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Zuttah in, Mosley out as Pro Bowl shuffling continues for Ravens

Posted on 24 January 2017 by Luke Jones

A seventh Ravens player was named to the Pro Bowl while another officially backed out due to injury on Monday.

After safety Eric Weddle was added to the AFC roster earlier in the day, center Jeremy Zuttah received the invitation to play in the game as a replacement for Pittsburgh’s Maurkice Pouncey. It is Zuttah’s first Pro Bowl invitation after he was the only Baltimore offensive lineman to start all 16 games in 2016.

Another Baltimore-for-Pittsburgh Pro Bowl swap was made at the linebacker position where C.J. Mosley officially pulled out of the game with the calf injury he sustained in the season finale at Cincinnati. The third-year Ravens linebacker is being replaced by Ryan Shazier of the Steelers.

A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Mosley is the second Raven to decline participating in the game after six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda withdrew earlier this month with a shoulder injury. Zuttah will join Weddle, kicker Justin Tucker, long snapper Morgan Cox, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk for Sunday night’s game in Orlando.

Zuttah’s inclusion came as a surprise to some after he was criticized for uneven play throughout the season. Pro Football Focus graded the 30-year-old as the 13th-best center in the NFL while Bleacher Report’s NFL1000 ranked Zuttah 26th among the league’s centers.

The Ravens are still expected to seek an upgrade at the position this offseason as Zuttah is set to carry a $4.607 million salary cap number for the 2017 season.

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Ravens linebacker Orr retiring due to neck injury

Posted on 20 January 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After emerging as the Ravens’ leading tackler in his first season as a starter, inside linebacker Zachary Orr is walking away from football due to a congenital spinal condition.

The 24-year-old announced his retirement after only three seasons, leaving a hole in the middle of a Baltimore defense that ranked seventh in total yards and fifth against the run in 2016. Orr suffered a herniated disc in the Christmas Day loss to Pittsburgh and missed the season finale against Cincinnati, but further testing and a CAT scan revealed that the top of his spinal column never fully developed, a condition he was told less than one percent of the world have.

Orr said he was unaware of the condition that doesn’t show up in an X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging exam, making it difficult to detect unless someone is having more extensive testing for a neck injury. He would not have been able to pass a physical to continue his career and was running a great risk of catastrophic injury by playing.

“I’ve been playing since I was nine years old,” said Orr, who also underwent shoulder surgery for an injury that was unrelated to the spinal condition. “It’s been a blessing that I’ve been able to play the game so long without any major injury happening. When I first found out the news, it was shocking. I was sad, disappointed, upset because football is something I’ve been doing my whole life.”

An undrafted free agent from North Texas in 2014, Orr initially made the 53-man roster as a special-teams player and earned a role in sub packages late in his second season. His arrival was an important development for the Ravens after 2013 second-round pick Arthur Brown failed to pan out as a meaningful contributor.

Following the release of veteran linebacker Daryl Smith last offseason, Orr won the starting job next to C.J. Mosley and became one of the Ravens’ most dependable defensive players, ranking 10th in the NFL with 130 tackles in 2016. He also intercepted three passes and forced a fumble on his way to becoming a second-team All-Pro selection by the Associated Press.

“You guys see him on Sunday flying around. This guy is one of the smartest football players I’ve ever been around,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “It makes the job easy for coaches, for position coaches and for coordinators when you have guys like this that you can do so many things with.

“You can tell him on the sideline to make a little adjustment, and this guy can go right out there and get it done. That’s what makes the difference between great football players and football players. This guy right here is a great football player, and I can’t tell you how much we’re going to miss him.”

Orr was the recipient of the local media’s “Good Guy” award last month for his cooperation with reporters and is in the midst of starting the Orr Family Kids and Youth Foundation, an endeavor to which he now plans to devote more time. He now plans to go home to Texas to spend more time with family, which includes two younger brothers in college with NFL aspirations of their own.

Mosley, safety Eric Weddle, and linebacker Albert McClellan as well as linebackers coach Don Martindale attended the press conference as Orr sat with general manager Ozzie Newsome, head coach John Harbaugh, and Pees. Other players used social media to offer their support for a teammate who was popular in the locker room and active in the community.

“I never expected to hear something like that,” said Newsome of Orr’s unfortunate retirement. “Having had the opportunity to sit with a number of players at a press conference like this that have had longer careers, I don’t think there has been any player that has been more inspirational to me over the last three years than Zach.”

