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Five Ravens sleepers to watch for the 2020 season

Posted on 18 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens now having a full 90-man roster after last month’s draft and a slew of undrafted free-agent signings, we have a better idea of what the 2020 team will look like.

Roles remain fluid, however, a point even more relevant in an unprecedented offseason limited to virtual meetings this spring. Understanding how that reality may hinder the ability of many rookies and newcomers to play a meaningful role right away, below is a look at five sleepers for the 2020 campaign:

1. OLB Tyus Bowser

An early draft pick who struggles to become a starter often finds his roster status vulnerable entering the final year of his rookie contract — Chris Wormley was the latest example of this — but the lack of an edge defender in Baltimore’s 2020 draft class was good news for Bowser. Surprisingly second on the 2019 team in sacks (five) and quarterback hits (10), the 2017 second-round pick played a career-high 401 snaps and was the top backup to Matthew Judon at strong-side outside linebacker, showing more ability to drop into coverage than other reserves on the roster. If Judon elects to skip some portion of training camp after receiving the franchise tag, Bowser could find more opportunities to solidify his roster spot and earn a larger role.

2. OL Patrick Mekari

Labeling Mekari a sleeper after he started the final six games of 2019 is a bit of a stretch, but much of the discussion in the right guard discussion has been about other veterans and 2020 draft picks Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson. The likes of Matt Skura, Bradley Bozeman, and Ryan Jensen developed into solid starters working with offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris in recent years, but none found success as quickly as Mekari, who was thrown into the fire late in his rookie season. The undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley graded 14th among 37 qualified centers by Pro Football Focus last year and could be a viable option to start at any of the three interior spots, which is impressive for a guy no one was talking about at this time last year.

3. S DeShon Elliott

The 6-foot-1, 210-pound defensive back has been limited to just 40 defensive snaps in his first two years because of injuries, but he’s shown promise over the last two summers and the Ravens are in need of a No. 3 safety to back up starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark and play in certain sub packages. A 2018 sixth-round pick from Texas, Elliott will be competing with rookie seventh-round selection Geno Stone, but the former’s experience in the system should be an advantage, especially if he’s fully recovered from the season-ending knee injury he sustained in Week 6 last year. With the relationship between Thomas and the Ravens seemingly rocky, Elliott or Stone showing meaningful development this year would be a positive sign for the future.

4. RB Justice Hill 

The second-round selection of Ohio State star J.K. Dobbins wasn’t a ringing endorsement for Hill having a bigger role in 2020, but he flashed in December and impressed in his first preseason, showing the ability to break tackles despite his 200-pound frame. Hill isn’t going to become the feature back, but the 2019 fourth-round pick lined up in the slot and out wide on more snaps than either Mark Ingram or Gus Edwards last season despite playing a fraction of the time, which offers a glimpse of his potential to create matchup problems in the passing game. If the Ravens find themselves needing to play off-schedule more often in 2020, Hill finding a bigger role as a third-down back remains plausible even with Dobbins being added to the mix.

5. ILB Otaro Alaka

Last month’s selections of Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison made Alaka — a 2019 undrafted free agent from Texas A&M — an afterthought, but it was interesting to hear general manager Eric DeCosta go out of his way to mention the 6-foot-3, 239-pound linebacker in a recent conference call with season-ticket holders. After making the initial 53-man roster at the end of last preseason, Alaka appeared on his way to earning an opportunity to play on defense before a hamstring injury landed him on injured reserve in late September. Playing for an organization that’s produced the undrafted likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe, Zach Orr, and Patrick Onwuasor at inside linebacker, Alaka remains a name to watch this summer.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 schedule release

Posted on 11 May 2020 by Luke Jones

With the NFL unveiling the 2020 regular-season schedule late last week, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. What we know about the alarming incident between Earl Thomas and his wife doesn’t — and shouldn’t — provide any grounds to jeopardize his employment, but the Ravens’ terse statement made clear their disenchantment about being left in the dark. Practically speaking, a public figure’s right to privacy only goes so far.

2. The schedule release highlighted what we already knew about Baltimore being in tremendous shape from a travel standpoint with the longest trip of the season being to Houston in Week 2. Already dominant on the road last season, the Ravens should be able to continue such away success.

