Tag Archive | "bengals"

Ravens get some help in AFC North during bye week

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Ravens get some help in AFC North during bye week

Posted on 16 November 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens were enjoying their bye this weekend, they could thank J.J. Watt for providing some help in their quest for an AFC North title.

Watt’s impressive performance on both sides of the ball led the Houston Texans to an impressive road win over the Cleveland Browns. The All-Pro defensive end and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year recorded a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, five tackles, and a first-quarter touchdown catch in the 23-7 final.

The loss knocked the 6-4 Browns out of first place as they’re now tied for second with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Of course, the Steelers travel to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans Monday night.

While the Texans helped out the idle Ravens, the New Orleans Saints laid an egg at home in a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati, which propelled the 6-3-1 Bengals back into first place in the division. Dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, the Saints lost their second straight home game after previously winning 20 in a row at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Considering how unpredictable the 4-6 Saints have been this year, it’s difficult trying to figure out which team will show up against the Ravens next Monday night. But you can bet head coach John Harbaugh will remind his team throughout the coming week that the Saints are no longer invincible at home as they had looked the last few years.

As for the rest of the AFC playoff landscape, the Kansas City Chiefs beat Seattle for their fifth straight victory, which leaves them tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West after the Broncos were beaten in St. Louis. At 7-3, the Chiefs are making a loud statement for a playoff spot for the second straight season as they currently hold the top wild-card spot in the conference.

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Who will prevail in the AFC North?

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Who will prevail in the AFC North?

Posted on 14 November 2014 by Luke Jones

Halloween has come and gone, but that hasn’t prevented the AFC North from looking like something out of the twilight zone as the Ravens enjoy their bye this weekend.

Every team in the division is at least two games above .500, the first time that’s happened in the NFL since 1935. The Cleveland Browns — yes, those Cleveland Browns — are in first place in a year in which many talked about Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Pittsburgh battling for the top spot in a wide-open division.

Wide open indeed.

But who will prevail?

And just how strong is this division that’s gone 7-1-1 against the woeful NFC South but sports just one win — Pittsburgh’s 51-34 thrashing of Indianapolis — against winning teams outside the division?

Who will win the AFC North?

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Below is a look at each of the four teams and what lies ahead over the final seven weeks of the regular season:

CLEVELAND (6-3)
Division record: 2-2
Remaining schedule: Houston, at Atlanta, at Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, at Carolina, at Baltimore
Skinny: On paper, this schedule doesn’t look too intimidating with four games against teams currently sporting non-winning records, but it also includes four out of seven on the road. The Browns deserve credit for the way they beat up the Bengals on the road in Week 10, but old habits die hard and it’s still difficult to believe they’re going to be the team left standing at the end of the season. These next three weeks are critical to the Browns’ chances as they face three very beatable opponents despite two coming on the road. If the Browns win at least two, they’re in decent shape entering a tough final month. Winning all three of those likely makes Cleveland the favorite to win the division entering the last four weeks.

CINCINNATI (5-3-1)
Division record: 2-1
Remaining schedule: at New Orleans, at Houston, at Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, at Cleveland, Denver, at Pittsburgh
Skinny: If it weren’t for their season sweep of the Ravens, the Bengals wouldn’t even be discussed as a playoff contender as their other three wins have come at home against Atlanta, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. If you’re head coach Marvin Lewis, the hope is that a healthy A.J. Green will provide the spark because Cincinnati has gone 2-3-1 since the first month of the season. Even if the Bengals have the most talented roster in the division, five of their remaining seven games are on the road and four come against teams sporting winning records. You never know in the unpredictable NFL where things can change quickly from week to week, but Cincinnati looks like the team least equipped to make a run to win the AFC North.

