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Cold, hard numbers prevail over emotion with Markakis’ departure

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Cold, hard numbers prevail over emotion with Markakis’ departure

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

The Orioles faced difficult free-agent decisions entering the offseason after winning their first American League East title in 17 years.

The anticipated departures of slugger Nelson Cruz and shutdown lefty reliever Andrew Miller certainly hurt from an on-field standpoint, but both were hired guns for the 2014 season with little emotional attachment.

But longtime right fielder Nick Markakis?

That one hurts. It hurts a lot.

It stings fans, teammates who adore him and respect his everyday approach, and manager Buck Showalter, who has often said Markakis is the kind of player whose value isn’t fully felt until you don’t have him anymore.

That sentiment now becomes reality, and we’ll learn how true the manager’s words ring.

The organization’s longest-tenured player departing to sign a four-year, $44 million deal with the Atlanta Braves on Wednesday hurts as much as any Oriole to leave via free agency since longtime ace Mike Mussina joined the New York Yankees 14 years ago. After making his home in Monkton, Markakis was supposed to spend his entire career with the Orioles.

One of the lasting images of a wonderful 2014 season was watching Markakis, after enduring years of losing in Baltimore, celebrate the Orioles’ first division title since 1997 when they clinched in mid-September. After he could only watch the Orioles in the 2012 playoffs because of a season-ending thumb injury sustained a month earlier, the 2003 first-round pick finally earned his first taste of postseason play in his ninth major league season.

So, how did it get to this point after nearly everyone assumed that Markakis would be back?

Both local and national outlets reported a month ago that the Orioles and Markakis were working toward a four-year deal in the neighborhood of what the Braves ultimately paid the veteran outfielder. Concerns over a herniated disc in his neck discovered in 2013 reportedly prompted the Orioles to hedge on a guaranteed fourth year as the weeks progressed while Atlanta offered no such trepidation in bringing Markakis back to his home state.

Frustrated fans will understandably question the Orioles’ loyalty in how they negotiated and in ultimately failing to retain their longest-tenured player, but how much responsibility should Markakis hold? If he were truly committed to staying, why not sign a month ago when a similar offer was allegedly on the table instead of holding out for more and giving the Orioles the opportunity to rethink their position?

For as much as Markakis has been valued for his durability and consistency throughout his tenure in Baltimore, let’s not pretend the $30 million he earned in his final two seasons with the Orioles was reciprocated with similar value in production.

And that’s when we begin to view Markakis as the fascinating case study of weighing the old-school “gamer” against the cold, hard numbers he produces.

A look at the negative reaction from players via social media in the hours after the announcement suggests how unpopular the move will be in the Orioles clubhouse. Though a quiet man who doesn’t draw attention to himself, Markakis was a prime example of the club’s sum being better than its parts over the last three winning years. He plays the game the right way and is admired by teammates and fans alike.

But how much can and should you pay for those intangibles?

Assessing his value based solely on what shows up in the box score, Markakis likely isn’t worth close to $44 million over the next four seasons. In fact, observers with no apparent agenda are already saying the Braves will wildly regret investing so much in an outfielder whose numbers have declined over the last couple years.

Though he never developed the home run power some projected him to earlier in his career, Markakis averaged more than 65 extra-base hits per year from 2007 through 2010. He’s averaged just under 42 in each of the four years since, with only 34 in 160 games in 2013. What was once a gap hitter who regularly hit more than 40 doubles per year has become much more of a singles hitter — with little speed — in recent years.

His slugging percentage has dipped below .400 in each of the last two seasons, and he has only posted an on-base plus slugging percentage above .756 once in the last four years — his injury-abbreviated 2012 campaign when he produced an .834 OPS in only 471 plate appearances. Though a very good and dependable right fielder with a strong arm that resulted in him winning his second Gold Glove in 2014, Markakis’ range in right field has declined and figures to get worse over the next four years.

Those numbers aren’t presented to suggest Markakis no longer has any value as his durability, leadership, and work ethic can’t easily be quantified and will certainly be missed in addition to what he can still bring with the bat. But the numbers do confirm there is strong evidence to suggest he’s not worthy of a four-year investment after already showing substantial decline in recent seasons.

