Tag Archive | "Tony Jefferson"

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Ravens lose McPhee for season, cut Bethel to recoup compensatory pick

Posted on 21 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Coming off their best performance of the season in which two takeaways were returned for touchdowns, the Ravens still can’t catch a break on defense.

After leaving the game early in the second quarter of Sunday’s 30-16 win over Seattle, veteran outside linebacker Pernell McPhee is expected to miss the remainder of the season with what’s believed to be a torn triceps, according to head coach John Harbaugh. It’s a major blow to a pass rush that has recorded just 12 sacks over the first seven games of the season and has struggled to consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks.

The 30-year-old had collected three sacks and started all seven games after signing a one-year, $1.03 million contract in May to return to Baltimore to help fill the void left by free-agent departures Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith and rejuvenate a career plagued by injuries in recent years. Expected to be more of a situational rusher before younger edge defenders struggled in the preseason, McPhee was averaging a career-high 42.5 defensive snaps per game through the first six weeks, serving both as an edge defender and as an interior rusher in obvious passing situations.

“He wanted to prove himself. He wanted to get back on track and demonstrate that he still could play,” Harbaugh said. “And to do it here, to be the leader that he was, he’s been instrumental. He’s been instrumental with the young guys. He’s been a very good player for us.

“I see no reason why he can’t recover from a triceps injury and be back next year stronger than ever.”

McPhee’s injury creates even more urgency for general manager Eric DeCosta to add pass-rushing help by the Oct. 29 trade deadline, but the Ravens started Monday with just $1.933 million in 2019 salary cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. With McPhee playing only 12 defensive snaps against Seattle, rookie Jaylon Ferguson played 46 defensive snaps, third-year outside linebacker Tyus Bowser played 22, and situational rusher Jihad Ward saw 39.

With limited resources available and not knowing how much other teams might ask for an impact pass rusher in a potential trade, the Ravens’ best bet for meaningful improvement might be the continued development of Ferguson, who was drafted in the third round out of Louisiana Tech in April and holds the NCAA Division I career sacks record previously set by Suggs. The 6-foot-5, 270-pound Ferguson finished with three tackles (one for a loss) and a quarterback hit against the Seahawks.

“He played his best game, a very physical game and against a couple of really big, grabby tackles to say the least,” Harbaugh said. “He was strong at the point of attack and applied pressure, ran to the ball. He played really well.”

Sunday marked the third straight game in which a Baltimore defensive player was lost to a season-ending injury after starting strong safety Tony Jefferson sustained a torn ACL in Week 5 and reserve safety DeShon Elliott hurt his knee in Week 6.

Business decision with Bethel

The Ravens signing unrestricted free-agent cornerback Justin Bethel in the opening week of free agency was always surprising because of the negative impact on the compensatory pick formula, but it spoke to how they valued the three-time Pro Bowl special-teams player.

Their hand was forced over the weekend, however, when Tennessee released former Baltimore defensive end Brent Urban, a move that would have stripped the Ravens of a projected 2020 fourth-round compensatory pick had Bethel remained on the roster through Week 10. Despite the 29-year-old leading Baltimore with four special-teams tackles this season, DeCosta simply couldn’t justify passing on an early Day 3 draft pick to keep someone who’s played only 16 defensive snaps this season.

Bethel was released Monday, giving the coaching staff time over the bye week to account for his departure.

“That’s tough for us because he’s playing [so well],” Harbaugh said. “I told him I think he’s the best special-teams player in the NFL, and he’s playing that way. That’s going to be a blow, and we’re going to have to find a way to overcome that.”

Full strength after bye week?

Despite the McPhee injury, Harbaugh expressed optimism about his team’s health coming out of the Week 8 bye with an exciting Nov. 3 showdown with New England looming.

Wide receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) and inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (ankle) have missed the last two games while cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) has been out since the season opener, but all are on track to return against the Patriots, according to Harbaugh. Reserve cornerback Maurice Canady also missed Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury suffered against Cincinnati in Week 6.

“We feel very confident we should have all those guys back barring a setback, so to speak, and I can’t even imagine what that would be right now,” Harbaugh said. “Very optimistic that we’ll be full strength coming out of the bye.”

Smith worked out on a limited basis last week before missing his sixth straight game, but neither Brown nor Onwuasor have seen the practice field since being injured in the Week 5 win at Pittsburgh.

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Ravens sign safety Bennett Jackson, place DeShon Elliott on IR

Posted on 15 October 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have brought back a familiar preseason face in the wake of their latest injury at the safety position.

