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Twelve Ravens thoughts counting down to training camp

Posted on 13 July 2020 by Luke Jones

With the tentative start date for training camp only two weeks away, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Matthew Judon and the Ravens have until 4 p.m. Wednesday to strike a long-term deal and avoid the outside linebacker playing for the $16.8 million franchise tag amount. Deadlines drive negotiations, but the economic uncertainty stemming from the pandemic dims optimism. They’re not alone.

2. The dearth of lucrative extensions around the NFL this offseason didn’t stop Kansas City from signing Patrick Mahomes to the largest contract in league history. Upon seeing the news of the $450 million deal, I couldn’t help but ponder Lamar Jackson’s celebration sometime in the next 12 to 18 months.

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3. It still hasn’t sunk in that we’ll see fewer than 14,000 fans per game at M&T Bank Stadium if spectators are even permitted to attend at all in 2020. The thrill of going to a game — and even the annoyances — won’t be taken for granted whenever normalcy returns.

4. Coaches will bristle at the reduced or canceled slate of preseason games, but I won’t shed any tears over the disappearance of shoddy exhibitions masquerading as premium entertainment. Good organizations will evaluate young players just fine. Incompetent ones probably weren’t getting it right anyway.

5. An above-average player from the moment he stepped on the field three years ago and developing into one of three Ravens cornerbacks ever to make a Pro Bowl, Marlon Humphrey just turned 24. With another top-shelf campaign at that age, why wouldn’t he expect to become the NFL’s highest-paid corner?

6. It’s easy — and fair — to point to Greg Roman’s run-first scheme creating so many open throws, but Jackson leading the NFL in expected points added on passes into tight windows throws cold water on any lingering doubts about the reigning MVP’s passing ceiling. Just enjoy the ride.

7. That doesn’t mean Jackson and the offense are destined to be better or as good as they were in 2019. Especially in the midst of a pandemic that’s disrupted much, the variance of a 16-game schedule could rear its head more than ever. Pro Football Focus explores that nicely HERE.

8. According to PFF, the Ravens enjoyed a lead for 644 offensive snaps last year, the league’s most by a margin of 57 over second-place New England. Regression toward the mean in this area wouldn’t be surprising, but that could provide Jackson the opportunity to show growth when playing from behind.

9. Kudos to the NFL for exploring a pragmatic answer to help make playing football more feasible this fall by working with Oakley to develop face shields for helmets. The question will be how many players find them comfortable enough to buy in.

10. Less credit to the rule prohibiting players from exchanging jerseys after games, which feels much more like security theater. If we’re testing players and deeming them safe enough to play for three hours, this shouldn’t be a concern. If it is, you can probably guess what I’d say next.

11. Recency bias hurt the fan-voted “All-Time 25 Team.” Jackson over Joe Flacco was wrong but forgivable, but Steve Smith over Derrick Mason, Torrey Smith, and Qadry Ismail was bad. This wasn’t about projecting the future or recognizing the best overall player who happened to once play here. Mason deserved better.

12. Speaking of the upcoming 25th season, I’ll offer a final mention of my series on the top 25 regular-season moments in franchise history. At a time with little taking place in sports, I enjoyed this stroll down memory lane. Let’s hope we have the opportunity to witness more this fall.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 2: “We know what kind of quarterback we have”

Posted on 26 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 3 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The Ravens had clobbered Pittsburgh in the 2011 opener in Baltimore.

But that didn’t matter now as they traveled to Heinz Field to take on a Steelers team that had won four straight entering November. A loss would drop the Ravens to third place behind both Pittsburgh and surprising Cincinnati in the AFC North, making their Week 9 clash on Sunday Night Football a crucial one.

Doubts about quarterback Joe Flacco persisted despite his comeback win in Pittsburgh the previous year as the Ravens had lost their home rematch in December — costing themselves the AFC North and a first-round bye in the process — and had blown a 14-point halftime lead in the their 2010 divisional-round defeat to the Steelers. Flacco was far from the only reason the Ravens lost those games, but he hadn’t played particularly well in some key moments as questions continued about his ability to lead his team to a championship. A stretch of lackluster performances in October hadn’t helped perceptions either.

The game started with a bang as Ray Rice took an inside hand-off, cut left, and galloped 76 yards for an apparent touchdown on the first play from scrimmage, reminiscent of the way the Ravens had begun the Week 1 blowout win. However, rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith was flagged for holding, negating the score and setting the tone for what would be a defensive battle for much of the night. The teams combined for five field goals in the first half with Billy Cundiff’s 51-yarder sending the Ravens to the locker room with a 9-6 lead at intermission.

