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marquisebrown

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DeCosta expecting “big jump” from young Ravens wide receivers

Posted on 25 February 2020 by Luke Jones

After pushing through a painful foot injury to tie the Ravens’ rookie record for touchdown catches in a season, wide receiver Marquise Brown hopes to have a clean bill of health for his second campaign.

According to NFL Network, the 2019 first-round pick recently had a screw removed from his surgically-repaired left foot in hopes of eliminating any future discomfort stemming from the Lisfranc injury Brown sustained late in his final season at Oklahoma. That injury and subsequent surgery forced the 22-year-old to miss spring workouts, the start of training camp, and occasional practices during his rookie season, but the speedy Brown still led all Baltimore wide receivers with 46 catches, 584 yards, and seven touchdowns.

That’s why general manager Eric DeCosta believes the best is yet to come.

“We’re excited to see what this offseason’s going to be,” DeCosta said at the scouting combine in Indianapolis on Tuesday. “I think coming off the injury that he had, which was a significant injury, to see how he rebounded week to week and played in the games and made big plays all throughout the year, that was exciting. We’re excited about that. Receivers typically make a big jump from their first to second season. We think that’s going to happen with ‘Hollywood.'”

Brown’s NFL debut couldn’t have been better as he became the first player in league history to notch two touchdowns of 40 or more yards in his first career game. The 5-foot-9, 170-pound wideout wouldn’t post another 100-yard receiving game until the playoff loss to Tennessee — his 126 receiving yards were the second most by a Raven in postseason history — but his play-making ability was a rare bright spot in that disappointing defeat.

DeCosta says a full offseason to be able to work with MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson and veteran slot receiver Willie Snead on the timing and intricacies of Baltimore’s passing game will help Brown take his game to the next level. That’s a scary thought for opposing defenses after Brown ranked second in the league in passer rating when targeted last season, according to Pro Football Focus.

“He’s got a great work ethic. He’s explosive,” DeCosta said. “I think you all saw his hands, his ability to catch the ball in traffic and make contested catches for a little guy. He’s got a great attitude.”

DeCosta also expressed optimism for fellow 2019 draft pick Miles Boykin, who finished with a modest 13 catches for 198 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. Including the postseason, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound rookie played just under 500 snaps and was an effective blocker, but he caught only four passes over the final nine regular-season games before making three receptions for 29 yards in the playoff loss.

The Ravens are expected to explore additional options at wide receiver in free agency and the draft, but they want to see Boykin continue to develop and become a bigger contributor in 2020.

“He made some big plays for us throughout the course of the year,” said DeCosta, citing four catches of 18 or more yards. “We expect him to improve quite a bit with an offseason. He’s a big and strong and fast, physical guy. Great attitude. The second year for most receivers is critical, and we think he’ll make a big jump.”

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown scores against the Los Angeles Rams during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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How did Ravens wide receivers stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 18 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens recorded the best regular season in franchise history, but where did their individual players stack up across the NFL in 2019?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — 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 closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the Tampa Bay offensive line this season? What about the Atlanta Falcons linebackers or the Detroit Lions cornerbacks?

That’s why I respect the efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging their grading is far from the gospel of evaluation. I don’t envy the exhaustive effort to evaluate players across the league when most of us watch one team or maybe one division on any kind of a regular basis.

We’ll look at each positional group on the roster in the coming days, but below is a look at where Ravens wide receivers ranked across the NFL this past season followed by the positional outlook going into 2020:

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks

Marquise Brown
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 646
PFF ranking: 42nd among wide receivers
Skinny: Though not close to 100 percent from a Lisfranc injury suffered at the end of his final season at Oklahoma, the first-round pick tied the team record for touchdown catches by a rookie (seven) and provided a deep threat for MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson. According to PFF, Brown’s 134.4 passer rating when targeted led all wide receivers with at least 50 targets in the regular season.

Willie Snead
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 760
PFF ranking: 101st among wide receivers
Skinny: Despite catching a career-high five touchdowns, Snead saw his receptions and receiving yards drop to roughly half of where they were last season. A slot receiver isn’t going to be a major factor in a passing game that leans so heavily on tight ends over the middle, but Snead isn’t afraid to block and fill a complementary role, a reason why Baltimore extended his contract through 2020 in late October.

