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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Wide receivers

Posted on 22 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning Thursday and the preseason opener only a few weeks away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before veterans begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice.

Cornerbacks
Running backs
Defensive line
Tight ends
Safeties
Offensive line
Inside linebackers

We continue at wide receiver, the position that’s been a problem spot over much of the Ravens’ existence. In his first offseason as general manager, Eric DeCosta appeared determined to find second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson more pass-catching targets with which to grow by taking two wide receivers in the first three rounds of the draft, equaling the number selected in the first three rounds over Baltimore’s previous 11 drafts combined. That focus comes after two tight ends were selected in the first three rounds a year ago, leaving Jackson no shortage of young receiving candidates.

How quickly and effectively the youth at this position develops will go a long way in setting the overall ceiling of the passing game as just four of the 13 wide receivers on the preseason roster — two of which weren’t on the team last year — have registered a catch in the NFL. Those four veterans help raise the floor of this group, but none provide much upside, objectively leaving this wide receiver group as one of the weakest in the league on paper entering the preseason. Unlike past years, however, there is more raw talent and athleticism for new wide receivers coach and longtime NFL assistant David Culley to cultivate.

Below is a look at the wide receivers who stand out for various reasons:

The ManPending
Skinny: With the revamped system under new offensive coordinator Greg Roman expected to use the ground game as its foundation, expecting any wide receiver to be “the man” in a conventional sense of catching 80 or more passes or registering 1,000 yards would be unrealistic. However, Willie Snead is the clear candidate if we’re picking from the pool of veteran options while first-round pick Marquise Brown was drafted with visions of fitting this exact description in the coming years.

Old Reliable — Willie Snead
Skinny: John Brown, Michael Crabtree, and Snead all saw their production crater when Jackson took over after the bye week last year, but the slot receiver and lone holdover from the trio did have three games with at least five receptions and 50 receiving yards with the young quarterback, a sign that some chemistry was developing. Snead was at his best running slant routes in 2018 and works the middle of the field, the area where Jackson looks most comfortable passing at this stage of his development. The 26-year-old is unlikely to post big numbers, but he has the highest floor of any Ravens wide receiver.

Under Fire — Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley
Skinny: Neither Scott nor Lasley was expected to do much as rookies after the Ravens had already signed three veteran free agents, but DeCosta drafting two more receivers early this spring didn’t say much for the 2018 fourth- and fifth-round picks. Scott turned some heads with his work in the spring and has unique size while Lasley had substantial college production and worked out with Jackson in the offseason, but both are firmly on the roster bubble and need to produce in the preseason.

Up-and-Comer — Marquise Brown
Skinny: After registering 2,400 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns in two seasons at Oklahoma, Brown became the fourth wide receiver drafted in the first round by the Ravens in their 24-year history. Even at 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Brown has the unique speed and athleticism to be a difference-maker, but he must first show he’s fully recovered from undergoing left foot surgery in January. The organization did its homework and was comfortable with his prognosis, but the effects of a Lisfranc injury sometimes linger and Brown was placed on the non-football injury list upon reporting for training camp. You’d have to think he needs to begin practicing soon if he’s realistically going to make a big impact as a rookie.

Sleeper — Chris Moore
Skinny: The raw numbers didn’t suggest a significant step forward from Moore in 2018 as he caught only one more pass and registered 52 fewer receiving yards than the previous year, but he caught 19 of his 25 targets and saw more snaps as an effective blocker in the run-first offense down the stretch. The 2016 fourth-round pick is a strong special-teams contributor and has occasionally flashed some big-play ability, so the time is now for Moore to shine as a receiver if it’s ever going to happen. Brown’s uncertain status to begin training camp only increases the likelihood of Moore getting more playing time.

The Rest — Seth Roberts, Michael Floyd, Miles Boykin, Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Roberts gives the Ravens another veteran option in the slot and has 158 receptions and 13 touchdowns in his career, but he also dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes over his first four seasons, per Pro Football Focus. … Floyd is the only receiver on the roster with a 1,000-yard season in the NFL, but he’s registered only 20 catches for 178 yards and a touchdown in 24 games over the last two seasons. … A 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame and above-average speed made Boykin an enticing third-round pick in April’s draft and a strong candidate to be an immediate red-zone target. … Smith caught a total of 13 touchdowns playing in his sophomore and junior seasons with Jackson at Louisville, but he didn’t do much to stand out during spring workouts.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on DeCosta, Harbaugh remarks from NFL combine

Posted on 28 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh answering questions at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you had simply read the transcript, DeCosta sounded very similar to Ozzie Newsome speaking at his first combine as the general manager, which isn’t surprising as few executives and coaches tip their hands with free agency two weeks away.

