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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for AFC wild-card game

Posted on 05 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Much has changed since the Ravens last hosted a playoff game six years ago.

Ray Lewis is in the Hall of Fame, Ed Reed will join him in a few weeks, and Joe Flacco has quite possibly already played his final snap as a Raven. Baltimore had made the playoffs just once since that last home playoff win over Indianapolis, but the start of the Lamar Jackson era seven weeks ago has created an energy not seen in these parts in quite some time. Winners of six of their last seven to clinch the AFC North title, the Ravens hope that vibe carries them to victory in Sunday’s wild-card game.

Standing in their way is the Los Angeles Chargers, who finished tied for the third-best record in football and had the misfortune of being in the same division as No. 1 seed Kansas City. Despite traveling to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. game, Anthony Lynn’s team is 8-0 in contests played outside Los Angeles this season, which included wins in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet in the postseason for the first time ever. Of course, the Ravens toppled the Chargers 22-10 in their Week 16 meeting to improve to 7-5 in the all-time regular-season series. Baltimore owns a 3-1 record against them at M&T Bank Stadium, but the teams split the last two games there in 2014 and 2015 with the outcomes decided by a combined four points.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. The Chargers will speed up the pace and spread out the Baltimore defense for an early touchdown. The Ravens controlled the tempo throughout the Week 16 meeting, harassing Philip Rivers with blitzes that the Chargers rarely had answers for. This time, I expect Los Angeles to use some no-huddle and empty formations to try to slow the pass rush and keep the Ravens off-balance early on. It’s worth noting Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen is healthier this time around and will find space for an early touchdown reception after being held to a quiet five catches for 58 yards in the first meeting.

2. Gus Edwards will rush for a career-high 120 yards and a score. The Chargers use the dime package more than anyone in the NFL, which helped them hold Jackson to just 39 rushing yards in Week 16. However, a lighter front leaves Los Angeles more susceptible to the dive plays so frequently run by Edwards. To their credit, the Chargers slowed down the 238-pound rookie in the second half, but he still managed 92 yards on 14 carries two weeks ago. Making matters worse, Los Angeles nose tackle Brandon Mebane isn’t expected to play, making the front seven even more vulnerable against power runs.

3. Jackson will run for more yards than Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon. We’ve spent ample time talking about the Ravens’ running game, but has anyone noticed what their rush defense has done since the bye week? Opponents are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and only two players have managed as much as 60 rushing yards against them over the last seven contests. Gordon is a dynamic player capable of leaving a huge mark in his first NFL playoff game, but he’s more likely to do that as a receiver out of the backfield. I also expect Jackson to find more daylight as the game progresses with the Chargers tweaking their front to account for the inside power runs.

4. A long Cyrus Jones punt return will set up a Ravens touchdown. The running game and a dominant defense have received most of the credit for the post-bye turnaround, but the special teams rose from a pedestrian 13th in special teams DVOA at the bye to sixth by season’s end. Football Outsiders rated Baltimore’s punt return unit second in the league while the Chargers’ punt unit was rated next to last. That disparity didn’t show up to any dramatic degree in Week 16, but Jones has offered a boost in the field-position game since becoming the punt returner and will break a long one on Sunday.

5. Another strong defensive effort will send Baltimore to the divisional round with a 20-17 win. The Chargers were my preseason pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but the first meeting showed this isn’t a great matchup for them. I expect their offense to put up a better fight than it did a couple weeks ago, but Rivers isn’t mobile enough to give the blitz-heavy Ravens the same degree of trouble as Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield did. Credit Los Angeles for doing a better job against the Baltimore running game than any other team over the last two months, but absences at the wrong spots on its dime defense will lead to the Ravens staying more consistent on the ground in the second half. It will be another close game because that’s just a product of the style these current Ravens play, but another complementary effort will be enough to defeat the Chargers for the second time in three weeks. John Harbaugh will improve to 6-0 in wild-card playoff games.

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Three Ravens players listed as questionable for Sunday’s wild-card game

Posted on 04 January 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens should have their entire 53-man roster available for Sunday’s wild-card playoff game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Wide receiver Chris Moore, cornerback Tavon Young, and guard Alex Lewis were all designated as questionable on the final injury report, but all should be available as Baltimore makes its first playoff appearance since the 2014 season. Young was a limited participant in Friday’s walk-through after missing workouts on Wednesday and Thursday with a groin issue that’s limited him for much of the last two months.

