Tag Archive | "Ravens"

cyrusjones

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 10 November 2019 by Luke Jones

A little sickness wasn’t about to keep Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson from making his 16th career regular-season start.

The second-year starter and NFL MVP candidate is active and will play despite being officially listed as questionable on the final injury report for the Week 10 tilt against winless Cincinnati. Jackson was a full participant in Friday’s practice and declared himself “good” after that workout, removing any doubt about his status. Jackson rushed for more than 100 yards in each of his first two games against the Bengals, who haven’t come close to finding an answer for the talented 22-year-old to this point.

The Ravens have made a change at punt returner with wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas replacing cornerback Cyrus Jones, who was a healthy scratch Sunday after losing a fumble in the second quarter of last week’s 37-20 win over New England. The speedy Thomas has extensive experience as a return man dating back to 2014, but his two fumbles earlier this season contributed to his release from Kansas City last month.

Wide receiver and special-teams standout Chris Moore is also inactive after a left thumb injury severely limited him in practices this week. That means Thomas is likely to also be a kick returner with rookie running back Justice Hill against the Bengals. Moore also serves as a gunner on the punt team, which means special teams coach Chris Horton will be replacing both gunners from last month’s meeting with Cincinnati when special-teams ace Justin Bethel was still on the roster.

As expected, wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle/thigh) and safety Earl Thomas (knee) are active and will play after being listed as questionable on the final injury report.

Rookie quarterback Ryan Finley will be making his NFL debut for the Bengals, but the fourth-round pick won’t have the services of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle), who was officially ruled out Friday after initially hoping to make his season debut this week. Cincinnati also deactivated left tackle Cordy Glenn despite him practicing fully all week, continuing an uncomfortable saga in which the veteran was suspended one game for conduct detrimental to the team last month and hasn’t played since sustaining a concussion in the preseason.

Sunday’s referee is Scott Novak.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cincinnati calls for sunny skies and temperatures reaching the high 50s with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with white pants while Cincinnati dons black tops with black pants for Week 10.

Sunday marks the 48th all-time meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 24-23 edge after last month’s 23-17 victory at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore is aiming for its first season sweep of of the Bengals since 2011, but John Harbaugh’s team is just 1-6 in its last seven trips to Paul Brown Stadium.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Chris Moore
CB Cyrus Jones
QB Trace McSorley
WR Jaleel Scott
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack
DE Ufomba Kamalu

CINCINNATI
CB Dre Kirkpatrick
CB Torry McTyer
G Alex Redmond
G/T Fred Johnson
LT Cordy Glenn
WR A.J. Green
QB Jake Dolegala

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lamarmain

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 09 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens going from an electric prime-time home win over New England to a half-empty Paul Brown Stadium on a sleepy Sunday in November is the proverbial setup for a letdown.

John Harbaugh’s team has emerged as a legitimate Super Bowl contender over the course of its four-game winning streak, but the NFL has a way of humbling you when you get too high, making it critical for the Ravens to be focused and energized against winless Cincinnati coming off its bye.

It’s time to go on the record as these division foes face off for the 48th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Ravens owning a slight 24-23 advantage. However, Baltimore is just 1-6 in its last seven trips to Cincinnati and is seeking a season sweep for the first time since 2011.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Lamar Jackson will rush for 100 yards against the Bengals — again. I’ve often compared Jackson’s speed to that unique pitcher with a 100-mph fastball and a slider with impossible bite. You have no idea what you’re dealing with until you step in the box, and your chances are unlikely to improve until you see that pitcher a few times. The Bengals are familiar with Jackson’s speed by now, had an extra week to prepare, and won’t let him set a career high like he did with 152 rushing yards last month, but Carlos Dunlap being on the field this time around only goes so far for the NFL’s worst run defense.

2. A long punt return will set up a score for Cincinnati. Much attention this week was on Cyrus Jones and his fumble that gave new life to the Patriots, but it was a kick return for a touchdown last month that kept the Bengals competitive in a game the Ravens totally dominated statistically. With Justin Bethel gone and Chris Moore dealing with a substantial thumb injury, the Ravens could be using two different gunners on the punt team than they used in that first meeting with the Bengals. That’s notable against a special-teams group rated first in the NFL in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders.

