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Ravens-49ers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 November 2019 by Luke Jones

A Super Bowl rematch and preview?

The Ravens have emerged as the Super Bowl favorite in the eyes of many, but San Francisco is an overtime field goal away from still being undefeated, making this the largest remaining regular-season test for a John Harbaugh team that’s dominated the competition for the better part of the last six weeks. Both teams face an extra challenge in this one as the 49ers will play a 1 p.m. Eastern time zone game while Baltimore is on short rest after playing a Monday night game across the country in Los Angeles.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the sixth time ever in the regular season and the first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 3-2 margin and defeated San Francisco 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII nearly seven years ago.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. The Ravens will lose a fumble for the first time since Week 9. The loss of center Matt Skura to a season-ending knee injury and the elevation of rookie Patrick Mekari to the starting lineup already raised concern since Baltimore works from the shotgun or pistol formation roughly 95 percent of the time, but Sunday’s forecast continues to call for rain, creating an extra challenge against the NFC’s best defense. Remarkably, the Ravens have lost only four fumbles all season despite many mesh-point plays in which the quarterback or running back can be prone to mistake. They’re probably due for another.

2. Mark Andrews and George Kittle will each catch a touchdown. Pro Football Focus ranks Kittle first and Andrews second in its season grading at the tight end position, which says a lot about the former fifth- and third-round draft picks. Despite being an every-down player compared to Andrews having more of a situational workload, Kittle has only three touchdown receptions in nine games this season. Meanwhile, Andrews is one touchdown catch shy of tying the franchise single-season record for a tight end (seven), which is currently shared by Todd Heap (2005) and Dennis Pitta (2012).

3. Chuck Clark will intercept his first pass of the season. It’s easy to take for granted what Clark has done replacing Tony Jefferson at safety, relaying the calls in the defensive huddle, and moving down to the dime spot since he doesn’t make many splash plays. However, his emergence is one of the notable reasons why this ascending defense now ranks in the top 10 in several categories and is fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Clark and other defensive teammates will have a substantial challenge slowing Kittle, but he’ll bait 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into an underneath mistake in wet conditions.

4. Lamar Jackson will set an NFL record with his fourth 100-yard rushing game of 2019. The 49ers defense is much stronger against the pass, but the heralded group is just 19th against the run, which spells trouble against a rushing attack averaging 210.5 yards per game. Nothing Jackson does surprises me anymore as he enters Week 13 tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes, but the weather and matchup set up for this to be more of a legs day for the MVP favorite. He hasn’t eclipsed the century mark on the ground since Week 7, so why not? Doing so would set a single-season quarterback record.

5. The Ravens will win their eighth straight game in a 27-13 final over San Francisco. It’s not that I don’t believe the 49ers are a very good team, but it’d be disingenuous to say I believe this is going to be a particularly close game. What we’ve watched over the last six weeks is not only the most impressive regular-season run in Ravens history, but it ranks up there among the most impressive regular-season stretches by any team in recent memory. Double-digit blowouts aren’t the norm in the NFL, but the Ravens are trying to convince you otherwise, almost making you think you’re watching a Clemson or an Alabama play its early-season out-of-conference schedule instead of an NFL team going up against quality competition. This won’t last forever, but I’m not betting against Baltimore until it’s stopped. It won’t be a fourth straight Robert Griffin III mop-up game, but the 49ers don’t have the firepower to keep up with the NFL’s best offense, which still feels so strange to say about a Ravens team.

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Ravens center Matt Skura to miss rest of season with knee injury

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense has sustained its first significant injury loss.

Ravens center Matt Skura will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury late in the first quarter of Monday’s 45-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Skura was carted off the field and eventually ruled out for the game with what was called a knee sprain, but further testing revealed the severity of the injury.

Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari did a commendable job filling in for Skura, playing 62 snaps and helping the Ravens run for a season-high 285 yards. A collaborative effort from the offensive line held two-time Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald to just one assisted tackle.

“I think it says a lot about Pat Mekari and it says a lot about [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] and the job he does with those guys,” Harbaugh said. “To step in there and still play at that high level. I mean, Matt Skura was playing at a very high level. It looks like Patrick did the same; there was no drop-off at all. Rookie, it says a lot.”

