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Lamar Jackson has quickly changed who is in those purple seats downtown

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

I am usually the guy that local folks seek out to discuss Ravens game strategy or the mood around the locker room or the stats and the history of the franchise.

Needless to say, it’s a good time to put the purple flamingo back on the lawn in the Charm City. And, yes, I am working on Purple Reign 3 as we speak…

The Baltimore Ravens are 2-0. The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Washington Redskins are 0-2. Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season. And I am headed to Kansas City to get my hands soaked in BBQ and my breathe wet with craft beer to watch the greatest show in the NFL right now with Patrick Mahomes and the looming game (and rematch) of the week.

And all of that has put me in a wonderful mood but there is only one story and one discussion around the Baltimore Ravens right now – and that’s Lamar Jackson.

(This is the part where I call him, “Mr. Jackson, if you’re Nasty!”)

Forget Janet and The Jackson 5 – this is The Jackson 53 here in Baltimore.

We all watched No. 8 run around last winter and excite us with the possibilities of a spread offense and a quarterback who is the fastest guy on the field. It saved the job of a head coach and rapidly got a Super Bowl MVP and parade leader benched, traded and (now somehow) quickly forgotten.

Joe Cool became Joe Who?

For eight months of an offseason fraught with massive changes and debate about the merits of our quarterback running into linebackers 15 times a game, we all said “Lamar Jackson needs to improve at throwing the football.”

Well…he has improved. That much is clear.

And even after a home win and the “feel goods” in the locker room after the game, it was also clear to anyone within breathing space of Lamar Jackson that he was not real pleased with his effort. He missed a few passes. He misread some things. His frustration was evident. And without throwing that over-the-shoulder dime to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown with the game on the line, it might’ve turned out differently.

He knew that and didn’t like it.

You might’ve been happy after the Ravens 23-17 victory but Lamar Jackson was fairly dissatisfied.

A few us saw him wait out Mark Ingram and talk at length with him at their locker. It was clear that Lamar wanted to climb in the backseat of Ingram’s car and go home with him to talk more football and watch more film but instead departed the stadium solo.

Tens minutes later, as I departed the stadium to walk home, I saw him creating this madness outside the media exit:

And then the video surfaced of him pulling over to sign more autographs for fans.

As a lifer PSL holder, my observations about Sunday didn’t have as much to do with the football team as they did the climate inside the

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andrews

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Ravens list Andrews, M. Brown, three others questionable for home opener

Posted on 13 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will be without cornerback Jimmy Smith for Sunday’s season opener, but all other players are expected to play against Arizona.

Tight end Mark Andrews (foot) and wide receiver Marquise Brown (hip) sat out Friday’s practice, but their availability isn’t in doubt despite both being designated as questionable on the final injury report. Brown also sat out last Friday’s practice, but Andrews’ absence came as more of a surprise after he hadn’t been listed on the injury report all week. The pair combined for 12 catches for 255 yards and three touchdowns in the 59-10 win over Miami last Sunday.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (back), running back Mark Ingram (shoulder), and linebacker Tyus Bowser (groin) were also listed as questionable, but each will play against the Cardinals. Ingram and Bowser practiced all week while Humphrey was a limited participant Thursday and Friday after missing Wednesday’s workout.

“No concern about Marquise or Mark Andrews,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Nope, no concern. No concern about any of those guys.”

Meanwhile, the Cardinals ruled out reserve offensive lineman Lamont Gaillard. Defensive end Jonathan Bullard is questionable after failing to practice all week.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Mark Andrews (foot), LB Tyus Bowser (groin), WR Marquise Brown (hip), CB Marlon Humphrey (back), RB Mark Ingram (shoulder)

ARIZONA
OUT: OL Lamont Gaillard (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: DL Jonathan Bullard (hamstring)

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marquisebrown

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 1 win over Miami

Posted on 10 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their season opener in a record-setting 59-10 final at Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith missing “multiple weeks” with a knee injury will test the diminishing depth at cornerback, but the silver lining is an extended audition for Anthony Averett, whom the Ravens have viewed as possible starter material. Averett can now prove it with Smith in the final year of his deal.

2. You can’t expect an 83-yard touchdown every week, but Lamar Jackson’s first scoring throw to Marquise Brown came on a simple run-pass option against an eight-man box. Those backside double slants will kill defenses if Jackson simply plays pitch and catch.

3. Jackson’s “not bad for a running back” quip received much attention, but the image below shows a third-and-three play in which the left edge was clear and Ronnie Stanley was signaling for him to run to easily move the chains. A moment later, Jackson threw the beautiful bomb to Brown.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

4. Speaking of the 2019 first-round pick, just 14 snaps produced four catches, 147 yards, and two touchdowns. Just imagine what he might do when fully acclimated to the offense. For those keeping track, he’s now one touchdown shy of Breshad Perriman’s career total with Baltimore.

