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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of 2019 NFL draft

Posted on 23 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens making final preparations for the start of the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We’ll finally have a resolution after months of mock drafts, but this is the first time the Ravens own just one pick in the top 80 since 2004, the year after they traded up to select Kyle Boller. Lamar Jackson should be considered as part of this draft class indirectly.

2. Saturday marked 23 years since Ozzie Newsome made Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis the first picks in franchise history while a 25-year-old Eric DeCosta held an entry-level position filling various roles, including getting the oil changed in Ted Marchibroda’s car. This week represents the true changing of the guard.

3. If the Ravens don’t trade back from No. 22 to accumulate more picks, my prediction — really a guess — is they’ll select Clemson edge rusher Clelin Ferrell, which means he’ll probably be long gone by the time they choose. As others have noted, he feels like a Baltimore kind of pick.

4. Why Ferrell? If you count draft bust Craig Powell — Art Modell’s final first-round pick in Cleveland — the Ravens have always had a first-round edge defender on the roster as they took Peter Boulware in 1997 and Terrell Suggs in 2003. You can’t do much better than those two.

5. Then again, inside linebacker has been manned by a first-round pick — Lewis from 1996-2012 and C.J. Mosley from 2014-18 — for all but one year of their existence when the Ravens still took Arthur Brown in the 2013 second round. Michigan’s Devin Bush figures to be gone, however.

6. I’m a broken record talking about wide receiver, but this is a reminder that the Ravens have drafted only two in the first three rounds in the entire John Harbaugh era. They can’t repeat the mistakes they made with Joe Flacco if they want to maximize Jackson’s development.

7. Cornerback is the roster’s deepest position group, but Brandon Carr will be 33 next month and Jimmy Smith turns 31 in July and is entering the final year of his contract. In other words, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if the Ravens take a corner in the middle rounds.

8. With multiple needs on both sides of the ball, is there a position you’re strongly against the Ravens drafting early? Unless you’re convinced Alabama’s Josh Jacobs is the next Saquon Barkley, a running back is a tough sell. Defensive tackle is another spot where they’ve found good value much later.

9. The Ravens entered Tuesday with $13.649 million in salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility of a weekend trade for a veteran or a notable signing after the draft. It’s unrealistic to expect this draft to address all of their needs.

10. Looking at draft capital in the AFC North, Cleveland has two picks in the top 80 (49th and 80th), Pittsburgh three (20th, 52nd, and 66th), and Cincinnati three (11th, 42nd, 72nd). Of course, the Browns traded their first-round pick for Odell Beckham Jr. last month. This division should be fun.

11. Picking up the fifth-year option on Ronnie Stanley was a no-brainer, but determining his value and working out a long-term extension could be tricky. He’s been solid to good over his first three seasons, but I’d be uneasy resetting the market at left tackle to keep him.

12. I wish the draft didn’t coincide with the “Avengers: Endgame” opening, but it prompts an important question. Who would be your top pick from the Marvel superhero team? I’d consider Thor — he’s a god! — or Black Panther and the resources of Wakanda, but I just can’t pass on Iron Man.

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Ravens to play three prime-time games as part of 2019 schedule

Posted on 17 April 2019 by Luke Jones

Aiming to defend their AFC North championship and make the playoffs in back-to-back years, the Ravens are scheduled to appear in prime time three times during the 2019 season.

Baltimore opens the season at Miami on Sept. 8, but the schedule is headlined by a Sunday night encounter with defending Super Bowl champion New England on Nov. 3. This marks the first time the Ravens will host Sunday Night Football since 2012, which was also against the Patriots. It’s worth noting, however, that three other originally-scheduled Sunday night games — one in 2013 and two in 2015 — were flexed out of the prime-time spot over that time.

The Ravens will also host the New York Jets for a Thursday game in Week 15. They are 6-0 in Thursday home games under 12th-year head coach John Harbaugh.