The Steelers drove to the Baltimore red zone on the first drive of the second half before 2011 NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs intercepted Ben Roethlisberger’s pass in the short flat. With that turnover, the Ravens methodically moved down the field and took advantage of a 23-yard pass interference penalty as Rice’s 4-yard touchdown run increased the lead to 16-6 with 4:27 remaining in the third quarter.

The Steelers weren’t going away, however, as Roethlisberger bounced back from his mistake to lead an 11-play, 80-yard drive resulting in a 1-yard touchdown run for Rashard Mendenhall to make it 16-13 early in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens then marched to the Pittsburgh 36 before an all-too-familiar feeling of dread returned. On third-and-8, Pro Bowl outside linebacker James Harrison sacked Flacco, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Steelers. Moving to the Baltimore 25 on five plays, Roethlisberger scrambled right on third-and-5 and found Mike Wallace in the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown with 4:59 to play.

On the ensuing possession, three straight Flacco incompletions resulted in a punt that Steelers receiver Antonio Brown returned to his own 46. The Ravens were in serious trouble as Pittsburgh had the ball, good field position, and a 20-16 lead with 4:30 remaining.

After converting a big third down, the Steelers moved into field-goal range before making a costly error. On fourth-and-5 from the 29, indecisiveness struck the Pittsburgh sideline as Roethlisberger initially lobbied to go for the first down and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was late sending kicker Shaun Suisham onto the field, resulting in a delay of game. With Suisham kicking into the tricky open end of Heinz Field, a 47-yard attempt would have been far from a sure thing, but the penalty instead prompted a Jeremy Kapinos punt that pinned the Ravens back at their own 8-yard line.

Ninety-two yards were needed with just 2:24 and one timeout remaining, a far more difficult position than the previous fall when Flacco had found T.J. Houshmandzadeh for the game-winner in Pittsburgh.

A 21-yard completion over the middle to Anquan Boldin got the Ravens out of the shadow of their own end zone at the two-minute warning. A 13-yard sideline strike to seldom-used undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams moved them to their own 42. A few plays later, Baltimore faced a fourth-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 49 when Flacco again found Boldin over the middle for 10 yards to extend the game.

But that’s when the drive began going sideways. On second-and-8 from the 37, Flacco escaped pressure, climbed the pocket, and threw deep to a wide-open Smith, who dropped the ball in the end zone. Boldin would catch the third-down pass to move the chains on the next snap, but the veteran receiver then dropped a perfect throw over the middle that would have moved the Ravens inside the 10.

As Cris Collinsworth remarked on the NBC broadcast, “Joe Flacco is doing a great job on this drive, and his receivers are completely letting him down.”

Facing third-and-10 from the 26, Flacco and the Ravens still had a timeout, but only 16 seconds remained. Undeterred by Smith’s drop moments earlier, Flacco threw deep to the sideline as the second-round rookie gave a veteran-like nudge to Steelers cornerback William Gay and caught the redemptive touchdown with eight seconds to go.

There was instant silence in Pittsburgh. In a throwback rivalry in which the most defining moments had always gone the other way, the Ravens finally enjoyed theirs in the national spotlight.

The 23-20 win proved to be the difference in the Ravens winning their first division title in five years and clinching a first-round bye. But it meant more than that for Flacco, who had orchestrated the most brilliant drive of his career. The touchdown pass in Pittsburgh the previous year had flashed his late-game ability, but leading a 92-yard march in a Sunday night road game against his biggest adversary was special, especially considering the aforementioned drops and the celebrated Ravens defense had given up 14 points in the final quarter.

No, Flacco wasn’t Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, or Peyton Manning and never would be, but he had touched greatness when it mattered most. And while the misfortunes of Cundiff and Lee Evans 2 1/2 months later in New England meant the Ravens would wait another year to finally taste Super Bowl glory, that 2011 win in Pittsburgh eliminated any doubt that such a postseason run was possible, whether Flacco’s critics wanted to admit it or not.

“Maybe people will stop putting him down now. We know what kind of quarterback we have,” Boldin said after the season-sweeping win over the Steelers. “There was no panic with our offense, and I think you saw that. A lot of it starts with our quarterback. He was real poised.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 5: “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle”

Posted on 19 June 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 6 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

The 2012 Ravens were a tough team to figure out.

