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Twelve Orioles thoughts following series sweep over Tampa Bay

Posted on 02 August 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles completing a series sweep with a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Recording their first series sweep since August of 2018, the Orioles played a good brand of baseball over the weekend disposing of a struggling Rays club with higher expectations. The 5-3 start doesn’t change anything for a rebuilding team, but it’s been fun, plain and simple.

2. Averaging more than a strikeout per inning thus far, Baltimore set a club record by striking out at least 10 batters for a fifth consecutive contest. The 2020 Orioles setting this mark says everything about today’s game. Entering Sunday, there had been 279 more strikeouts than hits across the majors.

3. Tommy Milone and Wade LeBlanc pitched as well as you could expect from soft-tossing lefties, but Milone stood out with eight strikeouts and no walks in five-plus innings Sunday. Entering 2020 with a career 6.7 strikeouts per nine rate, he has 13 in eight frames. That changeup was tough.

4. Hanser Alberto was one of the good stories last year with a .305 average and .398 mark against lefties, but many — this writer included — anticipated regression in 2020. So far, the 27-year-old is batting .429 with an 1.145 OPS and already has three three-hit games. Perhaps 2019 wasn’t a fluke.

5. Give Cole Sulser credit for rebounding from the brutal loss to the Yankees last Thursday with two saves in the Rays series. Brandon Hyde clearly likes the 30-year-old’s stuff and didn’t hesitate going to him in the ninth inning 24 hours after Aaron Judge’s three-run homer. I respect that conviction.

6. Hyde gave Austin Hays “a little bit of a breather” Sunday after his 3-for-28 start to 2020, but the center fielder went 0-for-2 as an in-game replacement. It’s too soon to panic, of course, but you worry about the mental drain of a poor start for a young, unproven player.

7. If we learned anything about Renato Nunez last year, it was how streaky the right-handed slugger can be. Nunez homered in each of the last two games of the series. Defensive limitations hurt his value, but the power is evident with 40 homers in 219 games as an Oriole.

8. Mike Elias says there’s no set date for Ryan Mountcastle to be promoted, but the longer DJ Stewart and Cedric Mullins fail to hit, the tougher the sell becomes on restricting Mountcastle to workouts and simulated games at the alternate camp in Bowie. He needs to play in games.

9. The highlight of the weekend was the socially-distanced celebration after Pat Valaika drove in the winning run on Saturday, but the former Colorado utility infielder showed off his pop with a homer on Sunday. Valaika, 27, hit 13 homers in 195 plate appearances for the Rockies in 2017.

10. Placing a runner on second base in extra innings is weird, but it’s kind of fun. That’s not necessarily a long-term endorsement, but an open mind for this season and 2020 in general is a must. At least we saw the first leadoff double play in major league history, right?

11. The Richard Bleier trade after Friday’s win was a reminder of where Elias and the Orioles stand no matter how this crazy 60-game sprint goes. I don’t expect the player to be named later to be anything of consequence, but the 33-year-old lefty reliever wasn’t part of the future either.

12. With Miami scheduled to come to town this week after having its season paused due to a COVID-19 outbreak, the doubts, questions, and concerns about this season are impossible to ignore. I don’t have the answers, but it’s difficult envisioning this continuing much longer with repeats of the past week.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass, during the first half at an NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins, Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 10: “Not bad for a running back”

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 11 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

No one knew exactly what to expect from Lamar Jackson entering his first full season as starting quarterback.

The 2018 first-round pick had replaced longtime starter and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco midway through his rookie season and helped rally the Ravens to their first postseason appearance in four years. Jackson’s athleticism was off the charts, but questions persisted about his passing despite some encouraging flashes playing in an offense that hadn’t been built around his special talents. His rookie campaign ended with a poor performance in a playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers that garnered some boos from his home crowd, but Jackson vowed to teammates he’d improve.

The harshest claims that Jackson was a running back masquerading as a signal-caller were absurd, but that’s not to say many saw the 22-year-old as an MVP candidate in his second season either. At least one Vegas oddsmaker gave unproven quarterbacks such as Baker Mayfield, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Mitch Trubisky better MVP odds entering 2019. Improvement in Jackson appeared evident from the early days of training camp, but we wouldn’t have to wait long to see just how much better he was.

The Ravens kicked off the season in Miami — just 30 miles from where Jackson grew up in Pompano Beach — and wasted little time jumping all over the hapless Dolphins with a run-heavy opening drive for a touchdown and an Earl Thomas interception that gave the ball back to Baltimore near midfield. From there, Jackson began an aerial assault that dwarfed anything he’d done in his rookie season and immediately started shifting perceptions about his passing ability and ceiling as an NFL quarterback.

On the first play of the Ravens’ second drive, the Miami defense bit on a run fake as Jackson connected with rookie Marquise Brown over the middle for a 47-yard touchdown. Just the fourth wide receiver selected in the first round in franchise history and also a South Florida native, Brown immediately showed off his game-changing speed despite an abbreviated summer in which he was still recovering from January foot surgery.

