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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 1 win over Cleveland

Posted on 15 September 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their fifth straight season opener in a 38-6 blowout final over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Calais Campbell made his presence felt on the opening drive, batting down a pass and then dropping into coverage to deflect another throw into the arms of Marlon Humphrey. The 6-foot-8 Campbell pounded his fist on the ground over not catching it, but he was terrific in his Baltimore debut.

2. Campbell and fellow newcomer Derek Wolfe will be effective chess pieces for Wink Martindale, but Week 1 indicated the Ravens will again need to rely on blitzing and numbers for a pass rush. You’d love to get home with a four-man rush, but a strong secondary makes up for it.

3. According to Next Gen Stats, Lamar Jackson was 11-for-13 on passes traveling at least 10 yards downfield and his 47-yard throw to Marquise Brown outside the numbers was gorgeous, but reaction to his performance surprised me a bit. He didn’t lead the NFL in touchdown passes by accident last year.

4. Jackson’s downfield pitch to Mark Ingram reminded of Willie Mays Hayes making the basket catch and being greeted in the dugout by manager Lou Brown in “Major League.” “Nice catch, Hayes. Don’t ever [expletive] do it again.” It was also clearly illegally forward, but Ed Reed had to be smiling.

5. Two touchdowns overshadowed J.K. Dobbins gaining a modest 22 yards on seven carries, but the rookie starting the second half over Mark Ingram felt notable and reflects there not being much of a gap in the hierarchy so early in the season. It isn’t great news for Gus Edwards either.

6. Jaylon Ferguson registered a tackle and a quarterback hit and had a fourth-quarter sack wiped away by a penalty, but he played the fewest snaps (22) of the five outside linebackers. This came on the heels of a quiet summer for the second-year outside linebacker. Baltimore needs a step forward.

7. All focus has been on the young receivers, but Willie Snead’s 64 receiving yards marked his highest single-game total since 2016. After dropping some weight and having a good training camp, Snead doesn’t appear ready to surrender playing time just yet.

8. The element of surprise can always be used as a defense, but Greg Roman choosing a third-and-1 from the Cleveland 7 to give Patrick Ricard his first career carry felt a little too cute. You wonder how long Ricard will wait for his next carry after the fumble.

9. John Harbaugh is correct that few NFL coaches pull their quarterbacks particularly early when leading big, but acknowledging the Ravens did that with Jackson a couple times last year made his argument less convincing, especially as D.J. Fluker was filling in for an injured Ronnie Stanley.

10. Beyond James Proche not catching a punt that rolled to the 1, special teams were solid with L.J. Fort’s hit on Cleveland’s fake punt standing out. Still, the kickoff team settling for touchbacks all seven times after doing that only 53.8 percent of the time last year is worth monitoring.

11. Which best reflected Cleveland’s ineptitude: that ill-advised fake punt, the disinterest of Odell Beckham Jr., or third-and-41? The benefit of the doubt is appropriate for teams that went through significant changes this offseason, but “the Browns gonna Brown.” At least they fixed their uniforms, which do look sharp.

12. We laugh about Justin Tucker and Sam Koch not having as much work in this new era of Ravens offense, but there were 19 missed field goals and five missed extra points across the league. The continuity provided by the “Wolfpack” is more important than ever with the pandemic restrictions.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at end of 2020 training camp

Posted on 04 September 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making moves to shape their initial 53-man roster by 4 p.m. on Saturday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. It’s a bittersweet weekend as lifelong NFL dreams are fulfilled while others see their football journeys end abruptly. Once an undrafted rookie himself in 2017, Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard empathized with the rookie free agents in these “incredibly difficult” pandemic circumstances limiting their opportunities to really impress.

2. When the most discussed roster decisions are the third-string quarterback and a No. 3 tight end, it’s safe to say the championship-hopeful Ravens are loaded. The 16-man practice squad was introduced due to the pandemic, but Eric DeCosta will now be able to retain additional intriguing talents.

