his mobility and set him up with high-percentage throws to tight ends and running backs from big formations, especially early on. Jackson doesn’t have to be the reason the Ravens win; he just can’t be why they lose.

2. Tyler Boyd and Joe Mixon will carry the Cincinnati offense with a touchdown apiece. In 11 career games against Baltimore, A.J. Green has averaged 4.8 catches for 80.5 yards and has caught nine touchdowns, making his absence significant for a struggling Bengals offense. However, Boyd has emerged as one of the NFL’s best slot receivers — a critical factor with Baltimore’s issues covering the middle of the field — and has also made plays on the outside. Mixon ranks 11th in the league in yards per carry (4.9) while the Ravens have given up over 100 rushing yards in four of their last five games.

3. The Baltimore defense will awaken with three sacks and an interception against Andy Dalton. As I wrote this week, Wink Martindale’s group needs to step up if the Ravens want to save their season and survive this less-than-ideal quarterback situation. They have only two sacks in their last three games and just one takeaway in their last four while the Bengals offensive line surrendered three quarterback takedowns and 11 other pressures in 28 dropbacks against New Orleans last week. After repeatedly noting how many batted balls they have this season, it’s about time the Ravens catch one.

4. Alex Collins will eclipse 80 rushing yards for the first time all season. Much is made about Jackson’s presence helping the running game, but a Pro Football Weekly article illustrated it’s more than that. Collins has averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 29 attempts from “11” personnel (one running back, one tight end) and just 2.97 yards on 33 carries from “12” personnel (one running back, two tight ends). What does that mean? No matter the quarterback, the Ravens should spread defenses out more when running and scale back the heavy formations that haven’t worked as effectively as they did last season.

5. The Ravens will survive in a 20-17 final to stop the pre-bye bleeding. Even against a Cincinnati defense that’s been disastrous in recent weeks and just fired coordinator Teryl Austin, expectations need to be tempered for a rookie quarterback making his first start in a critical game for a struggling playoff-hopeful team. That doesn’t mean Jackson won’t make some plays, but anyone labeling him an instant upgrade from Flacco is both placing too much pressure on a 21-year-old and disrespecting the veteran quarterback. Baltimore needs to go old school in this one by relying on the running game and a healthier defense that should be eager to prove it’s better than the last few weeks have reflected. If you’re asking what’s underneath the hood for this team right now, the losses to Carolina and Pittsburgh weren’t encouraging going into the bye. That said, I’d like to believe the Ravens aren’t quite ready to wave their playoff hopes goodbye, and the Bengals have lost three of four and are banged up at multiple positions. Given the current adversity for both teams, my honest feeling going into this one is closer to the old ¯\(ツ)/¯ emoji, but I’ll give the home team the benefit of the doubt.

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Ravens aiming to get back to their roots in Week 3

Posted on 18 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens had made it a one-possession game for the first time since the opening period and needed a defensive stop in the fourth quarter at Cincinnati last Thursday.

Instead, the Bengals marched 65 yards and took more than six minutes off the clock before Randy Bullock’s 28-yard field goal made it a 31-23 deficit with 2:59 remaining. Just under half of that yardage came on the ground as Cincinnati rushed six times for 32 yards, including Joe Mixon’s 21-yard cutback run that was the key play in setting up an easy field goal.

No, the Bengals’ rushing attack didn’t gash the Ravens, but 108 yards on 28 carries over the course of the night helped control the tempo after quarterback Andy Dalton connected with wide receiver A.J. Green for three touchdown passes in the game’s first 17 minutes.

“It was OK — not great. It needs to be better. It’s not to our standards,” said head coach John Harbaugh of his run defense. “All our guys will probably echo that. We have a high, high standard. It might be good enough for other teams around the league, but it’s not going to be good enough for us.”

Lost in the heartbreak of “fourth-and-12” and the focus on Jimmy Smith’s absence at the end of last season was the declining standard of the rush defense. Stopping the run has defined the Ravens more than any other quality over two-plus decades in Baltimore as they finished in the top 10 in yards per carry allowed for 20 straight seasons and had only four finishes outside the top nine in rushing yards surrendered from 1999-2016.

