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Examining Ravens’ top 10 salary cap numbers for 2020

Posted on 04 February 2020 by Luke Jones

Coming off the best regular season in franchise history, general manager Eric DeCosta and the Ravens will try to take the next step in 2020 with NFL MVP Lamar Jackson entering only his third year.

We know the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to find long-term prosperity, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for a Super Bowl championship. As of right now, the Ravens will devote just under $107 million in 2020 salary cap space to the 10 players possessing the highest cap numbers. The 2020 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s projected to rise from $188.2 million in 2019 to an estimated $200 million.

Below is a look at those 10 Baltimore players:

1. S Earl Thomas
2020 Week 1 age: 31
2020 cap number: $15 million
Synopsis: It may not have been a spectacular first season in Baltimore for the longtime Seattle Seahawk, but Thomas played well in the process of being named to his seventh Pro Bowl and being graded 16th among qualified safeties by Pro Football Focus. Another year in Wink Martindale’s defensive system should only increase his comfort level, but it’s always fair to wonder how the speed and range of any defensive back over the age of 30 will hold up, especially with Thomas owning the third-highest cap number among NFL safeties for 2020 and being signed through 2022.

1. CB Marcus Peters
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $15 million
Synopsis: The acquisition of Peters from the Los Angeles Rams was probably the best in-season trade in the NFL this past year, but DeCosta signing the three-time Pro Bowl cornerback to a three-year, $42 million extension made the deal even better as Peters very likely would have done better on the open market. Grading fourth among qualified cornerbacks by PFF, Peters teams with fellow Pro Bowl selection Marlon Humphrey to give Baltimore one of the NFL’s best corner duos. Not resetting the market with Peters will help the Ravens’ future cap situation when it’s time to extend Humphrey.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2020 Week 1 age: 31
2020 cap number: $14.17 million
Synopsis: Projected to have the ninth-highest cap number among NFL interior defensive linemen in 2020, Williams hasn’t provided the best value on a five-year, $52.5 million contract that runs through 2021, but he remains one of the better run-stopping defensive linemen in the league. His presence will be even more important this coming season as the Ravens defense is likely to see much turnover with its front seven, which may include the free-agent exit of Michael Pierce. Williams’ cap number would be a bigger concern if not for the cap flexibility the Ravens have with a star quarterback still on a rookie deal.

4. OT Ronnie Stanley
2020 Week 1 age: 26
2020 cap number: $12.866 million
Synopsis: Widely regarded as the best left tackle in the NFL this season as a Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro selection, Stanley remains a bargain even with his fifth-year option as he currently owns just the 12th-highest cap number among left tackles for 2020. Signing the 2016 first-round pick to a long-term extension should be the top priority of the offseason among Baltimore players still under contract for 2020, but that may require making Stanley the highest-paid left tackle in the NFL. His age and performance this past season would certainly warrant such a demand from his representation.

5. S Tony Jefferson
2020 Week 1 age: 28
2020 cap number: $11.657 million
Synopsis: A popular locker room guy and a solid player in 2018, Jefferson suffered a serious knee injury in early October and was replaced by Chuck Clark, who emerged as a key piece of the defense and was seen as an upgrade at a fraction of the cost. Even if Jefferson were completely healthy, his status would have been in doubt as the Ravens can save $7 million in both cash and cap savings by releasing him this offseason. It’s tough envisioning a scenario in which Jefferson returns at anything but a dramatically reduced rate as his four-year, $34 million deal signed in 2017 hasn’t worked out as Baltimore planned.

6. G Marshal Yanda
2020 Week 1 age: 35
2020 cap number: $11 million
Synopsis: The only question here is whether the eight-time Pro Bowl lineman will return for a 14th season as Yanda remains one of the best guards in the NFL and carries the sixth-highest cap number among right guards for the 2020 season. The 2007 third-round pick retiring would create $7 million in cap savings for the Ravens, but it would open up a significant hole on the offensive line for the league’s top-ranked scoring offense. Yanda graded fourth among all qualified guards by PFF and looks like an eventual Hall of Famer, whether he continues playing or not.

7. CB Tavon Young
2020 Week 1 age: 26
2020 cap number: $8 million
Synopsis: The slot cornerback has shown much potential when he’s been able to stay on the field, but he’s appeared in just 15 games over the last three seasons and will be returning from a neck injury that cost him the entire 2019 campaign, creating some understandable concern about his value after he signed a lucrative extension last offseason. Young’s presence will allow the Ravens to move Humphrey back to an outside cornerback spot, strengthening a secondary that was already very strong this past season. There’s still upside at work with Young that the Ravens need to see come to fruition in 2020.

