Tag Archive | "Tom Brady"

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on first wave of free-agent activity

Posted on 17 March 2020 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Twelve Ravens thoughts approaching start of free agency

Posted on 05 March 2020 by Luke Jones

With the start of free agency now less than two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Ravens knew Marshal Yanda was returning for 2019 by last year’s combine, so Eric DeCosta saying in Indianapolis last week that he hadn’t spoken to the 35-year-old since the Pro Bowl didn’t sound encouraging. A resolution before the start of the new league year would make sense.

2. With player voting on the new collective bargaining agreement now underway and lasting a week, we should start to see more movement on at least some minor signings. Even the announcement of compensatory picks has seemingly been held up by CBA uncertainty.

3. Jimmy Smith hitting the open market to determine his value makes sense for both sides. When healthy, the 10th-year veteran remains a starting-caliber cornerback deserving of starter money, realities that may not add up for the Ravens since he’d be their No. 3 outside corner.

4. Even if the Ravens are able to draft an inside linebacker such as Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or LSU’s Patrick Queen in the first round, a veteran signing in the mold of a Josh Bynes still makes plenty of sense with L.J. Fort also still in the mix. You want options.

5. I’m interested to see how the Matthew Judon situation plays out, but Pro Football Focus isn’t as enthralled with this year’s free-agent edge rushers as much as others. We know these guys are going to get paid one way or another, but bang for the buck remains the real question.

6. Fellow 2016 first-round pick Laremy Tunsil recently firing his agent is a reminder that extending Ronnie Stanley won’t be easy or cheap as you’d expect both guys to want to be the NFL’s highest-paid left tackle. Neither will want to blink without his team making a very lucrative offer.

7. The Ravens have selected a cornerback in the fourth round or earlier in five straight drafts, a trend you’d expect to continue even if Smith re-signs or Brandon Carr’s option is picked up. The shaky development of Anthony Averett and Iman Marshall makes that more apparent.

8. The idea of trading Hayden Hurst makes little sense. It would cost nearly $3 million in additional dead money and weaken a critical position group. What would a team have to offer to motivate you to do that? Even a relatively early Day 2 pick is a “meh” for me.

9. I really like Daniel Jeremiah’s work and his insight shouldn’t be ignored given his history with the organization, but the Ravens taking a running back in the first round would be a tough sell. There’s only one football to go around, and this team barely got Justice Hill involved as it was.

10. Coaching title changes will always remind me of Dwight Schrute from “The Office,” but Harbaugh keeping last season’s staff intact will prove to be one of the biggest wins of the offseason and is a credit to how the 13th-year head coach and the organization treat their people.

11. Former first-round pick Matt Elam was waived by the XFL’s DC Defenders after only four games and hasn’t played in the NFL since 2016. Other first-round disappointments like Travis Taylor, Kyle Boller, and even Breshad Perriman at least continued their NFL careers elsewhere.

12. This has nothing to do with the Ravens, but bringing in a 43-year-old Tom Brady feels more like a move to create buzz — hello, Las Vegas Raiders — than to win. I wouldn’t bet on Brady playing elsewhere working particularly well, but I have been wrong before and will be again.

 

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Jackson, Harbaugh earn NFL honors, but lasting word on 2019 still unwritten

Posted on 01 February 2020 by Luke Jones

The Ravens stole the show in Miami on Saturday night.

After weeks of using the words “expected,” “anticipated,” “favorite,” or “lock,” we could officially call second-year quarterback Lamar Jackson the 2019 AP NFL Most Valuable Player. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner became the second-youngest MVP in league history — only Jim Brown was younger in 1957 — and only the second unanimous choice, joining Tom Brady in 2010. He’s the first Raven and fourth Baltimore player to be named AP NFL MVP, joining old Colts quarterbacks Johnny Unitas (1959, 1964, 1967), Earl Morrall (1968), and Bert Jones (1976).

His electrifying efficiency was unlike anything we’ve ever seen as Jackson shattered the single-season rushing record for a quarterback, led the league in touchdown passes, and set a slew of other records ahead of his 23rd birthday last month. His otherworldly highlights and unparalleled dual-threat ability made the Ravens the toast of the football world in the regular season, rare territory for a team historically viewed as an underdog despite its overall success.

