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levine

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Takeaways largely absent as Ravens try to get back on track

Posted on 02 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Anthony Levine’s interception undoubtedly brought a sigh of relief to the Ravens sideline at Pittsburgh in Week 4.

Though already leading 23-14 with under four minutes remaining, Baltimore had blown double-digit fourth-quarter leads at Heinz Field in each of the previous two seasons. But Levine picking off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended any thought of history repeating itself again.

That takeaway was the exclamation point on a 26-14 victory that propelled the Ravens to a 3-1 start. Since then, however, John Harbaugh’s team has lost three of four games while forcing only two turnovers: a Tavon Young interception at Cleveland and a Michael Pierce fumble recovery against New Orleans. Those takeaways occurred in the opening quarter and didn’t dramatically move the meter in eventual one-score defeats for a team now standing at 4-4 and entering a critical rematch with the Steelers on Sunday.

Despite the last five quarters in which the Ravens have allowed an unseemly 53 points, the defense remains at or near the top of many statistical categories. But after collecting a league-leading 34 takeaways last season and tying for the NFL lead in interceptions in 2016, Baltimore has forced just seven turnovers in its first eight games, which is tied for 21st in a league in which 13 teams have played seven games compared to the Ravens’ eight.

It’s as much surprising as it is concerning for a defense needing to get back on track against Pittsburgh. In a rivalry in which 17 of the last 24 games — counting the playoffs — have been decided by a single possession, turnovers become even more important than they already are in any given week.

“They’ve been a little more conservative in some ways,” said Harbaugh about how opponents have approached a defense with a reputation for taking the ball away so far this season. “Some of it’s on us — we haven’t made plays on the ball all the time like we need to. Sometimes the ball hasn’t gone our way. But we haven’t caused very many fumbles, and we haven’t gotten our hands on as many balls as we did last year, for sure. We have to find a way to do that. I’m disappointed in that for sure. That’s something that we need to do better.”

The Ravens have forced only four fumbles — falling on two — in their first eight games this season after forcing 17 and recovering 12 last year, a dramatic decline for a defense that regularly practices stripping the ball away from the opposition. Their five interceptions are tied for 19th in the league after finishing first with 22 last season. And though Baltimore’s 41 passes defended are on a comparable pace to last season’s total of 80 for 16 games, opponents are passing more frequently than they did through the first eight games of 2017.

The turnover decline isn’t easy to explain since so much of the defensive personnel is identical to last season, and the few changes — Brent Urban and Tavon Young being healthy — are viewed as upgrades. Truthfully, the defense continuing to rank so highly while playing so much “straight-up” football is a testament to the unit, but it’s also difficult to sustain.

“We’re conscious of that. We run [to] the ball. We’re doing the same things as we’ve always done,” safety Eric Weddle said. “The opportunities are there. We dropped a couple picks early on this season. We’ve got forced fumbles, and they’ve bounced the other way. They’re going to start coming, and when they do, it’s going to make our defense even stronger and our team better. We’ve had about six quarters of not-very-good football, and everything else has been solid.”

To be clear, the Ravens defense hasn’t been completely devoid of big plays. Baltimore leads the league with 27 sacks — including a team-record 11 in the 21-0 shutout at Tennessee on Oct. 14 — but 22 of those came in three games against the Titans, the Browns, and Buffalo, meaning the defense has just five total in its other five games.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale hasn’t hesitated to dial up more blitzes this year than predecessor Dean Pees and remains confident that the turnovers will arrive in bunches if his group remains true to itself, quipping Thursday how it’s difficult to pick off a screen pass on second-and-long.

The Ravens know they must remain disciplined in their effort to force turnovers, but you also wonder how a fourth-quarter turnover against the Browns or the Saints could have made the difference in one-score defeats. An interception or forced fumble can also be so critical in sparking a comeback, something that never materialized in Cincinnati or Carolina. The absence of starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey certainly didn’t help against the Saints and Panthers these last two weeks.