5. The pass rush produced three sacks and 12 quarterback hits, but failing to create havoc against that overwhelmed Dolphins line would have been a red flag. Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser played pretty well, but pass rush remains a real question mark until we see it against a better opponent.

6. Bradley Bozeman received praise from John Harbaugh and earned another start at left guard for Week 2 at the very least. He helped set the tone for the day with a excellent pull block to spring Mark Ingram for 49 yards on the first play from scrimmage.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

7. Patrick Onwuasor is so aggressive that he occasionally takes himself out of the play and still has to show consistency in coverage, but he’s the fastest linebacker Baltimore has had since a young Ray Lewis. He was incredibly active and played all but one defensive snap.

8. After a quiet first half, Mark Andrews became the monster reporters watched all summer with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown after intermission. Deep-strike passes may not be there every week, but you should get used to hearing “Jackson to Andrews over the middle.”

9. Leading 35-0, the Ravens had every right to run a fake punt with plenty of ballgame left late in the second quarter. However, going for a fourth-and-goal at the 3 with a 52-10 lead and under 10 minutes to go seemed a bit much or “Belichickian,” if you will.

10. Despite Chris Board having a clear lead throughout the spring and summer competition, Kenny Young played eight more snaps at the weak-side inside linebacker position. A preseason concussion cost Board some time last month, but Young has apparently stepped it up in recent weeks.

11. In his first game as general manager, Eric DeCosta watched his two big free-agent acquisitions — Ingram and Earl Thomas — immediately make splash plays and his first ever draft pick catch two touchdowns in the opening quarter. DeCosta couldn’t have written a better opening script.

12. Reports of Miami players wanting out after the embarrassing loss raise a real question. Tanking in basketball or baseball is one thing, but putting your body on the line with no chance of winning in a sport with greater safety concerns and non-guaranteed contracts? I don’t blame them at all.

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huddle

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Jackson, Ravens put defenses on notice with Week 1 explosion

Posted on 09 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Lamar Jackson was sensational in the Ravens’ season-opening blowout win over Miami.

It was far and away the best performance of his young career and a tremendous showing by any NFL quarterbacking standard. His 324-yard, five-touchdown, turnover-free showing was the most efficient regular-season game ever played by a Ravens quarterback. Such damage being done on just 20 passing attempts — for context, Joe Flacco never threw more than two touchdowns on 20 or fewer throws — isn’t something to dismiss because of the quality of opponent.

Yes, the 2019 Dolphins were as terrible as advertised Sunday, but their secondary was one of the few position groups resembling a representative NFL group — at least on paper. Many Baltimore quarterbacks have played bad opponents over the years with Jackson producing the only perfect passer rating (158.3) in team history. Only two other Ravens quarterbacks — Flacco in 2014 and Tony Banks in 2000 — had thrown five touchdown passes in a game. Jackson couldn’t have been more impressive, regardless of who was on the other side or what happens going forward.

After too frequently missing wide-open throws as a rookie, Jackson completing 85 percent of his passes reflected the improved footwork, mechanics, and accuracy he showed over the summer, variables having little to do with the opponent. And while there were definitely examples of poor coverage Sunday, NFL Next Gen Stats calculated the expected completion percentage (how the “average” quarterback fares with the same variables on each of those passing plays) on his 20 throws at only 60.2 percent, meaning he dramatically outperformed the degree of difficulty.

Trying to determine how much of Sunday’s outcome was the result of Jackson’s growth compared to Miami’s ineptitude is really a fruitless exercise, but what can we take away from the performance? Jackson may never post another perfect passer rating or five-touchdown game in his career, but that doesn’t mean his career day was devoid of real improvement.

Below is a look at Jackson’s passer rating divided by area of target last season:

His 170 passing attempts during his rookie season didn’t make for a huge sample size, but it was large enough to show his success over the middle and that he was better throwing to his right than his left.

Below is his passing chart from Sunday:

To no surprise, we saw plenty of passes between the numbers and to the right with the obvious change being the deep passing explosions, the game-changing development. There isn’t much passing activity to the left, which could have been a product of the presence of Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard on that side of the field as well as the struggles showed there last year. This isn’t a negative as offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Jackson should be playing to his strengths in the same way that a pitcher with a great slider and a mediocre changeup should be leaning much more heavily on the former.

