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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 1 win over Miami

Posted on 10 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their season opener in a record-setting 59-10 final at Miami, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith missing “multiple weeks” with a knee injury will test the diminishing depth at cornerback, but the silver lining is an extended audition for Anthony Averett, whom the Ravens have viewed as possible starter material. Averett can now prove it with Smith in the final year of his deal.

2. You can’t expect an 83-yard touchdown every week, but Lamar Jackson’s first scoring throw to Marquise Brown came on a simple run-pass option against an eight-man box. Those backside double slants will kill defenses if Jackson simply plays pitch and catch.

3. Jackson’s “not bad for a running back” quip received much attention, but the image below shows a third-and-three play in which the left edge was clear and Ronnie Stanley was signaling for him to run to easily move the chains. A moment later, Jackson threw the beautiful bomb to Brown.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

4. Speaking of the 2019 first-round pick, just 14 snaps produced four catches, 147 yards, and two touchdowns. Just imagine what he might do when fully acclimated to the offense. For those keeping track, he’s now one touchdown shy of Breshad Perriman’s career total with Baltimore.

5. The pass rush produced three sacks and 12 quarterback hits, but failing to create havoc against that overwhelmed Dolphins line would have been a red flag. Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser played pretty well, but pass rush remains a real question mark until we see it against a better opponent.

6. Bradley Bozeman received praise from John Harbaugh and earned another start at left guard for Week 2 at the very least. He helped set the tone for the day with a excellent pull block to spring Mark Ingram for 49 yards on the first play from scrimmage.


(Screen grab courtesy of NFL Game Pass)

7. Patrick Onwuasor is so aggressive that he occasionally takes himself out of the play and still has to show consistency in coverage, but he’s the fastest linebacker Baltimore has had since a young Ray Lewis. He was incredibly active and played all but one defensive snap.

8. After a quiet first half, Mark Andrews became the monster reporters watched all summer with six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown after intermission. Deep-strike passes may not be there every week, but you should get used to hearing “Jackson to Andrews over the middle.”

9. Leading 35-0, the Ravens had every right to run a fake punt with plenty of ballgame left late in the second quarter. However, going for a fourth-and-goal at the 3 with a 52-10 lead and under 10 minutes to go seemed a bit much or “Belichickian,” if you will.

10. Despite Chris Board having a clear lead throughout the spring and summer competition, Kenny Young played eight more snaps at the weak-side inside linebacker position. A preseason concussion cost Board some time last month, but Young has apparently stepped it up in recent weeks.

11. In his first game as general manager, Eric DeCosta watched his two big free-agent acquisitions — Ingram and Earl Thomas — immediately make splash plays and his first ever draft pick catch two touchdowns in the opening quarter. DeCosta couldn’t have written a better opening script.

12. Reports of Miami players wanting out after the embarrassing loss raise a real question. Tanking in basketball or baseball is one thing, but putting your body on the line with no chance of winning in a sport with greater safety concerns and non-guaranteed contracts? I don’t blame them at all.

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Jackson, Ravens put defenses on notice with Week 1 explosion

Posted on 09 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Lamar Jackson was sensational in the Ravens’ season-opening blowout win over Miami.

It was far and away the best performance of his young career and a tremendous showing by any NFL quarterbacking standard. His 324-yard, five-touchdown, turnover-free showing was the most efficient regular-season game ever played by a Ravens quarterback. Such damage being done on just 20 passing attempts — for context, Joe Flacco never threw more than two touchdowns on 20 or fewer throws — isn’t something to dismiss because of the quality of opponent.

Yes, the 2019 Dolphins were as terrible as advertised Sunday, but their secondary was one of the few position groups resembling a representative NFL group — at least on paper. Many Baltimore quarterbacks have played bad opponents over the years with Jackson producing the only perfect passer rating (158.3) in team history. Only two other Ravens quarterbacks — Flacco in 2014 and Tony Banks in 2000 — had thrown five touchdown passes in a game. Jackson couldn’t have been more impressive, regardless of who was on the other side or what happens going forward.

After too frequently missing wide-open throws as a rookie, Jackson completing 85 percent of his passes reflected the improved footwork, mechanics, and accuracy he showed over the summer, variables having little to do with the opponent. And while there were definitely examples of poor coverage Sunday, NFL Next Gen Stats calculated the expected completion percentage (how the “average” quarterback fares with the same variables on each of those passing plays) on his 20 throws at only 60.2 percent, meaning he dramatically outperformed the degree of difficulty.

Trying to determine how much of Sunday’s outcome was the result of Jackson’s growth compared to Miami’s ineptitude is really a fruitless exercise, but what can we take away from the performance? Jackson may never post another perfect passer rating or five-touchdown game in his career, but that doesn’t mean his career day was devoid of real improvement.