8. CB Brandon Carr
2020 Week 1 age: 34
2020 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: His transition to a versatile safety role in sub packages should help Carr extend his playing career, but whether the Ravens elect to exercise their 2020 option on the veteran defensive back remains to be seen. With fellow veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent, his status figures to impact what happens with Carr as both returning would seem unlikely. Baltimore would save $6 million in cap space by declining Carr’s option, but a respected and versatile veteran role player still chasing a Super Bowl ring might be amenable to returning at a reduced rate.

9. TE Nick Boyle
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $6.833 million
Synopsis: His unique fit in Greg Roman’s run-first offense makes Boyle challenging to value as it relates to the other 31 teams, but the Ravens have no complaints about his 2019 production as he set new career highs in catches, receiving yards, and touchdown receptions after inking a three-year, $18 million contract last offseason. The 2015 fifth-round pick from Delaware remains one of the best blocking tight ends in the NFL, grading 11th overall among qualified tight ends by PFF. He’s fondly referred to as a sixth offensive lineman on the field and provides some leadership for a very young offense.

10. WR Willie Snead
2020 Week 1 age: 27
2020 cap number: $5.412 million
Synopsis: Snead was extended through 2020 despite his catches and receiving yards falling off substantially from his first year in Baltimore. His ability to make plays from the slot is compromised by the Ravens’ frequent use of tight ends over the middle of the field, but Snead’s veteran presence and blocking ability are valued in such a young and unique offensive attack. DeCosta would seemingly like to add another impactful wide receiver to go with 2019 first-round pick Marquise Brown this offseason, a development that could further impact Snead’s role.

Next up:
11. RB Mark Ingram ($5.333 million)
12. OL James Hurst ($5.25 million)
13. K Justin Tucker ($5.1 million)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional playoff meeting with Tennessee

Posted on 06 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now knowing they’ll face Tennessee in their first home divisional playoff game in eight years, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A talking point for John Harbaugh to his players this week will be how rare January road wins in Foxborough have been the last two decades. The Titans are the lesser team on paper, but beating New England in the playoffs garners a level of respect Baltimore shouldn’t dismiss.

2. Starting fast is a cliched key one can mention every week, but the Ravens can silence all discussion of rust or losing their edge by jumping on the Titans early. It would also remind Mike Vrabel’s team that any confidence gained from beating the Patriots will only go so far.

3. Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing as Tennessee finished third in rushing and fifth in Football Outsiders’ run efficiency. Henry’s propensity to cut back on edge runs is a style that’s given Baltimore some issues, so I expect Wink Martindale to use more base defense and big nickel packages.

4. With Lamar Jackson turning 23 on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but ponder a connection with another 23-year-old who won MVP, led Baltimore to a world championship, and wore No. 8. The young quarterback sure followed through on a vow made at Camden Yards this past summer.

5. A three-week layoff from live-game action is one thing, but Jackson battling a stomach bug for several days last week is another variable to consider in the whole rust debate. That’s nothing a couple early designed runs or high-percentage throws can’t remedy, however.

6. Ryan Tannehill has been superb under pressure and against the blitz this season, but he’ll face a Ravens defense that blitzes more frequently than anyone in the NFL. His overall numbers are impressive, but I can’t blame you for waiting for the eighth-year quarterback to turn back into a pumpkin.

7. Baltimore allowed 200 net passing yards just once over the final eight games of the regular season despite winning all but two of those by at least 16 points. Considering how much yardage and scoring you often see in “garbage” time, that’s remarkable — and bad news for Tannehill.

8. You’d expect Dean Pees to be a topic of conversation this week, but just six members of the Ravens’ current offensive roster were with the organization when Pees was defensive coordinator. He’s as unfamiliar with Jackson and this unique system as any coordinator out there.

9. With wide receivers coach David Culley reiterating Marquise Brown isn’t fully healed from last January’s foot surgery, you hope a week off really helped the speedy rookie receiver. Brown made just one catch of 10 or more yards in five combined December games.

10. Meanwhile, fellow rookie A.J. Brown cracked the 1,000-yard receiving mark and registered 100-yard performances for the Titans in four of the last six games of the regular season. Any receiver averaging more than 20 yards per catch is someone to watch.

11. Tennessee ranked 29th in special-teams efficiency and went 8-for-18 on field goals in the process of using four different kickers this season. Justin Tucker has missed nine field goals over the last four seasons combined. Paging Al Del Greco.


(Photo by Getty Images)

12. The early forecast for Saturday night suggests rain showers and winds 10 to 15 miles per hour. Two run-first teams probably wouldn’t mind those conditions one bit, and I can’t imagine a little rain dampening the spirits of a raucous crowd either.