According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson was 10-for-11 for a whopping 276 yards and five touchdowns inside the numbers compared to 7-for-9 for 48 yards outside the numbers for a more pedestrian 5.33 yards per attempt. Anyone wondering about the 22-year-old’s progress on intermediate and deep throws to the outside didn’t learn much as those simply weren’t required in Week 1.

Ironically, the Miami defense achieved its goal of preventing Jackson from running as Dolphins defensive tackle Davon Godchaux indicated after the game. The speedy quarterback had only two real rushes for seven yards with his other attempt being a kneel to end the first half.

Head coach John Harbaugh was asked Monday if that might be closer to the new norm after Jackson set a modern record for rushing attempts by a quarterback last season. The number of times he runs — or doesn’t run — will remain a hot topic for everyone outside the team’s Owings Mills training facility.

“If they allow Lamar to run, he’s going to run. They didn’t,” Harbaugh said. “They were taking it away for sure. It was part of their plan not to allow him to run. If people decide that that’s going to be the way it’s going to go, he’s not going to run. That’s the way the offense is organized. We’re not worried about it at all.”

What Sunday showed is that the Ravens may now have another dangerous way to beat you if you’re going to sell out to try to stop the run, something many teams failed to do down the stretch last year anyway. The Dolphins stacked the box and dared Jackson to throw down the field, and that’s exactly what he did with overwhelming success as Miami rarely pressured the pocket or covered effectively.

We may not see another five-touchdown performance or an 85-percent completion percentage anytime soon, but opponents must now think twice about moving a safety so close to the line of scrimmage after seeing Jackson repeatedly throw the ball over defenders’ heads with such precision. The mere threat of a deep ball to Marquise Brown could force secondaries to back off and help the Ravens gash teams with the run more than ever, an unsettling proposition for opponents assuming they were still too one-dimensional.

That kind of push-pull dynamic between the run and pass has been consistently lacking in the Baltimore offense since the days of Ray Rice and was never like what the Ravens could have with Jackson being a dual-threat quarterback. It also helps that the ground game now includes two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram.

Stopping the run against the Ravens was already a a must, but defenses have now seen a need to be able to cover or at least pressure — preferably both. The Dolphins may have kept Jackson in the pocket, but they achieved none of those three major objectives, which is why the Ravens set franchise records for points, touchdowns, total yards, and margin for victory.

The Baltimore offense is unlikely to come close to those numbers again this year, but the message delivered to the rest of the NFL was more than just a fun day in Miami and a win over a bad team.

Watching where Jackson and this offense go from here should be fun.

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earlthomas

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Sunday marks the official beginning of a new era for the Ravens.

Of course, the soft opening of the Lamar Jackson era last year brought the first AFC North championship since 2012 and a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence, but the Ravens have since said farewell to future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, and 2018 team sacks leader Za’Darius Smith in addition to former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. The mass exodus from the NFL’s top-ranked defense leaves Baltimore without a former first-round pick at outside linebacker or in its entire front seven for the first time in franchise history, putting more pressure on a deep and talented secondary to account for concerns about the pass rush.

How quickly a younger defense adjusts and a rebuilt offense grows will determine how successful John Harbaugh’s team will be in 2019. The first test comes against Miami, a rebuilding team with no immediate direction beyond collecting assets for the future.

It’s time to go on the record as the Dolphins play the Ravens for the sixth time in the last seven seasons with the latter winning four of the previous five meetings. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series 7-6 despite a 3-5 record at what is now called Hard Rock Stadium. That doesn’t include the Ravens’ two postseason victories in Miami during the 2001 and 2008 campaigns.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will start fast with a touchdown pass and a run for a score. I’m really looking forward to watching Jackson in his first full year as a starter and expect the Ravens to be more aggressive passing the ball in the first half, especially on first downs when he completed just under 68 percent of his throws and produced a 100.6 passer rating on 56 attempts last year. That said, there isn’t much experience in that Miami front seven to expect the discipline to contain Jackson’s mobility on zone-read plays and run-pass options, which will lead to some rushing opportunities off the edge.

2. A communication breakdown will lead to a Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdown to Albert Wilson. We all know the story with Fitzpatrick, who is capable of getting into a groove in which he torches opponents and then reverts to looking like one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Meanwhile, Wink Martindale has said the biggest challenge in replacing the veterans on his defense has been communication with the pre-snap adjustments and disguise the Ravens use. Even against a below-average offense, a hiccup won’t be surprising considering how little starters played in the preseason.

3. Tight coverage will contribute to four sacks and an Earl Thomas pick in his Ravens debut. I’m admittedly not a believer in the pass rush going into 2019, but that won’t be a problem Sunday with the Dolphins replacing both of their starting offensive tackles and coming off a season in which they surrendered 52 sacks. Strong pass coverage will again help create sacks for the Ravens this season, but Thomas reminded this week he was brought to Baltimore to help create more turnovers. He’ll get one against an overly-aggressive and desperate Fitzpatrick in the second half.

