Tag Archive | "Brandon Williams"

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Ravens restructure Brandon Williams’ deal to create cap space

Posted on 15 March 2018 by Luke Jones

Owner Steve Bisciotti mentioned last month the possibility of restructuring defensive tackle Brandon Williams’s contract to create salary cap space, and the Ravens have followed through on that.

According to ESPN’s Field Yates, Baltimore has converted $7.5 million of Williams’ $8.5 million base salary for the 2018 season into a bonus, an accounting maneuver that creates $5.625 million in cap room. It’s the second time the Ravens have restructured the sixth-year defensive lineman’s five-year, $52.5 million contract signed only last March.

NFL Players Association records indicated the Ravens entered Thursday with $12.898 million in cap space, but that was before the free-agent signings of wide receivers Ryan Grant and John Brown became official. Grant agreed to a reported four-year, $29.5 million contract while Brown is receiving a reported one-year, $5 million deal, meaning their additions will eat up a sizable portion of that cap room.

The downside of the Williams restructure is the long-term consequence of increasing cap numbers for the remaining three years of the agreement after 2018. Williams, 29, will carry a $5.92 million cap number this season, but each of the next three seasons now carry cap figures north of $14 million.

For those originally on the fence about the Ravens investing so much in a run-stopping defensive tackle who hasn’t offered much as a pass rusher in his career, these cap ramifications for a player who will soon be on the wrong side of 30 aren’t exactly ideal. But it’s the cost of doing business when you’re tight against the cap and want to make additions to your current roster.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts on Steve Bisciotti’s press conference

Posted on 03 February 2018 by Luke Jones

With Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti holding his season-review press conference on Friday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The news of the day was Bisciotti revealing Ozzie Newsome would step down as general manager after 2018 with Eric DeCosta then taking over. Newsome doesn’t like the limelight and did release a statement confirming he’d retain a “significant” role, but he should have been the one to announce this.

2. Meanwhile, Bisciotti admitted firing John Harbaugh was a “consideration” after the season, but the owner refused to give a “playoffs or bust” edict for 2018. I respect that, but you’d think it would take some extreme circumstances to preserve Harbaugh’s job if Baltimore misses the postseason again.

3. It’s telling that Bisciotti remains steadfast to the long-term plan of DeCosta taking over as general manager while Harbaugh’s seat appears so warm, especially when looking at the lack of playmakers and underwhelming drafts in recent years that haven’t exactly helped the 53-man roster.

4. Beyond the Newsome news, Bisciotti acknowledging the loss of heralded scouts like Joe Douglas having a harmful effect was arguably the most significant nugget. The Ravens have developed many great scouts over the years, but infusing some experienced eyes from outside the organization wouldn’t hurt.

5. I haven’t put much stock into the narrative of the coaching staff having too much influence on recent drafts, but Bisciotti’s theory that the Ravens have “over-analyzed” their top 60 prospects in recent drafts with too many opinions is interesting. Is he talking about the scouts, the coaches, or both?

6. Bisciotti saying he has “bigger fish to fry” than finding Joe Flacco’s successor should squash notions of the Ravens drafting a quarterback early. It’s the only logical way to proceed now, but the clock is ticking before it becomes possible to cut him starting next year and especially after 2019.

7. I buy Flacco’s injured back being a major detriment to his play early in the season, but color me skeptical hearing Bisciotti say the offseason focus will be on acquiring weapons for the quarterback. Perhaps it’s fitting this presser took place on Groundhog Day since we’ve heard that one before.

8. Bisciotti comparing the losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati the last two seasons to Jacoby Jones’ touchdown against Denver falls flat when considering these defeats occurred in the regular season — not the divisional round. The “we’re close” narrative conveniently overlooks all the mediocrity leading up to those defining moments.

9. As the owner noted, the Ravens aren’t going 4-12 every season and remain competitive, but I couldn’t help but recall the days when Bisciotti would dwell on his team not securing enough home playoff games. In that context, it’s difficult not to feel the standard has diminished recently.

10. Baltimore is again tight against the salary cap, but the mention of restructuring Brandon Williams’ contract isn’t ideal when the 29-year-old already has scheduled cap figures north of $12 million from 2019-21. This practice typically results in diminished value from otherwise-still-productive veterans having cap numbers that are too expensive.

