Tag Archive | "Baltimore"

Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

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Levine works way up Ravens’ ladder to starting defensive role

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — You’d be hard pressed to find too many Ravens fans who knew Anthony Levine’s name prior to Sunday’s 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans.

Making his first career start for a revamped and injury-riddled secondary that was still licking its wounds from an embarrassing performance in Pittsburgh, the former safety seized the opportunity after previously playing just five defensive snaps in his entire NFL career. Levine finished with four tackles and two pass breakups while also earning Pro Football Focus’ highest single-game grade in pass coverage for any Ravens cornerback not named Jimmy Smith this season.

“I’ve been waiting for this for a long time,” Levine said after Sunday’s win. “To call myself a starting something in the NFL — whether it was safety, corner — I was happy to say that I was a starting corner today for the Baltimore Ravens.”

Of course, Levine’s success came against a rookie quarterback and a Tennessee passing game lacking bite and it remains to be seen if he’ll survive against more potent aerial attacks, but it’s difficult not to feel good for a third-year player who spent parts of three seasons on practice squads — originally with Green Bay and then Baltimore — before even getting a chance as a special-teams contributor. The Tennessee State product played all 16 games for the Ravens last season without receiving a single defensive snap, finishing second on the team in special-teams tackles and serving as the protector on the punt team.

After watching Levine serve as a core member of his units for the last two years, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg takes pride in seeing him become the latest special-teams player to make the transition to starter. Several former Ravens have made similar jumps in recent years, including linebackers Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe as well as cornerback Corey Graham.

“We hope that our players that are just playing special teams develop into players on their sides of the ball as well,” Rosburg said. “It’s my belief — perhaps it’s a slanted belief — that if you can be a good special-teams player, you should be a good player on offense and defense because it takes a lot of skill to play on special teams. It’s not a surprise to me that he’s developed skills that he can go out there and play for the Ravens in the secondary.”

To be fair, Levine’s opportunity to start wasn’t as much about improvement as it was about the Ravens’ injuries and attrition as the coaching staff didn’t anticipate throwing him into the fire this quickly until the Smith injury made the secondary’s issues even worse. After Levine practiced at safety in his first two years with the Ravens, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo had moved him to cornerback in training camp when injuries to Lardarius Webb, Smith, and Asa Jackson left the secondary shorthanded.

It was a position at which Levine had worked some before, and he’s downplayed the change because of how comfortable he’s always felt backpedaling, a skill needed at both safety and corner. The 27-year-old really began turning heads a couple weeks ago while practicing with the scout team against the starting offense as Pees and Spagnuolo noticed how effectively he was competing against the likes of Steve Smith and Torrey Smith in coverage.

Meanwhile, cornerbacks higher on the depth chart such as Dominique Franks and Chykie Brown continued to struggle, culminating with Ben Roethlisberger’s six-touchdown performance in Pittsburgh on Nov. 2. Two days later, those two were cut and Levine received a text message from Spagnuolo saying to be ready to practice leading up to the Tennessee game.

“He just has run with it. He’s a confident guy that competes,” said Spagnuolo, who told Levine he was starting the morning of the Titans game. “He loves to practice and is passionate about the game. There’s not a guy out there he doesn’t think he can cover. That’s a good quality for a corner.”

Sharing time with newly-acquired veteran Danny Gorrer, the 5-foot-11, 203-pound Levine was strong in run support and did a fine job keeping receivers in front of him, allowing only one reception for 13 yards on three passes thrown his way in coverage. Despite the first-quarter struggles of the defense, Levine made his presence felt on the opening drive when he dropped running back Bishop Sankey on a stretch play for only a 1-yard gain.

The post-game locker room featured several teammates praising Levine as a hard worker who had done everything he could for the opportunity. While most media and fans expected Gorrer to be the one to start at cornerback in the buildup to the Tennessee game, Webb complimented Levine’s performance in practice without being prompted last week, a hint that the special-teams player just might be the next man up.