4. Mark Ingram will headline a 215-yard effort from the Baltimore ground game. We’ll see more offensive balance from the Ravens this season, but not when they have a lead in the second half as they will Sunday. The Dolphins ranked 31st in run defense and 26th in yards per carry allowed at 4.8 last year, and there’s little reason to think that will markedly improve under new head coach Brian Flores. Ingram will carry the workload in the first half, but Greg Roman will mix in more carries to Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill after intermission to shorten the game.

5. The Ravens do what they’re supposed to do in a 30-10 win over a bad football team. You gladly take this kind of road game on your schedule, but there’s little upside from an eyeball test perspective with the Dolphins front office tanking in 2019. The Ravens simply need to play a clean football game in which they take care of the ball, minimize penalties, and take what Miami gives them. It’s in Martindale’s nature to be aggressive on defense, but Fitzpatrick is the kind of quarterback who will eventually give you the game the longer you remain disciplined. We know anything can happen in the NFL and Miami still has some talented football players on both sides of the ball, but there’s little excuse for Harbaugh’s team to leave South Florida without a season-opening win.

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andrews

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Ten Ravens predictions for the 2019 season

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Instead of going through the exercise of making league-wide predictions, the following focus on the Ravens and their goal to win back-to-back AFC North division titles for just the second time in team history:

1. Lamar Jackson won’t break Michael Vick’s season rushing record for a quarterback, but his 3,000 passing yards and 60-percent completion percentage will be positive steps in his development.

Make no mistake, the 22-year-old will continue to run more than any quarterback in the NFL, but general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t invest meaningful resources at running back and the Ravens didn’t practice their passing game so exhaustively this summer for Jackson to again average 17 carries per game like he did as a starter last season. There won’t be a rigid cap on how much he runs, but this offense will use more play action and run-pass options to create higher-percentage, short-to-intermediate throws with occasional deep shots. He’ll still have accuracy lapses, but his mechanics were steadier and he threw the ball more consistently all summer. The biggest question is how much he’s improved his ball security, an area more difficult to gauge in controlled practice environments without the threat of contact.

2. The defense will register 37 sacks and see its pressure rate fall to the bottom half of the league.

Baltimore was tied for 11th with 43 sacks last year, but its pressure rate (33.4 percent) ranked eighth in the league, according to Football Outsiders. Wink Martindale isn’t panicking with one of the best secondaries in the NFL backing up his well-designed blitzes, but there’s so much uncertainty beyond Matthew Judon. Pernell McPhee should provide some help if his snaps are managed properly, but Willie Henry and Shane Ray, two players thought to be potential answers, were jettisoned at the end of the summer. Za’Darius Smith and Terrell Suggs weren’t elite last year, but expecting the trio of Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, and rookie Jaylon Ferguson to just step in without drop-off and growing pains is asking a lot. The good news is Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens first in their DVOA defensive metric when failing to pressure, again illustrating the secondary’s value. They’ll lean on that more heavily this year.

3. Mark Ingram will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

Frank Gore averaged 268 carries per season in Greg Roman’s four-year run in San Francisco and LeSean McCoy was on a similar workload pace in an injury-abbreviated 2015 season in Buffalo, dispelling the myth that the new Ravens offensive coordinator prefers a timeshare at the running back position. That’s not to say 2018 leading rusher Gus Edwards and rookie fourth-round pick Justice Hill won’t have roles, but the Ravens gave Ingram $6.5 million guaranteed for a reason after they had already averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the final seven regular-season games last year. Ingram’s career-high 230 carries two years ago seems like a reasonable mark for him to approach or even surpass.

4. Mark Andrews and Patrick Onwuasor will take a step forward.

It’s easy envisioning Andrews as Baltimore’s leading receiver with Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle and the wide receivers being so inexperienced. Volume remains a question, but seeing the 2018 third-round pick produce 2002-03 Todd Heap-like numbers wouldn’t be shocking. We’ve spent so much time discussing the pass rush this summer that we forget Onwuasor will be replacing four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mostly and only played 41.9 percent of defensive snaps last year. The Ravens wanted Mosley back before offers from the New York Jets became too lucrative, but Onwuasor will be steady enough to ease concerns about the position, even if inside linebacker won’t be viewed as a strength.