Long before they’d win Super Bowl XLVII or go through a brutal December, there were fair questions about a group that had won two games by over 30 points, lost one by 30 points, and barely squeaked by some of the worst teams in the league over the first three months of the season. The Ravens were certainly good, but were they as great as an 8-2 start often suggests?

For much of their Week 12 clash with San Diego, the answer appeared to be no. The Ravens offense sleepwalked through the first half at Qualcomm Stadium, managing no points and just 90 total yards as the Chargers led 10-0 at intermission.

A 54-yard completion from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith on the opening drive of the second half set up a Justin Tucker field goal, but the offense again went quiet until midway through the fourth quarter. Doing the heavy lifting throughout the day to keep the score close, the Baltimore defense surrendered a long drive resulting in a field goal to give San Diego a 13-3 lead with 7:51 remaining in regulation.

The time was now for Flacco and the offense to come alive if the Ravens wanted to win their fourth straight game. The fifth-year quarterback did exactly that, going 7-for-8 for 86 yards on a drive ending with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta to shrink the deficit to 13-10 with 4:19 to go.

Inspired by the reappearance of the offense, the Ravens defense forced a quick three-and-out and Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones returned the punt 23 yards to the Baltimore 40. After picking up one first down, however, the ensuing drive quickly began unraveling.

A rare Marshal Yanda holding penalty pushed the Ravens back into their own territory. And following back-to-back incompletions, Flacco was sacked and stripped by Chargers outside linebacker Antwan Barnes on third-and-20, setting up what seemed to be an impossible situation entering the two-minute warning.

What could the Ravens do on fourth-and-29 from their own 37-yard line? Take a deep shot to Smith or Jones in hopes of at least drawing a pass interference flag? Throw a strike down the seam to Anquan Boldin and see if the tough-as-nails receiver breaks a tackle or two?

With time to throw and looking downfield, Flacco checked down with a short pass to the right flat just beyond the line of scrimmage.

Really?

You’ve got to be kidding.

Seriously?

“It was really kind of a Hail Mary situation,” Flacco said after the game. “We were running down the field and I was hoping because they were playing so soft, sometimes you can kind of get in behind one of those guys and catch them flat-footed and maybe find a soft spot and rip a ball real quick into somebody. I didn’t really see anything like that. I didn’t want to just throw a Hail Mary.

“I wanted to give somebody a chance.”

Ray Rice, the three-time Pro Bowl running back who often carried the Ravens offense in those years, got that opportunity.

With an effort one could hardly believe, Rice eluded a few tacklers, cut all the way across the field to the left, and got a crushing Boldin block on Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle before lunging for the first down. A replay review moved back the initial spot of the miraculous play, but a measurement still gave the Ravens a first down, keeping the drive alive.

A 38-yard Tucker field goal moments later tied the game and the Ravens won with another Tucker 38-yarder late in overtime, but all that transpired the rest of the way couldn’t come close to matching Rice’s extraordinary effort. What we didn’t know was how critical the victory would be at a time when many were pondering the 9-2 Ravens chasing a first-round bye and home-field advantage.

The win over the Chargers would be the Ravens’ last for a month as they’d lose their next three games and fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would be replaced by Jim Caldwell. It’s impossible to know how losing to San Diego might have impacted the remaining five games on the schedule — the Ravens rested multiple starters in their Week 17 loss at Cincinnati, for example — but finishing 10-6 compared to 9-7 was the difference between winning the AFC North and being the No. 6 seed.

The significance in the big picture only added to the mystique and real-time insanity of “Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle” as the fifth-year running back nicknamed the play.

“It was just total will,” Rice said after the 16-13 overtime win. “Once I made the first guy miss when I cut back across the grain, I actually saw the defense had to flip their hip and I kept eyeing the first down. I looked and said, ‘Should I keep running to the sideline or should I just keep trying to get up field?’ And that’s what I did. I just kept getting upfield.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on training camp preparations and other topics

Posted on 10 June 2020 by Luke Jones

With Ravens coaches returning to the Owings Mills headquarters this week and the NFL releasing protocols for training facilities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The July 28 report date for training camp is seven weeks away, but much work remains regarding COVID-19 protocols. The recent expansion and renovations of the team facility helps, but spacing lockers six feet apart for a 90-man roster will be quite a challenge by itself.

2. NFL Network’s report on the possibility of the preseason schedule being shortened was hardly a surprise since there was growing support for that long before the pandemic. The bigger question might be whether that sparks permanent change to the exhibition schedule.

