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Grading the Ravens defense, special teams vs. Dolphins

Grading the Ravens defense, special teams vs. Dolphins

The Ravens put together their most complete game of the season on Sunday with a 38-6 beatdown of the Dolphins, winners of six straight coming in.

The script was a refreshing one for the Ravens offense — four touchdown passes, 24 first-half points, crisp execution — but the defense did what it's done all season, shutting down Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi and making the Dolphins earn every yard.

The only Dolphins points, in fact, came after they began inside the Ravens 10-yard line because of a Dennis Pitta fumble.

We've already handed out report cards to the offense, so now it's time to grade the defense and special teams.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B+

Ajayi averaged 5.1 yards a carry (12-61) but the Ravens' 24-0 halftime lead pretty much eliminated Ajayi as a big factor in the second half.

Although Ajayi slipped some tackles, the Dolphins totaled 1 yard rushing on carries by four other players.

Timmy Jernigan was a force inside again but took a stupid taunting penalty after head-butting a Dolphins player. That type of penalty has been too common in his career, but largely absent this season, which has been Jernigan's best yet.

Brent Urban picked up his second sack of the season.

LINEBACKER: B+

Zach Orr continues to impress. He led all players with 13 tackles.

The Ravens linebackers had just one sack, by rookie Matt Judon, but they were pressuring Ryan Tannehill often. Terrell Suggs and Judon each had two of the Ravens nine quarterback hits. Za'Darius Smith also had a quarterback hit as he returned to action after being benched last week.

The Ravens linebackers did a decent job setting the edge on the run, though Ajayi broke some tackles at the line of scrimmage.

SECONDARY: A-

The secondary might have had its best game of the season, with rangy plays, physical coverage, seven passes defensed and three interceptions.

Lardarius Webb's interception in the end zone was outstanding. He ranged far and made a leaping grab to kill a Dolphins drive. It was easily the best play he's made since converting to safety.

His safety counterpart, Eric Weddle, also had an interception near the end zone to kill another Dolphins drive and returned it 53 yards.

Jerraud Powers tipped the pass that Weddle intercepted and also had an interception of his own.

The Ravens did a great job containing talented Dolphins receivers and showing looks that seemed to confuse Tannehill.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B

Another week, another 50-plus bomb from kicker Justin Tucker, who hit from 55  yards to end the half and extend his streak to 35 field goals without a miss. Four of his last five have come from 52 yards or farther.  

Sam Koch had an uneven day punting, shanking one kick for 16 yards. He averaged 31 yards on three punts, but two of them pinned the Dolphins inside their 15-yard line.

Devin Hester, who has said he's finally healthy again, didn't show much. He had one kickoff return for 17 yards and totaled 3 yards on three punt returns.

In a weekly occurrence, the Ravens again had two illegal-block penalties on punt returns  (Shareece Wright, Matt Judon).

MORE: Ravens excited for Monday night matchup against Patriots

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Ravens GM Eric DeCosta gives scouting reports on two of NFL Draft's 'very best" inside linebackers

Ravens GM Eric DeCosta gives scouting reports on two of NFL Draft's 'very best" inside linebackers

Perhaps the Ravens’ biggest need is an off-ball linebacker. Fortunately for them, there are two standouts that are projected to go in the back half of the first round of this year’s draft. 

The biggest question mark, though, is whether Kenneth Murray of Oklahoma or Patrick Queen of LSU will be on the board when the Ravens pick at 28th. 

During a conference call with reporters Thursday morning, Ravens’ general manager Eric DeCosta discussed both linebackers in detail.

"It really just depends what flavor you like, Murray or Queen," DeCosta said. "I think they're looked at side by side as probably two of the very best inside linebackers."

Queen and Murray, both of whom have been linked to the Ravens in the first round, are two different college linebackers. 

Queen was just a one-year starter in the SEC at LSU, but stood out from the pack and registered 85 tackles and three sacks in 15 games played. It was his only season as a starter. 

At the NFL Combine, the 6-foot, 229-pound linebacker ran a 4.5 40-yard dash and bench pressed 225-pounds 18 times. 

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"Not as big as Murray, (but he’s) very explosive," DeCosta said. "LSU has put a number of really good defensive players in the league over the last four or five years. He's a guy that's sideline to sideline, he can play downhill, he's a very good cover linebacker. He kind of came on the scene this year, was not a household name before this year.”

Murray, on the other hand, was a three-year starter and has tremendous sideline-to-sideline speed. The 6-foot-2, 241-pound linebacker ran a 4.52 40-yard dash and bench pressed 21 times at the combine.

"Tremendous athlete, a cerebral guy, he's got really good length," DeCosta said. "He's been a really good defensive player on a team that really hasn't had a lot of really good defensive players lately. He’s a good prospect, he's a great student of the game, he's got great intangibles.”

Both linebackers represent the new era, of sorts, for linebackers in the NFL, as the traditional big and powerful linebackers of decades past are no more. Now, speed is at a premium to get on the field. 

While the Ravens’ front office added they could centralize their needs at linebacker and find a player with a specific skill of defending the run well, or defending the pass well, to play two downs, both Murray and Queen represent linebackers that can stay on the field for three downs.

“In a perfect world you'd like to have a bigger guy, but you're also looking for a bigger guy who can run,” DeCosta said. “Linebacker is a position where every single play is usually a contact play. The physical aspect, the durability aspect, of that position, guys that are consistently able to play, I think that’s a factor.” 

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Joe Flacco shows brotherly love, shares 'Virtual Pro Day' footage of younger brother Tom

Joe Flacco shows brotherly love, shares 'Virtual Pro Day' footage of younger brother Tom

Former Towson quarterback Tom Flacco is trying to get on the radar of NFL teams as the 2020 draft approaches.

Flacco's older brother, Joe, who is trying to get back to the league himself, after being waived by the Broncos, shared the younger Flacco's "Virtual Pro Day" on Twitter.

Tom threw for 22 touchdowns and 6 interceptions in 2019. While he would have preferred to invite teams to come to watch him workout ahead of the draft, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has limited the NFL's ability to scout to strictly virtual interviews. Small school standouts are likely to get limited attention.

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Ravens GM Eric DeCosta stated that the 25-year-old was on their radar Thursday during a conference call with reporters.

"He thrived this year," DeCosta said. "From a size standpoint, probably a little bit below the line, but he’s got a really good arm, he’s been an accurate passer — I think he completed about 60% of his passes this year. He can make most of the throws. He’s a guy that, in the late rounds, would it surprise me if he gets picked? Not at all."

DeCosta showed optimism that the younger Flacco would get his chance to play at the highest level.

"I think he’s smart, it won’t be too big for him. He’s mature, he’s 25-years-old, he’s been around the league because of his brother, he’s got experience. He’s got an advantage other guys maybe don’t have because he’s at least had a glimmer of what it’s like to be in the NFL. He’s going to prepare well and I think he’s got a shot.”

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