A strong preseason led to Mekari making the 53-man roster, but he played only guard and tackle at California, making his performance against the Rams even more impressive. How smoothly he now meshes with quarterback Lamar Jackson will be critical with the Ravens working from the shotgun or pistol an NFL-high 95 percent of the time entering Week 12, according to SharpFootballStats.com.

Mekari has been active for all 11 games serving as one of two game-day backups along with veteran swing lineman James Hurst, but the 6-foot-4, 308-pound rookie had appeared in just five contests prior to Monday.

“I was ready. I knew with the interior three, whatever happened, I’m the next guy up,” Mekari said. “The time presented itself, and I just wanted to go in there and make it happen and come out with the win and just help my team.”

Despite detractors clamoring for the Ravens to upgrade at center this past offseason, Skura was in the midst of a strong campaign and had graded 12th among qualified centers by Pro Football Focus this season. The 26-year-old is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this winter after starting 39 games over the last three seasons.

Unlike a defense that’s dealt with numerous injuries since the start of training camp, the explosive Ravens offense hadn’t sustained a significant injury with wide receiver Marquise Brown’s two-game absence due to a high ankle sprain being the only notable ailment.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hugs Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff after an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Rams

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning a franchise-record fourth straight road game in a 45-6 rout of the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Five games into what was to be a daunting stretch of six of seven contests against teams over .500, Baltimore is 5-0 by a margin of 202-62. The Ravens haven’t trailed in a game in five weeks, a stretch of 18 quarters. It’s really not supposed to be this easy.

2. Much like they couldn’t know Ray Lewis or Ed Reed would be Hall of Famers when they fell to them, the Ravens didn’t foresee Lamar Jackson being the MVP favorite in his second year or they wouldn’t have risked losing him multiple times. But their innovative vision has been brilliant.

3. Despite 22 quarterbacks having more pass attempts, Jackson pulled into a tie with Russell Wilson for the NFL lead with 24 touchdown passes. He’s doubled his season total over the last three weeks and is now nine shy of Vinny Testaverde’s single-season team record. He also runs pretty well.

4. Against a top-tier rush defense, Baltimore ran for a season-high 285 yards, the fifth-highest total in team history. Between that and Jackson’s 76-percent completion percentage since the bye, I’m not sure how much you’d stop them right now even if the NFL allowed opponents to use a 12th defender.

5. Playing with an offense that scores touchdowns on its first six possessions is much different than protecting a late one-score lead, but the intensity maintained by the Ravens defense was impressive. That group has become a very worthy partner that will be needed more at some point — I think.

6. You hope for the best for Matt Skura, who had many doubters this offseason and has played rock-solid football in the middle of the offensive line. However, the Ravens have to be pleased with how undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in at center, a position he never played in college.

7. The group was already improving, but the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the healthy return of Jimmy Smith returned the Ravens defense to a level its more accustomed to being. Both are in contract years and have been dynamic contributors in the secondary, especially Peters.

8. Speaking of dynamic talents, there hasn’t been a better defensive player in football over the last five years than Aaron Donald, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner. Making the Rams defensive tackle an utter non-factor is the offensive line’s most impressive feat of the season.

9. Running the ball on third-and-12 from the Los Angeles 34 and then going for a fourth-and-1 shows how John Harbaugh, Greg Roman, and this staff are playing chess while most of the league plays checkers. That’s a compliment typically reserved for Bill Belichick and New England, but it’s fitting.

10. A sideline camera showing Sam Koch and Justin Tucker whenever the Ravens approach — and then forgo — a potential kicking situation would be entertaining. Koch has punted just four times since the bye week. He’s getting plenty of work as the holder, however.

11. My only nitpick from Monday — other than the Rams’ Big Bird uniforms — was Jackson taking a few too many hits, especially when the game was out of hand. I believe in his ability to avoid contact, but there’s no need to test that when up by four or five touchdowns.

12. Hearing Jackson talk Super Bowl, I recall Brian Billick’s words to the 2000 Ravens after clinching a playoff spot in Week 15: “The time is here. It’s time to go to a Super Bowl.” Competitive windows aren’t guaranteed; the moment is now for a team capable of winning it all.

