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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 02 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Here we go again.

Regarded by many as the best rivalry in the NFL, the Ravens and Steelers meet for the third time this season and the fourth time ever in the postseason at Heinz Field on Saturday night. Baltimore and Pittsburgh split a pair of 20-point finals during the regular season with each team winning on its home field.

The weather figures to be a significant storyline as the forecast continues to call for a 90 to 100 percent chance of rain with temperatures in the mid-40s and winds that could reach 20 miles per hour.

Both teams will be dealing with significant injuries as the Steelers will be without Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell while the Ravens are missing left tackle Eugene Monroe for the second straight game, meaning rookie free agent James Hurst will start in his place. Pittsburgh will rely on rookies Josh Harris and Dri Archer as well as newly-signed veteran Ben Tate to pick up the slack in Bell’s absence.

In more positive news, the Ravens will welcome back five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata from suspension, which will more than offset the loss of rookie Timmy Jernigan (foot) in Week 17.

Of course, both team will lean heavily on Super Bowl winning quarterbacks to lead the way as Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger both know what it takes to make a meaningful run in January. Roethlisberger owns a 10-4 postseason record while Flacco owns a 9-4 mark in the playoffs.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the fourth time in postseason history with Pittsburgh holding a 3-0 mark with all previous playoff games being played at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh also leads the all-time regular-season series 21-17, but 13 of the 16 games — including the postseason — played between the Ravens and Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by one possession.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to beat Pittsburgh for the first time ever in the postseason …

1. Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will each collect a sack, but a sloppy field will neutralize some of their ability to wreak havoc. Bell’s absence will put plenty of attention on the Pittsburgh passing game, which will have the Ravens’ rush licking its chops over the possibility of being able to tee off on Roethlisberger. However, the Steelers offensive line is much better than it’s been in several years and the wet surface at Heinz Field will slow the rush for both teams. Suggs and Dumervil often try to jump snap counts to utilize their speed off the edge, but hard counts and a chewed-up field will make things easier for tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert.

2. With the Ravens focused on slowing Pittsburgh receiver Antonio Brown, rookie Martavis Bryant will beat Rashaan Melvin for a long touchdown. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees knows Brown is the Steelers’ most dangerous weapon, which will make it even more important to focus on him in coverage with Bell unavailable. The Ravens will shade safety help to where Brown lines up as much as possible, but that could leave Melvin matched up against the 6-foot-4 Bryant. Melvin has played well since being thrown into the mix last month, but this will be his first NFL game against an elite quarterback and he’ll bite on a double move by Bryant for a score.

3. Justin Forsett will be the only running back from either team to find modest success on Saturday night with 70 yards and a touchdown. Considering few have run with any success against the Ravens this season, the Steelers won’t be able to do much without Bell, who will also be missed as a receiver and in pass protection. However, Baltimore has struggled to run consistently in recent weeks and will face the league’s sixth-ranked run defense. The Ravens will run wide and use counters to get the Steelers’ front seven moving laterally — something they also want to do with play-action plays to neutralize the pass rush — and Forsett will do enough to keep the Pittsburgh defense on its toes with the rain falling.

4. Both Flacco and Roethlisberger will throw more than 35 times despite a forecast conducive to running the ball. In the old days of this rivalry, Saturday’s forecast would have meant both sides grinding it out with the rushing attack, but the run defenses are too stout and the secondaries too vulnerable for the game not to be put in the hands of these franchise quarterbacks. The Ravens will mix in more runs than the Steelers, but Roethlisberger has better weapons to throw to in the passing game. As Harbaugh pointed out earlier in the week, both Flacco and Roethlisberger are used to playing in poor weather and the rain won’t prevent them from making some plays through the air.

5. The weather will contribute to another low-scoring tight one, but the Steelers will find a way to prevail in a 20-17 final. The loss of Bell is a major blow to Pittsburgh and could be enough to tip the scale in Baltimore’s favor, but the Ravens haven’t risen to the occasion against good teams, sporting only one win all season against a team that finished with a winning record. Many are pointing to 2012 as enough reason for the Ravens to be able to make a run, but even in the midst of losing four of their last five to close that regular season, there was the Week 16 demolition of the New York Giants that flashed what the offense would be able to do in the postseason. Despite a strong fourth quarter to beat Cleveland in Week 17, the Ravens have failed to inspire on offense for almost a month now, making it too difficult to believe the unit suddenly clicks in January with a banged-up offensive line. And after an admirable run against pedestrian passing games in December, a patchwork secondary isn’t going to hold up as well against the NFL’s second-ranked passing attack. Harbaugh’s group will give a one-dimensional Pittsburgh offense everything it can handle, but Roethlisberger has played the best football of his career this season and will do just enough at home to get by the Ravens yet again in the postseason.

