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Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram (21) scores on a touchdown run as Houston Texans cornerback Gareon Conley (22) tries to stop him during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Ravens-Jets: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 11 December 2019 by Luke Jones

The AFC-leading Ravens can see the light at the end of the tunnel and simply need to handle their business in December.

After dominating the NFL over the last two months, Baltimore has already locked up a playoff berth and can clinch its second straight AFC North championship with a win over the New York Jets on Thursday night. Of course, the Ravens have bigger goals in mind as they can clinch a first-round bye as early as Sunday and control their path to securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with two wins in the final three weeks. John Harbaugh’s team currently has a 95.6-percent chance of securing the No. 1 seed, according to Football Outsiders.

Meanwhile, the Jets have won four of their last five games, but they were officially eliminated from playoff contention last week after a 1-7 start sunk their chances in 2019.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens meet the Jets for the 11th time in their regular-season history and own an 8-2 advantage. Baltimore has won eight of the last nine matchups and owns a 5-0 record against New York at M&T Bank Stadium.

Below are five predictions for Thursday night:

1. Lamar Jackson will become the second Ravens quarterback to throw for 30 touchdowns in a single season. Breaking Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback appears elementary with Jackson needing only 23 more yards on the ground, but Jackson leads the NFL in touchdown passes (28) despite ranking 25th in passing attempts, a stat illustrating the brilliant efficiency of this offense. Protecting him in the pocket is a greater concern with standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley doubtful to play, but the Jets rank 15th in passer rating allowed and 22nd in pass defense efficiency.

2. The Jets will allow a season-high 155 rushing yards. New York has allowed an NFL-low 3.0 yards per carry while Baltimore has run for a league-best 5.5 yards per rush, which should make for an entertaining matchup between those units. Jackson is nursing a sore quad and the Ravens have some concern about the lower-body hits he’s recently been taking — some legal, others borderline, and a couple correctly drawing flags — so they’d love to make this game more about Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards to protect their quarterback against a defense coached by Gregg Williams, whose history speaks for itself.

3. Sam Darnold will again see “ghosts” while throwing two picks and being sacked four times. The second-year quarterback has posted a respectable 92.7 passer rating since his Week 7 debacle against blitz-happy New England, but Pro Football Focus has graded Darnold 30th among 32 qualifying passers against the blitz and no one blitzes as frequently or effectively as the Ravens. That’s not a recipe for success playing on the road on a short week. Baltimore hasn’t intercepted a pass over the last two weeks after recording a pick in the eight previous games. A new streak begins Thursday.

4. Le’Veon Bell will catch a touchdown pass against an old foe. The biggest headline the former Pittsburgh star running back has made of late was his impressive bowling score the night before a game in which he’d been ruled out due to the flu. The marriage between him and the Jets was doomed from the start with head coach Adam Gase apparently not wanting the big-ticket free agent, but Bell has averaged only 3.2 yards per carry after his one-year holdout from the NFL. Maybe the 27-year-old finds some room on the edges against the blitz-happy Ravens, a team in which he had interest in the offseason.

5. The Ravens will win their 10th straight game in a 30-13 final over New York. You never quite know what to expect with these Thursday games and the Baltimore offense is more banged up than you’d like to see with an abbreviated week, but the Jets are dealing with an even longer list of injuries themselves and bring arguably the worst offense in the NFL against a defense playing as well as anybody since the season’s opening month. New York has played better of late, but its four wins over the last five weeks have come against teams with a combined 14-38 record while the Ravens just completed an undefeated stretch in which they played six out of seven games against teams currently 8-5 or better. Baltimore’s last two games were much more of a grind, but the Jets aren’t anywhere close to the caliber of San Francisco or Buffalo, which is why the Ravens will take care of business rather comfortably for their 12th straight win in prime-time home games.

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Ravens list Jackson, Andrews questionable and Stanley doubtful for Thursday

Posted on 11 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson is expected to play against the New York Jets on Thursday night, but he’s unlikely to have his standout left tackle protecting his blindside.

