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Twelve Ravens thoughts entering start of 2019 season

Posted on 03 September 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens counting down to Sunday’s kickoff of the 2019 regular season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Lamar Jackson heard the criticism all offseason and put in the work to improve his passing by all accounts. How big a step forward he takes remains to be seen, but he was in command of the offense and threw more consistently all summer. I can’t wait to watch him.

2. The 22-year-old will be surrounded by plenty of youth as 14 of Baltimore’s 24 offensive players (not including hybrid defensive tackle/fullback Patrick Ricard) are in their first or second season. That could make for an uncomfortable downside, but the ceiling is exciting, especially at the skill positions.

3. The Wink Martindale effect eases some concern with the pass rush, but you still need individuals to win 1-on-1 matchups. Beyond Matthew Judon, I’m not confident the defensive front has the rushers to consistently do this, which is going to put more pressure on their secondary than the opposing quarterback.

4. Willie Henry went from looking like he could start and be a major part of the interior pass rush to being waived and going unclaimed by the other 31 teams. Dropping 20 pounds from his listed 2017 playing weight (308 pounds) clearly didn’t pay off for a once-promising player.

5. Chris Wormley being the only true 5-technique defensive end on the roster says much about the evolution of NFL defenses. You’ll still hear “front seven” in conversation, but the league used base personnel only 25 percent of the time last year, creating less need to carry so many interior linemen.

6. It was a tough summer for Baltimore’s heralded 2016 fourth round. Henry and Alex Lewis are gone, Tavon Young and Kenneth Dixon are on injured reserve, and only Chris Moore remains on the active roster. The group was very promising, but even the above-average Young has missed two whole seasons.

7. All eyes are on left guard, but did anyone else find it strange that Orlando Brown Jr. played 18 snaps in the preseason finale while the likes of Chris Moore, James Hurst, and even rookies Miles Boykin and Justice Hill were held out? Brown didn’t play in last summer’s finale.

8. I’m surprised how many questioned whether three-time Pro Bowl selection Justin Bethel would make the roster despite the Ravens — who were already deep at cornerback — giving him $1 million guaranteed in the opening week of free agency. This is the 12th year of the John Harbaugh era. Special teams matter.

9. Jaleel Scott was in danger of not making the team as a fourth-round rookie last year if not for a hamstring injury that landed him on IR. A team official noted this spring how much he’d improved, and Scott carried that over with a strong preseason. Good for him.

10. Members of the practice squad serve varying functions, but De’Lance Turner and Maurice Canady are solid insurance policies should a need arise at running back or cornerback. Re-signing them was a plus for organizational depth.

11. Perhaps a deal is being completed as we speak, but I was a little surprised Eric DeCosta didn’t make a trade for a veteran offensive lineman or a pass rusher with so much activity throughout the league over the weekend. Of course, he had already pulled off three August trades.

12. The Kaare Vedvik saga reinforces how desperate contenders can be for a kicker and how blessed the Ravens have been — one nightmare aside. Baltimore got a fifth-rounder, the New York Jets wound up with a kicker they’d previously attempted to acquire for nothing, and Minnesota has egg on its face.

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Predicting Ravens’ initial 53-man roster at end of 2019 preseason

Posted on 30 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens concluding another undefeated preseason Thursday night, let’s not stand on ceremony with the opener just over a week away.

Below is my final projection of the initial 53-man roster for the 2019 regular season:

QUARTERBACKS (3)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III, Trace McSorley
OUT: Joe Callahan
Skinny: McSorley is worth keeping, but John Harbaugh used the word “strategy” in discussing his roster chances Thursday. Eric DeCosta must weigh protecting an intriguing developmental quarterback against trying to pass him through waivers and onto the practice squad to clear an extra roster spot elsewhere. That’s a tricky proposition with how much the rookie flashed this preseason.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (4)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill, Patrick Ricard
OUT: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner, Tyler Ervin, Christopher Ezeala
Skinny: The Ravens know exactly what they have in Dixon — good and bad — so why else would you give an injury-prone back 13 carries and play him well into the second half of the final preseason game if that weren’t a showcase for a trade? Turner finished with 94 yards on 22 touches Thursday and plays special teams, but he looks more like a quality insurance policy to stash on the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore, Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott
OUT: Michael Floyd, Antoine Wesley, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: Scott did everything he could to make the team and has shown marked improvement, making him worth keeping despite being low on the depth chart. Floyd joining Roberts as a healthy scratch Thursday was curious, but the Ravens did the same with Albert McClellan in last year’s preseason finale before cutting him two days later, meaning you shouldn’t read too much into that with a veteran.