Orr’s unexpected departure leaves the Ravens with another need to address after inside linebacker had appeared to be one of their most stable position groups with both starters under age 25. One internal option to replace him could be 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa, who practiced at both inside and outside linebacker as a rookie but saw just 48 defensive snaps in nine games.

Signed to a three-year, $1.533 million contract as a rookie, Orr was scheduled to become a restricted free agent this offseason. He was projected to receive the second-round tender — which was worth $2.553 million last season — and likely would have been in line for a nice free-agent payday next offseason with the Ravens or another team.

“I always take a positive outlook in everything,” said Orr, who is interested in coaching in the future. “It’s something I can’t control what happened. I feel like my best football years on the field were ahead of me. I was excited about that, but when I found out the news and how serious it is, it was something I looked at as a blessing.”

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Ravens long snapper Cox invited to Pro Bowl for second straight year

Posted on 18 January 2017 by Luke Jones

Despite missing the playoffs, the Ravens will have an even stronger presence at the Pro Bowl after long snapper Morgan Cox was added as a “need” player on Wednesday.

For the second straight season, Cox was invited to take part by Kansas City head coach Andy Reid as he continues to be viewed as one of the best long snappers in the NFL. The seven-year veteran will join kicker Justin Tucker, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and linebacker C.J. Mosley as participants while veteran guard Marshal Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowl selection, will not take part because of a shoulder injury.

“Playing in the Pro Bowl for a second time is a huge honor for me,” Cox said in a statement released by the team. “All the hard work that we put into this game is validated when you receive such an honor. I’m proud to represent a great organization like the Ravens, who are among the NFL’s best.”

Cox has snapped for two other Pro Bowl selections — Billy Cundiff in 2010 and Sam Koch last season — and will have the opportunity to play with his kicker in the Pro Bowl later this month. Tucker was named to his second Pro Bowl in late December and credited Cox’s work for making that possible.

This past season, the 2010 undrafted free agent out of Tennessee played in every game, snapping on all 80 punts, 39 field goal attempts (38 successful), and 27 extra points (all converted).

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Yanda, Tucker, two other Ravens named to Pro Bowl

Posted on 20 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Ravens guard Marshal Yanda continues to cement his legacy as one of the top players in franchise history after being named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl on Tuesday.

Kicker Justin Tucker and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley join him as second-time selections and fullback Kyle Juszczyk was named to the first Pro Bowl of his career. This marks the 11th straight year that the Ravens have had at least four players invited to the Pro Bowl.

Four other Baltimore players were named as second alternates for the 2017 Pro Bowl being played in Orlando on Jan. 29.

Despite dealing with a left shoulder injury that forced him to move from his usual right guard spot to left guard, Yanda has continued to play at a high level with Pro Football Focus grading him as the top guard in the NFL. The 32-year-old is now the fifth player to be named to six Pro Bowls with the Ravens, joining Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs.

The shoulder injury sustained on Oct. 9 sidelined him for three of the next four games, but the 2007 third-round pick avoided season-ending surgery by switching to the other side to better protect his damaged shoulder beginning in Week 11. His streak of six consecutive Pro Bowl selections is the second longest among NFL offensive linemen behind only Cleveland left tackle Joe Thomas’ 10 straight.

“I want to thank my teammates and coaches for all the hard work we put in together,” Yanda said in a statement released by the Ravens. “Football is the ultimate team sport, and simply put, you don’t do anything in this league on your own.”

Tucker is in the midst of the best season of his career with his only missed field goal coming on a block in the Week 14 loss to New England. He is now 33-for-34 on the season and has made all 10 of his tries from 50 yards and beyond, which ties an NFL record.

Signed to a four-year, $16.8 million contract that included a record $10.8 million guaranteed for a kicker this summer, Tucker is the most accurate kicker in league history among those with at least 100 career attempts. The former undrafted free agent earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2013.

Juszczyk, a 2013 fourth-round pick, has played more snaps than any fullback in the NFL and has caught 33 passes for 255 yards this season. The Ravens have used him extensively as a pass blocker in single-back sets to better protect quarterback Joe Flacco in the pocket.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers, coaches and fans as the AFC representative at fullback,” Juszczyk stated. “So much credit goes to the talented backs running behind me, the dominant offensive line in front of me, and a skillful quarterback throwing me the ball.”