Moore’s status didn’t appear to be in any doubt after he practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday, but the special-teams standout was absent from Friday’s session because of a hip ailment. The third-year wide receiver left the Week 17 win over Cleveland with a shoulder injury, leaving Willie Snead and Ty Montgomery to handle kick returns in the fourth quarter.

“We’ll be fine. We have guys ready to go,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think Chris will be out there; I’d be surprised if he wasn’t. But, just in case, we have guys ready to roll.”

Lewis has been practicing fully for the last three weeks, but he hasn’t been active since Week 13 while dealing with a shoulder injury. Veteran James Hurst has taken his place as the starting left guard with rookie Bradley Bozeman also receiving occasional snaps there.

The Chargers’ injury picture isn’t as flattering as starting outside linebacker Jatavis Brown is officially out with an ankle injury that’s expected to sideline him for the entire postseason. Brown collected eight tackles in the Week 16 meeting with the Ravens, making his absence significant against Baltimore’s second-ranked rushing attack.

Los Angeles is also unlikely to have starting nose tackle Brandon Mebane, who was officially listed as doubtful for a non-injury reason. The 33-year-old has been away from the team this week to be with his infant daughter, who was born with a serious heart condition in November.

Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon (ankle) was a full participant in practice all week while backup running back Austin Ekeler (groin) is questionable to play after being limited all week.

It remains to be seen whether the Chargers will activate tight end Hunter Henry (knee) from injured reserve by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline to do so. Head coach Anthony Lynn has told reporters that Henry will be on a pitch count if he’s able to make his season debut after suffering a torn ACL during organized team activities in the spring.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the low 50s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: G Alex Lewis (shoulder), WR Chris Moore (shoulder/hip), CB Tavon Young (groin)

LOS ANGELES
OUT: LB Jatavis Brown (ankle)
DOUBTFUL: DT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Austin Ekeler (groin)

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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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Ravens-Chargers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ path to an AFC wild card took another hit Saturday before their critical contest against the Los Angeles Chargers.

With Tennessee beating Washington earlier in the day, Baltimore needs a win to remain in wild-card contention. A loss would leave the Ravens needing Pittsburgh to lose its last two games to give them the opportunity to still win the AFC North with a Week 17 win over Cleveland. In other words, John Harbaugh’s team needs a win.

The biggest surprise among the Ravens’ inactives was running back Buck Allen being a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Versatile running back Ty Montgomery was deactivated last week, but he is active for Week 16, joining starter Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon in the backfield rotation.

Guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) is officially inactive and will miss his third straight game, meaning veteran James Hurst or rookie Bradley Bozeman will start at left guard. The pair rotated at the position in last week’s win over Tampa Bay.

In bigger news, Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen is active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The Pro Bowl wideout suffered a hip pointer in a Week 15 Thursday game, but the extra rest helped in his recovery as he was able to practice on a limited basis by the end of the week.

Los Angeles also welcomes back Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon after a three-game absence due to a knee injury. Backup running back Austin Ekeler (neck) is inactive after being listed as doubtful.

The referee for Saturday’s game is Clete Blakeman.

According to Weather.com, the Saturday night forecast in Carson, California calls for clear skies and temperatures in the low 60s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while Los Angeles dons navy blue jerseys and navy blue pants for Week 16.

Saturday marks the 12th all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 6-5 advantage. The Chargers were 4-3 against Baltimore in San Diego, but this marks the first game between these teams since the former’s move to Carson.

Below are Saturday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
LB Tim Williams
G Alex Lewis
RB Buck Allen
DL Zach Sieler
FB/DL Patrick Ricard

LOS ANGELES
RB Austin Ekeler
RB Troymaine Pope
C Cole Toner
TE Sean Culkin
WR Dylan Cantrell
DE Anthony Lanier
DT T.Y. McGill

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 21 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Anything short of a win over the Los Angeles Chargers will leave the Ravens needing something close to a Christmas miracle to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

A victory won’t come easy as Baltimore will be playing the most balanced team in the conference that still has much to play for itself with the AFC West and home-field advantage still up for grabs. The Chargers certainly present the biggest defensive test the Ravens’ revamped offense will have encountered since the bye week.