2. The balance between keeping as much of the defense together as possible and building a stronger offense continues to strike me as a difficult task, especially factoring the age of some key defensive players. This is what happens when trying to rebuild on the fly.

3. DeCosta expressed pride in the Ravens’ identity being built on defense historically and stated a desire to continue that tradition. It’s understandable, but Baltimore continuing that philosophy has netted one playoff win since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed suited up for the final time.

4. Harbaugh expects Marshal Yanda to continue playing, which is great news for an offensive line that could already stand to improve inside. The seven-time Pro Bowl guard is entering the final year of his contract and probably could play at a high level longer than that if he wants.

5. While dancing around questions about Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith, DeCosta said he expects Brandon Carr to return, which could be bad news for Smith and his $15.85 million cap number. Carr is older, but he’s cheaper, more durable, and coming off a more consistent season than Smith.

6. DeCosta didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of using the franchise tag on C.J. Mosley, but he made it clear a long-term deal remains the goal with talks “ongoing” and expected to continue with agent Jimmy Sexton in Indianapolis. This figures to be a critical week on that front.

7. The Ravens brass being complimentary of John Brown wasn’t surprising, but I remain skeptical there’s a great fit there — from his perspective — in terms of price tag and offensive philosophy. Either way, he should do well in what appears to be an underwhelming free-agent market for wide receivers.

8. Terrell Suggs stated his intentions months ago to continue playing in 2019, but talks will be delicate in trying to be realistic about the 36-year-old’s current value without insulting someone who’s been so critical to the organization. You hope something can be worked out that makes sense for both sides.

9. Harbaugh praised the inside-outside versatility and intensity of Za’Darius Smith, but the lack of discussion about Baltimore’s 2018 sack leader reflects how few expect him to return. His market should be interesting, especially if a few other free-agent pass rushers indeed receive the franchise tag.

10. DeCosta summed up his thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability by saying, “We certainly want to keep him healthy, but we also want to win and … score points.” The keys are his passing development and adding enough talent to diminish the need for him to run 15-plus times per game.

11. Harbaugh acknowledged the organization’s need to draft and develop wide receivers more effectively while DeCosta said, “We’ve got to add playmakers.” Yes.

12. Counting the Joe Flacco trade and the Michael Crabtree release, the Ravens are already dealing with nearly $22 million in dead money on this year’s salary cap. With another big release or two still very possible, that figure is shaping up to be their largest amount since 2015.

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Ravens begin latest wide receiver rebuild by cutting Crabtree

Posted on 25 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens began their latest rebuild at the wide receiver position on Monday by releasing veteran wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

The 31-year-old was entering the second season of a three-year, $21 million contract signed last year that ultimately paid him just $8 million. Baltimore will save $4.667 million in salary cap space and carry $4.667 million in dead money on the 2019 cap while looking to improve at the wide receiver position, a longstanding problem for the organization.

The release was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter and seemingly confirmed by Crabtree, who alluded to the news with a tweet and removed references to the Ravens in his Twitter profile.

Signed to serve as a legitimate red-zone threat after catching a total of 25 touchdowns the previous three years, Crabtree caught just 54 passes for 607 yards and three touchdowns and became much less of a factor when the Ravens shifted from injured veteran Joe Flacco to rookie Lamar Jackson at quarterback in November. According to Pro Football Focus, Crabtree owned the third-highest drop rate in the NFL in 2018 and failed to catch the potential game-winning touchdown in the Week 5 overtime loss at Cleveland. He made only 13 catches for 135 yards and a touchdown in Jackson’s seven regular-season starts, but he did catch two fourth-quarter scores in the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

Crabtree may not be the only veteran receiver to depart from the Ravens in the coming weeks as the speedy John Brown is an unrestricted free agent. After a promising start to the season, Brown posted a total of just 128 receiving yards in the eight games started by Jackson, leaving one to wonder whether he’ll prefer continuing his career elsewhere.

