Tag Archive | "Bernard Pierce"

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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Ravens stock watching entering Week 4

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Ravens stock watching entering Week 4

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll take a look at which Ravens players’ stock is rising and falling …

STOCK RISING

Lorenzo Taliaferro
Skinny: Even if I could have run through a couple of the huge running lanes opened by the offensive line, the rookie took advantage of the Bernard Pierce injury by rushing for 91 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries against Cleveland. Taliaferro drew some comparisons to Jamal Lewis on his 31-yard run in which he showed impressive downhill speed. The starting job might not be his just yet, but there’s little debate that the fourth-round pick is firmly in the backfield equation now and the heat will be on Pierce to play at a high level. 

Kyle Juszczyk
Skinny: Just a week after appearing in the “falling” category, the second-year fullback’s strong performance against the Browns that included a 9-yard touchdown catch lands him back in the good graces of the coaching staff. The season-ending injury to Dennis Pitta will likely create more opportunities for Juszczyk to catch passes in the flat as the Ravens will need someone to complement veteran tight end Owen Daniels. His Lebron James chalk throw celebration earned him style points, but Week 3 was a step in the right direction for Juszczyk. 

Rick Wagner
Skinny: The second-year right tackle continues to be consistently solid in his first year as a starter and earned the third-highest grade among offensive players for Week 3, according to Pro Football Focus. Wagner and Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda were able to open some sizable running lanes for Taliaferro and veteran Justin Forsett against the Browns defense as they did late in the Pittsburgh game. In fact, Wagner has been more consistent than left tackle Eugene Monroe, who has struggled in two of the first three weeks of the 2014 season. 

C.J. Mosley
Skinny: Aside from two unnecessary roughness penalties in the first three weeks, it’s easy to see why the Ravens were excited to draft Mosley with the 17th overall pick of May’s draft. The Alabama product finished with six tackles (one for a loss) and registered a hit on Cleveland quarterback Brian Hoyer on Sunday. Mosley would be the first to tell you that he’s left some plays out on the field, but his aggressiveness and instincts put him on track to be an impact player as he gains experience and more strength over the next year or two. 

STOCK FALLING

Matt Elam
Skinny: Elam is only three games into his second year, but we’re still waiting to see what the Ravens saw in him as a first-round pick as he misses too many tackles for a player with a reputation for physicality and has been exposed in pass coverage too often. Sunday was probably the worst game of his career as a long reception to Taylor Gabriel was made even worse when Elam was focused on the miscommunication in the secondary instead of bothering to touch the receiver who was on the ground. In fairness, Elam was out of position at free safety last year and has had to play the nickel this year, but he hasn’t impressed.

Jacoby Jones
Skinny: Head coach John Harbaugh opined that the veteran wide receiver is pressing through the first three weeks of the season, but Jones has been a non-factor with only three catches for 20 yards and has dropped several passes, including one that could have gone for a touchdown at the beginning of the fourth quarter Sunday. Jones is a dynamic return specialist and there’s no reason not to put him on the field to run a few verticals per game, but his ability as a receiver is very limited beyond that. With Pitta out for the season, the Ravens need more production from the No. 3 receiver spot, whether it’s Jones or someone else.

Lardarius Webb
Skinny: Sunday was supposed to be a good day for the secondary with the long-awaited return of the veteran cornerback, but Webb played only four defensive snaps and looked like he was in quicksand trying to cover Andrew Hawkins on an out route. You hope it was just rust and not evidence of a lack of flexibility from the back injury, but Week 3 only raised concerns about Webb, who had practiced fully for the last three weeks leading into his season debut. It’s painfully clear that the Ravens need help in the secondary and what we saw from Webb against the Browns wasn’t close to being the tonic. 

Bernard Pierce
Skinny: Sunday was the first game Pierce had missed in his three-year career, but a thigh injury is just the latest ailment to hobble the starting running back, which led to Taliaferro making an emphatic statement in Cleveland. Pierce’s Week 2 stats (96 yards on 22 carries) were a bit deceiving as he was indecisive through three quarters before finally finding room against a tired Pittsburgh front. It’s too early to suggest Taliaferro has supplanted Pierce as the starting running back, but the 2012 third-round pick will need to play at a high level and stay healthy to hold off the rookie.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 21 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will attempt to go 2-1 in finishing their AFC North run to begin the season against the Cleveland Browns Sunday, but they’ll have to do it without a key cog in their offense.