Jackson was upgraded to full participation on Wednesday’s estimated injury report — Baltimore conducted a walk-through — and declared his intentions to play on Tuesday despite sustaining a minor quad injury on the 61-yard touchdown pass to Hayden Hurst early in the third quarter of Sunday’s 24-17 win at Buffalo. The 22-year-old noted that he got hurt throwing the ball and not running — a playful jab at his critics — but he appeared to be moving around fine in the portion of Tuesday’s practice open to reporters.

“I was just celebrating [after the touchdown]. But I was like, ‘Ugh, I’m kind of sore,’ but I’m good now,” said Jackson, who also deemed himself 100 percent. “It was worth it — 100 percent worth it. It was.”

While Jackson was officially listed as questionable for Thursday’s game, the Ravens have designated left tackle Ronnie Stanley as doubtful after he sustained a concussion at some point during Sunday’s win over the Bills. Stanley played every offensive snap, but he apparently reported concussion-related symptoms either later Sunday or Monday morning.

With Stanley not taking part in practices all week, veteran swing tackle James Hurst is expected to start in his place. It’s an unsettling development against a Jets defense that figures to be aggressive against the dynamic dual-threat quarterback, but Jackson expressed confidence in Stanley’s replacement, who has made 42 career NFL starts at different offensive line positions but has struggled at left tackle.

“We have James Hurst. I know he’ll fill in and do a great job,” Jackson said. “We want Ronnie back, but we have James. We’re going to be good.”

The biggest unknown among Baltimore’s injured players is probably tight end Mark Andrews (knee), who was listed as questionable after being a limited participant on Tuesday and Wednesday and missing the entire second half of the Buffalo game. Andrews leads the Ravens with 54 receptions for 707 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Defensive end Jihad Ward (elbow) and defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) were also listed as questionable.

The Ravens’ injury picture isn’t ideal, but the Jets are in even worse shape and have listed eight players as either out or doubtful to play in Week 15. Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams (ankle) and first-round rookie defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (neck) are doubtful to play while right tackle Chuma Edoga (knee) and starting tight end Ryan Griffin (ankle) have already been ruled out.

According to Weather.com, the Thursday night forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly clear skies and temperatures falling to the low 30s with no precipitation and calm winds.

Below is the final injury report for Thursday night’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: LB Chris Board (concussion)
DOUBTFUL: OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Mark Andrews (knee), QB Lamar Jackson (quad), S Anthony Levine (ankle), DE Jihad Ward (elbow)

NEW YORK
OUT: OL Chuma Edoga (knee), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), CB Brian Poole (concussion), RB Bilal Powell (ankle/illness)
DOUBTFUL: S Jamal Adams (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (calf), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee), DL Quinnen Williams (neck)
QUESTIONABLE: DL Henry Anderson (shoulder), OL Kelvin Beachum (ankles), S Matthias Farley (ankle), DL Steve McLendon (knee/hip), RB Ty Montgomery (foot/hip), DL Nathan Sheperd (ankle)

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) throws a pass under pressure by Buffalo Bills defensive end Trent Murphy (93) during the second half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The Ravens won 24-17. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

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Lamar Jackson “day-to-day” with quad issue as Ravens turn toward Jets

Posted on 09 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Needing to quickly turn their sights toward a Thursday meeting with the New York Jets, the Ravens are dealing with injuries to three of their most important offensive players.

Star quarterback and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson was listed as a limited participant for Monday’s walk-through with a quad issue and only arrived on the field at the conclusion of the media viewing portion of practice. Jackson appeared to be walking with a slight limp and is believed to have sustained the injury on the low hit from Buffalo defensive end Trent Murphy that drew a roughing the passer penalty early in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-17 win. The 22-year-old finished the game without any noticeable effects, throwing a short touchdown pass to Willie Snead to end the same drive and rushing twice for four yards before his final two kneel-downs to end the game.

Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III handled the starter reps during the open portion of the walk-through, but Tuesday and Wednesday should provide a better idea of Jackson’s status for Week 15.

“We’ll see. It’s less than 24 hours after the game — just about — so it’s hard to say,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday evening. “It’s not a serious injury in that sense, but this is day-to-day and we play Thursday night. We’ll see where we’re at.”

