Tag Archive | "Bernard Pierce"

Ravens have lost benefit of doubt in taking chances with character

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Ravens have lost benefit of doubt in taking chances with character

Posted on 20 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Less than a month ago, Steve Bisciotti said the Ravens “took a crash” last season with the Ray Rice saga and four other offseason arrests.

His comments were made in the midst of director of security Darren Sanders’ legals problems and a few weeks after the release of defensive tackle Terrence Cody (felony animal cruelty). Since Bisciotti suggested these kinds of off-field problems “come in waves,” cornerback Victor Hampton and running back Bernard Pierce were each arrested on driving under the influence charges and promptly released.

Any sliver of a benefit of the doubt that might have remained following a nightmarish 2014 calendar year is now gone, regardless of the extensive list of high-character individuals who do exist in the organization.

“In order to take a hit to your reputation, you have to have a pretty good reputation to start with, and we did,” Bisciotti said on Feb. 24. “Now, it’s about proving that it was an aberration, and we believe that to be the case. Are we a little more aware? Yes, I think specifically if you go back to the Ray Rice thing, we certainly are more aware. We’ve been able to tap resources in the community that have furthered our knowledge, our sensitivity and our responsibility.”

There’s only so much that can be done to prevent current members of your organization from getting in trouble. You can look for gaps or needs in your player development program and try to monitor off-field behavior as much as you’d like, but they’re ultimately grown men who make their own choices.

The Ravens have followed through with Bisciotti’s mention of showing more responsibility by disposing of Cody, Hampton, and Pierce, even if they weren’t expected to be notable performers for the 2015 Ravens. It remains to be seen what would happen — and the Ravens hope they won’t be faced with the possibility — if a star performer were to be arrested.

But it would be even better if players — insignificant ones or not — weren’t finding trouble in the first place. Even after ridding themselves of the three players arrested this offseason, the stigma remains with the Ravens.

And that’s where the organization needs to be more proactive and vigilant with the player additions that they make, for reasons of both perception and reality. The Ravens have long taken pride in providing an environment for second chances, but they’re not in a position to do that right now.

“The one area we will definitely take a hard look – and it will be tough for us to bring a player to Baltimore – is someone who has domestic abuse in their background,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said last month. “Other than that, we’ll exhaust every character aspect of the player, but we believe in allowing the information to lead us to a decision when we deal with that. Our scouts do an unbelievable job of getting information when they are on the campuses.”

The standard needs to be higher with not only domestic violence concerns but in any matters that raise red flags away from the field. No breath can be wasted on draft prospects such as talent wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham or other outside additions with any inkling of past trouble.

It’s the current climate in which the organization is living in the wake of the last 13 months.

A few years ago, the Ravens enjoyed the benefit of the doubt in drafting a player with character concerns coming out of college like cornerback Jimmy Smith, but they’re no longer living in that world. While no one would have predicted what happened with Rice, let’s not pretend that Hampton and Pierce — the two most recently arrested — had spotless backgrounds.

Does staying away from questionable character narrow the talent pool? Yes, but not to the point where the Ravens won’t be able to compete given their ability to find good football players.

An isolated incident here or there is unavoidable, but eight player arrests in 13 months can’t be viewed as an aberration if you really care about your image.

The organization has a problem and must do better in bringing in players they can trust on and off the field.

Or the positive reputation the Ravens once enjoyed will be lost for good.

 

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Jacksonville claims ex-Raven Pierce off waivers

Posted on 19 March 2015 by WNST Staff

PRESS RELEASE

The Jaguars were awarded fourth-year running back Bernard Pierce off waivers from Baltimore, the club announced today.

Pierce, 6-0, 230 pounds, has appeared in 45 career games with three starts and has rushed for 1,334 yards and five touchdowns on 353 carries (3.8 rush avg.) and 29 receptions for 164 yards. In 2014, Pierce had 93 carries for 366 yards (3.9 rush avg.) and two touchdowns. As a rookie in 2012, Pierce posted a career-high 532 rushing yards on 108 carries (4.9 rush avg.). Pierce has appeared in six career postseason games and was a member of the Ravens 2012 Super Bowl winning team.