General manager Eric DeCosta signed veteran safety Bennett Jackson off the New York Jets practice squad after placing DeShon Elliott (knee) on injured reserve Tuesday morning. Jackson, 28, spent the last two offseasons with the organization and knows Baltimore’s defensive system, but he’d been a victim of the numbers game in a once-deep secondary that’s now lost three safeties — Elliott, Tony Jefferson, and Brynden Trawick — to injuries over the last month.

Jackson played well this past preseason, finishing with nine tackles, one interception, and a pass breakup. That performance resulted in the Jets claiming him off waivers after final roster cuts, but he spent only one week on their 53-man roster before being cut and re-signed to their practice squad.

“He’s been around a long time. He’s worked hard,” said head coach John Harbaugh in August. “He’s faced a lot of adversity with the injuries and different things. It’s good to see him play well, and he’s definitely good enough play in the National Football League.”

The 2014 sixth-round pick of the New York Giants battled injuries early in his career and has never played in a regular-season game, making him an impressive example of perseverance more than five years after being drafted out of Notre Dame. Jackson will likely fill a special-teams role for the Ravens and could factor into certain sub packages if defensive coordinator Wink Martindale wants to continue using some of the four-safety looks we saw in the Week 6 win over Cincinnati.

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Elliott goes down with latest season-ending injury in Ravens secondary

Posted on 14 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The injury hits to the Ravens secondary keep on coming.

A week after starting safety Tony Jefferson suffered a torn ACL, reserve safety DeShon Elliott sustained a knee injury against Cincinnati that’s expected to sideline him for the rest of the season. The second-year defensive back hurt his left knee in a collision with teammate Justin Bethel on a deep pass intended for Bengals wide receiver Alex Erickson late in the fourth quarter.

“It’s just way worse than we thought it was going to be — that the doctors thought after the game,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s preliminary, but it sounded like they were pretty confident that it wasn’t good. We’ll go with that until further notice, and that’s where we’re at. We’ll have to find a replacement there and move forward.”

A 2018 sixth-round pick out of Texas, Elliott had just stepped into a larger role as the top backup behind starters Earl Thomas and Chuck Clark, playing a career-high 27 defensive snaps and finishing with one tackle and a pass breakup in the 23-17 win. The 22-year-old missed his entire rookie season with a fractured forearm and turned heads with his play during spring and summer practices.

With the Ravens revamping the inside linebacker position over the last two weeks and playing without starter Patrick Onwuasor against Cincinnati, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale frequently used sub packages that didn’t include any traditional inside linebackers as Elliott entered at safety and Clark played in the box. Elliott’s injury leaves Baltimore with only one healthy reserve safety — dime back Anthony Levine — behind Thomas and Clark, making an outside addition likely. Safety A.J. Howard was signed to the practice squad last week, but the Appalachian State product hasn’t appeared in an NFL game after going undrafted last year.

The Ravens began the regular season with six safeties on the 53-man roster before losing veteran reserve Brynden Trawick (elbow), Jefferson, and now Elliott. Cornerback Maurice Canady also left Sunday’s game with a hamstring issue, which forced Bethel — almost exclusively a special-teams player — into fourth-quarter action against the Bengals.

“I don’t know to what degree,” said Harbaugh about Canady’s hamstring injury. “I’d say he’s probably day-to-day. We’ll see how he does Wednesday, Thursday.”

It remains unclear when cornerback Jimmy Smith will return to practice after missing his fifth straight game with a Grade 2 MCL sprain in his right knee. The Ravens lost slot cornerback Tavon Young to a season-ending neck injury and rookie corner Iman Marshall to a toe injury in August, but the latter remains eligible to return later this season.

Harbaugh was noncommittal about the Week 7 availability of Onwuasor and top wide receiver Marquise Brown, who both missed Sunday’s game with right ankle injuries suffered against Pittsburgh. The two remain “day-to-day” after missing practices all last week.

“If we see them practicing as the week goes on, we’ll be confident that they can play,” Harbaugh said. “If we don’t, then we won’t. They both have ankles that they’re dealing with, and those things just kind of heal when they heal.

“They had a chance [to play Sunday]; I was told that they had a chance for the game. After Friday, it didn’t look as good. They just didn’t feel that they were there, and they weren’t.”

After this Sunday’s game at Seattle, the Ravens will welcome their Week 8 bye to try to get healthy for a challenging second-half schedule.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 13 October 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens will be without their leading wide receiver as they welcome Cincinnati to town for Week 6.

After missing the entire week of practice with a right ankle injury sustained in last Sunday’s overtime win at Pittsburgh, rookie wide receiver Marquise Brown is inactive. Head coach John Harbaugh had labeled the first-round pick a game-time decision after Friday’s practice, but Brown didn’t work out on the field at M&T Bank Stadium in the hour leading up to the inactive list being released.

