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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-13 preseason win over Green Bay

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens topping Green Bay in a 26-13 final for their 15th straight preseason win, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Established veterans often coast through the early weeks of the preseason, but Matthew Judon reminded everyone he’s playing for a contract with two back-side pursuit plays resulting in a sack and a third-down stop on a screen pass. The closing speed he showed was very impressive.

2. Tavon Young’s neck injury brings much attention to the nickel corner position, but neither Cyrus Jones nor Anthony Averett impressed in that spot Thursday. I’m confident defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will make it work, but the Ravens will miss Young’s talents in that important role.

3. Jermaine Eluemunor’s strong performance is why coaches have been patient with him despite the well-documented growing pains. He rebounded from last week’s struggles in a major way, even if he still needs to block through the whistle more consistently. Eluemunor also held up pretty well as the backup left tackle.

4. The lack of separation at outside linebacker behind Judon was telling as Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Jaylon Ferguson, and Shane Ray all saw action into the fourth quarter. Ferguson seeing action much earlier than last week speaks to his stock rising while Ray still hasn’t distinguished himself.

5. We knew about the speed with his 40-yard dash time, but Justice Hill continues to show physicality not indicative of a 200-pound running back with so many broken tackles. Hill, Lamar Jackson, and a healthy Marquise Brown all on the field together could be an unsettling sight for defensive coordinators.

6. Coverage is his primary focus, but Marlon Humphrey shedding a block from veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga to make a tackle for a loss is another reason why he’s becoming one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks. His dominant play on the outside is even more critical now after the Young injury.

7. I wasn’t positive Chris Moore was a lock to make the roster after his quiet start to camp and Seth Roberts’ early performance, but Moore likely removed any lingering doubt Thursday. Meanwhile, Roberts isn’t helping his case being sidelined with an injury while Jaleel Scott pushes for a job.

8. The Ravens may forgo keeping a fourth inside linebacker, but Otaro Alaka continued to position himself nicely with a game-high six tackles and two for a loss. Alaka shows good closing speed and would be an obvious practice-squad candidate if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster.

9. Miles Boykin not catching a pass on three targets isn’t alarming, but his failure to curl toward the line of scrimmage on Jackson’s third-down rollout on the first drive reminds that he still needs polish, which is OK. Despite the summer hype, he wasn’t drafted as a finished product.

10. Justin Bethel missed two tackles on special teams and was playing cornerback late in the second half. I’ve dismissed previous questions about his roster status since the Ravens guaranteed him $1 million early in free agency for his special-teams ability, but Thursday wasn’t a good showing.

11. Many were critical of the illegal blindside block penalty on Willie Snead that negated Jackson’s highlight touchdown run, but the call seemed to be in line with the NFL’s expanded blindside block rule (2:00 mark). We’ll see just how vigilant officials are about calling this in the regular season.

12. If you need a reminder of how little the preseason resembles real games, Jackson has yet to target Mark Andrews in two games with the pair not even being on the field together that much. The rapport they’ve shown in camp suggests that’s some sandbagging from Greg Roman.

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Ravens cornerback Tavon Young likely out for year with neck injury

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens haven’t been defeated in the preseason in nearly four years, but their talented secondary sustained a more significant loss earlier this week.

Slot cornerback Tavon Young is likely to miss the 2019 season with a neck injury sustained in practice. One of seven defensive backs held out of the preseason opener by the coaching staff last week, Young last practiced Sunday before sitting out the next two open workouts and Thursday’s 26-13 win over Green Bay.

Head coach John Harbaugh revealed the injury after the game.

“The doctors can explain it, but that’s a disc issue,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a serious injury. He could be out for the remainder of the season. We will know soon, but it doesn’t look good for Tavon.”

Signed to a three-year, $25.8 million contract extension with $13 million guaranteed in late February that temporarily made him the NFL’s highest-paid nickel back, Young collected 37 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and five pass breakups while returning two fumbles for touchdowns last season. The Ravens made a steep financial commitment to Young with the belief that he was rapidly becoming one of the league’s best slot corners, an increasingly important position with Football Outsiders counting Baltimore as using five or more defensive backs on 83 percent of its defensive snaps last season.