The pair hooked up again in even more impressive fashion on the next drive. Forgoing an opportunity to take off as left tackle Ronnie Stanley signaled for him to run for an easy first down to move the chains, Jackson uncorked a near-50-yard bomb that hit Brown in stride for an 83-yard touchdown, the fifth-longest pass play in Ravens regular-season history.

The young quarterback would throw three more touchdowns before being relieved by backup Robert Griffin III with the Ravens leading 52-10 to begin the final period. In just three quarters, Jackson had completed 17 of 20 passes for a team-record-tying five touchdowns, 324 yards, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating, the first in franchise history. The game was not only the best of his young career, but Jackson had put forth the best statistical performance ever by a Ravens quarterback.

It was all “not bad for a running back” as Jackson quipped after a game in which he ran only three times for six yards, one of those attempts being a kneel to end the first half.

Doubters still noted the Dolphins being one of the NFL’s worst teams, but Jackson proved the performance was far from a fluke as he’d throw five touchdown passes in a contest twice more, post another perfect single-game passer rating, and lead the league with 36 touchdown passes to lead a record-setting offense and the best regular-season team in Ravens history at 14-2. He would become just the second unanimous AP NFL MVP, the second youngest behind only Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown to win the award, and the first Raven to earn the honor.

And, oh yeah, his 1,206 rushing yards broke the NFL single-year record for a quarterback, making his tiny Week 1 running output an amusing footnote in a historic season.

Of course, there would be other memorable moments from Jackson that season such as his fourth-down touchdown run in Seattle, his incredible spin and 47-yard touchdown scamper in Cincinnati, and his Monday Night Football performance in Los Angeles, but what he did in that season opener made his harshest critics look foolish and prompted so many to fully realize just how special he could be.

“He’s definitely better. He’s worked really hard,” head coach John Harbaugh said after the 59-10 demolition. “I think he’s only going to continue to improve because he wants to work at it. He was a rookie last year. He didn’t practice much throughout the course of the year. So, he’s had a chance to be with the No. 1 offense on a daily basis, and he did a great job with it.

“Again, this is just a start. This is just one game.”

Just a start and just one game indeed.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, right, is tackled by Los Angeles Rams defensive end Dante Fowler during the second half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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NFL milestone could come exactly as Lamar Jackson prefers it

Posted on 05 December 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The records and achievements have come at such a prolific rate for Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson that they’ve almost become white noise in an MVP-caliber season.

On Wednesday, the 22-year-old became the first Ravens quarterback to ever be named AFC Offensive Player of the Month after an incredible November that included 13 touchdown passes, three touchdown runs, a 76.2 completion percentage, a 143.7 passer rating, 777 passing yards, 300 rushing yards, no turnovers, and — what he cares about most — a 4-0 record. But his next potential feat isn’t a run-of-the-mill weekly award or an obscure record you’d need the Elias Sports Bureau to confirm.

A week after surpassing Randall Cunningham and Bobby Douglass on the single-season list, Jackson needs only 63 rushing yards — a total he’s eclipsed in nine of his last 11 games — to break Michael Vick’s NFL record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season. Vick rushed for 1,039 yards in 2006, but Jackson is currently on pace to run for an amazing 1,302 yards in his first full season as a starter. For context, a player rushed for 1,300 yards only eight times over the previous four NFL seasons and no Raven has reached that mark since Ray Rice (1,364) in 2011.

For a young player who’s tried to downplay weekly awards and MVP hype in favor of team-oriented goals throughout the season, this record certainly carries meaning.

“It would be an honor. Like I’ve said, Michael Vick is my favorite player,” Jackson said. “For me to do such a thing, it’s incredible. He had that record for a long time, and it will be pretty cool. But I’m focused on the win regardless.”

With winning always at the forefront of Jackson’s mind, breaking Vick’s record on the same day the Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a win at Buffalo — and possibly their second straight AFC North division championship if Pittsburgh also loses at Arizona — would be exactly how he likes it.

Jackson has now rushed for at least 60 yards in nine straight games, the kind of consistency for which the best running backs in the league strive. That he’s continued to run at such a historic pace while also being a top 10-caliber passer — if not even better than that — is why he’s the clear favorite to be NFL MVP. It’s the stuff of video games if a game of Madden were as fun as watching the electrifying Jackson make defenders look silly in the open field.

“Lamar is a generational talent in my opinion running the ball, and a lot of people understand that,” right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. “People want to stop him. People want to slow him down and all those different things. People haven’t really figured out how to do it yet. I’m sure there isn’t an answer.”

There really isn’t one at this point, but Jackson would gladly take a quiet day with his legs against the Bills as long as the Ravens officially punch their ticket for January football. And that mindset is part of what makes him so special.

Cleaning up run defense

The 174 rushing yards allowed — 146 by Raheem Mostert — in last Sunday’s 20-17 win over San Francisco grabbed the Ravens’ attention preparing for Buffalo’s fifth-ranked ground attack this week.