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Slowing Antonio Brown critical to Ravens continuing playoff run

Posted on 31 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As many focus on the status of Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell for Saturday’s playoff game in Pittsburgh, the Ravens know an ability to contain Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown would go a long way in trying to advance to the divisional round.

The 5-foot-10 Brown continues to defy the odds as a former sixth-round pick who led the NFL with 129 receptions and 1,698 receiving yards while catching a career-high 13 touchdown passes in 2014. And he presents the biggest challenge to a Ravens pass defense that’s played better in recent weeks but still ranked 24th in pass defense during the regular season.

“A lot of guys when they [discuss] who the best receiver in the game is, they want to look at the big, tall, dominant guys like Calvin [Johnson] and Dez [Bryant],” said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who labeled Brown as an elite receiver a few years ago when he was still playing in the shadow of former Steeler Mike Wallace. “With Antonio, he can do it all. He’s not the biggest guy, so a lot of guys might not want to say he’s the best receiver in the game because of his size. He can do a lot of things on that field to say, ‘Man, why not be the best receiver in the game?’”

After Jimmy Smith shadowed Brown in holding him to a quiet seven catches for 90 yards in a 26-6 win over the Steelers in Week 2, the Ravens faced Brown’s wrath in the regular-season rematch in Pittsburgh — a week after their top cornerback was lost for the season — in which he caught 11 passes for 144 yards and a 54-yard touchdown in a 43-23 final on Nov. 2. It remains to be seen whether Webb will draw the exclusive assignment of following Brown, but the Ravens haven’t done any mirroring of receivers since Smith was injured, instead keeping each starting cornerback on the same sides of the field.

Baltimore will obviously try to roll safety help to Brown’s side as much as possible, but Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley likes moving the speedy receiver all over the field. In addition to being targeted 25 times on passes 20 or more yards down field in the regular season, Brown also lines up in the slot at least a handful of times per game, which would create a significant problem if the Ravens are to use Matt Elam in certain nickel situations.

If a defense shows its hand too drastically in trying to bracket Brown, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hasn’t been afraid to go elsewhere in throwing for a career-high 4,952 yards in 2014. But Brown remains his most dangerous weapon with his 615 yards after the catch rank third in the NFL.

“He’s all over. They can screen him, they can stack,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “But the thing of it is I think Ben also sees what the coverage is, and all of a sudden, you’re rolling it. He’s not afraid to go to [Martavis Bryant or Markus Wheaton]. [Tight end Heath Miller] has always been a security blanket for him, and the guy has always made a clutch catch in clutch times.”

A Ravens secondary that’s been ravaged by injuries throughout the season is feeling better about itself heading into the postseason, but Roethlisberger and Brown present a far more imposing quarterback-receiver duo than anything seen over the final quarter of the season. Baltimore’s ability to slow the Steelers offense will once again come down to the pass rush, but Roethlisberger has shown an ability to get rid of the ball quickly in averaging just 2.5 seconds in the pocket before throwing, which Pro Football Focus ranked sixth in the NFL.

The faces have changed in the secondary since the Week 9 blowout in Pittsburgh as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown were both cut and current starting cornerback Rashaan Melvin wasn’t even on the team at the time. Pees and several members of the secondary have credited continuity in recent weeks as a reason for the improvement.

“The last couple games we’ve been playing good ball all over the field,” Melvin said. “That confidence going into the playoffs is going to help us a lot. We just want to go in and play the best ball we can play as a second and as a defense in general and to go in there and do our assignments.”

Even if the Ravens are able to limit Brown’s opportunities as a receiver, they’ll need to watch out for him as a punt returner as Cincinnati found out last week when he returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. He ranked eighth in the NFL in punt return average this season and tied for sixth in return attempts, showing he isn’t conservative as a returner despite being valued as one of the best wide receivers in football.

His expansive skill set not only makes him one of the best receivers in the NFL but one of the best players overall. And the Ravens will have their hands full in trying to slow him enough to be able to continue playing beyond Saturday night.

