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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Bengals

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Bengals

Posted on 12 November 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 20-17 (OT) win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Justin Tucker 46 yard field goal good (Overtime)

4. James Ihedigbo 37 yard return of Andy Dalton interception intended for Tyler Eifert, Mohamed Sanu called for 11 yard personal foul (2nd quarter)

3. Reggie Nelson draws 48 yard pass interference on Joe Flacco pass intended for Jacoby Jones (1st down)

2. Terrell Suggs and Corey Graham tackle Andy Dalton for no gain on 4th & 1 (1st down)

1. Giovani Bernard -11 yard catch from Andy Dalton on 4th down, tackled by Corey Graham (Overtime)



(Continued on Page 2…)

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Performance to determine carries for Ravens running backs

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Performance to determine carries for Ravens running backs

Posted on 11 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — What was once brushed off as a slow start can no longer be ignored by the Ravens as Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice averaged less than 2.0 yards per carry for the second straight week in Sunday’s 20-17 overtime win over the Bengals.

For the better part of a month, questions have persisted about Rice’s health after he suffered a hip flexor injury in Week 2 and have gone as far as wondering whether the sixth-year running back is reaching the end of the road as a productive player. Whatever the cause, coach John Harbaugh can no longer ignore Rice’s 2.5 yards per carry average in eight games this season after he gained only 30 yards on 18 carries against the Cincinnati defense on Sunday.

Three or four underwhelming games per season can be chalked up to playing strong front sevens, but Rice has gained only 289 yards on the ground and hasn’t shown elusiveness when catching passes in the open field, averaging a career-low 4.9 yards per reception. Certainly a porous offensive line has played an overwhelming role in limiting Rice’s running room, but the Baltimore coach acknowledged health still being a factor for Rice despite his claims since before the bye in late October that he was 100 percent physically.

“You’ve got to look at the numbers, and definitely, it’s not the same,” Harbaugh said. “There’s no doubt about that, so what is it? It’s injury or it’s not as much room to run, or it’s both. His health has been a factor. There’s no doubt about it. He’s working hard to become healthier; that’s important [to] get past that hip flexor. That’s a muscle injury, and it’s hard to predict exactly what impact that has, but you’ve got to assume it’s had an impact.”

Perhaps Rice’s biggest defense of his performance this season has been the underwhelming numbers of second-year running back Bernard Pierce, who is averaging only 2.8 yards per carry and has battled a nagging hamstring injury that now appears fully recovered. Though not posting numbers on Sunday that would be confused with all-world running back Adrian Peterson in Minnesota, Pierce collected 31 yards on eight carries against the Bengals and displayed more explosiveness than seen from him in quite some time.

With the Ravens desperate to generate any production from a running game averaging a league-worst 2.8 yards per carry, Harbaugh was asked Monday whether he’d consider using Pierce as his feature back with Rice playing more of a secondary role. The coach’s answer was predictable in trying to protect his struggling No. 1 back, but he left the door open for altering how the workload is distributed in the coming weeks.

We can only wait to see how it plays out starting on Sunday in Chicago against a Bears defense ranked 31st against the run and giving up 4.5 yards per carry.

“Both of those guys are going to play,” Harbaugh said. “What would [making Pierce the starter] mean? One guy’s a feature back by definition? Both of those guys are going to get a large number of carries and I think whichever guy’s playing better should get more carries as we go forward. Bernard’s had his hamstring issues the last five weeks, which he seems to be coming out of. Ray’s had his hip issue since the second game, but he seems to be coming out of that. Both of those guys seem to be getting healthier. That’s a plus for us.”

Critics will interpret Harbaugh’s nonspecific answer as nothing more than coach speak, but there is precedent for an effective Pierce — and it’s important to remember his numbers have only been minimally better than Rice’s this season — receiving a larger number of carries that cuts into the veteran’s workload.