Baltimore saw its early offensive success fizzle when Brown left the Steelers game midway through the second quarter, and he was ineffective upon returning in the fourth quarter, making only one catch for three yards. The speedy Oklahoma product has registered 21 catches for a team-leading 326 yards and three touchdowns in his first five NFL games while other Baltimore wide receivers have combined for 24 receptions for 336 yards and four touchdowns this season. Needless to say, the Ravens need some combination of Willie Snead, Seth Roberts, and rookie Miles Boykin to step up against the Bengals.

The Ravens will also be without starting inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor (right ankle), who didn’t practice all week and was spotted wearing a walking boot on Tuesday. His absence further complicates a struggling position group that turned to the just-signed Josh Bynes as the starting “Mike” linebacker against the Steelers. That move allowed Onwuasor to move back to the weak-side spot where he had played well in the previous two seasons.

With Onwuasor out, veteran L.J. Fort was lining up at the weak-side spot during warmups while Kenny Young and Chris Board lined up with the second defense. Young was a healthy scratch last week after starting three of the first four games while Board played only one defensive snap in Pittsburgh.

Onwuasor’s absence and Tony Jefferson’s season-ending knee injury last week leave Sunday’s Ravens defense with just two remaining starters — defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Brandon Carr — from the group that lined up on the first defensive snap against the Bengals in Week 11 last November (see below). Of course, that doesn’t include cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who played 42 of 55 defensive snaps in that contest.

Third-year safety Chuck Clark is expected to wear the “green-dot” helmet with the speaker to relay calls to the defensive huddle after Onwuasor and Jefferson were the ones to previously handle those responsibilities this season. It’s a lot to ask of someone who’s made just three career NFL starts, but Clark is regarded by teammates and coaches as one of the smartest players on the team.

With Brown sidelined for Sunday’s game, second-year wide receiver Jaleel Scott is active for the first time in his NFL career. It will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Greg Roman gives the 6-foot-5 Scott any looks in the passing game with the Ravens lacking play-making ability at the position without Brown.

Recently-signed defensive lineman Jihad Ward is also active for Baltimore.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (knee) is missing his fifth straight game.

There were no surprises among the Cincinnati inactives after the Bengals officially ruled out six players on Friday, a list including seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle), two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee), and offensive tackles Cordy Glenn (concussion) and Andre Smith (ankle). John Jerry — officially listed as a guard — is expected to start at left tackle, which is not an encouraging situation for an 0-5 Bengals team that’s already surrendered 20 sacks this season.

Sunday’s referee is Clay Martin.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the mid-60s with winds light and variable and only a slight chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their purple jerseys with white pants while Cincinnati dons white tops with black pants for Week 6.

Sunday marks the 47th all-time meeting between these teams with the series tied at 23-23. The Ravens are seeking back-to-back wins against the Bengals for the first time since the regular-season finale of the 2011 campaign and the 2012 season opener. Yes, it’s been a long time.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Marquise Brown
ILB Patrick Onwuasor
CB Jimmy Smith
CB Anthony Averett
G Ben Powers
DT Daylon Mack
QB Trace McSorley

CINCINNATI
DE Carlos Dunlap
DT Ryan Glasgow
OT Cordy Glenn
WR A.J. Green
OT Andre Smith
DE Kerry Wynn
QB Jake Dolegala

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With tough schedule ahead, Ravens defense hoping for another step forward

Posted on 10 October 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens defense took a step in the right direction in Pittsburgh.

Needing overtime to beat Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges — who still managed a 98.1 passer rating in relief of the injured Mason Rudolph — hardly qualifies as a breakthrough, but standout cornerback Marlon Humphrey’s strip and recovery against Pro Bowl wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was exactly what the Ravens needed for a 26-23 win and a long exhale after giving up a combined 73 points and over 1,000 yards the previous two weeks. The performance was far from perfect, but it was good enough, especially with a home game against winless Cincinnati looming on Sunday and the rest of the AFC North seemingly in disarray.

Executive vice president and former general manager Ozzie Newsome said it best to defensive coordinator Wink Martindale on the plane ride home to Baltimore.

“He said, ‘Just keep getting better. Just keep getting better,’” said Martindale, who praised his group’s improved tackling and situational work against the Steelers. “And that’s true. That’s the way this National Football League is.”

Of course, the road victory over their struggling division rival didn’t come without another significant setback as strong safety Tony Jefferson was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. Labeled the “heart and soul” of the defense by head coach John Harbaugh and having just taken over the responsibilities of relaying the calls in the defensive huddle, Jefferson was a veteran leader for a group already missing former Ravens Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, and C.J. Mosley. Jefferson’s loss on top of the existing concerns about the pass rush, inside linebacker, and the other injuries in the secondary is tough to take.

