Posted in NFL News

Baltimore Ravens: Moving forward after Marcus Peters injury

By Michael Natelli

Apart from the Baltimore Ravens’ rookie class, there were two players I was particularly excited to watch this year: JK Dobbins and Marcus Peters. As both entered their second full seasons in Baltimore, each seemed poised to have a year that would start to truly etch them into team lore as one of the key cogs of this era of Raven football. Evidently, that’s not going to happen. At least not this year.

As if that weren’t enough, Gus Edwards, L.J. Fort, and Justice Hill are all set to miss the season with injuries as well, and several other key contributors enter the season injured or still working their way back from injury. 

It’s enough to make your head spin and your hope wane. But the growing IR list is no excuse for this Ravens team to phone it in and take their eyes off a postseason run. Not only is there still plenty of talent on this loaded roster, but as bumps in the road emerge, Baltimore may have more ways (and ammo) to address injuries and roster needs than ever before.

Eric DeCosta has been just about as effective in the trade and free agency markets as any general manager in the NFL and should stand to capitalize from the wide range of options he has available.

The Free Agent Market

The Baltimore Ravens are a team that went 14-2 in 2019 in part thanks to their ability to get production out of off-the-street free agents like LJ Fort, Josh Bynes, Domata Peko, Justin Ellis, and a rejuvenated Pernell McPhee.

In 2020, it was signings like Trystan Colon-Castillo and Devontae Harris that helped the Ravens stay afloat as they weathered COVID issues and a depleted secondary. Time and time again, the Baltimore front office and coaching staff have made a living turning post-prime veterans and undrafted free agents into solid contributors, and this year’s free-agent market has them well-positioned to do it once again in addressing current and potential roster needs.

At corner, Richard Sherman, Quinton Dunbar, and former Raven Pierre Desir headline a shallow group of options. Sherman obviously offers the most star power and upside, though pending legal troubles make his status for the season somewhat unclear (to say nothing of his less-than-ideal fit in Wink Martindale’s defense). 

Desir is interesting because he comes with some level of familiarity with the defense having spent time with Baltimore late last year. Metrics didn’t like his play in limited action with the Ravens, but he was highly graded as recently as 2019 and could return to form given a longer stretch to get comfortable with regular reps. 

Dunbar has likely been asked too much of in recent stops and wasn’t up to the task. But at 6’2, the 29-year-old offers the kind of length the Ravens like in corners and could thrive (or at least reasonably contribute) in a more complementary role.

Early to start dealing with injuries: 

Perhaps the most unfortunate part about the injuries Baltimore has endured so far is the unknown of what’s still to come. Injuries come up throughout the course of a football season, so there will inevitably be a few roster holes that need to be plugged between now and January. Will the free-agent market be somewhere that gives the pieces the Ravens need to go win a Super Bowl without key players? Probably not. But does it offer savvy veterans that can help the team stay afloat and at least scrap their way to the postseason in a year with a seventh playoff spot? Absolutely.

Mitchell Schwartz and David DeCastro are out there as options along the offensive line. Geno Atkins and Kawann Short are available in the trenches, and Olivier Vernon is out there to rush the passer. John Brown is available to make his second tour through Baltimore if the receivers can’t get healthy, and Trey Burton is there if tight end depth becomes a problem. Todd Gurley, Adrian Peterson, and Frank Gore are all ready to go if the running back room hasn’t exorcised whatever continues to haunt it yet. 

Make your jokes about how those names all sound good as options in Madden 17, but while most are not what they used to be, enough talent is out there in a pinch that injuries at just about any position shouldn’t be the reason the Ravens aren’t a playoff team this year. 

The Trade Market:

If DeCosta (understandably) finds the free-agent market to have uninspiring options, he also has more than enough draft capital to fill a need or two via trade without putting the Ravens in a disadvantageous position come April.

Before even factoring in any compensation picks for departing free agents this coming offseason, the Ravens are slated to have 14 picks in their 2022 war chest. While such a loaded draft arsenal will come in handy next offseason with Mark Andrews and likely Lamar Jackson signed to new expensive contracts, it also gives the team more than enough ammo to comfortably part with a pick or two for midseason upgrades.