Making their first trip to the historic Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Ravens will take on the defending NFC champion Rams on Nov. 25 for their lone appearance of the season on Monday Night Football.

Surprisingly, this marks the first time since 2006 that the Ravens and Pittsburgh aren’t scheduled to square off in a prime-time game — if including the 2016 Christmas Day classic that kicked off in the late afternoon — but these AFC North rivals will play in the regular-season finale for the first time since 2007 and the fourth time ever, which could create some captivating drama.

After a few daunting stretches of road games in recent seasons, the Ravens are the only team in the NFL who will alternate home and away games throughout the season, the first time that’s occurred in franchise history. The most challenging stretch of the season appears to be Week 7 through Week 12 when the Ravens play four playoff teams from a year ago, but even that run includes their bye week.

The Ravens will play five games against playoff teams from last season: Houston, Kansas City, the Los Angeles Rams, New England, and Seattle. They have nine games against opponents who finished below .500 in 2018: Arizona, Buffalo, Cincinnati (twice), Cleveland (twice), Miami, the New York Jets, and San Francisco.

For now, 12 of Baltimore’s 16 regular-season games are scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday starts, but most games are subject to flexible scheduling (see below).

2019 SCHEDULE

Sunday, Sept. 8 at Miami Dolphins — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: As road openers go, the Ravens can’t be too unhappy with an opponent considered an early favorite for the first pick in the 2020 draft as these teams meet for the sixth time in the last seven years.

Sunday, Sept. 15 Arizona Cardinals — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: Ed Reed played against the Ravens as a New York Jet in 2013, but Terrell Suggs walking into Baltimore as “the bad guy” after 16 seasons in purple will be surreal.

Sunday, Sept. 22 at Kansas City Chiefs — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny:  A trip to Arrowhead Stadium is always a daunting task, but these teams played one of the best regular-season games of the season there last year.

Sunday, Sept. 29 Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Browns have four all-time wins at M&T Bank Stadium, but last season’s Week 17 meeting between Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson left everyone excited for more.

Sunday, Oct. 6 at Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: For the first time since 2013, the Ravens will not play be playing under the lights at Heinz Field, which will make everyone in Baltimore happy.

Sunday, Oct. 13 Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: You can make reasonable arguments for Baltimore, Cleveland, or Pittsburgh to win the AFC North, but it sure feels like the Bengals are “drawing dead” with Andy Dalton at this point.

Sunday, Oct. 20 at Seattle Seahawks — 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: You know six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas has been thinking about this one since before the ink was dry on his four-year, $55 million contract with his new team.

Sunday, Oct. 27  BYE
Skinny: Baltimore’s break falls no earlier than Week 8 for the eighth consecutive year.

Sunday, Nov. 3 vs. New England Patriots — 8:20 p.m. (NBC)
Skinny: Times have definitely changed as just six players remain who were with the Ravens the last time they beat Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, which was in the 2012 AFC championship game.

Sunday, Nov. 10 at Cincinnati Bengals — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: For the second year in a row, the Ravens will not close the regular season against the Bengals. New Year’s will never be the same.

Sunday, Nov. 17 Houston Texans — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: Deshaun Watson went down with a knee injury weeks before the Texans’ last trip to Baltimore, but seeing him match up with the man who beat him out for the 2016 Heisman Trophy should be a blast.

Monday, Nov. 25 at Los Angeles Rams — 8:15 p.m. (ESPN)
Skinny: After going against the speedy Jackson in practice for a year, former Raven Eric Weddle will certainly share his tendencies with his Rams teammates for this attractive prime-time game.

Sunday, Dec. 1 San Francisco 49ers — 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Skinny: The 49ers finished 4-12 last year, but a healthy Jimmy Garoppolo would make this late-season encounter far from a layup for the Ravens, who will be playing on a short week.

