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Twelve Ravens thoughts on DeCosta, Harbaugh remarks from NFL combine

Posted on 28 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh answering questions at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you had simply read the transcript, DeCosta sounded very similar to Ozzie Newsome speaking at his first combine as the general manager, which isn’t surprising as few executives and coaches tip their hands with free agency two weeks away.

2. The balance between keeping as much of the defense together as possible and building a stronger offense continues to strike me as a difficult task, especially factoring the age of some key defensive players. This is what happens when trying to rebuild on the fly.

3. DeCosta expressed pride in the Ravens’ identity being built on defense historically and stated a desire to continue that tradition. It’s understandable, but Baltimore continuing that philosophy has netted one playoff win since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed suited up for the final time.

4. Harbaugh expects Marshal Yanda to continue playing, which is great news for an offensive line that could already stand to improve inside. The seven-time Pro Bowl guard is entering the final year of his contract and probably could play at a high level longer than that if he wants.

5. While dancing around questions about Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith, DeCosta said he expects Brandon Carr to return, which could be bad news for Smith and his $15.85 million cap number. Carr is older, but he’s cheaper, more durable, and coming off a more consistent season than Smith.

6. DeCosta didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of using the franchise tag on C.J. Mosley, but he made it clear a long-term deal remains the goal with talks “ongoing” and expected to continue with agent Jimmy Sexton in Indianapolis. This figures to be a critical week on that front.

7. The Ravens brass being complimentary of John Brown wasn’t surprising, but I remain skeptical there’s a great fit there — from his perspective — in terms of price tag and offensive philosophy. Either way, he should do well in what appears to be an underwhelming free-agent market for wide receivers.

8. Terrell Suggs stated his intentions months ago to continue playing in 2019, but talks will be delicate in trying to be realistic about the 36-year-old’s current value without insulting someone who’s been so critical to the organization. You hope something can be worked out that makes sense for both sides.

9. Harbaugh praised the inside-outside versatility and intensity of Za’Darius Smith, but the lack of discussion about Baltimore’s 2018 sack leader reflects how few expect him to return. His market should be interesting, especially if a few other free-agent pass rushers indeed receive the franchise tag.

10. DeCosta summed up his thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability by saying, “We certainly want to keep him healthy, but we also want to win and … score points.” The keys are his passing development and adding enough talent to diminish the need for him to run 15-plus times per game.

11. Harbaugh acknowledged the organization’s need to draft and develop wide receivers more effectively while DeCosta said, “We’ve got to add playmakers.” Yes.

12. Counting the Joe Flacco trade and the Michael Crabtree release, the Ravens are already dealing with nearly $22 million in dead money on this year’s salary cap. With another big release or two still very possible, that figure is shaping up to be their largest amount since 2015.

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How did Ravens offensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 07 February 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

Below is a look at where Ravens offensive linemen ranked at their positions followed by the outlook going into 2019:

OT Ronnie Stanley
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,085
PFF ranking: 17th among offensive tackles
Skinny: Stanley was fourth among qualified offensive tackles in PFF’s pass-blocking grades and was named a second alternate to the Pro Bowl in his third season. The sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft may never become a perennial Pro Bowl tackle, but he’s been solid and reliable despite some nagging injuries.

G Alex Lewis
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 707
PFF ranking: 67th among guards
Skinny: Hopes were high for Lewis as he returned from shoulder surgery that cost him all of 2017, but injuries and disappointing play led to him being inactive for the final five weeks of the season. After another shoulder surgery this offseason, he likely finds himself on the roster bubble entering 2019.

C Matt Skura
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,189
PFF ranking: 23rd among centers
Skinny: The former practice-squad member and undrafted free agent probably held up as well as the Ravens could have expected in his first year as the starting center and was one of only two Baltimore linemen to start all 16 games. That doesn’t mean the organization shouldn’t seek an upgrade, however.

G Marshal Yanda
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,163
PFF ranking: fourth among guards
Skinny: After shaking off early rust from missing most of 2017 with an ankle injury, the 34-year-old reclaimed his spot as one of the NFL’s best guards and was named to his seventh Pro Bowl in eight years. Yanda is entering the last year of his deal and has been noncommittal about how much longer he’ll play.