Frankly, this is the kind of game John Harbaugh’s team just hasn’t won in December in the post-Super Bowl XLVII era with several commendable efforts ending in heartbreak.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the 12th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 6-5 advantage. The Chargers were 4-3 playing Baltimore in San Diego, but the Ravens are 3-2 against them in the John Harbaugh era with the last meeting being a 29-26 Ravens win at M&T Bank Stadium in 2015.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. John Brown will catch a long touchdown. Lamar Jackson is a limited passer right now despite his electrifying mobility that’s helped the Ravens to this point. However, the one area of the field where Jackson has had success is the short middle (under 15 yards through the air) where he’s posted a 98 passer rating and completed 77 percent of his attempts, per SharpFootballStats.com. The problem is the Chargers defense has been very effective in that area, ranking first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric against short passes and first against tight ends. However, the Chargers rank last in DVOA against deep passes over 15 yards in the air. Jackson is due to connect on a long one, and opportunities will be there.

2. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will collect 125 total yards and a touchdown with much damage coming on passes. Los Angeles went 3-0 without the Pro Bowl running back, which speaks to how deep this offense is. The returning Gordon is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, but the biggest challenge he presents against a superb run defense is his ability to make plays as a receiver out of the backfield. Two weeks ago, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes completed 10 passes to running backs in an effort to offset Baltimore’s pass rush, and I expect Philip Rivers to do the same. The difference is Gordon is more dangerous in the open field than any of the Chiefs’ current backs.

3. The Ravens will be held under 160 rushing yards for the first time since Week 9. This ground game is too good to be completely shut down at this point, especially with Greg Roman’s reputation for consistently adding new wrinkles. However, the Chargers do possess the best run defense the Ravens have seen since before the bye, and rookie safety Derwin James is the type of player who just might be able to bottle up Jackson more than previous teams could. The Chiefs held Baltimore to an ordinary 3.6 yards per carry after being gashed in the first quarter, which is why it’s critical for the Ravens to grab an early lead while the Chargers adjust to the shock of Jackson’s speed and this run game.

4. Los Angeles edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will combine for three sacks. Bosa and Ingram will give Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. problems, but how they hold the edge will be crucial this week with Jackson’s ability to run. Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon will try to get to Rivers, but the veteran has the ninth-fastest average time to throw from snap to release in the NFL and will use quick passes to Keenan Allen, who poses a challenge in the slot. The short week is also a factor as Judon has nursed a minor knee injury and Suggs was already quiet against Tampa Bay after playing a season-high 70 snaps in Kansas City. The Ravens need pressure from Za’Darius Smith inside.

5. More balance and extra rest will be the difference for the Chargers as the Ravens fall 26-17. I don’t believe this is a bad matchup for Baltimore as Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith have enough size to combat the tall Los Angeles receivers, but I’m not confident enough in a one-dimensional offense producing enough points to offset the times when the Ravens defense is unable to get stops like we saw in the fourth quarter and overtime in Kansas City. The Chargers haven’t been held under 20 points in a game all season, and the revamped Ravens haven’t shown the ability to score into the high 20s without at least one touchdown from the defense or special teams. A cross-country trip on a short week also does veterans and a rookie quarterback no favors. It will be a close one throughout, but a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Rivers to Allen will put the game away for the Chargers and leave the Ravens scoreboard watching for the rest of the weekend.

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Ravens list four players as questionable for Chargers game

Posted on 20 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are as healthy as they could reasonably hope to be going into Week 16 and their biggest game of the season.

Outside linebacker Matt Judon (knee), tight end Nick Boyle (concussion), defensive back Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), and guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) are all listed as questionable for Saturday’s contest against the Los Angeles Chargers, but Lewis was the only player not to practice fully on Thursday. After being cleared from the concussion protocol, Boyle appears likely to play, which is a positive development with his significant blocking role in Baltimore’s rush-heavy offense.

