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Twelve Ravens thoughts from Greg Roman’s press conference

Posted on 19 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Greg Roman meeting with the media for the first time since his promotion to offensive coordinator, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The theme from Tuesday’s press conference was the “reimagining” of the Ravens offense “from the ground up” with Roman even comparing the process to a brand new coaching staff joining a team. That seems telling after so many questioned the sustainability of the post-bye offensive system last year.

2. Roman went out of his way to mention how the staff was incorporating college elements, ranging from how modern players learn offensive systems to formations and even the calling of plays at that level. That’s interesting for a staff that doesn’t have a ton of recent college coaching experience.

3. Beyond improving his ball security, the greatest offseason focus for Lamar Jackson will be refining his fundamentals and mechanics as a passer, according to Roman. The coordinator opined that certain elements may not have been emphasized very much during his college career.

4. Asked what he likes about Jackson as a passer, Roman praised his field vision and compared it to that of Steve McNair, whom he worked with in his first stint with the Ravens from 2006-07. He said that kind of feel can’t be coached and gives Jackson a higher ceiling.

5. Like John Harbaugh last month, Roman didn’t disclose many details about Jackson’s offseason football plans, but he noted how this is essentially his first true offseason after he went through the pre-draft process last year. It’s a critical one for Jackson to make that fundamental jump.

6. When discussing his play-calling, Roman mentioned not wanting to leave “popcorn on the ground” for the opposing defense to be able to call out their plays. I don’t believe that was a dig at Marty Mornhinweg, but I couldn’t help but think about the playoff loss when he said it.

7. Speaking of the popcorn comment, Roman compared adjusting Jackson’s speed to a pitcher striking you out in the first couple at-bats and said the rebuilding of the offense was like kneading dough and putting together IKEA furniture. He had no shortage of interesting analogies, which I appreciated.

8. To no surprise, Roman mentioned “a strong, powerful” offensive line as the most important element in building an offense around Jackson. You’d have to think upgrading at left guard or center — ideally, both — remains a priority.

9. On the same day Hayden Hurst indicated he finally had the screw removed from his foot that stemmed from his August surgery for a stress fracture, Roman expressed excitement about both him and fellow tight end Mark Andrews and how creative he wants to be with their usage.

10. Echoing Eric DeCosta from last month, Roman mentioned wanting wide receivers with strong blocking ability and a “tough guy” element. That’ll be an emphasis in the draft and free agency, but I feel the need to express hope that they’ll find one or two also possessing the position’s traditional traits.

11. For those dreaming of a Le’Veon Bell signing, Roman preferring a “stable” of running backs and saying a receiving-minded back isn’t a top priority would probably make it unwise to hold your breath for the pursuit of the Pittsburgh Steeler free agent. Not that I expected it anyway.

12. I’m unsure how this is going to go with a “reimagined” offense driven by the run in an NFL leaning so heavily on the pass, but I respect trying to go against the grain for a competitive advantage. How big a passing jump Jackson makes remains the biggest key, however.

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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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Harbaugh, Ravens reportedly nearing contract extension

Posted on 19 January 2019 by Luke Jones

More than four weeks after announcing John Harbaugh would return in 2019, the Ravens are on the verge of reaching a contract extension with their longtime head coach.

According to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen, the sides have an agreement in principle on a deal that will keep Harbaugh in Baltimore beyond the 2019 season. The deal has yet to be finalized, but the 56-year-old coach made his preference to stay clear after the Ravens’ season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in the wild-card round, their first playoff appearance since 2014. The organization issued a statement on Dec. 21 announcing Harbaugh would remain the head coach and the sides were working on an extension for his existing contract set to expire in 2019.

Owner Steve Bisciotti admitted last February he considered replacing Harbaugh after the Ravens missed the playoffs for a third straight season, their longest postseason drought since 1996-99.

“I have every expectation, every plan to be here as long as they want me here, and I believe I’ll be here,” Harbaugh said on Jan. 6. “I think that’s been made clear by them to me over the last few weeks. Like I said a couple weeks ago or last week, I love everybody in the organization; they’re great people. I expect to go forward with that as long as that’s what they want to do. I do believe that’s what they want to do.”