“They’re going to come. There’s no doubt,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “It’s not like we’re doing something so much more crazy on defense that we’re not trying to get those. As corners, me, Brandon [Carr] and Marlon, we have to get our hands on the ball more, create some plays ourselves, and then some tips and overthrows, hopefully, a couple of lucky passes.

“It’s good to be lucky as well.”

Yes, any number of football studies will tell you luck is a bigger element in forcing turnovers than coaches, players, media, and fans want to admit. But studies also confirm just how critical prevailing in the turnover battle is with teams coming out on top winning almost 80 percent of the time.

That element of chance is an unsettling reality as the Ravens try to avoid a third straight loss and recalibrate their quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

“We’re minus-four. You can put it right on that if you want,” said Harbaugh, referencing his team’s turnover differential through eight games. “If we’re not minus-four, what’s our record? If we’re even? If we’re plus-four, what’s our record? It’s probably completely flipped. It’s a big part of it.”

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stanley

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Eight injured Ravens sit out practice to begin Pittsburgh week

Posted on 31 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens face a slew of health concerns on both sides of the ball as they try to right their season against rival Pittsburgh on Sunday.

Eight players sat out Wednesday’s practice for injury-related reasons, a list that includes six starters and four offensive linemen. The timing couldn’t be much worse as Baltimore tries to snap its two-game losing streak and keep pace with the first-place Steelers in the AFC North. The 4-4 Ravens are trying to avoid falling below .500 entering their bye week for the fourth consecutive season.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) is the newest addition to the group of injured offensive linemen already counting starting left guard Alex Lewis (neck) and starting right tackle James Hurst (back). The latter two have missed the last two games while Stanley hurt his left ankle early in the second half of the 36-21 loss to Carolina. Rookie backup Bradley Bozeman (calf) was active for the Panthers game, but he did not play, leaving veteran reserve Hroniss Grasu to make his first start of the season. Second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor played 19 snaps at left tackle in place of Stanley.

Starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey remains sidelined with a thigh injury that’s cost him the last two games, but starting inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) and starting safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) were also absent from Wednesday’s session, creating greater concern as the Ravens have already allowed 53 points over their last five quarters of play and will now face the league’s fifth-ranked scoring offense. Both Mosley and Jefferson played 63 of the total 65 defensive snaps against the Panthers, making it unclear when they sustained their injuries.

Running back Alex Collins was a limited participant with a foot issue.

Newly-acquired running back Ty Montgomery took part in his first practice after arriving at the team facility on Wednesday morning, but it remains to be seen whether the former Green Bay Packer will be ready to play against the Steelers. Head coach John Harbaugh downplayed any notion of the trade being a direct response to the Ravens ranking 31st in the NFL in yards per carry this season, noting his versatility as a former wide receiver and his ability in pass protection.

“We always want good players, and Ty can help us run the ball,” Harbaugh said. “That’s good. I don’t want to frame it like he can’t help us. It certainly can, but that wasn’t part of the conversation. It happened late. Ozzie [Newsome] came in at about 3 p.m. and said, ‘Hey, we’re doing this,’ and we’re rolling. We’re excited about it.”

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did not practice on Wednesday after suffering a fractured left index finger in their Week 8 win over Cleveland, but he is fully expected to play against the Ravens. Pittsburgh linebacker Bud Dupree missed the workout due to an illness.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), CB Brandon Carr (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), OT James Hurst (back), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Alex Collins (foot)

PITTSBURGH
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Bud Dupree (illness), C Maurkice Pouncey (non-injury), QB Ben Roethlisberger (left finger/coaches’ decision), CB Coty Sensabaugh (toe)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Marcus Gilbert (knee)

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humphrey

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Ravens corners Humphrey, Smith absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 24 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Coming off one of the worst performances of his career, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is now dealing with a physical concern ahead of Sunday’s trip to Carolina.