OT Orlando Brown Jr.
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 760
PFF ranking: 47th among offensive tackles
Skinny: Considering how disastrous Brown’s showing was at last year’s scouting combine, the Ravens should be thrilled with the play of the third-round rookie over his first 10 starts. It’s fair to note Brown received help in many pass-blocking situations, but he still looks the part of a solid NFL starter.

OL James Hurst
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 676
PFF ranking: 68th among offensive tackles
Skinny: Many were surprised by the four-year, $17.5 million deal Hurst signed last March, but a back injury cost him the right tackle job and he struggled at left guard upon returning in December. He’s always been best suited for a backup role, but he carries a $4.75 million salary cap hit for 2019.

OL Bradley Bozeman
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 214
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: After being a two-year starter at Alabama, the sixth-round rookie flashed in limited playing time at left guard. Depending on what the Ravens do in free agency and the draft, Bozeman could compete for a starting job and has a strong chance to stick around as a versatile interior backup at the very least.

OL Jermaine Eluemunor
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 94
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Eluemunor spent a few weeks on the practice squad, but he elevated his organizational stock slightly and showed some versatility when he filled in for an injured Stanley at left tackle. The 2017 fifth-round pick will still need a strong spring and summer to secure a roster spot as a backup.

2019 positional outlook

Trying to evaluate the 2018 offensive line is difficult when considering the moving parts due to injuries and the dramatic shift in playing style when an injured Joe Flacco was replaced by Lamar Jackson at quarterback. The Ravens ranked 31st in the NFL at just 3.6 yards per carry through the first nine weeks of the regular season — a greater indictment of the line and running backs than Flacco — but they became the most prolific rushing team in the league over the final seven weeks of the regular season with Jackson at quarterback and young running backs Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon replacing Alex Collins and Buck Allen. The offensive line certainly deserves credit, but it’s fair to ask how much with Jackson’s special athleticism putting great pressure on opposing run defenses. Baltimore’s offensive line was 10th in PFF’s season-ending rankings and ranked eighth in pass protection by Football Outsiders, but it’s difficult to look at the individual grades and not believe the Ravens would benefit greatly from an interior upgrade or two, especially factoring in Yanda’s advancing age and uncertain future.

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Examining Ravens’ top 11 salary cap numbers for 2019

Posted on 05 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face their most intriguing offseason in years after making the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and transitioning to a new general manager and starting quarterback for 2019.

It’s no secret the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to find — and maintain — prosperity, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for a Super Bowl championship. As of right now, the Ravens will devote $121.547 million in 2019 salary cap space to the 11 players possessing the highest cap numbers. The 2019 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s projected to rise from $177.2 million in 2018 to at least $188 million.

Below is a look at those 11 players:

1. QB Joe Flacco
2019 Week 1 age: 34
2019 cap number: $26.5 million
Synopsis: Flacco is the reason why I expanded from the normal 10 to the top 11 figures as Baltimore has already made clear its plans to move on from the veteran. Whether Eric DeCosta will be able to find a trade partner remains to be seen, but Flacco’s exit will create $10.5 million in cap savings while leaving $16 million in dead money on this year’s cap. My hope is the organization prioritizes building an offense around Lamar Jackson after using most of its meaningful draft capital and available cap dollars on the defense since Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco’s contract was a convenient excuse to overlook the entire truth.

2. CB Jimmy Smith
2019 Week 1 age: 31
2019 cap number: $15.85 million
Synopsis: Had the Ravens not restructured his deal in 2016 and 2017 to create cap space — and inflate his 2019 cap number in the process — I’d be more in favor of letting Smith play out the final year of his contract after he did perform better down the stretch last season. However, I just don’t see how this number is tenable for someone who’s played all 16 games in a season just twice in his career. The Ravens have done a good job building depth at cornerback, so it should be time to tap into that unless Smith agrees to a pay cut. Releasing him or working out a trade would save $9.5 million in cap space.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2019 Week 1 age: 30
2019 cap number: $14.17 million
Synopsis: Williams remains one of the better run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL, but his limitations as a pass rusher and the presence of Michael Pierce — regarded by some as a better player — haven’t quieted critics of the five-year, $52.5 million contract signed in 2017. A couple contract restructures have inflated Williams’ cap figures to over $14 million for each of the next three years, but the dead money involved makes it prohibitive to consider doing anything with his deal until next year at the earliest. He played in 50 percent of the defensive snaps in 2018, his lowest share in a season in which he’s played in all games.

