Tag Archive | "Baltimore"

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J. Smith, Jernigan absent from Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 17 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Moving closer to their big Week 11 encounter with the Dallas Cowboys, the Ravens were without seven players during Thursday’s practice session.

Headlining the list was No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, who missed his second straight workout with a back issue. Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed the ailment on Wednesday and expressed confidence that Smith would be able to play on Sunday.

Harbaugh also said that he expected Smith to practice this week, making his status for Friday’s workout worth monitoring. Assuming he is able to play, the sixth-year defensive back will likely be trusted to match up with two-time Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (shoulder) was a new absences on Thursday after not being listed on the injury report a day earlier.

Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh), and left guard Alex Lewis (ankle) were also missing from Thursday’s practice. Taliaferro was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday, making it likely that he suffered the injury during practice.

The Ravens also gave linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah the day off. Zuttah played through a mild ankle sprain in last week’s win over Cleveland while it’s no secret that Suggs is playing with a torn left biceps.

For the second straight day, right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) were present and working as full participants. Dumervil wouldn’t confirm Thursday whether he would play against Dallas, but he believes he’s “really close” to being his old self from a physical standpoint after being shut down just over five weeks ago.

“Just the strength [is better],” said Dumervil, who has appeared in only two games this year after undergoing offseason foot surgery. “I think last time, as a competitor, as a winner, you just want to go out [and play]. Sometimes it is good to listen, and I learned that.”

Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith (back/hip) returned to practice on a limited basis after sitting out on Wednesday.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), G Alex Lewis (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), CB Jimmy Smith (back), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

DALLAS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Barry Church (forearm), CB Morris Claiborne (groin)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Chaz Green (foot/back), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back), OT Tyron Smith (back/hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Tony Romo (back)

 

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Ravens, Cowboys looking to reign supreme in running game

Posted on 16 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Something has to give between the Ravens and the Cowboys on Sunday.

It’s the No. 1 run defense against the top rushing attack in the NFL.

The Cowboys have run for more than 100 yards in every game this season while Baltimore has allowed more than 65 rushing yards in a game just twice. It’s the kind of game outside linebacker Terrell Suggs has relished throughout his 14-year career while playing on some of the better defenses in franchise history.

These Ravens are out to prove they belong in that conversation.

“You want to play against the best,” Suggs said. “When you were 10 years old, you were like, ‘I want to go play in the NFL. I want to be considered one of the best players in the NFL.’ To be the best, you have to play the best. It is a challenge for our defense, but we accept it.”

No one anticipated this kind of success for the Cowboys, who have been led by two rookies on their way to an 8-1 start. Fourth-round quarterback Dak Prescott has taken the league by storm after replacing an injured Tony Romo in the preseason, but first-round running back Ezekiel Elliott has proven why he was the first running back selected in the top five overall picks of the draft in four years.

Leading the NFL with 1,0005 rushing yards and ranking fourth among qualified players in yards per carry (5.1), Elliott would have garnered much consideration from the Ravens had he fallen to the sixth overall pick, according to head coach John Harbaugh. The Ohio State product has emerged as a league MVP candidate with a combination of rare explosiveness and mature vision.

“I think he already had that. I don’t think they had to teach it to him,” Harbaugh said. “That’s why they drafted him where he was. He’s a special guy. The offensive line [also] deserves a lot of credit for the success they’re having.”

Though Elliott is a unique talent, the Dallas offensive line is the primary reason why he has a legitimate chance to break the rookie rushing record of 1,808 yards set by Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson in 1983. Comprised of three former first-round picks, the Cowboys unit is the highest graded in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

Elliott has gained a whopping 439 rushing yards before contact, illustrating how much his offensive line has aided in his instant stardom. In contrast, the Ravens have run for a total of just 773 yards in 2016.

