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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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humphrey

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional playoff meeting with Tennessee

Posted on 06 January 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now knowing they’ll face Tennessee in their first home divisional playoff game in eight years, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A talking point for John Harbaugh to his players this week will be how rare January road wins in Foxborough have been the last two decades. The Titans are the lesser team on paper, but beating New England in the playoffs garners a level of respect Baltimore shouldn’t dismiss.

2. Starting fast is a cliched key one can mention every week, but the Ravens can silence all discussion of rust or losing their edge by jumping on the Titans early. It would also remind Mike Vrabel’s team that any confidence gained from beating the Patriots will only go so far.

3. Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing as Tennessee finished third in rushing and fifth in Football Outsiders’ run efficiency. Henry’s propensity to cut back on edge runs is a style that’s given Baltimore some issues, so I expect Wink Martindale to use more base defense and big nickel packages.

4. With Lamar Jackson turning 23 on Tuesday, I couldn’t help but ponder a connection with another 23-year-old who won MVP, led Baltimore to a world championship, and wore No. 8. The young quarterback sure followed through on a vow made at Camden Yards this past summer.

5. A three-week layoff from live-game action is one thing, but Jackson battling a stomach bug for several days last week is another variable to consider in the whole rust debate. That’s nothing a couple early designed runs or high-percentage throws can’t remedy, however.

6. Ryan Tannehill has been superb under pressure and against the blitz this season, but he’ll face a Ravens defense that blitzes more frequently than anyone in the NFL. His overall numbers are impressive, but I can’t blame you for waiting for the eighth-year quarterback to turn back into a pumpkin.

7. Baltimore allowed 200 net passing yards just once over the final eight games of the regular season despite winning all but two of those by at least 16 points. Considering how much yardage and scoring you often see in “garbage” time, that’s remarkable — and bad news for Tannehill.

8. You’d expect Dean Pees to be a topic of conversation this week, but just six members of the Ravens’ current offensive roster were with the organization when Pees was defensive coordinator. He’s as unfamiliar with Jackson and this unique system as any coordinator out there.

9. With wide receivers coach David Culley reiterating Marquise Brown isn’t fully healed from last January’s foot surgery, you hope a week off really helped the speedy rookie receiver. Brown made just one catch of 10 or more yards in five combined December games.

10. Meanwhile, fellow rookie A.J. Brown cracked the 1,000-yard receiving mark and registered 100-yard performances for the Titans in four of the last six games of the regular season. Any receiver averaging more than 20 yards per catch is someone to watch.

11. Tennessee ranked 29th in special-teams efficiency and went 8-for-18 on field goals in the process of using four different kickers this season. Justin Tucker has missed nine field goals over the last four seasons combined. Paging Al Del Greco.


(Photo by Getty Images)

12. The early forecast for Saturday night suggests rain showers and winds 10 to 15 miles per hour. Two run-first teams probably wouldn’t mind those conditions one bit, and I can’t imagine a little rain dampening the spirits of a raucous crowd either.

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griffin

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 29 December 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Few Ravens-Steelers games over the years have meant so little — at least on Baltimore’s side.

While John Harbaugh’s team has already clinched the top seed in the AFC, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the postseason, Pittsburgh needs a win over the Ravens and a Tennessee loss in Houston as the most feasible scenario to qualify for the playoffs as the No. 6 seed.

Ravens players and coaches have said all the right things by insisting that any game against their AFC North rival carries meaning, but Harbaugh is playing it safe with his top players by officially deactivating quarterback and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson, right guard Marshal Yanda, safety Earl Thomas, defensive tackle Brandon Williams, and left tackle Ronnie Stanley. Running back Mark Ingram was already ruled out Friday as he continues to recover from a left calf injury sustained in Week 16, but the Ravens have also deactivated tight end Mark Andrews, who missed most of the practice week with a minor right ankle injury suffered in Cleveland last week.

All 46 active players were suited up and going through pre-game warmups, but you’d have to assume Harbaugh will hold out or limit the snaps for at least a few more players in addition to the seven inactives. The starting offensive line during full-team warmups included James Hurst in place of Stanley at left tackle and Parker Ehinger at right guard in place of Yanda.

