When Art Jones first joined the Ravens, his older brother didn't know whether he was playing. Now, it's hard not to notice the Baltimore defensive lineman. A little over halfway through the season, Jones is on pace to set to set career highs in tackles and sacks.
“He’s one of the most improved guys that we have on our football team,” Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, via the team's official website. “From where he’s come to where he is now, he’s just vastly, vastly improved, and we feel good about him every week.”
The Ravens would like to keep Jones, a free agent next year, considering they helped develop him. But he's played so well that he may have priced himself out of what the Ravens can afford.
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The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston believes the Ravens are the team to beat in the AFC North, even though Baltimore (4-5) trails the Cincinnati Bengals (6-4) by a game and a half. "You can laugh, but is anyone taking the Bengals seriously anymore, or Cleveland even though the Browns are playing well?," Preston wrote. "The Ravens get a certain respect because they are the defending champions and have a proven track record in November and December."
The Ravens have had their problems on coverage teams this season, ranking 19th on punts and 18th on kickoffs. They'll have to be on top of their game against the Bears' Devin Hester, who owns the NFL record with 19 non-offensive touchdowns in his career (13 punt returns, five kick returns and one return on a missed field goal). "I was describing him to a player the other day. I think we have the concept in baseball -- a five-tool player. He's like the three-tool returner," Ravens special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said, via the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network. "He's got great speed, he changes direction with the best of them and he can break tackles. That's what makes him, in my view, so special. It takes the whole team to stop him."
The Ravens' secondary had their most physical game last Sunday against the Bengals. The defensive backs will need the same mentality against the sizable receivers of the Bears -- Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery -- who have totaled 107 catches for 1,521 yards and 11 touchdowns. “Those guys are what, both like 6-4 and 230 pounds?” cornerback Corey Graham told The Baltimore Sun. “It’s a different matchup. They’ve got a good group of guys out there. They can go up and get the ball. They high point it and make a lot of plays for their quarterback. It’s a different challenge for us but we look forward to it.”
Fullback Vonta Leach's vanishing act continues. As the Ravens continue to use three wide receivers, Leach played two offensive snaps at Cleveland two weeks ago and 11 last Sunday against the Bengals. "We do want Vonta in the mix, but where do you lean most heavily?," coach John Harbaugh said, via Comcast SportsNet. "Our formations have been more one back-type formations the last few weeks.”