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Baltimore Ravens Tim Williams, (56), and Brandon Williams, (98), warm up at the team's  NFL football training facility in Owings Mills, Md., Wednesday, June 12, 2019 (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at end of mandatory minicamp

Posted on 13 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding their mandatory minicamp in Owings Mills this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marquise Brown not being “certain” to be ready for the start of training camp doesn’t mean this is turning into another Breshad Perriman situation, but it’s fair to be a little uneasy he’s not yet running full-speed. Ask Jimmy Smith or Hayden Hurst how long a foot injury can linger.

2. Lamar Jackson finished offseason workouts with multiple touchdown passes in a short red-zone period Thursday, an area of the field in which he struggled this spring. He fared better overall in 7-on-7 drills than full-team work, but he raised his level of consistency as the spring progressed.

3. Asked about his plans between now and training camp, Jackson said he’s organizing throwing sessions with teammates and will work with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris in Florida. He also “might” work with quarterback guru Tom House, but that sounded less certain. You definitely like the work ethic.

4. Earl Thomas admitted he has his challenging days coming back from his second lower left leg fracture in three years, but he feels like he’s “in the right spot” physically. We’ll get a better feel for the 30-year-old in the summer, but he appears to be gelling nicely with the rest of the secondary.

5. It was interesting how open Thomas was in describing the Baltimore defense as “very complex” compared to the straight Cover 3 looks he ran in Seattle. He admits the complexity and on-field communication have been adjustments, but that’s not surprising.

6. Trying to predict passing and receiving numbers in an offense anchored by the run is difficult, but Mark Andrews is my early pick to lead the Ravens in most receiving categories. He was the best pass-catching target on the field and is playing with an edge, something this offense needs.

7. Unlike Michael Pierce, Matthew Judon reported to minicamp in good shape and practiced like he hadn’t skipped organized team activities. Asked by a reporter if his agent has had contract talks with the Ravens, Judon replied, “They said they were going to pay me what they pay you.” Alrighty then.

8. John Harbaugh described left guard as “a competitive spot” and identified James Hurst as the slight favorite at this early stage despite Jermaine Eluemunor taking the first-team reps there this spring. The coach also mentioned Eluemunor needing to get in better shape. In other words, that spot is wide open.

9. It was interesting that Alex Lewis was not mentioned by name in that mix after Harbaugh revealed the oft-injured guard was in charge of his own rehabilitation from offseason shoulder surgery and the team hadn’t seen him until this week. That’s an interesting choice ahead of a contract year.

10. Harbaugh and Wink Martindale confirmed Kenny Young and Chris Board are competing for a starting inside linebacker spot next to Patrick Onwuasor in the base defense, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Board is in the lead based on practice rep distribution.

11. The retiring Jerry Rosburg worked his final practice Thursday and was honored in a team-wide celebration the previous day. The Ravens will miss his superb special-teams coaching, but his thoughtful remarks and underrated sense of humor will be missed by reporters. Best wishes to him.

12. I appreciated Martindale’s candid comments about the offseason departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle and how the defense is impacted. I especially enjoyed the subtle shade thrown on the “next man up” phrase that’s become one of the worst cliches in sports in recent years.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on second week of OTAs

Posted on 31 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Following an underwhelming practice from the offense consisting of mostly underneath passing and few highlights, John Harbaugh fairly noted the defense should be ahead of the offense right now with the latter installing a new system. Patience is warranted, but skepticism is understandable with such a young group.

2. Earl Thomas wasn’t tested much, but he definitely has a presence on the practice field that reminds a little of Ed Reed. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he impacts a defense that already played plenty of single-high safety looks using an older Eric Weddle last year.

3. Patrick Onwuasor received endorsements from Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti this week and has been more vocal in C.J. Mosley’s old role. The fourth-year linebacker said he continues to stay in touch with his former teammate, which is a valuable resource to have.

4. Most assume Kenny Young will receive the starting nod next to Onwuasor, but don’t sleep on Chris Board. The former rookie free agent has gotten a share of first-team reps this spring as well. We’ve seen similar stories before at this position, and that’s not to discredit Young’s ability.

5. Hayden Hurst is a bit of a forgotten man, but his foot injury forced him to rest for an additional month at season’s end last January. Now healthy and having added 20 pounds, he caught a deep post throw from Jackson Thursday and says he’s “on a mission” this year.