11. Bisciotti bristled at questions about the Ravens being stagnant and at a crossroads, but missing the playoffs four out of five years, a pending general manager change, a coach on the hot seat, an under-producing quarterback with recent health concerns, and declining attendance pretty much speak for themselves, don’t they?

12. Bisciotti deserves credit for answering questions and reaffirmed his passion for owning the Ravens. There’s work to do on and off the field, but fans should be encouraged to hear he’ll be around for the “foreseeable future” as owner. Old Colts fans can remind you the grass isn’t always greener.

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How did Ravens defensive linemen stack up to rest of NFL in 2017?

Posted on 25 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens failed to make the postseason for the fourth time in five years, but where exactly did their players stack up across the NFL in 2017?

Whether it’s discussing the Pro Bowl or picking postseason awards, media and fans spend much time debating where players rank at each position, but few put in the necessary time and effort to watch every player on every team extensively enough to develop any kind of an authoritative opinion.

Truthfully, how many times did you closely watch the offensive line of the Los Angeles Chargers this season? What about the Detroit Lions linebackers or the Miami Dolphins cornerbacks?

That’s why I can appreciate projects such as Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 and the grading efforts of Pro Football Focus. Of course, neither should be viewed as the gospel of evaluation and each is subjective, but I respect the exhaustive effort to grade players across the league when so many of us watch only one team or one division on any kind of a consistent basis. It’s important to note that the following PFF rankings are where the player stood at the conclusion of the regular season.

Below is a look at where Ravens defensive linemen ranked across the league, according to those outlets:

Running backs

Brandon Williams
2017 defensive snap count: 475
NFL1000 ranking: 23rd among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 19th among interior defenders
Skinny: Those who were reluctant to see the Ravens give Williams a monster contract saw the defense give up the most rushing yards in the NFL during his four-game absence in September and October. The 28-year-old isn’t a pass rusher, but PFF ranked him fifth among interior linemen against the run.

Michael Pierce
2017 defensive snap count: 595
NFL1000 ranking: 20th among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 22nd among interior defenders
Skinny: The second-year nose tackle built on his successful rookie season with plenty of success as a starter, finishing with 49 tackles and one sack while playing all 16 games. Like Williams, Pierce doesn’t offer much rushing the passer, but he’s been a heck of a find as a former undrafted free agent.

Willie Henry
2017 defensive snap count: 598
NFL1000 ranking: 50th among defensive tackles
PFF ranking: 45th among interior defenders
Skinny: After not playing a snap as a rookie and being a healthy scratch for the first two weeks of 2017, Henry rapidly emerged as Baltimore’s best pass-rushing defensive lineman, finishing with 3 1/2 sacks and five batted passes. His improvement was critical as others dealt with injuries at various points.

Carl Davis
2017 defensive snap count: 302
NFL1000 ranking: 19th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: 78th among interior defenders
Skinny: The 2015 third-round pick’s career hasn’t gone as planned thus far, but Davis helped solidify the 5-technique spot after Brent Urban was lost for the season and younger options Chris Wormley and Bronson Kaufusi weren’t up to the task. He finished with 17 tackles, one-half sack, and one batted pass.

Brent Urban
2017 defensive snap count: 123
NFL1000 ranking: 27th among 3-4 defensive ends
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The 6-foot-7 free agent looked poised for a strong 2017 after an impressive preseason, but the injury bug bit him again as he suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in Week 3. Re-signing Urban on the cheap isn’t out of the question, but he’s missed 39 games in his four seasons.

Chris Wormley
2017 defensive snap count: 120
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: The Ravens would’ve liked to see the third-round rookie from Michigan make more of an impact after Urban went down early in the season, but it’s not unusual to see a 5-technique defensive end need more seasoning. This will be a critical offseason for Wormley to show he’s ready for a bigger role.

Bronson Kaufusi
2017 defensive snap count: 33
NFL1000 ranking: n/a
PFF ranking: n/a
Skinny: Kaufusi had the chance to be the next man up when he received a Week 4 start, but he was ineffective and then inactive for 10 of the final 12 games. The clock’s ticking for the 2016 third-round pick to prove he’s not a bust, but the circumstances were there for him to get on the field this past season.

