Confidence in Offensive Rebound Stems From an Unexpected Source
Concern surrounding the Ravens' offense after a disappointing performance in Cleveland is certainly understandable. Whenever a team is left out of the end zone for an entire game plus overtime, there are going to be questions.
Quarterback Joe Flacco is confident the unit will put its Week 5 performance behind it and play at a higher level. His reasoning behind it may come from a source some weren't expecting, however.
"I always say that it starts up front, and those guys are really, really playing well," Flacco said Wednesday. "They're playing well together, they're playing physical, really in the right spots, doing what they're supposed to be doing. I think as those guys continue to do that, then everything else falls in place and comes together."
It's happened quietly, but the Ravens' offensive line has put together a pretty good start to the season. Pro Football Focus rated Baltimore's offensive line as the No. 14 unit in the NFL this week, a 10-spot jump from where the site had the unit before the preseason.
The group is partly to blame for the Ravens' running game not producing as well up to this point as it did last season, which has gotten a lot of attention.
It has done well in pass protection though, only allowing 12 sacks this season on 232 pass attempts. Four of those came in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Only one team in the NFL has given up fewer sacks with that many passing attempts (the Indianapolis Colts, 10).
While the Ravens are certainly aiming to have a line that is dominant in both areas, WNST’s Luke Jones noted, "The Ravens are currently a passing team." That doesn't seem to be changing any time soon, so the offensive line excelling in that area is encouraging.
As a result, the Ravens look to be content with their current starting five.
"It doesn't appear that the Ravens are planning any imminent changes to their offensive line to try and jumpstart a struggling running game," The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "The most logical change would be inserting rookie Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle and moving veteran James Hurst to left guard in place of Alex Lewis or having Hurst go to the bench."
Indeed, the focal point of the hypothetical shuffling of the offensive line always seems to start with the right tackle position.
Brown showed a lot of promise during extended outings in preseason games and at 6-foot-8 and 345 pounds would immediately make the group a much physically larger group. Hurst is also a versatile lineman who had a standout campaign at left guard in 2017, meaning he could probably slot in there and do a good job.
The problem with this idea though is that Hurst has done pretty well at right tackle. "Hurst has met expectations," Zrebiec wrote, while Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick chimed in, "Hurst hasn't done anything to lose the job. He's been solid and very consistent."
Making a change now also would not make sense because Lewis is coming off his best game of the season, according to Zrebiec. McKusick agreed, and gave Lewis a "B" grade. He was particularly impressed with how Lewis was able to help left tackle Ronnie Stanley contain Cleveland star defensive end Myles Garrett.
One solution many pundits have proposed would be to insert Brown at right tackle, slot Hurst in at left guard and move Lewis to center, leaving starting center Matt Skura as a super sub. Zrebiec doesn't believe the Ravens think that's a possibility currently because of Lewis' inexperience at center.
"The Ravens aren't confident right now that Lewis would hold up performing the various tasks of an NFL center," Zrebiec wrote. "If they were, they probably wouldn't have signed veteran center Hroniss Grasu a couple of weeks back."
At some point, Brown could be inserted into the starting offensive line this season. Zrebiec wrote that "It seems inevitable," but it doesn't seem to be a pressing issue for the team at the moment.
Keep in mind how new this offensive line is, too. The only holdover is Stanley. The other four positions are being manned by players that didn't play in those spots for most of last season.
Last year's group needed time to gel, and by the end of the season, it was an effective group. This year's offensive line could easily follow that same arc, and if it does mature, the offense could greatly benefit.
Zrebiec: Cyrus Jones Addition 'Does Come With Some Risk'; Should Ravens Give Chris Moore a Look?
On Tuesday, the Ravens cut wide receiver/returner Tim White and added cornerback/returner Cyrus Jones to the 53-man roster. It is the second time this season that Jones is working in Baltimore, though his previous stint was spent exclusively on the practice squad. White has since been signed back to the practice squad.
After White and wide receiver/returner Janarion Grant both fumbled during stints as the returner, the move appears to give Jones a good chance to claim the job.
"After five weeks, three fumbles and two demotions to the practice squad, the Ravens are wary of anything else going wrong on punt returns," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote.
Zrebiec thinks the Ravens are smart to give Jones a chance to prove himself. Jones, a Baltimore native that played at Gilman School, did plenty of punt returning during his collegiate career at Alabama and thrived, returning 42 punts for 530 yards and four touchdowns. He clearly has ability, which is why the New England Patriots selected him in the second round of the 2016 draft.
Zrebiec also thinks the move "does come with some risk." In fact, it's the same risk that White and Grant brought to Baltimore's return game.
"White's biggest issue was ball security, which happens to be Jones' biggest problem as well," Zrebiec wrote. "As the returner for the New England Patriots in 2016, Jones fumbled five times in 10 games. I'm not suggesting Jones isn't worthy of an opportunity two years later to prove that he's fixed his ball-security issues. I am saying that the Ravens are making a leap of faith in assuming those problems are in the past."
Zrebiec also chimed in on the team's kick returner situation. The assumption is that Jones will get a chance to return both punts and kickoffs like White and Grant did. Zrebiec thinks Baltimore should consider looking at wide receiver Chris Moore for kickoffs, too.
