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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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Ravens guard Yanda aiming for another chapter of greatness

Posted on 07 August 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Last season was supposed to be the continuation of Ravens veteran Marshal Yanda’s reign as the best guard in the NFL.

His six straight Pro Bowl selections had tied Ray Lewis for the third-longest streak in franchise history behind only Jonathan Ogden (11 straight from 1997-2007) and Ed Reed (seven in a row from 2006-12). That exclusive company began prompting some discussion about Yanda’s chances of joining that trio — and perhaps current teammate Terrell Suggs — in Canton one day, especially if he were to add a few more years of elite play to his impressive resume. The Hall of Fame is certainly rare territory for a guard, but momentum had been building as analytic sites like Pro Football Focus touted his excellence and Yanda was even profiled by a national website last summer.

Then, his 2017 season was over soon after it started when he fractured his left ankle in Week 2, an injury that required surgery to repair the damage. After battling through countless ailments to play all but five games in the previous eight seasons, Yanda would sit out the final 14 contests and the Ravens would miss the playoffs for the third straight year, in part because of an offensive line that struggled to gel without its best player in the first half of the season. The 2007 third-round pick has shown little interest in individual accolades over the years, but the thought of not being there for his team was difficult to take.

“It was a heart-breaking deal. I thought I was going to maybe miss some time but be able to find some way to fight through it and get back on the field,” Yanda said. “But to have the news that it was season-ending was really tough. It was really hard for me being away, but that’s part of football. You have to deal with it.”

The frustration didn’t end there as Yanda hurt his shoulder lifting weights just as he was winding down his ankle rehabilitation last December. Instead of risking further damage to his rotator cuff by trying to push through the injury, the 2007 third-round pick chose to have surgery early this offseason, a move that further delayed his return to the practice field.

There was no doubt that Yanda would return to action in 2018, but it’s fair to wonder if he’ll regain his elite playing status as he turns 34 next month and comes off his third shoulder surgery — each arm has been worked on — in the last five years. Of course, he need look no further for inspiration than Suggs, who has recorded a total of 19 sacks in two seasons since suffering the second torn Achilles tendon of his career in 2015. At the time of that injury, many thought a 33-year-old Suggs might be all but finished, but he’s only strengthened his case for an eventual place in the Hall of Fame.

It isn’t difficult envisioning the 6-foot-3, 305-pound lineman following a similar script to put himself in the conversation at the very least.

Yanda swats away any mention of him eventually being worthy of such a historic honor, but he has every intention of again being the leader and linchpin of the Baltimore offensive line after returning to the practice field this week for the first time in 11 months.

“You understand that guys can definitely come back from [injuries], and even though they’re older players, they can still be productive,” Yanda said. “They can still do everything they want to do, so I’ve just attacked [rehab] every single day. I feel like, as you get older as a player, this game means more to you every single year that you play.

“I obviously understand that it’s a young man’s game, but I’m going to be fighting every single day to be ready to roll and to be productive.”

Whether it was returning from emergency leg surgery in days to help the Ravens clinch a division title in 2011 or switching from right guard to left guard because of a serious shoulder injury and still making the Pro Bowl in 2016, Yanda has proven time and time again not to doubt him. His place among the top 10 players in franchise history is cemented, but his toughness is second to none in the 22-year history of the franchise.

How much longer Yanda will play remains to be seen as his current contract runs through the end of next season. With more than a decade in the NFL under his belt, the Iowa native is taking a year-by-year approach to his career.

“Me not playing pretty much at all last year, there was no question I definitely wanted to play this fall and get after it and be a part of it,” Yanda said. “You reassess and reevaluate. I’ll take my time after the season, but right now I’m focused on this year and doing my part.”

The Ravens are hoping it’s that same gigantic part as before.

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Ravens-Bears preseason primer: Five players to watch

Posted on 01 August 2018 by Luke Jones

At a time when most teams are still settling into the training camp routine, the Ravens will kick off the NFL preseason schedule while celebrating the most iconic player in franchise history.

Baltimore will face the Chicago Bears in the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday night, the opening of induction weekend as Ray Lewis officially joins football immortality. This marks the first time the Ravens will be playing in the Canton, Ohio exhibition in their 23-year history.

“We’re excited. A really good couple weeks of practice, but it’s time to go play a game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s what you work for, a chance to play the game. It’s going to be a great opportunity for a lot of our players.”

It remains to be seen how many notable veteran players will take part as Harbaugh made it clear months ago that the likes of Joe Flacco, Eric Weddle, and Terrell Suggs would not play in the extra preseason contest preceding the typical four-week schedule. In recent years, participating teams have typically held out most starters and some key backups in the Hall of Fame Game with young players on the 90-man preseason roster receiving most of the playing time.

The message is clear for young players competing for a starting role or simply trying to be noticed in their quest to earn a spot on the 53-man roster or 10-man practice squad.

“Keep it simple, pay attention to what’s important, and that’s going to be knowing your assignment and playing hard,” Harbaugh said. “If you’re on defense, run to the football. If you’re on offense, make the catch, finish the play. Keep it simple, play football, and let the chips fly.”

Thursday marks the second time the Ravens and Chicago will meet in the preseason with Baltimore winning the only other meeting in 1998. However, the Bears won a 27-24 overtime contest at M&T Bank Stadium last October and lead the all-time regular-season series by a 4-2 margin.

Baltimore has a 28-12 record in preseason games under Harbaugh and has won eight straight exhibition contests.