The question now becomes how the Ravens go about improving at the position with the projected free-agent market not overflowing with great options. Many have speculated about new general manager Eric DeCosta selecting a wide receiver with the 22nd overall pick in April, but Baltimore has taken a total of just one wide receiver — 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman — in the first three rounds of the last seven drafts.

Willie Snead and Chris Moore are the only wide receivers currently under contract for the 2019 season to have caught a pass for Baltimore in 2018. Both DeCosta and new offensive coordinator Greg Roman have expressed a preference to have wide receivers with strong blocking ability, a reflection of the run-first offense the Ravens will continue to run in 2019.

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How did Ravens wide receivers stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 20 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens wide receivers ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends
Defensive linemen
Running backs
Cornerbacks

Willie Snead
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 821
PFF ranking: 56th among wide receivers
Skinny: The slot receiver was the most relevant of Baltimore’s wide receivers when Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback, serving as a reliable target over the middle of the field. Considering the uncertainty at the position, the $4 million Snead will command in 2019 is very reasonable.

Michael Crabtree
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 805
PFF ranking: 79th among wide receivers
Skinny: Signed to be a major red-zone threat, Crabtree caught three touchdowns in the regular season and owned the third-highest drop rate in the NFL, per PFF. It’s unclear whether a $9.333 million salary cap number for a receiver who’s barely cracked 600 yards in each of the last two years will be palatable.

John Brown
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 757
PFF ranking: 70th among wide receivers
Skinny: Brown made seven catches for 134 yards and a touchdown in a season-best Week 7 performance and appeared on his way to a 1,000-yard season and a big payday. However, the speedster had a total of 128 receiving yards in the eight games started by Jackson as drops also began mounting after the bye.

Chris Moore
2018 offensive snap count (including postseason): 467
PFF ranking: 98th among wide receivers
Skinny: The 2016 fourth-round pick didn’t build on his improvement in 2017, recording only one more catch and 52 fewer receiving yards in his third season. Moore remains an important special-teams contributor, but it’s difficult to view him as anything more than a No. 4 or No. 5 receiver.

2019 positional outlook

Trying to figure out this position is one of the great questions of the offseason, but that’s nothing new for the Ravens. With Crabtree a potential cap casualty and Brown an unrestricted free agent, Snead is the only safe bet to be a contributor at the position in Jackson’s first full year as a starter. The decision on Crabtree will be partly determined by how favorably Eric DeCosta views the free-agent market and this year’s draft class to be able to find a replacement. No Ravens player — other than Joe Flacco — suffered more from a business standpoint than Brown when Jackson took over and the offense shifted so dramatically toward the run. Brown said he was open to re-signing with the Ravens at the end of the season, but it’s difficult to see that after his one-year platform deal went awry down the stretch. The development of 2018 draft picks Jaleel Scott and Jordan Lasley will be worth monitoring this spring and summer, but neither showed enough last year to be viewed as suitable answers. Concern is more than warranted with the organization’s long-standing problems at this position, and free agents may not be all that eager to sign up with an offense that ran the ball more than anyone down the stretch in 2018.

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Examining Ravens’ top 11 salary cap numbers for 2019

Posted on 05 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face their most intriguing offseason in years after making the playoffs for the first time since 2014 and transitioning to a new general manager and starting quarterback for 2019.

It’s no secret the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to find — and maintain — prosperity, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for a Super Bowl championship. As of right now, the Ravens will devote $121.547 million in 2019 salary cap space to the 11 players possessing the highest cap numbers. The 2019 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s projected to rise from $177.2 million in 2018 to at least $188 million.

Below is a look at those 11 players:

1. QB Joe Flacco
2019 Week 1 age: 34
2019 cap number: $26.5 million
Synopsis: Flacco is the reason why I expanded from the normal 10 to the top 11 figures as Baltimore has already made clear its plans to move on from the veteran. Whether Eric DeCosta will be able to find a trade partner remains to be seen, but Flacco’s exit will create $10.5 million in cap savings while leaving $16 million in dead money on this year’s cap. My hope is the organization prioritizes building an offense around Lamar Jackson after using most of its meaningful draft capital and available cap dollars on the defense since Super Bowl XLVII. Flacco’s contract was a convenient excuse to overlook the entire truth.