3. Even if one argues the Ravens are better from a talent standpoint and have a favorable schedule on paper, ESPN’s Mike Clay presented some data that should make you take pause before boldly predicting another 14-2 or better finish. What they did offensively last season just isn’t easy to duplicate.

4. With five prime-time games, four in a five-week period from November into early December, and the reigning NFL MVP, the Ravens have never carried a brighter national profile than they do right now, which is saying plenty for an organization with two Super Bowl titles in the last 20 years.

5. Asked about the center spot in a call with season-ticket holders, Eric DeCosta mentioning Bradley Bozeman was interesting, especially since left guard was seemingly the only stable interior line spot entering 2020 after Bozeman started every game there last year. Will we see three different starters inside?

6. When an elite player retires at the top of his game, speculation can persist about a comeback, but Marshal Yanda left no doubt by losing 45 pounds in two months after his final game and looking even thinner on “The Pat McAfee Show.” He looked lighter than the ex-Indianapolis punter.

7. No matter how you felt about the second-round selection of J.K. Dobbins, I don’t get the rush some have to trade Gus Edwards or Justice Hill for what would likely be an inconsequential draft pick. If more depth at running back was important, hastily diminishing the group makes little sense.

8. DeCosta acknowledged the Ravens having limited avenues to clear meaningful salary cap space without striking a long-term deal for Matthew Judon or Ronnie Stanley, who carry two of their five largest cap numbers for 2020. These negotiations and decisions won’t get any easier.

9. First-round pick Patrick Queen bought his mother a new Range Rover over the weekend. Seeing a young player fulfill his NFL dream after years of hard work and finally be able to gift a token of appreciation to a parent never gets old.

10. Asked once again — this time by a season-ticket holder and not the media — whether the Ravens were interested in signing Antonio Brown, DeCosta provided a “filibuster” non-answer that would make Dan Duquette smile.

11. With Joe Flacco undergoing neck surgery and reportedly not expected to be cleared to play until late August, you wonder if the 35-year-old has played his final snap. However, Jets general manager and ex-Ravens scout Joe Douglas “discovered” Flacco and does need a backup to Sam Darnold.

12. A personal thanks to director of player personnel Joe Hortiz for taking extensive time to conduct a virtual film session on the Ravens’ 2020 draft class and answering questions from local reporters. Such a forum offers transparency and better educates media to hopefully improve our coverage for fans.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 2020 draft

Posted on 29 April 2020 by Luke Jones

With the 2020 NFL draft in the books and the Ravens shifting attention toward an unprecedented virtual offseason workout program, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore’s draft haul has been widely praised as it is, but Eric DeCosta also used 2020 fifth-round picks to acquire Pro Bowl selections Marcus Peters and Calais Campbell. We know many draft choices don’t pan out, of course, but the Ravens sure took advantage of value.

2. Marlon Humphrey’s fifth-year option being exercised was elementary as he’s projected to make $10.244 million in 2021, but he’s already been a team MVP and a first-team All-Pro and Pro Bowl selection prior to turning 24. He’s one more big year away from commanding top-of-the-market money at cornerback.

3. The career of D.J. Fluker has been pedestrian compared to first-round expectations, but his signing is a reminder of keeping expectations in check for rookies, especially without normal offseason workouts. Ideally, a young guy with a higher ceiling seizes the right guard job, but Fluker raises the position’s floor.

4. Whenever anticipating a position battle, I remember how much angst there was about the Ravens making no meaningful addition to replace right tackle Michael Oher in 2014. Rick Wagner, who had barely played as a fifth-round rookie, stepped in as an immediate upgrade for the next three seasons.

5. Speaking of competition, Jaylon Ferguson and Tyus Bowser had to be pleased to see no edge defenders taken in this draft class. Ferguson will compete to start and was in no roster danger, of course, but players like Bowser in the final year of their contract are always vulnerable.

6. J.K. Dobbins will try to break this post-Super Bowl XLVII run of second-round picks: Bowser (2017), Kamalei Correa (2016), Maxx Williams (2015), Timmy Jernigan (2014), and Arthur Brown (2013). Talk about “meh,” but I suppose the Ravens did OK trading their 2018 and 2019 second-rounders.

7. How the ground game shakes out with four running backs and the greatest single-season rushing quarterback in NFL history will be interesting — there’s only one football — but there’s no shortage of motivation. Mark Ingram was essentially put on notice and Gus Edwards and Justice Hill dropped down the pecking order.