“The same thing that makes him dangerous as a receiver makes him dangerous as a returner,” special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. “He’s very aggressive. He’s highly talented. He has a competitive spirit about him. He wants to make plays, and he has done it. He’s a very good player. We have to be at our best.”

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 01 November 2014 by Luke Jones

No strangers to meeting in the national spotlight, the Ravens and Steelers will meet in prime time for the 13th time in the series history on Sunday night.

Baltimore will be looking for its first regular-season sweep of Pittsburgh since 2011 while the Steelers aim for their third straight win overall. Both teams enter the weekend right on the heels of the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.

Sunday marks the 38th time these teams have met in the regular season with the Steelers owning a 20-17 advantage. The Ravens are 7-11 in regular-season games played in Pittsburgh, but they’ve won three of the last four played at Heinz Field.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 6-3 in a very competitive AFC North …

1. Steelers wideout Antonio Brown will catch a long touchdown in the first quarter as a reshuffled secondary tries to get its bearings. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to be creative with coverages as top cornerback Jimmy Smith is out. The timing couldn’t be much worse as Brown has been arguably the best receiver in the NFL this season and is tied for the league lead with 10 catches of 25 or more yards. Pees will likely entrust Lardarius Webb to cover Brown, which is a daunting task for a cornerback working his way back to top form after a lengthy absence due to a back injury. A miscommunication will allow Brown to break free for a long score as the Ravens defense tries to get in sync.

2. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will score a touchdown for a second straight game and lead the Ravens in rushing. Baltimore ran for 157 yards in the first meeting against the Steelers in Week 2, but it wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the running game really wore down a tired Pittsburgh front. This defense is softer than the typical Steelers unit and ranks 11th against the run, and the physicality of Taliaferro will be a strong change of pace from shifty starter Justin Forsett. With concerns in their own secondary, the Ravens will want to control the clock and limit the Steelers’ opportunities for possessions and Taliaferro will get plenty of carries in the second half with Bernard Pierce now third on the depth chart.

3. The Baltimore defense will limit Le’Veon Bell’s production on the ground, but the Pittsburgh running back will lead his team in receptions. The Ravens are allowing only 3.7 yards per carry and rank seventh in the NFL in run defense as they’ve slowed opposing running backs all season. However, the Steelers are finding more and more ways to get the ball to the 244-pound back as a receiver as he’s second on the team in receiving yards. With the Ravens trying to account for not having Smith, they’re going to be content with giving cushion and allowing throws underneath to prevent the big play. Pittsburgh will use this to its advantage by getting the ball to Bell in the passing game.

4. Terrell Suggs will collect two sacks to pick up 100 for his career. There’s no downplaying how crucial it will be for the Ravens to generate pressure as they’ll be depending on the pair of Dominique Franks — who was on the street at this time a month ago — and Chykie Brown — who spent the last two weeks on the inactive list — at the cornerback position opposite Webb. Much like he’ll mix and disguise coverages in the back end, Pees will move Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and Pernell McPhee around to confuse an improving offensive line and harass Roethlisberger. Suggs needs two sacks for 100 in his career, and nothing would be more fitting than doing it against the quarterback he’s sacked more than any other rusher has.

5. Pittsburgh will win a 26-23 game that goes back and forth for much of the night. Admittedly, when trying to break down Ravens-Steelers, it’s probably best to put aside the numbers and simply remember that 11 of the 15 total meetings in the John Harbaugh era — counting the postseason — have been decided by four or fewer points. However, the loss of Smith hurts more than any player on the current roster beyond quarterback Joe Flacco and the Steelers offense is playing at a high level at the wrong time for Baltimore. Both offenses will move the ball effectively, but the Steelers will do a little too much damage in the passing game for the Ravens to overcome.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 28 November 2013 by Luke Jones

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Though each team carries an underwhelming 5-6 record, playoff ramifications are high on Thanksgiving as the Ravens and Steelers meet for the 36th time in the regular season but the first time ever on a Thursday night.

A win pushes the Ravens closer toward the No. 6 spot in the AFC while a loss all but ends their season as they would likely need to win their remaining four games to have any chance of advancing to the postseason for the sixth straight time under head coach John Harbaugh.