3. Lamar Jackson says he’s 100 percent from his recent groin injury and is ready for the season, adding that he’s “really tired of going against our guys.” Cleveland has seen Jackson before, of course, but facing him without having even a tuneup preseason game this summer? To quote Lucius Fox:

4. On the flip side, John Harbaugh acknowledges “a guessing game” trying to anticipate what the Browns will do under new head coach Kevin Stefanski. The preseason is bland from a play-calling standpoint, but you at least get a sense of system structure and how personnel might be used.

5. Jimmy Smith is embracing his new role as a Swiss army knife who could play inside or outside at cornerback or safety, adding that his new responsibilities require “not really that much of a learning curve.” His return after hitting a pandemic-stunted open market was welcomed.

6. The reporter’s question never mentioned Earl Thomas by name, but Smith offered this when asked what jettisoning a troubled player said about the team’s culture: “If you’re not part of us, we don’t really need you.” That pretty clearly shows where Thomas stood with his former teammates at the end.

7. Justice Hill showing up as absent for Friday’s practice after missing a week of practice to end August is a potentially concerning development. Given how crowded the backfield is with J.K. Dobbins’ arrival, I’m assuming training camp couldn’t have been more frustrating for Hill.

8. Whether it’s D.J. Fluker or ascending rookie Tyre Phillips, the winner of the competition will become the first Raven not named Marshal Yanda to start an opener at right guard since Chris Chester in 2010 — when Yanda played right tackle. Phillips was only 10 when Yanda was drafted in 2007.

9. Friday brought an interesting blast from the past as the Ravens worked out 2014 third-round pick Crockett Gillmore. He last played in 2017 and added a bunch of weight that offseason to convert from tight end to the offensive line, but injuries derailed his career. He’s still only 28.

10. Asked Thursday if he would beat speedy rookie receiver Devin Duvernay in a race, Marquise Brown simply replied, “I don’t race for free.” That’s a young man who understands his worth.

11. Justin Tucker tried to downplay the lack of organic crowd noise for games, but he admitted it could be “uncomfortable in a sense” attempting a game-winning field goal in a usually raucous road environment like Heinz Field. For reference, the Ravens play at Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night.

12. Given the reduced capacities at which a handful of teams are hosting fans, we should put to rest silly complaints about any competitive disadvantage. Several thousands fans spaced out in a massive stadium seem unlikely to eclipse the pre-recorded crowd noise set at 70 decibels for empty venues.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following first full-team padded practice

Posted on 17 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens conducting their first full-team padded practice of 2020 training camp on Monday morning, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Seeing coaches and team staffers wearing masks was certainly weird, but the rest of the 90-minute workout felt like normal football, from the sound of offensive linemen hitting the blocking sled to teammates talking trash with one another. Let’s hope the NFL’s encouraging testing numbers continue.

2. Veteran reporters warn not to take too much away from the first few camp practices even under normal conditions, but one word came to mind watching Wink Martindale’s defense — fast. The speed, versatility, and aggressive tactics should put incredible stress on the opposition.

3. The throw of the day was a Lamar Jackson strike down the seam to Marquise Brown between DeShon Elliott and Anthony Levine in coverage. Yes, Brown looks bigger and stronger than a year ago and still looked like the fastest player on the field by a clear margin.

4. You’d hope to see less scrutiny for every throw Jackson makes in training camp after his historic MVP season, but his loudest critics will still point to what happened to Baltimore in the postseason. Unfortunately, his chance to silence that particular talk is at least 4 1/2 months away.

5. John Harbaugh wouldn’t comment on NFL Network’s report of Dez Bryant traveling to Owings Mills to work out for the team. Taking a look at the former Dallas Cowboy is fine, but what can you really expect from someone who hasn’t played an NFL snap since Jackson starred at Louisville?

6. First-round pick Patrick Queen surged through the line of scrimmage to make the first “tackle” — the Ravens were going thud contact — of the first 11-on-11 period. That seemed fitting for the 21-year-old inside linebacker who should have little trouble proving he belongs on the field Week 1.

