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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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FlaccoBulldogNestor

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Dear Joe Flacco: I’ll never let ‘em forget how “elite” you were here in Baltimore

Posted on 17 March 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

Dear Joe:

As I told you when I tossed you a text five minutes after you were traded to the Denver Broncos last month, it was going to take me a little while to process it all and write an appropriate “exit” letter as you graduate on from the Baltimore Ravens and become a guy who is annually “in our way” whilst trying to win the next few Super Bowls.

Over the past few years, I have made it no secret that you are my all-time favorite Baltimore sports athlete. Oh, sure, others have Brooks or Cal or Ray – and I know and greatly respect those arguments and can make them myself – but you will forever be my No. 1 guy for a myriad of reasons both personal and professional that I will finally make public here upon your less-than-flattering departure.

As my WNST partner Brian Billick always likes to point out: “When you win a Super Bowl, they say they can never take it away from you. But that doesn’t stop them from trying…

Perhaps it’s the underdog Dundalk guy and Horatio Alger fire burning within me that admires you so much but your story has been my lifetime favorite to watch unfold and cover as a Baltimore sports fan who has had the pleasure to get to know you better than most since that fateful day in April 2008 when you became the “next quarterback up” after so many broken promises not named Trent Dilfer or Earl Morrall.

And, as you know, I’ve seen them all since the early 1970s and professionally since 1984. Marty Domres. Bert Jones. Art Schlichter. Mike Pagel. And all of the purple branches of the wilted, lavender Vinny Testaverde tree that you learned about upon your arrival.

Through all of the years and all the sports, you are my favorite story – the underdog, Division Not One quarterback who came down from Philly via my Aunt Clara’s hometown of Newark, Delaware and her beloved Blue Hens and delivered Baltimore a Super Bowl parade.

Joe, unless you go out to Denver and find the fountain of Kurt Warner, you’re not going to Canton for a bust measurement so that’ll always be the first knock on you because you’re not a Hall of Famer. And, of course, these last six years of not qualifying for January or winning enough postseason games that no longer made the Ravens believe in you as a franchise quarterback – in name, salary or depth chart – at 34 years old.

Oh, sure, last week there were heartwarming videos from Owings Mills that made the room dusty as your trade became official. And between now and whenever they bring you and your family back after you’ve acquired more silver on your temples and chin, you’ll have an afternoon to address Baltimore again whenever they immortalize you in the Ravens’ Ring of Honor.

But I wanted to wait to see what a press conference would look like with you in another uniform before I inked this farewell tome. I must say, with zero shock, that it looked just like the ones in Owings Mills except for the orange and blue horse and John Elway (as you know, an original Baltimore “Satan” from the history book of Irsay and the Colts) standing next to you.

John Elway says you’re entering your prime.

The Ravens made a teary-eyed video after benching your ass and trading you for a 4th-round draft pick.

From your point of view, let’s skip the formalities and talk Street Philly  – your profane language of choice, which makes me love you even more – for what really happened. They believed in you so little last April that they drafted your replacement, you got hurt midway through another potential playoff year and then you were never heard from again. They wasted no time in throwing your expensive ass outta here. Even though they loved you, they believed you were overpriced, and the “sell by” date on your carton expired sometime around 2017. They never called you “washed up” – but the Baltimore Ravens didn’t believe in you anymore and the world watched it unfold every time John Harbaugh praised Lamar Jackson at the podium after another

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on DeCosta, Harbaugh remarks from NFL combine

Posted on 28 February 2019 by Luke Jones

With Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and head coach John Harbaugh answering questions at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. If you had simply read the transcript, DeCosta sounded very similar to Ozzie Newsome speaking at his first combine as the general manager, which isn’t surprising as few executives and coaches tip their hands with free agency two weeks away.

2. The balance between keeping as much of the defense together as possible and building a stronger offense continues to strike me as a difficult task, especially factoring the age of some key defensive players. This is what happens when trying to rebuild on the fly.

3. DeCosta expressed pride in the Ravens’ identity being built on defense historically and stated a desire to continue that tradition. It’s understandable, but Baltimore continuing that philosophy has netted one playoff win since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed suited up for the final time.

4. Harbaugh expects Marshal Yanda to continue playing, which is great news for an offensive line that could already stand to improve inside. The seven-time Pro Bowl guard is entering the final year of his contract and probably could play at a high level longer than that if he wants.