Smith (groin) and second-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh) were absent from Wednesday’s practice, leaving their status against the Panthers in question. Humphrey missed the first game of his NFL career against New Orleans this past Sunday, and head coach John Harbaugh was tight-lipped when asked about his status for Week 8.

It remains unclear whether Smith’s absence was more of a precautionary measure early in the week, but he was present in the locker room prior to practice. Matching up extensively against Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas, Smith surrendered five receptions and a touchdown on the six times he was targeted in coverage and also committed two pass interference penalties in the 24-23 loss.

“We’ve all had games like that. I’ve had horrible games. You never hope you do, but it happens,” safety Eric Weddle said. “You just get back on the horse and look at what you did, get back to technique and working hard in practice. Practice takes a lot of the areas that you may not have been very good at in the game — that can make up for a lot — and get you back playing the way you want to.

“Jimmy is a pro; he’s going to work hard.”

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) was also absent from practice, but this was the fifth straight Wednesday he’s sat, making it more of a rest day despite the injury description. Weddle and wide receivers John Brown and Michael Crabtree also received a veteran rest day.

The return of left guard Alex Lewis to practice was an encouraging sign less than two weeks after he was stretchered off the field with a neck injury in Tennessee. The third-year lineman was listed as a limited participant on Wednesday and has a “good chance” to play against Carolina, according to head coach John Harbaugh.

“I had some numbness, but that was scary,” said Lewis of the pinched nerve he suffered on Oct. 14. “Once I got into the ambulance on the way to the hospital, it started to go away. I’m just thankful now that I can be walking around here and be back on the team.”

Right tackle James Hurst (back) and rookie interior lineman Bradley Bozeman (calf) did not take part in Wednesday’s workout as the Ravens remain thin along the offensive line. Harbaugh expressed optimism about Hurst’s chances of playing this Sunday after his back flared up late last week, forcing him out of the Saints game. Making his first NFL start in place of Lewis in Week 7, Bozeman was in and out of Sunday’s game after sustaining a calf injury.

Harbaugh revealed defensive tackle Willie Henry was placed on injured reserve Tuesday after suffering a herniated disc in his back. The third-year defensive lineman does have a chance to return to play this season, but he would not be eligible to be activated until late December. The injury is a blow to Baltimore’s sub package as Henry was one of the defense’s best interior rushers last season.

“It’s going to fall on our shoulders to get more pressure on the quarterback,” defensive tackle Michael Pierce said. “We’re going to have to take up some of the slack he had in those dime packages and stuff like that. We’ve got our work cut out for us, and we’ve got to get to the passer.”

The Panthers held out former Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith (knee) and starting defensive end Mario Addison (back) from Wednesday’s practice. Quarterback Cam Newton (right shoulder) and tight end Greg Olsen (foot) were limited participants.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), OT James Hurst (back), CB Jimmy Smith (groin), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck)

CAROLINA
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Mike Adams (non-injury), DE Mario Addison (back), DE Julius Peppers (non-injury), LB Andre Smith (hamstring), WR Torrey Smith (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Greg Olsen (foot), QB Cam Newton (right shoulder)

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humphrey

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Cornerback Humphrey limited during Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 18 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Preparing to face one of the best passing games in the NFL in Week 7, the Ravens added starting cornerback Marlon Humphrey to their injury report on Thursday.

The 2017 first-round pick was listed as a limited participant with a thigh issue, making it unclear whether he sustained an injury during practice or if it’s something with which he was already dealing. Humphrey’s status will come into better focus on Friday when the Ravens conduct their final practice ahead of their meeting with New Orleans. Slot cornerback Tavon Young missed last Thursday’s practice with a hip issue before practicing the next day and playing without any apparent limitations against Tennessee.

Even if Humphrey’s availability were to be in doubt, the Ravens would simply turn to Jimmy Smith, who has played 62 snaps in a rotational capacity in each of the last two games. Smith was suspended for the first four games of the season and is coming back from a torn Achilles tendon sustained last December.

“He’s starting to play. He’s getting used to playing again in the second week, and you can see it,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “We didn’t play that many plays, but he was doing some things really well and receivers were having a hard time getting off the line of scrimmage. It was fun to see.”