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Ravens-Rams: Five predictions for Monday night

Posted on 24 November 2019 by Luke Jones

You win on the road in the regular season to play at home in January.

The 8-2 Ravens travel to Los Angeles to take on the Rams in hopes of improving to 5-1 on the road and winning what would be a team-record fourth straight regular-season away game. Baltimore hasn’t posted a winning road record since 2010, but an explosive offense and a rapidly improving defense have traveled well, making John Harbaugh’s team the best in the NFL in the eyes of many.

Meanwhile, the 6-4 Rams are aiming to record their fourth win in five games as they enter Week 12 three games out in the NFC West and 1 1/2 games behind the second wild-card spot in the NFC. The urgency is certainly there for Los Angeles to take care of business at home.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the seventh time ever in the regular season and first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 4-2 margin and are 2-0 in the Harbaugh era, but this is their first ever trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. Marcus Peters will register an interception against his former team. The Ravens defensive back insists he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder returning to Los Angeles after being traded last month, but that won’t stop the man Wink Martindale called a cornerback “savant” from preying on Rams quarterback Jared Goff, whose superb first two seasons under coach Sean McVay feel like a long time ago. Peters came away with an interception against Kansas City on Monday Night Football last year, and he’ll pull off the same trick against another former team.

2. Brandin Cooks will catch a touchdown as the Rams use a no-huddle approach. Teams need to be aggressive and step outside their comfort zone if they want to have a real chance to beat Baltimore on either side of the ball right now. An up-tempo, no-huddle attack is a risky proposition with the Ravens’ ability to control the clock on the other side, but it neutralizes Martindale’s ability to substitute and tests the stamina of what’s still an ordinary group of pass rushers. New England had some success with this strategy in Week 9, but no Baltimore opponent has really tried it since then.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw touchdowns to Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst. The Rams have a talented trio at cornerback, but Ravens wide receivers aren’t a big part of the passing attack anyway, which will make it interesting to see how Los Angeles defensive coordinator Wade Phillips tries to use top corner Jalen Ramsey. Rams linebacker Cory Littleton is strong in coverage and safety Taylor Rapp is capable as well, but their responsibilities against the run will make it difficult to consistently stick with Baltimore’s tight ends. Hurst has caught 20 of his 24 targets and is long overdue for a score.

4. Aaron Donald will record a sack for the sixth straight game. You need Pro Bowl-caliber talent and discipline at every level to have any meaningful chance of slowing down Jackson and the Ravens offense, but the biggest key might be having an interior player who can control the line of scrimmage against the run and pass. Pittsburgh’s Cam Heyward did it in Week 5 — the Ravens’ worst offensive showing of 2019 at just 3.8 yards per play — and Donald is widely considered the NFL’s best defensive player. Marshal Yanda, Matt Skura, and Bradley Bozeman will have their hands full.

5. Another strong dual-threat showing from Jackson will be the difference in a 27-16 win. The more desperate Rams coming away with a victory wouldn’t shock me as this is one of Baltimore’s more difficult remaining games on the schedule and I’m not expecting Harbaugh’s team to win out looking from a macro perspective. At the same time, it’s tough envisioning the Los Angeles defense getting enough stops and a middling Rams offense producing enough touchdown drives for the math to add up unless the Ravens beat themselves with turnovers and penalties. Over the last four games, Baltimore has committed just three turnovers with ex-Raven Cyrus Jones and backup quarterback Robert Griffin III accounting for two. This team is making explosive plays and playing smart football, a good formula for winning anywhere. It doesn’t hurt having the current MVP favorite on your side either.

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Skura, Williams questionable for Ravens’ tilt in Pittsburgh

Posted on 04 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The only man to play every offensive snap for the Ravens since the start of the 2018 season is questionable for Sunday’s game against Pittsburgh.

Center Matt Skura missed practice for the second straight day with a knee injury, leaving his availability uncertain for Week 5. The Ravens have expressed optimism about his status, but no Baltimore player who’s missed the final two practices of a week this season has played that Sunday.

“He had something happen in practice. I think there’s a real good chance he’ll play,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I’m very encouraged, so we’ll just have to see. If not, we’ll go with the guys we have.”