2018 positional outlook

The interior defensive line remains in very good shape with Williams and Pierce serving as strong anchors, but the 5-technique defensive end spot remains an uncertain position, especially with the recent news of Davis undergoing shoulder surgery. Using third-round picks on Kaufusi and Wormley the last two years should have more than taken care of that position, but the former may not be a sure thing to even make the 53-man roster after being a total non-factor in his second season and the jury is still out on Wormley after a quiet rookie campaign. Questions about these two could prompt the Ravens to have more interest in re-signing Urban, but he’s not dependable — even at a cheap price. The departure of Lawrence Guy last March turned out to be a bigger loss than anticipated, so it’s possible general manager Ozzie Newsome could be on the hunt for a veteran bargain to stabilize the depth at defensive end.

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Examining the Ravens’ top 10 cap numbers for 2018

Posted on 09 January 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens face an all-too-familiar offseason after missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years, but concerns about the 2018 salary cap have already surfaced with free agency still two months away.

It’s no secret that the draft is the lifeblood of any organization wanting to create and sustain long-term success, but teams need to receive appropriate production from their highest-paid veterans to maintain a balanced roster capable of competing for championships. As things stand now, the Ravens will devote $109.503 million in 2018 cap space to their 10 players with the highest cap numbers. The 2018 salary cap hasn’t yet been set, but it’s believed to fall somewhere between $174 million and $178 million.

Below is a look at those 10 players:

1. QB Joe Flacco
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $24.75 million
Synopsis: This is hardly a new topic of discussion with most opinions formulated over the last five years unlikely to budge. Flacco certainly needs to play at a much higher level, but consider just two other members of the top 10 are offensive players and $17.625 million of the remaining $84.753 million in 2018 cap dollars for spots No. 2 through No. 10 are devoted to offensive talent. On top of that, only four offensive players have been taken with Baltimore’s 17 Day 1 and Day 2 draft picks since Super Bowl XLVII. Is this a recipe for a balanced roster setting up its quarterback for success? The results don’t lie.

2. CB Jimmy Smith
2018 Week 1 age: 30
2018 cap number: $15.675 million
Synopsis: Smith is a great example of the dangers of restructuring contracts as adjustments made the last two years to create cap relief have added more than $4 million to his original 2018 cap number from when he signed his big extension in 2015. Smith will be coming back from a torn Achilles tendon and has played more than 12 games in a season just twice in his career, but cutting him would create more than $13 million in dead money for 2018. He was having the best season of his career before the early-December injury, but the organization is now stuck and can only hope he makes a successful comeback.

3. DT Brandon Williams
2018 Week 1 age: 29
2018 cap number: $11.545 million
Synopsis: There was a fair argument to be made whether re-signing Williams was the best use of cap resources last offseason, but the Ravens allowing more rushing yards than anyone in the NFL during his four-game absence in September and October made a very strong case in support of the decision. You’d like to see more productivity from Williams as a pass rusher at that salary, but he’s as good as interior defensive linemen come at stopping the run. His age makes you nervous from a long-term standpoint, but his cap figures remain relatively flat over the duration of his deal that runs through 2021.

4. G Marshal Yanda
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $10.125 million
Synopsis: There’s no underselling how much the Ravens missed the man regarded by many as the best guard in football over the last six or seven years, but the six-time Pro Bowl selection will be coming off a serious ankle injury and is entering his 12th NFL campaign, making his cap number something to monitor next season. If he returns to his previous level of play, his eight-digit cap cost remains well worth it, but it’s fair to worry if this is when Father Time begins catching up with Yanda, who will turn 34 in the first month of the new season.

5. S Tony Jefferson
2018 Week 1 age: 26
2018 cap number: $8.99 million
Synopsis: I never understood the organization’s infatuation with giving a box safety — accomplished as he may have been in Arizona — a four-year, $34 million contract, and nothing about Jefferson’s play in his first season refuted that notion as he often struggled in pass coverage. In fairness to him, the coaching staff needs to be more creative to better utilize his skills as a blitzer and run defender, but there was little evidence of him making the kind of splash plays that justify this price tag. This signing might be the poster child of the Ravens’ obsession with defense while neglecting the other side of the ball.