Below is a look at Jackson’s passer rating divided by area of target last season:

His 170 passing attempts during his rookie season didn’t make for a huge sample size, but it was large enough to show his success over the middle and that he was better throwing to his right than his left.

Below is his passing chart from Sunday:

To no surprise, we saw plenty of passes between the numbers and to the right with the obvious change being the deep passing explosions, the game-changing development. There isn’t much passing activity to the left, which could have been a product of the presence of Pro Bowl cornerback Xavien Howard on that side of the field as well as the struggles showed there last year. This isn’t a negative as offensive coordinator Greg Roman and Jackson should be playing to his strengths in the same way that a pitcher with a great slider and a mediocre changeup should be leaning much more heavily on the former.

According to Pro Football Focus, Jackson was 10-for-11 for a whopping 276 yards and five touchdowns inside the numbers compared to 7-for-9 for 48 yards outside the numbers for a more pedestrian 5.33 yards per attempt. Anyone wondering about the 22-year-old’s progress on intermediate and deep throws to the outside didn’t learn much as those simply weren’t required in Week 1.

Ironically, the Miami defense achieved its goal of preventing Jackson from running as Dolphins defensive tackle Davon Godchaux indicated after the game. The speedy quarterback had only two real rushes for seven yards with his other attempt being a kneel to end the first half.

Head coach John Harbaugh was asked Monday if that might be closer to the new norm after Jackson set a modern record for rushing attempts by a quarterback last season. The number of times he runs — or doesn’t run — will remain a hot topic for everyone outside the team’s Owings Mills training facility.

“If they allow Lamar to run, he’s going to run. They didn’t,” Harbaugh said. “They were taking it away for sure. It was part of their plan not to allow him to run. If people decide that that’s going to be the way it’s going to go, he’s not going to run. That’s the way the offense is organized. We’re not worried about it at all.”

What Sunday showed is that the Ravens may now have another dangerous way to beat you if you’re going to sell out to try to stop the run, something many teams failed to do down the stretch last year anyway. The Dolphins stacked the box and dared Jackson to throw down the field, and that’s exactly what he did with overwhelming success as Miami rarely pressured the pocket or covered effectively.

We may not see another five-touchdown performance or an 85-percent completion percentage anytime soon, but opponents must now think twice about moving a safety so close to the line of scrimmage after seeing Jackson repeatedly throw the ball over defenders’ heads with such precision. The mere threat of a deep ball to Marquise Brown could force secondaries to back off and help the Ravens gash teams with the run more than ever, an unsettling proposition for opponents assuming they were still too one-dimensional.

That kind of push-pull dynamic between the run and pass has been consistently lacking in the Baltimore offense since the days of Ray Rice and was never like what the Ravens could have with Jackson being a dual-threat quarterback. It also helps that the ground game now includes two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram.

Stopping the run against the Ravens was already a a must, but defenses have now seen a need to be able to cover or at least pressure — preferably both. The Dolphins may have kept Jackson in the pocket, but they achieved none of those three major objectives, which is why the Ravens set franchise records for points, touchdowns, total yards, and margin for victory.

The Baltimore offense is unlikely to come close to those numbers again this year, but the message delivered to the rest of the NFL was more than just a fun day in Miami and a win over a bad team.

Watching where Jackson and this offense go from here should be fun.

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A “Lamarvelous” performance by Ravens as Mr. Jackson brings the heat all day long in Miami

Posted on 09 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

It was over early on Sunday afternoon in Miami. The Baltimore Ravens ran left and threw right and did almost everything perfectly.

I won’t be the guy who points out that they bobbled the opening kickoff.

The legendary performance of Lamar Jackson and the offense will be talked about until the next time a quarterback around here goes 9-for-9 with four touchdowns to start a day and ends it with a “perfect” passer rating of 158.3 in a 59-10 road win over a team and a franchise in a world of aquamarine hurt.

Books might one day be written with this as Chapter 1. And I might be the only one writing them again but I can say I was there in Miami on that steamy Opening Day when the purple mystery was unleashed on the NFL.

Look, Lamar ran the ball like crazy last year. He took over an offense that wasn’t his – in midflow with the season on the line and the job of the head coach in limbo – and made it work every week for two months until the Chargers gave him fits and sent him home.

But everyone in the NFL sphere knew it was going to take more than the mentality of a running back and pitching the ball around backwards to win consistently. And Lamar is so insulted and driven by that. It clearly stands in the center of motivating him, this criticism of his ability to read defenses and beat an NFL team with his arm.

“Not bad for a running back,” said the 22-year old with the purple Heisman chip on his shoulder.

Apparently, Sunday was what it looks like when he’s mad.

Lamar Jackson feels like a winner.

