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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 September 2019 by Luke Jones

What more could you ask for in Week 3?

Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale suggested we could be seeing the next Brady-Manning rivalry as Lamar Jackson and Baltimore travel to Kansas City to take on Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. It’s an exciting thought after last December’s 27-24 classic in which the Chiefs narrowly prevailed in overtime.

In his second season, Jackson has taken a gigantic leap to draw comparisons to Mahomes, whom no one expected to be the 2018 NFL MVP at this time a year ago in his first full season as a starter. These two will be exciting to watch for years to come, and these teams meeting again in January wouldn’t be surprising, regardless of Sunday’s outcome.

It’s time to go on the record as these 2018 division winners meet for the ninth time in the all-time regular-season series. Kansas City holds a 5-3 advantage, but the Ravens have won two of the three regular-season games played at Arrowhead Stadium as well as the 2010 wild-card playoff game.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Willie Snead will be more involved with 75 receiving yards and a touchdown. With rookie Marquise Brown among the league leaders in receiving yards and touchdowns, the lack of production from the other wide receivers — six catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns in two games — hasn’t been an issue so far. However, as opponents focus more on slowing Brown as well as tight end Mark Andrews, Jackson will need to turn to others with Snead’s ability over the middle making him a logical choice. The veteran slot receiver had five catches for 61 yards against the Chiefs last year and will provide an effective safety net for Jackson playing in front of his first raucous road crowd of the season.

2. Kansas City defensive lineman Chris Jones will record two sacks. The Chiefs may not have too many defensive players who scare you, but Jones is among the best inside pass rushers in the NFL, posing a problem for center Matt Skura and left guard Bradley Bozeman. Inside pressure gave the Ravens major problems in last year’s playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, and Jones’ 6-foot-6, 310-pound frame regularly disrupts passing lanes. Controlling the pass rush will be a critical objective for both teams as the Chiefs will be without starting left tackle Eric Fisher, but Jones has the ability to wreck a game inside if you don’t have a good plan to account for him.

3. Jackson and Mahomes will each throw their first interception of 2019 in otherwise strong performances. The early-season comparisons between the two are striking as the young quarterbacks have each thrown seven touchdowns and haven’t thrown a single pick in a combined 134 pass attempts. In fact, Jackson’s last interception in the regular season came against Oakland last Nov. 25 while Mahomes has thrown only one since Ravens safety Chuck Clark picked him off last Dec. 9. With rain in Sunday’s forecast and both quarterbacks eager to put on a show in a big game early in the season, we’ll see a couple turnovers mixed into impressive games from Mahomes and Jackson.

4. Travis Kelce will have over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown reception. The Baltimore defense mixed up its coverages last December as the All-Pro tight end caught seven passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, but Kelce also drew a pass interference call to set up an easy 1-yard touchdown. Tony Jefferson missed last year’s meeting with the Chiefs and figures to match up against Kelce at times, but I just don’t see a particularly encouraging solution to slowing him, a problem Kansas City could also face with Andrews. With Tyreek Hill out this time around and the Ravens focused on limiting big plays, Mahomes will turn to Kelce frequently in the intermediate portion of the field.

5. The Chiefs will pull out a 31-27 win in a close game that lives up to the hype. I like the Ravens’ chances in this one more than I did last year with the improvement of Jackson and the passing game, but there was some leaky coverage Miami wasn’t capable of exploiting in Week 1 and more breakdowns against Arizona last week, a concerning trend when playing Andy Reid’s dynamic passing game on the road. I expect the Ravens to use some ball control like last year to try to keep the Chiefs offense off the field, but the between-the-tackles running game hasn’t been as consistent early on, which will leave the ball in Jackson’s hands more frequently. The 22-year-old quarterback will have a good day, but I’m just not sure the Baltimore defense is on the 2018 group’s level or that a talented but young offense is quite ready yet for a full-blown shootout if that’s what happens Sunday. I’ll give a slight nod to Kansas City, but the Ravens will have no reason to feel discouraged about their efforts in this one.

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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-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The irresistible force meets the immovable object — or something like that.

The Ravens continue to fight the good fight in today’s offense-driven NFL and will test out their top-ranked defense in Kansas City. The 10-2 Chiefs own the league’s No. 1 scoring offense and rank fourth or better in total offense, passing offense, third-down offense, fourth-down offense, and red-zone offense.