Complicating matters is the health of standout left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is in the concussion protocol despite playing all 60 offensive snaps against the Bills. His potential absence would be significant for even a fully healthy Jackson and the NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense as Pro Football Focus has graded Stanley as the top left tackle in the league in 2019.

With such a quick turnaround doing the Ravens no favors this week, it’s unclear whether Stanley or tight end and top receiver Mark Andrews (knee) — who exited in the first half of Sunday’s game — will be able to play against the Jets.

“I’m not going to get into injuries. We just got done playing the game 24 hours ago,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to play a game Thursday night. The guys that are ready to play will play, the guys that aren’t won’t, so just look at the injury report and take it from there.”

Defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle) and linebacker Chris Board (concussion) also missed practice after exiting Sunday’s game early.

A win over the Jets would clinch the AFC North division title for the 11-2 Ravens, but they can also clinch a first-round bye with a win and a loss by either New England or Kansas City in Week 15. The Ravens need only two wins in their final three games to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs without any other help.

The Jets listed 14 players as non-participants or limited during Monday’s practice. That list includes Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams (ankle), who didn’t practice and missed Sunday’s game against Miami. Running back Le’Veon Bell was a full participant after sitting out Week 14 with an illness.

There are no shortage of former Ravens on the New York roster with guard Alex Lewis, safety Bennett Jackson, cornerback Maurice Canady, and running back Ty Montgomery among them. However, one familiar face Baltimore won’t see Thursday is four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who was placed on injured reserve last week.

Mosley is in the first season of a five-year, $85 million contract signed in March, but a serious groin injury could have negative ramifications for the Ravens, who were expecting to net a third-round compensatory pick in next year’s draft for the departure of their star inside linebacker. With Mosley playing in just two games this season, that draft choice could end up being only a fourth-round choice.

“We love him and appreciate everything he did for us,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a tough break with the groin, but he’ll bounce back. He’s a great player, a hard worker and a good guy, but I haven’t really thought that much about it.”

Below is Monday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Mark Andrews (knee), LB Chris Board (concussion), S Anthony Levine (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (concussion)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Lamar Jackson (quad), DE Jihad Ward (elbow)

NEW YORK
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Jamal Adams (ankle), OL Chuma Edoga (knee), TE Ryan Griffin (ankle), CB Arthur Maulet (calf), CB Brian Poole (concussion), RB Bilal Powell (ankle/illness), WR Demaryius Thomas (hamstring/knee), DL Quinnen Williams (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Matthias Farley (ankle), DL Henry Anderson (shoulder), OL Kelvin Beachum (ankles), DL Steve McLendon (knee/hip), RB Ty Montgomery (foot/hip), DL Nathan Sheperd (ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Le’Veon Bell (illness), CB Maurice Canady (shoulder), OL Tom Compton (ankle), QB Sam Darnold (knee/left thumb), QB David Fales (right elbow), LB Paul Worrilow (quad)

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Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, center, has the ball knocked loose as he is hit by Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Matt Judon (99), right, during the first half of an NFL football game in Orchard Park, N.Y., Sunday, Dec. 8, 2019. The fumble was recovered by Ravens defensive end Jihad Ward. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 14 win at Buffalo

Posted on 09 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their ninth straight game in a 24-17 final over Buffalo to officially clinch a playoff spot, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. You thought it could be over when Baltimore received the ball with seven minutes left, but a clock-smothering offense was stonewalled, leaving it up to the defense. As Matthew Judon said, “We want to be the heroes sometimes.” Late (and questionable) penalties aside, the defense saved the day.

2. Despite holding an opponent under 20 points for the seventh time in eight games, the defense had some shakier coverage than the numbers suggest. Bills quarterback Josh Allen missed some shots and was harassed to the tune of six sacks and 12 hits. The difference in quarterback play was obvious.

3. Sunday wasn’t his best day as Lamar Jackson fought challenging elements and a tough defense for the second straight week, but he shook off a rough first half to go 11-for-15 for 115 yards and two touchdowns after intermission. You’re probably the MVP favorite when a three-touchdown day feels ho-hum.