Unofficial (and largely speculative) injury report

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

Most of the players ruled to be out will come as no surprise, but the status of a few will remain in question. Of course, this list does not include the extensive list of veteran players and starters expected to be held out of the preseason opener due to the coaching staff’s preference.

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

OUT: G Marshal Yanda (shoulder/ankle), LB Bam Bradley (knee), CB Jaylen Hill (knee), WR Quincy Adeboyejo (quadriceps), TE Mark Andrews, OL Greg Senat
DOUBTFUL: RB Kenneth Dixon
QUESTIONABLE: LB Tyus Bowser, S Tony Jefferson, S Kai Nacua, CB Bennett Jackson, TE Hayden Hurst, G Nico Siragusa (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (Achilles tendon), CB Maurice Canady (knee)

Five players to watch Thursday night

QB Lamar Jackson

Who else would top the list? It remains to be seen whether Jackson or Robert Griffin III will get the start, but all eyes will be watching how effectively the first-round rookie commands the huddle and offense in general. Quarterbacks coach James Urban wants Jackson to simply “compete and complete” on Thursday, taking what throws the defense gives him and using his athletic ability if receivers are covered. Predictably, Jackson has been inconsistent this summer, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a highlight play or two, especially against reserves with little shot of making the Bears’ 53-man roster. Jackson’s presence alone makes this arguably the most anticipated preseason in team history.

LB Kamalei Correa

Many thought a move back to outside linebacker might finally allow Correa to reach his full potential as a former second-round pick, but he’s had a quiet start to summer and is on the roster bubble. His best path to a roster spot continues to depend on special-teams play and serving in a versatile reserve role like Albert McClellan, but that’s not what Ozzie Newsome envisioned when drafting Correa in 2016.

WR Jordan Lasley

Lasley has been as advertised coming out of UCLA, flashing big-play ability and showing inconsistent hands. He’s an emotional player, which can serve as a strength or a detriment depending on the situation. Fortunately, the Ravens don’t need Lasley to step into an impact role immediately, but seeing him connect with Jackson a few times Thursday night will have fans daydreaming about the future.

LB Kenny Young

Defensive coordinator Don Martindale went out of his way to mention the 2018 fourth-round pick being in the thick of the competition with incumbent Patrick Onwuasor for the weak-side inside linebacker spot, a surprising development based on practice reps to that point. Since then, Young has seen some snaps with the starting defense, but making an impact in pass coverage would certainly help his cause.

RB Mark Thompson

With third-year running back Kenneth Dixon sidelined with what’s believed to be a hamstring issue, the Ravens will be taking an even closer look at their trio of undrafted rookie running backs: Thompson, Gus Edwards, and De’Lance Turner. Thompson’s 6-foot-1, 235-pound frame immediately stands out, but the Florida product has shown some ability as a receiver out of the backfield to go with his physicality.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts after first week of training camp

Posted on 26 July 2018 by Luke Jones

With the first full week of training camp in the books and the Hall of Fame Game right around the corner, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Brown had a fine spring and flashed from time to time, but Thursday was the first time he consistently wowed observers with several big plays shown below. The talent he showed in a 1,000-yard season in Arizona three years ago is still there if he can just stay healthy.

2. Marlon Humphrey was victimized by Brown on a few occasions and didn’t have a good practice, but it’s evident he’s in line to start over Brandon Carr based with the way first-team reps have been distributed so far in camp. The 22-year-old is too talented to keep off the field.

3. Joe Flacco has carried a strong spring into the summer, showing improved footwork and more accuracy than he has in a long time. I have covered every training camp since 2009 and don’t recall the strong-armed quarterback ever showing so much touch on deep throws in particular.

4. The Ravens aren’t broadcasting how they’ve tweaked their defensive system, but the best way to describe it is how customized it is at every level. Rather than bunching certain fronts, blitzes, and coverages together in a standardized way, every option at every level could be in play. Sounds less predicable.

5. The Tim White hype borders on being out of control based on such a small sample size, but the 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver and return man shows good hands and is very smooth in his movements. I’m looking forward to watching him play in the preseason.

6. No Raven has transformed his body more than Willie Henry, who is listed 17 pounds lighter than he was a year ago. He’s added muscle and should provide more of a pass-rush threat for the base front, allowing Brandon Williams to play more at nose tackle in the process.

7. Orlando Brown Jr. is still developing and needs to improve his technique, but he’s handled the conditioning aspect of camp well for someone who faced questions about his weight in high school and college. It wouldn’t surprise me to see him raise his performance in a live-game setting.

8. Martindale mentioned Kenny Young as being in competition with Patrick Onwuasor for the starting weak-side inside linebacker job, which was surprising since he was responding to a question that made no mention of the rookie. Young hasn’t necessarily stood out, but this competition is one to watch.

9. The health of the rookie tight ends has been an early topic of discussion, but Hayden Hurst shows soft hands and an ability to make plays over the middle when he’s on the field. So many missed practices aren’t helping Mark Andrews’ chances for early playing time.

10. I’m rooting for Nico Siragusa to make a full recovery from the serious knee injury he sustained last summer, but it’s apparent he’s still knocking off rust and isn’t moving around particularly well. He’s taking a few more reps lately, but I’m interested to see how the team handles him.

11. Kenneth Dixon drew praise from special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg during a kickoff drill Thursday before walking gingerly to the locker room with a member of the training staff a few minutes later. It had been the most explosive he’d looked over the first week of camp.

12. With Ray Lewis officially being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next week, Ed Reed deserving to follow next year, and Terrell Suggs still in the process of putting an exclamation point on his strong case, Ravens fans might as well become quite familiar with Canton, Ohio.

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