This would mark the second time in three years Young has missed an entire season after he suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2017. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Temple played in 15 of 16 regular-season games last season, but he missed the wild-card playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a lingering sports hernia that required surgery in January.

Asked whether the Ravens were waiting for a second opinion, Harbaugh seemingly expressed inevitability about Young’s fate for 2019.

“There is an outside chance that you opt to try to see if it will heal, but we’re not recommending that right now in his best interest,” Harbaugh said. “That’s always the first consideration is his long-term well-being. If he gets the procedure done — I don’t want to speak too early, but if he gets it done — he’ll be fine and good to go [for next year]. It’s probably the best thing to do.”

The Ravens are deep in the secondary, but how they’ll replace Young remains to be seen. Return specialist Cyrus Jones has practiced as the second-team nickel corner this summer and started there against the Packers, but veterans Brandon Carr and Maurice Canady have also played in the slot in recent seasons and second-year cornerback Anthony Averett practiced inside extensively during spring workouts.

Labeled a “pit bull” by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale last season, Young brings toughness and physicality as a strong run defender and talented blitzer despite his slight 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame. His absence will be a substantial loss for a defense known for its unpredictability after he played in 58.2 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps last season, a percentage that was tempered by his sports hernia at various points.

“Obviously, Tavon is a huge part of this defense,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “That’s just a tough situation right now.”

The Ravens finished with the fewest adjusted games lost due to injury in the NFL last year, but Young is a more significant absence than any of the seven Baltimore players who finished 2018 on injured reserve. He is under contract through the 2022 season and carries a $3.651 million salary cap number for 2019.

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Ravens linebacker Board leaves Thursday’s game with concussion

Posted on 15 August 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens took a hit at a position where they can hardly afford one in Thursday’s 26-13 preseason win over Green Bay.

Second-year inside linebacker Chris Board sustained a concussion and didn’t return after a helmet-to-helmet collision late in the first half. The 2018 undrafted free agent initially tried to stay in the game, but cornerback Maurice Canady noticed Board was woozy and signaled for the training staff before an injury timeout was called. Board was immediately taken to the locker room and declared out for the rest of the game at the beginning of the second half.

“He said he’s fine, but concussions are like that,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll have to see how that goes. It doesn’t seem to be serious, but that’s one we will be very careful with.”

Depth at the position was already tenuous after the free-agent departure of four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and the Ravens choosing not to draft an inside linebacker or bring in an accomplished veteran to replace him. Fourth-year linebacker Patrick Onwuasor has stepped into Mosley’s old “Mike” position to positive reviews, but Board has held a clear edge over 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young as the starting weak-side inside linebacker this spring and summer.

The North Dakota State product finished with one tackle before his head injury.

Rookie inside linebacker Otaro Alaka was also shaken up on the opening kickoff of the second half, but he returned to action later in the third quarter. The Texas A&M product is considered the best of Baltimore’s rookie free agents at the position and would certainly be in the running for a roster spot if the team chooses to keep four inside linebackers.

Alaka registered a game-high six tackles, including two for a loss, in Thursday’s win.

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Ravens-Packers preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 14 August 2019 by Luke Jones

The second preseason game should provide a step up for the Ravens as they host Green Bay Thursday night.

Head coach John Harbaugh says quarterback Lamar Jackson will have “about the same” workload as the 16 snaps he played in the 29-0 win over Jacksonville last week, but the Jaguars held out all but one listed defensive starter on their depth chart. Packers head coach Matt LaFleur says he plans to play his starters “a quarter or so,” which should provide a better test for Jackson and a revamped offense.

“Another win, keep striving trying to be the best,” said Jackson about what he wants to accomplish. “Completions, score a touchdown, [and] hopefully get out of the game early. It’s preseason, so I’m trying to get out of the game early.”

