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Five takeaways from interview session with Ravens coordinators

Posted on 24 June 2020 by Luke Jones

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

Establishing culture was king of the virtual offseason program.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass, during the first half at an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 10: “Not bad for a running back”

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 11 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

No one knew exactly what to expect from Lamar Jackson entering his first full season as starting quarterback.

The 2018 first-round pick had replaced longtime starter and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco midway through his rookie season and helped rally the Ravens to their first postseason appearance in four years. Jackson’s athleticism was off the charts, but questions persisted about his passing despite some encouraging flashes playing in an offense that hadn’t been built around his special talents. His rookie campaign ended with a poor performance in a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that garnered some boos from his home crowd, but Jackson vowed to teammates he’d improve.

The harshest claims that Jackson was a running back masquerading as a signal-caller were absurd, but that’s not to say many saw the 22-year-old as an MVP candidate in his second season either. At least one Vegas oddsmaker gave unproven quarterbacks such as Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Mitch Trubisky better MVP odds entering 2019. Improvement in Jackson appeared evident from the early days of training camp, but we wouldn’t have to wait long to see just how much better he was.

The Ravens kicked off the season in Miami — just 30 miles from where Jackson grew up in Pompano Beach — and wasted little time jumping all over the hapless Dolphins with a run-heavy opening drive for a touchdown and an Earl Thomas interception that gave the ball back to Baltimore near midfield. From there, Jackson began an aerial assault that dwarfed anything he’d done in his rookie season and immediately started shifting perceptions about his passing ability and ceiling as an NFL quarterback.

On the first play of the Ravens’ second drive, the Miami defense bit on a run fake as Jackson connected with rookie Marquise Brown over the middle for a 47-yard touchdown. Just the fourth wide receiver selected in the first round in franchise history and also a South Florida native, Brown immediately showed off his game-changing speed despite an abbreviated summer in which he was still recovering from January foot surgery.

The pair hooked up again in even more impressive fashion on the next drive. Forgoing an opportunity to take off as left tackle Ronnie Stanley signaled for him to run for an easy first down to move the chains, Jackson uncorked a near-50-yard bomb that hit Brown in stride for an 83-yard touchdown, the fifth-longest pass play in Ravens regular-season history.

The young quarterback would throw three more touchdowns before being relieved by backup Robert Griffin III with the Ravens leading 52-10 to begin the final period. In just three quarters, Jackson had completed 17 of 20 passes for a team-record-tying five touchdowns, 324 yards, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the first in franchise history. The game was not only the best of his young career, but Jackson had put forth the best statistical performance ever by a Ravens quarterback.

It was all “not bad for a running back” as Jackson quipped after a game in which he ran only three times for six yards, one of those attempts being a kneel to end the first half.

Doubters still noted the Dolphins being one of the NFL’s worst teams, but Jackson proved the performance was far from a fluke as he’d throw five touchdown passes in a contest twice more, post another perfect single-game passer rating, and lead the league with 36 touchdown passes to lead a record-setting offense and the best regular-season team in Ravens history at 14-2. He would become just the second unanimous AP NFL MVP, the second youngest behind only Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown to win the award, and the first Raven to earn the honor.

And, oh yeah, his 1,206 rushing yards broke the NFL single-year record for a quarterback, making his tiny Week 1 running output an amusing footnote in a historic season.

Of course, there would be other memorable moments from Jackson that season such as his fourth-down touchdown run in Seattle, his incredible spin and 47-yard touchdown scamper in Cincinnati, and his Monday Night Football performance in Los Angeles, but what he did in that season opener made his harshest critics look foolish and prompted so many to fully realize just how special he could be.

“He’s definitely better. He’s worked really hard,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the 59-10 demolition. “I think he’s only going to continue to improve because he wants to work at it. He was a rookie last year. He didn’t practice much throughout the course of the year. So, he’s had a chance to be with the No. 1 offense on a daily basis, and he did a great job with it.

“Again, this is just a start. This is just one game.”

Just a start and just one game indeed.

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Lamar Jackson trying to stay ready in such unusual times

Posted on 21 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Under normal circumstances, Lamar Jackson and the Ravens would have been back in Owings Mills this week for the start of the offseason workout program.