“We all know that Levine can make plays in practice against the top receivers, Steve and Torrey,” Webb said following the game. “That’s how he is in practice, he’s always going 110 percent on special teams — all phases of special teams — and playing defense. You have to look up to that. He did a great job doing everything. He’s a corner, he’s a playmaker.”

Those labels are different than what Levine’s used to hearing after years as a practice-squad member, special-teams contributor, and scout-team player who remained anonymous with most of the outside football world.

Though the Ravens will continue to face questions in their secondary week after week, Levine was able to provide an answer for at least one Sunday. And he earned another shot after the bye against a more imposing opponent in the New Orleans Saints to prove that he’s not just a special-teams player playing out of position.

“Sometimes you have to be careful of pigeonholing guys like that,” Pees said. “Give them an opportunity, [and] then it’s up to them to run with it. I just think that’s a credit to them when they get the opportunity to seize it.”

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Duquette named Sporting News Executive of the Year

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Duquette named Sporting News Executive of the Year

Posted on 11 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette was named Sporting News Executive of the Year Monday night after guiding the Orioles to their first American League East title since 1997.

Duquette received the award from a panel of 33 major league executives who voted before the start of the 2014 postseason. This is the second time the 56-year-old has received the honor after previously winning with the Montreal Expos in 1992.

It’s not often that an executive receives the honor in the same year his most expensive acquisition — right-handed pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez — was an utter failure, but Duquette made plenty of savvy moves including signing slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year, $8 million contract. His best work, however, may have come during the season when he acquired left-handed reliever Andrew Miller at the non-waiver trade deadline and outfielder Alejandro De Aza before the waiver trade deadline in late August.

Other below-the-radar moves that paid major dividends for the Orioles in 2014 included Duquette being able to persuade Steve Pearce to re-sign after he was designated for assignment in April as well as adding right-hander Brad Brach, who blossomed into a reliable member of the Baltimore bullpen, and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Delmon Young last winter.

Duquette edged Kansas City Royals general manager Dayton Moore by one vote to receive the honor.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America will name its American League Manager of the Year Tuesday night with Orioles manager Buck Showalter one of three finalists.

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Cruz among 12 MLB free agents to reject qualifying offers

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Cruz among 12 MLB free agents to reject qualifying offers

Posted on 10 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline came and went with slugger Nelson Cruz rejecting the Orioles’ $15.3 million qualifying offer as expected.

In fact, all 12 free agents given qualifying offers by their respective 2014 clubs last week declined the one-year, $15.3 million contract. In the three offseasons since the concept was added to the current collective bargaining agreement, none of 34 qualifying offers have been accepted.

Cruz was expected to reject the offer all along as he seeks a multi-year deal after signing a one-year, $8 million contract with the Orioles last spring. The 34-year-old is reportedly looking for at least a four-year contract while executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the Orioles would prefer a shorter deal for Cruz, who is coming off a career season.

Should Cruz sign a contract with another team, the Orioles would receive a compensatory pick at the conclusion of the first round of June’s amateur draft. Any club signing a free agent who received a qualifying offer from his previous team must forfeit its first-round pick unless the team is picking in the top 10. In those cases, a team would then surrender its next-highest pick.

Representatives for Cruz and fellow free-agent outfielder Nick Markakis are expected to hold discussions with other clubs at this week’s Major League Baseball general managers’ meetings in Phoenix. The Orioles and Markakis have been discussing terms for what’s believed to be a four-year extension but have been unable to finalize a deal to this point.

The other free agents to reject qualifying offers were Michael Cuddyer (Colorado), Pablo Sandoval (San Francisco), Max Scherzer (Detroit), Victor Martinez (Detroit), Francisco Liriano (Pittsburgh), Russell Martin (Pittsburgh), Hanley Ramirez (Los Angeles Dodgers), James Shields (Kansas City), David Robertson (New York Yankees), Melky Cabrera (Toronto), and Ervin Santana (Atlanta).