After passing an important road test against Atlanta in impressive fashion last week, Baltimore will now see how its reliance on a revamped running game and stingy defense — a formula considered outdated by some — fares against the best team in the AFC. Sunday represents an opportunity for the Ravens to show they can be as dangerous as anyone in January.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the eighth time in the all-time regular-season series. Kansas City holds a 4-3 advantage, but the Ravens have won both regular-season games at Arrowhead Stadium as well as a 2010 wild-card playoff game on the road. The Chiefs won the most recent meeting between these teams in 2015, a 34-14 final in Baltimore.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. The Ravens defense will intercept its first pass since early October, but pressure in the pocket will be rare. Yes, it’s been more than two months since Tavon Young intercepted a Baker Mayfield pass in the first quarter of the Week 5 loss in Cleveland. However, Patrick Mahomes is facing a disguise-heavy Baltimore defense for the first time in his career and has thrown 10 interceptions, proving he can occasionally be erratic despite his outstanding body of work. The problem will be getting to the young quarterback against an offensive line that’s surrendered only 20 sacks this season.

2. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will catch two touchdowns. Questions about Marlon Humphrey’s health complicate this topic as I believe a full-strength Ravens secondary would be wise to use Jimmy Smith or Humphrey to cover Kelce since he lines up plenty as a slot receiver. Baltimore has given up just 31 pass plays of 20 or more yards and two passes of 40 or more yards all season, so Wink Martindale will do everything he can to prevent the speedy Tyreek Hill from wrecking the game. That will leave the Ravens vulnerable underneath, however, with Kelce doing much of the damage.

3. Mark Andrews will continue to show chemistry with Lamar Jackson by catching a touchdown. The rookie tight end’s five catches for 140 yards over the last three games are nothing special at first glance, but that production has come on five targets, meaning Marty Mornhinweg and Jackson would be wise to utilize this connection more frequently. The Chiefs are vulnerable over the middle and have struggled to cover tight ends even more than Baltimore has this season, which should allow the Ravens to find some success through the air in that portion of the field.

4. Jackson will crack 190 passing yards for the first time in his career with underwhelming results. The Ravens will run the ball effectively against another bad rush defense, but a strong ground game isn’t as valuable as a prolific passing attack, making it inevitable that Jackson will need to make plays with his arm, something he was rarely able to do in Atlanta. The Chiefs defense carries one of the NFL’s worst overall statistical profiles, but eight of its 11 interceptions and 21 of its 39 sacks have come in just five home games, which is bad news if Baltimore falls behind.

5. Red-zone efficiency will be the difference as the Chiefs pull away in a 31-16 final. A convincing road win over the Falcons offers hope that the revamped Ravens might be able to upset Kansas City, but Atlanta has been going nowhere fast for much of the season while the Chiefs are on the fast track to the No. 1 seed. Much has been made about a running game that’s rushed for over 700 yards the last three weeks, but the Ravens have netted just five offensive touchdowns in 17 drives reaching the opponent’s 30-yard line. Running the ball and controlling the clock to try to limit scoring opportunities for Mahomes and the Chiefs offense is a sound strategy, but that only works when you’re finishing those long drives with touchdowns, something the Ravens haven’t done consistently enough to like their chances in this one. I’ll take the No. 1 offense over the No. 1 defense every time in today’s NFL, but the Ravens will still battle for large stretches of this one.

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Ravens defense facing biggest challenge yet in Kansas City

Posted on 06 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith compared Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to a young Brett Favre.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said the second-year quarterback reminds him of Joe Montana and called Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill “the fastest human being I’ve ever seen wear a helmet.” The coach also noted how you don’t stop Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce as much as you merely try to limit his big plays.

You’d say the top-ranked Ravens defense is buttering up its opponent until you dive into the numbers for an offense averaging 37.0 points and 437.2 yards per game. With a quarter of the regular season to go, Mahomes has already thrown 41 touchdowns while Hill and Kelce have each eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards with a combined 20 touchdown catches.

Even after holding Atlanta to just nine offensive points in last week’s victory, the Ravens understand what awaits at Arrowhead Stadium. It’s a road challenge unlike any they’ve encountered this season.

“We know we have to go out and play great to have a chance to win this game, let alone stop them,” safety Eric Weddle said. “In reality, holding this team to what we did [against the Falcons last week] is probably not going to happen. But we can make things tough on them. We can create turnovers. We can hold them in the red zone.”

Those prospects don’t sound as encouraging when you consider Baltimore is tied for 30th in the NFL with just nine takeaways and hasn’t intercepted a pass since Week 5. The Ravens have surrendered a league-best 17.8 points per game, but their red-zone defense is an underwhelming 25th with opponents maximizing their opportunities inside the 20, rare as they might be.