4. S Tony Jefferson
2019 Week 1 age: 27
2019 cap number: $12.657 million
Synopsis: The strong safety was better in 2018 than he was in his first season with Baltimore, but this is another example where it’s more than fair to question whether the Ravens are getting enough value for what they’re paying with Jefferson’s contract currently ranking ninth among NFL safeties in average annual value, according to OverTheCap.com. Two restructures and the uncertain future of several defensive veterans more than likely keep Jefferson in the plans for 2019, but seeing him have the fourth-highest cap number on the team doesn’t add up compared to the kind of player he’s been.

5. G Marshal Yanda
2019 Week 1 age: 34
2019 cap number: $10.125 million
Synopsis: Even with his advancing age, Yanda is the first player on the list who remains a relative bargain considering he just made his seventh Pro Bowl in the last eight years — he missed nearly the entire 2017 season with an ankle injury — and his contract currently ranks 13th in average annual value earned among right guards. Any questions about his future should only be based on how much longer he wants to continue playing. Frankly, the Ravens should be exploring his interest in a reasonable extension if he wants to strengthen his case for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.

6. WR Michael Crabtree
2019 Week 1 age: 31
2019 cap number: $9.333 million
Synopsis: Coming off a second straight year in which he barely cracked 600 receiving yards, Crabtree would appear to be a strong candidate to become a cap casualty, but this year’s free-agent market for receivers is lukewarm and the organization’s history of drafting at the position ranges from poor to not even trying. That makes you wonder if the Ravens could keep Crabtree around for the sake of continuity, but his 16.9-percent drop rate is difficult to overlook. The veteran might be able to help the position group’s floor, but there isn’t much upside there anymore. Cutting him creates $4.667 million in space.

7. S Eric Weddle
2019 Week 1 age: 34
2019 cap number: $9.25 million
Synopsis: Trying to assess Weddle’s value is difficult as his mental prowess was credited by players and coaches as the reason why the defense was so deceptive. However, he finished his 12th season without an interception — he had a combined 10 in the previous two years — and a career-low three pass breakups. The Ravens could use more range at free safety, but there’s no guarantee they’ll find it immediately and Weddle’s leadership would be hard to replace. A pay cut with incentives would be ideal, but he’s already backed down from his initial vow not to play elsewhere. Releasing him saves $7.5 million in space.

8. CB Brandon Carr
2019 Week 1 age: 33
2019 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: Carr continued his remarkable streak of never missing a game over his 11-year career and was second on the team in defensive snaps, providing very solid play on the outside and effectively filling in at the slot corner position when required. Despite Carr’s age, I’d much prefer his reasonable $6 million payout for 2019 compared to the $9.5 million base salary the Ravens are scheduled to give the oft-injured Smith. His leadership on defense could also become more critical depending on what happens with the likes of Weddle and free agents Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley.

9. OT Ronnie Stanley
2019 Week 1 age: 25
2019 cap number: $6.517 million
Synopsis: The Ravens will need to decide this spring whether to exercise their fifth-year option on Stanley, but that decision should be a no-brainer. Stanley hasn’t blossomed into the Pro Bowl left tackle Baltimore hoped he would become when selecting him sixth overall in the 2016 draft, but he’s been a steady contributor playing through a series of nagging ailments over his first three seasons.

10. K Justin Tucker
2019 Week 1 age: 29
2019 cap number: $5.145 million
Synopsis: Tucker is still regarded by many as the best kicker in the NFL as he enters the final year of his current contract, making him a logical candidate for an extension that could lower his 2019 cap figure a bit and keep him in Baltimore for several more years.

11. WR Willie Snead
2019 Week 1 age: 26
2019 cap number: $5 million
Synopsis: The slot receiver was one of Jackson’s favorite targets down the stretch and is the only sure thing in Baltimore’s group of wide receivers entering the offseason, making his compensation reasonable.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts from Harbaugh press conference

Posted on 25 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With John Harbaugh meeting with the media on Friday after signing his new four-year contract, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Harbaugh confirmed his role hasn’t changed in terms of roster input, noting how the organization’s brass works together and has never operated with a silo mentality. The thought of Steve Bisciotti suddenly moving the goalposts as Eric DeCosta finally gets his chance as general manager never made much sense.

2. Lamar Jackson plans to throw with his receivers, but Harbaugh avoided specifics when asked if Jackson planned to work with a quarterback guru or coach before the offseason program. He does expect Jackson to work hard and “come back a better quarterback, skill-wise, than he was when he left.”