TIGHT ENDS (3)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
OUT: Charles Scarff, Cole Herdman
Skinny: There’s less intrigue here than with any other offensive or defensive position group, but Scarff appears to be a likely target to sign to the practice squad.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (8)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, James Hurst, Bradley Bozeman, Patrick Mekari
OUT: Greg Senat, Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe, Isaiah Williams
Skinny: This group is the most likely to see an outside addition between now and the opener, especially if an upgrade at left guard or a serviceable swing tackle becomes available. The trade of Jermaine Eluemunor opened the door for Senat to possibly steal a spot as a reserve tackle, but he committed two holding penalties in the opening quarter Thursday and Mekari took some snaps at left tackle in addition to playing right guard and center, the kind of versatility that really helps his roster chances.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (5)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack, Willie Henry
OUT: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis
Skinny: Henry didn’t show much in the preseason and played deep into the fourth quarter Thursday, which would raise a bigger red flag if Sieler or Willis had shown more over the course of the summer. If you’re looking for a candidate to be an out-of-nowhere cut, Henry might fit that description since he’s in the final year of his rookie contract, but the need for interior pass rushers is too great to give up on someone who showed such promise in that area two years ago.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (3)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Chris Board, Kenny Young
OUT: Otaro Alaka, Donald Payne, Alvin Jones, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
Skinny: Alaka still gets caught out of position and needs to improve his awareness, but he has a heck of a motor and made his share of plays this summer, making it tough to leave him off the initial 53-man roster. The increasing use of the dime package diminishes the need for a fourth inside linebacker, however, and the Ravens will want to protect their secondary depth for now, making Alaka a practice-squad target as Onwuasor was after being waived at the conclusion of his rookie preseason.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (5)
IN: Matthew Judon, Pernell McPhee, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams
OUT: Shane Ray, Aaron Adeoye
Skinny: Ray was a perfectly fine low-risk, moderate-reward signing in mid-May, but the promise he showed early in his career with Denver was nowhere to be found this summer. This position group still doesn’t inspire much confidence going into the season, making an outside addition possible if the right opportunity comes along for DeCosta.

CORNERBACKS (8)
IN: Marlon Humphrey, Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, Anthony Averett, Justin Bethel, Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady, Tavon Young
OUT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
INJURED RESERVE: Iman Marshall
Skinny: If the Ravens want to keep Young eligible for a potential designation to return from injured reserve later this season, he must be on the initial 53-man roster, complicating the overall decision-making process. Canady is the shakiest call beyond that, but Bethel and Jones are primarily special-teams contributors, which somewhat inflates the overall number here.

SAFETIES (5)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine, DeShon Elliott
OUT: Brynden Trawick, Bennett Jackson, Fish Smithson
Skinny: Trawick’s special-teams acumen improves his roster chances substantially, but his status as a vested veteran makes him a candidate to be re-signed when Young is placed on IR or even after Week 1 when his contract will no longer be guaranteed for the full season. Jackson would have had a better chance to stick if this weren’t such a deep group.

SPECIALISTS (3)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
OUT: Matthew Orzech, Cameron Nizialek, Elliott Fry
Skinny: There’s nothing to see here, but the struggles of Kaare Vedvik in Minnesota have made any complaints about DeCosta trading him for a fifth-round pick that much sillier. Perhaps the Vikings would have benefited from a Google search on Vedvik’s spring performance before so eagerly pulling the trigger after the first preseason game, but the Ravens certainly won’t lose sleep over that.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 26-15 preseason win over Philadelphia

Posted on 23 August 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens extending their preseason winning streak to 16 games in a 26-15 victory over Philadelphia, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. A Philadelphia crowd paying upwards of $40 just to park didn’t get to watch either starting quarterback in what used to be the regular season’s “dress rehearsal.” The chasm between football decisions and entertainment value — the NFL’s ultimate purpose — is wider than ever. The preseason stinks and must be addressed.

2. If eliminating preseason games isn’t an option, reimagine them. Joint practices are all the rage now, so let’s watch both teams’ starters compete in a controlled scrimmage and then the reserves still play a 30-minute live game. Lower prices and create a festival atmosphere with autographs, music, and more.

3. More encouraging than the production or any highlights was Marquise Brown playing 19 snaps in his preseason debut. We’ll see how his foot responds, but the Ravens had to feel good about where he is physically to play him that much, especially after he sat out Tuesday’s practice.

4. I still believe it’s wise to temper expectations for Brown and, to a lesser degree, Miles Boykin early in the season, but seeing both rookie wide receivers on the field made it easy to ponder their potential. Watching them grow with Lamar Jackson could be a lot of fun.