3. Pittsburgh moving its camp to Heinz Field raises a fair question for teams that already struggled to find space for 90 players before even factoring in social distancing. A shorter preseason makes you wonder if that high number is absolutely necessary if you want to minimize health risks. Difficult questions.

4. Patrick Queen, Devin Duvernay, and Malik Harrison are the only 2020 Ravens draft picks yet to sign, but we’re approaching the time when you’d expect those rookie deals to get done. Of course, the pandemic could always complicate that timing.

5. Social media hardly provides a complete picture of the work so many players are putting in right now, but James Proche has logged recent workouts with Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, and Trace McSorley. Good for the sixth-round rookie wide receiver getting acquainted with Baltimore quarterbacks.

6. You won’t find a more respected person in the organization than tight ends coach Bobby Engram, who was nominated for the PFWA’s George Halas Award for overcoming adversity to succeed. I recommend this piece from The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec if you’re unfamiliar with the Engram family’s story.

7. The value of the return specialist isn’t what it used to be due to rule changes in the game, but I can’t recall the last time we weren’t talking about that spot being a question mark around this time of year. The days of Jacoby Jones?

8. In contrast, Sam Koch is the only player to have any punts for the Ravens since 2006 and Justin Tucker is the only one to make a field goal since 2012. That continuity is just remarkable compared to most teams. Tennessee had four different kickers last season alone.

9. We’ve talked so much about inside linebacker the last couple years that I couldn’t help but notice Ravens coaching analyst and former player Zach Orr celebrated his 28th birthday on Tuesday. He thankfully escaped football without serious injury, but you wonder how much better he might have become.

10. Dick Cass, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Ray Rice, Steve Smith, Calais Campbell, and Queen were among the current and former Ravens joining over 1,400 sports figures in signing a letter to Congress requesting an end to qualified immunity. I applaud them for making their voices heard.

11. Have you ever imagined what might have happened if Baltimore signed Colin Kaepernick? Does he replace a Joe Flacco who had a bad back in 2017? Reunited with Greg Roman, does Kaepernick thrive and keep the starting job? Does Lamar Jackson then wind up elsewhere? Quite the potential butterfly effect.

12. Kudos to the Ravens for putting out the following video for high school and college graduates. We all had different school experiences, but I can’t imagine not being able to enjoy those final weeks or to celebrate these accomplishments with friends and family.

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 15: “I didn’t want to hurt my team”

Posted on 28 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 16 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Sometimes football and the tragedy of real life intersect.

The Ravens were preparing for Sunday Night Football and a 2011 AFC Championship rematch with New England when devastating news reached one of their young standout players very early on Sept. 23, 2012.

Tevin Jones, the 19-year-old brother of second-year wide receiver Torrey Smith, had been killed in a motorcycle crash in northeast Virginia. Those who followed Smith’s career dating back to his University of Maryland days were familiar with his challenging upbringing in which he helped raise his younger siblings, compounding what was already such a sad loss of life.

Smith left the team hotel and returned to his home state to be with his family as anyone could have understood football being the last thing on his mind at such a devastating time. But the 23-year-old still wanted to play that night and arrived back at M&T Bank Stadium around 4 p.m. on very little sleep.

His emotions were raw as the team held a moment of silence and and a national TV audience watched Smith wipe tears from his face as he sat on the bench moments before kickoff. The game held meaning for the Ravens after their heartbreaking loss to the Patriots the previous January — a contest in which the 2011 second-round pick scored a key second-half touchdown — but that story line took a backseat to Smith’s individual efforts less than 24 hours after his brother’s death.

The night started poorly for the Ravens, who trailed 13-0 and managed just 21 net yards in the first quarter. They finally awoke for the first drive of the second period, steadily moving the ball to the New England 25. On the 13th play of the drive, quarterback Joe Flacco threw the ball up to Smith, who hovered in the air to high-point a terrific touchdown catch over Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington.

It was Smith’s first catch of the game as he rested on one knee, pointed to the sky, and bowed his head before teammates congratulated him and a crowd of more than 71,000 began chanting, “Torrey, Torrey!” as he jogged to the sideline. Baltimore had cut the deficit to 13-7, and that touchdown alone would have been special enough even if Smith hadn’t caught another pass for the rest of the night.

But he was far from done.