Running back Bernard Pierce (thigh) was ruled inactive and will miss the first game of his NFL career. The third-year back was added to the injury report as a limited participant on Thursday before participating fully and being listed as questionable on Friday.

The Ravens promoted rookie running back Fitz Toussaint from the practice squad and cut wide receiver Deonte Thompson on Saturday, a clear indication that Pierce’s status was in doubt. Veteran Justin Forsett is expected to start in Pierce’s place, and he will be spelled by two rookies — fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro and the undrafted free agent Toussaint — who have yet to record a carry in the NFL.

The good news is that cornerback Lardarius Webb will make his long-awaited 2014 season debut after missing the entire preseason and the first two regular-season games while recovering from a back injury suffered on July 25. The sixth-year defensive back practiced fully over the last three weeks, but the Ravens wanted to be careful that his back did not flare up again.

As expected, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan is inactive as he continues to recover from a knee injury. He was listed as doubtful on the final injury report of the week. This means the Ravens could lean on recently-claimed defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi to play some reps in the rotation as he is active for Sunday’s game.

Rookie third-round safety Terrence Brooks is inactive for the first time this year and 2013 second-round linebacker Arthur Brown is a healthy scratch for the third straight week, developments that aren’t exactly ringing endorsements for the last two draft classes.

Meanwhile, the Browns will have the services of tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and linebacker Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), who are both active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. Cleveland’s starting running back Ben Tate (knee) is out once again, paving the way for Towson product Terrance West to make another start.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with white pants while the Browns don white jerseys and white pants at home.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Cleveland calls for temperatures right around 70 degrees with winds up to 18 miles per hour and partly cloudy skies.

The Ravens are 22-8 in the all-time series against the Browns, which includes a 10-5 mark in Cleveland. Under head coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore is 11-1 against the Browns but lost the most recent meeting between these teams at FirstEnergy Stadium last November.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
RB Bernard Pierce
WR Michael Campanaro
OT Jah Reid
G John Urschel
DT Timmy Jernigan
LB Arthur Brown
S Terrence Brooks

CLEVELAND
WR LaRon Byrd
CB Pierre Desir
NT Ishmaa’ily Kitchen
LB Eric Martin
DB Robert Nelson
TE Gerell Robinson
RB Ben Tate

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Ravens promote running back Toussaint, cut wide receiver Thompson

Posted on 20 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens made a roster move less than 24 hours before their Sunday meeting with the Cleveland Browns by cutting wide receiver Deonte Thompson and promoting running back Fitz Toussaint from the practice squad.

The move likely stems from starting running back Bernard Pierce being listed as questionable with a thigh injury on the final injury report of the week. Pierce was added to the injury report Thursday after practicing on a limited basis, but the third-year back was a full participant on Friday, an encouraging sign for his status.

Should Pierce be limited or unable to play against Cleveland, the Ravens would be looking at veteran Justin Forsett, 2014 fourth-round pick Lorenzo Taliaferro, and the rookie free agent Toussaint as their backfield options. Forsett has led the Ravens in rushing through the first two weeks of the season, gaining 126 yards on 19 carries for a 6.6 yards per attempt average.

Thompson made the 53-man roster as the Ravens kept seven wide receivers to start the season, but he was inactive in each of the first two games after scoring three touchdowns in the preseason. Toussaint turned heads with a strong performance in the preseason finale last month and gained 123 yards on 21 carries over the summer.

Toussaint was elevated from the practice squad to the 53-man roster the day before the season opener against Cincinnati but was inactive for the game. He was then cut a day later as the Ravens claimed defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi off waivers from the Bengals.

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Ravens list Webb probable, Pierce questionable against Browns on Sunday

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Ravens list Webb probable, Pierce questionable against Browns on Sunday

Posted on 19 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have listed Lardarius Webb as probable for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, which paints an encouraging picture for the starting cornerback to make his 2014 debut this weekend.

Webb has practiced fully for three straight weeks after missing all of training camp while dealing with a back injury. He was deemed inactive in Weeks 1 and 2 after being listed as questionable on the final injury report for each of those games.

Starting running back Bernard Pierce is listed as questionable after being added to Thursday’s injury report with a thigh injury. The third-year back practiced on a limited basis on Thursday before being upgraded to full participation on Friday.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) is doubtful after missing practice all week and is reportedly recovering from a meniscus injury that could keep hiim sidelined for a couple weeks.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (stomach bug), cornerback Asa Jackson (concussion), and left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) are also listed as probable for Sunday’s game.