The Ravens concluded open training camp Tuesday and will soon have the chance to change their surroundings after the monotony of the last few weeks. Not only will they transition into a practice format more closely resembling the regular season in the coming days, but the Ravens will follow their game against the Packers with a trip to Philadelphia to practice against the Eagles early next week before their first road preseason contest.

The season opener in Miami is just 3 1/2 weeks away.

“They’re getting sick of each other,” said Harbaugh as he laughed Tuesday. “It’s about time. They get out of the hotel this week. They’ve seen enough of each other.”

Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Green Bay will meet in the preseason with the Packers winning 17-15 at old Memorial Stadium back in 1996. Green Bay leads the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

The Ravens own a 34-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and have won a remarkable 14 exhibition contests in a row, a streak extending back to the start of the 2016 preseason.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

The Ravens are not required to release an injury report like they do for regular-season games, but I’ve offered my best guess on what one would look like if it were to be released ahead of Thursday’s game.

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of several will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include any veteran starters who could be held out due to the coaching staff’s preference.

Again, this is not an official injury report released by the Ravens:

OUT: QB Robert Griffin III (thumb), WR Seth Roberts, LB Mike Onuoha (wrist), OL Randin Crecelius
DOUBTFUL: WR Marquise Brown (foot)
QUESTIONABLE: G Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle), CB Jimmy Smith, LB Matthew Judon, CB Tavon Young, CB Anthony Averett, CB Iman Marshall, OT Greg Senat, CB Maurice Canady

Five players to watch Thursday night

G Patrick Mekari

You may have no idea whom the rookie free agent from Cal-Berkeley even is, but Harbaugh first mentioned Mekari’s name in the left guard competition back in June when he was still sidelined with a back issue. Following a very strong performance in the preseason opener in which he saw time at center and right guard, Mekari was splitting first-team reps with Jermaine Eluemunor at left guard in practices this week. The 6-foot-4, 308-pound Mekari being in this spot says more about an underwhelming competition than anything else, but some first-team run could say plenty for his roster chances.

OLB Tyus Bowser

The 2017 second-round pick remains in good shape from a roster standpoint since he’s the only backup behind Matthew Judon at the strong-side outside linebacker spot really capable of dropping into coverage, but his momentum has slowed a bit since a good start to camp. He did some good things in the first preseason game with a half-sack and another tackle in 26 defensive snaps and could be in line to start Thursday after Judon missed the last two open practices, so this could be a golden opportunity to state his case as an impact member of the rotation at outside linebacker.

WR Jaleel Scott

The 2018 fourth-round pick was in danger of being cut last summer before a hamstring injured landed him on injured reserve, but team officials began noticing his improved speed and fitness during the spring as Scott remains in the running for a roster spot. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound wideout from New Mexico State made a 25-yard reception in the fourth quarter on his only target last week, but his besst path to a roster spot is contributing on special teams, an area in which he’s still developing. There may — or may not — be one receiver spot up for grabs among Scott, rookie Antoine Wesley, and Michael Floyd.

DL Zach Sieler

Many anticipated Sieler pushing third-year defensive end Chris Wormley for the 5-technique spot in the base defense, but it’s been a quiet summer for the 2018 seventh-round pick who didn’t make the stat sheet in 18 snaps last week. It’s not that Sieler has practiced poorly, but the Ravens kept him on the 53-man roster all last season — he was active only twice — because they saw upside as he came out of Division II Ferris State. The 6-foot-6, 301-pound lineman remains on decent footing since Baltimore doesn’t have any other 5-technique types on the roster, but Sieler still has work to do to cement his job.

RB Tyler Ervin

We’ve discussed the uncertain roster status of Kenneth Dixon ad nauseam and have typically mentioned De’Lance Turner as the most likely to beat him out for a roster spot behind Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill, but Ervin remains a sleeper after registering an impressive 24-yard punt return in the preseason opener. The former Houston Texan has good speed and has even received some looks with the first-team offense in recent practices, which is something few would have anticipated at the start of training camp. Ervin remains Cyrus Jones’ primary competition for the punt returner job.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of second preseason game

Posted on 13 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding open training camp ahead of the second preseason game against Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Marlon Humphrey was consistently the best player on the field these last three weeks, but his attention to detail also stood out. When he wasn’t taking reps, you’d frequently see the third-year corner reviewing plays on a tablet. He’s on track for a Pro Bowl season if he stays healthy.