Whatever the “it” factor and aura that permeates greatness – all legends are constructed and created of those events when athletes do things that no one has ever seen done – Lamar has that kind of ability.

I’ve been to Miami a lot of times (and by the way, the stadium still sucks, Stephen Ross). I’ve seen a handful of World Series games, three Super Bowls, the Rolling Stones and a couple of playoff football games. I was even there the night that they put Dan Marino into the Hall of Fame in the rain.

I won’t soon forget the Lamar Jackson Show on a 94-degree day in Miami Gardens.

Sunday was a kid coming back to his home turf and showing what he’s learned so far. It was as impressive as anything you’ll ever see in a professional sporting event – a 59-10 win with QB rating perfection and a seat on the bench at 3 p.m.

Looking up at the scoreboard when the score was 28-0, it was clear we were seeing No. 8 do the things that needed to be done if that Chargers fiasco in January is not to be repeated. And eight months later, whatever that “Lamarvelous” performance was to begin the 2019 season at Hard Rock Stadium, it should roll into some legitimate expectations in Baltimore for the rest of the year.

The Ravens appear to be a good NFL team with one of the most exciting players in the sport emerging with a unique skill set.

When it became apparent that the outcome wasn’t going to be in question – and I’m not sure if that was when it was 28-0 or 35-3 – I tweeted that Ryan Fitzpatrick would provide a fair test the rest of the day for the defense. And Fitzpatrick did until he was pulled for Josh Rosen, who every team in the NFL preferred over Lamar Jackson just 18 months ago.

And Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale couldn’t have a paid a more wily veteran than Fitzpatrick, who would gunsling and fearless his way throughout the heat of the afternoon, challenging a young-ish defense that is trying to learn to communicate and gel.

It’s one thing to have preseason or backfield “friendlies” during August. But the game moved at a different speed in the heat of Miami and the Ravens as a team really answered that call.

It could’ve gotten sloppy or chippy or stupid late in a blowout win. It didn’t.

Lamar to Andrews looks special. Mark Ingram looks like a leader. Earl Thomas looks like a franchise kinda player with plenty to prove in his November.

All of the toys of Eric DeCosta were brought out of the purple garage for a spin.

I was the idiot asking Marquise “Hollywood” Brown some South Florida geography questions at his locker last week. On Sunday, he ran toward both oceans and away from anyone who can’t get him on the ground immediately.

Hollywood Brown. No one can catch him!

When the only thing you’ve done wrong all day is field questions about running up the score on the road with fake punts, you’ve had a helluva day.

And no coach named “Harbaugh” has ever pulled the foot off the gas. And, I’m sure he’s said at some point repeatedly, “I don’t even know what that means!?”

If you don’t want a fake punt run at you when it’s 35-3, then defend the play.

Now, the Arizona Cardinals will visit Baltimore to deal with the next round of purple mystery mayhem at the hands of this Lamar offense.

What will we see next week that we didn’t last week?

Youth is being served in Baltimore. Defenses are going to be physically tested – as will the passing prowess of Lamar Jackson under duress once better teams start appearing on the other sideline.

This is the part where I mention that the Miami Dolphins will get blown out of a dozen games this year with that ragtag outfit.

Kansas City on the road in two weeks will prove more. Hapless Cleveland will be playing for their season by the time they limp in here in a few weeks. And the Pittsburgh Steelers looked quite vulnerable late in the Foxborough evening under the lighthouse.

Now, it’s time to dazzle the home crowd against Kyler Murray on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Make no mistake about it – it is a fun time to be a Baltimore Ravens fan. Lots of hope and fun and unknowns.

The purple bandwagon will welcome you back onto the boot.

We still have some room.

 

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Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith exits Sunday’s win with knee injury

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The only damper on a spectacular record-setting performance by Lamar Jackson and the Ravens in their 59-10 demolition of Miami Sunday was another injury to a secondary already testing its depth.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered a knee injury in the first quarter and didn’t return. The 31-year-old limped off the field and went to the locker room soon after inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor fell into Smith’s right knee on the sixth defensive snap of the game. Smith returned to the sideline in the second half wearing street clothes.

“It’s not a season-ending injury as far as we know right now,” head coach John Harbaugh. “It does not look like that at all. I’m sure he’ll get an MRI tomorrow. We’ll just see if it’s days or weeks or what. We’ll know tomorrow after we get the MRI.”

The Ravens were already dealing with the loss of standout slot cornerback Tavon Young, who sustained a season-ending neck injury last month. Rookie fourth-round cornerback Iman Marshall was also placed on injured reserve last week, but he remains eligible to return later in the season.

With Smith out, the Ravens turned to second-year cornerback Anthony Averett on the outside with veteran cornerback Brandon Carr now playing extensive snaps inside at the nickel in Young’s absence. Averett fell down in coverage on the Dolphins’ lone touchdown of the day to wide receiver Preston Williams late in the second quarter, but the 2018 fourth-round pick from Alabama finished with four tackles and a pass breakup.

