Tag Archive | "John Harbaugh"

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 4: Ruining homecoming

Posted on 23 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 5 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2008 Ravens were a Cinderella story with the clock threatening to strike midnight.

Coming off a 5-11 campaign that resulted in the dismissal of longtime head coach Brian Billick, Baltimore had been one of the NFL’s biggest surprises with former Philadelphia special teams coordinator John Harbaugh now in charge. An elite defense and robust running game had led the Ravens to an impressive 9-5 record entering Week 16, easing the pressure on rookie first-round quarterback Joe Flacco.

But the Ravens were coming off a heartbreaking home loss to Pittsburgh that clinched the AFC North championship for the rival Steelers the previous Sunday. The margin for error was gone for even a wild-card spot with Indianapolis on its way to securing the No. 5 seed with a nine-game winning streak and New England having the same record as the Ravens despite losing all-world quarterback Tom Brady in the season opener. A daunting trip to Dallas to take on the playoff-hopeful Cowboys threatened to put Baltimore’s playoff hopes on life support.

The story was bigger than playoff ramifications, however, with “America’s Team” closing Texas Stadium with numerous Cowboys legends present for the nationally televised Saturday night affair and post-game ceremony to follow. The Ravens were keenly aware of rumors — later confirmed — that Dallas owner Jerry Jones had requested Baltimore as the final “homecoming” opponent to help close the iconic venue. There was also the matter of Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett having declined an offer to become the Ravens’ new head coach 11 months earlier, paving the way for Harbaugh to accept the job.

The script wouldn’t go as Jones and the rest of the football world anticipated.

Despite a DeMarcus Ware strip-sack of Flacco setting up an easy touchdown early in the first quarter, the Ravens suffocated the Cowboys offense for three quarters with All-Pro safety Ed Reed intercepting Tony Romo twice. Only red-zone inefficiency kept the game close with Dallas native Matt Stover booting three short field goals in the first half to give Baltimore a 9-7 lead that endured late into the third quarter.

Seemingly ready to settle for another field goal, the Ravens ran a fake with holder Sam Koch for a first down that set up a 13-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to veteran wideout Derrick Mason, who was playing with a painful shoulder injury. The score increased the lead to 16-7 and set the stage for one of the most memorable quarters in franchise history.

After registering no more than 24 yards on any of its first nine drives of the night, the Cowboys offense came alive to begin the final period with a 35-yard field goal to shrink the deficit to one score. The Ravens answered with another Stover field goal to make it 19-10 with 6:30 remaining, but Dallas wasn’t going away as Romo threw a 7-yard touchdown to future Hall of Famer Terrell Owens with 3:50 to play.

Trailing by just two and with all three timeouts remaining, the Cowboys knew their chances would come down to stopping the run with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron unlikely to take any chances with his rookie quarterback. To that point, the Cowboys had held Baltimore to a respectable 3.7 yards per carry and called a run blitz before running back Willie McGahee took the inside hand-off on first-and-10 from the 23.

Breaking a couple feeble tackle attempts, McGahee sprinted 77 yards for the touchdown before a stunned crowd of 63,800 that had finally come alive moments earlier. The second-longest touchdown in franchise history — for the moment — gave the Ravens a 26-17 lead with 3:32 to go.

But the Cowboys still weren’t finished as Romo moved his two-minute offense down the field, finding Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten for a 21-yard touchdown pass to again make it a two-point game with 1:36 remaining. Still holding three timeouts and having scored on three straight drives against a tired Ravens defense, Dallas kicked the ball deep and again only needed to stop the run to keep hope alive.

On first-and-10 from his own 18-yard line, Flacco handed off to the 260-pound Le’Ron McClain.

Breaking a couple tackles before delivering a vicious stiff arm to Cowboys safety Ken Hamlin, the surprising Pro Bowl selection who led the 2008 team in rushing galloped 82 yards for the score, tying Jamal Lewis for the longest run in team history. Once again, the crowd was stunned.

On consecutive offensive snaps, McGahee and McClain had produced two of the three longest runs in Ravens history to deliver the knockout blow and close Texas Stadium for good. The outcome put Baltimore only a home win over lowly Jacksonville away from a playoff berth and an unforgettable run to the AFC Championship game.