5. While dancing around questions about Eric Weddle and Jimmy Smith, DeCosta said he expects Brandon Carr to return, which could be bad news for Smith and his $15.85 million cap number. Carr is older, but he’s cheaper, more durable, and coming off a more consistent season than Smith.

6. DeCosta didn’t completely dismiss the possibility of using the franchise tag on C.J. Mosley, but he made it clear a long-term deal remains the goal with talks “ongoing” and expected to continue with agent Jimmy Sexton in Indianapolis. This figures to be a critical week on that front.

7. The Ravens brass being complimentary of John Brown wasn’t surprising, but I remain skeptical there’s a great fit there — from his perspective — in terms of price tag and offensive philosophy. Either way, he should do well in what appears to be an underwhelming free-agent market for wide receivers.

8. Terrell Suggs stated his intentions months ago to continue playing in 2019, but talks will be delicate in trying to be realistic about the 36-year-old’s current value without insulting someone who’s been so critical to the organization. You hope something can be worked out that makes sense for both sides.

9. Harbaugh praised the inside-outside versatility and intensity of Za’Darius Smith, but the lack of discussion about Baltimore’s 2018 sack leader reflects how few expect him to return. His market should be interesting, especially if a few other free-agent pass rushers indeed receive the franchise tag.

10. DeCosta summed up his thoughts on Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability by saying, “We certainly want to keep him healthy, but we also want to win and … score points.” The keys are his passing development and adding enough talent to diminish the need for him to run 15-plus times per game.

11. Harbaugh acknowledged the organization’s need to draft and develop wide receivers more effectively while DeCosta said, “We’ve got to add playmakers.” Yes.

12. Counting the Joe Flacco trade and the Michael Crabtree release, the Ravens are already dealing with nearly $22 million in dead money on this year’s salary cap. With another big release or two still very possible, that figure is shaping up to be their largest amount since 2015.

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Franchise tag window could drive talks between Mosley, Ravens

Posted on 18 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The NFL’s window for teams to use the franchise tag on a pending unrestricted free agent opens Tuesday, but whether the Ravens go that route with four-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley remains to be seen.

New general manager Eric DeCosta expressed his desire to keep Mosley during his introductory press conference last month, but the start of free agency is now just over three weeks away. And with each passing day, the thought of hitting the open market has to be more appealing for the 2014 first-round pick who won’t turn 27 until June. The Ravens can prevent that from happening, of course, by either striking a long-term extension or using the tag, which is projected to cost over $15.5 million for a linebacker — inside or outside — for the 2019 season. That alone would exhaust almost half of Baltimore’s projected cap space upon the completion of the Joe Flacco trade to Denver next month.

“I think everything is on the table right now,” said DeCosta when asked if using the franchise tag on Mosley was a possibility. “I certainly hope that C.J. is back. I believe in my heart that he will be. We’re having those discussions now. I think we have several different strategies in place. We’re in the business of keeping our good football players. Talent wins in the NFL and he’s a Pro Bowl linebacker, so we’re going to do what we can to make sure that C.J. is back on the team.”

The franchise tag would be a steep price since the highest-paid inside linebacker in the league — Carolina’s Luke Kuechly — makes just $12.359 million per season, but the average annual value of that deal was a contract extension signed back in 2015, a long time in NFL terms. That’s where we keep encountering the same question about Mosley, which might explain why a deal many anticipated as early as last offseason hasn’t yet come to fruition.

What exactly is he worth to the Ravens and on the open market?

Mosley doesn’t meet the impossible standard set by Hall of Famer Ray Lewis and may not be in the same elite tier as Kuechly or Seattle’s Bobby Wagner among his contemporaries, but he is widely recognized as one of the NFL’s top inside linebackers and is constantly praised in the Baltimore locker room for his unassuming leadership, something that can’t be ignored with Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle both nearing the end of their careers and uncertain to return next season. The only other Ravens to make the Pro Bowl four times in their first five seasons were Lewis and fellow Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden, illustrating the rare territory Mosley has reached in a short period of time.

Losing him would leave the Ravens with former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor and 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young at inside linebacker next season. Both are talented players, but neither could reasonably be expected to step into Mosley’s role without substantial drop-off. In other words, inside linebacker would immediately become a need should Mosley depart.

