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Ravens agree to one-year deal with former Oakland receiver Seth Roberts

Posted on 05 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the NFL draft less than three weeks away, the Ravens have added a veteran to a wide receiver group short on experience by agreeing to a one-year deal with Seth Roberts.

The former Oakland Raider was released on Thursday and quickly found a new home on a roster that included only two wide receivers — Willie Snead and Chris Moore — who have even caught an NFL pass. Roberts, 28, made a career-high 45 receptions for 494 yards and two touchdowns in 16 games (six starts) last season. Because he was released, the signing will not count against the compensatory pick formula.

A 2014 undrafted free agent out of West Alabama who spent his first year on Oakland’s practice squad, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Roberts caught 158 passes for 1,826 yards and 13 touchdowns in 62 games (25 starts) for the Raiders. The slot receiver is regarded as a good blocker — something the run-heavy Ravens value more than most organizations — and ranked 88th overall among qualified wide receivers in Pro Football Focus’ grading system last year.

It’s unlikely that Roberts’ addition will drastically change general manager Eric DeCosta’s plans for the draft as the Ravens are clearly in need of more talent at the wide receiver position after the offseason departures of veterans John Brown and Michael Crabtree. Roberts, Snead, Moore, 2018 Day 3 draft picks Jordan Lasley and Jaleel Scott, and former practice-squad member Quincy Adeboyejo are currently the only wide receivers on Baltimore’s offseason roster.

In four career games against the Ravens, Roberts had eight receptions for 112 yards and two touchdowns, one of those being the game-winner in the final 30 seconds of the Raiders’ 37-33 win in 2015.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 34-17 win over Oakland

Posted on 27 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back over the .500 mark with the 34-17 win over Oakland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The first half was an example why I can’t really trust this Ravens offense, regardless of who the quarterback is. Marty Mornhinweg calling nearly twice as many pass plays as runs after compiling 267 rushing yards the previous week is the kind of thing we’ve seen too often.

2. No moment better epitomized the second-half philosophical shift than Ronnie Stanley gesturing to the sideline for more runs after a nine-yard rush on the third play of the second half. The left tackle easily had one of the best run-blocking games of his career on Sunday.

3. If the Ravens stick with Lamar Jackson and a run-heavy approach to try to limit the number of possessions of explosive opposing offenses, they’ll need to do better than going 4-for-8 inside the red zone over the last two games. That percentage would rank 27th in the NFL for 2018.

4. My favorite part of the 74-yard strike to Mark Andrews wasn’t the perfect throw, but it was Jackson dipping his shoulders to really sell the play-fake, which kept Raiders cornerback Rashaan Melvin’s eyes in the backfield a moment too long as Andrews blew right past him.

5. Matt Judon’s three sacks on three straight defensive snaps not only sealed the victory, but they put Derek Carr in historic — and familiar — company. The last time a quarterback was sacked by the same player on three straight plays was in 2002, per NFL Research. That quarterback? David Carr. Remarkable.

6. Judon’s strip-sack led to Baltimore registering its first takeaway since Week 7, but the defense is still looking for its first interception since the first quarter of the Week 5 loss at Cleveland. Rookie sensation Gus Edwards was still on the practice squad at that point.

7. Cyrus Jones returning a punt 70 yards for a touchdown was a cool moment, but the former Gilman star should thank Anthony Levine and Patrick Onwuasor for their early blocks and Chris Moore and Judon for springing him all the way. That return was executed beautifully all the way around.

8. Per Sharp Football, the offense used two running backs and two tight ends 20 percent of the time — the league average is three percent — and used the shotgun 93 percent of the time on Sunday. Scoring four offensive touchdowns in two games is pedestrian, but it’s looked anything but that.

9. Remember how the Ravens didn’t allow a second-half touchdown in their first six games? Sunday marked the third straight contest in which they’ve allowed a touchdown on the first drive of the second half. Credit Wink Martindale’s group for clamping down after that, however.

10. The previous Mornhinweg criticism aside, one of my favorite calls of the game was Ty Montgomery’s third-and-5 run out of a three-wide set that moved the chains late in the third quarter. Teams should spread out and run on third downs of short-to-medium distance more often.