A Harbaugh extension is a sign of stability for an organization that’s undergone notable change over the last calendar year. In addition to Lamar Jackson replacing former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco as the starting quarterback in November, Eric DeCosta has officially succeeded Ozzie Newsome as the general manager and Greg Roman replaced Marty Mornhinweg as the offensive coordinator earlier this month. Last January, Wink Martindale became Baltimore’s defensive coordinator after Dean Pees stepped down.

Harbaugh’s future appeared in great doubt only 2 1/2 months ago when the Ravens limped into the bye week with a 4-5 record and an injured Flacco, but a 6-1 finish and a revamped run-heavy offense led to their first AFC North championship in six years. The NFL’s fourth-longest-tenured head coach will be entering his 12th season and has led the Ravens to seven playoff trips, three division titles, three AFC championship game appearances, and a Super Bowl championship. However, Baltimore has only one playoff victory since its win in Super Bowl XLVII.

Saturday marked the 11th anniversary of Harbaugh’s introductory press conference when he became the third head coach in franchise history.

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Ravens assistant Hammock to become Northern Illinois head coach

Posted on 18 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are losing another member of their offensive coaching staff as running backs coach Thomas Hammock will become the head coach at Northern Illinois.

Hammock, 37, arrived in Baltimore in 2014 and guided four different backs — Justin Forsett, Terrance West, Alex Collins, and Gus Edwards — to lead the Ravens in rushing over the last five seasons. He returns to lead his alma mater where he rushed for 2,432 yards and 25 touchdowns from 1999-2002 and served as the running backs coach from 2005-06. Hammock also coached at Wisconsin and Minnesota before breaking into the NFL with the Ravens.

His departure comes a week after head coach John Harbaugh promoted assistant head coach and tight ends coach Greg Roman to offensive coordinator. That move prompted Marty Mornhinweg to leave the organization despite being asked to remain under a different job title.

With Hammock gone and Bobby Engram expected to become the tight ends coach, openings remain at the running backs and wide receivers coaching positions. It remains to be seen whether Harbaugh will hire another assistant to focus on the passing game, a role that had been earmarked for Mornhinweg after he was demoted from offensive coordinator.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on divisional-round weekend

Posted on 14 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the NFL divisional round now in the books, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens-related thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The league’s top four scoring offenses advanced to the conference championship games with only one of those teams — New England — ranking in the top 10 in scoring defense. Remember that as Eric DeCosta weighs tough defensive roster decisions against the need to build an offense around 22-year-old quarterback Lamar Jackson.

2. Since the 2012 Ravens, no team playing in the wild-card round has made the Super Bowl. In fact, no team even playing a road playoff game since then has made it. Rest and home-field advantage remain way more important than being the hot upstart “nobody wants to see in January.”

3. After dominating Baltimore last week, the Chargers’ “quarter” defense had no answers for New England using big personnel and running right at them. The Patriots carving up Los Angeles didn’t make former offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg or the rest of the Baltimore offensive staff look any better.

4. Fans and even a player or two predictably suggested the Ravens would have put up a better fight against the Patriots. I’ll hear that with Baltimore’s defense, but Bill Belichick having an extra week to prepare for a rookie quarterback and a limited offense? That may not have been pretty.

5. New Orleans receiver Michael Thomas continued a remarkable 125-catch regular season with 12 receptions for 171 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s win over Philadelphia. He was selected five spots after Kamalei Correa in the 2016 draft. Sorry for ruining your day.

6. Watching the divisional round reiterated how badly the Ravens need more talented pass catchers who can gain yards after the catch. They ranked 27th in the NFL in yards after the catch this season after their wide receivers ranked 31st in that category in 2017.

7. I couldn’t help but wonder if Haloti Ngata was playing his final NFL game with Philadelphia on Sunday. His star faded a long time ago, but a 340-pound defensive tackle lasting 13 seasons is really impressive. The five-time Pro Bowl selection is an instant shoo-in for the Ring of Honor.

8. The Patriots are the last team Ravens fans want to see winning the Super Bowl, but Albert McClellan was one of the most respected players in the Baltimore locker room for a long time. His special-teams prowess has fit well in New England as he recovered a fumble on Sunday.

9. Jared Goff going to the NFC Championship two years after an awful rookie season should be all the evidence needed to see why it’s unfair to draw strong conclusions about a quarterback so quickly. I’m fascinated to see how Jackson looks after a full offseason to refine his passing ability.