Starting left guard Bradley Bozeman is listed as the backup center on the depth chart included in this week’s game release, but the Ravens may not want to disrupt two positions on an offensive line that’s shown promising continuity through the first quarter of the season. Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari would be the other candidate to start in Skura’s place after being active as a reserve in each of the first four games of 2019.

Not only would a change at center be unsettling with Pittsburgh’s interior defensive line regarded as one of the NFL’s best, but 97 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps this season have come from the shotgun or pistol formation, according to SharpFootballStats.com. Accuracy problems with snaps are detrimental to the timing of read-option and run-pass option plays that require a precise mesh point between the quarterback and running back.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was also listed as questionable on the final injury report, but he practiced fully Friday, a good sign for his availability after he missed last Sunday’s loss to Cleveland due to a knee injury. Punt returner and reserve cornerback Cyrus Jones was also designated as questionable after being limited in Friday’s practice with a foot issue.

Tight end Mark Andrews wasn’t listed with a game status after practicing fully Friday, a sign that his health continues to improve after being hampered by a foot injury since Week 2. He sat out Wednesday’s practice and worked on a limited basis Thursday.

Harbaugh said he expects the Ravens to make a 53-man roster addition prior to Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline for Week 5 after placing reserve safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) on injured reserve Thursday. That move would presumably be a promotion from the practice squad.

Trawick had returned to practice on a limited basis Wednesday after a two-game absence, but Harbaugh said he’s now a candidate for a designation to return later in the season, a decision that doesn’t have to be made right now.

“It’s just a move we decided to make. It’s kind of the way it worked out,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not really as much medical. I mean he’s not ready to play yet, so we’ve got a little time there.”

As expected, cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) was officially ruled out and will miss his fourth straight game. This marks the seventh time in his nine seasons in which the oft-injured defensive back will miss at least four contests in a campaign.

The Steelers are dealing with their own health concerns as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe) and tight end Vance McDonald (shoulder) are questionable to play, but both practiced fully Friday. Running back James Conner (ankle) wasn’t listed with a game status despite sitting out the first two practices of the week, meaning he’ll play against the Ravens.

Pittsburgh fullback Roosevelt Nix (knee) was officially ruled out.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday in Pittsburgh calls for cloudy skies with occasional showers and temperatures approaching the mid-70s. There’s a 40-percent chance of rain with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Cyrus Jones (foot), C Matt Skura (knee), DT Brandon Williams (knee)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: LB Anthony Chickillo (foot), RB Roosevelt Nix (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Vance McDonald (shoulder), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe), LB Vince Williams (hamstring)

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B. Williams practices as Thomas says Ravens teammates on “same page”

Posted on 03 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — On the same day Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams returned to practice, safety Earl Thomas says the two are “on the same page” after last Sunday’s post-game dispute.

An NFL Network report indicated the two were involved in a “heated” discussion after Williams missed the Week 4 loss to Cleveland with a knee injury. The veteran lineman hadn’t been on the injury report until Saturday and was deactivated after a lackluster on-field workout before Sunday’s game. Without their run-stopping tackle anchoring the defense, the Ravens gave up a season-worst 193 yards in the 40-25 loss to the Browns.

Baltimore is allowing 4.9 yards per carry, which currently ranks 27th in the NFL.

“We talked about it. I just want him out there,” said Thomas about his spat with Williams. “He’s a Pro Bowler. We’re better when he’s out there, so I was a little frustrated. I just wanted to see what was going on with him because I knew he had practiced earlier in the week. I didn’t know.

“It just kind of hit me out of the blindside, but hopefully he’ll play this week. We’ll get it fixed.”

Williams practiced on a limited basis after sitting out Wednesday’s session, a positive sign for his availability for Sunday’s trip to Heinz Field to take on Pittsburgh. However, the Ravens were without center Matt Skura, who missed Thursday’s workout with a knee issue. Starting left guard Bradley Bozeman is listed on the team’s depth chart as the backup center, but undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari would be another option if Skura weren’t able to play.

Tight end Mark Andrews (foot) was a limited participant on Thursday after receiving the previous day off. He has now missed parts of four straight practice weeks, but he appeared to be moving better against the Browns than he did in the previous week’s loss to Kansas City, catching four passes for 31 yards and a touchdown in Week 4.