“He’s progressing well, and we’ll just have to see,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think it’ll be a little bit of a decision on Saturday — maybe today — to see how he gets through the practice and everything [and] see how he feels.”

Levine was a full participant after missing practice on Tuesday and Wednesday as he’s nursed a nagging ankle issue for several weeks.

The Chargers are also getting healthy at the right time as Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon (knee) wasn’t included in the final game status report after practicing fully all week. Gordon will be making his return after a three-game absence and could present a matchup problem as a receiver out of the backfield as he’s caught 44 passes for 453 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games this season. The fourth-year back has rushed for nine touchdowns and has averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2018.

Los Angeles hopes to have Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen back on the field, another significant development for Saturday’s game. The 6-foot-2 target suffered a hip pointer in last week’s win at Kansas City, but he was able to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday and was designated as questionable. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Allen is expected to play and has caught 88 passes for 1,074 yards and six touchdowns once again serving as Philip Rivers’ favorite target.

According to Weather.com, the Saturday night forecast in Carson, California calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)

LOS ANGELES
OUT: TE Sean Culkin (back)
DOUBTFUL: RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Keenan Allen (hip)

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Ravens looking healthy while Chargers receiver Allen returns to practice

Posted on 19 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Only one Ravens player missed Wednesday’s practice for a health-related reason, but a significant injury-related development came on the other side of their Week 16 showdown.

Just a day after Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said wide receiver Keenan Allen could be a game-time decision on Saturday, the Pro Bowl selection returned to the practice field. Allen suffered a hip pointer in the Week 15 win over Kansas City, but his limited participation in the middle of the week would indicate him having a good chance to play against Baltimore. The 26-year-old has caught 88 passes for 1,074 yards and six touchdowns this season.

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (knee) practiced fully for the second straight day as he prepares to return to action for the first time since Week 12. Meanwhile, backup running back Austin Ekeler remains sidelined with a neck injury and concussion.

Ravens defensive back Anthony Levine missed practice for the second straight day with toe and ankle ailments, but the veteran was spotted running and doing agility work on the side field with a member of the training staff during the portion of practice open to media. Outside linebacker Matt Judon (knee) and tight end Nick Boyle (concussion) returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.

Guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) was a limited participant for the second straight day.

Below is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Sean Culkin (back), RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Keenan Allen (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Melvin Gordon (knee), NT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)

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Judon, Boyle absent from Ravens practice on Tuesday

Posted on 18 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were without two starters as they returned to the practice field ahead of Saturday night’s critical tilt with the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers.

Outside linebacker Matt Judon (left knee) and tight end Nick Boyle (concussion) did not participate in Tuesday’s indoor walk-through session. Both players sustained their injuries during Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay, but Judon was able to return to action.

It remains unclear when exactly Boyle sustained the concussion, but he didn’t play in the second half as fellow third-year tight end Maxx Williams and rookies Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst picked up the slack. Boyle is regarded as a key cog in Baltimore’s run-blocking schemes that have helped produce 190 or more rushing yards in five straight games, the first time an NFL team has done that since 1976.

“I can’t give Maxx enough credit,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday. “For Maxx to step in and not have any drop-off, and then Hayden and Mark came in and blocked really well. You obviously saw that. To me, it’s one of those unsung things that people don’t see. Those two guys stepped it up; they really did. We have a lot of depth.”

Defensive back Anthony Levine was also absent from Tuesday’s walk-through as he is now nursing a toe ailment in addition to the ankle issue that’s limited him in practices for several weeks.

Left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) returned to practice on a limited basis and is trying to avoid missing a third consecutive game.

The Chargers don’t yet know whether Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen will play on Saturday after he suffered a hip pointer in the Week 15 win over Kansas City last Thursday. However, Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon was a full participant on Tuesday and is expected to return after a three-game absence with a knee injury.

“Keenan could be a game-time decision,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “It just depends on how sore his hip is.”

Below is Tuesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (shoulder)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Keenan Allen (hip), TE Sean Culkin (back), RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Melvin Gordon (knee), NT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)

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Thoughts on could-be, former, and never-were Ravens

Posted on 14 April 2015 by Luke Jones

The retirement of Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu last week revitalized an old debate of deciding between him or former Ravens safety Ed Reed as the best safety of this generation.