7. Matthew Judon handled himself well when asked about being forced to play on the franchise tag. “I can’t do anything about it, but I’m glad I’m still a Raven.” A former fifth-round pick making $16.8 million and still having a bite at the apple next March isn’t a bad deal.

8. Now established and paid as a starting safety, Chuck Clark was active with a couple stiff hits during early 11-on-11 periods and a breakup of a pass intended for Willie Snead during a 7-on-7 drill. His football intellect and presence are invaluable for a defense built from the backside forward.

9. Despite rookie free agents being in a tough spot with no preseason games to showcase their talents, the 6-foot-4, 238-pound Eli Wolf moves well and made a couple good grabs. Someone must emerge as the No. 3 tight end, but Wolf made only 21 career receptions at Tennessee and Georgia.

10. Iman Marshall was firmly on the bubble before suffering a season-ending knee injury, but his absence makes it more important for the talented Anthony Averett to rebound from a disappointing 2019. A defense that sometimes deploys four corners at once needs a viable fifth option for depth.

11. We’re used to seeing Orlando Brown Jr. tower over teammates on the field, so seeing him stand with Calais Campbell (also 6-foot-8) at one point Monday reiterated how massive the latter is. What a piece to add to this defense on and off the field. He’s already making an impression.

12. Justin Tucker ended Monday’s practice with a 58-yard field goal before the horn sounded and Harbaugh huddled his team together. The world has changed so much in 2020, but that particular sight was old hat.

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Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99) reacts while holding a smartphone after an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. The Ravens won 28-10. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Deadline passes as Ravens, Judon fail to strike long-term deal

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Luke Jones

Wednesday’s franchise tag deadline passed with the Ravens and outside linebacker Matthew Judon failing to reach an agreement on a long-term contract.

That means the 2019 Pro Bowl selection must play the upcoming season under the tag amount of $16.808 million and is scheduled to again become an unrestricted free agent next March. Both sides had been quiet about negotiations throughout the process with no indication that a deal was close.

The 28-year-old signed his franchise tender in late May, eliminating any real possibility of him holding out during training camp. Unlike fellow tagged edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Bud Dupree who filed grievances against their respective teams after being classified as linebackers, Judon was able to work out a compromise with the Ravens to split the difference between the linebacker ($15.828 million) and defensive end ($17.788) amounts. Earlier this offseason, the 6-foot-3, 261-pound linebacker said he was “blessed” to receive the tag, a more diplomatic stance than others prevented from hitting the open market.

“I want to stay here for as long as I play, but I understand that it’s a business and that they’ve kind of got a ‘bad-good’ problem to have,” Judon said last month. “We have a lot of young talent, and unfortunately, we can’t all stay on the rookie deal our whole careers. They have stuff that they have to address, and obviously, I have needs as well.”

Despite a career season in which Judon registered a team-leading 9 1/2 sacks and ranked fourth in the NFL with 33 quarterback hits, some have pointed to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale’s blitz-heavy system as reason to question whether the 2016 fifth-round pick from Grand Valley State is worthy of being paid among the league’s elite pass rushers. Still, Judon was easily Baltimore’s best performer at outside linebacker last year after the free-agent departure of seven-time Pro Bowl selection Terrell Suggs, and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson is the only notable Ravens outside linebacker under contract beyond the upcoming season.

The climate for a long-term contract for Judon doesn’t figure to improve next offseason because of both the financial uncertainty stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic and the pending free agency of Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who would be an obvious candidate for the franchise tag in the absence of a long-term extension. General manager Eric DeCosta must also weigh the long-term contract situations for 2019 MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey, Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews, and Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., all players working toward top-tier contracts at their respective positions in the near future.

As Judon alluded to in his recent comments, the Ravens simply may not be able to pay everyone.

With 28 1/2 sacks, seven forced fumbles, seven pass breakups, and 185 tackles in 62 career games, Judon became the seventh player to receive the franchise tag in team history and will become the first to play out a season on the tag since Suggs in 2008. The Ravens awarded Suggs with a long-term contract the following summer and eventually reached long-term agreements with five of those previous six players who were tagged, the exception being interior offensive lineman Wally Williams after the 1998 season.

