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Ravens News 12/4: Bargain Shopper

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Seattle Seahawks v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

How did Eric DeCosta do this offseason? Evaluating the Ravens’ GM’s biggest decisions.

Kyle Goon, The Baltimore Banner

Bargain shopper

If contracts for Jackson and Smith were DeCosta’s spending spree in the NFL’s Rodeo Drive, he also made a killing at the flea market.

The Ravens’ best offseason signing didn’t join the team until Aug. 18. Jadeveon Clowney is in the midst of a renaissance season, punctuated recently by his forcing two fumbles and recovering one against the Chargers.

The 30-year-old has 7.5 sacks and is eighth in pass-rush win rate, a better mark than pass rushers such as Bryce Huff, T.J. Watt and Nick Bosa. It’s a remarkable turnaround for a journeyman, but DeCosta said in September that the Ravens have been eyeing Clowney for years. It’s probably turned out better than their wildest expectations. Baltimore also got a huge boost from Kyle Van Noy (6 sacks), helping compensate for injuries to David Ojabo and Tyus Bowser, who were originally seen as key pieces of the pass rush.

Marlon Humphrey has been dogged by injury much of the season, but the Ravens have held opposing offenses to 4.2 yards per passing attempt in spite of it, thanks in large part to returning players Stone and Stephens, and emerging star Kyle Hamilton. But signing Ronald Darby and Arthur Maulet helped hold the line on defense — both have been more impactful than Rock Ya-Sin, a more heralded addition (he’s played just 21% of snaps this season).

DeCosta also made low-cost deals to bring back RB Justice Hill and DT Brent Urban, veterans who have been serviceable. Free agent receiver Nelson Agholor sometimes felt like an afterthought when Harbaugh talked about the promise of his receiving room, but he’s been more productive (so far) than former first-rounder Rashod Bateman.

Clowney’s surprising season paying off in big way for Ravens

Luke Jones, Baltimore Positive

If you ask outside linebackers coach Chuck Smith, such a play was years in the making for the 30-year-old Clowney, who’s already turning out to be one of the best free-agent signings in franchise history. Even the biggest fans of the one-year, $2.505 million base deal — plus incentives — signed in mid-August couldn’t have envisioned it paying such dividends with the three-time Pro Bowl selection collecting 7 1/2 sacks and Pro Football Focus crediting him with a team-high 55 pressures, which is seventh in the NFL and on pace to exceed his career high of 64 set with Houston in 2017. Clowney also has a strong chance to register the first double-digit sack season of his career with PFF grading him 18th overall out of 106 qualified edge defenders in 2023.

In truth, this was the kind of season that was supposed to be the norm for Clowney, who was the top overall pick of the 2014 draft and regarded as a generational talent coming out of the University of South Carolina. As Smith noted, Clowney “always had the physical presence” and “violent hands” to help him carve out a still-rock-solid career, but the veteran hadn’t fully mastered the cross chop, the pass-rush move that led to his defining play in Sunday night’s game.

“He plays the game violently. Sometimes, that doesn’t always show up on the stat sheet, but it doesn’t mean he’s not being impactful,” said defensive line coach Anthony Weaver, who also coached Clowney with the Texans from 2016-18. “To have him come out here and play the way he’s playing right now in Year 10, it’s funny from my aspect just seeing him as really this old, grizzled vet now. When I got him, he was this young buck.

Every NFL team’s biggest need entering Week 13: How AFC playoff contenders overcome injuries to star players

Josh Edwards, CBS Sports

Ravens: Tight end

Projected key free agents: DT Justin Madubuike, RB J.K. Dobbins, WR Odell Beckham Jr., OG Kevin Zeitler, DT Michael Pierce

The Ravens are rounding into form right now with few weaknesses. The offense, specifically wide receiver, has shown growth in recent weeks, while cornerback Marlon Humphrey is back from injury for the defense. With Mark Andrews out for awhile after an injury on Thursday night in Week 11, the tight end position gets turned over to Isaiah Likely, who stood out in the preseason a year ago. It will be interesting to see if the franchise makes a play for the recently released Zach Ertz.

Baltimore’s run game is just always going to produce no matter who is in the backfield. J.K. Dobbins played just 30 snaps this season and the Ravens still rank first in rushing yards per game. Gus Edwards and Justice Hill have taken on the bulk of that assignment while rookie Keaton Mitchell has provided some juice.

50 Words or Less: Ravens Have What It Takes to Win it All

Ryan Mink,

This is the first time the Ravens have started 9-3 since 2012 and we all know how that season ended. They started 10-2 during the 2019 season, but I think this team is better than both of those squads. Baltimore has a better defense and more ways to win offensively.

Baltimore’s offense wasn’t humming in L.A., but before we push the panic button, remember that the Ravens averaged 34.6 points per game the previous five weeks. The Ravens still posted 361 total yards of offense against the Chargers, which is more than all but nine teams in the league average.

Who has been the Ravens’ best defender? According to Pro Football Focus, it’s Roquan Smith (87.8 grade) but Kyle Hamilton isn’t far behind. Hamilton was PFF’s highest-graded safety as a rookie and he’s significantly better now. He should go to his first of many Pro Bowls this year.

AFC North Whiparound: November recap, Joe Flacco is back and how many wins will it take?

Jeff Zrebiec, The Athletic

December football is upon us. But before you turn the calendar, what’s one word you’d use to describe November for the team you cover?

Effective. The meltdown at home against the Browns and Mark Andrews’ likely season-ending ankle injury were blemishes, for sure. But in going 3-1 during the month, winning the three games by a combined 58 points and completing a sweep of the Bengals, the Ravens made sure they’ll be atop the division when they get back to work after the bye. They are a reasonably healthy team, too, which feels like a December miracle around these parts. The Ravens have a rough month ahead with their schedule, but they’ve put themselves in a solid position and the late-season bye feels fortuitous.

By Tuesday morning, every team in the AFC North will have played 12 games. The Ravens currently have nine wins. The Browns and Steelers each have seven. The winner of the AFC North will finish with how many wins?

I’m still trying to figure out whether any of the Steelers’ next five opponents, the Arizona Cardinals, New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Bengals and Seattle Seahawks, are capable of beating them. The Cardinals and Patriots stink. The Colts may not have Jonathan Taylor. We know who the Bengals don’t have. And the Seahawks have been exposed. Even if the Steelers go 4-1 during that stretch, that may still force the Ravens to get to 12 wins — including beating Pittsburgh in the season finale — to win the division. My guess is 12 wins get it done, but that Week 18 Ravens-Steelers tilt could be for all the AFC North’s marbles. I don’t want to dismiss the Browns, either, but it’s going to be tough for them to win five of their last six with their quarterback situation.