4. Hayden Hurst has faced an uphill battle after a foot injury as a rookie, but his 61-yard touchdown to begin the second half was massive and he’s caught 26 of 32 targets this season. Has Hurst really been a disappointment or has Mark Andrews’ phenom status simply hurt his perception?

5. The only thing better than Marcus Peters’ breakup of Allen’s fourth-down throw to John Brown to seal the victory was his Stone Cold Steve Austin-like celebration. He bounced back from last week’s rough showing against San Francisco in a big way with three pass breakups and four tackles.

6. When the 4-2 Ravens began a stretch of six of seven against teams over .500 in October, you probably hoped for a 5-2 mark and would have lived with a 4-3 record. Baltimore went 7-0 with a plus-150 point differential and is 7-1 against teams currently 8-5 or better. Domination.

7. Credit the Bills defense for limiting the Ravens to a season-low 118 rushing yards. To hold Jackson to his lowest rushing total since Week 1 and Mark Ingram to just 3.3 yards per carry was impressive and helps explain why Greg Roman was so out of sync as a play-caller.

8. Sam Koch’s seven punts more than doubled his previous season high (three). He hadn’t punted more than four times in any of Jackson’s first 19 regular-season starts, so you hope his kicking leg is recovered enough in time for Thursday night.

9. With their offense shattering franchise records left and right, you could have made some money betting on the Ravens being part of the first NFL game this season in which both teams had fewer than 100 yards of offense in the first half. Sports are funny.

10. Marquise Brown has four catches for minus-one yard and the Ravens have logged only two plays of 20 or more yards that weren’t aided by penalty over the last two games. Dealing with foot and ankle issues, the rookie could probably use a January bye week as much as anyone.

11. Jaylon Ferguson rebounding from last week’s performance against San Francisco was encouraging as the rookie registered a sack, three quarterback hits, and three tackles. His continued development will be critical down the stretch, especially against outside runs.

12. The Ravens tied the franchise record with their sixth road win of 2019 and extended their team-record away winning streak to five. Because of that, they will very likely play just one more road game this season — unless you want to consider Miami on Feb. 2.

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Ravens-49ers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 November 2019 by Luke Jones

A Super Bowl rematch and preview?

The Ravens have emerged as the Super Bowl favorite in the eyes of many, but San Francisco is an overtime field goal away from still being undefeated, making this the largest remaining regular-season test for a John Harbaugh team that’s dominated the competition for the better part of the last six weeks. Both teams face an extra challenge in this one as the 49ers will play a 1 p.m. Eastern time zone game while Baltimore is on short rest after playing a Monday night game across the country in Los Angeles.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the sixth time ever in the regular season and the first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 3-2 margin and defeated San Francisco 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII nearly seven years ago.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. The Ravens will lose a fumble for the first time since Week 9. The loss of center Matt Skura to a season-ending knee injury and the elevation of rookie Patrick Mekari to the starting lineup already raised concern since Baltimore works from the shotgun or pistol formation roughly 95 percent of the time, but Sunday’s forecast continues to call for rain, creating an extra challenge against the NFC’s best defense. Remarkably, the Ravens have lost only four fumbles all season despite many mesh-point plays in which the quarterback or running back can be prone to mistake. They’re probably due for another.

2. Mark Andrews and George Kittle will each catch a touchdown. Pro Football Focus ranks Kittle first and Andrews second in its season grading at the tight end position, which says a lot about the former fifth- and third-round draft picks. Despite being an every-down player compared to Andrews having more of a situational workload, Kittle has only three touchdown receptions in nine games this season. Meanwhile, Andrews is one touchdown catch shy of tying the franchise single-season record for a tight end (seven), which is currently shared by Todd Heap (2005) and Dennis Pitta (2012).

