Facing depth concerns on offensive line, Ravens bring back Jeremy Zuttah

OWINGS MILLS, MD — Since the beginning of training camp, three Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman got lost for the season either due to injury (Alex Lewis, Nico Siragusa) or retirement (John Urschel). On Friday, the team made up for some of those losses by signing free agent center Jeremy Zuttah.

The deal, according to NFL.com‘s Ian Rapoport, spans over two years for $6 million.

Zuttah, 31, played the last three seasons with the Ravens, starting at center when healthy. Following a disappointing season, the Ravens traded Zuttah to the San Francisco 49ers in March for a sixth-round pick. That draft pick got used on Virginia Tech safety Chuck Clark. On Aug. 9, two days before their first preseason game, the 49ers released Zuttah. He reportedly drew interest from both the Ravens and Colts. Ultimately, the Ravens won the bid and helped an offensive line that faces serious depth concerns.

Zuttah made his first Pro Bowl in nine seasons in 2016, but that transpired after several offensive lineman elected not to play in the game. 2016 was not a solid season for Zuttah. He committed multiple holding penalties in critical spots against the Raiders and Cowboys last season. He also allowed three sacks.

The Ravens traded Zuttah before the draft, and waited until the fourth round to address the offensive line. Baltimore feels good about 2013 sixth-round pick Ryan Jensen to take over the starting job at center. If the coaching staff sticks to that plan, Zuttah will either back up Jensen or play left guard. The coaches could also elect for Zuttah and Jensen to play their natural positions; Jensen at left guard and Zuttah at center.

This move needed to occur. 2016 first round pick Ronnie Stanley missed practice this week with an undisclosed injury. Marshal Yanda has yet to play in a preseason game after undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason. Austin Howard got some playing time on Thursday night against the Dolphins, but he still needs time to get acclimated with the offense after getting signed two weeks ago.

In the second preseason game against the Dolphins, the Ravens’ starting offensive line featured three undrafted players – James Hurst, Matt Skura and Jarrod Pughsley. Starting running backs Terrance West and Danny Woodhead combined for zero yards from scrimmage on seven carries. Not good.

Hearing Zuttah’s name may cause some Ravens fans to sigh, but his addition brings an upgrade to what the team currently possesses along the offensive line. Head Coach John Harbaugh provided no timetable for Stanley’s return to practice. The coaching staff is bringing Yanda along slowly. Not to mention that quarterback Joe Flacco has yet to practice in training camp due to a back injury. No one knows when Flacco will return.

The Ravens need to protect their franchise quarterback now more than ever. Losing three offensive lineman in training camp so far makes for a scary situation. Zuttah may not provide a long-term answer, but he owns 117 career starts. Zuttah knows the Ravens’ offense. The addition of senior offensive assistant Greg Roman brings a learning curve for Zuttah, but the regular season does not start for another three weeks.

The Ravens cannot afford any more injuries on the offensive line. However, if more injuries occur, the depth at the position upgraded with the addition of Zuttah.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun 

Offense improves as Ravens beat Dolphins 31-7

MIAMI — The Ravens continued to impress in their second preseason game of 2017, traveling down to Miami and defeating the Dolphins 31-7.

The game started almost exactly like the Ravens first preseason matchup against the Redskins. The defense stood their ground and appeared to pick up where they left off against Washington. Meanwhile, Ryan Mallett and the offense needed some time to get into a rhythm before putting points on the board.

Most eyes were on newly-acquired Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler at the start of Thursday’s game, but his night ended after just a few drives. At times Cutler looked like the experienced quarterback that Miami signed him to be, hitting receivers in the numbers and picking up a couple first downs.

If it had not been for a handful of offensive penalties, Cutler could have led the Dolphins on some longer drives. He finished with just 24 yards on three completions. Matt Moore and David Fales took over at quarterback after Cutler’s exit.

The Dolphins offense found success after the Ravens starters got pulled in the second quarter. Senorise Perry capped off a seven play, 56-yard drive with an 11-yard touchdown run to put Miami up 7-0. These would end up being the only points for Miami as the Ravens scored 31 unanswered points.

The Ravens offense took a little longer to find the end zone than the Dolphins. Justin Tucker and the special teams unit led the way in the second quarter and had a hand in every scoring play. It all started with a 52-yard field goal to put the Ravens on the board. On the ensuing kickoff, Tucker, of all people, scooped up a fumble by Dolphins returner, Drew Morgan. The fumble recovery would lead to another field goal but the special teams unit was not done yet.