8. Devin Duvernay will be an interesting wild card with good hands and an uncanny ability to gain yards after the catch. Considering how many screens he ran at Texas, I wouldn’t be surprised to occasionally see him lining up in the backfield and also motioning into jet sweeps.

9. After drafting exactly one wide receiver (Breshad Perriman) in the first three rounds from 2012-2018, the Ravens have selected three (Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, and Duvernay) in the last two drafts. Somewhere, Joe Flacco shrugs his shoulders.

10. Not only is Mike Tomlin getting inside information from Maryland wide receiver Dino Tomlin, but former Terps interim head coach Matt Canada became Pittsburgh’s quarterbacks coach in January. Anthony McFarland and Antoine Brooks landing with the Steelers was hardly a shock.

11. The gap is sizable between the Ravens and the rest of the AFC North on paper right now, but Cincinnati and Cleveland had strong drafts and Pittsburgh appeared to do OK despite trading its first-round pick for defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick last fall. Much talent was added to the division.

12. I’m not going to pretend to have any great insights into the Ravens’ reported (and unofficial) class of rookie free-agent signings, but I just hope the addition of Kennesaw State fullback Bronson Rechsteiner means his uncle shows up in Owings Mills at some point.

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Ravens reportedly agree to deal with veteran guard D.J. Fluker

Posted on 28 April 2020 by Luke Jones

Needing to replace one of the best players in franchise history, the Ravens have added an experienced veteran to the competition to replace eight-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda.

According to NFL Network, the Ravens have agreed to terms on a deal with former Seattle guard D.J. Fluker, pending a physical. The Seahawks released the 29-year-old after drafting LSU guard Damien Lewis in the third round of this weekend’s draft. Fluker started 14 games in the regular season and two playoff contests at right guard this past year, but he missed the Week 7 meeting with the Ravens due to a hamstring injury.

Pro Football Focus graded Fluker 48th among 81 qualified guards last season.

The 11th overall pick of the 2013 draft out of Alabama, Fluker began his career with San Diego and spent three seasons with current Ravens offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris, who held the same job with the Chargers from 2013-15. The 6-foot-5, 342-pound Fluker began his career at right tackle before moving to right guard in 2015.

Fluker played four seasons with the Chargers before spending 2017 with the New York Giants and playing for the Seahawks the last two seasons. He’s started 88 of his 92 games played over seven seasons.

The competition at right guard also includes 2019 undrafted free agent Patrick Mekari, 2019 fourth-round pick Ben Powers, and 2020 draft picks Tyre Phillips and Ben Bredeson, but the two rookies could be at a significant disadvantage with on-site spring workouts wiped out by the coronavirus pandemic. None will fully replace the Hall of Fame-caliber play of Yanda, of course, but Fluker’s experience edge could prove the difference amidst the uncertainty of the summer and the 2020 season as a whole.

Much of the offseason responsibility will fall on players to keep themselves in shape between now and whenever they’re allowed back at practice facilities.

“The other advantage is them knowing the playbook inside and out, not just starting when they come back,” said head coach John Harbaugh about the challenge of rookies being limited to remote work with coaches. “We’re teachers; our coaches want to coach. We’ve been developing all these applications remotely, teaching tools and interactive-type teaching tools and games and things like that. We’re going to get those guys plugged into that stuff right away just like we are with the veterans.”

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Rehabbing center Skura signs restricted tender from Ravens

Posted on 10 April 2020 by Luke Jones

A week before the deadline for another team to sign him to an offer sheet, restricted free-agent center Matt Skura has inked his tender, keeping him with the Ravens through the 2020 season.

Still working his way back to full strength from a serious knee injury sustained in late November, Skura, 27, received the low tender worth $2.133 million last month. Other teams had the opportunity to sign Skura to an offer sheet that the Ravens would have had the right to match, but the injury likely cost him just over $1 million as Baltimore may have offered him the second-round tender to prevent other teams from trying to sign him away if healthy. That tender would have awarded the Ravens a second-round pick if they declined to match an offer sheet executed by another team.