6. LB C.J. Mosley
2018 Week 1 age: 26
2018 cap number: $8.718 million
Synopsis: The 2014 first-round pick made his third Pro Bowl in four years, but nagging injuries took their toll at times and his pass coverage wasn’t as strong as you’d like to see from a player on the verge of a massive pay day. Signing Mosley to an extension this spring would lower his 2018 cap figure and keep him in Baltimore for the long haul, but he ranked an underwhelming 37th among qualified linebackers in Pro Football Focus’ grading system in 2017. Mosley will always be judged unfairly against the memory of future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, but he’s certainly lived up to his first-round billing.

7. S Eric Weddle
2018 Week 1 age: 33
2018 cap number: $8.25 million
Synopsis: It doesn’t appear to be a coincidence that a once-turnover-starved defense recorded more takeaways than anyone in the NFL over the last two seasons upon Weddle’s arrival. He shook off a shaky start to 2017 to finish tied for second in the league with six interceptions and serves as the quarterback of a secondary that has had fewer communication breakdowns over the last two years. Weddle has made the Pro Bowl in each of the last two years, but his increasing cap number does make you a bit nervous about his advancing age as he enters his 12th season. Two years in, this has been a very good signing.

8. WR Jeremy Maclin
2018 Week 1 age: 30
2018 cap number: $7.5 million
Synopsis: The Ravens hoped they were getting their next Anquan Boldin or Steve Smith as Maclin was envisioned as the next just-past-his-prime wide receiver to save the day in Baltimore, but Flacco’s back injury as well as Maclin’s various ailments never allowed the two to get on the same page, making this a very disappointing signing. Whether those realities will be enough to earn Maclin a second chance with the Ravens remains to be seen, but he’s never really felt like a good fit and you’d have to think both sides are probably better off moving on. Cutting him would save the Ravens $5 million in 2018 cap space.

9. CB Brandon Carr
2018 Week 1 age: 32
2018 cap number: $7 million
Synopsis: The veteran served his purpose as an acceptable No. 2 cornerback and would have been a likely cut before Jimmy Smith’s Achilles injury that now makes it unclear whether the top corner will be ready for the start of next season. The Ravens may need to roll the dice on the promising trio of Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, and Maurice Canady holding down the fort if Smith isn’t quite ready to go by Week 1. Electing to keep Carr around would be understandable, but that’s an expensive insurance policy when the roster has so many other needs. Cutting him would save $4 million in space this offseason.

10. LB Terrell Suggs
2018 Week 1 age: 35
2018 cap number: $6.95 million
Synopsis: While Suggs is approaching the end of a brilliant career, I haven’t quite understood some of the speculation out there about him being a potential cap casualty as he comes off an 11-sack season and his first Pro Bowl invitation since 2013. Of the Ravens’ young edge defenders, only Matthew Judon has emerged to look the part of a rock-solid starter while the likes of Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams still have much to prove. New defensive coordinator Wink Martindale would be wise to limit Suggs’ snaps more to keep him fresh next year, but he’s still a good value compared to some other names in the top 10.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 31-27 loss to Cincinnati

Posted on 02 January 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five years in a 31-27 loss to Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I initially called it the most devastating home loss in team history and was quickly reminded by several folks on Twitter of the crushing 2006 playoff defeat to Indianapolis. They were right, but I’ll still say this was the most stunning home defeat in 22 seasons of Ravens football.

2. Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown to Tyler Boyd will be remembered, but don’t forget the horrendous first half that put the Ravens in a hole. His team looking flat and unprepared with the season on the line was a poor reflection on John Harbaugh, especially after a shaky performance against Indianapolis.

3. Maurice Canady was a Week 16 hero, but he was picked on during the final drive and was out of position to make a play on the ball or the tackle on Boyd’s touchdown. Eric Weddle was also in no man’s land in zone after showing blitz before the snap.

4. Remember the talk about the Ravens not letting A.J. Green beat them? The seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver finished with two catches for 17 yards. Feel any better that the “Tylers” — Boyd and Kroft — did it instead? Yeah, didn’t think so.