Seth Roberts
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 576
PFF ranking: 83rd among wide receivers
Skinny: The lasting image of the pending free agent could be the drop of a potential touchdown when Baltimore trailed 14-0 in the playoff loss to Tennessee, but it had mostly been an inconsequential season for Roberts until that miscue. A capable blocker and targeted just 35 times in the regular season, Roberts had the second-highest receiving grade among Baltimore wide receivers, per PFF.

Miles Boykin
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 493
PFF ranking: 99th among wide receivers
Skinny: The rookie third-round pick was the talk of training camp, but he was unable to carry that momentum into the regular season as he caught only 13 passes and just four over the final nine regular-season games. Boykin needs to improve his route-running ability in the offseason, but his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame still provides optimism for the future.

Chris Moore
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 167
PFF ranking: 101st among wide receivers
Skinny: Moore all but disappeared in the offense in his fourth season and registered a career-low three catches for 21 yards in a contract year. The 2016 fourth-round pick is a good special-teams player, which is his ticket for continuing his NFL career in Baltimore or somewhere else.

Jaleel Scott
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 17
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: A strong preseason landed Scott on the 53-man roster, but he was active for just three games and made his only catch against Pittsburgh in Week 17. The Ravens like his 6-foot-5, 210-pound frame, but this figures to be a make-or-break summer for the 2018 fourth-round pick.

De’Anthony Thomas
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 3
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The return specialist carried the ball one time and wasn’t targeted as a receiver.

2020 positional outlook

When pondering a record-setting offense that featured three tight ends in its top five for receptions, trying to assess the wide receiver position is more complicated than simply looking at the numbers. It’s no secret that another impactful wide receiver would be ideal, but you run the risk of trying to fix something that isn’t broken by drastically messing with the identity of the offense, which centers around the run game and the deployment of tight ends Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst, and Nick Boyle. The playoff loss to the Titans confirmed the need for the Ravens offense to be able to play better off schedule, something a receiver with the ability to make plays on the outside would help. Despite his slight stature, a fully healthy Brown looks like a great bet to take another step forward in his second season. Boykin’s development and Snead’s presence remain important, but a veteran acquisition or another early draft pick is in order if the Ravens want Jackson and this explosive offense to continue to progress and evolve.

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New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, right, tries to make a pass while taking a hit from Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce (97) during the first half of an NFL football game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

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Want or need? Assessing Ravens position groups entering offseason

Posted on 21 January 2020 by Luke Jones

Need is a relative term when assessing the Ravens roster after a franchise-best 14-2 regular season that set all kinds of franchise and NFL records.

The sting of their divisional-round loss to Tennessee will linger for a long time, but perspective is critical when sizing up a roster that included the best offense in the league and one of the top defenses by season’s end. That’s not to say improvements aren’t in order and change isn’t inevitable with 17 Baltimore players set to become unrestricted free agents, but the Ravens would easily remain a playoff-caliber team on paper after even a ho-hum offseason of free-agent departures and only pedestrian additions. Having an MVP quarterback, an innovative offense with no unrestricted free agents of real consequence, and a great secondary will go a long way in covering up any deficiencies elsewhere.

Yes, the early playoff exit was a bitter disappointment and a missed opportunity as the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but this isn’t a roster in need of major surgery as much as some fine-tuning after having a bad game at the wrong time. It’s an enviable place when you have close to $30 million in salary cap space and a fresh batch of draft picks in April. But as John Harbaugh often likes to recite the quote attributed to former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler, “Every day you either get better or you get worse; you never stay the same.”

Below is a look at what positions the Ravens absolutely need to address or simply would like to upgrade between now and the start of the 2020 season:

Edge defender/outside linebacker — NEED

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale made it work after the departures of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith, but this position group remains a major concern with 2019 Pro Bowl selection Matthew Judon and depth pieces Pernell McPhee and Jihad Ward set to become free agents. Tyus Bowser took a step forward with five sacks in his third season and 2019 third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson showed growth as the year progressed, but viewing either as a definite 2020 starter would be too optimistic based on the body of work. Even if Baltimore gives Judon a blank check or the franchise tag to keep him, finding an additional impact outside linebacker is a clear objective. The Ravens blitzed more than any team in the NFL to create pressure in 2019, but more impactful four-man rushes would make this defense even more dangerous. Setting the edge against the run was also an inconsistency that was often masked by Baltimore holding so many big leads that forced opponents to abandon the ground game.