5. Tyus Bowser had a sack and another tackle for a loss, earning praise from John Harbaugh for his strong summer. I suspect the head coach is also trying to build his confidence, but Bowser’s ability to drop into coverage gives him an edge over the other younger options.

6. After struggling in the joint practices, Trace McSorley was impressive in the first half with the Eagles still playing a few defensive starters and many key reserves. He’s looking more and more like someone who could develop into a solid NFL backup in the right system. I’d keep him around.

7. Brandon Carr and Chuck Clark handled nickel duties with the starting defense, which reflects the committee approach Harbaugh and Wink Martindale have suggested following Tavon Young’s neck injury. Anthony Averett and Cyrus Jones also saw time in the slot.

8. One defensive back who wasn’t in the mix at the nickel was Maurice Canady, who struggled playing on the outside. His path to a job probably depends on what the Ravens do with Young and injured rookie Iman Marshall from a roster standpoint, but Thursday wasn’t very promising.

9. Mark Andrews caught only one pass, but that 25-yard catch and run had to bring back memories of former New York Giants tight end Mark Bavaro for Eagles fans. I’m really looking forward to watching the second-year tight end play after a very impressive camp.

10. With Brandon Williams sitting out, I was surprised to see Patrick Ricard start next to Michael Pierce instead of Willie Henry. That says less about Henry and more about the versatile Ricard, who entered summer on the bubble and has played his tail off on both sides of the ball.

11. The penalty on DeShon Elliott for lowering his head to initiate contact early in the third quarter was as poor a call as I’ve seen this summer. That’s a perfect example of an official anticipating a foul rather than seeing it with his own eyes.

12. Though play ended with just under 12 minutes to go because of lightning, Zach Sieler playing only two defensive snaps makes you believe he’s on the wrong side of the bubble and a better candidate for the practice squad than the 53-man roster. He’s had a disappointing summer.

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2019 Ravens training camp preview: Defensive line

Posted on 11 July 2019 by Luke Jones

With training camp beginning in two weeks and the preseason opener less than a month away, we’ll look at each Ravens position group before players begin reporting to Owings Mills for the first full-squad practice on July 25.

July 9 — Cornerbacks
July 10 — Running backs

We continue on the defensive line, a group that includes one of the best run-stopping duos in the NFL and only two players over age 25. However, with the free-agent departures of Za’Darius Smith, Terrell Suggs, and Brent Urban, the Ravens are looking for viable pass-rushing options both off the edge and inside. Smith and Urban frequently lined up as interior rushers last season, so defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will need at least a couple interior linemen to create pressure in the pocket. Returning veteran Pernell McPhee also has a chance to be part of that equation as someone moving to an interior spot in sub packages, but he’s officially listed as an outside linebacker.

It’s worth noting usage of the defensive line is certainly evolving in today’s game as the Ravens ran their “base” 3-4 defense just 16 percent of the time last season, according to Football Outsiders. With at least five defensive backs on the field an overwhelming majority of the time, there are fewer and fewer instances of the nose tackle, 3-techinique tackle, and 5-technique end all being on the field at the same time. Defensive linemen capable of both rushing the passer and stopping the run have always been valuable, of course, but one-dimensional run stoppers are finding fewer snaps with the ever-increasing emphasis on the passing game.

Below is a look at several defensive linemen who stand out for various reasons:

The Man — Brandon Williams
Skinny: One could certainly argue the 30-year-old hasn’t played up to the five-year, $52.5 million deal signed in 2017, but he remains one of the better run-stopping nose tackles in the NFL and anchored a defense that allowed only 3.7 yards per carry in 2018. Williams played in every game for the fourth time in the last five years while his 517 defensive snaps led all returning Baltimore defensive linemen.

Old Reliable — Williams
Skinny: With the second-oldest defensive lineman on the current roster just 26 years old, there’s no choice here other than the 2013 third-round pick, who was named to the 2018 Pro Bowl as an alternate.

Under Fire — Michael Pierce
Skinny: Before showing up with weight and conditioning concerns that prompted John Harbaugh to pull him off the practice field last month, the run-wrecking Pierce had a strong argument as “The Man” of this position group. Instead, he’s under the microscope in a contract year despite grading as Pro Football Focus’ fifth-best interior defender in the NFL in 2018. Assuming the 26-year-old gets into ideal shape, his next step will be further improving his pass-rush ability to enhance his market value.

Up-and-Comer — Chris Wormley
Skinny: Urban didn’t sign with Tennessee until after the draft and received only a small one-year commitment, making it clear the Ravens had more than enough confidence in Wormley stepping into a bigger role at the 5-technique spot after injuries prompted him to be more of a 3-technique option in his second season. PFF graded the 2017 third-round pick as the NFL’s 67th-best interior defender last year, but he should receive plenty of opportunities as an inside rusher.