10. Having already announced plans to retire, former Raven Benjamin Watson will accomplish a rare feat if the Saints win the Super Bowl. The 38-year-old spent most of his rookie season on injured reserve, but he won a Super Bowl with the Patriots that year. Those would be quite the bookends.

11. Speaking of long careers, Joe Flacco arrived in Baltimore eight years after Tom Brady in New England, had a memorable 11-year-run that included a Super Bowl MVP award and a couple playoff wins in Foxboro, and will depart while the 41-year-old is still standing. How is that possible?

12. This isn’t related to the Ravens, but the video below tells my favorite story of the weekend.

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Ravens protect investment by shifting Roman to offensive coordinator

Posted on 11 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t yet know what kind of passing game they’ll ultimately have with Lamar Jackson, but they immediately formed the NFL’s most dynamic rushing attack when the young quarterback became the starter in mid-November.

That element was too valuable to risk losing on the path of the 22-year-old’s development.

Head coach John Harbaugh recognized that truth in promoting assistant head coach and tight ends coach Greg Roman to offensive coordinator on Friday. Marty Mornhinweg will not remain on the Baltimore staff despite being offered a different job title, according to Harbaugh.

Reportedly drawing interest from other teams, Roman, 46, was the architect of a Baltimore ground game that gained nearly twice as many rushing yards over the final seven regular-season games as it did in the first nine contests with former starter Joe Flacco, whose Week 9 hip injury facilitated the change at quarterback and in philosophy. The offensive shakeup contributed to the Ravens winning six of their final seven games to win the AFC North and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“Increasing Greg’s responsibilities will help us get where we’re going on offense,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the Ravens. “His role with our offense has already been significant and substantial. His understanding of the run game we are building — which we saw some of in the second half of the season — and how it integrates with a consistent and big-play passing game is exciting.”

Down the stretch, Harbaugh repeatedly praised the work of the entire offensive coaching staff — Mornhinweg included — in pivoting at the bye week from a throw-happy offense that had averaged more than 640 passing attempts per season from 2015-17 to one that ran nearly twice as often as it passed, but the run-heavy schemes were the same ones employed by Roman in his previous stints as the offensive coordinator for San Francisco (2011-14) and Buffalo (2015-16), making it important not to lose him to another team. Debate remained over Mornhinweg being the right man to oversee Jackson’s development as a passer, but what was indisputable was the 2018 first-round pick’s fit in Roman’s rushing schemes as Baltimore averaged 5.1 yards per carry over the final seven regular-season games and the rookie rushed for 695 yards on 147 carries in his rookie season, a modern NFL record for attempts by a quarterback.

That made promoting Roman and risking losing Mornhinweg — which ultimately happened — the path of least resistance in maintaining some continuity while hoping to build on the 2018 success. Of course, that doesn’t change the need for the Ravens to find more offensive balance to better protect Jackson by decreasing his number of carries — and subsequent hits taken.

How the poor offensive showing in last Sunday’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers impacted Harbaugh’s thinking is unclear, but post-game comments from Chargers players suggesting they knew exactly what was coming didn’t reflect well on Mornhinweg or the rest of the offensive staff. The Ravens were held to just 90 yards on 23 carries with Jackson completing only three passes and posting a 2.8 passer rating through the first three quarters of his postseason debut.

It remains to be seen how Roman’s new role will impact Jackson’s development or whether the Ravens will seek additional help for the passing game with Mornhinweg’s departure. Friday’s press release made no mention of quarterbacks coach James Urban or any potential change in his job responsibilities.

In Roman’s five full seasons as a coordinator with the 49ers and Bills, his offenses annually finished in the bottom 10 in passing yards per game, but three of those units ranked in the top seven in yards per passing attempt, the kind of efficiency the Ravens would love to see in a more-developed Jackson. Over those years, Alex Smith, Colin Kaepernick, and Tyrod Taylor all posted the highest single-season passer ratings of their respective careers.

Upon arriving in Baltimore as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach in 2017, Roman immediately made an impact in the running game as the Ravens improved from 28th in rushing yards in 2016 to 11th. It was a major reason why Harbaugh’s team was able to tread water in the first half of the season when Flacco was still feeling the effects of a back injury that sidelined him for the entire summer. That rushing success prompted the Ravens to re-sign Roman and promote him to the title of assistant head coach for the 2018 campaign.

