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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 21 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Anything short of a win over the Los Angeles Chargers will leave the Ravens needing something close to a Christmas miracle to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

A victory won’t come easy as Baltimore will be playing the most balanced team in the conference that still has much to play for itself with the AFC West and home-field advantage still up for grabs. The Chargers certainly present the biggest defensive test the Ravens’ revamped offense will have encountered since the bye week.

Frankly, this is the kind of game John Harbaugh’s team just hasn’t won in December in the post-Super Bowl XLVII era with several commendable efforts ending in heartbreak.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the 12th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 6-5 advantage. The Chargers were 4-3 playing Baltimore in San Diego, but the Ravens are 3-2 against them in the John Harbaugh era with the last meeting being a 29-26 Ravens win at M&T Bank Stadium in 2015.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. John Brown will catch a long touchdown. Lamar Jackson is a limited passer right now despite his electrifying mobility that’s helped the Ravens to this point. However, the one area of the field where Jackson has had success is the short middle (under 15 yards through the air) where he’s posted a 98 passer rating and completed 77 percent of his attempts, per SharpFootballStats.com. The problem is the Chargers defense has been very effective in that area, ranking first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric against short passes and first against tight ends. However, the Chargers rank last in DVOA against deep passes over 15 yards in the air. Jackson is due to connect on a long one, and opportunities will be there.

2. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will collect 125 total yards and a touchdown with much damage coming on passes. Los Angeles went 3-0 without the Pro Bowl running back, which speaks to how deep this offense is. The returning Gordon is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, but the biggest challenge he presents against a superb run defense is his ability to make plays as a receiver out of the backfield. Two weeks ago, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes completed 10 passes to running backs in an effort to offset Baltimore’s pass rush, and I expect Philip Rivers to do the same. The difference is Gordon is more dangerous in the open field than any of the Chiefs’ current backs.

3. The Ravens will be held under 160 rushing yards for the first time since Week 9. This ground game is too good to be completely shut down at this point, especially with Greg Roman’s reputation for consistently adding new wrinkles. However, the Chargers do possess the best run defense the Ravens have seen since before the bye, and rookie safety Derwin James is the type of player who just might be able to bottle up Jackson more than previous teams could. The Chiefs held Baltimore to an ordinary 3.6 yards per carry after being gashed in the first quarter, which is why it’s critical for the Ravens to grab an early lead while the Chargers adjust to the shock of Jackson’s speed and this run game.

4. Los Angeles edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will combine for three sacks. Bosa and Ingram will give Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. problems, but how they hold the edge will be crucial this week with Jackson’s ability to run. Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon will try to get to Rivers, but the veteran has the ninth-fastest average time to throw from snap to release in the NFL and will use quick passes to Keenan Allen, who poses a challenge in the slot. The short week is also a factor as Judon has nursed a minor knee injury and Suggs was already quiet against Tampa Bay after playing a season-high 70 snaps in Kansas City. The Ravens need pressure from Za’Darius Smith inside.

5. More balance and extra rest will be the difference for the Chargers as the Ravens fall 26-17. I don’t believe this is a bad matchup for Baltimore as Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith have enough size to combat the tall Los Angeles receivers, but I’m not confident enough in a one-dimensional offense producing enough points to offset the times when the Ravens defense is unable to get stops like we saw in the fourth quarter and overtime in Kansas City. The Chargers haven’t been held under 20 points in a game all season, and the revamped Ravens haven’t shown the ability to score into the high 20s without at least one touchdown from the defense or special teams. A cross-country trip on a short week also does veterans and a rookie quarterback no favors. It will be a close one throughout, but a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Rivers to Allen will put the game away for the Chargers and leave the Ravens scoreboard watching for the rest of the weekend.

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Predicting the Ravens’ 2016 first-round pick

Posted on 27 April 2016 by Luke Jones

We know the names.

We’ve read the mock drafts — all 3,742 of them.

It’s time to go on the record as I offer a dream pick, the unexciting choice, a trade-down scenario, the safe selection, and my official prediction for the Ravens as they are slated to make their earliest pick since the 2000 draft.

The dream pick: Florida State DB Jalen Ramsey
Reasoning: The debate over whether he’s better suited to play cornerback or safety continues, but maybe Ramsey is simply meant to be a Swiss army knife around which you build an entire secondary. He’s a bigger, faster version of Tyrann Mathieu who can be a game-changing talent at a position of need. It’s difficult imagining him falling to No. 6, but the Ravens would jump at the chance to take him if they can.