5. We certainly saw a less-accurate Joe Flacco than we’d seen in recent weeks and his third-down throwaway before Cincinnati’s final drive was terrible — Mike Wallace was wide open underneath to at least attempt to keep the clock moving — but five drops from his receivers did him no favors.

6. Wallace had a few and is no better than a No. 2 wideout, but letting him walk would feel similar to Torrey Smith’s exit. I also have doubts about Jeremy Maclin’s future, so do you trust the Ravens to add at least two impactful receivers this offseason? I certainly don’t.

7. The defense allowed a whopping 126 rushing yards in the first half and surrendered over 4.0 yards per carry in a season for the first time in team history. Brandon Williams’ four-game absence explains much of that, but the run defense was still quite disappointing relative to expectations.

8. After all the discussion about the impact of Danny Woodhead returning, the 32-year-old caught 30 passes for 167 yards after the bye and eclipsed 40 yards from scrimmage in a game twice. The Ravens touted his signing as their major offensive addition last offseason before Maclin fell into their laps.

9. Breshad Perriman was a healthy scratch in favor of an undrafted rookie receiver who was making his NFL debut in Quincy Adeboyejo. What else is there to say about the 2015 first-round pick?

10. Speaking of underwhelming draft choices, Kamalei Correa, Bronson Kaufusi, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, and Tim Williams combined for seven defensive snaps Sunday. The last three are rookies and absolutely deserve more time before judgment, but that’s not much of an early return from Day 2 of the last two drafts.

11. Flacco throwing well short of the chains on fourth-and-14 was a fitting way to close the book on the 2017 Ravens, but there were only two healthy wide receivers on the field and one was a rookie who had been on the practice squad all year. Not ideal.

12. This had to be one of the weirdest games I’ve ever seen in terms of time of possession. The Ravens held the ball for barely more than nine minutes in the first half while Cincinnati possessed it for less than eight minutes after intermission. Strange.

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Suggs was fitting choice for Ravens MVP in grind-it-out season

Posted on 29 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Identifying a team MVP wasn’t a slam-dunk proposition in a grind-it-out season for the Ravens.

There were a number of reasonable candidates, ranging from surprising running back Alex Collins to Pro Bowl selections Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley, but none jumped off the page as the obvious choice. If not for injuries that cost them substantial portions of the season, defensive tackle Brandon Williams and cornerback Jimmy Smith would have garnered stronger consideration. And when you consider how dependent the Ravens have been on field position, even punter Sam Koch deserved mention for his strong campaign.

But the strong play, mental prowess, and veteran leadership of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs made him a fitting choice to receive the local media’s award. Amazingly, it’s the first time the 35-year-old has received the honor, but his mere candidacy in his 15th season — along with his seventh trip to the Pro Bowl — may have helped cement his eventual place in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Looking and sounding genuinely touched and surprised to be named team MVP, Suggs says his primary focus is on the Ravens clinching their first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

“This is flattering. I’m speechless. I didn’t know this was this award,” said Suggs, who initially thought he was receiving the local media’s “Good Guy” award on Friday. “This is awesome. It would be a sour note if we don’t win on Sunday, so that is pretty much my big focus right now. This is great among the achievements that we all have achieved this year, but we want to be having a football game next week.”

After changing up his offseason routine by training at the team’s Owings Mills facility rather than in his home state of Arizona, Suggs has enjoyed his finest season in a few years, recording a team-leading 11 sacks and forcing four fumbles. The 2003 first-round pick will play in all 16 regular-season games for the first time since 2014 and has played just over 76 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps, dismissing any notions about him becoming more of a situational player this season.

It’s an outcome few would have predicted after he suffered the second torn Achilles tendon of his career just two years ago.

Suggs has credited the revamped offseason regimen for improved health and conditioning, helping him record double-digit sacks for the seventh time in his career. His veteran teammates have also pointed to his presence at spring workouts and meetings as a positive influence on younger players as the Ravens were coming off their second straight season without a playoff berth.

