Tag Archive | "cincinnati"

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Ravens’ season-ending dud only reconfirms issues for offseason

Posted on 01 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens played exactly like a team whose season had come to an end in Pittsburgh a week earlier.

Despite practically taking offense at the notion that their season-ending trip to Cincinnati was meaningless throughout the week, Baltimore’s performance against the Bengals was nothing short of offensive on Sunday, particularly in the first half of the 27-10 defeat. But it shouldn’t change anything once you move past the New Year’s Day sting and take consolation in a better draft pick a few months from now.

It was a meaningless game, remember?

We weren’t going to learn anything about the Ravens that we didn’t already know, even if you were surprised to see them sleepwalk against a Bengals team that had been out of the playoff race for weeks.

We’d already seen this offense make it look incredibly difficult to move the ball throughout the season with few exceptions. This group once again made it look like the Ravens were playing 11-on-15 football for much of the afternoon.

Joe Flacco threw more than 40 passes for the 11th time this season, and the ninth-year quarterback failed to eclipse the 300-yard mark for the seventh of those performances, illustrating how inefficient this pass-heavy attack has been all year.

This offense needs to be blown up and rebuilt with the top objective of getting Flacco playing at a higher level in a more balanced attack. Other than a couple decent performances late in the season, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg showed little evidence of being able to do the job after replacing Marc Trestman in October. Sunday just reiterated that point when he called for a pass on first-and-goal at the Cincinnati 2 that resulted in a Flacco interception and later made the silly call to throw to offensive lineman Alex Lewis on a third-and-2 inside the Bengals’ 10.

The Ravens offense needs better coaching and more talent, especially with veteran wide receiver Steve Smith retiring.

More alarming than the season-long offensive ineptitude, however, has been the collapse of a defense that ranked first overall just a few weeks ago. The Ravens did nothing to bounce back from the ugliness of last week’s fourth quarter, allowing a Bengals offense without A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, and Giovani Bernard to score on each of its first four possessions.

That’s unacceptable.

After arguably doing the finest coaching job of his time in Baltimore through the first 12 games of the season, defensive coordinator Dean Pees is fairly under fire with the Ravens allowing 26 or more points in each of their final four games. The absence of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith was significant, but that can’t excuse an undermanned Cincinnati offense moving against them with little resistance.

Was the defense tired down the stretch from carrying the offense for most of the season? What happened to a run defense that looked impenetrable just a few weeks ago?

The Ravens defense did an admirable job holding up without a consistent pass rush for much of the year, but that ability vanished down the stretch. Until Elvis Dumervil sacked Andy Dalton to conclude the third quarter on Sunday, Baltimore had gone almost 10 full quarters without a quarterback takedown.

Coaching changes or not, general manager Ozzie Newsome must address the pass rush with Terrell Suggs turning 35 next season and the 32-year-old Dumervil a possible salary-cap casualty. The secondary also needs more depth with injuries continuing to be a problem for Jimmy Smith.

Yes, it was alarming to see the Ravens go through the motions on Sunday, especially after head coach John Harbaugh was praised last season for the way his injury-depleted team continued to play hard down the stretch of a 5-11 campaign. But those players hadn’t experienced anything resembling the kind of gut-punch they took from the Steelers on Christmas.

The Ravens were ready to go home long before they took the field on Sunday, and what resulted wasn’t pretty. It was a bad look for both the coaching staff and the players — plain and simple.

But we’d already seen all there was to see from a team that wasn’t good enough in 2016.

How the Ravens performed in a meaningless game — good or bad — wasn’t going to change that.

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Ravens-Bengals: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 01 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will try to finish their season and begin a new calendar year on a winning note.

Despite being eliminated from postseason contention in last Sunday’s heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens have an opportunity to clinch their second winning season since Super Bowl XLVII. This marks the first time that both Baltimore and Cincinnati have missed the playoffs since 2007.

Rookie wide receiver and former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds headlined the list of Baltimore inactives for the season finale against the Bengals. Reynolds was promoted from the practice squad to the 53-man roster on Friday, but this was a procedural move to keep the sixth-round pick in the organization and avoid the risk of him signing a reserve-future deal with another team.