The Cowboys have played their share of shoddy run defenses — a list including San Francisco, Washington, Cincinnati, and Cleveland — but they largely had their way with top 10 run defenses in Green Bay, Chicago, and the New York Giants as well. In fact, the Packers entered Week 6 as the No. 1 run defense in the league and proceeded to give up 191 yards on 33 rushing attempts in a 30-16 home loss to Dallas.

“I definitely think they’re the most athletic,” said defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan about the Cowboys offensive line. “They can go from sideline to sideline, make the cut, blocks on the backside and those different things. It’s going to be a challenge for us. But at the same time, I don’t think they’ve seen a front like ours, either.

“It’s going to be on, and we’re going to be ready for the challenge.”

As impressive as the Dallas ground game has been, the Ravens’ run defense may own a more eye-popping résumé.

Consider that Baltimore has allowed a league-low 3.3 yards per carry while also giving up the longest run of the entire NFL season when Cleveland’s Isaiah Crowell ran for an 85-yard touchdown in Week 2. That blemish can’t be erased, of course, but the Ravens have surrendered just under 2.9 yards per carry in opponents’ other 193 rushing attempts this season.

Baltimore has given up just two other runs of 20 or more yards this season while facing five teams — Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, Washington, and the New York Jets — currently ranking in the top 10 in yards per carry. Of the two occasions the Ravens have surrendered more than 65 rushing yards, one was the game in which Crowell recorded his league-long run and the other was against the Jets in Week 7 when Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley — two of the Ravens’ best run defenders — were out with injuries.

This stingy run defense falls well short of the 2000 Ravens who allowed a microscopic 2.68 rushing yards per carry in a historic season, but an imposing front seven led by nose tackle Brandon Williams, Mosley, and Suggs has its chance to make its biggest statement of the year by slowing Elliott and the red-hot Cowboys. That will be Baltimore’s best chance in trying to pull off the upset on Sunday.

Something will have to give.

“It’s what, nine games in? We’ve stopped the run, but are we going to slip up now and not be able to stop the run?” Harbaugh said. “You have to play every game the next week like it’s the most important game of the season. Our guys understand that. Our guys are going to get ready to play.”

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Dumervil, Yanda return while J. Smith misses practice for Ravens

Posted on 16 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing for their toughest challenge of the 2016 season, the Ravens welcomed back some much-needed reinforcements to the practice field on Wednesday.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) and right guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) returned as full participants in practice as Baltimore gets ready for a Week 11 contest at Dallas. Dumervil last played against Washington on Oct. 9 while Yanda has missed three of the last four games.

Despite major concerns about the health of his left shoulder, Yanda is trying to push through the pain to help a struggling offensive line that lost starting left guard Alex Lewis to a high ankle sprain in Week 10. Prior to last month, Yanda hadn’t missed a game since the end of the 2012 regular season.

“I’m a team guy. If I can play at a high level and help the team, I’m going to be out there no matter what,” said Yanda, who has declined to discuss details of the injury. “It’s one of those things that I pride myself in, and I feel like I owe it to the team and the guys in the locker room to be out there if I can. If I’m not out there, yeah, it’s a tough deal. I try to never let it happen, but you can’t control things sometimes.”

Dumervil has appeared in just two games this season while dealing with a slow recovery from offseason foot surgery. His healthy return would be a major boost to an edge pass rush that’s relied too heavily on Terrell Suggs this season.

The Ravens are hoping the additional five weeks away from the field allowed Dumervil to recapture the explosiveness and strength he lacked playing against Oakland and Washington.

“He came back out here before and teased us a little bit. I guess he let us get to second base,” said Suggs as he laughed, referring to Dumervil’s brief return to action early last month. “He let us get to second base, but hopefully we get him out there [all the way].”

It remains to be seen whether Yanda or Dumervil will play against the Cowboys, but their full participation was certainly a good sign for the first-place Ravens.

The bad news on Wednesday was the absence of top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was listed as dealing with a back issue. Head coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism about his status, which was good news since the Ravens need his 6-foot-2, 210-pound frame to contest with Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant.