Meanwhile, the Browns have ruled out running back Ben Tate (knee) as expected and designated standout tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (shoulder) as questionable.

Here’s the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: DT Timmy Jernigan (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Bernard Pierce (thigh)
PROBABLE: QB Joe Flacco (illness), CB Asa Jackson (concussion), T Eugene Monroe (knee), CB Lardarius Webb (back)

CLEVELAND
OUT: RB Ben Tate (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder), LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder)
PROBABLE: WR Travis Benjamin (knee), DL Desmond Bryant (wrist), DL John Hughes (hamstring), P Spencer Lanning (shoulder), OL Paul McQuistan (ankle), CB Buster Skrine (thumb)

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 11 September 2014 by Luke Jones

All eyes will be on Baltimore as the Ravens welcome the hated Pittsburgh Steelers to M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.

However, few outside Baltimore and Pittsburgh are thinking about the game itself as the Ravens continue to deal with the fallout stemming from the release of the second Ray Rice video and the subsequent decision to terminate the running back’s contract Monday afternoon. This meeting is normally regarded as one of the best rivalries in the NFL, but you’d have to think long and hard to find another example of a Ravens-Steelers game with so little buzz surrounding the actual play on the field.

But that doesn’t make it any less important for the Ravens as they try to avoid what would be a very disheartening 0-2 start in the AFC North. According to NFL Network research, no team in NFL history has ever made the postseason after dropping two straight divisional home games to begin a season, making Thursday’s game as close to a “must-win” affair as you can have in Week 2.

Head coach John Harbaugh has earned a reputation for rallying his teams to play at their best when dealing with adversity, but the Ravens have never dealt with a situation quite like this, making you wonder how mentally and emotionally fresh they’ll be on what was already a short week.

Thursday marks the 37th time these AFC North rivals have met in the regular season with Pittsburgh holding a 20-16 advantage. The Ravens are 9-9 against the Steelers in Baltimore and have won two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to even their record at 1-1 and bounce back from their disappointing season-opening loss to Cincinnati …

1. Running back Bernard Pierce will lead the Ravens in carries and pick up 70 yards with a touchdown. It was easy for Harbaugh to send a message to Pierce after his fumble late in the second quarter last week when he was still working under the assumption that Rice would be returning for Week 3, but the Ravens now need Pierce to be a large part of what they do with their running game all season. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will get their opportunities — the former was very good in pass protection last week in addition to running for 70 yards — as Harbaugh says he will go with the hot hand moving forward, but Pierce still gives the Ravens the best chance to have a successful running game in the short-term future and is a good fit on paper for Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone stretch scheme.

2. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will take turns exploiting the tackles on the Pittsburgh line to record a combined three sacks. Suggs may have provided more of an impact than the completely-invisible Dumervil did against the Bengals, but neither were able to disrupt the timing of Andy Dalton, something that can’t be repeated against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As always, the pass rush needs to be careful not to simply chase Roethlisberger from the pocket where he’s at his best improvising down the field, but more help needs to be provided to a secondary that should have cornerback Lardarius Webb available. Steelers tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are weak links on the offensive line, giving Suggs and Dumervil no excuse not to feast on Thursday night.

3. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will pick up where Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard left off, registering 120 total yards and a touchdown while giving the Ravens problems as a receiver out of the backfield. Though much bigger than the shifty Bernard, Bell caught 45 passes for 399 yards out of the backfield in 13 games as a rookie and added six receptions for 88 yards against the Browns in Week 1. The Ravens struggled against screens and underneath throws while protecting against the deep ball last week, so Pittsburgh will test them again with those types of plays until Baltimore shows it can stop them. And with Pittsburgh being another team that likes using the no-huddle offense, you do wonder if a bigger back like Bell will start to wear down an old front seven as the game progresses.

4. The Ravens will use more up-tempo offense and quarterback Joe Flacco will go to tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels early in this one. Just as the Steelers undoubtedly saw how the Ravens defense struggled to defend screens and other underneath throws, Kubiak had to take notice of the Browns’ success using the no-huddle attack against Pittsburgh in the second half and should use that to his advantage in hopes of getting Flacco going early. You’d never know it from the final numbers when he targeted Pitta and Daniels a combined 20 times, but Flacco threw to the tight-end duo only once before the final drive of the first half. Ravens wide receivers cannot have a case of the drops like they did last week, but look for Flacco to throw more short stuff to Pitta, Daniels, and Kyle Juszczyk to get into an earlier rhythm before taking some longer shots down the field.

5. It will be close with Pittsburgh as it always is, but the home-field edge gives the Ravens just enough to pull out a 24-21 win that they really need. Only four of the 14 Ravens-Steelers games in the Harbaugh era have been decided by more than three points and the last five meetings have all been determined by three or fewer. The Ravens have dealt with plenty of distractions away from the field this week, but they know they cannot afford to fall to 0-2 with both games against AFC North foes. The best teams are able to rise to the occasion and come together under trying circumstances like these while lesser teams fold and begin looking for excuses. You get the sense that Thursday night will tell us a lot about who the Ravens are as a football team in 2014 — good or bad.

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Ravens list Webb as questionable for Sunday’s season opener

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Ravens list Webb as questionable for Sunday’s season opener

Posted on 05 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens listed starting cornerback Lardarius Webb as questionable on their final injury report ahead of Sunday’s season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

The sixth-year defensive back practiced fully all week after missing five weeks of summer practice due to back spasms first sustained on July 25. Webb is expected by most to play against the Bengals’ explosive passing attack, but it remains to be seen how effective or limited he might be after missing all of training camp.

For players such as Webb and veteran tight end Owen Daniels who missed significant practice time last month, this week was an encouraging development as all 53 players participated fully. Running back Bernard Pierce was the only other player listed and is probable after being cleared from the concussion sustained in the third preseason game against Washington.

“This week is valuable for all the players. They all have done a great job,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t care where you’re at as a player, you need to prepare. And [Webb and Daniels] prepared like everybody else. Everybody is at their own spot in terms of what they need to do to get ready to play.”

Meanwhile, the Bengals ruled out starting wide receiver Marvin Jones (foot) at the start of the week and listed rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard (hip) as questionable for Sunday. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (shoulder) were listed as probable.

Here’s the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: CB Lardarius Webb (back)
PROBABLE: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Rex Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DOUBTFUL: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
PROBABLE: LB Vontaze Burfict (hamstring), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), G/C Mike Pollak (knee), T Andre Smith (concussion)

 

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No changes to Ravens’ injury report on Thursday

Posted on 04 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — While questions remain over how prepared the Ravens secondary will be in the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, uncertainty about its healthy has dissipated as all 53 players on the active roster practiced fully for the second straight day.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) and running back Bernard Pierce (concussion) were the only Ravens players listed on Thursday’s injury report, as was the case the previous day. Baltimore is hoping Webb’s experiencing entering his sixth NFL season will offset the five weeks of missed practice time due to back spasms first suffered on July 25.

Meanwhile, the Bengals are dealing with many more injury concerns after wide receiver Marvin Jones and running back Rex Burkhead were already ruled out for Sunday’s game earlier this week. The left side of the Cincinnati offensive line was sidelined Thursday, but tackle Andrew Whitworth and left guard Clint Boling were simply given a veteran day off, according to the Bengals’ report.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict was limited in Thursday’s practice due to the heat after recently getting over a hamstring issue. Rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard has been limited two straight days because of a hip injury.

Prior to Thursday’s practice, the Ravens announced they re-signed veteran linebacker Josh Bynes to their practice squad and released rookie defensive tackle A.J. Pataiali’i. Bynes cleared waivers on Wednesday and was eligible for the practice squad because of changes made by the NFL for the 2014 season.

Under the new 10-man practice squad rules, each team may sign a maximum of two players with no more than two accrued seasons. Previously, if a player had an accrued NFL season by being on the 53-roster for more than six games, he was ineligible for the practice squad unless he was on the active game-day roster for fewer than nine contests. Bynes has only accrued two full NFL seasons, making him eligible despite the fact that he appeared in 25 games for the Ravens over the last two seasons.

Here is Thursday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Bernard Pierce (concussion), CB Lardarius Webb (back)

CINCINNATI
OUT: RB Max Burkhead (knee), WR Marvin Jones (foot)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Sean Porter (hamstring), WR James Wright (concussion), G Clint Boling (non-injury related – veteran day), T Andrew Whitworth (non-injury related – veteran day)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Vontaze Burfict (heat-related), CB Darqueze Dennard (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G/C Mike Pollak (knee), TE Tyler Eifert (shoulder), RB Cedric Peerman (hip), OT Andre Smith (concussion)

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