11. Joe Flacco wasn’t the only one who had Ed Reed on his mind as Terrell Suggs looked to lateral the ball on his 43-yard fumble return for a touchdown. I’m sure Reed was smiling as he watched, but not as much as John Harbaugh after Suggs decided to keep it.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for recognizing Colts Hall of Famer Lenny Moore on his 85th birthday and Orioles great Adam Jones, who raised $125,000 for the Living Classrooms Foundation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metropolitan Baltimore with his annual tailgate on Sunday. What blessings both men are.

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Ravens get win, but gain little clarity at quarterback position

Posted on 25 November 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens got the win over Oakland, and that’s all that mattered.

For Week 12 anyway.

The many hoping to gain clarity at the quarterback position entering December likely walked away from Sunday’s 34-17 victory feeling much like they did the previous week. It’s a hell of a debate, evident by the strong and differing opinions from fans and media in favor of either rookie Lamar Jackson or veteran Joe Flacco. And it’s about to become real with Flacco aiming to return to practice this week — pending medical clearance — and the 6-5 Ravens about to play three of their next four games on the road.

To no big surprise, head coach John Harbaugh wasn’t biting when asked if a healthy Flacco would regain his starting job.

“I’m not going to get into that for a number of reasons,” said Harbaugh, who labeled a CBS Sports report suggesting Flacco would resume practicing on Tuesday as premature. “Whether that decision has been made or not is not important for anyone to know but us. If I decide to do it one way or the other, I don’t want our opponent to know. I’m probably not going to announce it for obvious reasons — just to make it tough on our next opponent. That’s the way we’ll go this week.”

Truthfully, we should be grading Jackson on two different scales: for the remainder of the 2018 season and the big picture.

The first-round pick from Louisville has shown more than enough in his first two NFL starts to be encouraged about the future. The favorable comparisons made to how Flacco fared as a rookie a decade ago are irrelevant to the present, but some flashes in the passing game coupled with his electric mobility bode well for next season and beyond. Even Jackson’s harshest critics need to acknowledge he’s done everything you could have reasonably asked from a rookie backup in two must-win games, regardless of the opponent.

What that means for next week in Atlanta and the four games to follow is a different story.

Deliberate or not, the first half of Sunday’s game served as a litmus test with the Ravens running the ball just 10 times compared to 19 pass plays. The 74-yard bomb to a wide-open Mark Andrews in the second quarter was a thing of beauty, but it also propped up a 9-for-18 performance for 140 yards that included two interceptions and too much indecisiveness. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling really needed more balance, but the first half wasn’t a strong endorsement for putting the game on Jackson’s arm, something the Ravens will inevitably need to do at some point if he’s to remain the starter the rest of the way.

After a lackluster six offensive points through the first two quarters, the Ravens wisely reverted to last week’s strategy against the Bengals, rushing 33 times for 178 yards and possessing the ball for more than 21 minutes in the second half. Jackson went 5-for-7 for 38 yards and an 8-yard touchdown to Michael Crabtree, but his biggest contribution came from his legs as he ran nine times for 60 yards and a touchdown after intermission. Again, they did what was needed to survive a game that was too close for comfort entering the fourth quarter, but will it work on the road against opponents with much better offenses?

The Ravens have rushed for a whopping 507 yards the last two weeks, but they scored 24 points against a Bengals defense that’s surrendered 34 or more in four of its last five games. The offense was responsible for 20 of Baltimore’s 34 points Sunday against a Raiders team that had given up 29.3 per game entering Week 12. Every game situation is unique and a heavy advantage in time of possession matters, of course, but the dramatic change in style shouldn’t be confused for an offensive juggernaut just yet.

Of course, simply handing the reins back to Flacco isn’t a guaranteed upgrade.

The 33-year-old being cleared to return from a right hip injury doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be 100 percent, a worrisome thought with an offensive line dealing with its own nagging injuries. You wouldn’t expect the same lucrative yardage from the running game without Jackson on the field, but the newfound combination of Gus Edwards and Ty Montgomery that resulted in 169 yards on Sunday hasn’t been used in concert with Flacco, making it unfair to assume the running game would remain just as inept as it was before the bye week.

Still, would the boost in the passing game be offset by a diminished ground attack? And what impact might that have on a Ravens defense that’s been unspectacular for several weeks and has benefited greatly from the favorable time of possession the last two weeks? Would we see a Flacco closer to what we saw over the first four weeks of the season or the lesser version witnessed in October?

An outsider can easily argue for Jackson to remain under center since he’s the quarterback of the future and the Ravens aren’t looking close to being a Super Bowl contender anyway, but try explaining that reasoning to Harbaugh and a coaching staff likely needing to make the playoffs to survive. Even if Flacco appears unlikely to remain in Baltimore beyond this season and only marginally improves their playoff hopes, that higher percentage could be the difference in saving others’ jobs.