Beginning with a record-setting five-touchdown performance and perfect passer rating 30 miles from his native Pompano Beach, Fla. in the season opener and never looking back, Jackson returned to Miami to accept the MVP award that had been all but a foregone conclusion since the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers were being polished off. In a city with no shortage of Hall of Famers and former MVPs, few have captivated Baltimore quite like Jackson after the most remarkable individual season in the Ravens’ 24-year history.

His arrival comes at a time when the city needs as much inspiration as it can get, but his impact extends beyond Charm City, evident by the reaction to Saturday’s announcement.

We’re watching someone special.

Of course, Jackson wasn’t alone as John Harbaugh won AP Coach of the Year for the first time in his career and offensive coordinator Greg Roman was voted AP Assistant Coach of the Year. Though not the same overwhelming favorite as Jackson, Harbaugh leading the Ravens to a franchise-best 14-2 record, a team-record 12 straight wins, and their first No. 1 seed made him an appropriate choice before even considering the coaching staff’s offseason reconstruction of the offense or his ahead-of-the-curve use of analytics.

The honor only adds to an impressive body of work over 12 seasons as Harbaugh already owns a Super Bowl championship, four AFC North division titles, 10 playoff wins, and eight postseason appearances. The first Ravens head coach to earn the NFL award, Harbaugh joins Weeb Ewbank (1958), Don Shula (1964, 1967, 1968), and Ted Marchibroda (1975) as Baltimore head men to win NFL Coach of the Year. Having now coached the Ravens for half of their existence, Harbaugh is building a resume that will leave him in very exclusive company if he remains on a similar track.

But Saturday wasn’t the culmination Jackson, Harbaugh, and the Ravens envisioned a month ago if we’re being reflective on the eve of the Super Bowl. After one of the best regular seasons of the 21st century, Baltimore fell short of expectations in January, the kind of pain those accolades only do so much to dull right now. Both referred to their individual honors as team awards, but the Ravens wanted to be preparing to play for the ultimate team prize the following night instead of being dressed to the nines on the red carpet.

Jackson and Harbaugh became just the 12th MVP-Coach of the Year combination for the same team, but all but two of the first 11 at least made it to the Super Bowl or NFL championship game, a reminder of a great opportunity missed. That doesn’t dismiss a regular season that was as special as it gets, but the final word on the Ravens’ 2019 legacy has yet to be written and will be shaped by the context of next season and beyond.

If Baltimore wins the Super Bowl a year from now, we’ll remember the end of this season more as the precursor to better things to come, regardless of whether Jackson repeats as MVP, Harbaugh is again voted top coach, or the Ravens are able to match a 14-2 mark. The agonizing memory of Lee Evans, Billy Cundiff, and the 2011 AFC Championship loss didn’t feel so bad after Joe Flacco and the Ravens raised the Vince Lombardi Trophy a year later. But we also know next season will be a clean slate with new challenges and no guarantees along the way.

Perhaps the most comforting perspective is knowing one of the teams sporting both the MVP and Coach of the Year that didn’t make it to the Super Bowl was the 2010 New England Patriots, who also went 14-2 before being bounced at home in the divisional round. If it could happen to Brady and Bill Belichick, it can happen to anyone, right? The Patriots would claim three more Super Bowl championships over the next decade, leaving 2010 as little more than a blip over two decades of dominance.

Last month’s playoff loss to Tennessee was an abrupt reminder of the late-season dynasty chatter being way too premature, but the Ravens will have their shot at redemption and Jackson and Harbaugh their opportunity to fortify their legacies as soon as 12 months from now. Beyond the question of longevity that any young player faces, Jackson now needs only a Super Bowl championship to stake his claim as a generational quarterback with strong Hall of Fame aspirations. If that sounds overly bold, count the number of quarterbacks who failed to be enshrined despite winning a league MVP and Super Bowl title over the course of their careers.

Another Super Bowl championship for Harbaugh — with a different starting quarterback this time — would make him all but a lock for Canton one day.

Make no mistake, the Ravens owning the spotlight the night before the Super Bowl is deserving of some celebration after the hangover of these last few weeks.

But Jackson and Harbaugh winning the Lombardi Trophy in Tampa next February will make the lasting memory of 2019 — even its bitterly disappointing ending — that much better.