6. The spring always brings at least a couple interesting stories about players’ offseason workout regimens as Mark Andrews aimed to improve his blocking by practicing on his older brother. That had to make for some interesting family gatherings.

7. It’s tough to really gauge line play in non-contact settings, but Willie Henry batted down a Jackson pass during an 11-on-11 drill. He’s just one of a few defensive linemen whose playing time would be impacted by a potential Gerald McCoy signing.

8. Jaleel Scott received praise for his offseason work earlier this spring, and he flashed Thursday with a long touchdown catch from Robert Griffin III and another contested catch for a score in a red-zone drill. The 6-foot-5 wideout will need more of that to secure a roster spot.

9. With James Hurst never inspiring confidence as the backup left tackle, 2018 sixth-round pick Greg Senat is someone to monitor after an essential redshirt year on injured reserve. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound former college basketball player carries some intrigue despite being green.

10. It was interesting to see Jackson under center a decent bit after the Ravens were in the shotgun or pistol an NFL-high 93 percent of the time from the time he became the starter in Week 11 last year. He also mostly worked from the shotgun or pistol at Louisville.

11. Speaking to season-ticket holders, Bisciotti reiterated Jackson won’t be running the ball 20 times per game, which reflects the Ravens sharing the desire of many to keep the young quarterback healthy. Eight to 10 carries per contest feels like a general sweet spot in an evolved, more balanced offense.

12. At a time of year with little restraint for optimism, I appreciated Bisciotti’s honesty in admitting he has no idea what to expect from rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, citing how first-year injuries impacted Travis Taylor and Breshad Perriman. He also labeled Chris Moore a “breakout candidate.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts approaching start of free agency

Posted on 07 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens preparing and bracing for the start of NFL free agency next week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The re-signing of Nick Boyle even after Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews were selected early in last year’s draft signals how important tight ends will remain despite much chatter about the redesign of the Baltimore offense. Expect an abundance of “12” personnel to continue.

2. The Ravens were able to keep Boyle off the market so close to free agency and reports suggested there being much interest in his services, but I’m still not convinced another team would have made him a top-15 tight end in terms of average annual value. He wasn’t cheap.

3. Boyle deserves credit for bouncing back from two performance-enhancing drug suspensions to establish himself as a legitimate NFL player. He was on shaky footing just a couple years ago before maximizing opportunities that might not have been there without injuries to others.

4. Opinions remain split on the lengths to go to keep C.J. Mosley — I’m torn myself — but saying he shouldn’t make as much as Luke Kuechly’s $12.359 million average annual value ignores his deal being nearly four years old and the salary cap increasing by over 31 percent since 2015.

5. I have little doubt Eric DeCosta will find a replacement for Eric Weddle with superior physical tools and the potential to offer better individual play, but accounting for his football intellect and how it impacted the defense will be difficult, especially if there are other veteran departures.

6. I’ll continue to bang the drum about the wide receiver position — shocking, I know — but it’s hard to be encouraged by the list of projected free agents and the salaries they’ll likely command. Hey, Ryan Grant is available again.

7. Terrell Suggs hitting the market wouldn’t be a bad thing for him or the Ravens. Either he’ll gain peace of mind before re-signing or be able to choose between more money and extending his legacy in Baltimore. My guess is this turns out more like Ray Lewis than Ed Reed.

8. With Weddle’s release to save $7.5 million in salary cap space, the Ravens probably have enough room to not be forced to do anything with Jimmy Smith before the market opens. His $15.85 million cap figure remains problematic, but DeCosta has options that could even stretch into the spring.

9. As DeMarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, and Dee Ford all received the franchise tag, I couldn’t help but think of Za’Darius Smith with dollar signs in his eyes.

10. DeCosta lamenting young players lost in recent years gained attention, but who are all these individuals? Kelechi Osemele comes to mind and maybe Rick Wagner, but who else based on the contracts they received elsewhere? I’d contest the shortage of young players warranting a second deal was the bigger problem.

11. There’s plenty of intrigue with the Ravens’ offseason, but I can’t help but be fascinated by Pittsburgh’s current turmoil and Cleveland coming off a seven-win season and sporting over $80 million in cap space. The AFC North could look very different this coming season.