“I don’t anticipate it being a concern,” Harbaugh said. “He should be out there Sunday. I expect him to practice here this week.”

A day after promoting Asa Jackson to the 53-man roster, the Ravens also saw cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring) return to practice after missing the last three games. Linebacker Kamalei Correa (thigh) also returned to practice for the first time since the bye week.

Tight end Crockett Gillmore remains sidelined with a thigh injury that surfaced during the bye.

Meanwhile, the Cowboys were without starting left tackle Tyron Smith (back/hip) and starting cornerback Morris Claiborne (groin). Injured in the Cowboys’ Week 8 win over Philadelphia, Claiborne is not expected to play against the Ravens.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), G Alex Lewis (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), CB Shareece Wright (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

DALLAS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Barry Church (forearm), CB Morris Claiborne (groin), OT Tyron Smith (back/hip)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OT Chaz Green (foot/back), DE DeMarcus Lawrence (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Tony Romo (back)

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Ravens in position to take advantage of down AFC North

Posted on 15 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens haven’t really looked the part of a division champion through the first nine games of the season.

They didn’t win a game in the month of October.

The offensive line can’t stay healthy and the offense ranks in the NFL’s bottom 10 in most statistical categories.

Three of their five victories have come against two teams who’ve gone a combined 2-17.

Their highly-paid quarterback has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns and is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career.

And yet the 5-4 Ravens are in sole possession of first place and have the only winning record in the AFC North entering the latter half of November. Flawed as they might be, the rest of a struggling division envies Baltimore’s position with Thanksgiving right around the corner.

Since divisional realignment took place in 2002, the champion of the AFC North hasn’t won fewer than 10 games. Including the history of the old AFC Central, you’d have to go back to 1990 when Cincinnati went 9-7 to find a division champion with fewer than 10 wins.

Barring dramatic improvement from Baltimore, Pittsburgh (4-5), or Cincinnati (3-5-1) over the final seven games, no team appears likely to reach that 10-win plateau. It’s no sure thing that anyone even reaches nine wins, either, especially when you’re reminded that the Ravens still have to face four non-division teams currently sporting winning records.

With the Bengals’ loss to the New York Giants on Monday night, the AFC North fell to 7-19-1 in non-division games in 2016. Even removing winless Cleveland from the equation, the AFC North holds the worst winning percentage in non-division games among the NFL’s eight divisions.

In short, it’s been a bad year for a proud division that’s sent at least two teams to the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons. But the Ravens are in solid position to take advantage of the mediocrity.

John Harbaugh’s team faces a difficult task playing at Dallas on Sunday, but three of Baltimore’s next four games after that will be played at M&T Bank Stadium. Winning all three of those home games against Cincinnati, Miami, and Philadelphia would put the Ravens in position to finish 9-7 if they can win just one more road game down the stretch. The Christmas Day game at Pittsburgh would be the most meaningful from a potential tie-breaking standpoint.

The offense is likely to remain the Ravens’ Achilles heel with the injuries along the offensive line, but a defense ranking first in yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and third-down defense and ranking in the top five in several other statistical categories is eager to prove it belongs among the more special groups in franchise history. The Ravens will have their chance to show it with several tough opponents on the horizon.

The path will be difficult, but it’s looking better than the rest of a down AFC North at the moment.

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Ravens promote cornerback Jackson to 53-man roster

Posted on 15 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens promoted cornerback Asa Jackson to the 53-man roster and placed rookie defensive tackle Willie Henry on injured reserve on Tuesday.

A 2012 fifth-round pick out of Cal Poly, Jackson was signed to the practice squad last month after spending the preseason with the Arizona Cardinals. The 5-foot-10, 183-pound defensive back will add depth to the secondary and could also factor into Baltimore’s plans for the return game.

Veteran return specialist Devin Hester has struggled to provide much of a spark and has fumbled four times in eight games this season. Those difficulties helped prompt the Ravens to re-sign Jackson and third-year wide receiver Michael Campanaro to the practice squad in recent weeks.