With Judon’s guaranteed salary now locked in barring a trade, the Ravens entered Wednesday with $8.886 million in salary cap space for the 2020 campaign.

Below is a history of how the Ravens have used the franchise tag in their 25 seasons:

1998 OL Wally Williams — played on a $3.062 million tag before signing a five-year, $18.5 million deal with New Orleans the following offseason
2003-04 CB Chris McAlister — signed a seven-year, $55 million extension in October 2004
2008-09 OLB Terrell Suggs — signed a six-year, $62.5 million extension in July 2009
2011 DT Haloti Ngata — signed a five-year, $61 million extension in Sept. 2011
2012 RB Ray Rice — signed a five-year, $35 million extension in July 2012
2016 K Justin Tucker — signed a four-year, $16.8 million extension in July 2016
2020 OLB Matthew Judon — will play on a $16.808 million tag and is scheduled for free agency in 2021

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Five takeaways from interview session with Ravens coordinators

Posted on 24 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making defensive coordinator Wink Martindale, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and special teams coach Chris Horton available to local media for the first time since the end of the 2019 season, below are five takeaways from their video conference calls on Tuesday:

Establishing culture was king of the virtual offseason program.

We all know coaches and players were prohibited from gathering together in Owings Mills, but that doesn’t mean spring work was limited to individual training, film study, and X’s and O’s sessions via Zoom and other virtual programs.

In addition to extensive discussions on race and social justice reform following the killing of George Floyd and the powerful video released by the organization earlier this month, building and maintaining camaraderie and a strong team culture was a top priority for head coach John Harbaugh and his staff despite the inability to congregate in person. The “Chasing Greatness” series included whole-team sessions with Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed as well as former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, but Martindale took that initiative further with his defensive meetings, seeking out prominent names from both the sports world and other walks of life.

“As an old high school teacher, I taught some boring subjects. I think you had to be creative,” Martindale said. “My challenge and our challenge as a defensive staff was I wanted to make it must-see Zoom meetings. … You do get Zoom fatigue, but I wanted to make it where [players] couldn’t wait to come to the defensive meetings. We wanted to make it an event.”

The list of guest speakers included former Ravens defensive standouts Eric Weddle and Tony Siragusa, former Ravens special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, Basketball Hall of Famer Julius Erving, former heavyweight boxing champion Larry Holmes, former National League MVP Ryan Howard, former All-Pro pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari, former NFL defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, Baltimore mayoral nominee Brandon Scott, ESPN anchor Sage Steele, and former Navy Seal Commander Mark McGinnis.

Martindale said he wants his defense and the Ravens to continue to build “a champion mindset,” noting the many accomplishments of the aforementioned speakers.

Experimenting further with last year’s “revolutionary” offense will be a balancing act. 

At this time a year ago, intrigue and mystery surrounded the new Ravens offense that Harbaugh dared to call “revolutionary” on more than one occasion.

What resulted was a historic MVP season from second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and a run-first attack that set league and franchise records. The Baltimore coaching staff prides itself in remaining a step or two ahead of the competition, but visions of revolutionizing the game again should probably be tempered when the 2020 offense has yet to even huddle up on the field, let alone to try out new plays and packages.

“We haven’t had the luxury of the [organized team activities] and whatnot to really kind of test-run certain things, so we have to be really judicious with how we use that time in training camp to experiment,” Roman said. “I think experimenting this year is going to be very selective. Yes, definitely we’ve tweaked, we’ve added, updated, but how much we experiment in training camp, we’re really going to have to be selective with that.”

Of course, the Ravens have a superb baseline from which to work, and the rest of the league — that’s facing the same challenges — rarely showed the ability to slow down Jackson and this offense last year.

Improving in the return game is a point of emphasis for special teams.

Baltimore’s special teams weren’t perceived as favorably in 2019 as in previous years, but Horton downplayed any coverage concerns while stating the goal of being more productive with returns.

The Ravens ranked 21st in the NFL in kick return efficiency and 14th in punt return efficiency last year, according to Football Outsiders.