5. Gus Edwards and Jimmy Smith will take a step back.

Edwards won’t go by the wayside like recent season leading rushers like Alex Collins, Terrance West, and Forsett, but he’ll have a reduced role and could even lose backup touches to the speedy Hill as the year progresses. The 2018 rookie free agent averaged an impressive 5.2 yards per carry last season, but his best bet might be short-yardage situations and a bigger fourth-quarter share of carries when the Ravens lead. Entering the final year of his contract, Smith is now 31 and has plenty of wear on the tires after a number of injuries over the years. The veteran cornerback had an uneven training camp, but he has much incentive to prove his value, whether in Baltimore or elsewhere on the free-agent market.

6. Ben Powers will be starting at left guard by the bye week.

The late-summer signs pointed to Bradley Bozeman beginning the season as the starting left guard, but we won’t know for sure until Sunday and this position remains a week-to-week evaluation anyway. Ideally, Powers, a fourth-round rookie from Oklahoma, would be ready to take over in the way Orlando Brown Jr. did at right tackle last October, but he struggled with first-team reps early this summer.

7. A rough November will cost the Ravens their chance at winning the AFC North.

The month of October has frequently been the bane of John Harbaugh’s existence in the past, but the November pain won’t be because of New England’s Sunday night trip to Baltimore. The Ravens will take full advantage of their Week 8 bye to knock off Tom Brady and the Patriots, but three straight losses will follow as they play at Cincinnati and host Houston with both teams coming off their byes, a tricky scheduling quirk not to be overlooked. The month concludes with a long trip to Los Angeles to play the Rams on a Monday night, another defeat that will have the Ravens’ playoff hopes looking bleak.

8. Miles Boykin will tie the franchise rookie record for touchdown receptions with seven.

First-round pick Marquise Brown missing Friday’s practice was a reminder that early expectations should be tempered after he missed so much valuable practice time in the spring and summer and is still managing his surgically-repaired foot to some degree. Meanwhile, Boykin was impressive during the summer and presents a 6-foot-4, 220-pound target with speed for a quarterback whose accuracy issues aren’t a big secret. Boykin, a third-round pick from Notre Dame, won’t put up monster numbers overall, but he will offer a nice boost inside the red zone, an area where the Ravens’ revamped offense struggled down the stretch last year. He’ll tie the record shared by Torrey Smith (2011) and Marlon Brown (2013).

9. Marlon Humphrey, Marshal Yanda, and Earl Thomas will be named to the Pro Bowl.

After being voted Ravens MVP by the local media last year and receiving more praise for his play this offseason, Humphrey appears primed to become Baltimore’s first Pro Bowl cornerback since Chris McAlister in 2006. Meanwhile, Yanda will continue to add to a resume that will receive strong Hall of Fame consideration with his eighth trip to the Pro Bowl in the last nine years. Some intrigue remains over just how close Thomas will be to his old self after his second broken left leg in a three-season period, but he’ll extend the Ravens’ streak of sending a safety to the Pro Bowl to four straight years. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Andrews will be named Pro Bowl alternates.

10. A December rally will lead to a 9-7 finish and another trip to the playoffs.

A 5-6 record and plenty of outside doubts entering the final month won’t stop the Ravens from getting hot and reeling off three straight wins to put themselves back in wild-card position. A last-minute defeat at Cleveland in Week 16 will look like the death knell, but the Browns will “Brown” their playoff spot away in a season-ending loss at Cincinnati while the Ravens will regroup to beat the AFC North champion Steelers, who will only be playing for playoff seeding in Week 17. Baltimore will follow that up with a road playoff win over the Texans before bowing out in the divisional round, ending a promising year for a young team with plenty of salary cap space and draft capital going into 2020.

Bonus Super Bowl pick no one asked for: Kansas City 30, Philadelphia 24

I just can’t stomach predicting another championship for New England, so I’ll go with Chiefs head coach Andy Reid finally getting over the hump against the team he coached for 14 seasons.

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edwards-jackson

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After much offseason talk, Ravens offense finally to be on display

Posted on 04 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked what he hoped fans would be saying about the Ravens offense after Sunday’s opener in Miami, Lamar Jackson paused briefly and smiled.

“Hopefully that it’s the best offense they’ve ever seen,” the 22-year-old quarterback said. “That’s what I’m going for.”

That statement wasn’t made with bravado as much as excitement. After an offseason of discussion, hype, speculation, and probably even some fibbing about the rebuilt system under new coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens offense will finally be on display against the Dolphins.

So, what exactly can we expect?

Head coach John Harbaugh has alluded to the offense being “revolutionary” while we’ve heard conflicting suggestions even within the organization about how frequently Jackson will run after setting a single-season record for rushing attempts by a quarterback as a rookie. The Ravens will again walk the fine line between keeping Jackson out of harm’s way and not stifling what truly makes him special as a quarterback.