2. CB Jimmy Smith
2019 Week 1 age: 31
2019 cap number: $15.85 million
Synopsis: Had the Ravens not restructured his deal in 2016 and 2017 to create cap space — and inflate his 2019 cap number in the process — I’d be more in favor of letting Smith play out the final year of his contract after he did perform better down the stretch last season. However, I just don’t see how this number is tenable for someone who’s played all 16 games in a season just twice in his career. The Ravens have done a good job building depth at cornerback, so it should be time to tap into that unless Smith agrees to a pay cut. Releasing him or working out a trade would save $9.5 million in cap space.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2019 Week 1 age: 30
2019 cap number: $14.17 million
Synopsis: Williams remains one of the better run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL, but his limitations as a pass rusher and the presence of Michael Pierce — regarded by some as a better player — haven’t quieted critics of the five-year, $52.5 million contract signed in 2017. A couple contract restructures have inflated Williams’ cap figures to over $14 million for each of the next three years, but the dead money involved makes it prohibitive to consider doing anything with his deal until next year at the earliest. He played in 50 percent of the defensive snaps in 2018, his lowest share in a season in which he’s played in all games.

4. S Tony Jefferson
2019 Week 1 age: 27
2019 cap number: $12.657 million
Synopsis: The strong safety was better in 2018 than he was in his first season with Baltimore, but this is another example where it’s more than fair to question whether the Ravens are getting enough value for what they’re paying with Jefferson’s contract currently ranking ninth among NFL safeties in average annual value, according to OverTheCap.com. Two restructures and the uncertain future of several defensive veterans more than likely keep Jefferson in the plans for 2019, but seeing him have the fourth-highest cap number on the team doesn’t add up compared to the kind of player he’s been.

5. G Marshal Yanda
2019 Week 1 age: 34
2019 cap number: $10.125 million
Synopsis: Even with his advancing age, Yanda is the first player on the list who remains a relative bargain considering he just made his seventh Pro Bowl in the last eight years — he missed nearly the entire 2017 season with an ankle injury — and his contract currently ranks 13th in average annual value earned among right guards. Any questions about his future should only be based on how much longer he wants to continue playing. Frankly, the Ravens should be exploring his interest in a reasonable extension if he wants to strengthen his case for possible induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day.

6. WR Michael Crabtree
2019 Week 1 age: 31
2019 cap number: $9.333 million
Synopsis: Coming off a second straight year in which he barely cracked 600 receiving yards, Crabtree would appear to be a strong candidate to become a cap casualty, but this year’s free-agent market for receivers is lukewarm and the organization’s history of drafting at the position ranges from poor to not even trying. That makes you wonder if the Ravens could keep Crabtree around for the sake of continuity, but his 16.9-percent drop rate is difficult to overlook. The veteran might be able to help the position group’s floor, but there isn’t much upside there anymore. Cutting him creates $4.667 million in space.

7. S Eric Weddle
2019 Week 1 age: 34
2019 cap number: $9.25 million
Synopsis: Trying to assess Weddle’s value is difficult as his mental prowess was credited by players and coaches as the reason why the defense was so deceptive. However, he finished his 12th season without an interception — he had a combined 10 in the previous two years — and a career-low three pass breakups. The Ravens could use more range at free safety, but there’s no guarantee they’ll find it immediately and Weddle’s leadership would be hard to replace. A pay cut with incentives would be ideal, but he’s already backed down from his initial vow not to play elsewhere. Releasing him saves $7.5 million in space.

8. CB Brandon Carr
2019 Week 1 age: 33
2019 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: Carr continued his remarkable streak of never missing a game over his 11-year career and was second on the team in defensive snaps, providing very solid play on the outside and effectively filling in at the slot corner position when required. Despite Carr’s age, I’d much prefer his reasonable $6 million payout for 2019 compared to the $9.5 million base salary the Ravens are scheduled to give the oft-injured Smith. His leadership on defense could also become more critical depending on what happens with the likes of Weddle and free agents Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley.

9. OT Ronnie Stanley
2019 Week 1 age: 25
2019 cap number: $6.517 million
Synopsis: The Ravens will need to decide this spring whether to exercise their fifth-year option on Stanley, but that decision should be a no-brainer. Stanley hasn’t blossomed into the Pro Bowl left tackle Baltimore hoped he would become when selecting him sixth overall in the 2016 draft, but he’s been a steady contributor playing through a series of nagging ailments over his first three seasons.