Only time will tell if the Orioles regret their decision based on how effectively they’re able to replace their longtime right fielder and on how he plays in his new home. It’s quite possible executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made the responsible call, but that will only matter if the Orioles find a quality replacement at the top of the order and in right field to continue the momentum of three straight winning seasons and a 2014 division title.

That will be easier said than done based on what options are available on the open market unless they plan to overpay some other player after drawing a line in the sand with the longest-tenured member of the organization.

The numbers and projections certainly shouldn’t be ignored, but baseball isn’t played in a vacuum, either. Markakis will be missed by teammates and fans alike, but the cold, hard numbers ultimately prevailed.

Markakis wasn’t the biggest or only reason why the Orioles have won over the last three years, but he has been a significant part of what they’ve done. He’s been one of their rare hitters to work counts and get on base — major weaknesses for the club despite their winning record — and one of their most influential presences in a clubhouse that’s been harmonious under Showalter.

Despite the disappointment and the frustration felt by many over the lifelong Oriole’s departure and the questions it creates, four months remain before Opening Day. Duquette deserves some benefit of the doubt after a very rocky start to the offseason in which two key everyday players have bolted.

But the Orioles have a lot of work to do to appease both a shaken fan base and an unhappy clubhouse.

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Longtime Oriole Markakis agrees to four-year deal with Atlanta

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Longtime Oriole Markakis agrees to four-year deal with Atlanta

Posted on 03 December 2014 by Luke Jones

A 12-year relationship is no more as longtime Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis has agreed to a four-year deal with the Atlanta Braves.

Two days after 2014 home run champion Nelson Cruz departed Baltimore to sign a four-year, $57 million with Seattle, the longest-tenured player in the organization agreed to a contract worth $44 million, according to Yahoo Sports. The 31-year-old Markakis will be returning to his home state of Georgia where he grew up north of Atlanta in nearby Woodstock.

The Orioles and Markakis had engaged in talks last month that appeared to be progressing toward a four-year deal, but discussions stalled as the organization reportedly became hesitant about the idea of guaranteeing four years to the two-time Gold Glove outfielder. Markakis’ offensive production has declined in recent years, but replacing his ability at the top of the order and in right field as well as his presence in the clubhouse will be easier said than done.

After a rough 2013 season in which he hit a career-low .271 with 10 home runs, 59 runs batted in, and only a .685 on-base plus slugging percentage, Markakis rebounded some last season to bat .276 with 14 home runs, 50 RBIs, and a .729 OPS. His slugging percentage fell below the .400 mark in each of the last two years with his once-impressive gap power that once produced more than 40 doubles per season in clear decline.

The seventh overall pick of the 2003 draft, Markakis appeared in his first postseason with the Orioles this past October, hitting .258 with one home runs and three RBIs.

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Ravens walking tightrope with Jacoby Jones’ struggles

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Ravens walking tightrope with Jacoby Jones’ struggles

Posted on 21 October 2014 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens trying to improve to 6-2 as they travel to Cincinnati for a key AFC North showdown on Sunday, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player having a worse season than Jacoby Jones.

The return specialist and wide receiver fumbled his second punt in three games in Sunday’s 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons and has virtually disappeared from the offensive game plan with more dropped passes (five) than receptions (four) through the first seven weeks of the season. Head coach John Harbaugh has said on a couple occasions that he feels Jones is pressing as he’s coupled his mishandling of the ball with questionable decisions such as catching a punt at the 2-yard line against Carolina in Week 4.

Asked if he still felt OK with Jones as his returner following his latest fumble, which took place late in the first half when the Ravens were only holding a 14-0 lead, Harbaugh didn’t go out of his way to provide a ringing endorsement on Monday.

“I do.”