In 2017, however, the Ravens finished just 16th in yards per carry allowed and surrendered a full 4.0 yards per carry — without rounding up or down — for the first time in franchise history last season. They also ranked 15th in rushing yards per game surrendered. The four-game absence of run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams in the first half of the season didn’t help those numbers, but the Ravens still allowed more than 3.9 yards per carry in the 12 games he played, which would have left them 10th in the NFL.

It was less than two years ago when the Ravens ranked first in run defense entering Week 14 of the 2016 season and some were even singing the group’s praises from a historical context. Baltimore lost three of the final four games that season while giving up 544 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 4.4 yards per carry to drop them from that all-time-great conversation to fifth in the league. The Ravens’ run defense has had strong games since then, but the unit has yet to recapture its aura or same level of consistency.

To be clear, the run defense hardly qualifies as a weakness, but when you devote the kind of resources the Ravens have to the defensive side of the ball in terms of cap dollars and draft picks in recent years, you’d like to see more dominant results and less wavering at critical times. It’s certainly something Harbaugh’s team wants to get back to in 2018, beginning with Sunday’s tilt against 2-0 Denver.

The surprising Broncos enter Week 3 ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense and are trying not to put too much on the right shoulder of quarterback Case Keenum, who is coming off a surprising 2017 season with Minnesota after years as a journeyman. Despite being listed third on the Broncos’ current depth chart, rookie running back Phillip Lindsay is third in the league in rushing and became the first undrafted player in NFL history to eclipse 100 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two games.

“It’s incredible, these [rookie] free agent running backs around the league,” Harbaugh said. “He’s fast — that’s what stands out about him. He’s quick, he’s kind of fearless. They put him in good situations, [and] they get the ball to both rookie backs — [Royce] Freeman from Oregon, too.

“They get the ball outside quick on the edge a couple different ways. They run a lot of draws really well, some screens. They get him in space. The offensive line has done a good job, but this kid is running and he’s making plays with his speed and his fearlessness.”

The Ravens could be without three-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley on Sunday, but it will be up to the rest of the front seven to slow the backfield trio of Lindsay, Freeman, and Devontae Booker. Even with talented Broncos receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to consider, the Ravens will try to force Keenum to beat them through the air as he’s already thrown four interceptions in two home games with his new team.

On the flip side, Baltimore needs to get its own running game going after averaging just 3.3 yards per carry in the first two weeks. Game situation has certainly impacted the ground attack as the Ravens were throwing the ball against Buffalo at will in the season opener and the Bengals exploded to an early 21-point lead last Thursday, but quarterback Joe Flacco throwing 50-plus times just hasn’t been a formula for success over the years.

Running back Alex Collins has touched the ball just 20 times for 109 total yards over the first two contests after nearly rushing for 1,000 yards and ranking ninth in the league in yards per carry last season. According to Pro Football Focus, Collins has forced 10 missed tackles on those 20 touches in 2018, which would suggest a need to block better and to give him the ball more frequently.

“We’re not in any way pleased with the numbers,” Harbaugh said. “And we’re very determined to run the ball well because we think it fits our offense. It’s something that opens everything else up, so we have to get that going.”

Stopping the run and running the ball, two staples of success the Ravens need to rediscover entering a critical early-season stretch that includes four road games in the next six weeks.

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 13 September 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens had little time to revel in a blowout Week 1 victory with their Thursday trip to Cincinnati.

The second game of the season hardly approaches must-win territory, but each team has an opportunity to improve to 2-0 in the AFC North while Pittsburgh is coming off a tie with lowly Cleveland and continuing to experience life without Le’Veon Bell. A Thursday road game is a daunting challenge, but the early-season timing is a plus, especially after head coach John Harbaugh enjoyed the luxury of resting a number of key veterans in the second half of the 47-3 win over Buffalo.