10. K Justin Tucker
2019 Week 1 age: 29
2019 cap number: $5.145 million
Synopsis: Tucker is still regarded by many as the best kicker in the NFL as he enters the final year of his current contract, making him a logical candidate for an extension that could lower his 2019 cap figure a bit and keep him in Baltimore for several more years.

11. WR Willie Snead
2019 Week 1 age: 26
2019 cap number: $5 million
Synopsis: The slot receiver was one of Jackson’s favorite targets down the stretch and is the only sure thing in Baltimore’s group of wide receivers entering the offseason, making his compensation reasonable.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-17 loss to Chargers

Posted on 08 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ season coming to an end in a 23-17 playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I understand John Harbaugh wanted to make it a one-score game when he had Justin Tucker try a 50-yard field goal on fourth-and-2 late in the third quarter, but the decision was surprising based on analytics and his team’s psyche. Even before the miss, it felt like a demoralizing choice.

2. The Ravens made clear they were just about finished with Joe Flacco during the draft and reached the point of no return when Harbaugh officially benched him. Considering the Chargers’ pass rush, I didn’t have an issue with leaving someone who hadn’t played in over two months on the bench.

3. In the big picture that shouldn’t be ignored, Lamar Jackson remaining in the game and finding some late success was important. Harbaugh benching him at the first sign of trouble would have been a tough message for Jackson — and the entire locker room — to forget this offseason.

4. Lost in the disappointment was another strong defensive performance as the Chargers were held to one touchdown and Philip Rivers averaged just 5.0 yards per passing attempt. Prior to the fourth quarter, this game very much reminded me of the excruciating 2006 playoff loss to Indianapolis.

5. Was fumbling on three consecutive offensive plays or going two hours in real time between pass completions the more embarrassing feat? It’s remarkable the Ravens didn’t lose by four touchdowns.

6. Matthew Judon registered two tackles for a loss and five quarterback hits in another superb effort. He really elevated his play down the stretch, which is significant since he’s the only starting-caliber outside linebacker under contract for 2019.

7. James Hurst is a hard worker and a high-character individual, but Sunday was a reminder that he’s better suited to be a versatile backup and not a starter. Pro Football Focus credited him with surrendering three sacks and a quarterback hit and gave him a 0.0 pass-blocking grade. Ouch.

8. Scheduled to become a restricted free agent, Patrick Onwuasor elevated his standing down the stretch as he recorded another forced fumble and a sack. With C.J. Mosley uncertain to return as an unrestricted free agent, Onwuasor’s emergence is even more significant.

9. The snap count was skewed by the final two drives, but I still can’t believe heavy formations and power rushing weren’t bigger factors against the Chargers’ quarter defense employing seven defensive backs. Nick Boyle played a season-low 18 snaps while Maxx Williams’ 17 were his fewest since Week 12.

10. Two fourth-quarter touchdowns don’t make up for a disappointing season from Michael Crabtree. It’ll be interesting to see how the wide receiver position plays out this offseason after the dramatic shift toward the running game, but his $9.33 million salary cap number for 2019 doesn’t sound appealing.

11. Playing fewer snaps than last season resulted in just 1 1/2 sacks after Week 7 for Terrell Suggs, who reconfirmed his desire to continue playing for the Ravens while acknowledging that may not happen. Even if Suggs signs a cheap short-term deal, Eric DeCosta really must address this position.

12. I understand players reacting to fans booing in the aftermath of Sunday’s loss and admire their desire to stick up for Jackson, but they needed to move on by Monday’s media availability instead of fanning the flames. Robert Griffin III provided both an experienced and measured response HERE (4:00 mark).

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Ravens-Raiders: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 24 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday brings the final calm before a December storm that could impact the Ravens for years to come.

John Harbaugh’s team would move back above the .500 mark with a win over Oakland, but three of the next four on the road after that will determine whether the Ravens return to the playoffs for the first time in four years. Failing to do so will likely spark substantial changes to both the coaching staff and the roster.