“We did a lot of studying this offseason, and that’s one area that we feel like we can be better in,” Horton said. “Whether it’s how we’re coaching it [or] how our players are responding to that coaching.”

This offseason, the Ravens re-signed return specialist De’Anthony Thomas and drafted James Proche and Devin Duvernay, two wide receivers with return experience at the collegiate level.

Expectations are high for a healthy Marquise Brown in his second season.

Many have noted that the 2019 first-round pick has looked bigger and stronger in workout videos posted on social media, a sentiment shared by Ravens coaches.

Devoting most of his rookie offseason to working his way back from Lisfranc surgery and with his left foot never 100 percent, Brown still managed to catch 46 passes for 584 yards and seven touchdowns in 14 games. The 170-pound wideout was also one of the few standout performers in the divisional-round loss to Tennessee with seven catches for 126 yards.

“Last year, all of us were saying, ‘Wow, once ‘Hollywood’ has an offseason — a real offseason — that’s going to be something,'” Roman said. “I think we are going to see that this year. He’s been working really hard. He’s not dealing with certain aspects that he had to deal with last year, and he did a great job of fighting through that and battling through it.”

Those high expectations for Brown haven’t made the Antonio Brown rumors and reports go away, but it’s clear the Ravens envision a significant jump from their talented 23-year-old receiver.

Even if the NFL can endure through the pandemic, much unknown remains.

We have no definitive idea when and if football will be played this year, but plenty of mystery remains even if the altered spring program proves to be the last of the major disruptions to the league calendar.

Veteran newcomers and first-year players alike haven’t had the opportunities to build on-field muscle memory in learning their new playbooks and systems. Trying to formulate a preliminary depth chart for training camp remains little more than guesswork at certain positions without the opportunity to evaluate during OTA sessions and mandatory minicamp.

And by this point, coaches have at least gained a working idea of what they have with their rookies, spotting deficiencies that may not have shown up in the pre-draft process and identifying later-round picks or undrafted talents as potential diamonds in the rough to watch this preseason.

“The rookie minicamps [in early May], it’s like Christmas Day for coaches,” Martindale said. “You can’t wait to see the new toys you have and what they can do and how much fun it would be to put them in the package. That’s just been pushed back.”

Of course, those unknowns don’t even include the exhaustive steps required to combat COVID-19 outbreaks. All parties continue to prepare and hope for the best-case scenario of a season that’s as close to normal as possible, but the potential alternatives are unsettling and not going away anytime soon.

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts on training camp preparations and other topics

Posted on 10 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens coaches returning to the Owings Mills headquarters this week and the NFL releasing protocols for training facilities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The July 28 report date for training camp is seven weeks away, but much work remains regarding COVID-19 protocols. The recent expansion and renovations of the team facility helps, but spacing lockers six feet apart for a 90-man roster will be quite a challenge by itself.

2. NFL Network’s report on the possibility of the preseason schedule being shortened was hardly a surprise since there was growing support for that long before the pandemic. The bigger question might be whether that sparks permanent change to the exhibition schedule.

3. Pittsburgh moving its camp to Heinz Field raises a fair question for teams that already struggled to find space for 90 players before even factoring in social distancing. A shorter preseason makes you wonder if that high number is absolutely necessary if you want to minimize health risks. Difficult questions.

4. Patrick Queen, Devin Duvernay, and Malik Harrison are the only 2020 Ravens draft picks yet to sign, but we’re approaching the time when you’d expect those rookie deals to get done. Of course, the pandemic could always complicate that timing.

5. Social media hardly provides a complete picture of the work so many players are putting in right now, but James Proche has logged recent workouts with Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, and Trace McSorley. Good for the sixth-round rookie wide receiver getting acquainted with Baltimore quarterbacks.

6. You won’t find a more respected person in the organization than tight ends coach Bobby Engram, who was nominated for the PFWA’s George Halas Award for overcoming adversity to succeed. I recommend this piece from The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec if you’re unfamiliar with the Engram family’s story.

