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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 24-21 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 20 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens snapping their three-game losing streak and moving into the No. 6 spot in the AFC with a 24-21 win over Cincinnati, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I feel for Gus Edwards as the rookie free agent rushing for 115 yards would have been the big story if not for Lamar Jackson. Others have noted this, but his running style reminds of Le’Ron McClain, which was perfect against a bad defense already dealing with a mobile quarterback.

2. The Ravens defense managed only one sack and again failed to generate a turnover, but a simplified game plan that included press coverage and few blitzes did the trick to neutralize Andy Dalton’s short passes. Of course, A.J. Green not playing really helped.

3. Considering the defense had at least five defensive backs on the field for all but a few plays, holding Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard to a combined 19 rushing yards on 14 carries was very impressive and a critical development in the game.

4. Time of possession was certainly a byproduct of the run-heavy offense as the defense was on the field for just 55 snaps and less than 22 minutes. Perhaps that wasn’t as critical coming off the bye week, but it can still pay off down the stretch.

5. I’ve already written much about him, but I’m impressed with Jackson’s willingness to continue looking downfield as he scrambles like he did on the 23-yard completion to John Brown and the 19-yard dart to Mark Andrews. Those were easily his best plays of the day.

6. Justin Tucker making his 56-yard attempt at the end of the first half and Randy Bullock missing his 52-yard try late in the fourth quarter served as a reminder of how important the kicking game is in a grind-it-out affair. Tucker’s now made nine straight from 50 or more yards.

7. After giving up an acrobatic touchdown catch to John Ross despite good coverage, Marlon Humphrey atoned with a pass breakup against Cody Core to seal the win. Forcing Dalton to throw 36 times to collect 211 yards was a solid day at the office for the Ravens defense.

8. I’m not making much of Willie Snead’s blowup on the sideline that he and John Harbaugh downplayed after the game, but this is the potential risk if the Ravens stick with such a run-heavy approach. I want wide receivers who want the ball.

9. C.J. Mosley recorded his highest Pro Football Focus grade of 2018 as he recorded five tackles and a pass breakup while appearing to move better than he was before the bye. The 2014 first-round pick hasn’t had the ideal contract year as he ranks 28th among qualified linebackers, per PFF.

10. I’ve said repeatedly that coaches should go for it more on fourth down, but it felt panicky for the Ravens to try to convert the fourth-and-1 from their own 45 with 25 minutes to play in a low-scoring game. The failed challenge of the spot made it worse.

11. PFF grades Brandon Williams 69th among interior defensive linemen, which ranks behind Michael Pierce (fifth), Brent Urban (42nd), and Chris Wormley (64th). I don’t necessarily buy that, but are the Ravens getting enough value from their expensive run-stopping nose tackle in today’s pass-happy NFL? He played 24 snaps on Sunday.

12. As you could see from Harbaugh’s post-game speech, the Ravens were fired up — almost euphoric — after a much-needed victory. Jackson’s first start was fun to watch, but let’s remember they scored 24 points against an extremely poor defense in a close game that easily could have gone the other way.

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Coming off bye, Ravens defense as we know it could be making last stand

Posted on 15 November 2018 by Luke Jones

The focus on the Ravens has been apparent coming off the bye week.

The future of John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco has dominated the big-picture discussion. An uncertain quarterback situation for Week 11 took another turn Thursday with 2018 first-round pick Lamar Jackson missing practice with an illness, joining Flacco and his injured hip on the injury report and leaving Robert Griffin III as the only quarterback on the field in Owings Mills.

Playing a banged-up Flacco, a rookie who’s never made an NFL start, or a veteran who was out of the league in 2017 and hasn’t started a regular-season contest in nearly two years doesn’t inspire great confidence in a must-win game. The Cincinnati defense being a disaster over the last month certainly eases concerns, but that only goes so far in a division rivalry in which the Ravens have lost eight of the last 10 meetings. Say what you want about Marvin Lewis and the Bengals, but they’ve had Baltimore’s number in this post-Super Bowl XLVII era.