Simply put, a victory over the 2-8 Raiders is both expected and necessary.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the fourth consecutive season. Baltimore holds a 7-3 advantage in the all-time regular-season series and won the only postseason encounter in the 2000 AFC Championship. The Ravens have won five of the past seven games against Oakland dating back to the 2006 season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will have fewer than 15 carries, but he will pass for 185 yards and a touchdown. With the Raiders having a full game tape and 26 carries being unsustainable on a weekly basis, Jackson won’t be setting records with his legs, but he’ll remain a big part of the ground attack. What will be more interesting is how much the coaching staff allows him to do as a passer against an Oakland defense that’s been poor in most areas. Jackson will have another up-and-down passing day, but he’ll make more throws in his second start and find ex-Raider Michael Crabtree for a touchdown.

2. Tight end Jared Cook will catch the Raiders’ lone touchdown of the game. Oakland has been gutted at the wide receiver position, but Cook has been a standout performer, leading the team with 577 receiving yards and four touchdown receptions and grading as Pro Football Focus’ sixth-best tight end. It’s no secret the Ravens defense has had issues covering tight ends — and the middle of the field in general — so look for Raiders quarterback Derek Carr to lean heavily on Cook for what modest success they’ll find moving the ball on Sunday.

3. There will be no takeaways, but Baltimore will collect four sacks. It’s been seven calendar weeks since the Ravens intercepted a pass and five weeks since they recovered a fumble. The Raiders have been average in the giveaway department despite their record. In other words, I’m not predicting another Ravens takeaway until it actually happens again. That said, Oakland has given up 33 sacks and will struggle to gain separation in pass routes, which will force Carr to hold the ball at times. This will allow the Ravens defense to break a slump that’s consisted of only three sacks over the last four games.

4. Three Ravens players will rush for 50 or more yards. Last week’s combination of Jackson and Gus Edwards was a terrific story, but I don’t believe it signals the end for Alex Collins, who has been successful in three-wide sets and with Jackson on the field despite his disappointing overall numbers. In an effort to protect their rookie quarterback from taking too many hits, the Ravens will give the ball to Collins more often while Edwards maintains a workload similar to last week. The rushing total won’t be as lucrative as last week (267), but Jackson, Edwards, and Collins will have strong days on the ground.

5. The Ravens will remain in relatively comfortable control throughout a 23-13 win over Oakland. It was easy to get carried away with the understandable excitement over Jackson’s first start, but Baltimore scored 24 points against a defense giving up 32.1 per game this season and surrendered 21 points to an offense that was without its best player. I’m intrigued with Jackson’s potential for the future, but the Ravens continuing last week’s playing style isn’t going to lead to many blowouts, which leads me to believe this one will stay a little closer than many are anticipating. I expect Jackson to neither struggle mightily nor play unbelievable football in his second start, which won’t do Harbaugh any favors in deciding how to handle the quarterback position in the month of December. That debate remains on hold, however, as the Ravens take care of business against an inferior opponent to improve to 6-5.

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Jackson preparing for second start as Flacco remains sidelined

Posted on 21 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With Joe Flacco still recovering from a hip injury, the Ravens are preparing to go with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson for the second straight week.

Head coach John Harbaugh admitted after Sunday’s win over Cincinnati that it would be difficult for Flacco to play against Oakland in Week 12, and the 11th-year veteran missing his fourth straight practice on Wednesday provided further confirmation. Coming off a franchise-record performance in which he ran for 117 yards on 27 carries, Jackson is aiming to increase his production in the passing game in his second NFL start — and keep his wide receivers happy in the process.

“I need to get these guys the ball. I don’t want them to think I’m just out here and, ‘Oh, he’s going to run every time he gets a chance,'” said Jackson, who completed 13 of 19 passes for 150 yards and an interception against the Bengals. “My eyes are always up the field. I have to get those guys the ball because they’re helping me out. They’re not out there to block — that’s not their job. Their job is to catch the ball [and] help us win games.”

Much was made about slot receiver Willie Snead’s sideline outburst as the offense settled for the eventual game-winning 24-yard field goal in the fourth quarter, but Snead and fellow veterans Michael Crabtree and John Brown have downplayed any perceived frustration, citing the Ravens snapping their three-game losing streak coming out of the bye week and the rookie making only his first start.

Jackson went out of his way to tell Crabtree that he needs to get him the ball more as he caught only one pass for seven yards on three targets, all season lows.

“We won the game, so I told him to not even put too much on getting targets and all of that,” Crabtree said. “Just worry about winning, and we came out with the ‘W.’ I’m excited to go out there this week and see what he’s got. This is his second game, so he’s just adding on.”