Wide receiver — WANT

I have been a broken record about Baltimore’s deficiency at wide receiver for years and noted during the Tennessee loss that another impact option would be really useful, but classifying wide receiver as a want goes back to keeping the proper perspective. You wouldn’t expect offensive coordinator Greg Roman to move away from featuring the tight ends with the success Lamar Jackson has passing to that trio between the numbers, and rookie first-round wide receiver Marquise Brown showed unique ability despite being hampered by foot and ankle issues. When you add the presence of veteran Willie Snead and the potential of 2019 third-round pick Miles Boykin, the requisite floor and upside are there — even if barely — to think the Ravens can win a Super Bowl. Still, adding a dynamic wide receiver to make plays when Baltimore trails and to have a presence outside the numbers would take Jackson and the NFL’s leading scoring offense to another level, a frightening thought for opponents.

Interior offensive line — WANT*

The asterisk is connected to eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and his decision whether to return for a 14th season. If Yanda comes back, the Ravens remain in good short-term shape on the offensive line as undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in respectably at center for Matt Skura, whose major knee injury makes him a question mark until at least training camp. However, Yanda’s retirement would make this a significant need with 2019 fourth-round guard Ben Powers not exactly making an impact as a rookie and the Ravens losing a Hall of Fame talent in a position group not sporting a ton of experience. You feel more confident about Skura or Mekari at center, Bradley Bozeman at left guard, and Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle because of Yanda’s presence and elite play. Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley may help fill the leadership void, but you just don’t replace a special player like Yanda.

Inside linebacker — NEED

This year marked only the seventh time in 24 seasons in which the Ravens didn’t receive a Pro Bowl invitation at this position, speaking to the impossible standard created by Ray Lewis and the commendable run from C.J. Mosley before his free-agent departure last March. General manager Eric DeCosta deserves credit for the in-season additions of Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort to stabilize the position, but that came after the organization underestimated the problems Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, and Chris Board would have stepping into larger roles. Martindale effectively mixed and matched Bynes, Fort, and Onwuasor while often dropping safety Chuck Clark into the box in sub packages, but finding a complete three-down linebacker would decrease the likelihood of the defense getting caught with a second level that’s either too light against the run or too slow in coverage. Re-signing Bynes would certainly be on the table, but a younger every-down option would be preferable. Baltimore doesn’t need an All-Pro inside linebacker to have a great defense, but substituting so frequently was less than ideal.

Interior defensive line — NEED

Giving a big contract to Michael Pierce wouldn’t appear to be in the plans with Brandon Williams still having two years remaining on his deal and Pierce not making a strong argument for the Ravens to commit to him after weight concerns in the offseason and a solid but unspectacular 2019 campaign. Baltimore’s pursuit of six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy last spring highlighted a desire to find an interior pass rusher, but Chris Wormley and 2019 fifth-round pick Daylon Mack are the only other defensive linemen under contract for the 2020 campaign beyond the soon-to-be 31-year-old Williams. In other words, the Ravens have much work to do here to fortify their depth against the run while trying to find an inside option or two who can also get after the quarterback.

Cornerback — WANT

No one would classify cornerback as a need with 2019 Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Marlon Humphrey both under contract and slot cornerback Tavon Young expected to be ready for the offseason program after a season-ending neck injury suffered in August. However, you can never have enough depth at this critical spot with Jimmy Smith set to become an unrestricted free agent and Brandon Carr carrying a $6 million price tag for his 2020 option and transitioning to more of a safety role this past season. A modest short-term extension could make sense for Smith, but committing substantial money to someone who will be 32 in July and has played in more than 12 games in a season only twice in nine years doesn’t sound appealing. Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall bring some upside as recent fourth-round selections, but relying on either as the first wave of depth would be risky.

Special teams — WANT

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the first week of free agency last March reinforced their commitment to this phase of the game that goes beyond specialists Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, and Morgan Cox. With that in mind, Anthony Levine, Chris Moore, Brynden Trawick, Jordan Richards, and De’Anthony Thomas will all be unrestricted free agents after playing at least 120 special-teams snaps apiece for Baltimore this season. Whether re-signing a few members of that group or using resources to sign a veteran or two on the open market, the Ravens seem likely to address special teams after being underwhelming in that department — at least by their lofty standards — down the stretch.