So, what about the Ravens defense that sported such shiny overall numbers in the first half of the season?

It’s that side of the ball to which more salary-cap dollars are tied this season — even taking into account Flacco’s $24.75 million number for the offense. The defense carries seven of the nine highest cap numbers on this year’s roster and absorbed 13 of the organization’s 17 Day 1 and 2 draft picks from 2013-17.

But it’s also surrendered 76 points over the last nine quarters of play, albeit against three scoring offenses ranked in the top 10. The Ravens have one takeaway over their last four games and haven’t intercepted a pass since Oct. 7. Since a franchise-record 11-sack performance at Tennessee in Week 6, Baltimore has a combined two sacks in three games — all of them losses.

This wasn’t a unit constructed to be just OK or only really good against bad offenses, a reality more important with an uncertain quarterback situation for Sunday’s game. The defense was able to get healthier over the bye week, and it must regroup if the Ravens want to save their season.

“Teams have been trying to keep us off-balance, whether it’s with personnel, whether it’s with tempo, and, of course, to try to attack our schemes,” said cornerback Brandon Carr about the struggles in recent weeks. “But the great thing about this league [is] we got a bye. We got a week off and an opportunity for us to self-evaluate ourselves, figure out where our weaknesses are, areas we can fix, and that’s what we’ve been doing throughout last week and carrying over to this week.”

The successful quick passing used by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton in Week 2 served as a basic blueprint for teams to offset the pass rush and limit opportunities to create turnovers as the Ravens didn’t record a single sack or takeaway in that 34-23 Thursday night defeat. It’s not a novel approach in today’s game, but New Orleans, Carolina, and Pittsburgh were able to control the game on third down with quick throws over the middle of the field, a problem the Ravens hope to have solved over the bye.

Expected to be without seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green on Sunday, the Bengals figure to do more quick passing as Dalton is tied for the NFL’s fifth-quickest average time to throw from snap to release.

“He’s really throwing the ball well in rhythm right now, so we need to be physical with the receivers at the line of scrimmage,” defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. “I know we’re in the top five for sure — maybe second — with batted balls. We’ve had some success in the past with knocking some of the balls that he’s thrown up in the air and we’ve come down with them. We just haven’t come down with them yet this year.”

Green’s absence is a major development for a Cincinnati offense that’s dropped to 25th in total yards and 11th in scoring per game after averaging more than 30 points per contest through Week 5. He caught three first-half touchdowns to help the Bengals jump to a 21-0 lead in the first 17 minutes of the first meeting this season.

However, the Ravens have learned the hard way about slot receiver Tyler Boyd, evident by his shocking fourth-and-12 touchdown catch to knock them out of the playoffs last December and his six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown in the Week 2 defeat. Boyd has caught 52 passes for 685 yards and five touchdowns this season, serving as a dangerous No. 2 receiver who can exploit that problematic middle portion of the field.

“The past two games, we didn’t really give him much respect, and he’s definitely shown us we should,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “The time they beat us last year, he went [and] did a lot of good things.”

Much has been said about these final seven games being the swan song for Harbaugh and Flacco in Baltimore, but an older institution could also be on the verge of change. It’s no secret that defense has been king in this town since Ozzie Newsome’s selection of Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis with the 26th overall pick of the 1996 draft, and that mindset has remained despite the current offensive revolution in the NFL.

Even after Flacco and the offense led the way to victory in Super Bowl XLVII, the Ravens remained obsessed with returning the defense to a dominant level. They invested more early draft picks and free-agent dollars on that side of the ball while asking Flacco — a quarterback who had never put up overly impressive regular-season numbers — to make it work with supporting casts that were inferior to even those of other high-paid quarterbacks. The approach has resulted in defenses that still haven’t finished a single season in the top five in total yards or points allowed, offenses that have typically ranged from inept to mediocre, and one playoff appearance — and win — since that last Super Bowl.

This April’s draft may have finally signaled the start of a philosophical shift as the Ravens used their first four picks on offensive players, something they hadn’t done since 2000. With Jackson tabbed to be the quarterback of the future and veteran defensive players like Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith, Eric Weddle, and Carr either in the final year of their contracts or carrying bloated cap figures for 2019, Eric DeCosta will have the chance to remake this roster in his first year as general manager.