Making his first NFL start in three years, veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III was the first Ravens player on the field roughly two hours prior to kickoff. The 29-year-old has seen action in six other games this season, completing 12 of 17 passes for one touchdown and one interception. Rookie Trace McSorley will serve as Griffin’s backup after being a healthy scratch for the first 15 games of the regular season.

The Steelers will be without eight-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (knee) and top running back James Conner (quadriceps), who were both ruled out on Friday. Even facing a Baltimore defense at less than full strength, those are challenging absences for rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges and a struggling Pittsburgh offense to overcome.

The ugly forecast in Baltimore calls for rain and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and a 100-percent chance of preciptation, according to Weather.com.

Referee Bill Vinovich and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons its white tops with yellow pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Lamar Jackson
RB Mark Ingram
S Earl Thomas
G Marshal Yanda
OT Ronnie Stanley
TE Mark Andrews
DT Brandon Williams

PITTSBURGH
RB James Conner
C Maurkice Pouncey
CB Artie Burns
LB Tuzar Skipper
OL Chukwuma Okorafor
TE Zach Gentry
WR Amara Darboh

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates his touchdown against the San Francisco 49ers with teammate Mark Ingram (21) in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, in Baltimore, Md. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Ravens’ additional plans for regular-season finale remain unclear

Posted on 27 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that the Ravens would make further decisions regarding playing time for the regular-season finale, but the head coach revealed no new plans Friday.

Running back Mark Ingram (calf) was officially declared out on the final injury report for Sunday’s meeting with Pittsburgh, but the veteran was already part of Harbaugh’s announced list including quarterback Lamar Jackson, safety Earl Thomas, right guard Marshal Yanda, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams that would sit out against the Steelers. Having already locked up the No. 1 seed in the AFC, the Ravens seem likely to rest at least a few more key starters, but those decisions could be impacted by the availability of four others officially listed as questionable on the Week 17 injury report.

Teams must deactivate seven players on game days, but Baltimore could still rest additional starters or at least limit their playing time. In the 2012 regular-season finale in Cincinnati, the Ravens deactivated seven players, held out another injured player, and limited 10 other starters or key contributors to 16 or fewer snaps after wrapping up the AFC North championship the previous week. That’s the closest situation to this one that Harbaugh has faced in his 12 seasons as head coach.

“The injury things in terms of who can make it to the game and who can’t, we’ll factor that in,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to factor all of that in between now and Sunday. I don’t really have any announcements to make beyond those guys [ruled out on Monday]. … We’ll just get to the game and see where we’re at and try to put our best team out there that we choose to have available.”

Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews (ankle) was officially listed as questionable after returning to practice on a limited basis Friday. He is just four receiving yards shy of breaking Todd Heap’s team record for most in a season by a tight end (855 in 2005), but Andrews wasn’t moving around all that much during the portion of practice open to reporters. He turned his right ankle in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win in Cleveland.

Cornerbacks Marcus Peters (chest) and Jimmy Smith (groin) were limited in practices this week while wide receiver Marquise Brown missed Friday’s practice with an illness, leaving them all questionable on the injury report.

Thomas didn’t practice all week and was officially designated as questionable despite Harbaugh already saying the seven-time Pro Bowl safety wouldn’t play against the Steelers.

Another situation to monitor will be the status of inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor, who left the field early in Friday’s practice after what appeared to be an animated exchange with Harbaugh. The Baltimore coach wouldn’t comment on the details of what happened beyond describing it as “an internal matter.”

After focusing on individual drills and fundamentals work early in the practice week, Jackson ran the Ravens’ scout team in Friday’s workout as backup quarterback Robert Griffin III prepared to make his first NFL start in three years. It was quite the unique situation having the league MVP favorite playing the role of Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges in practice.

“He looked good. It was a good look,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “He made some plays.”