Whether that means swinging a trade for a corner Jacksonville’s C.J. Henderson or Denver’s Bryce Callahan, or star chasing at other spots around the roster, there’s no reason that the Week 1 roster has to be as good as it’s going to get in Baltimore this year. It may take until close to the Trade Deadline, but one would have to think DeCosta is already exploring options to make sure John Harbaugh and company can still be successful this year.

No Excuses

The Ravens are not a team that looks to make excuses. They say the right things because they believe the right things. “Next man up” is not just good coach speak in Baltimore, it’s a culture, and fans should expect nothing short of that attitude and that approach regardless of what the IR list looks like.

NEXT POST: More Ravens injuries are sobering: Next man up starts early

Even as more challenges emerge, the Ravens should be more than equipped enough to weather the storms that come their way and charge forward towards another postseason run.

 

Posted in NFL News

More Ravens injuries are sobering: Next man up starts early

By Chris Schisler

The bad news cloud that loomed over the Baltimore Ravens preseason isn’t done doing its thing. According to reports both Gus Edwards and Marcus Peters were injured in practice. We have to wait to see how bad it is for both players. What we do know is that it doesn’t look good. The whole “Next Man Up” thing is soberingly starting now.

The Ravens are also starting the season with Rashod Bateman on injured reserve. They’re not only waiting for the return of their first-round pick at wide receiver, but also Nick Boyle and Jimmy Smith. The bad news cloud puts a ton of pressure on Lamar Jackson.

Without Dobbins and Edwards, the Ravens are completely improvising at the running back position. When Dobbins went down it elevated the importance of Edwards and created a plan B. After Justice Hill went down and three other running backs were signed, John Harbaugh and company are completely winging it at the running back position.

Running back improv for the Baltimore Ravens

The good news is that running back is the most replaceable position group and Greg Roman’s offense doesn’t require the best back in the business. The bad news is that a team that already had pressure to fix the passing attack, is going to have to get even more out of the passing game than they thought. Jackson has to carry this team, especially at the beginning of the season. There’s no getting around that.

The Ravens came into the preseason with the best one-two punch at the running back position. Now Ty’Son Williams is your starting running back. A 2020 undrafted free agent, who made the team after bouncing onto the scene in preseason play. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that Devonta Freeman signed with the Ravens. Who had Williams, Bell, and Freeman as the running back trio in Baltimore this season?

Williams was supposed to compliment Edwards. Now he’s replacing him. Le’Veon Bell has to exceed expectations. What was a low-risk signing is now one with real stakes. This has to work out. With Freeman, the Ravens need to see how much is left in the tank. Bell might just have some of his prime to get back to, while Freeman is well past his.

Losing Marcus Peters is harder to deal with:

The Ravens may have enough to get by at the running back position. This isn’t a game, set, match situation for the offense. There’s actually plenty of room for optimism with an MVP quarterback. This is tough and yet survivable. The big problem is replacing Marcus Peters. That’s because nobody really “replaces” Peters.

A combination of Jimmy Smith (When healthy) and Anthony Averett will fill in for Peters on the outside opposite Marlon Humphrey. Chris Westry could also play boundary corner some as well. The Ravens just lost the best combo at cornerback in football. They have some options. None of them replace the most instinctive cornerback in the game. Peters was next level in anticipation and the Ravens surely lost some potential interceptions.

Now the injury histories of Smith and also of Tavon Young can start to make you nervous. The Ravens have the depth to deal with this kind of news better than most teams do. This is early to call on their depth. That’s an issue.

The safety play also has to be better now. Peters and Humphrey in tandem took a lot of the plate of the backend defenders. More could leak through now, and the safeties have to be ready for it. The Ravens lost an elite cornerback. They can put another player in his place, but losing Peters is bad. It changes the defensive game plan for Martindale.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens Three Big Questions About The Special Teams

If you’re bummed out just know that the whole Ravens Flock is. If you think the season is over, however, get a grip. There’s still plenty of positives. The Ravens have a game in just four days. Getting an impressive win over the Las Vegas Raiders can settle down the internal screaming and panic the Ravens Flock is going through. Adversity found the Ravens early. Now they have to deal with it and win.