Sunday, Dec. 8 at Buffalo Bills — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The Ravens are 0-2 in their previous trips to western New York with neither of those being played in December when the weather can be major factor.

Thursday, Dec. 12 vs. New York Jets — 8:20 p.m. (FOX/NFL Network)
Skinny: Four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley returns to Baltimore as the Ravens will hope to be jockeying for postseason positioning on a short week, which is always a test.

Sunday, Dec. 22 at Cleveland Browns — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: The upstart Browns have four prime-time games on their schedule, but I’m honestly surprised the Ravens’ trip to Cleveland wasn’t one of them.

Sunday, Dec. 29 Pittsburgh Steelers — 1:00 p.m. (CBS)
Skinny: How exciting would it be for this one to be flexed to Sunday Night Football if the division title happens to be on the line?

Notes: Flexible scheduling can be applied for all Sunday games in Weeks 5 through 17. A flex-scheduling change would be announced at least 12 days before the game except in the final week of the season. For Week 17, the Sunday night game is announced no later than six days prior to Dec. 29.

Another wrinkle implemented in recent years is a select number of games being “cross-flexed,” moving between CBS and FOX to bring certain games to wider audiences.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts approaching start of free agency

Posted on 07 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens preparing and bracing for the start of NFL free agency next week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The re-signing of Nick Boyle even after Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews were selected early in last year’s draft signals how important tight ends will remain despite much chatter about the redesign of the Baltimore offense. Expect an abundance of “12” personnel to continue.

2. The Ravens were able to keep Boyle off the market so close to free agency and reports suggested there being much interest in his services, but I’m still not convinced another team would have made him a top-15 tight end in terms of average annual value. He wasn’t cheap.

3. Boyle deserves credit for bouncing back from two performance-enhancing drug suspensions to establish himself as a legitimate NFL player. He was on shaky footing just a couple years ago before maximizing opportunities that might not have been there without injuries to others.

4. Opinions remain split on the lengths to go to keep C.J. Mosley — I’m torn myself — but saying he shouldn’t make as much as Luke Kuechly’s $12.359 million average annual value ignores his deal being nearly four years old and the salary cap increasing by over 31 percent since 2015.

5. I have little doubt Eric DeCosta will find a replacement for Eric Weddle with superior physical tools and the potential to offer better individual play, but accounting for his football intellect and how it impacted the defense will be difficult, especially if there are other veteran departures.

6. I’ll continue to bang the drum about the wide receiver position — shocking, I know — but it’s hard to be encouraged by the list of projected free agents and the salaries they’ll likely command. Hey, Ryan Grant is available again.

7. Terrell Suggs hitting the market wouldn’t be a bad thing for him or the Ravens. Either he’ll gain peace of mind before re-signing or be able to choose between more money and extending his legacy in Baltimore. My guess is this turns out more like Ray Lewis than Ed Reed.

8. With Weddle’s release to save $7.5 million in salary cap space, the Ravens probably have enough room to not be forced to do anything with Jimmy Smith before the market opens. His $15.85 million cap figure remains problematic, but DeCosta has options that could even stretch into the spring.

9. As DeMarcus Lawrence, Frank Clark, Jadeveon Clowney, and Dee Ford all received the franchise tag, I couldn’t help but think of Za’Darius Smith with dollar signs in his eyes.

10. DeCosta lamenting young players lost in recent years gained attention, but who are all these individuals? Kelechi Osemele comes to mind and maybe Rick Wagner, but who else based on the contracts they received elsewhere? I’d contest the shortage of young players warranting a second deal was the bigger problem.

11. There’s plenty of intrigue with the Ravens’ offseason, but I can’t help but be fascinated by Pittsburgh’s current turmoil and Cleveland coming off a seven-win season and sporting over $80 million in cap space. The AFC North could look very different this coming season.

12. Boyle’s new contract was positive news worthy of recognition, but omitting his name in the release announcing the press conference led to negative reaction when fans later learned it wasn’t a bigger name like Mosley. That wasn’t fair to Boyle and could have been avoided by just being direct.