12. Boyle’s new contract was positive news worthy of recognition, but omitting his name in the release announcing the press conference led to negative reaction when fans later learned it wasn’t a bigger name like Mosley. That wasn’t fair to Boyle and could have been avoided by just being direct.

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Ravens re-sign tight end Boyle to three-year deal

Posted on 07 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have retained a key cog in offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s run-blocking schemes.

Tight end Nick Boyle signed a three-year extension worth a reported $18 million with $10 million guaranteed just days before he was set to become an unrestricted free agent. Several reports suggested there were multiple teams interested in the 2015 fifth-round pick’s services, but the Ravens value tight ends as much as anyone in the NFL at this point, making it a priority for general manager Eric DeCosta to prevent Boyle from hitting the open market.

“I didn’t want to go to another team. I don’t think [my wife] Kristina did either,” Boyle said. “I think we love it here. We love the relationships. Is it interesting to see where I can go [in free agency]? As long as I thought it was fair and something that we wanted here, I would just come back here.”

Boyle, 26, caught 23 passes for a career-high 213 yards last season, but it was his run-blocking ability that helped key a second-half surge that resulted in the Ravens winning their first AFC North championship since 2012. He led all Baltimore tight ends with 651 offensive snaps played.

After being suspended twice for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy in his first two seasons — head coach John Harbaugh described it as a “double down on dumb” after the second ban was announced in 2016 — the Delaware product established himself as a vital component of the offense in 2017 by catching a career-high 28 passes and starting 11 games. That meaningful role continued last season even with the Ravens drafting tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews as Boyle started 13 games and cemented his reputation as one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. Pro Football Focus graded Boyle sixth in run blocking among tight ends with at least 200 snaps on rushing plays.

“I think he’s an all-around tight end,” Harbaugh said. “I would say he’s the best blocking tight end in the league; there’s no question in my mind about that. He sets the edge. He sets the tempo. He’s a physical presence out there, but he’s definitely an underrated talent in the passing game, and you’ve seen that when he gets an opportunity to catch passes and run routes. He makes those plays.”

The Ravens reportedly hosted former New England tight end Dwayne Allen on a free-agent visit earlier this week, which likely helped push negotiations with Boyle to a completed deal. Baltimore tight end Maxx Williams is also scheduled to hit the free-agent market next week.

In 48 career games, Boyle has made 75 receptions for 613 yards and has yet to catch a touchdown, something his critics have pointed out in the wake of the contract news.

“I see it all the time. They’ll say, ‘Nick Boyle, who?’” said Boyle as he laughed. “It’s fine. That’s a huge thing like, ‘Oh, paying this guy a lot, and he didn’t get a touchdown.’ Whatever they want to say, they can say. It’s not hurting my feelings.

“But I have a lot of pride in what I do. Whether it’s catching a pass or having a really key block on a certain play, I think I get the same satisfaction out of it.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from Greg Roman’s press conference

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Greg Roman meeting with the media for the first time since his promotion to offensive coordinator, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The theme from Tuesday’s press conference was the “reimagining” of the Ravens offense “from the ground up” with Roman even comparing the process to a brand new coaching staff joining a team. That seems telling after so many questioned the sustainability of the post-bye offensive system last year.

2. Roman went out of his way to mention how the staff was incorporating college elements, ranging from how modern players learn offensive systems to formations and even the calling of plays at that level. That’s interesting for a staff that doesn’t have a ton of recent college coaching experience.

3. Beyond improving his ball security, the greatest offseason focus for Lamar Jackson will be refining his fundamentals and mechanics as a passer, according to Roman. The coordinator opined that certain elements may not have been emphasized very much during his college career.

4. Asked what he likes about Jackson as a passer, Roman praised his field vision and compared it to that of Steve McNair, whom he worked with in his first stint with the Ravens from 2006-07. He said that kind of feel can’t be coached and gives Jackson a higher ceiling.

5. Like John Harbaugh last month, Roman didn’t disclose many details about Jackson’s offseason football plans, but he noted how this is essentially his first true offseason after he went through the pre-draft process last year. It’s a critical one for Jackson to make that fundamental jump.