Cuddyer became the first significant free agent to change teams Monday when he agreed to a two-year, $21 million contract with the New York Mets.

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Ravens crossing fingers Campanaro ready to return after bye

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Ravens crossing fingers Campanaro ready to return after bye

Posted on 10 November 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens entered their Week 11 bye with a relatively clean bill of health beyond last week’s news of cornerback Jimmy Smith undergoing season-ending foot surgery.

The only player on the current 53-man roster to miss Sunday’s game against Tennessee was rookie wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who continues to recover from a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 8 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The timing was unfortunate for the River Hill graduate after he was finally beginning to emerge with a role in the offense after being a healthy inactive in the first five games of the season.

Campanaro caught six passes for 85 yards and a touchdown in games against Tampa Bay, Atlanta, and Cincinnati before injuring his hamstring while returning a punt against the Bengals. Despite his slight stature at only 5-foot-9 and 185 pounds, the 23-year-old was becoming a nice complementary threat in the middle of the field, so the Ravens are hoping the bye week will give him the extra time needed to fully recover.

“We have our fingers crossed. I talked to Michael today, and he has his fingers crossed,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday afternoon. “He’ll be in here every day. All the injured guys will be in here every day [during the bye week]. They’ll all be in here working hard to get healthy.”

The Ravens reported no new injuries following the 21-7 win over Tennessee, but center Jeremy Zuttah (ankle) and right guard Marshal Yanda (knee) have recently been slowed by nagging injuries.

Meanwhile, the Ravens haven’t made a decision on the status of reserve offensive lineman Jah Reid after he broke his hand last week. The former third-round pick has been active in just four games this year, leaving many to question why he remains on the 53-man roster after never living up to expectations in his four NFL seasons.

Baltimore signed offensive tackle Terren Jones to its practice squad and waived defensive tackle Jamie Meder on Monday, perhaps a sign that Reid could be heading to injured reserve. However, Harbaugh wasn’t ready to make a declaration on the veteran lineman’s status when asked on Monday.

“We’re still discussing as far as how we’re going to handle that in terms of roster [management] right now,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how that goes.”

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Ravens miffed by CBS showing Harbaugh’s post-game comments

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Ravens miffed by CBS showing Harbaugh’s post-game comments

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Head coach John Harbaugh was understandably in a good mood following the 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans Sunday, but the Ravens weren’t happy that CBS aired his post-game comments referencing the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“That team beat us last week,” Harbaugh said to his team in the locker room at M&T Bank Stadium moments after the win. “Then, they went and got their ass kicked this week.”

The remarks were unlikely to raise too many eyebrows anyway after the Steelers laid a colossal egg in a 20-13 loss to the hapless New York Jets, but the Ravens issued a statement explaining how that part of Harbaugh’s speech was not approved for TV viewing.

Ironically, the video didn’t appear to go viral until after the Ravens drew attention to the gaffe with their statement.

“The comments made by John Harbaugh in the locker room following today’s victory over the Titans were meant for Ravens players and coaches only,” senior vice president of public and community relations Kevin Byrne said. “The CBS-TV crew that was in the locker room was told by coach Harbaugh that it could not broadcast what he was about to say. When coach Harbaugh finished talking about various things happening around the NFL and in the AFC North, he told the crew that it could now use what he was going to say. Inexplicably, CBS-TV then aired comments coach Harbaugh specifically said were not to leave the locker room. CBS-TV immediately pulled the video and apologized to the Ravens.”

Truthfully, those taking offense to Harbaugh’s comments are only showing a lack of experience in post-game locker room settings — at any level — that are often emotional and oozing with testosterone. Harbaugh and the Ravens were fully aware that they were embarrassed by Pittsburgh a week earlier, but that wasn’t going to stop them from reveling in a division rival’s loss on the same day that they won. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and his team would have every right to do the same — and undoubtedly have done so — whenever the roles are flipped.