Late last season when Pierce began earning his reputation as a physical runner capable of gaining yards after contact, the Ravens fed him the ball 14 times for 123 yards in a Week 16 win over the New York Giants. However, Rice was also effective in that division-clinching win as he gained 107 yards on 24 carries.

The Ravens’ willingness to give Pierce the ball was more evident in the wild card playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts when the carry distribution was nearly even as Rice gained 68 yards on 15 attempts and Pierce rushed for a game-high 103 yards on 13 carries. However, the workload became unbalanced once again for the rest of the postseason as Pierce dealt with nagging injuries.

It’s easy to bury Rice by suggesting the Ravens give the ball to Pierce — who only outperformed Rice substantially in yards per carry for the second time this season on Sunday — and put the veteran on the back burner, but the 2012 third-round pick has been bothered by various ailments in his brief NFL career while Rice has remained durable for most of his six seasons and played four full seasons between missed games at the professional level until he was sidelined with the hip injury earlier this year.

“Both of those guys have to play for us and play well,” Harbaugh said. “You can’t have one back carrying the ball 35 times nowadays, and we don’t need to do that. We think we’ve got two very good backs.”

 

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Defense offers glimpse of what Ravens will need down stretch

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Defense offers glimpse of what Ravens will need down stretch

Posted on 10 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

BALTIMORE — The Ravens defense talked extensively about its need to be more dynamic and to finish stronger late in games after narrow losses to Green Bay, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland over the last month.

A Hail Mary touchdown pass from Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to A.J. Green on the final play of regulation certainly jeopardized that goal, but the Ravens rebounded in overtime for a 20-17 win to not only snap a three-game losing streak but — for the time being, anyway — save their season. The last-second gaffe received much of the attention following the game, but the Baltimore defense’s aggressiveness in forcing three turnovers and sacking Dalton five times was the most encouraging takeaway from Sunday’s game.

After a series of solid performances that weren’t quite good enough in recent weeks, the Ravens defense was a game-wrecking unit against the Bengals for most of the afternoon on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Ravens offense looked a lot like, well, the Ravens offense after being held scoreless in the third and fourth quarters and failing to run out the clock after a James Ihedigbo interception with 1:55 remaining in regulation.

General manager Ozzie Newsome spent most of the Ravens’ resources this offseason to upgrade the defense, and the results have been solid but unspectacular. While certainly an above-average unit that entered Week 10 ranked 10th overall in yards allowed and points surrendered, the Ravens have lacked the ability to make game-changing plays (entering Week 10 ranked 11th in the AFC with only 10 takeaways) to support an offense that’s struggled mightily all season and have surrendered long second-half drives to eliminate potential comeback attempts.

Sunday’s performance against the league’s ninth-ranked offense and seventh-ranked passing attack was exactly what the Ravens needed to not only rebound from a disappointing first half but to give hope of advancing to the postseason for the sixth consecutive year. If the Ravens are to achieve that goal, a game-changing defense would provide a major shot in the arm to an offense that looks lost more often than not.

“We have the motto that once you put it on tape, that’s what expected of you,” said Ihedigbo, who had two interceptions but inexplicably batted the ball in the air to Green on the touchdown to force overtime on the final play of regulation. “Defensively, we played lights out today. I made the reference back to the 2000 defense — they didn’t give up anything to anybody. And when you go with that mindset, it shows on the field.”

Expecting them to rise to the level of the Super Bowl XXXV defense would be too much to ask, but the Ravens showed a level of aggression not seen all season with defensive coordinator Dean Pees calling an increased number of blitzes that led to Dalton being hit nine times, contributing to his completion percentage falling below 50 percent. However, the most dynamic change to Pees’ defense was the decision to move cornerback Lardarius Webb inside in the nickel package, a position he played with great success prior to the second ACL injury of his career last season.

The change led to Webb’s best game of the season as the fifth-year cornerback collected his first interception and made six pass breakups to go along with five tackles. On a day that included strong performances across the board in the secondary, Webb was the best player on the field for the Ravens.