As expected, veteran cornerback Brandon Carr practiced fully after sitting out the previous day. He has missed the last four Wednesday practices with what’s listed as a knee issue, so there had been no real concern regarding his availability to play against the Saints.

Left guard Alex Lewis remains sidelined with a neck injury that appears likely to keep him sidelined for Sunday’s game. Rookie right tackle Orlando Brown says he’s prepared to play should the Ravens elect to place him in the starting lineup while moving veteran James Hurst over to left guard. Rookie Bradley Bozeman is another option to start at left guard after he filled in for Lewis in the fourth quarter of last Sunday’s win over the Titans.

“I’m just approaching it like I approach every other week,” said Brown, a third-round pick in April’s draft. “I don’t know what the coaches plan to do. They know I’m ready, so I’m just going to continue to work this week and develop my game.”

Both of the Saints’ starting guards sat out Thursday’s workout as Andrus Peat (head) had practiced on a limited basis the previous day and Larry Warford (back) was a new addition to the injury report.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), , S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

NEW ORLEANS
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OL Jermon Bushrod (non-injury), WR Ted Ginn Jr. (knee), G Andrus Peat (head), DT Taylor Stallworth (ankle), G Larry Warford (back)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Terron Armstead (knee), CB Marshon Lattimore (concussion), WR Cameron Meredith (knee)

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Pierce still sidelined as Ravens return to practice field

Posted on 10 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are still waiting on the return of a key member of their defensive line ahead of a third consecutive road game at Tennessee on Sunday.

After suffering a setback with a lingering foot injury that kept him out of the Week 5 loss at Cleveland, defensive tackle Michael Pierce was absent from Wednesday’s practice and is in danger of missing his third game in four weeks against the Titans. The third-year defensive lineman was spotted in a walking boot prior to the Browns game, but he was not wearing it in the locker room before Wednesday’s workout.

Pierce’s absence in Week 5 was eased by the return of defensive tackle Willie Henry after a four-game absence, but head coach John Harbaugh didn’t downplay how important Pierce is to the league’s top-ranked scoring defense. He missed the Week 3 win over Denver and played the following week in the victory over Pittsburgh before resurfacing on the injury report late last week.

“That’s a firm ‘maybe.’ I’m very hopeful, and I say that in all sincerity,” said Harbaugh about Pierce’s availability for Sunday. “I’m very hopeful. We’ll find out, but we could use him. He’s a factor inside. He’s a big difference.”

Six other players missed Wednesday’s practice, but the only real concern in that group appears to be rookie cornerback Anthony Averett, who has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury. Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee) and defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring) also missed last Wednesday’s practice before practicing the rest of the week and playing against the Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams returned to practice after missing the Cleveland game due to a hamstring injury.

Rookie running back De’Lance Turner was listed as a limited participant on the injury report after tweaking his hamstring during the opening portion of practice open to reporters. Turner left the field with a member of the training staff, and it’s unclear whether he returned later in the session. If the injury is serious, the Ravens would have only two healthy running backs — Alex Collins and Buck Allen — on the 53-man roster, which would likely necessitate a roster move. Rookie running back Gus Edwards is on the practice squad after spending the spring and summer with the Ravens.

Harbaugh confirmed former New England cornerback and Gilman product Cyrus Jones will be in the mix for the return specialist job after being claimed off waivers on Monday. The Ravens have already used Janarion Grant and Tim White — who are both on the practice squad — in that role, but ball security was a problem for each of them. Harbaugh and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg will evaluate other in-house options in addition to Jones this week.

“He’s done it before, so he’s in the mix,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, the thing about Tim and Janarion, we could bring those guys up on Saturday if we wanted to. We just have to figure out the roster stuff. We have some other guys who are going to do it. John Brown is going to practice up back there. Of course, Willie [Snead] is back there practicing. I guess we’ll just kind of find out on Sunday and let them figure out who it’s going to be.”

