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Ravens-Cardinals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 14 September 2019 by Luke Jones

A pair of 22-year-old starting quarterbacks may not produce an instant classic Sunday, but it’s the kind of matchup that makes you ponder an exciting future as the Ravens host Arizona.

Lamar Jackson took a dramatic leap forward with his five-touchdown performance in the season opener while Kyler Murray showed his promise late as the Cardinals rallied to force a Week 1 tie with Detroit last week. Of course, Jackson has a head start in his development after helping lead the Ravens to their first AFC North title since 2012 last season, and one could argue his early success was a factor leading teams to view Murray differently as he was taken first overall by the Cardinals in April.

That story aside, Baltimore aims to begin 2-0 for the third time in the last four seasons before a challenging trip to Kansas City next week.

It’s time to go on the record as the Cardinals play the Ravens for the seventh time in their history with Baltimore leading the all-time regular-season series 4-2. Arizona won the most recent meeting in 2015, but the Ravens are 2-1 against the Cardinals in Baltimore with the only loss coming at Memorial Stadium back in 1997.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will rush for 50 yards and throw touchdowns to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead. Jackson made his harshest critics look foolish with a record-setting performance in Week 1, but you hope expectations haven’t swung too far in the opposite direction as some are already touting him as an MVP candidate. I’m not buying his three rushing attempts becoming the new norm, especially with teams seeing you can’t sell out to take his legs away without consequences through the air. Arizona gave up a combined 13 catches for 235 yards and two touchdowns to Detroit slot receiver Danny Amendola and tight end T.J. Hockenson last week. That bodes well for Snead and Andrews.

2. Terrell Suggs will register a strip-sack in his return to Baltimore. Questions about how the 36-year-old former Raven will hold up over a full campaign are more than fair based on the last few seasons, but Suggs was very active in his Cardinals debut with two sacks, one of them resulting in a fumble. Lost in Jackson’s Week 1 passing brilliance was that he didn’t fumble in a game he started for the first time in his career, an encouraging development. Offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. will have their hands full against Suggs and two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Chandler Jones, and Suggs will have active hands knowing Jackson’s problems with ball security last year.

3. Baltimore will bat three passes at the line of scrimmage, one leading to an interception. Shorter quarterbacks are capable of NFL success, but the 5-foot-10 Murray had four passes batted down at the line of scrimmage last week, which did little to quell concerns about his stature. The rookie didn’t push the ball down the field a ton, but he threw it in every direction, making it critical for Baltimore pass rushers to get their hands up in passing lanes. Pernell McPhee and Chris Wormley have the potential to be big factors as inside rushers since the Ravens must be disciplined on the edge against a mobile quarterback who throws on the run effectively.

4. David Johnson will pick up 110 total yards and a touchdown in Arizona’s four-wide offense. With no disrespect meant toward Larry Fitzgerald, the rest of the Cardinals wide receivers don’t scare you from a matchup standpoint. However, Kliff Kingsbury used four wide receivers on two-thirds of Arizona’s plays in Week 1, which could open things for Johnson as a receiver down the seam. It’ll be fascinating to see how Wink Martindale attacks a unique offense with a group of cornerbacks at less than full strength, but his inside linebackers will be tested more this week against Johnson, who will try to slip out of the backfield to try to neutralize the pass rush against a rookie quarterback.

5. The Ravens will not dominate to the degree they did in Miami, but the outcome won’t be in doubt in a 31-14 win. I have a tough time seeing a path to victory for the Cardinals that doesn’t include multiple Baltimore turnovers or a couple injuries at key positions, but Murray’s performance over the final 25 minutes last week reiterates that the Ravens shouldn’t take this team lightly as the rookie will show his potential on a couple scoring drives. We’ll see a less spectacular but more balanced performance from Jackson, who will make plays with his arm and his legs to the delight of an energetic home crowd. Arizona will be more careful in pass coverage than the Dolphins were, but that will open up more room for Mark Ingram and the Baltimore rushing attack to control the tempo and the clock. The Ravens know they need a 2-0 start with the schedule toughening up considerably beginning next week, and John Harbaugh’s team will take care of business in comfortable fashion.

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Ailing at cornerback, Ravens preparing for wide-open Arizona offense

Posted on 11 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to face the most wide-open offense in the NFL, the Ravens practiced Wednesday without their top four cornerbacks entering training camp.

Tavon Young was lost for the season last month due to a neck injury and Jimmy Smith is expected to miss multiple games with a right knee injury, but Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr also missed the first full workout ahead of Sunday’s home opener against Arizona. Humphrey is dealing with a sore back, but he spoke at length with reporters in the locker room, which isn’t indicative of a player whose status is in any real danger. Carr was given a veteran day off, but he has dealt with some hip soreness recently.