We would have heard about the work he’s been doing with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris, a partnership that resulted in a historic MVP campaign last season. His recent passing sessions with top wide receiver Marquise Brown — we’ll get to Antonio Brown’s presence in a moment — would have been praised rather than criticized for violating social distancing guidelines, measures unthinkable to us all before the coronavirus pandemic.

News of him being on the cover of the upcoming edition of Madden would have brought the same harmless debate about the video game’s alleged curse without the very real uncertainty of what the 2020 season might look like — or whether it will happen at all.

Instead, Jackson remains in South Florida, doing Pilates and working out by himself as we wait out a “new normal” that isn’t normal at all.

“I’m all business when it comes to football,” Jackson said in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. “Everything else, I’m laid back. I don’t really do too much. I like to chill, so the quarantine is not really bothering me at all when it comes to just staying inside.”

The 23-year-old quarterback working out with the controversial Antonio Brown sparked much debate with general manager Eric DeCosta declining to comment earlier this month. While lamenting the timing and optics of conducting the workout in the midst of the pandemic, Jackson said it was the first time he’d met the seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver and cousin of Marquise Brown who’s been out of football since being released by New England last September.

Jackson downplayed the encounter beyond it being an opportunity to work on his craft, but he was asked about the possibility of the former Pittsburgh Steeler joining the Ravens.

“I’d be happy if they signed him,” Jackson said. “He’s a great player. He showed it each and every year when he was with the Steelers in the past, but it’s not my decision.”

With the draft set to begin on Thursday night and many clamoring for the Ravens to add more weapons to make a record-setting offense that much more dangerous in 2020, Jackson shared only one request that doesn’t come as a surprise after he gifted each of his offensive linemen a Rolex watch last Christmas.

He knows replacing eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda won’t be easy and is a greater priority than drafting another wide receiver, tight end, or running back. Jackson also wasn’t about to slight incumbent teammates who were part of the first offense in NFL history to average more than 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in a single season.

“Get the guys we need. We need a replacement for Marshal,” said Jackson about his draft wish list. “Marshal was that guy — first-ballot Hall of Famer. We need a guy for him. And whoever else we need, come in and help get us a championship.”

After piling up numerous team and league records in a franchise-best 14-2 season and becoming the second-youngest player in league history to win MVP, Jackson understands January success is the next step for both him and the Ravens, who have lost home playoff games in consecutive seasons. The disappointing defeat to Tennessee three months ago didn’t invalidate a fun and unforgettable year, but it left a cold truth for 2020.

It’s Super Bowl or bust.

“I need to win a playoff game before anything because I’m tired of that already,” said Jackson of the postseason criticism. “Once I get tired of something, I have to make it happen.”

Last year certainly showed how unwise it is to doubt Jackson, but that goal feels far away right now, much like so many other aspects of our lives.

In the meantime, the NFL’s most electrifying player is doing his best to stay ready in a sports world that’s been shut down indefinitely. And he’s trying not to dwell on the unknown.

“The world needs football,” said Jackson, even struggling with the possibility of playing games without fans in attendance this fall. “I think we’ll be playing football this year, so I’m not going to put that in my mind.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on pre-draft conference call

Posted on 06 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens brass conducting its annual pre-draft press conference via conference call on Monday afternoon, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eric DeCosta described this draft as “old school” with more reliance than normal on game tape after the pandemic canceled so many pre-draft activities. It should help immensely having so much experience and continuity in the front office, scouting department, and coaching staff.

2. Many have discussed the possibility of DeCosta trading up in the first round, but he’s always spoken about desiring more picks. With this class presenting more uncertainty for obvious reasons, I’d be more inclined to use as many of those seven selections in the top 150 spots as I could.

3. With the draft being conducted away from team facilities, John Harbaugh has conveyed his concerns to the Ravens’ information technology department about various reports of security breaches in the Zoom software that’s become so popular in our current world. League-wide paranoia figures to be at an all-time high.