Roman is a 21-year NFL coaching veteran who had a previous stint with the Ravens as an offensive line assistant under former head coach Brian Billick from 2006-07. He also worked for Carolina and Houston at the beginning of his coaching career before later being hired by Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and following him to the 49ers.

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Patience — and skepticism — warranted as Ravens’ fun 2018 ride comes to end

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Luke Jones

The 2018 Ravens were weird but fun, something that shouldn’t be forgotten in the aftermath of the ugly wild-card playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Winning its first AFC North championship in six years and returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, Baltimore completed one of the more memorable in-season turnarounds in team history. Faced with a three-game losing streak and a hip injury to longtime quarterback Joe Flacco at the bye week, head coach John Harbaugh and his coaching staff turned to rookie Lamar Jackson and zigged while the rest of the pass-happy NFL zagged with the Ravens rushing for over 1,600 yards in their final seven games, nearly twice as many as their total from the first nine weeks of the season. The coaches deserve much credit for remaking the offense on the fly, and that drastic change was embraced by players, including a group of wide receivers who were marginalized overnight.

However, that ride came to a screeching halt Sunday with the Chargers defense smothering the Ravens for the first 50 minutes of play, holding them to three points and 83 total yards through three quarters in their own stadium. It was obvious Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley figured out the unconventional Baltimore running game the second time around, but the Ravens were soundly beaten in their one-on-one matchups as well, especially on the offensive line. The offense was thoroughly outcoached and outplayed, and it was too late by the time the Ravens managed two late touchdowns against a sleepy Los Angeles defense to make the final score look respectable.

With an enjoyable season coming to an end, patience is warranted, but skepticism is fair in assessing the state of the Ravens moving forward. The first playoff appearance in four years typically signals brighter days ahead, but this season was as much a last hurrah for some key individuals as it was the start of a new chapter.

Change is already underway as longtime lieutenant Eric DeCosta becomes the general manager with Ozzie Newsome stepping aside after 23 years in charge of football operations. That should be as seamless a transition as you’ll find in this position with DeCosta having been with the Ravens since their inception, but that doesn’t guarantee success or the absence of some hiccups along the way.

The Ravens have publicly expressed their intentions of keeping Harbaugh, but rumors and speculation will persist until a contract extension becomes official. How his assistant coaches fit into that future also remains to be seen as Sunday wasn’t exactly a banner day for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

We know Flacco is finished in Baltimore as Harbaugh eulogized the former Super Bowl MVP’s Ravens career minutes after Sunday’s loss, but he’s unlikely to be the only notable veteran player to depart. Retirement, free agency, or salary-cap decisions could lead to the exit of some combination of Marshal Yanda, Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Za’Darius Smith, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Michael Crabtree, John Brown, and Tony Jefferson. Much will depend on how dramatically DeCosta wants to reshape the roster and reset the salary cap in his first year calling the shots.

Regardless of other changes, Jackson’s development is obviously the biggest factor in determining the short-to-intermediate future and that will require some patience and perspective. The 22-year-old is a special talent who flashed much to like on his way to helping the Ravens win six of their last seven regular-season games, but significant questions about his ball security and passing ability cannot be overlooked because of the early team success. That was apparent Sunday as he fumbled three times and completed only three passes through three quarters until regrouping to throw two touchdowns in the final seven minutes to make the game interesting. His mental toughness to fight back in the closing minutes was admirable, but he looked in over his head for much of the day.

Jackson was hardly alone in the struggles as the offensive line was awful against the Chargers front, but it was a reminder that he has a long way to go. That’s OK, of course, as Flacco was far from stellar in his first few playoff games before becoming “January Joe” a few years later. Jackson’s first postseason performance really shouldn’t change anything as he was always going to need to make marked improvement, regardless of how far the Ravens advanced this January.

But what will the organization do to help him get there?

Assistant head coach Greg Roman deserves credit for implementing the same run-game schemes successfully used in his previous stops at San Francisco and Buffalo, but is Mornhinweg the right offensive coordinator for Jackson? It’s been much advertised that he and quarterbacks coach James Urban worked with a veteran Michael Vick in Philadelphia, but that was an eternity ago in NFL years. For what it’s worth, Mornhinweg’s arrival as the quarterbacks coach four years ago — with Marc Trestman as the offensive coordinator — coincided with an immediate statistical decline in Flacco after arguably his best season under Gary Kubiak in 2014.