His on-field production and colorful personality have been givens for years, but his underrated cerebral approach to the game has allowed him to continue playing at a high level despite his advancing age. Over the years, opponents have repeatedly noted Suggs’ ability to sometimes call out their offensive plays before the snap, a product of his rigid preparation.

“You see how much fun he is and how much energy he brings to practice,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I don’t think you fully understand what he’s like off the field studying. He is from the book of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis and those guys.”

In a season in which the Ravens rebounded from a rash of early injuries and a 4-5 start, a healthy and productive Suggs receiving the MVP nod was an appropriate outcome as he moves closer to his eventual place in Canton.

Weddle receives “Good Guy” honor

The local media named Weddle the 2017 recipient of the “Good Guy” award, an honor bestowed upon the player deemed most helpful to reporters.

In his second season with the Ravens, the veteran safety has regularly been available after losses and during tough times when it isn’t as easy to talk to the media.

“The media out here is great. It’s always an obligation for us and for myself,” said Weddle, who was named to his fifth Pro Bowl earlier this month. “I’ve always said that I will always be honest and upfront — good, bad, or indifferent. I’m a man of my word and respect everyone’s jobs. It’s pretty sweet that you guys think that highly of me.”

As a token of their appreciation for Weddle’s cooperation this season, the local media will make a donation in his name to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation.

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Ravens designate Maclin as doubtful to play against Cincinnati

Posted on 29 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are expected to again be shorthanded at the wide receiver position Sunday as Jeremy Maclin is listed as doubtful to play against Cincinnati.

The veteran hasn’t practiced or played since injuring his left knee in the first quarter of the Week 15 win at Cleveland on Dec. 17. With Maclin unlikely to suit up, second-year wide receiver Chris Moore is expected to start opposite Mike Wallace for the second straight week.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace (knee), right tackle Austin Howard (knee), and defensive tackle Brandon Williams (back) were all listed as questionable on the final injury report, but all were full participants in Friday’s workout, leaving very little doubt about their availability against the Bengals. Fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard (neck) was limited in practices all week — wearing a red non-contact vest over his jersey — and is also questionable for Sunday’s game.

The Bengals will be without starting left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder), who will miss his second straight contest. Standout linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder) is listed as doubtful to play after sitting out practices all week.

Rookie running back Joe Mixon (ankle) and cornerback Williams Jackson (knee) are questionable for Cincinnati.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 20s and falling after the 4:25 p.m. kickoff. Winds will be 10 to 20 miles per hour with no chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: WR Jeremy Maclin (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), OT Austin Howard (knee), DL/FB Patrick Ricard (neck), WR Mike Wallace (knee), DT Brandon Williams (back)

CINCINNATI
OUT: OT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder)
DOUBTFUL: LB Vontaze Burfict (shoulder)
QUESTIONABLE: CB William Jackson (knee), RB Joe Mixon (ankle)

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Maclin, Howard absent from Wednesday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 27 December 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were without two offensive starters during Wednesday’s practice as wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and right tackle Austin Howard are dealing with knee injuries.

Maclin’s status is in greater doubt as he hasn’t practiced or played since injuring his left knee in the first quarter of the Week 15 win at Cleveland. Head coach John Harbaugh offered few specifics about the veteran wideout’s progress during his Tuesday press conference as the Ravens look to clinch a playoff spot with a win over Cincinnati this weekend.

“It’s just a rehab thing. I don’t think there’s going to be any major update,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a healing issue. Jeremy has always been a quick healer, so that’s a good thing. It will be maybe this game [against the Bengals]. I think he has a chance. We will just have to see as it gets closer to game time.”

Howard briefly left Saturday’s win over Indianapolis with a hyperextended left knee, but he was able to return after missing only four snaps.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (back), wide receiver Mike Wallace (knee), and fullback Patrick Ricard (neck) were listed as limited participants in Wednesday’s practice.