Those red-zone issues largely stem from problems covering tight ends, which is even more concerning against a unique talent like Kelce. Despite ranking second in passing yards allowed per game, the Ravens have allowed a touchdown reception to a tight end in five of the last six games and rank 25th in the NFL against tight ends in Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average metric.

Kelce has caught 79 passes for 1,082 yards and nine touchdowns this season and lines up all over the field, making him a matchup nightmare for even the best defenses. According to ESPN, he ranks second in the league in receiving yards from the slot and first in yards after the catch from the slot, meaning Kelce should be treated more like a receiver than a tight end typically covered by a linebacker or safety.

Might the Ravens be better served using one of their big cornerbacks like Smith or Marlon Humphrey to travel with Kelce when he lines up away from the tackle box?

“It’s interesting. I didn’t think about that,” said Smith as he smiled when presented with the possibility. “I don’t know, maybe our coaches might think of something like that. That would be something for them to look at.”

The Ravens will need to vary their fronts and coverages — one of their biggest strengths — to try to keep the Chiefs guessing. As Martindale said, “If they know what you’re in, they will slaughter you.”

Home cooking for Chiefs defense?

Many have cited the Ravens’ need to continue to run the ball effectively to control the clock and limit Kansas City’s possessions, but assumptions that they’ll be able to score plenty might be premature.

Kansas City ranks 31st in total defense, 22nd in rush defense, 32nd in pass defense, and 27th in points allowed per game, but the splits suggest a more formidable defense playing at home. The Ravens should take comfort in the Chiefs allowing an ugly 5.3 yards per carry at home, but they’ve surrendered just 17.6 points per game at Arrowhead Stadium, which is less than the 18.7 points per game allowed by Baltimore on the road this year.

The Chiefs have registered eight of their 11 interceptions and 21 of their 39 sacks in their five home games, a profile that doesn’t bode well for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson and a passing game that’s been inconsistent at best over these last three weeks. The Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards in each of their last three games, but they’ve managed just five offensive touchdowns and have gone 5-for-10 inside the red zone over that stretch.

They’ll need to do better than that to have a good chance on Sunday, and the Kansas City defense may not be as cooperative as many are assuming at first glance.

Suggs on L.T.’s heels

Following the win in Atlanta, Martindale received a call from his son informing him 16th-year linebacker Terrell Suggs was now only one sack away from passing Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor on the all-time list.

“I won’t tell you what I told my son because I’m going to keep it clean up here, but I said, ‘Wow!’” Martindale said. “You don’t think about that because we see ‘Sizz’ all the time, every day.”

Suggs recorded the 132nd sack of his career against the Falcons in Week 13, just a half shy of the New York Giants legend’s total. It’s fair noting Taylor accumulated his 132 1/2 in 13 seasons, but Suggs moving into 13th place on the all-time list with his next quarterback takedown will only strengthen his case for Canton one day.

The 36-year-old needs 3 1/2 sacks in the final four games to record the eighth double-digit sack campaign of his career.

Injury report

Humphrey missed his second straight practice with a groin injury, heightening concerns about his availability for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs. Safety Tony Jefferson (ankle) and left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) also missed Thursday’s session.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (right hip) was a limited participant once again and is moving around better in practices than he did last week, but it remains unclear whether he’ll be cleared to be active for Week 14. Offensive lineman James Hurst (back) continues to be limited after both he and head coach John Harbaugh expressed hope earlier this week for his potential return after a six-game absence.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (groin), S Tony Jefferson (ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: QB Joe Flacco (right hip), OT James Hurst (back), DB Anthony Levine (ankle), CB Tavon Young (groin)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (ankle), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

KANSAS CITY
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Demetrius Harris (illness/knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: S Eric Berry (heel), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Anthony Hitchens (quadriceps/rib)

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-16 win over Atlanta

Posted on 04 December 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens improving their playoff hopes by way of a 26-16 win over Atlanta, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. We’d be talking differently if the defense had been even average in the first half when time of possession was balanced and the offense bumbled more than rumbled. If Atlanta scores to go up 17-7 after taking over at midfield with 3:05 left, how does the second half change?

2. The sum is greater than the parts for a defense continuing to rank first in points allowed and total yards. No individual really stands out as being all that deserving of making the Pro Bowl, but this group was terrific against the Falcons.

3. Marlon Humphrey would top my list of defensive players to at least consider as he currently ranks as the 10th-best cornerback in the NFL in Pro Football Focus’ grading system. His strong play on Sunday continued a surge that began after he returned from his October thigh injury.

4. Rewatching the game honestly made me feel worse about how Lamar Jackson played in his first road start, but the difference between him and other quarterbacks is what he’ll always provide with his legs if healthy. Traditional passers have bad games, but what else are they contributing when they do?