Third-year safety Chuck Clark is expected to take his place with 2018 sixth-round pick DeShon Elliott also stepping into a larger role in different sub packages. It’s hardly ideal, but Clark played well in two starts in place of Jefferson last year and has been praised repeatedly for his football intellect. The Ravens are about to find out what they have with their two younger options next to six-time Pro Bowl free safety Earl Thomas, who is still finding his own way in a more complex system than what he was used to in Seattle.

“We just have to go on with business as usual,” Thomas said. “Chuck will come in, and he’ll help out and I’ll fit right where I need to be. If I know the check-it and I see it, I’ll be vocal about it, but Chuck is going to take on that role as well.”

The Ravens were able to slow their heartbeat at inside linebacker with the addition of veteran Josh Bynes, whose performance as the “Mike” linebacker against Pittsburgh after only three practices and not being with an NFL team since March was nothing short of remarkable. The 30-year-old has rarely been a full-time starter in a nine-year career that began in Baltimore and will surely be tested by better offenses in the coming weeks, but the Ravens hope the stability he brought to the position in Week 5 will continue after the offseason plan to go exclusively younger and faster in the wake of Mosley’s free-agent departure clearly wasn’t working.

Bynes’ arrival has allowed the Ravens to move Patrick Onwuasor back to the weak-side position where he thrived down the stretch last season. It’s a move the fourth-year linebacker is on board with after his early struggles at Mosley’s old position. The shuffling led to 2018 fourth-round pick Kenny Young being a healthy scratch and fellow second-year linebacker Chris Board playing only one defensive snap against the Steelers.

“I felt way more comfortable. I was flying around,” said Onwuasor, who finished with seven tackles and one for a loss. “That was my natural position. It just felt like it fit me perfectly, and I think Wink could tell a little bit that I like that position a little bit better.”

Martindale will continue to tinker with both the starting lineup and sub packages to find the optimal fits, especially in a secondary ravaged by injuries. Last week brought the promotion of veteran cornerback Maurice Canady to the starting lineup after second-year defensive back Anthony Averett had struggled in place of the injured Jimmy Smith, who will miss his fifth straight game with a knee injury. Brandon Carr continues to play most of the snaps at the nickel position after the preseason loss of Tavon Young, but the 33-year-old would ideally be on more of a pitch count to keep him fresh all year.

Still, the greatest concern remains with the pass rush as the Ravens are tied for 24th in the NFL with only nine sacks and 26th in Football Outsiders’ adjusted sack rate, which is adjusted for down, distance, and opponent. Unlike the secondary that has Smith’s return to look forward to, there are no pass-rushing reinforcements on the way unless general manager Eric DeCosta pulls off a significant trade by the Oct. 29 deadline. Harbaugh and Martindale both expressed optimism this week about an increasing role for rookie Jaylon Ferguson, but 2017 third-round pick Tim Williams was waived just over a week ago after being advertised this offseason as part of the solution to replace Suggs and fellow free-agent departure Za’Darius Smith. Those two combined for 15 1/2 sacks last season and have a total of 8 1/2 for their new teams so far.

The Ravens have received three sacks apiece from starting outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, but they’re playing too many snaps, putting strain on their second-half performances as well as their long-term stamina for a 16-game season. Judon is playing 82.1 percent of the snaps on defense after taking 65.1 percent of them a year ago while McPhee is averaging a career-high 42.6 defensive snaps per game, far from ideal for a 30-year-old with an injury history.

Despite Martindale bringing plenty of blitzes in hopes of pressuring and overwhelming two inexperienced quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, the Ravens managed only one sack and three quarterback hits in nearly 65 minutes of play.

“When it really comes down to it, we have to win our one-on-ones up front,” Judon said. “We have to help our defense. We have to do a better job of getting to the quarterback and applying pressure and helping our secondary out, so they don’t have to cover forever.”

The reality is this is a much different defense than the top-shelf group that last played Cincinnati in Week 11 last season, meaning expectations for improvement must be realistic. Of the 11 defensive players who started against the Bengals in Lamar Jackson’s first NFL start 11 months ago, eight are either no longer with the organization or sidelined with long-term injuries. When dealing with that much change, you’ll gladly take another step or two in the right direction against a struggling opponent Sunday — even if the Bengals’ recent history of success against Baltimore shouldn’t be forgotten.