Building an explosive offense around a young quarterback on a rookie contract should be the priority as defense just doesn’t carry a team like it once could.

Harbaugh and Flacco might be receiving the headlines, but Baltimore’s longtime identity is also holding on by a thread. And given the uncertainty at the quarterback position this weekend, a throwback defensive performance would certainly be appreciated — the kind in which Lewis and future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed would simply say, “We’ve got this.”

“There’s no magic potion to it; we definitely need to win,” Suggs said. “That comes by any means necessary. You’re like, ‘What do we need to do?’ We have to play winning football.”

The Ravens will try it this way one more time.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh

Posted on 06 November 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens suffering their third straight loss and fourth in their last five games in a 23-16 final against Pittsburgh, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore will never take the next step by settling for 23-yard field goals against a high-scoring offense. The analytics did support those decisions to kick, but I would have considered going for the fourth-and-3 from the 5 in the second quarter. “Take the points” isn’t always the best strategy.

2. As I’ve written other times, Joe Flacco is far from the only reason for the recent offensive struggles, but he hasn’t been a big enough part of the solution either. He was under duress quite a bit Sunday, but he easily missed a half-dozen throws working from a satisfactory pocket.

3. Insinuating Flacco didn’t throw to Lamar Jackson out of spite is taking quite a leap to trash the character of someone who’s never done anything to warrant such treatment. It’s not like his ability to see the field or go through progressions has never been criticized, so why get personal?

4. How the middle of the field continues to be such a problematic area for the pass defense when C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, and Tony Jefferson account for $22.625 million on the 2018 salary cap is a tough pill to swallow.

5. Orlando Brown Jr. continues to be a bright spot. According to Pro Football Focus, he didn’t allow a pressure against Pittsburgh and has yet to allow a sack or quarterback hit this season. The right tackle spot should be his with James Hurst potentially moving to left guard when healthy.

6. Matthew Judon hasn’t taken the leap many predicted this season, but he registered Baltimore’s lone sack as well as two hits and two hurries against the Steelers, according to PFF. The Ravens need to see more of that with Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith scheduled to hit free agency.

7. Like Drew Brees’ third-down completion while in the grasp of Jefferson in Week 7, I thought the defense forcing a three-and-out right after Alex Collins’ touchdown might be the turning point. Instead, a holding penalty, a sack, two passes short of the chains, and a punt quickly dashed that thought.

8. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that Jimmy Smith played better with Marlon Humphrey back in action and Wink Martindale once again rotating those two and Brandon Carr on the outside. The defense has certainly had its recent issues, but that luxury should still pay off down the stretch.

9. Those saying Jackson’s use is disrupting offensive rhythm received ammunition when he entered for a run of no gain immediately following Flacco strikes to Michael Crabtree and Chris Moore. If you want to run there, why not hand to Collins on an uptempo play instead of broadcasting what you’re doing?

10. Brandon Williams noted after the game that teams are approaching the Ravens defense differently and aren’t playing “actual football” by running so many sweeps and screens to take interior players like him out of the equation. There’s that whole “needing to adapt” theme popping up again.

11. Don’t look now, but the Ravens are on track to lead the NFL in passing attempts for the third time in the last four years. They also rank in the bottom five in yards per passing attempt for the fourth straight season. Jamal Lewis weeps.

12. Regardless of what happens over these next two months, I’ll maintain that John Harbaugh is a good football coach. However, he doesn’t do himself any favors with a rookie mistake like not using his timeouts ahead of the two-minute warning to conserve more clock.

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Ravens-Steelers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 04 November 2018 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — With pressure mounting on 11th-year head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens will try to right their season against Pittsburgh.

An NFL Network report confirmed what many were already thinking with Baltimore dropping three of the last four games in its quest to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. A win gives the Ravens a 5-4 record entering the bye week and stabilizes their footing in the AFC North race, but a loss would drop them below .500 and require a major second-half run to even qualify for a wild-card spot.