A native of Ardmore, Penn., Pierce attended Temple University, where he started 27 of 34 career games and rushed 663 times for 3,570 yards and 53 touchdowns. His 54 total touchdowns, 53 rushing touchdowns and 324 points scored are all school records. He rushed for 1,000-plus yards in each of his three seasons with the Owls and was named ECAC Offensive Player of the Year and was a first-team All-MAC honoree in 2011.

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Ravens release running back Bernard Pierce after DUI arrest

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Ravens release running back Bernard Pierce after DUI arrest

Posted on 18 March 2015 by Luke Jones

Ravens running back Bernard Pierce was arrested early Wednesday morning for driving under the influence of alcohol.

He was released by the organization less than 24 hours later.

Pierce was stopped by a Baltimore County police officer after he was allegedly driving 55 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone on Dulaney Valley Road. The 24-year-old was reportedly cooperative with police but was arrested after failing field sobriety tests.

According to the police report, Pierce predicted his demise with the Ravens after being arrested.

“Do you know what happened the last time a Ravens player got a DUI?” he allegedly said while riding to the precinct. “I’m getting cut tomorrow, not like you care.”

The 2012 third-round pick is the third Ravens player to be arrested this offseason, joining defensive tackle Terrence Cody and cornerback Victor Hampton. All three players were released promptly after their legal troubles came to light.

Baltimore is sending a clear message that off-field misconduct will not be tolerated, but Cody was already unlikely to be back as a free agent, Hampton was a long shot to make the roster, and Pierce had fallen to third on the depth chart by the end of last season. The Ravens hope they won’t need to face another arrest, but the real test would come if a star player finds himself in trouble with the law.

Pierce entered the 2014 season as the starting running back in place of the suspended and eventually-released Ray Rice, but poor play resulted in him falling behind veteran Justin Forsett and even rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro at times. The Temple product averaged just 3.9 yards per carry last season after gaining a career-worst 2.9 yards per rushing attempt in 2013.

Once considered the potential running back of the future in Baltimore, Pierce hadn’t come close to matching his impressive numbers as a rookie in 2012 when he averaged 4.9 yards per carry and rushed for 532 yards as Rice’s understudy. His struggles over the last two seasons had led many to wonder if he’d even make the 53-man roster in 2015.

The Ravens issued a simple statement saying they were aware of the situation Wednesday morning before announcing Pierce’s release in the afternoon.

At the end of the 2012 season, Rice and Pierce appeared to be forming one of the better running back duos in the NFL, but both are gone less than three years later. Pierce’s departure increases the likelihood of the Ravens taking a running back at some point during this spring’s draft.

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Forsett hoping to escape “friend zone” in free agency

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Forsett hoping to escape “friend zone” in free agency

Posted on 12 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After he expressed gratitude for the Ravens taking a chance on him by turning in a career season, Justin Forsett is looking for a long-term partnership.

Forsett rushed for a career-high 1,266 yards and eight touchdowns to lead the league’s eighth-ranked rushing offense and has expressed repeatedly that he’d like to remain in Baltimore. But the Ravens will need to pony up more than the one-year, $730,000 contract they gave the journeyman back last April.

“There’s also a business side of it where, unfortunately, I’ve been in the ‘friend zone’ for most of my career,” the 29-year-old running back said. “Hopefully, we can get into a deeper commitment somewhere down the road and get some stability. But it is what it is. It’s in God’s hands, and I’m at peace with it.”

Determining Forsett’s value could be tricky as it’s no secret the value of running backs has declined dramatically in recent years in the pass-happy NFL. His doubters may credit the improvement of the offensive line and offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s history of finding productive running backs as the primary reasons for his success, but Forsett displayed excellent patience and vision in the Ravens’ zone-blocking scheme.

The longest commitment Forsett has received in the NFL was the two-year deal he signed with Jacksonville two years ago, but he was released after one injury-riddled season with the Jaguars.

The Ravens will be hoping for big things from Lorenzo Taliaferro in his second season after he averaged 4.3 yards per carry and rushed for 292 yards as a rookie, but Bernard Pierce was disappointing for a second straight year in running for just 3.9 yards per carry and carrying only 93 times. It’s possible that the Ravens could again look to the draft after selecting Taliaferro in the fourth round last May.