2. His practice return brought relief Tuesday, but I believe more every day that expectations for Marquise Brown need to be tempered, especially early in the season. The effects of a foot injury for a speed-dependent player and limited practice time don’t exactly set the rookie up for immediate success.

3. Eric DeCosta deserves praise for fetching a fifth-round pick for Kaare Vedvik, who’s never played in an NFL regular-season game. It was wise not to get greedy knowing a couple misses Thursday could have made potential trade partners quickly reconsider interest. Baltimore’s kicker development is second to none.

4. We’ve spent much time talking about Lamar Jackson as a passer, but John Harbaugh described him as having “very high emotional IQ” to explain his natural leadership qualities and why teammates gravitate to him. There’s no way to quantify that, but it has to help at the quarterback position.

5. Along similar lines, defensive players seem to feed off Earl Thomas, who has picked his spots to show emotion and leads more by example. There’s been an adjustment for him playing in a more complex system than he did in with Seattle, but it’s going to be fun watching him.

6. Hayden Hurst had arguably his best practice of camp Tuesday, looking much more like the player we saw last summer before the foot injury. Besides health, a key for him is maintaining confidence and not letting a rough play linger in his mind, something Mark Andrews seems adept at doing.

7. With Iman Marshall missing three straight practices after appearing to have a thigh issue, many are assuming that could “stash” the rookie on injured reserve. That may prove true, but you hate seeing a young corner miss out on valuable reps with final cuts still more than two weeks away.

8. I wouldn’t have said Michael Floyd was even in the running for a roster spot prior to the preseason opener, but he’s turned in some of his best practices this last week. With Seth Roberts missing time and Brown’s status still spotty, Floyd has some daylight to make a push.

9. The Ravens are smart to play it safe with Marshal Yanda and a lingering foot issue, but I can’t help but think back to him acknowledging how big a factor health will be in determining how much longer he plays. This offensive line desperately needs him at his best.

10. With four cornerbacks missing practice and Maurice Canady only returning to the field Tuesday, how the Ravens line up in the secondary against the Packers could be interesting. It’s a reminder why Baltimore values depth at the position after being so shorthanded there several years ago.

11. I’ll never profess love for preseason football, but at least we’ll get to see Aaron Rodgers. Fans weren’t complaining, but it was a bummer not seeing him play when the Ravens went to Lambeau two years ago. The Packers will again play in Baltimore in the 2021 regular season.

12. If you already have an eye toward the season, 10 of the Ravens’ 16 games come against defenses that ranked in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed last season. Yes, it’s a new year, but that’s reason for optimism, even if you’re not yet buying the Jackson hype.

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“Process” continues as Ravens rookie Marquise Brown practices Tuesday

Posted on 13 August 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown caught a slant pass and accelerated during Tuesday’s practice, flashing the blazing speed that made him a first-team All-American at Oklahoma.

At other times, the 2019 first-round pick still appeared tentative changing direction. But the sight of the 5-foot-9, 170-pound rookie being back on the practice field was reassuring after he missed Monday’s practice, just two days after the Ravens had ramped up his practice participation.

Brown took 17 combined full-team and seven-on-seven reps during the shells-and-shorts practice, a bigger workload than he handled in either of the two weekend workouts. However, his return from January Lisfranc surgery on his left foot remains a day-by-day proposition with the season opener less than four weeks away.

“It’s just going to be a process with Marquise and seeing how he feels from one day to the next,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s healing. I think part of it is just getting strong from the reps. He’s been healing, so he hasn’t been running and there are muscles in there that need to be trained and stuff. He looked great today. He looked really good.”

Brown is not expected to play in Thursday’s preseason opener against Green Bay after seeing most of his full-team work in non-padded practices Saturday and Tuesday. However, it’s apparent the Ravens are doing all they can to accelerate his learning curve with wide receivers coach David Culley providing individual input after most of his snaps and quarterbacks Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley, and Joe Callahan — Brown has taken reps with the first, second, and third offenses — targeting him frequently when he’s taking part in a play.