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Ravens seize first place in AFC North, aiming for first division title since 2012

Posted on 23 December 2018 by Luke Jones

After securing their biggest December victory in a long time on Saturday, the Ravens finally got some help in their quest for the postseason.

With Pittsburgh falling at New Orleans on Sunday, Baltimore took over first place in the AFC North and will secure its first division championship since 2012 with a win over Cleveland next Sunday. The Ravens (9-6) would also clinch a division title if the Steelers (8-6-1) lose to Cincinnati, but John Harbaugh’s team would be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to the Browns and a Pittsburgh victory over the Bengals. In the unlikely event of a Ravens tie and a Steelers win — leaving both teams with the same record — Pittsburgh would win the division because of a better division record.

Baltimore is seeking its first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

The start of next Sunday’s tilt against Baker Mayfield and the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium was moved to 4:25 p.m. as part of the NFL’s Week 17 flexible scheduling to feature the matchups with playoff implications more prominently. The Steelers-Bengals game will also kick off at 4:25 at Heinz Field.

The Ravens currently hold the No. 4 seed in the AFC and would have a home rematch with the Los Angeles Chargers if the playoffs were to begin today, but an unlikely path to a first-round bye — and the No. 2 seed — still exists if New England were to fall at home to the New York Jets and Houston were to lose at home to Jacksonville in Week 17. Baltimore would rise to the No. 3 spot with a win and a single loss by the Patriots or Texans.

According to the New York Times playoff simulator, the Ravens currently hold a 77-percent chance of winning the AFC North and a seven-percent chance of earning a first-round bye.

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Even with win, Ravens see playoff margin for error shrink in Week 15

Posted on 17 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens handled their business with a 20-12 win over Tampa Bay to maintain control of the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race on Sunday.

The problem was no other results falling favorably in their quest to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014, making Saturday’s trip to Los Angeles to take on the red-hot Chargers close to a must-win affair. You can thank losing efforts by New England, Dallas, and the New York Giants for Baltimore’s margin for error all but evaporating in Week 15.

Players in the post-game locker room were split on whether they’d watch Pittsburgh’s late-afternoon clash with the Patriots as a Steelers loss would have given the Ravens the lead in the AFC North. However, Mike Tomlin’s team snapped its three-game losing streak to remain in first place and broke a five-game slide against New England with a 17-10 win. With the Steelers traveling to New Orleans in Week 16 and hosting last-place Cincinnati in the season finale, the Ravens need to win their final two games at the Chargers and at home against Cleveland to have any realistic hope of winning their first division title since 2012.

While many were focused on the happenings at Heinz Field, Indianapolis and Tennessee both registered wins to improve to 8-6, decreasing Baltimore’s chances of securing a wild-card spot with a 9-7 record. With the Colts hosting the 5-9 Giants and the Titans hosting a 7-7 Washington team down to its third-string quarterback next weekend before meeting each other in Week 17, one of those AFC South teams appears likely to finish 10-6.

What does that mean?

The Ravens could desperately use their first victory over a team with a winning record since Week 6 when they take on Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Barring an unlikely sequence of events, there will be no backing into the playoffs for John Harbaugh’s team, which is probably fair since Baltimore currently owns the worst strength of victory (.415) among the remaining AFC playoff contenders. If the Ravens can’t beat a playoff-caliber team in December, do they really deserve to play into January?

The good news is the Ravens are almost guaranteed to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record as either the division winner or the second wild card.

“I think the thing that plays in our favor is all we have to do is win and we should be in,” said cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who shined in Sunday’s win with an interception and four pass breakups. “It definitely feels good, and I feel like the team, we all were on board to get this one. Next, we have the Chargers.”

Below are the Ravens’ playoff scenarios entering Week 16:

* Baltimore is eliminated from the AFC North race with a loss to the Chargers and a Pittsburgh win.