Beyond filling the void left behind by Ray Rice in the backfield, Forsett was strong in pass protection and was praised for his attitude and work ethic by coaches and teammates alike. He hopes to be a part of a Ravens offense that took major strides this season and is seeking further improvement in 2015.

“I would love to be a part of it,” Forsett said. “This is an organization that first gave me my shot, my first real opportunity, and I would love to stay.”

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Ravens offense pounding opponents into fourth-quarter submission

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Ravens offense pounding opponents into fourth-quarter submission

Posted on 11 December 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If all goes to plan against the 2-11 Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, the Ravens won’t need to flex too much muscle in the fourth quarter.

But their ability to pound opponents with the running game in the final 15 minutes is a major reason why Baltimore owns a 7-1 record when leading at the end of three quarters. Criticized for an inability to finish games last season on their way to an 8-8 record, the Ravens have used the league’s fifth-ranked rushing attack to wear down opposing defenses to the point where they’ve often appeared to quit from a physical standpoint.

“We haven’t closed out every game in the fourth quarter,” said Harbaugh, likely referencing the 10-point lead the Ravens squandered in the fourth quarter of their loss to San Diego two weeks ago. “We feel like that’s something that has been a point of emphasis for us to finish — to finish runs, to finish blocks, to finish series, to finish in the red zone, to finish games in the fourth quarter.”

That effort has been led by one of the league’s best offensive lines and running back Justin Forsett, who is averaging a remarkable 7.0 yards per carry in the fourth quarter. Only Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and New Orleans’ Khiry Robinson have better averages in the final period, but Forsett’s 348 yards and 50 fourth-quarter carries are more than the other two have combined.

Half of the Ravens’ NFL-best 20 runs of 20 or more yards this season have come in the fourth quarter when the offensive line has consistently worn down front sevens to protect leads and control the clock.

“That’s what we want to do. That’s what the run game provides,” said Forsett, who leads all running backs with a 5.6 yards per carry average and has rushed for a career-high 1,080 yards. “Every time we come out, we know it might not pop right off the bat, but we believe if we keep doing what we’re doing, we’re going to wear defenses down, and we’re going to be able to gas them late in the game, and we’ve had some success doing that.”

While Forsett has surprisingly handled the workload in the aftermath of Ray Rice’s release, the Ravens haven’t hesitated in going to fresh legs as backup Bernard Pierce has averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, good for seventh in the NFL. Of Pierce’s 323 rushing yards this season, 144 have come in the last period — including 50 against Miami this past Sunday.

Of course, it’s been a balanced attack that’s allowed the Ravens to build so many late leads this season, but the running game has been the biggest reason why they rank second in the league in fourth-quarter scoring and fourth-quarter time of possession — Pittsburgh ranks first in each category. And it’s why the stunning loss against San Diego has been the exception and not the norm as the Ravens have needed to mask the league’s 31st-ranked pass defense.

“When it gets tough and gets late, the confidence to run the football is huge,” offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak said. “I think last week, [107] of our yards were actually in the fourth quarter. That’s important. In this league, a lot of close football games you have to win the fourth quarter, and I’m sure this week won’t be any different.”

Miles latest man up at safety

In a season in which five safeties have played meaningful snaps at various points, Jeromy Miles has been the latest to receive extensive action the last two weeks.

Playing 43 of 57 defensive snaps against Miami and 70 of 72 snaps against San Diego, Miles has essentially supplanted Darian Stewart as a starter next to Will Hill on the back end. The fifth-year safety received Pro Football Focus’ highest grade of any defensive player in the San Diego game and was again solid in coverage against the Dolphins, which prompted defensive coordinator Dean Pees to offer a vote of confidence that Miles will continue to receive extensive work.

“It was a matter of, ‘Alright, let’s give each guy a shot and see where it goes and see how he plays that game,’” Pees said. “‘Did he lose the job? Did he keep the job? Are we going to split the time?’ It’s really not a matter of other guys doing stuff poorly. He has done some things well, so it’s kind of like, ‘Why take him out?’ [We are] going to keep giving him a shot.”