3. The possibility remains of adding an outside assistant to specialize in the passing game, but Harbaugh made clear not to shortchange Greg Roman’s knowledge in that area. One difference with his time as San Francisco’s coordinator, however, was the presence of Jim Harbaugh, who spent 15 years as an NFL quarterback.

4. Asked which position groups he’d like to improve, Harbaugh said what the Ravens “don’t want to do is take any steps back” and have to play catch-up. With tough roster decisions on the defensive side, however, they may need to give a little there to grow this offense meaningfully.

5. Any discussion about Marshal Yanda’s future should only relate to the possibility of him retiring. His $7 million salary and $10.125 million cap figure for 2019 remain more than reasonable for someone who’s still one of the best guards in football going into his 13th season.

6. Harbaugh didn’t want to entertain the possibility of C.J. Mosley departing while noting “there are limitations with the money.” Both sides are interested in a long-term deal, but at what cost? Deals for Luke Kuechly and Bobby Wagner are four years old, so Mosley will — and should — be aiming higher.

7. It’s only logical that Baltimore would want a backup quarterback with a similar skill set to Jackson with Harbaugh calling Robert Griffin III “a great option” and also alluding to the media speculation about Tyrod Taylor, whose current contract voids a few days after the Super Bowl.

8. Harbaugh said he expects Eric Weddle to return, but the safety backpedaling this week from his previous comments about not playing for any other team but the Ravens in 2019 leads you to believe his $6.5 million salary and $9.25 million cap figure are possible sticking points for DeCosta.

9. I can’t imagine Za’Darius Smith was thrilled about his sports hernia surgery coming to light, but that shouldn’t impact his free-agent market anyway. Tavon Young (sports hernia) and Tony Jefferson (ankle) also had minor procedures. Alex Lewis undergoing another shoulder surgery isn’t encouraging, however.

10. Jimmy Smith wasn’t mentioned during Friday’s press conference, but Harbaugh has long been a strong advocate for the veteran cornerback. Even so, he’ll be 31 in July and is scheduled to make $9.5 million with a $15.85 million cap figure. That’s not tenable with the many other areas to address.

11. The playoff loss wasn’t a big topic of conversation after the long delay with Harbaugh’s season-ending press conference, but the coach reiterated the Ravens were “outplayed” and “outcoached” before vowing next year’s offense will be “very diverse” and built “from the ground up.” It’ll definitely be interesting.

12. Asked about Joe Flacco’s value, Harbaugh said his former quarterback just needs some weapons and pass protection to be “one of the best quarterbacks in the league.” Harbaugh was being complimentary and hasn’t been the general manager, of course, but the irony of those words couldn’t have been thicker.

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Three Ravens players receive PFWA honors

Posted on 15 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Three Ravens players received honors from the Professional Football Writers of America on Tuesday.

Kicker Justin Tucker was the only Baltimore player named to the 2018 PFWA All-NFL team, the third time he’s received that distinction in his career. The 29-year-old went 35-for-39 on field goal tries and 36-for-37 on extra points in 2018 and was also named the first-team All-Pro kicker by the Associated Press earlier this month despite not being picked for the Pro Bowl for the second straight season.

Tucker was one of three Baltimore players named to the PFWA All-AFC team with right guard Marshal Yanda and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley joining him. After missing nearly all of the 2017 season with an ankle injury, Yanda, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection, started all 16 games and reclaimed his place as one of the best guards in football. Mosley recorded 105 tackles, a half-sack, one interception, and five passes defensed as he was also named to the Pro Bowl for the fourth time in his five-year NFL career.

No Ravens were named to the PFWA All-Rookie team as New York Jets tight end Chris Herndon received the nod over Mark Andrews, the Baltimore rookie with the strongest case for inclusion. Cleveland quarterback Baker Mayfield was named the PFWA’s 2018 Rookie of the Year while New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and Indianapolis linebacker Darius Leonard was tabbed Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Below is a look at the PFWA’s full All-NFL, All-AFC, All-NFC, and All-Rookie teams:

2018 PFWA ALL-NFL TEAM

Offense

QB – Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams*

WR – DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans*; Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons, and Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints (tie)

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles*

G – Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys&; Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

T – David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs

Defense

DE – Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings; J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

DT – Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles*; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams&