In other words, Sunday could mark the beginning of the final stand for the Super Bowl-winning coach and others in the organization.

After missing practice time this week and being listed as questionable on the final injury report, cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh), and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) are all active, an encouraging development as the Ravens try to slow the NFL’s fifth-ranked scoring offense. Humphrey had missed the last two weeks since sustaining a thigh injury in practice ahead of the New Orleans game while Mosley and Jefferson suffered their injuries during last Sunday’s loss at Carolina.

Baltimore will be without both starting offensive tackles as Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and James Hurst (back) were officially ruled out on Friday, but left guard Alex Lewis (neck) will make his return after a two-game absence. Rookie Bradley Bozeman (calf) is also active after not playing against the Panthers.

During pre-game warmups, second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor — promoted from the practice squad less than two weeks ago — lined up as the left tackle as he did last week when Stanley exited in the second half. As expected, Orlando Brown Jr. will make his third straight start at right tackle in place of the injured Hurst.

With the Ravens likely to use plenty of max protect in the absence of Stanley and Hurst, tight end Maxx Williams being a healthy scratch for a second straight week was a mild surprise. Rookie defensive end Zach Sieler is active for just the second time this season as Baltimore tries to slow Steelers running back James Conner, who has rushed for 367 yards in the last three games.

As expected, Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) is inactive after being listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Sunday’s referee is Craig Wrolstad.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-50s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

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

Including the postseason, Sunday marks the 50th all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Steelers enjoying a 27-22 advantage. However, the Ravens are aiming to complete their fourth season sweep of the Steelers after their 26-14 win at Heinz Field in Week 4.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
LB Tim Williams
OT Ronnie Stanley
OT James Hurst
TE Maxx Williams
RB Ty Montgomery

PITTSBURGH
OT Marcus Gilbert
QB Mason Rudolph
WR Justin Hunter
S Marcus Allen
CB Brian Allen
OT Zach Banner
DE L.T. Walton

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 03 November 2018 by Luke Jones

Rarely has a Week 9 game felt so important for the Ravens.

A win over Pittsburgh snaps a two-game slide and leaves Baltimore in solid shape in the AFC North entering their much-needed bye week. A loss leaves the Ravens under .500 at the bye for the fourth straight year and needing to win five of their final seven games just to finish with a 9-7 record — familiar territory — while outside talk of wholesale changes will only grow louder in the off-week.

They understand what’s at stake, but focusing too much on the big picture is a slippery slope, especially when playing against the Steelers.

“When you worry about the outcome of things before it has actually happened, that’s when you start making mistakes,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “That’s when you start playing tentative.”

It’s time to go on the record as these division rivals meet for the 50th time — counting the postseason — with Pittsburgh owning a 27-22 advantage. Including the playoffs, the series is tied 12-12 in the John Harbaugh era with 17 of those contests decided by a single possession. A victory would give the Ravens their fourth season sweep of the Steelers in their 23-year history.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. First-round rookies Hayden Hurst and Lamar Jackson will each score a touchdown. Hurst grew up a Steelers fan and was drafted by the Pirates, making him eager to make his mark after sitting out the first meeting. The Ravens must start seeing a return for their first pick in this year’s draft, and Pittsburgh has struggled to defend tight ends this season. Meanwhile, a good Steelers run defense and multiple injuries along the offensive line should compel offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to use Jackson more than usual to gain yardage on the ground and keep some pressure off Flacco.

2. Flacco will be sacked a season-high five times behind a patchwork offensive line. The 11th-year quarterback has played some of his best football against Pittsburgh over the years, but the absence of Ronnie Stanley and James Hurst leaves the Ravens in a tough spot against a defense that has 24 sacks in 2018. Baltimore will use plenty of max protect, but that will allow the Steelers to devote more attention to John Brown. The key to moving the ball will be quick throws over the middle of the field, but Pittsburgh rushers T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, and Bud Dupree will still be licking their chops.