But there are still questions that make you take pause before potentially making him the highest-paid inside linebacker in the NFL. His pass coverage has often come under scrutiny as Pro Football Focus graded him just 31st among qualified linebackers in that category despite crediting him with career bests in passing yards allowed (408), yards per reception (9.3), and yards after the catch (190) in 2018. The Alabama product graded 22nd overall among qualified linebackers in 2018 after finishing 37th at the end of the 2017 regular season and 11th in 2016. Those numbers would support the less flattering opinions of Mosley being a consistently solid-to-good player, but not a great one worthy of a lucrative contract.

There’s also the topic of positional value with Mosley’s biggest strength being his run defense in a league increasingly driven by the passing game. Many of the same critics of the five-year, $52.5 million contract awarded to run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams two offseasons ago don’t want to see the Ravens spend big on an inside linebacker who isn’t dynamic in pass coverage, especially with so many other needs to address on both sides of the ball. At the very least, Mosley plays every down unlike Williams, who participated in just 50 percent of defensive snaps this past season.

“You can get caught up in these types of positions that guys get paid,” DeCosta said. “‘You should pay the left tackle or you pay the corner, but not pay the defensive tackle or the inside linebacker.’ That’s all well and good unless someone rushes for 250 yards against you. Then, all of a sudden, you change the dynamic and say, ‘Well, we should sign the inside linebacker or the defensive tackle.’ You want to be a balanced team, you want as many good players as you can. You try to fit that in under the parameters of the salary cap that you can.”

Opinions are split on what Mosley would be worth on the open market with Jason Fitzgerald of OverTheCap.com projecting him to receive $11.5 million per year and Spotrac.com’s calculated market value at only $9.7 million per season. The average annual value of the deals for Kuechly ($12.359 million) and Wagner ($10.75 million) aren’t the most helpful guidelines since the salary cap has increased annually since those extensions were signed nearly four years ago. Mosley wanting to eclipse those marks would be a reasonable goal when considering his age and a salary cap expected to approach $190 million this coming season.

If he does indeed hit the market, all it takes is one or two interested teams with substantially more cap space than Baltimore to drive up the linebacker’s price to the point where the franchise tag suddenly doesn’t look as lucrative as it does now. That’s why the tag is something DeCosta and the Ravens must at least consider between Tuesday and March 5 — the final day a team can use it on a player — if they’re determined to keep Mosley but an agreement isn’t imminent.

Both sides know the tag is at least a possibility, which should help push discussions to keep Mosley in Baltimore — if that’s what both he and the Ravens ultimately want.

But the clock is ticking louder every day.

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No Raven brought same excitement as newest Hall of Famer Ed Reed

Posted on 02 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have provided no shortage of exciting players in more than two decades in Baltimore.

Some local fans would describe the pre-game dance of Ray Lewis, the greatest player in team history and face of the franchise, as something resembling a religious experience. A pair of Pro Bowl running backs, Jamal Lewis and Ray Rice, were legitimate threats to score every time they touched the ball. Two All-Pro return specialists — Jermaine Lewis and Jacoby Jones — shined on the most critical stage the NFL has to offer. Many others have brought thrills for an organization with two Super Bowl championships in its trophy case.

But none quite compare to nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed, who was officially elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday. The first-ballot selection was perhaps the most anticlimactic achievement in a career that made observers anticipate the most unexpected of feats.

Fellow first-ballot Hall of Famers Lewis and Jonathan Ogden are the greatest players in team history on their respective sides of the ball, but the ball-hawking Reed is the most exciting we’ve witnessed. Unlike running backs, wide receivers, or kick returners who regularly touch the ball when in the game, Reed would seemingly come out of nowhere, even after the opposing coaching staff would preach all week about not letting him do it.

The sight of Reed with the ball brought emotions ranging from euphoria as he’d turn the game’s outcome with an unlikely touchdown to occasional horror as he’d inexplicably lateral the ball in traffic, sometimes giving it right back to the opposition. Reed unquestionably moved to the beat of his own drum, but you couldn’t ask more of an entertainer and play-maker over 11 seasons in Baltimore.

The simplest objective of the safety position is to prevent an opponent from wrecking the game with an explosive pass play, but there was nothing “safe” about the way Reed stalked in the secondary, creating nightmares for quarterbacks and often doing the very thing the opponent was trying to accomplish against the Baltimore defense — score. When arguably the greatest quarterback in NFL history felt compelled to put “Find 20 on every play” on his wristband, what else really needed to be said about his case for Canton?