 

Posted in Pregame Content

Baltimore Ravens vs. Las Vegas Raiders: 5 predictions and a score

By Chris Schisler

The Baltimore Ravens take on the Las Vegas Raiders on Monday Night Football to start the season. Here are five predictions for the purple and black heading into the big opening game.

1. Gus Edwards shows off

The Baltimore Ravens lost J.K. Dobbins and it’s being pitched as a massive blow against the Ravens’ chances. Meanwhile, the Ravens still have Gus Edwards, who has had three strong seasons in a row. Are the Raiders glad they don’t have to chase down Dobbins? Sure. Do they really want more Gus Edwards? Their linebackers certainly don’t. Edwards is one of the most physical running backs in the NFL and he has a chance to show off. A strong showing by Edwards will calm the nerves down a bit for this offense.

Last season the Raiders couldn’t stop the run. This game is a great chance for the Ravens to get the run game going early. The big signings of the Raiders’ offseason for the defense were Yannick Ngakoue and Solomon Thomas. Ravens fans know first-hand that adding Ngakoue isn’t going to boost the run defense of the Raiders. Even with a defensive-focused 2021 NFL Draft class, nothing screams “The Raiders made the changes to improve against the run!”

Edwards has had six career 100-yard rushing performances. In 2020, he’s the clearly defined number one back. He’s going to add more 100-yard performances this year. The Ravens are going to get the first one of the year in their first game that counts.

2. A strong start to the season by Marquise Brown

With Rashod Bateman being on injured reserve to start the season, and Lamar Jackson getting limited game reps in the preseason, the passing attack is going to feature the familiar stars. While the Ravens must be able to involve much more of the supporting cast through the season, look for a lot of Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews early on. These are Jackson’s guys. This is the trio that doesn’t need time to gel together.

Going into the first game, Marquise Brown is almost a forgotten Raven. He’s missed a lot of practice and he didn’t play in the three preseason games. The Raiders are certainly aware of Brown, though they may have spent less time preparing for him than they would have if this was a 2020 regular-season game. The big reason for Brown’s chance to shine in this game is that the Ravens are going to start to push the ball down the field more. Long story short, the Ravens are going to try to make Brown’s skills as a constant deep threat matter much more this season.

3. Marcus Peters has a pick-six

Marcus Peters has a reputation for the pick-six. Peters has six touchdowns in his career to go with his 31 interceptions. Last season, Peters sealed the game against the Tennessee Titans with an interception. While he didn’t make a house call, the Ravens Flock got payback on the Titans with a logo stomp. Peters had four interceptions and no touchdowns last year. He’s due for a defensive touchdown.

I actually think Derek Carr will have a deceptively good stat line in this game, it just won’t amount to much. The Raiders have some talent and they’re going to make plays. That said, expect Don Martindale’s defense to limit the big plays for the Raiders. Long drives are going to have to sustain the Raiders’ offense. Carr will get frustrated and Peters will put six on the scoreboard for the Ravens.

4. Ravens pass rush looks much improved

The Baltimore Ravens are going to have a much-improved pass rush in the 2020 season. Adding Justin Houston to the mix was a big deal. He’s going to have a sack and a good bit of pressure in his first game as a Raven. Look for Odafe Oweh and Tyus Bowser to have moments living in the backfield as well. The offensive line is a major question mark for the Raiders.

Going into the NFL Draft I loved the upside of Alex Leatherwood. That being said, the Raiders have him listed as the starting right tackle in his first NFL game. You already know who Don Martindale is attacking. Denzelle Good, who is listed as the starting right guard has a Pro Football Focus grade of 56.7. The left side of the Raiders offensive line looks strong with Kolton Miller and Richie Incognito. Still, the Ravens have the talent advantage in the trenches. With Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams, Derek Wolfe, and a good grouping of linebackers, Baltimore should win the line of scrimmage.