Sunday was damning for Mornhinweg in terms of having no plan B as the Chargers seemingly knew what plays the Ravens were running in their second meeting in 15 days. However, Harbaugh has shown much faith in his offensive coordinator over these last few years, making it difficult to expect a change now as the head coach has newfound leverage with a division championship and playoff appearance.

The Ravens are likely to remain a run-first offense going forward, but more balance will be paramount. With his mobility, Jackson doesn’t need to become Peyton Manning to be very successful at this level, but his throwing mechanics, footwork, and ability to throw outside the numbers will be scrutinized even more next season. Before anything else, however, he needs to do a much better job protecting the football as he finished with 15 fumbles counting Sunday’s playoff game.

The offensive talent the Ravens add around Jackson will be just as important as his individual development. Contrary to the lazy narrative of the last six years being strictly about Flacco’s contract, the Ravens did a poor job building an offense around him. The organization used most of its early draft picks from 2013-17 on defense — with mixed results at best — and even gave out big contracts to defensive players at less valuable positions while the other side of the ball floundered with minimal resources. Flacco’s pending exit shouldn’t leave that truth forgotten.

The Ravens will have much more cap flexibility with a quarterback on a rookie contract for the next few years, but the defense will also be undergoing substantial change with several key veterans moving on sooner than later. In other words, it will be interesting to see if DeCosta and the organization evolve toward making offense the greater priority or whether Jackson will be asked to do less with more like his predecessor. Improving the interior offensive line and addressing the wide receiver position — again — will be just two of the priorities on the offensive side of the ball.

A new era has begun in Baltimore, one that warrants some patience with a new general manager, a number of potential veteran departures, and a talented 22-year-old quarterback. These are certainly interesting and exciting times at 1 Winning Drive.

But it’s fair to be skeptical as the Ravens hand the keys to Jackson, both for his own weaknesses and those of the organization in recent years.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-24 win over Cleveland

Posted on 01 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their first AFC North championship since 2012 with a 26-24 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The running game produced a season-high 296 yards and finished 2018 with the second-most rushing yards (2,441) in franchise history behind the 2003 team and ahead of the 2008 Ravens. What do those three playoff squads have in common? A rookie quarterback started a large portion of their games.

2. From going for a fourth-and-1 on the 48 on the first drive to using Cover 0 on the final four defensive plays, Baltimore was aggressive with the season on the line. Wink Martindale’s mindset was quite the contrast from rushing four and playing zone on fourth-and-12 last New Year’s Eve.

3. C.J. Mosley hasn’t had his best season and may not be worth the money required to re-sign him, but he made the game-sealing interception and was credited with four hurries by Pro Football Focus. I’ll maintain he’s underappreciated by much of a fan base using Ray Lewis as its standard.

4. Sam Koch deserves much credit for his 51-yard punt that put the Browns on their own 26 for their final drive. After a 37-yard return earlier, Antonio Callaway had nowhere to go near the sideline. A lesser punt very likely would have given Cleveland a potential game-winning field goal try.

5. The Ravens were an inch or two away from a 27-7 lead before Lamar Jackson’s fumble at the goal line. Not only were they fortunate a whistle prevented a Cleveland touchdown the other way, but the Browns failed to take advantage of further sloppy play from Baltimore before halftime.

6. Baker Mayfield made mistakes, but I couldn’t help but feel the Browns wasted plays at times trying to run and throw to the flats when they were having so much success pushing it down the field. The 7.6 yards per play allowed was easily a season worst for the Ravens.

7. Even in victory, it was concerning to see the offense unable to sustain a late drive to protect a one-score lead for the second straight contest. Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling inside the red zone and on that fourth-quarter drive was questionable.

8. It’s been an up-and-down season for Jimmy Smith, but he came up with the first two-interception game by a Baltimore player since 2013. Per PFF, he allowed just one catch for one yard on seven targets into his coverage. Especially with Marlon Humphrey struggling mightily, that was a critical performance.