Rookie offensive lineman Alex Lewis was activated for the first time since injuring his ankle in Week 10. With veteran right tackle Rick Wagner out with a concussion, Lewis figured to return to the game-day roster for the finale.

Crockett Gillmore was inactive for the ninth straight week, ending a lost season for the third-year tight end who enjoyed such a promising 2015 campaign.

The Bengals deactivated starting running back Jeremy Hill (knee) and linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion/knee) for Week 17. Cincinnati officially placed six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) on injured reserve on Saturday.

Sunday’s referee is Pete Morelli.

According to Weather.com, the forecast in Cincinnati calls for cloudy skies with temperatures reaching the mid-40s and winds up to seven miles per hour.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with black pants while the Bengals don black tops with black pants.

Sunday marks the 42nd meeting between these AFC North foes with Baltimore holding the slight 21-20 edge. The Ravens are seeking their first victory at Paul Brown Stadium in exactly five years.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Keenan Reynolds
WR Vince Mayle
RB Buck Allen
LB Lamar Louis
OL Ryan Jensen
OT Rick Wagner
TE Crockett Gillmore

CINCINNATI
QB Jeff Driskel
RB Jeremy Hill
LB Vontaze Burfict
G Christian Westerman
DT DeShawn Williams
TE Tyler Kroft
WR Jake Kumerow

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 31 December 2016 by Luke Jones

Playing out the string.

Though the Ravens are closing out a regular season at Paul Brown Stadium for the fifth time in the last six years, this marks the first time that neither Baltimore nor Cincinnati is going to the playoffs since 2007 when John Harbaugh was still the special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles. Even with nothing to play for beyond pride, the Ravens have declared their intentions to play all healthy veterans, a move that some have criticized in fear of a serious injury to a key player.

Meanwhile, the Bengals will miss the postseason for the first time since 2010 and have shut down several injured veterans such as wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and tight end Tyler Eifert (back) in recent weeks.

It’s time to go on the record as these teams meet for the 42nd time in franchise history with Baltimore owning a 21-20 edge. The Ravens are seeking their first season sweep of the Bengals since 2011 and can also secure a 5-1 AFC North record, their best division mark since going 6-0 in that same season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Justin Tucker will attempt a 60-plus-yard field goal. The two-time Pro Bowl kicker is a remarkable 10-for-10 on tries from 50 yards and longer and needs only one more to have sole possession of the single-season NFL record. The weather in Cincinnati should reach the mid-40s with minimal wind, conditions that are suitable enough to try a long field goal. Tucker has had one of the best kicking seasons in NFL history and deserves a chance to hit a season-long field goal at the very least.

2. Mike Wallace will reach 1,000 receiving yards for the first time since 2011. This is hardly going out on a limb with the first-year Raven just 16 yards shy of the mark, but Baltimore should make a conscious effort to get Wallace involved early after he was held to just four catches for 21 yards in Pittsburgh last week. Though the Ravens haven’t always utilized him well this season, Wallace has provided them with the vertical threat they sorely lacked after Torrey Smith’s free-agent departure.

3. Andy Dalton will throw for two touchdowns against a secondary once again without Jimmy Smith. It’s not a coincidence that the five highest passing totals allowed by the Baltimore defense this season have come in games in which the No. 1 cornerback missed significant time, a clear indication of the lack of depth in the secondary. The Ravens found a fourth-round gem in rookie Tavon Young, but finding another outside corner should be a priority this offseason.

4. Steve Smith will catch a touchdown and produce 80 receiving yards in his final NFL game. Joe Flacco throws to Smith often anyway, so there’s no reason to think the 37-year-old won’t be featured heavily. The mantra “Play like a Raven” has become a cliché in recent years, but the former Carolina Panther epitomizes the idea with the kind of intensity and physicality on which the success of this franchise was built. The Ravens are fortunate to have had the future Hall of Famer pass their way.

5. The Ravens will win in Cincinnati for the first time in exactly five years in a 23-17 final. Rarely have the Ravens ever looked like they were going through the motions under Harbaugh, which is why I expect them to play hard despite having their playoff hopes crushed last week in Pittsburgh. Meanwhile, the Bengals have been out of the playoff hunt for weeks while rumors have circulated about Marvin Lewis’ future. With an opportunity to send Steve Smith out on a positive note, the Ravens will win their first road game in over three months and finish the season with a respectable 9-7 record.