Regardless of what anyone tries to tell you or which way Harbaugh ultimately goes, it’s far from an easy decision.

But after back-to-back wins to move into the No. 6 spot in the AFC, the Ravens are just glad to be in a position to have to make such a tough choice for the rest of the season.

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Ravens-Raiders: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 25 November 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will have a new starting running back for Sunday’s matchup with the Oakland Raiders.

Despite practicing fully on Friday and initially being expected to play with a lingering foot injury, Alex Collins was deactivated, paving the way for rookie Gus Edwards to make his first NFL start. Of course, the undrafted free agent starred in last week’s win over Cincinnati, surprisingly rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. That production led to a more complementary role for Collins, who ran for just 18 yards and a touchdown on seven carries against the Bengals.

Collins’ absence should also open the door for veteran Ty Montgomery to see more touches after the former Green Bay Packer touched the ball only once for five yards in his Ravens debut last week.

Baltimore will be without slot cornerback Tavon Young, who missed practice time this week with a groin injury. His absence coincides with the return of cornerback Maurice Canady, who spent much of last season as the nickel corner and hadn’t played since injuring his hamstring in the 2018 season opener. Canady was activated from injured reserve on Saturday afternoon.

Left guard Alex Lewis is active despite missing Friday’s practice with a shoulder injury and being listed as questionable on the final injury report. His availability is important with veteran offensive lineman James Hurst missing his fifth consecutive game with a back injury.

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his second straight start as veteran starter Joe Flacco remains sidelined with a right hip injury. Flacco was officially ruled out on Friday, paving the way for Jackson to create a full-blown quarterback controversy in December with a strong showing against the Raiders.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams (ankle) will miss his third straight game.

The Raiders will be without wide receiver Martavis Bryant (knee), but fellow starting wideout Jordy Nelson (knee) is active for Week 12. Veteran cornerback Leon Hall is out with a back injury.

Sunday’s referee is Clay Martin.

The Ravens are wearing their all-purple “Color Rush” uniforms while Oakland dons white tops and silver pants for Week 12.

Sunday marks the 11th all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 7-3 series edge and 5-1 record at home. Baltimore has won five of the last seven going back to the 2006 season.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Joe Flacco
WR Jordan Lasley
LB Tim Williams
CB Tavon Young
OT James Hurst
RB Alex Collins
DL Zach Sieler

OAKLAND
DE Fadol Brown
WR Martavis Bryant
CB Leon Hall
OL Denver Kirkland
LB Emmanuel Lamur
OT Justin Murray
OL Ian Silberman

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Ravens-Raiders: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 24 November 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

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

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

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

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

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

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Flacco officially out as Ravens “counting on” Jackson for second start

Posted on 23 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson will make his second straight start after Joe Flacco was officially ruled out for Sunday’s game against Oakland.

Friday’s news was the expectation throughout the week after head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged last Sunday it would be difficult for Flacco to return against the Raiders. The 33-year-old veteran hasn’t practiced since injuring his right hip early in the Nov. 4 loss to Pittsburgh.

“I’m counting on Lamar being the starter in this game,” said Harbaugh before Flacco was declared out on the final injury report. “I think that’s pretty straightforward. And Joe, at this point now, he would’ve had to practice to be ready to go, and he was not able to practice this week.”

Jackson hopes to build off a successful first start in which he ran for 119 yards on 26 carries and completed 13 of 19 passes for 150 yards and an interception in the 24-21 win over Cincinnati.

The Ravens are considered a heavy favorite against the Raiders, but many are clamoring for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to open up the passing game to see how Jackson fares against the NFL’s 17th-ranked pass defense. Oakland has allowed a league-worst 8.9 yards per passing attempt and ranks 30th with an opponent passer rating of 110.4.

It’s been a smooth week for Jackson in contrast to last week when he missed a practice due to a stomach issue, and coaches and teammates have complimented his demeanor while preparing for his second start.

“He’s no different. He’s always confident and into it and upbeat,” Harbaugh said. “I haven’t really noticed a difference that way — kind of the same.  It’s interesting, it’s just kind of Lamar, you know? He’s a joy to be around.”