3. Chuck Clark will intercept his first pass of the season. It’s easy to take for granted what Clark has done replacing Tony Jefferson at safety, relaying the calls in the defensive huddle, and moving down to the dime spot since he doesn’t make many splash plays. However, his emergence is one of the notable reasons why this ascending defense now ranks in the top 10 in several categories and is fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Clark and other defensive teammates will have a substantial challenge slowing Kittle, but he’ll bait 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into an underneath mistake in wet conditions.

4. Lamar Jackson will set an NFL record with his fourth 100-yard rushing game of 2019. The 49ers defense is much stronger against the pass, but the heralded group is just 19th against the run, which spells trouble against a rushing attack averaging 210.5 yards per game. Nothing Jackson does surprises me anymore as he enters Week 13 tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes, but the weather and matchup set up for this to be more of a legs day for the MVP favorite. He hasn’t eclipsed the century mark on the ground since Week 7, so why not? Doing so would set a single-season quarterback record.

5. The Ravens will win their eighth straight game in a 27-13 final over San Francisco. It’s not that I don’t believe the 49ers are a very good team, but it’d be disingenuous to say I believe this is going to be a particularly close game. What we’ve watched over the last six weeks is not only the most impressive regular-season run in Ravens history, but it ranks up there among the most impressive regular-season stretches by any team in recent memory. Double-digit blowouts aren’t the norm in the NFL, but the Ravens are trying to convince you otherwise, almost making you think you’re watching a Clemson or an Alabama play its early-season out-of-conference schedule instead of an NFL team going up against quality competition. This won’t last forever, but I’m not betting against Baltimore until it’s stopped. It won’t be a fourth straight Robert Griffin III mop-up game, but the 49ers don’t have the firepower to keep up with the NFL’s best offense, which still feels so strange to say about a Ravens team.

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Ravens-Rams: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 24 November 2019 by Luke Jones

You win on the road in the regular season to play at home in January.

The 8-2 Ravens travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in hopes of improving to 5-1 on the road and winning what would be a team-record fourth straight regular-season away game. Baltimore hasn’t posted a winning road record since 2010, but an explosive offense and a rapidly improving defense have traveled well, making John Harbaugh’s team the best in the NFL in the eyes of many.

Meanwhile, the 6-4 Rams are aiming to record their fourth win in five games as they enter Week 12 three games out in the NFC West and 1 1/2 games behind the second wild-card spot in the NFC. The urgency is certainly there for Los Angeles to take care of business at home.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the seventh time ever in the regular season and first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 4-2 margin and are 2-0 in the Harbaugh era, but this is their first ever trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Marcus Peters will register an interception against his former team. The Ravens defensive back insists he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder returning to Los Angeles after being traded last month, but that won’t stop the man Wink Martindale called a cornerback “savant” from preying on Rams quarterback Jared Goff, whose superb first two seasons under coach Sean McVay feel like a long time ago. Peters came away with an interception against Kansas City on Monday Night Football last year, and he’ll pull off the same trick against another former team.

2. Brandin Cooks will catch a touchdown as the Rams use a no-huddle approach. Teams need to be aggressive and step outside their comfort zone if they want to have a real chance to beat Baltimore on either side of the ball right now. An up-tempo, no-huddle attack is a risky proposition with the Ravens’ ability to control the clock on the other side, but it neutralizes Martindale’s ability to substitute and tests the stamina of what’s still an ordinary group of pass rushers. New England had some success with this strategy in Week 9, but no Baltimore opponent has really tried it since then.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw touchdowns to Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. The Rams have a talented trio at cornerback, but Ravens wide receivers aren’t a big part of the passing attack anyway, which will make it interesting to see how Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tries to use top corner Jalen Ramsey. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton is strong in coverage and safety Taylor Rapp is capable as well, but their responsibilities against the run will make it difficult to consistently stick with Baltimore’s tight ends. Hurst has caught 20 of his 24 targets and is long overdue for a score.

4. Aaron Donald will record a sack for the sixth straight game. You need Pro Bowl-caliber talent and discipline at every level to have any meaningful chance of slowing down Jackson and the Ravens offense, but the biggest key might be having an interior player who can control the line of scrimmage against the run and pass. Pittsburgh’s Cam Heyward did it in Week 5 — the Ravens’ worst offensive showing of 2019 at just 3.8 yards per play — and Donald is widely considered the NFL’s best defensive player. Marshal Yanda, Matt Skura, and Bradley Bozeman will have their hands full.