The Bengals were without linebacker Vontaze Burfict (shoulder), running back Joe Mixon (ankle), and cornerback Williams Jackson (knee) during their Wednesday workout.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: OT Austin Howard (knee), WR Jeremy Maclin (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Jermaine Eluemunor (shoulder), DL/FB Patrick Ricard (neck), WR Mike Wallace (knee), DT Brandon Williams (back)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Vontaze Burfict (shoulder), WR Alex Erickson (ankle), CB William Jackson (knee), RB Joe Mixon (ankle), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: RB Giovani Bernard (ankle), CB Darqueze Dennard (knee), LB Jordan Evans (concussion), TE Ryan Hewitt (knee), S Shawn Williams (concussion)

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Ravens use effective road formula to stay in playoff position

Posted on 17 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens beating 0-14 Cleveland was never going to bring any earth-shattering developments beyond the possibility of a serious injury to a key player.

Only an unthinkable loss jeopardizing their playoff chances would have spawned a major headline.

The Browns again showed Sunday why they’re the worst team in the NFL, but Baltimore did what was necessary to remain in the driver’s seat for an AFC wild-card spot with two games remaining. In the 27-10 victory, the Ravens forced four turnovers, played superb special teams, and turned in another solid offensive performance to continue that encouraging late-season trend.

Despite some angst from fans reluctant to embrace a team with just one win against opponents currently holding a winning record, Baltimore didn’t come close to becoming the first team to lose to the hapless Browns, after all. And two home wins against opponents with a combined 8-20 record will result in the first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

Rebounding from last week’s awful performance in Pittsburgh, the Ravens defense intercepted two passes and forced and recovered two fumbles to take the NFL lead from Jacksonville with 33 total takeaways. Questions understandably will persist about this unit’s performance against better offenses and better quarterbacks, but forcing turnovers on the road will be a key part of the formula for any potential run in January. Baltimore had a whopping 15 takeaways in its four road wins this season.

Nearly as important as those turnovers was the offense’s ability to protect the football on the road yet again. The Ravens committed no turnovers Sunday and had no more than one in six of their eight away games this season. Baltimore also has just one giveaway over the current three-game offensive surge.

It’s no secret that Joe Flacco and the passing game have been more aggressive — and productive — in recent weeks, but that change in mindset does little good if accompanied by carelessness with the football. Flacco threw for a season-high 288 yards against the Browns and has now been intercepted only once over the last four games.

An offense scoring points is paramount, but taking care of the ball gives you a chance, especially when lacking an abundance of playmakers.

Sunday also offered a reminder of how brilliant punter Sam Koch has been this season — and for a long time — as he dropped three punts inside the 5-yard line and two on back-to-back drives in the third quarter. That field position led to Za’Darius Smith’s strip-sack of DeShone Kizer and Brandon Williams’ recovery for a touchdown that gave the Ravens a 24-10 lead that wouldn’t be challenged again.

Punting is an underappreciated skill because of its direct association with offensive failure, but Koch has been an incredible asset for a team that’s so frequently depended on field position and the success of its defense this season. The 12th-year veteran may never be viewed as the biggest reason for any single victory, but the cumulative value he brings over the course of 16 games shouldn’t be dismissed.

The victory over the Browns netted the Ravens a 4-4 road record for the season, and that’s nothing to take for granted if you’ve been paying attention the last few years. John Harbaugh’s best teams were never particularly great away from M&T Bank Stadium, but a .500 away mark has often served as a benchmark for a postseason berth.

Bad road losses have contributed to the Ravens missing the playoffs in recent years, but they’ve managed to avoid those this year. In 2013, upset defeats at Buffalo and Cleveland contributed to a 2-6 road record and an 8-8 finish. Last year, it was an ugly loss to an eventual 5-11 New York Jets team in October that contributed to the Ravens having no margin for error while facing a brutal December schedule.

Say what you want about a team lacking a signature win against a projected playoff team, but the Ravens have only one bad loss — the Week 6 tilt against Chicago — on their résumé. Since mid-October, they’ve beaten the teams they were supposed to beat.

And that’s all they have to do at home these final two weeks, thanks to another clean road performance on Sunday.

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 09 December 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens don’t really need to beat Pittsburgh on Sunday night.

A one-game lead for the final wild-card spot, a strong tiebreaker profile, and three remaining games — two at home — against teams that are a combined 20 games below .500 make Baltimore’s chances to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014 very strong already. But a victory would bring the elusive signature win that would make the doubters — and perhaps John Harbaugh’s team itself — start to believe the Ravens are capable of being a legitimate threat in January.