There is no shortage of urgency with the Ravens having lost two straight and not wanting to fall to 0-2 in AFC North play against the Steelers, who registered their first win of the season Monday night.

“We know what this game entails. It’s a rivalry,” Andrews said. “We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. We have a bunch of fighters in this locker room, a bunch of resilient guys, and I trust these guys.”

Reserve safety Brynden Trawick (elbow) was placed on injured reserve a day after returning to practice on a limited basis. Trawick had missed each of the last two games with the injury. The Ravens did not immediately announce a corresponding roster move.

Meanwhile, the Steelers are dealing with their own health concerns as wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe), running back James Conner (ankle), and tight end Vance McDonald (shoulder) have yet to practice this week. McDonald didn’t play in Week 4 while Smith-Schuster and Conner were banged up in Pittsburgh’s win over Cincinnati.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: C Matt Skura (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Mark Andrews (foot), DT Brandon Williams (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Anthony Chickillo (foot), RB James Conner (ankle), G Ramon Foster (non-injury), TE Vance McDonald (shoulder), RB Roosevelt Nix (knee), WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (toe)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Mark Barron (non-injury), DT Cameron Heyward (quadricep), C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury), LB Vince Williams (hamstring)

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 17 July 2019 by Luke Jones

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

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties

We continue on the offensive line, a group that was truly a tale of two halves last season as the Ravens ranked 31st in yards per carry over the first nine weeks and were the NFL’s best rushing team over the final seven games of 2018. Lamar Jackson taking over at quarterback played a colossal part in that improvement, of course, but Pro Football Focus ranked Baltimore as its 10th-best offensive line by the end of the season — and 11th in its 2019 preseason rankings — and Football Outsiders ranked the Ravens eighth in pass protection.

The Ravens have an offensive line that isn’t unique from most in the league in that they have three undisputed starters, another they’d probably like to upgrade in a perfect world, and a significant question mark at the fifth starting spot. That profile fits most teams — including plenty of playoff contenders — as overall offensive line play has suffered in recent years, but the Ravens have continuity on their side as all eight linemen to play 94 or more offensive snaps last season are returning, an advantage offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris will certainly enjoy going into the summer.

Below is a look at the offensive linemen who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Marshal Yanda
Skinny: The Ravens sorely missed the 34-year-old after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury early in 2017, but it didn’t take Yanda long to shake off the rust last year as he graded as PFF’s fourth-best guard in the NFL and made his seventh Pro Bowl in the last eight seasons. The 2007 third-round pick from Iowa is another Pro Bowl or two away from really having an excellent case for induction in Canton one day, but the Ravens are happy to have him back continuing to lead a young offensive line.

Old Reliable — Yanda
Skinny: Despite signing a one-year extension through 2020, Yanda is playing on a year-by-year basis at this point with his health being a major factor determining how much longer he will suit up. His understated leadership will be even more important this year with key veterans such as Terrell Suggs, Joe Flacco, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle no longer on the roster.

Under Fire — Alex Lewis
Skinny: All things equal, the 27-year-old may still be the best option at left guard, but his career has been marred by injuries and he’s entering the final year of his rookie contract. Recovering from offseason shoulder surgery is a challenge by itself, but the 2016 fourth-round pick’s decision to rehab away from the team facility probably doesn’t help him in any tiebreaker situation for a roster spot in the eyes of decision makers. It’s now or never for Lewis to stay healthy and realize his potential.

Up-and-Comer — Orlando Brown Jr.
Skinny: The 2018 third-round pick wasn’t dominant as a rookie, but he was solid in his first 10 starts and graded as PFF’s 47th-best offensive tackle. Brown may not be a great athlete — his combine numbers spelled that out — but what he lacks from a measurable standpoint is made up for with intellect and an advanced understanding of angles, which is such a critical part of line play. The Ravens are right to have high expectations for Brown entering his first full year as a starter.

Sleeper — Greg Senat
Skinny: The former college basketball player from Wagner missed his rookie season with a foot injury, but the Ravens could use a backup left tackle — and have a starter entering the penultimate year of his rookie contract — and clearly liked Senat’s upside when drafting him in the sixth round last year. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound lineman largely remains an unknown, but the Ravens don’t have as many options at offensive tackle as they do for the interior spots, making his roster chances better than you think.