After sitting out another full week of practice, right tackle James Hurst will miss his fifth consecutive game with a back injury that’s lingered longer than anyone anticipated when he was a late-week addition to the injury report in Week 7. Rookie Orlando Brown Jr. has played well in his place, but Hurst’s versatility has been missed with other starters such as left tackle Ronnie Stanley and left guard Alex Lewis also missing time with injuries in recent weeks.

With Lewis listed as questionable for Sunday’s game after missing Friday’s practice with a shoulder injury, the Ravens don’t have the luxury of shifting Hurst to left guard, a possible move pundits had discussed during the bye week.

“He had a disc issue and that’s all cleared up now, but he’s still feeling a little bit down in his calf,” said Harbaugh about Hurst’s extended absence. “It has to do with the nerve root, and it’s just unpredictable time-wise. We thought he’d be back two, three weeks ago. I’m as frustrated as anybody, [but] I’m not as frustrated as James. He’s the most frustrated.”

Defensive backs Tavon Young (groin) and Anthony Levine (ankle) are also questionable to play after missing practice on Wednesday and Thursday and working on a limited basis on Friday. Running back Alex Collins (foot) is expected to play after practicing fully on Friday.

Meanwhile, the Raiders officially ruled out wide receiver Martavis Bryant with a knee injury and listed wide receiver Jordy Nelson (knee) as questionable. Oakland has been decimated at the wide receiver position with starter Brandon LaFell being placed on injured reserve earlier this week and former No. 1 wideout Amari Cooper being traded to Dallas last month.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday in Baltimore calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s with winds five to 10 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Alex Collins (foot), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), LB Tim Williams (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)

OAKLAND
OUT: WR Martavis Bryant (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Leon Hall (back), WR Jordy Nelson (knee)

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Jackson preparing for second start as Flacco remains sidelined

Posted on 21 November 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

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

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

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Jackson shows enough for Ravens to want to see more

Posted on 20 November 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t need to apologize for Sunday’s strange 24-21 win over Cincinnati.

This is the same franchise that once won a playoff game — the 2009 wild-card round at New England — by 19 points despite completing just four passes for 34 yards. Coming off a three-game losing streak and needing a victory to preserve any realistic shot of making the playoffs, Baltimore did what it needed to do coming off the bye with an injured starting quarterback, running the ball 54 times against a Bengals defense that entered Week 11 ranked 29th in the NFL in allowing 5.0 yards per carry.

That shouldn’t be the knock on Lamar Jackson some have made it out to be after he ran for 117 of the Ravens’ 265 rushing yards, the fifth-highest total in franchise history. The rookie quarterback was far from perfect, but he was a big reason why they won the game, which is as much as you could hope for in his first NFL start coming in a virtual must-win situation. Making it more impressive was that his week of practice was interrupted by a Thursday trip to the hospital for stomach pains.

You obviously don’t need to be Sean McVay to recognize 27 rushing attempts — the most by an NFL quarterback since at least 1960 — being way too many to sustain on a weekly basis if you want Jackson to last, but his running ability is a large part of what makes him so appealing as a quarterback in the first place. He needs to learn to better protect himself, but those rushing yards still counted just the same to the Ravens’ success and shouldn’t be disqualified in assessing his play. Just ask Fran Tarkenton or Steve Young how important the ability to run was to their Hall of Fame careers.

Of course, Jackson the passer remains a major work in progress, but completing 13 of 19 throws for 150 yards is hardly an abomination at 7.9 yards per attempt. In contrast, Joe Flacco was 15 of 29 for only 129 yards in his rookie debut 10 years ago, and he turned out to be a legitimate NFL passer. Jackson throwing an interception as well as another pass that could have been picked in his 19 attempts is far from ideal, but his escape and scramble to find John Brown for 23 yards to set up a field goal in the final 20 seconds of the first half showed his ability to improvise that so many love. His inconsistent release point and footwork are problematic, but the 21-year-old completed four of five passes for 58 yards on Baltimore’s two second-half scoring drives, showing poise with the season all but hanging in the balance.

Jackson did enough for the Ravens to want to see more of him, but can he do more moving forward to create a full-blown quarterback controversy?

Head coach John Harbaugh hasn’t ruled out Flacco for Sunday’s game against Oakland, but he acknowledged it would be tough for the 33-year-old to play as he continues to recover from a hip injury sustained in Week 9. And given how Flacco has struggled when playing at less than 100 percent with  known injuries in the past, the Ravens shouldn’t hesitate to roll with the rookie against a 2-8 Raiders team sporting the league’s 30th-ranked scoring defense.