The Falcons did not attempt another punt after Jones fumbled at his own 40 and kicker Matt Bryant missed a 57-yard field goal to hand the ball back to the Ravens late in the first half, so it will be intriguing to see how short of a leash — if any — remains for the Pro Bowl return specialist. Harbaugh’s terse answer doesn’t signal the end of Jones as the returner — he’s not going to tip his hand whether the Ravens will make a change or not — but it doesn’t mean we won’t see others such as rookie Michael Campanaro or safe punt returner Lardarius Webb more involved in the return game as early as Sunday in Cincinnati.

Jones took only four offensive snaps against Atlanta, so it’s clear that coordinator Gary Kubiak is looking elsewhere for complementary receivers behind starters Steve Smith and Torrey Smith. Dropped passes can certainly be drive killers, but turnovers can dramatically change a game when you’re counting on a possession after making the opponent punt or the opponent has just scored.

The 30-year-old signed an extension with the Ravens this past offseason, agreeing to a four-year, $12 million deal that included $3.5 million in guaranteed money.

Counting the postseason, the former Houston Texans has five returns for touchdowns in his three-year run with the Ravens, but that big-play potential only goes so far when you’re unsure if he’s going to secure the ball. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg hasn’t hesitated in the past to make a change as he replaced speedy kick returner David Reed with a more sure-handed option in Tom Zbikowski in 2011.

The Ravens reaped the benefits of Jones being a game-changer on the positive side in his first two years in Baltimore, but he’s been a different kind of game-changer altogether so far in 2014. And it’s a tightrope act that’s feeling more and more perilous to navigate for a team currently leading the AFC North and heading into two key divisional road games.

 

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens staked their claim as the best team in the AFC North with a 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday to move into first place ahead of Cincinnati.

With their fourth 5-2 start in the last five years, the Ravens have put themselves in prime position to return to the playoffs as they approach the midway point of the 2014 season. But how much does that mean as we approach the final week of October?

“Meaningful in Week 7, so, it’s good to be there in that situation at this time,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But you have to build on it, you have to keep getting better. We’re not a good enough team to do the things that we want to do right now, so we have to keep improving.”

Baltimore may not be a flawless team — there’s no such thing in the modern NFL — but it’s difficult to look at the numbers and not be impressed with what Harbaugh’s group has done through the first seven weeks of 2014. Even with 14 teams having played only six games at the end of business on Sunday, the Ravens have allowed the fewest points (104) and own the best point differential (plus 89) in the NFL.

Yes, they appear to have drawn the right year to play the woeful NFC South — a division where 3-3-1 Carolina currently sits in first place — but you can’t control which teams are on the schedule. The Ravens are not only beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, but they’re throttling them, which doesn’t often happen in the parity-driven NFL.

Already securing four wins of 20 or more points, the improved Ravens offense has received much of the attention, but the defense is taking major strides with its second straight game collecting five sacks, the first time that’s happened since the 2006 season. It was no surprising feat to limit the hapless Tampa Bay offense last week, but holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ third-ranked unit to just seven points was an impressive task.

With the pass rush coming alive and the play of the secondary stabilizing, the confidence on the defensive side of the ball is growing. Several defensive players spoke after the game about the speech linebackers coach Ted Monachino offered Saturday night, challenging a talented group of outside linebackers to raise its level of play to where it belongs.

It’s safe to say the message was received on Sunday as Ryan was hit nine times a week after Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon was hit 15 times.

“We’re dangerous, and we’re real serious. We’re coming out playing with an attitude,” said rush specialist Pernell McPhee, who added two more sacks on Sunday to continue his strong season. “Our [secondary] needs us, and I know we need them. I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job of calling the plays and setting us up to get the sacks. We’re just focusing in and trying to play ball.”

Much credit should go to Pees, who has shown various looks up front by moving around Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and McPhee to cause confusion while using a safety-by-committee approach in the secondary. Matt Elam and Darian Stewart started the game, but rookie Terrence Brooks and the returning Will Hill also saw extensive action at the safety position.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was known for bringing “organized chaos,” but Pees’ decision to substitute so frequently in the secondary reminded the 65-year-old coordinator of his college coaching days at Miami of Ohio when he used various personnel looks in a 1986 upset win over a top 10 LSU team in Baton Rouge. Of course, Baltimore didn’t face that kind of a talent disadvantage Sunday, but it illustrates the creative lengths used to help mask what’s been a deficiency of the defense to this point in the season.