Meanwhile, the Titans were without three starters for their Wednesday practice with two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan being the most notable. Lewan left Sunday’s loss at Buffalo with a foot injury and underwent a magnetic resonance imaging exam for it earlier in the week. He told reporters after Sunday’s game that he dealt with a similar injury last year despite playing in all 16 games.

“I would probably anticipate this thing hopefully improving,” Titans head coach Mike Vrabel said on a Wednesday conference call. “But then we’ll have to see where he’s at at the end of the week and if he’s able to practice.”

Starting inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard (shoulder) practiced on a limited basis after sitting out in Week 5. Safety Kenny Vaccaro remains sidelined with an elbow injury and is unlikely to play against the Ravens.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB De’Lance Turner (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)

TENNESSEE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Will Compton (hamstring), OT Taylor Lewan (foot), S Kenny Vaccaro (elbow)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Wesley Woodyard (shoulder), LB Robert Spillane (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: OT Dennis Kelly (illness)

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flaccobrowns

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 06 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aim for their first 4-1 start since 2012 when they travel to Cleveland for a Week 5 meeting with the Browns on Sunday afternoon.

That’s significant not only because it was the last time they won the Super Bowl, but the Ravens have made the playoffs and advanced to at least the divisional round every time they’ve won four of their first five games to begin a season, something they also did in 2000, 2006, 2010, and 2011. In contrast, a 3-1 start hasn’t always guaranteed January football as Baltimore missed the playoffs in 1997 and, most recently, two years ago. Coming off their biggest road victory in years in Pittsburgh last Sunday night, the Ravens have no room for complacency as they still play three of their next four away from M&T Bank Stadium — a stretch that includes three opponents that made the playoffs a year ago.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 39th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 29-9 edge and an 18-2 advantage in the John Harbaugh era. Cleveland hasn’t beaten the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium since the 2013 season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield will be intercepted twice in his first test against a top-tier defense. Mayfield’s arrival could mean the days of automatically chalking up two annual wins against the Browns are coming to an end, but Wink Martindale labeling Mayfield “this generation’s Brett Favre or John Elway” predictably drew mocking from even coaches in Cleveland. Mayfield will want to test the returning Jimmy Smith, who will rotate with outside corners Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr. That will lead to a pick for Smith, who will be playing for the first time since Week 13 of last season.

2. Willie Snead will stand out in another good performance from Joe Flacco. The Cleveland defense has given up plenty of yards, but the group leads the NFL with 13 takeaways and has more talent, meaning Flacco will need to play smart. The Brown lost starting corner Terrance Mitchell to injured reserve last week and have been vulnerable at the nickel with neither T.J. Carrie nor Briean Boddy-Calhoun holding up well. To offset the pass-rushing ability of Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, and surprising rookie Genard Avery, Flacco will lean on Snead and the tight ends over the middle.

3. Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson will each score a touchdown to keep it close. Carlos Hyde has the most carries in the league and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry while the rookie Chubb ran for 105 yards on three carries last week. No matter how talented Mayfield is, Cleveland will try to borrow the formula Chicago used to beat Baltimore last year when the Bears ran for over 200 yards and kept the pressure off Mitchell Trubisky. It won’t be nearly that extreme, but Chubb’s explosiveness and Johnson’s receiving ability will help keep the Ravens defense off balance.

4. The Ravens special teams’ edge will shine through at a critical moment. The likes of Mayfield and Garrett may eventually lead Cleveland to prominence, but the special teams have remained on brand as Cleveland has had kicks blocked and surrendered long returns early in the season. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric ranks the Browns last in the NFL in special teams. The Ravens have had their own hiccups, specifically with the punt team, but Justin Tucker and Sam Koch always give them an edge. The Browns will “Brown” in a crucial spot to help the Ravens maintain a lead.