"I still don't get why the Ravens haven't at least tried Chris Moore as a kick returner this year. Moore hasn't returned a punt in the NFL, but he did average a respectable 26.6 yards per kickoff return last year.…" Zrebiec wrote. "With Moore not getting a ton of snaps at wide receiver, why not try to get the ball in his hands on kickoffs?"
On Wednesday, Head Coach John Harbaugh listed another name as a possibility to become the team's returner: wide receiver John Brown.
It's a situation that Shaffer referred to as "not exactly a state secret" because Brown has been a dynamic playmaker for the offense, and he has experience returning, too. Brown went viral back in college when his first touch for Pittsburg State was a punt return he took 84 yards for a touchdown. He hasn't fielded a punt in a game since 2016, when he was playing for the Arizona Cardinals.
"If he's [Brown] back there returning punts, it'll be exciting, and he'll have to catch it first, just like everybody else, and hold on to it next," Harbaugh said.
Kamalei Correa Admits Sunday Will Be Different for Him
Tennessee Titans outside linebacker Kamalei Correa admits that this Sunday isn't going to be like any other game for him.
Correa, who was drafted by the Ravens in the second round in 2016, started the season in Baltimore before being traded Aug. 28, four days before the team's original 53-man roster had to be set.
Correa and his agent knew there was a numbers crunch at outside linebacker in Baltimore, and he only has nice things to say about the Ravens organization. That being said, Correa won't be very sentimental on the field on Sunday.
"This is going to be a different feel for me," Correa told Titans Online’s Jim Wyatt. "The guys are great, the coaches are great. [The Ravens have] a great organization. But I am with the Titans now. It is my new family, and it is my new team. And on Sunday, I am going to do everything I can to help the Titans win the game."
In his two seasons as a Raven, Correa had 27 tackles and two sacks. His most memorable performance came in the Hall of Fame Game this past August, when he finished with six tackles, three sacks, a forced fumble, an interception and two passes defended.
Correa says that General Manager Ozzie Newsome told him the team wanted to go in a "different direction" when he found out about the trade. He appreciated the honest conversation, saying "I respected (what he said). It's business, so I just went about my business."
It would've been difficult to keep more than five pass rushers on the 53-man roster, and the Ravens had six talented outside linebackers to choose from.
Correa has settled in nicely playing for the Titans, and former Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees. He has eight tackles and two tackles for loss, as well as two sacks.
Correa possesses a pretty good knowledge of the Ravens personnel and schemes, saying, "It may help during the week on small tips and reminders." Though he may have a couple pointers for his teammates, he doesn't expect them to play a major factor in the game.
"On Sunday, the best guy wins, the more prepared guy wins," Correa said. "Whoever is ready is going to win."
Will Corey Davis Get the Antonio Brown Treatment?
Corey Davis is the Titans' de facto No. 1 wide receiver and is expected to be targeted numerous times by quarterback Marcus Mariota.
The Ravens secondary has a few guys that can match up with his unique combination of speed and physicality, but Russell Street Report’s Corey Stevenson thinks a key to containing Davis will be where those players line up.
"Davis spent 24 percent of his snaps in the slot the first 4 games and that jumped to 31 percent last week," Stevenson wrote. "Back in Week 2 the Bengals went after smallish slot corner Tavon Young with the similar sized A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd with great success."
Young has played quite well this season, and created the defense's lone turnover against Cleveland with an impressive interception. But with Young standing in at 5-foot-9, Stevenson may have a point about putting him on the 6-foot-3 wide receiver.
"This should be a week where either Marlon Humphrey follows Davis or Brandon Carr takes the lion's share of slot snaps," Stevenson wrote.
Humphrey shadowed Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown to great effect in Week 4, so it wouldn't be surprising to see Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale choose to implement that strategy again. PennLive’s Aaron Kasinitz joined Stevenson in thinking it would be a good idea considering Davis' importance to the Tennessee offense.
"If he's [Humphrey] staring down Davis for much of Sunday's game, he'll take on a huge responsibility, especially on third downs," Kasinitz wrote. "Davis' eight third-down receptions that have converted first downs rank fourth in the league, and he adds explosiveness to an otherwise dull Tennessee offense."
- Kicker Justin Tucker was a guest on NBC Sports’ Peter King’s podcast this week. Tucker discussed a variety of topics, including what he remembers about his famous 61-yard game-winner on Monday Night Football against the Detroit Lions in 2013. "What I remember about it is that I don't feel like I got all of it," Tucker said with a chuckle. "It kind of came off my toe a little bit. And as soon as it came off my foot, I'm pretty sure [punter/holder] Sam Koch had the exact same feeling that I did, which was 'Oh man, left this one just a little short.'"
- Defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce conducted a Q&A with SB Nation’s Charles R. McDonald. The two talked about the toughest offensive line they've gone up against, and paintballing with Harbaugh. They also talked about how their relationship developed. "We play the same position and a young guy coming in as a free agent, it's my job being the older guy to help him and push him as I can," Williams said. "I think over the course of training camp and offseason workouts and OTAs, we just created a bond and jelled. Once he [Pierce] made the 53-man roster, it just kept growing."
- Zrebiec believes the Ravens defense has actually been a little too aggressive in trying to force turnovers in recent games. "Particularly the defensive backs have seemingly been fixating on getting the ball out in recent weeks rather than tackling," Zrebiec wrote. "That has cost them some yards on numerous occasions."