The Ravens also took great satisfaction in ruining the party for the media darling Cowboys, who would also lose at Philadelphia the following week to miss the playoffs.

“We had a lot of politics that really made this game more fun,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the 33-24 win. “They personally recommended us as their homecoming opponent. We just fed off that. We fed off it the whole game.

“We hope they enjoy their ceremony tonight, but I guess we were the dynamite.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts with virtual offseason program winding down

Posted on 22 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With the virtual offseason workout program concluding and attention turning toward the uncertainty of opening training camp next month, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Despite Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recent comments and positive cases around the NFL, John Harbaugh remains optimistic about playing the season, saying he won’t “run scared from a virus” while also acknowledging uncertainty and following protocols. Some will interpret that as cavalier, but coaches and players must prepare with full commitment.

2. All teams are in the same boat, of course, but Harbaugh predictably acknowledged the Ravens being “behind” where they’d normally be at this point. Much like it was with the 2011 lockout, continuity should be in Baltimore’s favor both with the coaching ranks and the roster.

3. With the NFLPA recommending players refrain from gathering for private workouts due to recent increases in positive cases, you wonder how rough those early practices could be even if training camp begins on time. At least with that 2011 lockout, players could work out together as much as they wanted.

4. Asked about Lamar Jackson playing beach football and hurdling a jet ski, Harbaugh said any conversation he’s had with the league MVP it will remain internal. It’s not the first or last time a team will hope to see a young star exercise a bit more caution. No biggie.

5. While describing Matt Skura’s recovery from a major knee injury as “remarkable,” Harbaugh said the Ravens should be fully healthy going into training camp and will “roll from there.” The health of players will definitely carry some additional connotations for the coming season.

6. Harbaugh is “very anxious” to see D.J. Fluker compete this summer and has been pleased with the veteran guard’s ability to learn the offense and keep up with the training program. It’s strange to remember coaches have yet to meet many newcomers to their rosters.

7. Asked about undrafted free agents and the increased difficulty those players could face in making the team, Harbaugh even lamented individuals who never got their chance to try out at rookie camp and be signed to the 90-man roster later on. Justin Tucker fit that description in 2012.

8. Those challenges as well as the reality of trying to play through a pandemic is why potentially expanding practice squads from 12 to as many as 16 players makes perfect sense. Keeping more talent in organizations would ease short-term outbreak concerns and benefit these players in the long run.

9. Baltimore has expressed interest in Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams before, but giving up what would likely be premium draft picks and committing to another top-of-the-market extension in addition to the upcoming deals we’ve discussed ad nauseam feels farfetched. But you never know.

10. According to Inside the League’s Neil Stratton, longtime scout Lonnie Young has retired to enter the private sector after more than a decade with the Ravens. You hate losing experience, but a successful organization is used to seeing good people move on from time to time.

11. Harbaugh said he respects Jackson’s recent comments about the Ravens taking Tennessee too lightly while disagreeing with the sentiment, saying his team “just didn’t play well.” That’s certainly true, but I’ll maintain having that extra week to hear such effusive praise from everyone didn’t help.

12. I try to avoid “hot takes” from national media types, but a year in which a pandemic canceled the normal spring program, is threatening to disrupt training camp, and could result in any player testing positive at any point isn’t when I’m going to ponder the Ravens going 16-0. Sorry.

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Baltimore Ravens running back Gus Edwards runs for a touchdown against the Houston Texans during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Edwards, Ravens’ historic ground game still aiming for “step forward” in 2020

Posted on 17 June 2020 by Luke Jones

The revolutionary Ravens offense rushed for an NFL-record 3,296 yards on the way to a 14-2 record last season.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson (1,206) and running backs Mark Ingram (1,018) and Gus Edwards (711) each ran for more than 700 yards. In contrast, seven NFL teams didn’t have a single 700-yard rusher in 2019.

Now adding the second-round selection of Ohio State star running back J.K. Dobbins to the mix, could the Baltimore ground game improve in 2020?

“It’s going to be difficult to do better than what we did last year with breaking the rushing record, but I think it’s a step forward,” Edwards said in a Wednesday conference call. “It’s a definite step towards that because he’s a great back and all. He’s going to make the competition that much better in the running back room.”

Consider the Ravens ran for nearly 1,000 more yards than second-place San Francisco and over 2,000 more yards than the New York Jets and Miami in 2019. Only one other team — the Michael Vick-led 2006 Atlanta Falcons — has sniffed 3,000 rushing yards in the 21st century and just 12 other teams have even eclipsed the 2,500-yard mark in a season since the beginning of the John Harbaugh era in 2008.

In other words, improving upon — or even matching — those raw numbers and efficiency will be a very tall order, especially in a sport where the passing game has been proven as the more efficient way to move the ball and score points in the long run. The record-setting pace was certainly aided by the Ravens rarely trailing last season, allowing them to lean even more heavily on the run in the second half of games. One can’t assume those multi-score leads will come quite as easily in the new season as we saw what happened when Baltimore fell behind multiple scores in the playoff loss to Tennessee.

There’s also the question about the number of carries to go around.

Even without Dobbins in the picture last season, Edwards and his shiny 5.3 yards per attempt average received just 133 carries — many in short-yardage situations — behind Ingram and Jackson in the pecking order while 2019 fourth-round pick Justice Hill only saw 58. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s long-held stance that you can never have too many running backs could be put to the test, especially if the Ravens have designs of Jackson and the offense taking another step forward through the air.

“Coach Roman is just committed to it. It seems like coach Harbaugh is committed to it,” said Edwards about the competition for carries. “Everybody is just throwing around a ‘four-headed monster.’ I think everybody is committed to it and really wants to do it. That’s the first step and we’ll see where it goes. I’m excited.

“It’s a chance to make history.”

It’s a great problem to have on paper, of course, but reality could prove more challenging.

Cutting down on the number of times Jackson carries the ball may make sense in the big picture, but arbitrarily redistributing some of his attempts to running backs is highly unlikely to produce the same NFL-best 6.9 yards per carry the league MVP averaged a year ago. Dobbins is an intriguing talent, but his addition doesn’t change the reality of Jackson being the transcendent force in this running game or the simple math of there being only one football.

There’s also the business side with many viewing Dobbins as the running back of the future and a signal that the 30-year-old Ingram could be a salary cap casualty next winter despite his 1,000-yard season that resulted in a trip to the Pro Bowl last year. That’s not to suggest Ingram or any other Ravens back will be anything but a team player, but the earning potential at the position is as tenuous as ever, making touches and statistics that much more important.

Entering his third season, Edwards will be a restricted free agent next year and is certainly aiming to continue making his mark after exploding on the scene as an undrafted free agent from Rutgers in the second half of 2018.

“I think that’s how I want myself to be remembered as somebody that works hard,” said Edwards, who’s averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per carry in his brief career. “That’s what the team thinks of me. I’m going to be in a great position with a great team, a team that wants to run the ball. Everything is in front of me. I just have [to take] another step forward.”

The ground game is certainly deeper and should easily remain the NFL’s best by a significant margin, but making history once again could prove difficult in more ways than one.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass, during the first half at an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 10: “Not bad for a running back”

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 11 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

No one knew exactly what to expect from Lamar Jackson entering his first full season as starting quarterback.

The 2018 first-round pick had replaced longtime starter and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco midway through his rookie season and helped rally the Ravens to their first postseason appearance in four years. Jackson’s athleticism was off the charts, but questions persisted about his passing despite some encouraging flashes playing in an offense that hadn’t been built around his special talents. His rookie campaign ended with a poor performance in a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that garnered some boos from his home crowd, but Jackson vowed to teammates he’d improve.

The harshest claims that Jackson was a running back masquerading as a signal-caller were absurd, but that’s not to say many saw the 22-year-old as an MVP candidate in his second season either. At least one Vegas oddsmaker gave unproven quarterbacks such as Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Mitch Trubisky better MVP odds entering 2019. Improvement in Jackson appeared evident from the early days of training camp, but we wouldn’t have to wait long to see just how much better he was.

The Ravens kicked off the season in Miami — just 30 miles from where Jackson grew up in Pompano Beach — and wasted little time jumping all over the hapless Dolphins with a run-heavy opening drive for a touchdown and an Earl Thomas interception that gave the ball back to Baltimore near midfield. From there, Jackson began an aerial assault that dwarfed anything he’d done in his rookie season and immediately started shifting perceptions about his passing ability and ceiling as an NFL quarterback.