The current health and depth at cornerback will be put to the test against a Cardinals offense that ran more plays with four wide receivers on the field in Week 1 than the rest of the NFL combined, according to Sharp Football Stats. First-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury has brought his version of the “Air Raid” offense to Arizona with 2019 first overall pick and 2018 Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray at the helm. Time will tell how successful the receiver-heavy, up-tempo offense will be, but its uniqueness makes for a challenging week of practice, especially when the Ravens are lighter at a position once thought to be their deepest.

“We have safeties that can cover receivers as well in zone and man coverage, so we’ll be in different kinds personnel groups just like we always are in terms of how we want to game-plan and match those guys,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We have a plan for that, obviously, that we will practice this week, but it’s a challenge. They’re spread out way more than anybody else.”

Playing with four wide receivers and one running back 67 percent of the time against Detroit, Murray started slowly in his NFL debut by completing just nine of his first 26 passes for 71 yards and an interception as the Cardinals fell behind 24-6. He heated up early in the fourth quarter, however, going 20-for-28 for 237 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the way in what resulted in a 27-27 tie. Murray looked more comfortable and pushed the ball down the field more as the game progressed, but playing his first career road game against an intimidating Ravens defense known for getting after young quarterbacks will be a more challenging test than facing the Lions defense at home.

The ageless Larry Fitzgerald led Arizona with eight catches for 113 yards and a touchdown, but virtually all of that damage came from the slot, a position that’s become trickier for the Ravens to defend with Young being lost for the season. Carr and reserve safety Chuck Clark split nickel duties in the season opener, but Cyrus Jones, Anthony Averett, Anthony Levine, and DeShon Elliott are all options to defend the slot in various sub packages and game situations.

The Ravens used Averett on the outside when Smith exited on the sixth defensive play of the game against Miami, and the second-year cornerback settled in after slipping in coverage on the Dolphins’ only touchdown of the game late in the first half to finish with four tackles and a pass breakup. The 2018 fourth-round pick from Alabama had primarily worked at the nickel position in practices leading up to the opener as the Ravens secondary is still adjusting to life without the above-average Young.

“I don’t think he really planned on playing that much (outside) corner in the game, but he stepped up to the plate when Jimmy went out and really filled those shoes,” said Humphrey, who teamed with Averett for the Crimson Tide. “He can kind of do it all, and that’s what we’re going to need going down the stretch while Jimmy is out.”

Wednesday’s injury report

Humphrey, Carr, and Smith were the only three Baltimore players on the 53-man roster not to take part in Wednesday’s practice, but three others worked on a limited basis.

Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown missed practice time last week due to his surgically-repaired foot, but he is also dealing with a hip issue after his memorable NFL debut.

Below is the full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (back), CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (hip), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder), WR Chris Moore (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Tyus Bowser (groin)

ARIZONA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Jonathan Bullard (hamstring), TE Charles Clay (non-injury), WR Larry Fitzgerald (non-injury), OL Lamont Gaillard (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Haason Reddick (knee), LB Ezekiel Turner (hand)

Odds & ends

Rookie outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson wore a No. 56 scout-team jersey during Wednesday’s practice to simulate former Raven and current Cardinals linebacker Terrell Suggs, the man whose NCAA Division I sacks record Ferguson broke at Louisiana Tech. The third-round pick was a healthy scratch in Week 1. … Carr and the National Breast Cancer Foundation have formed a partnership to provide free mammograms and patient services to underserved women. Carr has pledged $200,000 to fund programs in Dallas, his native Flint, Michigan, and Baltimore. … New Ravens public address announcer Greg Davis was in Owings Mills Wednesday to introduce Harbaugh and a few players when they stepped to the podium to answer questions from reporters. Davis has served in the same capacity for Navy football and other athletics since 2000.

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Ravens-Cardinals: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 25 October 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens normally relish a prime-time game to show the country just how good they are.

But there’s nowhere to hide on Monday night as they limp into Arizona with a 1-5 record to take on a Cardinals team atop the NFC West.

To say John Harbaugh and Baltimore don’t have a shot would be silly — it’s the NFL, after all — but there’s not much reason for optimism looking at this matchup on paper or if you’ve simply watched the Ravens play this season. Making matters worse is the health of the secondary as cornerback Lardarius Webb (hamstring) and safety Kendrick Lewis (knee) are both questionable for the league’s 27th-ranked pass defense that will try to slow Carson Palmer and the NFL’s ninth-best passing attack.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the Cardinals for the first time since 2011, a game that produced the largest comeback victory in franchise history. Holding a 4-1 all-time record against Arizona, Baltimore will be playing its first game at University of Phoenix Stadium while the Cardinals seek their first win over the Ravens since a 1997 contest played at Memorial Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens attempt to win their fifth consecutive game against the Cardinals …

1. Justin Forsett will touch the ball 25 times and score a touchdown with more than 100 yards from scrimmage. If you’re looking for a weakness on their defense, the Cardinals have been underwhelming stopping the run as they’ve allowed 4.1 yards per carry, ranking 21st in the NFL. The Ravens will surely want to keep one of the most prolific offenses in the league on the sideline as much as possible, so controlling the clock and trying to play field position would figure to be the best way to do it. With Patrick Peterson likely clamping down on Steve Smith for much of the night, the Ravens will need Forsett to keep them in third-and-manageable situations to make this one close.