Skura suffered a torn ACL, PCL, and MCL as well as a dislocated kneecap in the Week 12 win over the Los Angeles Rams and spent the remainder of the season on injured reserve. The realities of free agency created by the coronavirus pandemic would have made it extremely difficult for a potential suitor to evaluate his surgically-repaired left knee.

The 6-foot-3, 313-pound lineman hopes to return during training camp, but the Ravens received solid play from undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari in the final month of the regular season, easing concerns at the center position as the organization tries to replace the retired Marshal Yanda at right guard.

Signed as a rookie free agent from Duke in 2016, Skura has started 39 games over the last three seasons.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on first wave of free-agent activity

Posted on 17 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta making a number of moves at the start of the new league year, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Spending $21 million guaranteed for Michael Brockers is steep — I wasn’t endorsing big money for Michael Pierce either — but another strong run-stopping lineman quells concerns against the run. He’s just not going to offer a ton as a rusher after posting the same PFF pass-rush grade as Brandon Williams last season.

2. Calais Campbell has played at least 70 percent of his team’s defensive snaps every season and at least 77 percent in each of the last five campaigns, per Pro-Football-Reference.com. Scaling back his workload a bit — he’ll be 34 in September — could make him even more disruptive for Baltimore.

3. The Ravens held joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams in 2018 and Jacksonville last summer, giving them a closer look at their future acquisitions on the defensive line. Campbell and Brockers were far from unknowns, of course, but extra information in the evaluation process never hurts.

4. We’re still waiting on breakdowns of these deals, but the dollars committed to Campbell and Brockers as well as the franchise tag for Matthew Judon will leave DeCosta needing to create space on the salary cap beyond Brandon Carr’s option decision. Remember franchise-tag situations are fluid.

5. DeCosta received good value for Hayden Hurst, but I still view the trade as a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” for now. Many have called Hurst a dispensable “third-string” tight end without acknowledging he played as many snaps as Mark Andrews last year. We’ll see.

6. Tyus Bowser, Kamalei Correa, Maxx Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Arthur Brown were the Ravens’ last five second-round selections, reminding how frequently these picks sound better than they actually turn out. Of course, their last two were traded to move up for Lamar Jackson. Draft ammunition is certainly valuable.

7. You’d have to think Matt Skura was likely to receive the second-round restricted tender before his serious knee injury last November. With the logistical challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic, however, teams probably won’t be as motivated to explore an offer sheet with a rehabbing restricted free agent.

8. Speaking of that uncertainty, the NFL confirmed the start of the offseason program would be delayed indefinitely, which will impact rookies and veteran newcomers alike. That reality makes the Ravens even more fortunate not to lose Greg Roman or Wink Martindale to a head gig elsewhere.

9. The release of James Hurst became a much stronger possibility when he was suspended for the first four games of 2020, but the Ravens could now use a young offensive tackle to back up Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown and develop. Competition for 33-year-old Andre Smith is in order.

10. A day later, I still can’t comprehend how anyone could look at Houston’s return for DeAndre Hopkins as anything but organizational malpractice. That’s a trade that would be mocked in fantasy football leagues. Poor Deshaun Watson.

11. The Ravens will play in Foxboro in 2020. It will definitely be weird without Tom Brady on the opposing side, but Johnny Unitas was traded to San Diego, Joe Montana went to Kansas City, and Peyton Manning ended up in Denver.

12. I’ve felt conflicted about the NFL conducting free-agent business despite the current state of the world, but it’s good having some distractions and reminders of the normalcy we want, like having football season this fall. Take care of yourself, your loved ones, and the many others around you.

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How did Ravens offensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2019?

Posted on 27 February 2020 by Luke Jones

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

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl — Baltimore had a record-tying 13 selections — or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team closely enough to form any real authoritative opinion.

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

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

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

Safeties
Running backs
Cornerbacks
Wide receivers
Defensive linemen
Tight ends
Inside linebackers

Ronnie Stanley
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,036
PFF ranking: fourth among offensive tackles
Skinny: PFF’s highest-graded left tackle and top-graded overall pass blocker for 2019, Stanley, 25, had the best season of his career as he was named to his first Pro Bowl and was a first-team All-Pro selection. The 2016 first-round pick also ranked 10th in run blocking among qualified tackles as the Ravens may need to make him the highest-paid left tackle in NFL history to extend his contract beyond 2020.