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Ravens to host Tennessee in divisional round next Saturday night

Posted on 05 January 2020 by Luke Jones

An old AFC Central rivalry will be renewed as the Ravens host Tennessee in the divisional round next Saturday night.

The No. 6 seed Titans upset Tom Brady and New England in a 20-13 win in Saturday’s wild-card round and will now travel to Baltimore for the fourth ever postseason meeting between the teams. Ravens coaches focused more on the Titans in their preliminary preparations during the bye week since Baltimore was already familiar with Houston and Buffalo after playing them in the second half of the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh and his staff will resume preparations for Tennessee on Sunday with players returning to the training facility in Owings Mills on Monday.

The teams last met in Nashville in Week 6 of the 2018 season, but much has changed since that 21-0 win for the Ravens that included a franchise-record 11 sacks and just two snaps played by Lamar Jackson. That day marked the final victory of Joe Flacco’s 11-year run as Baltimore’s starting quarterback with Jackson taking the reins a month later and never looking back as he’s become the NFL MVP favorite in his second season.

The Titans have also replaced their starting quarterback since then as former second overall pick Marcus Mariota was benched earlier this year in favor of veteran Ryan Tannehill, who surprisingly led the NFL with a 117.5 passer rating in the regular season. Titans running back Derrick Henry led the league with 1,540 rushing yards this season and thrives on cutbacks off edge runs, a style that gave the Baltimore defense some problems this season.

Tennessee has emerged as the Cinderella team in the AFC after winning five of its last seven to qualify for the postseason and handing the Patriots their first loss in the wild-card round since the Ravens beat them in Foxborough in the 2009 postseason. However, former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have the unenviable task of preparing his Tennessee unit for its first look at a Jackson-led offense that broke the NFL’s single-season rushing record and became the first team to average 200 yards rushing and 200 yards passing in the same year.

The teams are tied 10-10 in the all-time regular-season series, but Baltimore holds a 2-1 edge in playoff meetings taking place in 2000, 2003, and 2008. Those were all postseason classics with the road team prevailing each time, but this will be the first in which the Ravens will be the overwhelming favorite after a 14-2 regular season that included 12 consecutive wins to give them the top seed in the AFC for the first time in their 24-year history.

The Ravens-Titans rivalry was fleeting due to divisional realignment in 2002, but it was every bit as bitter as what Ravens-Steelers would become, which should add more flavor to what already figured to be a very exciting week in Baltimore.

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Baltimore Ravens tight end Mark Andrews (89) celebrates with quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) after they connected for a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 15 win over Jets

Posted on 16 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their second straight AFC North division championship in a 42-21 win over the New York Jets, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. John Harbaugh’s team earned some extra rest after playing its fourth game in 18 days, a challenging stretch this late in the season. It’s funny how these sorts of obstacles are little more than an afterthought when you’re the best team in football riding a 10-game winning streak.

2. The Ravens shattering the 2003 team’s rushing record with two games to go probably deserves more attention. That was the year Jamal Lewis rushed for 2,066 yards — third best in NFL history — while rookie Kyle Boller and journeyman Anthony Wright played quarterback. Slightly different than having the MVP there.

3. Lamar Jackson took arguably his biggest hit of the year on the run that broke Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback. It’s a major relief those types of collisions are so rare with his uncanny ability to avoid violent contact in an 1,100-yard rushing campaign.

4. A missed extra point by Justin Tucker and a blocked punt for Sam Koch were aberrations, but the lackluster kick coverage we’ve seen throughout the season is something that can cost a team dearly at the wrong moment in January. That’s one of the few legitimate concerns on this team.

5. Thursday was a reminder of how much the Ravens still rely on the blitz to create pressure. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold had time and room to operate when Wink Martindale called for a simpler four-man rush, especially in the first half.

6. After back-to-back quiet games, Marquise Brown delivered one of his best plays of the season by getting his feet in on Jackson’s 24-yard touchdown pass. It was also a bold strategy in the New York secondary to pass the speedy rookie off to no one in deep coverage.

7. Tyus Bowser hasn’t lived up to his original second-round billing, but he’s had a solid season as a rotational edge defender. His fifth sack of the season and the resulting fumble helped put this game away after the Ravens had punted twice to begin the second half.