It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will make it a permanent move as No. 3 cornerback Corey Graham lacks the ideal size to play on the outside — Webb previously played inside when the Ravens had the bigger Cary Williams available to play outside opposite Jimmy Smith — but the 5-foot-10 Webb played more aggressively than he has all season in blitzing from the nickel spot and getting hands up in passing lanes.

“That’s my thing. I always play outside because that’s where they wanted me and that’s where they need me,” said Webb about the position change in the nickel package. “I felt like with me playing safety in college and liking to tackle and eyes roaming sometimes, that’s just my spot. I like that spot; I felt comfortable. With that position, you get to tackle, you get to blitz, you get to cover, you get to do it all. You kind of just get to play football.”

The key to beating the Bengals was providing enough harassment on all levels of the defense to entice the bad Dalton to surface as he did in Miami in Week 9. A secondary that included three players listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week rose to the occasion and limited the Bengals’ big plays other than the 51-yard prayer that was tipped into Green’s hands to force the extra period. However, the defense rebounded to make a fourth-down stop of running back Giovani Bernard in overtime to give the Ravens the ball back at their own 44 before the final game-winning drive.

Third-year cornerback Jimmy Smith had one of his best days as a pro, making five tackles and breaking up two passes of his own, and Ihedigbo and rookie Matt Elam turned in strong performances at the safety spots as the Ravens broke up 17 passes in all. Of course, they could thank a ferocious pass rush led by Elvis Dumervil’s 2 1/2 sacks for lending a hand up front.

“Our secondary played tremendously well,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Everybody is going to talk about the last play [in regulation], which is a shame in some ways. Maybe you will talk about the whole game. I thought the pressure was very good, but our secondary covered a very talented and gifted receiving corps all day.”

The Ravens offered a glimpse on Sunday of what they’ll need the rest of the way to give themselves a real shot down the stretch. The offense was again miserable beyond an ability to capitalize on good field position a couple times in the first half and to put together a 28-yard drive in overtime to set up Justin Tucker’s 48-yard field goal to win the game.

Baltimore must have the dynamic, game-changing defensive effort it got Sunday on a regular basis because the offense continues to show no signs of real improvement. It’s no secret that the Ravens lack balance and have struggled in all three phases of the game at different times this season, but Sunday’s win represented a successful attempt to augment the team’s biggest strength.

The challenge will be repeating it moving forward.

“We have to play great as a defense if we want to get back on track,” Webb said. “And today, from the [defensive] line with all the pressure [to] the turnovers, we played great as a defense as a whole. We’ve got to keep getting our hands on the ball. If we keep getting turnovers, then we can keep winning.”

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Bengals “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 10 November 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 20-17 (OT) win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn’s Pats…

5. Ed Dickson

 

4. Justin Tucker

3. Torrey Smith

 

2. Elvis Dumervil

1. Lardarius Webb (Pat on Both Cheeks)

 

(Ryan’s Pats on Page 2…)

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Jimmy Smith was “hot” after Bengals Hail Mary

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Jimmy Smith was “hot” after Bengals Hail Mary

Posted on 10 November 2013 by WNSTV

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Flacco after Bengals Hail Mary: “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

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Flacco after Bengals Hail Mary: “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

Posted on 10 November 2013 by WNSTV

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 09 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

Off to their worst start since the 2005 season, the 3-5 Ravens have never been in such a position in the John Harbaugh era as they meet the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals for the 35th time in franchise history.

Hoping their return to M&T Bank Stadium for the first time in nearly a month will snap a three-game losing streak, the Ravens trail the Bengals by 2 1/2 games in the AFC North and will see their playoff hopes on life support if they drop their third consecutive division game. However, Baltimore has won four of the last five meetings with Cincinnati as the Bengals are still chasing consistency with a talented and deep roster.