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Former Navy star Reynolds promoted to Ravens’ 53-man roster

Posted on 30 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The feel-good story of the Ravens’ 2016 draft class has taken the next step in fulfilling his NFL dream.

Wide receiver and former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was promoted to the 53-man roster on Friday morning after spending the entire year on the practice squad. The sixth-round pick was waived at the end of the preseason, but the Ravens thought highly enough of Reynolds’ character and potential to keep him in the organization.

“It’s a difficult thing making a transition like he’s doing,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “He works really hard at it every day. He’s learned a lot. Next year is going to be the year. We’ll see. He has to go to work the next three or four months, too, and get some real specific work as far as running routes and doing the things a slot receiver and an outside receiver have to do. He’s done a good job.”

It remains to be seen whether Reynolds will be active for Sunday’s season finale against Cincinnati after Harbaugh described his promotion as a reward from general manager Ozzie Newsome. Reynolds played sparingly in the preseason, making one catch for two yards and struggling to secure the football consistently as a return specialist.

Reynolds scored an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision record 88 touchdowns while leading the triple-option attack for the Midshipmen.

“I was really happy. I called my parents to let them know,” Reynolds said. “It’s been a long season, and I’m just happy to be part of the squad on Sunday.”

To make room on the 53-man roster, cornerback Jimmy Smith (right ankle) was placed on season-ending injured reserve. Harbaugh said at the beginning of the week that Smith was likely to miss his third straight game with a high ankle sprain.

The Ravens officially ruled out inside linebacker Zach Orr (neck) and right tackle Rick Wagner (concussion). Scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, Wagner may have played his final game with Baltimore last Sunday in Pittsburgh.

After practicing fully for the third straight week, rookie offensive lineman Alex Lewis (ankle) was once against listed as questionable on the final injury report, but he is likely to be active for the first time since Week 9 with Wagner sidelined. Lewis or veteran James Hurst will start at right tackle against the Bengals.

The Bengals officially ruled out left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder) and wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) and declared linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion/knee) as doubtful to play. Running back Jeremy Hill (knee) is questionable to play against the Ravens.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Pete Morelli.

According to Weather.com, the game-day forecast in Cincinnati calls for cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid-40s with a 70 percent chance of light rain and winds up to six miles per hour.

Below is the final full injury report:

BALTIMORE
OUT: LB Zach Orr (neck), OT Rick Wagner (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: G Alex Lewis (ankle)

CINCINNATI
OUT: WR A.J. Green (hamstring), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder)
DOUBTFUL: LB Vontaze Burfict (knee/concussion), TE Tyler Kroft (knee/ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Jeremy Hill (knee)

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Three Ravens starters still sidelined ahead of season finale

Posted on 29 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Three Ravens starters remain sidelined with injuries ahead of Sunday’s season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Right tackle Rick Wagner (concussion), inside linebacker Zach Orr (neck), and cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle) all missed practice for the second straight day on Thursday. Head coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Smith is expected to miss his third straight game with a high ankle sprain.

It remains to be seen whether rookie Alex Lewis or veteran James Hurst would start at right tackle if Wagner cannot play while rookie Patrick Onwuasor could receive the start in place of Orr.

Center Jeremy Zuttah received a veteran day off on Thursday.

The Bengals continued to be without running back Jeremy Hill (knee), linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion/knee), and tight end Tyler Kroft (knee/ankle) for Thursday’s practice.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Zach Orr (neck), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle), OT Rick Wagner (concussion), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (ankle), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Vontaze Burfict (knee/concussion), WR A.J. Green (hamstring), RB Jeremy Hill (knee), TE Tyler Kroft (knee/ankle), CB Josh Shaw (knee)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Will Clarke (ribs), CB Adam Jones (ankle), OT Cedric Ogbuehi (shoulder), LB Vincent Rey (hamstring), OT Andrew Whitworth (biceps), S Shawn Williams (ribs)

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Orr, Wagner among Ravens players absent from Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 28 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Taking the field for the final Wednesday practice of the season, the Ravens were without four starting players from their 53-man roster.