6. When discussing his play-calling, Roman mentioned not wanting to leave “popcorn on the ground” for the opposing defense to be able to call out their plays. I don’t believe that was a dig at Marty Mornhinweg, but I couldn’t help but think about the playoff loss when he said it.

7. Speaking of the popcorn comment, Roman compared adjusting Jackson’s speed to a pitcher striking you out in the first couple at-bats and said the rebuilding of the offense was like kneading dough and putting together IKEA furniture. He had no shortage of interesting analogies, which I appreciated.

8. To no surprise, Roman mentioned “a strong, powerful” offensive line as the most important element in building an offense around Jackson. You’d have to think upgrading at left guard or center — ideally, both — remains a priority.

9. On the same day Hayden Hurst indicated he finally had the screw removed from his foot that stemmed from his August surgery for a stress fracture, Roman expressed excitement about both him and fellow tight end Mark Andrews and how creative he wants to be with their usage.

10. Echoing Eric DeCosta from last month, Roman mentioned wanting wide receivers with strong blocking ability and a “tough guy” element. That’ll be an emphasis in the draft and free agency, but I feel the need to express hope that they’ll find one or two also possessing the position’s traditional traits.

11. For those dreaming of a Le’Veon Bell signing, Roman preferring a “stable” of running backs and saying a receiving-minded back isn’t a top priority would probably make it unwise to hold your breath for the pursuit of the Pittsburgh Steeler free agent. Not that I expected it anyway.

12. I’m unsure how this is going to go with a “reimagined” offense driven by the run in an NFL leaning so heavily on the pass, but I respect trying to go against the grain for a competitive advantage. How big a passing jump Jackson makes remains the biggest key, however.

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How did Ravens tight ends stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 11 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens tight ends ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers

Nick Boyle
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 651
PFF ranking: 23rd among tight ends
Skinny: The 6-foot-4, 270-pound Delaware product is limited as a pass catcher, but his blocking ability has been vital to Greg Roman’s blocking schemes over the last two seasons. His strengths are likely to be valued more by the Ravens than more pass-happy teams, making the free agent a good bet to return.

Mark Andrews
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 414
PFF ranking: 13th among tight ends
Skinny: Despite dealing with nagging injuries over the summer, Andrews quickly became Baltimore’s best receiving tight end and finished with 552 receiving yards, a team record for a rookie tight end. His ability to go over the middle and gain yards after the catch makes him a vital weapon for Lamar Jackson.

Maxx Williams
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 374
PFF ranking: 16th among tight ends
Skinny: Williams never lived up to the potential the Ravens envisioned when they moved up to take him in the second round of the 2015 draft, but he carved out a role with his strong blocking over the last two years. He could be the odd man out, however, as he hits the free-agent market at the same time as Boyle.

Hayden Hurst
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 275
PFF ranking: 33rd among tight ends
Skinny: A foot injury derailed the beginning of the first-round pick’s rookie season, but he began to look more comfortable down the stretch, posting a season-best 43 receiving yards in Week 17 over Cleveland. Hurst will be 26 in August and has much to prove after an underwhelming 2018 campaign.

2019 positional outlook

The emergence of Andrews makes this group look better than it has in quite some time as the Oklahoma product was already looking the part of an above-average tight end with big-play ability. If Hurst can become the player the front office envisioned when he was selected last April, the Ravens will quickly have one of the NFL’s better duos at this position. Re-signing Boyle should be a priority with the continuing emphasis on the running game, but Andrews and Hurst improving as blockers would go a long way in making the offense more dynamic and unpredictable. It wouldn’t be surprising to see general manager Eric DeCosta add another blocking-minded tight end to the mix with a Day 3 draft pick in April since both Boyle and Williams are scheduled to hit the open market.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering wild-card weekend

Posted on 05 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens preparing for their first playoff game in four years against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The 68-yard touchdown highlighted a career passing day for Lamar Jackson in Week 16, but he also made some good decisions on check-downs and short throws in the first half. He’ll need more of that to offset the Chargers’ pass rush the second time around.

2. No matter what happens, the 21-year-old gaining playoff experience as a rookie is invaluable — and exciting — for the future. Joe Flacco posted a 50.8 passer rating with one touchdown and three interceptions in his first postseason run before eventually becoming “January Joe.” Be sure to keep that perspective.