2. Joe Flacco will throw an interception to Tyrann Mathieu that will set up an Arizona score. The Cardinals rank fourth in the NFL with 13 takeaways and have intercepted opponents a league-leading 11 times in six games. This is bad news for Flacco, who has thrown seven interceptions so far this season. With little fear of the Ravens beating the Arizona secondary deep, the free safety Mathieu will have a chance to display his ball-hawking skills and that will pay off with a pick and a long return to put the Cardinals on a short field. General manager Ozzie Newsome needs to find more explosive weapons for his quarterback, but that doesn’t excuse Flacco from committing costly turnovers this year.

3. Jimmy Smith will do a solid job shadowing Larry Fitzgerald, but John Brown and Michael Floyd will catch touchdowns against the Ravens secondary. Webb figures to return to action, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees will still be faced with the dilemma of how to handle the nickel package with neither Kyle Arrington nor Shareece Wright inspiring trust. It makes sense to allow Smith to take on the 6-foot-3 Fitzgerald, but Brown provides a speed threat that the Ravens will need to account for and Floyd also brings good size inside the red zone. Baltimore can hope Brown’s hamstring issue limits his speed, but there are just too many weapons for a poor pass defense to neutralize.

4. Jeremy Ross will catch his first touchdown pass as a member of the Ravens. He’s not a long-term fix, but the former Detroit Lion has five catches for 58 yards in limited snaps over two games compared to Marlon Brown’s 10 receptions and 84 receiving yards while playing extensively in six contests. In other words, it’s time to see what Ross and others such as Chris Givens and Darren Waller can do with Brown being so unproductive. Ross brings some experience at receiver from his days in Detroit and adds much-needed speed to the equation. That will pay off with Flacco throwing his first touchdown to a wide receiver not named Smith or Kamar Aiken this season.

5. Palmer will become the latest quarterback to burn Baltimore in a 31-17 final. There’s a mixed history between Palmer and the Ravens, but none of that means anything with this defense being a shell of what it used to be and the veteran revitalized with a flash group of weapons to throw to. Baltimore will compete for a large portion of this game, but the Cardinals are just a much better football team right now. All five of the Ravens’ defeats this year have been by six or fewer points, but that streak will come to an end with a double-digit loss. It’s difficult to recall the last time there was so much pessimism while previewing an upcoming Ravens game, but that’s what happens when you’re 1-5.

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Arizona possesses what Ravens lack in 2015

Posted on 22 October 2015 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will look across the field on Monday night and see exactly what they’re lacking in 2015.

Playmakers on both sides of the ball have led the Arizona Cardinals to a 4-2 record atop the NFC West as well as the best point differential (plus-88) in the NFL. Baltimore’s shortage of playmakers has contributed to the worst start in franchise history and five defeats all decided by six points or fewer.

Offensively, Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has a trio of talented receivers — future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald, second-year speedster John Brown, and former first-round pick Michael Floyd — on which to rely. That combination of experience, speed, and height has helped Arizona produce the league’s seventh-ranked passing game and 33.8 points per game.

In contrast, Joe Flacco has a 36-year-old Steve Smith playing at a high level and a group of unheralded receivers behind him who have struggled to make a meaningful impact. Making matters worse, the Ravens offense will be facing the league’s ninth-ranked pass defense than includes Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson and hybrid safety Tyrann Mathieu in the secondary.

The Cardinals often-explosive offense has lacked consistency — evident by a Week 4 home loss to St. Louis and last week’s 25-13 defeat in Pittsburgh — but it’s not easy envisioning Baltimore’s 27th-ranked pass defense being able to keep up with Arizona’s speed. Even pedestrian offenses have picked apart the Ravens secondary this season, so what will a top 10 unit be able to do?

And given how slowly the Ravens offense has started most games this season, Monday night could get ugly if we see a similar opening act.

Return game progress

One of the few bright spots from the Week 6 loss to San Francisco was another good performance by returner Jeremy Ross, who broke a 41-yard kick return late in the first quarter.

A second look at the return, however, indicated that Ross could have made it even better had he cut behind a block from rookie Nick Boyle toward the right sideline instead of shifting inside where three tacklers were waiting. His special teams coordinator agreed with that sentiment on Thursday.