8. Mark Ingram tied his career high with his fourth touchdown reception and continues to run with a relentless style that’s fit perfectly in this offense. Le’Veon Bell drew more outside attention leading up to free agency, but Ingram has been the superior player and the better bargain.

9. If the 33-yard touchdown pass to Seth Roberts looked familiar, it was virtually the same route that Jackson overthrew at the end of regulation in Pittsburgh back in Week 5, a game the Ravens won in overtime. Coaches note how the young quarterback rarely makes the same mistake twice.

10. A substantial sample size supported the concerns about James Hurst filling in for the concussed Ronnie Stanley, but you forgot the veteran reserve was even out there on Thursday night, which is exactly what you want. Hurst deserves praise for his play at left tackle.

11. Having a 28-7 lead certainly helped make the decision easier, but going for it on a fourth-and-1 from your own 29 is the kind of aggressive call that’s giving the Ravens an additional edge over opponents. It enhances your play calling, your win probability, and your team’s mindset.

12. Jackson exchanged jerseys with three different Jets players and even had Tom Brady tweeting about wanting to race him during Thursday’s game. It’s Super Bowl or bust when a team is 12-2 the week before Christmas, but try not to take for granted how special this all is right now.

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Jackson, Watson renew college rivalry as superstars at next level

Posted on 14 November 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Lamar Jackson and the Ravens have already played quite the slate of quarterbacks from a storyline perspective this season.

Jackson has faced off against fellow Heisman Trophy winners (Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield), the reigning league MVP (Patrick Mahomes), one of the most accomplished dual-threat quarterbacks in NFL history (Russell Wilson), and arguably the greatest quarterback of all time (Tom Brady). But Houston’s Deshaun Watson might be the closest contemporary to the one-of-a-kind Jackson in terms of skill set, making Sunday’s showdown between the AFC North-leading Ravens and the AFC South-leading Texans — currently the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the conference respectively — that much more exciting.

These former ACC rivals met once before in one of college football’s best games in recent memory in which Watson and No. 5 Clemson edged Jackson and No. 3 Louisville in a 42-36 shootout in 2016. Watson threw for 306 yards and five touchdowns and rushed for 91 yards in that instant classic while Jackson passed for 295 yards and a touchdown and ran for 162 yards and two touchdowns.

“He was just dicing us down the field,” recalled Jackson, who lamented his Cardinals offense falling one yard shy of a first down inside the red zone on the final drive. “Our defense did great, don’t get me wrong. Our defense played a great game, but he was just doing Deshaun Watson things — scoring touchdowns, making incredible throws. They came out with the victory.”

Watson would lead Clemson to a national championship by season’s end while a 19-year-old Jackson became the youngest player to ever win the Heisman Trophy that December. And after proving wrong a list of doubters that included multiple quarterback-needy teams passing on them in their respective drafts years, Watson and Jackson meet again as MVP candidates in what Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale is calling “one of those NFL history games” in this new age of dual-threat quarterbacks.

That’s not to say Watson and Jackson are the same exact player, of course.

The 24-year-old Watson only fell to 12th overall in the 2017 draft and threw an amazing 19 touchdowns in his first seven games before an ACL tear sustained in practice cruelly ended his rookie campaign. Jackson, 22, faced much harsher scrutiny a year later with some even suggesting he change positions and virtually every team in the league passing on him — including the Ravens — before Baltimore traded back into the first round to select him 32nd overall. While Watson was an overnight sensation whose only hiccup over his first three years has come via injury, Jackson intially had to wait his turn behind longtime starter Joe Flacco as a rookie and has shown eye-opening improvement as a passer in his second year, making his loudest doubters look very foolish.

Thanks in part to a higher volume of opportunities and an all-world wide receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, Watson maintains the edge as a passer in terms of both conventional numbers and ESPN QBR’s pure passing expected points added metric, but Jackson owns a better passing grade from Pro Football Focus through Week 10. In terms of yards per attempt, Watson’s 8.1 barely edges Jackson’s 8.0, reinforcing the gap being smaller than you’d think when looking only at completion percentage and counting numbers.

We know Jackson has no equal as a record-setting rushing quarterback in today’s game, but Watson surprisingly has a slightly better PFF run grade entering Week 11, which needn’t be taken as a contrarian viewpoint as much as a reflection of his own ability to make plays with his legs — even while lacking the same speed or penchant for running as the Ravens quarterback. Jackson leads the NFL at a whopping 6.6 yards per carry, but Watson ranks fourth at 5.4 yards per rush among those with at least 50 carries.