PITTSBURGH (6-4)
Division record: 2-2
Remaining schedule: at Tennessee, Bye, New Orleans, at Cincinnati, at Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati
Skinny: There may not be a more bipolar team in the entire league as the Steelers own the best win (Indianapolis) and two of the three worst losses (Tampa Bay and the New York Jets) of any team in the division. Like the Ravens, they will benefit from having a late-season bye and the balance of three home and three away games over their final six. If Pittsburgh survives a trap game at Tennessee on Monday night, three of the remaining five games come against teams with winning records and two of those will be played at Heinz Field. Based on the remaining schedule, you might be inclined to label the Steelers the favorite of the four teams, but how can you fully trust a team that’s lost games to the 1-8 Buccaneers and the 2-8 Jets?

BALTIMORE (6-4)
Division record: 2-3
Remaining schedule: Bye, at New Orleans, San Diego, at Miami, Jacksonville, at Houston, Cleveland
Skinny: The Ravens should feel good about their remaining home schedule — even with two games against teams with winning records — but their road games against the Saints, the Dolphins, and the Texans won’t be easy for a team sporting just two wins away from M&T Bank Stadium. The Miami game on Dec. 7 might be the biggest of the year if Baltimore wants to be in good position to win the division or at least clinch a playoff spot when it hosts the Browns in the regular-season finale. Winning one of their three road games and winning out at home would get the Ravens to 10 wins, but John Harbaugh would feel a lot better with a 10-5 mark going into the finale against Cleveland than a 9-6 record with so-so division and conference records.

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Controversial call shouldn’t forgive Ravens’ late-game shortcomings

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Controversial call shouldn’t forgive Ravens’ late-game shortcomings

Posted on 26 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The fallout from the Ravens’ 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday centered around the controversial offensive pass interference call that wiped out what would have been an 80-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith in the final minute.

Frustration was understandable as Smith and safety George Iloka jockeyed for position on the deep ball before the veteran receiver’s hand made contact with the defender’s jersey, and, well, the rest was open to interpretation. Whether you saw Smith pulling the Bengals defensive back to the ground or Iloka doing a fine acting job, it was the kind of play that would have made the Bengals and their fans just as angry had the touchdown stood without any penalty, but we’ve all seen the direction of the NFL in recent years with more flags being thrown in the passing game and offensive pass interference being a proverbial “point of emphasis” this season.

Let’s not forget we’re also talking about the Ravens needing an 80-yard prayer to pull out the victory in Cincinnati, which speaks to the shortcomings on both sides of the ball leading up to that moment.

Was offensive pass interference on Steve Smith's 80-yard touchdown the right call?

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Yes, injuries were a significant storyline for the Ravens in Week 8 as they missed the short-to-intermediate presence of tight end Owen Daniels as well as the Pro Bowl-caliber play of Jimmy Smith in the secondary after the cornerback exited in the first half with a sprained left foot. Baltimore was also missing a number of other players at various times in the game as offensive linemen Eugene Monroe, Kelechi Osemele, and Marshal Yanda as well as wide receivers Torrey Smith and Michael Campanaro received varying degrees of medical attention.

But the story could have been much different had the Ravens gotten more from either side of the ball in the final six minutes of the game and not put it in the hands of an official making a questionable call.

It was a bad day for Flacco as he threw two interceptions and completed only 50 percent of his passes, but the Ravens offense had its second straight possession off a turnover after safety Matt Elam stripped a pass away from wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and the ball landed in the arms of linebacker C.J. Mosley with 6:12 remaining and Baltimore leading 21-20. With the ball at the Cincinnati 43, the Ravens had the opportunity to add to their lead while running down a huge chunk of the clock, but they were unable to pick up as much as a first down and instead settled for a 53-yard field goal for Justin Tucker.

Though the Ravens came away with points, a few first downs and a touchdown would have made it a 28-20 lead and left little time on the clock for the Bengals. Instead, Tucker’s field goal went through the uprights with 3:59 still remaining.