Infirmary report

There weren’t any significant changes to the Ravens’ injury report on Thursday as wide receiver Torrey Smith (knee), running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (foot), and tight end Crockett Gillmore (back) missed practice for a second straight day with the availability of all three in doubt for Sunday’s game.

Veterans Steve Smith, Daryl Smith, and Owen Daniels received the day off as they often do on Thursdays while cornerback Anthony Levine (concussion) was upgraded to full participation, a good sign for Sunday’s game.

Below is Thursday’s official injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Owen Daniels (non-injury), TE Crockett Gillmore (back), LB Daryl Smith (non-injury), WR Steve Smith (non-injury), WR Torrey Smith (knee), RB Lorenzo Talliaferro (foot)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Jah Reid (hand)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Levine (concussion)

JACKSONVILLE
OUT: RB Denard Robinson (foot)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Andre Branch (groin), DE Chris Clemons (knee), LB Khairi Fortt (hamstring), LB Geno Hayes (rest)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Blake Bortles (right shoulder), S Josh Evans (finger), RB Toby Gerhart (ankle), WR Tommy Streeter (abdominal), LB J.T. Thomas (ankle)

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Five up, five down: Ravens stock at midway point

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Five up, five down: Ravens stock at midway point

Posted on 29 October 2014 by Luke Jones

At the midway point of the season, we take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is up and down after the first eight games of 2014 …

STOCK UP

1. Justin Forsett
Skinny: What else can be said about the 29-year-old journeyman who currently ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing yards (571) and second among running backs in yards per carry (5.5). Forsett said it best last week in quipping that many people didn’t even know he was still in the NFL entering 2014, but he’s been a saving grace in the aftermath of the Ray Rice saga. For an organization that’s found plenty of diamonds in the rough over the years, Forsett has been as good of a story as any.

2. Pernell McPhee
Skinny: The rush specialist has picked the perfect time to have a career year with his rookie contract set to expire. McPhee is second on the team in sacks (four) despite playing fewer snaps than Terrell Suggs or Elvis Dumervil, a reflection of how effective he’s been in putting pressure on quarterbacks. The 2011 fifth-round pick’s improved health as well as defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ effective use of McPhee have added up to the Ravens having their best interior rusher in quite some time.

3. C.J. Mosley
Skinny: Many were obviously high on the 2014 first-round pick, but Mosley has been better than advertised in serving as the Ravens’ best inside linebacker and a top candidate for the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Mosley ranks fourth in the NFL in tackles entering Week 9 and has recorded two interceptions, six pass breakups, five quarterback hits, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. For a front seven that needed some new blood, Mosley has been a high-impact addition.

4. Rick Wagner
Skinny: Remember when right tackle was a major topic of discussion throughout the offseason? Wagner has not only quelled those concerns, but the 2013 fifth-round selection has been an above-average player at his position, a major reason why the offensive line has been one of the strengths of the 2014 Ravens. He and perennial Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda have been an impressive tandem opening lanes on the right side of the line for the league’s eighth-ranked running game.

5. Brandon Williams
Skinny: There were high hopes for the second-year nose tackle to slide into a starting role and Williams hasn’t disappointed while wreaking havoc for interior offensive linemen against the run. He is seventh on the team in tackles and has made it far more difficult for teams to focus their attention on defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Very athletic for his size, Williams has recorded 25 tackles, 1/2 sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in his first year as a starter.

Others receiving consideration: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Steve Smith

STOCK DOWN

1. Jacoby Jones
Skinny: His season has been nothing short of disastrous as he’s dropped more passes (five) than he’s caught (four) and has twice lost fumbles on returns. The Ravens re-signed him to a four-year, $12 million contract that included a $3.5 million signing bonus in March, which is now looking like one of the worst contracts the organization has handed out in recent memory. He’ll need a big second half just to avoid being cut after the 2014 season, but his role has all but disappeared in the offense.

2. Bernard Pierce
Skinny: It’s been a dramatic fall for the 2012 third-round pick, who began the year as the starting running back and was a healthy inactive in Sunday’s game against Cincinnati. Pierce’s 3.6 yards per carry average is nearly two yards worse than Forsett’s (5.5) and lags behind rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro (4.4), which reflects his struggles and indecisiveness running in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking system. Pierce hasn’t taken advantage of what was a huge chance to prove himself as a feature back.