* Baltimore is eliminated from AFC wild-card contention with a loss and wins by Indianapolis and Tennessee.

* Baltimore is eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to the Chargers and wins by Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and Indianapolis.

* Baltimore cannot clinch a playoff berth in Week 16.

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Flacco returns to field for first time since Nov. 4

Posted on 29 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Thursday brought a significant development to the Ravens quarterback situation as veteran Joe Flacco practiced for the first time since injuring his right hip on Nov. 4.

The 33-year-old threw passes and practiced handoffs along with rookie Lamar Jackson and veteran backup Robert Griffin III as Baltimore practiced indoors ahead of Sunday’s game at Atlanta. To little surprise, Flacco was limited as he took part in his first practice in nearly four weeks.

Given the length of his absence and his inability to practice fully this week, Flacco still appears unlikely to play against the Falcons, but head coach John Harbaugh has not yet named a starting quarterback for Week 13. Should he receive the nod, Jackson would be making his first career road start after leading the Ravens to wins over Cincinnati and Oakland the last two weeks.

Reports earlier in the week indicated Baltimore planned to start Jackson in Atlanta since Flacco hadn’t yet been fully cleared by doctors.

“There’s a process involved, and it has to do with the doctors and trainers and his rehab,” Harbaugh said on Wednesday. “He’s progressing very well; I can tell you that. He’s doing well, and there will be another step today and tomorrow and the day after that, and we’ll see where we’re at.”

Flacco wasn’t the only key player to return to practice on Thursday as rookie running back Gus Edwards was participating after sitting out Wednesday with an ankle injury. Since Edwards had spoken to reporters the previous day, there was little legitimate concern regarding his status.

Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith (illness) and Tavon Young (groin), running back Alex Collins (foot), defensive back Anthony Levine (ankle), and outside linebacker Tim Williams were all present after sitting out Wednesday’s practice.

Safety Tony Jefferson remained sidelined with a left ankle injury sustained in last Sunday’s win over the Raiders. Second-year safety Chuck Clark would start in his place if Jefferson is forced to miss his first game of the season.

Wide receiver John Brown also sat out Thursday’s practice and has received occasional veteran days off over the course of the season.

Veteran offensive lineman James Hurst (back) practiced on a limited basis for a second straight day as he tries to return to the lineup after a five-game absence.

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones (foot) practiced on a limited basis once again as optimism remains that he will return to action for the first time since Week 1. Atlanta kicker Matt Bryant missed his second straight day of practice with a back issue.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), S Tony Jefferson (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Alex Collins (foot), RB Gus Edwards (ankle), QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (illness), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (illness), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

ATLANTA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: K Matt Bryant (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LS Josh Harris (hip), S Kemal Ishmael (knee), LB Deion Jones (foot), WR Calvin Ridley (anke/elbow)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Brian Poole (finger)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 06 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their third straight loss and fourth in their last five games in a 23-16 final against Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore will never take the next step by settling for 23-yard field goals against a high-scoring offense. The analytics did support those decisions to kick, but I would have considered going for the fourth-and-3 from the 5 in the second quarter. “Take the points” isn’t always the best strategy.

2. As I’ve written other times, Joe Flacco is far from the only reason for the recent offensive struggles, but he hasn’t been a big enough part of the solution either. He was under duress quite a bit Sunday, but he easily missed a half-dozen throws working from a satisfactory pocket.

3. Insinuating Flacco didn’t throw to Lamar Jackson out of spite is taking quite a leap to trash the character of someone who’s never done anything to warrant such treatment. It’s not like his ability to see the field or go through progressions has never been criticized, so why get personal?

4. How the middle of the field continues to be such a problematic area for the pass defense when C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Tony Jefferson account for $22.625 million on the 2018 salary cap is a tough pill to swallow.