CBS issued its own statement reiterating that the network had made a mistake in airing Harbaugh’s comments that can be seen in part below.

“We broadcast a clip during our postgame show that should not have aired,” CBS spokesperson Jennifer Sabatelle said. “We immediately pulled it down and called the Baltimore Ravens to apologize.”

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Revamped Ravens secondary passes first test against inexperienced Titans

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Revamped Ravens secondary passes first test against inexperienced Titans

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On the same day the Ravens shook up their secondary by cutting Chykie Brown and Dominique Franks, backup Anthony Levine received a text message from secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo telling him to be ready.

You’d forgive the reserve safety and special-teams player if he didn’t know exactly what his position coach meant on Tuesday night after he had played all of five defensive snaps through the first nine games of the season, but months of practicing at cornerback finally paid off Sunday with Levine making his first career start in the Ravens’ 21-7 win over the Tennessee Titans. The 27-year-old finished the game with four tackles and two pass breakups while splitting time with the newly-acquired Danny Gorrer at cornerback opposite starter Lardarius Webb.

“It’s something that we’ve kind of been watching for a number of weeks and months, I guess,” said head coach John Harbaugh about Levine’s play. “And he gets better every single week. I guess we’re not going to call him a safety anymore. He deserves to be called a corner, and he deserves it. He has played really well throughout the year, but he showed it in this game.”

After allowing the Titans to march down the field on their first two drives to start the game, the Ravens finally dialed up pressure and the secondary settled down to hold rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger to just 179 passing yards on 27 attempts. Five sacks and eight quarterback hits allowed the defensive backfield to play with some cushion as the Titans completed only one play greater than 17 yards, a 20-yard completion to Kendall Wright that came late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided.

A play later, Gorrer made his second career interception in his first game with the Ravens since the 2011 season. It was only the second pick made by a Baltimore defensive back all season, but it was an encouraging sign for a secondary trying to fill the void left by top cornerback Jimmy Smith in the final six games of the season.

Of course, Mettenberger and the Titans’ 24th-ranked passing offense aren’t exactly intimidating threats, but many wondered this week if the Ravens’ current secondary was capable of stopping anybody, making Sunday’s performance something on which to build. If anything, the win was a nice confidence boost before the reality sets in that the Ravens will be facing Pro Bowl quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in consecutive weeks after the bye.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” said Gorrer, who began the week as a member of the Detroit Lions before being waived last Monday and rejoining Baltimore a day later. “This is our profession, so no matter how it goes, you always have to be ready to step in. With Jimmy going down, it was time for me to step in and for the secondary to come together well and play decent.”

Levine and Gorrer weren’t the only ones with strong days in the secondary as rookie safety Terrence Brooks returned to action after being a healthy scratch in the Week 9 loss at Pittsburgh. Entering to play free safety in place of Darian Stewart in obvious passing situations, Brooks delivered what several defensive players called the game-changing play of the day with a vicious — but legal — hit to Delanie Walker that forced an incompletion and knocked the Titans tight end out of the game with a concussion late in the first half.

The Tennessee offense never threatened again and would gain only four more first downs the rest of the way and 45 total yards in the second half.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees once again used a committee approach to his pass defense with Webb, Gorrer, and Levine playing in the traditional nickel defense, safety Matt Elam serving as a big nickel for extra run support at times, and Will Hill making his second straight start at the safety position, registering three tackles and a pass breakup.

The questions will remain in the secondary, but Sunday provided a glimmer of hope that the secondary — supported with a consistent pass rush — might be able to hold up enough to keep the Ravens within striking distance of their sixth playoff appearance in the last seven years.

“We won, so I feel like we played well,” Levine said. “That was the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal was to win, and not get beat deep — and I don’t think they had any big plays today. I think we did a good job.”