3. Matt Elam
Skinny: It’s fair to point out that Elam has been out of position for a large portion of his career, playing free safety as a rookie and often filling in at the nickel spot often in 2014. However, it isn’t just his pass coverage that’s been unsatisfactory as the 2013 first-round pick leads the team in missed tackles with 12, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s too early to label Elam a bust, but he hasn’t consistently displayed qualities of a good strong safety, let alone the versatility the Ravens expected him to have.

4. Torrey Smith
Skinny: The fourth-year receiver has had his moments and has drawn several significant pass interference calls, but he’s gone from a wideout who produced 1,128 receiving yards a year ago to one on pace for 36 catches and 616 yards in 2014. The Steve Smith factor is obvious, but Torrey Smith has averaged just 1.22 yards per route run, which is the 14th-worst mark in the NFL among players targeted at least 20 times. A down season couldn’t have come at a worse time with his rookie contract expiring.

5. Arthur Brown
Skinny: The 2013 second-round pick has been a healthy inactive for eight straight games as the Ravens have elected to use the likes of Albert McClellan and rookie free agent Zach Orr on special teams. The re-signing of Daryl Smith and the drafting of Mosley made it pretty obvious that Brown would need to remain patient in terms of expanding his role from a year ago when he served as a nickel linebacker. But for him to not even suit up for games is pretty telling of his current status.

Others receiving consideration: Marlon Brown, Chykie Brown, Lardarius Webb

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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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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

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Offensive line becoming major asset for Ravens at quarter mark

Posted on 28 September 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — On a day in which Steve Smith and Joe Flacco understandably owned the spotlight in the Ravens’ dominating 38-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, John Harbaugh was asked after the game how rookie free agent James Hurst fared in his first start at left tackle.

The head coach’s answer applied as an appropriate assessment of the entire offensive line through the first quarter of the season. After a nightmarish 2013 in which the group stood out on a weekly basis for all the wrong reasons, the Baltimore offensive line hasn’t been a major topic of discussion because of how consistently well it’s played.

Even after losing standout left tackle Eugene Monroe to knee surgery, the Ravens didn’t appear to miss a beat with Hurst, an offensive lineman many didn’t think would make the 53-man roster at this time a month ago.

“I didn’t notice him, so that must be a good thing, right?” Harbaugh said. “I can’t wait to see it on tape, but it seemed like he played well. We ran the ball well. We did a good job across the board, I think, blocking as a group. The unit has played exceptionally well. We have to keep building, but it’s nice to have some depth in there.”

It’s no secret that veteran members of the offensive line took last year’s criticism to heart after the Ravens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda made it clear during organized team activities last spring that he had no interest in rehashing the struggles of a running game that averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry in 2013.

In the eyes of the offensive line, it was a different year with a new system installed by new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. There was also new personnel, including the arrival of veteran center Jeremy Zuttah and the promotion of second-year lineman Rick Wagner to the starting right tackle spot. Of course, the improved health of left guard Kelechi Osemele and Yanda also figured to pay major dividends after both dealt with ailments last season.

And it’s led to the previously-loud criticism of offensive line coach Juan Castillo becoming all but silent at this point.

“It’s obviously going to be different with a new offense,” said Zuttah, who’s stabilized the middle of the line that struggled with Gino Gradkowski at center a year ago. “Coach Kubiak is one of the better offensive minds in this league. You watch that Houston Texans running game for years, and they were at the top of the league every year. I think guys came in with a chip on their shoulder and an attitude and a willingness to get better.”

The Ravens’ improvement with the zone-blocking system starts inside where Zuttah said he’s flanked by the “best set of guards in the NFL” in Osemele and Yanda. Through the first four weeks of the season, the two have played at a Pro Bowl level, earning the highest cumulative grades of any Baltimore offensive players, according to Pro Football Focus.

Whether opening lanes for the running back trio of Justin Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Bernard Pierce or protecting quarterback Joe Flacco, the offensive line continues to make the 2013 season a distant memory as the Ravens are off to a 3-1 start.

Since Flacco was sacked three times in the season-opening loss to Cincinnati, the offensive line hasn’t allowed one in three straight contests. It’s the first time the Ravens have done that since the 2006 season in which they finished 13-3.