Linebacker Zach Orr (neck), right tackle Rick Wagner (concussion), cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle), and left guard Marshal Yanda (non-injury) were not present during the portion of practice open to media. Orr has been dealing with a sore shoulder in recent weeks and played 52 of 58 defensive snaps in Sunday’s loss to Pittsburgh, but he was listed on Wednesday’s injury report as dealing with a neck ailment.

Smith is not expected to play in the season finale at Cincinnati after spraining his right ankle early in the Week 14 loss to New England. The Ravens are 2-4 in games in which Smith has missed substantial time this season.

“It is a high-ankle [sprain]. He probably will not be able to make it for this week,” head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “We were hoping for the playoffs.”

Wagner suffered a concussion in the second half of the 31-27 loss to the Steelers while Yanda has regularly been given Wednesday practices off since injuring his left shoulder in October. Harbaugh confirmed that rookie Alex Lewis or third-year lineman James Hurst would start at right tackle if Wagner isn’t cleared in time for Sunday’s game.

Wide receiver Steve Smith was present for his final week of practice as he’s expected to retire from the NFL after 16 seasons.

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis confirmed Wednesday that six-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green will not play against the Ravens on Sunday. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict remains in the concussion protocol.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Zach Orr (neck), CB Jimmy Smith (ankle), OT Rick Wagner (concussion), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
FULL PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (ankle)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB Vontaze Burfict (knee/concussion), WR A.J. Green (hamstring), RB Jeremy Hill (knee), TE Tyler Kroft (knee/ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Will Clarke (ribs), CB Adam Jones (ankle), LB Vincent Rey (hamstring), OT Andrew Whitworth (biceps)

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Harbaugh says Ravens will play all healthy players against Cincinnati

Posted on 26 December 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — John Harbaugh says it will be business as usual for the Ravens as they conclude their season at Cincinnati on Sunday afternoon.

Despite being eliminated from postseason contention with their 31-27 defeat at Pittsburgh on Sunday, the ninth-year head coach expressed no intention of resting veterans in favor of younger players against the Bengals. A win would give the Ravens only their second winning season since Super Bowl XLVII.

“We’re going [there] to win the game,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll play our guys, and everybody that is healthy will go play. That’s the plan. I wouldn’t look at it any other way.”

With the Ravens having nothing to play before beyond the possibility of finishing with a winning record, a sound argument could be made for resting established veterans, especially those who’ve played with long-term injuries such as guard Marshal Yanda and linebacker Terrell Suggs. There’s always the risk of a key player suffering a serious injury that could hinder his status for the start of next season, but the limitations of a 53-man roster make it difficult to treat Sunday’s game like a preseason affair.

Still, young players such as wide receivers Breshad Perriman, Michael Campanaro, and Chris Moore, offensive linemen Alex Lewis and John Urschel, defensive end Brent Urban, and outside linebacker Matt Judon would benefit from more live-game reps after serving in limited roles this season. And observers who are focused on the big picture would also point to such a strategy increasing the likelihood of a loss to improve the Ravens’ standing for the 2017 draft.

Harbaugh shared no such sentiment on Monday.

“You try to win. We talked about it in the locker room after the game,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what I pointed towards is the next game. We want to go win it. We do want to be 9-7. That is important. It’s important to have one more win than we potentially could have. I don’t care what the record is.”

Harbaugh did say that No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith is likely to miss his third straight game with a high ankle sprain suffered against New England on Dec. 12. The Ravens were hoping at the time of the injury that he might be able to return for the playoffs.

The Bengals officially placed tight end Tyler Eifert (back) and guard Clint Boling (shoulder) on season-ending injured reserve on Monday and do not intend to play wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) on Sunday despite his return to practice two weeks ago.

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Ravens not showing what it takes to win games on road

Posted on 13 December 2016 by Luke Jones

The final score alone was nothing to be ashamed of.

Many thought the Ravens could win in New England on Monday, but fewer expected them to really pull off the upset. The end result technically only means that John Harbaugh’s team has no realistic path to an AFC North title that doesn’t involve winning at Pittsburgh in Week 16.