Managing any lingering soreness when he makes cuts remains a priority for the training staff, but Brown is trying to get into football shape and apply his understanding of the offensive system on the field after missing spring workouts and seeing very limited practice time in training camp until the last four days. The 22-year-old began camp on the non-football injury list before making his practice debut on July 31.

“I felt pretty good. I got me a good day off to get some rest,” said Brown, who caught two passes on five targeted throws Tuesday. “Today, I opened up more and got some shots and was able to make some plays.

“I feel like each day I’m getting better. Each day, I’ve got to knock some rust off technique-wise and [with] stuff I’ve got to get down.”

Eleven players were missing from Tuesday’s practice, a list that included right guard Marshal Yanda (foot/ankle), outside linebackers Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, and Mike Onuoha (wrist), wide receiver Seth Roberts, and offensive linemen Greg Senat and Randin Crecelius. Yanda and Judon have missed two consecutive workouts, but the reason for the latter’s absence is unknown.

A deep cornerback group was particularly hit hard Tuesday with Jimmy Smith, Tavon Young, Anthony Averett, and Iman Marshall all missing practice. Young has missed back-to-back practices while Marshall has sat out three in a row. Maurice Canady did return to the field for the first time since the preseason opener last Thursday.

“It’s just the middle of training camp right now. There are varying things with varying guys,” Harbaugh said. “We gave Jimmy a rest. A couple of guys need to get some tests and some things like that. It’s really nothing to comment on. But when there is, you’ll be the second to know.”

The Packers are expected to play quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the rest of their starters for roughly a quarter after Jacksonville rested virtually all of its starters against Baltimore last week. Harbaugh said he plans to follow a similar script to last week when Jackson played 16 snaps over three series before giving way to rookie Trace McSorley to begin the second quarter.

“We kind of balance it out. We have a way of doing it that goes back [to the way] my brother did it in San Francisco,” Harbaugh said. “It’s unique. It’s different than really what anybody else does, but that’s how we do it. He’ll play about the same.”

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Ravens, Green Bay providing interesting contrast to start of offseason

Posted on 05 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are again preaching continuity after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but a contemporary with an even better track record over the last decade is proceeding quite differently.

If any team had an excuse for missing the playoffs in 2017, it was probably Green Bay after six-time Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers missed over half of the season with a broken collarbone. The Packers fared exactly how you’d expect with backup Brett Hundley under center as the Ravens even contributed to that misery with a 23-0 shutout victory at Lambeau Field in Week 11. But that hasn’t stopped Green Bay from making substantial changes after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2008.

In place as the general manager since 2005, Ted Thompson has stepped aside and will now serve in an advisory role. Head coach Mike McCarthy has fired both his offensive and defensive coordinators as well as his defensive line and inside linebackers coaches. The Packers also allowed their quarterbacks coach’s contract to expire after Hundley wasn’t up to the task of filling in for Rodgers.

Of course, every situation is unique and can be driven by factors other than the results on the field, but it’s a substantial shakeup for the Packers, who had been tied with New England for the longest active playoff appearance streak in the NFL at eight consecutive seasons. This is a team coming off an appearance in last year’s NFC Championship, so it’s more than fair to argue this being an overreaction when you lose one of the best quarterbacks in the league.

Regardless, it’s an interesting contrast from Ravens head coach John Harbaugh defending offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and the rest of his offensive staff by citing quarterback Joe Flacco missing all of training camp with a back injury and starting guards Alex Lewis and Marshal Yanda being lost for the season. No one would compare Flacco’s impact to that of a future Hall of Fame quarterback, but the Ravens did have their franchise signal-caller available for all 16 games — even at less than 100 percent. And while there’s no understating the Week 2 loss of a six-time Pro Bowl right guard for the remainder of the year, Green Bay also dealt with a number of injuries on its offensive line this season.