3. Taking nothing away from the Ravens’ dominant defensive performance, seven of the eight Chargers penalties were committed by the offense with a few wiping out big gains and stalling any momentum for Philip Rivers. Like in Week 16, Clete Blakeman will be Sunday’s referee.

4. Za’Darius Smith will again be a key figure trying to exploit an underwhelming interior offensive line. The pending free agent has positioned himself for quite a payday with 8 1/2 sacks. Following up what he did in the first meeting against the Chargers — 1 1/2 sacks — will only strengthen that.

5. Los Angeles would be wise to spread the Ravens defense out more frequently and throw to running backs on the perimeter to try to offset the pass rush that made Rivers miserable. Chargers running backs did Rivers no favors in pass protection the first time around anyway.

6. Baltimore isn’t trending in the right direction in the red zone and on third down the last two weeks, going 1-for-7 and 7-for-27 in those respective categories. You can only expect other areas of the game to overcome those deficiencies for so long without substantial improvement.

7. How the Chargers fare against this running game the second time around will be fascinating, but the absences of linebacker Jatavis Brown and nose tackle Brandon Mebane loom large. You never want to test your depth against a rushing attack known for wearing down its opposition.

8. Mark Andrews led all rookie tight ends in receiving yards, yards per catch, yards after the catch, and first-down receptions, per Pro Football Focus. The third-round pick’s emergence as a big-play threat and reliable target has been critical when Jackson has needed to throw.

9. Only 12 players on the current roster were in the organization the last time the Ravens appeared in the playoffs four years ago, but Jimmy Smith was on injured reserve then and Flacco is now the backup quarterback. Things sure change quickly, don’t they?

10. Speaking of Flacco, his comment admitting the backup job is “not the most fun position in the world” predictably drew criticism from the same folks who’d likely bash him for not being a competitor if he said he enjoyed his new role. I won’t miss this kind of nonsensical criticism.

11. Justin Tucker was an AP first-team All-Pro selection while Marshal Yanda and C.J. Mosley were second team. Reporters receive much criticism — some deserved — for awards and Hall of Fame voting, but players, coaches, and fans are the ones voting for the Pro Bowl that again excluded the NFL’s best kicker.

12. Whether the Ravens advance or not, you just know Kansas City and New England coaches have spent more time on their bye week preparing for Baltimore’s rushing attack than for any other AFC team playing this weekend. It’s a scary matchup for anyone.

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Random Ravens Thoughts 12-26-18

Posted on 26 December 2018 by Dennis Koulatsos

Just a couple of weeks ago the Baltimore Ravens were given around a 4% chance of making the NFL playoffs, and lo and behold now here they are on the doorstep of not only getting in by beating the Cleveland Browns, but also in great position to win the division and earn a home playoff game.

One of the funny things – and believe you me, there’s no shortage of funny things surrounding this team right now – is the notion locally and nationally that this team can’t win with this “gimmicky” offense.  It reminds me of back in the day when Ray Lewis and the Ravens faced Miami with their version of a gimmicky offense which came in the form of the Wildcat formation.  After easily disposing of the Dolphins, Lewis quipped “that no matter what, it’s still football.”

What the 1st ballot Hall of Famer was talking about is that no matter how you scheme it up, it still comes down to blocking and tackling. It still comes down to one on one matchups. It’s a simple game.  Win those matchups, win the game.  And that is exactly what the Ravens are doing, right now.

Chargers’ coach Anthony Lynn said as much after the post game rubble he was standing in that the Ravens had left.  He said they got outplayed and got outcoached.  The most noteworthy thing he said was that the Chargers didn’t see anything from the Ravens that they hadn’t seen before, and that they hadn’t seen anything that they weren’t expecting.  It was all right there, on film, on the field, right in front of them.  They simply couldn’t stop them.

That’s the beauty of the current edition of the Baltimore Ravens.  They run a very simple offense, and they execute the heck out of it.  It’s just a handful of plays, disguised by different sets and multiple players in motion.  It causes linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks to pause and look to see where the ball is, often confused by where the ball is going.

Defenses are built on read and react principles, and they are having a hard time of doing just that against the Ravens.  Much has been made that mercurial rookie QB Lamar Jackson forces defenses to play 11 on 10 football, versus the traditional 11 on 11.  It puts a tremendous amount of pressure on them.  If they key in on Jackson too much, then bruising backs Gus Edwards and Ken Dixon gain chunk yards between the tackles.  Focus on the backs, and they risk Jackson going around the end for big gains.