“We honestly should’ve gotten more out of it than we did,” Jerry Rosburg said. “We didn’t finish it very well, but at least we got it set up. So, we’re making progress. I like what he has done. He has been working really hard on the reads and ball security. He has gotten a lot better.”

In addition to averaging 29.5 yards per kick return and 10.0 yards per punt return, Ross has caught five passes for 58 yards in limited action as a receiver in two games. Given the lack of big-play ability the Ravens have shown on either side of the ball, would Rosburg encourage the speedy Ross to be more aggressive taking kicks out of the end zone like Jacoby Jones was in his three years in Baltimore?

“It depends on what kind of deep kick it is,” Rosburg said. “There are different kinds of deep kicks — high-hanging deep kicks. Even Jacoby didn’t have a green light. Sometimes, he ran the red light.”

Wright bouncing back?

Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t mince words in criticizing the newly-acquired Shareece Wright after he was burned for two touchdowns in the 25-20 loss to the 49ers, but the Ravens will likely be counting on him again this week.

Starter Lardarius Webb is expected to return from a hamstring injury, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees prefers using Webb inside in the nickel package. This leaves the Ravens with Wright or Kyle Arrington to play on the outside opposite Jimmy Smith, and Arrington has also struggled when asked to play on the outside this season

“I really liked the way he responded this week,” said Pees of Wright. “It was going to be interesting to come out here and go through the film with him and come back out here and watch and see how he responded this week. So far, he has responded great. Now, I’ll tell you again Monday night after we get done [playing].

“Sometimes it takes [failure]. We all learn by mistakes, and hopefully that will be his case.”

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Boldin named Ravens Walter Payton Man of the Year recipient

Posted on 04 January 2013 by WNST Staff

Baltimore Ravens WR Anquan Boldin has been named the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year honoree. The award is given annually by the National Football League to honor a player’s volunteer and charitable work, as well as his excellence on the field. A local nominee is named from each of the 32 NFL teams, and a panel of judges, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Connie Payton, widow of the late Walter Payton, will choose the eventual national winner.

In the midst of his 10th NFL season, Boldin has earned numerous football accolades, including three Pro Bowl appearances and NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (2003). As a Raven, Boldin became the fastest player in NFL history to record 600 career receptions, and this year set another milestone – 10,000 career receiving yards. He finished 2012 leading the team in receptions (65) and receiving yards (921), helping the Ravens capture their fifth-consecutive playoff appearance.

Though Boldin has found success as a professional athlete, he has never taken it for granted. The Ravens’ wide receiver was raised in the impoverished area of Pahokee, Fla., where he had basic necessities, but not much more. Now a husband and father of two, Boldin leads by example through his inspiring philanthropic work all over the world.

Established in 2004, the Anquan Boldin Foundation (Q81 Foundation) is dedicated to expanding the educational and life opportunities of underprivileged children. As evidenced by charitable activities in Florida, Arizona and Baltimore, the foundation has an eight-year history of offering after-school programs, full-time college scholarships (with the support of the University of Phoenix), and dental care and food programs for disadvantaged youth. Annual fundraising events include Q-Fest, now in its eighth year, which features a golf classic, celebrity basketball game and “Fun Day in the Park.”

For the second-consecutive year, the Q81 Foundation and Florida Crystals Corporation partnered in 2012 to host the Q81 Summer Enrichment Program. The eight-week course, designed for high school students in need of academic assistance, garnered significant results, as 30 students at Everglades Preparatory Academy (EPA) in Pahokee increased their grade point averages. In addition, four student-athletes improved their GPAs enough to become eligible to participate in sports during the fall semester.

In April 2012, Boldin and former Cardinals’ teammate Larry Fitzgerald embarked on a mission trip to Ethiopia, bringing attention to the ongoing drought and famine in East Africa. The players partnered with hunger-relief organization Oxfam to build retaining walls that protect against erosion in the area.

Boldin is known in the Baltimore community for hosting holiday shopping sprees for youth and food distributions for hundreds of families who would not be able to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday otherwise. He has also supported the military by assembling care packages for troops overseas, with help from the Wounded Warrior Project.

In addition, the NFL standout has been named honorary chair of the United Way of Central Maryland’s Emerging Leaders United, a collection of leaders 40-and-under who are actively seeking ways to give, advocate and volunteer. As an ambassador, Boldin encourages young professionals to use philanthropy and volunteerism to help their communities.

As the local Walter Payton Man of the Year honoree, he will receive $1,000 towards the Anquan Boldin Foundation. The top three finalists, with the announcement to be made this month, will receive an additional $5,000, and the eventual national winner will receive $25,000 towards his respective charity.

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