Mosley’s selection was arguably the biggest surprise of the four as he ranks just third on the team in tackles (72) entering Week 16. However, the 2014 first-round pick ranks second on the Ravens with three interceptions and has graded out as the seventh-best linebacker — not including edge defenders — in the NFL, according to PFF.

Two years ago, Mosley became the first Ravens player to make the Pro Bowl as a rookie.

Safety Eric Weddle, nose tackle Brandon Williams, tight end Dennis Pitta, and Suggs were all named second alternates to the AFC squad.

All four had arguments for inclusion, but Weddle was regarded by many as a lock as he is PFF’s top-graded overall safety this season. The AFC starting safeties are New England’s Devin McCourty and Eric Berry of Kansas City with Oakland’s Reggie Nelson serving as a reserve.

Former Ravens left guard Kelechi Osemele was named to his first Pro Bowl. He was one of a league-best seven Oakland Raiders to be selected.

The 2017 Pro Bowl will return to the traditional AFC-NFC matchup after three years of using a non-conference format.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 11 loss to Dallas

Posted on 22 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling back into a first-place tie in the AFC North after a 27-17 loss to Dallas on Sunday, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The defense squandering a first-and-30 on Dallas’ first touchdown drive was the turning point of the game, but Mike Wallace’s inability to get his feet inbounds on a deep pass inside the 5 on the ensuing possession was equally frustrating. Neither side of the ball could make the game-changing play.

2. If the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants wasn’t enough, Sunday offered another reminder of how valuable Jimmy Smith is to this defense. Without his game-changing talent in the secondary, the Ravens have an average group with no answer against an elite receiver.

3. The Ravens have certainly abandoned the run at times, but Week 11 doesn’t fit that narrative. Look at the play-by-play and you’ll find a spot or two for another run, but the ratio was skewed because of a multi-score deficit that led to 15 straight dropbacks to close the game.

4. On a day that produced a record 12 missed extra points, Justin Tucker remained perfect on the year and extended his league-long streak of 30 consecutive field goals. He hasn’t missed an extra point in his career. With kicking issues all over the place, don’t take that excellence for granted.

5. The secondary faced the bulk of the criticism on Sunday, but the linebacker coverage that’s been so good this year looked more like it did in 2015. C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr have done a much better job against the pass in 2016, but they struggled against the Cowboys.

6. It’s difficult to recall too many offensive linemen who have shown the ability to switch positions and still play at a high level like Marshal Yanda. Jonathan Ogden is the undisputed top offensive lineman in franchise history, but Yanda is an easy No. 2 on the list.

7. Dealing with a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice, Timmy Jernigan played a season-low 21 snaps. You wonder if him being less than 100 percent put too much on the plates of Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams in the battle against the best offensive line in the NFL.

8. Looking at his final numbers, Joe Flacco turned in a solid performance against the Cowboys, but the problem is that feels like it’s become his ceiling this season. In a game screaming for a big play, Flacco was 0-for-4 on pass attempts traveling more than 20 yards through the air.

9. It was disappointing to see Breshad Perriman follow the best game of his career by failing to record a reception and not even being targeted on 23 snaps. The 2015 first-round pick still has a long way to go to become a consistent threat in the passing game.

10. After forcing punts on the first four possessions, the Ravens were too conservative on third down the rest of the way. After blitzing or showing blitz on the first four third-down stops, Baltimore rushed four or fewer on four of the next five third downs without a single stop.

11. Despite the incredible resources pumped into the position, the Ravens have received very little from the tight end spot. Dennis Pitta’s return has been a great story, but he’s piled up no more than 40 receiving yards in any of the last five games.

12. I’m torn whether penalties are a bigger reflection on the coaching staff or on undisciplined — and potentially overmatched — players, but piling up 136 penalty yards is unacceptable when you’re trying to beat one of the best teams in the NFL. It’s a tired problem.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 9 win over Pittsburgh

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens having snapped their four-game losing streak in a 21-14 win over Pittsburgh to move into first place in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Jimmy Smith and rookie Tavon Young could be the best cornerback duo the Ravens have had in a while. Smith is finally playing like he did before his foot injury two years ago, and the 5-foot-9 Young is making a strong case to be more than just a slot corner.

2. His broken brace earned attention, but a first-quarter sequence from Joe Flacco was inexcusable. After snapping the ball before his receivers were set — with 10 seconds still on the play clock — to negate a third-down conversion in the red zone, he then threw across his body for an ugly interception.