The schedule picks up considerably in Week 7 and beyond, meaning the Ravens must take advantage of this opportunity for a win and another confidence boost. Yes, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has broken the Ravens’ hearts in the past, but the Bengals have already allowed 20 sacks and rank in the bottom 10 in many offensive categories. The continued absence of seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green will certainly help as the Baltimore secondary tries to find its way with another key cog now out of the picture.

“We’re seeing what we’re good at. We’re seeing what we’re struggling at, and we’re making the right corrections,” Thomas said. “It might not show up right off, but it’s going to pay off in the end.”

After Sunday, the Ravens will play six of their next seven games against teams currently holding winning records. The defense is going to need those growing pains and adjustments to start paying off much sooner than later.

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Ravens sign defensive lineman Jihad Ward, place Tony Jefferson on IR

Posted on 07 October 2019 by Luke Jones

Aiming to breathe life into a floundering pass rush, the Ravens are taking a flier on a former second-round pick.

Baltimore signed defensive lineman Jihad Ward to try to help a defense tied for 24th in the NFL with nine sacks in their first five games. Oakland’s second-round pick in 2016, the Illinois product has collected four sacks in 30 career games with the Raiders and Indianapolis.

“We have to find a way to get more sacks,” said head coach John Harbaugh before the Monday evening signing. “We have to find a way to get more pressure. We have to find a way to get more turnovers. All of those things are things that we really want to work hard at doing better at.”

Ward, 25, was waived earlier this month by the Colts, who signed defensive lineman Trevon Coley off the Ravens practice squad. The 6-foot-5, 287-pound Ward appeared in three games this season and registered one pass breakup.

Baltimore officially placed safety Tony Jefferson on injured reserve after he sustained a torn ACL and other damage to his left knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s win in Pittsburgh. Chuck Clark and DeShon Elliott are expected to see larger roles in place of Jefferson, who is one of Baltimore’s most respected players on the field and in the locker room.

“He’s a leader. He’s a great player, just a high-energy player,” Harbaugh said. “He’s a guy that flies around and makes plays. He’s a communicator for us in the back end. Those are going to be challenging things. At the same time, these are things that happen in this game. You just have to deal with them.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 4 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 01 October 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens losing their second straight game in a 40-25 setback against Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. With 10 of the previous 15 games between these teams decided by one score despite the Ravens’ dominant record, you couldn’t help but think the Browns would “Brown” when Baltimore made it 24-18. Instead, the Ravens didn’t even touch Nick Chubb on his 88-yard touchdown run. Just brutal.

2. The first turnover of the season was inevitable, but Mark Ingram’s fumble in the third quarter summed up the day for the offense. Averaging 5.9 yards per play, the Ravens moved the ball well, but they made too many mistakes at the wrong times.

3. The defense deserves most of the blame for the two-game losing streak, but the offense has scored a total of 13 first-half points the last two weeks. That’s usually not going to get the job done, especially with the current state of this defense.

4. John Harbaugh noted Cleveland was content playing off in coverage to give the Ravens short passes — mostly to the outside — as Lamar Jackson was 6-for-8 for 34 yards in the first half. Still, Greg Roman has to find a better way to test a unit missing both starting cornerbacks.

5. There was no shortage of new defensive looks as Wink Martindale used four safeties — the starters, Chuck Clark, and DeShon Elliott — on occasion and removed Patrick Onwuasor in certain sub packages after he’d previously been an every-snap linebacker. Twenty-one players saw at least seven snaps. Martindale is exploring answers.

6. Tony Jefferson took over the defensive huddle and wore the green-dot helmet to relay the calls from the sideline, a decision made to streamline communication for the secondary and take some responsibilities off Onwuasor’s plate. Baltimore has to get its inside linebackers to play better.

7. Per OverTheCap.com, no team has more money tied to the safety position over the next two years than Baltimore, but Pro Football Focus has graded Earl Thomas 19th and Jefferson 75th among qualified safeties through Week 4. These two need to be a much bigger part of the solution.

8. Brandon Williams’ absence didn’t mean an opportunity for rookie Daylon Mack as much as bigger workloads for Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, and Patrick Ricard. Mack played nine snaps while the veteran trio set season highs in snaps by significant margins. That takes a toll, especially later in the game.

9. Just how problematic has the defense been with surrendering big plays? The Ravens have already allowed six pass plays of 40 or more yards, one shy of last season’s total. Only two teams — Oakland and Jacksonville — have surrendered more completions of 20 or more yards so far.

10. His final stat line wasn’t the most accurate portrayal of his day, but Jackson’s first interception of the season was a product of needing to be aggressive down multiple scores with time dwindling. I’ll take that over dinking and dunking without the necessary urgency. The quarterback wasn’t the problem Sunday.