Having already eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark for the third time in his young career, Smith went back to work as the Ravens trailed 30-21 midway through the fourth quarter. His 16-yard reception put the offense in New England territory as the Ravens continued driving to the 5-yard line. With just over four minutes remaining, Flacco scrambled to his right and made a tight-window sideline throw to Smith, who grabbed the touchdown against Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty.

Once again, the “Torrey, Torrey!” chants echoed.

Now trailing 30-28, the Baltimore defense got a stop on the next series and Flacco moved the offense back into field goal range before a pass interference penalty set up a chip shot for rookie kicker Justin Tucker. His 27-yard attempt barely squeaked inside the right upright — or did it? — as time expired to give the Ravens a controversial 31-30 victory and a sliver of revenge for the previous postseason disappointment.

The teams would meet again in the AFC Championship four months later with the Ravens prevailing on the way to their second Super Bowl championship, but that Week 3 win is remembered for the courage and dedication Smith showed in catching six passes for 127 yards and those two touchdowns. It was an inspiration for anyone who watched.

“This is new territory for me personally. I never really had to deal with a death in the family, let alone my brother,” said Smith after receiving a game ball in the emotional post-game locker room. “I didn’t want to hurt my team. I came here, [and] the more I was running, the more comfortable I started to feel.

“I’m glad I came back up here. I think it helped me out a lot.”

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Ravens regular-season moment No. 23: “I got this”

Posted on 08 May 2020 by Luke Jones

Check out the No. 24 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.

Baltimore loves its kickers.

Steve Myhra’s short field goal introduced us to “sudden death” in the 1958 NFL championship game at Yankee Stadium.

Jim O’Brien’s 32-yard kick with five seconds remaining gave the Colts a 16-13 win over Dallas in the mistake-laden Super Bowl V.

Two-time Pro Bowl selection Toni Linhart helped the Bert Jones-era Colts to the first of three straight AFC East championships in 1975 with a 31-yarder in overtime to beat Miami in the thick fog at Memorial Stadium.

A Ravens Ring of Honor member, Matt Stover is still beloved around town today and kicked offense-challenged teams to many victories for over a decade, including two in the midst of a nightmare five-game stretch without scoring a touchdown in 2000.

Billy Cund– never mind.

None compare to Justin Tucker, the 2012 undrafted free agent from Texas who had to try out at rookie minicamp just to be signed to Baltimore’s 90-man offseason roster. Months later, the rookie had not only won the job, but he’d make the biggest kick in franchise history, a 47-yard field goal in single-digit temperatures to upset Denver in double overtime in the divisional round.

Tucker’s excellence would become even more evident in his second season. The 2013 Ravens were a much different team coming off the win in Super Bowl XLVII. Future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were gone, top wide receiver Anquan Boldin had been inexplicably traded away, and tight end Dennis Pitta had missed most of the season with a devastating hip injury suffered early in training camp. Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco struggled mightily without his top two receivers from the previous year while a diminished Ray Rice and the running game had completely collapsed, leaving the Ravens with one of the worst offenses in the NFL.

But John Harbaugh’s team had rallied from a 4-6 start to win three straight games and crawl back into playoff contention going into a Monday game at Detroit in Week 15. Tucker had been much of Baltimore’s offense that season, hadn’t missed a field goal since Week 2, and would be named to his first Pro Bowl and be voted team MVP later that month, but the Ravens would never need him more than on that night.

Tucker’s work in the first half was nothing extraordinary as the Ravens had moved the ball pretty well before stalling in the red zone three different times, settling for field goals of 29, 24, and 32 yards to give them a 9-7 lead at intermission. The second half was a different story as the 24-year-old connected from 49 yards in the third quarter and hit from 53 yards away halfway through the last period to give Baltimore a 15-10 lead.

Unfortunately, a Ravens defense that had played well wilted late as quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions drove 80 yards for a touchdown and a 16-15 lead with 2:27 remaining. A loss would all but sink Baltimore’s playoff hopes, but a 27-yard strike from Flacco to Jacoby Jones on a third-and-15 gave the Ravens life in Detroit territory just before the two-minute warning.

Facing a fourth-and-8 from the 43 a few plays later and with his offense seemingly about to go for it, Harbaugh surprisingly called timeout with 43 seconds remaining and sent out Tucker to try a franchise-record 61-yard field goal for the lead. Having connected from 70 yards inside the domed Ford Field during pre-game warmups, the second-year kicker told coaches he was ready to win the game with his leg and lobbied for the chance on the sideline.