The Rest — Ronnie Stanley, Matt Skura, Jermaine Eluemunor, James Hurst, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Patrick Mekari, Patrick Vahe, Darrell Williams
Skinny: This season could determine whether Stanley will remain in the solid-to-above-average tier of left tackles or put the Ravens on notice that they’ll need to make him one of the highest-paid left tackles in the game in the not-too-distant future. … Skura is maligned by fans and media and is far from an All-Pro center, but the Ravens have a higher opinion of the former practice-squad member than most of the outside world. He was graded as the NFL’s 23rd-best center by PFF. … Eluemunor was the surprising choice to line up as the first-team left guard this spring, but John Harbaugh wasn’t impressed with his conditioning and downplayed any notion of him being the favorite to start in the fall. … Hurst’s $4.75 million salary cap number is on the high side if he doesn’t win the starting left guard job, but the Ravens have always valued his versatility across the offensive line. … Bozeman will get practice reps at center and the guard spots, but spring workouts offered no indication of him being in serious contention for Skura’s starting job as some predicted early in the offseason.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2019 NFL draft

Posted on 30 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the 2019 NFL draft now in the rear-view mirror, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After undergoing their biggest roster turnover on defense since the offseason after Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens still went offense with four of their first five picks. That’s quite a change from the 2013 draft when their first four selections were defensive players. I approve for Lamar Jackson’s benefit.

2. Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were winners of the weekend with none of Baltimore’s eight picks being used on an inside linebacker. With Eric DeCosta having just over $15 million in salary cap space, however, a veteran addition could still be in the cards at some point.

3. Another winner was Matt Skura despite many predicting the Ravens would come away with an early-round center. There’s certainly room for improvement and Bradley Bozeman could push him with a strong offseason, but I don’t get the sense the organization is as down on Skura as some outsiders.

4. DeCosta said the visit with edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah was “great,” but a potential signing likely won’t come until after May 7 when unrestricted free agents no longer impact the compensatory pick formula. Ansah visiting Seattle Monday should dismiss any idea of a handshake agreement being in place.

5. Fifth-round defensive tackle Daylon Mack was considered a disappointment entering his senior year at Texas A&M as a five-star recruit who hadn’t yet become a starter, but 5 1/2 sacks and 9 1/2 tackles for a loss changed that perception. That “sneaky” inside rush ability could be a nice addition.

6. Orlando Brown Jr. attending the draft party for fourth-round guard Ben Powers had to be a cool moment for the reunited Oklahoma teammates and speaks to their close friendship. You’d assume the Ravens had a great scouting report on Powers, who is expected to compete at left guard initially.

7. I’ll be curious to see how the Ravens handle Marquise Brown as he recovers from a Lisfranc injury that could keep him off the practice field until training camp. You don’t want to rush what can be a tricky foot ailment, but developing on-field chemistry with Jackson will be crucial.

8. The Ravens haven’t yet made their undrafted rookie signings official, but the addition of Louisville wide receiver Jaylen Smith made too much sense, especially after he worked with Jackson this offseason. At the very least, it’s a nod to your starting quarterback giving his college teammate a look.

9. Jaleel Scott was a forgotten man after a disappointing summer that ended with him on injured reserve, but the 2018 fourth-round pick has turned some heads this spring with improved speed and fitness. The 6-foot-5 wideout from New Mexico State needs a big preseason to secure a roster spot.

10. Joe Flacco has more important things to worry about after Denver selected Missouri quarterback Drew Lock in the second round, but it’s crazy the Ravens drafted as many wide receivers for Jackson in the first three rounds this weekend as they did over Flacco’s entire 11-year run.

11. Watching the inspiring Miles Taylor and Mo Gaba announce draft picks this weekend was a reminder of how superb the Ravens’ community outreach continues to be. The efforts of so many in the organization really make a lasting impact, including plenty of examples that aren’t publicized.

12. Despite Steve Bisciotti ceremoniously switching the seats of DeCosta and Ozzie Newsome at the conclusion of last year’s draft, the two kept their old spots. I hear Newsome enjoyed himself while DeCosta didn’t let the pressure of running his first draft stop him from playing a practical joke or two.

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Want, need, or desperate: Looking at Ravens roster a week into free agency

Posted on 20 March 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ roster has undergone massive changes in the last month.

Four of their top seven defensive players in terms of snaps played last season are gone, a group that accounted for nearly 40 percent of their sack total. Two of their top three wide receivers are no longer in the picture, leaving just two wide receivers on the current roster who have caught an NFL pass.

Of course, general manager Eric DeCosta hasn’t just been sitting on his hands, signing six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas to upgrade from highly-respected veteran Eric Weddle and adding two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram to a ground attack that was already the best in the NFL in the second half of 2018. The Ravens also signed veteran cornerback Justin Bethel to enhance the special-teams units that will undoubtedly miss longtime coordinator Jerry Rosburg, whose pending retirement might be the most underrated loss of the offseason.

Understanding the start of the 2019 regular season is still more than five months away, which of the Ravens’ positional groups require the most work and carry the most concern right now? Some value free agents remain and Baltimore has enough cap space to make another notable signing or two, but going into the draft with multiple needs usually leaves an organization in danger of either reaching in lieu of maximizing value or being left out at a key position or two altogether.

Which positions do the Ravens want to upgrade, need to address, or desperately must improve between now and the start of the season?

Backup quarterback – NEED

Starter Lamar Jackson is the only quarterback currently on the roster as the Ravens have yet to strike a deal with Robert Griffin III to return. It’s difficult to feel good about anyone replacing Jackson’s unique skill set for an extended stretch of time in an offense being specifically built for the 22-year-old, but Griffin would certainly fit better than most quarterbacks out there. Perhaps more important than the system fit is Griffin’s presence as a mentor as it was no secret the two hit it off last season. Ultimately, we’re still talking about a very young quarterback here who can benefit from an experienced veteran. Josh Johnson could be a backup to the backup plan, but it’s difficult to find too many logical fits for the job in terms of both playing style and intangibles.

Edge defender/outside linebacker – DESPERATE

The short-term and long-term outlooks at this position are very concerning with Matthew Judon being the only proven commodity and scheduled to hit the open market himself next offseason. Expectations were high for 2017 second-round pick Tyus Bowser and 2017 third-round pick Tim Williams when they were drafted, but they’ve been non-factors in their first two seasons. Sure, the presence of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith cut into potential opportunities, but the Ravens would have loved nothing more than to put the aging Suggs on more of a pitch count these last two seasons, making this a critical year for Bowser and Williams. With Smith receiving a big payday in Green Bay, the Ravens also lost his versatility to rush the passer from the inside, another issue needing to be addressed. Free agents such as Justin Houston and Ezekiel Ansah are still available, but DeCosta very much needs to add a veteran and draft a pass rusher to adequately address the void here.

Interior offensive line – WANT

Make no mistake, the Ravens would benefit greatly from finding at least one upgrade at guard or center, especially with seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda entering the final year of his contract and turning 35 in September. However, the Ravens had the NFL’s best running game over the final two months of last season and finished 10th in Pro Football Focus’ end-of-year offensive line rankings and eighth in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate. With a full offseason for recovery and improvement, the Ravens finding a solid left guard out of the trio of James Hurst, Alex Lewis, and Bradley Bozeman isn’t unreasonable and Matt Skura improving in his second full season at center isn’t out of the question. Baltimore will have the option to use the same Week 1 starting offensive line in consecutive years for the first time since 2014 and 2015. An upgrade or two would be great, but don’t dismiss the value of continuity along the offensive line.

Inside linebacker – NEED

Regardless of your feelings on C.J. Mosley’s true worth or ability, you don’t lose a four-time Pro Bowl selection in his prime without having significant questions about replacing him. Patrick Onwuasor emerged late last season and Kenny Young flashed in his 369 defensive snaps as a rookie, but the two played in a platoon — along with dime back Anthony Levine — that enhanced their strengths and masked their weaknesses. The Ravens might be able to get by with Onwuasor and Young in starting roles, but it would certainly deviate from the value they’ve put on the inside linebacker position historically. DeCosta could still look to sign a veteran such as Zach Brown or Brandon Marshall, but it’d be surprising if the Ravens aren’t at least aiming to add an inside linebacker in the first three or four rounds of the draft.