3. The Baltimore defense will force its first second-half turnover since Week 4. The consensus message from players and coaches this week was that the takeaways will come, but the Ravens have only seven through their first eight games and really could have used one trying to protect a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New Orleans or to spark a comeback against Carolina. Wink Martindale’s defense did a good job confusing Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the first meeting and will need more of the same to set up a struggling Baltimore offense on a short field.

4. JuJu Smith-Schuster and Vance McDonald will catch touchdowns for the Steelers. Much like the Steelers defense, the Ravens are most vulnerable over the middle, which is problematic against Smith-Schuster in the slot and a capable pair of tight ends in McDonald and Jesse James. That area of the field is even more concerning as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Tony Jefferson deal with injuries. A returning Marlon Humphrey makes you feel better about keeping Antonio Brown from wrecking the game, but the linebackers and safeties must rebound from a poor showing in Carolina.

5. The banged-up Ravens will suffer their third straight loss in a 23-17 final. Harbaugh expressed confidence Friday that his offensive line is healthy enough to win the game, and I fully expect his team to battle after last week’s clunker against the Panthers. However, Jermaine Eluemunor being trusted to block Flacco’s blindside is a scary proposition, and this offensive line hasn’t been effective enough in the run game to alleviate pressure in the pocket. On the flip side, the Ravens defense is also banged up and facing a Pittsburgh offense averaging just under 30 points per game. Playing at home will help, but 10 of the 24 Ravens-Steelers contests since 2008 have been won by the visitor and these teams have been moving in opposite directions since Week 4. I just haven’t seen enough of an “it” factor from the Ravens to believe they’ll overcome their current injuries and get the job done against a tough foe.

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Ravens rule out both starting offensive tackles for Pittsburgh game

Posted on 02 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens will enter one of the most critical regular-season games of the John Harbaugh era without their starting offensive tackles.

After missing practices all week, left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and right tackle James Hurst (back) have been ruled out against Pittsburgh, leaving an offensive line that’s already had its problems this season in a precarious position against a Steelers defense tied for second in the NFL with 24 sacks. Hurst will be sitting out his third straight game while Stanley was injured in the second half of last Sunday’s loss at Carolina. Their absence will likely mean more max protect using Nick Boyle and other Ravens tight ends to try to keep quarterback Joe Flacco clean in the pocket.

“Our coaches do a great job with [adjustments], and I’m very confident in the guys that are going to play,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see how they do. That’s the nature of it.  We’re not as healthy as they are, but we’re healthy enough to win the game; I promise you that. I can’t wait to go out and play.”

With Stanley missing the sixth game of his NFL career, the assumption is that second-year lineman Jermaine Eluemunor will start at left tackle after he played 19 snaps there last week. The 2017 fifth-round pick was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster less than two weeks ago and said Friday he hasn’t played left tackle on a regular basis since his junior college days. However, Eluemunor believes last week’s snaps against the Panthers as well as extensive practice reps as a scout-team offensive tackle facing outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon have prepared him for this opportunity.

“I’m pretty comfortable,” said Eluemunor about playing left tackle. “I’ve been going against ‘Sizz’ every day for the past eight weeks of the regular season. If I did get put in that position, I feel like ‘Sizz’ and Judon did a good job of helping me during practice and showing what I can do better with.”

If the coaching staff isn’t comfortable with Eluemunor at left tackle, another possibility would be moving rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to the left side — where he played at Oklahoma — and shifting right guard Marshal Yanda out to right tackle, something the Ravens have done in the past. Needless to say, any alternative to Stanley at left tackle is far from ideal.

The good news for the offensive line is the anticipated return of left guard Alex Lewis, who is on track to play after a two-game absence. Lewis practiced on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday and expressed confidence that he’ll be on the field against the Steelers. The 2016 fourth-round pick did start three games at left tackle in place of Stanley during his rookie year, but the Ravens would likely settle for just having him back at his usual position after his scary neck injury in Week 6.

“I felt good out there running around fast, playing fast. I’m going to go out and try to roll on Sunday,” Lewis said. “We tried to go last week. I just wasn’t ready. I still felt some pain back there, but it’s gone away now. We’ve strengthened the muscles around it, and we should be able to roll.”

The Ravens defense is also less than 100 percent as cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh), inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh), and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) were all listed as questionable on the final injury report. After missing the last two games, Humphrey appears to have a good chance to return since he was able to practice on a limited basis on Thursday and Friday.

Mosley’s status remains uncertain after the three-time Pro Bowl selection only returned to the practice field on a limited basis on Friday, but Jefferson made his intentions clear after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday sessions.

“I’m definitely playing. I wouldn’t miss this game for the world,” said Jefferson, who was a limited participant on Friday. “Last week’s behind us. It’s a new week and it’s Pittsburgh week, so not much that needs to be said about that. It’s our rival opponent. It’s going to be a tough-fought game, so we’re ready for it.”

Running back Alex Collins (foot) was a full participant in Friday’s practice after missing the previous day and was moving well during the portion of practice open to media. His availability eases the pressure on the just-acquired Ty Montgomery, who could make his Ravens debut after being acquired from Green Bay at the trade deadline.

Harbaugh is pleased with how quickly Montgomery has acclimated himself to the Baltimore playbook and views him as an option to contribute on both offense and special teams against the Steelers.

“The good thing is the terminology is somewhat similar [to the Packers],” Harbaugh said. “Not exactly; there are always different terms. But the systems are rooted in the same kind of background, so he has a very good understanding of the plays. And special teams are fine; he’ll have no problem with that. We’ll just have to see how the numbers work out.”

As Harbaugh noted, the Steelers are the healthier team for Week 9, but they are unlikely to have the services of starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert (knee) for the second straight week after he was listed as doubtful. Pittsburgh cornerback Artie Burns was added to the injury report after hurting his ankle during Friday’s workout and is questionable to play.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was not included in the final game status report despite having a fractured left index finger.

The Weather.com forecast for Sunday’s game calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching the high 50s and winds five to 10 miles per hour. There is only a 10-percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens will be wearing their alternate black jerseys for the first time this season to begin a crucial stretch of three straight home games.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: OT James Hurst (back), OT Ronnie Stanley (ankle), LB Tim Williams (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: G Bradley Bozeman (calf), RB Alex Collins (foot), CB Marlon Humphrey (thigh), S Tony Jefferson (hamstring), WR Jordan Lasley (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (neck), LB C.J. Mosley (thigh)

PITTSBURGH
DOUBTFUL: OT Marcus Gilbert (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Coty Sensabaugh (toe), CB Artie Burns (ankle)

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Humphrey returns, Collins misses Thursday’s Ravens practice

Posted on 01 November 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Thursday brought good and bad news for the Ravens as they count down to their critical Week 9 meeting with Pittsburgh.

Cornerback Marlon Humphrey (thigh) and left guard Alex Lewis (neck) returned to practice after missing their second straight game in Carolina last Sunday, but a new injury concern arose with running back Alex Collins missing the session with a foot issue. Collins was listed on Wednesday’s injury report as a limited participant, making it unclear whether he sustained an injury during practice or if Baltimore is exercising caution for a lingering ailment. His status could complicate plans in the backfield as recently-acquired running back Ty Montgomery is still getting up to speed with a new playbook this week.

For what it’s worth, Collins was present in the locker room for media availability prior to missing Thursday’s practice, a rare occurrence when a player’s status is thought to be in serious doubt.

Humphrey appeared to be moving well during the portion of practice open to reporters, taking part in drills with the rest of the defensive backs. The 2017 first-round pick’s absence has been felt in back-to-back losses to New Orleans and Carolina as the Ravens defense has surrendered 53 points in the last five quarters of action. Combating Pittsburgh’s second-ranked passing attack would certainly be easier with a healthy Humphrey in the secondary.