Jackson entered the 2015 preseason as the favorite to replace the departed Jacoby Jones as the Ravens’ return specialist, but issues with ball security led to him being cut at the end of the preseason. The 26-year-old has not logged a single kick or punt return in his five-year career, but he has shown explosiveness as a returner in preseason games.

In 18 career NFL games, Jackson has collected 30 tackles and three pass breakups.

Henry was inactive for all but one game this season and hadn’t appeared in a single game. The fourth-round pick from Michigan was not listed on the injury report at any point in recent weeks, making this an apparent IR stash for the future.

Despite plenty of pessimism regarding the status of veteran right guard Marshal Yanda and rookie left guard Alex Lewis, neither was placed on IR on Tuesday afternoon. Lewis is expected to miss at least six weeks with a high ankle sprain while Yanda is trying to play through a serious left shoulder injury that’s sidelined him for three of the last four games.

The Ravens also signed guard Jarrod Pughsley and tight end Austin Traylor to their practice squad and cut quarterback David Fales for the second time in the last week. The addition of Traylor could be a sign that Crockett Gillmore is not yet ready to return from a thigh injury as Baltimore has signed a tight end to the practice squad for a third consecutive week with only two healthy tight ends — Dennis Pitta and Darren Waller — on the active roster.

Earlier this month, tight ends Nic Jacobs and then Mitchell Henry were signed and released at the end of the practice week as they were merely used on scout teams during workouts.

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Trumbo rejects Orioles’ qualifying offer to become free agent

Posted on 14 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Outfielder Mark Trumbo rejected the Orioles’ $17.2 million qualifying offer on Monday, officially making him a free agent.

His decision to turn down the one-year offer was expected after Trumbo led the major leagues with 47 home runs in 2016. The Orioles will now receive a compensatory draft pick at the end of the first round of the 2017 draft should Trumbo sign with another club this winter.

Executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette and the Orioles have expressed interest in re-signing the 30-year-old to a long-term deal, but they would prefer to make him their regular designated hitter while upgrading their defense in right field. Despite a career-high .850 on-base plus slugging percentage to go along with 108 runs batted in, Trumbo finished at minus-11 defensive runs saved in the outfield, which damaged his overall value as a player.

Because of that below-average defense, Trumbo finished 11th on the 2016 Orioles in wins above replacement at 1.6, according to Baseball Reference.

His career season at the plate earned Trumbo an invitation to his second All-Star Game as well as a Silver Slugger Award, but he hit just .214 with a .754 OPS after the All-Star break. His .256 batting average for the season was just above his career .251 mark.

Trumbo is projected by MLB Trade Rumors to fetch a four-year, $60 million deal that wouldn’t be far off the four-year, $57 million contract Seattle gave former Oriole Nelson Cruz two years ago, but it remains to be seen how the draft-pick stipulation might impact Trumbo’s value on the open market, especially with a number of other attractive outfield options available.

Seven other major league free agents rejected qualifying offers from their former teams before Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline: outfielders Jose Bautista (Toronto), Yoenis Cespedes (New York Mets), Ian Desmond (Texas), and Dexter Fowler (Chicago Cubs), first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (Toronto), closer Kenley Jansen (Los Angeles Dodgers), and third baseman Justin Turner (Dodgers). Two players — Mets second baseman Neil Walker and Philadelphia starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson — accepted offers to remain with their current clubs for the 2017 season.

Trumbo becomes the fourth player to reject a qualifying offer from the Orioles over the last three offseasons, joining Cruz, starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen, and first baseman Chris Davis. Of course, Davis eventually signed a seven-year, $161 million deal to remain in Baltimore last winter while Chen and Cruz signed elsewhere.

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No apparent relief in sight for Ravens offensive line

Posted on 14 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are alone in first place in the AFC North this late in a season for the first time since 2012, but the state of their offensive line is once again moving in the wrong direction.