4. DeCosta estimated having 185 “draftable” players on his board, up from last year’s pre-draft estimate. That seemingly supports opinions of this being a deep class since you’d anticipate more prospects than usual to be removed from team boards over questions that went unanswered because of canceled pro days and visits.

5. Asked if he had interest in Antonio Brown after the former All-Pro receiver recently worked out with cousin Marquise Brown and Lamar Jackson, DeCosta declined to comment. It’s tricky discussing a relative of one of your key players, but the unfiltered answer should be a simple and definitive no.

6. DeCosta complimented his current wide receivers and stated his belief that some guys are “going to make that jump,” but I’d be surprised if the Ravens wouldn’t take a swing at such a deep position in this draft with one of their five scheduled picks over the first three rounds.

7. While acknowledging the more complete inside linebackers in this class who’ve been discussed at great length, Joe Hortiz said there are multiple options who could help this multi-look defense in more situational roles. I wonder if the Ravens are more comfortable with the mix-and-match approach than we think.

8. Harbaugh comparing replacing Marshal Yanda to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed speaks to his respect for the retired guard and a need to temper expectations. In Lewis’ case, Baltimore signed the rock-solid Daryl Smith and drafted C.J. Mosley a year later. Replacing Reed at safety was a multiyear headache, however.

9. Plans are ongoing for virtual team meetings and strength and conditioning sessions for the offseason workout program that’s scheduled to begin in two weeks. Harbaugh noted there being no excuse for players not to be in shape upon reporting to the team facility, a reference to ex-Raven Michael Pierce.

10. According to Harbaugh, Derek Wolfe has been on him “like a fly on something” to send him a copy of the defensive playbook. You get the sense that the veteran defensive lineman is going to be a popular addition in numerous ways.

11. Living in close proximity but limited to remote communication in recent weeks, Harbaugh predicted he would meet up with DeCosta for a walk at some point before the start of the draft. As long as they’re a minimum of six feet apart, of course.

12. The fantasy football draft jokes will be flowing with team executives working from their homes, but DeCosta’s shaky internet connection during Monday’s session makes you hope he has a backup queue in place. Just in case.

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) beats out San Francisco 49ers cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon (23) to make a touchdown catch in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Andrews aiming to “take the next step” after Ravens trade Hurst

Posted on 01 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Ravens tight end Mark Andrews admitted he was surprised and disappointed when teammate and close friend Hayden Hurst was traded to Atlanta last month.

Along with veteran Nick Boyle, the 2018 draft picks formed the best tight end group in the NFL last season as the trio combined for 125 receptions, 1,522 yards, and 14 touchdowns. However, Hurst — selected seven spots before reigning MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round two years ago — sought a larger role and was third in the pecking order with Andrews shining as a 2019 Pro Bowl selection and Boyle being the top blocker in Baltimore’s run-first attack.

That contributed to general manager Eric DeCosta trading the 26-year-old Hurst and a fourth-round selection to Atlanta for a second-round pick and a fifth-round choice in this month’s draft.

“I’m excited for him to get more of an opportunity with Atlanta,” said Andrews, whose 10 touchdown receptions led all tight ends and tied for second in the NFL last season. “I know that he’s going to thrive there. He’s a great player. I love him to death, but it’s exciting for him as well. But, firstly, I’m sad. I know Nick is sad.

“The three-headed monster kind of got broken up a little bit, but again, we’re going to be just fine. Nick and I, we’ll do our jobs. Obviously, we’re going to find someone else to help us out.”

The Ravens still have fullback Patrick Ricard to use as a situational blocking tight end and will continue to evaluate 2019 practice-squad member Charles Scarff and any other options they add this offseason, but Hurst wasn’t your typical third-string option either. He played the same number of offensive snaps as Andrews last season as the Ravens used at least two tight ends on 42 percent of their plays and three tight ends just under 7.5 percent of the time, according to SharpFootballStats.com. And while Andrews has missed only one game over his first two seasons, he played through an ankle injury last year that limited his effectiveness at times, a notable point when weakening depth at a critical position.