So, why then does this one sting that much more than last month’s defeat at Dallas?

It’s because the Ravens showed that they still don’t have what it takes to win a big game on the road and haven’t displayed that moxie in quite some time. The 38-6 thumping of Miami last week was supposed to be the offensive breakthrough that would propel them down a final stretch that included three of four away games, but we instead saw the same offense we witnessed over the first 11 games of the season.

Instead of giving the Patriots everything they could handle to show they were back among the AFC’s top tier of contenders, the Ravens looked like the mediocre team their 7-6 record says they are.

Removing their injury-riddled October from the equation, they’re just not noticeably better than they were at the beginning of the season when they produced their only two road wins. Those victories came after erasing a 20-point deficit to lowly Cleveland in Week 2 and edging Jacksonville with a 54-yard field goal in the final minute of a Week 3 tilt. Yes, Baltimore’s only road victories of the season were nail-biters against the two worst teams in the AFC back in September.

Former offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was still two weeks away from being fired when the Ravens last won outside Baltimore, and it will have been exactly three months since that last road win when the Ravens take the field against the Steelers on Christmas Day.

They have been a good team at M&T Bank Stadium with a 5-2 mark in 2016, but also a pretty bad one on the road. We know winning at Heinz Field will be a tough task, but nothing about the Ravens’ current profile suggests their Week 17 trip to Cincinnati — where they haven’t won in five years — should be considered a sure thing, especially if five-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green is playing.

The Ravens struggled in every phase of the game on Monday, ranging from the offense and defense to special teams and coaching. If we’re being truthful about what we watched and are weary of moral victories in which they “battled” and “fought” back, the Ravens were very fortunate to even be in the game over the final 20 minutes. Winning the turnover battle by a 3-1 margin normally results in a victory, but that doesn’t happen when you stink up the joint for the first 2 1/2 quarters against arguably the best head coach and quarterback in NFL history.

The defense was torched by Tom Brady and the special teams — specifically former return specialist Devin Hester — also played a big part in the loss, but the Ravens offense was its usual self after the one-week aberration against the Dolphins that prompted many observers to buy into the newfound hype.

Passing the ball all day — running game be damned — and checking down all night while being completely perplexed by zone coverage. Not one touchdown drive beyond the two early Christmas gifts provided by New England’s special teams in the third quarter. A way-too-lethargic pace when trailing by two scores late in the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t good enough from Marty Mornhinweg, Joe Flacco, and company. Even the defense has looked mortal on the road as it’s allowed 24 or more points in each of the last four contests and may once again be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who injured his ankle on Monday night.

The Ravens are now 10-20 in regular-season road games since Super Bowl XLVII. The old formula of dominating at home and playing .500 ball away from M&T Bank Stadium brought much success in Harbaugh’s first five seasons — a 21-19 record on the road over that time — but the Ravens have fallen off the away cliff over the last four years, which helps explain their absence from January football.

If they don’t quickly find a way to play better in opposing cities, another New Year’s end to a season will be in order.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 12 win over Cincinnati

Posted on 29 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens topping Cincinnati in a 19-14 final on Sunday to remain tied for first place in the AFC North, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. I don’t know what else there is to say about the excellence of Justin Tucker, but I sure hope he receives an opportunity one of these days to attempt a 65-yard field goal to set the NFL record. And then gets another chance to kick an even longer one.

2. The Ravens have more field goals (27) than anyone in the NFL, but they rank ahead of only Houston and Los Angeles with 19 touchdowns. That combination has earned them a 6-5 record, but it’s not a formula that will work against upper-tier teams.

3. Coming off his second Achilles injury in a four-year period and currently playing with a torn biceps, Terrell Suggs played a season-high 61 snaps and had two strip-sacks. Though not the consistent force he was in his prime, he’s earned even more respect as a player this season.

4. Don’t forget that Sam Koch’s safety went down as a run for minus-23 yards in the final statistics. Otherwise, the Baltimore running game gained 115 yards on 29 carries, a respectable average of just under 4.0 yards per attempt compared to the official 3.1 mark.