What the coaching staff asks Jackson to do this week could be telling about his chances of keeping the job for the rest of the season. Unlike the Bengals game that served as the guinea pig for a Jackson-led offense, Jon Gruden and the Raiders coaching staff will have a full game to identify his strengths and weaknesses, minimizing the element of surprise. A similar run-pass ratio would reinforce the idea of the coaching staff lacking confidence in his passing ability and would likely still work against the lowly Raiders, but you’d like to see offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg open up the game plan a little more to see how Jackson handles it. As quarterbacks coach James Urban said during the bye week, “If you put food on the plate and you eat it, then you get more food.”

Jackson showing meaningful growth in the passing department against the Raiders could create a fascinating decision for Harbaugh, who is coaching for his job. Does he show loyalty to the veteran quarterback who won him a Super Bowl and helped get him to the playoffs six times — albeit a long time ago — or go with the rookie quarterback whose development could provide a spark and potentially even save his job?

A poor performance by Jackson in his second start still resulting in a win would make an easy decision to go back to Flacco with three of the next four games coming on the road.

In a vacuum, a healthy Flacco very likely provides the Ravens a better chance to make the playoffs this year and undoubtedly gives them a better passing game, but the running game has clearly been superior with Jackson at quarterback, evident by rookie free agent Gus Edwards’ 115-yard day against the Bengals.

It’s complicated.

Will a less-than-100-percent Flacco — even when deemed healthy enough to return — playing behind the current offensive line really be an ideal fit, especially if the ground game remains so stagnant when Jackson isn’t on the field? Can the Ravens realistically hang tough on the road against Atlanta, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers using such a run-heavy approach with Jackson at quarterback? Does throwing the rookie into the fire of a playoff race provide valuable experience or potentially stunt his development and confidence if he’s just not ready to be a more consistent NFL passer?

Monday night’s epic showdown between Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams reminded that there isn’t necessarily a wrong answer. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes certainly didn’t suffer from sitting out all but one game of his rookie season behind Alex Smith a year ago while Rams quarterback Jared Goff overcame a poor rookie year in 2016 to find much success with a new coaching staff.

In other words, we probably shouldn’t overreact to how Jackson plays or to the quarterback decision Harbaugh makes in the coming weeks — even though we undoubtedly will. No one knows what kind of NFL quarterback Jackson will ultimately become, but his debut showed enough to make it clear the Flacco era is rapidly winding down.

After watching Jackson against the Bengals, I’m looking forward to seeing more.

Whether that means next week, next month, or next year.

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Chapter 11: When childhood heroes turn into real-life villains before your very eyes

Posted on 17 August 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

(This is Part 11 of a 19 Chapter Series on how baseball and the Orioles berthed WNST.net.)

Reggie Jackson was left-handed, which I always thought was cool because I wasn’t! ALL of my Pop’s favorite guys were left-handed, so I assume mine became that way too. I just loved to watch Fred Lynn and George Brett swing the bat, kinda like he liked Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

C’mon, pick a switch hitter, any switch hitter? Eddie Murray, Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose — any of the great ones! And I bet you enjoy watching them bat left-handed more.
I dunno, one of life’s mysteries when you’re a kid.

Reggie wore those white shoes and had those big 70’s fab shades and that ‘fro, and cool poses on his baseball cards (go ahead and look at those early 70’s Topps Reggie cards and just tell me that he doesn’t look like a ballplayer). He took that long, majestic swing and he did it with ferociousness. And, when the game was on the line, when the light was shining the brightest, Reggie Jackson came up big every time. Again, and again, and again.

It wasn’t October if “Mr. October” wasn’t involved, even if it came at the expense of the Orioles. And it almost always did!

Reggie played in the postseason every year from 1971 to 1982, except for two seasons and both of them were the Orioles’ fault. He missed the playoffs in 1976 because he WAS an Oriole and he missed in 1979 because he WASN’T. And that was WAY before the wildcard crap.

From the time I was 5 until I was 10 (and I assure you that baseball was the ABSOLUTE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN MY LIFE during those years), he was in the World Series four out of six years. He WAS the World Series in many ways.

When I played in the Berkshire Little League, I wanted No. 9 or No. 44, just like Ahmed wanted to pay tribute to Hank Aaron in the “Bad News Bears,” I wanted to pay tribute to Reggie — worship at his temple.