OLB – Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears; Von Miller, Denver Broncos+

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks#

CB – Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots

S – Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears; Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens

P – Michael Dickson, Seattle Seahawks

KR – Andre Roberts, New York Jets

PR – Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

ST – Adrian Phillips, Los Angeles Chargers

* – repeat selection from 2017

# – consecutive selections from 2016-18

& – consecutive selections from 2015-18

+ – consecutive selections from 2014-18

 

2018 PFWA ALL-AFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

RB – Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans; Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

WR – DeAndre Hopkins*, Houston Texans; Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs

TE – Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

C – Maurkice Pouncey, Pittsburgh Steelers*

G – Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts; Marshal Yanda, Baltimore Ravens

T – Taylor Lewan, Tennessee Titans*; Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs*

Defense

DE – Myles Garrett, Cleveland Browns; J.J. Watt, Houston Texans

DT – Geno Atkins, Cincinnati Bengals; Chris Jones, Kansas City Chiefs

OLB – Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts; Von Miller, Denver Broncos&

ILB – C.J. Mosley, Baltimore Ravens

CB – Stephon Gilmore, New England Patriots; Xavien Howard, Miami Dolphins

S – Jamal Adams, New York Jets; Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Special Teams

PK – Justin Tucker, Baltimore Ravens#

P – Brett Kern, Tennessee Titans*

KR – Andre Roberts, New York Jets

PR – Andre Roberts, New York Jets

ST – Adrian Phillips, Los Angeles Chargers

* – repeat selection from 2017

# – consecutive selections from 2016-18

& – consecutive selections from 2013-18

 

2018 PFWA ALL-NFC TEAM

Offense

QB – Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints

RB – Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys; Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams*

WR –Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons&; Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints*

TE – George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles*

G – Brandon Brooks, Philadelphia Eagles*; Zack Martin, Dallas Cowboys&

T – Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints; David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers

Defense

DE – Cameron Jordan, New Orleans Saints*; Danielle Hunter, Minnesota Vikings, and DeMarcus Lawrence, Dallas Cowboys* (tie)

DT – Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles*; Aaron Donald, Los Angeles Rams&

OLB – Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins*; Khalil Mack, Chicago Bears

MLB – Bobby Wagner, Seattle Seahawks

CB – Kyle Fuller, Chicago Bears; Byron Jones, Dallas Cowboys

S – Eddie Jackson, Chicago Bears; Harrison Smith, Minnesota Vikings*

Special Teams

PK – Aldrick Rosas, New York Giants

P – Michael Dickson, Seattle Seahawks

KR – Richie James, San Francisco 49ers

PR – Tarik Cohen, Chicago Bears

ST – Cory Littleton, Los Angeles Rams

* – repeat selection from 2017

# – consecutive selections from 2015-18

& – consecutive selections from 2014-18

 

2018 PFWA ALL-ROOKIE TEAM

Offense

QB – Baker Mayfield, Cleveland Browns

RB – Saquon Barkley, New York Giants; Phillip Lindsay, Denver Broncos

WR – Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons; DJ Moore, Carolina Panthers

TE – Chris Herndon, New York Jets

C – Billy Price, Cincinnati Bengals

G – Will Hernandez, New York Giants; Quenton Nelson, Indianapolis Colts

T – Mike McGlinchey, San Francisco 49ers; Braden Smith, Indianapolis Colts

Defense

DL – Bradley Chubb, Denver Broncos; Marcus Davenport, New Orleans Saints; Da’Shawn Hand, Detroit Lions; Daron Payne, Washington Redskins

LB – Darius Leonard, Indianapolis Colts; Roquan Smith, Chicago Bears; Leighton Vander Esch, Dallas Cowboys

CB – Jaire Alexander, Green Bay Packers, Denzel Ward, Cleveland Browns

S – Jessie Bates, Cincinnati Bengals; Derwin James, Los Angeles Chargers

Special Teams

PK – Jason Sanders, Miami Dolphins

P – Michael Dickson, Seattle Seahawks

KR – Tremon Smith, Kansas City Chiefs

PR – Christian Kirk, Arizona Cardinals

ST – Zeke Turner, Arizona Cardinals

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Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams added to Pro Bowl roster

Posted on 15 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will be sending a fourth player to this month’s Pro Bowl as defensive tackle Brandon Williams was named an injury replacement for Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins on Tuesday.