Time will tell whether the safety rotation will continue, but the best weapon to neutralize a shaky secondary has been the major heat in the pocket. It’s also created more opportunities for turnovers as defensive backs got their hands on several Ryan passes despite not coming away with any interceptions.

“Those dudes are our best friends,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the pass rush. “They get in there, they disrupt things, they cause havoc, they make quarterbacks panic and throw the ball in the air. And on our end, we have to do a better job of coming up with some more turnovers. We’ve had a lot of opportunities, and we have a lot of drops.”

Unlike last season’s 8-8 team that remained static with issues on each side of the ball showing up on a weekly basis, these Ravens appear to be improving as the year progresses. Their only loss since Week 1 came on the road two weeks ago against Indianapolis, a team that’s won five straight games and only beat them by seven points at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It’s true that no one should confuse Tampa Bay or Atlanta for juggernauts, but the Ravens have a tremendous opportunity to not only seize commanding control of the AFC North but to make an emphatic claim as one of the best teams in the NFL if they can take care of business in trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. It won’t be easy playing on the road against their two biggest rivals, but the Ravens have looked like the class of the division through seven weeks while the Bengals have gone 0-2-1 since their bye with two road losses of 26 or more points.

The Ravens continue to show improvement on both sides of the ball while stacking wins as they now have a chance to pay back Cincinnati for its Week 1 win in Baltimore.

“We have everything that we want to do right in front of us,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just have to go out there and continue to play well. We have a tough opponent next week that we didn’t play necessarily good against, at least for a half, in the first game. We have to come back out there and prove ourselves. They’re a good football team, and they’re going to be hungry, and we’re [playing] there. It’s going to be a tough test; I can’t wait for it.”

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Ravens-Falcons: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Falcons: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Appearing at M&T Bank Stadium for the only time in the month of October, the Ravens hope to improve to 5-2 as they take on the struggling Atlanta Falcons, who have lost three straight games.

Winners in four of their last five games, the Ravens will again be without the starting left side of their offensive line as rookies James Hurst and John Urschel will start in place of the injured Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele. Baltimore is hopeful to have Monroe and Osemele back for next week’s key road game in Cincinnati after both practiced on a limited basis this past week.

The Ravens also deactivated cornerback Chykie Brown and wide receiver Marlon Brown, which doesn’t speak well for either player’s current standing on the depth chart. Chykie Brown is inactive for the first time this season, meaning veteran Dominique Franks is the only backup cornerback behind Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Marlon Brown was listed as probable on the final injury report, but rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro is instead active after catching a touchdown in his NFL debut last week.

After being moved to the 53-man roster on Saturday, safety Will Hill is active and will make his 2014 season debut.

Second-year linebacker Arthur Brown was a healthy scratch for the seventh straight game and is the only player on the 53-man roster all season who has yet to be active for a game.

Meanwhile, the Falcons have embarked on a brutal stretch of their schedule as they were scheduled to fly straight to London from Baltimore following Sunday’s game. Atlanta will not play another true home game at the Georgia Dome until Nov. 23 after having lost three straight entering Sunday’s tilt against the Ravens.

Sunday marks the fifth all-time meeting between these teams in the regular season as both the Ravens and the Falcons have won two apiece. The Ravens won the only meeting between these teams in Baltimore in 2006 and will try to improve to 3-0 against the NFC South with a win over the 2-4 Falcons.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Carl Cheffers.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the mid-50s with sunny skies and winds up to 15 miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing black jerseys and black pants — with pink accessories mixed in for Breast Cancer Awareness month — while Atlanta dons white tops and white pants.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Marlon Brown
CB Chykie Brown
LB Arthur Brown
LT Eugene Monroe
G Kelechi Osemele
TE Ryan Taylor
DE Chris Canty

ATLANTA
QB Sean Renfree
CB Javier Arenas
LB Tyler Starr
OT Cameron Bradfield
G Harland Gunn
WR Harry Douglas
DT Cliff Matthews

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Falcons: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 18 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Facing an opponent that’s moving in the wrong direction for the second straight week, the Ravens should feel good about their return home to play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday afternoon.

