OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens (5-2) returned to 1 Winning Drive Thursday, continuing preparations for Sunday’s showdown with the Miami Dolphins (4-3) at M&T Bank Stadium.
Possibly the greatest area of trouble for the Ravens this season has been the team’s pass rush-or lack thereof. Through seven games, the Ravens have tallied just 12 sacks, making them 24th in the NFL in the category. The Ravens spent their bye week looking at all facets of the game, with Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison saying the team “tweaked” certain areas.
One factor that could help the Ravens improve their lackluster pass rush is the team’s health. Before their Week 7 win over the Buffalo Bills, LB Brendon Ayanbadejo returned to the team from the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. LB Tavares Gooden is expected to return this Sunday, he’s been out since suffering a shoulder injury in a Week 2 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium.
While neither Gooden nor Ayanbadejo is an outside linebacker or a natural pass rusher, having them back could free up Mattison to use other linebackers in pass rush situations. “It allows us to be a little more flexible with playing our guys in different positions” said Mattison, who had thought one ILB in particular could be a good option on the rush.
“Jameel (McClain) has pass rush ability” said Mattison. “He’s always the next guy to go in. Some guys have never done it. There’s a knack to that. You can’t just be a fast guy and say ‘I’m gonna run and I’m gonna be a pass rusher.'”
McClain has been the Ravens’ starting WILL LB this season, but has split snaps with fellow LB Dannell Ellerbe. With Ayanbadejo and Gooden healthy and LB Jason Phillips also an inside option, the Ravens could be more willing to work McClain into pass rush situations.
“I would always like the opportunity to get after the quarterback and do more for the team” said McClain. “But that’s on the coaches. Whenever they call my number, I’ll be prepared.”
McClain is aware that the returns of Ayanbadejo and Gooden could force him into more of a pass rush role. “Obviously it gives me an opportunity to rush. I could put my hand in the dirt and run anytime. That’s something that comes natural, like going out there and hitting people.”
McClain does have a history of getting after the quarterback. In 2006 as a Junior at Syracuse, McClain tallied 9.5 sacks. However, he has not registered a sack in his NFL career since 2008, when he tallied 2.5 as a rookie.
McClain doesn’t believe the Ravens are far from solving their pass rush issues.
“We just gotta get there an extra step faster.”
ROSBURG WON’T COMMIT TO PUNT RETURNER: With S Tom Zbikowski unlikely to be able to play Sunday, the Ravens will have to make a decision at punt returner.
CB Lardarius Webb was given an opportunity in the role during the team’s Week 7 win over the Buffalo Bills, and Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg told reporters Thursday Webb “appeared comfortable” fielding his first punts at the NFL level.
Webb is not the team’s only option at PR. CB Chris Carr has a great deal of experience returning punts, and WR Donte’ Stallworth is expected to return to the field Sunday as well. WR Derrick Mason has also campaigned to get reps as punt returner, but it unlikely to receive them.
Rosburg was completely non-committal when asked who would be in the role Sunday, saying “we have a number of guys back there who are practicing. We’ll see who shows up on Sunday.”
PRACTICE REPORT: Zbikowski (foot) was the only Raven not participating in practice Thursday, he is not expected to play Sunday vs. the Fins. TE Dennis Pitta (head) returned to practice Thursday after missing Wednesday, he was listed as limited. Stallworth (foot) was a full participant.
The Ravens practiced indoors Thursday due to rain in the Charm City area.
In Miami, RB Patrick Cobbs (hamstring) did not participate in practice Thursday. S Yeremiah Bell (toe) was limited in practice for a second straight day, LB Channing Crowder (thumb) was a full participant.
NOTES: Hear from Mattison, J. McClain, Rosburg, Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron, DE Cory Redding and CB Domonique Foxworth (IR) NOW in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net……FB Le’Ron McClain joined Drew Forrester Thursday morning on “The Morning Reaction” on AM1570 WNST, that chat can be heard in the Audio Vault as well. CB Cary Williams is scheduled to join Forrester Friday morning at 7:15am……John Parry’s crew will officiate Sunday’s game……The Ravens will hold their final open practice of the week Friday, Head Coach John Harbaugh is scheduled to meet with the media after practice