3. The Ravens defense will register a season-high four sacks and an interception. The combined three sacks collected over the last two games don’t tell the story of a pass rush showing recent improvement as Baltimore hit Russell Wilson eight times in Week 7 and Tom Brady 10 times last Sunday night. That pressure has been dependent on blitzing, something you’d expect Wink Martindale to use even more against a rookie quarterback. Unlike Wilson and Brady, however, Ryan Finley will hold the ball longer against tight coverage, allowing the Ravens to take him down in the pocket.

4. An up-tempo drive will lead to Finley’s first NFL touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd. The Patriots totaled 302 yards in the second and third quarters using a no-huddle attack that neutralized blitzes and prevented the Ravens from using their various sub packages, an approach likely to be copied in the coming weeks. Trusting Finley to operate without a huddle for the entire game would be too much to ask, but that strategy will help create some open throws. After being held to three catches for 10 yards in the first meeting, Boyd will have some modest success against Marlon Humphrey with a score.

5. Baltimore will again play “keep away” in the fourth quarter to prevail 24-16. The Ravens haven’t won three straight games by multiple scores since 2011 and are playing on the road against a team with nothing to lose coming off its bye, factors that should make one pause — at least a second — before simply expecting an easy win against a poor opponent. That said, the Ravens will have the chance to put together a nine-minute drive in the fourth quarter for the fourth straight game, a remarkable feat that drains any semblance of life from an opponent. This one won’t be the prettiest, but part of being a great team is handling inferior teams even when you’re not at your best, especially on the road. This is the kind of game that’s given the Ravens problems in recent years, but there will be no letdown as they extend their winning streak to five in a row, their longest within a single season since 2006.

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lamarjackson3

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Jackson practices fully as Ravens list seven questionable for Cincinnati

Posted on 08 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A day after missing practice with an illness, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson was back on the field for final preparations ahead of the Week 10 trip to Cincinnati.

The reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week was a full participant Friday and will play against the Bengals despite being officially listed as questionable on the final injury report. Asked if he was feeling better as he exited the locker room after practice, Jackson smiled and said, “Yes, sir, I’m good.”

Jackson will be making his 16th career regular-season start on Sunday as the Ravens seek their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2011.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed safety Earl Thomas (right knee) would play despite missing Friday’s practice, his second absence in three days. Listed as questionable for Sunday, Thomas has been limited with a knee issue since returning from the bye week, but he arguably played his best game of the season against New England last Sunday night.

In addition to Jackson and Thomas, the Ravens listed right guard Marshal Yanda (illnesss), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (left knee), and wide receivers Marquise Brown (ankle/thigh) and Chris Moore (thumb) as questionable. Yanda and Stanley were full participants on Friday and are good to go while Brown was limited, continuing the pattern of the Ravens managing the rookie wideout’s practice reps at the end of the week.

The biggest question among the official questionable designations appears to be Moore, whose left thumb was heavily wrapped in practices throughout the week. The reserve wide receiver and special-teams standout barely took part in any special-teams work throughout the week and only caught passes with his right hand, putting his status in real question.

(3:05 p.m. update — Rookie defensive tackle Daylon Mack (knee/hip) was added to the injury report as questionable after being a limited participant on Friday.)

Meanwhile, the Bengals ruled out wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) after the seven-time Pro Bowl selection failed to practice all week. Cincinnati began the week expecting Green to make his season debut, but the 31-year-old experienced swelling in the left ankle he originally injured on the first day of training camp in late July.

Bengals left tackle Cordy Glenn (concussion) was listed as questionable after practicing fully all week, making it possible the veteran lineman makes his season debut.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday in Cincinnati calls for partly cloudy skies and a high temperature of 57 degrees with winds five to 10 miles per hour and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: WR Marquise Brown (ankle/thigh), QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DT Daylon Mack (knee/hip), WR Chris Moore (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), S Earl Thomas (knee), G Marshal Yanda (illness)

CINCINNATI
OUT: WR A.J. Green (ankle), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), G Alex Redmond (knee/ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: OT Cordy Glenn (concussion)

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passrush

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Ravens sign veteran linebacker L.J. Fort to two-year extension

Posted on 08 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Five weeks ago, journeyman linebacker L.J. Fort was just learning the defensive playbook after being signed by the Ravens.