And that’s when the defense followed its two biggest plays of the game — game-changing turnovers created by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and the combination of Elam and Mosley — with a letdown drive in which the Bengals ultimately won it. A secondary forced to rely on cornerback Dominique Franks in a starting role was in position to steal the win in Cincinnati before rookie safety Terrence Brooks lost Sanu in coverage for a 53-yard completion on third-and-10. Instead of the Bengals punting deep in their own territory and needing to use their timeouts in hopes of getting the ball back, the Ravens were burned on third-and-long and Cincinnati moved inside the Baltimore 30 with less than four minutes remaining.

Baltimore surrendered another third-down reception to Greg Little to move the Bengals inside the 10 before quarterback Andy Dalton crossed the goal line on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with 57 seconds to go.

The Ravens couldn’t make a stop when they needed it, instead allowing Dalton and the Bengals to drive 80 yards on 10 plays in just over three minutes.

Dwell on the interference call if you’d like, but the Ravens had their chances to protect their late lead.

Of course, there were earlier moments on which the Ravens can look back such as the decision to throw a fourth-and-goal pass from the 1 to Kamar Aiken that netted zero points on the opening drive of the game or the fact that running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was Baltimore’s leader in receiving yards with 42, illustrating receivers’ inability to get open down the field. Flacco’s pair of interceptions led to 10 points, which put the Ravens in an 11-point hole early in the second half.

And the defense allowed Dalton to complete 75 percent of his passes as the secondary was bending throughout the game before finally breaking late.

Did the Ravens receive the short end of the stick on the interference call that wiped out the last-second touchdown to Steve Smith?

Perhaps.

But needing an 80-yard miracle wasn’t exactly how you draw it up before that little yellow flag was ultimately thrown.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 26 October 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will have their entire starting offensive line together for the first time since Week 3 in facing the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.

In a key AFC North showdown that could go a long way in determining who wins the division, left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele are both healthy and active after practicing fully all week in preparations for Sunday’s game at Paul Brown Stadium. Monroe missed the last four games while Osemele was sidelined in each of the last two contests.

The most surprising player to be included in the inactive list was running back Bernard Pierce, who entered the season as the starter and now finds himself as a healthy scratch against the Bengals. Though he’s scored two touchdowns in the last two games, Pierce has only gained 53 yards on 23 carries — a 2.3 yards per carry average — against Atlanta and Tampa Bay and continues to look indecisive in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking schemes.

Backup interior offensive lineman Gino Gradkowski was also a healthy scratch for the first time this season, which reflects his stock dropping after rookie John Urschel was chosen to fill in for Osemele at left guard in the last two games. Fourth-year tackle Jah Reid joined Gradkowski as a healthy inactive.

With tight end Owen Daniels out after undergoing a cleanup procedure in his knee, rookie Crockett Gillmore and former practice-squad member Phillip Supernaw will be trusted to handle the tight end duties against the Bengals. The Ravens elected to keep all six of their wide receivers active with Daniels out, and the 6-foot-5 Marlon Brown — who was inactive the last two weeks — could be viewed as an attractive red-zone option.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will be without Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green as he continues to recover from a toe injury. He was listed as doubtful on Friday, so the decision to deactivate him wasn’t at all surprising.

Sunday marks the 38th all-time regular-season meeting between the Ravens and the Bengals with Baltimore holding a 20-17 edge. However, Cincinnati has won three of the last four, including the last two played at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Bengals will be wearing black jerseys and black pants while the Ravens don white tops with black pants.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Cincinnati Sunday afternoon calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-60s with minimal winds up to four miles per hour.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Chyke Brown
RB Bernard Pierce
LB Arthur Brown
OL Gino Gradkowski
OL Jah Reid
TE Owen Daniels
DE Chris Canty

CINCINNATI
WR A.J. Green
LB Rey Maualuga
CB Chris Lewis-Harris
RB Rex Burkhead
DE Will Clarke
G Tanner Hawkinson
DT Brandon Thompson

 

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 25 October 2014 by Luke Jones

Two teams seemingly going in opposite directions will meet in a key midseason AFC North matchup as the surging Ravens travel to Cincinnati to take on the struggling Bengals.

Baltimore is looking for its third straight victory and sixth in seven weeks while the Bengals haven’t won a game in over a month as their season-opening win against the Ravens and 3-0 start feel like distant memories. In going 0-2-1 since its Week 4 bye, Cincinnati has been outscored by 53 points in the last three games.

Health is a key storyline entering this contest as Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green is unlikely to play due to a lingering turf toe injury and Ravens tight end Owen Daniels is out after undergoing a cleanup procedure in his left knee this week. However, the Ravens will benefit from the return of the starting left side of their offensive line as Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele are probable to play.

Who will win in Cincinnati on Sunday?

  • Ravens by seven or more (50%, 32 Votes)
  • Ravens by fewer than seven (38%, 24 Votes)
  • Bengals by fewer than seven (8%, 5 Votes)
  • Bengals by seven or more (4%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 64

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Sunday marks the 38th all-time meeting between these division rivals with the Ravens holding a 20-17 edge. However, the Bengals are 11-7 against Baltimore in Cincinnati and have won three of the last four in the series.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to improve to 6-2 for the fourth time under head coach John Harbaugh …

1. With the Ravens hurting at the tight end position, fullback Kyle Juszczyk sets career highs in receptions and receiving yards. Quarterback Joe Flacco targeted his tight ends 20 times in the Week 1 meeting with the Bengals, but Dennis Pitta and Daniels won’t be on the field Sunday and rookie Crockett Gillmore is more of a blocker. This will lead to a bigger role for Juszczyk, who will see targets out of the backfield as well as when he occasionally lines up at a tight end spot. Flacco is likely to look Steve Smith’s way even more with Daniels sidelined, but Juszczyk could be a wild card against the league’s seventh-ranked third-down defense. The second-year fullback’s best game as a receiver came against Cleveland in Week 3 when he caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown.

2. The Bengals will make a better effort to get the ball to running back Giovani Bernard than they did last week and he will crack 75 receiving yards. Cincinnati failed to get the ball to the impact back in its shutout loss to Indianapolis as Bernard received only nine touches. That will change Sunday as offensive coordinator Hue Jackson must find creative ways to involve Bernard with his top two receivers — Green and No. 2 wideout Marvin Jones — both out. Top cornerback Jimmy Smith could be used to shadow leading receiver Mohamed Sanu, which would leave quarterback Andy Dalton with few downfield weapons. Cincinnati will use screens to try to neutralize a pass rush growing more confident by the week, and Bernard will give the Bengals some much-needed production.

3. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth will keep Terrell Suggs in check, but Elvis Dumervil will pick up a sack and several pressures working against right tackle Andre Smith. The Bengals have only allowed Dalton to be sacked five times this season, but the emergence of interior rush specialist Pernell McPhee creates a problem for the Cincinnati offensive line that must account for Suggs and Dumervil on the edges. Smith has been dealing with a shoulder issue and has allowed three sacks in his last two games while Dumervil has 3 1/2 sacks over the last two weeks. The Bengals must offer the interior line help with blocking McPhee, which will give Dumervil some 1-on-1 chances to run around Smith and get to Dalton in the pocket. Dalton will get rid of the ball quickly to counteract the rush, but the Ravens will get more pressure than they did in Week 1.

4. Safety Will Hill will receive more playing time than last week and will record his first interception on a tipped pass. The 24-year-old made his 2014 debut last week and immediately found himself in the mix by playing 22 defensive snaps. He was effective close to the line of scrimmage, but Hill has good range in coverage and could find himself in a starting role sooner rather than later. With Green likely out, the Bengals won’t have many vertical options, so Hill will again be used closer to the line of scrimmage and will continue taking away snaps from Darian Stewart and Matt Elam, especially if Cincinnati can’t get its running game going. He will record his first interception as a Raven on a tipped pass intended for Bernard and will make a strong claim for a starting role in the defense.

5. The Ravens will use an effective running game and good field position to grind out a 23-16 win over Cincinnati. These teams are trending in different directions, but the Bengals are better than what they’ve shown over the last three weeks and Baltimore will miss Daniels in the middle of the field. This will add up to a tighter game between AFC North rivals, but the Bengals just haven’t shown enough firepower without Green to consistently move the ball and put up enough points against a defense getting better every week. The Ravens will use a balanced attack through three quarters before leaning heavily on the running game in the fourth as the Bengals’ front seven wears down and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak controls the clock with a lead. The Ravens improve to 6-2 with their biggest road win of the season.

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Ravens tight end Daniels out for Sunday’s game in Cincinnati

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Ravens tight end Daniels out for Sunday’s game in Cincinnati

Posted on 24 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will be without starting tight end Owen Daniels in Sunday’s AFC North matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the 31-year-old underwent arthroscopic surgery on his left knee that will sideline him for at least Week 8, but the Ravens do not expect him to miss an extended period of time. Daniels is second on the team with 27 caches for 275 yards and three touchdowns while handling an expanded role since the season-ending hip injury suffered by Dennis Pitta in Week 3.

“As the week went on, his knee was not really progressing the way we wanted it to,” Harbaugh said. “We went ahead and did a cleanup procedure, and he’ll be out for this game. Then after that, he actually has a chance to come back [quickly]. It will kind of be week to week after that, and it won’t be many weeks at all. It could actually be next week. We’ll just have to see how that goes. That would be an optimistic approach, but it could happen.”

Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak had downplayed the severity of Daniels’ injury on Thursday while expressing little concern about his starting tight end missing practices this week, leading many to assume he’d be ready to play against the Bengals. The Ravens rested Daniels for an extended period during training camp, but his knowledge of Kubiak’s system going back to their days with the Houston Texans had diminished concerns over him not practicing.

Rookie Crockett Gillmore will start in Daniels’ place against the Bengals, but the Ravens will likely look to use running back Justin Forsett and full back Kyle Juszczyk more in the short passing game to compensate for the lack of depth at tight end.

“I’ve prepared to be the guy from the first day I was here, following Owen and Dennis around,” Gillmore said. “They’ve given me a great opportunity to step into their shoes and do what I can do.”

Defensive end Chris Canty missed practice again on Friday and will miss his fourth straight game since undergoing wrist surgery to correct an infection. However, Harbaugh said the veteran defensive lineman has been cleared to start training heavily and it’s just a matter of how quickly he can get back into game shape.

Starting left tackle Eugene Monroe and starting left guard Kelechi Osemele both practiced on Friday and were listed as probable as they’re expected to make their returns from injury against Cincinnati. Monroe has missed the last four games since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month while Osemele missed two games due to a hyperextended knee suffered in the Week 5 loss to Indianapolis.

As expected, wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Daryl Smith both returned to practice Friday after receiving a veteran day off and were listed as probable.

The Bengals received disappointing news Friday as Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green once again missed practice with his lingering turf toe injury. He was listed as doubtful and is expected to miss his third straight game on Sunday.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast in Cincinnati calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the high 60s with calm winds.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Clete Blakeman.

Below is the final injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (knee)
PROBABLE: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Steve Smith (non-injury)

CINCINNATI
OUT: LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)
DOUBTFUL: WR A.J. Green (toe)
QUESTIONABLE: DT Brandon Thompson (knee)
PROBABLE: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), TE Kevin Brock (neck), LB Vontaze Burfict (neck), DE Robert Geathers (toe), DE Wallace Gilberry (eye), CB Leon Hall (back), LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder), T Marshall Newhouse (back), G/C Mike Pollak (knee), T Andre Smith (shoulder)

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Osemele, Monroe practice fully for second straight day

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Osemele, Monroe practice fully for second straight day

Posted on 23 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens appear primed to get the starting left side of their offensive line back in time for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals as tackle Eugene Monroe and guard Kelechi Osemele both practiced fully for the second straight day.

Monroe has missed the last four games since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month and Osemele has been sidelined for the last two games, but both have practiced without incident this week and are on track to play against the Bengals barring a setback. Baltimore has used rookies James Hurst and John Urschel in their place but has managed to go 3-1 without Monroe and 2-0 without Osemele.

“It’s very important to get them back,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “I think we still work through [Friday]. They’ve had a good week. They took a full practice today, but we’ll continue to get James and John ready to play.”

Tight end Owen Daniels was absent for the second straight day as he continues to nurse a sore knee, but Kubiak downplayed any concern about the veteran’s availability for the key AFC North meeting with Cincinnati. Head coach John Harbaugh managed Daniels’ reps during training camp as he rested a hamstring issue for more than two weeks in August.

Rookie Crockett Gillmore is the primary backup behind Daniels.

“Owen is fine. John has a plan for these veteran guys,” Kubiak said. “I know he has had a plan for [Daniels] and how he keeps him fresh and keeps him ready to go. But as far as what we’re doing [with the] game plan, those types of things, O.D. will be fine.”

Wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Daryl Smith did not practice on Thursday after receiving the day off to rest.

The Bengals continued to be without Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green, who hasn’t played since Week 5 and has yet to practice this week. Green had expressed optimism a few days ago that he might be able to return to play against the Ravens, but progress with his injured toe has been slow.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) practiced fully on Thursday as it appears there is little doubt that he’ll be able to play after hurting his neck in last Sunday’s loss to Indianapolis.

Below is Thursday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (knee), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Steve Smith (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)

CINCINNATI
OUT: LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)
DID NOT PARTICIPATION: WR A.J. Green (toe), OT Andrew Whitworth (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), G Clint Boling (non-injury), CB Leon Hall (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: TE Kevin Brock (neck), LB Vontaze Burfict (neck), DE Robert Geathers (toe), DE Wallace Gilberry (eye), LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder), T Marshall Newhouse (back), G/C Mike Pollak (knee), T Andre Smith (shoulder), DT Brandon Thompson (knee)

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Monroe, Osemele practice fully as Ravens prepare for AFC North showdown

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Monroe, Osemele practice fully as Ravens prepare for AFC North showdown

Posted on 22 October 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens hope to have their starting offensive line back for their key AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals as left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele were both practicing on Wednesday.

The offensive line practiced without helmets and pads during the special-teams portion of practice open to reporters, but both Monroe and Osemele suited up to work as media were escorted away from the indoor practice field at the Ravens’ Owings Mills training facility. Monroe missed his fourth straight game in last Sunday’s 29-7 win over Atlanta while Osemele was out for his second straight game, leaving rookies James Hurst and John Urschel to start in their place.

Both linemen saw limited practice work last week, which was considered a good sign for their potential returns against Cincinnati on Sunday. They were both listed as full participants on Wednesday’s injury report.

The only players absent from Wednesday’s workout were defensive end Chris Canty (wrist surgery) and tight end Owen Daniels (knee). Though he’s periodically received a day off from practice during certain game weeks, Thursday has typically been the day on which Daniels has rested.

Newly-signed long snapper Kevin McDermott was present for Wednesday’s workout and will wear No. 47 as he replaces the injured Morgan Cox.

The Bengals have been dealing with a slew of key injuries of their own as wide receiver A.J. Green was not practicing Wednesday as he continues to recover from a toe injury. The Pro Bowl wide receiver hasn’t played since Week 5.

However, linebacker Vontaze Burfict (neck) practiced on a limited basis, which was a good sign for his availability against the Ravens on Sunday.

Below is Wednesday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (wrist), TE Owen Daniels (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: T Eugene Monroe (knee), G Kelechi Osemele (knee)

CINCINNATI
OUT: LB Rey Maualuga (hamstring)
DID NOT PARTICIPATION: DE Robert Geathers (toe), WR A.J. Green (toe), CB Leon Hall (back), G/C Mike Pollak (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), TE Kevin Brock (neck), LB Vontaze Burfict (neck), DE Wallace Gilberry (eye), LB Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder), T Marshall Newhouse (back), T Andre Smith (shoulder), DT Brandon Thompson (knee)

 

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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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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 23-16 loss to Cincinnati

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 23-16 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 07 September 2014 by Luke Jones

After every Ravens game this season, we’ll take a look at five numbers that help explain the outcome …

0 — The number of sacks and quarterback hits the defense registered on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton
Skinny: Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson did an effective job using a no-huddle attack and calling for three-step drops to neutralize the Ravens’ ability to create pressure, but the front four did very little to make Dalton uncomfortable in the pocket, especially in the first half. It was defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ decision to send nickel back Asa Jackson on a blitz that left cornerback Chykie Brown with no help on the 77-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green that sent the Ravens to defeat. Baltimore simply didn’t do enough to rattle the fourth-year quarterback, and he made them pay.

1.67 — The number of yards the Ravens averaged on first down before the final drive of the first half
Skinny: Head coach John Harbaugh explained after the game how the Ravens wanted to use some bootlegs and play-action passes early to keep the Bengals defense off balance, but those plays put a drive in a deep hole if you don’t complete passes on first down. The Ravens encountered far too many second-and-long and third-and-long situations in the first half, which upset the overall play-call balance and led to zero points being scored in the first half. In the second half, the Ravens averaged a healthier 4.38 yards per first-down play, but the damage of a 15-point deficit had already been done and left little margin for error for the defense before the long touchdown pass to Green.

3 — The number of sacks taken by quarterback Joe Flacco
Skinny: This may not resonate until you examine the circumstances of each one. The first came on the final play of the first half when the Ravens elected to run a third-and-10 play from the Cincinnati 15 and Flacco inexplicably held the ball way too long, allowing the first half to expire without even a field goal try. The final two came on the Ravens’ last two offensive plays of the game when Flacco held the ball too long for a coverage sack to turn third-and-4 into fourth-and-9 and followed that with the inability to get the ball out to a “hot” read when the Bengals sent a free rusher off the right edge. Yes, there’s no guarantee he completes the pass or is even able to move the chains in that spot, but the sack he took on the previous play put him in an even more difficult down and distance and it’s still his responsibility to get the ball out in that situation — even if it would have resulted in an incomplete pass to end the drive, anyway.

7 — Number of unofficial drops committed by Ravens pass-catchers
Skinny: Flacco certainly didn’t play well on Sunday, but his receivers did him no favors as Steve Smith dropped four passes to dampen a Baltimore debut that included an 80-yard touchdown catch. Jacoby Jones also dropped two passes, including a deep pass over the middle that could have gone for a touchdown in the second quarter. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s West Coast offense is built on timing and precision, which the Ravens showed too little of throughout the game. Smith summed it up nicely that sometimes receivers have games where they “can’t catch a cold butt-naked in Alaska with a flu shot.”

62 — The number of pass attempts by Flacco
Skinny: The total matched his career high set in last year’s season opener in Denver when the Ravens lost 49-27 and Peyton Manning tossed seven touchdowns passes. The defense may not have broken while allowing the Bengals to kick five field goals in the first half, but that’s still too many scoring drives and put an ineffective offense in a sizable hole at intermission. The early lack of production on first down and Bernard Pierce’s ineffectiveness forced the Ravens to look too much like the unbalanced offense they were in 2013. Not counting the 80-yard touchdown to Smith, Flacco averaged a sickly 4.34 yards per attempt on his other 61 throws. Too many attempts and too few being completed down the field.

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