“Those guys have been holding up big time when we do the play-action, when teams come after us, and when we’re dealing with really good defensive lines,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve got a lot of good guys up front, and they’re communicating very well, and they’re being really physical. We’re allowing them to play very physical and get really confident, so it’s been a good run.”

That physicality has paid major dividends in the running game as Forsett and Taliaferro combined to run for 127 yards on 30 carries against the Carolina defense. Averaging 4.5 yards per carry through their first four games, the Ravens have followed through on the promise to return to their roots as a physical, run-first team.

That success has led to a more-efficient Flacco, who is currently on pace to throw a career-high 28 touchdowns and is completing 63.4 percent of his pass attempts. The arrival of the veteran Smith and the revamped running game have allowed Flacco to play more like the signal-caller we saw in the 2012 postseason and less like the man who had to try to do it all by himself last year.

He can thank his offensive line for not only keeping him clean but opening running lanes for whichever running back is carrying the ball. The cohesiveness has impressed the 28-year-old Forsett, who had plenty of experience running in zone-blocking systems in Seattle as well as in his one season with Kubiak in Houston.

Behind a revamped line, the Ravens have rushed for at least 125 yards in three straight games, a feat they hadn’t accomplished since the first three weeks of the 2009 season. Through four games, they’ve also collected six runs of 20 or more yards, one more than they had all last season.

“The offensive line has been gelling really fast,” Forsett said. “I’ve been in this scheme for a while now and to be doing this well this early, it’s a good sign.”

As encouraging as the start to the season has been, the Ravens will now enter a daunting stretch of four road games over the next five weeks. They’ll need that strong offensive line play we’ve seen at M&T Bank Stadium to continue against the likes of Indianapolis, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh in the coming weeks.

Even with the early-season success, members of the offensive line haven’t expressed any sense of satisfaction or an air of “I told you so” after hearing last year’s criticism and the doubts leading into this season.

Averaging 25.75 points per game, the Ravens still offer the impression that they can get even better upfront.

“We did pretty good today, but there were some yards we left out there,” Zuttah said. “I think we’re going to go back in there and be tough on ourselves in the film and see what we can do to get all the yards that we think we missed.”

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Panthers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 27 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens hope to hit the quarter pole of the season on a winning note when they welcome the Carolina Panthers to Baltimore on Sunday afternoon.

Most focus has understandably centered around wide receiver Steve Smith playing against his former team this week, but the Ravens will be playing their first game since losing tight end Dennis Pitta for the season and left tackle Eugene Monroe for at least the next few weeks. And they face an imposing stretch of four of their next five games on the road following Sunday’s contest at M&T Bank Stadium, making this a game the Ravens would desperately like to win.

Meanwhile, the Panthers are trying to recover from an embarrassing home loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night while overcoming a number of injuries in their offensive backfield. Expected to have one of the more potent rushing attacks in the NFL this season, the Panthers currently rank 29th in run offense with just 72.3 rushing yards per contest.

Sunday marks the fifth meeting between these teams as Carolina holds a 3-1 edge. However, the Ravens won the only game against the Panthers of the John Harbaugh era, a 37-13 final in Charlotte in 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first ever home game against the Panthers …

1. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown pass and be flagged for a 15-yard penalty against his old team. The 35-year-old has tried to downplay the significance of playing the Panthers after spending the first 13 years of his career in Charlotte, but there’s no escaping the prediction of “blood and guts” he made shortly after signing a three-year contract with the Ravens in March. To say Smith will be fired up is an understatement considering how fiery he is on game days anyway, but he’ll bring a little extra passion that will draw a 15-yard penalty for either unnecessary roughness or taunting at some point. He’ll make up for it, however, with a touchdown catch to beat Panthers cornerback Antoine Cason.

2. James Hurst will struggle as a run blocker, but his pass blocking, with help from tight end Crockett Gillmore and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, will keep Joe Flacco clean. If you’re looking for the silver lining with the left tackle situation, Monroe wasn’t playing well before undergoing knee surgery this week, meaning there may not be much of a drop-off with the undrafted rookie. The overall impression of his play in the preseason was that Hurst was a capable pass blocker with good technique, but his blocking ability in the running game left much to be desired. Baltimore will use help on his side to help contain the pass rush from the likes of Charles Johnson, Mario Addison, and Wes Horton and keep Flacco safe. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak will also call more running plays inside and to the right to stay away from Hurst’s struggles whenever possible.