Reed’s 64 regular-season interceptions rank seventh on the NFL’s career list while he’s the all-time leader in interception return yards. No player has more postseason interceptions (tied with three others with nine), and Reed became the first man in league history to score return touchdowns off an interception, a fumble, a punt, and a blocked punt. He set the NFL record with a last-second 106-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal a tight game against Cleveland in 2004 before breaking that mark four years later with a 107-yard interception return to put away a win against Philadelphia.

In all, 46 passers were intercepted by Reed in his career with half of that group going to at least one Pro Bowl and six being the starting quarterback of a Super Bowl winner.

Though Reed was named the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2004, the greatest of his individual achievements came late in the 2008 season when he registered an extraordinary 10 interceptions over a seven-game stretch that culminated with two — one returned for a touchdown — in a playoff victory at Miami. For context, the entire Baltimore defense from this past season had only 12 in 17 games.

The 2002 first-round pick from Miami is tied for 19th on the Ravens’ all-time touchdowns list (13) despite having the football in his hands far fewer times than anyone else — all offensive players — in that top 20. The number of actual planned times Reed touched the ball was even lower as he registered a modest 30 punt returns in his career and never caught a pass or recorded a rushing attempt as an offensive player.

Not only one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game, Reed had an extraordinary ability to block punts before coaches eventually kept him out of potential harm’s way in his later years. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Reed blocked four punts over the first 27 games of his career and frequently drew holding flags as opponents tried to account for his explosive jump off the line of scrimmage.

So often praised for his football instincts, Reed’s preparation was exceptional as he followed Lewis’ initial lead when it came to watching film and studying the playbook. That enabled Reed to so often be in the right place at the right time as he knew where the ball was going before the quarterback even threw it. Later in his career, he passed on those study habits to younger teammates, quietly exhibiting strong leadership in the shadows of Lewis’ camera-friendly methods.

Even his closest confidants acknowledged Reed’s personality ran hot or cold with the position of the hood of his sweatshirt often signaling whether you could engage in spirited conversation or should probably steer clear that day. He could ruffle feathers with comments about even his own teammates, but his intentions usually came from a good place. And while dealing with injuries late in his career, the veteran safety would both ponder retirement and campaign for a new contract in the same breath.

That was Reed.

A nerve impingement suffered late in the 2007 season zapped him of the underrated physicality he displayed early in his career and left him with neck and shoulder pain, but he played through it and did so at the highest level, making five more Pro Bowls while picking his spots to deliver the occasional hit. Even while sporting a red jersey to signal no contact during practices, the veteran safety would light up an unsuspecting young wide receiver from time to time, again reflecting that eccentric personality.

Super Bowl XLVII is most remembered as the culmination of Joe Flacco’s historic 2012 playoff run and Lewis’ last ride, but it was the night Reed finally raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy after years of playing with offenses that couldn’t hold up their end of the bargain. It would be Reed’s final game in a Baltimore uniform — he’d play one more season split between Houston and the New York Jets — but Ravens fans shared in his joy a couple days later as he bellowed out the words to Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise” at the victory parade.

It was one last thrill in a career that was long before destined for a gold jacket and the football paradise that is Canton.

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for AFC wild-card game

Posted on 05 January 2019 by Luke Jones

Much has changed since the Ravens last hosted a playoff game six years ago.

Ray Lewis is in the Hall of Fame, Ed Reed will join him in a few weeks, and Joe Flacco has quite possibly already played his final snap as a Raven. Baltimore had made the playoffs just once since that last home playoff win over Indianapolis, but the start of the Lamar Jackson era seven weeks ago has created an energy not seen in these parts in quite some time. Winners of six of their last seven to clinch the AFC North title, the Ravens hope that vibe carries them to victory in Sunday’s wild-card game.

Standing in their way is the Los Angeles Chargers, who finished tied for the third-best record in football and had the misfortune of being in the same division as No. 1 seed Kansas City. Despite traveling to the East Coast for a 1 p.m. game, Anthony Lynn’s team is 8-0 in contests played outside Los Angeles this season, which included wins in Seattle, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet in the postseason for the first time ever. Of course, the Ravens toppled the Chargers 22-10 in their Week 16 meeting to improve to 7-5 in the all-time regular-season series. Baltimore owns a 3-1 record against them at M&T Bank Stadium, but the teams split the last two games there in 2014 and 2015 with the outcomes decided by a combined four points.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. The Chargers will speed up the pace and spread out the Baltimore defense for an early touchdown. The Ravens controlled the tempo throughout the Week 16 meeting, harassing Philip Rivers with blitzes that the Chargers rarely had answers for. This time, I expect Los Angeles to use some no-huddle and empty formations to try to slow the pass rush and keep the Ravens off-balance early on. It’s worth noting Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen is healthier this time around and will find space for an early touchdown reception after being held to a quiet five catches for 58 yards in the first meeting.