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Slow starts by Ravens offense could prevent strong finish

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Slow starts by Ravens offense could prevent strong finish

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday was a good day for the Ravens as they embarked on their bye week with a 6-4 record and remained right in the thick of an AFC North race that features all four teams with winning records.

In addition to making it through Sunday’s victory over the Tennessee Titans without any significant injuries, a revamped secondary passed its first test and the Pittsburgh Steelers stubbed their toe to leave Cleveland alone in first place, further jumbling the AFC North with less than two months remaining in the regular season. Even with their struggles, injuries, and missed opportunities through the first 10 weeks, the Ravens are in perfect position to make a run in a division in which just a half-game separates first and last place.

But it would be a lie to suggest the 21-7 win over the 2-7 Titans went exactly as planned as the final score didn’t reflect just how uncomfortable the Ravens were for a sizable portion of the afternoon. In fact, Baltimore was fortunate to be tied 7-7 at halftime after the Titans had fumbled at the Ravens’ 1-yard line on the opening drive of the game.

“We weren’t playing very well,” Harbaugh said about his team’s performance in the first half. “We were out of sync, we weren’t handling pressures, we couldn’t run the ball, we couldn’t cut them off in the back side. They owned the line of scrimmage there in the first half, but we managed to figure out a couple ideas, hit a couple passes, and start to crack them in the run game.”

The Ravens did make the adjustments to make some plays through the air in the second half and rush for an impressive 151 yards while committing zero turnovers, but Sunday marked the third straight week in which the offense has started slowly. It’s a frustrating development after the unit appeared to be finding its stride last month when the Ravens scored a combined 77 points in wins over Tampa Bay and Atlanta.

In their last three games, the Ravens have managed to score just 23 total points in the first half. Of course, struggling on the road against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh isn’t shocking, but managing just seven points and 86 total yards in the first half at home against the Titans’ 23rd-ranked defense isn’t encouraging with consecutive games against top 10 passing offenses — New Orleans and San Diego — coming right after the bye. A difficult road game at playoff-contending Miami follows after that.

It’s fair to point out that the Titans were coming off their own bye and had an extra week to prepare, but Gary Kubiak’s offense should have been able to jump on a defense that ranked 28th against the run and 22nd in points allowed per game. Instead, the Ravens couldn’t pass, run, or block for much of the first 30 minutes of the game aside from a 46-yard touchdown drive midway through the second quarter that was set up by excellent field position.

“They really came up after us and played a lot of cover zero and tried to get us off balance as much as they could,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 16 of 27 passes for 169 yards and a 32-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith in the fourth quarter. “They were able to get some guys free to defend our passing game. It was tough sledding in there, but I thought we hung in there really well. It was a really tough game and nothing came easy and we really had to grind it out.”

The Ravens did what was needed in the second half and rushed 16 times for 85 yards in the fourth quarter to chew the clock, but they’ll need much more from their offense over the final six weeks of the season to keep themselves in good position to make it back to the playoffs. New cornerbacks Anthony Levine and Danny Gorrer deserve credit for the way they held up in the secondary, but Baltimore can’t depend on its defense to turn in the same kind of performance against teams with proven offenses.

And Kubiak needs to figure out a way to get his offense going more quickly than it has in the last few weeks. Whether it’s making quicker adjustments to counteract the A-gap blitzes that have given Flacco and the offensive line difficulty or being more imaginative with passing routes, the Ravens offense needs to be able to find a tempo from the very beginning instead of having it dictated to them like it has over the last three games.

“We have to be able to bounce back,” said Forsett, who rushed for a season-high 112 yards and two touchdowns. “Sometimes, you start slow, but you’ve got to be able to finish strong, and we showed some resilience. I’m proud of the way we worked today.”

The Ravens should feel good about the win and where they stand in the playoff hunt while they reap the benefits of a week off, but the offense needs to be able to explode out of the gate for the final six weeks.

They’re going to need faster starts to be able to finish strong down the stretch.