On the first play of the Ravens’ second drive, the Miami defense bit on a run fake as Jackson connected with rookie Marquise Brown over the middle for a 47-yard touchdown. Just the fourth wide receiver selected in the first round in franchise history and also a South Florida native, Brown immediately showed off his game-changing speed despite an abbreviated summer in which he was still recovering from January foot surgery.

The pair hooked up again in even more impressive fashion on the next drive. Forgoing an opportunity to take off as left tackle Ronnie Stanley signaled for him to run for an easy first down to move the chains, Jackson uncorked a near-50-yard bomb that hit Brown in stride for an 83-yard touchdown, the fifth-longest pass play in Ravens regular-season history.

The young quarterback would throw three more touchdowns before being relieved by backup Robert Griffin III with the Ravens leading 52-10 to begin the final period. In just three quarters, Jackson had completed 17 of 20 passes for a team-record-tying five touchdowns, 324 yards, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the first in franchise history. The game was not only the best of his young career, but Jackson had put forth the best statistical performance ever by a Ravens quarterback.

It was all “not bad for a running back” as Jackson quipped after a game in which he ran only three times for six yards, one of those attempts being a kneel to end the first half.

Doubters still noted the Dolphins being one of the NFL’s worst teams, but Jackson proved the performance was far from a fluke as he’d throw five touchdown passes in a contest twice more, post another perfect single-game passer rating, and lead the league with 36 touchdown passes to lead a record-setting offense and the best regular-season team in Ravens history at 14-2. He would become just the second unanimous AP NFL MVP, the second youngest behind only Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown to win the award, and the first Raven to earn the honor.

And, oh yeah, his 1,206 rushing yards broke the NFL single-year record for a quarterback, making his tiny Week 1 running output an amusing footnote in a historic season.

Of course, there would be other memorable moments from Jackson that season such as his fourth-down touchdown run in Seattle, his incredible spin and 47-yard touchdown scamper in Cincinnati, and his Monday Night Football performance in Los Angeles, but what he did in that season opener made his harshest critics look foolish and prompted so many to fully realize just how special he could be.

“He’s definitely better. He’s worked really hard,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the 59-10 demolition. “I think he’s only going to continue to improve because he wants to work at it. He was a rookie last year. He didn’t practice much throughout the course of the year. So, he’s had a chance to be with the No. 1 offense on a daily basis, and he did a great job with it.

“Again, this is just a start. This is just one game.”

Just a start and just one game indeed.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 11: Saluting Heinz Field

Posted on 05 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 12 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Before there was “January Joe,” real questions persisted about Joe Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.

His rookie season brought encouraging signs and easily cleared the low bar of the Kyle Boller era, but Flacco was mostly along for the ride as a terrific defense and a bruising rushing attack led the 2008 Ravens to an AFC Championship game appearance. His play took a substantial step forward in the 2009 regular season, but a Week 17 hip injury severely hampered him in January as he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in two playoff games.

Even the start of the 2010 season was rough as Flacco threw five interceptions over the first two games, making a Week 4 trip to Pittsburgh feel like a pivotal test in the third-year quarterback’s development. Winless at Heinz Field since 2006, the Ravens were taking on a Steelers team that was 3-0 despite backup quarterback Charlie Batch filling in for the suspended Ben Roethlisberger. If Baltimore couldn’t come away with a win in Pittsburgh this time around, you wondered when it would ever happen for Flacco and third-year head coach John Harbaugh.

But anything can go in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry as a defensive struggle ensued.

With the Ravens trailing 14-10 after a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run midway through the final quarter, Flacco had the opportunity to make his mark and quiet his doubters. Thanks in large part to completions of 21, 11, 10, and 11 yards, the Ravens had two shots from the Pittsburgh 2 to take the lead with less than three minutes to play.

On third-and-goal, Flacco’s pass to a blanketed Derrick Mason was broken up at the goal line. After a timeout, the Baltimore quarterback then threw incomplete to Anquan Boldin, turning the ball over on downs with 2:40 left and only one timeout remaining. Flacco and the Ravens looked like they would come up short in Pittsburgh yet again.

But instead of sulking over the offense’s inability to put the ball in the end zone, the Baltimore defense stuffed Mendenhall on three consecutive runs to force the Steelers to punt from their own 3. A Pittsburgh holding penalty on Daniel Sepulveda’s 47-yard punt gave the Ravens possession at the Steelers’ 40 with 1:08 remaining. It was the latest miscue in a mistake-prone game for Pittsburgh that included two missed field goals by Jeff Reed to keep the Ravens within striking distance.

If not now, then when?

Flacco connected on three straight passes to put the ball on the 18 with 37 seconds remaining. On the next play with Ray Rice and Todd Heap picking up a blindside blitz perfectly, Flacco pumped and hit veteran wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in stride in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Houshmandzadeh — the former Cincinnati Bengal who had just joined the Ravens a few weeks earlier — saluted a stunned Pittsburgh crowd while the normally stoic Flacco pumped his fist in celebration.

The Ravens defense finished it off with a Ray Lewis interception on the Steelers’ next play from scrimmage to give Flacco and Harbaugh their first win in Pittsburgh.

Of course, the moment didn’t transform the young quarterback into “January Joe” overnight as Flacco would experience some more hiccups and the Ravens would suffer another crushing playoff defeat at Heinz Field a few months later. But the touchdown to Houshmandzadeh showed what the Delaware product could do in a critical moment against the toughest of opponents on the road.

“I think there are going to be a lot of defining moments for Joe, but this is going to be one of them,” Harbaugh said after the dramatic 17-14 win to improve his team’s record to 3-1 on the season. “This is going to be one that all the Ravens fans are going to remember for a long time.”

The best was yet to come.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 12: “Almost as if he knew what was coming”

Posted on 04 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 13 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

We forget how close Ray Lewis came to leaving the Ravens.

After bristling at the notion of accepting a hometown discount and much chatter about his interest in joining the Dallas Cowboys, Lewis became a free agent for the first time in his career in late February 2009. However, when outside interest proved not to meet his financial demands, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year eventually re-signed with the Ravens, who were coming off an AFC Championship appearance in the first year of the John Harbaugh era.

Entering his 14th season and already with 10 Pro Bowl selections under his belt, Lewis was eager to prove he still had plenty of good football left at age 34. The San Diego Chargers would learn that the hard way in Week 2 of the 2009 season.

Coming off its third straight AFC West division title, San Diego was expected to be one of the top contenders in the conference, ultimately going 13-3 that year. Meanwhile, the Ravens had bested Kansas City in the season opener and now had a cross-country trip to Qualcomm Stadium to take on one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL.

Despite playing without former league MVP and five-time Pro Bowl running back LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers would move the ball throughout the game as backup Darren Sproles had an 81-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter and an impressive 278 all-purpose yards. But the Baltimore defense under new coordinator Greg Mattison practiced the art of bending without breaking by making four red-zone stops — including three inside the 10-yard line — to combat the 474 yards allowed.

Thanks largely to two Willis McGahee touchdown runs and two touchdown passes by Joe Flacco, the Ravens led 31-26 after Steve Hauschka tacked on a critical 33-yard field goal with 2:54 remaining. But Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers wasn’t done as he completed a 38-yard pass to Vincent Jackson to put San Diego in Ravens territory just before the two-minute warning.

The Chargers moved into the red zone over the next several plays to set up a fourth-and-2 from the 15 with just 37 remaining. What happened next would go down as one of the finest plays of Lewis’ Hall of Fame career.

Having already piled up a game-high 11 tackles — two for a loss — as well as a forced fumble, Lewis had been disruptive with several blitzes throughout the game. His reputation for film study was already legendary by this point, but Lewis had missed the tackle on the same inside run play to Sproles earlier, prompting the veteran middle linebacker to gamble and shoot the gap to try to slam the door on the Chargers once and for all.

As the legendary Dick Enberg described it on the CBS telecast, “Almost as if he knew what was coming.”

The 5-yard loss and fifth red-zone stuff of the afternoon turned the ball back to the Ravens as Flacco took the final knee.

Lewis had bigger moments in the postseason over his 17-year career, of course, but no play may have better displayed both his brilliance and ferocity on the football field. And Baltimore was sure glad he had stayed put.