2. Gus Edwards will rush for a career-high 120 yards and a score. The Chargers use the dime package more than anyone in the NFL, which helped them hold Jackson to just 39 rushing yards in Week 16. However, a lighter front leaves Los Angeles more susceptible to the dive plays so frequently run by Edwards. To their credit, the Chargers slowed down the 238-pound rookie in the second half, but he still managed 92 yards on 14 carries two weeks ago. Making matters worse, Los Angeles nose tackle Brandon Mebane isn’t expected to play, making the front seven even more vulnerable against power runs.

3. Jackson will run for more yards than Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon. We’ve spent ample time talking about the Ravens’ running game, but has anyone noticed what their rush defense has done since the bye week? Opponents are averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and only two players have managed as much as 60 rushing yards against them over the last seven contests. Gordon is a dynamic player capable of leaving a huge mark in his first NFL playoff game, but he’s more likely to do that as a receiver out of the backfield. I also expect Jackson to find more daylight as the game progresses with the Chargers tweaking their front to account for the inside power runs.

4. A long Cyrus Jones punt return will set up a Ravens touchdown. The running game and a dominant defense have received most of the credit for the post-bye turnaround, but the special teams rose from a pedestrian 13th in special teams DVOA at the bye to sixth by season’s end. Football Outsiders rated Baltimore’s punt return unit second in the league while the Chargers’ punt unit was rated next to last. That disparity didn’t show up to any dramatic degree in Week 16, but Jones has offered a boost in the field-position game since becoming the punt returner and will break a long one on Sunday.

5. Another strong defensive effort will send Baltimore to the divisional round with a 20-17 win. The Chargers were my preseason pick to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, but the first meeting showed this isn’t a great matchup for them. I expect their offense to put up a better fight than it did a couple weeks ago, but Rivers isn’t mobile enough to give the blitz-heavy Ravens the same degree of trouble as Patrick Mahomes and Baker Mayfield did. Credit Los Angeles for doing a better job against the Baltimore running game than any other team over the last two months, but absences at the wrong spots on its dime defense will lead to the Ravens staying more consistent on the ground in the second half. It will be another close game because that’s just a product of the style these current Ravens play, but another complementary effort will be enough to defeat the Chargers for the second time in three weeks. John Harbaugh will improve to 6-0 in wild-card playoff games.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-24 win over Cleveland

Posted on 01 January 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their first AFC North championship since 2012 with a 26-24 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The running game produced a season-high 296 yards and finished 2018 with the second-most rushing yards (2,441) in franchise history behind the 2003 team and ahead of the 2008 Ravens. What do those three playoff squads have in common? A rookie quarterback started a large portion of their games.

2. From going for a fourth-and-1 on the 48 on the first drive to using Cover 0 on the final four defensive plays, Baltimore was aggressive with the season on the line. Wink Martindale’s mindset was quite the contrast from rushing four and playing zone on fourth-and-12 last New Year’s Eve.

3. C.J. Mosley hasn’t had his best season and may not be worth the money required to re-sign him, but he made the game-sealing interception and was credited with four hurries by Pro Football Focus. I’ll maintain he’s underappreciated by much of a fan base using Ray Lewis as its standard.

4. Sam Koch deserves much credit for his 51-yard punt that put the Browns on their own 26 for their final drive. After a 37-yard return earlier, Antonio Callaway had nowhere to go near the sideline. A lesser punt very likely would have given Cleveland a potential game-winning field goal try.

5. The Ravens were an inch or two away from a 27-7 lead before Lamar Jackson’s fumble at the goal line. Not only were they fortunate a whistle prevented a Cleveland touchdown the other way, but the Browns failed to take advantage of further sloppy play from Baltimore before halftime.

6. Baker Mayfield made mistakes, but I couldn’t help but feel the Browns wasted plays at times trying to run and throw to the flats when they were having so much success pushing it down the field. The 7.6 yards per play allowed was easily a season worst for the Ravens.

7. Even in victory, it was concerning to see the offense unable to sustain a late drive to protect a one-score lead for the second straight contest. Marty Mornhinweg’s play-calling inside the red zone and on that fourth-quarter drive was questionable.