As you’d expect, Jackson received many congratulatory messages after winning his first NFL start, but his favorites came from Doug Williams and onetime Raven Randall Cunningham, two former NFL quarterbacks with whom he’s had past communication. Williams was the first African-American starting quarterback to win a Super Bowl while Cunningham’s dual-threat ability helped revolutionize a position that features more mobile passers than ever today.

“Those are the guys who paved the way for us,” Jackson said. “Without those guys, we probably wouldn’t be in situations that we are, so hats off to those guys. Them congratulating me? From the ‘GOATs?’ I’m like, ‘Yes, that’s cool.'”

In addition to Flacco, offensive tackle James Hurst (back) remained absent from practice and is in danger of missing his fifth straight game. Cornerback Tavon Young also missed Wednesday’s session with what was listed as a groin injury

After missing his second straight game with an ankle injury on Sunday, outside linebacker Tim Williams was a limited participant.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley surprisingly wasn’t listed on the injury report despite playing through an ankle injury that forced him off the field at a few points against the Bengals.

“I was very impressed with Ronnie’s game, and he has a pretty good high ankle sprain,” Harbaugh said on Monday. “That’s never easy; that’s painful. He dealt with it. He had to come out a couple times, but he wanted to get right back in there and play. I was very proud of him.”

The Raiders put out an estimated injury report after only conducting a walk-through on Wednesday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury), CB Tavon Young (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Tim Williams (ankle)

OAKLAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Martavis Bryant (knee), CB Leon Hall (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: C Rodney Hudson (ankle), S Karl Joseph (ribs), RB Doug Martin (ankle), OT Kolton Miller (knee), WR Jordy Nelson (knee), OL Kelechi Osemele (knee), DE Frostee Rucker (neck), CB Daryl Worley (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Gareon Conley (groin), WR Dwayne Harris (foot), G Gabe Jackson (pectoral)

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 27 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens need to finish.

If losing a 10-point fourth-quarter lead to New Orleans last week weren’t enough, Carolina erasing a 17-0 deficit at Philadelphia should have Baltimore’s full attention for Sunday’s tilt in Charlotte. The Ravens are the superior team in most statistical categories, but the Panthers found a way last week while John Harbaugh’s team wilted too much in the fourth quarter. It’s a razor-thin margin that’s the difference between a 6-1 start and the current 4-3 mark, but the Ravens are still trying to graduate from good to really good.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for just the six time in the all-time regular-season series with the Panthers holding a 3-2 advantage. Baltimore has won the last two meetings, the most recent being a 38-10 blowout at M&T Bank Stadium on Sept. 28, 2014.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Justin Tucker will connect on a field goal from beyond 50 yards. His missed extra point understandably remained a big story throughout the week, so the two-time Pro Bowl kicker’s next opportunity can’t come soon enough after much support from teammates, coaches, and Ravens fans. According to special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg, 272 extra points have been missed by 54 kickers since Tucker entered the league in 2012, which is appropriate perspective on an individual who’s won the Ravens a slew of games. That said, the tiniest bit of unknown remains until he makes his next kick.

2. Cam Newton will run for a touchdown and throw for another. Between the playful comments of Eric Weddle and Wink Martindale, the Panthers quarterback is apparently like a … fast, middle-school-aged dinosaur with a beard? All kidding aside, Newton is having one of the best seasons of his career so far and will be a big problem if the Ravens aren’t disciplined in their pass-rushing lanes. He’s dealing with a sore right shoulder, however, and hasn’t been throwing the deep ball that frequently as it is. A key will be the effectiveness of Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who was quiet last week.

3. John Brown and Michael Crabtree will each make a touchdown catch on the outside. Joe Flacco has lived in the short middle portion of the field — going there with a third of his attempts — but that’s where Panthers linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis loom, which will likely mean a quiet day for tight ends and running backs that haven’t been all that impactful in recent weeks anyway. The good news is Brown and Crabtree should find some room on the outside against cornerbacks James Bradberry and Donte Jackson. If not, the Ravens will likely struggle to move the ball.