“It’s always tough to see one of my boys go down,” said Carr, who played in his 177th consecutive regular-season game Sunday. “We put so much work into this game and we know it can be taken away at the blink of an eye, and that’s what happened to [Smith].

“Of course, the football game is the next-man-up mentality, and we had [Averett] that’s been champing at the bit to get out there and make some plays. He had his work cut out for him today, but he made some big plays for us and he had some fun.”

Injuries have been the story of the talented Smith’s career as he’s played more than 12 games in a season just twice in his first eight years. The 2011 first-round pick is in the final year of his contract and is making $9.5 million this season.

The Baltimore defense had two interceptions against the Dolphins with six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas picking off a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass on his first defensive series as a Raven and cornerback Marlon Humphrey intercepting Miami backup Josh Rosen on the first play of the fourth quarter.

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Ravens-Dolphins: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens begin their 2019 season where they dream it will culminate five months from now.

Miami will host Super Bowl LIV in early February, but the rebuilding Dolphins first stand in the way of a 1-0 start Sunday. The opener is a homecoming for second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson and rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both grew up less than 30 miles away from Hard Rock Stadium. The Ravens hope Sunday will be the start of a special connection between the first-round talents in the years to come, but the two did not play together in any preseason games.

After helping lead the Ravens to a 6-1 finish and their first AFC North championship since 2012 as a rookie, Jackson will become the first quarterback not named Joe Flacco to start an opener for Baltimore since the late Steve McNair in 2007. The 22-year-old is the second-youngest quarterback to make a season-opening start for the Ravens with only Kyle Boller being younger back in 2003.

As expected, Brown is active and will make his NFL debut after spending much of the offseason recovering from Lisfranc surgery on his left foot. Head coach John Harbaugh deemed the Oklahoma product “full-go” physically at the beginning of the week, but Brown was added to the injury report Thursday and missed Friday’s practice, a reminder that the condition of his foot remains a factor.

Despite not playing in the preseason while recovering from a fracture in his right thumb, Robert Griffin III is active and will serve as the backup quarterback a day after his wife gave birth to their daughter. Rookie quarterback Trace McSorley is inactive.

Third-round rookie Jaylon Ferguson headlines the list of remaining inactives for Week 1. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale was complimentary of Ferguson’s late-summer improvement earlier this week, but he is fifth in the pecking order at the edge rusher position and has yet to carve out a role on special teams, making his deactivation less surprising.

The Ravens also deactivated rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack, leaving them lighter in the trenches despite the Miami heat. That will be a real factor to watch over the course of the afternoon with just four true defensive linemen — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and part-time fullback Patrick Ricard — active.

With Bradley Bozeman expected to start at left guard after working with the starters throughout the week and in the latter stages of the preseason, rookie guard Ben Powers and second-year offensive tackle Greg Senat were healthy scratches. Baltimore will go into Week 1 with veteran James Hurst and rookie Patrick Mekari as backups who’ve shown more versatility.

Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson (hip) and safety Bobby McCain (shoulder) are active despite being limited in practices throughout the week.

Sunday’s referee is Jerome Boger.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Miami calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures around 90 degrees at kickoff with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and only a slight chance of an afternoon thunderstorm. However, it will feel like it’s over 100 degrees on the field Sunday afternoon, a factor to watch over the course of the game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys and white pants while Miami dons white jerseys and white pants at home for Week 1.

Sunday marks the sixth time in the last seven years that the Ravens and Dolphins have met in the regular season with Baltimore holding a 7-6 lead in the all-time regular-season series. Including the postseason, Harbaugh is 7-1 against Miami.

The Ravens are aiming for their fourth straight season-opening win and are 8-3 in openers under Harbaugh.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
OLB Jaylon Ferguson
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
ILB Otaro Alaka
OT Greg Senat
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack

MIAMI
CB Ken Webster
Rb Myles Gaskin
RB Patrick Laird
G Shaq Calhoun
OL Chris Reed
OT Isaiah Prince
LB Trent Harris

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Ravens-Dolphins: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 September 2019 by Luke Jones

Sunday marks the official beginning of a new era for the Ravens.

Of course, the soft opening of the Lamar Jackson era last year brought the first AFC North championship since 2012 and a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence, but the Ravens have since said farewell to future Hall of Famer Terrell Suggs, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker C.J. Mosley, six-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle, and 2018 team sacks leader Za’Darius Smith in addition to former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco. The mass exodus from the NFL’s top-ranked defense leaves Baltimore without a former first-round pick at outside linebacker or in its entire front seven for the first time in franchise history, putting more pressure on a deep and talented secondary to account for concerns about the pass rush.