7. The value of the return specialist isn’t what it used to be due to rule changes in the game, but I can’t recall the last time we weren’t talking about that spot being a question mark around this time of year. The days of Jacoby Jones?

8. In contrast, Sam Koch is the only player to have any punts for the Ravens since 2006 and Justin Tucker is the only one to make a field goal since 2012. That continuity is just remarkable compared to most teams. Tennessee had four different kickers last season alone.

9. We’ve talked so much about inside linebacker the last couple years that I couldn’t help but notice Ravens coaching analyst and former player Zach Orr celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday. He thankfully escaped football without serious injury, but you wonder how much better he might have become.

10. Dick Cass, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, Steve Smith, Calais Campbell, and Queen were among the current and former Ravens joining over 1,400 sports figures in signing a letter to Congress requesting an end to qualified immunity. I applaud them for making their voices heard.

11. Have you ever imagined what might have happened if Baltimore signed Colin Kaepernick? Does he replace a Joe Flacco who had a bad back in 2017? Reunited with Greg Roman, does Kaepernick thrive and keep the starting job? Does Lamar Jackson then wind up elsewhere? Quite the potential butterfly effect.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for putting out the following video for high school and college graduates. We all had different school experiences, but I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy those final weeks or to celebrate these accomplishments with friends and family.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 15: “I didn’t want to hurt my team”

Posted on 28 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 16 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Sometimes football and the tragedy of real life intersect.

The Ravens were preparing for Sunday Night Football and a 2011 AFC Championship rematch with New England when devastating news reached one of their young standout players very early on Sept. 23, 2012.

Tevin Jones, the 19-year-old brother of second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith, had been killed in a motorcycle crash in northeast Virginia. Those who followed Smith’s career dating back to his University of Maryland days were familiar with his challenging upbringing in which he helped raise his younger siblings, compounding what was already such a sad loss of life.

Smith left the team hotel and returned to his home state to be with his family as anyone could have understood football being the last thing on his mind at such a devastating time. But the 23-year-old still wanted to play that night and arrived back at M&T Bank Stadium around 4 p.m. on very little sleep.

His emotions were raw as the team held a moment of silence and and a national TV audience watched Smith wipe tears from his face as he sat on the bench moments before kickoff. The game held meaning for the Ravens after their heartbreaking loss to the Patriots the previous January — a contest in which the 2011 second-round pick scored a key second-half touchdown — but that story line took a backseat to Smith’s individual efforts less than 24 hours after his brother’s death.

The night started poorly for the Ravens, who trailed 13-0 and managed just 21 net yards in the first quarter. They finally awoke for the first drive of the second period, steadily moving the ball to the New England 25. On the 13th play of the drive, quarterback Joe Flacco threw the ball up to Smith, who hovered in the air to high-point a terrific touchdown catch over Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.

It was Smith’s first catch of the game as he rested on one knee, pointed to the sky, and bowed his head before teammates congratulated him and a crowd of more than 71,000 began chanting, “Torrey, Torrey!” as he jogged to the sideline. Baltimore had cut the deficit to 13-7, and that touchdown alone would have been special enough even if Smith hadn’t caught another pass for the rest of the night.

But he was far from done.

Having already eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for the third time in his young career, Smith went back to work as the Ravens trailed 30-21 midway through the fourth quarter. His 16-yard reception put the offense in New England territory as the Ravens continued driving to the 5-yard line. With just over four minutes remaining, Flacco scrambled to his right and made a tight-window sideline throw to Smith, who grabbed the touchdown against Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty.

Once again, the “Torrey, Torrey!” chants echoed.

Now trailing 30-28, the Baltimore defense got a stop on the next series and Flacco moved the offense back into field goal range before a pass interference penalty set up a chip shot for rookie kicker Justin Tucker. His 27-yard attempt barely squeaked inside the right upright — or did it? — as time expired to give the Ravens a controversial 31-30 victory and a sliver of revenge for the previous postseason disappointment.