The unexciting choice: Mississippi LT Laremy Tunsil
Reasoning: Tunsil has great physical gifts and might be the long-term answer the Ravens have lacked at left tackle since Jonathan Ogden’s retirement, but the track record of first-round tackles coming from spread offenses over the last several years is worrisome. Those touting Tunsil as the replacement for the oft-hurt Eugene Monroe seem to overlook the number of injuries he sustained in college.

The trade-down scenario: Clemson DE Shaq Lawson
Reasoning: It will be interesting to see if a quarterback-needy team is willing to trade up as high as No. 6 for Paxton Lynch of Memphis, but don’t sleep on Chicago at No. 11 attempting to jump up for Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner or Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Ravens could add an extra pick or two and walk away with Lawson, a good story and the draft’s second-best edge defender.

The safe selection: Oregon DE DeForest Buckner
Reasoning: The Ravens have depth at the 5-techinique defensive end spot, but neither Lawrence Guy nor Brent Urban have shown enough to suggest you shouldn’t take a dynamic talent at the position. He isn’t the edge rusher Baltimore needs, but a starting base defensive line of Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Buckner would easily be one of the best young units in the NFL.

My official prediction: Ohio State DE Joey Bosa
Reasoning: We regularly hear that Bosa is no J.J. Watt, but who exactly is? His body of work in college had many projecting him as the top pick in the draft a few months ago, but underwhelming workout numbers turned him into the popular top prospect to bash since the combine. He might be better suited to play in a 4-3, but the Ravens will gladly take a high-motor player with his pass-rushing capabilities.

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Options aplenty, but no perfect prospect for Ravens at No. 6

Posted on 25 April 2016 by Luke Jones

We’re a couple days away from the paralysis by analysis finally coming to an end.

As it stands, the Ravens will make their highest pick in an NFL draft since 2000 when they’ll be on the clock sixth overall. Or, they’ll trade up or down, which certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility with three first-round trades having already been consummated long before teams arrive in Chicago.

But the Ravens are guaranteed to have a shiny new toy by the time the first round concludes late Thursday night.

To no one’s surprise, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the organization have been very quiet while everyone else tries to figure out exactly what the Ravens want to do. The good news is that when you’re coming off a 5-11 season and have multiple needs, you don’t have to be too desperate for the draft board to fall a certain way.

But that doesn’t mean a perfect prospect exists, either, as months of analysis and over-analysis have proven.

Mississippi left tackle Laremy Tunsil was considered the favorite to be the No. 1 pick before Tennessee traded out of the top spot two weeks ago, but a few are now speculating that even Notre Dame’s Ronnie Stanley could pass him in the draft rankings despite neither having played a game since January. Even with Tunsil’s impressive physical gifts, Ravens fans salivating over the thought of him replacing the oft-injured Eugene Monroe could be looking past the lineman missing time with a knee injury, a torn bicep, a dislocated ankle, and a broken leg during his collegiate career.

With the injuries, some off-field concerns, and the underwhelming track record of top 10 offensive tackles making the difficult transition from college to the pros in recent years, Tunsil doesn’t quite feel like the “safe” pick many project him to be — even if he realizes his immense upside and winds up being much closer to Jonathan Ogden than Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher in his career.

Florida State defensive back Jalen Ramsey has the size and speed to play anywhere in the defensive backfield, but his underwhelming hands led to few game-changing plays in college and some believe his unspectacular change-of-direction skill suggests he’s better suited as a safety in the NFL, which isn’t generally what you’re looking for with the sixth overall pick.

Ohio State defensive end Joey Bosa was regularly listed as the No. 1 pick in mock drafts before his stock took a dive in the pre-draft process with him lacking great straight-line speed and freakish athleticism. He’s a high-motor player and fits Baltimore’s pass-rushing need, but he doesn’t show great speed off the edge and is a little more of a question mark as a 3-4 outside linebacker than as a 4-3 defensive end.

UCLA linebacker Myles Jack is a phenomenal fit on paper and would be the cover linebacker the Ravens need to pair with C.J. Mosley, but there’s just too much noise concerning his knee to not feel nervous about picking him so early. Baltimore cannot afford to have another Breshad Perriman situation play out if the medical team has any legitimate concerns about Jack’s knee.

And that brings us to Oregon defensive end DeForest Buckner, who probably feels the most like a “Ravens” pick despite there being little noise about the sides having much communication in the pre-draft process. Buckner might have the lowest bust rate of any of the aforementioned names, but the 5-technique defensive end spot isn’t a major need and he may not have as much upside as the others, which is a very fair concern when you’re making your first top 10 selection in over a decade.

In short, you can poke holes in any of these prospects if you want to, which is exactly what happens over the exhausting pre-draft process.

Of course, these are the names discussed most often by the outside world as the consensus top five non-quarterbacks in this year’s draft. We can’t be sure where the Ravens stand with the likes of Stanley, Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, and Clemson defensive end Shaq Lawson as any could be rated higher on Baltimore’s board than we anticipate.