How quickly a younger defense adjusts and a rebuilt offense grows will determine how successful John Harbaugh’s team will be in 2019. The first test comes against Miami, a rebuilding team with no immediate direction beyond collecting assets for the future.

It’s time to go on the record as the Dolphins play the Ravens for the sixth time in the last seven seasons with the latter winning four of the previous five meetings. Baltimore leads the all-time regular-season series 7-6 despite a 3-5 record at what is now called Hard Rock Stadium. That doesn’t include the Ravens’ two postseason victories in Miami during the 2001 and 2008 campaigns.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will start fast with a touchdown pass and a run for a score. I’m really looking forward to watching Jackson in his first full year as a starter and expect the Ravens to be more aggressive passing the ball in the first half, especially on first downs when he completed just under 68 percent of his throws and produced a 100.6 passer rating on 56 attempts last year. That said, there isn’t much experience in that Miami front seven to expect the discipline to contain Jackson’s mobility on zone-read plays and run-pass options, which will lead to some rushing opportunities off the edge.

2. A communication breakdown will lead to a Ryan Fitzpatrick touchdown to Albert Wilson. We all know the story with Fitzpatrick, who is capable of getting into a groove in which he torches opponents and then reverts to looking like one of the worst quarterbacks in the league. Meanwhile, Wink Martindale has said the biggest challenge in replacing the veterans on his defense has been communication with the pre-snap adjustments and disguise the Ravens use. Even against a below-average offense, a hiccup won’t be surprising considering how little starters played in the preseason.

3. Tight coverage will contribute to four sacks and an Earl Thomas pick in his Ravens debut. I’m admittedly not a believer in the pass rush going into 2019, but that won’t be a problem Sunday with the Dolphins replacing both of their starting offensive tackles and coming off a season in which they surrendered 52 sacks. Strong pass coverage will again help create sacks for the Ravens this season, but Thomas reminded this week he was brought to Baltimore to help create more turnovers. He’ll get one against an overly-aggressive and desperate Fitzpatrick in the second half.

4. Mark Ingram will headline a 215-yard effort from the Baltimore ground game. We’ll see more offensive balance from the Ravens this season, but not when they have a lead in the second half as they will Sunday. The Dolphins ranked 31st in run defense and 26th in yards per carry allowed at 4.8 last year, and there’s little reason to think that will markedly improve under new head coach Brian Flores. Ingram will carry the workload in the first half, but Greg Roman will mix in more carries to Gus Edwards and rookie Justice Hill after intermission to shorten the game.

5. The Ravens do what they’re supposed to do in a 30-10 win over a bad football team. You gladly take this kind of road game on your schedule, but there’s little upside from an eyeball test perspective with the Dolphins front office tanking in 2019. The Ravens simply need to play a clean football game in which they take care of the ball, minimize penalties, and take what Miami gives them. It’s in Martindale’s nature to be aggressive on defense, but Fitzpatrick is the kind of quarterback who will eventually give you the game the longer you remain disciplined. We know anything can happen in the NFL and Miami still has some talented football players on both sides of the ball, but there’s little excuse for Harbaugh’s team to leave South Florida without a season-opening win.

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Marquise Brown listed as questionable, expected to play in Ravens opener

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are healthy going into their season opener against Miami, but Friday brought a twist to their injury report.

Rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown didn’t take part in the week’s final practice, raising some concern about his surgically-repaired left foot that continues to be managed carefully. The first-round pick from Oklahoma was added to Thursday’s injury report despite being listed as a full participant. Since his practice debut on July 31, Brown has received occasional practices off in his recovery from a Lisfranc injury originally sustained in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 1.

Having described Brown as “full-go” physically at the start of the week, head coach John Harbaugh said he didn’t suffer a setback and would play against the Dolphins despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The extent of his Week 1 involvement is unclear after the 5-foot-9, 170-pound speedster missed so much practice time in the spring and at the start of training camp and played only 19 offensive snaps in the preseason — none of them with starting quarterback Lamar Jackson.

“He’s doing well. Really, it’s everybody getting those first plays in, getting those first hits in, et cetera,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Thursday. “It was good that he got a little time in the preseason, but certainly, you don’t get the sense at all that it’s going to be too big for him. He definitely belongs.”

The Ravens also listed cornerbacks Brandon Carr (hip) and Cyrus Jones (finger) and defensive tackle/fullback Patrick Ricard (foot) as questionable after all practiced fully Friday, leaving very little doubt about their availability. Carr was limited in Wednesday’s practice, but Sunday will mark his 177th consecutive regular-season game — all of them starts.

Not listed on this week’s injury report was quarterback Robert Griffin III, who didn’t play in the preseason while recovering from a fracture in his right thumb. Griffin continued to practice on a limited basis all summer and will back up Jackson against the Dolphins.