Watson’s impressive consistency over 32 career games and Jackson’s tremendous leap in his second season have essentially left the two on a level playing field in the present. One can make the “Coke or Pepsi” pick in terms of preferring a more polished passer with very good mobility or the lesser — but rapidly improving — thrower with transcendent rushing ability.

Either way, there’s nothing fair about it for defenses having to account for their kind of dual-threat ability that’s changing the NFL.

“Peyton Manning was extremely hard to defend. Tom Brady is hard to defend. But neither one of them could run a 4.3 [40-yard dash],” ninth-year cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “You don’t have to worry about tackling them on any given play. There’s nothing more backbreaking for a defense than to keep an offense at third-and-10 or third-and-15 and a freaking quarterback just takes it with his legs and gets a first down and extends a drive. It just hurts. These types of quarterbacks can do that now days.

“It’s just basically the whole college offense transitioning to the NFL. It’s kind of great to see actually.”

Three years after squaring off as the two best players in college football, Jackson and Watson will again be starring on the same field. This week, Jackson referred to Watson as “Brodie” — a term of endearment — while the Texans quarterback described himself as a “proud friend” watching the quarterback who edged him out for the Heisman Trophy silence his critics, speaking to their affection for one another. On Thursday, both were nominated by their teammates for the 2019 Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award, a reflection of their character and leadership ability at such young ages.

Jackson and Watson are changing the game, making you believe what they did in their first meeting at the collegiate level three years ago was only scratching the surface. Whoever comes out on top this time around could be making a loud statement in the MVP race.

“We’re just doing our thing,” Jackson said. “We’re just playing ball, having fun, doing what all of us have done since we were kids, doing something we love. That’s all.”

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 02 November 2019 by Luke Jones

The question has been asked since the final seconds ticked away in the Ravens’ statement win at Seattle two weeks ago.

How will Baltimore attack a New England defense that’s given up an absurd 7.6 points per game and third-down conversions just 15.6 percent of the time this season? The Patriots defense has scored as many touchdowns (four) as it’s allowed all year. Easy schedule or not, you just don’t see those kinds of amazing numbers in the modern NFL that panders to offense.

A Bill Belichick defense tries to take away what an opponent does best, forcing its offense to play “left-handed.” But no one makes a defense look like it’s playing with two left feet quite like Lamar Jackson, creating one of the most fascinating matchups of the season.

You can bet on Belichick and the Patriots showing Jackson something he hasn’t seen in his first full year as a starter, but New England hasn’t faced anyone quite like the 22-year-old, making New England’s streak of 21 straight wins over rookie or second-year quarterbacks less relevant.

“We’ll see how good they are once we play them,” Ravens tight end Nick Boyle said. “I mean I don’t think they’ve seen anyone like our offense or like Lamar — special player. But they’re a good team, and we really need to bring our ‘A’ game and make sure we’re on everything.”

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the first time since 2016 and the 10th time overall in the regular-season series with the Patriots enjoying an 8-1 mark. The Ravens are just 1-3 against New England in Baltimore, but they’re 3-6 overall against the Patriots in the John Harbaugh era, which includes a 2-2 record in the postseason.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Mark Ingram will rush for 100 yards for the first time since Week 3. Recent opponents have committed to stopping the Baltimore running game between the tackles, which has led to Jackson running wild off the edge while Ingram has averaged just 3.2 yards per carry over the last three games. One of the Patriots’ biggest strengths is their discipline, which will keep Jackson from dominating with his legs. However, their relative weakness has been stopping the run as Buffalo and Cleveland — the only good ground games New England has faced — both averaged more than 6.0 yards per carry. The Patriots have a good front, but it isn’t dominant enough to contain both Jackson and Ingram.

2. A trick play will lead to a Patriots touchdown. New England leads the league in points scored, but 25 takeaways mask what’s been a mediocre start for an offense ranking 16th in yards per game, 23rd in rush offense, 18th on third down, and 23rd inside the red zone. Meanwhile, the Ravens are coming off their best defensive showing of the season against Seattle. The defensive communication and discipline have improved in recent weeks, but there are still many new parts to this group and Tom Brady and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are aware of that. With two receivers — Julian Edelman and Mohamed Sanu — capable of throwing the ball, the Ravens must be on alert for trickery.