Already struggling to defend the middle of the field in the passing game, the Ravens were again without inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (thigh) and safety Tony Jefferson (hamstring) during Thursday’s practice. Should Mosley not be able to play, Baltimore would turn to the combination of Patrick Onwuasor and rookie Kenny Young — who have shared first-team reps this season — at the two inside linebacker spots. Jefferson’s potential absence would mean increased snaps for dime back Anthony Levine and second-year safety Chuck Clark.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and right tackle James Hurst (back) missed practice once again, creating greater concern about the Ravens’ ability to hold up against a talented Pittsburgh front on Sunday. In addition to the returning Lewis, rookie guard Bradley Bozeman (calf) practiced on a limited basis on Thursday.

Rookie wide receiver Jordan Lasley was added to Thursday’s injury report as a limited participant due to a hamstring issue. Lasley has yet to be active for a regular-season game, so even a moderate injury could lead to him being placed on injured reserve as the Ravens try to deal with so many health concerns. Head coach John Harbaugh expressed optimism Wednesday that the organization would be able to re-sign veteran linebacker Albert McClellan to the 53-man roster in the coming days after he was released to make room for Montgomery.

Pittsburgh did not have a single player on its 53-man roster sit out Thursday’s practice for an injury-related reason. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was a full participant as he deals with a fractured left index finger.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

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

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

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 12-9 overtime loss at Cleveland

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens falling to 3-2 following the ugly 12-9 overtime loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore has had past performances like Sunday’s at FirstEnergy Stadium, but the difference was you could always count on a lousy football team to “Brown” it up at the most critical moment. The Browns were far from perfect, but Baker Mayfield clearly makes them a better team.

2. You hate criticizing a group that surrendered only 12 points, but the two-minute defense left a lot to be desired, allowing a 78-yard touchdown drive at the end of the first half, a 38-yard drive in the final minute of regulation, and the 65-yard game-ending drive in overtime.

3. Had anyone heard of Derrick Willies before his 39-yard reception on third-and-8 in overtime? The rookie free agent caught a combined 40 passes in three collegiate seasons at Texas Tech and Iowa and hadn’t caught an NFL pass before the fourth quarter.

4. Arguably worse was Duke Johnson’s 15-yard run on the next play that put the Browns at the Baltimore 28. It was a less-than-stellar showing from Tyus Bowser and C.J. Mosley on that run since Cleveland kicker Greg Joseph wasn’t inspiring any confidence that he’d make a longer kick.

5. I’ve written extensively about the running game this week, but Lamar Jackson leads the team in yards per carry (min. 15 rushes), making it understandable why the Ravens want to keep him involved. Still, bringing him on the field for an inside rush on first-and-16 in overtime made little sense.

6. The defense recorded five sacks and a total of 27 pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. The Ravens allowed Mayfield to escape the pocket a few times, but the pass rush bounced back from a quiet performance in Pittsburgh. Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith were particularly good in that area.

7. Joe Flacco was among those complaining about the illegal block in the back call on Chris Moore that wiped away Alex Collins’ 17-yard run in overtime, but it was avoidable just like Matt Judon’s that canceled out a touchdown against Denver. You have to see what you’re hitting.

8. Anthony Levine continues to play terrific football after recording three pass breakups for the second straight week. He’s a good example of how using creativity with sub packages can work to your advantage. Levine isn’t a pure safety, linebacker, or cornerback, but he’s a good football player.

9. John Harbaugh acknowledged not planning to use Willie Henry for 39 defensive snaps in his return from August hernia surgery, but he played well, registering a sack and another tackle. He provides another inside pass-rushing option to rotate with Smith and Brent Urban.

10. The Ravens lead the NFL in scoring defense and rank in the top five in a number of other categories, but they’ve recorded just six takeaways in their first five games after having 10 in the first two contests last year. I suspect that’s going to change sooner than later.

11. Browns cornerback Denzel Ward was responsible for taking as many as 10 points off the board from the Ravens with his goal-line interception and field goal block. He, Mayfield, and defensive end Myles Garrett sure look poised to make Cleveland an interesting team over the next few years.

12. Watching a 9-9 contest in the final seconds of overtime brought memories of the only tie in Ravens history, which came against Philadelphia at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 16, 1997. I recall leaving that day as fans from both teams argued over which team stunk more. Both finished 6-9-1.

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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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