5. Another strong dual-threat showing from Jackson will be the difference in a 27-16 win. The more desperate Rams coming away with a victory wouldn’t shock me as this is one of Baltimore’s more difficult remaining games on the schedule and I’m not expecting Harbaugh’s team to win out looking from a macro perspective. At the same time, it’s tough envisioning the Los Angeles defense getting enough stops and a middling Rams offense producing enough touchdown drives for the math to add up unless the Ravens beat themselves with turnovers and penalties. Over the last four games, Baltimore has committed just three turnovers with ex-Raven Cyrus Jones and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III accounting for two. This team is making explosive plays and playing smart football, a good formula for winning anywhere. It doesn’t hurt having the current MVP favorite on your side either.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win at Cincinnati

Posted on 12 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their fifth consecutive game in a 49-13 final at Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After posting a 158.3 passer rating 30 miles from his hometown in Week 1, Lamar Jackson had another perfect day 100 miles from where he won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville. Playing like that in front of so many who watched him on his path to NFL stardom is special.

2. Being traded in the middle of a contract year can be a challenging transition, but Marcus Peters has now returned two interceptions for touchdowns over his first three games as a Raven. A cornerback with a boom-or-bust reputation is putting himself in position for a huge payday.

3. Marquise Brown has caught seven of eight targets for 128 yards and a touchdown since returning from an ankle sprain. The rookie performing like this at less than 100 percent continues to be impressive and encouraging for his future if he can stay healthy.

4. The Ravens haven’t posted a winning road record in the regular season since 2010, but they’re 4-1 in away games this season and 6-2 on the road since Jackson became the starter last year. Road success in the regular season is what allows teams to play at home in January.

5. Brandon Williams has played some of the best football of his career in recent weeks, which included a season-best seven tackles in 59 defensive snaps with Michael Pierce exiting Sunday’s game early. Williams’ Week 4 spat with Earl Thomas feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

6. Nick Boyle had four catches for a career-high 78 yards and has now set a new single-season high in receiving yards nine games into 2019. Mark Andrews headlines, but all three Baltimore tight ends have been superb, combining to catch 71.6 percent of targets for 949 yards and seven touchdowns.

7. In a combined 30 snaps between offense and defense, Patrick Ricard had a big block on Mark Ingram’s touchdown run, recorded a tackle for no gain, logged a strip-sack returned by Tyus Bowser for a touchdown, and had another tackle for a minimal gain. That’s quite a splash.

8. The “Heisman Package” resulted in a 12-yard gain as Jackson pitched to Robert Griffin III on the option. As John Harbaugh said, “Guys like to have fun,” but I’m now expecting Vinny Testaverde, Ricky Williams, and Troy Smith to come back if they’re serious about this Heisman thing.

9. With the return of Jimmy Smith, the arrival of Peters, and the shift of Brandon Carr to safety and Chuck Clark to the box in the dime, Anthony Levine has played only 11 defensive snaps since the bye. Levine is a good player, but it speaks to improved secondary depth.

10. Sam Koch didn’t have to punt until the 1:14 mark of the fourth quarter in Cincinnati. His career low for punts in a season is 60, but the longtime Raven is currently on pace to punt only 37 times in 2019. Things sure have changed here in Baltimore.

11. Jackson did the heavy lifting, but CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan’s call of the electric 47-yard touchdown run was a lot of fun. Harlan is one of the more underrated broadcasters in the business. “He is Houdini!” will be remembered by Ravens fans for a long time.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one who thought of Tony Siragusa late in the Ravens’ 2000 playoff win over Tennessee when Jackson was shown wearing sunglasses on the sideline. Siragusa gets bonus points for taking those shades from Brian Billick and that being a more important game, however.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over New England

Posted on 05 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 6-2 for the first time since 2012 after a 37-20 win over New England, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore couldn’t have asked for a better start with 17 points on the first three drives against a team that hadn’t allowed more than 14 points in an entire game. The Ravens gained 133 yards in that first quarter while the Patriots possessed the ball for all of 132 seconds.