Is Andrews capable of hitting another level of production? The numbers suggest yes as the 24-year-old was graded second among all tight ends by Pro Football Focus in the process of leading the Ravens in catches, receiving yards, touchdowns, and average yards per catch (minimum 15 receptions) last season. And he did it without the typical playing time of an elite tight end.

Of the six tight ends to finish with at least 750 receiving yards last season, Andrews finished a very distant last in snaps (457) and played 267 fewer than Austin Hooper, who was fifth in that group. That reflects the remarkable efficiency of the Baltimore passing game and indicates there could be some more meat on the bone as the Ravens offense evolves in 2020.

With Boyle already leading Baltimore tight ends with 769 regular-season snaps last season, the 6-foot-4, 256-pound Andrews is the one you’d expect to assume a larger share of snaps, receiving more opportunities in the passing game in the process. That may not result in the former third-round pick from Oklahoma reaching the same level of Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz in targets as we’re still talking about a unique offense anchored by the run, but Andrews eclipsing 80 catches and 1,000 yards next season would hardly seem out of the question.

Of course, the Ravens are expected to target another impact wide receiver in the draft and offensive coordinator Greg Roman may not lean quite as heavily on the tight end position with the talented Hurst no longer in the picture, but Andrews was on the receiving end of just under a quarter of Baltimore’s targets last year. His chemistry with Jackson was evident in their rookie season and only figures to continue to grow in their third year together.

“I’ve always been someone to want to take the next step and be great each and every year and get better each and every year,” Andrews said. “I think I had a good year last year. It’s all about improving on that. I don’t feel extra pressure because Hayden is gone. Obviously, Hayden helped that group out a ton, but I feel like with the pieces that we have and everything that we’re going to do moving forward, the coaches put me in great situations.”

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Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Josh Bynes is introduced onto the field prior to an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Revisiting Ravens’ positional needs after first week of free agency

Posted on 23 March 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens didn’t begin the offseason in the way many anticipated.

The defensive line was identified by most as an area to address, but few figured it would be the top priority with the acquisitions of five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Michael Brockers headlining general manager Eric DeCosta’s start to the new league year. The versatile Campbell addresses the much-discussed pass rush in a different way than a traditional edge defender, but there is more work to be done with the front seven as well as other positions on a team with visions of winning the Super Bowl next season.

Below is how I rank those needs a week into free agency:

5. Depth

This descriptor applies specifically to the defensive line and tight end. The defensive line is much improved, but Campbell, Brockers, Brandon Williams, and Justin Ellis are all 29 or older and the trade of Chris Wormley leaves the Ravens thin behind the starters. The Ravens received good value in the Hayden Hurst trade, but tight end is too critical to Greg Roman’s offense to dismiss the need to replace his 457 regular-season snaps with a quality option. Each of these positions could be covered in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft, of course.

4. Outside linebacker

The position’s overall value and long-term outlook still makes it a priority, but the decisions to place the franchise tag on Matthew Judon and trade for Campbell ease short-term concerns about both the pass rush and setting the edge. The concern is Judon only being under contract for next season and Campbell turning 34 by Week 1. The Ravens went 14-2 last year with the quartet of Judon, 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson, Jihad Ward, and Tyus Bowser at outside linebacker — without a pass-rushing talent like Campbell up front, mind you — but Ferguson is the only one of those four under contract after 2020. A veteran like Clay Matthews or Pernell McPhee could make sense at a low price, but the Ravens need to find a long-term answer, especially if they’re not comfortable giving Judon a lucrative multiyear deal.

3. Wide receiver

At the beginning of the offseason, I believed this to be more of a want than a dire need when keeping the proper perspective in evaluating last year’s record-setting offense, but the decision to trade Hurst — who ranked third on the team in receiving yards and first among non-running backs in catch percentage — likely signals some shift in target distribution. Expecting more from a fully healthy Marquise Brown is more than fair, but the Ravens need another high-ceiling option to compete with Willie Snead and Miles Boykin for targets. The free-agent wide receiver market being so slow to develop reflects just how much talent evaluators believe in this year’s draft class. With seven selections in the top 143 spots of next month’s draft, DeCosta should have no problem taking a meaningful swing or two at a receiver.