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Ravens-Titans: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Titans: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 09 November 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Looking to enter their bye week on a winning note, the Ravens welcome the Tennessee Titans to M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since 2008.

A two-game losing streak has landed Baltimore in last place in the AFC North despite a 5-4 record, but the Titans have lost six of seven under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt. Tennessee has also handed the offensive reins over to rookie Zach Mettenberger, who will be making his second career start in one of the NFL’s most hostile environments.

After learning that top cornerback Jimmy Smith would miss the rest of the season after undergoing foot surgery on Thursday, the Ravens are trying to solve their secondary woes with veteran Danny Gorrer and young cornerbacks Tramain Jacobs and Rashaan Melvin added to the 53-man roster this week. Gorrer previously played 11 games with the Ravens in the 2011 season and has bounced around the league ever since while Jacobs and Melvin entered Week 10 having not played a game in the NFL.

Gorrer and Jacobs are both active and expected to receive work along with incumbent starter Lardarius Webb and veteran defensive back Anthony Levine while Melvin is inactive after just being signed to the 53-man roster on Saturday. Rookie safety Terrence Brooks is also active after being deactivated for last week’s loss at Pittsburgh.

Based on pre-game warmups, it appeared that Levine would be starting at cornerback in the base defense.

After being removed from the reserve physically unable to perform list this week, defensive tackle Terrence Cody is inactive against Tennessee. A bigger surprise was the decision to deactivate defensive end DeAngelo Tyson after he was recently starting in place of Chris Canty while the veteran recovered from wrist surgery. The Ravens chose to have Lawrence Guy active as Tyson is inactive for the first time this season.

Safety Brynden Trawick is also inactive for the first time all year.

Reserve linebackers Arthur Brown and Zachary Orr are both active and expected to play on special teams.

Meanwhile, the Titans will be without starting nose tackle Sammie Hill, who is out with a hamstring injury. Al Woods is expected to start in his place, a development that doesn’t bode well for the league’s 28th-ranked run defense.

The Ravens will be playing Tennessee for the 18th time in their regular-season history as they own an 8-9 record. The teams are tied 4-4 in eight regular-season meetings in Baltimore. Of course, the Ravens and Titans have met three times in the postseason with Baltimore prevailing in two of them.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Walt Coleman.

According to Weather.com, the forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-50s with winds up to seven miles per hour.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with black pants for Sunday’s game while Tennessee dons its white tops with navy blue pants.

Below are the inactives for Sunday:

BALTIMORE
DT Terrence Cody
DE DeAngelo Tyson
C Gino Gradkowski
OL Jah Reid
CB Rashaan Melvin
WR Michael Campanaro
S Brynden Trawick

TENNESSEE
QB Charlie Whitehurst
WR Kris Durham
RB Antonio Andrews
CB Brandon Harris
OT Will Svitek
TE Brett Brackett
NT Sammie Hill

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Ravens sign cornerback Melvin off Dolphins practice squad

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Ravens sign cornerback Melvin off Dolphins practice squad

Posted on 08 November 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens added another young cornerback to the mix Saturday by signing Rashaan Melvin off the practice squad of the Miami Dolphins.

To make room on the 53-man roster, injured cornerback Jimmy Smith was officially moved to injured reserve after undergoing season-ending foot surgery on Thursday.

Melvin will be eligible to play in Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans as he becomes the third cornerback added to the active roster this week, joining veteran Danny Gorrer and former practice-squad member Tramain Jacobs. The 25-year-old Melvin was undrafted out of Northern Illinois in 2013 despite possessing good size at 6-foot-2 and 193 pounds.

Originally signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Melvin spent the 2013 season on injured reserve and initially made the Buccaneers’ 53-man roster this year before being cut in mid-September. He was slowed by an ankle injury suffered in the preseason before being signed to the Dolphins’ practice squad.