3. When Mike Wallace signed his two-year contract, it was mostly viewed as a one-season deal with a scheduled $8 million cap figure for 2017. He’s caught four of Flacco’s six touchdown passes and is on pace for 1,200 yards. The Ravens are cheapskates with their receivers, but shouldn’t be here.

4. Earning his first career interception in the third quarter, Timmy Jernigan fell to the ground after previously coughing up a fumble return deep in Baltimore territory in Week 7. It was good seeing him learn from a mistake and to be able to laugh, quipping how he’s a fast learner.

5. What are the odds of a rookie scoring his first two career touchdowns in consecutive games as a member of the punt return team but not as the actual returner? Chris Moore has certainly been in the right place at the right time.

6. He didn’t put up monster numbers with just five credited tackles and a dropped interception, but the difference in the Ravens defense was tangible with C.J. Mosley back in the middle. He was a major reason why Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell was a non-factor on Sunday.

7. Remember how the running game was trending upward despite Marc Trestman’s hesitancy to commit to it before his dismissal last month? The Ravens have averaged 2.4 yards per carry in three games with Marty Mornhinweg in charge.

8. With Flacco often checking down and Kenneth Dixon not showing the same explosiveness he had before his knee injury, why not give Buck Allen more chances out of the backfield? He struggles between the tackles, but he did catch 45 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.

9. Speaking of Allen, the second-year running back provided the Ravens their 12th blocked kick since 2014 and their league-best fourth this season. When you lack dynamic play-makers, these types of special-teams plays are of the utmost importance.

10. I’m not concerned about his long-term prospects, but Ronnie Stanley committing four penalties on Sunday and acknowledging his foot was still “a little sore” after a four-game absence weren’t encouraging developments for the remainder of his rookie season.

11. I admittedly don’t spend a great deal of time discussing Justin Tucker because there’s only so much to say about his excellence. He’s a perfect 20-for-20 on the season and has silenced concerns about his accuracy from 50 yards and beyond. He’s been worth every penny of his contract.

12. How long had it been since the Ravens last won a game before Sunday’s victory? The Orioles had won four contests more recently despite their season coming to a bitter end more than a month ago. Maybe John Harbaugh just needed to call Zach Britton for some relief.

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Underrated defense keeping Ravens competitive in mediocre AFC North

Posted on 07 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Eric Weddle was honest about the Ravens following their 21-14 win over Pittsburgh to snap a four-game losing streak on Sunday.

The veteran safety wasn’t trying to knock the offense, but he was stating the obvious eight games into the 2016 season. Tied with the Steelers for first place in the AFC North with a 4-4 record, Baltimore is leaning on an underrated defense to carry an offense that was again ineffective beyond Mike Wallace’s 95-yard touchdown on a short slant pass from Joe Flacco late in the first quarter.

The Ravens hope the offense will improve in the coming weeks, but the bye week and the return of three starters on that side of the ball once again brought disappointing results against a mediocre Pittsburgh defense.

It’s clear where Baltimore’s strength lies.

“Where we’re at as a team, we have to play great week in and week out to give ourselves a chance to win,” said Weddle about a defense that shut out the Steelers through the first three quarters. “When we limit teams’ big plays and we don’t let the ball go over our heads, you see what we can do and what were capable of.”

The standard for defense is unsurprisingly high in this town after watching the likes of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs over the years, but the Ravens have quietly ranked in the top 10 in most major defensive categories, an improvement from the last few seasons. The 2016 defense might be a far cry from some of the elite units of yesteryear, but today’s NFL is also a different game with more rules catered toward scoring.

Allowing under 20 points per game says a lot more now than it used to.

Of course, the Ravens weren’t happy with allowing touchdowns on two of their final three defensive series, but those hiccups came only after Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh had gained a total of 69 yards and two first downs through three quarters. The Baltimore offense didn’t help matters in that final period by failing to pick up a single first down to run more clock.

Still, it’s no surprise that the elder statesman of the defense was quick to note the imperfections in a win that brought more relief than excitement in the locker room. He helped set those high standards, after all.

“We gave up some plays down the stretch, and I don’t like that,” Suggs said. “You don’t ever want to have to win the game with your ‘hands’ team, especially when you have a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter. We’ve definitely got to finish better. We’ve got to get better. We’re going to take the win, but we’re not satisfied.”

Some good fortune was at work on Sunday with Roethlisberger clearly not himself less than three weeks removed from knee surgery, but the Ravens did an impeccable job keeping Pittsburgh’s two biggest play-makers — wide receiver Antonio Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell — in check for much of the game. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that Brown finally hit double-digit receiving yards while Bell finished with an underwhelming 70 yards from scrimmage on 20 touches.

With Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley returning to action and the defense controlling the line of scrimmage, the Ravens allowed just 2.0 yards per carry despite the Steelers’ clear desire to run the ball to take pressure off their hobbled quarterback. Mosley’s presence also tightened up pass coverage in the middle of the field, which had been a problem for Baltimore during his two-game absence.

Brown caught his second career touchdown against the Ravens on Sunday, but he found space only after the deficit had already grown to 21-0 with a punt block returned for a touchdown by rookie Chris Moore early in the fourth quarter. The four-time Pro Bowl receiver finished with seven catches for 85 yards, which included his 23-yard score with 8:38 remaining.

“It was really a team effort and a lot of credit goes to Dean Pees for his game plan,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who continues to play at a high level in the secondary. “We mixed some things up and kept Pittsburgh on their heels. They got some things late, which no one likes. But we’re real happy with our performance.”

The Ravens should be even happier with the current state of the AFC North. A 4-4 record typically doesn’t land a team in first place, but Pittsburgh has proven to be as mediocre as everyone else in the division with its current three-game losing streak. A 9-7 mark might win this underwhelming division, giving Baltimore a chance despite having a more challenging second-half schedule than the Steelers or Cincinnati.

The offense continues to be a major concern after gaining just 110 yards on 49 plays over the final three quarters, but it’s time to start giving more credit to this Ravens defense, especially with five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil missing all but two games this season. It’s not an elite group, but the numbers shouldn’t be ignored.

Baltimore has allowed only 3.4 yards per carry with rookie free agent Michael Pierce serving as an impressive complement to Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan on the defensive line. The secondary has been better than expected with the free-agent arrival of Weddle and the surprising contributions of fourth-round rookie Tavon Young as a starting cornerback opposite Smith.

The defense did as much as you could have asked for against a talented Pittsburgh offense, but time will tell if the strong play will continue late into the season. Of course, it may not matter if the offense doesn’t start pulling its own weight.

“It’s all in how you finish. If you miss the playoffs, who cares where your defense ranked?” Suggs said. “This is about winning games, going to the playoffs, winning division championships, winning championships. At the end of the year, you can [say], ‘Oh, they had a top-10 defense, whatever.’

“But if you don’t win, it doesn’t matter.”

The strong defense certainly mattered on Sunday as the Ravens were able to stop the bleeding from last month and climb back into first place of a forgiving division.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 06 November 2016 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens hope improved health brings better fortune after an injury-riddled and winless October to forget.

Welcoming back five key players to the starting lineup on Sunday, Baltimore aims to snap its four-game losing streak against the Pittsburgh Steelers, who come to town sporting a two-game slide of their own. Of course, first place in the AFC North is on the line as the 3-4 Ravens trail their biggest rival by just one game entering Week 9.

Despite conflicting reports throughout the week, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is active and will start less than three weeks after undergoing surgery on his left knee. The Ravens prepared all along for the veteran signal caller to play and weren’t buying the possibility of him sitting out after practicing on a limited all week.

After returning to practice late this week, veteran wide receiver Steve Smith (ankle) is active and will make his return after a two-game absence. The 37-year-old hinted on social media Sunday morning that he intended to play and went through pre-game warmups without any apparent issues.

Smith’s return is good news for quarterback Joe Flacco, who has thrown just two touchdown passes in his last five games.

As expected, linebackers C.J. Mosley (hamstring) and Terrell Suggs (biceps) and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot) are active and will start after missing action last month. Stanley had missed four straight games, putting plenty of strain on an offensive line that entered the season in transition.

The Ravens will have all five members of their starting offensive line on the field for the first time since Week 3.

As expected, cornerback Shareece Wright (hamstring) is inactive, joining the trio of Elvis Dumervil (foot), Kamalei Correa (thigh), and Crockett Gillmore (thigh) who were officially ruled out on Friday. Elevated to the 53-man roster on Saturday, safety Matt Elam is active and will appear in his first game for the Ravens since the 2014 postseason.

With both Yanda and Stanley returning to the starting lineup, offensive lineman Ryan Jensen is a healthy scratch after starting three of the last four games.

Pittsburgh running back DeAngelo Williams (knee) is also active and will back up starter Le’Veon Bell after being listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week.

These teams are meeting for the 41st time in the regular season with the Steelers leading 21-19 and holding a 9-11 record in Baltimore. Counting the postseason, the Ravens are looking for their fourth straight win over Pittsburgh, which would be a franchise best against their biggest rival.

The forecast in Baltimore calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching 65 degrees with winds up to 14 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Referee John Hussey and his crew will officiate Sunday’s game.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Pittsburgh dons its white tops with yellow pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
CB Shareece Wright
LB Kamalei Correa
LB Elvis Dumervil
G Vlad Ducasse
OL Ryan Jensen
DT Willie Henry
TE Crockett Gillmore

PITTSBURGH
WR Markus Wheaton
QB Zach Mettenberger
FB Roosevelt Nix
LB L.J. Fort
OT Brian Mihalik
CB Justin Gilbert
DE L.T. Walton

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Slowing Pittsburgh play-makers tops priority list for Ravens

Posted on 04 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The biggest difference between the Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers comes down to two players.

Baltimore has the better defense while the Steelers possess a more stable offensive line. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is better than Joe Flacco, but we know the latter is capable of playing at a high level with enough good pieces around him.

Pieces more like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, who are the biggest obstacles in Baltimore’s attempt to snap a four-game losing streak and pull even with the Steelers in the AFC North. Counting the 2014 postseason, the Ravens have won their last three games against Pittsburgh, but one of Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell missed each one of those games.

The last time the dynamic trio played against the Ravens resulted in a 43-23 blowout at Heinz Field on Nov. 2, 2014 in which Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes with Brown and Bell each catching one. It was a rare occasion in which Brown went off against the Ravens, catching 11 passes for 144 yards and a 54-yard touchdown.

Despite averaging an incredible 102.2 receiving yards per game in 55 contests since the start of the 2013 season, the four-time Pro Bowl receiver has eclipsed the century mark in only two of his last seven contests — one in the playoffs — against the Ravens and has only one touchdown reception in his career against Baltimore.

“It is a rivalry game. We know each other,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the Baltimore defense keep Brown in check on so many occasions. “We know what they are trying to do to us. They know what we are trying to do to them. It is one of those games that, fortunately, at times, we come out on the better side or get going against them. Some of the game plan is obviously directed towards him, so we are doing what we are supposed to do if we keep him with minimal yards and catches.”

Conventional wisdom suggests Smith — the Ravens’ top cornerback — would match up with Brown wherever the 5-foot-10 receiver lines up, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees has employed different strategies in recent meetings. In Week 2 of the 2014 season, Smith traveled with Brown and held him to seven catches for 90 yards on 12 targets, but the sixth-year defensive back stayed on one side of the field in two meetings last year as the Ravens held the Pittsburgh receiver to a total of 103 receiving yards and no touchdowns.

In a conference call with the Baltimore media this week, Brown said he prefers when the opposition matches one cornerback against him because it leads to more 1-on-1 opportunities. The star wideout has faced plenty of press coverage with safety help over the top in recent games.

“There are so many factors you take into account and your defensive calls [such as] if you’re going to play more zone or you’re going to play more man,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about the decision to have a cornerback travel with a specific receiver. “All of a sudden, you’re going to try to teach a defensive back that’s in the slot how to play zone in the slot as opposed to [playing outside]. It’s easier [to travel in man coverage], because you have the man. Every time I line a guy up there and that same DB lines up there, they look at it and say, ‘If that guy lines up in the slot, they’re in man coverage.’

“You have to be able to mix and match zones and mans. There’s a lot more to it than just easily stating, ‘Let’s put our best DB on their best receiver.'”

Bell could serve as an even bigger factor on Sunday with Roethlisberger still not 100 percent less than three weeks after knee surgery. The Ravens rank fourth in the NFL in run defense, but Pittsburgh would love to unleash the star running back early to ease pressure on the hobbled quarterback.

In 2016, the 24-year-old Bell is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and 7.5 receptions per game since returning from a three-game suspension.

“I tell him before every game that I’m excited to see what he is going to do,” Brown said. “You know what he brings in the running game; you know what he brings in the passing game. That is the type of guy you want to have on your team — a guy who comes to work every day, displays a good work ethic, and is a big-time player.”