Marshal Yanda
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,068
PFF ranking: fourth among guards
Skinny: The 35-year-old continued to strengthen his case for Canton by making his eighth Pro Bowl in nine years and again ranking among the league’s best guards in his 13th season. Yanda led all guards in PFF’s pass-blocking efficiency metric and remained the anchor for an offensive line that blocked for a ground game that set a new NFL record for rushing yards in a season.

Orlando Brown Jr.
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,204
PFF ranking: 25th among offensive tackles
Skinny: After starting 10 games as a rookie, the 2018 third-round pick from Oklahoma firmly established himself as a quality NFL starter as he started every game and played in his first Pro Bowl after initially being named an alternate. His historically poor combine testing two years ago feels like a distant memory as Brown has been everything the Ravens could have reasonably wanted at right tackle.

Bradley Bozeman
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1,204
PFF ranking: 32nd among guards
Skinny: Left guard was a concerning position battle last summer as others failed to take the reins before the Ravens turned to the 2018 sixth-round pick from Alabama in the final days of the summer. Many wondered if Bozeman would be a liability at the position, but his play was solid throughout the season as he played every offensive snap and was rarely a topic of conversation, a good sign for a young lineman.

Matt Skura
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 717
PFF ranking: 17th among centers
Skinny: The former practice-squad lineman solidified his place as a starting-caliber NFL center before sustaining ACL, PCL, and MCL tears as well as a dislocated left kneecap in late November. The 27-year-old is still expected to be tendered as a restricted free agent, but it remains unclear whether Skura’s surgically-repaired knee will be ready for the start of training camp.

Patrick Mekari
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 530
PFF ranking: 14th among centers
Skinny: The undrafted free agent from Cal-Berkeley had a strong preseason to earn a 53-man roster spot and was active as a reserve every week until Skura’s knee injury threw him into the starting lineup. Baltimore didn’t skip a beat over the final five regular-season games before the 22-year-old Mekari was one of many Ravens players to have a bad night against Tennessee in the playoff loss.

James Hurst
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 194
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The versatile veteran set a career low for snaps, but he filled in effectively at left tackle for the injured Stanley in Week 15. The Ravens value Hurst’s ability to play four different positions, but his four-game suspension to start 2020 could compromise his roster standing as he’s scheduled to make a steep $4 million in base salary as a backup and Baltimore signed veteran Andre Smith to a one-year deal.

Parker Ehinger
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 54
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The former fourth-round pick signed with Baltimore’s practice squad in September and was promoted to the active roster in late November, faring pretty well in limited snaps. Ehinger will be a restricted free agent and could return to compete for a 53-man roster spot.

Ben Powers
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 30
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The fourth-round pick from Oklahoma graded quite well in his lone action of the season at right guard in Week 17, but Powers being inactive for every other game as a rookie leaves plenty of questions regarding his ability. Regardless of what happens with Yanda or others, the spring and summer will be critical for Powers’ development as an NFL-caliber guard.

Hroniss Grasu
2019 offensive snap count (including postseason): 1
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Claimed off waivers in early December for his second stint with the Ravens, the 28-year-old served as an active reserve for the final few games and is unlikely to return on anything but a league-minimum deal with a chance to compete for a roster spot in the preseason.

2020 positional outlook

The current state of the offensive line begins with the status of Yanda, who still hasn’t informed the Ravens whether he plans to return for a 14th season and chase another Super Bowl ring. Yanda retiring would create a major void at right guard — and from a leadership standpoint — that the Ravens won’t easily replace. The interior offensive line is further complicated by the uncertain health of Skura, making it ideal for general manager Eric DeCosta to add a starting-caliber option to the inside mix. On the bright side, the Ravens boast one of the best offensive tackle duos in the NFL with two Pro Bowl selections under age 27. Signing Stanley to a contract extension beyond 2020 should be one of the top priorities of the offseason as the Ravens searched nearly a decade for a franchise left tackle after the retirement of Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden. Even if Yanda decides his football days are over, the mere presence of dual-threat MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson puts so much pressure on defensive fronts that the offensive line remains at a clear advantage.

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Ravens-49ers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 30 November 2019 by Luke Jones

A Super Bowl rematch and preview?

