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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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Breaking down the 2019 Ravens’ initial 53-man roster

Posted on 31 August 2019 by Luke Jones

Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta will continue to explore other additions and tweaks to the roster with at least a move or two likely before the Sept. 8 opener in Miami, but below is a breakdown of the 53-man roster as it stood Saturday evening:

QUARTERBACKS (3) — Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
Analysis: In a perfect world, the Ravens would have McSorley on their practice squad to use his roster spot elsewhere, but the backup quarterback movement around the league Saturday had to worry DeCosta that the rookie wouldn’t make it through waivers. The growth McSorley showed from spring workouts to the end of the preseason makes you believe he could be the primary backup to Jackson at some point down the road, potential value that couldn’t be ignored.

RUNNING BACKS (3) — Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
Analysis: Ingram was guaranteed $6.5 million at signing to be the feature back, which is why the popular notion that the Ravens needed more than three running backs never really jived. The interesting story line is how involved Hill will be early on after he showed surprising physicality to go with his impressive speed this summer. There are more popular backfields around the league, but there’s plenty to like about this trio, especially with opponents always needing to account for Jackson’s rushing ability.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6) — Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott
Analysis: Snead and Roberts help raise the floor of a group that includes three youngsters who’ve never caught an NFL pass, but you get the sense the Ravens are eager to see Brown and Boykin play and grow with Jackson as much as possible — even early in the season. That’s exciting in theory and there’s more potential here than we’ve seen in some time, but the bright lights of the regular season are a different ballgame than training camp and exhibition games, a reality that should temper expectations.

TIGHT ENDS (3) — Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
Analysis: How offensive coordinator Greg Roman deploys this talented trio will be fascinating to watch with Boyle regarded as one of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends, Andrews poised for a breakout year, and a healthy Hurst eager to live up to his first-round billing after an injury-plagued rookie season. Considering the inexperience of the wide receiver group and Jackson’s passing strength being over the middle of the field, the Ravens need the tight ends to be a major part of the passing game.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9) — Ronnie Stanley, James Hurst, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, Orlando Brown Jr., Bradley Bozeman, Ben Powers, Patrick Mekari, Greg Senat
Analysis: The Ravens have plenty of inventory here, but the question is the quality of that depth behind their four established starters. Left guard is the biggest concern on the offensive side of the ball, but the Jermaine Eluemunor trade also raised the question of a reserve left tackle with the hope that Senat will develop behind Stanley. Mekari, a rookie free agent from Cal-Berkeley, had a strong summer to make the team, but this group seems ripe for an outside addition if the right player becomes available.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5) — Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Patrick Ricard, Daylon Mack
Analysis: The light number here reflects the disappointing summer showings from Willie Henry and Zach Sieler that led to them being waived, but it also speaks to an evolving NFL in which Wink Martindale used his “base” 3-4 defense just 16 percent of the time last season, according to Football Outsiders. The Ravens are expected to move Pernell McPhee inside in obvious passing situations, but who among this group is going to consistently make quarterbacks uncomfortable? 

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (4) — Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young, Otaro Alaka
Analysis: Onwuasor transitioning to the “Mike” spot and Board receiving the first real defensive snaps of his career make this an interesting group to watch after the Ravens stayed in-house to replace four-time Pro Bowl selection C.J. Mosley. Alaka is the latest in a long line of undrafted rookie inside linebackers to make the team over the years, so his development will be something to monitor, especially as Onwuasor plays out a contract year. This group lacks experience, but there’s no shortage of speed and athleticism.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5) — Matt Judon, Pernell McPhee, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Jaylon Ferguson
Analysis: McPhee will start at the rush linebacker spot, but he still figures to be more of a situational rusher than a three-down player like Judon, meaning there are plenty of snaps up for grabs among Bowser, Williams, and the rookie Ferguson. All three showed some promise at different points this summer and Martindale is talented enough as a coordinator to make it work, but the Ravens have to be concerned with this group and the pass rush in general, making an outside addition still possible.

CORNERBACKS (7) — Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones, Iman Marshall
Analysis: Most teams around the NFL would kill to have Baltimore’s top four at this position, but the deep depth took a significant hit with the season-ending neck injury to slot corner Tavon Young. It will be interesting to see how Martindale handles the nickel spot with Carr, Averett, Jones, or even a reserve safety all being options. Already confirmed not to be ready for Week 1, the rookie Marshall could be a candidate for injured reserve with the option of returning later in the season.

SAFETIES (5) — Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott
Analysis: You won’t find a better overall group of safeties in the NFL, which you would hope to be the case considering the cap dollars devoted to this position. The Ravens envision Thomas’ range allowing the cornerbacks to be even more aggressive in pass coverage, leading to more interceptions than last season when they were tied for 18th in the league with 12. Levine remains one of the best dime backs in the league while Clark and Elliott could factor into certain sub packages.