5. Baltimore will grind its way to a 24-16 win. Four of the last five meetings in Cleveland have been decided by a single possession and each of the Browns’ two losses this season — both on the road — have come by one score, meaning the Ravens have no excuse to feel too confident in their second of three straight away from home. Mayfield will be making his first home start after coming off the bench two weeks ago to lead the Browns to their first win since 2016, meaning the Cleveland crowd will be fired up more than usual for a game against the team that once played there. The Ravens will be tested, but the composure displayed at Heinz Field last Sunday will show up again in a workmanlike win.

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jimmysmith

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Seven Ravens players designated as questionable for Cleveland game

Posted on 05 October 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Saturday 1:30 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have designated seven players as questionable and ruled two others out for Sunday’s AFC North meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams and cornerback Anthony Averett won’t play after missing practices all week with hamstring injuries while the list of questionable players is headlined by defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring), and rookie first-round tight end Hayden Hurst (foot).

Pierce hadn’t been included on the injury report all week before missing Friday’s practice, a concerning development since he missed the Denver game two weeks ago with a foot injury. Smith practiced on a limited basis on Friday, but he didn’t appear close to 100 percent during the media viewing portion of the workout, leaving Baltimore’s depth at outside linebacker potentially vulnerable. Hurst was still only a limited participant in practices all week, leaving some question as to whether he’ll be active against the Browns after missing the first four games of the season.

One player not listed on the injury report who will make his 2018 season debut on Sunday is cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Ravens officially elevated Smith to the 53-man roster on Saturday as he’ll officially make his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

“He obviously did a really good job of staying in shape [and] worked hard over the period of time that he was away,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That was good to see. He’s getting in football shape; I think he mentioned that. That’s part of it. You have to play the game to play the game. But I feel good about where he’s at and anticipate him playing on Sunday and playing well.”

Baltimore waived rookie cornerback Darious Williams to make room for Smith on the active roster, leaving the Ravens with four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns. Williams appeared in three games and would seem to be a logical candidate for the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring), and running back Alex Collins (knee) were all full participants on Friday, leaving little doubt about their status for Week 5. Collins wasn’t even listed on the final game status injury report, backing up Harbaugh’s Friday assertion that the starting back was fine.

After practicing all week on a limited basis for the first time since undergoing hernia surgery in late August, defensive tackle Willie Henry was listed as questionable for Sunday.

“He looked good. Willie hasn’t done quite as much because of the nature of his injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see about that and see how he responds to practice today and things like that. Really, the other part of that is going to be the roster and where we’re at with the 46-, 53-[man roster] numbers and the injuries and things like that. That will all kind of play into that decision. He probably could go. Whether he will or not, I’ll probably know within 24 hours.”

Starting left guard Alex Lewis was a late addition to the injury report after being limited with a shoulder issue on Friday. Whether it’s the same shoulder that was surgically repaired last August is unclear, but Lewis was listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, the Browns officially ruled out reserve middle linebacker James Burgess with a knee injury and designated starting outside linebcker Christian Kirksey (illness) and starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) as questionable.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast for Cleveland calls for partly cloudy skies with scattered thunderstorms and temperatures reaching the mid-70s. There is a 40-percent chance of rain with winds five to 10 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday’s game:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot). DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (hamstring)

CLEVELAND
OUT: LB James Burgess (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Christian Kirksey (illness), S Damarious Randall (heel)

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jimmysmith

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Ravens dealing with “good problems to have” as J. Smith, others return

Posted on 02 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens had just secured one of their biggest road wins in years as head coach John Harbaugh met with general manager Ozzie Newsome on the post-game bus in Pittsburgh.

Not only had they just beaten an elite quarterback on the road for the first time in over three years, but the Ravens were on the verge of welcoming back their top cornerback, a 2018 first-round pick, and an important member of their defensive line rotation. The thought of a 3-1 team getting even better is certainly exciting for an organization that hasn’t been to the postseason since 2014, but those returns will impact both the 53-man roster and which 46 players are active for games, leading Harbaugh and Newsome to discuss their plans in the aftermath of the 26-14 win over the Steelers.