The Ravens have emerged as the Super Bowl favorite in the eyes of many, but San Francisco is an overtime field goal away from still being undefeated, making this the largest remaining regular-season test for a John Harbaugh team that’s dominated the competition for the better part of the last six weeks. Both teams face an extra challenge in this one as the 49ers will play a 1 p.m. Eastern time zone game while Baltimore is on short rest after playing a Monday night game across the country in Los Angeles.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the sixth time ever in the regular season and the first time since 2015. The Ravens lead the all-time series by a 3-2 margin and defeated San Francisco 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII nearly seven years ago.

Below are five predictions for Monday night:

1. The Ravens will lose a fumble for the first time since Week 9. The loss of center Matt Skura to a season-ending knee injury and the elevation of rookie Patrick Mekari to the starting lineup already raised concern since Baltimore works from the shotgun or pistol formation roughly 95 percent of the time, but Sunday’s forecast continues to call for rain, creating an extra challenge against the NFC’s best defense. Remarkably, the Ravens have lost only four fumbles all season despite many mesh-point plays in which the quarterback or running back can be prone to mistake. They’re probably due for another.

2. Mark Andrews and George Kittle will each catch a touchdown. Pro Football Focus ranks Kittle first and Andrews second in its season grading at the tight end position, which says a lot about the former fifth- and third-round draft picks. Despite being an every-down player compared to Andrews having more of a situational workload, Kittle has only three touchdown receptions in nine games this season. Meanwhile, Andrews is one touchdown catch shy of tying the franchise single-season record for a tight end (seven), which is currently shared by Todd Heap (2005) and Dennis Pitta (2012).

3. Chuck Clark will intercept his first pass of the season. It’s easy to take for granted what Clark has done replacing Tony Jefferson at safety, relaying the calls in the defensive huddle, and moving down to the dime spot since he doesn’t make many splash plays. However, his emergence is one of the notable reasons why this ascending defense now ranks in the top 10 in several categories and is fourth in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric. Clark and other defensive teammates will have a substantial challenge slowing Kittle, but he’ll bait 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo into an underneath mistake in wet conditions.

4. Lamar Jackson will set an NFL record with his fourth 100-yard rushing game of 2019. The 49ers defense is much stronger against the pass, but the heralded group is just 19th against the run, which spells trouble against a rushing attack averaging 210.5 yards per game. Nothing Jackson does surprises me anymore as he enters Week 13 tied for the NFL lead in touchdown passes, but the weather and matchup set up for this to be more of a legs day for the MVP favorite. He hasn’t eclipsed the century mark on the ground since Week 7, so why not? Doing so would set a single-season quarterback record.

5. The Ravens will win their eighth straight game in a 27-13 final over San Francisco. It’s not that I don’t believe the 49ers are a very good team, but it’d be disingenuous to say I believe this is going to be a particularly close game. What we’ve watched over the last six weeks is not only the most impressive regular-season run in Ravens history, but it ranks up there among the most impressive regular-season stretches by any team in recent memory. Double-digit blowouts aren’t the norm in the NFL, but the Ravens are trying to convince you otherwise, almost making you think you’re watching a Clemson or an Alabama play its early-season out-of-conference schedule instead of an NFL team going up against quality competition. This won’t last forever, but I’m not betting against Baltimore until it’s stopped. It won’t be a fourth straight Robert Griffin III mop-up game, but the 49ers don’t have the firepower to keep up with the NFL’s best offense, which still feels so strange to say about a Ravens team.

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Ravens center Matt Skura to miss rest of season with knee injury

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The NFL’s top-ranked scoring offense has sustained its first significant injury loss.

Ravens center Matt Skura will miss the remainder of the season after suffering a knee injury late in the first quarter of Monday’s 45-6 win over the Los Angeles Rams. Skura was carted off the field and eventually ruled out for the game with what was called a knee sprain, but further testing revealed the severity of the injury.

Undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari did a commendable job filling in for Skura, playing 62 snaps and helping the Ravens run for a season-high 285 yards. A collaborative effort from the offensive line held two-time Defensive Player of the Year and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Aaron Donald to just one assisted tackle.

“I think it says a lot about Pat Mekari and it says a lot about [offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris] and the job he does with those guys,” Harbaugh said. “To step in there and still play at that high level. I mean, Matt Skura was playing at a very high level. It looks like Patrick did the same; there was no drop-off at all. Rookie, it says a lot.”