The Ravens listed five players as questionable on the final injury report of the week — four of them key defensive players — while Cincinnati will be without inside linebacker Rey Maualuga and will be playing its first game since the season-ending ACL injury suffered by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins in Week 9.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens lead the all-time series with Cincinnati by a 19-15 margin and are 12-5 in Baltimore. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 6-4 against the Bengals, which includes a 4-1 record at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first game since Oct. 6 and move closer toward the .500 mark to begin the second half of the season …

1. Underused wide receiver Deonte Thompson will catch the first touchdown of his career. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s use of Thompson has been perplexing as the second-year wideout has been effective whenever afforded opportunities and has caught just over 64 percent of attempts on which he’s been targeted (nine of 14), the highest success rate of any wide receiver or tight end on the roster. Flacco has struggled in the vertical passing game this season, which was understandable early in the year, but the returns of Jacoby Jones and Thompson have given the Ravens adequate speed to complement No. 1 receiver Torrey Smith. It’s difficult to envision the offense being fixed due to an ineffective offensive line and an inadequate number of consistent weapons, but the Ravens need to throw caution to the wind in taking more deep shots. With Smith once again receiving the most attention, Thompson will slip free for a long score.

2. The absence of Atkins will not be an elixir for the Ravens’ inept running game. It’s true that the Cincinnati defense is more vulnerable after its recent rash of injuries, but the Baltimore running game has been effective for only 30 minutes — the second half of the Miami game in Week 5 — of the 480 total played this year. A poor offensive line is undersized at center and left guard and Ray Rice once again showed a lack of explosiveness last week in Cleveland despite his claims of finally being 100 percent healthy. Caldwell will likely explore further use of the pistol formation to give the Ravens more options in running the ball while working out of a three-wide, shotgun spread formation extensively, but expecting the Ravens to suddenly start running the ball effectively is based on hopes and dreams and nothing about their performance this season. It’s only common sense to assume the Ravens will average under 3.0 yards per carry and accumulate no more 70 or 80 rushing yards until they show otherwise.

3. A banged-up secondary won’t be able to handle the many Bengals weapons, allowing quarterback Andy Dalton to throw for two touchdowns and 250-plus yards. Everyone knows how dangerous Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is, but the emergence of fellow wide receiver Marvin Jones spells bad news for a secondary listing Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, and James Ihedigbo as questionable for Sunday’s game. The Ravens’ 14th-ranked pass defense has been vulnerable to missed tackles and big plays, which doesn’t bode well against an offense with talented pass-catching options at receiver, tight end, and in the backfield with rookie Giovani Bernard. Cornerback Lardarius Webb will do a respectable job against Green when the Ravens shade safety help in his direction, but there isn’t enough quality coverage to go around in shutting down the league’s seventh-ranked passing attack, meaning the Ravens must pressure Dalton heavily to give themselves a good chance.

4. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth will have another shutdown effort against linebacker Terrell Suggs. Browns tackle Joe Thomas receives all the accolades while Whitworth just made his first Pro Bowl last season, but the Bengals lineman has arguably given Suggs more trouble than any other blocker in his 11-year career. Of Suggs’ 7 1/2 career sacks against Cincinnati, only 2 1/2 have come since 2006 when Whitworth was drafted in the second round out of LSU. Without Whitworth playing in their last game, the Bengals gave up five sacks and Dalton turned the ball over four times as he was harassed all night. The Ravens will win on Sunday if they can repeat Miami’s performance in forcing the bad Dalton to come out, but that pressure will need to come from defenders who aren’t lined up against the Bengals left tackle. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to move Suggs around a bit, but big performances will need to come from Elvis Dumervil, Arthur Jones, and others.

5. With their backs against the wall even more than they were last week in Cleveland, the Ravens will fall short once again in a 27-20 final. In the history of the Harbaugh era, the Ravens have been able to rise to the occasion when they’ve needed it most in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Bengals have had success over the last couple years but still fight the trap of reverting to the “Bungles” from time to time. It might not be a must-win game for the Ravens in terms of the mathematics of the playoff race, but falling to 3-6 virtually ends their playoff hopes with five of their final seven games coming against teams with winning records. Those trends would lead you to believe the Ravens will find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against a team with more talent, but “that was then, this is now” as author S.E. Hinton would say. A familiar script of a slow start offensively coupled with a solid defensive effort void of game-changing plays will lead to another close defeat for the Ravens.