2. Interior offensive line

Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris has done a good job developing the likes of Matt Skura, Ryan Jensen, and Bradley Bozeman and Lamar Jackson’s presence makes the offensive line’s job easier, but you can’t lose a generational player like Marshal Yanda without having concerns about any replacement and the impact on the rest of the unit. Skura’s rehabilitation from a serious knee injury makes it more critical for the Ravens to add a legitimate option to the interior mix. I never figured Baltimore would spend big money on a free agent like Graham Glasgow, but the Ravens haven’t seen enough of 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers to simply hand him the job. Whether it’s with a value signing like Kelechi Osmele or an early draft pick, replacing Yanda will be an unavoidable question going into the season.

1. Inside linebacker

The Ravens don’t need to find the next Ray Lewis here as last year showed the value of this position probably isn’t what it used to be in Baltimore’s defense, but the presence of a three-down linebacker would make Martindale’s life easier using his various sub packages. Veteran free-agent options such as Cory Littleton and Joe Schobert were always going to be unrealistic from a financial standpoint, but L.J. Fort, Chris Board, and Otaro Alaka are the only Baltimore inside linebackers currently under contract for 2020, making at least one viable or proven addition a clear need. Bringing back Josh Bynes or perhaps even Patrick Onwuasor on a short-term deal could make sense at the right price, but, just like the outside linebacker position, some long-term stability is needed.

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DeCosta expecting “big jump” from young Ravens wide receivers

Posted on 25 February 2020 by Luke Jones

After pushing through a painful foot injury to tie the Ravens’ rookie record for touchdown catches in a season, wide receiver Marquise Brown hopes to have a clean bill of health for his second campaign.

According to NFL Network, the 2019 first-round pick recently had a screw removed from his surgically-repaired left foot in hopes of eliminating any future discomfort stemming from the Lisfranc injury Brown sustained late in his final season at Oklahoma. That injury and subsequent surgery forced the 22-year-old to miss spring workouts, the start of training camp, and occasional practices during his rookie season, but the speedy Brown still led all Baltimore wide receivers with 46 catches, 584 yards, and seven touchdowns.

That’s why general manager Eric DeCosta believes the best is yet to come.

“We’re excited to see what this offseason’s going to be,” DeCosta said at the scouting combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday. “I think coming off the injury that he had, which was a significant injury, to see how he rebounded week to week and played in the games and made big plays all throughout the year, that was exciting. We’re excited about that. Receivers typically make a big jump from their first to second season. We think that’s going to happen with ‘Hollywood.'”

Brown’s NFL debut couldn’t have been better as he became the first player in league history to notch two touchdowns of 40 or more yards in his first career game. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound wideout wouldn’t post another 100-yard receiving game until the playoff loss to Tennessee — his 126 receiving yards were the second most by a Raven in postseason history — but his play-making ability was a rare bright spot in that disappointing defeat.

DeCosta says a full offseason to be able to work with MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson and veteran slot receiver Willie Snead on the timing and intricacies of Baltimore’s passing game will help Brown take his game to the next level. That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses after Brown ranked second in the league in passer rating when targeted last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s got a great work ethic. He’s explosive,” DeCosta said. “I think you all saw his hands, his ability to catch the ball in traffic and make contested catches for a little guy. He’s got a great attitude.”

DeCosta also expressed optimism for fellow 2019 draft pick Miles Boykin, who finished with a modest 13 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. Including the postseason, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound rookie played just under 500 snaps and was an effective blocker, but he caught only four passes over the final nine regular-season games before making three receptions for 29 yards in the playoff loss.

The Ravens are expected to explore additional options at wide receiver in free agency and the draft, but they want to see Boykin continue to develop and become a bigger contributor in 2020.

“He made some big plays for us throughout the course of the year,” said DeCosta, citing four catches of 18 or more yards. “We expect him to improve quite a bit with an offseason. He’s a big and strong and fast, physical guy. Great attitude. The second year for most receivers is critical, and we think he’ll make a big jump.”