I thought his number would rub off on me and I could be the Venezuelan right-handed, slow and white Reggie Jackson of my neighborhood. Maybe I’d start winning the big one instead of striking out like I did against Rich Pfaff at Eastwood!

And, once I found out that he had a Baltimore connection through Johnny’s and local baseball, I was convinced Reggie was the real-life baseball Superman.

You wanted to hate, but you just couldn’t! He was, well, in a word: GREAT, at least with the bat!

So, I liked him and wanted to be him, even if I never really became a “fan” of his in the way of collecting his baseball cards or his posters or whatever.

And my Pop just thought I was a communist for even considering buying a “Reggie” candy bar. But I did.

Lemme bust up my little fantasy meets reality story with one tale of childhood vs. adulthood reality.

I met Reggie Jackson one time. I’ve been in his presence many, especially at Yankee Stadium because they’ve been good over the last decade and he hangs around.

I was in the 33rd Street press box in 1986 and the Angels were in town (no doubt, a younger-and-more slender and handsome Peter Schmuck was within 20 feet of me) and Reggie was a late-inning entry into a tight ballgame and was facing former Angel Don Aase, who was brought in a year earlier as one of three saviors (along with Lee Lacy and Fred Lynn) who were signed to revitalize that 1983 magic.

On the whole, those seasons were the setup for 1988’s 0-21 meltdown for the Birds, but on this day Aase had his good stuff.

He had runners on, a tight situation and a classic Reggie at-bat and potential game-altering home run could be on tap. So the old girl on 33rd was buzzing on a Saturday afternoon because the game was also nationally televised on NBC. Tony Kubek and those cats were around the ballpark.

Aase threw his heat and got Reggie Jackson to pop out to shallow center on a high fastball.

In the press box that day Ted Patterson, another guy I idolized in the Baltimore media while growing up, was seated next to me and I was soaking up his knowledge

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Even at 4-5, Ravens remain in solid shape in mediocre wild-card race

Posted on 13 November 2017 by Luke Jones

Many continue to scoff at any mention of the Ravens’ chances in the AFC’s muddled wild-card race.

It’s understandable when focusing exclusively on a 4-5 team that has lost five of its last seven games and ranks last in the NFL in passing offense. A game below .500 less than two weeks from Thanksgiving, the Ravens epitomize mediocrity and hardly look like an outfit capable of going on a meaningful run when they haven’t even won back-to-back games in two months.

But if not the Ravens, who do you like in the race for the second wild card if we’re going to concede Tennessee and Jacksonville — both currently hold two-game leads and head-to-head tiebreakers over Baltimore — as playoff teams out of the AFC South?

Are you really a believer in the 5-4 Buffalo Bills, who just lost their last two games by a combined 50 points and still have two games against New England as well as a trip to Kansas City down the stretch?

Who will grab the final wild-card spot in the AFC?

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What about Miami, who enters Monday night sporting a minus-63 point differential and might have been the most fraudulent 4-2 team ever to come to M&T Bank Stadium a few weeks ago? Oh yeah, the Dolphins also have two games remaining with the Patriots as well as trips to Kansas City and Buffalo on their schedule.

Oakland might be the most talented team of the mediocre bunch vying for the No. 6 seed, but a 4-5 record, remaining games against New England, Kansas City, and Philadelphia, and three road games in four weeks to conclude the regular season create a hell of a mountain to climb. The Raiders will certainly deserve it if they’re the last team standing.

And, oh yeah, the Ravens own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Dolphins and the Raiders if it comes to that.

In contrast, Baltimore plays only three more teams currently sporting winning records. And one of those is deceiving with Brett Hundley now leading the way for Green Bay after Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone injury last month.

Four of the seven remaining contests come against teams with a backup or rookie currently playing quarterback.

Of course, the Ravens must show some improvement the rest of the way to take advantage of one of their most advantageous schedules in recent memory. It sounds great to say they could be favored in each of their remaining games aside from the Dec. 10 trip to Pittsburgh, but the Ravens have also played poorly enough at times this season to consider any of those a potential loss.

No, you don’t have to like the Ravens’ playoff chances to accept their odds being better than the other middling teams in the AFC pack. It’s just reality in a conference with little separation once you move past the three teams at the top.

The Ravens haven’t been a good team, but they may not have to be good to make the playoffs. They just have to be a smidge better than the rest of the mediocre bunch.

It couldn’t set up much better on paper for them to do that.

Time will tell if they’re capable enough to take advantage.

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