And it doesn’t appear that any relief is in sight.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced Monday that starting left guard Alex Lewis will miss an estimated six weeks with the high ankle sprain sustained in the 28-7 win over Cleveland. The Ravens remain hopeful that the rookie fourth-round pick can still return this season after an estimated six-week recovery. Television replays showed his right ankle bending in a gruesome way, an injury that led to medical staff putting his leg in an air cast before he was carted off the field.

The Lewis news was bad enough, but Harbaugh’s comments regarding the status of right guard Marshal Yanda prompted even more concern on Monday. The five-time Pro Bowl selection missed two games in October with a left shoulder injury and had returned after the bye week to play against Pittsburgh, but he was once again sidelined for Week 10, leaving obvious concern for his status moving forward.

“We’ll let you know as we go,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see how he progresses.”

Widely regarded as the best guard in the NFL and the leader of the Baltimore offensive line, Yanda hadn’t missed a game since the end of the 2012 regular season before hurting his shoulder against Washington on Oct. 9. He was attempting to play through the injury by wearing a harness, but the shoulder clearly didn’t respond well from playing 70 snaps against the Steelers.

Veteran Vladimir Ducasse started in place of Yanda against Cleveland and third-year lineman John Urschel took over for Lewis at left guard in the second half, but the Ravens had hoped their offensive line was finally getting healthy after the bye week. Their original starting five played together against Pittsburgh for the first time since Week 3, but the Ravens were forced to use their sixth different starting combination along the offensive line in Week 10.

Their seventh different combination is now expected to start against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

With their line in disarray for much of the year, the Ravens have struggled to run the ball and consistently protect quarterback Joe Flacco, who is having one of the worst seasons of his nine-year career. Baltimore currently ranks 28th in the NFL in averaging just 3.5 yards per carry while the passing game ranks 31st at just 6.3 yards per attempt this season.

Fortunately for Baltimore, rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley bounced back from a rough performance in his return against the Steelers to fare much better against the Browns last Thursday. The sixth overall pick of the 2016 draft missed four games with a foot injury that sidelined him for the entire month of October.

Center Jeremy Zuttah is the only Ravens offensive lineman to start all nine games this season, but the veteran played through back and ankle issues in the Week 10 win.

In other injury-related news, Harbaugh said outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is getting closer to returning to practice after he was shut down last month in his return from offseason foot surgery. The five-time Pro Bowl selection has appeared in just two games this season and last played on Oct. 9.

“He is getting closer. I am hoping it is very close,” Harbaugh said. “We will just have to see. When he starts practicing, you will know. It should be right there.”

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Eight days change outlook of season for Ravens

Posted on 13 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Just over a week ago, the Ravens were coming off the bye with their season dangerously close to circling the drain before Thanksgiving.

Two victories and two Pittsburgh losses later, Baltimore wakes up Monday in sole possession of first place in the AFC North. That winless October now feels like a long time ago as the 5-4 Ravens are the only team in the division above .500.

Even if you still aren’t ready to believe in the Ravens with their well-known issues, the Steelers (4-5) are now in the midst of their own four-game losing streak after falling to Dallas in the closing seconds at Heinz Field on Sunday. It wasn’t a divisional showdown like the Ravens’ 21-14 win over Pittsburgh the previous week, but the game felt no less pivotal for the struggling Steelers, who will now play four of their next five on the road.

The Steelers were considered the early class of the division after winning four of their first five, but that is no longer the case in mid-November as Ezekiel Elliott’s last-second touchdown changed the landscape of the AFC North on Sunday evening.

The attention now shifts to Cincinnati’s Monday road game against the New York Giants as a win would move the Bengals (3-4-1) into sole possession of second place. In two weeks, the Ravens will try to snap their five-game losing streak against the Bengals that dates back to the 2013 season.

Of course, seven weeks remain in the regular season with the Ravens playing road games against two first-place teams — Dallas and New England — and against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the final two weeks. Their final two home games come against Miami and Philadelphia, who both own winning records and are better than anyone expected them to be at the start of the season.