And then there’s the play action passes, when Jackson pulls the ball out and surveys the field.  It is truly rare to see a rookie QB with his eyes downfield, but Jackson has done this since day one.  That’s a skill that takes some time to develop, and lots of QBs never develop it.  In terms of Jackson’s future and continued growth, the fact that he has this skill in spades bodes well for him as well as the organization.

Jackson has developed good rapport with all of the receivers, particularly Willie Snead and Mark Andrews.  He’s also shown the ability to deliver crisp, on target passes across the middle. That’s where most interceptions in the NFL occur.  It’s usually late throws across the middle, and Jackson thus far has excelled in that area.

Of course pundits are quick to point out that Jackson is prone to put the ball on the ground, but he also recovers about 70% of those fumbles.  He’s also shown a penchant for shaking off not only fumbles and interceptions, coming back to make big plays.  His short term memory in regards to making mistakes also serves him well.

The Ravens have a big time game coming up against the Browns, who are also on a hot streak right now.  I watched their last game, in which they disposed the Jeff Driskell led Bengals in a workman like fashion.  It wasn’t much of a game, as the Browns dominated in every phase. It looked to me like the Bengals had packed it in for the season.

It was also a home game for the Browns, and they had that going for them.  Baker Mayfield looked good at times and like a rookie QB at others.  He made some gains with his feet, buying some time to find open receivers as well as tucking the ball in and taking off with it downfield.  He is barely 6 feet tall and he had a couple of passes batted down.

His frequent  targets were WR Rashard Higgins and TE David Njoku.  Jarvis Landry and Breshad Perriman also contributed but to a lesser extent.  Nick Chubb is a handful at running back, and that’s the one player I am sure that the Ravens defense will focus on taking away.  Chubb and Njoku are the keys to that offense, and who the Ravens defense needs to pay particular attention to.

Much of the credit for the Browns’ dramatic turnaround this season not only goes to their interim head coach Gregg Williams, but to their offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens.  His offense has been very creative, productive and overall fun to watch.  Kitchens has done such a good job, that his name is emerging as a head coach candidate for many of the jobs that are going to be open at the end of the season.

He uses RB Duke Johnson very creatively in the run and pass game, as well as Jarvis Landry and Breshad Perriman.  In fact, Landry threw a bomb to Perriman on a double reverse.  But going back to what Ray Lewis had said, it’s still football.  The Ravens have to stay discipline, the ends have to stay at home and set the edge, and they will be fine.

As far as the Browns’ defense is concerned, the Bengals had some success running between the tackles with Joe Mixon.  The Browns are 24th in the league against the run, so the Ravens should have continued success running the ball against them.

Back to Baker Mayfield.  At the end of the game versus the Bengals, as he was running off of the field he stared down Hue Jackson for what seemed like an eternity.  It wasn’t exactly a good look for him, and it showed that he still has some immaturity issues that have haunted him throughout his college career.

It’s still early but it looks to me that not only have the Ravens selected the better quarterback, but more importantly the better person.  These two have some history going back to 2016, as Jackson beat Mayfield and Deshaun Watson for the Heisman Trophy.  That one still burns Mayfield for sure, and you can bet he’s going to be fired up to end the Ravens’ season this Sunday.

I would be remiss if I didn’t address coach John Harbaugh and his status with the Ravens.  I thought that Friday’s 7:00 p.m. announcement by the team that he is going to coach the Ravens through 2019 while they mutually worked on a contract extension was brilliant.  Whether they do or not at this point is irrelevant.  Lots of people questioned the timing of the announcement, but I thought it was great.

It accomplished two things.  First, I thought it was a good way to double focus the team the day before a big away game with the Chargers.  It told them that if they had any doubt about Harbaugh and his coaching staff to just get it out of their minds.  More importantly it sent a message to the veteran players that they – not Harbaugh – were playing for their jobs.  They didn’t have to worry about the incoming coach – they had to worry about the current one, not only for this year but the next and even well into the future.

Respected sports journalist Peter King – among others – is still skeptical in regards to Harbaugh’s return to Baltimore as head coach in 2020.  He is of the opinion that Harbaugh – who gets a raise in 2019 and will make in the $8 million range – will play out his contract and see what his options are in 2020.

I certainly don’t share King’s opinion.  John Harbaugh is a smart man, but the Ravens are also a smart organization.  I cannot imagine a scenario where Harbaugh is a lame duck coach next year.  The Ravens will make it a boy or a girl.  It will be one or the other.  Either he signs a long term contract, or they will trade him to a team and receive as much compensation for him as possible.

Harbaugh will agree to that for a number of reasons.  For starters he would be the hottest head coach on the market.  He would be clearly the number 1 candidate on almost any teams’ wish list – this year.  Who knows what the market will be next year and who’ll be available?  Coach will strike while the iron is hot, and he should.

I believe that Harbaugh wants to stay in Baltimore and I believe the owner and front office want to keep him.  The only reason I can see stopping it from happening is if there is additional power that Harbaugh would demand over personnel decisions.  That could end negotiations.  And if that happens, I believe the Ravens would leak out word to the rest of the league that Harbaugh is available, and would seek to trade him to a team they would receive maximum compensation from in the form of draft picks.

That aside, here’s to a victory over the Browns and a long playoff run.  The Ravens have a shot to write history.  It is a long shot, but winning a Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback would be one for the ages.  They have experience, defense, special teams, running game, coaching and momentum to get there.

I don’t know if truly any teams fear them and don’t want to face them, but I do know that they are going to be an awfully tough out.  If in fact they beat the Browns and get into the Super Bowl tournament, history tells us that anything can happen.

 

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 22-10 win over Chargers

Posted on 24 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving closer to a playoff berth in their 22-10 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Remember how we expected Patrick Onwuasor to be unseated by Kenny Young? Onwuasor has 55 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks, three pass breakups, an interception, and two forced fumbles. His strip of Antonio Gates was as clutch as it gets. Not bad for a former rookie free agent from Portland State.

2. Lamar Jackson registered his lowest rushing total as a starter (39 yards) while throwing for a career-high 204 yards. How he responded immediately after the Chargers took the lead early in the third quarter was impressive. Dwell on the inconsistencies if you want, but traits are there to really like.

3. Tavon Young’s fumble return will be remembered, but Za’Darius Smith’s drive-ending sack on the previous possession was just as critical. The Chargers had possessed the ball for more than seven minutes and converted three third downs before Smith drove them out of field-goal range.

4. Mark Andrews has now registered more catches, receiving yards, and touchdowns than Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta, and Ed Dickson had as rookies combined. He isn’t fast by conventional measures, but his combination of good hands, physicality, and elusiveness has certainly worked at this level so far.

5. After a quiet game last week, Terrell Suggs didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but he registered a season-high eight pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. A more limited snap count would be ideal, but the slow development of Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams has much to do with that.

6. A total of 223 yards and three trips inside the red zone in the first half should net more than six points. Both the play-calling and execution left a lot to be desired, especially with two of those drives ending inside the 10-yard line.

7. After failing to collect an interception in seven straight games, the defense has four interceptions in the last three games. Brandon Carr’s pick on the first play from scrimmage set the tone while Marlon Humphrey’s put an exclamation point on the night. Wink Martindale insisted the interceptions would come eventually.

8. Until Gus Edwards’ 21-yard run with under two minutes to play, the Ravens had gained only 21 rushing yards on their first 10 carries of the second half. Kansas City held them to 3.6 yards per carry after the first quarter. Baltimore is going to need more through the air.

9. Running the ball on third-and-12 at your opponent’s 39 isn’t completely unheard of if you’re simply playing for a field goal, but Kenneth Dixon picking up 19 on the play is another example of how unconventional these last six games have been.

10. Speaking of weird, Willie Snead didn’t have a catch after leading the way in receptions and receiving yards the previous two weeks. In Jackson’s six starts, Snead has been Baltimore’s leading receiver three times. He had a total of one catch for eight yards in the other three contests.

11. I’m still not sure what to make of the timing of the John Harbaugh announcement or the Ravens making it without even having an extension completed, but a win over the Chargers goes a long way in defusing reaction. Of course, an upset loss to Cleveland would change perceptions dramatically.