“I played with John Elway and Terrell Davis, and that’s up there with anything I’ve seen them do,” Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce said after the 31-26 win. “Just the magnitude of the play. It’s fourth down and game to go. It’s the kind of stuff that you write in ‘Remember the Titans.’

“It doesn’t happen in real life. But today it did. It couldn’t have happened to anybody else but him.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts in early part of June

Posted on 04 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving into the final weeks of virtual workouts and coaches on the verge of returning to the team facility in Owings Mills, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Steve Bisciotti’s latest of many donations in a difficult year was $1 million for a group of former and current Ravens to distribute to social justice reform efforts. Some have fairly noted the organization not signing Colin Kaepernick three years ago, but actions accompanying team-released statements are what’s needed now.

2. As they did with Terrell Suggs in 2008, the Ravens working out a compromise with Matthew Judon for his franchise tag tender always made sense. What doesn’t make sense is the NFL still using generic position labels like “linebacker” and “offensive lineman” in this system.

3. Ronnie Stanley made no reference to becoming the league’s highest-paid left tackle, but he wants “to get paid my value and what I’m worth” and expressed happiness for Laremy Tunsil’s record contract. Why wouldn’t he expect at least as much as what Houston is paying another 2016 draftee?

4. With uncertainty surrounding the season and how that could hurt the salary cap in the next year or two if fans can’t attend games or the schedule is condensed, teams are seemingly in no rush to do extensions right now. Tagging Stanley next March would be a no-brainer anyway.

5. I’ve always believed way too much is made of player-organized offseason workouts, but seeing clips of Lamar Jackson throw to some teammates in South Florida is another step toward some sports normalcy. I’m all for that.

6. The NFL requiring teams to stay at home facilities for training camp was hardly surprising, but you now wonder if we’ve seen the last of off-site camps, which were already disappearing rapidly. The 2011 lockout was the dagger for the Ravens training in Westminster.

7. New Carolina coach Matt Rhule revealed Wednesday that the Panthers were set to have joint practices with the Ravens in Owings Mills before the third preseason game until the pandemic erased those plans. More of these sessions still feel like the future for summer preparations.

8. Bradley Bozeman went from being perceived by many as the weak link who needed to be replaced early last season to someone already counted as a 2020 starter at either guard or center by his head coach. Of course, some continuity inside is critical with Marshal Yanda now retired.

9. In revealing Chuck Clark would likely continue to relay the calls in the defensive huddle and wear the “green-dot” helmet, John Harbaugh said, “He’s bold, he’s brilliant, and he’s brief.” Few Ravens have been praised for their football intellect like Clark in recent years.

10. I certainly would have endorsed the Ravens adding an elite talent like DeAndre Hopkins, but there’s something to be said for continuity at wide receiver while adding rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche to the mix. A revolving door of veterans makes it difficult for a passing game to grow.

11. In handling great expectations for the upcoming season, Harbaugh said, “We’re going to be everyone’s most important game.” I can’t wait to see what Greg Roman comes up with to counter 2020 opponents who’ve been brainstorming all offseason to try to slow Jackson and this offense.

12. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my top 25 Ravens regular-season moments countdown as much as I’ve liked putting it together. It’s been a fun trip down memory lane at a time when many of us need that, and we still have quite a few to go.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 13: The Kick-6

Posted on 02 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 14 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Both teams were bad and facing off on Monday Night Football in late November.

A 1-6 start and season-ending injuries to the likes of Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, Steve Smith, and Justin Forsett had already sunk the 2015 Ravens, easily the worst team of the John Harbaugh era that ultimately finished 5-11. In Cleveland, the Browns were, well, the Browns and hadn’t won a game since knocking off the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 5. An injury-ravaged 3-7 team taking on the 2-8 doormat of the AFC North wasn’t what ESPN had in mind for a national audience, but the game that had been a punchline all week proved to be very entertaining — even if not aesthetically pleasing.

The 34-year-old Matt Schaub was making his first start for the Ravens in place of Flacco — who had torn his ACL the previous week — and played how you’d expect an aging backup to play, throwing an interception returned for a touchdown early in the second half. But Schaub also threw touchdown passes to Buck Allen and Kamar Aiken as the Ravens led 27-20 late in the fourth quarter.