8. It’s been an up-and-down season for Jimmy Smith, but he came up with the first two-interception game by a Baltimore player since 2013. Per PFF, he allowed just one catch for one yard on seven targets into his coverage. Especially with Marlon Humphrey struggling mightily, that was a critical performance.

9. The short-term ramifications of Sunday’s game dominated the attention, but I’ll gladly sign up for many more Jackson-Mayfield meetings in the years to come. Terrell Suggs’ praise for both rookies said it all. Ben Roethlisberger remains the AFC North quarterback king for now, but a shift is already underway.

10. John Brown registered games of 116 receiving yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh in Week 4 and 134 yards and a touchdown against New Orleans. Since Jackson became the starter, Brown has a total of eight catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. That’s rough playing on a one-year deal.

11. Sunday’s playoff contest will mark exactly six years since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed played their final home game as Ravens. It’s fitting Jackson, the most exciting player to arrive in Baltimore since Super Bowl XLVII, will start his first playoff game on that anniversary. What fun it should be.

12. Opinions differed on the black jerseys being paired with the purple pants for the first time, but I liked the unique look and hope to see it again, especially for a prime-time game. That was the 10th different uniform combination used by Baltimore this year. Oregon who?

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Historic outing puts Ravens in good position for defining stretch

Posted on 15 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Tennessee Titans waved the white flag early in their shutout loss to the Ravens on Sunday.

Perhaps it wasn’t as pronounced as when Chris McAlister claimed Eddie George “folded like a baby” after taking a big hit from Ray Lewis in an old AFC Central rivalry game that was once every bit as intense and nasty as what Baltimore-Pittsburgh would become, but the Titans running the ball on a third-and-10 play from their own 36 late in the second quarter said all you needed to know after the Ravens had already collected six sacks in the first half.

The score was just 14-0, but Tennessee wasn’t going to threaten the rest of the way, crossing midfield only once after intermission — to the Baltimore 49 — in a 21-0 final that included a franchise-record 11 sacks. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota never had a chance as he finished with fewer completions than the number of times he was sacked.

Yes, it was a historic single-game defensive performance by the Ravens, a team that’s no stranger to such feats over the last two decades. But playing defense in today’s offense-crazy NFL is a different animal than it was six or seven years ago, let alone trying to make modern-day comparisons to the gold standard that is the 2000 Ravens. For some context, only four teams in that Super Bowl XXXV season averaged 25 points per game whereas nearly half the league is doing that so far in 2018.

That’s not to say this year’s Ravens after just six games are anywhere close to being deserving of comparisons to that historic group or another handful of great Baltimore defenses, but the eye-popping numbers are tough to ignore. Consider that Sunday’s marquee showdown between New England and Kansas City featured a total of 83 points scored, six more than the Ravens have allowed all season. Early opponents Tennessee, Cleveland, Denver, and Buffalo may not be keeping defensive coordinators up at night, but the Ravens are surrendering only 12.8 points per game in a league in which only six other teams are allowing under 20 points per contest. Chicago is the only other team to surrender fewer than 100 points on the season, and the Bears have allowed 96 — in five games.

Baltimore still hasn’t surrendered a second-half touchdown despite playing four of its first six on the road, including the last three in a row. The Ravens defense has had only one truly bad half of football when it gave up 28 points to Cincinnati in a Thursday road game, which is always a difficult proposition.

Making the aforementioned numbers even more amazing is the fact that Wink Martindale’s defense has forced only six turnovers so far, meaning the Ravens have shut down opponents in a more “straight-up” fashion. Sunday was the 14th shutout in franchise history and the first not to feature a single takeaway, meaning there was never the need for a fumble recovery in the red zone or an end-zone interception as is usually the case to preserve a goose egg.

That will need to change with the real fun about to begin.

The Ravens will play four of their next five games at M&T Bank Stadium, but their next four opponents — New Orleans, at Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati — all rank in the top 15 in scoring offense with the Saints, Steelers, and Bengals each in the top seven. Week 7 features the No. 1 scoring offense against the top scoring defense in the league as future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees and Super Bowl-winning coach Sean Payton have had an extra week to prepare for Martindale’s creative schemes.

The good news is the defense shouldn’t need to do it alone as the offense is much improved from recent years and ranks in the top 12 in most major categories. You can’t expect to entirely shut down a team like the Saints, of course, but what’s made the Ravens’ 4-2 start so encouraging is how much more balanced the performances have been. It will certainly mark the biggest test of the season to date.