“I’m ready to go. I’m excited. Really, in my role, no one wants to see me go out there,” said Griffin as he laughed. “And I’m not rooting for anything to happen to anybody. My job is to help L.J., help him lead this team, and if called upon, be ready to roll.”

With Griffin fully cleared to play, rookie quarterback Trace McSorley will likely be inactive as the third quarterback. Temperatures in Miami are expected to near 90 degrees Sunday afternoon, which could prompt the Ravens to activate an extra lineman or two on either side of the ball.

Picking among 53 healthy players is always a good problem to have — even in Week 1.

“You’ve got to put seven guys down, so we’ll just do it based on versatility and game plan really,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t feel like there’s anybody that we wouldn’t want up. There’s nobody that couldn’t play and contribute. All 53 guys could play for us, so we’ll just have to take the 46 that help us the most this week.”

Running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) was waived from injured reserve with an injury settlement Friday. Harbaugh confirmed earlier this week that Dixon would be “moving on” from the organization.

For the Dolphins, starting wide receiver Albert Wilson was designated as questionable after being limited in practices all week with a hip injury originally suffered last season. Starting safety Bobby McCain (shoulder) is also questionable after being limited throughout the week.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: Marquise Brown (foot), CB Brandon Carr (hip), CB Cyrus Jones (finger), FB/DL Patrick Ricard (foot)

MIAMI
QUESTIONABLE: CB Johnson Bademosi (hip), DE Charles Harris (wrist), LB Trent Harris (foot), G Danny Isidora (hamstring), S Bobby McCain (shoulder), WR Albert Wilson (hip)

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Let the great Lamar Jackson experiment begin in Miami

Posted on 06 September 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

It has been said that the pioneers take the arrows and settlers take the land.

Make no mistake about it, Eric DeCosta and the Baltimore Ravens franchise has staked its claim to the new territory and against all odds – and perhaps the few analytics a football fan would think they understand about quarterbacks running into linebackers on purpose – plan to run to the Super Bowl in Miami, as opposed to flying.

And where it starts this Sunday amidst aquamarine fish chaos in South Florida is exactly where head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens want this to end in early February – on the turf at the Hard Rock Stadium for Super Bowl LIII.

The NFL has had a few variations of this RPO offense in spurts over the years with running quarterbacks but this would be unprecedented in the modern era – keeping a running quarterback healthy long enough in a ferociously violent game to establish a program and win a championship 20 weeks later.

The boldness of this rather quick transition from a wannabe aerial team under Joe Flacco, with a minor in “balance” and “long field goals” that never made the grade after 2013, to a ground and pound and dazzle (on occasion) does not come without a lingering trail of limited success. Last season, when Lamar Jackson took over a seemingly forever scuffling offense and made magic happen with his feet for two months as the air chilled, it made the exit of Flacco and his exorbitant contract an easy decision for this transition period of Ravens football.

And while most of the football world thought John Harbaugh was a dead-coach-walking last November, he has re-signed on for the new youth movement and “offensive revolution” while also bringing the stability you’d want for a team with a lot to prove on both sides of the ball.

The January reality thud of the Chargers perfecting a defensive game plan (on the road, no less) to impair the Ravens and neophyte Jackson is now “to be continued” but the organization and its football cognoscenti have now built the entire operation around No. 8. The plan is to run the NFL and its defensive coordinators ragged week to week with preparing to play left-handed against a supercharged, speed offense with a quarterback who plays with the fearlessness of a kid who won the Heisman Trophy when he was 19 years old.

The Dolphins have already endured two storms this week – Hurricane Dorian went up the coast but the turmoil of the selloff of Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and the general awfulness of everything about the team of Stephen Ross is expected to settle onto the South Florida turf at 1 p.m. on Sunday. This mess of a franchise in absolute disarray should provide an interesting backdrop for the homecoming of Lamar Jackson, who played his high school ball 45 minutes up the road and might have more friends in the stands than the Dolphins will have fans. Meanwhile, first round draft pick Marquise “Hollywood” Brown could walk this Sunday to the former Joe Robbie Stadium from his bright lights, beachy hometown just across I-95 and University.

While so much emphasis and attention will be rightly focused on the offensive concepts that Greg Roman will employ around Jackson and a plethora of speedy weapons, it’ll be a Ravens defense that many will similarly need a scorecard to identify early this Sunday.

Earl Thomas is the new Hall of Fame bully in town. Marlon Humphrey has changed his uniform number and will be moving into a new role as a team leader in a secondary that is stacked yet still depleted with the loss of Tavon Young early in training cap.

Who will rush the passer? Who will set the edge? Who picks up the slack for losing C.J. Mosley and Za’Darius Smith in their prime and the wisdom of Eric Weddle and Terrell Suggs pre-snap? Will Matt Judon step into a budding role as a franchise-type that the Ravens will want to pay at the end of this walk season? Can Jimmy Smith still be a difference maker in the secondary?