Baltimore has a chance to improve to 5-2 with critical road games looming against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the next two weeks while the Falcons have dropped three straight and could find themselves out of the NFC South race if they don’t turn around a 2-4 start quickly. Atlanta is 0-3 on the road and has lost those games by an average margin of 12.3 points with a defense that ranks 31st in the NFL.

Meanwhile, the Ravens offense sits in the top 10 in most categories and the Baltimore defense has allowed only 16.2 points per game, good for third in the league through the first six weeks of the 2014 season. The Ravens secondary will also have the services of free safety Will Hill after he was activated on Saturday, so it will be interesting to see how the former New York Giant is worked into the defense in his first action of 2014.

Sunday marks the fifth time these teams have met in their regular-season history with the Ravens and Falcons each owning two wins. Atlanta won the last game between these teams in a 26-21 thriller at the Georgia Dome on Nov. 11, 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to begin the season 5-2 for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh …

1. Both Joe Flacco and Matt Ryan throw for over 300 yards in a battle of 2008 first-round draft picks. The Falcons have allowed 24 or more points in five of their six games this season and are allowing 277.7 passing yards per game and will now face Flacco, who is coming off a career-high five touchdown passes in last week’s win at Tampa Bay. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s passing game hasn’t had problems this season in ranking third in the NFL. The debate between Flacco and Ryan — the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2008 draft — has become a tired one as the former enjoys a clear edge in postseason success while the latter puts up better fantasy numbers, but both should have strong afternoons against less-than-stellar secondaries.

2. Justin Forsett goes over the 100-yard rushing mark for the second straight week. You keep waiting for some semblance of a market correction for the 29-year-old running back, but he keeps shredding opposing run defenses to the tune of 6.4 yards per carry. Flacco will have a strong day to give the Ravens a lead in the second half, which will open the door for Forsett and his fellow backfield mates to gain big yardage. With James Hurst and John Urschel expected to be blocking the blindside again, Forsett will continue to receive extensive reps due to his pass-blocking ability and that will lead to him receiving more carries than Bernard Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro.

3. Falcons defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi will be a rare standout in an otherwise listless pass rush. A second straight week of starting two rookies on the left side of the offensive line will make Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak nervous, but the Falcons haven’t been able to put any consistent heat on quarterbacks this season. The one player who’s offered something as a rusher has been Massaquoi, who leads Atlanta with two sacks and has graded out as one of the better outside pass rushers in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He’ll beat Hurst to pick up a sack at some point, but the Ravens should have few problems keeping Flacco upright as long as they shade help to the left side and he’s quick in getting rid of the ball.

4. With Jimmy Smith locked on Julio Jones, Atlanta wideout Roddy White will catch a touchdown and pick up 85 receiving yards. There’s no reason to think Smith won’t shadow Jones, who already has 44 catches and 620 receiving yards (third in the NFL) through six games. However, White is still a receiver to be careful with and it’s difficult to feel too confident in the rest of the Baltimore secondary as the Ravens rank 27th in pass defense. The addition of Hill gives the Ravens an intriguing option to work in at safety, but as long as Matt Elam continues to handle nickel duties, they’re vulnerable to giving up yards. White will be a thorn in the Ravens’ side while Smith holds Jones to a modest level of production for his high standards.

5. On a day when both offenses have success, the Ravens will make a few more defensive stops en route to a 34-20 win to improve to 5-2. Baltimore needs to be aware of the explosiveness of the Atlanta offense, but the Falcons are way too soft on defense to seriously threaten the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. In the only opportunity to play at home this month, the Ravens will take care of business and put themselves in great position as they face the Bengals and the Steelers in consecutive road games. Unlike last season, the Ravens are giving themselves some margin for error in terms of the playoff race and a relatively comfortable win over Atlanta will be the latest statement for the case that they’ll be playing in January.