11. The hand-wringing over the third-quarter scuffle between Marlon Humphrey and Odell Beckham Jr. is getting ridiculous. Each team should be happy its player wasn’t kicked out of the game and just move on.

12. Justice Hill returning kicks looked like a good move to utilize his speed, but his latest drop to open the second half led to Chris Moore replacing him. Coverage has been good, but the Ravens could really use more production out of their kick returns, which rank 21st.

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No shortage of questions about play, leadership of Ravens defense

Posted on 30 September 2019 by Luke Jones

The post-game reaction was what you’d expect after the Ravens defense offered one of the worst home performances in franchise history in the 40-25 loss to Cleveland.

Tony Jefferson called it “disgusting.”

Matthew Judon described the “terrible” showing as unfit for “a standard that was set a long time ago.”

Earl Thomas labeled the day “frustrating as hell” after the Ravens had given up more than 500 yards and 33 points to Kansas City a week earlier.

Similar sentiments were offered throughout the locker room, but a comment made by Michael Pierce resonated for anyone who’s watched the Ravens surrender more than 500 yards and at least 33 points in back-to-back weeks for the first time in team history. The defensive tackle thoughtfully answered difficult questions from the podium outside the locker room, but he was eventually asked who had stepped up as leaders in the midst of a brutal day.

“Everyone knows who our leaders are.”

Do we though?

Do they?

It certainly isn’t Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, or C.J. Mosley. Their 17 combined Pro Bowls and three decades’ worth of institutional knowledge and football IQ are long gone, and the Ravens miss them. There’s no disputing that anymore.

To be clear, Pierce pointed to Thomas leading by example and Judon being more vocal, but the Ravens defense looked like a rudderless ship Sunday as the Browns punched the unit in the mouth repeatedly without resistance. There were more big plays surrendered, blown coverages and run-gap responsibilities, and some of the worst tackling ever observed from a Baltimore defense. The Ravens defense didn’t play tough or as a team, especially in the second half when the Browns scored 30 points.

Cleveland scored on five straight possessions from the end of the first half to midway through the fourth quarter. After Lamar Jackson’s touchdown pass to Mark Andrews and subsequent two-point conversion to cut the deficit to six with just under 10 minutes to go, the Ravens not only failed to make a stop, but they gave up a Nick Chubb 88-yard touchdown run on the next snap from scrimmage.

On that play, Thomas said he pulled up in an effort to avoid pulling his hamstring. To be clear, the six-time Pro Bowl safety and former Seattle Seahawk wasn’t going to run down the speedy Chubb — perhaps another issue entirely — but that business decision and an NFL Network report of “a heated discussion” between Thomas and Brandon Williams centered around the injured defensive tackle not playing Sunday are poor optics for someone who was signed to play at an elite level and help fill the leadership void.

But this isn’t about one player. The entire Ravens defense was a mess Sunday except for Marlon Humphrey, who was superb against three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. for most of the game. That said, even the third-year corner admitted to being responsible for the busted coverage that led to Baker Mayfield’s 59-yard completion to Ricky Seals-Jones in the third quarter.

Entering Monday, the Ravens ranked 25th in total defense, 20th in scoring defense, and 29th in pass defense. Their 10th-ranked run defense is buoyed only by two still-winless teams not even challenging them on the ground in the first two games as Baltimore now ranks 26th in the NFL in yards per carry allowed (4.9). Point to the absences of Williams and Jimmy Smith as well as the season-ending neck injury to Tavon Young as much as you want, but the Browns defense has managed to not completely fall apart these last two weeks despite most of its starting secondary being out.

It’s unclear to what degree the defensive issues can be fixed during the season. The young inside linebackers have been lost in coverage and undisciplined against the run. The veterans and youngsters at outside linebacker have been too inconsistent setting the edge. After Tyus Bowser’s sack on the game’s opening drive, the Baltimore pass rush didn’t hit Mayfield once the rest of the day. The high-priced safety tandem of Thomas and Jefferson has done little to prevent big play after big play these last three games. And, yes, the Ravens have definitely missed Smith and Young at cornerback.

But even before addressing the many on-field issues, who’s going to lead through this trying time? Which player is telling a dazed and wounded group that everything will be OK — with everyone believing him? If necessary, which veteran can provide a verbal boot to the ass that will be taken the right way?

This isn’t an individual knock on Thomas, Judon, Jefferson, or even second-stint veteran Pernell McPhee. Having untapped leadership qualities isn’t the same as establishing yourself as a leader, which must happen organically. That trust and responsibility can’t be forced, but the defense has undergone its greatest leadership exodus since Lewis and Reed walked out of the building in 2013. The difference then was Suggs and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata still being there.