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown scores against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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How did Ravens wide receivers stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 18 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — 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 closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens wide receivers ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks

Marquise Brown
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 646
PFF ranking: 42nd among wide receivers
Skinny: Though not close to 100 percent from a Lisfranc injury suffered at the end of his final season at Oklahoma, the first-round pick tied the team record for touchdown catches by a rookie (seven) and provided a deep threat for MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. According to PFF, Brown’s 134.4 passer rating when targeted led all wide receivers with at least 50 targets in the regular season.

Willie Snead
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 760
PFF ranking: 101st among wide receivers
Skinny: Despite catching a career-high five touchdowns, Snead saw his receptions and receiving yards drop to roughly half of where they were last season. A slot receiver isn’t going to be a major factor in a passing game that leans so heavily on tight ends over the middle, but Snead isn’t afraid to block and fill a complementary role, a reason why Baltimore extended his contract through 2020 in late October.

Seth Roberts
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 576
PFF ranking: 83rd among wide receivers
Skinny: The lasting image of the pending free agent could be the drop of a potential touchdown when Baltimore trailed 14-0 in the playoff loss to Tennessee, but it had mostly been an inconsequential season for Roberts until that miscue. A capable blocker and targeted just 35 times in the regular season, Roberts had the second-highest receiving grade among Baltimore wide receivers, per PFF.

Miles Boykin
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 493
PFF ranking: 99th among wide receivers
Skinny: The rookie third-round pick was the talk of training camp, but he was unable to carry that momentum into the regular season as he caught only 13 passes and just four over the final nine regular-season games. Boykin needs to improve his route-running ability in the offseason, but his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame still provides optimism for the future.

Chris Moore
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 167
PFF ranking: 101st among wide receivers
Skinny: Moore all but disappeared in the offense in his fourth season and registered a career-low three catches for 21 yards in a contract year. The 2016 fourth-round pick is a good special-teams player, which is his ticket for continuing his NFL career in Baltimore or somewhere else.

Jaleel Scott
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 17
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A strong preseason landed Scott on the 53-man roster, but he was active for just three games and made his only catch against Pittsburgh in Week 17. The Ravens like his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame, but this figures to be a make-or-break summer for the 2018 fourth-round pick.

De’Anthony Thomas
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 3
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The return specialist carried the ball one time and wasn’t targeted as a receiver.

2020 positional outlook

When pondering a record-setting offense that featured three tight ends in its top five for receptions, trying to assess the wide receiver position is more complicated than simply looking at the numbers. It’s no secret that another impactful wide receiver would be ideal, but you run the risk of trying to fix something that isn’t broken by drastically messing with the identity of the offense, which centers around the run game and the deployment of tight ends Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle. The playoff loss to the Titans confirmed the need for the Ravens offense to be able to play better off schedule, something a receiver with the ability to make plays on the outside would help. Despite his slight stature, a fully healthy Brown looks like a great bet to take another step forward in his second season. Boykin’s development and Snead’s presence remain important, but a veteran acquisition or another early draft pick is in order if the Ravens want Jackson and this explosive offense to continue to progress and evolve.

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Want or need? Assessing Ravens position groups entering offseason

Posted on 21 January 2020 by Luke Jones

Need is a relative term when assessing the Ravens roster after a franchise-best 14-2 regular season that set all kinds of franchise and NFL records.

The sting of their divisional-round loss to Tennessee will linger for a long time, but perspective is critical when sizing up a roster that included the best offense in the league and one of the top defenses by season’s end. That’s not to say improvements aren’t in order and change isn’t inevitable with 17 Baltimore players set to become unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens would easily remain a playoff-caliber team on paper after even a ho-hum offseason of free-agent departures and only pedestrian additions. Having an MVP quarterback, an innovative offense with no unrestricted free agents of real consequence, and a great secondary will go a long way in covering up any deficiencies elsewhere.

Yes, the early playoff exit was a bitter disappointment and a missed opportunity as the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but this isn’t a roster in need of major surgery as much as some fine-tuning after having a bad game at the wrong time. It’s an enviable place when you have close to $30 million in salary cap space and a fresh batch of draft picks in April. But as John Harbaugh often likes to recite the quote attributed to former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, “Every day you either get better or you get worse; you never stay the same.”