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Suggs, Graham new absences from practice on Thursday

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Suggs, Graham new absences from practice on Thursday

Posted on 07 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were further depleted on the defensive side of the ball Thursday as linebacker Terrell Suggs and cornerback Corey Graham were added to a growing list of non-participants.

The defense was already dealing with the absences of linebacker Daryl Smith and starting cornerback Jimmy Smith, who were both missing for the second straight day on Thursday. The starting inside linebacker is dealing with a thigh injury while the third-year defensive back is nursing a groin injury that forced him out of last Sunday’s loss in Cleveland.

Suggs was present in the locker room earlier in the day and did not appear to be favoring an injury but was listed with a foot injury on Wednesday’s injury report. Graham, who would be slated to start if Jimmy Smith cannot play, was sidelined with a calf injury.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) and wide receiver Brandon Stokley (groin) were also absent for Thursday’s practice. The Ravens are expected to place Osemele on injured reserve at some point this week, and Stokley has been dealing with a groin injury for over a month now.

Wide receiver Marlon Brown (finger) was present and working as a full participant after being limited on Wednesday while cornerback Asa Jackson and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore were also practicing. Jackson has been reinstated after serving an eight-game suspension — though he has yet to be placed on the 53-man roster — while Lewis-Moore began practicing Wednesday after starting the season on the non-football injury list while recovering from a torn ACL suffered last January.

For the Cincinnati Bengals, tight end Jermaine Gresham (groin) was downgraded on Thursday’s report after sitting out practice with a groin issue despite working on a limited basis a day earlier. Linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) and defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow) missed practice for the second straight day.

Here is Thursday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Kelechi Osemele (back)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Corey Graham (calf), CB Jimmy Smith (thigh), LB Daryl Smith (thigh), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh), LB Terrell Suggs (foot)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Marlon Brown (finger)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Jermaine Gresham (groin0, LB Rey Maualuga (knee), DT Devon Still (elbow)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), LB Mike Boley (hamstring), G Kevin Zeitler (hamstring)

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Ravens’ hope for turnaround falls on Flacco’s shoulders

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Ravens’ hope for turnaround falls on Flacco’s shoulders

Posted on 06 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was dealt a lousy hand this season.

Of course, coming off a Super Bowl MVP performance and signing a record-setting $120.6 million contract in the offseason ease the pain of the plight he now faces, but anyone who’s watched the Ravens this season realizes the sixth-year quarterback has been fighting an uphill battle since the start of training camp.

No Anquan Boldin or Dennis Pitta.

A running game averaging 2.8 yards per carry and on pace to be the NFL’s worst since the 1953 New York Giants, according to ESPN.

A banged-up and inept offensive line on pace to surrender 50 sacks, which would easily surpass the highest total — 40 in 2010 — given up in Flacco’s career.

With all those factors working against him, Flacco has often been asked this season if he’s had to fight the urge of trying to do too much in the Ravens’ struggling offense that’s now failed to score at least 20 points in in its last three games for the first time since Nov. 2009.

“It’s tough in the NFL to go out there and try to be Superman,” Flacco said. “It’s just impossible to do that. I think that kind of keeps you in check and allows you to go out there and just play the game. It’s frustrating when you’re running off the field and you’re not getting first downs and you’re not scoring points.”

Of course, Flacco’s right in his assessment of no one player being able to do the job all by himself, but the Ravens may need a superhuman stretch — or at least one similar to what we saw in the 2012 postseason — from the quarterback to advance to the postseason for the sixth straight season in the John Harbaugh era. It’s a lot to ask given everything malfunctioning around him, but the Ravens expect a lot from him, evident by the nine-figure investment general manager Ozzie Newsome made last winter.