No matter how mediocre the rest of the division looks, it still won’t be easy for Baltimore.

The Ravens’ problems on offense can’t be dismissed despite a 22-point second-half outburst against Cleveland on Thursday, but a very strong defense and the Steelers’ struggles suddenly make the path to a division title appear less daunting. Pittsburgh will have an easier task next week with a road game against the winless Browns while the Ravens must play at one-loss Dallas, but Baltimore will be firmly in the division mix at Thanksgiving no matter what the Steelers and Bengals do.

You can’t ask for more than that after losing four straight in October.

The chances of a wild card appear bleak for any AFC North team with the AFC West currently sporting three seven-win teams, but a 9-7 record is looking more and more like the mark to win the division.

And even with the difficult remaining schedule, that goal looks more attainable after a fruitful eight days for the Ravens.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win over Cleveland

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back above .500 after a 28-7 victory over winless Cleveland on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Watching Terrell Suggs get the best of nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas was special. He’s playing with one arm and isn’t the consistent game-wrecker he used to be, but the 34-year-old turned in a vintage performance with a strip sack and a pass defense leading to an interception.

2. He recovered nicely to throw three touchdown passes, but Joe Flacco looked jumpy and frenetic in the pocket throughout the first half. The Ravens can only hope his second-half rebound is a sign of better things to come, but that third-quarter interception in the end zone was ugly.

3. Marty Mornhinweg should continue using the crossing routes and slants we saw in the second half against the Browns. There’s no reason not to use the speed of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman while letting Flacco get rid of the ball quickly.

4. We’ve talked plenty about Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, but nickel cornerback Jerraud Powers turned in a strong performance. He broke up a pass the only time a Cleveland quarterback threw his way and intercepted another that was knocked up into the air.

5. You could tell how relieved John Harbaugh was to be able to smile and exhale over the final few minutes of Thursday’s 21-point win. Twenty-two of your previous 24 games being decided by a single possession will take a toll.

6. Jeremy Zuttah has had his struggles this season, but he’s the only Baltimore offensive lineman to start all nine games. Give the center credit for pushing through back and ankle issues to play 72 of 82 offensive snaps, especially after left guard Alex Lewis left with an ugly ankle injury.

7. It’s looking more and more like the offensive line problems aren’t going to be fixed this season. Lewis had looked good at left guard the last two games while the status of five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda remains in question. Those are crippling losses.

8. Some of the gold numbers were difficult to read, but I give the “Color Rush” uniform a passing grade, especially compared to those of other teams. I’d like to see the striping on those purple pants added to the Ravens’ black pants that are too dull.

9. Every time Michael Pierce turns in another strong performance, I can’t help but think it pushes pending free agent Brandon Williams a little further out the door. The rookie free agent recorded a tackle for a loss and batted a pass at the line of scrimmage.

10. Josh McCown had past success against the Ravens, but Hue Jackson’s decision to bench Cody Kessler was still baffling. Kessler wasn’t great, but that was a quick hook for a rookie who had outplayed Flacco to that point and orchestrated a touchdown drive in the first half.

11. They can’t do it exclusively, but the no-huddle offense needs to become a bigger part of what the Ravens do after it led to two touchdowns in the second half. It could put some strain on the defense, but you have to do whatever it takes to get Flacco going.

12. Watching Steve Smith’s eyes light up when asked about doing the Ray Lewis dance reminds us how much the 37-year-old still feels like a kid. After getting permission from Lewis to do the dance, Smith watched some YouTube videos to make sure he got it right. Having fun matters.

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Youthful contributions offer hope for Ravens in second half and beyond

Posted on 11 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — It may well have been only fool’s gold against the worst team in the NFL, but the Ravens could still feel good about themselves after scoring a season high for points in a 28-7 win over Cleveland.

After an ugly first half in which they managed only two field goals, the second-half explosion was a confidence boost that a struggling offense desperately needed. After weeks of producing so little against mediocre-to-poor units, Baltimore was finally able to make a bad defense look, well, bad.