Wide receiver – DESPERATE

With apologies to the solid Willie Snead and special-teams standout Chris Moore, you’d have a difficult time arguing against this current group of wide receivers being the worst in the NFL on paper. Yes, I know the Ravens want to run the ball and arguably value tight ends more than anyone in the league, but that won’t help as much when facing a strong run defense, falling behind multiple scores, or trailing late in games. There’s also the question of Jackson’s development and wanting to maximize the return on that investment for the long haul, something that will be easier to do with a standout wide receiver at his disposal. The problem is this wasn’t a particularly good free-agent class of wide receivers to begin with and most of the top names have already come off the board with options like Dontrelle Inman not getting anyone excited. Like at outside linebacker, the best course of action appears to be adding a veteran and using some meaningful draft capital — not late-round fliers — for a receiver or two. No matter what happens, it’s tough envisioning this position not being a concern going into the season, but that’s hardly unfamiliar territory.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first wave of free agency

Posted on 14 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making significant additions and enduring substantial losses in the first wave of free agency, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t think the departure of Terrell Suggs has sunk in as most expected one of the franchise’s most iconic players to return for a 17th season. While Ray Lewis had the storybook ending and Ed Reed’s free-agent exit played out more gradually, Monday’s news was so abrupt.

2. Adding 29-year-old Mark Ingram made less sense if 2019 were shaping up to be more of a transition year with an eye toward the future, but he’s a well-rounded upgrade and has lower mileage as a timeshare back. His pass protection is also an upgrade over incumbents. Solid signing.

3. Ingram’s perception suffers from an “Alvin Kamara effect” as well as the infatuation some had with signing Le’Veon Bell, but he ranks first in yards per carry (4.71) and fourth in yards after contact per attempt (2.90) among backs with 550 carries since 2014, per Pro Football Focus. He’ll help.

4. Talent and on-field production are paramount, but I couldn’t help but think Ingram’s reputation in New Orleans and Earl Thomas’ winning pedigree in Seattle carry extra weight with the level of experience and leadership leaving Owings Mills this offseason.

5. The Thomas signing certainly reinforced Baltimore’s philosophy at safety after the organization failed with early draft picks and “value” signings early in the post-Ed Reed era. The Ravens have now given out a safety contract of $26 million or more in three of the last four offseasons.

6. Those with a longer-term viewpoint may not have cared for Eric DeCosta forgoing potential third- and fifth-round compensatory picks to sign Thomas and Ingram, but you can’t hold yourself prisoner to what still amounts to lower-percentage draft choices if the right free agent is available. There’s a middle road.

7. An optimistic outlook would say Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams haven’t had enough snaps to show what they can do, but coaches would have loved to have eased Suggs’ workload last year if either were deemed worthy. Either way, these 2017 draft picks have much to prove.

8. Adding a pass rusher or two must be a top priority for a front seven that’s endured substantial losses. That said, I think a great secondary carries more value in today’s game with more quick-drop passing and run-pass options that can really neutralize edge pressure.

9. More snaps are in order for the 2018 platoon of Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young, but a Daryl Smith-like stopgap would make me feel better about inside linebacker rather than expecting both to fill a full-time role without a hitch. We’ll found out how much Baltimore will miss C.J. Mosley.

10. Matt Skura received an additional $533,558 — a league high — in 2018 performance-based pay, a collectively-bargained program that compensates players based upon their playing time relative to salary levels. Making a $555,000 salary last year, Skura has provided good value making 28 starts the last two seasons.

11. Wink Martindale deserves much credit for last year’s defensive success, but losing Eric Weddle, Suggs, and Mosley will challenge the coordinator who gave those veterans so much freedom to make modifications before the snap. Thomas’ arrival helps, but there will certainly be an adjustment.

12. How does a Sunday night or Monday matchup of Baker Mayfield, Odell Beckham Jr., and the Cleveland passing game against Thomas, Marlon Humphrey, and the Baltimore secondary sound? Dismissing Pittsburgh would be very unwise, but Ravens-Browns sounds pretty darn interesting now.

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