4. Christian McCaffrey will lead all players in yards from scrimmage. The Panthers running back is dynamic, averaging 4.9 yards per carry and making 40 receptions in six games. What makes him even more effective is Newton’s threat to run, which allows Carolina coordinator Norv Turner to use motion and misdirection to set up chunk runs. The Ravens rank fifth in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (3.8) — the Panthers average 5.2 yards per attempt — but their heavy use of the dime package occasionally leaves them vulnerable against an offense unafraid to run in some unorthodox spots.

5. A fourth-quarter takeaway will help the Ravens secure a much-needed 20-17 victory. Last week was an example of how difficult it is for a defense to sustain greatness for 60 minutes without a game-changing turnover — not counting Alvin Kamara’s opening-drive fumble on a fourth-down run that was already blown up — or a collection of sacks. The Ravens are tied for 21st in the league with just seven takeaways, which borders on shocking considering their other impressive numbers and the fact that they led the NFL in that category a year ago. Something has to give eventually, right? The Panthers do remind you of a better version of Tennessee in terms of their style of play, which should still bode well as Baltimore tries to bounce back from last week’s disappointment. Injuries along the offensive line and to starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey aren’t ideal, but Flacco and the Ravens offense will do just enough and the defense will finally get a clutch turnover to secure a really important win.

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Ravens need to steady October ship, build momentum for pivotal stretch

Posted on 11 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t exactly go full Aaron Rodgers mode this week, but the sentiment wasn’t too far off.

Speaking on Michael Crabtree’s recent drops and how the veteran wide receiver approached the quarterback about his struggles during the plane ride home from Cleveland, Flacco passed along good advice to Crabtree — and to the rest of the Ravens and their fans for that matter.

“We’re all out there trying to do our part and make plays that are going to change the game,” Flacco said. “I think sometimes you just have to relax, and let the game come to you.”

Make no mistake, the 12-9 overtime loss to the Browns was an ugly one for the Ravens, who failed to reach double-digit scoring for the first time since back-to-back defeats to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh early last season. You couldn’t help but feel it canceled out what was thought to be a breakthrough the previous week when Baltimore beat the Steelers for its most impressive road victory in years.

But a win at Tennessee makes everything OK again.

Playing four of their first six games on the road and being one of only three teams in 2018 with a stretch of three consecutive road contests that concludes Sunday, the Ravens would have gladly taken a 4-2 start when the schedule was released back in April. Their plus-55 point differential is the best in the AFC, and they’re still tied for the third-best record in the conference after losing to a Browns team that is better than it’s been in recent years. With the top-ranked scoring defense in the NFL and an offense ranking in the top 12 in most statistical categories, the makings of a playoff team are certainly there.

A second straight loss, however, changes the mood substantially.

A 3-3 record with three straight games against 2017 playoff teams — New Orleans, Carolina, and the Steelers — before the Week 10 bye puts the Ravens in all-too-familiar and uncomfortable territory. Late-season losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati the last two years have been the final nail in the coffin, but poor Octobers since their last Super Bowl have regularly left the Ravens little margin for error down the stretch.

There’s no apparent rhyme or reason for a 6-15 mark in October games dating back to 2013, but it’s the kind of trend John Harbaugh’s team needs to buck to be playing in January once again. Thirteen of those games did come on the road, but a 2-6 home mark makes that a flimsier excuse. It’s why the Ravens haven’t entered their bye with a winning record since 2014, leaving them a steep climb in the second half to qualify for the postseason.

A 3-0 start to begin the 2016 season became a distant memory after an 0-4 October that featured a home defeat to an 8-7-1 Washington team and a road loss against the eventual 5-11 New York Jets. Falling 26-9 at home to the Steelers last year was bad enough, but dropping one at M&T Bank Stadium to an eventual 5-11 Chicago team two weeks later was inexcusable. Injuries in each of those stretches the last two years were a factor, but squeezing out an extra win in either case would have painted a different picture in late December. Frankly, it’s the difference between the playoffs and mediocrity.

That’s why you can’t help but feel Sunday’s game against the Titans — who won a playoff tiebreaker last year thanks in part to their Week 9 win over the Ravens — is as important as it gets for mid-October in terms of both playoff implications and Baltimore maintaining its early-season mojo. A win gives the Ravens their first 4-2 start since 2014 — the last time they made the playoffs — and leaves you thinking they’re capable of winning 10 or 11 games.

A loss makes it feel like you’re watching the “same old Ravens” of the last few years.

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