Needing a win over the Ravens and a Tennessee loss to Houston to secure the No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Steelers will be without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey (knee) and starting running back James Conner (quad), who both missed the entire week of practice. Those absences won’t help a Pittsburgh offense that’s scored fewer than 20 points in five of its last seven games.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for rain and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds light and variable and a 70-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report for Week 17:

BALTIMORE
OUT: RB Mark Ingram (calf)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Mark Andrews (ankle), WR Marquise Brown (illness), CB Marcus Peters (chest), CB Jimmy Smith (groin), S Earl Thomas (knee/hand)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: RB James Conner (quad), C Maurkice Pouncey (knee)

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates with quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) after they connected for a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 15 win over Jets

Posted on 16 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their second straight AFC North division championship in a 42-21 win over the New York Jets, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Harbaugh’s team earned some extra rest after playing its fourth game in 18 days, a challenging stretch this late in the season. It’s funny how these sorts of obstacles are little more than an afterthought when you’re the best team in football riding a 10-game winning streak.

2. The Ravens shattering the 2003 team’s rushing record with two games to go probably deserves more attention. That was the year Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards — third best in NFL history — while rookie Kyle Boller and journeyman Anthony Wright played quarterback. Slightly different than having the MVP there.

3. Lamar Jackson took arguably his biggest hit of the year on the run that broke Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback. It’s a major relief those types of collisions are so rare with his uncanny ability to avoid violent contact in an 1,100-yard rushing campaign.

4. A missed extra point by Justin Tucker and a blocked punt for Sam Koch were aberrations, but the lackluster kick coverage we’ve seen throughout the season is something that can cost a team dearly at the wrong moment in January. That’s one of the few legitimate concerns on this team.

5. Thursday was a reminder of how much the Ravens still rely on the blitz to create pressure. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had time and room to operate when Wink Martindale called for a simpler four-man rush, especially in the first half.

6. After back-to-back quiet games, Marquise Brown delivered one of his best plays of the season by getting his feet in on Jackson’s 24-yard touchdown pass. It was also a bold strategy in the New York secondary to pass the speedy rookie off to no one in deep coverage.

7. Tyus Bowser hasn’t lived up to his original second-round billing, but he’s had a solid season as a rotational edge defender. His fifth sack of the season and the resulting fumble helped put this game away after the Ravens had punted twice to begin the second half.

8. Mark Ingram tied his career high with his fourth touchdown reception and continues to run with a relentless style that’s fit perfectly in this offense. Le’Veon Bell drew more outside attention leading up to free agency, but Ingram has been the superior player and the better bargain.

9. If the 33-yard touchdown pass to Seth Roberts looked familiar, it was virtually the same route that Jackson overthrew at the end of regulation in Pittsburgh back in Week 5, a game the Ravens won in overtime. Coaches note how the young quarterback rarely makes the same mistake twice.

10. A substantial sample size supported the concerns about James Hurst filling in for the concussed Ronnie Stanley, but you forgot the veteran reserve was even out there on Thursday night, which is exactly what you want. Hurst deserves praise for his play at left tackle.

11. Having a 28-7 lead certainly helped make the decision easier, but going for it on a fourth-and-1 from your own 29 is the kind of aggressive call that’s giving the Ravens an additional edge over opponents. It enhances your play calling, your win probability, and your team’s mindset.

12. Jackson exchanged jerseys with three different Jets players and even had Tom Brady tweeting about wanting to race him during Thursday’s game. It’s Super Bowl or bust when a team is 12-2 the week before Christmas, but try not to take for granted how special this all is right now.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson throws a pass against the New York Jets during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Electric passing efficiency driving Lamar Jackson to historic MVP season

Posted on 14 December 2019 by Luke Jones

The post-game question about the record made Lamar Jackson’s eyes grow wide as he then pumped his fist, but it wasn’t the same accomplishment everyone else was talking about on Thursday night.

The Ravens quarterback made clear he would always “cherish” breaking the NFL single-season quarterback rushing record held by Michael Vick. However, learning he had tied Vinny Testaverde’s franchise-best mark for touchdown passes in a season prompted an enthusiastic reaction from the man determined to be known as much more than just a running quarterback.

“Throwing them. No running records — besides the little rushing record,” said Jackson as he smiled. “But throwing, that’s amazing.”