The preseason showed nothing – on purpose, according to Harbaugh and virtually everyone in the locker room this week in Owings Mills.

These first two weeks of real football – visiting hapless Miami and having the scuffling Arizona Cardinals as a homecoming feast next week – might not allow the Ravens to prove much beyond what should be easy wins if this team is going to be a contender this winter. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has been very confident in his unit but the questions will certainly linger until later in the month when the Ravens see Patrick Mahomes, Baker Mayfield and Ben Roethlisberger as the leaves begin to brown.

But will the Cleveland football franchise “brown” as well as the AFC North darling and favorite?

Will the Pittsburgh Steelers overcome the losses of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell to prosper with addition by subtraction?

The mystery is what makes this league so much fun and why I’ll be on a plane to South Beach this weekend.

Eric DeCosta is building a bold, different kind of program in Baltimore in his first effort after two decades of “In Ozzie We Trust.”

It has been called “an experiment” – trying a college offense in a pro game of adjustments and speed.

I like Lamar Jackson.

I am on the record: I have never thought it was a good idea to have a quarterback who

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Baltimore Ravens cornerback Cyrus Jones (27) celebrates his interception on a pass from Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Tanner Lee with teammates, including defensive back DeShon Elliott (32), during the second half of an NFL football preseason game, Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Return game to remain fluid for Ravens entering season

Posted on 05 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens confirmed Cyrus Jones is “the guy” as the primary punt returner entering the 2019 season, but that doesn’t mean the Marquise Brown experiment is over.

Despite muffing two punts in the preseason finale against Washington, the 2019 first-round pick will continue to field punts in practice in hopes of it paying off at some point down the line. Jones prevailed in the summer competition with Tyler Ervin, who was claimed off waivers by Jacksonville last weekend, but special teams coach Chris Horton still views the speedy Brown as a wild card to potentially provide a spark.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound receiver didn’t register a punt return in his decorated career at Oklahoma, but he returned nine punts for 182 yards and recorded a 73-yard touchdown return for College of the Canyons — a California junior college — in 2016. That’s a far cry from returning punts in the NFL, however.

“We put a guy out there in a game situation and we want to see if he can do it,” said Horton about Brown’s struggles fielding punts against Washington. “When [he] put those two balls on the ground, it just told me and told our coaches we just have to continue to practice him back there and continue to get him more reps. He’s going to be a guy that we can put back there and give us a little bit of excitement.”

The depth chart released by the public relations staff this week lists veteran slot receiver Willie Snead as the second-string punt returner and Brown as the No. 3 option.

The kick return spot remains more fluid with Chris Moore again topping the depth chart after leading the Ravens with 22 returns for 491 yards last season. Rookie running back Justice Hill is an intriguing option despite returning only one kickoff for nine yards in the preseason and not serving in that capacity at Oklahoma State.

“We have guys that we can throw back there,” Horton said. “Chris Moore has done an outstanding job for us. We love what Justice Hill brings. We gave Cyrus some opportunities in the preseason. We’ll go forward, and you guys will find out on Sunday.”

Rookie first-round pick added to injury report

Deemed “full-go” physically by head coach John Harbaugh earlier this week, Brown was added to Thursday’s injury report with a foot issue presumably related to his January surgery that sidelined him during spring workouts and for the start of training camp.

Brown was listed as a full participant in practice, but it was a reminder that he’s returning from a Lisfranc injury that will continue to be monitored and managed when necessary.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (hip) practiced fully after being limited Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (foot), CB Brandon Carr (hip)

MIAMI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Trent Harris (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Johnson Bademosi (hip), G Danny Isidora (hamstring), S Bobby McCain (shoulder), LB Andrew Van Ginkel (foot), WR Albert Wilson (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Charles Harris (wrist)

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edwards-jackson

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After much offseason talk, Ravens offense finally to be on display

Posted on 04 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked what he hoped fans would be saying about the Ravens offense after Sunday’s opener in Miami, Lamar Jackson paused briefly and smiled.

“Hopefully that it’s the best offense they’ve ever seen,” the 22-year-old quarterback said. “That’s what I’m going for.”

That statement wasn’t made with bravado as much as excitement. After an offseason of discussion, hype, speculation, and probably even some fibbing about the rebuilt system under new coordinator Greg Roman, the Ravens offense will finally be on display against the Dolphins.

So, what exactly can we expect?

Head coach John Harbaugh has alluded to the offense being “revolutionary” while we’ve heard conflicting suggestions even within the organization about how frequently Jackson will run after setting a single-season record for rushing attempts by a quarterback as a rookie. The Ravens will again walk the fine line between keeping Jackson out of harm’s way and not stifling what truly makes him special as a quarterback.