The Ravens are healthier than they’ve been at any point this season as defensive end Chris Canty was the only starter on the injury report — listed as probable — while the Steelers will be without starting nose tackle Steve McLendon and are unlikely to have outside linebacker and sack leader LaMarr Woodley, who is doubtful with a calf injury. However, it appears Baltimore will likely need to wait at least one more week for the return of tight end Dennis Pitta.

It’s time to go on the record as the Steelers look for their first season sweep over Baltimore since the 2008 season and hold the 20-15 edge all-time in the regular season while also owning a 3-0 advantage in the postseason. The Ravens are 8-9 against Pittsburgh in Baltimore and have lost two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium. The last four meetings and nine of the last 11 regular-season contests between the Ravens and Steelers have each been decided by just three points.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to move to the .500 mark for the first time since mid-October …

1. Tyrod Taylor will see a few offensive snaps but will not line up under center as the wildcat discussion will calm considerably. Should the Ravens continue using the gimmick offense after Joe Flacco said Tuesday that he didn’t expect to see it much moving forward, the doubts of whether the quarterback and the coaching staff are on the same page will only get stronger. The truth is the wildcat attack isn’t going to be the difference-maker the Ravens need as opponents see it more and more, but there’s no reason Taylor can’t be used lining up as a wide receiver or even at running back on occasion. If the Steelers were forced to even spend as much as 20 or 30 minutes in a short week preparing for the possibility of the Ravens using the novelty offense, I suppose that’s an advantage for Baltimore, but it won’t dramatically alter the outcome of the game.

2. Neither team will run for more than 80 yards as Le’Veon Bell won’t duplicate his strong Week 7 performance. Pittsburgh used its own version of the wildcat in the first meeting of the season, which led to a season-high 141 yards on the ground for the league’s 30th-ranked running game. Meanwhile, the Ravens haven’t run effectively against anyone except Miami in Week 5 and the Bears two weeks ago, so it’s difficult to expect them to do much against even the Steelers’ 23rd-ranked run defense. After years of these rivals thriving on dominating defense and the running game, it’s clear that the 2013 versions of the Ravens and Steelers simply do not fit that profile. You’re much more likely to see 300-yard performances from either of the starting quarterbacks than to see a 100-yard day from either Bell or Ray Rice as the defenses will control the line of scrimmage.

3. Justin Tucker will miss his first field goal since Week 2. Anyone recall when the second-year kicker missed two tries in the home opener against Cleveland and was outperformed by former Raven Billy Cundiff? So much for any concerns of a sophomore slump as Tucker hasn’t missed a kick since, earning AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November and also the weekly honor after booting four field goals in last Sunday’s win over the Jets. Tucker’s streak of 22 consecutive field goals is tied for the second-longest streak in franchise history — Matt Stover’s 36 straight is the record mark — and he has been the Ravens’ most reliable player this season. Now, after heaping all that praise on the unflappable 24-year-old, Thursday seems like the time when he’ll finally miss a kick while booting two others successfully.

4. Flacco will throw for 230 yards and a touchdown, but the Ravens’ red-zone struggles will carry over from last week. What was lost through all the comments Flacco made about the wildcat and his disdain for lining up at the wide receiver position was the fact that the sixth-year quarterback played his best game since before the bye week this past Sunday. The Ravens will have a tougher time against Pittsburgh’s 10th-ranked pass defense than they did against the Jets’ vulnerable secondary, but the most encouraging development from their Week 12 win was the vertical connections to Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Flacco will need to make big plays with his arm to best Ben Roethlisberger, and he will have a strong performance as he typically does in big games. However, the Ravens’ lack of consistent weapons will once again hurt in the red zone despite a touchdown to Smith.

5. The same movie will play out once again as the Ravens come up short in a big game against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers in a 17-13 final. Baltimore has the advantage at home playing on a short week, but the Ravens have always failed against Pittsburgh when the stakes are high, and Thursday certainly qualifies in that regard. The Ravens are arguably playing their best football of the year after winning two of their last three games, but Pittsburgh has been even better in winning five of seven and Roethlisberger has outplayed Flacco over the last six weeks of the season. The Ravens hold the edge defensively over Pittsburgh’s aging defense, but the Steelers offense is markedly better than Baltimore’s, which will be the difference in this one. It will be a close game as it typically is between these AFC North rivals, but a late drive culminating with a Roethlisberger touchdown pass to Antonio Brown will be the difference as the Ravens’ playoff hopes are dealt a fatal blow.