The split between the fan bases in Baltimore and Pittsburgh is obvious, but it’s difficult to compare players who brought such different skills to the table. Polamalu was superior against the run, but many forget how effectively Reed played closer to the line of scrimmage early in his career before a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder hampered him physically. On the flip side, Reed was the superior ball hawk throughout their careers, but Polamalu wasn’t always the same liability in coverage that he became over the last few seasons of his 12-year career.

Sports Illustrated’s Peter King stirred up Ravens fans by deeming Polamalu the best playmaking and instinctive safety of this era. He’s certainly entitled to his opinion, but Reed’s ability to make plays as a safety, a punt blocker, and as an occasional punt returner was as good as any playmaker I’ve seen short of Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders. In his prime, Reed may have been the greatest free safety in the history of the NFL as his calculated gambles often turned games around for the offensively-challenged Ravens of the time.

I’d take Reed over Polamalu because of his home-run potential, but I would have been happy with either one.

Like King does in evaluating these two great safeties, I’ve been guilty of using the term instinctive, a word that sounds like a compliment but sells short the amount of preparation each player put into his craft. Yes, these are blessed athletes who often appear to have a sixth sense for the ball, but the game-changing plays each safety made were the result of hours of film study and their years of experience on the football field.

It’s worth noting that the Pro Football Hall of Fame hasn’t been kind to safeties historically, but I just don’t see that applying to Reed or Polamalu when they are eligible for induction. As two of the centerpieces in arguably the best rivalry in the NFL over the last 15 years, both received plenty of mainstream attention and each won an AP Defensive Player of the Year award (an honor awarded to a safety just five times in 44 years). Even if they aren’t first-ballot guys — they should be, by the way — neither will wait long to receive the invitation to Canton.

Of course, Reed hasn’t officially retired, which is something with which he needs to come to terms. I’m always supportive of an athlete in his desire to play as long as he wants and to go out on his own terms, but the writing has been on the wall for nearly two years and no one wanted the nine-time Pro Bowl selection in 2014. It’s time for him to call it a career, which will allow the Ravens to induct him into their Ring of Honor this fall.

* After reports surfaced that the Ravens were among the teams showing the most interest in Michael Crabtree, the free-agent wide receiver came to terms on a one-year deal to join the Oakland Raiders Monday night.

The news wasn’t surprising as there were never any indications that Baltimore strongly coveted Crabtree, who was coming off a down season in San Francisco. Questions remain over his explosiveness and ability to separate from defenders following an Achilles injury two years ago, and he was never the type of burner that the Ravens currently need.

I’ll continue to remain skeptical of the organization’s ability to find a suitable replacement for Torrey Smith until it happens. The Ravens can talk up the likes of Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, and Michael Campanaro as much as they want, but they need a receiver to stretch the field and take pressure off the soon-to-be 36-year-old Steve Smith. The current group alone won’t cut it.

* King again fired up fans in predicting that Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon wouldn’t make it past the Ravens with the 26th overall pick, but it wouldn’t be a shocking development given their everlasting commitment to the ground game.

Anyone who watched Gordon play in the Big Ten knows he has the potential to be a special back and Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock is very familiar with him after they worked together in Madison. A running back hasn’t been selected in the first round since 2012, but it appears there’s a good chance of that changing in the upcoming draft.

Would Gordon satisfy one of their biggest needs? No, but Justin Forsett will be 30 and isn’t a long-term solution at the position.

I personally would look to a number of running backs who would be attractive in the middle rounds, but coming away with Gordon wouldn’t be surprising or necessarily a bad thing for the Ravens.

* The latest news about former NFL running back Lawrence Phillips being suspected of killing his prison cellmate is another reminder of how lucky the Ravens were to come away with Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Ogden with the fourth overall pick of the 1996 draft.

Had he given into late owner Art Modell’s preference to have Phillips, Ozzie Newsome might not still be the general manager in Baltimore today. At the very least, it’d be difficult to argue that the Ravens would have still won Super Bowl XXXV in only their fifth season in Baltimore.

More than anything, the Ravens might want to thank the Arizona Cardinals for surprisingly taking Simeon Rice with the third pick that year, allowing Ogden to fall into Newsome’s lap.