One approach isn’t necessarily more correct than the other as time will tell whether these teams who have both won a Super Bowl in the last eight years will get back on track, but the Packers are certainly being aggressive trying to address their 2017 failures after a 7-9 finish while the Ravens have so far only been tasked with replacing their defensive coordinator after Dean Pees’ retirement. The juxtaposition of those two reactions to missing the playoffs will be interesting to monitor in 2018.

Jimmy Smith ready for start of next season?

It’s been just over a month since veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith suffered a torn Achilles tendon, leaving his status for the start of the 2018 season up in the air.

In the midst of the best campaign of his career at the time of the injury, Smith missed the final four contests and also served a four-game ban for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances. It marked the fifth time in seven years that the 2011 first-round pick played no more than 12 games, making many understandably skeptical that he’ll be ready for Week 1 in September.

“You saw how fast [Terrell Suggs] came back from his,” said Harbaugh, referencing his remarkable 2012 return from an Achilles tear in under six months. “Then, there’s always a building back to your skill set, too, so we understand that. If you do the math, eight months [to recover would] be September for Jimmy. That’s conservative; it’s really a little more than that.

“We’ll see where he’s at. I’m hopeful, but we’ll have a bunch of corners here, too, to make sure that we have enough corners.”

Smith’s injury could open the door for veteran Brandon Carr to remain in Baltimore. The 31-year-old struggled down the stretch, but he has never missed a game in his career and cutting him would leave the youthful trio of Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Maurice Canady atop the depth chart until Smith is ready to return.

Releasing Carr would save $4 million in salary cap space for the 2018 season.

Infirmary report

Harbaugh said he will likely hold Yanda out until training camp, but the 33-year-old will be ready to go before then and is “already moving and doing some things” after suffering a season-ending ankle injury on Sept. 17.

According to the coach, Lewis (shoulder), Young (knee), and running back Kenneth Dixon (knee) will be ready for the start of the offseason conditioning program in April while linebacker Albert McClellan (knee) should be ready to return by the start of training camp. Rookie wide receiver Tim White has been 100 percent for roughly the last six weeks after suffering a serious thumb injury in the first preseason game. Defensive end Brent Urban (foot) will also be ready by the spring, but he is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent in March.

Harbaugh said he hasn’t had any contact with tight end Darren Waller, who was suspended for a year for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy in June.

Young backup for Flacco

Harbaugh acknowledged the possibility of the Ravens drafting a young quarterback this spring.

Flacco will turn 33 later this month and has been hampered by knee and back injuries over the last three seasons and sustained a concussion in Week 8. He is under contract through the 2021 season, but the Super Bowl XLVII MVP is coming off one of the more trying seasons of his 10-year career. Backup Ryan Mallett has served as his backup for the last two seasons and struggled this past preseason, leading many to clamor for the Ravens to draft a quarterback with some long-term upside.

“It’s something that we will talking about for sure,” Harbaugh said. “Every position, certain positions are going to be more important than others, but when you have a veteran quarterback at this stage, that is the time you are always looking for a young backup. I don’t think that jeopardizes Joe at all. He is our guy, and I am excited about our chances next year having a great season, and Joe is too.

“If we draft a quarterback, if it turns out to be the thing we do, it is only going to make our team stronger.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-0 win over Green Bay

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens getting back to the .500 mark with a 23-0 victory at Green Bay, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Sunday marked the third time in 2017 that the Ravens defense has forced five turnovers in a game. That’s quite a change from two years ago when the group ranked 30th in the NFL with 14 takeaways for the entire season.

2. Jimmy Smith intercepting a pass in the end zone on the opening drive was the latest example why the cornerback has been the team MVP. You wonder how different this one might have been if the Packers finished that drive with a touchdown or at least a field goal.

3. The offense coming away with a total of three points off three turnovers on the Packers’ first three possessions sure doesn’t say much for the work put in by Marty Mornhinweg’s side of the ball during the bye week.

4. Brett Hundley was awful for Green Bay, but credit the Ravens defense for confusing the inexperienced quarterback with an abundance of looks. Eight different defensive backs played 18 or more snaps as defensive coordinator Dean Pees employed various sub packages.

5. Whether rushing the passer, setting the edge, or dropping into coverage, Matt Judon is steadily improving and was arguably the best player on the field with two sacks and a forced fumble. His development is encouraging with the still-dependable Terrell Suggs now 35.

6. Joe Flacco had an OK day despite being under duress, but his interception on a pass intended for Danny Woodhead was baffling. He wasn’t pressured on the throw, and at no point did Woodhead separate from Pro Bowl safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. That can’t happen when approaching the red zone.

7. It was refreshing to see Mike Wallace grab a one-handed touchdown for a quarterback who hasn’t gotten enough help from his receivers. This isn’t the Big 12 where you can expect to get open with no one within 10 yards in coverage. Contested catches are a must to be successful.

8. Willie Henry is rapidly becoming a big part of sub packages as an interior rusher and even dropped into zone coverage on at least one occasion against the Packers. It’s crazy to think how important he’s become to the rotation when many wondered if he’d even make the 53-man roster.

9. Yes, Flacco should have been granted a timeout on the play, but Ryan Jensen still can’t snap the ball three feet over the quarterback’s head to torpedo a promising drive. The center has enjoyed a breakout season, but his shotgun snapping was also shaky in Tennessee.

10. We may have witnessed the changing of the guard as Marlon Humphrey replaced Brandon Carr as a starting cornerback in the first half. It’s a good problem to have as Carr has played admirably, but it grows more difficult every week to keep the rookie first-round pick off the field.

11. Much focus was on James Hurst’s problems replacing Ronnie Stanley, but Austin Howard also had real difficulty against the Packers. He isn’t listed on the injury report, but he’s recently been wearing a harness on his left shoulder and hasn’t looked 100 percent. That’s something to monitor.

12. Anyone dismissing the defense’s accomplishments because of the poor quarterbacks they’ve faced this season should note that the 2000 Ravens’ four shutouts came against Kent Graham, Scott Mitchell, Tim Couch, and a broken-down Troy Aikman in his final season. Regardless of the opponent, give this 2017 unit credit.

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Ravens may not be pretty, but playoff hopes looking bright

Posted on 21 November 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens aren’t a pretty football team.

You’d be hard-pressed to argue that they’re good as they own a mediocre 5-5 record, haven’t won back-to-back games in over two months, and rank 13th in the AFC in strength of victory, a reflection of not owning a single win against a team currently sporting a winning record. Having one of the worst offenses in the NFL certainly doesn’t help the overall perception — or make it any easier to win football games.

But here the Ravens stand holding the final wild-card spot in the AFC playoff picture entering Thanksgiving. And a look around the rest of the conference leaves you doubting the capabilities of any others in the “second division” to seriously challenge for that No. 6 seed.

“Win, and it will take care of itself,” said head coach John Harbaugh, whose team plays only two more opponents currently holding winning records the rest of the way. “It’s not like we don’t know what’s happening. We certainly know who does what.”

While their remaining schedule and the ineptitude of other so-called wild-card contenders might be the biggest factors working in the Ravens’ favor entering the final stretch, their defense is certainly playing at a playoff-caliber level after recording its third shutout of the year in Green Bay. No matter who the opposing quarterback is, that’s not a feat to be taken lightly, especially on the road.

The Ravens lead the NFL with 16 interceptions and are tied for first in takeaways (23) with Jacksonville. Their second-ranked pass defense is allowing the fewest passing yards per game by a Baltimore unit since 2008. And though the run defense still ranks only 17th in yards per carry allowed, the Ravens have surrendered only 2.94 yards per rushing attempt over the last three games as Brandon Williams has settled back in as the anchor of the defensive line after his four-game absence.

The defense continues to chase consistency — the final touchdown surrendered at Tennessee is a recent exhibit of that — but ranking sixth in the league in yards allowed and third in points surrendered makes a pretty strong case that the group is peaking at the right time and can carry the offense-challenged Ravens to the postseason for the first time in three years. The three shutouts are one shy of the four recorded by the 2000 Ravens, regarded by many as one of the greatest defenses of all time.

“It don’t mean s–t if we don’t make the playoffs,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s good, but if we don’t get in [the playoffs], you all won’t even remember them. It’s a good thing to build on, but we’ve got to keep going. We’ve got to keep getting these wins.”

Continuing to win would be easier if the league’s 31st-ranked offense can show any semblance of improvement down the stretch. Despite the five-turnover, six-sack output from the defense against the Packers, the Ravens compiled just 219 yards on 57 offensive plays, finished 3-for-14 on third down, and managed only three points off three first-half turnovers at Lambeau Field.

Even without left tackle Ronnie Stanley in the lineup, that’s just not good enough if the Ravens have any visions of making a meaningful playoff run. They must rediscover their running game after averaging less than 3.4 yards per carry in three of their last four games, and it’s going to take much more than the return of running back Danny Woodhead for this passing game to be considered even mediocre.

The defense might be strong enough to carry the Ravens to victory in any of their six remaining games, but the offense is also inept enough to lose each of those contests, making these final six weeks all the more unsettling despite the favorable circumstances.

You can’t and shouldn’t blame quarterback Joe Flacco for all of the offensive struggles, but now would be the time for something more closely resembling “January Joe” to start getting revved up with December rapidly approaching. Even with the many variables working against him, Flacco must be better.

Their third road win of the season and a very favorable environment in the AFC have established the Ravens as clear-cut playoff contenders, but they still have a long way to go to prove they can be any sort of a viable threat to make noise if left standing in January.

Their circumstances for a playoff push may be pretty, but the Ravens certainly aren’t.

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Ravens-Packers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 19 November 2017 by Luke Jones

GREEN BAY, Wis. — A disappointing NFL career hit a new low for Ravens wide receiver Breshad Perriman on Sunday.

The 2015 first-round pick is a healthy inactive as Baltimore comes off its bye week to play Green Bay. Perriman has just seven catches on 26 targets this season and struggled mightily against Tennessee in Week 9, failing to high-point two deep shots — one of them leading to an interception — and dropping another pass in the 23-20 loss to the Titans.

The returning Michael Campanaro (shoulder) essentially takes Perriman’s game-day spot, giving the Ravens four active wide receivers against the Packers. The activation of running back Danny Woodhead will give quarterback Joe Flacco another viable option in the passing game.

As anticipated when he was listed as doubtful on the final injury report released Friday, starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley is officially out as he continues to recover from a concussion sustained in Week 9. His absence means starting left guard James Hurst will move outside to left tackle with reserve Luke Bowanko moving into the vacated sport, an unsettling development for a road game.

Despite practicing fully all week and seemingly being over his calf injury, running back Terrance West is inactive for the fifth straight game. His lack of special-teams contributions and the surprising emergence of Alex Collins have clearly changed his standing on the roster.

Defensive ends Chris Wormley and Bronson Kaufusi are both inactive as the Ravens elected to have an extra edge rusher active in the returning Tim Williams. The rookie third-round pick had missed four straight games with a hamstring injury, but he practiced fully all week.

Meanwhile, the banged-up Packers will be without second-round rookie cornerback Kevin King as well as running backs Aaron Jones (knee) and Ty Montgomery (ribs), who were officially declared out on Friday. Green Bay will also be without versatile safety Morgan Burnett as he continues to recover from a groin injury.

Sunday’s referee is Jeff Triplette.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Green Bay calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 30s with winds up to 14 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys and white pants while Green Bay dons its throwback uniforms that include navy and gold jerseys and tan pants.

Sunday marks the first time since 2013 that these teams have played with the Packers owning the 4-1 all-time advantage. The Ravens are seeking their first ever win at Lambeau Field in their fourth trip to Green Bay.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Breshad Perriman
RB Terrance West
CB Jaylen Hill
OL Maurquice Shakir
OT Ronnie Stanley
DE Bronson Kaufusi
DE Chris Wormley

GREEN BAY
CB Kevin King
RB Aaron Jones
S Morgan Burnett
OL Adam Pankey
RB Ty Montgomery
DT Montravius Adams
LB Chris Odom

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