A multiple-look running game, pre-snap movement, and explosive play-action passing were staples for Roman in San Francisco and Buffalo where his offenses averaged close to a 50-50 split of runs and passes and ranked in the top seven in yards per pass attempt in three out of five full seasons. It’s no secret his fingerprints were all over the revamped offense we saw down the stretch last season when Jackson took over for an injured Joe Flacco, but Roman’s history suggests we won’t see the Ravens running at a near 2-to-1 clip like they did over the final seven weeks of 2018. That said, 10 of Baltimore’s 16 games this season come against defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed.

The Ravens consulted with college coaches this offseason such as Paul Johnson, who famously ran the triple option offense at Navy and then Georgia Tech. They streamlined the language within the offense to better align with the way players are taught at the collegiate level, which makes sense with more than half of the offensive players on the current roster in their first or second season.

In a recent national radio interview, Jackson estimated he would throw “probably 30 passes a game,” a number he didn’t reach once in his eight starts as a rookie. The amount of time devoted to the passing game during training camp seems to support that prediction, but effectively practicing the running game can also be difficult in the absence of to-the-ground contact, probably making it unwise to draw strong conclusions from practice structure.

Adding speed was a clear priority in the draft with the selections of wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin and running back Justice Hill, but the most substantial free-agent acquisition on offense was two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram to pair with Gus Edwards, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie last season.

Carrying the ball just four times in the preseason, Ingram said those exhibition games offered only “a little gist” of what the Ravens will show. Jackson attempted only 16 passes and ran the ball just twice, not counting his spectacular 18-yard touchdown against Green Bay that was negated by a penalty. The preseason offense was vanilla and basic like most teams around the league.

Yes, much mystery remains — even for the Ravens.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t know how certain things are going to look or how guys are going to respond. We might have confidence. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it. But that’s the beauty of it. That’s what’s exciting. That’s the drama.

“We’re going to go out there and find out a lot on the first Sunday.”

Of course, all eyes will be on Jackson, who looked in command of the offense and showed more consistency as a passer throughout the summer. The Ravens are optimistic the improved footwork and mechanics — and subsequent tighter spirals and better accuracy — he displayed during training camp will carry over to the regular season, but it remains to be seen whether his progression is more a giant leap or a modest step forward when the bright lights come on. After all, there’s a lot of previous muscle memory to overcome in the highly competitive environment of games that count.

Baltimore would be wise to continue to play to Jackson’s passing strength over the middle of the field while picking spots to test secondaries outside the numbers, the area where the young passer still isn’t as proficient. That’s why second-year tight end Mark Andrews is the popular pick to have a breakout season after he and Jackson consistently made plays over the middle in summer practices and showed a promising rapport last season.

As a rookie, Jackson was at his best on first down, completing just under 68 percent of his passes, averaging 9.0 yards per attempt, and posting a 100.6 passer rating on 56 throws. The football analytics world implores teams to pass more on first down and to be more aggressive on first and second downs to not just set up manageable third-down situations but to avoid them altogether. Those numbers alone lead you to believe the Ravens will be more aggressive passing on first downs this season.

Still, there are questions and concerns that can’t be overlooked, ranging from Jackson’s league-high 15 fumbles last season to a still-uncertain left guard situation that contributed to Baltimore’s demise in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Three of the six wide receivers on the current roster have never caught an NFL pass and only Willie Snead has registered more than 45 receptions in a season, leaving a very low floor to go along with an intriguing ceiling at the position.

The Ravens must find a way to improve inside the red zone, an area in which the offense really struggled with Jackson at the helm. They scored touchdowns on just 11 of 26 trips inside the 20 after Week 9 last year, a percentage that would’ve ranked 31st in the NFL over the full season. A top-ranked Ravens defense helped cover up that deficiency a year ago, but settling for too many field goals inside the red zone will cost you sooner than later.

No, there are no guarantees. This offense could be a revolution or an eventual flop, but you have to respect the Ravens’ willingness to zig while everyone else zags in today’s game. They’ve embraced having a mobile quarterback and have tried to build an offense to suit his unique strengths and account for his weaknesses. If nothing else, Jackson and this offense will be fun to watch while continuing to give opposing defenses headaches with an unconventional brand of football.

Just how different it looks remains anyone’s guess, but Jackson is focused on the end result, which worked out pretty well for the Ravens during his rookie season.

“I’m just looking to win. That’s the goal: win games,” Jackson said. “Win every game you’re in, and it starts with Miami. That’s the goal. I don’t really care what the critics say. They’re going to always be there.”

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yanda

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Ravens holding out veteran guard Yanda with “little ankle, foot thing”

Posted on 03 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the midst of their healthiest start to training camp in recent memory, the Ravens are choosing to play it safe with one of their best players.

Seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda missed his second straight practice Saturday with what head coach John Harbaugh says is a minor ailment. It was originally believed Yanda was receiving his second veteran day off of the summer Friday before James Hurst was lining up as the starting right guard for the second consecutive workout.

“Yanda is not a serious injury. He had a little ankle, foot thing,” Harbaugh said. “He wanted to practice, and I’m like, ‘Eh. How about we just take it easy for today?'” 

It’s unclear whether the issue is with the same ankle Yanda broke in the second game of the 2017 season, an injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year. The 34-year-old was still part of the group of Ravens players, coaches, and personnel who flew to Canton, Ohio after Saturday afternoon’s practice for Ed Reed’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

Other veterans not practicing Saturday included safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram, who were both given the practice off by Harbaugh. Defensive back Anthony Levine and offensive linemen Alex Lewis (shoulder) and Randin Crecelius were also absent.

It’s been only one week since backup quarterback Robert Griffin III sustained a hairline fracture in his right thumb, but he continues to practice on a limited basis and even did some light throwing of the football. His dedication hasn’t gone unnoticed even though Griffin isn’t expected to be cleared for live action before the start of the regular season.

“‘RG3’ comes out here in full pads, and he goes through every read, every play — the mechanics of it,” Harbaugh said. “He’s probably getting more work in than if he were playing in lot of ways. I give him a lot of credit for that. He’s a pro, and he’s doing a great job.”

The Ravens will enjoy their second day off of training camp Sunday in preparation for a pair of joint practices with Jacksonville. The Jaguars and Ravens will practice together Monday and Tuesday before kicking off the preseason schedule at M&T Bank Stadium Thursday night.

This marks the third time in six summers the Ravens will have hosted another team for joint workouts at their Owings Mills training facility after practicing with San Francisco in 2014 and welcoming the Los Angeles Rams last August. Baltimore will travel to Philadelphia later this month to practice with the Eagles for two days ahead of the third preseason game.

“The next step in the evaluation — put on a little more pressure,” said Harbaugh after nine days of his players practicing against only each other. “Now we have another team in front of us, and that poses problems. New schemes, different players, how do you handle that? I’m looking forward to seeing how the guys handle it.”

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Running backs

Posted on 10 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

July 9 — Cornerbacks

We continue at running back, a position that already appeared to be in good shape as the Ravens ran the ball better than any team in the NFL over the final seven weeks of the 2018 season. First-year general manager Eric DeCosta didn’t rest on those laurels, however, as Baltimore signed a two-time Pro Bowl selection to a three-year, $15 million contract in March and drafted a speedy running back in the fourth round.

Any running back carrying the ball — not to mention the offensive line — will continue to benefit from the threat of Lamar Jackson, the most explosive rushing quarterback in the NFL. It’s no secret the running game took off when Jackson replaced an injured Joe Flacco in Week 11, and that doesn’t figure to change with new coordinator Greg Roman’s past offensive systems in San Francisco and Buffalo being built around an explosive ground attack.

Offenses are all about the passing game today, so the rush-minded Ravens are certainly going against the grain with many critics skeptical about the offense’s sustainability. But they’re doing it with a unique athlete at the quarterback position and a diverse collection of running backs hoping to create matchup problems for opposing defenses otherwise built to stop the pass in the modern game.

Below is a look at several running backs who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Mark Ingram
Skinny: Taking nothing away from Gus Edwards and his 5.2 yards per carry average last year, the Ravens didn’t sign the former New Orleans Saint to that deal to play second fiddle to anyone. That’s not to say Ingram will carry the ball 300 times or be a lock to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark with other capable runners on the roster, but the 30-year-old is an underrated receiver and averaged a career-best 3.2 yards after contact per attempt in the shadow of Alvin Kamara last season. Baltimore is expecting big things.

Old Reliable — Ingram
Skinny: Edwards’ inside rushing style should still provide a high floor with the threat of Jackson keeping the ball at the mesh point and taking off on the edge, but Ingram has more than four times as many career rushing yards (6,007) as the rest of the current running back group combined. His reputation as a strong leader in the New Orleans locker room was another selling point after the Ravens watched so many key veterans depart in the offseason.

Under Fire — Kenneth Dixon
Skinny: Dixon reminded everyone of his ability by averaging 5.6 yards per carry in six games last season, but he has played in only 19 of a possible 49 games in his career, has served two drug suspensions, and is entering the final year of his rookie deal. If that weren’t enough, the offseason additions at the position made it clear the Ravens aren’t depending on him to be a big factor. This summer will be crucial for Dixon to force his way into a major role or put himself in position for a better opportunity elsewhere.