9. The short-term ramifications of Sunday’s game dominated the attention, but I’ll gladly sign up for many more Jackson-Mayfield meetings in the years to come. Terrell Suggs’ praise for both rookies said it all. Ben Roethlisberger remains the AFC North quarterback king for now, but a shift is already underway.

10. John Brown registered games of 116 receiving yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 4 and 134 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans. Since Jackson became the starter, Brown has a total of eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. That’s rough playing on a one-year deal.

11. Sunday’s playoff contest will mark exactly six years since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed played their final home game as Ravens. It’s fitting Jackson, the most exciting player to arrive in Baltimore since Super Bowl XLVII, will start his first playoff game on that anniversary. What fun it should be.

12. Opinions differed on the black jerseys being paired with the purple pants for the first time, but I liked the unique look and hope to see it again, especially for a prime-time game. That was the 10th different uniform combination used by Baltimore this year. Oregon who?

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Harbaugh to remain as Ravens head coach in 2019

Posted on 21 December 2018 by Luke Jones

On the eve of another make-or-break game likely determining their playoff fate, the Ravens have apparently seen enough to recommit to 11th-year head coach John Harbaugh.

The organization issued a statement just over 24 hours before their Saturday showdown with the Los Angeles Chargers saying Harbaugh would return next year as the sides “are working on an extension to his existing contract, which expires after the 2019 season.” Winners of four of their last five games since their Week 10 bye, the Ravens currently hold the final wild-card spot in the AFC playoff race and are trying to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2014.

With former starting quarterback Joe Flacco suffering a hip injury in the Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh that dropped Baltimore’s record to 4-5, the coaching staff went to work revamping a pass-heavy offense during the bye week in preparation for first-round rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson making his first NFL start. What’s resulted is a dynamic run-first attack that’s produced at least 190 rushing yards in five straight games, the first time an NFL team has done that since the 1976 Pittsburgh Steelers. Harbaugh announced last week that Jackson would remain the starter with a now-healthy Flacco officially benched after 10 1/2 years as Baltimore’s franchise quarterback.

Despite being in danger of missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, Harbaugh has continued to receive strong support in the locker room with his teams consistently playing hard even when lacking talent at key positions or ravaged by injuries in previous seasons. The 56-year-old arguably would have been the top head coaching candidate around the NFL had the Ravens elected to part ways with him, and many had questioned whether the organization would find a replacement as good as Harbaugh.

Even with the Ravens’ resurgence since the bye, the timing of the announcement is peculiar as a loss to the Chargers would likely mean another non-playoff season for a franchise that has gone just 48-46 and has qualified for the postseason only once since winning Super Bowl XLVII. Owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged in February that he briefly contemplated a coaching change after the Ravens’ stunning Week 17 loss to Cincinnati that knocked them out of the playoffs last year, but Harbaugh will now remain head coach as Eric DeCosta assumes the general manager role that will be relinquished by Ozzie Newsome at the end of this season.

With rumors and reports circulating about Harbaugh’s future as the Ravens dropped three straight from late October into early November, the team has responded by winning four games against opponents with a combined record of 19-37 and run defenses ranking in the bottom 10 of the NFL, making the Week 16 tilt against a strong and balanced Chargers team a significant test. This is the third straight year in which the Ravens have entered the penultimate week of the season with an 8-6 record and controlling their own path to a playoff spot.

Harbaugh has compiled a 102-72 regular-season record with six playoff appearances, 10 playoff wins, three AFC championship game appearances, and one Super Bowl title in his 11-year run in Baltimore. The Ravens have won at least eight games in all but one of his seasons.

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Red zone even more critical for revamped Ravens entering December

Posted on 30 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are zigging while everyone else zags entering December.

In a season in which Seattle is the only NFL team running the ball more often than not (50.58 percent), Baltimore has run on 96 of its 144 plays — exactly two-thirds — over the last two games, resulting in wins over Cincinnati and Oakland to improve to 6-5 and move back into the No. 6 spot in the AFC. The Ravens had rushed just 36.15 percent of the time prior to their Week 10 bye when it was revealed veteran quarterback Joe Flacco would miss action with a hip injury. The dramatic shift in style figures to continue this week in Atlanta with Flacco officially doubtful after only returning to practice on a limited basis Thursday and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson preparing to make his third straight start.