3. Lamar Jackson will throw for 180 yards and a touchdown to Mark Andrews with no turnovers. The Patriots play more man coverage — and play it better — than anyone in the league, but a secondary turning its back to Jackson is a dangerous proposition when he breaks free from the pocket, which is why opponents are forced to play more zone against him. Zone coverage creates the throwing lanes a more accurate Jackson has taken better advantage of this year. New England is also very good playing zone and opportunities for big plays against a terrific pass defense will be sparse, but Jackson’s improvement protecting the ball has been the most overlooked part of his progress this year.

4. James White will catch a touchdown and be Tom Brady’s leading receiver. With Marlon Humphrey likely to travel with Edelman, Brady will need to look elsewhere for consistent completions with White ranking second on the team with 42 catches for 358 yards. Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort have brought stability at inside linebacker, but that’s still an area of the defense opponents should try to exploit. New England must rely on scheme more than ever without dynamic talent at the skill positions, so look for White to find space underneath thanks to some creative looks and formations. Of course, if the toe injury that landed White on Friday’s injury report is an issue, all bets could be off here.

5. A late takeaway and superior special teams will help the Ravens hold on for a 20-17 win. Neither of these teams is built to play from behind, making it critical for Baltimore to stay on schedule and have a lead entering the fourth quarter when the ground game can impose its will. But special teams will also loom large in a tight game with Football Outsiders ranking Baltimore first in efficiency and New England ranking an uncharacteristic 26th and having just signed new kicker Nick Folk this week. Justin Tucker is a perfect 16-for-16 on field goals this season and will once again be a difference-maker in a close tilt. The Ravens are the more rested team and are 9-2 coming off their bye under Harbaugh, which will give them another edge in handing the Patriots their first defeat of 2019. What more could you ask for in the first Sunday night game played in Baltimore since 2012?

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M. Brown, Onwuasor back at practice as Ravens get ready for New England

Posted on 30 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Aiming to make a statement against the defending Super Bowl champions and the AFC’s last undefeated team on Sunday night, the Ravens gladly welcomed back two starters in their first full practice since the bye week.

Sidelined since suffering ankle injuries in the Oct. 6 win at Pittsburgh, rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown and veteran inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor were limited participants in Wednesday’s workout. Head coach John Harbaugh said both remain “on track” to play against New England earlier this week, but Brown chose his words more carefully when asked to assess his chances of suiting up for Sunday’s game.

The Ravens are hoping a healthy Brown can help unlock a vertical passing game that’s largely been dormant since the first two games of the season when he registered a combined 12 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns. The injury to his right ankle was a frustrating development for the 2019 first-round pick, who missed spring workouts and the start of training camp while recovering from offseason Lisfranc surgery on his left foot.

“It’s very tough just to sit and watch after sitting and watching [previously] since I’ve been here,” Brown said. “It’s tough, but I have good teammates and good people around me.

“We’re taking it day by day. I want to be out there, so hopefully I can.”

Onwuasor is working his way back from a high ankle sprain and is expected to settle into a three-man rotation with starting “Mike” linebacker Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort, who started the last two games in Onwuasor’s absence. The arrivals of Bynes and Fort have helped stabilize an inside linebacker position that was very problematic early in the season, but Onwuasor’s ability to blitz from the weak-side spot could provide a boost to a pass rush that’s managed only 12 sacks in seven games.

In addition to Brown and Onwuasor, veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith is expected to make his long-awaited return from a right knee injury sustained in the Sept. 8 opener at Miami. The 31-year-old practiced on a limited basis two weeks ago before sitting out the Week 7 win in Seattle, but he deemed himself “ready to go” before Wednesday’s practice.

“Knees are a little different,” said Smith, who’s missed the last six games. “I just take it day by day working hard with the trainers and just making sure I feel good and taking care of the rest of my body because sometimes in rehab, that stuff kind of goes away. But we worked hard every day with that and made sure I could cut and do everything I needed to do to get out here for this week.”

Only one player on Baltimore’s 53-man roster was absent from Wednesday’s workout as free safety Earl Thomas sat out with a knee issue. It’s unclear whether he hurt his knee in the Seattle game or is dealing with more general soreness, but the six-time Pro Bowl selection has regularly received Wednesday practices off during the season, making his absence less concerning for the time being despite it coming off the bye week.

New England’s entire roster took part in Wednesday’s practice in some capacity, but 14-time Pro Bowl quarterback Tom Brady was limited due to a right shoulder issue. The 42-year-old’s status for Sunday isn’t believed to be in any danger, but the Patriots did re-sign backup quarterback Cody Kessler earlier this week.

The Patriots also listed wide receiver Julian Edelman (chest/shoulder), safety Patrick Chung (heel/chest), and right guard Shaq Mason (ankle) as limited participants. Mason sat out New England’s win against Cleveland last Sunday.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Earl Thomas (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marquise Brown (ankle), CB Maurice Canady (thigh), LB Patrick Onwuasor (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (knee)

NEW ENGLAND
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Tom Brady (right shoulder), RB Rex Burkhead (foot), S Patrick Chung (heel/chest), WR Julian Edelman (chest/shoulder), TE Ryan Izzo (concussion), TE Matt LaCosse (knee), G Shaq Mason (ankle), WR Gunner Olszewski (Ankle/hamstring)

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A bright purple idea to replace The Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance with a new thing

Posted on 30 October 2019 by Nestor Aparicio

Because most of you know I turned the Ravens bye week into a “buh-bye” week at WNST and served up a healthy dose of Baltimore Positive conversations, I had some time to digest the Ravens win in Seattle in many ways from the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

The incredible win at The Link in The Emerald City was certainly a statement win for the 2019 version of the Ravens but also for the franchise and its new leader Lamar Jackson, who has electrified the sport and suddenly reinvigorated the football energy in Baltimore. This kind of Sunday night against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots is everything you’d want for our city and our stadium as Light City – the coolest idea our city has had to bring people back to the Inner Harbor since Governor Schaefer built Harborplace – kicks off in earnest in my ‘hood.

(This is your official invitation to come back downtown and participate in what is great about Baltimore! I will be happy to show you around!)

One thing that a puke green weekend 3,000 miles away in the rain in Seattle showed me was how rowdy a city hungry for football can still be – but also how really inspired the brilliant “12th man” brand they have created for the Seahawks is on game day as a real home field asset. The fans and locally chosen Seattle celebrities and dignitaries and former greats get to raise the flag and make the crowd go berserk at kickoff.

I remember what that was like in Baltimore when Ray Lewis danced every Sunday to ignite an energy that made 33rd Street feel like a bingo hall.

You don’t have to be a rock and roll fan to know that seeing Mike McCready of Pearl Jam stoke the crowd is pretty bad ass. (Of course that didn’t help the Seahawks players tackle Lamar Jackson 20 minutes later but I think you get my point, especially if you ever attended a game where No. 52 did the Squirrel Dance and the hair on the back of your neck stood up. I remember to never forget!)

I have been wanting to write and discuss this for a month now but there was NOTHING that has happened at a Ravens game recently that surpassed that moment when Brian Billick came out of that tunnel holding up the Lombardi Trophy against the Browns on that day they put him into the Ring of Honor.

It occurred to me that we had 105 players (and lots more significant humans if you count coaches, staff and other “ring wearers” from the organization and front office) on the field who won the Super Bowl as Baltimore Ravens and deserve to hoist that silver trophy for the fans one more time.

If Brad Downs and the folks over at the purple palace want my best idea for free, here it is:

Bring back a Super Bowl 35 or 47 champion EVERY week for as long as they are alive and have them lifting the Silver Betty (or its 12-year baby brother “Joe”) and make that our “12th man” or some kind of replacement for the irreplaceable and never to return Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance.

Anquan Boldin came out and took a bow two weeks ago. Was the Lombardi Trophy unavailable that day? Imagine how nuts the crowd would’ve gone?!?

We once had Nelly and “Hot in Herre” and a transcendent football player who now has a statue at the gate. That ain’t coming back any more than the Johnny Unitas statue next to it is walking back into Memorial Stadium in black high tops.

In Baltimore, Maryland, we have trophies that should be shown off more often than the humble Ravens have cared to do so in recent years – and that should change.

I’d never let a team walk into our stadium and not know and FEEL it ever again.