5. Lamar Jackson has 400 total yards and four touchdowns

The Baltimore Ravens are going to see Jackson have an MVP kind of performance in this game. He’s going to be deadly efficient. As a passer let’s give Jackson 275 yards and three touchdowns, with a couple of deep shots getting him there. As a runner let’s give Jackson 125. He’ll have one run where he gets away for a long gain which tacks onto the 50-80 yards you expect from him. It’s Monday Night Football and people think they have Jackson figured out. That sounds like a recipe for Jackson to have a big night.

6. Baltimore Ravens win 35-12

Betting on exact scores is a very hard thing to do. I think this is a big win for the Ravens. I won’t apologize if this game is close. The Ravens have a better roster, a better coach, and a bigger difference-maker under center. 35-12 sounds fun. Let’s give the Raiders four field goals because this Baltimore Ravens defense isn’t breaking.

NEXT POST: Baltimore Ravens: Projecting Gus Edwards numbers for 2021

We’re already two articles into the Ravens pregame content for the first Monday Night game of the year. Wait, did you think we were going to wait until everybody else started jumping on this? We’re too ready here at PBN!

Posted in Uncategorized

Don Martindale: 3 keys for his Ravens Defense

Chris Schisler

1. The Secondary taking over


Don Martindale needs his defensive backs to do a lot of the heavy lifting. It’s a passing league and pass defense is key. With the pass rush being at the very least a little suspect, the secondary had to make things work.

If the Baltimore Ravens are to have the kind of success they’re accustomed to defensively, cornerback play will be huge. Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters and a combination of Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young might be the most important grouping of players for the defense.

In an ideal world, Humphrey won’t have to play over the slot receiver. He’s dominant on the outside. He’s versatile, but you know what you want him doing the most. Having Young stay healthy would be a delightful change of pace. He would disrupt the quick passes to the slot receiver. If the Ravens’ nickel cornerback situation is ideal, opponents can’t “nickel” and dime down the field. They’ll be forced into throwing into the teeth of the defense.

The Ravens need to force some coverage sacks. They need to force quarterbacks to hold onto the ball and the front seven needs to be able to punish them. With the secondary being dominant, the pass rush can get great results from a good effort.

The Ravens drafted Shaun Wade. While it’s almost a catchphrase at this point, that he could be like Tavon Young, you don’t want to have to lean on the rookie. The same goes for Brandon Stephens. The Ravens’ strength is cornerback play they can count on when healthy.

The safety play is solid but doesn’t offer an elite amount of range. The more work the cornerbacks get done (often in man coverage) the better De’Shon Elliott and Chuck Clark will look. The more Humphrey and Peters are the stars of the show, the more Martindale can focus on a front seven that needs his magic touch.

2. A Pass Rusher Emerging

A pass rusher had to emerge for the Ravens. Maybe it’s Tyus Bowser reaching Matt Judon levels. He doesn’t need to be a double-digit sack artist, but if he flirted with double digits it would be very helpful. Maybe it’s Odafe Oweh being an unlockable force at times just because of his pure athletic ability.

Heck, maybe it’s Patrick Queen on the blitz or a return to form for Calais Campbell. It’s not all about the outside linebackers, and it’s not all about sacks. The bottom line is that Don Martindale can do a lot to scheme pressure but he needs his guys to make something happen. He needs a player or two to start causing problems for the opponent upfront.

3. Don Martindale needs the defensive line to stay healthy:

The defensive line needs to stay healthy. Derek Wolfe was the most consistent force upfront for the Ravens last year. That needs to continue. Campbell was nagged with injuries and Brandon Williams got banged up a bit too.

While Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington have a chance to show some progress, the defense is different with its’ three big guns. Williams is essential for run defense. Campbell at full strength blows everything up and even when he doesn’t get to the quarterback he completely takes away passing lanes with his length.

Some other things have to happen. Patrick Queen has to show progress and feel the game better. The Ravens need to see what they can still get out of Pernell McPhee and how much they can get from Daelin Hayes as a rookie outside linebacker.

NEXT POST: The Ravens don’t need Julio Jones to win it all

The three big keys are huge though. This stuff is the difference between the Ravens being a good defense and the Ravens being a dominant defense.