Sleeper — Zach Sieler
Skinny: The 2018 seventh-round pick from Ferris State was Ozzie Newsome’s final draft selection as general manager and played only 17 snaps as a rookie, but the Ravens love his 6-foot-6, 290-pound frame and didn’t keep him on the 53-man roster all last season without having bigger plans in mind. If Wormley doesn’t take a step forward, Sieler could easily push for some of his snaps. 

The Rest — Willie Henry, Patrick Ricard, Daylon Mack, Gerald Willis
Skinny: Hernia surgery and then a season-ending back injury limited Henry to just three games and 82 snaps in 2018, but he appeared on the verge of securing a starting spot last summer and was coming off an impressive 2017 campaign in which he collected 3 1/2 sacks, 11 quarterback hits, and five batted passes. Baltimore is counting on him to be healthy enough to serve as one of its primary interior rushers in the final year of his rookie deal. … Ricard’s versatility as a two-way player makes him more valuable, but he’s yet to stand out in limited defensive opportunities over his first two seasons. … Willis is a rookie free agent to watch after a turbulent college career that included multiple problems off the field and a 2018 campaign in which he recorded 18 tackles for a loss and four sacks to earn second-team All-America honors at Miami.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on second week of OTAs

Posted on 31 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens winding down their second week of organized team activities, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Following an underwhelming practice from the offense consisting of mostly underneath passing and few highlights, John Harbaugh fairly noted the defense should be ahead of the offense right now with the latter installing a new system. Patience is warranted, but skepticism is understandable with such a young group.

2. Earl Thomas wasn’t tested much, but he definitely has a presence on the practice field that reminds a little of Ed Reed. I’m very much looking forward to seeing how he impacts a defense that already played plenty of single-high safety looks using an older Eric Weddle last year.

3. Patrick Onwuasor received endorsements from Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti this week and has been more vocal in C.J. Mosley’s old role. The fourth-year linebacker said he continues to stay in touch with his former teammate, which is a valuable resource to have.

4. Most assume Kenny Young will receive the starting nod next to Onwuasor, but don’t sleep on Chris Board. The former rookie free agent has gotten a share of first-team reps this spring as well. We’ve seen similar stories before at this position, and that’s not to discredit Young’s ability.

5. Hayden Hurst is a bit of a forgotten man, but his foot injury forced him to rest for an additional month at season’s end last January. Now healthy and having added 20 pounds, he caught a deep post throw from Jackson Thursday and says he’s “on a mission” this year.

6. The spring always brings at least a couple interesting stories about players’ offseason workout regimens as Mark Andrews aimed to improve his blocking by practicing on his older brother. That had to make for some interesting family gatherings.

7. It’s tough to really gauge line play in non-contact settings, but Willie Henry batted down a Jackson pass during an 11-on-11 drill. He’s just one of a few defensive linemen whose playing time would be impacted by a potential Gerald McCoy signing.

8. Jaleel Scott received praise for his offseason work earlier this spring, and he flashed Thursday with a long touchdown catch from Robert Griffin III and another contested catch for a score in a red-zone drill. The 6-foot-5 wideout will need more of that to secure a roster spot.

9. With James Hurst never inspiring confidence as the backup left tackle, 2018 sixth-round pick Greg Senat is someone to monitor after an essential redshirt year on injured reserve. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound former college basketball player carries some intrigue despite being green.

10. It was interesting to see Jackson under center a decent bit after the Ravens were in the shotgun or pistol an NFL-high 93 percent of the time from the time he became the starter in Week 11 last year. He also mostly worked from the shotgun or pistol at Louisville.

11. Speaking to season-ticket holders, Bisciotti reiterated Jackson won’t be running the ball 20 times per game, which reflects the Ravens sharing the desire of many to keep the young quarterback healthy. Eight to 10 carries per contest feels like a general sweet spot in an evolved, more balanced offense.

12. At a time of year with little restraint for optimism, I appreciated Bisciotti’s honesty in admitting he has no idea what to expect from rookie wide receivers Marquise Brown and Miles Boykin, citing how first-year injuries impacted Travis Taylor and Breshad Perriman. He also labeled Chris Moore a “breakout candidate.”

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following first week of OTAs

Posted on 24 May 2019 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens’ first week of organized team activities in the books, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Making any bold proclamations after one spring practice is irresponsible, but Lamar Jackson showed more oomph with his intermediate passes, especially early in the session. His consistency waned over the final 45 minutes, however, with a few too many inaccurate and wobbly throws. Remember he’s also learning a revamped offense.

2. Being cautious with Marquise Brown (foot) and Miles Boykin (hamstring) is the obvious right call, but they can’t have too many reps with Jackson if they’re to make a meaningful impact as rookies. As we saw with Breshad Perriman, injuries can quickly torpedo expectations for a young wide receiver.

3. The competition at outside linebacker will receive more attention, but the likes of Willie Henry, Zach Sieler, and Pernell McPhee serving as viable interior rushers will be nearly as critical. Sieler is one to watch after he stuck on the 53-man roster all last season despite being active only twice.

4. Many seemed ready to write off Tyus Bowser or suggest he move to inside linebacker after the McPhee and Shane Ray signings, but the shortage of “Sam” outside linebackers capable of dropping into coverage keeps him in good position from a roster standpoint. The pressure is still on, of course.

5. While Kenneth Dixon skipped Thursday’s OTA, Gus Edwards and De’Lance Turner appeared to be in great shape as both looked leaner. It’s been mentioned before, but Turner was promoted to the 53-man roster a full month before Edwards was elevated last year.

6. Several defensive veterans exercised their right to not attend the voluntary workout, but Brandon Carr was present and working just days after his 33rd birthday. Father Time will eventually catch up, but his rock-solid play and understated leadership have made his 2017 signing a very good one.

7. New wide receivers coach and passing coordinator David Culley has immediately become one of John Harbaugh’s most vocal assistants as you hear him offering praise or blunt criticism for Ravens wide receivers. It’s quite a contrast from the quieter Bobby Engram, who is now coaching the tight ends.

8. Asked about his 2019 goals, Marlon Humphrey said he’s interested in “anything that ends with a ‘Bowl.’ It might be a stretch to envision this team in transition winning the Super Bowl this year, but I’m expecting Humphrey to make his first Pro Bowl as long as he stays healthy.

9. Jaylen Smith and Joe Horn Jr. have received attention as undrafted rookie receivers for obvious reasons, but 6-foot-4 Texas Tech product Antoine Wesley flashed multiple times Thursday, including when he caught a long bomb from Robert Griffin III. He lacks great speed, but you like the height.

10. That praise aside, please spare me the narrative of there being so much competition at wide receiver for one year, especially with an offense that so highly values the running game and tight ends. I’ve heard it — and sometimes fallen for it — too many times in the past.

11. Reports have linked six-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy to the Ravens, but it’s tough seeing a financial fit if he’s receiving offers as high as $11 million per year from interested teams. The 31-year-old has collected five or more sacks in seven straight seasons, however.

12. I don’t want to make too much out of it, but Jackson saying he came into the spring not knowing the Ravens would have “a totally different offense” was odd after rebuilding the system “from the ground up” was such a strong talking point this offseason.

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Ravens finished with fewest adjusted games lost in 2018

Posted on 14 May 2019 by Luke Jones

While Lamar Jackson and a top-ranked defense received much of the credit for a return to the playoffs after a three-year absence last season, the Ravens enjoying their best health in years certainly didn’t hurt.

Finishing 2018 with only seven players on injured reserve, it’s no secret Baltimore avoided major injuries on its way to the AFC North championship. According to at least one metric, however, John Harbaugh’s team was the healthiest in the NFL after being one of the teams most impacted by injuries in 2017.

You often see the number of players on injured reserve cited in these types of discussions, but that alone doesn’t really offer the most insightful picture from team to team. How many on IR were starters compared to rotation players, special-teams contributors, or merely training camp bodies who had no chance of making the roster before getting hurt? How many on each team went to IR in September as opposed to the final weeks of the regular season? What about teams that had more players pushing through injuries than those having relatively clean injury reports most weeks?

Football Outsiders uses a metric called adjusted games lost to attempt to quantify just how much teams were stricken with injuries. Instead of simply counting the number of games lost for each player on IR, the metric weighs the projected role of each injured player (starter, key reserve, bench-warmer, etc.) and also considers those listed on weekly injury reports who ended up playing at less than 100 percent. In other words, the metric doesn’t treat the absence of a Pro Bowl player or starter the same as a developmental player essentially being stashed on IR and doesn’t ignore players competing with ailments that could limit performance levels.

The Ravens finished with the fewest adjusted games lost in 2018 (29.7) and their lowest total since 2011 when they finished 12-4 and advanced to the AFC championship game. While running back Alex Collins and defensive tackle Willie Henry were the most notable Baltimore players finishing the season on IR, offensive linemen Alex Lewis (6.9) and James Hurst (6.3), quarterback Joe Flacco (4.0), and defensive backs Marlon Humphrey (2.9) and Tony Jefferson (2.9) also counted in the total calculation.

Six of the 10 teams with the fewest adjusted games lost made the postseason while just three of the 12 teams with the most adjusted games lost qualified, reinforcing how critical health is to success. “Next man up” is a popular rallying cry and a nice slogan for a t-shirt, but there are only so many injuries most teams can survive before chances for success are crippled.

“Everything transfers to the field. I heard somebody once say they don’t want the credit when things go right, and they don’t want the blame when things go wrong,” strength and conditioning coach Steve Saunders said last month. “Certainly, there is always some luck involved with injuries, but I think our guys prepare and train really hard, probably harder than anybody. I think it’s definitely a positive factor. We just want to keep building on that each season.”

Below is a look at where the Ravens have finished in Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost in recent years:

2018 – 29.7 (fewest in NFL)
2017 – 101.6 (sixth most in NFL)
2016 – 62.0 (11th fewest in NFL)
2015 – 96.1 (third most in NFL)
2014 – 52.6 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2013 – 49.8 (ninth fewest in NFL)
2012 – 57.4 (13th fewest in NFL)
2011 – 18.8 (fewest in NFL)
2010 – 50.9 (15th fewest in NFL)
2009 – 28.8 (seventh fewest in NFL)
2008 – 95.0 (third most in NFL)

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Sizing up the 2019 Ravens’ 90-man roster following rookie camp

Posted on 08 May 2019 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Thursday 2:30 p.m.)

The Ravens won’t trim their roster to 53 players for nearly four more months, but the draft and rookie free-agent signings offer a much better idea of what John Harbaugh and his coaching staff have to work with for the 2019 season.

This exercise will carry more meaning as we advance into the preseason, but my all-too-early look at the roster is based more on track record, contract status, draft standing, and positional need than anticipating improvement or regression from any given player. We’ll get a much better idea of where players stand beginning with the snap distribution during organized team activities later this month.

In other words, don’t read too much into who might be deemed a bubble player now as much will change before the Ravens even get to training camp in July. Not all bubble players are on equal footing, of course, with certain position groups lacking as much quality depth and others enjoying an abundance of talent and likely falling victim to the numbers game.

Though general manager Eric DeCosta, Harbaugh, and the rest of the staff and front office are cognizant of the numbers at each position, trying to arbitrarily pinpoint a certain number of tight ends or inside linebackers isn’t the most accurate way of projecting a roster. The Ravens always look for reserves who will excel on special teams, so coaches will look carefully at players’ other attributes in addition to what they bring to their individual position groups when filling out the back of the roster.

The numbers in parentheses indicate how many players are currently on the roster at that position. As we move deeper into the spring and summer, I’ll provide updated looks as well as projections of who’s in and who’s out at different stages of the preseason.

QUARTERBACKS (4)
IN: Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III
BUBBLE: Trace McSorley
LONG SHOT: Jalan McClendon
Skinny: How the coaching staff uses McSorley and how he develops will determine whether Baltimore carries three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster for a second straight year and only the second time in the last decade. Comparisons to New Orleans’ Taysom Hill — who is much bigger — will continue.

RUNNING BACKS & FULLBACKS (7)
IN: Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, Justice Hill
BUBBLE: Kenneth Dixon, De’Lance Turner
LONG SHOT: Christopher Ezeala, Tyler Ervin
Skinny: Suggesting someone who averaged 5.6 yards per carry last year could be on the bubble speaks to the great backfield depth. Dixon could also be a trade chip entering the final year of his contract, but a history of injuries and suspensions could prompt a tough decision. Don’t sleep on Turner either.

WIDE RECEIVERS (12)
IN: Willie Snead, Marquise Brown, Miles Boykin, Chris Moore
BUBBLE: Seth Roberts, Jaleel Scott, Jordan Lasley
LONG SHOT: Quincy Adeboyejo, Sean Modster, Jaylen Smith, Antoine Wesley, Joe Horn Jr.
Skinny: With Baltimore expected to again use multiple tight ends and run the ball so frequently, the brass won’t feel compelled to keep more than four or five receivers unless others prove deserving of a spot. This is a critical preseason for Scott and Lasley, who played zero snaps as rookies last year.