His unparalleled athleticism at the quarterback position and ability to make NFL defenders look like awkward adolescents in the open field take center stage on SportsCenter and social media, but you really do believe Jackson when he tells you he’d rather throw than run. And his passing efficiency has cemented his status as the clear-cut favorite to win the league’s most valuable player award. The five-touchdown performance in the 42-21 win over the New York Jets gave Jackson seven more touchdown throws than any quarterback in the NFL despite 22 others having more passing attempts even before the remainder of Week 15 play on Sunday and Monday.

We know the success of Baltimore’s top-ranked scoring offense begins with a rushing attack that’s already shattered the old franchise record set by the 2003 team that featured 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis, but Jackson has eaten defenses alive in the red zone, throwing 22 touchdowns without an interception for a 110.8 passer rating in that area. Entering Sunday, the Ravens had attempted fewer passes than all but three other teams this season, but Jackson has been superb when throwing, improving his completion percentage from 58.2 as a rookie to 66.2 percent (11th in the NFL) this season.

Tight end Mark Andrews and rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown are his top targets with a combined 15 touchdown receptions, but Jackson threw a touchdown to five different players against the Jets on Thursday, meaning eight different Ravens have now caught at least two touchdowns this season. The volume of targets may not be there for a group more frequently asked to do the dirty work of blocking in the run game, but the connections certainly are when called upon.

“That’s just the chemistry and hard work. We’re taking practice like it’s a game,” Jackson said. “That’s one thing I had to work on individually by myself. Because our guys work so hard, I’ve been wanting to throw dimes to them and make sure to make their job a lot easier catching them in stride, and they just help me out by catching the ball and doing what they do.”

The combination of Jackson’s explosive running and passing efficiency is unlike anything we’ve seen, already dating the predictable comparisons to Vick as the former has already thrown more touchdowns and completed a higher percentage of passes in a season than his favorite player did at any point in his career. Ironically, this 22-year-old quarterback and run-first offense that many say are changing the game are doing things you have to go back generations to find comparisons.

Jackson has 33 touchdown passes this season in 370 passing attempts, 179 fewer than Testaverde in 1996 and 142 fewer throws than Jameis Winston with his 26 touchdowns and 23 interceptions entering Week 15. The only other quarterbacks to throw 33 or more touchdowns in 370 or fewer pass attempts in a season were Y.A. Tittle in 1963 and George Blanda in 1961, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.

What other quarterbacks have thrown 30 or more touchdowns in a season while passing for fewer than 3,000 yards? Just Len Dawson in 1964 and Johnny Unitas in 1959 — the first of three MVP seasons for the Baltimore legend.

Dating back to 1950, a quarterback has thrown five or more touchdowns in 23 or fewer pass attempts in a game only 31 times. Only nine have occurred in the 21st century with Jackson responsible for three this season. Only two other quarterbacks — Eddie LeBaron and Craig Morton — had even done that twice in their entire careers.

Such numbers shouldn’t be interpreted as perfect comparisons across eras of football with very different rules, but they do make you think back to John Harbaugh’s offseason comments about an offensive “revolution” and using offensive concepts not seen in the NFL in decades. The combination of an offense designed perfectly for its quarterback’s strengths and Jackson’s unique skills and markedly improved accuracy have resulted in the Ravens sporting the league’s most devastating offense.

It’s a perfect marriage that’s just getting started, a terrifying thought for the rest of the league. Jackson understandably garners more attention for his exhilarating rushing ability, but the steps he’s already taken as a passer — one who won’t turn 23 until next month — should dismiss the questions about his career longevity beyond the usual injury risk any NFL player assumes.

Jackson may no longer be a 1,000-yard rusher in three years, five years, or a decade from now, but the passing acumen he’s already displaying makes you more and more confident that he won’t need to be.

He’s the deserved MVP and only getting better for the NFL’s best team riding a 10-game winning streak and needing one more victory to lock up home-field advantage throughout the postseason.