After years of watching the Ravens pick toward the end of the first round — which is where you want to be — we should be reminded that there’s no such thing as a perfect prospect, no matter how high a team is choosing. If the Ravens did their homework, they’re all but guaranteed to come away with a really good starting player for years to come, barring injury. If they are really smart and lucky, they’ll turn in a card with the name of a multi-time Pro Bowl player written on it. And if Newsome and the Ravens hit the lottery jackpot as they did twice in their first ever draft 20 years ago, they’ll come away with a player who will be enshrined in Canton one day.

There isn’t a single pick they can make on Thursday that will make everyone happy. Every possible selection can make you take pause to some degree, but there may also be more than one correct answer from which to choose, which should ease concerns for Ravens fans.

As assistant general manager Eric DeCosta likes to say, the draft is more art than it is science.

With Thursday night almost upon us, the fun part is about to begin.

And the Ravens will officially take their shot at finding a game-changing player.

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Three elite defensive prospects visit Ravens on Wednesday

Posted on 07 April 2016 by Luke Jones

A day after general manager Ozzie Newsome said the Ravens still had more of their 30 allotted visits with college prospects to complete, three of the top defensive players in the 2016 draft were in town.

Ohio State edge rusher Joey Bosa, UCLA linebacker Myles Jack, and Florida cornerback Vernon Hargreaves visited the Ravens on Wednesday, according to NFL Network. The organization also worked out Ohio State wide receivers Braxton Miller and Mike Thomas in Columbus.

Once regarded as a strong candidate to be the top overall pick, Bosa has seen his stock slip a bit after an underwhelming scouting combine performance in February, but he is still expected to be one of the first players selected. He would fit a clear need as an edge rusher and outside linebacker to complement and eventually replace Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil.

The Ravens expressed confidence Tuesday that he would be a good fit in their 3-4 defensive system that features multiple looks. In three seasons with the Buckeyes, the 6-foot-5, 269-pound Bosa accumulated 26 sacks.

“You guys can actually see him on film dropping off [into pass coverage] on occasion — the zone drop, far zones and all of that — and he looks certainly capable of doing that,” director of college scouting Joe Hortiz said. “His combine workout and then his pro day workout, he showed the ability to bend. He actually, at the pro day workout, did a full  [defensive] line drill; did the whole thing in d-line drills and it was a longer workout, and they got after it. He took a blow, got some water and then jumped in the middle of the linebacker drills once they got into drops, so he definitely looked capable of doing that.

“He’s certainly a good enough athlete. He’s long, he’s rangy, he’s got enough speed. I think that he projects to either spot, 4-3 [defensive end] or 3-4 outside backer.”

Jack is regarded by some as the best athlete in the draft despite missing most of last season with a torn meniscus suffered in September. The 6-foot-1, 245-pound linebacker also played some running back in his three years at UCLA, a reflection of his unique skill set.

The Ravens struggled in pass coverage at the inside linebacker position, which would make Jack an ideal fit next to C.J. Mosley with veteran Daryl Smith now in Tampa Bay.

“He’s a great athlete,” assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. “He only played in a few games this year because of the injury, but he’s a guy that can do a lot of different things. I think, athletically, he can cover probably as well as most guys you’ll ever see at the linebacker position. He’s gifted that way. He’s a little bit undersized, [but] he’s a good run defender. He’s an excellent blitzer. He’s a guy that can do a lot of different things.”

Though not linked to the Ravens as frequently as Bosa and Jack in many mock drafts, Hargreaves is regarded as the best defensive back in the draft behind Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey, who is expected to be one of the first two or three players selected. In a perfect world, the organization would like to add an impact cornerback to compete with Shareece Wright for the starting job opposite Jimmy Smith, and Hargreaves would fit that description.

He lacks ideal height at only 5-foot-10, but the Ravens are drawn to other intangibles beyond his 10 interceptions and 27 pass breakups in his three seasons with the Gators.

“He’s got really good ball skills. He can play the ball in contested situations,” Hortiz said. “He’s a really good athlete and he’s a coach’s son. His father coached at Miami, South Florida — I think he’s at Arkansas now. The kid has grown up around ball, he’s been on the field down at the [University of Miami] since he was a toddler, probably doing backpedaling transitions. He’s very schooled, and you can see it in his play. Athletic kid, he understands fundamentals of the position, he’s got instincts.

“Yes, he’s a little undersized — everyone wants a six-foot, 6-foot-1 corner — but, he’s certainly fast enough and his instincts and ball skills make up for his lack of size.”

The Ravens pick sixth overall in this month’s draft, which would be their highest selection since 2000.

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