TIGHT ENDS (5)
IN: Nick Boyle, Mark Andrews, Hayden Hurst
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Cole Herdman, Charles Scarff
Skinny: Offensive coordinator Greg Roman may prefer having another blocking tight end in the mix to replace Maxx Williams, but it’s premature to handicap the chances of these candidates. Keizer spent much of last year with the organization, giving him a slight experience edge over the two rookies.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (16)
IN: Marshal Yanda, Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown Jr., Matt Skura, Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman
BUBBLE: James Hurst, Alex Lewis, Jermaine Eluemunor, Greg Senat
LONG SHOT: Randin Crecelius, R.J. Prince, Patrick Mekari, Marcus Applefield, Darrell Williams, Patrick Vahe
Skinny: Bozeman’s ability to play center makes him a safe bet while Hurst’s $4.75 million cap number and injury-riddled 2018 leave his status in at least some question until he proves his back problems are behind him. Time could be running out for Lewis, who just hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
IN: Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce, Willie Henry, Chris Wormley, Daylon Mack
BUBBLE: Zach Sieler, Gerald Willis, Patrick Ricard
LONG SHOT: Kalil Morris
Skinny: This is a tough group to handicap after the duo of Williams and Pierce, but Henry is the best interior rusher on the roster despite missing most of 2018. Sieler is a good bet to make it as a 5-technique end, but the talented Willis could be the wild card after surprisingly going undrafted.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS (8)
IN: Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young, Chris Board
BUBBLE: Matthew Thomas, Alvin Jones, Otaro Alaka, E.J. Ejiya, Silas Stewart
LONG SHOT: none
Skinny: Board leading the team in special-teams tackles as a rookie leaves him safe at this point. The competition for a potential roster spot behind him is wide open, however, with Thomas, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, headlining a group lacking experience. They’re listed as bubble players by default.

OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS (7)
IN: Matt Judon, Jaylon Ferguson, Tyus Bowser
BUBBLE: Tim Williams
LONG SHOT: Aaron Adeoye, Markus Jones, Michael Onuoha
Skinny: Contributions on special teams and the shortage of strong-side or “Sam” backers give Bowser a clear edge over Williams, who appeared in only seven games in 2018 and was a healthy scratch by season’s end. There should be opportunities for the long shots to try to put themselves on the radar.

CORNERBACKS (11)
IN: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Justin Bethel, Anthony Averett, Iman Marshall
BUBBLE: Cyrus Jones, Maurice Canady
LONG SHOT: Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Terrell Bonds
Skinny: There isn’t a deeper group of corners in the NFL, leaving the Ravens with a good problem trying to decide which ones to keep. Jones returning kickoffs in addition to punts would cement his spot — he only did the latter last year — while the oft-injured Canady is in the final year of his rookie deal.

SAFETIES (6)
IN: Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Chuck Clark, Anthony Levine
BUBBLE: DeShon Elliott
LONG SHOT: Bennett Jackson
Skinny: Elliott is the one to watch in this group as he showed promise before breaking his forearm in the preseason last year and could potentially push Clark for some playing time in sub packages. Levine’s positional versatility remains an invaluable part of Wink Martindale’s defense.

SPECIALISTS (5)
IN: Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, Morgan Cox
BUBBLE: none
LONG SHOT: Kaare Vedvik, Matthew Orzech
Skinny: The Ravens will hope Vedvik kicks the football like he did last summer to improve his trade value at the end of the preseason. Beyond that, there’s little to see here.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts ahead of annual league meetings

Posted on 22 March 2019 by Luke Jones

With NFL teams convening in Phoenix next week for the annual league meetings, I’ve offered a dozen Ravens thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Eric DeCosta has roughly $16 million in salary cap space with the draft a little over a month away. That leaves the flexibility to make another moderate signing or two while leaving the necessary space for the rookie draft class and in-season moves.

2. The Ravens were certainly interested in Justin Houston, but the two-year, $24 million deal he received from Indianapolis would have been difficult to absorb without restructuring deals or cutting another player, actions the organization prefers to avoid.

3. I still believe a $9.5 million salary and $15.85 million cap number are risky for someone who’s played more than 12 games in a season only twice in his career, but it’s clear Jimmy Smith is still valued. He remains a trade chip if they can address another need, however.

4. Robert Griffin III always seemed among the most likely of the free agents to re-sign. He hit it off with Lamar Jackson and had a nice preseason, but we’re talking about someone who was out of the league entirely in 2017. A deal made too much sense for both sides.

5. No one expected Brent Urban to sign in the opening hours of free agency, but I’m surprised there hasn’t been more interest in the 5-technique end. I figured he’d be looking at a contract similar to the four-year deal New England gave Lawrence Guy two offseasons ago.

6. With so much reported outside interest in Nick Boyle before he re-signed with the Ravens, teams wanting to add a blocking tight end should sign Maxx Williams, who would be a fraction of the price and interestingly received better blocking grades from Pro Football Focus in fewer snaps last year.

7. The lack of movement on Urban and Williams is likely complicating DeCosta’s free-agent strategy as the Ravens are currently slated to receive only one 2020 compensatory pick. There’s not a remaining unrestricted free agent who’s worth forfeiting a third-round pick to sign.

8. Much focus has been on the need for edge rushers, but Za’Darius Smith and Urban were vital parts of the inside pass rush. A healthy Willie Henry would help, but interior pressure is more important than ever with quick throws so prevalent today to try to neutralize edge defenders.

9. Jerry Rosburg’s retirement is a significant loss as his units have finished in the top five in Rick Gosselin’s revered special teams report and have ranked sixth or better in Football Outsiders’ special teams DVOA in seven straight seasons. The pressure is on successor Chris Horton.

10. With Terrell Suggs and Joe Flacco officially gone, only six players remain who were with the organization during Super Bowl XLVII and Anthony Levine was on injured reserve at the time. Only eight remain under contract from the Ravens’ last playoff win over Pittsburgh in January 2015.

11. As Mark Ingram noted after news of Griffin’s deal surfaced, the Ravens now have three Heisman Trophy winners on their current roster. That’s definitely a rare occurrence, but the late 1980s Los Angeles Raiders quickly came to mind with Marcus Allen, Tim Brown, and Bo Jackson.

12. Congratulations to former Ravens coaching intern Lori Locust for earning a full-time NFL coaching position with Tampa Bay. This interesting story describes her journey to now work for Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians, who has advocated for more diversity in coaching in recent years.

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How did Ravens defensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2018?

Posted on 12 February 2019 by Luke Jones

The Ravens returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but where did their players stack up across the NFL in 2018?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or determining postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few watch every player on every team extensively enough to form any type of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you watch the offensive line of the Detroit Lions this season? What about the Oakland Raiders linebackers or the San Francisco 49ers cornerbacks?

That’s why I appreciate the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus while acknowledging these rankings shouldn’t be viewed as infallible or the gospel of evaluation. I can respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when most of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis.

Below is a look at where Ravens defensive linemen ranked at their positions followed by the positional outlook going into 2019:

Offensive linemen
Linebackers
Tight ends

Brandon Williams
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 517
PFF ranking: 33rd among interior defenders
Skinny: Williams ranked 22nd among interior defenders against the run, but opinions have varied on his value since before he signed his $52.5 million contract two years ago. The nose tackle played a major part in Baltimore ranking third in yards per carry allowed, but he played just 50 percent of defensive snaps.

Brent Urban
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 522
PFF ranking: 49th among interior defenders
Skinny: Urban played all 16 games in a season for just the second time in his career and did the dirty work at the 5-techniqe end spot, but he made few splash plays with only a half-sack and two tipped passes. The Ravens would likely be interested in re-signing Urban again to a short-term deal.

Chris Wormley
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 401
PFF ranking: 67th among interior defenders
Skinny: The 2017 third-round pick made six starts prior to the bye week and established himself as a regular member of the game-day rotation, but his playing time declined after the bye as he made less of an impact. Wormley could find himself playing more 5-techinique if Urban departs via free agency.

Michael Pierce
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 389
PFF ranking: fifth among interior defenders
Skinny: Despite being slowed by a foot injury early in the year, Pierce thrived in his third season, providing more ammunition for critics of the Williams contract. The former undrafted free agent is positioning himself for a strong payday after 2019, especially if he can offer a little more as a pass rusher.

Willie Henry
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 82
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Henry was on his way to becoming the starting 3-techinique defensive tackle before August hernia surgery cost him the first four games of the year and an October back injury ended his season. The Ravens missed his inside pass-rushing ability, something he’ll hope to reestablish in a contract year.

Patrick Ricard
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 47
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The versatile Ricard also took snaps as a blocking fullback, but he wasn’t active after Week 12 and the surfacing of past racist and homophobic tweets didn’t help his perception. His ability to play on either side of the ball helps his roster standing, but he’s far from a lock to make the team in 2019.

Zach Sieler
2018 defensive snap count (including postseason): 17
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Ozzie Newsome’s final draft pick last April, Sieler spent most of the year as a game-day inactive, but the Ferris State product flashed enough last summer to warrant the organization keeping him on the roster. Sieler could move into a more significant role in 2019, especially if Urban signs elsewhere.

2019 positional outlook

Even with Urban being an unrestricted free agent and Pierce a restricted free agent, this remains one of the better positional groups on the roster going into next season. The Ravens would benefit from Wormley and Sieler taking a step forward to become bigger factors as 5-technique players, but they’ll again be strong inside with Williams, Pierce, and a returning Henry. It’s worth mentioning how frequently linebacker Za’Darius Smith moved to the interior line to rush the quarterback in obvious passing situations this past season, so Baltimore will have its eyes peeled for an interior lineman who can pressure the pocket. It will be fascinating to see how Pierce and Williams play in 2019 and how that might impact the organization’s plans for 2020 and beyond. Pierce is 3 1/2 years younger and will be an unrestricted free agent while the Ravens could conceivably move on from Williams’ deal next offseason.

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