5. Orlando Brown Jr. continues to be a bright spot. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t allow a pressure against Pittsburgh and has yet to allow a sack or quarterback hit this season. The right tackle spot should be his with James Hurst potentially moving to left guard when healthy.

6. Matthew Judon hasn’t taken the leap many predicted this season, but he registered Baltimore’s lone sack as well as two hits and two hurries against the Steelers, according to PFF. The Ravens need to see more of that with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to hit free agency.

7. Like Drew Brees’ third-down completion while in the grasp of Jefferson in Week 7, I thought the defense forcing a three-and-out right after Alex Collins’ touchdown might be the turning point. Instead, a holding penalty, a sack, two passes short of the chains, and a punt quickly dashed that thought.

8. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that Jimmy Smith played better with Marlon Humphrey back in action and Wink Martindale once again rotating those two and Brandon Carr on the outside. The defense has certainly had its recent issues, but that luxury should still pay off down the stretch.

9. Those saying Jackson’s use is disrupting offensive rhythm received ammunition when he entered for a run of no gain immediately following Flacco strikes to Michael Crabtree and Chris Moore. If you want to run there, why not hand to Collins on an uptempo play instead of broadcasting what you’re doing?

10. Brandon Williams noted after the game that teams are approaching the Ravens defense differently and aren’t playing “actual football” by running so many sweeps and screens to take interior players like him out of the equation. There’s that whole “needing to adapt” theme popping up again.

11. Don’t look now, but the Ravens are on track to lead the NFL in passing attempts for the third time in the last four years. They also rank in the bottom five in yards per passing attempt for the fourth straight season. Jamal Lewis weeps.

12. Regardless of what happens over these next two months, I’ll maintain that John Harbaugh is a good football coach. However, he doesn’t do himself any favors with a rookie mistake like not using his timeouts ahead of the two-minute warning to conserve more clock.

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Struggling Ravens staring at present and future entering their bye week

Posted on 05 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti wasn’t going to fire John Harbaugh on Monday.

That was the emotional reaction for which some were clamoring, but what purpose would it have served right now? The Ravens are surely reeling after losing their third straight game and fourth of their last five, but this isn’t a 1-8 team with a fractured locker room that’s quit on its head coach either. Say what you want about how mediocre they’ve been since winning Super Bowl XLVII six years ago, but Harbaugh’s teams have continued to play hard — even in 2015 when a lousy start and an unthinkable run of injuries left them with a 5-11 record. And it’s not as though there’s a Sean McVay or Kyle Shanahan on the coaching staff waiting to take over.

The only team to fire its Super Bowl-winning coach in the middle of a season was the Baltimore Colts in 1972 when Don McCafferty was let go after refusing to bench Johnny Unitas. Do you really think Bisciotti wants to join a club frequented only by the late Robert Irsay? It’s just not a move a good owner makes with an individual who’s meant so much to the organization over the last decade.

But changes are likely coming at the end of the season without a dramatic turnaround — a kind of run not seen in these parts since 2012. The Ravens remain in the AFC wild-card race among a group of underwhelming teams, but aspiring to sneak in as the No. 6 seed with a 9-7 record — essentially the Buffalo Bills last season — shouldn’t alter anyone’s thoughts about the future short of a deep run in January.

The clock is ticking loudly on Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, and other veterans with high salary cap numbers, which is what makes these final seven weeks of the season so awkward. Is there a way for the Ravens to find an identity and right the ship while also hedging their bets for the future?

Truthfully, there isn’t much to say about a defense that still ranks very favorably statistically despite allowing 76 points over its last nine quarters of play against high-octane offenses. Forcing a few more turnovers would certainly help the cause, but the last three weeks are proof that good defense just doesn’t mean what it used to against top competition. None of the consensus top four teams in the NFL this year — the Los Angeles Rams, Kansas City, New Orleans, and New England — rank in the top 12 in total defense or the top nine in scoring defense. Minnesota’s top-ranked defense a year ago gave up 62 points in two playoff contests, including 38 to backup quarterback Nick Foles and Philadelphia in the NFC championship game.