If Ray Lewis and Ed Reed had suddenly bolted in 2005 or 2006, Suggs probably wouldn’t have been the same leader then as he would eventually become. Weddle and Mosley certainly carried more clout over time than when they first arrived, making it difficult to simply point to Thomas as the solution.

It’s a process, but the Ravens must figure out these defensive woes much sooner than later.

There’s no shame in struggling on the road against the explosive Chiefs offense, but being embarrassed in your own building by the Browns rocks the foundation of what you claim to be.

And the defense doesn’t have that obvious leader to pick it up in the meantime.

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Ravens defense aiming to finish job against Kansas City this time

Posted on 20 September 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The numbers are very good for the Ravens defense so far.

Through two games, Baltimore is second in total defense, first in rush defense, fourth in points allowed, fifth in third-down defense, and tied for ninth inside the red zone. You’ll gladly take that kind of defensive profile over the course of the season with few concerns.

But what have we truly learned about the Ravens defense watching games against what could be the worst team in modern NFL history (Miami) and a rebuilding team with a rookie quarterback making his first career road start (Arizona)? Appropriately praising Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense for setting franchise records in Week 1 is one thing, but how do you judge a defense that does about what you’d expect of any good unit against such competition?

The Baltimore defense was always going to be good, but it’s a matter of just how good, a relevant question when you’re traveling to Arrowhead Stadium for the best game of Week 3.

“Miami was Miami. They’re struggling this year,” said six-time Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas about the unit’s performance through two games. “But last week [against Arizona], we kind of felt a little type of way because we didn’t dominate like we wanted to dominate. It was a lot of well-schemed-up plays. We got to watch the tape, and we learned from those mistakes.

“Hopefully, we get them corrected once we get out there against Kansas City because it’s a copycat league.”

Yes, the Ravens were without cornerback Jimmy Smith — and will be again Sunday — and were already dealing with the loss of nickel corner Tavon Young, but surrendering 349 passing yards, 6.5 yards per play, and seven pass plays of 20 or more yards to Kyler Murray and the Cardinals don’t look like harbingers for success against 2018 NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s difficult to expect the same results on third down and inside the red zone against an offense that scored just over 35 points per game last year and has averaged nearly as many (34.0) in two road wins to begin 2019.

Still, the Ravens were that close to knocking off the Chiefs in a 27-24 overtime loss last December, which should give them plenty of confident going into Sunday.

It’s a different year, of course, with the likes of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za’Darius Smith, and Eric Weddle out of the picture, but the formula for success remains as the defense allowed just 24 points in regulation in that Week 14 clash, the Chiefs’ lowest output of the 2018 season. The Chiefs won’t have star wide receiver Tyreek Hill and starting left tackle Eric Fisher, but there’s still four-time Pro Bowl tight end Travis Kelce and no shortage of speed at wide receiver.

Most importantly, they have Mahomes, whose sensational 48-yard completion to Hill on fourth-and-9 kept his team alive and allowed them to tie the game late in the fourth quarter last year.

“You have to handle the series of events,” defensive coordiantor Wink Martindale said. “He’s going to make plays. We know that going in. But what we can’t do is let him make too many plays, and then we have to play great red-zone defense.”

The Ravens did that for long stretches of last year’s game, holding Kansas City scoreless on four of five possessions in the third and fourth quarters and forcing field goals on two of five trips inside the red zone. With Jackson and the offense confident and playing at a higher level than last year, you’d love the Ravens’ chances to win with a comparable defensive performance. But if this one turns into a full-blown shootout, is the Ravens offense truly ready to go toe to toe with an proven heavyweight in a hostile environment for 60 minutes?

Keeping the Chiefs in the mid-20s on the scoreboard is easier said than done with their offense already completing 14 passes of 20 or more yards, two more than the explosive Ravens. That’s with the speedy Hill having played just 12 snaps before injuring his shoulder in the season opener, forcing the Chiefs to turn to veteran Sammy Watkins and younger options Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman.

Thomas believes he’s just the guy to limit those offensive explosions, something the Ravens didn’t do on Mahomes’ game-saving play to Hill last season. It’s a big reason why general manager Eric DeCosta made the four-year, $55 million investment in the former Seattle Seahawk’s services.

“I think that comes down to personnel,” Thomas said. “Luckily, the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end. I plan on eliminating all the big plays.”

It isn’t just about the vertical passing game as Kelce can frustrate defenses in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field and Kansas City uses its running backs as receivers out of the backfield as effectively as anyone. That creates quite the challenge for strong safety Tony Jefferson and Ravens linebackers, who all experienced hiccups in pass coverage last week. As head coach John Harbaugh noted, the Ravens will throw enough coverage looks at Kelce to “try to keep the batting average down just a little bit,” understanding he’s going to make his share of plays.