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Ravens unlikely to have starting left side of line against Atlanta

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Ravens unlikely to have starting left side of line against Atlanta

Posted on 17 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens are likely to be without the starting left side of their offensive line for the second straight week after tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele were both listed as doubtful for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Neither lineman participated in Friday’s practice after both worked on a limited basis Thursday, meaning the Ravens are likely to go with the rookie combination of James Hurst and John Urschel for the second consecutive game. There had appeared to be some optimism that Osemele would return after missing last Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay since he had been a limited participant on Wednesday and Thursday, but he will need at least another week to recover from the hyper extended knee he suffered against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 5.

Ideally, head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens would like to have Monroe and Osemele back in the lineup for a key road game against the Cincinnati Bengals next week, so the fact that both were able to get on the practice field this week bodes well for their status.

To no surprise, defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery) and defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi (ankle) were officially ruled out for Sunday’s game.

The Ravens listed five players as probable to play against Atlanta, including rookie defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (meniscus surgery), who could be playing for the first time since injuring his knee on Sept. 11.

In remains unclear whether the Ravens will elect to activate safety Will Hill from the reserve-suspended list or defensive tackle Terrence Cody from the reserve-physically unable to perform list after both players practiced fully all week. Harbaugh would not tip his hand whether either would be moved to the 53-man roster by Saturday’s 4 p.m. deadline to make them eligible to play against the Falcons.

“It depends on some other things. There’s a domino effect to some of that,” Harbaugh said. “But they’re both capable of playing, physically. They’re both ready. They had a good week of practice, and they showed that they’re ready to play.”

Atlanta officially ruled out wide receiver Harry Douglas (foot) and listed six other players as probable for Sunday’s game.

Carl Cheffers will be the referee for Sunday’s game against the Falcons.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast calls for sunny skies with temperatures in the low 50s and winds up to 15 miles per hour.

Baltimore will don its black alternate jerseys for the second time this season and the 18th time in franchise history. The Ravens hold a 12-5 record when wearing the black jerseys and are 9-2 under Harbaugh. Earlier this season, the Ravens won 38-10 when they sported their all-black uniforms against the Carolina Panthers.

Here is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DT Christo Bilukidi (ankle), DE Chris Canty (wrist)
DOUBTFUL: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)
PROBABLE: WR Kamar Aiken (concussion), WR Marlon Brown (pelvis), TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury)

ATLANTA
OUT: WR Harry Douglas (foot)
PROBABLE: DT Jonathan Babineaux (knee), G Justin Blalock (back), WR Devin Hester (hamstring), WR Julio Jones (ankle), LB Prince Shembo (knee), LB Nate Stupar (knee)

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Personnel diversity providing improved results for Ravens offense

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Personnel diversity providing improved results for Ravens offense

Posted on 16 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — New faces, new injuries, and a new system would be more than enough for the Ravens offense to be struggling through the first six weeks of the 2014 season.

Except it hasn’t.

In fact, a year after searching up and down the roster — and outside of it — for solutions to cure the offensive woes, the eighth-ranked unit in the NFL now finds itself with plenty of diversity that’s provided different results as the Ravens are off to a 4-2 record. Tied for fifth in points per game, Baltimore has transformed its offense from a liability to a strength in less than a year’s time as they’ve already scored 26 or more points three times compared to last year’s total of four games reaching that barrier.

Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak is still chasing consistency with his unit — the Ravens have two games in which they’ve scored fewer than 17 points — but the overall results have been impressive in his first season on John Harbaugh’s staff.

“We just have to stay focused on us. That’s what I told the guys,” Kubiak said. “Let’s not get too consumed with who’re playing or those types of things. If we play the way we’re capable of playing and do our jobs, we’re probably going to move the football.”

While it’s obvious the offseason additions of Steve Smith, Jeremy Zuttah, Owen Daniels, and Justin Forsett have paid significant dividends, the Ravens have faced plenty of adversity on the offensive side of the ball that could have led to their demise. The abrupt release of Ray Rice and the season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta took away a large portion of production from past seasons, but Baltimore has thrived without them.