Flacco’s play has been better than his statistics indicate despite his 79.3 quarterback rating through eight games, which is on pace to be the worst of his career. But that doesn’t mean he’s immune from criticism as his five-interception effort in Buffalo was one of the worst games of his career and his poor first half in Cleveland on Sunday coming off the bye led to another slow start offensively and a third consecutive defeat.

The Ravens needed a pick-me-up from Flacco to build confidence early on against the Browns, but he missed several open receivers in the first half that kept the Cleveland defense in a single-high safety look with seven men in the box, giving an ineffective running game even less of a chance to succeed. With the rushing attack showing no signs of improving, it’s difficult for the Ravens offense to play with confidence if they can’t come out throwing to move the chains early.

This season, Flacco has completed only 53.6 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and four interceptions in the first half before rebounding in the second half with a 65 percent completion rate and a 91.1 passer rating with seven touchdowns and five interceptions.

“We’ll earn our confidence by doing well,” Harbaugh said. “Fundamentally, we have a confident group. There’s no question all of us are confident. We know we can get it done. We know we can get there. But until you start doing it with some consistency, it’s hard to be confident in what you’re doing.”

The slow starts have become an epidemic as the Ravens have fallen behind early and a good — but not great — defense has had to work hard early in games to keep the score close, which might partially explain the unit’s inability to make stops late in the second half to put the offense back on the field for opportunities to complete comebacks.

The Ravens haven’t scored a first-quarter touchdown since the season opener on Sept. 5 and have been held scoreless in the first 15 minutes four times this year. It’s just not a formula conducive to winning more often than not at any level of competition.

In recent weeks, Baltimore has made more of an effort to throw early to help set up the run, but it hasn’t come any easier than it did trying to get Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on track behind fullback Vonta Leach and the offensive line to begin games. Opponents haven’t respected the run or the Ravens’ pedestrian group of wide receivers and tight ends beyond third-year wideout Torrey Smith.

“You have to be able to hit guys on the outside and win one-on-one routes,” Flacco said. “If you can do that, then you can get teams to play some different coverages where you don’t have one-on-one, and then you can open up the run looks a little bit.”

With the absence of Boldin and Pitta making plays in the intermediate middle portion of the field, the Ravens have seen too many defenders in the box to defend the run, but the disappearance of the vertical passing game has been just as problematic. The early-season struggles in that department were understandable with speedsters Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson sidelined due to injury, but their returns haven’t sparked what was a major part of last year’s passing attack.

In the 2012 regular season and playoffs, Flacco completed 50 of 123 passing attempts that traveled 20 or more yards through the air for 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. This season, Flacco is just 10 of 44 with no touchdowns and three interceptions on attempts of 20 or more yards.

Defenses don’t fear the Ravens’ options at tight end and in the slot, so they’ve been able to account more for vertical threats — particularly Smith — but Flacco’s accuracy in that department has been off on a number of occasions, whether receivers have been open downfield or not. Even if the passing game can’t find consistent production, a few more explosive plays might have been the difference in netting a couple wins in their last four losses decided by a total of 14 points.

With the running game nonexistent, it’s clear offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell has elected to put more on Flacco’s plate lately, working extensively out of the shotgun and in three-wide, single-back sets with the intent of throwing the football. The new focus that’s included plenty of no-huddle — Flacco’s favorite way to operate — debuted in the Week 7 loss at Pittsburgh and appears to be the Ravens’ best attempt to establish an offensive identity.

Some would call it nothing but desperation at this point, but the Ravens need Flacco to be better — fair or unfair. Caldwell may continue to introduce new wrinkles such as last Sunday’s debut of the pistol formation, but the best chance of improvement and bouncing back from the franchise’s worst start since the 2005 season rests on Flacco’s right shoulder.