Below is a look at what positions the Ravens absolutely need to address or simply would like to upgrade between now and the start of the 2020 season:

Edge defender/outside linebacker — NEED

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made it work after the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, but this position group remains a major concern with 2019 Pro Bowl selection Matthew Judon and depth pieces Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward set to become free agents. Tyus Bowser took a step forward with five sacks in his third season and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson showed growth as the year progressed, but viewing either as a definite 2020 starter would be too optimistic based on the body of work. Even if Baltimore gives Judon a blank check or the franchise tag to keep him, finding an additional impact outside linebacker is a clear objective. The Ravens blitzed more than any team in the NFL to create pressure in 2019, but more impactful four-man rushes would make this defense even more dangerous. Setting the edge against the run was also an inconsistency that was often masked by Baltimore holding so many big leads that forced opponents to abandon the ground game.

Wide receiver — WANT

I have been a broken record about Baltimore’s deficiency at wide receiver for years and noted during the Tennessee loss that another impact option would be really useful, but classifying wide receiver as a want goes back to keeping the proper perspective. You wouldn’t expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to move away from featuring the tight ends with the success Lamar Jackson has passing to that trio between the numbers, and rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown showed unique ability despite being hampered by foot and ankle issues. When you add the presence of veteran Willie Snead and the potential of 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin, the requisite floor and upside are there — even if barely — to think the Ravens can win a Super Bowl. Still, adding a dynamic wide receiver to make plays when Baltimore trails and to have a presence outside the numbers would take Jackson and the NFL’s leading scoring offense to another level, a frightening thought for opponents.

Interior offensive line — WANT*

The asterisk is connected to eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and his decision whether to return for a 14th season. If Yanda comes back, the Ravens remain in good short-term shape on the offensive line as undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in respectably at center for Matt Skura, whose major knee injury makes him a question mark until at least training camp. However, Yanda’s retirement would make this a significant need with 2019 fourth-round guard Ben Powers not exactly making an impact as a rookie and the Ravens losing a Hall of Fame talent in a position group not sporting a ton of experience. You feel more confident about Skura or Mekari at center, Bradley Bozeman at left guard, and Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle because of Yanda’s presence and elite play. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley may help fill the leadership void, but you just don’t replace a special player like Yanda.

Inside linebacker — NEED

This year marked only the seventh time in 24 seasons in which the Ravens didn’t receive a Pro Bowl invitation at this position, speaking to the impossible standard created by Ray Lewis and the commendable run from C.J. Mosley before his free-agent departure last March. General manager Eric DeCosta deserves credit for the in-season additions of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort to stabilize the position, but that came after the organization underestimated the problems Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and Chris Board would have stepping into larger roles. Martindale effectively mixed and matched Bynes, Fort, and Onwuasor while often dropping safety Chuck Clark into the box in sub packages, but finding a complete three-down linebacker would decrease the likelihood of the defense getting caught with a second level that’s either too light against the run or too slow in coverage. Re-signing Bynes would certainly be on the table, but a younger every-down option would be preferable. Baltimore doesn’t need an All-Pro inside linebacker to have a great defense, but substituting so frequently was less than ideal.

Interior defensive line — NEED

Giving a big contract to Michael Pierce wouldn’t appear to be in the plans with Brandon Williams still having two years remaining on his deal and Pierce not making a strong argument for the Ravens to commit to him after weight concerns in the offseason and a solid but unspectacular 2019 campaign. Baltimore’s pursuit of six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy last spring highlighted a desire to find an interior pass rusher, but Chris Wormley and 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack are the only other defensive linemen under contract for the 2020 campaign beyond the soon-to-be 31-year-old Williams. In other words, the Ravens have much work to do here to fortify their depth against the run while trying to find an inside option or two who can also get after the quarterback.