Three running backs — Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro — have received at least 40 carries each and the Ravens are averaging 4.7 yards per carry, good for sixth in the NFL. Viewed as little more than a depth signing in the offseason, Forsett has averaged a league-best 6.4 yards per carry, which is more than twice as productive as the Ravens’ league-worst 3.1 yards per attempt in 2013.

“He gets the most out of his ability,” said Kubiak about the 29-year-old Forsett, who’s already rushed for more yards in 2014 than his two previous seasons combined. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he does a great job in pass protection. He’s a three-down player, so he’s a guy that you can keep on the field all the time in what you’re doing. The thing he’s doing right now [is] he’s finding a way to make a big play every week.”

The Ravens’ three-headed monster at running back has been discussed at length, but they continue to use an extensive collection of pass catchers for quarterback Joe Flacco to throw to. The 35-year-old Smith has clearly led the way with 35 catches for 573 yards and four touchdowns, but 13 different players have already caught passes this season with rookie Michael Campanaro and former practice-squad member Kamar Aiken catching their first career scores last week.

The different personnel groupings at the receiver position have allowed Kubiak to keep the veteran Smith as well as Torrey Smith fresh during games, but they’ve also created problems for opposing defenses. It’s been a pleasant change from last season when the Ravens did see 15 different players catch passes, but Flacco struggled to find any he could consistently rely on to make plays beyond Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown.

Those weapons have made it easier for Flacco, who’s posted a career-high 97.8 passer rating and is on pace to throw a personal-best 32 touchdowns compared to just eight interceptions.

“The one thing as an offense you never want to be is predictable,” Steve Smith said. “A lot of times people may think when these [younger] guys come in, it’s not a pass play — it’s not a play where they’re getting the ball. So, that just shows you that we do have guys that may not be starters but have the big-play ability [against] other teams and in the game. That just shows that those guys can play.”

Perhaps no other position group has benefited from improved depth more than the offensive line, which has become arguably the Ravens’ biggest strength in 2014 after it was nothing short of a disaster last year.

Zuttah and Rick Wagner have solidified the center and right tackle positions, respectively, but the Ravens have remained successful even with injuries to left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens have won two of the three games in which rookie free agent James Hurst has started at left tackle for Monroe and are 1-0 with rookie John Urschel playing in place of Osemele.

Those were the kinds of injuries the Ravens couldn’t overcome last year, but the offensive line has continued to thrive in Kubiak’s system.

“It’s not just us,” said right guard Marhal Yanda about the improvement. “It’s the backs, it’s Joe [Flacco], it’s the tight ends, it’s Gary — it’s everybody. We’re in this thing together, and it’s definitely going well for us. We’ve had a couple of hiccups, but we’re just trying to continue to be consistent and get after them.”

It’s been a “strength in numbers” mindset with results that couldn’t be much better. And the struggles of last year become more and more faint.

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Rice, Porter lead Wizards past Hawks in Summer League play

Posted on 12 July 2014 by WNST Staff

Game Recap: Wizards 90, Hawks 74

Glen Rice Jr. and Otto Porter combined for 47 points as they powered the Washington Wizards to a 90-74 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on the second day of play in the summer dessert classic in Las Vegas.

The Wizards trailed by as many as eight points in the game and were held to just 12 points in the second quarter. However, the second half was all Wizards as they outscored the Hawks 55 to 33.

Porter led all scorers with 25 points for the Wizards while Adreian Payne chipped in a team-high 12 points for the Hawks.

The Wizards held a 23-17 lead after the opening quarter of play. The Hawks struggled out of the gate connecting on just one basket in the first eight minutes of the quarter. Mike Muscala and Walter Tavares both tallied four points for the Hawks in the quarter while Rice chipped in eight for the Wizards.

The Hawks closed the second quarter on a 6-2 run and held a seven point lead, 41-35, at halftime. Atlanta’s offensive output was driven by Larmar Patterson who chipped in eight points and Steven Holt who added five. The Wizards were held to just 12 second quarter points.