Today’s game played at the highest level is more about scoring points than trying to prevent them. The best offenses are innovative and explosive with the rules only augmenting those qualities. Defense may win championships again one day, but not in the present.

That brings us to a Ravens offense that’s averaged 17.8 points per game since the Week 4 win over Pittsburgh. After an impressive September, Joe Flacco is averaging 5.8 yards per attempt and has a 73.7 passer rating over the last five games. The running game continues to rank 31st of 32 teams in yards per carry (3.6). Wide receivers have struggled to beat man coverage and consistently catch the football. And an offensive line that was already having its problems has been hampered by injuries over the last few weeks.

It’s enough to question whether an immediate change is in order at offensive coordinator, but Harbaugh has pretty clearly tied himself to Marty Mornhinweg — for better or worse. If he didn’t replace him at the end of the 2016 season or midway through last year, you probably shouldn’t expect it now. Running game guru Greg Roman or even quarterbacks coach James Urban could be argued as a potential replacement, but it’s not as though the Ravens have thrived so much in their respective areas either.

Improvement should come with the healthy returns of left tackle Ronnie Stanley and the versatile James Hurst, who could shift inside with rookie Orlando Brown Jr. holding up at the right tackle spot. The bye week should allow Ty Montgomery to further acclimate himself to the playbook and potentially bring more versatility to the running back position down the stretch.

The most interesting dynamic, however, will involve Flacco and Lamar Jackson as Harbaugh reiterated his desire Monday to see even more of the rookie quarterback after the bye week. The Ravens have run the ball more effectively with Jackson in the game than they have with their “traditional” offense this season, but his usage has also been criticized for occasionally upsetting the overall rhythm of the offense and making it too predictable. In Sunday’s loss to the Steelers, nine of Baltimore’s 16 total rushes came on Jackson’s 13 snaps, which reflects how little the Ravens ran on their other 48 offensive snaps.

The Ravens need to be able to run the ball more effectively when Flacco is the only quarterback on the field, and the coaching staff must be willing to let Jackson throw the ball more frequently if he’s going to be out there. Otherwise, it all becomes too predictable and makes life difficult for both quarterbacks.

It’s a delicate balance trying to get the most out of Flacco — who’s always been a rhythm quarterback at his best — while keeping Jackson involved. The Ravens want to use Jackson’s skills to try to win in the present, but his long-term development becomes more relevant each week. Perhaps that’s why Harbaugh didn’t shoot down the possibility of Jackson playing entire series — even more — down the stretch.

A few more losses will make that choice elementary as evaluating Jackson for the future will become paramount if the playoffs are out of reach. Until then, the Ravens won’t give up on their diminishing postseason chances, hoping a week off to recuperate and regroup will put them in position to make a final run with this coaching staff and this group of veteran players.

It’s likely Harbaugh’s last stand, but it’s one he deserves to have.

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A few words regarding rumors of Steve Bisciotti firing John Harbaugh during Ravens bye week

Posted on 05 November 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

I’ve covered Ravens since Day One in 1996 and Sunday was the first time I’ve been in a post-game locker room where questions were rapid fire in every direction regarding the job security of the head coach. Clearly, John Harbaugh is on the hot seat.

With all of the disappointment of the 4-5 start – I actually saw an angry douchebag cowardly fan berating poor Jermaine Eluemenor as I exited the stadium after the 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers – it’s expected that the fan base would be spurred on by a media that smelled blood in the water for John Harbaugh as well as Joe Flacco in the aftermath of what has been a lackluster month of football after a promising start in all three phases of the game.

I think there are several reasons that Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti will not be firing John Harbaugh this week.

First, Bisciotti and Harbaugh are extremely close and their relationship and mutual respect run deep. Pulling the plug would reflect poorly on both of them.