The first-place Ravens hope they can build off their 22-point output against the Browns in the second half, but it was the contributions of three young offensive players that offered the most excitement in Thursday’s win. Now preparing for a daunting seven-game stretch to conclude the 2016 regular season, the Ravens need more contributions from Breshad Perriman, Kenneth Dixon, and even Darren Waller like they received on Thursday night.

Veterans such as Steve Smith, Mike Wallace, and Dennis Pitta will continue to be the primary options for Joe Flacco in the passing game, but any successful offense needs meaningful contributions from others in any given week, especially against formidable opponents. After a season and a half of frustration primarily stemming from injuries, Perriman made a terrific adjustment on a 27-yard touchdown catch to cap off a 12-play, 90-yard drive in the fourth quarter.

The score was a long time coming for the 2015 first-round pick, who finished with three catches for 64 yards. Two of those receptions came on that scoring drive to put Cleveland away for good.

“For Breshad to go up and get that ball and adjust his body, it was fantastic,” said Smith, who finished with five catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. “That is dramatic. As your first career touchdown, that is as dramatic as you want it to be. That is a keeper.”

The Ravens can only hope that touchdown is a springboard for Perriman to truly become a keeper, but he wasn’t the only young player to impress against the Browns. Dixon, a fourth-round rookie from Louisiana Tech who turned heads in the preseason, finished with a team-high 80 yards from scrimmage on just 11 touches and flashed the ability that prompted some analysts to rate him as high as the second-best running back in this year’s draft behind only fourth overall pick Ezekiel Elliott.

Terrance West has proven himself to be a capable starting back through the first half of the season, but the 212-pound Dixon shows a combination of speed and surprising physicality — he broke at least two tackles on Thursday — that makes you think he can be more of a big-play option in the backfield. Injuries have been his biggest challenge as he is just now starting to look as explosive as he did in a strong preseason before suffering a torn medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Through his first four NFL games, Dixon averaged just 1.5 yards per carry and caught only five passes for six yards, but he looked like a different player against the Browns.

“He got back from the knee about four weeks ago and has steadily looked better,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I told him this week, I said, ‘This is your breakout game. You look like you’re ready.’ He did a great job.”

Waller isn’t someone who was on many people’s radar as the Ravens entered the season with extensive depth at tight end, but injuries have led to an increased role and it was his four-yard touchdown that put Baltimore ahead early in the third quarter. A converted receiver drafted in the sixth round out of Georgia Tech a year ago, Waller has a 6-foot-6, 255-pound frame and the kind of speed that could make him a significant matchup problem as he matures.

Entering the night ranked 24th in red-zone offense, the Ravens would be wise to continue to look his way in that area of the field where they’ve lacked an option to go up and get the ball.

“Darren’s a big guy that runs well, has great hands. He’s a real talented guy,” said Flacco, who shook off two interceptions to throw for 296 yards and three touchdown passes on Thursday. “I think getting him involved and showing himself that he can do it [is important]. He’s another guy that once he gets out there and gets more playing experience, he’ll start to really understand things. I think he’s got a great guy to watch in Dennis, in terms of running routes and stuff like that.”

The Ravens merely did what they were supposed to do against a team that hasn’t yet won a game, so it would be unwise to boldly proclaim Thursday as a turning point for an offense that’s disappointed all year. Nine games into the season, we know this team leans heavily on a strong defense that was once again sensational in limiting the Browns to just one touchdown and 144 total yards.

But seeing Perriman, Dixon, and Waller stand out was not just an encouraging sign for the playoff run over the final seven games. The Ravens need young players such as these to step forward for a brighter future.

“Any time you’re a young guy, and you do those things, it’s good in the long run,” Flacco said. “You feel a part of the team. And when you go out there, in order to really feel part of the team and feel great about it, it’s all about going out there and making plays and showing your teammates that you can do it.”

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