As the Ravens now begin their 20th season in Baltimore, it’s still incredible to think that Newsome selected two future Hall of Famers — Ray Lewis went 26th overall later in the first round — with the first two draft picks in team history.

* Per Pro Football Talk, the NFL is set to release the 2015 regular-season schedule on April 23.

Considering we already know the Ravens’ opponents, the announcement always comes with too much hype, but it’s intriguing to find out which matchups land in prime time.

I’m only guessing, but I’ll predict that the Ravens play a Thursday night road game in Pittsburgh, a Monday night home game against Cincinnati, and a Sunday night home game against Seattle.

Which games would you like to see in prime time this year?

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Draft prospects being mocked to Ravens at 26th overall

Posted on 13 February 2015 by Luke Jones

Despite the NFL draft being more than two months away, many pundits haven’t wasted time in putting together their mock drafts before commissioner Roger Goodell finally steps to the podium in Chicago and announces the first pick on April 30.

The Ravens currently have needs at cornerback, wide receiver, tight end, running back, and safety, so it will be interesting to see which priorities remain in the spring, especially with a very tight salary-cap situation.

Below is a look at five players who have recently been mocked to Baltimore with the 26th overall pick in different publications:

WR Dorial Green-Beckham (Rob Rang of CBSSports.com)
My take: Even if the Ravens are able to re-sign Torrey Smith, taking a wide receiver early in the draft would be wise with Steve Smith turning 36 later this year. There’s no denying that Green-Beckham’s size (6-foot-5 and 225 pounds) and speed are intriguing, but multiple marijuana-related arrests led to his dismissal at Missouri and raise red flags about his maturity and commitment to football. Draft pundits have compared him to A.J. Green, but the 21-year-old will really need to impress during the interview process to make teams comfortable in taking him, especially in the first round.

TE Maxx Williams (Mel Kiper of ESPN.com)
My take: Should veteran Dennis Pitta attempt to continue his NFL career, the Ravens would still have a need at tight end with Owen Daniels a free agent and 2014 third-round pick Crockett Gillmore not showing enough to indicate he can become a No. 1 option just yet. Williams is regarded as the top tight end in this year’s draft class even though he was part of a run-oriented attack at the University of Minnesota. He has excellent hands and made several highlight catches in his collegiate career, but some experts believe he needs to add strength to become a better blocker despite a 6-foot-4, 250-pound frame.

RB Melvin Gordon (Charles Davis of NFL.com)
My take: Considering a running back hasn’t been taken in the first round since 2012, the choice of Gordon feels underwhelming after the stout Baltimore offensive line opened running lanes for journeyman Justin Forsett to rush for over 1,250 yards this past season. However, Gordon became the second all-time single-season rusher in FBS history with 2,587 yards in 2014 and played under current Ravens running backs coach Thomas Hammock at Wisconsin, meaning the organization should know him very well. If the Ravens take Gordon, you assume they would have visions of him quickly becoming one of the best backs in the NFL.

WR Devin Funchess (Matt Miller of BleacherReport.com)
My take: The 6-foot-5, 230-pound former tight end would be a matchup nightmare for most cornerbacks and will use his leaping ability and frame to attack the football, which would give the Ravens the giant weapon inside the red zone that they’ve lacked for years. Funchess is still regarded as raw in terms of route-running ability and needs to develop more consistent hands. Much like Kelvin Benjamin in last year’s draft, the Michigan product is considered a high-risk, high-reward prospect, but he doesn’t carry the off-field baggage of a wide receiver like Green-Beckham.

CB Quinten Rollins (Eric Galko of SportingNews.com)
My take: Other mock drafts have linked the Ravens to cornerbacks such as Marcus Peters and Jalen Collins, but Rollins would be an intriguing choice considering he played only one year of college football at Miami of Ohio, which is John Harbaugh’s alma mater. The former basketball player had a standout 2014 for the RedHawks, earning MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors with 72 tackles and seven interceptions. The pre-draft process will be critical for the 5-foot-11, 193-pound Rollins with a limited body of work behind him, but his toughness and natural gifts will make teams think upside while he tries to refine his technique.

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