The Ravens now have four healthy cornerbacks on their 53-man roster: veteran Lardarius Webb, the recently-waived Gorrer, and Jacobs and Melvin, two players who were on practice squads at the beginning of the week.

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Titans: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 08 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Renewing what was once a fierce rivalry in the days of the AFC Central, the Ravens welcome the Tennessee Titans to Baltimore for their first meeting since the 2011 season.

In recent years, the Ravens and Titans have gone in opposite directions with Baltimore consistently being one of the better teams in the AFC and Tennessee not having made the playoffs since 2008. This season has been no different as the 5-4 Ravens are still in the playoff hunt despite losing two straight while the Titans have struggled to a 2-6 record under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Coming off their bye, the Titans have lost six of seven and have handed the reins of their offense to a sixth-round rookie quarterback. In contrast, the Ravens hope to regain some momentum going into their bye as they try to find answers in the secondary following the season-ending loss of cornerback Jimmy Smith.

Sunday marks the 18th regular-season meeting between Baltimore and Tennessee with the Titans holding a 9-8 advantage. The series in Baltimore is tied 4-4 with Tennessee coming to M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since the 2008 season.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 6-4 and keep pace in the AFC North …

1. Lardarius Webb will record his first interception of the 2014 season. The Ravens surviving in the secondary would be easier if Webb begins playing more like he did a couple years ago when he was emerging as one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC before his second ACL injury. He acknowledged this week that he needs to step up his performance after moving back into a full-time role over the last month. The Ravens’ only interception in the secondary this year was made by Smith against Tampa Bay, but more opportunities will come against Zach Mettenberger and the rookie will be pressured into making a bad throw that Webb will take advantage of.

2. Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey will pick up a sack, but the Baltimore offensive line will bounce back from last week’s showing in Pittsburgh. The Ravens were poor in pass protection last week with Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, and Kelechi Osemele all struggling against the Steelers’ rush, and Casey is one of the best 3-technique defensive linemen in the NFL. Slowing him will be a challenge, but Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and Osemele will be ready as the Ravens will do a better job protecting Joe Flacco. The defensive front is one of the Titans’ biggest strengths, but the Ravens won’t be caught by surprise like they were with a turn-back-the-clock performance by James Harrison last week.

3. Justin Forsett will go over the century mark for the second time this year as the Ravens rush for a season-high 175 yards. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak spoke earlier this week about the inability to run the ball as effectively against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, so expect the Ravens to try to exploit the league’s 28th-ranked run defense. Baltimore will be aggressive to establish a lead before turning it over to the running game with Forsett being the most trustworthy of the backs. In the first half of their last two games, the Ravens carried 30 times for 103 yards before needing to essentially abandon the run in the second half, but they’ll be effective running between the tackles throughout Sunday’s game.

4. Zach Mettenberger will throw two touchdowns, but the damage won’t come until the second half. Much like they did against Tampa Bay a few weeks ago, the Ravens will bring pressure and play strong defense in the first half to hold a sizable lead before loosening the reins in the final 30 minutes, which will lead to some opportunities for Mettenberger. The rookie has some decent weapons in tight end Delanie Walker and young receivers Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright, so Sunday will offer a low-pressure tuneup for the likes of Danny Gorrer and Tramain Jacobs in the secondary. A porous offensive line will make it a long first half for Mettenberger before the Ravens call off the dogs and sit back in coverage with a big lead.

5. The Ravens will feel better about themselves going into the bye week with a 31-16 win over Tennessee. This game might make you nervous if it were being played in Nashville, but the Ravens just don’t lose home games to bad football teams with rookie quarterbacks, which is what the Titans are. Playing in Baltimore will help Flacco and the offense bounce back after a couple rough weeks and the Ravens will take better care of the football. The secondary will have a respectable effort, but there won’t be much to take away from this game as the coaching staff will try to figure things out in the back end during the off-week. Their issues are obvious, but a 6-4 record still keeps the Ravens in decent position for a postseason run.

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