12. Based on what I see on social media, debates about the offense’s sustainability and Jackson’s ceiling continue, but don’t forget to enjoy the journey. I don’t know where this will end or if Jackson will be Baltimore’s quarterback for the next decade, but the last six weeks have been fun.

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With biggest December win in years, Ravens can now be called contenders

Posted on 23 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The plot points were there for the same old story to play out for the Ravens on Saturday night.

They had dominated the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half, but an offense that had produced 223 yards — 119 on the ground — netted only six points by halftime after going 0-for-3 inside the red zone.

Lamar Jackson’s 68-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Mark Andrews and Justin Tucker’s 56-yard field goal created a 16-10 lead with just over 20 minutes to play, but the Ravens would go three-and-out on their next three possessions, gaining a total of eight yards. That newfound formula of running the ball and controlling the clock was nowhere to be found as the first 10 rushes of the second half produced only 21 yards and the Ravens possessed the ball for less than 12 minutes.

When Sam Koch’s punt from his own end zone was returned 24 yards by Desmond King to the Baltimore 39, the stage was set for eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers on a short field with three minutes to go. A defense that had dominated throughout the night would need one more stop to keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive.

We knew how this movie ended in Pittsburgh on Christmas two years ago and against Cincinnati last New Year’s Eve, not to mention other late-game failures that have factored into the Ravens missing the playoffs in four of the last five years. Only two weeks ago, a fourth-and-9 miracle from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill with under two minutes to go thwarted an upset bid in Kansas City.

Another commendable effort with a “yeah, but…” attached.

“We’ve had our backs to the wall all year,” head coach John Harbaugh told his team in the post-game locker room in Carson, California. “For whatever reason, we’ve been fighting our ass off, but we haven’t been able to punch through.”

Those words came after linebacker Patrick Onwuasor punched the ball out from future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates and slot cornerback Tavon Young returned the fumble 62 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 22-10 lead. Several plays later, top corner Marlon Humphrey sealed Baltimore’s biggest December win in years with an end-zone interception.

The rookie Jackson and a unique run-heavy offense have understandably dominated the headlines since the bye week, but a top-ranked defense pressured Rivers relentlessly with four sacks and eight quarterback hits, held Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon to 54 total yards, and bottled up Keenan Allen and other Chargers receivers in coverage. It was as dominant as a Ravens defense had looked in a critical game — for a full 60 minutes — in a long, long time.

And with that victory, the Ravens can now be considered contenders — while understanding they still need to take care of business next week. It was nearly 10 years ago to the day that the Ravens and a rookie quarterback visited the favorite Dallas Cowboys needing a Week 16 win to keep their playoff hopes alive. That team won and was playing in the AFC Championship four weeks later. The Ravens will hardly be Super Bowl favorites if they do qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but taking the mighty Chiefs to overtime in Kansas City and dominating the Chargers — considered the latest darling in the AFC — will force teams to take notice.

What perhaps made the win more impressive was how far from perfect the Ravens were. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn deemed it a “miracle” that his team even had a chance at the end after being “outcoached” and “outplayed” on Saturday night. The Ravens never got into their second-half formula that’s worked so well while winning five of the last six games, but Jackson’s beautiful touchdown strike came moments after the game appeared to be slipping away with Kenneth Dixon’s fumble and a quick Los Angeles touchdown to start the second half.

Yes, the offense should have done much more in that first half, making for a glass half-empty or half-full proposition. But the defense did it all, flashing a championship quality that’s been absent from the good statistical units of recent years by slamming the door on the Chargers’ final opportunity.

It’s a group composed of notable names still productive but past their prime, a Pro Bowl inside linebacker whose greatness is still debated, a potential future star in Humphrey, and a number of solid-to-good players who complement each other well. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has deployed that depth so effectively as Rivers — a future Hall of Famer arguably having his best season — became Baltimore’s latest victim on Saturday.

How far might the Ravens be able to go in January?

That question should wait another week, but their biggest victory in years spoke for itself on Saturday night. Anything is possible after changing the ending for which we all were bracing as Onwuasor stripped the ball and Young scooped and scored.

“We’re still not punched through,” added Harbaugh in his post-game speech, referring to next week’s tricky contest with Baker Mayfield and a much-improved Cleveland team. “We’ve still got one more win to get punched through.”

The difference is you now expect the Ravens to do it.

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