“I normally wouldn’t do this but I interjected and said, ‘No, I got this,'” Tucker said after making his team-record sixth field goal in the 18-16 win. “Thankfully, they gave me an opportunity, and the best part of it is I didn’t have to come back to the sideline feeling like a jerk if I missed it.”

With two or three yards to spare, Tucker made just the ninth field goal of at least 61 yards in league history and the second longest in the history of Monday Night Football. The Ravens would lose their final two games to miss the postseason for the first time in the Harbaugh era, but that wild kick and remarkable performance cemented Tucker’s status as the best kicker in the game for years to come.

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Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) scrambles against the Cleveland Browns during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 22, 2019, in Cleveland. The Ravens won 31-15. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 16 win at Cleveland

Posted on 23 December 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching the AFC’s top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs for the first time in team history in a 31-15 win over Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The turning point of Sunday’s victory was the 14-0 run over the final 78 seconds of the first half, but the defense forcing a three-and-out between those two touchdown drives without cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith on the field was enormous.

2. I saw a little Ben Roethlisberger in Lamar Jackson’s second touchdown pass in which he evaded pressure in the pocket and then muscled an end-zone throw to Mark Andrews. His speed and agility are givens, but Jackson doesn’t get enough credit for his strength.

3. Jackson recorded his fifth 100-yard rushing game of the season — equaling the total produced by all Ravens players from 2015-17 — and now owns the ninth 1,200-yard rushing season in franchise history. Not bad for a quarterback.

4. The Baltimore run defense has been fairly scrutinized despite a shiny ranking in yards per game allowed, but it answered the bell holding Nick Chubb to 45 yards after he embarrassed the Ravens in Week 4. The dime package sometimes springs leaks against the run, but not this week.

5. The decline of the ground game was a major part of the post-Super Bowl XLVII era with the Ravens producing only one 1,000-yard rusher — Justin Forsett in 2014 — over six seasons. To now have only the seventh 1,000-yard rushing duo in NFL history with one being their quarterback is remarkable.

6. You never want to see fumbles, but it really is amazing that miscues at the mesh point between Jackson and Mark Ingram have been so rare this season. John Harbaugh will now hope his team got that seemingly overdue sloppiness out of its system after a season-high three fumbles.

7. On a day when the defense had some trouble getting off the field due to several drive-extending penalties, Chuck Clark was credited with four pass breakups to continue his breakout season. Two of those breakups came on Cleveland’s final three-and-out of the first half.

8. Mark Andrews is three receiving yards shy of Todd Heap’s single-season team record for a tight end, but a tender ankle could impact his Week 17 status. He may need to settle for becoming the third Raven to catch 10 touchdowns in a season, joining Michael Jackson and Torrey Smith.

9. Ingram will have nearly three weeks to recover from a left calf strain, but Justice Hill scoring his first NFL touchdown should provide a confidence boost if the Ravens need to lean on the rookie a little more in the postseason. The fourth-round pick’s opportunities have been limited.

10. L.J. Fort having two interceptions wiped away by a penalty and a replay review prompted me to look up whether he’d ever picked off a pass. His only career interception came in his first NFL game seven years ago — in Cleveland. Quite the coincidence that likely prompted some memories.

11. We know the 2019 Ravens’ legacy will ultimately be defined in the postseason, but Football Outsiders ranks them very favorably among the greatest regular-season teams of the last 35 years. Knowing the best team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl, remember to enjoy the journey — even as the favorite.

12. We place such importance on the postseason while oddly marginalizing it in the record book. That’s why I had bristled some over this year’s team being recognized as having the longest winning streak in franchise history when the 2000 Ravens won 11 in a row overall. They’re now even.

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Ravens welcome Marquise Brown to practice, cut former fifth-round receiver

Posted on 31 July 2019 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens finally welcomed their explosive first-round wide receiver to the practice field Wednesday while also providing a reminder of their unfortunate track record at the position.

Marquise Brown was a limited participant in his first NFL practice less than seven months after undergoing Lisfranc surgery on his left foot. The speedy Oklahoma product suited up to take part in individual position drills after missing the first five full-squad workouts of training camp, an encouraging sign for a run-first offense seeking more upside at the wide receiver position.

The 22-year-old displayed good speed in a limited number of individual reps, but the Ravens will bring him along slowly after he was still feeling soreness making certain cuts at the start of training camp. It’s unclear whether Brown will play in the preseason opener against Jacksonville a week from Thursday.