This marks Williams’ first career trip to the Pro Bowl after the 29-year-old collected 34 tackles, a sack, and one pass defensed in 16 starts this season. The run-stopping nose tackle played 564 snaps and ranked 36th among the NFL’s interior defenders in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. Interestingly, PFF graded Ravens teammate Michael Pierce fifth among all interior defenders, but he played just 408 snaps.

Williams has anchored Baltimore’s run defense since becoming a starter in 2014. This past season, the Ravens ranked fourth in rushing yards allowed per game (82.9) and third in yards per carry allowed (3.7), their best finishes in those departments since 2014.

“My wife and I couldn’t hold back our tears of excitement and joy to know that after six wonderful years in the NFL, and with God’s guidance, we have reached our goal of getting selected to the Pro Bowl!” Williams said in a statement released by the Ravens. “I couldn’t be more appreciative and thankful to everyone who has had a hand or vote in getting my dream to come true, and I look forward to playing the game in Orlando.

“I vowed to myself and to my wife that we could not take a trip to Hawaii until after I went to the Pro Bowl. Honey, pack your bags!”

Williams will join right guard Marshal Yanda, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and safety Eric Weddle in representing Baltimore at the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27. The 2013 third-round pick is in the midst of a five-year, $52.5 million contract signed in 2017.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering wild-card weekend

Posted on 05 January 2019 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ravens’ rematch with Chargers carries much intrigue with playoff stakes

Posted on 03 January 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are entering unusual territory for Sunday’s wild-card tilt against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Not only will it be their first home playoff game in six years, but the opponent is a team Baltimore saw — and defeated — just two weeks ago. Teams play their divisional foes twice per season, of course, but you rarely see a return bout after just 15 days, making the second meeting between these AFC teams that much more interesting after the Ravens’ convincing 22-10 win in Carson, California on Dec. 22.

The chess match is on against a familiar opponent who is also 8-0 in games played outside Los Angeles.

“Are they going to game-plan us the same way that they did the first game, or are they going to completely change the game plan?” right guard Marshal Yanda said. “Are we going to change the game plan? You really don’t know exactly if they’re going to stick to the script or if they’re going to install a new game plan. You just have to look at their entire body of work, their entire 16-game season.”

The last time the Ravens played the same team twice in such a short period of time was in 2012 when they beat Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in Week 11 and fell to the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium two weeks later. That same season, Denver clobbered John Harbaugh’s team in Baltimore in mid-December, but you may recall the underdog Ravens faring a little differently at Mile High four weeks later on the way to the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.

No better examples are needed to remind nothing is assured for Baltimore — even with home-field advantage — despite its convincing road victory over Philip Rivers and the Chargers in Week 16. We constantly try to jump to conclusions from what we see in this league in a given week and are frequently sent back to the drawing board, which is what makes the NFL so much fun. The truth is we’re dealing with small sample sizes and many variables in contrast to the other sports that play many more games in a season.

But that brings us to Lamar Jackson and a Ravens running game that’s taken the league by storm over the last two months. Opponents have tried their best to simulate Jackson in practices by using a mobile quarterback or even a speedy player at another position, but his speed and agility have no parallel at the position in today’s game. Teams can watch film and prepare as much as possible, but experiencing this ground attack for the first time is different as the Ravens have rushed for at least 194 yards in six of the last seven games and Jackson set a single-season record for rushing attempts (147) by a quarterback despite starting only seven games.

It’s similar to a hitter stepping to the plate against a pitcher with triple-digit heat, nasty breaking stuff, and an unorthodox delivery for the first time after poring over the scouting reports and watching video in preparation. But in the same way batters have the chance to adjust in subsequent plate appearances, the Chargers’ ninth-ranked run defense will now have the opportunity to provide a meaningful answer to the question we’ve been asking for weeks.

How sustainable is the Ravens’ high-volume running game as opposing defenses are further exposed to it and given more time to prepare?

At first glance, the Chargers surrendering 159 rushing yards and 4.5 yards per carry in Week 16 isn’t worthy of praise, but they fared better against Jackson’s legs and the NFL’s second-ranked rushing attack than any other post-bye opponent. After registering a robust 5.4 yards per carry in the first half, the Ravens managed just 21 yards on their first 10 carries of the second half, contributing to three straight three-and-outs that kept the struggling Chargers within striking distance until Tavon Young’s late fumble return for a touchdown. Jackson carried 13 times for just 39 yards on the night, easily his lowest rushing total since Joe Flacco was still the starting quarterback and the rookie was playing sparingly.