The Bills rank 10th in the NFL in rushing efficiency while the Baltimore run defense will try to bounce back from its worst game since the Week 4 loss to Cleveland. The Ravens did limit the 49ers to just nine yards on five carries in the fourth quarter after San Francisco had much success running outside.

“There were some edge issues that we had with Jaylon [Ferguson], and it was just a different look that a rookie hasn’t seen,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We worked on it because we know how this league is. If they see a scab scratched, they’re going to keep trying to attack it and we’ve worked on it. That’s been a point of emphasis for us going into this game. We just had too many missed tackles on that [40-yard touchdown run], and what I liked is how we bounced back in the second half.”

Should Ferguson’s Week 13 problems holding the edge carry over against Buffalo, veteran Jihad Ward seeing more snaps at outside linebacker wouldn’t be surprising.

Special moment for Humphrey

Marlon Humphrey said he’d never blocked a field goal in practice, college, or even high school, but his deflection of 49ers kicker Robbie Gould’s 51-yard attempt to end the first half proved to be a critical play in the three-point win.

The play sparked an enthusiastic embrace as part of a big day for the Baltimore special-teams units.

“We prepared, we talked about it. We said, ‘We have an opportunity,’ if we got in that situation,” special teams coach Chris Horton said. “I was really excited for him. It was our first blocked kick as a staff, so it was just a really exciting moment. And I think it was deserving of a big hug.”

Thursday’s injury report

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was the only player on the 53-man roster not to practice on Thursday as he received a veteran day off.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) was added to the injury report as a limited participant, which hasn’t been uncommon over the course of the season.

Below is the full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (ankle), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), WR Seth Roberts (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (illness), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), S Earl Thomas (non-injury)

BUFFALO
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Lorenzo Alexander (non-injury), RB Frank Gore (non-injury), OT Ty Nsekhe (ankle), G Quinton Spain (illness), RB T.J. Yeldon (illness)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win at Cincinnati

Posted on 12 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning their fifth consecutive game in a 49-13 final at Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After posting a 158.3 passer rating 30 miles from his hometown in Week 1, Lamar Jackson had another perfect day 100 miles from where he won a Heisman Trophy at Louisville. Playing like that in front of so many who watched him on his path to NFL stardom is special.

2. Being traded in the middle of a contract year can be a challenging transition, but Marcus Peters has now returned two interceptions for touchdowns over his first three games as a Raven. A cornerback with a boom-or-bust reputation is putting himself in position for a huge payday.

3. Marquise Brown has caught seven of eight targets for 128 yards and a touchdown since returning from an ankle sprain. The rookie performing like this at less than 100 percent continues to be impressive and encouraging for his future if he can stay healthy.

4. The Ravens haven’t posted a winning road record in the regular season since 2010, but they’re 4-1 in away games this season and 6-2 on the road since Jackson became the starter last year. Road success in the regular season is what allows teams to play at home in January.

5. Brandon Williams has played some of the best football of his career in recent weeks, which included a season-best seven tackles in 59 defensive snaps with Michael Pierce exiting Sunday’s game early. Williams’ Week 4 spat with Earl Thomas feels like a long time ago, doesn’t it?

6. Nick Boyle had four catches for a career-high 78 yards and has now set a new single-season high in receiving yards nine games into 2019. Mark Andrews headlines, but all three Baltimore tight ends have been superb, combining to catch 71.6 percent of targets for 949 yards and seven touchdowns.

7. In a combined 30 snaps between offense and defense, Patrick Ricard had a big block on Mark Ingram’s touchdown run, recorded a tackle for no gain, logged a strip-sack returned by Tyus Bowser for a touchdown, and had another tackle for a minimal gain. That’s quite a splash.

8. The “Heisman Package” resulted in a 12-yard gain as Jackson pitched to Robert Griffin III on the option. As John Harbaugh said, “Guys like to have fun,” but I’m now expecting Vinny Testaverde, Ricky Williams, and Troy Smith to come back if they’re serious about this Heisman thing.

9. With the return of Jimmy Smith, the arrival of Peters, and the shift of Brandon Carr to safety and Chuck Clark to the box in the dime, Anthony Levine has played only 11 defensive snaps since the bye. Levine is a good player, but it speaks to improved secondary depth.

10. Sam Koch didn’t have to punt until the 1:14 mark of the fourth quarter in Cincinnati. His career low for punts in a season is 60, but the longtime Raven is currently on pace to punt only 37 times in 2019. Things sure have changed here in Baltimore.

11. Jackson did the heavy lifting, but CBS play-by-play man Kevin Harlan’s call of the electric 47-yard touchdown run was a lot of fun. Harlan is one of the more underrated broadcasters in the business. “He is Houdini!” will be remembered by Ravens fans for a long time.

12. I couldn’t have been the only one who thought of Tony Siragusa late in the Ravens’ 2000 playoff win over Tennessee when Jackson was shown wearing sunglasses on the sideline. Siragusa gets bonus points for taking those shades from Brian Billick and that being a more important game, however.

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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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