“Hopefully, his progression to practice will be pretty fast,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll see. We don’t want any setbacks. We don’t have to over-rush him now, but I am looking forward to seeing him out there with other guys in real situations and seeing how he does.”

During full-team work, the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Brown caught passes on the Jugs machine and studied a play sheet while watching practice with teammates. He received individual on-field instruction from wide receivers coach David Culley in the final portion of practice, working on the timing and spacing of his routes as quarterback Lamar Jackson threw passes to him.

Despite not being able to practice until this point, Brown has attended all meetings and expressed confidence in his knowledge of his assignments in the offense. The key will be translating that mental preparation to the field in time to make the play-making impact general manager Eric DeCosta envisioned when making Brown the fourth wide receiver selected in the first round in team history.

“I’m very excited. I’ve been waiting on this,” Brown said. “To be out here made me realize I’ve got to work even harder. … I feel great. The training staff here is great. I just give them all the credit and just follow what I had to do.”

As Brown saw his first practice time as an NFL player, the Ravens waived 2018 fifth-round wide receiver Jordan Lasley, who was inactive for all 16 games in his rookie season. The UCLA product caught 69 passes for 1,264 yards and nine touchdowns in his junior season for the Bruins in 2017, but questionable hands and maturity questions prompted his slide down the draft board.

Those issues persisted in his time with the Ravens as he dropped too many passes and showed inconsistent effort during practices, sometimes drawing the ire of coaches. On Monday, Lasley was involved in an altercation with defensive backs Cyrus Jones and Bennett Jackson that included some punches being thrown. A few minutes after the scuffle, the 22-year-old receiver caught a touchdown pass and threw the football into the pond adjacent to the practice field.

Harbaugh said those incidents “absolutely did not” factor into the decision to cut Lasley, but his path to a roster spot already appeared bleak early in camp.

“We’ve never cut somebody for fighting anyway,” Harbaugh said. “It’s been over a year [with Lasley] now. I think just from a fit perspective in terms of what we’re trying to do with our offense, other guys are going to be a better fit. I feel like Eric gave him an opportunity to get out with another team right now rather than wait.”

Lasley is the latest in a long list of drafted wide receiver not to pan out for the Ravens. After taking four-year starter and Super Bowl XLVII champion Torrey Smith in the second round of the 2011 draft, Baltimore drafted nine wide receivers from 2011 through 2018 who combined to make just 116 career catches for the Ravens. Only 2018 fourth-round pick Jaleel Scott remains from that group, and he is battling for a roster spot this summer after spending his rookie season on injured reserve. It’s fair noting, however, that 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman was the only one of the bunch to be selected before the fourth round, illustrating what little meaningful draft capital was invested in the position for a long time.

In his first year as general manager, DeCosta tried to buck that trend with the additions of Brown and third-round pick Miles Boykin, which equaled the number of wide receivers the Ravens drafted in the first three rounds from 2008-2018. Boykin has impressed early in training camp, and Brown now hopes to join the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Notre Dame product in turning heads and providing Jackson with dangerous weapons in the passing game.

“Miles is my roommate, so every day I just hype him up, talk him up,” Brown said. “He’s been doing a great job. I’m just trying to feed off of what he’s doing and, once I’m on the field, complement him the best I can.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of offseason workout program

Posted on 15 April 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their offseason workout program in preparations for the 2019 season this week, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The faux enthusiasm for players running and lifting weights dissipates quickly, but the start of the “voluntary” offseason program is a welcome checkpoint on the way to a new season. We’re less than five months away from kickoff for Week 1.

2. We know Lamar Jackson was again working with personal quarterback coach Joshua Harris and have seen some videos on social media, but I’m fascinated to hear him discuss his offseason and to see what he’s specifically focused on improving.

3. Until we see the terms of the one-year deal extension for Marshal Yanda, I’m not making too much out of it beyond the removal of any doubt about his status for 2019. The 34-year-old has to have many of the same questions we all do about a team in transition.

4. Yanda will have a compelling case for Canton, but I can’t help but remember the start of his career when he missed most of 2008 and moved between guard and tackle for four years. He didn’t make his first Pro Bowl until his fifth season, which won’t help his chances.

5. Count me among those believing Eric DeCosta would prefer trading back from 22nd overall to accumulate more picks, but you ultimately need to have a willing partner. If the draft’s value is truly on the second day and early in the third, other teams are aware of that as well.