“We weren’t as efficient in the second half as we needed to be,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who caught a 68-yard touchdown in the third quarter of the Week 16 win. “That’s probably one of those things [where] they played a good game and we fell off a little bit.”

It’s not as though opposing defenses haven’t attempted to adjust during games by keeping a safety in the box more frequently, using “Bear” or heavy fronts, or even utilizing pre-snap movement with defensive linemen pinching inside like Cleveland did in the fourth quarter. But this will be the first time an opponent has been able to go back to the laboratory with a full week to prepare and adjust after facing the real thing.

A few teams have managed to slow Baltimore’s ground game — at least somewhat — as Kansas City gave up only 3.8 yards per carry after halftime compared to 6.1 yards per attempt in the first half. The Browns surrendered 4.5 yards per carry in the second half last Sunday after being gashed to the tune of an absurd 8.5 yards per carry over the first two quarters. But only the Chargers have managed to shut down the Baltimore run over the final 30 minutes as the Ravens defense was forced to win the game.

Los Angeles’ propensity for frequently using safeties like rookie sensation Derwin James in the box and more athletic linebackers matches up better with Jackson on the edges.

“We know his speed. I watched him in college as well. His speed is really good,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. “We know that you have to protect the perimeter with this guy. On the edge, one-on-one — he can win. He’s like a running back with the ball in his hands.”

Such a strategy of using lighter players in the box would seemingly leave the Chargers vulnerable against inside runs. That proved true in the first half as Gus Edwards ran for 60 yards on eight carries, but the 238-pound rookie managed just 11 yards on five carries in the second half before finally breaking off a late 21-yard gain when the game was already decided.

We’re still dealing with such a small sample size, mind you, but did the Chargers manage to finally crack the code? Will Ravens run-game guru Greg Roman cook up something new that Los Angeles coordinator Gus Bradley and his defense won’t be able to handle? Or does Jackson build on what he did through the air against the Chargers after throwing for a career-high 204 yards the first time around?

A return meeting this soon with such high stakes couldn’t be more fascinating.

“They’re skilled. They’re well-coached. They’re disciplined. They make it hard,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg of the Chargers. “They’re really good on defense, and that’s the way I perceive this group that we’re playing. They’ll do a couple of things [differently] during the game — we’ll do a few things [too] — because of the last ball game.

“But every game is its own entity.”

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tavonyoung

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Ravens carry season of good health into wild-card weekend

Posted on 02 January 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A number of factors have gone into the Ravens’ first trip to the playoffs in four years, ranging from Lamar Jackson and an explosive running game to the continued dominance of one of the best defenses in the NFL.

But a season of good health might be as big a reason as any, especially after the long list of injuries that plagued Baltimore through the better part of the last three non-playoff seasons. The Ravens haven’t needed to make a 53-man roster move in over a month and just two players from the Week 1 active roster — running back Alex Collins and defensive tackle Willie Henry — are currently on injured reserve.

The Ravens finished with the sixth-most adjusted games lost in the NFL last season, but the projected starters on the offensive and defensive units for Sunday’s wild-card meeting with the Los Angeles Chargers have missed a total of just 14 games due to injury this season. Seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was sidelined for that many alone last season.

“I think it’s been big,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “The fact that we were healthy, the healthiest we’ve been all year, credit goes to the players for how hard they work and for our strength and conditioning and performance people. What a great job they’ve done. The continuity of practice and then games and having a full roster is really important.”

Ironically, it was the hip injury to longtime quarterback Joe Flacco that forced Jackson into the starting lineup and resulted in the transformation of a pass-heavy offense into an unconventional unit that’s run the ball more than any team in the league since Week 11. A starting quarterback missing multiple games is usually a death knell for a team’s playoff hopes, but it speaks to just how unusual this season has been for the Ravens and how healthy they’ve remained at other positions to thrive through such a transition.

Cornerback Tavon Young was the only Raven to miss Wednesday’s practice for an injury-related reason as he continues to play through a groin issue that sidelined him in Week 12 and has cost him practice time for multiple weeks. Wide receiver Chris Moore (shoulder) was a full participant on Wednesday despite leaving in the fourth quarter of the Week 17 win over Cleveland.