John Harbaugh’s team finished its road-heavy start to the season on a high note Sunday with one of the greatest single-game defensive performances in team history. Victories in two of the next three games — a challenging but reasonable goal for a legitimate playoff team — would put the Ravens at 6-3 entering their bye. They’ve entered their bye week with a losing record in each of the last three seasons, ultimately leaving too little margin for error down the stretch each time. December trips to Atlanta, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers will be easier to navigate if the Ravens are contending for a first-round bye rather than needing to be virtually perfect just to sneak into the tournament.

The Ravens have looked like a playoff team with an elite — and throwback — defense, an above-average offense, and an ability to hold their own on the road to give them their best start since 2014.

Now we’ll find out just how great this defense is and how truly serious the Ravens are as contenders.

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Ravens-Broncos: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 23 September 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will be without two key defensive players for their Week 3 meeting with the Denver Broncos.

Ten days after suffering a bone bruise in his left knee, three-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is inactive and will miss only the third game in his NFL career. The news wasn’t surprising as the 2014 first-round pick sat out Friday’s practice after participating in Thursday’s session on only a limited basis. Rookie young Kenny Young is expected to make his first NFL start next to fellow inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor for the Baltimore defense, and safety Eric Weddle will relay calls from the sideline in the defensive huddle as he did in the second half of the Week 2 loss at Cincinnati.

The other concerning Week 3 absence for the Ravens is defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who missed practices all week with a foot injury. The Broncos entered Sunday ranked second in the NFL in rushing offense, so not having Pierce’s 6-foot, 340-pound frame in the defensive line rotation will be significant. With Pierce inactive and Willie Henry still recovering from August hernia surgery, rookie defensive lineman Zach Sieler — active for the first time in his career — and Patrick Ricard will need to offer contributions behind starters Brandon Williams, Chris Wormley, and Brent Urban.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley is active and will start despite injuring his right elbow late in the fourth quarter of the Bengals game. He practiced with a brace on his right arm all week, but the Ravens waiving reserve offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor on Saturday signaled that Stanley would play against the Broncos.

Linebacker Albert McClellan, cornerback Robertson Daniel, and wide receiver and return specialist Tim White are all active after being added to the 53-man roster this week. White will take over the return duties for Janarion Grant, who was waived Saturday after fumbling a return in each of the first two games. Daniel gives Baltimore a fifth healthy cornerback after rookie Anthony Averett injured his hamstring late in the week.

Broncos defensive back Adam Jones (thigh) is inactive, but starting right tackle Jared Veldheer will play for Denver after passing concussion protocol late in the week.

As was the case in the season opener two weeks ago, rain will be a factor as Weather.com forecasts a 90-percent chance of light-to-moderate precipitation throughout the afternoon with temperatures in the low 60s. Winds will be six to seven miles per hour, making for a better playing environment than what we saw in Week 1.

Sunday’s referee is Ron Torbert.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with white pants while Denver dons white tops with white pants for Week 3.

Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis is Sunday’s “Ravens Legend of the Game” and will receive his Pro Football Hall of Fame ring during a halftime ceremony

Sunday marks the 12th all-time meeting between these teams with the Broncos holding a 6-5 advantage and winning the last three regular-season encounters. The Ravens are 5-1 against Denver in regular-season games at M&T Bank Stadium and, of course, topped the Broncos in their 2000 and 2012 playoff runs that resulted in Super Bowl championships.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
LB C.J. Mosley
DT Willie Henry
TE Hayden Hurst
DT Michael Pierce

DENVER
QB Kevin Hogan
CB Adam Jones
S Dymonte Thomas
LB Alexander Johnson
DE DeMarcus Walker
OT Elijah Wilkinson
G Sam Jones

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His future with Ravens unresolved, Mosley keeping focus on field

Posted on 05 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The list of goals taped to the locker of Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley is there for everyone to see.

Lead league in tackles.

Lead linebackers in interceptions.

First-team All-Pro.

Pro Bowl.

Defensive MVP.

Super Bowl MVP.

Ambitious, for sure, but we’re talking about someone who was named to three Pro Bowls and voted a second-team All-Pro linebacker three times by age 25. He finished second among NFL linebackers in interceptions two years ago and tied for third in the league in solo tackles last season. This spring, he took the advice of new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale — his former linebackers coach — to remind himself of what he wants to accomplish in 2018.