Meanwhile, the Steelers hope to extend their seven-game winning streak, but a defeat would still leave them within striking distance of New England, who will visit Heinz Field next week with the upper hand for the No. 1 seed in the AFC on the line. The immediate incentive for Pittsburgh to win Sunday would be to clinch the AFC North title, but its three-game advantage with four weeks to go leaves quite a margin for error in the division race.

In other words, the renewal of this intense rivalry lacks the same stakes as last year’s Christmas Day affair that essentially served as a division championship game.

Last week’s serious back injury suffered by Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier has been on the minds of both teams as the former Pro Bowl selection’s future on and off the field remains unclear. With many Pittsburgh players planning to wear cleats paying tribute to their injured teammate, how the Steelers respond emotionally playing at home could certainly be a factor for at least the beginning of Sunday night’s game.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC North rivals meet for the 44th time in the regular-season series with the Steelers holding a slight 23-20 advantage to go with a 3-1 edge in postseason encounters. Pittsburgh has won the last two meetings and is in search of its first regular-season sweep of the Ravens since 2008. Including the playoffs, 16 of the 22 showdowns with the Steelers in the John Harbaugh era have been decided by a single possession.

Below are five predictions for Sunday night:

1. Danny Woodhead will have his best game as a Raven with 60 receiving yards and a touchdown. The focus on Shazier’s injury has rightly been on his health and not on football, but the Steelers will miss his presence in pass coverage as he recorded an interception and four breakups against Baltimore’s underneath passing game in Week 4. With Cam Heyward and a strong Pittsburgh front dominating the line of scrimmage in that first meeting, Joe Flacco may have to rely on more short passing and less of Alex Collins and the running game. With outside linebacker Arthur Moats filling in on the inside, this is the game Woodhead and the Ravens need to exploit an advantageous matchup.

2. Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell will finish with 115 total yards of offense. It’s no secret the run defense has been superb since Brandon Williams’ return in late October, but Bell’s huge game in Week 4 was more about the inability to set the edge on outside runs and to handle the Steelers’ pulling interior linemen on counters than struggles inside as he averaged just 2.2 yards per carry between the tackles, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens will be hellbent to slow Bell as a runner, but linebackers C.J. Mosley and Patrick Onwuasor have been vulnerable in pass coverage and this is where Bell will find more of his success. He’ll extend a streak of 57 or more receiving yards to four straight games.

3. Mike Wallace and Martavis Bryant will catch long touchdowns for their respective teams. With Steelers cornerback Joe Haden still out and their safeties inclined to play a little closer to the line of scrimmage to help the inside linebackers in coverage, there should be some opportunities for the Ravens to take deep shots and Wallace has been playing his best football of the year since the bye. On the flip side, Baltimore will do whatever it can schematically to prevent Antonio Brown from killing a secondary without Jimmy Smith, but that will leave Marlon Humphrey or Brandon Carr occasionally on an island matched up with Bryant, who is still dangerous despite a disappointing season.

4. Joe Flacco will be efficient and play turnover-free football for the third straight week. The 10th-year quarterback is coming off his best game of the year and needs to play more like that down the stretch if the Ravens are to become a realistic threat in the AFC. Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler will do more to try to confuse Flacco and mix up coverages than Detroit did a week ago, but his fourth-ranked defense ranks a pedestrian 14th in the NFL in takeaways. Pass protection needs to hold up better than it did in the first meeting between these teams, but Flacco will effectively find Woodhead and Jeremy Maclin in the short-to-intermediate area of the field.

5. The Ravens will pull off the upset for their first signature win of the season in a 23-20 final. Perhaps I’m drinking too much purple Kool-Aid, but the Steelers are coming off a short and emotional week following a Monday night road game and have trailed in the second half of four of their last five games, illustrating how vulnerable they’ve looked at times despite a terrific 10-2 record. Baltimore has one last chance to earn a signature win and needs to build on its strong performance from a week ago to build confidence that the offense can be productive enough moving forward to have a real chance in the playoffs. The Steelers are the better team overall, but this week’s circumstances set up favorably for the Ravens to steal a road win in Pittsburgh and further improve their playoff positioning.

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