“When you get late in the year, your bodies have just taken such a beating already,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I’m not really saying this from personal experience, but just talking to some of the guys playing along the line of scrimmage, I think it’s definitely an advantage to do it early when you haven’t kind of taken the brunt of the whole season.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals collide for the 45th time in the all-time regular-season series with each team owning 22 wins and the Bengals enjoying a 14-8 advantage in Cincinnati. The Ravens have lost five of the last six played at Paul Brown Stadium, but they came away with an impressive 20-0 win there to open the 2017 season.

Below are five predictions for Thursday night:

1. Bengals receiver A.J. Green will catch a touchdown in a mostly quiet night when matched against Marlon Humphrey. Lost in the agony of “fourth-and-12” was the defense holding the Pro Bowl wideout to two catches for 17 yards in the 2017 finale, a surprising feat without Jimmy Smith. The Ravens typically haven’t used their top corner to travel with elite receivers in recent years, but Wink Martindale would be wise to pick his spots for Humphrey to do just that. Green will find the end zone and be more productive this time around, but the Ravens won’t let him wreck the game.

2. Alex Collins and Cincinnati’s Joe Mixon will both eclipse 75 total yards with a touchdown apiece. Not that it was needed with the passing game carving up the Bills, but the Ravens struggled to run the ball, averaging just 1.5 yards per carry in the first half and 3.4 for the game. Their offensive line will fare better against a Bengals front that gave up 4.2 yards per carry in 2017. Meanwhile, Mixon nearly eclipsed 100 yards against Baltimore last December and had 149 total yards last week. Neither back will find a ton of running room, but they’ll help keep their offenses on schedule.

3. Cincinnati defensive tackle Geno Atkins will register a sack and give Matt Skura big problems. One of the best matchups of the last several years in the NFL has been Atkins against six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda as both are among the absolute best at their positions, but the bigger concern is how Skura and the still-inexperienced Alex Lewis will hold up against the 300-pound defensive tackle. The coaching staff will use double teams and as much misdirection as they can, but Atkins will be disruptive against the run and pressure the pocket more than anyone did for Buffalo.

4. C.J. Mosley will collect a sack and an interception to set up a touchdown. The Pro Bowl inside linebacker didn’t have a monster statistical output in Week 1, but he was part of a strong effort to bottle up LeSean McCoy. Two of Mosley’s eight career interceptions have come against Cincinnati, and his coverage will be vital as Andy Dalton relies on short throws to tight ends and running backs to offset Baltimore’s rush. He’ll add another pick to put the Ravens on a short field and register a quarterback takedown as Martindale tests Bengals rookie center Billy Price with stunts and A-gap blitzes.

5. Joe Flacco and the passing game will come back to earth, but the Ravens will do just enough in a 20-17 win. It’s no secret the 11th-year quarterback has struggled against the Bengals throughout his career, and former Baltimore assistant Teryl Austin figures to show some new wrinkles in his first year running the Cincinnati defense. However, Ravens quarterbacks coach James Urban spent the last seven years as a Bengals assistant, giving him some useful intel to combat their defense. Thursday games are rarely pretty because of the truncated time to prepare in addition to the physical challenges of a short week, which will keep scoring down as both teams plod through this one. If you subscribe to the idea of a playoff-hopeful team needing to go no worse than .500 on the road, this looks like one of the more reasonable games on the schedule to secure a victory. It won’t be pretty, but I’m buying more stock in the Ravens than the Bengals at this point as Harbaugh’s team will improve to 2-0.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 31 December 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Win and they’re in.

The task is that clear for the Ravens, who would clinch the AFC’s No. 5 seed and play at Kansas City in the wild-card round next weekend with a win over Cincinnati. However, an upset defeat would leave Baltimore to hope for a loss by either Buffalo or Tennessee to secure a postseason bid.