I know it didn’t go well against the Cleveland Browns after the Billick silver “sky spear” than it went for the Seahawks two weeks ago at Century Link Field, but it is a moment worth replicating and certainly better than anything goofy Terrell Suggs ever did in the aftermath of the Ray Lewis Squirrel.

The Ravens could sell it and stock it with players who were a part of a championship team. And then encourage it for the alums who made big plays in January that led to those Super Bowl parades. And every one of them was on the field for many a Ray Lewis Squirrel Dance and a confetti shower.

THAT’S the way to kick off a game against Tom Brady – or anyone for that matter – if you want to intimidate the opponent. If Billick can roll out of the tunnel with Silver Betty then why not James Trapp or Mike Flynn from Tampa? Or Michael Oher or Bryant McKinnie from New Orleans?

We are 23 years into this thing and the Baltimore Ravens are always chasing their own greatness and higher standards than the orange puke across the parking lot where they canceled their own offseason fan festival and still treat the fans like an ATM. As a guy who has dedicated his life to the passion around Baltimore sports, I have seen how hard the Ravens franchise and its human beings have had to work in the aftermath of London and the aging

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Twelve Ravens thoughts going into Week 9

Posted on 29 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens coming off their bye week with a 5-2 record and a two-game lead in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The winless Miami Dolphins were the big only “buyers” on a toothless trade deadline day, but remember the Ravens acquired two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters two weeks ago for a benched linebacker and a 2020 fifth-round pick. That’s a lot more than other contenders could say.

2. That Eric DeCosta inquired about Pro Bowl safety Jamal Adams reaffirms the philosophy of having a strong secondary above all else on defense. Legitimate pass-rush concerns remain, but having Peters and a healthy Jimmy Smith helps reset the defense closer to its pre-summer state. We’ll see how it plays out.

3. Not counting Pittsburgh’s annual trip to Baltimore, I’m not sure the Ravens have played a more anticipated home game in the regular season since hosting New England for Sunday Night Football in 2012, a contest sandwiched between their AFC Championship meetings. I can’t wait.

4. After labeling Lamar Jackson “a big problem” for his defense, Bill Belichick is bound to show the young quarterback something he hasn’t seen before. However, the future Hall of Fame coach hasn’t seen a talent quite like Jackson either. I’ll repeat that throughout the week.

5. If you bristled over the talk about the Ravens’ schedule prior to the win at Seattle, pump the brakes on being too dismissive about the New England defense’s slate of opponents to this point. The numbers are simply ridiculous — even against bad competition — in today’s NFL.

6. The Ravens are 9-2 immediately following their bye in the John Harbaugh era with the only defeats coming in 2013 and 2015, two of Harbaugh’s three non-winning seasons. That doesn’t guarantee victory, but Baltimore usually plays its best with extra time to prepare, which isn’t a given in this league.

7. Former Raven Lawrence Guy has carved out a nice place for himself in New England, but his career highlight may now be his involvement in a play the “Butt Fumble” thought was embarrassing. Congratulations are in order for his first career interception.

8. I’ve been asked recently about Gus Edwards receiving more touches. Edwards has averaged 5.2 yards per carry since Week 3 while Mark Ingram — a more complete back — has been slowed some recently, but there’s only one football. I suspect we’ll see a few more carries for Edwards down the stretch.

9. After watching another uninspiring performance by Cleveland and Pittsburgh falling behind 14-0 to Miami before waking up to regroup, I remain convinced it would take quite a collapse by the Ravens to not win the AFC North in comfortable fashion. Those division foes aren’t reeling off a long winning streak.

10. The Willie Snead extension didn’t prove to be the harbinger of a deadline trade, but Baltimore had under $2 million in salary cap space and needed flexibility for inevitable roster maneuvering the rest of the way. It’s a solid move to keep a reliable slot receiver who’s a good blocker.

11. News of C.J. Mosley missing at least another five to six weeks with a groin injury was bad news for the Ravens’ projected third-round compensatory pick. The more time he misses, the greater the chance that selection becomes a fourth-rounder. Mosley missed just three games in five years with Baltimore.

12. The Ravens will be wearing their black jerseys for the first time this season, and Ed Reed will be in the house to receive his Hall of Fame ring at halftime. As if you needed more reason to be pumped for a game against Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots.

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