The biggest key in trying to slow Bell will be the anticipated return of inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, who has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury. Besides being the leader of a defense that gave up too many big plays in the middle of the field in his absence, Mosley is the Ravens’ best linebacker in pass coverage and leads the team with three interceptions.

In 39 career games, Bell has caught 182 passes for 1,634 yards and three touchdowns.

Injuries and off-field issues have hindered the start of his career, but Bell possesses a rare combination of patience and downhill ability that makes him dangerous every time he touches the ball.

“Guys can’t guess. If you have a gap to control, you have to control that gap,” said Pees, who labeled Bell one of the best running backs he’s faced in his long coaching career. “You have to stay on your blocker and be patient. When you get a runner like that, you have to be very disciplined on defense, too. Like I tell everybody, when he gets the ball, everybody on defense is at the point of attack because he could go anywhere at any time.”

These dynamic play-makers are the reason why the Steelers are considered the favorite to win a division consumed with mediocrity in 2016. They’re the type of special players Baltimore lacks right now.

If the Ravens want to begin turning their season around on Sunday, they can’t allow Brown and Bell to explode.

“He is one of the biggest challenges in the NFL,” said Smith about the Pittsburgh receiver. “You know what he does. We all know. It is going to take a lot to contain him and No. 26.”

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S. Smith, Mosley questionable to play against Pittsburgh

Posted on 04 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — If Steve Smith says his right ankle is ready to go, the Ravens will welcome the veteran wide receiver back to action for Sunday’s critical AFC North meeting with Pittsburgh.

The 37-year-old participated in practice for the second straight day on Friday and was listed as questionable to play against the Steelers. Head coach John Harbaugh told reporters that Smith only worked on a limited basis as he did the previous day, but he was officially listed as a full participant for the walk-through practice.

Smith was not present for the portions of practices open to media on Thursday or Friday, making it difficult to gauge where he is health-wise or just how many reps he took. He hasn’t played in a game since spraining his right ankle in the first quarter of the Week 5 loss to Washington on Oct. 9.

“We’ll just see where he’s at,” said Harbaugh about the injury that’s sidelined Smith for nearly three full games. “I didn’t have any expectations for it beforehand. I just wait for the trainers to say [he’s ready] and the player, of course. It’s that type of a thing, too. When everybody says the player is ready to go, we put him out there. That’s how we do it.”

The 16th-year receiver was not in the locker room after Friday’s practice to speak with reporters.

The Ravens also listed inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (hamstring) as questionable after he took part in practices on a limited basis all week. He was upgraded to full participation on Friday and appears to be a good bet to make his return after a two-game absence.

Baltimore officially ruled out linebackers Elvis Dumervil (foot) and Kamalei Correa (thigh) as well as tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) after all three missed the entire week of practice. Cornerback Shareece Wright is doubtful to play as he continues to nurse a hamstring injury that kept him out of practices on Thursday and Friday.

Despite being full participants in practice all week, linebacker Terrell Suggs (biceps), offensive linemen Marshal Yanda (left shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot), safety Lardarius Webb (hamstring), and cornerback Tavon Young (concussion) were all designated as questionable. All five are expected to play against the Steelers, however.

It remains to be seen whether Baltimore will activate safety Matt Elam in time for Sunday’s game. Elam has taken part in all practices over the last two weeks, but a roster move would need to be made by 4 p.m. on Saturday for the 2013 first-round pick to play against Pittsburgh.

To no surprise, the Steelers listed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (left knee) as questionable after he practiced on a limited basis all week. Reports this week have indicated that he will start against the Ravens despite undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus less than three weeks ago.

Backup running back DeAngelo Williams (knee) and cornerback William Gay (foot) were also designated as questionable by Pittsburgh.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be John Hussey.

According to Weather.com, Sunday’s forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies with temperatures reaching the mid-60s and winds up to 11 miles per hour.

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

BALTIMORE
OUT: LB Kamalei Correa (thigh), LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh)
DOUBTFUL: CB Shareece Wright (thigh)
QUESTIONABLE: LB C.J. Mosley (thigh), WR Steve Smith (ankle), OT Ronnie Stanley (foot), LB Terrell Suggs (biceps), S Lardarius Webb (thigh), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder), CB Tavon Young (concussion)

PITTSBURGH
OUT: C Cody Wallace (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB William Gay (foot), QB Ben Roethlisberger (left knee), RB DeAngelo Williams (knee)

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