The Chargers present a more interesting injury picture this week as tight end Hunter Henry could make his season debut after rehabbing from a torn ACL suffered last spring. Henry remains on the physically unable to perform list after returning to practice last month, but reports have indicated he will take first-team reps this week in hopes of playing.

Henry caught a combined 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons and appeared poised for a breakout 2018 before injuring his knee during organized team activities.

“We’re not quite sure where he’s at right now,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said in a conference call. “He hasn’t been on the football field since April. The expectations wouldn’t be real high to be honest with you. We’ll evaluate him at the end of the week, and we’ll see where he’s at.”

Los Angeles outside linebacker Jatavis Brown is expected to miss the rest of the season after suffering an ankle injury in Week 17, a significant development as the Chargers try to slow Baltimore’s rushing attack. However, Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon (ankle) was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice and is expected to play.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Tavon Young (groin), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (shoulder), WR Chris Moore (shoulder)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Jatavis Brown (ankle), NT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Austin Ekeler (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Jahleel Addae (shoulder), G Dan Feeney (knee), RB Melvin Gordon (ankle), OT Sam Tevi (groin)

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carrgoodguy

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Humphrey named 2018 Ravens MVP; Carr chosen as media “Good Guy”

Posted on 28 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — One of the more unusual seasons in recent memory brought an interesting choice for the Ravens’ Most Valuable Player award.

Longtime quarterback Joe Flacco may have been the choice after the first quarter of the season while the man who replaced him, rookie Lamar Jackson, helped spark a second-half rebound that’s left Baltimore a win away from securing its first AFC North title since 2012. However, the constant in a season filled with ups and downs has been a defense ranking first in the NFL in total yards and points allowed entering Sunday’s regular-season finale against Cleveland.

That’s why standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey was ultimately selected as the 2018 Ravens MVP on Friday with Jackson finishing second and seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda ranking third in votes from the local media. The 2017 first-round pick from Alabama has broken out this season to become one of the better cornerbacks in the AFC and leads the Ravens in pass breakups (14) and is tied for the team lead in interceptions (two) despite missing two October games with a thigh injury. Humphrey enters Week 17 ranked as the NFL’s fifth-best cornerback, according to Pro Football Focus’ grading system.

His performance has been particularly superb in the second half of the season as he made key plays to secure victories over Cincinnati, Tampa Bay, and the Los Angeles Chargers, feats that haven’t gone unnoticed.

“I guess you know it when you see it. Hey, actions speak louder than words, right?” said head coach John Harbaugh about Humphrey’s recent knack for finishing off games. “The proof is in the pudding. But he does a good job of that, and that’s what it’s all about and that’s how you win games. You make plays at the end to win games, especially in this league.”

The second-year cornerback declined to accept the honor or to be present for an informal ceremony with a team spokesman saying that Humphrey didn’t want to separate himself from his teammates.

Veteran cornerback Brandon Carr was voted as the local media’s “Good Guy,” an honor bestowed upon a player who goes above and beyond normal media obligations to be cooperative and make himself available to reporters. The 32-year-old is also the Ravens’ nominee for the 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year award and is very active with charitable causes related to children’s literacy, breast cancer, social justice, and serving underprivileged youth.

“Some things may be harder than others to publish, but you have to do it,” said Carr about being named “Good Guy” by media. “But, also, thank you for the voice you give the fans to get their feedback and just their gauge of the team [and] what’s going on. We all have a job to do; I appreciate you for doing yours as well.”

Wide receiver Willie Snead, safety Tony Jefferson, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and Yanda also received votes for the “Good Guy” award. As a token of gratitude, the local media will make a donation in Carr’s name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

Below is a history of the team MVP and “Good Guy” selections (in that order) dating back to their introduction by the local media in 2003:

2003: Jamal Lewis, Gary Baxter
2004: Ed Reed, Anthony Weaver
2005: Adalius Thomas, Jamal Lewis
2006: Steve McNair, Bart Scott
2007: Willis McGahee, Derrick Mason
2008: Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs
2009: Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson
2010: Haloti Ngata, Chris Carr
2011: Ray Rice, Bernard Pollard
2012: Ray Rice, Arthur Jones
2013: Justin Tucker, Joe Flacco
2014: Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith
2015: Marshal Yanda, Jimmy Smith
2016: Justin Tucker, Zachary Orr
2017: Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle
2018: Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr

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