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Ravens-49ers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 01 December 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — If Sunday’s meeting does turn out to be a Super Bowl LIV preview, the Ravens and San Francisco will hope for better weather in Miami two months from now.

John Harbaugh’s team seeks its eighth straight victory and the first 10-2 start in franchise history, but the elements will certainly be an additional challenge to playing the 10-1 49ers.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Baltimore calls for substantial rain and temperatures in the mid-40s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour. The field was covered until a little over two hours prior to kickoff as the morning rain intensified. The heaviest precipitation is expected to fall during the first half.

The Ravens will welcome back a key piece of their run defense as nose tackle Michael Pierce is active and will make his return from a two-game absence with a right ankle injury. Pierce practiced all week and was a full participant in Friday’s workout, a strong indication that he would play against the 49ers’ second-ranked rush offense.

Despite missing Friday’s practice and being listed as questionable with an ankle injury, rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin is active after going through a brief on-field morning workout.

It’s interesting to note the Ravens deactivated both Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall, leaving them with only four active cornerbacks. That’s a product of both the weather and San Francisco’s propensity for using at least two running backs or two tight ends on roughly 60 percent of its plays, according to SharpFootballStats.com. Counting two-way player Patrick Ricard, the Ravens have seven defensive lineman available for Sunday’s game.

Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari will make his first NFL start at center after Matt Skura suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, but the bigger surprise was how the Ravens elected to manage their game-day offensive line reserves. Baltimore promoted offensive lineman Parker Ehinger from the practice squad to the 53-man roster Saturday, and he will serve in a backup capacity over rookie fourth-round pick Ben Powers, who is inactive for the 12th straight game.

San Francisco is in much worse shape than the Ravens from a health standpoint as starting running back Matt Breida (ankle), starting left tackle Joe Staley (finger), and starting defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring, quad) are all inactive. Ford was declared out on Friday, but there had been some optimism that the 49ers would have Breida and Staley available to play on Sunday.

Sunday’s referee is Brad Allen.

The Ravens are wearing their alternate black jerseys with black pants while San Francisco dons white tops and gold pants.

Sunday marks the sixth all-time meeting between these teams in the regular season with the Ravens enjoying a 3-2 advantage. Of course, that doesn’t include Baltimore’s 34-31 win over the 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII. San Francisco has never beaten the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
S Bennett Jackson
CB Anthony Averett
CB Iman Marshall
G Ben Powers
DL Zach Sieler

SAN FRANCISCO
DE Dee Ford
LT Joe Staley
RB Matt Breida
WR Dante Pettis
QB C.J. Beathard
K Chase McLaughlin
TE Levin Toilolo

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Pierce, Boykin, four other Ravens listed as questionable for Sunday’s game

Posted on 29 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens listed six players as questionable for Sunday’s tilt against NFC-leading San Francisco, but all but one participated fully in the final practice of the week.

Wide receiver Miles Boykin was the only player absent from the field on Friday and was seen walking through the locker room with his ankle heavily taped. The rookie third-round pick is coming off his best showing since the bye with a two-catch, 54-yard effort in the 45-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams and hadn’t been on the injury report until Friday, leaving his status for Week 13 up in the air.

Defensive tackle Michael Pierce appears on track to potentially make his return from a right ankle injury that’s sidelined him since the Week 10 win in Cincinnati. He was a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday before practicing fully on Friday, a positive development for the nose tackle’s availability against an offense ranking second in the NFL behind only Baltimore in rushing yards per game.

“You know I’m not going to go down that street of whether or not he’s going to do anything yet,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “But yes, it was good to see him out there for three days in a row.”

Defensive tackle Domata Peko (knee) missed the first two practices of the week while tight end Nick Boyle, outside linebacker Matthew Judon, and left guard Bradley Bozeman were all limited in some form with ankle injuries this week, leading to questionable designations.

The 49ers officially ruled out starting defensive end Dee Ford with quad and hamstring injuries, but left tackle Joe Staley (finger) and running back Matt Breida (ankle) are both questionable and could return to game action this week after practicing on a limited basis.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: WR Miles Boykin (ankle), TE Nick Boyle (ankle), G Bradley Bozeman (ankle), LB Matthew Judon (ankle), DT Domata Peko (knee), DT Michael Pierce (ankle)

SAN FRANCISCO
OUT: DE Dee Ford (quad, hamstring), WR Dante Pettis (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Matt Breida (ankle), OT Joe Staley (finger)

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Seth Roberts (11) celebrates with teammates Marquise Brown (15) and Willie Snead (83) after scoring on a touchdown pass from Lamar Jackson, not visible, during the first half of an NFL football game against the Houston Texans, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 11 win over Houston

Posted on 19 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning a sixth consecutive game for the first time since 2000 in a 41-7 demolition of Houston, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The debate over MVP continues, but I don’t know how anyone could objectively watch the Ravens win their last four games — three against playoff contenders — by a combined 101 points and not say they’re football’s best team. They look like they’re playing a different sport than everyone else right now.

2. I had to laugh at overreaction from the few remaining critics about Lamar Jackson’s 1-for-6 first quarter before he completed 13 straight passes and finished the day with four touchdown passes. Four other quarterbacks threw four interceptions in Week 11, one shy of Jackson’s season total.

3. Jackson ranks 11th or better in completion percentage, passing yards per attempt, touchdown passes, QBR, and passer rating. He’s fifth in Pro Football Focus’ passer grading. Yes, his rushing ability is what makes him special, but he’s made an obvious statement as an above-average passer this season.

4. Matthew Judon was a game wrecker with two sacks, an additional tackle for a loss, four quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and seven total tackles. We can debate to what lengths the Ravens should go to extend him, but Judon is going to get paid very handsomely.

5. His role predictably changed with the Mark Ingram addition, but Gus Edwards had a 63-yard touchdown and 112-yard rushing day against a Houston run defense that hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in the regular season since 2017. He could be the best short-yardage back in the NFL.

6. Seth Roberts caught his first touchdown of 2019, but wide receivers combined for just five catches for 51 yards. That’s not a stat line you typically associate with a 34-point victory, but this group works hard as blockers and doesn’t complain about the lack of involvement in the passing game.

7. There was plenty of bravado from Marcus Peters when he matched up against All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Peters’ play has been excellent, and his preparation and professionalism have been praised since his arrival. Regardless of what happens with his free agency, this trade was outstanding.

8. Watching Ingram’s second touchdown made me wonder if Jackson is giving his teammates pointers for when they’re in the open field. This offense is something else to watch, scoring on seven straight drives — not counting the kneel to end the first half — after a slow start.

9. Jackson targeting Miles Boykin on two of the first three pass plays seemed like a deliberate attempt to get the rookie more involved. There was optimism that Boykin might be turning the corner after his 50-yard catch in Seattle, but he hasn’t registered a catch since the bye.

10. We didn’t see many wrinkles from Houston coming off the bye as I expected Bill O’Brien would at least use more of an up-tempo attack to offset Baltimore’s frequent substituting. I was disappointed Deshaun Watson, a terrific quarterback, didn’t hold up his end of the anticipated showdown with Jackson.

11. The Ravens are six touchdowns shy of the single-season franchise record (47) set in 2009. We’re still a week from Thanksgiving. This is the most impressive regular-season team we’ve seen in Baltimore since at least 2006, a team often forgotten because of the crushing playoff loss to Indianapolis.

12. I try to tread carefully with attendance since I haven’t paid to go to a Ravens game since 2010, but I was surprised over the number of empty seats at the stadium. There was much buzz for a matchup between two young stars at quarterback and two 2018 playoff teams.

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Revisiting 2019 Ravens predictions coming out of bye week

Posted on 28 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Looking back at preseason predictions can be an amusing or embarrassing exercise, but that’s what makes it fun, right?

If we truly knew how the Ravens’ 2019 season would play out, I’d spend less time writing about it and more time pondering my retirement plans at the nearest sportsbook. As it relates to the present, I originally envisioned Baltimore being 4-3 at the bye with the result of the Cleveland and Pittsburgh games flipped and a loss at Seattle in Week 7. I certainly didn’t anticipate the rest of the AFC North being a combined 4-17 entering Monday, which bodes very well for the Ravens the rest of the way.

Let’s review how my 10 Ravens predictions for 2019 are holding up through the bye week and adjust where necessary:

1. Lamar Jackson won’t break Michael Vick’s season rushing record for a quarterback, but his 3,000 passing yards and 60-percent completion percentage will be positive steps in his development.

Remember Week 1 when Lamar Jackson ran the ball only three times, one of those being an end-of-half kneel? The 22-year-old quarterback has registered double-digit carries in four of the last six games, leads the NFL in yards per carry (6.9), and is 10th overall in rushing. He’s not only going to shatter Vick’s record (1,039 yards in 2006), but Jackson will finish with just over 3,400 passing yards and a completion percentage over 60 percent. We’re watching a special talent who has shown marked improvement from his rookie year and is firmly in the MVP discussion halfway through the season.

2. The defense will register 37 sacks and see its pressure rate fall to the bottom half of the league.

I was too generous in the sack department as Baltimore is currently on pace to finish with 27 quarterback takedowns, but there is at least some evidence suggesting the pass rush is better than the sack total indicates if you look at quarterback hits and ESPN Analytics’ pass rush win rate. Of course, Pernell McPhee’s season-ending injury complicates that argument and puts more pressure on Eric DeCosta to land a pass rusher by Tuesday’s trade deadline. The biggest factor helping the pass rush could be the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the return of Jimmy Smith, who should provide better coverage in the secondary. Put me down for 30 sacks by season’s end.

3. Mark Ingram will give Baltimore its first 1,000-yard rusher since Justin Forsett.

The former New Orleans Saint has been as advertised with a 4.7 yards per carry average and is on pace to gain 1,074 rushing yards. However, it’s fair to note that opposing defenses have been more successful slowing the Baltimore ground game between the tackles in recent weeks as Ingram has averaged only 3.2 yards per attempt over the last three contests. Opponents must make a conscious choice between accounting for runs between the tackles and trying to prevent Jackson from killing them off the edge. With that push-pull dilemma, Jackson and Ingram will become the first teammates to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season since Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams for Carolina in 2009.

4. Mark Andrews and Patrick Onwuasor will take a step forward.

If there was one prediction I was confident about prior to the season, it was Andrews breaking out as one of the NFL’s top tight ends. Even with some nagging injuries and a nightmare Week 7 showing against the Seahawks, Andrews is on pace to become the first tight end in team history to go over 1,000 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Onwuasor has taken a step back after struggling at the “Mike” linebacker position and missing the last two games with a high ankle sprain. How that impacts his value going into free agency will be interesting, but his return to the weak-side spot should be a plus for him and the pass rush when considering Onwuasor’s ability to blitz and the 5 1/2 sacks he collected last year.

5. Gus Edwards and Jimmy Smith will take a step back.

Since averaging an underwhelming 3.35 yards per carry in the first two games, Edwards has been very productive at 5.2 yards per carry over the last five contests. The problem continues to be few chances when you’re behind arguably the most dynamic running quarterback in NFL history and a two-time Pro Bowl back in the pecking order. Edwards could see a few more carries here and there, but there’s only one football to go around. Smith’s knee injury on the sixth defensive snap of the season was unfortunate in a contract year, but it’s the story of his career as he’s now missed at least four games in seven of his nine seasons. The 31-year-old does have time to rebuild some value and give the Ravens a boost the rest of the way, but we’ll always wonder how much better Smith might have been with good health.

6. Ben Powers will be starting at left guard by the bye week.

Based on comments made by offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris last week, there’s little reason to believe Bradley Bozeman won’t be starting at left guard against New England. The second-year lineman hasn’t been great every week, but Pro Football Focus has graded him 42nd among qualified guards, a reminder that there just isn’t as much quality around the league as fans and some media want to believe when scrutinizing individual teams. Powers has been a healthy scratch every week and received a lengthy look at left guard early in training camp before falling out of the starting race, factors leading one to believe the 2019 fourth-round pick isn’t beating down the door for a starting gig at this point. If anything, fellow rookie Patrick Mekari would seem to be the first in line to replace Bozeman.

7. A rough November will cost the Ravens their chance at winning the AFC North.

This month’s schedule remains challenging with three of the four opponents sporting no worse than a 5-3 record and even lowly Cincinnati coming off its bye to host the Ravens in Week 10, but John Harbaugh’s team clearly has some room for error with the rest of the AFC North under .500. Even a disastrous November coupled with Pittsburgh or Cleveland reeling off a perfect month would leave the Ravens in the thick of the division race entering December. More importantly, the convincing road win over the Seahawks provided much confidence that the Ravens can at least hold their own with five of the next six games coming against teams owning winning records.

8. Miles Boykin will tie the franchise rookie record for touchdown receptions with seven.

If you’d told me at the start of the season that one of Baltimore’s two rookie wide receivers would have 21 catches for 326 yards and three touchdowns at the bye, I would have picked Boykin after Marquise Brown missed the entire spring and a large portion of the summer recovering from Lisfranc surgery. Boykin does have two touchdowns and has recorded his two longest catches over the last two games, but he has much work ahead to match the record shared by Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown. If fully healthy — a fair question after a two-game absence — Marquise Brown has the better chance to break it.

9. Marlon Humphrey, Marshal Yanda, and Earl Thomas will be named to the Pro Bowl.

Despite being a little less consistent than last season, Humphrey has made enough splash plays to keep himself in position for his first Pro Bowl invitation with a strong finish to the season. The 35-year-old Yanda is no longer the best guard in football, but he continues to play at a high level to presumably receive the nod for the eighth time in his career. Thomas hasn’t been spectacular, but he has played well and benefits from a strong reputation around the league in the same way Eric Weddle did. I’ll add Jackson and Andrews to my list of Pro Bowl picks with Ronnie Stanley being a first alternate.

10. A December rally will lead to a 9-7 finish and another trip to the playoffs.

With the current state of the AFC North and the Ravens off to a 5-2 start, anything less than a division championship and a home playoff game would be a big disappointment, but the final month of the season does look more difficult than it did several weeks ago with San Francisco still undefeated and playoff-hopeful Buffalo likely having much to play for in Week 14. I thought throughout the offseason that the Ravens had a higher ceiling — and a lower floor — than in recent years because of their youth, but Jackson’s development was always going to be the biggest factor determining their fate. With the second-year quarterback playing like a legitimate MVP candidate, I see the Ravens going 11-5 and advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs. A deeper postseason run no longer feels farfetched if they can stay healthy the rest of the way.

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Five Ravens players to watch for rest of 2019 season

Posted on 25 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are 5-2 atop the AFC North and are enjoying their bye week with a winning record for the first time since 2014, but unknowns remain that will surely impact the rest of this season and beyond.

Which individuals a bit more on the periphery than budding stars such as Lamar Jackson and Marlon Humphrey could have a significant impact on the second half of the season as well as future decision-making?

Below are five players to watch for the remainder of the season:

WR Miles Boykin

It’s no secret that production from wide receivers not named Marquise Brown has been less than stellar this season, in part because of the lack of opportunities in a run-first offense prominently featuring tight ends. But the last few weeks have illustrated the need for another dependable option to emerge for the Ravens to alleviate some of the pressure on Jackson, who’s accumulated 56.7 percent of his season rushing attempts over the last three games in which Brown was either out or limited. Boykin has reeled in nine of his 13 targets, a percentage high enough to warrant more looks. After experiencing some growing pains, the 6-foot-4 wideout stepping up would improve the Ravens’ chances the rest of the way while easing some of the urgency for general manager Eric DeCosta to add more help at the position in the offseason.

S Chuck Clark

Since losing Tony Jefferson to a season-ending knee injury in Pittsburgh, the Ravens couldn’t have asked for more from Clark, who has played well in Jefferson’s absence and seamlessly assumed the responsibilities of relaying calls in the defensive huddle. Pro Football Focus has graded the 2017 sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech as the NFL’s 17th-best safety this season and much more favorably in pass coverage than Jefferson. Clark proved his worth as a valuable backup filling in for Jefferson last season, but a strong finish to the season could give him the inside track on the 2020 starting job with Jefferson entering the final year of his contract and scheduled to make $7 million in base salary while recovering from a major knee injury. Clark’s challenge now is to show week-to-week consistency.

OLB Jaylon Ferguson

Whether or not the right pass rusher at the right price becomes available for a successful trade before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline, the Ravens will be depending on the third-round rookie from Louisiana Tech to step up with the versatile Pernell McPhee gone for the season with a triceps injury. Defensive line coach Joe Cullen confirmed Ferguson will be used in McPhee’s hybrid role in which he’ll line up as an edge defender or as an interior rusher in sub packages. That’s a lot to ask of someone who was a healthy scratch at the start of the season, but the silver lining is the Ravens will get a long look as how effective Ferguson can be at the next level, which contrasts how the first couple years played out with Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. That knowledge should assist in how to attack the pass rush this offseason.

TE Hayden Hurst

His rookie year was a lost cause because of a foot injury that lingered throughout the season, but the former first-round pick has remained a bit player in Baltimore’s offense so far while fellow 2018 draft choice Mark Andrews is rapidly becoming one of the best tight ends in the NFL. Hurst has caught 14 of his 18 targets this season — the team’s highest percentage from any non-running back — but PFF has graded him as the worst run-blocking tight end in the league entering Week 8 while Andrews has shown marked improvement in that area. Hurst’s name has reportedly been mentioned in trade discussions, but there’s still time for him to carve out a more meaningful role in this offense, especially with the Ravens looking for a more prominent No. 3 pass-catching option behind Andrews and Brown.

CB Marcus Peters

The trade sending linebacker Kenny Young and a 2020 fifth-round pick to the Los Angeles Rams paid immediate dividends with Peters returning an interception for a touchdown in the impressive 30-16 win over Seattle. Leading the NFL in picks (25) and interceptions returned for touchdowns (five) since his rookie season in 2015, Peters has a propensity for making big plays while also giving up some of his own, a high-variance quality that will be interesting to watch the rest of the way. He’ll be a free agent in March, which gives DeCosta another decision to make with Jimmy Smith also hitting the market and the team holding a 2020 option for Brandon Carr. There’s also the matter of planning for the massive extension the 23-year-old Humphrey will very likely command in the not-too-distant future.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 3 loss to Kansas City

Posted on 24 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their first loss of the season in a 33-28 final at Kansas City, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Those criticizing the unsuccessful fourth down and two-point conversions must acknowledge John Harbaugh netted the Ravens six points by scoring touchdowns in two situations many coaches would “take the points” and kick field goals. You can’t have it both ways and judge only by the end result.

2. I agree going for two when down 11 sounds counterintuitive. However, are you then trusting a defense that forced two punts all day to get two stops in regulation and likely another in overtime to win? Playing for a tie doesn’t always give you the best chance to win.

3. I’d probably take more issue with the failed fourth down on the second drive if the Ravens didn’t pin Kansas City deep to conclude their following series and allow an 83-yard touchdown three plays later. This was a game about maximizing scoring over trying to play field position.

4. Now, the play calls themselves and the execution in those situations left much to be desired. The analytics would also support not going for it if the Ravens continue to struggle to convert, but this offense is built to succeed in short yardage.

5. The Ravens couldn’t have asked for a better early return from Mark Ingram, who is on pace to rush for over 1,300 yards despite averaging less than 15 carries per game. His leadership is also valued, but that carries much more clout when a player produces at a high level.

6. Lamar Jackson came back to earth in Week 3, but there’s no reason to be discouraged by that. His timing and accuracy never quite got on track against Kansas City’s secondary, but the 22-year-old continued to compete in the second half and still made some highlight plays in the process.

7. Jackson has now gone eight straight regular-season games without an interception. His field vision doesn’t receive enough credit, but he was lucky to see that streak continue Sunday after throwing multiple passes that could have been picked.

8. Anthony Averett has had the chance to show he can handle a full-time role, but it hasn’t gone well. In addition to struggling in coverage, Averett failed to recover a gift-wrapped fumble on the opening drive and missed a tackle on Mecole Hardman that led to a big gain.

9. Gus Edwards hadn’t looked as explosive or physical over the first two games, but he quelled concerns with 53 yards on seven carries and a 45-yard run wiped out by a questionable holding call. It’s challenging for Greg Roman to get him carries with Ingram running so well.

10. Sunday served as a reminder of the need to get other receivers more involved as Mark Andrews was slowed by a foot issue and the Chiefs took away the deep stuff to Marquise Brown. Willie Snead and Seth Roberts combining for five catches and 84 yards was a silver lining.

11. Miles Boykin received much hype and played well during training camp, but his rookie campaign is off to a slow start with just two catches for 16 yards in three games. One of Jackson’s prettier passes Sunday went through Boykin’s fingers on Baltimore’s final touchdown drive.

12. The offensive line wasn’t perfect against Kansas City, but Bradley Bozeman has rarely been mentioned over the first three games. That’s good news for a left guard position that was scrutinized all spring and summer.

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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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