He’ll now have a chance to settle in with Baltimore after agreeing to a two-year contract extension worth $5.5 million and $3.25 million fully guaranteed at signing, according to NFL Network. Having just been released by Philadelphia, Fort signed with the Ravens on Sept. 30 and — along with fellow veteran newcomer Josh Bynes — helped stabilized an inside linebacker group that had struggled mightily in the first month of the season.

“He’s played well in everything we’ve asked him to do,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He’s been out there a lot on defense [in] different packages and special teams as well. He has just proven to be a good player, a good fit for us, and we’re excited to have him going forward.”

In four games (three starts) with the Ravens, the 29-year-old Fort has collected 14 tackles, one sack, and a pass breakup, making an impression that prompted general manager Eric DeCosta to retain him beyond the 2019 season. Bynes and weak-side inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor are also scheduled to become free agents next March, which could have impacted the timing of Fort’s extension.

An undrafted free agent from Northern Iowa in 2012, Fort has spent time with Cleveland, Denver, Seattle, Cincinnati, New England, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia in his career. In 69 career games, the 6-foot, 232-pound linebacker has collected 99 tackles, four sacks, an interception, and eight pass breakups while mostly serving in a special-teams capacity.

Fort is the fifth pending 2020 free agent to be extended in DeCosta’s first calendar year as general manager, joining guard Marshal Yanda, cornerback Tavon Young, kicker Justin Tucker, and wide receiver Willie Snead.

“It’s a big plus. You think [about] the short term, obviously, and we’ve made some really strong moves. He (Fort) was part of the short-term moves as well,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, we do a great job thinking about the long term as well. Those are definitely two things that are parallel tracks that you have to be thinking about all the time.”

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finley

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Ravens preparing for unknown with Cincinnati rookie quarterback

Posted on 08 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith looked up Ryan Finley on YouTube “just to see what he’s like, see how he throws.”

Coaches and players have watched video of the Cincinnati rookie’s preseason performance as well as his time as a three-year starter for an ACC program that’s produced three other current NFL starting quarterbacks. The Ravens have faced plenty of first-year quarterbacks over the years with much success, but preparing for a fourth-round pick who’s yet to take a regular-season snap can be unsettling, at least from a preparation standpoint.

“One of the coaches in the defensive meeting said, ‘What’s next? Are we going to watch the rival high school tapes before he went to N.C. State?'” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale as he smiled. “I’d like to say we’re prepared for him, but we’ll see on Sunday.”

The circumstances were different a year ago, but it was the Ravens making the switch from a longtime veteran starting quarterback to a rookie after their bye week. The transition from Andy Dalton to Finley won’t be nearly as dramatic as Baltimore going from pocket passer Joe Flacco to the unparalleled athleticism of Lamar Jackson, of course, but the winless Bengals should have the Ravens’ attention with the change at quarterback.

That’s probably not a bad thing for head coach John Harbaugh as he tries to keep his first-place team focused and motivated against an 0-8 outfit after the emotion that accompanied the 37-20 win over previously unbeaten New England last Sunday night.

“Seeing a quarterback for the first time is tough because you haven’t seen him,” Harbaugh said. “You don’t know what you’re going to get. They had to deal with that last year with Lamar when they came in here. The tables are turned a little bit on us that way, and we’re going to have to be very cognizant of that.”

Ironically, the 24-year-old Finley now becomes the oldest starting quarterback in the AFC North — Jackson is the youngest — as the Bengals want to evaluate the second player selected on Day 3 of this year’s draft. The popular opinion from pre-draft profiles was that the 6-foot-4, 207-pound does everything pretty well while lacking any standout traits. His accuracy, decision-making, and pocket mobility were frequently noted as strengths, but his arm strength and performance against the best competition in college left something to be desired.