The third quarter was all Wizards as they fought back and tied the game up at 47, at the 6:40 mark in the quarter. They continued to dominate the quarter earning their largest lead of the quarter at 13. Washington continued to dominate in the fourth quarter, expanding their lead to as many as 20.

Paul Millsap was on hand to watch his younger brother Abraham who is a member of the Hawks summer league team.

Both teams return to action on Sunday, the Hawks (0-1) taking on the NBA D-League Select team at 3:30 p.m. and the Wizards (1-0) will host Minnesota at 7:30 p.m.

(Recap courtesy of NBA)

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The 15-7-0 is sick of all these NFL bullies. You know, like the Jaguars. Big bullies.

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The 15-7-0 is sick of all these NFL bullies. You know, like the Jaguars. Big bullies.

Posted on 11 November 2013 by Glenn Clark

15 positive observations from the weekend of football, seven not so positive observations and we acknowledge a “zero” from outside the world of football. A reminder, there’s never any Ravens game analysis here. We do plenty of that elsewhere. It’s a trip through the weekend of football via videos, GIFs, memes, pictures, links, Tweets and shtick.

Unlike Richie Incognito, the 15-7-0 actually turned down Jay Glazer’s request for a Sunday morning interview. Also unlike Richie Incognito, the 15-7-0 only uses the term “expletive” once or twice per sentence. Personal rule. Except when I’m at church. Obviously.

15 Positive Observations…

1. Someone tell Rod Marinelli to get the champagne ready-there’s just one more domino to fall to keep the streak alive!

The Jaguars won a football game. Sure it was against Ryan Fitzpatrick, but it still counts!

Delanie Walker with the response of the day.

Via Terry McCormick of Titans Insider:

“It’s disgusting. I’m disappointed. I’m embarrassed. A team that’s 0-8 comes in here and beats us? Beats us on our home field, that’s 0-8, the Jaguars? Come on. Talking about first place? Talking about first place? We just got whooped by the Jaguars. We ain’t talking first place no more. It’s out the window. We’ve got to come back and play the Colts. I don’t know how everybody’s gonna handle it. I mean, we lost to the Jaguars.”

Truth.

2. Keenan Reynolds ran many yards beyond the line of scrimmage Saturday. As a Baltimore Ravens fan, I was admittedly unaware this was allowed within the rules of football.

Navy beat Hawai’i. You know what that means.

Also, the most adorable picture you’ll see all weekend.

3. While I’ve always been in favor of college football going to the “division four” concept, I’m pretty sure it will be tough for Alabama to sell tickets when they’re the only team playing in it.

But honestly, Nick Saban has one like half a billion football games. THIS was the one that made him want to jump into his quarterback’s arms?

Tigers really opened up the playbook to try to top the Tide…

I can’t explain why-but this right here seems like the absolute perfect reaction to this game.

OH SNAP, VERNE LUNDQUIST!

And elsewhere in the SEC, you guys remember the Manziel guy that one the Heisman Trophy that one time? The guy who plays at Texas A&M reminds me of him.

And finally elsewhere in the SEC (at least for now), Dorial Green-Beckham did what now?

4. So apparently the deal is that you actually CAN survive losing your head coach…but only if you have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time on your roster.

Of course, Peyton Manning’s ankle was banged up during the course of the game-which apparently means some ref somewhere didn’t get the memo.

This lady is currently thinking to herself “there are like five people that come to games out here and I have to sit behind this one?”

5. This Riley Cooper guy is a nice little player. Any back story on this guy? He’s just kinda popped up out of nowhere these last couple of weeks. I bet he’s a really great dude.

This DeSean Jackson TD is obviously the responsibility of Aaron Rodgers not being in the game.

Elsewhere, LeSean McCoy is KILLING IT.

Clay Matthews played with a thing on his hand that is so ridiculous it would probably be disallowed even in the WWE.

Vinny Curry is lovable.

Also, Philly’s play call sheets are cooler than yours.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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