On the next Miami possession, the Ravens defense forced a three-and-out. The punt return team saw an opportunity to go for a block and they got it when Chris Matthews got past his blocker and dove for the ball. Matthews, who is trying to make the team as a receiver, came through with possibly the biggest play of the game.

The block set the offense up deep inside Miami territory for the second straight possession. This time the Ravens found the end zone. After failing to punch it in on the ground, Mallett dropped back and looked to his right for an open receiver. The play appeared to break down, but Mallett avoided defenders and find a wide open Larry Donnell to put Baltimore up 13-7.

As the game progressed, Ryan Mallett and Josh Woodrum threw the ball to a variety of receivers. Among the 18 players to record a reception were Ben Watson and Maxx Williams. The two tight ends made their preseason debut as they continue to rebound from injuries suffered last year. Williams was exceptional in his brief moments on the field. The third year tight end broke two tackles on his way to a long third down conversion and then found himself out of breath after a 40-yard reception in the third quarter.

After Mallett’s exit, Woodrum entered the game and continued to build on his quality performance against Washington. The third string quarterback picked up 110 yards on eight completions and even scored up a pair of rushing touchdowns. The first came on a 14-yard scramble while the second was a designed quarterback sneak. Woodrum followed the first with a successful two-point conversion as well.

Other standout performances came from Javorius Allen in the run game and Jaylen Hill on defense. Allen racked up 40 yards on 10 carries to lead the Ravens run game, while Hill continued to impress defending the pass. Hill is another undrafted rookie looking to make the team and last week he came up with a big interception. This week he posted a couple of tackles and some quality pass deflections to help his resume as the preseason progresses.

The Ravens may have picked up another big win but it did not come without some mistakes. Penalties and fumbles stand out as some of the bigger issues to correct going forward. Unlike the first preseason game, the Ravens did not play a clean game as they picked up 11 penalties totaling 81 yards.

On offense, the Ravens coughed up the ball three times. Fortunately, they were able to retain possession on all of those fumbles, but if you lose just one of them in the regular season, it can be the difference between a win and a loss.

The Ravens will cross their fingers and hope for no injuries following tonight’s win as they prepare for their next matchup. Fans can expect to see the starters get some extended playing time when the Ravens host the Buffalo Bills next Saturday.

Image Credit: Associated Press

Podcast: Purple Painted Roundtable Episode 3

Welcome to episode 3 of Purple-Painted Roundtable, a Baltimore Ravens podcast brought to you by Ebony Bird and Fansided.

On this episode, Chris Schisler, Joe Schiller and Jake McDonnell break down the Ravens’ 23-3 win over the Redskins in the preseason opener. What players impressed? Which players need to improve?

Unfortunately, following the Redskins game, the Ravens lost both Alex Lewis and Tim white for the season due to injuries. How significant are these injuries? How do the guard and receiver positions shape up without Lewis and White? The guys discuss.

The episode continues with a thorough analysis of both the running back and receiver positions. In this segment, Chris, Joe, and Jake give their lists of which backs and wideouts make the 53-man roster.

Finally, the Ebony Bird gang take a look at the second preseason game against the Dolphins. What are the top storylines heading into the game? What should Ravens fans keep an eye on? Listen and find out.

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Follow Joe on Twitter @joeschillerr

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Fantasy Football Position Breakdowns: Wide Receivers

Heading into the 2017 season, the top fantasy option at receiver on almost everyone’s board is Antonio Brown. After Brown, everyone has Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, and A.J. Green to round out the top five at receiver. The order of these players depends on the analyst. You can see my pre-training camp rankings here. These are slightly out of date, but I am hoping to post updated rankings sometime soon.

This past week, the receiver class was fairly lively for the preseason. First, Quincy Enunwa was placed on season-ending injured reserve (IR). After playing a very solid 2016 season, Enunwa was in line to be the number-one receiver for the Jets. Enunwa’s injury pushes Robby Anderson up the depth chart and into the number-one role.

This past Friday, the Bills made two moves involving receivers. The first sent their former 2014 first round pick to the Rams. The second brought Jordan Matthews to Buffalo from Philadelphia. Reports indicate that Matthews will take over for Sammy Watkins as the number one receiver. The Bills also made a splash in free agency earlier in the week when they signed Anquan Boldin.