A strong preseason led to Mekari making the 53-man roster, but he played only guard and tackle at California, making his performance against the Rams even more impressive. How smoothly he now meshes with quarterback Lamar Jackson will be critical with the Ravens working from the shotgun or pistol an NFL-high 95 percent of the time entering Week 12, according to SharpFootballStats.com.

Mekari has been active for all 11 games serving as one of two game-day backups along with veteran swing lineman James Hurst, but the 6-foot-4, 308-pound rookie had appeared in just five contests prior to Monday.

“I was ready. I knew with the interior three, whatever happened, I’m the next guy up,” Mekari said. “The time presented itself, and I just wanted to go in there and make it happen and come out with the win and just help my team.”

Despite detractors clamoring for the Ravens to upgrade at center this past offseason, Skura was in the midst of a strong campaign and had graded 12th among qualified centers by Pro Football Focus this season. The 26-year-old is scheduled to become a restricted free agent this winter after starting 39 games over the last three seasons.

Unlike a defense that’s dealt with numerous injuries since the start of training camp, the explosive Ravens offense hadn’t sustained a significant injury with wide receiver Marquise Brown’s two-game absence due to a high ankle sprain being the only notable ailment.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hugs Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff after an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Rams

Posted on 26 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winning a franchise-record fourth straight road game in a 45-6 rout of the defending NFC champion Los Angeles Rams, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Five games into what was to be a daunting stretch of six of seven contests against teams over .500, Baltimore is 5-0 by a margin of 202-62. The Ravens haven’t trailed in a game in five weeks, a stretch of 18 quarters. It’s really not supposed to be this easy.

2. Much like they couldn’t know Ray Lewis or Ed Reed would be Hall of Famers when they fell to them, the Ravens didn’t foresee Lamar Jackson being the MVP favorite in his second year or they wouldn’t have risked losing him multiple times. But their innovative vision has been brilliant.

3. Despite 22 quarterbacks having more pass attempts, Jackson pulled into a tie with Russell Wilson for the NFL lead with 24 touchdown passes. He’s doubled his season total over the last three weeks and is now nine shy of Vinny Testaverde’s single-season team record. He also runs pretty well.

4. Against a top-tier rush defense, Baltimore ran for a season-high 285 yards, the fifth-highest total in team history. Between that and Jackson’s 76-percent completion percentage since the bye, I’m not sure how much you’d stop them right now even if the NFL allowed opponents to use a 12th defender.

5. Playing with an offense that scores touchdowns on its first six possessions is much different than protecting a late one-score lead, but the intensity maintained by the Ravens defense was impressive. That group has become a very worthy partner that will be needed more at some point — I think.

6. You hope for the best for Matt Skura, who had many doubters this offseason and has played rock-solid football in the middle of the offensive line. However, the Ravens have to be pleased with how undrafted rookie Patrick Mekari filled in at center, a position he never played in college.

7. The group was already improving, but the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the healthy return of Jimmy Smith returned the Ravens defense to a level its more accustomed to being. Both are in contract years and have been dynamic contributors in the secondary, especially Peters.

8. Speaking of dynamic talents, there hasn’t been a better defensive player in football over the last five years than Aaron Donald, a two-time Defensive Player of the Year winner. Making the Rams defensive tackle an utter non-factor is the offensive line’s most impressive feat of the season.

9. Running the ball on third-and-12 from the Los Angeles 34 and then going for a fourth-and-1 shows how John Harbaugh, Greg Roman, and this staff are playing chess while most of the league plays checkers. That’s a compliment typically reserved for Bill Belichick and New England, but it’s fitting.

10. A sideline camera showing Sam Koch and Justin Tucker whenever the Ravens approach — and then forgo — a potential kicking situation would be entertaining. Koch has punted just four times since the bye week. He’s getting plenty of work as the holder, however.

11. My only nitpick from Monday — other than the Rams’ Big Bird uniforms — was Jackson taking a few too many hits, especially when the game was out of hand. I believe in his ability to avoid contact, but there’s no need to test that when up by four or five touchdowns.

12. Hearing Jackson talk Super Bowl, I recall Brian Billick’s words to the 2000 Ravens after clinching a playoff spot in Week 15: “The time is here. It’s time to go to a Super Bowl.” Competitive windows aren’t guaranteed; the moment is now for a team capable of winning it all.

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