2. You knew it couldn’t continue to be that easy when Cyrus Jones muffed the punt early in the second quarter. The Gilman product has been pretty sure-handed with the Ravens, but coughing one up against his original team had to bring back some unpleasant memories that hopefully won’t linger.

3. The defense did strong work holding the Patriots to field goals on the final two drives of the first half, but kicking twice inside the 5 didn’t feel very “Belichickian.” Was it hubris that his defense had figured out the Ravens offense or some telling concern about his own offense?

4. To drain more than 17 minutes from the clock over its last two drives (not counting the final two kneels) speaks to this offense’s ability to crush an opponent’s soul. Lamar Jackson’s conversions to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead in that third-quarter drive were massive when leading by just four.

5. Earl Thomas played his best game as a Raven as he recorded a quarterback hit and grabbed his first interception since the opener. However, his best play came late in the second quarter when he broke up a Tom Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman at the goal line.

6. Marquise Brown didn’t post big numbers in his return from an ankle sprain, but his diving third-down reception and his catch and run for 26 yards set the tone on that opening drive. He wasn’t at full speed, but his presence is important for this offense to continue to thrive.

7. The rotation at inside linebacker was about what we expected, but Patrick Onwuasor reminded why he’s more effective playing the weak-side spot. He tied for the team lead with eight tackles, recorded a sack on a blitz, and forced the fumble returned for a touchdown by Marlon Humphrey.

8. Sunday was five seasons in the making for Nick Boyle, who caught his first career touchdown. Boyle is the constant in a tight end room that’s changed plenty since he was drafted in 2015 — three rounds after Maxx Williams — so it was cool seeing him enjoy the celebration with teammates.

9. Not only did Brandon Carr see extensive work at safety in the dime and quarter packages when Chuck Clark moved to linebacker, but he often played deep as Wink Martindale moved Thomas around the field. Carr, 33, rolls with the punches and embraces whatever the defense needs from him.

10. In addition to the conservative decisions to kick short field goals, New England committed four penalties that gave the Ravens first downs, headlined by a neutral-zone infraction turning a short field goal into a touchdown on the opening drive. A few of those flags were back breakers.

11. No team has advanced to the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye since the 2012 Ravens. At 6-2, the goal is no longer to simply win an underwhelming AFC North. Several tough opponents remain, but securing the first weekend off in January is more than doable.

12. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Lenny Moore being in the building was special and highlights how incredible Baltimore’s football history is. Seeing Reed watch from the sideline reminded me of the legendary Johnny Unitas watching the new Ravens years ago. Sunday night was an electric atmosphere.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 02 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The question has been asked since the final seconds ticked away in the Ravens’ statement win at Seattle two weeks ago.

How will Baltimore attack a New England defense that’s given up an absurd 7.6 points per game and third-down conversions just 15.6 percent of the time this season? The Patriots defense has scored as many touchdowns (four) as it’s allowed all year. Easy schedule or not, you just don’t see those kinds of amazing numbers in the modern NFL that panders to offense.

A Bill Belichick defense tries to take away what an opponent does best, forcing its offense to play “left-handed.” But no one makes a defense look like it’s playing with two left feet quite like Lamar Jackson, creating one of the most fascinating matchups of the season.

You can bet on Belichick and the Patriots showing Jackson something he hasn’t seen in his first full year as a starter, but New England hasn’t faced anyone quite like the 22-year-old, making New England’s streak of 21 straight wins over rookie or second-year quarterbacks less relevant.

“We’ll see how good they are once we play them,” Ravens tight end Nick Boyle said. “I mean I don’t think they’ve seen anyone like our offense or like Lamar — special player. But they’re a good team, and we really need to bring our ‘A’ game and make sure we’re on everything.”