READ: Fantasy Football Positional Breakdown: Running Backs

A lot of fantasy leagues start three receivers each week, which is the most of any position. Therefore, you obviously want to draft quite a few receivers. For this reason, I personally draft more receivers than any other position for my team each year. Receivers also tend to miss one or two games each year due to injury, so I like having guys that I can sub in if I need them.

I personally feel as though you do not need to focus heavily on receivers early in drafts this season. I think the receiver class is deep enough that there is a lot of value to be drafted later on in drafts. However, if high-end receivers slide to you early, you should absolutely pull the trigger on those guys and not let them fall any farther.

I’m going to get into some of the guys that I like or dislike based off of their current average draft positions (ADP). Before I do so, I will run through some terms that I will use when describing players.

Boom – A player who will exceed expectations according to their current ADP. Not to be confused with a breakout. Boom players have produced in the past but are most likely being undervalued.

Bust – A player who will fail to live up to expectations according to ADP.

Breakout – A player who will have a career year this season and exceed expectations. This player has possibly not lived up to expectations so far in their career, and is most likely still early on in their career.

Lets dive into a few players and their outlooks for this season.

Dez Bryant (Bust) – I had Bryant tabbed as a bust even before Ezekiel Elliott’s announced suspension. Since the six-game suspension was announced, I have not changed my opinion on Bryant at all. In seven NFL seasons, Bryant has only played in 16 games three times. He did play in 15 games in one other season. Bryant’s health has always been a concern and I see no reason why this season will be any different.

With Elliott’s suspension, I think it hurts Bryant even more. Without Elliott in the backfield for the first six weeks of the season, defenses are going to take that extra defender out of the box and focus their efforts on the pass. I think they might even double Bryant a lot of times, which would make things even more difficult for him. Having Elliott in the backfield helps the passing attack. Removing him from the offense will reduce the productivity of the running game as well as the passing game. I think Dez will be impacted the most by this. That is if he is even on the field.

Davante Adams (Bust) – Most people may completely disagree with me on this one. How could I possibly say that a receiver who has Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback a bust? Last season, Adams caught 12 touchdown passes which is an unbelievable number. I see no way for him to keep up that pace. It’s just that simple for me. I think Adams can have a solid and productive fantasy season. I am not using a fourth or fifth round pick on Adams, which is where he is currently being drafted. I will let someone else take the chance on Adams. I would much rather have him reproduce his 2016 season on someone else’s roster than bust as a fourth-round pick on my roster.

Stefon Diggs (Breakout) – Diggs had a very good 2016 season, and is poised to breakout in his third year. With a full year of work with Sam Bradford, and another year of experience under his belt, Diggs could be a league winner for a lot of fantasy players. In 2016, Diggs ended with 84 receptions, 903 yards, and 3 touchdowns, in only 13 games. Had he played 16 games he would have had 95+ receptions, 1000+ yards and at least one more touchdown. As long as Diggs stays healthy, I look for him to have a great season with the Vikings. Adding Dalvin Cook to the backfield should help the passing game a little too. Diggs is currently being drafted between the eighth and eleventh rounds depending on the site you use. Either way I think he outproduces his draft position by a wide margin.

READ: Fantasy Football Positional Breakdown: Quarterbacks

Tyrell Williams (Boom) – After last season’s breakout season, I look for Williams to continue building on his success. After Keenan Allen tore his ACL in week one, Williams ended last season with 69 receptions, 1,059 yards, and seven touchdowns. Yet he is still being completely disrespected in drafts so far this season. Williams is currently being drafted in the eleventh round of drafts. Heading into the season, he is the clear-cut number-two receiver on a high-powered offense with a very low chance of getting demoted. On top of that, Allen, the team’s number-one receiver, has been very prone to injury in his young career.

If Allen were to go down again this season, Williams would immediately slide into the number-one role and become a top 15-20 fantasy option at the position once again. If Allen were to stay healthy for a full season, I still look for Williams to have at least 60 receptions, 900 yards, and five touchdowns which should make him a steal for where he is currently being drafted.

For those worried about rookie Mike Williams, don’t be. The guy is already hurt and still hasn’t practiced. The Chargers are expecting to have him back around October but it will take him some time to get up to speed. I don’t think Williams will impact Williams’  production at all this season.

 

Image Credit: Bleacher Report

Podcast: Baltimore Ravens Staff Writer Ryan Mink

Welcome to the latest edition of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast! On Today’s episode, Baltimore Ravens staff writer Ryan Mink joins Jake McDonnell to talk about the Ravens.