The Ravens will have to do it without one of their starting wide receivers as Jeremy Maclin is out for the second straight week with a left knee injury. Second-year wideout Chris Moore is expected to start in his place with Michael Campanaro and the recently-promoted Quincy Adeboyejo also in the mix.

Wide receiver Breshad Perriman is a healthy scratch for the fourth time in seven games since the bye as the Ravens elected to go with an undrafted rookie in Adeboyejo over their 2015 first-round pick on Sunday.

As expected, veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace (knee) is active and will start despite being limited in practice with a knee issue early in the week. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (back), right tackle Austin Howard (knee), and fullback Patrick Ricard (neck) are also active after being designated as questionable on the final injury report.

Cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is active and will make his Ravens debut in a special-teams role. Rookie third-round defensive end Chris Wormley is also active for just the second time since the bye week.

Running back Terrance West is again a healthy scratch after not playing in Week 16, the first time he’d been active on game day since Week 5.

The Ravens will be playing a disappointing Cincinnati team that won’t be at full strength on defense as standout linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder) was downgraded to out on Saturday. However, cornerback William Jackson (knee) and running back Joe Mixon (ankle) are active after being listed as questionable for Week 17.

The Bengals are very likely playing their final game with head coach Marvin Lewis, who is expected to part ways with the organization after 15 years at the helm in Cincinnati. Of course, Lewis served as Ravens defensive coordinator from 1996-2001.

Sunday’s referee is Ron Torbert.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 20s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a small chance of precipitation. Showing off his Minnesota roots, tight end Maxx Williams spent part of the pre-game warmup without a shirt.

The Ravens are wearing their purple  jerseys with white pants while Cincinnati dons white tops with black pants for its season finale.

Sunday marks the 44th all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Ravens enjoying the slight 22-21 advantage. Despite a 20-0 shutout victory at Paul Brown Stadium to open the season, Baltimore has lost six of the last eight to the Bengals and is just 9-10 against them in the John Harbaugh era.

The Ravens are aiming for their 14th win in their last 15 home finales with the only blemish coming against New England in Week 16 of the 2013 campaign.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Jeremy Maclin
WR Breshad Perriman
RB Terrance West
LB Tim Williams
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
OL Maurquice Shakir
DE Bronson Kaufusi

CINCINNATI
WR Cody Core
DB KeiVarae Russell
RB Jarveon Williams
LB Vontaze Burfict
DL Josh Tupou
OL Cedric Ogbuehi
OL Justin Murray

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Maclin, Howard absent from Wednesday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 27 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were without two offensive starters during Wednesday’s practice as wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and right tackle Austin Howard are dealing with knee injuries.

Maclin’s status is in greater doubt as he hasn’t practiced or played since injuring his left knee in the first quarter of the Week 15 win at Cleveland. Head coach John Harbaugh offered few specifics about the veteran wideout’s progress during his Tuesday press conference as the Ravens look to clinch a playoff spot with a win over Cincinnati this weekend.

“It’s just a rehab thing. I don’t think there’s going to be any major update,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a healing issue. Jeremy has always been a quick healer, so that’s a good thing. It will be maybe this game [against the Bengals]. I think he has a chance. We will just have to see as it gets closer to game time.”

Howard briefly left Saturday’s win over Indianapolis with a hyperextended left knee, but he was able to return after missing only four snaps.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (back), wide receiver Mike Wallace (knee), and fullback Patrick Ricard (neck) were listed as limited participants in Wednesday’s practice.

The Bengals were without linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder), running back Joe Mixon (ankle), and cornerback Williams Jackson (knee) during their Wednesday workout.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Austin Howard (knee), WR Jeremy Maclin (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), DL/FB Patrick Ricard (neck), WR Mike Wallace (knee), DT Brandon Williams (back)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Vontaze Burfict (shoulder), WR Alex Erickson (ankle), CB William Jackson (knee), RB Joe Mixon (ankle), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Giovani Bernard (ankle), CB Darqueze Dennard (knee), LB Jordan Evans (concussion), TE Ryan Hewitt (knee), S Shawn Williams (concussion)

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