Perhaps more than anything, we’ll truly find out about the pass rush that was scrutinized throughout the spring and summer. Thanks to promising starts by Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, the Ravens lead the league with 20 quarterback hits over the first two weeks, but Pro Football Focus ranked Arizona 30th and Miami 32nd in its offensive line rankings entering the season. It’s nothing for which to apologize, of course, but drawing conclusions against that level of competition would be premature.

The good news for the Ravens is that the Chiefs will be depending on former Cleveland first-round bust Cam Erving at left tackle to protect Mahomes’ blind side. If Martindale’s defense wants to approach the 15 quarterback hits registered in Kansas City last December, that matchup will be one to exploit.

Amid the hype for Mahomes-Jackson II, the Ravens have a great opportunity to avenge last December’s loss while proclaiming themselves legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a win. It’s the kind of game in which we used to ask if the offense would be able to do enough, but times are certainly changing and a younger defense is aiming to prove its standard remains high in matchups such as these.

If the defense can again keep Mahomes and the Chiefs from lighting up the scoreboard, there’s no reason to think Jackson and an improved offense won’t get the job done. And if it again come down to the ball being in Mahomes’ hands late, there’s experience from which to draw.

“You have to play to the whistle,” cornerback Brandon Carr said. “He’s a guy that can extend the play — smart guy, big arm, strong arm. You’ve got to lock in each and every down. They have a lot of different movements and gadgets and a lot of different things going on with their offense, so you have to have disciplined eye control, 100 percent communication, and just play as a unit for 60 minutes.”

Sixty minutes, indeed.

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Ravens cornerback Tavon Young likely out for year with neck injury

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens haven’t been defeated in the preseason in nearly four years, but their talented secondary sustained a more significant loss earlier this week.

Slot cornerback Tavon Young is likely to miss the 2019 season with a neck injury sustained in practice. One of seven defensive backs held out of the preseason opener by the coaching staff last week, Young last practiced Sunday before sitting out the next two open workouts and Thursday’s 26-13 win over Green Bay.

Head coach John Harbaugh revealed the injury after the game.

“The doctors can explain it, but that’s a disc issue,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a serious injury. He could be out for the remainder of the season. We will know soon, but it doesn’t look good for Tavon.”

Signed to a three-year, $25.8 million contract extension with $13 million guaranteed in late February that temporarily made him the NFL’s highest-paid nickel back, Young collected 37 tackles, two sacks, an interception, and five pass breakups while returning two fumbles for touchdowns last season. The Ravens made a steep financial commitment to Young with the belief that he was rapidly becoming one of the league’s best slot corners, an increasingly important position with Football Outsiders counting Baltimore as using five or more defensive backs on 83 percent of its defensive snaps last season.

This would mark the second time in three years Young has missed an entire season after he suffered a torn ACL in the spring of 2017. The 2016 fourth-round pick from Temple played in 15 of 16 regular-season games last season, but he missed the wild-card playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers with a lingering sports hernia that required surgery in January.

Asked whether the Ravens were waiting for a second opinion, Harbaugh seemingly expressed inevitability about Young’s fate for 2019.

“There is an outside chance that you opt to try to see if it will heal, but we’re not recommending that right now in his best interest,” Harbaugh said. “That’s always the first consideration is his long-term well-being. If he gets the procedure done — I don’t want to speak too early, but if he gets it done — he’ll be fine and good to go [for next year]. It’s probably the best thing to do.”

The Ravens are deep in the secondary, but how they’ll replace Young remains to be seen. Return specialist Cyrus Jones has practiced as the second-team nickel corner this summer and started there against the Packers, but veterans Brandon Carr and Maurice Canady have also played in the slot in recent seasons and second-year cornerback Anthony Averett practiced inside extensively during spring workouts.

Labeled a “pit bull” by defensive coordinator Wink Martindale last season, Young brings toughness and physicality as a strong run defender and talented blitzer despite his slight 5-foot-9, 185-pound frame. His absence will be a substantial loss for a defense known for its unpredictability after he played in 58.2 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps last season, a percentage that was tempered by his sports hernia at various points.

“Obviously, Tavon is a huge part of this defense,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “That’s just a tough situation right now.”

The Ravens finished with the fewest adjusted games lost due to injury in the NFL last year, but Young is a more significant absence than any of the seven Baltimore players who finished 2018 on injured reserve. He is under contract through the 2022 season and carries a $3.651 million salary cap number for 2019.

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