6. Baltimore’s positional needs are clear, but don’t forget the 2015 draft if you’re more concerned about DeCosta checking those boxes than maximizing value. It looked great on paper to pick Breshad Perriman, Maxx Williams, and Carl Davis to “replace” Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and Haloti Ngata. Reality was different.

7. I enjoy the team projections put out by ESPN’s Mike Clay to gain a universal picture of where the league stands at this point in the offseason. Ravens fans won’t like seeing 7.6 projected wins, but I couldn’t strongly argue a bigger number at this point, illustrating how critical this draft will be.

8. Michael Pierce has deservedly received high praise and appears on his way to a good payday at some point in the next calendar year, but he’s played 400 snaps only once in his three seasons. How does a bigger workload translate if you’re considering giving him lucrative money?

9. With much conversation about the offensive line, James Hurst feels like a forgotten man after a back injury limited him to 10 games last year. He carries the roster’s 10th-highest cap number, so the pressure is on Hurst to show he’s fully recovered.

10. The Seth Roberts signing was a typical Ravens move and carries little risk, but the last former Oakland Raider with issues catching the football didn’t work out so well here. Roberts has dropped 23 of the 182 catchable passes in his career, according to Pro Football Focus.

11. The regular-season schedule should be released this week with the Ravens set to play five playoff teams from a year ago. It’ll be interesting to see how the league and its TV partners perceive Jackson and a run-heavy offense in terms of the number of scheduled prime-time games.

12. Strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders isn’t a household name, but countless players have praised his work over the last couple offseasons. Luck is a greater variable than we admit, but the Ravens had only seven players finish last season on injured reserve.

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Ravens offensive line, secondary again hurting for Carolina game

Posted on 26 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — For the second straight week, the Ravens will be without at least one starter on the offensive line and in their secondary.

Starting right tackle James Hurst (back) and starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh) will miss a second straight game after officially being ruled out Friday while starting left guard Alex Lewis (neck) was designated as doubtful to play against Carolina. Lewis had practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday before sitting out Friday’s closed walk-through, making it unclear whether he suffered a setback or if he simply hasn’t been cleared for contact since suffering a pinched nerve at Tennessee two weeks ago. Neither Hurst nor Humphrey practiced this week, but head coach John Harbaugh said they were “doing well” and “working hard” when asked about their progress on Friday.

Further complicating matters for the offensive line is the status of rookie guard Bradley Bozeman, who was listed as questionable with a calf injury after only returning to practice on a limited basis on Friday. Bozeman started in place of Lewis against New Orleans and battled through the injury to play 56 of 68 offensive snaps, but his potential absence would leave either Hroniss Grasu or the recently-promoted Jermaine Eluemunor to start at left guard against the Panthers. Should Bozeman be inactive, the Ravens would have only one reserve lineman — a risk they endured last week — unless they make a roster move by Saturday afternoon.

Another potential nightmare scenario would be an in-game injury to left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is typically backed up by Hurst and then Lewis to protect quarterback Joe Flacco’s blindside.

The Baltimore secondary managed to hold Saints quarterback Drew Brees to just 212 yards while Humphrey was out in Week 7, but veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith struggled in his first start of the season and was nursing a groin injury earlier this week. After resting on Wednesday, Smith practiced fully on Thursday and Friday and is expected to start, but his health will be something to monitor over the course of the afternoon in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Rookie cornerback Anthony Averett (hamstring) logged limited practices for the second straight week and was finally upgraded to full participation on Friday, meaning he could be poised to make his return to action after a five-game absence. The 2018 fourth-round pick’s presence would give the Ravens some depth on the outside behind Smith and fellow veteran starter Brandon Carr.

The Panthers officially ruled out former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith with a knee injury sustained in last week’s comeback victory at Philadelphia. Smith had been hoping to play against the team that drafted him for just the second time since his free-agent departure after the 2014 season.

Carolina didn’t list three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Cam Newton on the final game status report, but he was limited in practices all week with a sore right throwing shoulder, which will certainly be worth monitoring as the Panthers try to win their second straight game.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday calls for mostly sunny skies and temperatures reaching the mid-60s with winds five to 10 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), OT James Hurst (back)
DOUBTFUL: G Alex Lewis (neck)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), G Bradley Bozeman (calf), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), CB Jimmy Smith (groin)

CAROLINA
OUT: LB Andre Smith (hamstring), WR Torrey Smith (knee)
DOUBTFUL: S Rashaan Gaulden (ankle)

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