A multiple-look running game, pre-snap movement, and explosive play-action passing were staples for Roman in San Francisco and Buffalo where his offenses averaged close to a 50-50 split of runs and passes and ranked in the top seven in yards per pass attempt in three out of five full seasons. It’s no secret his fingerprints were all over the revamped offense we saw down the stretch last season when Jackson took over for an injured Joe Flacco, but Roman’s history suggests we won’t see the Ravens running at a near 2-to-1 clip like they did over the final seven weeks of 2018. That said, 10 of Baltimore’s 16 games this season come against defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed.

The Ravens consulted with college coaches this offseason such as Paul Johnson, who famously ran the triple option offense at Navy and then Georgia Tech. They streamlined the language within the offense to better align with the way players are taught at the collegiate level, which makes sense with more than half of the offensive players on the current roster in their first or second season.

In a recent national radio interview, Jackson estimated he would throw “probably 30 passes a game,” a number he didn’t reach once in his eight starts as a rookie. The amount of time devoted to the passing game during training camp seems to support that prediction, but effectively practicing the running game can also be difficult in the absence of to-the-ground contact, probably making it unwise to draw strong conclusions from practice structure.

Adding speed was a clear priority in the draft with the selections of wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin and running back Justice Hill, but the most substantial free-agent acquisition on offense was two-time Pro Bowl running back Mark Ingram to pair with Gus Edwards, who averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie last season.

Carrying the ball just four times in the preseason, Ingram said those exhibition games offered only “a little gist” of what the Ravens will show. Jackson attempted only 16 passes and ran the ball just twice, not counting his spectacular 18-yard touchdown against Green Bay that was negated by a penalty. The preseason offense was vanilla and basic like most teams around the league.

Yes, much mystery remains — even for the Ravens.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen on Sunday,” Harbaugh said. “We don’t know how certain things are going to look or how guys are going to respond. We might have confidence. Whatever happens, we’ll deal with it. But that’s the beauty of it. That’s what’s exciting. That’s the drama.

“We’re going to go out there and find out a lot on the first Sunday.”

Of course, all eyes will be on Jackson, who looked in command of the offense and showed more consistency as a passer throughout the summer. The Ravens are optimistic the improved footwork and mechanics — and subsequent tighter spirals and better accuracy — he displayed during training camp will carry over to the regular season, but it remains to be seen whether his progression is more a giant leap or a modest step forward when the bright lights come on. After all, there’s a lot of previous muscle memory to overcome in the highly competitive environment of games that count.

Baltimore would be wise to continue to play to Jackson’s passing strength over the middle of the field while picking spots to test secondaries outside the numbers, the area where the young passer still isn’t as proficient. That’s why second-year tight end Mark Andrews is the popular pick to have a breakout season after he and Jackson consistently made plays over the middle in summer practices and showed a promising rapport last season.

As a rookie, Jackson was at his best on first down, completing just under 68 percent of his passes, averaging 9.0 yards per attempt, and posting a 100.6 passer rating on 56 throws. The football analytics world implores teams to pass more on first down and to be more aggressive on first and second downs to not just set up manageable third-down situations but to avoid them altogether. Those numbers alone lead you to believe the Ravens will be more aggressive passing on first downs this season.

Still, there are questions and concerns that can’t be overlooked, ranging from Jackson’s league-high 15 fumbles last season to a still-uncertain left guard situation that contributed to Baltimore’s demise in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. Three of the six wide receivers on the current roster have never caught an NFL pass and only Willie Snead has registered more than 45 receptions in a season, leaving a very low floor to go along with an intriguing ceiling at the position.

The Ravens must find a way to improve inside the red zone, an area in which the offense really struggled with Jackson at the helm. They scored touchdowns on just 11 of 26 trips inside the 20 after Week 9 last year, a percentage that would’ve ranked 31st in the NFL over the full season. A top-ranked Ravens defense helped cover up that deficiency a year ago, but settling for too many field goals inside the red zone will cost you sooner than later.

No, there are no guarantees. This offense could be a revolution or an eventual flop, but you have to respect the Ravens’ willingness to zig while everyone else zags in today’s game. They’ve embraced having a mobile quarterback and have tried to build an offense to suit his unique strengths and account for his weaknesses. If nothing else, Jackson and this offense will be fun to watch while continuing to give opposing defenses headaches with an unconventional brand of football.

Just how different it looks remains anyone’s guess, but Jackson is focused on the end result, which worked out pretty well for the Ravens during his rookie season.

“I’m just looking to win. That’s the goal: win games,” Jackson said. “Win every game you’re in, and it starts with Miami. That’s the goal. I don’t really care what the critics say. They’re going to always be there.”

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