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the first time since 2016 and the 10th time overall in the regular-season series with the Patriots enjoying an 8-1 mark. The Ravens are just 1-3 against New England in Baltimore, but they’re 3-6 overall against the Patriots in the John Harbaugh era, which includes a 2-2 record in the postseason.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Mark Ingram will rush for 100 yards for the first time since Week 3. Recent opponents have committed to stopping the Baltimore running game between the tackles, which has led to Jackson running wild off the edge while Ingram has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry over the last three games. One of the Patriots’ biggest strengths is their discipline, which will keep Jackson from dominating with his legs. However, their relative weakness has been stopping the run as Buffalo and Cleveland — the only good ground games New England has faced — both averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry. The Patriots have a good front, but it isn’t dominant enough to contain both Jackson and Ingram.

2. A trick play will lead to a Patriots touchdown. New England leads the league in points scored, but 25 takeaways mask what’s been a mediocre start for an offense ranking 16th in yards per game, 23rd in rush offense, 18th on third down, and 23rd inside the red zone. Meanwhile, the Ravens are coming off their best defensive showing of the season against Seattle. The defensive communication and discipline have improved in recent weeks, but there are still many new parts to this group and Tom Brady and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are aware of that. With two receivers — Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu — capable of throwing the ball, the Ravens must be on alert for trickery.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw for 180 yards and a touchdown to Mark Andrews with no turnovers. The Patriots play more man coverage — and play it better — than anyone in the league, but a secondary turning its back to Jackson is a dangerous proposition when he breaks free from the pocket, which is why opponents are forced to play more zone against him. Zone coverage creates the throwing lanes a more accurate Jackson has taken better advantage of this year. New England is also very good playing zone and opportunities for big plays against a terrific pass defense will be sparse, but Jackson’s improvement protecting the ball has been the most overlooked part of his progress this year.

4. James White will catch a touchdown and be Tom Brady’s leading receiver. With Marlon Humphrey likely to travel with Edelman, Brady will need to look elsewhere for consistent completions with White ranking second on the team with 42 catches for 358 yards. Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort have brought stability at inside linebacker, but that’s still an area of the defense opponents should try to exploit. New England must rely on scheme more than ever without dynamic talent at the skill positions, so look for White to find space underneath thanks to some creative looks and formations. Of course, if the toe injury that landed White on Friday’s injury report is an issue, all bets could be off here.

5. A late takeaway and superior special teams will help the Ravens hold on for a 20-17 win. Neither of these teams is built to play from behind, making it critical for Baltimore to stay on schedule and have a lead entering the fourth quarter when the ground game can impose its will. But special teams will also loom large in a tight game with Football Outsiders ranking Baltimore first in efficiency and New England ranking an uncharacteristic 26th and having just signed new kicker Nick Folk this week. Justin Tucker is a perfect 16-for-16 on field goals this season and will once again be a difference-maker in a close tilt. The Ravens are the more rested team and are 9-2 coming off their bye under Harbaugh, which will give them another edge in handing the Patriots their first defeat of 2019. What more could you ask for in the first Sunday night game played in Baltimore since 2012?

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Ravens reach one-year extension with wide receiver Willie Snead

Posted on 28 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have agreed to a one-year extension with veteran wide receiver Willie Snead through the 2020 season.

According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the deal is worth a guaranteed $6 million. With Baltimore entering Monday with only $1.807 million in salary cap space, the timing of the agreement leads one to assume general manager Eric DeCosta is creating some flexibility for a potential move by Tuesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline. Snead was carrying a $7.2 million cap number for this season that included a $3 million base salary and $2.2 million in potential incentives, but the structure of the extension and the actual space cleared remains to be seen.

Through the first seven games of the season, the 27-year-old Snead has registered just 15 receptions for 223 yards and two touchdowns while rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown and second-year tight end Mark Andrews have become Lamar Jackson’s primary targets in the passing game. Snead is regarded as a good blocker and has played more snaps than any other Baltimore wide receiver, but Pro Football Focus has graded the 5-foot-11, 200-pound slot man 84th among qualified wide receivers.

Snead caught 62 passes for 651 yards and a touchdown in his first season with Baltimore last year after spending his first three seasons with New Orleans where he caught 149 passes for 1,971 yards and seven touchdowns.

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