5. Matt Ryan had thrown for 250 yards in every game this season and Julio Jones had registered six straight 100-yard receiving days before being smothered by Baltimore. Ryan had only 54 passing yards in the second half while Jones didn’t have a catch after the game’s first drive. Crazy.

6. Jackon’s fumble returned 74 yards for a touchdown by Vic Beasley was cringe-worthy enough, but Kenneth Dixon didn’t earn any pats on the back for his effort to bring Beasley down. Dixon did finish with 37 rushing yards in only his second game of the last two seasons.

7. Between Michael Pierce destroying a double team on the fourth-and-1 stop in the second quarter and Brandon Williams pressuring Ryan on Tavon Young’s fumble return for a touchdown, the defense received excellent play from its two mountains in the middle.

8. The two-minute drill resulting in a field goal late in the first half wasn’t pretty and was even head-scratching toward the end, but it was good to see Jackson operate that scoring drive as fair questions persist about what this offense will do if required to go into catch-up mode.

9. With Austin Hooper’s late score, the Ravens have now allowed a touchdown catch to a tight end in five of the last six games. I’m sure Kansas City’s Travis Kelce will bring some restless nights for Wink Martindale this week.

10. Chris Moore finished with more offensive snaps than John Brown and Michael Crabtree while Buck Allen only played on special teams in Atlanta. This offense sure has changed quickly, hasn’t it?

11. Sam Koch being a career 5-for-5 passer for 69 yards is one of the cooler stat lines in team history. The 13th-year punter is a good athlete and doesn’t get enough credit for how good he’s been for a long time. He throws a pretty ball, too.

12. How often do you see a 14-play drive lasting more than eight minutes result in a not-exactly-a-gimme 45-yard field goal? As I wrote earlier this week, embrace the weirdness. Maybe that should be this team’s new hashtag the rest of the way.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 win over Indianapolis

Posted on 26 December 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens clinching their first winning season since 2014 after a 23-16 victory over Indianapolis, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Critics say this defense hasn’t been very good when it hasn’t forced turnovers, but isn’t that true of many units? Sure, there’s been some variance in the overall performance, but give me the group more dynamic taking the ball away over a more “consistent” unit that’s ordinary in that department.

2. The offense continues to play at a higher level in December, but the Ravens have scored just three touchdowns in seven trips inside the red zone the last two weeks since going 4-for-4 against Pittsburgh. Justin Tucker field goals in that area aren’t going to cut it in January.

3. Both Alex Collins and Michael Campanaro put the ball on the ground against the Colts, but the Ravens have committed only two turnovers in the last six games since the bye. That’s strong evidence supporting the notion that this offense was way too conservative through the first three months.

4. Maurice Canady saved the day with his fourth-down pass breakup to preserve a one-score lead, and his emergence sure gives the Ravens some good cornerback depth moving forward. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Canady are all under contract for 2018.

5. Jack Doyle didn’t put up monster numbers, but he was the latest tight end to give the Ravens issues in coverage. It’s tough not to be nervous about that deficiency with a potential matchup with Kansas City’s three-time Pro Bowl selection Travis Kelce looming in the wild-card round.

6. I understand frustration and even boos when a player isn’t performing, but the Bronx cheers for Breshad Perriman’s 8-yard reception in the third quarter felt a little too mean-spirited for my taste, especially since the guy has barely played since the bye anyway.

7. Speaking of disappointing early picks, Maxx Williams caught his first touchdown in over two years. He’s done a solid job as a blocker this year, but that’s not exactly what Ozzie Newsome had in mind when he traded up in the second round of the 2015 draft to take him.

8. Buck Allen has averaged an ordinary 3.7 yards per carry overall, but he’s done a solid job in short-yardage situations despite not being a bruising back. He was initially stuffed on fourth-and-1 on the opening drive and reached for the first down with second effort.

9. Remember when some wondered if Kamar Aiken might eventually develop into a poor man’s version of Anquan Boldin after leading the Ravens with 75 receptions in 2015? He has 14 catches on 42 targets with Indianapolis this season and a combined 43 catches in 30 games since that campaign.

10. Frank Gore was never viewed as the best running back in the NFL at any point, but the 34-year-old is closing in on 14,000 career rushing yards in an era when backs increasingly have a shorter shelf life. Longevity is an underrated quality, especially in this sport.

11. The Ravens could end up making a January run, but their strength of victory ranks 13th of 16 AFC teams and would still be 10th if you remove the two wins over 0-15 Cleveland. Even after their early injuries, not making the playoffs with this schedule would be extremely disappointing.