After completing 64.5 percent of his passes and throwing 60 touchdowns over three seasons for the Wolfpack, Finley garnered positive reviews this preseason by completing 73.4 percent of his passes, throwing three touchdowns to just one interception, and posting a 99.3 passer rating in three games. It was enough for the 0-8 Bengals to want to sit Dalton, who sported a career-worst 79.2 passer rating this season, in favor of Finley.

“He’s kind of an older rookie in a sense with a lot of experience and all the traits that you look for in a quarterback,” Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said. “He throws with great anticipation and accuracy, good leadership skills. The coaches there at N.C. State spoke very highly of him, a kid that transferred in and was able to become a leader on the team following a really good quarterback in Jacoby Brissett.”

Finley won’t have the services of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, who had initially been expected to make his season debut this week. The receiver trio of Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate, and Alex Erickson is capable of making plays, but the rookie is playing behind an offensive line regarded as one of the NFL’s worst, which is bad news against a Ravens defense that likes to blitz more than anyone.

Baltimore should anticipate plenty of quick passing to try to offset those realities, but Martindale is embracing the unknown of a rookie quarterback and an opponent coming off a bye week with extra time to prepare.

“That excites us because of the flexibility of our defense [and] how you can play different players in different spots,” Martindale said. “We’ll see. Just like New England went up-tempo the entire game and the adjustments that we made there, I thought obviously we came out on the right end.”

Coming out on the right end is all that matters for the Ravens at a venue where they’ve won only once in the last seven trips. Much has changed over the last 12 months, but you’d like to think the memory of so many struggles against the Bengals is too fresh to take this team too lightly.

It was less than a month ago when the Ravens nearly doubled the Bengals in total yards, but a Cincinnati kick return for a touchdown and a Mark Andrews fumble transformed what could have been a blowout into a 23-17 home win for Baltimore. That should be enough to take at least a few extra moments to try to get ready for an unknown quarterback.

“What would last week’s win mean if we go out there and just lay an egg?” Smith said. “Nobody wants to do that. It doesn’t take any extra motivation to want to go out and win a game. We know what we’re here for. It’s only better if we win. We don’t want to lose. That sucks.”

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lamarjackson

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Lamar Jackson misses Thursday’s Ravens practice due to illness

Posted on 07 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson missed Thursday’s practice with an illness that isn’t expected to jeopardize his availability for Sunday’s game at Cincinnati.

Jackson was the second Baltimore player to miss practice due to being under the weather this week after seven-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda didn’t participate in Wednesday’s workout. It’s never ideal for your starting quarterback to miss practice time three days before a game, but the Ravens are preparing to face a winless Bengals team ranking last in the NFL in total defense and rush defense, which should ease concerns. Baltimore is aiming for its first season sweep of Cincinnati since 2011 after winning 23-17 at M&T Bank Stadium in Week 6.

Third-string quarterback Trace McSorley did his usual work on the scout-team special-teams units as No. 2 quarterback Robert Griffin III threw passes to tight ends Mark Andrews and Nick Boyle during the media viewing portion of practice, another indication that the Ravens expect Jackson to be OK to play on Sunday.

Coincidentally, the only other time Jackson has missed a regular-season practice in his brief NFL career was the Thursday prior to his first start against the Bengals last November, which was also because of illness. Two of Jackson’s four career 100-yard rushing performances have come against Cincinnati, including his career-high 152-yard outburst on Oct. 13.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday wearing a brace on his left knee after tweaking it in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win over New England.

After receiving a veteran day off on Wednesday, safety Earl Thomas was listed as limited as he continues to nurse a minor knee issue. Wide receiver Chris Moore was limited with a left thumb injury for the second straight day and didn’t attempt to catch any passes with that hand during the portion of practice open to the media.

A day after suffering a setback with the ankle injury that’s sidelined him since the start of training camp, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has all but ruled himself out for Week 10. Cincinnati head coach Zac Taylor indicated Green was ready to make his season debut prior to Wednesday’s practice, but the seven-time Pro Bowl selection is experiencing swelling in his ankle that’s prevented him from practicing this week. It’s another tough blow for a struggling team whose chances for Sunday’s game already weren’t great with rookie fourth-round quarterback Ryan Finley making his first NFL start.

Green, a 2011 first-round pick who’s given the Ravens defense significant problems over the years, is in the final year of his contract.

“I’m a competitor. I want to play, but sometimes you go through these bumps in the road that you’ve got to stay focused,” Green told reporters in Cincinnati on Thursday. “You’ve got to look at the long-term picture. I’ve got to make sure I can play for another five years without having to worry about this thing, not just thinking of the now.”

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: QB Lamar Jackson (illness), DT Brandon Williams (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Chris Moore (thumb), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), S Earl Thomas (knee), G Marshal Yanda (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Mark Ingram (non-injury)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR A.J. Green (ankle), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), G Alex Redmond (knee/ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Darqueze Denard (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (non-injury), OT Cordy Glenn (concussion), DE Carl Lawson (hamstring), G John Miller (groin)

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marquisebrown

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Marquise Brown making plays, pushing way through trying rookie season

Posted on 06 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If anyone understands the challenges faced by Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown during his rookie season, it’s teammate Jimmy Smith.

In 2014, the veteran cornerback sustained a Lisfranc injury from which he’s felt effects for years. That Brown has been productive at all after missing the entire spring and part of training camp recovering from the left foot injury that required surgery in January is impressive.

“It’s a tough injury, extremely tough,” Smith said. “I know what he’s going through as far as every time he gets up and wakes up and it’s cold outside, that thing hurts. I understand it. And having a high-ankle [sprain] — which I also had — back to back, he’s fighting his way. He’s coming up making plays. He’s keeping his head up.

“All the guys talk to him. I’ve been in his ear letting him know, ‘You’re going to get over it eventually.’ But I’m proud of the way he’s bounced back and performed.”

That high-ankle sprain Brown sustained to his right leg in the Oct. 6 win at Pittsburgh sidelined him for the final two games before the bye week. After returning to play 40 snaps in Sunday’s 37-20 win over New England, Brown wasn’t on the Wednesday injury report for the first time since Week 5, but that doesn’t mean he’s fully recovered as he still walked with a slight limp during the portion of practice open to media.

Head coach John Harbaugh has said Brown is “nowhere near where he’s going to be” as a player, an impressive assessment considering he remains Baltimore’s leading wide receiver with 24 catches for 374 yards — numbers second to only tight end Mark Andrews — and three touchdowns in not even six full games of action. His diving third-down reception to move the chains and 26-yard gain on a jet sweep pass on the opening drive against the Patriots were an early boost to both the Ravens and Brown’s confidence as the first-round pick returns from his latest ailment. He’ll hope to build on that three-catch, 48-yard performance in Sunday’s trip to Cincinnati after missing the Week 6 game against the Bengals last month.

“It’s just more like with the team being out there with the guys, not wanting to let them down,” Brown said. “But they all encourage me. They know I’m not 100 [percent], but they’re like, ‘When you’re out there, you’re going to make plays.’ I just keep that in my head.”

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley was absent from Wednesday’s practice after tweaking his left knee on backup running back Justice Hill’s run 2-yard run with 6:22 to play in Sunday’s 37-20 win over New England. Despite being in obvious discomfort for the remainder of that final touchdown drive, the fourth-year offensive lineman played every remaining offensive snap and was deemed OK by head coach John Harbaugh when asked about Stanley’s status on Monday.

Right guard Marshal Yanda also missed Wednesday’s practice with an illness he caught from his children, according to Harbaugh.

Return specialist and wide receiver De’Anthony Thomas made his practice debut and appears to be a good bet to at least see action as a kick returner against the Bengals. Harbaugh said the Ravens will “see how it shakes out” in regards to Thomas’ game-day role after punt returner Cyrus Jones lost a fumble in the second quarter against the Patriots.

“Just catch the ball. That’s it. That’s all I’ve got to do,” said Jones, who hadn’t fumbled since Week 14 of last season after a history of ball-security problems with New England. “I’ve got one job: catch the ball. Catch the ball.”

In other roster-related news, cornerback Maurice Canady was claimed by the New York Jets after being waived to make room for Thomas on Tuesday.

Baltimore signed running back Byron Marshall to its practice squad Wednesday.

Bengals head coach Zac Taylor initially expressed his expectation that seven-time wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) would make his season debut against the Ravens, but Green didn’t practice Wednesday after experiencing discomfort during a walk-through and is now considered day-to-day, a concerning development for an 0-8 team starting rookie quarterback Ryan Finley for the first time on Sunday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: RB Mark Ingram (non-injury), OT Ronnie Stanley (knee), G Marshal Yanda (illness), S Earl Thomas (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Chris Moore (thumb)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Tyler Eifert (non-injury), WR A.J. Green (ankle), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), G Alex Redmond (knee/ankle)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Darqueze Denard (hamstring), OT Cordy Glenn (concussion), DE Carl Lawson (hamstring), G John Miller (groin)

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deanthonythomas

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Ravens sign returner De’Anthony Thomas, waive cornerback Maurice Canady

Posted on 05 November 2019 by Luke Jones

A day after head coach John Harbaugh expressed disappointment in the recent performance of his special teams, the Ravens have signed former Kansas City return specialist De’Anthony Thomas.

To make room for Thomas on the 53-man roster, the Ravens waived cornerback Maurice Canady, who had recently been dealing with a hamstring injury and no longer had a role on defense after the acquisition of Marcus Peters and the return of Jimmy Smith. Canady played well against Cleveland and Pittsburgh, but he struggled in the Week 6 win over Cincinnati, the last game in which he played.

Thomas worked out with Baltimore last week, a development that became more interesting when punt returner Cyrus Jones muffed a punt in the second quarter of Sunday’s 37-20 win over New England. Jones ranks seventh in the NFL in punt return average this season, and the Ravens are tied for 11th in the league in estimated points from punt returns compared to league average, according to Football Outsiders.

“We’re confident in Cyrus, and we’re always looking for players,” Harbaugh said. “To me, that’s kind of how it always works.”

The 5-foot-8, 176-pound Thomas was released after five seasons with the Chiefs last month and has returned 58 kickoffs and 85 punts in his NFL career. A 2014 fourth-round pick out of Oregon, Thomas has four receiving touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, and one punt return touchdown in his career. He had fumbled twice with Kansas City this season.

With neither Chris Moore nor Justice Hill providing much as kick returners, Thomas could serve as a more immediate option in that role. Football Outsiders rank the Ravens just 25th in estimated points from kick returns compared to league average this season.

“Special teams, generally, is inconsistent right now. We’ve had some [roster] turnover,” Harbaugh said. “We were really, really doing a good job early in the year, and it’s not as good right now. We’re going to play, if not the best special teams, one of the top two or three special teams in the league next week in Cincinnati. We better go. We have to crank it up.”

The recent release of three-time Pro Bowl selection Justin Bethel to protect a 2020 compensatory pick was a tough blow to Baltimore’s special teams that still rank third in the NFL in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric through Week 9.

The Ravens also signed defensive end Michael Onuoha to their practice squad, but Miami signed running back De’Lance Turner off Baltimore’s practice squad on Tuesday afternoon. Turner appeared in four games for the Ravens last year and was a solid insurance policy behind starter Mark Ingram, top backup Gus Edwards, and Hill.

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earlthomas

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over New England

Posted on 05 November 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving to 6-2 for the first time since 2012 after a 37-20 win over New England, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore couldn’t have asked for a better start with 17 points on the first three drives against a team that hadn’t allowed more than 14 points in an entire game. The Ravens gained 133 yards in that first quarter while the Patriots possessed the ball for all of 132 seconds.

2. You knew it couldn’t continue to be that easy when Cyrus Jones muffed the punt early in the second quarter. The Gilman product has been pretty sure-handed with the Ravens, but coughing one up against his original team had to bring back some unpleasant memories that hopefully won’t linger.

3. The defense did strong work holding the Patriots to field goals on the final two drives of the first half, but kicking twice inside the 5 didn’t feel very “Belichickian.” Was it hubris that his defense had figured out the Ravens offense or some telling concern about his own offense?

4. To drain more than 17 minutes from the clock over its last two drives (not counting the final two kneels) speaks to this offense’s ability to crush an opponent’s soul. Lamar Jackson’s conversions to Mark Andrews and Willie Snead in that third-quarter drive were massive when leading by just four.

5. Earl Thomas played his best game as a Raven as he recorded a quarterback hit and grabbed his first interception since the opener. However, his best play came late in the second quarter when he broke up a Tom Brady pass intended for Julian Edelman at the goal line.

6. Marquise Brown didn’t post big numbers in his return from an ankle sprain, but his diving third-down reception and his catch and run for 26 yards set the tone on that opening drive. He wasn’t at full speed, but his presence is important for this offense to continue to thrive.

7. The rotation at inside linebacker was about what we expected, but Patrick Onwuasor reminded why he’s more effective playing the weak-side spot. He tied for the team lead with eight tackles, recorded a sack on a blitz, and forced the fumble returned for a touchdown by Marlon Humphrey.

8. Sunday was five seasons in the making for Nick Boyle, who caught his first career touchdown. Boyle is the constant in a tight end room that’s changed plenty since he was drafted in 2015 — three rounds after Maxx Williams — so it was cool seeing him enjoy the celebration with teammates.

9. Not only did Brandon Carr see extensive work at safety in the dime and quarter packages when Chuck Clark moved to linebacker, but he often played deep as Wink Martindale moved Thomas around the field. Carr, 33, rolls with the punches and embraces whatever the defense needs from him.

10. In addition to the conservative decisions to kick short field goals, New England committed four penalties that gave the Ravens first downs, headlined by a neutral-zone infraction turning a short field goal into a touchdown on the opening drive. A few of those flags were back breakers.

11. No team has advanced to the Super Bowl without the benefit of a first-round bye since the 2012 Ravens. At 6-2, the goal is no longer to simply win an underwhelming AFC North. Several tough opponents remain, but securing the first weekend off in January is more than doable.

12. Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, and Lenny Moore being in the building was special and highlights how incredible Baltimore’s football history is. Seeing Reed watch from the sideline reminded me of the legendary Johnny Unitas watching the new Ravens years ago. Sunday night was an electric atmosphere.

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lamarjackson

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MVP truth about Lamar Jackson clear after Ravens’ latest signature win

Posted on 04 November 2019 by Luke Jones

Three letters reverberated around M&T Bank Stadium following Lamar Jackson’s final touchdown run in the Ravens’ convincing 37-20 win over New England on Sunday night.

M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!

It’s a chant that’s rarely been uttered for a Ravens player — not counting two Super Bowl celebrations, of course — in the history of the franchise. Jamal Lewis garnered light consideration on his way to a 2,000-yard season in 2003 before finishing fourth in the voting and settling for Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed may have heard a stray chant from time to time in their respective primes, but only two defensive players — Alan Page (1971) and Lawrence Taylor (1986) — have ever been voted AP NFL MVP, meaning neither Hall of Famer had any legitimate chance.

Yes, the truth is now clear, even if you were still holding back after Jackson’s performance in the road win at Seattle two weeks ago. A three-touchdown night against a Patriots defense off to a historic statistical start through its first eight games put the 22-year-old quarterback firmly in the MVP running — even if he has a greater team goal in mind than the one thousands of Ravens fans were referring to.

“We’ve got a lot of season left to play,” Jackson said. “We’re worried about the next game. I don’t really care about [MVP]. I appreciate it, but like I said before, I want something better than that.”

Look beyond the numbers — which are damn good already — and recognize what you’re watching with your own two eyes every week. As Jackson himself noted, there’s a long way to go, but he’s a legitimate MVP candidate and the Ravens are a strong Super Bowl contender after starting 6-2 for the first time since 2012.

That’s not to say Jackson is the favorite with the likes of Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Aaron Rodgers, Dak Prescott, and Patrick Mahomes still in the MVP mix to varying degrees. In the same way the Triple Crown categories — batting average, home runs, and runs batted in — carried the MVP clout in baseball for years before modern analytics helped us more fully appreciate a generational all-around talent like Mike Trout, MVP quarterbacks have been judged solely on their passing acumen with few exceptions over the years.

Jackson is an exception. He could end up being the ultimate exception if he continues ripping through the quarterback rushing record book. That’s not something to be dismissed as a footnote or little more than a tiebreaker when comparing him to other quarterbacks who have only a fraction of the athleticism and running ability he possesses. Jackson’s 637 rushing yards are still more than four other entire teams through Week 9.

It’s time for dwindling critics to stop viewing that ability as something for which he needs to apologize and to start appreciating how special it truly is. Yes, he could get hurt on any given play just like the many quarterbacks who’ve been injured standing in the pocket this year instead of being on the move and avoiding contact as Jackson is seemingly adept at doing. There’s always that risk for any player.

No, Jackson isn’t the best passer in the league and may never be despite the substantial improvement he’s already shown from his rookie year. But he ranks 13th or better in passer rating, QBR, and yards per attempt and is on pace to throw for over 3,600 yards and 24 touchdowns in his first full season as a starter. And he’s done that without the legitimate No. 1 wide receiver that many of the aforementioned quarterbacks enjoy.

Of Baltimore’s six conversions on third and fourth downs against the Patriots on Sunday, all but one came on pass completions against the AFC’s best defense, illustrating the faith both he and the coaching staff have in his right arm in key moments.

Simply put, the gap between Jackson and the best passers in the league is a hell of a lot smaller than the discrepancy between him and all but a few quarterbacks in the rushing department. That dual-threat ability that includes a pace of rushing for over 1,250 yards — which would shatter Michael Vick’s single-season quarterback record — is far more valuable than a less mobile quarterback with moderately better passing numbers.

But it’s more than just the combination of passing and rushing numbers that make his MVP candidacy legitimate. Having won 21 straight games against rookie and second-year quarterbacks, the Patriots and their various defensive looks never fazed Jackson from the moment he was in the grasp on his third-down pass to Marquise Brown on the opening drive until his 1-yard touchdown push with 3:19 remaining in the game. He is as cool as young quarterbacks come and continues to make highlights every week while committing just five turnovers all season after ball security was a major problem in his rookie year.

Few quarterbacks — especially young ones — consistently make dynamic plays while also taking care of the football, but that’s exactly what Jackson is doing with 17 total touchdowns, only five interceptions, and not a single one of his four credited fumbles lost. The four quarterbacks drafted before Jackson in last year’s first round have combined for 29 total touchdowns and 33 interceptions this season, reminding us how challenging this really is and how easy Jackson is making it look.

“He has a very high football IQ. He also understands the moment. He has poise,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It just goes to the way he thinks and the way his mind works. He has an amazing ability to take a lot of factors, a lot of things — play clock, play call, personnel, formation, defense that presents, whatever changes that have to made — and just process all of that in that kind of a moment, which is what makes the position at quarterback so difficult.”

The best MVP argument for Jackson is how much better he makes the rest of his team, an assessment not made with haste after observing the first 15 regular-season starts of his young career. Harbaugh, offensive coordinator Greg Roman, and the rest of the coaching staff built an offense around his strengths this past offseason, but it’s a system that wouldn’t work without him.

Jackson’s move to the starting lineup last November instantly turned one of the NFL’s worst running games into the best because of the pressure his athleticism puts on a defense used to playing 11-on-10 football on the ground. That dynamic rushing attack has allowed the Ravens to dominate time of possession, protect leads, and keep their defense better rested over 60 minutes. Jackson’s ability to take off from the pocket forces opponents to play more zone coverage, making it easier for Baltimore’s tight ends and wide receivers to find open windows and for Jackson’s accuracy issues to be mitigated.

Even when much of that breaks down like it did against the Seahawks two weeks ago when the between-the-tackles run game wasn’t there and his receivers couldn’t catch a cold, Jackson is capable of putting his team on his back. Whether he’s throwing five touchdowns and posting a perfect passer rating, rushing for 100 yards, or simply playing smart and efficient football without the gaudiest of numbers like he did against the Patriots, you can easily see his teammates — young and old — believe in him.

That may not garner the necessary support with voters used to viewing MVP quarterbacks through a more traditional lens, but those qualities could take the Ravens deep into January.

Or even February.

“I’m right with the crowd. I mean that. This man is the MVP,” six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas said. “I’m right behind him. I’m backing him. He makes my job easier, and when you finish the game like that, it’s just a sigh of relief again for us.”

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