Following Baltimore’s 23-3 preseason-opening win against the Redskins, what impressed Mink? Are key offensive players like Joe Flacco and Breshad Perriman close to returning to practice?

One of the biggest question marks surrounding the Ravens is the offensive line. With James Hurst in line for a starting job, hear Mink passionately defend Hurst, who has been heavily scrutinized during his time with the Ravens. Mink also gives his take on if the Ravens will make another move on the offensive line before the regular season.

On Thursday, the Ravens face the Miami Dolphins in their second preseason game. Mink will be there, and tells us what to expect on Thursday.

Subscribe to the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on either Soundcloud or iTunes. Rate us 5 stars on iTunes and leave us a review. Thanks for listening!

Alex Lewis and Tim White to miss 2017 season with injuries

The Ravens kicked off their season last night with a 23-3 win over the Washington Redskins but the game did not come without an injury tax.

The offensive line took yet another hit when Alex Lewis aggravated a lingering shoulder injury. There was no word on the injury last night but the Ravens are reporting today that the lineman’s shoulder is not responding well to treatment

Ravens beat writer, Jeff Zrebiec says that Lewis suffered a torn labrum and has been dealing with it throughout camp. The injury has reached a point where Lewis cannot play through it and he will require season ending surgery.

Undrafted rookie Tim White is also expected to miss the entire 2017 season after injuring his thumb during Thursdays game. It’s unclear when White suffered the injury but it appears to be serious as he will require surgery.

Fans started to take notice of White during the teams first open practice in late July and he even got a shoutout from Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace during their interview with NFL Network. The 23-year-old receiver only had one reception in Thursdays game but he made it a big one. White caught a 33 yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum at the end of the third quarter to put the Ravens up 20-3.

The Ravens also provided an update on Joe Flacco’s back injury. The 10 year veteran will not play in any preseason games but is expected to return to the practice field soon. The team also made sure to mention that Flacco will be ready to go for the season opener on September 10.

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Defense shines as Ravens defeat Redskins 23-3 in preseason opener

BALTIMORE — On Thursday night, the Baltimore Ravens opened the 2017 preseason with a 23-3 win over the Washington Redskins thanks to some impressive play on defense.

With most of the offense either injured or resting, all eyes were on the defense and they did not disappoint. The Ravens defense started the game with three straight three-and-outs, completely stifling Kirk Cousins, Colt McCoy and the rest of the Redskins offense. By the end of the first quarter, the Redskins only gained 27 total yards of offense.

The Ravens offensive unit did not fair much better in the early goings. Ryan Mallett struggled to find his open receivers and the offensive line wasn't opening many gaps for the run game. If it were not for a timely Redskins penalty, the Ravens would not have scored their first touchdown of the night.

Mallet finished the first quarter with an abysmal stat line. The backup quarterback went 1/4 on pass attempts and owned a negative passing yard total until the 11-minute mark in the second quarter. Things didn't get much better for Mallett as the half progressed. The quarterback finished his night with nine completions for 58 yards.

Despite Mallett's performance, the Ravens took advantage of some key mistakes by the Redskins. Baltimore held a 13-0 lead at the half. Following Terrance West's two-yard touchdown run, Justin Tucker nailed two field goals, including one from 59 yards, to round out the first half scoring.

Dustin Vaughan and Josh Woodrum took over the Ravens quarterback duties in the second half. Both QB's received a limited amount of pass attempts, but Woodrum was still able to make an impact. Following an excellent punt return by Kennan Reynolds, Woodrum connected with rookie receiver Tim white for a 33-yard touchdown to put the Ravens up 20-3. He finished his night with just four pass attempts but completed all of them for 85 yards.

The offensive game plan was definitely more run heavy in the second half. Four running backs got the chance to carry the ball. Two of them performed well. West averaged 4.6 yards per carry and scored the first touchdown of the game. Taquan Mizzell racked up 51 yards on 15 carries.

Some of the biggest individual performances of the night came from the defense. Rookie corner back Jaylen Hill made a big impression with a couple strong open field tackles and an interception at the end of the first half. Brent Urban had a solid game, picking up four tackles and one of the Ravens three sacks.

The Ravens get back to work in the coming days as they prepare for their next preseason game down in Miami. Before they make the trip, fans will have a chance to see the Ravens in action at the teams' third open practice this Saturday morning. That practice begins at 10 am at M&T Bank Stadium, and you can bring your dogs!

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun