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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 20-0 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 12 September 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens posting their first shutout since 2009 in a 20-0 win over Cincinnati to begin the 2017 season, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. C.J. Mosley’s end-zone interception in the second quarter was the turning point. Between that red-zone turnover and Andy Dalton’s poor throw to a wide-open Cody Core streaking down the sideline on the next drive, the Bengals could have led 10-3 late in the half. Instead, the Ravens dominated after that.

2. If that Mosley pick was the turning point, the 17-play drive lasting nearly 10 minutes in the third quarter killed what was left of Cincinnati’s spirit. The Ravens converted three times with runs on third-and-short on that long march. How many times has that happened in recent years?

3. I had to laugh at hearing some take exception with Joe Flacco’s quip that it wasn’t that fun for the offense while overlooking him saying winning was what mattered. So many complain about athletes being disingenuous in interviews, but then we never like what they have to say when honest.

4. Watching Terrell Suggs play at this stage of his career reminds me of Ray Lewis in his final few seasons. What he might lack physically compared to his younger self he makes up for with his impeccable mental preparation and instincts. He took Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi to school.

5. Other than a few exceptions, the Ravens generated most of their pocket pressure without using blitzes against the Bengals. Sending an extra defender or two in the right spot is great, but the special defenses can wreak havoc on the quarterback with a four-man rush.

6. It didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but Brandon Williams had one of the better games of his career as a pass rusher. His pressure on Dalton impacted the aforementioned poor pass that could have easily been a touchdown, and Pro Football Focus credited him with four quarterback pressures.

7. You can only hope Danny Woodhead is able to return sooner than later as you could see what kind of weapon he can be as a receiver out of the backfield and in the slot. Alas, the Ravens were aware of his injury history when they signed him in March.

8. Za’Darius Smith silenced critics with a strong preseason and looked like one of the best players on the field before injuring his left leg in the second quarter. Losing him would hurt Baltimore’s versatility as he can be used as an interior rusher in sub packages.

9. Buck Allen handled the No. 2 running back duties as his 21 carries more than doubled the nine total he received in his disappointing 2016 season. The running game wasn’t overwhelming, but it was up to the task of controlling the clock and protecting a sizable lead.

10. Between Marvin Lewis’ white-flag-waving punt from the Baltimore 43 with less than 10 minutes to go and trailing by 20 and Dalton throwing the ball away on fourth down inside the red zone on the following drive, the reaction is summed up nicely here:

11. Perhaps they haven’t yet realized, but it sure looks like the Bengals’ window with the current regime slammed shut after their colossal meltdown against Pittsburgh in the wild-card playoffs two years ago. Cincinnati’s offensive line made the Ravens’ questionable group look like the Dallas Cowboys.

12. I enjoyed seeing Zach Orr on the sideline and celebrating with Mosley after the latter’s key interception. You know Sunday had to be a bittersweet day for the retired linebacker, but he’ll have every opportunity to learn what it takes to be a coach or a scout this season.

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Season-opening win for Ravens brings different feeling

Posted on 11 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The results of the first week of the season can often be fool’s gold.

Even the mighty New England Patriots lost Week 1 contests in three of their five Super Bowl championship campaigns this century. In 2003, they were embarrassed in a 31-0 final at Buffalo before winning 17 of their next 18 games while the Bills would finish with a 6-10 record. That’s why no one with a brain is counting them out despite being beaten by Kansas City in decisive fashion at home last Thursday night.

Cincinnati will try to lean on that example after being dominated by the Ravens in a 20-0 final at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday, but Baltimore hopes its first season-opening shutout since 2006 is a sign of better things to come after missing the playoffs in three of the last four years.

Of course, it was only last year that the Ravens won their first three games before finishing with an underwhelming 8-8 mark. But Sunday’s victory over the Bengals brought a different feeling, the kind that tempts observers to want to rethink their expectations for the new season.

Having not won in Cincinnati in nearly six years, head coach John Harbaugh and his team would have taken a victory no matter how close the score. Winning ugly is always better than losing with style, but a 13-12 final probably wouldn’t have sparked much enthusiasm beyond the typical satisfaction of any victory.

We just haven’t seen the Ravens overwhelm any opponent like that on the road in quite some time. In fact, it was just the third time since Super Bowl XLVII — and first since 2014 — that they won a regular-season away game by more than one possession, a telling reflection of their struggles away from M&T Bank Stadium in recent seasons.

They earned their first shutout since 2009, a stretch of time that contained some still-formidable defenses that included future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Perhaps a brutal offensive line will reveal the 2017 Bengals to be an outfit more closely resembling the Cleveland Browns than a playoff contender as the season progresses, but let’s not pretend the Ravens have blown out the perennial doormats of the AFC North in recent road meetings, either. Simply put, trying to make the final outcome all about the shortcomings of Andy Dalton and the Bengals sells the Ravens short for their sensational defensive work that included five sacks and five takeaways.

We know the Baltimore offense remains a significant work in progress, but the running game was effective enough Sunday to complement the superb defense as a rusty Joe Flacco didn’t even have to complete a pass in the second half. That exact formula won’t work every week, of course, but a similar model carried the 2008 Ravens to the AFC championship game when Flacco was a rookie starter.

And while it’s way too premature — and unfair — to begin making comparisons to the 2000 Ravens, that was the blueprint for the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship team. You didn’t have to squint too hard to see a Trent Dilfer-like performance from Flacco on Sunday even though the overall expectations are obviously much higher for one of the highest-paid players in football.

It could all prove to be fool’s gold, but perhaps the Ravens defense can be really special while the offense improves over the course of the season. Or maybe the Bengals are just that bad. Or it’s some of both.

Only time will tell, but Sunday brought a feeling not experienced in these parts in quite some time. And you can’t blame Ravens fans for hoping it signals a return to being a serious contender after recent years of mediocrity.

Humphrey earning playing time

Rookie first-round cornerback Marlon Humphrey didn’t receive extensive preseason action until the finale in New Orleans, but that didn’t stop defensive coordinator Dean Pees from using him in Week 1.

The Alabama product provided a bit of relief to starters Jimmy Smith and Brandon Carr in a way you typically see defensive linemen and edge rushers rotated over the course of a 60-minute game. Humphrey didn’t record an official defensive statistic, but he did make a favorable impression in limited work.

“I thought Marlon played really well. He definitely earned more snaps,” Harbaugh said. “He played nine plays on defense and played really well on special teams. I would say he earned more snaps. He played well. All corners played exceptionally well.”

Smith, Carr, and nickel corner Lardarius Webb all recorded interceptions in the blowout victory.

Timeshare at inside linebacker

Starter Kamalei Correa registered a tackle for a loss and former undrafted free agent Patrick Onwuasor tipped the Dalton pass intercepted by Carr in the first quarter in what amounted to a timeshare at the weakside inside linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley.

Correa played 27 defensive snaps compared to 20 for Onwuasor, but the lion’s share of the work at that position remains up for grabs as the defense tries to fill the void left behind by the retired Zach Orr.

“If they’re both playing at a Pro Bowl level, then you play them both,” said Harbaugh, who added that rookie Bam Bradley is also in the mix. “If one of them starts to separate from the other, then one would take the job. I’d like to see one of them playing at a Pro Bowl level. Neither of them are doing that right now. But they’re both playing well enough to win.”

Injury updates

Harbaugh provided no definitive outlook on the injuries sustained by running back Danny Woodhead and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith in the first half of Sunday’s win as both underwent MRI exams.

Woodhead is expected to miss some time after suffering a hamstring injury — the same ailment that kept him out for much of the summer — while Smith’s announced knee sprain may not be as serious as initially feared when he was carted to the locker room.

“We know it is not a structural knee thing,” Harbaugh said. “I think I know that. We think we know that, but we will know for sure once he gets out of the MRI.”

The absence of Woodhead could prompt the Ravens to promote a running back from the practice squad as former Chicago Bears starter Jeremy Langford and former Seattle Seahawk Alex Collins joined the organization last week. Terrance West and Buck Allen are the only healthy tailbacks on the current 53-man roster.

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Opportunistic Ravens defense pitches shutout in the season opener

Posted on 11 September 2017 by Dennis Koulatsos

This was a vintage Baltimore Ravens defensive performance, one that may have even been worthy of applause by their 2000 record setting counter parts.  That version kept 5 teams from scoring on them that season, and held teams to an average of 10 points a game.

For all of the talk about the plethora of great players at skill positions on the Cincinnati Bengals, their offensive line was exposed, particularly by the fierce Ravens pass rush.  Andy Dalton never got comfortable, never found a rhythm, as time and time again his throws were hurried.

Dalton was sacked a total of 5 times, and threw 4 interceptions.  Defensive tackle Brandon Williams was stout against the run, and continuously collapsed the pocket, creating space for his teammates to break through.  Edger rusher Terrell Suggs mocked father time as he came up with 2 sacks.  C.J. Mosley showed why he may very well be the best inside linebacker in the league in defending the pass, as he came up with a huge interception in the Ravens’ end zone.  That was the turning point in the game.

The Ravens offense was efficient, tough and resilient.  The offensive line did a great job overall, creating holes for running backs Terrance West and Buck Allen.  They combined for 40 carries and over 150 yards rushing, while giving Baltimore a 9 minute advantage in time of possession.

Our own Peter DiLutis texted me during the game “MVP Greg Roman,” and he couldn’t have been more right.  Although his official title may be “senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach” you could clearly see his fingerprints all over this offense.  It was refreshing to watch, particularly after two seasons of abandoning the run.

Quarterback Joe Flacco may wish to “sling the pill” all over the field, but that’s made the Ravens spectators the last two post-seasons versus participants.  We all know that he’d much rather throw the ball 4o times per game rather than hand it off – and as a competitor I guess that’s a good thing.  But that’s not what wins ball games.

Somehow Flacco needs to understand this.  Someone needs to sit him down and frame a conversation in a way that he will understand, in a way that he will buy in.  Maybe it will sink in that he has to do what’s in the best interest for the overall greater good of the team….versus himself.  In the red zone he threw into triple coverage.  He made poor choices.

That’s part of the problem with these canon armed quarterbacks.  They fall in love with their arms, thinking the can put the ball in the smallest of windows. That is why an Alex Smith can have great success in the NFL.  What he lacks in arm power he makes up for with intellect, unselfishness and in being a field general.

Of course Flacco – as he said – would rather win 42-0.  What he needs to understand is that as this offensive line jells together, and the running game grows, he will have a chance to put up some big numbers.  When the running game is going strong, the safeties will have to come up in the box.  The cornerbacks will have to play closer to the line of scrimmage.  This will give him ample downfield opportunities via the play action pass.

I absolutely loved the offensive line play.  It looked to me that all of the linemen were firing off of the ball, as the new blocking scheme made an obvious positive difference.  The misdirection plays and counters were particularly enjoyable to watch.  Terrance West said the offense “ran like the same 5 plays all day,” but it didn’t matter.  They ran them from different formations, gave the Bengals defense different looks, and most importantly they executed well.

And now for the negatives. Center Ryan Jensen is tough, but he has to clean up the penalties that were called on him.  For that matter the entire team does.  Running back Danny Woodhead reinjured his hamstring and was carted to the locker room.  His status is unknown at this time, but it doesn’t look good. Edge rusher Za’Darius Smith sprained his knee, and his status is also up in the air at this time.  Both players stood out as Woodhead had great chemistry with Flacco and was a difference maker in the Ravens’ opening drive, while Smith had a sack prior to leaving the game.

Going forward the team needs to stick to this same formula that got them the shutout yesterday. They need to run the ball, or at least try to run the ball without abandoning it too quickly.  They need Joe Flacco to take care of the ball, not turn it over. They need to save him from himself.

Looking ahead the Cleveland Browns come to town this Sunday for the Ravens home opener, after losing a tough one to the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Their quarterback is DeShone Kiser, who I think has a very high ceiling.  However he is a rookie and M&T Stadium is no place to start your second NFL game and first one away from the friendly confines of your home field.

It will be loud, as I expect the Ravens’ 12th man to show up.  This fan base is used to being energized by an aggressive, nasty and opportunistic defense.  Kiser is tough, but for now he holds the ball too long.  That’s a recipe for disaster against the Ravens defense.  I’m not taking the Browns lightly, and I am not overconfident, certainly not after one game in.  But it would not surprise me if the Browns – like the Bengals – do not put up any points on the board this Sunday.

If the Ravens execute the same script against the Browns as the Bengals, if they take care of the ball and do not turn it over, there is no reason that they won’t start the season with a 2-0 record.

 

 

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Ready or not, Ravens about to pull back curtain on 2017 offense

Posted on 06 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ready or not, the Ravens are about to pull back the curtain on their offense after a summer full of injuries and unanswered questions.

Quarterback Joe Flacco declares that his back feels good and he’s ready to go after missing the entire preseason.

Longtime right guard Marshal Yanda says the Baltimore offense is more committed to the running game than ever after attempting more passes than any team in the NFL the last two seasons.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace believes the group merely needs to trust its abilities.

But even those wearing the deepest tint of purple-colored glasses have to be concerned if they’re being honest, especially with the Ravens opening the season in a place where they haven’t won in nearly six years. To no surprise, head coach John Harbaugh says he believes in his players and their schemes with Marty Mornhinweg in his first full season as offensive coordinator and new senior offensive assistant Greg Roman in charge of fixing a dormant ground attack.

“When you look back at all that stuff, it’s not always completely accurate,” said Harbaugh about outside expectations. “Teams rise up, and they’re better than people thought they’d be. You don’t have to justify it beforehand. You just go and play the games.”

After the Ravens prioritized defense in free agency and the draft and lost a whopping eight offensive players to season-ending injury, suspension, or retirement over the last three months, fans are being asked to take a leap of faith that the offense will be just good enough to complement a defense expected to be one of the best in the NFL this season. Frankly, even that middle-of-the-road standard is a lot to ask considering the personnel losses endured by the league’s 21st-ranked scoring offense from a year ago.

It doesn’t help that the preseason provided no meaningful answers with Flacco sidelined and the projected starting offensive line not playing a single game together. Roman was never going to show his full hand with a running game vowing to be more downhill and physical than in recent years, but a preseason average of 3.1 yards per carry doesn’t spark enthusiasm, either.

The line will have three new starters with two of them — center Ryan Jensen and left guard James Hurst — previously serving as backups and the other — former Oakland right tackle Austin Howard — only arriving in early August. General manager Ozzie Newsome thought so little of his offensive line depth that he acquired two of the Ravens’ three current reserves in separate trades in the last week.

That’s a pretty big leap.

The Ravens lost roughly half of their receiving production from last season while making only two meaningful additions in the skill-position department. Veteran running back Danny Woodhead — if healthy — should help fill the void in the underneath passing game left behind by tight end Dennis Pitta and fullback Kyle Juszczyk while ninth-year receiver Jeremy Maclin fell into Baltimore’s lap in June and will be trusted to become Flacco’s new safety net with Pitta and wide receiver Steve Smith no longer on the roster.

The problem is those two practiced together a total of two days prior to Flacco’s return to the field last weekend. The quarterback acknowledged that their on-field chemistry will be a work in progress in the early weeks of the season.

“Every guy has their own way of doing things, and you build a rapport with guys throughout the course of the year and throughout practice and all of that,” Flacco said. “But the other side of it is that Jeremy is a good player, and he knows how to get open. Things might not be perfect right now, but if he gets open, then I should be able to put the ball on him.

“We have been doing that since we have been six years old. You just have to go back to the basics of things. You can’t overthink things too much.”

No matter how much the Ravens chose to focus on improving their defense in the offseason, they need more from their offense to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. But is there enough to like about this group on paper to believe that will happen?

Though another year removed from his 2015 knee injury, Flacco is coming off back-to-back lackluster seasons and has a lot of catching up to do after being sidelined for more than a month. The aforementioned challenges on the offensive line certainly don’t quell concerns about the quarterback’s back. Backup Ryan Mallett’s play in the preseason made it pretty apparent that the Ravens are going nowhere if Flacco misses meaningful time.

A group of running backs led by starter Terrance West doesn’t appear to have much upside after the season-ending loss of Kenneth Dixon in July. The addition of two running backs to the practice squad certainly appears to reflect that line of thinking.

The current collection of tight ends combined for just six catches last season. Nick Boyle is a dependable blocker, but the Ravens need to get a return on their investments in the 36-year-old Benjamin Watson and 2015 second-round pick Maxx Williams, who are both coming back from serious injuries a year ago.

The wide receiver trio of Maclin, Wallace, and former first-round pick Breshad Perriman probably inspires more confidence than any other offensive position group, but will the offensive line and running game be effective enough for Flacco to effectively utilize these weapons?

And after many called for Harbaugh to replace Mornhinweg since the 2016 offense showed little improvement when he took over for the fired Marc Trestman, the coordinator will be under great pressure to revitalize the downfield passing game and to bring new ideas to the table. He also needs to get more out of his quarterback as he continues to coach that position group.

Much has worked against their offense in the last few months, but the Ravens must find their way on that side of the ball and find it quickly. The Bengals — nor any other early-season opponent — aren’t going to feel sorry for them.

“We’re paid to do a job and paid to do a job at a high level,” Yanda said. “It doesn’t matter how much time you’re taking off, if you’re injured or sick — it doesn’t matter. You have to go out there and produce. We’re expected to go out there and play winning football on Sunday, and we’re preparing to do that.”

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Proposed rule change aimed at Ravens’ end-game holding strategy

Posted on 23 March 2017 by Luke Jones

A tactic used by the Ravens to preserve a narrow victory over the Cincinnati Bengals last season may no longer be legal in the future.

The NFL’s competition committed has proposed a rule to prohibit the act of committing multiple fouls on the same down to manipulate the game clock. If approved, such an act would draw a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and prompt the game clock to be reset to where it was at the snap. The official reason given for the suggested change was “competitive fairness,” according to the committee.

This proposal comes after multiple members of the Baltimore punt team intentionally committed holding to allow punter Sam Koch to stall and run out the final 11 seconds of the fourth quarter and take a safety to conclude a 19-14 win at M&T Bank Stadium on Nov. 27. The same strategy was used by the Ravens at the end of Super Bowl XLVII four years ago, but Koch took a safety before time completely expired against San Francisco.

The 49ers used a similar defensive holding tactic late in the first half of a game last year that forced New Orleans to settle for a field goal try instead of having more time to try to score a touchdown.

This would hardly be the first time that the league has eliminated a loophole in the rule book that’s perceived by some as a violation of the game’s competitive spirit. It was a little over two years ago that the New England Patriots’ use of eligible and ineligible receivers bewildered the Ravens in a playoff contest and led to the NFL tightening up the rule a few months later.

No matter the aftermath, it’s wise to be aware of the intricacies of the rule book in hopes of finding a competitive edge to help win a game. The Ravens used that same tactic to help secure their second NFL championship four years ago and to win a crucial game to remain in the playoff hunt last season.

Owners will debate and vote on proposed rule changes at next week’s league meetings in Phoenix.

Check out the full list of proposed changes HERE.

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Ravens’ season-ending dud only reconfirms issues for offseason

Posted on 01 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens played exactly like a team whose season had come to an end in Pittsburgh a week earlier.

Despite practically taking offense at the notion that their season-ending trip to Cincinnati was meaningless throughout the week, Baltimore’s performance against the Bengals was nothing short of offensive on Sunday, particularly in the first half of the 27-10 defeat. But it shouldn’t change anything once you move past the New Year’s Day sting and take consolation in a better draft pick a few months from now.

It was a meaningless game, remember?

We weren’t going to learn anything about the Ravens that we didn’t already know, even if you were surprised to see them sleepwalk against a Bengals team that had been out of the playoff race for weeks.

We’d already seen this offense make it look incredibly difficult to move the ball throughout the season with few exceptions. This group once again made it look like the Ravens were playing 11-on-15 football for much of the afternoon.

Joe Flacco threw more than 40 passes for the 11th time this season, and the ninth-year quarterback failed to eclipse the 300-yard mark for the seventh of those performances, illustrating how inefficient this pass-heavy attack has been all year.

This offense needs to be blown up and rebuilt with the top objective of getting Flacco playing at a higher level in a more balanced attack. Other than a couple decent performances late in the season, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg showed little evidence of being able to do the job after replacing Marc Trestman in October. Sunday just reiterated that point when he called for a pass on first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 2 that resulted in a Flacco interception and later made the silly call to throw to offensive lineman Alex Lewis on a third-and-2 inside the Bengals’ 10.

The Ravens offense needs better coaching and more talent, especially with veteran wide receiver Steve Smith retiring.

More alarming than the season-long offensive ineptitude, however, has been the collapse of a defense that ranked first overall just a few weeks ago. The Ravens did nothing to bounce back from the ugliness of last week’s fourth quarter, allowing a Bengals offense without A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, and Giovani Bernard to score on each of its first four possessions.

That’s unacceptable.

After arguably doing the finest coaching job of his time in Baltimore through the first 12 games of the season, defensive coordinator Dean Pees is fairly under fire with the Ravens allowing 26 or more points in each of their final four games. The absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith was significant, but that can’t excuse an undermanned Cincinnati offense moving against them with little resistance.

Was the defense tired down the stretch from carrying the offense for most of the season? What happened to a run defense that looked impenetrable just a few weeks ago?

The Ravens defense did an admirable job holding up without a consistent pass rush for much of the year, but that ability vanished down the stretch. Until Elvis Dumervil sacked Andy Dalton to conclude the third quarter on Sunday, Baltimore had gone almost 10 full quarters without a quarterback takedown.

Coaching changes or not, general manager Ozzie Newsome must address the pass rush with Terrell Suggs turning 35 next season and the 32-year-old Dumervil a possible salary-cap casualty. The secondary also needs more depth with injuries continuing to be a problem for Jimmy Smith.

Yes, it was alarming to see the Ravens go through the motions on Sunday, especially after head coach John Harbaugh was praised last season for the way his injury-depleted team continued to play hard down the stretch of a 5-11 campaign. But those players hadn’t experienced anything resembling the kind of gut-punch they took from the Steelers on Christmas.

The Ravens were ready to go home long before they took the field on Sunday, and what resulted wasn’t pretty. It was a bad look for both the coaching staff and the players — plain and simple.

But we’d already seen all there was to see from a team that wasn’t good enough in 2016.

How the Ravens performed in a meaningless game — good or bad — wasn’t going to change that.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 01 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will try to finish their season and begin a new calendar year on a winning note.

Despite being eliminated from postseason contention in last Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens have an opportunity to clinch their second winning season since Super Bowl XLVII. This marks the first time that both Baltimore and Cincinnati have missed the playoffs since 2007.

Rookie wide receiver and former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds headlined the list of Baltimore inactives for the season finale against the Bengals. Reynolds was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Friday, but this was a procedural move to keep the sixth-round pick in the organization and avoid the risk of him signing a reserve-future deal with another team.

Rookie offensive lineman Alex Lewis was activated for the first time since injuring his ankle in Week 10. With veteran right tackle Rick Wagner out with a concussion, Lewis figured to return to the game-day roster for the finale.

Crockett Gillmore was inactive for the ninth straight week, ending a lost season for the third-year tight end who enjoyed such a promising 2015 campaign.

The Bengals deactivated starting running back Jeremy Hill (knee) and linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion/knee) for Week 17. Cincinnati officially placed six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) on injured reserve on Saturday.

Sunday’s referee is Pete Morelli.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Cincinnati calls for cloudy skies with temperatures reaching the mid-40s and winds up to seven miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with black pants while the Bengals don black tops with black pants.

Sunday marks the 42nd meeting between these AFC North foes with Baltimore holding the slight 21-20 edge. The Ravens are seeking their first victory at Paul Brown Stadium in exactly five years.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Keenan Reynolds
WR Vince Mayle
RB Buck Allen
LB Lamar Louis
OL Ryan Jensen
OT Rick Wagner
TE Crockett Gillmore

CINCINNATI
QB Jeff Driskel
RB Jeremy Hill
LB Vontaze Burfict
G Christian Westerman
DT DeShawn Williams
TE Tyler Kroft
WR Jake Kumerow

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Playing out the string.

Though the Ravens are closing out a regular season at Paul Brown Stadium for the fifth time in the last six years, this marks the first time that neither Baltimore nor Cincinnati is going to the playoffs since 2007 when John Harbaugh was still the special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Even with nothing to play for beyond pride, the Ravens have declared their intentions to play all healthy veterans, a move that some have criticized in fear of a serious injury to a key player.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will miss the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have shut down several injured veterans such as wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (back) in recent weeks.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the 42nd time in franchise history with Baltimore owning a 21-20 edge. The Ravens are seeking their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2011 and can also secure a 5-1 AFC North record, their best division mark since going 6-0 in that same season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Justin Tucker will attempt a 60-plus-yard field goal. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker is a remarkable 10-for-10 on tries from 50 yards and longer and needs only one more to have sole possession of the single-season NFL record. The weather in Cincinnati should reach the mid-40s with minimal wind, conditions that are suitable enough to try a long field goal. Tucker has had one of the best kicking seasons in NFL history and deserves a chance to hit a season-long field goal at the very least.

2. Mike Wallace will reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011. This is hardly going out on a limb with the first-year Raven just 16 yards shy of the mark, but Baltimore should make a conscious effort to get Wallace involved early after he was held to just four catches for 21 yards in Pittsburgh last week. Though the Ravens haven’t always utilized him well this season, Wallace has provided them with the vertical threat they sorely lacked after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure.

3. Andy Dalton will throw for two touchdowns against a secondary once again without Jimmy Smith. It’s not a coincidence that the five highest passing totals allowed by the Baltimore defense this season have come in games in which the No. 1 cornerback missed significant time, a clear indication of the lack of depth in the secondary. The Ravens found a fourth-round gem in rookie Tavon Young, but finding another outside corner should be a priority this offseason.

4. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown and produce 80 receiving yards in his final NFL game. Joe Flacco throws to Smith often anyway, so there’s no reason to think the 37-year-old won’t be featured heavily. The mantra “Play like a Raven” has become a cliché in recent years, but the former Carolina Panther epitomizes the idea with the kind of intensity and physicality on which the success of this franchise was built. The Ravens are fortunate to have had the future Hall of Famer pass their way.

5. The Ravens will win in Cincinnati for the first time in exactly five years in a 23-17 final. Rarely have the Ravens ever looked like they were going through the motions under Harbaugh, which is why I expect them to play hard despite having their playoff hopes crushed last week in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Bengals have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks while rumors have circulated about Marvin Lewis’ future. With an opportunity to send Steve Smith out on a positive note, the Ravens will win their first road game in over three months and finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record.

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Former Navy star Reynolds promoted to Ravens’ 53-man roster

Posted on 30 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The feel-good story of the Ravens’ 2016 draft class has taken the next step in fulfilling his NFL dream.

Wide receiver and former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was promoted to the 53-man roster on Friday morning after spending the entire year on the practice squad. The sixth-round pick was waived at the end of the preseason, but the Ravens thought highly enough of Reynolds’ character and potential to keep him in the organization.

“It’s a difficult thing making a transition like he’s doing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He works really hard at it every day. He’s learned a lot. Next year is going to be the year. We’ll see. He has to go to work the next three or four months, too, and get some real specific work as far as running routes and doing the things a slot receiver and an outside receiver have to do. He’s done a good job.”

It remains to be seen whether Reynolds will be active for Sunday’s season finale against Cincinnati after Harbaugh described his promotion as a reward from general manager Ozzie Newsome. Reynolds played sparingly in the preseason, making one catch for two yards and struggling to secure the football consistently as a return specialist.

Reynolds scored an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision record 88 touchdowns while leading the triple-option attack for the Midshipmen.

“I was really happy. I called my parents to let them know,” Reynolds said. “It’s been a long season, and I’m just happy to be part of the squad on Sunday.”

To make room on the 53-man roster, cornerback Jimmy Smith (right ankle) was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Harbaugh said at the beginning of the week that Smith was likely to miss his third straight game with a high ankle sprain.

The Ravens officially ruled out inside linebacker Zach Orr (neck) and right tackle Rick Wagner (concussion). Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Wagner may have played his final game with Baltimore last Sunday in Pittsburgh.

After practicing fully for the third straight week, rookie offensive lineman Alex Lewis (ankle) was once against listed as questionable on the final injury report, but he is likely to be active for the first time since Week 9 with Wagner sidelined. Lewis or veteran James Hurst will start at right tackle against the Bengals.

The Bengals officially ruled out left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder) and wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and declared linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion/knee) as doubtful to play. Running back Jeremy Hill (knee) is questionable to play against the Ravens.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Pete Morelli.

According to Weather.com, the game-day forecast in Cincinnati calls for cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s with a 70 percent chance of light rain and winds up to six miles per hour.

Below is the final full injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: LB Zach Orr (neck), OT Rick Wagner (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: G Alex Lewis (ankle)

CINCINNATI
OUT: WR A.J. Green (hamstring), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder)
DOUBTFUL: LB Vontaze Burfict (knee/concussion), TE Tyler Kroft (knee/ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Jeremy Hill (knee)

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Three Ravens starters still sidelined ahead of season finale

Posted on 29 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Three Ravens starters remain sidelined with injuries ahead of Sunday’s season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Right tackle Rick Wagner (concussion), inside linebacker Zach Orr (neck), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle) all missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Smith is expected to miss his third straight game with a high ankle sprain.

It remains to be seen whether rookie Alex Lewis or veteran James Hurst would start at right tackle if Wagner cannot play while rookie Patrick Onwuasor could receive the start in place of Orr.

Center Jeremy Zuttah received a veteran day off on Thursday.

The Bengals continued to be without running back Jeremy Hill (knee), linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion/knee), and tight end Tyler Kroft (knee/ankle) for Thursday’s practice.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Zach Orr (neck), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle), OT Rick Wagner (concussion), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (ankle), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Vontaze Burfict (knee/concussion), WR A.J. Green (hamstring), RB Jeremy Hill (knee), TE Tyler Kroft (knee/ankle), CB Josh Shaw (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Will Clarke (ribs), CB Adam Jones (ankle), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder), LB Vincent Rey (hamstring), OT Andrew Whitworth (biceps), S Shawn Williams (ribs)

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