12. Baltimore surprisingly broke out its black jerseys despite having already worn the alternate tops two other times this year. The black-on-white look — the Ravens’ seventh different uniform combination of the season — is an underrated one.

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Ravens-Chiefs: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 19 December 2015 by Luke Jones

The questions run rampant for the Ravens’ Week 15 meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Who’s starting at quarterback?

What will the secondary look like?

Does Sunday represent the Ravens’ last best chance to win another game before the most disappointing season in franchise history mercifully comes to an end?

Meanwhile, Kansas City comes to town having won seven in a row to erase a 1-5 start and enter Sunday holding the first of two wild-card spots in the AFC. Simply put, the Chiefs are exactly what the Ravens wanted to be after the worst start in franchise history, but it simply hasn’t happened for the latter.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Kansas City for the seventh time in their regular-season history with the series tied 3-3. Baltimore has lost three of the four meetings between the teams at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Ravens won the last of those home contests back in 2009. Counting the postseason, the Ravens have won their last four meetings with the Chiefs.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to avoid the first five-loss home schedule in the 20-year history of the franchise …

1. The Chiefs will hold a plus-two turnover advantage in a microcosm of the season for both teams. Though their list of injuries isn’t quite as extensive, the Chiefs lost star running back Jamaal Charles for the season in October and has been without All-Pro linebacker Justin Houston since late November. Andy Reid’s team has kept ticking by forcing turnovers on defense and committing few with an efficient offense. Meanwhile, the Ravens rank 30th in takeaways (11) and 24th in giveaways (23). Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith won’t wow you with ability, but he’s thrown just four interceptions all year. Baltimore will be turning to Matt Schaub or Jimmy Clausen, who both struggle to protect the football. If both teams follow their 2015 scripts, the Chiefs will capitalize on the Ravens’ mistakes.

2. Elvis Dumervil will exploit former teammate Jah Reid for two quarterback sacks. As bizarre as it was to read that Reid received a three-year contract extension earlier this week, Pro Football Focus has graded the former Raven 73rd of 77 offensive tackles in the NFL this season. On top of that, the first overall pick of the 2013 draft, left tackle Eric Fisher, has graded only 37th overall, according to PFF. This should help Dumervil, who has been limited to just six sacks without a viable edge rusher playing on the opposite side. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to run some stunts to take advantage of an offensive line that’s allowed 41 sacks, fourth worst in the NFL. The Ravens defense ranks 20th in the league with only 28 sacks, but Dumervil will turn in a 2014-like performance on Sunday.

3. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce will catch a touchdown pass and collect over 80 receiving yards. Kansas City sports the league’s 27th-ranked passing game, but Smith has effectively used his tight end to the tune of 59 catches for 749 yards and four touchdowns this season. Whether trying to use linebackers or safeties, Baltimore has struggled to cover tight ends and Kelce will effectively move the chains to continue drives for the Chiefs. It will be interesting to see how the Ravens try to cover Kelce as inside linebacker Daryl Smith has been replaced more and more by Zach Orr in the nickel in recent weeks. And with Lardarius Webb now factoring into the rotation at safety, you wonder if even more communication issues are inevitable. Kelce will be ready to take advantage on Sunday.

4. The Baltimore secondary will offer new looks, but Alex Smith will throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that it was time for young defensive backs such as 2015 fourth-round cornerback Tray Walker, second-year safety Terrence Brooks, and former Houston Texans cornerback Jumal Rolle to receive more opportunities. While it will be important to evaluate the aforementioned players in the final three weeks of the season, the results probably won’t be pretty for a defense that has repeatedly failed to be on the same page even with veterans on the field. Smith carries the dreaded “game manager” label, but he will take advantage of Baltimore mistakes to find Kelce and top receiver Jeremy Maclin for several big plays on Sunday.

5. The Ravens will rebound cosmetically from the Week 14 blowout loss, but Kansas City won’t provide enough help in a 23-14 defeat. Even while carrying a louder tone of resignation this week following an embarrassing loss to Seattle, Baltimore will return to its pattern of competing more like it did in the first 12 games of the season that were all decided by one possession. However, the injury-ravaged Ravens aren’t talented enough to beat a quality team without substantial help from the opposition. The Chiefs won’t figure to provide that assistance as they’ve committed just 12 turnovers all season, third fewest in the NFL. Either Jimmy Clausen or Matt Schaub will facilitate a couple scoring drives against the NFL’s 15th-ranked pass defense, but a couple Ravens mistakes will be the difference.

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