“We have some tough decisions to make, but those are good problems to have,” Harbaugh said. “When you’re not going to be able to activate a really good, productive player, as hard as that is — especially on the player — it’s probably a good thing for your team. It means you’ve got some depth and you’re healthy.”

Headlining the list of returnees is veteran cornerback Jimmy Smith, whose four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy expired on Sunday. The 30-year-old reported to Owings Mills Monday morning and is expected to practice this week and play at Cleveland on Sunday. The Ravens currently have an exemption for Smith that allows them to delay making room on the 53-man roster until later in the week.

How Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale will distribute the snaps at cornerback remains to be seen as current starters Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr have played well over the first quarter of the season. Humphrey, Baltimore’s 2017 first-round pick, brings the most upside of the group and is considered the No. 1 cornerback of the future, but Carr — one of the most respected players in the Ravens locker room — has started an incredible 164 consecutive games in his career and has played some of his best football in years with Pro Football Focus grading him as the NFL’s 19th-best corner through Week 4.

Of course, the Ravens dealt with a similar challenge last year with Smith nursing a sore Achilles tendon that ultimately gave out in early December. The trio shared snaps for a large portion of the 2017 season, but Baltimore also has slot cornerback Tavon Young to consider now, meaning it isn’t as simple as moving Carr into the nickel role as the organization did occasionally last year.

“It’s a good problem to have, the fact that we’ll have another really good player playing corner and we’ll have the chance to put another guy out there that can cover people,” Harbaugh said. “I think who starts and all that is one thing, but really, they’re all going to play. They’re going to play a lot, and that’s good for the Ravens.”

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst is likely to make his NFL debut this week, which will complicate the current tight end rotation of Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams, and 2018 third-round pick Mark Andrews. At the start of the season, the outsider consensus was that Williams would have been the odd man out if Hurst had been healthy, but the 2015 second-round pick has already exceeded his receiving yardage total from last season and is second on the team in catches of 20 or more yards (three). Williams has caught all 12 of his targets for 119 yards and six first downs.

Even if the Ravens manage to keep four tight ends on the 53-man roster, it would be unlikely for all to be active on game days, creating a tough decision between blocking-minded veterans in Boyle and Williams and the two rookies carrying more upside as receivers. After a quiet summer, Andrews has been one of the biggest surprises of the young season with eight of his 10 catches going for first downs and an 11.9 yards per catch average.

Hurst was listed as questionable to play against Pittsburgh before ultimately being held out for a fourth straight game. The South Carolina product expressed optimism that he was ready to go last week, but he was only a limited participant in practices.

“I don’t think the docs and the trainers were comfortable with just the one week back,” Harbaugh said. “I’d have probably been more comfortable than they were, but it was smart. We’ll just have to see how he does this week. Obviously, he has a good chance to play, but he has to get through full practices and be ready to go.”

Harbaugh said defensive tackle Willie Henry will also return to practice this week, potentially giving the Ravens another inside pass-rushing threat to put pressure on Browns rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield on Sunday. Henry appeared in line to secure the starting 3-technique spot this summer before undergoing surgery for an umbilical hernia in late August. His return would impact the playing time of Chris Wormley the most as the 2017 third-round pick has manned the 3-technique position in the base defense and is second behind only Brent Urban for most snaps among Baltimore defensive linemen this season.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 30 September 2018 by Luke Jones

PITTSBURGH — The Ravens and Pittsburgh renew one of the NFL’s greatest rivalries Sunday night while trying to keep up with first-place Cincinnati in the AFC North.

With the Bengals pulling out a last-minute win at Atlanta earlier in the day, Baltimore will attempt to secure its first win at Heinz Field since the 2015 season and remain in a first-place tie through the first quarter of the season.

