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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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Ravens corners Humphrey, Smith absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 24 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Coming off one of the worst performances of his career, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is now dealing with a physical concern ahead of Sunday’s trip to Carolina.

Smith (groin) and second-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh) were absent from Wednesday’s practice, leaving their status against the Panthers in question. Humphrey missed the first game of his NFL career against New Orleans this past Sunday, and head coach John Harbaugh was tight-lipped when asked about his status for Week 8.

It remains unclear whether Smith’s absence was more of a precautionary measure early in the week, but he was present in the locker room prior to practice. Matching up extensively against Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, Smith surrendered five receptions and a touchdown on the six times he was targeted in coverage and also committed two pass interference penalties in the 24-23 loss.

“We’ve all had games like that. I’ve had horrible games. You never hope you do, but it happens,” safety Eric Weddle said. “You just get back on the horse and look at what you did, get back to technique and working hard in practice. Practice takes a lot of the areas that you may not have been very good at in the game — that can make up for a lot — and get you back playing the way you want to.

“Jimmy is a pro; he’s going to work hard.”

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) was also absent from practice, but this was the fifth straight Wednesday he’s sat, making it more of a rest day despite the injury description. Weddle and wide receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree also received a veteran rest day.

The return of left guard Alex Lewis to practice was an encouraging sign less than two weeks after he was stretchered off the field with a neck injury in Tennessee. The third-year lineman was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday and has a “good chance” to play against Carolina, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

“I had some numbness, but that was scary,” said Lewis of the pinched nerve he suffered on Oct. 14. “Once I got into the ambulance on the way to the hospital, it started to go away. I’m just thankful now that I can be walking around here and be back on the team.”

Right tackle James Hurst (back) and rookie interior lineman Bradley Bozeman (calf) did not take part in Wednesday’s workout as the Ravens remain thin along the offensive line. Harbaugh expressed optimism about Hurst’s chances of playing this Sunday after his back flared up late last week, forcing him out of the Saints game. Making his first NFL start in place of Lewis in Week 7, Bozeman was in and out of Sunday’s game after sustaining a calf injury.

Harbaugh revealed defensive tackle Willie Henry was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after suffering a herniated disc in his back. The third-year defensive lineman does have a chance to return to play this season, but he would not be eligible to be activated until late December. The injury is a blow to Baltimore’s sub package as Henry was one of the defense’s best interior rushers last season.

“It’s going to fall on our shoulders to get more pressure on the quarterback,” defensive tackle Michael Pierce said. “We’re going to have to take up some of the slack he had in those dime packages and stuff like that. We’ve got our work cut out for us, and we’ve got to get to the passer.”

The Panthers held out former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith (knee) and starting defensive end Mario Addison (back) from Wednesday’s practice. Quarterback Cam Newton (right shoulder) and tight end Greg Olsen (foot) were limited participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), OT James Hurst (back), CB Jimmy Smith (groin), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck)

CAROLINA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Mike Adams (non-injury), DE Mario Addison (back), DE Julius Peppers (non-injury), LB Andre Smith (hamstring), WR Torrey Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Greg Olsen (foot), QB Cam Newton (right shoulder)

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Ravens place defensive tackle Henry on injured reserve

Posted on 23 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ defensive line depth took a hit Tuesday as Willie Henry was placed on injured reserve.

The third-year defensive tackle had been in line for a significant role in 2018 and was working with the first-team unit in the spring and summer before undergoing hernia surgery, which sidelined him for the first four games of the season. Henry had a tackle and played 20 snaps in Sunday’s loss to New Orleans, but the Ravens did not immediately announce the nature of his injury. He wouldn’t be eligible to play again until late December if the organization would choose to use one of its two designations to return.

Henry, a former fourth-round pick from Michigan, emerged as an impactful interior rusher last season, collecting 3 1/2 sacks and batting down five passes at the line of scrimmage in 14 games. In three games this season, the 24-year-old collected three tackles and one sack.

Henry’s absence could mean a few more snaps for either Patrick Ricard or Zach Sieler, who have both played sparingly this season.

To fill the open spot on the 53-man roster, the Ravens promoted offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor from the practice squad. Eluemunor’s addition could serve as a clue for the Week 8 state of the offensive line after starting left guard Alex Lewis (neck) and starting right tackle James Hurst (back) missed the Saints game. Baltimore had only one reserve lineman available against the Saints and typically goes into games with no fewer than two backups.

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Ravens-Saints: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Sunday isn’t just an enticing showdown between the top scoring offense and best scoring defense in the NFL, but it serves as a measuring stick for both the Ravens and New Orleans.

Allowing a minuscule 12.8 points per game and ranking at or near the top in virtually every notable category, the Baltimore defense has faced the fourth-easiest slate of offenses so far this season, according to Football Outsiders. Meanwhile, the Saints are scoring a whopping 36.0 points per game against the second-easiest schedule of defenses to this point.

Regardless of the competition, each group’s body of work is very impressive, but this matchup offers the opportunity to prove just how great they truly are.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for just the seventh time with the Ravens holding a 5-1 advantage and a 3-1 record in Baltimore. As has been mentioned throughout the week, Drew Brees is 0-4 in his career against the Ravens, the only NFL team the future Hall of Fame quarterback hasn’t defeated over his 18 seasons.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Brees will throw his 500th and 501st career touchdowns as well as his first two interceptions of the year. The 39-year-old is off to a brilliant start with a 122.3 passer rating through five games, but he’s yet to face a defense quite like the Ravens, who are allowing just 6.0 yards per passing attempt. Marlon Humphrey’s status could be pivotal, but Jimmy Smith should be ready for a bigger workload with two games under his belt if the former can’t go. How nickel corner Tavon Young holds up defending Cameron Meredith or even Michael Thomas in the slot will be critical, but the Ravens will mix their coverages enough to force Brees into making a few more mistakes than usual.

2. Willie Snead will lead the Ravens in receptions and catch a touchdown against his former team. The slot receiver downplayed the significance of this one, but you know it would mean plenty to show well after his nightmare 2017 that followed 141 catches and 1,879 yards in the previous two seasons. Twenty of Snead’s 30 receptions — tied with Michael Crabtree for the team lead — have gone for first downs this season as he’s been exactly what Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh envisioned. The Saints have had significant problems at the slot cornerback position since the injury to Patrick Robinson, setting up Snead to gain some payback with his second score of the year.

3. Saints running back Alvin Kamara will score the first second-half touchdown of 2018 against Baltimore. Much was made about Kamara receiving only nine touches in Mark Ingram’s return to action two weeks ago, but the former is averaging 9.2 yards per reception, which is prime Ray Rice territory out of the backfield. The Ravens have covered running backs well so far this season, but Kamara presents a different kind of challenge who will offset the efforts of the pass rush at times and test tackling ability. Baltimore is bound to give up a post-halftime touchdown at some point, and Kamara will get loose for a score to put that impressive streak to an end.

4. Za’Darius Smith will collect another sack for one of three total for the Ravens. The key to slowing Brees and the New Orleans offense is disguise and deception, which is what Wink Martindale has so masterfully used to this point in his early tenure as defensive coordinator. Because Brees gets the ball away so quickly, you cannot count on edge rushers to get to him and need your interior linemen to hit him or at least make him move his feet to throw off his timing. Saints left guard Andrus Peat is out and right guard Larry Warford is questionable, which should make things easier for Smith, Brent Urban, and Willie Henry. The inside rushers will do just enough to make life difficult for Brees.

5. Joe Flacco and the passing game will be the difference in a 27-23 Ravens victory. The sexy story all week has understandably been about the Baltimore defense trying to slow the Saints offense, but New Orleans ranks 30th in the league in pass defense and the Ravens have been a top 10 passing attack so far this season. Talented Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore may contain one side of the field, but Flacco should be able to make plays against the rest of the New Orleans secondary for a productive day. Brees and Saints head coach Sean Payton having the bye week to try to crack the code that’s been the Ravens defense does make you take pause, but home-field advantage and a more balanced roster will make the difference in a game that has the potential to be a regular-season classic.

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