Having replaced the injured Josh McCown earlier in the period, backup quarterback Austin Davis moved the Browns and found a wide-open Travis Benjamin down the seam for the game-tying 42-yard touchdown with 1:47 remaining. It was the kind of coverage breakdown the defense had suffered in a number of close losses throughout that season, and the Ravens were now in danger of being swept by the lowly Browns for the first time since 2007 and only the third time in their history.

The Baltimore offense went three-and-out on the ensuing series and the Browns did the same as both teams seemingly limped to the end of regulation. However, Schaub then tried to force a pass to Aiken from his own territory and was picked off by Tramon Williams, giving Cleveland the ball at the Baltimore 46 with 50 seconds remaining.

The Browns moved the ball 13 yards on three plays — displaying some questionable clock management in the process — to set up a 51-yard try by Travis Coons to win the game. The comedy of errors late in the contest prompted one snarky reporter to opine how the game might end between two teams going nowhere that season.

Lining up on the field goal block team was 6-foot-7 defensive end Brent Urban, who was finally making his NFL debut that night after sustaining two serious injuries over his first two seasons. The 2014 fourth-round pick got a good push off the line of scrimmage and deflected the kick with his left arm. The ball bounced right to safety Will Hill, who had been responsible for the coverage breakdown on Benjamin’s game-tying score.

A couple key blocks helped Hill to tightrope the sideline for the remarkable 64-yard touchdown to snatch a 33-27 victory from the jaws of defeat before a stunned FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it was just the second “walk-off” blocked field goal return for a touchdown in NFL history.

Crazy.

“I was locked in on something else and made the wrong play,” said Hill about his earlier mistake. “But I was praying. I said, ‘If we get a block and it bounced my way, I’m going to take it to the end zone.’ Luckily, it did.

“The ball bounced the right way.”

The game meant nothing, but its outcome illustrated the contrast between the two organizations. The injury-depleted and mistake-prone Ravens still managed to find a way while Cleveland self-destructed even more in a way that was all too “Browns.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts as virtual spring workouts continue

Posted on 27 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens and the NFL now in the early stages of the virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After Gov. Larry Hogan gave permission, the organization entered “Phase I” for the opening of the Owings Mills facility, which permits returnees from the equipment crew, football video group, and the personnel department. Coaches and players still aren’t allowed in the building, but it’s a step in the right direction.

2. Those restrictions won’t prevent Baltimore players from working out together in South Florida as Lamar Jackson will hold informal sessions next week. The reigning MVP’s recent workouts with Marquise Brown highlighted on social media must have served as motivation for other teammates.

3. It’s been far from an ideal spring for players to keep in shape and prepare for the season, but the creativity has been fun to watch from afar such as the below example from Marlon Humphrey. I’ll be curious to see what technological and workout innovations stick beyond the pandemic.

4. Miles Boykin expressing confidence that he’ll “be able to play faster” in his second year reflects the steep challenge awaiting current rookies without a normal spring. Studying the playbook and virtual classroom work simply can’t replicate the challenging on-field application of concepts.

5. Ed Reed was the latest legend to speak with players virtually with Boykin describing his message as, “Take care of business — whatever it is.” The Hall of Famer discussed various topics, from finances and watching film to recovery and even locker room cleanliness. Reed remains one of a kind.

6. As Bill Belichick mentioned during the NFL 100 all-time team unveiling, Reed may have been the greatest punt blocker of all time, a cue rookies wanting to make a first-year impact should take. He was an absolute force on special teams before injuries eventually took him away from that realm.

7. Deep passing accuracy is still mentioned as a relative weakness for Jackson, but separate studies put him 16th (Pro Football Focus) and 12th (Football Outsiders) last season. With Brown and Boykin entering their second season, Jackson taking another step in the vertical game seems quite plausible.

8. Jamal Adams is a heck of a talent and drew trade interest from Baltimore last fall, but surrendering early draft picks and committing another market-setting contract to the secondary on top of the lucrative in-house extensions already on the horizon would make me take serious pause. You can’t pay everybody.