Cornerback — WANT

No one would classify cornerback as a need with 2019 Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey both under contract and slot cornerback Tavon Young expected to be ready for the offseason program after a season-ending neck injury suffered in August. However, you can never have enough depth at this critical spot with Jimmy Smith set to become an unrestricted free agent and Brandon Carr carrying a $6 million price tag for his 2020 option and transitioning to more of a safety role this past season. A modest short-term extension could make sense for Smith, but committing substantial money to someone who will be 32 in July and has played in more than 12 games in a season only twice in nine years doesn’t sound appealing. Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall bring some upside as recent fourth-round selections, but relying on either as the first wave of depth would be risky.

Special teams — WANT

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the first week of free agency last March reinforced their commitment to this phase of the game that goes beyond specialists Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, and Morgan Cox. With that in mind, Anthony Levine, Chris Moore, Brynden Trawick, Jordan Richards, and De’Anthony Thomas will all be unrestricted free agents after playing at least 120 special-teams snaps apiece for Baltimore this season. Whether re-signing a few members of that group or using resources to sign a veteran or two on the open market, the Ravens seem likely to address special teams after being underwhelming in that department — at least by their lofty standards — down the stretch.

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Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs against the Baltimore Ravens during the first half an NFL divisional playoff football game, Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following playoff loss to Tennessee

Posted on 14 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens seeing their season come to an end in a shocking 28-12 divisional-round playoff loss to Tennessee, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those wondering how Baltimore would handle playing from behind couldn’t have liked the answer, but perception wasn’t helped watching Patrick Mahomes and Kansas City erase a 24-point deficit like it was nothing and Russell Wilson nearly bringing Seattle back at Lambeau. Improvement there is the next step for this offense.

2. Lamar Jackson was the first to say he didn’t play very well, but drops were a big problem as you could point to as many as seven passes that should have been caught — even if some weren’t on target. Another impactful wide receiver would be ideal in Jackson’s continued development.

3. I’m not sure why Gus Edwards received so few touches with Mark Ingram not 100 percent, but the last drive of the first half (13 dropbacks) and the fourth quarter (27 dropbacks) really skewed the run-pass ratio on which many are dwelling. Still, Greg Roman seemed out of sorts.

4. Committing to run is tough when gaining 38 yards on the first 22 first-down plays. However, as Twitter user @Yoshi2052 noted, there wasn’t a designed run on first down after the 9:03 mark of the second quarter. Baltimore netted one yard or worse on 24 of 40 first-down snaps. Yuck.

5. Tennessee’s 217 rushing yards were the fourth most allowed by the Ravens in team history. A run defense ranking 21st in yards per carry allowed (a franchise-worst 4.4) and 19th in efficiency benefited from playing with big leads all season. Upgrades at inside and outside linebacker are in order.

6. It was a tough time for Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon to have one of his worst games. His missed tackle on a Ryan Tannehill third-down scramble extended the Titans’ first touchdown drive, and he missed another on Derrick Henry’s soul-crushing 66-yard run in the third quarter.

7. Sorry, I’m not going to knock John Harbaugh for doing what he did all year on fourth-and-1 situations after the Ravens went 8-for-8 in that department during the regular season. You’re going to bust sometimes at the Blackjack table, and it just happened at the worst possible time — twice.

8. The Titans were set up on a short field for three of their four touchdowns, but the Baltimore defense offered no sudden-change impact or resistance inside the red zone. The Ravens just couldn’t make the game-changing play on either side of the ball all night.

9. Few Ravens players stood out against Tennessee in positive ways, but Marquise Brown reminded once again why his future is bright with an offseason to now get his surgically-repaired foot 100 percent. His slight stature will always be a concern, but some unique ability is there.

10. Special teams offered no favors with a Brynden Trawick hold and a silly De’Anthony Thomas foul for blocking after calling a fair catch backing Baltimore up on second-quarter drives. The latter may have been the difference in needing to settle for a field goal before halftime.

11. After dominating with a 7-1 record and an incredible plus-159 point differential on the road this season, the Ravens fell to 3-4 in all-time home playoff games. They obviously earned the top seed with a 14-2 record, but home-field advantage probably wasn’t all that critical for this particular team.

12. While some opine about rust, is it possible blowing out Pittsburgh without Jackson in Week 17 left the Ravens feeling a bit too invincible going into the bye week as the world sang how great they were? It’s all conjecture, of course. The best team doesn’t always win. 

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