As expected after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) are active and will play after sitting out the Week 3 win over Denver. Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) will also play after all were listed as questionable. Suggs was limited in practices all week, but the 16th-year linebacker wasn’t about to miss a chance to renew his personal rivalry with Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst’s NFL debut will have to wait another week as he was deactivated after practicing on a limited basis all week. The first-round pick was sidelined more than a month after sustaining a stress fracture in his foot in late August, and the Ravens are being cautious in easing him back into the picture. Hurst went through a pre-game workout with the other tight ends before the inactives list was released 90 minutes prior to kickoff.

Veteran quarterback Robert Griffin III was a healthy scratch for the fourth consecutive game.

As expected, the Steelers have deactivated starting safety Morgan Burnett (groin) and nickel cornerback Mike Hilton (elbow) after they were listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Sunday’s referee is Tony Corrente.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Pittsburgh calls for mostly clear skies and temperatures in the high 60s with calm winds up to four miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing their white jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons black tops with gold pants.

Sunday marks the 45th all-time meeting in the regular season between these AFC North rivals as the Steelers enjoy a 24-20 advantage. Pittsburgh has won three straight after the Ravens had prevailed in the previous four meetings, a stretch that included the 2014 postseason.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
OL Hroniss Grasu
DT Willie Henry
TE Hayden Hurst
DL Zach Sieler

PITTSBURGH
QB Mason Rudolph
WR Justin Hunter
S Marcus Allen
CB Mike Hilton
S Morgan Burnett
OT Zach Banner
DE L.T. Walton

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Seven Ravens players listed as questionable for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 28 September 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Despite listing seven players as questionable on the final injury report, the Ravens are getting healthier ahead of their Week 4 trip to Pittsburgh.

Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (knee) and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) were among those officially receiving the questionable designation, but both are expected to play after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday. They sat out the Week 3 win over Denver and will offer a boost as Baltimore tries to slow a Steelers offense averaging 29.3 points per game so far in 2018.

“They both seem good. I don’t see any reason they wouldn’t play,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to make sure. I guess they could always have a reaction; I haven’t talked to the trainers yet in terms of how they reacted to today’s practice. That’s always a part of the evaluation, but based on what I saw today, they looked good.”

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (knee) was also listed as questionable, but he was able to return to practice on a limited basis on Friday, easing concerns about his availability on Sunday night. It’s worth noting the seven-time Pro Bowl selection didn’t talk with the media this week, an unusual development suggesting his knee won’t be 100 percent as the Ravens try to secure their first win at Heinz Field since 2015.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), left tackle Ronnie Stanley (foot), and defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring) are also officially questionable, but all are expected to play after practicing fully on Thursday and Friday.

The most interesting injury question will be the status of rookie tight end Hayden Hurst, who practiced this week for the first time since sustaining a stress fracture in his foot last month. The first-round pick was a limited participant in practices all week, but the Ravens liked what they saw from him after a month-long layoff.

“You can’t really say he didn’t miss a beat just because who knows?” Harbaugh said. “We’re not really playing padded football in practice as much, but it didn’t really seem like there was a difference between when he left and what he did this week. I thought he looked very good, very strong. As far as his availability to the game, it will depend on what the trainers say. We’ll just have to see how that goes. It’s something they’ll evaluate between now and then.”

Defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) and rookie cornerback Anthony Averett (hamstring) have been officially ruled out for Week 4. With Averett missing his second straight game, the Ravens have only four healthy cornerbacks available, making a weekend roster move possible with cornerbacks Robertson Daniel and Makinton Dorleant currently on the practice squad.

Only two players — safety Morgan Burnett and cornerback Mike Hilton — appeared on Pittsburgh’s final injury report, but they are listed as doubtful to play on Sunday. Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was removed from the injury report after dealing with an abdomen injury earlier in the week, but he practiced fully on Friday.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday night calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-70s with calm winds at six miles per hour and only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report for Sunday night:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), DT Willie Henry (abdomen)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), TE Hayden Hurst (foot), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), LB C.J. Mosley (knee), DT Michael Pierce (foot), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (knee)

PITTSBURGH
DOUBTFUL: S Morgan Burnett (groin), CB Mike Hilton (elbow)

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