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Steelers

Posted on 22 October 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Bernard Pierce tackled by Lawrence Timmons and Steve McLendon for one yard loss on 3rd & 1 (1st quarter)

You cannot start a 3rd & 1 run five yards behind the line of scrimmage. Oy.

4. Lamar Woodley sacks Joe Flacco for 10 yard loss on 3rd & 8 from Pittsburgh 34 (2nd quarter)

It would have been a long field goal attempt, but I’d rather that than a punt.

3. William Gay breaks up Joe Flacco pass intended for Jacoby Jones on 3rd & 12 (3rd quarter)

Man did that one really bother me watching the film again Monday. Very close to six.

2. Elvis Dumervil called for unnecessary roughness after Jerricho Cotchery 7 yard catch from Ben Roethlisberger (3rd quarter)

From 2nd & 17 to an eight minute drive.

1. Vince Williams recovers Justin Tucker onside kick attempt, Tucker flagged for illegal touching (4th quarter)

The decision was questionable. The execution was putrid.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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The Steelers are 1-4…they’re not beating the Ravens on Sunday.

Posted on 18 October 2013 by Drew Forrester

This Ravens-Steelers game is impossible to pick.

Anything could happen.

As inept as both offenses have been, would it be out of the question for both of them to catch lightning in a bottle on Sunday and put up 20-something points somehow?  I can see it now;  Roethlisberger wakes up on the right side of the bed, the Steelers o-line is decent enough to keep him upright most of the afternoon, and Big Ben finds Antonio Brown twice for big gains to help give Pittsburgh two scoring drives.  Later, a punt return puts them down to the Ravens 25-yard line.  A pass interference call gives Pittsburgh first and goal and they punch it on the ground two plays later.  Add a couple of field goals and suddenly they have 27 points, somehow.

The same goes with the Ravens.  Flacco and Torrey Smith connect on a couple of 50 yard throws.  Ray Rice scampers in from six yards out.  Bernard Pierce busts in from the three yard line.  Lardarius Webb snags a ball that bounces off of someone’s shoulder pads and takes it down to the Pittsburgh 13.  On the next play, Flacco finds Marlon Brown in the end zone.  A field goal or two from Justin Tucker and you have a 24 or 27 point output.

I can see both of those scenarios.  At some point, don’t these two offenses have to produce a game that makes them look like a major league team offensively?

I think so.

But it won’t happen this Sunday.  The two defenses are too good to let that stuff happen.

Ravens win 14-9.  Pittsburgh’s 1-4 for a reason.  They stink.  And they’re not winning on Sunday.

(That said, if Baltimore loses on Sunday, all hell’s gonna break loose around here.  You can make book on that.)


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Your Monday Reality Check: I think we all need some civic therapy today

Posted on 03 December 2012 by Glenn Clark

I don’t have it in me.

Honestly, I combed over all of my usual spots looking for fun videos, GIFs, etc. for the 15-7-0. I wanted to have one more big roundup to close the college football season. I hope Roofing By Elite will be okay with sponsoring this diatribe instead.

As part of hosting a local sports talk show, I often find myself playing the role of civic therapist. After Baltimore Ravens losses, I’ll regularly hear things like “did you have to spend the day trying to talk everyone off the ledge?”

I’d like to think I’ve been fairly successful in that, although it was certainly come with my share of mini-meltdowns in the process.

I don’t think I’m going to melt down this time. I’m certainly not on the ledge myself.

I don’t think I’m on the ledge, anyway.

Am I on the ledge?

You know what happened. The Charlie Batch-led Pittsburgh Steelers invaded M&T Bank Stadium and used a Shaun Suisham field goal as time expired to pull off one of the more improbable victories of the 2012 NFL season. The Steelers snapped the Ravens’ lengthy win streaks both at home (15) and against AFC North opponents (12). They also prevented the Ravens from clinching a playoff spot in the AFC and pulled within two games of their longtime rival in the race for the division crown.

This one hurt.

With Ben Roethlisberger out again, this was a prime opportunity for the Ravens to vanquish one foe and focus on bigger goals. The Ravens are still in good position to claim the AFC North title this season, but everything the Ravens do this season is being measured by the fact that there is an expectation for them to reach the Super Bowl.

It was tough to imagine a team that struggled to a 9-6 win over the Kansas City Chiefs making a run to the Super Bowl. It’s equally difficult to fathom a team that lost at home to Charlie Batch making a run to the Super Bowl.

