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Five instant observations from Ravens' close win over Eagles

Five instant observations from Ravens' close win over Eagles

BALTIMORE – Five things we learned watching the Ravens hang on, defeating the Eagles, 27-26. With the victory, the Ravens (8-6) still control their playoff destiny, heading into a Christmas showdown in Pittsburgh against the Steelers:

1. The Ravens walked a tightrope, and almost fell off.

A loss would have been devastating to the Ravens’ playoff hopes, and it almost happened.  Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz scrambled for a four-yard TD with four seconds to play, and the Eagles decided to go for two points and the win. Wentz’s two-point conversion slant pass was incomplete, and the Ravens escaped. But they almost lost a 10-point fourth-quarter lead, against an Eagles team (5-90 that is going nowhere. Not impressive.

2. The Ravens’ distaste for running the football is baffling.

Joe Flacco threw a terrible  fourth-quarter interception, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg made a terrible play call. The Ravens were leading, 27-17, and had moved to the Eagles’ 11-yard line with 6:21 left in the game. Why not run the football, burn the clock, and at worst attempt a field goal. Instead, Flacco dropped back to pass, looked like he never Eagles linebacker Jordan Hicks, and threw the ball into Hicks’ hands. Instead of getting a touchdown or a field goal, the Ravens got nothing out of the drive, and had to hold on for victory. When Marc Trestman was fired as offensive coordinator, the Ravens were supposed to make a stronger commitment to the run. It hasn’t happened.

3. The Christmas Day showdown in Pittsburgh will be must-see TV.

The Ravens are still in control of their playoff destiny, and Steelers (9--5) vs. Ravens will be like a playoff game. The winner will control the AFC North lead heading into the final week of the season. Open your presents early. You won’t want to miss it. The 

4. The Ravens’ run defense got a wakeup call.

The Eagles gashed the Ravens with successful running plays and time-consuming drives, and running back Ryan Mathews (20 carries, 128 yards) was the biggest beneficiary. If the Ravens had this much trouble stopping Mathews, how will they deal with Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell on Christmas?

5. Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. made another huge play.

With the Ravens trailing 14-13 late in the first half, Smith streaked down the right sideline and took a perfect lead pass from Joe Flacco for a 34-yard TD. The reception moved Smith into seventh place on the NFL’s all-time list for receiving yards. The touchdown also put the Ravens ahead for good. Smith says his ankle is fully healed and that he feels healthy. It shows, and they will need more big plays from him in Pittsburgh. 

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Ravens' options in a potential Matthew Judon trade

Ravens' options in a potential Matthew Judon trade

According to a report from ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Ravens have expressed interest in moving on from Matthew Judon through a trade this offseason. 

Judon, who isn’t under contract for next season, was tied for 19th in the league in sacks with 9.5 — a team-high. He was also the team-leader in quarterback hits with 33. The next best pass-rusher was Tyus Bowser, who registered 10. 

Lined up for a big payday, and with a high-priced franchise tag an option, the Ravens could lose their second pass-rusher in as many years on the free agent market should they elect to not pay Judon the elite pass-rusher money he’ll likely command.

Which brings the Ravens to the report from Schefter that indicated the team could move on from Judon, 27, through the sign-and-trade route. 

Should Judon, or the Ravens, walk away from the negotiating table in free agency, two options exist: The Ravens could either let him walk freely to another team and likely receive a 2021 third-round pick as compensation, or place the franchise tag on Judon. 

With the franchise tag option, the Ravens could keep him for a season and essentially kick the can down the road for a year, or trade him for a return that would likely be greater than the compensatory third, and more importantly, the help would be immediate. 

A few weeks ago, coach John Harbaugh said re-signing Judon would be, “pretty hard,” but that the team was going to try.  

But if the Ravens aren’t able, or are unwilling, to sign Judon, a potential blueprint for a future trade might have been laid out last year by the Chiefs. 

Last season, the Chiefs traded Dee Ford to the 49ers for a second-round pick just a month before they sent first and third-round picks to the Seahawks for Frank Clark and a third-round pick.

Ford had 13 sacks in 2018 and 29 quarterback hits while Clark had 13 as well and 27 quarterback hits. They both immediately signed long-term, expensive contracts with their new teams. 

Baltimore could make a move similar to that with Judon and get better, and more immediate, compensation for him and later add a pass-rusher with the draft capital than the team added.

The Ravens have just under 29 million dollars in cap space, meaning they’ve got the space to sign Judon to a long-term deal or keep him on the franchise tag, but they’d need to make some moves to be able to field a full roster. And that full roster, if Judon isn’t in Baltimore in 2020, needs pass-rushing help. 

Baltimore had 37 sacks as a team, and just over a quarter of them came from Judon. It also had 111 total quarterback hits, and 29.7 percent came from Judon. 

So the report that the Ravens could move Judon could play out, perhaps the most interesting aspect of a Judon trade would be the replacement the Ravens would need to have lined up.

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With big decision looming, Ravens guard Marshal Yanda mum on retirement plans

With big decision looming, Ravens guard Marshal Yanda mum on retirement plans

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda has a decision to make on his playing future, but he's in no rush to make it.

The 35-year-old is under contract with the Ravens through the 2020 season, but will take the next month or so to decide if he wants to continue playing or hang up the cleats.

"I'm going to take my time now," Yanda told Ravens.com regarding his future. "Done playing for the year, just take some time over the next month and basically just go with my heart and see how I feel."

The eight-time Pro Bowler was a vital piece in the NFL's best rushing attack in 2019. Yanda, the leader of the offensive line, started and played in 15 games this season for Baltimore, missing the regular-season finale as the Ravens rested multiple starters with the No. 1 seed already clinched.

Following Baltimore's upset divisional playoff loss to the Titans, a visibly disappointed Yanda refused to address his future, but he was definitely thinking about it then.

But if Sunday's Pro Bowl was the last time Yanda put on the pads, he didn't treat the game or experience any differently.

"Not necessarily," Yanda said if he cherished Sunday's Pro Bowl differently. "You're not in that frame of mind. I definitely didn't think about [my retirement decision] too much today, just because it was the Pro Bowl. It's more of a relaxed game, not like a really intense game.

"I didn't have those feelings as much as the Tennessee game," he continued." Yeah, it's a possibility. But those feelings were more in the Tennessee game."

Even at age 35, Yanda remains one of the best guards in the game. He's made the NFL's second-team All-Pro squad the past two seasons and has been a Pro Bowler every season since 2011, minus the 2017 season where he played just two games due to a season-ending ankle injury.

There's no debate: Baltimore would greatly benefit from Yanda returning.

"You want people that want you back," Yanda said. "You want to be playing very well when you end. Nobody wants to fade out; you want to go out strong."

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