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Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) tries to throw a pass from his team's end zone as Baltimore Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr (39) grabs him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. Hodges was penalized for an intentional grounding penalty and the Ravens were given two points on a the safety. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts during playoff bye week

Posted on 01 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens enjoying the bye week after a franchise-best 14-2 record and securing the AFC’s top seed for the first time in their 24-year history, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eliminating Pittsburgh and extending the franchise-record winning streak to 12 games were fun accomplishments, but escaping Week 17 without any major injuries was the real win. The Ravens haven’t stayed as healthy as last year when they had the fewest adjusted games lost in the NFL, but they’re close.

2. If you’ve wondered how much credit Greg Roman deserves for this offense, look to Sunday when the Ravens rushed for 223 yards against one of the league’s best run defenses without arguably the best rushing quarterback ever, a Pro Bowl running back, and two Pro Bowl offensive linemen. Case closed.

3. Finding the appropriate words to describe a historic season for Lamar Jackson isn’t easy, but I keep coming back to him leading the NFL in touchdown passes despite 25 quarterbacks attempting more passes and ranking sixth in rushing despite 22 players having more carries. Electrifying efficiency.

4. The Ravens failed to have a single 700-yard rusher in 2013 and 2015 and just barely had one last year, but they became just the second team in NFL history to produce three 700-yard rushers in one season, joining Carolina in 2011. Seven teams didn’t have one this season.

5. Despite making a career-low 28 field goals because of the record-setting offense, Justin Tucker scored exactly 141 points for the fourth consecutive season. His 57 extra points were 15 more than he’d ever made in a campaign. Surprising math to get to the same endpoint for the Pro Bowl kicker.

6. Brandon Carr is entering the final option year of his contract, but his move to safety could extend his career for another season or two. The 33-year-old remains solid in coverage and came close to three sacks as a blitzer last Sunday. His versatility and durability continue to be valuable.

7. The Ravens and Robert Griffin III weren’t thrilled with Pittsburgh repeatedly hitting the quarterback on read-option hand-offs, but you’d have to anticipate more of that against Jackson in the postseason. I can’t blame opponents for doing it as long as the hits don’t blatantly cross the line.

8. A day after signing a contract extension, Marcus Peters was the one who nixed John Harbaugh receiving a Gatorade shower, citing how the Ravens had more to accomplish. It’s still remarkable how little Eric DeCosta traded for Peters compared to what the Los Angeles Rams paid for Jalen Ramsey.

9. Mark Ingram’s status will continue to be monitored, but Gus Edwards besting him in yards per carry for the season (5.3 to 5.0) is a reminder that he’s a starting-caliber back. If Ingram isn’t quite ready for the divisional round, the Ravens should be fine with Edwards and Justice Hill.

10. Anthony Levine saw his season average fall from 60.0 yards per rush to 31.0 after a successful fake punt that netted two yards Sunday. The Ravens ran fakes to Levine with a 35-3 lead in Week 1 and in the fourth quarter of Week 17 with no playoff implications.

11. The Ravens finished the regular season with a plus-249 point differential, the NFL’s highest since undefeated New England in 2007 at plus-315. They’re also the seventh team in the 16-game season era to score 500 points and allow fewer than 300. Five of those first six made the Super Bowl.

12. I wasn’t surprised by Ravens fans’ cheers upon learning New England had fallen to Miami, but Kansas City becomes a bigger threat to Baltimore’s Super Bowl aspirations with a week off and playing at home in the divisional round. Jackson facing the Chiefs is the way it should be anyway.

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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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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 28 December 2019 by Luke Jones

A 12th win in a row would give the 2019 Ravens the first 14-2 record in franchise history, but there’s only one meaningful factor to monitor in Sunday’s regular-season finale against Pittsburgh.

That’s navigating 60 minutes of football without any injuries that could hinder a championship run.

Coaches and players have spoken all week about playing to win against their biggest rival, but John Harbaugh’s easy decision to rest MVP favorite Lamar Jackson, Marshal Yanda, Mark Ingram, Earl Thomas, and Brandon Williams tells you exactly how important this game is to Baltimore’s ultimate goal of winning the third Super Bowl in franchise history. It goes far beyond trying to eliminate an AFC North rival from playoff contention, setting additional regular-season records, or “maintaining momentum.” The threat of any top seed losing its edge or getting rusty is real, but that isn’t eliminated by simply playing Week 17 at full strength and doesn’t match any risk of losing a key player in a game lacking meaning.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 48th time in the regular season with Pittsburgh holding a 25-22 advantage as well as a 3-1 edge in playoff encounters. Baltimore is 13-13 against the Steelers in the Harbaugh era and seeks its first season sweep since 2015.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens will rest or limit more starters than the aforementioned names. Harbaugh hasn’t revealed additional plans for playing time beyond what he announced Monday, but you’d assume he’ll hold out other key players or at least limit their snaps. In Week 17 of the 2012 season, he deactivated Yanda, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Anquan Boldin, and Bernard Pollard and limited the likes of Ed Reed, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Matt Birk, Torrey Smith, and Dennis Pitta to 16 or fewer snaps. Based on that as well as past preseasons, the Ravens can navigate a game with roughly 40 players.

2. Baltimore will set a new NFL record for rushing yards in a 16-game season. We saw Jackson’s impact on the run game from the moment he took the starting reins last year, so it’ll be interesting to see how productive the group is with Robert Griffin III at quarterback. The Ravens need 93 rushing yards to break the 1978 New England Patriots’ mark of 3,165, but they’re facing a Pittsburgh defense ranking third in the NFL at 3.7 yards per carry allowed. The volume of carries should still be there to set the record even if the Ravens average well below their season mark of 5.6 yards per rush.

3. JuJu Smith-Schuster will catch only his fourth touchdown of 2019. It was a quiet return for Smith-Schuster last week after a four-game absence due to a knee injury, but he provides a much-needed inside target for rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges and a sputtering Pittsburgh offense. Should the Ravens choose to limit Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s playing time, there isn’t an attractive backup option to play in the slot, a position Baltimore struggled to fill early in the year after Tavon Young was lost for the season in August. That’s even more reason not to play Humphrey too much in this game.

4. Justin Tucker will make his longest field goal of the season. We know a record-setting offense has marginalized the kicking game this year, but it’s mind-blowing to think the best in the NFL and three-time Pro Bowl selection hasn’t even attempted a field goal from 50 yards or more since Week 2. Tucker has just one missed field goal — and two unsuccessful extra points — this season, but Sunday will feel like a throwback performance with the Ravens relying more on field position and the kicking game. Some rain could make it tricky, but Tucker will connect on a field goal from longer than 51 yards.

5. The Ravens will be held under 20 points for the first time all season in a 17-16 loss. I haven’t picked against the Ravens since October and don’t plan to again in January, but this game simply doesn’t matter and can only harm their Super Bowl aspirations in the event of a notable injury or two. Baltimore winning with backups against an ordinary Steelers team wouldn’t surprise me by any means, but expecting the same intensity and brand of Ravens football — even if it’s against Pittsburgh — with Jackson and other top players in street clothes on the sideline is a lot to ask in a game in which the opponent has everything to play for. It will be a competitive game with points at a premium, but we’ll come away reminded why Jackson is the easy choice as the league MVP this season.

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Jackson headlines list of record 12 Ravens selections for Pro Bowl

Posted on 17 December 2019 by Luke Jones

An NFL-record-tying 12 Ravens players were selected to play in next month’s Pro Bowl in Orlando, but they hope to be busy preparing for a more meaningful game further down the road in Florida the following Sunday.

To no surprise, MVP favorite and NFL leading vote-getter Lamar Jackson was selected as the AFC’s starting quarterback, continuing a historic season in which he currently leads the NFL in touchdown passes (33) and has already set the league’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback (1,103). Jackson, 22, is the first Ravens quarterback to be named the Pro Bowl starter and only the second in their 24-year history to be a Pro Bowl selection, joining Vinny Testaverde in 1996.

Jackson needs one more touchdown pass to surpass Testaverde for the franchise single-season record and currently ranks first in the NFL in adjusted QBR (81.3), first in yards per carry (6.9), first in overall touchdowns (40), third in passer rating (112.8), and eighth in rushing yards. He is the first quarterback in NFL history to produce at least 2,500 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a single season, but Jackson hopes to lead the 12-2 Ravens to Super Bowl LIV in Miami in lieu of playing in the Pro Bowl.

“This honor is all about my teammates and our coaches, because without them, the success we’ve had as a team wouldn’t be possible,” Jackson said in a statement released by the team. “I’m also grateful for all the fans who continue to support us and who have helped make this season so special. Ultimately, it’s about winning, and we still have a lot of work to do before we accomplish our biggest goals.”

Right guard Marshal Yanda, left tackle Ronnie Stanley, and fullback Patrick Ricard were also named starters for the AFC while kicker Justin Tucker and long snapper Morgan Cox were named AFC specialists. Tight end Mark Andrews, running back Mark Ingram, cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and safety Earl Thomas round out Baltimore’s list of Pro Bowl selections as reserves.

Named to the Pro Bowl for the eighth time in the last nine years, Yanda is now fourth on the Ravens’ all-time Pro Bowl selections list behind Hall of Famers Ray Lewis (13), Jonathan Ogden (11), and Ed Reed (nine). He has led an offensive line that’s blocked for the NFL’s top-ranked scoring and rushing offense as the Ravens have set franchise records for total touchdowns (58), points (472), and rushing yards (2,830). Pro Football Focus has graded Yanda fourth among all NFL guards this season.

“Being voted to the Pro Bowl is an entire team honor — not just the individual,” Yanda said. “And this year, we have a lot of guys who have worked extremely hard and are being rewarded.”

Yanda wasn’t the only Baltimore offensive lineman to make it as left tackle Ronnie Stanley received his first Pro Bowl nod and has graded first among NFL left tackles by PFF. Andrews and Ricard are also first-time selections representing the Ravens offense while Ingram was named to his third career Pro Bowl in his first season with Baltimore.

Ingram is on pace to rush for over 1,000 yards for the third time in his career and ranks fourth in the NFL with 14 total touchdowns scored. Andrews’ eight touchdown receptions lead all NFL tight ends and have set a franchise record for touchdown receptions by a tight end in a single season.

“This is an extreme honor, especially since I’m in my second year,” Andrews said. “I wouldn’t be here without my teammates, particularly our other tight ends — Nick Boyle and Hayden Hurst — with everything that we all do on the field. They make my job easier, so this is not an individual award — it’s a team award.”

Humphrey and Judon also received their first Pro Bowl nods in helping lead a Baltimore defense that ranks in the top 10 in most major categories despite a slow start to the season. A 2017 first-round pick, Humphrey is one of six NFL defenders this season to post at least two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.

Judon has recorded team highs in sacks (8 1/2), tackles for a loss (13), forced fumbles (three), and quarterback hits (29) this season and is one of only three NFL defenders to have at least eight sacks, 10 tackles for loss, 25 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles. The honor comes in a contract season for the 2016 fifth-round pick, who’s taken on more of a leadership role after the free-agent departure of longtime Raven Terrell Suggs.

“I was overjoyed when I heard the news,” Judon said. “It was probably one of the most exciting moments of my career so far. We work so hard in this game — everybody on our team has — and it’s just so rewarding. We’ve put in the work, and for so many of us to get recognized like this, it’s a testament to our hard work and our great coaching staff.

“For the fans, the coaches, and the players to say you’re one of the best players in the league this year, it really means a lot.”

Thomas was selected to his first Pro Bowl as a Raven after being named to his first six with the Seattle Seahawks. Acquired in an October trade with the Los Angeles Rams, Peters was named to his third Pro Bowl after returning an NFL-best three interceptions for touchdowns — two with the Ravens — and tying for the third-most interceptions (five) in the league this season.

The most accurate kicker in NFL history, Tucker stands second in the league this season with a 95.8-percent success rate (23-for-24) and has made two game-winning field goals — one in overtime against Pittsburgh in Week 5 and the other coming against San Francisco in Week 13. This is Tucker’s third Pro Bowl selection.

This is Cox’s third Pro Bowl selection as he’s served as the Ravens’ long snapper since 2010. Long snappers were added to the player and coach balloting system for the first time this season after the head coach of each Pro Bowl team would previously select a long snapper as a “need” player.

Nine of Baltimore’s 12 Pro Bowl selections are homegrown players who were either drafted or signed as rookie free agents by the organization. That includes first-round picks selected in three consecutive years: Stanley (2016), Humphrey (2017), and Jackson (2018). The list is certainly headlined by the sensational Jackson, but Ricard may have been the most improbable choice at the beginning of the season since he didn’t appear to even be in the Ravens’ long-term plans at the end of 2018.

“I feel humbled and appreciative because a year ago at this time, I was inactive for the final month of the season and there was outside talk about me not even making the team in 2019,” Ricard said. “I want to give credit to [offensive coordinator] Greg Roman, first and foremost, for transitioning me to fullback three years ago when I was an undrafted defensive lineman.

“Additionally, [tight ends coach Bobby] Engram and [assistant tight ends coach Andy] Bischoff — none of this would be possible without their guidance. But ultimately, I want to thank all the fans and players who voted for me, and I give a great deal of credit to my amazing teammates.”

Punter Sam Koch and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. were named first alternates for the AFC Pro Bowl roster.

The Pro Bowl will be played at Camping World Stadium in Orlando on Jan. 26, but the Super Bowl takes place at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium a week later on Feb. 2. Any Pro Bowl players whose teams make it to the Super Bowl will be replaced for the exhibition game.

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates with quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) after they connected for a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 15 win over Jets

Posted on 16 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their second straight AFC North division championship in a 42-21 win over the New York Jets, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Harbaugh’s team earned some extra rest after playing its fourth game in 18 days, a challenging stretch this late in the season. It’s funny how these sorts of obstacles are little more than an afterthought when you’re the best team in football riding a 10-game winning streak.

2. The Ravens shattering the 2003 team’s rushing record with two games to go probably deserves more attention. That was the year Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards — third best in NFL history — while rookie Kyle Boller and journeyman Anthony Wright played quarterback. Slightly different than having the MVP there.

3. Lamar Jackson took arguably his biggest hit of the year on the run that broke Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback. It’s a major relief those types of collisions are so rare with his uncanny ability to avoid violent contact in an 1,100-yard rushing campaign.

4. A missed extra point by Justin Tucker and a blocked punt for Sam Koch were aberrations, but the lackluster kick coverage we’ve seen throughout the season is something that can cost a team dearly at the wrong moment in January. That’s one of the few legitimate concerns on this team.

5. Thursday was a reminder of how much the Ravens still rely on the blitz to create pressure. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had time and room to operate when Wink Martindale called for a simpler four-man rush, especially in the first half.

6. After back-to-back quiet games, Marquise Brown delivered one of his best plays of the season by getting his feet in on Jackson’s 24-yard touchdown pass. It was also a bold strategy in the New York secondary to pass the speedy rookie off to no one in deep coverage.

7. Tyus Bowser hasn’t lived up to his original second-round billing, but he’s had a solid season as a rotational edge defender. His fifth sack of the season and the resulting fumble helped put this game away after the Ravens had punted twice to begin the second half.

8. Mark Ingram tied his career high with his fourth touchdown reception and continues to run with a relentless style that’s fit perfectly in this offense. Le’Veon Bell drew more outside attention leading up to free agency, but Ingram has been the superior player and the better bargain.

9. If the 33-yard touchdown pass to Seth Roberts looked familiar, it was virtually the same route that Jackson overthrew at the end of regulation in Pittsburgh back in Week 5, a game the Ravens won in overtime. Coaches note how the young quarterback rarely makes the same mistake twice.

10. A substantial sample size supported the concerns about James Hurst filling in for the concussed Ronnie Stanley, but you forgot the veteran reserve was even out there on Thursday night, which is exactly what you want. Hurst deserves praise for his play at left tackle.

11. Having a 28-7 lead certainly helped make the decision easier, but going for it on a fourth-and-1 from your own 29 is the kind of aggressive call that’s giving the Ravens an additional edge over opponents. It enhances your play calling, your win probability, and your team’s mindset.

12. Jackson exchanged jerseys with three different Jets players and even had Tom Brady tweeting about wanting to race him during Thursday’s game. It’s Super Bowl or bust when a team is 12-2 the week before Christmas, but try not to take for granted how special this all is right now.

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Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) is surrounded by teammates after kicking the winning field goal against the San Francisco 49ers in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. Ravens won 20-17. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 13 win over San Francisco

Posted on 03 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their eighth in a row in a 20-17 final over San Francisco, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I’ll gladly take a rematch of this one for Super Bowl LIV in Miami. The 49ers held the Baltimore offense to 4.6 yards per play, its second-lowest mark of 2019. Weather was a factor, but the San Francisco defense proved its might in its first look against this unique offense.

2. Despite covering only 34 yards, the final scoring drive lasted 12 plays and took the final 6:28 off the clock. The Ravens certainly didn’t want to be in a fourth-and-1 situation at their own 44, but their ability to monopolize the clock has to be so deflating to the opposition.

3. San Francisco’s preference to crash inside and invite Lamar Jackson to run was interesting. Coincidence or not, Jackson’s four 100-yard rushing games have come in Baltimore’s four lowest offensive scoring outputs this season. Is your best hope to take away everything else, keep hitting him, and go for a strip?

4. I’ve repeatedly mentioned his improved ball security, but Jackson not losing his first fumble of 2019 until early December is a testament to how far he’s come from his rookie season when he fumbled at least once in every start. San Francisco safety Marcell Harris simply made a great play.

5. The run defense entering Week 13 ranked third in yards per game is why we shouldn’t rely on volume stats while it ranked 19th in yards per carry allowed. It matters little when owning sizable leads, but the run defense hasn’t been particularly good this year, especially on the edges.

6. You had to remember Raheem Mostert actually being a Raven in order to call this a revenge game, but he’s carved out a nice place in San Francisco and was averaging just under 5.4 yards per carry even before his 146-yard outburst. That’s a talented running game the 49ers have.

7. A week after erasing Aaron Donald, the offensive line held likely Defensive Rookie of the Year Nick Bosa to a single tackle. The talented Jackson makes everyone’s job easier, but this group continues to get better and is playing outstanding football.

8. I wonder if John Harbaugh grows tired of questions about going for it on fourth down so frequently. Then again, he and a few others will lose that edge once other coaches decide to stop drowning in the shallow waters of risk aversion and such thinking becomes more commonplace.

9. Kyle Shanahan was smart to be aggressive against Baltimore, but his clock management at the end of the first half was poor and the fourth-and-1 pass play from the shotgun on his team’s final drive was questionable at best. He’s still done a heck of a job with the 49ers.

10. Speaking of that fourth-down play, Chris Wormley batted down the Jimmy Garoppolo pass and had a strong day as the Ravens played more 3-4 base defense than they had all season due to San Francisco’s use of heavier personnel. Wormley also registered four tackles and a half-sack.

11. Baltimore hasn’t needed to rely on special teams very often this year, but Marlon Humphrey’s blocked field goal, Sam Koch’s punt downed at the 1 by Chris Moore, and Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal were reminders of how important that phase can still be, especially as January approaches.

12. There’s a long way to go, but the thought of the Ravens now controlling their path to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs less than 13 months after handing the reins to Jackson is something else. Baltimore last hosted an AFC Championship at Memorial Stadium on Jan. 3, 1971.

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San Francisco 49ers defensive back Marcell Harris (36) strips the ball from Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) to cause a fumble in the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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On imperfect day, everything still falls into place for Ravens

Posted on 02 December 2019 by Luke Jones

The weather was miserable.

The defense allowed its first opening-drive touchdown of the season and its highest rushing total since Week 4, the last time the Ravens actually lost a game.

The Baltimore offense produced its season low for points while Lamar Jackson lost a fumble for the first time since January and produced his lowest passing yardage total of the season.

Sunday felt far from perfect as the Ravens trailed in a game for the first time since before Halloween, yet they still beat the best team in the NFC. And they went to bed Sunday night knowing they now occupy the top spot in the AFC and control their path to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs for the first time in team history.

The 20-17 win over San Francisco was both a commentary on the 49ers being a dangerous adversary and how our expectations have changed watching the Ravens play nearly flawlessly over the previous six weeks. Beating a 10-1 opponent by any means and score should be celebrated unconditionally, but perceptions are warped when you’ve beaten the previous five opponents — four of them with winning records — by an average margin of four touchdowns, leaving some to ask a question or two about what happened after the grind-it-out win.

The truth is this was as valuable a victory for John Harbaugh’s team as any this season in how it relates to the big picture. The Ravens earned an abundance of style points in recent weeks and have really tested conventional thinking, but we know winning in the NFL isn’t easy. That’s a lesson that probably doesn’t need to be reiterated to the likes of Marshal Yanda, Earl Thomas, or Jimmy Smith at this point, but there were just enough mistakes on each side of the ball Sunday for the coaching staff to have the attention of anyone who might have been feeling a little too invincible after winning the previous three games by a combined 109 points.

You’re unlikely to see many plays from Sunday’s performance in Jackson’s 2019 highlight reel — other than his juke on 49ers cornerback K’Waun Williams that left Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams to “hope his ankles are OK” after the game — but the 22-year-old again played like an MVP when it mattered, going 3-for-3 for 27 yards and picking up two critical first downs on short-yardage runs on the final drive. After the game, Jackson said the cold, rainy weather messed with him “a lot” as a passer and he was still angry about the third-quarter fumble that threatened to swing the game in favor of the 49ers, but the ball remained in his hands whenever the Ravens needed a play against a tough San Francisco defense that was determined to hit the young quarterback hard and often. He rushed for over 100 yards for the fourth time this year, an NFL single-season record for a quarterback.

Sunday was also a reminder of what the Ravens still have in their back pocket despite not needing them as often this season. The light workload for veteran punter Sam Koch has served as a punchline for weeks, but his 61-yard punt pinned the 49ers back at their own 1 late in a third quarter that had featured Jackson’s fumble, a long San Francisco drive that ended with a field goal to tie the game at 17, and another Baltimore series that had stalled.

Then, there was Justin Tucker making his 15th career game-winning field goal. Attempting such a high-leverage kick from 49 yards away in those conditions, many kickers would probably hope for it be a coin flip. But Tucker again showed why he’s the NFL’s best, even if he’s kicking more extra points than field goals these days.

The Ravens now find themselves in the top spot via their head-to-head tiebreaker win over New England in Week 9. Baltimore will be favored to win each of its final four games to close the regular season. But a tweet from retired linebacker and current director of player engagement Jameel McClain late Sunday should resonate after the Ravens won their eighth straight game, their longest ever regular-season stretch.

Sunday showed the Ravens don’t need to be at their best to beat a top-tier opponent, a terrifying proposition for the rest of the NFL. But the narrow win reiterated that it won’t be easy the rest of the way.

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Lamar Jackson leads all players in Pro Bowl fan voting

Posted on 20 November 2019 by Luke Jones

Lamar Jackson has not only become the favorite for league MVP in his first full season as a starter, but the Ravens quarterback is currently leading all NFL players in Pro Bowl fan voting.

The Ravens lead all 32 teams in total votes received with Jackson, fullback Patrick Ricard, guard Marshal Yanda, offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr., cornerback Marcus Peters, and kicker Justin Tucker leading AFC voting at their respective positions. Jackson has received 146,171 votes compared to 116,325 for Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes for the top two spots overall and in the AFC quarterback race.

Jackson enters Week 12 ranked fourth in the NFL in passer rating (106.3) and first in yards per carry (6.9) while ranking 11th or better in the league in rushing yards, completion percentage, touchdown passes, and passing yards per attempt, illustrating the dynamic dual-threat impact he’s brought to a Ravens team off to its best start since 2012. He would become the first Baltimore quarterback to play in the Pro Bowl since Vinny Testaverde after the Ravens’ inaugural 1996 campaign.

The 22-year-old missed out on his third straight AFC Offensive Player of the Week award to Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen on Wednesday, but news of Jackson leading all NFL players in Pro Bowl voting speaks to his remarkable rise in his second season.

“Football is No. 1 in his life,” said Yanda, who is in the running for his eighth Pro Bowl selection of the last nine years. “Some guys that come through, they like what the game gives them, but they don’t necessarily like the game all the time. This kid loves ball. He loves football. He loves getting better. He’s a competitive guy.

“On Sunday, he’s a competitive son of a gun, and that’s what you need.”

Peters and Tucker are each aiming for their third Pro Bowl nod while Ricard and Brown haven’t been selected before.

Fan voting concludes on Dec. 12 while players and coaches cast their choices on Dec. 13 with each group counting for one-third in determining the 88 players selected to the game. Pro Bowl rosters will be announced on Dec. 17.

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Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson throws before an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

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Ravens-Texans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 16 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens and Houston are both eyeing significant goals beyond leading their respective divisions entering Week 11.

That makes Sunday’s clash that much more important as the winner would hold no worse than the No. 2 spot in the AFC as well as a critical head-to-head tiebreaker approaching Thanksgiving. The urgency could be greater for the Texans, who trail Baltimore by one game and are currently scheduled to play teams .500 or better in five of their last seven contests. Houston also holds just a one-game lead over Indianapolis in the AFC South while the Ravens currently enjoy a cushion of 2 1/2 games in the AFC North.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the 10th time ever in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 7-2 advantage as well as a win in the only postseason encounter between these teams. Counting that playoff win, the Ravens are 6-2 against Houston in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will throw for 300 yards for the first time since Week 1. The Houston run defense is the best the Ravens have faced and is led by breakout defensive tackle D.J. Reader. That’s not to say Baltimore’s top-ranked ground game won’t be productive, but there may not be much room between the tackles, which will put more on Jackson’s legs and arm. Of course, that isn’t a bad thing as the 22-year-old is coming off his second perfect passer rating game and faces the NFL’s 29th-ranked pass defense. Jackson exceeding 35 pass attempts for the first time since Week 3 wouldn’t be surprising.

2. Deshaun Watson will become the first 300-yard passer and the third 60-yard rusher against Baltimore since Week 4. That prediction alone reflects how much the Ravens defense has improved since September, but Watson is having his own MVP-caliber season and is backed by a ground attack averaging more than 140 yards per game. The Texans won’t kill Baltimore with the run, but the expected absence of Michael Pierce could compromise Wink Martindale’s preference to use the dime, potentially leaving more linebackers on the field who won’t be able to catch Watson in space.

3. Jimmy Smith will register his first interception of 2019. You’d anticipate Marlon Humphrey traveling with All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins and we’ve all seen what Marcus Peters has done since becoming a Raven, but Smith has quietly played well since returning from the knee injury sustained in Week 1. Hopkins is obviously Watson’s go-to guy, but Kenny Stills is a viable deep threat and Houston could potentially welcome back Will Fuller from a hamstring strain. The Texans are superb using the no-huddle attack, something with which New England had success against the Ravens a couple weeks ago.

4. Tight ends will combine to catch four touchdowns in this high-scoring game. We all know how important Mark Andrews, Nick Boyle, and Hayden Hurst are to the Ravens’ passing game as the three have combined to make up 45 percent of the team’s receiving yards, but Houston tight ends Darren Fells and Jordan Akins have caught eight of Watson’s 18 touchdown passes this season, meaning you can’t sleep on them. The Ravens clearly have the superior position group here, but a key to this game will be how each defense handles the opposition’s tight ends as both blockers and receivers.

5. Justin Tucker’s late field goal will secure a 34-31 victory for the Ravens. You can’t ask for much more on paper than two MVP candidates at quarterback squaring off in what could turn into a shootout reminiscent of their classic Louisville-Clemson showdown three years ago. The Texans coming off their bye week is a red flag working against a Baltimore team that is probably in line for a bit of a market correction after making its current five-game winning streak look so easy. However, Houston has a quick turnaround for a Thursday game against AFC South rival Indianapolis, which likely exhausted some of the coaching staff’s extra time to prepare for such an unconventional Baltimore offense. In a high-profile game like this, I’ll pick the team with the best player, who is Jackson at this very moment. Of course, Watson and Hopkins could have something to say about that on Sunday afternoon.

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