The teams would meet again in the AFC Championship four months later with the Ravens prevailing on the way to their second Super Bowl championship, but that Week 3 win is remembered for the courage and dedication Smith showed in catching six passes for 127 yards and those two touchdowns. It was an inspiration for anyone who watched.

“This is new territory for me personally. I never really had to deal with a death in the family, let alone my brother,” said Smith after receiving a game ball in the emotional post-game locker room. “I didn’t want to hurt my team. I came here, [and] the more I was running, the more comfortable I started to feel.

“I’m glad I came back up here. I think it helped me out a lot.”

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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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Ravens regular-season moment No. 23: “I got this”

Posted on 08 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 24 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Baltimore loves its kickers.

Steve Myhra’s short field goal introduced us to “sudden death” in the 1958 NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium.

Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard kick with five seconds remaining gave the Colts a 16-13 win over Dallas in the mistake-laden Super Bowl V.

Two-time Pro Bowl selection Toni Linhart helped the Bert Jones-era Colts to the first of three straight AFC East championships in 1975 with a 31-yarder in overtime to beat Miami in the thick fog at Memorial Stadium.

A Ravens Ring of Honor member, Matt Stover is still beloved around town today and kicked offense-challenged teams to many victories for over a decade, including two in the midst of a nightmare five-game stretch without scoring a touchdown in 2000.

Billy Cund– never mind.

None compare to Justin Tucker, the 2012 undrafted free agent from Texas who had to try out at rookie minicamp just to be signed to Baltimore’s 90-man offseason roster. Months later, the rookie had not only won the job, but he’d make the biggest kick in franchise history, a 47-yard field goal in single-digit temperatures to upset Denver in double overtime in the divisional round.

Tucker’s excellence would become even more evident in his second season. The 2013 Ravens were a much different team coming off the win in Super Bowl XLVII. Future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were gone, top wide receiver Anquan Boldin had been inexplicably traded away, and tight end Dennis Pitta had missed most of the season with a devastating hip injury suffered early in training camp. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco struggled mightily without his top two receivers from the previous year while a diminished Ray Rice and the running game had completely collapsed, leaving the Ravens with one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

But John Harbaugh’s team had rallied from a 4-6 start to win three straight games and crawl back into playoff contention going into a Monday game at Detroit in Week 15. Tucker had been much of Baltimore’s offense that season, hadn’t missed a field goal since Week 2, and would be named to his first Pro Bowl and be voted team MVP later that month, but the Ravens would never need him more than on that night.

Tucker’s work in the first half was nothing extraordinary as the Ravens had moved the ball pretty well before stalling in the red zone three different times, settling for field goals of 29, 24, and 32 yards to give them a 9-7 lead at intermission. The second half was a different story as the 24-year-old connected from 49 yards in the third quarter and hit from 53 yards away halfway through the last period to give Baltimore a 15-10 lead.

Unfortunately, a Ravens defense that had played well wilted late as quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions drove 80 yards for a touchdown and a 16-15 lead with 2:27 remaining. A loss would all but sink Baltimore’s playoff hopes, but a 27-yard strike from Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a third-and-15 gave the Ravens life in Detroit territory just before the two-minute warning.

Facing a fourth-and-8 from the 43 a few plays later and with his offense seemingly about to go for it, Harbaugh surprisingly called timeout with 43 seconds remaining and sent out Tucker to try a franchise-record 61-yard field goal for the lead. Having connected from 70 yards inside the domed Ford Field during pre-game warmups, the second-year kicker told coaches he was ready to win the game with his leg and lobbied for the chance on the sideline.

“I normally wouldn’t do this but I interjected and said, ‘No, I got this,'” Tucker said after making his team-record sixth field goal in the 18-16 win. “Thankfully, they gave me an opportunity, and the best part of it is I didn’t have to come back to the sideline feeling like a jerk if I missed it.”

With two or three yards to spare, Tucker made just the ninth field goal of at least 61 yards in league history and the second longest in the history of Monday Night Football. The Ravens would lose their final two games to miss the postseason for the first time in the Harbaugh era, but that wild kick and remarkable performance cemented Tucker’s status as the best kicker in the game for years to come.

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