Also, the Ravens locker room also hasn’t “quit” on Harbaugh. And there’s no one in any corner of the locker room that has shifted blame onto anyone other than themselves – as it should be when both sides of the ball as well as the special teams have all played a role in this spate of losses.

I have spent this century studying the management style of Bisciotti and I believe there’s no way he’d fire Harbaugh in midseason because it’s simply not how he manages. He’s far from impulsive. Plus, firing the coach makes the owner the biggest story during bye week and that’s not how Bisciotti rolls.

And finally – and most significantly – I believe that Bisciotti wouldn’t fire a Super Bowl-winning head coach in Harbaugh during a 4-5 bye week because it would devalue his brand and taint his ownership philosophy. In his eyes, that’s the kind of garbage the Browns and Raiders do.

It would be very un-Ravens like…

I’ve been wrong before but firing Harbaugh right now would admit a massive midseason panic for Bisciotti that I think is far too sloppy, too wasteful and simply not the way he operates.

But, it surely feels inevitable in some ways that a massive change will be coming for the Ravens this offseason barring a dramatic turnaround during this bye week of rest before the Cinncinati Bengals come to Baltimore in 13 days.

And while we’re at it on ownership and leadership – it’s important to note that the baseball team across the parking lot still doesn’t have a general manager or a manager or anyone to answer questions about their offseason after 115 losses. And they also ban the media members they don’t like from asking questions.

It’s tough times for leaders and sports fans in the Charm City. I will be opining at WNST.net and AM 1570 all week…

Appreciate your support in these troubles times for our sports franchises…

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 04 November 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With pressure mounting on 11th-year head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens will try to right their season against Pittsburgh.

An NFL Network report confirmed what many were already thinking with Baltimore dropping three of the last four games in its quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. A win gives the Ravens a 5-4 record entering the bye week and stabilizes their footing in the AFC North race, but a loss would drop them below .500 and require a major second-half run to even qualify for a wild-card spot.

In other words, Sunday could mark the beginning of the final stand for the Super Bowl-winning coach and others in the organization.

After missing practice time this week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh), and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) are all active, an encouraging development as the Ravens try to slow the NFL’s fifth-ranked scoring offense. Humphrey had missed the last two weeks since sustaining a thigh injury in practice ahead of the New Orleans game while Mosley and Jefferson suffered their injuries during last Sunday’s loss at Carolina.

Baltimore will be without both starting offensive tackles as Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and James Hurst (back) were officially ruled out on Friday, but left guard Alex Lewis (neck) will make his return after a two-game absence. Rookie Bradley Bozeman (calf) is also active after not playing against the Panthers.

During pre-game warmups, second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor — promoted from the practice squad less than two weeks ago — lined up as the left tackle as he did last week when Stanley exited in the second half. As expected, Orlando Brown Jr. will make his third straight start at right tackle in place of the injured Hurst.

With the Ravens likely to use plenty of max protect in the absence of Stanley and Hurst, tight end Maxx Williams being a healthy scratch for a second straight week was a mild surprise. Rookie defensive end Zach Sieler is active for just the second time this season as Baltimore tries to slow Steelers running back James Conner, who has rushed for 367 yards in the last three games.

As expected, Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) is inactive after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Sunday’s referee is Craig Wrolstad.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

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

Including the postseason, Sunday marks the 50th all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Steelers enjoying a 27-22 advantage. However, the Ravens are aiming to complete their fourth season sweep of the Steelers after their 26-14 win at Heinz Field in Week 4.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
LB Tim Williams
OT Ronnie Stanley
OT James Hurst
TE Maxx Williams
RB Ty Montgomery

PITTSBURGH
OT Marcus Gilbert
QB Mason Rudolph
WR Justin Hunter
S Marcus Allen
CB Brian Allen
OT Zach Banner
DE L.T. Walton

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