SPECIALISTS (3) — Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
Analysis: This trio enters its eighth consecutive season together, a remarkable and rare example of continuity in the NFL.

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With training camp finally over, Ravens take trip to movies

Posted on 26 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Reaching the end of what the Ravens recognize as their summer training camp, head coach John Harbaugh decided to reward his players with a trip to the movies.

With starters not playing in the preseason finale and bubble players undoubtedly pondering this weekend’s roster cuts, Monday’s practice was canceled as players and coaches instead loaded buses to watch the new comedy “Good Boys” at a local movie theater. Harbaugh has often canceled a late-summer practice in favor of a surprise team-building activity during his 12-year tenure in Baltimore.

The final week of the preseason is an unusual time with established players already focusing preparations on the season-opening opponent — Miami on Sept. 8 — while rookies and fringe roster guys are still fighting for their professional lives this week. Young players have certainly taken notice at the process through which veterans go to prepare for the regular season.

“It’s been kind of weird to see even with the first week of training camp versus the second week versus the third week,” rookie wide receiver Miles Boykin said. “The first week, the vets are kind of just getting into it, working their bodies into it. Second week, same thing. Third week, they’re full force hitting everything like that.

“It’s cool to see from that standpoint, too. They know how to manage their bodies and manage the game the right way.”

The Ravens return to practice Tuesday afternoon with several young players trying to get healthy. Eight players were missing from Sunday’s workout, a list including wide receiver Marquise Brown (foot), outside linebackers Tim Williams and Jaylon Ferguson, cornerbacks Tavon Young (neck) and Iman Marshall (thigh), defensive tackle Gerald Willis, and offensive lineman Randin Crecelius. Veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith was also absent from Sunday’s practice.

Offensive linemen Jermaine Eluemunor and Greg Senat and cornerback Maurice Canady all returned to practice Sunday after dealing with recent ailments. Eluemunor and Senat didn’t play in the third preseason game against Philadelphia last Thursday.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-15 preseason win over Philadelphia

Posted on 23 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens extending their preseason winning streak to 16 games in a 26-15 victory over Philadelphia, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A Philadelphia crowd paying upwards of $40 just to park didn’t get to watch either starting quarterback in what used to be the regular season’s “dress rehearsal.” The chasm between football decisions and entertainment value — the NFL’s ultimate purpose — is wider than ever. The preseason stinks and must be addressed.

2. If eliminating preseason games isn’t an option, reimagine them. Joint practices are all the rage now, so let’s watch both teams’ starters compete in a controlled scrimmage and then the reserves still play a 30-minute live game. Lower prices and create a festival atmosphere with autographs, music, and more.

3. More encouraging than the production or any highlights was Marquise Brown playing 19 snaps in his preseason debut. We’ll see how his foot responds, but the Ravens had to feel good about where he is physically to play him that much, especially after he sat out Tuesday’s practice.

4. I still believe it’s wise to temper expectations for Brown and, to a lesser degree, Miles Boykin early in the season, but seeing both rookie wide receivers on the field made it easy to ponder their potential. Watching them grow with Lamar Jackson could be a lot of fun.

5. Tyus Bowser had a sack and another tackle for a loss, earning praise from John Harbaugh for his strong summer. I suspect the head coach is also trying to build his confidence, but Bowser’s ability to drop into coverage gives him an edge over the other younger options.

6. After struggling in the joint practices, Trace McSorley was impressive in the first half with the Eagles still playing a few defensive starters and many key reserves. He’s looking more and more like someone who could develop into a solid NFL backup in the right system. I’d keep him around.

7. Brandon Carr and Chuck Clark handled nickel duties with the starting defense, which reflects the committee approach Harbaugh and Wink Martindale have suggested following Tavon Young’s neck injury. Anthony Averett and Cyrus Jones also saw time in the slot.

8. One defensive back who wasn’t in the mix at the nickel was Maurice Canady, who struggled playing on the outside. His path to a job probably depends on what the Ravens do with Young and injured rookie Iman Marshall from a roster standpoint, but Thursday wasn’t very promising.

9. Mark Andrews caught only one pass, but that 25-yard catch and run had to bring back memories of former New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro for Eagles fans. I’m really looking forward to watching the second-year tight end play after a very impressive camp.

10. With Brandon Williams sitting out, I was surprised to see Patrick Ricard start next to Michael Pierce instead of Willie Henry. That says less about Henry and more about the versatile Ricard, who entered summer on the bubble and has played his tail off on both sides of the ball.

11. The penalty on DeShon Elliott for lowering his head to initiate contact early in the third quarter was as poor a call as I’ve seen this summer. That’s a perfect example of an official anticipating a foul rather than seeing it with his own eyes.

12. Though play ended with just under 12 minutes to go because of lightning, Zach Sieler playing only two defensive snaps makes you believe he’s on the wrong side of the bubble and a better candidate for the practice squad than the 53-man roster. He’s had a disappointing summer.

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