“With Joe controlling this thing, I’m looking forward to continuing to try and change it up,” Rice said. “Whether it’s the [shotgun], under center — it’s essentially just doing the [same] stuff. We’ve just got to execute at a high level. Joe drives this thing, and we’re all just following.”

It’s a lot to ask as Flacco has needed to adapt to changes in personnel — voluntary and due to injury — while dealing with the disappearance of the running game. An improved second half from him isn’t needed to validate his contract or his status as one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but it’s the Ravens’ best — and perhaps only — chance of salvaging what’s looking more like a lost season as the losses mount.

If it were a poker game, Flacco would be playing with rags in early position. He can either fold his hand or try to make some moves in hopes of catching the right card or two along the way. Frankly, even that may not be good enough by the time late December rolls around.

The running game isn’t going to be fixed — at least to the point where it becomes a strength — and Flacco can only make the best of what he has to throw to with the added possibility of Pitta returning in the next few weeks. There are no simple solutions for the Ravens offense other than hopping on Flacco’s back and hoping he finds the kind of groove he did last January and February.

“Even if you do rip up everything, it’s not like you can make it that much different,” Flacco said of the offensive approach. “We’ve just got to be better at what we do. We haven’t been good enough. That’s why we’re not winning football games. We’ve just got to get better and continue to have confidence and continue to believe that we’re going to push through it and be a good football team.”

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Jimmy Smith, Daryl Smith miss practice on Wednesday

Posted on 06 November 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning to the practice field to intensify preparations for Sunday’s meeting against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens were without two defensive starters on Wednesday as cornerback Jimmy Smith and linebacker Daryl Smith were absent.

The third-year defensive back left early in the Week 9 loss to the Cleveland Browns with what was described as a groin injury by head coach John Harbaugh. Smith was feeling better on Monday, but his status will be monitored over the course of the week and veteran Corey Graham would start in his place should he be unable to play against the Bengals.

Meanwhile, the starting inside linebacker was absent during the portion of practice open to media with a thigh injury. Smith finished Sunday’s game with nine tackles and a sack despite picking up a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley (groin) was also absent from practice on Wednesday as was left guard Kelechi Osemele (back), who will be placed on injured reserve at some point this week.

Fresh off reinstatement following an eight-game suspension, second-year cornerback Asa Jackson was practicing and appears to have a good chance to be activated for Sunday’s game with Jimmy Smith currently ailing. The Ravens have a roster exemption that expires Monday before they must either place Jackson on the 53-man roster or waive him.

Rookie defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore also took the practice field for the first time as a member of the Ravens after he was selected in the sixth round of April’s draft and began the season on the non-football injury list while working his way back to full health. A Notre Dame product, Lewis-Moore tore his ACL in the BCS title game last January and now begins a 21-day window in which he can practice before the Ravens either place him on the 53-man roster or send him to season-ending injured reserve.

Since Jackson and Lewis-Moore aren’t currently on the 53-man roster, they did not appear on Wednesday’s injury report.

Coach John Harbaugh had no new information on the pending return of tight end Dennis Pitta, who could potentially return later this month from the dislocated hip he suffered in late July.

“I don’t know exactly [when he will be ready],” Harbaugh said. “When we talked about that time frame, that was a long time ago. Everything I’ve been told is that he is on schedule, but it’s still pretty vague and generic. We are getting close to that date. I’m interested to hear when he can start practicing again. I’ve been asking that question [and] haven’t gotten a yes yet. He’s closer than ever, obviously, and I have my fingers crossed — just like everybody else does.”

Meanwhile, the Bengals were without inside linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) and left tackle Andrew Whitworth (non-injury related) on Wednesday.

Here is Wednesday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Kelechi Osemele (back)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jimmy Smith (thigh), LB Daryl Smith (thigh), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Marlon Brown (finger)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Rey Maualuga (knee), DT Devon Still (elbow), LT Andrew Whitworth (non-injury related)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), LB Mike Boley (hamstring), TE Jermaine Gresham (groin), G Kevin Zeitler (hamstring)

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