Up-and-Comer — Justice Hill
Skinny: It’s difficult to predict just how involved Hill will be as a rookie, but the Oklahoma State product recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time among running backs at the NFL combine and could serve as a change-of-pace back to complement the more physical styles of Ingram and Edwards. Listed at 5-foot-10 and 200 pounds, Hill doesn’t have the size to project as a clear-cut every-down back, but he could be an explosive weapon for the Ravens offense, especially if he develops as a receiver out of the backfield.

Sleeper — De’Lance Turner
Skinny: The undrafted free agent from Alcorn State was active for just four games as a rookie before suffering a hamstring injury, but the Ravens promoted him over Edwards to the active roster last September, a sign of what they thought of him before the latter’s surprising late-season emergence. Depending on what happens with Dixon, Turner could push his way onto the roster as a fourth running back, especially if he shows the home-run ability he flashed last preseason on a 65-yard touchdown run.

The Rest — Gus Edwards, Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: Dismissing Edwards would be a mistake as he appeared to be in great shape this spring and should have no shortage of motivation. It’s worth noting the Ravens have had a different leading rusher four straight seasons and the previous three all moved on by the end of the following year, showing how fleeting success can be for running backs. … Ervin, a 2016 fourth-round pick from San Jose State, had some ball-security concerns in three seasons with Houston, but his experience returning punts and kickoffs will help in his uphill battle for a roster spot.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts at conclusion of voluntary OTAs

Posted on 07 June 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens wrapping up their third and final week of voluntary organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. DeShon Elliott made the play of OTAs with a diving interception of a deep Robert Griffin III pass. He showed impressive range sprinting from hash to sideline to make the pick. Elliott’s stuck behind Earl Thomas and Tony Jefferson, of course, but I want to watch more of that athleticism.

2. You’re never going to get the full effect of a run-based unit in non-contact practices, but the Ravens offense just didn’t make many plays in OTAs open to media and going against a defense consistently missing several veterans. Minicamp should be interesting with the full defense on the field.

3. Lamar Jackson hasn’t been as consistent as he’d like, but he threw only one interception in the three open voluntary workouts, which came on a pass to Brandon Carr that was a clear miscommunication. Learning a new system has been challenging for the entire offense, but he’s protecting the football.

4. The offense was particularly rough in red-zone drills, which reminds that Baltimore went 11-for-26 in that area with Jackson starting. Greg Roman will use plenty of play-action calls to scheme open targets between the 20s, but Jackson will need to make throws in tight windows in the red zone.

5. It’s been a quiet spring for Jaylon Ferguson, which isn’t all that surprising since his patented bull rush doesn’t really play in non-contact workouts. He’s been out of position from time to time playing the run, but we’ll better know where he is when the pads come on.

6. I’ve seen some snarky remarks about the run-heavy Ravens inviting former Navy coach and triple-option aficionado Paul Johnson to Owings Mills, but I commend a coaching staff seeking new ideas and innovation as we see the influence of the college game continue to make its way into the NFL.

7. Asked about the arrivals of Mark Ingram and Justice Hill, Gus Edwards said “nothing has really changed” and he’s still getting reps with the starters. I do expect him to continue playing an important role, but Edwards averaging 17.4 carries per game like he did from Weeks 11-17 seems unlikely.

8. Iman Marshall faces a steep climb to any defensive playing time as a rookie, but the fourth-round cornerback was impressive with a few pass breakups Thursday. Guys like Marshall, Anthony Averett, and Maurice Canady would be much higher on virtually any other corner depth chart in the league.

9. Their pursuit of Gerald McCoy made it clear the Ravens aren’t perfectly content with their interior pass rush, but Chris Wormley has been active with batted passes and pressures this spring. He will be competing with Zach Sieler to step into the old Brent Urban role.

10. Trade candidate Kaare Vedvik missed field goals from 35 and 48 yards before connecting from 58 after Sam Koch impressively handled a bad snap from rookie Matthew Orzech. I expect Vedvik to receive plenty of preseason opportunities to showcase his strong kicking leg, but consistency is key.

11. Plenty of young receivers flash this time of year before disappearing when the pads come on, but the 5-foot-11, 183-pound Sean Modster made several plays with the reserve units Thursday and was even singled out with praise from slot cornerback Tavon Young.

12. Asked about McCoy, John Harbaugh endorsed his defensive line before challenging critics to “wring their hands” and write how bad his team is. It’s fair to envision the Ravens taking a step back after such roster turnover, but I’ve seen few credible opinions suggesting they’ll be “bad.” Coaches love motivation.

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