“It starts with the quarterback playing well. He’s played well for a long time now,” said 13th-year guard and seven-time Pro Bowl selection Marshal Yanda. “As far as [him] being a young player, you would think — I’m thinking in the back of my mind — sooner or later he’s going to have a young, second-year growing-pains game, and the kid just keeps playing winning football.”

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 14 win at Buffalo

Posted on 09 December 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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earlthomas

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Ravens-Bills: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 December 2019 by Luke Jones

Nearly two months ago, the Ravens began a stretch of six of seven games against teams with winning records that would set the course for their 2019 season.

A win in Buffalo would make them 7-0 over that daunting period and would clinch back-to-back trips to the postseason for the first time since Baltimore went to the playoffs in each of John Harbaugh’s first five seasons as head coach from 2008-12. That impressive prosperity has transformed the Ravens from mere playoff contenders to the Super Bowl favorites entering the final quarter of the regular season.

Of course, the Bills will have something to say about the conclusion of that challenging stretch as Buffalo seeks its fourth straight victory to further cement its hold on a playoff spot.

As expected, wide receivers Marquise Brown (ankle) and Seth Roberts (knee), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), and inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle) are all active after being officially listed as questionable to play. All were full participants for Friday’s practice in Owings Mills, leaving no real doubt about their availability against the Bills.

For the second straight week, reserve cornerbacks Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall were both deactivated, but the return of reserve safety Brynden Trawick from injured reserve gives defensive coordinator Wink Martindale more flexibility to move dime safety Brandon Carr back to cornerback should something happen to the starting trio of Humphrey, Marcus Peters, and Jimmy Smith during Sunday’s game.

Defensive tackle Justin Ellis was a healthy scratch, which suggests a greater level of confidence in the health of starting nose tackle Michael Pierce after he returned to action last week. Pierce wasn’t listed on this week’s injury report after missing nearly three full games with an ankle injury last month.

There were no surprises among the Buffalo inactives after reserve offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe (ankle) was officially ruled out Friday and was the only Bills player on the final game status injury report.

Sunday’s referee is Shawn Smith.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Buffalo calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the mid-40s with no chance of precipitation, a forgiving set of conditions for western New York in December. However, winds will be 15 to 25 miles per hour with higher gusts possible, which could create an interesting dynamic for the passing and kicking games.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with black pants while Buffalo dons red tops with red pants for Week 14.

Sunday marks the ninth all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens aiming for their first ever win in Buffalo despite holding a 5-3 overall advantage in the series. Baltimore is trying to clinch its first 11-win season since 2011 and extend its winning streak to nine, a franchise record for the regular season.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
CB Anthony Averett
CB Iman Marshall
C Hroniss Grasu
DT Justin Ellis
G Ben Powers

BUFFALO
OT Ty Nsekhe
WR Duke Williams
RB T.J. Yeldon
TE Tommy Sweeney
DT Vincent Taylor
S Dean Marlowe
OL Ike Boettger

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marquisebrown

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Ravens, Buffalo mostly healthy going into Sunday’s meeting

Posted on 06 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are officially listing four players as questionable for Sunday’s game in Buffalo, but all are expected to play against the 9-3 Bills.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle), cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), and wide receiver Seth Roberts (knee) were limited earlier in the week, but each practiced fully on Friday, eliminating any real doubt about their availability. Despite a physical battle with San Francisco last week, the Ravens have to be pleased with their current state of health, especially with a Thursday game against the New York Jets looming after the Week 14 meeting with the Bills.

Baltimore conducted a light indoor practice on Friday.

“We do feel good about where we’re at. We are healthy, and we do understand we play Thursday,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re kind of taking that into consideration from a big-picture standpoint with all the different ways that we’re working. But really, the focus is just Sunday. We know what we’re going to be in for.”

The Bills are also healthy with reserve offensive tackle Ty Nsekhe being the only player on their final injury report. Nsekhe was declared out for Sunday’s game after missing practice all week with an ankle injury that’s sidelined him since Week 11.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Buffalo calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds 15 to 25 miles per hour and only a small chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: WR Marquise Brown (ankle), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), WR Seth Roberts (knee)

BUFFALO
OUT: OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle)

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