(This is the part where civic therapist Glenn Clark reminds everyone that they’re not moving up the date of the Super Bowl to December and it is absolutely impossible that the Steelers and Ravens will both be playing in the game. Sorry. I had to.)

The truth is that the concerns that stem from the Ravens’ loss aren’t dissimilar to those we had experienced earlier in wins and losses. The truth is that those concerns will likely pop up again, perhaps as early as next week in a visit to face Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. The truth is that as long as the Baltimore Ravens were winning games, those concerns weren’t REALLY issues.

The Ravens simply needed to put themselves in the best possible situation to make a playoff run. If the Ravens continued to struggle offensively on the road but won, they’d still be in perfect shape to have to win no more than one road game in the postseason to get to New Orleans.

That’s the NFL. Your issues are only as significant as the record you carry them with. In that way, the Ravens are still in good shape at 9-3; but the nature of how this one went awry makes you worry about the ability for the team to keep winning through struggles.

In a game the Ravens only lost by three points, this one had a little bit of everything…

-Questionable play calling
-Poor clock management decisions
-Shaky quarterback play
-Offensive line lapses
-Inconsistent rushing
-Untimely drops
-Non-existent pass rush
-Awful tackling
-Secondary miscommunication
-Game changing turnovers
-3rd down struggles
-Red zone issues
-Potentially season changing injuries
-A partridge in a pear tree

Okay, maybe not the last one. But the rest were accurate at one point or another.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Dickson, Ellerbe, Graham, J. Jones sit out Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 28 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With a chance to clinch the AFC North division title against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Ravens hit the practice field on Wednesday with four key players missing from action.

Tight end Ed Dickson, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Corey Graham, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones did not practice in the first full workout of the week while five other players practiced on a limited basis.

Dickson and Ellerbe are considered to be the biggest concerns in terms of their availability for Sunday’s game as the starting tight end is dealing with a knee injury while the inside linebacker suffered an ankle injury in the 16-13 win over the San Diego Chargers. Coach John Harbaugh said Monday he expected each player to be very limited in practices this week with the thought that they would both have a chance to play against the Steelers.

“I feel pretty good,” Dickson said prior to missing Wednesday’s practice. “I’m as far along as I can be on a Wednesday, and I want to continue to rehab it and get ready.”

Graham was listed as missing Wednesday’s practice with an illness while Jones rested the sore ankle that was re-aggravated during Sunday’s win.

Cornerback Chris Johnson, defensive end Pernell McPhee, and safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed were all limited participants.

Harbaugh confirmed that linebacker Ray Lewis was in the building rehabbing on Wednesday, which is something he’d done away from the facility prior to this point, but did not practice. The 37-year-old linebacker is eligible to return to the practice field on Thursday, but the Baltimore coach gave no indication when he would begin working with the rest of the team.

“We’ll just play it day by day as far as whether he practices or not,” Harbaugh said. “He is not imminent to return to play or anything like that, so to me it’s really a non-story. He’ll go out there when he’s ready to practice when the elbow holds up, and when that happens, we’ll let you know.”

For Pittsburgh, quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger practiced on a limited basis as most media reports are giving him no more than a 50 percent chance of playing against the Ravens on Sunday. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the plan is to prepare as if backup Charlie Batch will start this week while Roethlisberger tests out his injured right shoulder in practices.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley was absent from Wednesday’s practice and is considered doubtful after sustaining an ankle injury in the Steelers loss in Cleveland.

The Steelers received good news, however, with the returns of wide receiver Antonio Brown and safety Troy Polamalu, who are both expected to play in Baltimore if they don’t suffer any setbacks.

OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (abs)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Ed Dickson (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle, knee, finger), CB Corey Graham (illness), WR Jacoby Jones (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Chris Johnson (thigh), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), S Bernard Pollard (chest), S Ed Reed (shoulder), WR Torrey Smith (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Anquan Boldin (knee), DT Terrence Cody (elbow), TE Dennis Pitta (neck), LB Terrell Suggs (ankle)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: T Mike Adams (ankle), T Willie Colon (knee), QB Byron Leftwich (ribs), T Max Starks (back), LB LaMarr Woodley (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Jerricho Cotchery (ribs), QB Ben Roethlishberger (right shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Antonio Brown (ankle), S Troy Polamalu (calf)

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Injuries and absences aside, toppling Steelers far from easy task

Posted on 13 November 2012 by Luke Jones

Long before Kansas City linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston flattened quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on Monday night, we knew this year’s two-act drama of Ravens-Steelers would be different from those witnessed in previous years.

The previous elder statesmen of the best rivalry in the NFL, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis and Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, will be nowhere to be found on the Heinz Field gridiron Sunday night. Lewis will be relegated to the sideline as he recovers from triceps surgery while Ward now only runs his mouth as an NBC analyst instead of as the antagonist hated most by Baltimore fans.

In fact, neither Lewis nor Ward will be featured in a meaningful Ravens-Steelers game for the first time since before the NFL’s best rivalry actually mattered.

(Both players missed the 2007 season finale played in Baltimore, but that contest was of little consequence to either team.)

Health concerns are abundant on both sides as Steelers strong safety and defensive leader Troy Polamalu is likely to miss his sixth straight game and speedy wide receiver Antonio Brown is questionable to play. In addition to Lewis’ absence, the Ravens have already lost top cornerback Lardarius Webb for the season and are leaning on a banged-up Haloti Ngata and recovering Terrell Suggs to lead their defense.

Of course, all those absences and injuries took a backseat after Roethlisberger suffered a right shoulder sprain that leaves him questionable for Sunday night’s nationally-televised game against the Ravens. Make no mistake, his potential absence transforms the Ravens from the underdog in Pittsburgh to a group with a great chance to beat a Steelers team that could be led by backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who’s made a total of five starts in the last five seasons.

Should Roethlisberger’s shoulder injury keep him out, it will compel me to pick the Ravens to win after previously thinking the Steelers were playing too well in recent weeks to predict a Baltimore victory in Pittsburgh.

Inflated optimism is understandable and appropriate, but if you think the Ravens are going to Pittsburgh and moonwalking their way to victory, you’re setting yourself up to be disappointed.

With the 2011 season-opening 35-7 win being the lone outlier, nothing has come easy against Pittsburgh in the John Harbaugh era. Of the teams’ last 10 meetings (including two postseason games), all but two have been decided by seven or fewer points.

History even suggests the Ravens won’t flatten the Steelers on Sunday night if Roethlisberger is sidelined after he sat out two other times in recent years.

In 2009, it was Dennis Dixon — yes, the same quarterback the Ravens cut from their practice squad earlier this month before he was re-signed Tuesday — who nearly led the Steelers to an upset in Baltimore before the Ravens prevailed in overtime. A year later, veteran Charlie Batch was in line for a win over the Ravens before Joe Flacco threw a game-winning touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh in the final minute.

The last time I checked, Roethlisberger isn’t a member of the league’s top-ranked defense and that’s why no one should be tallying a victory just yet for a Ravens team averaging only 17.5 points per game in four road contests. The Steelers currently rank sixth against the run and first against the pass as Flacco and the Baltimore offense will need to turn in a strong performance at Heinz Field in order to win there for the third straight time in the regular season.

“It was greatly exaggerated, no doubt,” said Harbaugh when asked about the perceived demise of the Pittsburgh defense earlier this year. “They are playing great. They are the No. 1 defense in the league – run, pass, big plays, sacks; they are still getting sacks. It’s just a premier defense, no doubt.”

As impressive as the Ravens looked in scoring a franchise-record 55 points against Oakland in Week 10, are you really that confident as they face the Pittsburgh defense on the road?

Two weeks ago, the Steelers made New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning look sickly in his home stadium, holding the two-time Super Bowl winner to just 125 passing yards and an interception in a 24-20 comeback victory for Pittsburgh.

Offensively, Leftwich wouldn’t figure to pose much of a threat through the air, but the Steelers have found a formidable running game in recent weeks with the combination of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman turning in three 100-yard rushing performances in the last four games. And while the Ravens’ run defense has improved over the last two weeks, it still ranks 26th in the NFL and will be tested by the Steelers’ improved offensive line.

Pittsburgh may not have their star quarterback on Sunday night, but plenty of others will be waiting for the Ravens, including James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Heath Miller, and Mike Wallace.

Would Roethlisberger’s absence swing the advantage in the Ravens’ favor come Sunday night?


But if you think the Ravens are just going to cruise to victory in Pittsburgh, you haven’t been paying attention to this rivalry.

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