“I’ve always had my goals, but putting them up so I can see them, that’s kind of a new step for me,” said Mosley, who also keeps the list on his phone since he quips that he’s always on it. “It’s just something to look at every day when I’m kind of tired and just gives me a little motivation to keep going, keep pushing.”

Mosley has reason to be motivated beyond on-field accolades or helping the Ravens return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. The former first-round pick is entering the final year of a rookie contract that will pay him $8.718 million in 2018.

Many expected a long-term extension to be high on the Ravens’ offseason agenda with fellow defensive leaders Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle now entering their 16th and 12th seasons, respectively, but a deal hasn’t yet come to fruition. Mosley has repeatedly said he wants to remain a Raven and go down as the second-best inside linebacker in franchise history behind the recently-enshrined Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, who just happened to reach every goal on Mosley’s list over the course of his 17-year career.

As Martindale revamped the defensive system this offseason to put more responsibility on his veteran leaders to make calls on the fly, Mosley faithfully attended voluntary workouts while others around the league with similar contract situations stayed away from their teams in the spring and even into the summer in some cases. The 6-foot-2, 250-pound linebacker says his focus remains on the field as begins his fifth season against Buffalo on Sunday.

“Right now, I’ve got my last year to play out,” Mosley said. “I guess maybe further down the road, it might become more of an issue – maybe not, I don’t know. Like I’ve said before, those are the types of things that I let my agent (Jimmy Sexton) and them work [on] upstairs. I’ll talk to my agent and we’re trying to get somewhere with it, so that’s about all I can tell you right now.”

Despite that last hint of optimism, there has been no progress towards a deal. It remains unclear how much Mosley is asking for or how much the Ravens are willing to pay, but his impressive resume would lead one to believe his representation seeks a contract north of the five-year, $62 million extension signed by Carolina’s Luke Kuechly three years ago that included $27 million guaranteed. The record-setting deals recently signed by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald and All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack emphatically set new standards at their positions, another factor to consider as Mosley — or any other standout defensive player — moves closer to free agency.

Even with his impressive accomplishments over his first four seasons, opinions vary in some circles as to how great Mosley truly is. The quality of his pass coverage has come under scrutiny as Pro Football Focus noted his problems last season, but the website still graded him 11th among linebackers in that category, perhaps a reflection of the scarcity of quality three-down linebackers in today’s game. It’s also worth noting Mosley dealt with a nagging ankle injury over the second half of last season when his difficulties covering tight ends were more pronounced.

Following in the footsteps of one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history, Mosley has been held to Lewis’ impossible standard by some — consciously or not — despite his efforts to assume the mantle. Though clearly less demonstrative than the theatrical Lewis, Mosley gets his point across in his own way, according to teammates and coaches.

His stabilizing presence makes it easy to forget he was actually the Ravens’ second attempt at picking Lewis’ long-term successor after 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown — a player general manager Ozzie Newsome traded up to draft — was a disappointment. Selected with the 17th overall pick in 2014, Mosley was an immediate starter and became the first Ravens rookie to ever make the Pro Bowl.

“I feel like C.J. can go as high as he wants to go and be whoever he wants to be,” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “He’s got that much talent. He’s got that much leadership ability, and I’ll follow him anywhere. I think C.J. can be, is, [and] will be forever a premier linebacker in this league.”

Of course, Mosley playing out the final year of his contract wouldn’t mean he’s destined to depart next offseason. Williams briefly hit the free-agent market last year before the Ravens made him the highest-paid nose tackle in the league with a five-year, $52.5 million deal. Baltimore has used the franchise tag to retain the rights of former Pro Bowl defensive players such as cornerback Chris McAlister, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but the $14.961 million cost to tag a linebacker — inside or outside — in 2018 will likely climb next year.

Perhaps the wait-and-see approach with Mosley is indicative of the Ravens’ overall transition. Newsome will step down after 2018, leaving successor Eric DeCosta to consider the futures of several key figures, ranging from Suggs to even head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco.

Only 26, Mosley would seemingly be a pillar for the next era of Ravens football, especially if he can check off a few more items from the list on his locker.

“C.J. is one of the premier players in this league,” said Suggs, who is also in the final year of his contract as he begins his 16th season in Baltimore. “Like I’ve said before, not everybody can come through these doors and be considered a Raven for life. So far, I think his resume shows that, and I think he’s one of those rare guys that’s going to be a lifer here.”

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