9. Speaking of safeties, this PFF piece on the three-safety defense in college is something to remember with the Ravens’ reputation for being ahead of the curve with innovations. Wink Martindale frequently used three safeties down the stretch last year, but not with the same principles as these college teams.

10. John Harbaugh was tied for 11th with 25-1 opening odds to win 2020 AP Coach of the Year, according to BetOnline. Dramatic improvement from the previous year usually prompts strong support for this award, so tangibly improving on a 14-2 regular season for him to repeat feels very unlikely.

11. As I get older, I more and more disagree with criticism for aging players who continue well past their prime. If they’re still competent enough in at least one team’s eyes, why walk away to appease anyone who isn’t their family? That goes for Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, or anyone.

12. There aren’t many stadiums where the Ravens haven’t won a game as they prepare for their 25th season in Baltimore, but they’ll have a chance to secure their first victories at Philadelphia and Indianapolis this fall. Of course, a road game could be quite different from what we’re used to.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 17: “Our backs were against the wall”

Posted on 22 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 18 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens hadn’t won a truly critical December game in a very long time.

After missing the playoffs in each of the previous three years, Baltimore was a team in transition as rookie first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson had replaced the injured Joe Flacco during the Week 10 bye. Many assumed that makeover would continue with a new head coach as rumors had swirled about John Harbaugh and the organization likely parting ways at the end of the season.

Jackson was still another offseason of development away from blossoming into the league MVP, but his presence had revitalized a stagnant rushing attack and breathed new life into the Ravens, who had won four of five coming out of the bye week to climb back into the playoff race. The revamped ball-control offense had better complemented a defense that dominated down the stretch and finished first in the NFL in total yards allowed, second in points allowed, and third in defensive efficiency.

But a Week 16 showdown with the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers — who were coming off extra rest after an impressive Thursday road win over AFC-leading Kansas City the week before — was the kind of test the Ravens simply hadn’t passed in recent years. Memories of the Christmas loss in Pittsburgh two years earlier and the fourth-and-12 choke against Cincinnati in the 2017 finale were too strong for most to believe Baltimore would beat one of the NFL’s elite, especially on the road.

The plot felt all too familiar as the Ravens dominated the first half statistically, but they led only 6-3 at halftime after going 0-for-3 inside the red zone. Jackson’s beautiful 68-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Mark Andrews and a Justin Tucker 56-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 16-10 lead in the third quarter, but the offense then stalled with three straight three-and-outs, continuing to put great pressure on a Baltimore defense that had bullied eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers and one of the league’s best offenses all night.

In the post-Super Bowl XLVII era, Ravens defenses had remained strong statistically, but a reputation for faltering at critical moments was impossible to overlook. Even two weeks earlier, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had pulled off a miraculous fourth-down conversion to force overtime and deny Baltimore an upset bid at Arrowhead Stadium.

That’s why Ravens fans couldn’t help but feel uneasy when Sam Koch’s punt from his own end zone was returned 24 yards by Desmond King to the Baltimore 39 with three minutes remaining. Not only could Rivers and the Chargers take the lead with a touchdown, but they had a short field to do it.

Someone would have to make a play for the Ravens to keep strong playoff hopes alive.

A holding penalty pushed Los Angeles back before Rivers completed a first-and-20 throw over the middle to eight-time Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates, who fought for more yardage as cornerback Brandon Carr wrapped him up. Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor arrived a moment later to punch out the football, and slot cornerback Tavon Young scooped it up and sprinted 62 yards for a touchdown.

Game over.

The defense had closed a terrific performance, and the Ravens had secured their biggest December victory in years. And with Pittsburgh losing at New Orleans the following day, Baltimore needed only a Week 17 win to secure its first AFC North championship since 2012.

The Chargers would exact their revenge in a wild-card round rematch at M&T Bank Stadium two weeks later, but the Ravens had finally broken through after not being quite good enough for too long. The Week 16 win brought Jackson’s first 200-yard passing performance as a pro, the defense’s ability to finish, and validation for the previous night’s announcement that Harbaugh would return in 2019 with a new contract extension to continue to lead a new era for the Ravens.

“Once again, our backs were against the wall,” Harbaugh said to his players in the locker room after the 22-10 victory. “Nobody thought we’d come out here and win. Except who? Us.”

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