3. With Jimmy Smith locked on rookie Kelvin Benjamin, veteran Jerricho Cotchery catches a touchdown from Cam Newton against the Baltimore secondary. The 6-foot-5 Benjamin will pose a problem for any Ravens cornerback other than Smith, so defensive coordinator Dean Pees will have his top defensive back mirror him as much as possible. Veteran Lardarius Webb wasn’t listed on this week’s injury report, so he’s expected to have a bigger workload than the four defensive snaps he took in Cleveland, but it’s still difficult projecting what to expect from him in terms of performance. Carolina’s weapons in the passing game aren’t imposing beyond Benjamin and tight end Greg Olsen, but the savvy Cotchery is familiar with the Ravens defense from his days with Pittsburgh and will shake free against zone coverage for a red-zone touchdown.

4. Bernard Pierce will start in the backfield, but rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will lead the Ravens in rushing for the second straight week. A national audience watched the Steelers gash the Panthers defense for 264 rushing yards in a 37-19 final in Charlotte last Sunday night, which continued the early-season trend of Carolina struggling to stop the run. Kubiak will look to run early and often to control the tempo of the game and will defer to the returning Pierce at the start of this one. However, the jury is still out whether the 2012 third-round pick is a great fit in the Ravens’ zone-blocking scheme as he’s often looked indecisive in hitting running lanes. The Ravens will lean heavily on Taliaferro in the second half to wear down the Panthers’ front and the rookie will make another emphatic statement that the starting job belongs to him.

5. The injuries to Pitta and Monroe are concerning, but the Ravens will still have enough to handle Carolina in a 26-17 final. The Panthers are still trying to find their bearings on the offensive side of the ball with Newton still not 100 percent and the backfield in disarray with the long-term injury to fullback Mike Tolbert and the uncertain status of Jonathan Stewart. On top of that, the Carolina defense hasn’t been the imposing unit it was last year without defensive end Greg Hardy in the picture. The Ravens will use an effective running game and an improved defensive effort to win in relatively comfortable fashion to begin the season 3-1 before starting what looks to be the most difficult stretch of their regular-season schedule with only one home game over the next five weeks of action.

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Four Ravens starters missing from Wednesday’s practice

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Four Ravens starters missing from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 24 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to the practice field Wednesday to prepare for their first non-divisional game of the season against the Carolina Panthers without four veteran starters participating.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith (leg), linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin), left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee), and defensive end Chris Canty were absent during the portion of practice open to media. In addition to the four veterans, rookie defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan remains sidelined with a meniscus injury that forced him to miss last Sunday’s game against the Browns.

Head coach John Harbaugh revealed after practice that Monroe underwent knee surgery on Wednesday afternoon and will be sidelined for “some number of weeks.” Rookie free agent James Hurst is expected to fill in at left tackle.

Even with their 23-21 win against Cleveland, the Ravens were clearly banged up after playing their third straight game against an AFC North opponent. Suggs was clearly limited at the end of the game, but the 12-year linebacker downplayed the significance of his groin injury after the win.

The good news during Wednesday’s practice was the return of running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) after he missed last Sunday’s game.

The Ravens were practicing in full pads on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Carolina Panthers had six players sidelined during their first practice of the week including starting linebacker Thomas Davis, starting strong safety Roman Harper, and running back Jonathan Stewart. However, the Panthers received good news with wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and starting running back DeAngelo Williams practicing fully.

Here is the full Wednesday injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DE Chris Canty (knee), DT Timmy Jernigan (knee), T Eugene Monroe (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (knee/ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Bernard Pierce (thigh)

CAROLINA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Thomas Davis (hip), CB Charles Godfrey (ankle), S Roman Harper (knee), RB Jonathan Stewart (knee), RB Fozzy Whittaker (thigh), T Garry Williams (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Jerricho Cotchery (thigh), RB DeAngelo Williams (thigh)

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