Over the last two weeks, the Ravens have increased their usage of the pistol formation and heavy sets featuring two running backs and two tight ends, which aren’t featured all that frequently in today’s NFL. Jackson’s remarkable mobility has put pressure on opposing defenses to account for two potential ball carriers in zone-read looks and run-pass options. That’s helped Jackson and rookie running back Gus Edwards rush for a combined 423 yards over the last two weeks. The entire Baltimore offense didn’t rush for that many yards over the final four games — three of them losses — before the bye.

The unconventional approach in a pass-happy league has led many to ask whether it’s sustainable as the Ravens try to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2014. It won’t be easy as John Harbaugh’s team plays three of its next four games on the road and the three away opponents — the Falcons, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers — possess offenses ranking in the top six in total yards per game and the top 11 in points per game.

Critics have fairly noted that the Bengals and Raiders have surrendered the most rushing yards in the NFL this year, but the Falcons and Chiefs rank even worse in yards per carry allowed. That’s why many believe the Ravens should stick with Jackson and their newfound approach in an effort to exploit bad run defenses and control the time of possession to limit the possessions for those explosive offenses. Over the last two weeks, the Ravens have possessed the ball more than 72 minutes compared to under 48 minutes for their opponents, an advantage the league’s top-ranked scoring defense certainly has appreciated.

However, the impressive rushing totals and big advantage in time of possession haven’t yet resulted in the offense scoring a tremendous number of points. Entering Week 11, the Ravens were averaging 23.7 points per game and scored 24 against the Bengals, who sport the worst defense in the league and have surrendered 34 or more in each of their other four contests since mid-October. Baltimore scored 34 points in last week’s win over Oakland, but that total was aided by Cyrus Jones’ punt return for a touchdown and Terrell Suggs’ fumble return for a score, which a team isn’t getting every week.

The two offensive touchdowns per game over the last two weeks would rank 26th in the NFL for the season and lags behind the 2.67 per contest registered from Weeks 1-9. Ideally, the run-heavy attack leads to longer drives to keep the opposing offense off the field, but that also means fewer possessions for yourself, making red-zone efficiency that much more important. The Ravens have scored touchdowns on only four of their eight trips inside the 20 over the last two games after entering Week 11 tied for ninth in the NFL at 66.7 percent.

That 50-percent mark was able to cut it playing bad teams at home, but it won’t on the road against teams with top 10-caliber offenses. Relying too much on field goals with fewer overall possessions simply won’t add up.

“I have to do better, we have to do better, all of those things, but yes, it’s big,” said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg about red-zone efficiency. “We’ve put a little focus on that, just a little bit here, and we will do so [Thursday] and [Friday] as well on that part of the game. … It’s so important, especially if you don’t have all that many possessions. It becomes even more heightened.”

Unlike next week’s trip to Kansas City that will be a tall order no matter who’s at quarterback, Sunday should represent a reasonable challenge for the Ravens in Jackson’s first road start. Though the Falcons are coming off extended rest, they’ve also lost three straight games in which they’ve failed to score 20 points even once. Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn does have experience game-planning for a similar style of quarterback after the former Seattle defensive coordinator went up against San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick multiple times in the NFC West, but his current defense is allowing a brutal 5.1 yards per rushing attempt and 27.9 points per game while ranking 30th in the red zone (73.2 percent).

At the same time, the Falcons still possess an offense more dangerous than either of Baltimore’s last two opponents and have averaged 400 yards and 25.5 points per game this season. Ravens players and coaches are realistic about Atlanta’s ability to move the ball between the 20s, but a defense with superb numbers in most other categories ranks an underwhelming 22nd in red-zone touchdown percentage.

There are no guarantees with a rookie quarterback making his first road start as Jackson will face challenges not experienced in his home stadium. The Ravens must not only run the ball effectively to control the clock, but they must finish off those long drives with touchdowns to back up a defense that hasn’t created many turnovers or collected many sacks over the last five games. In turn, that defense must buckle down inside the 20 more than it has against better offenses this season.

“Just like I’ve told our [defensive backs], there are going to be some plays made,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “It’s just how are we going to handle the series of events?”

For the revamped Ravens feeling new life entering December, their playoff hopes could begin and end with how they fare inside the red zone on both sides of the ball.

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