5. It’s difficult to recall a defensive line batting down four passes on a single drive, let alone doing it on the final series of a one-score game. It was a brilliant way to offset an inconsistent pass rush for much of the afternoon.

6. Nothing illustrated the up-and-down nature of the offense more than its third-down conversion rate against the Bengals. After going a strong 5-for-10 in a 16-point first half, the Ravens were 0-for-6 after intermission. Baltimore ranks last in the NFL with a 33.3 percent conversion rate on the season.

7. The decision to call an end-around hand-off to Mike Wallace on the final drive was questionable at best, but I applaud any extra attempts to get him the football otherwise. His explosive speed needs to be utilized as much as possible.

8. It came down to the numbers game with Elvis Dumervil returning, but Za’Darius Smith being a healthy inactive illustrates how much finding an edge pass rusher remains a priority this offseason. Rookie Matt Judon flashes potential, but Smith’s second season has been a disappointment.

9. Kamar Aiken caught a pass to move the chains on a key third down on each of the first two scoring drives and wasn’t targeted again after that. No one expected him to be Baltimore’s leading receiver again this season, but he shouldn’t have fewer receptions than Kyle Juszczyk.

10. I’m still surprised how reluctant some have been to embrace this defense. It may lack much star power, but this has been a top 5 unit all year. If your standard is the 2000 Ravens or you’re waiting for the next Ray Lewis to appear, you’ll never be satisfied.

11. Many are clamoring for the Ravens to use the no-huddle offense even more, but it bogged down after a fast start against Cincinnati. This group hasn’t shown the kind of precision or communication required to run it exclusively, but it can still be used plenty.

12. Coaches always receive criticism when teams lose, but John Harbaugh deserves praise for the way he handled the game-ending safety. He said all teams have that strategy in their special-teams playbook, but I highly doubt that.

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Ravens secondary trying to hold on without Jimmy Smith

Posted on 28 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens bent but didn’t break without cornerback Jimmy Smith this time.

After Dallas rookie Dak Prescott threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns in Baltimore’s 27-17 loss to the Cowboys last week, the secondary fared better against Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton, who needed 48 pass attempts to throw for 283 yards and only one touchdown. Of course, the Bengals not having Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green helped immensely while the Ravens played their second straight game without Smith, who continues to deal with a back issue.

The results weren’t perfect, but head coach John Harbaugh will always sign up for his defense allowing 12 points — the Bengals’ other two points came on the game-ending safety — in a 19-14 victory. It sure beat what happened against the Cowboys and in the second half of the Week 6 loss to the New York Giants after Smith left the game with a concussion.

“I thought our defensive backs did a much better job in man-to-man coverage than the week before,” Harbaugh said. “They had been doing a good job at times throughout the course of the season — for most of the season — playing man coverage, but yesterday they really stepped it up and had some good reps out there.”

The Ravens hope to see Smith return this week as the Miami Dolphins come to town sporting a six-game winning streak, their longest in over a decade. The Dolphins offense is built around surprising star running back Jay Ajayi, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill works with a trio of receivers in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, and Kenny Stills each with at least 480 receiving yards this season.

After revealing late last week that Smith’s back injury is a muscular issue, Harbaugh said Monday that the sixth-year defensive back continues improving. Whether that means a Week 13 return is unknown.

“I was hopeful he would get back [against the Bengals],” Harbaugh said. “He ran again on Saturday, and he tried to see how well he ran on the ground, and it was better, but it was not good enough to play. That is where we’re at. He is close. He has been able to run for about a week, so we’ll see.”

The Ravens have moved Shareece Wright back into the starting lineup in Smith’s absence over the last two weeks, but defensive coordinator Dean Pees interestingly used different combinations in the nickel package on Sunday. Perhaps a reflection of his recent struggles against Dallas, veteran slot corner Jerraud Powers played only 25 of 75 defensive snaps against Cincinnati. It was his lowest snap total since suffering a groin injury in the Week 6 loss to the Giants.

Reserve safety and former first-round pick Matt Elam played a season-high 27 snaps while starting safety Lardarius Webb moved down to the slot in the nickel package, a position where he thrived early in his career. Harbaugh wouldn’t disclose whether we’d see more of that alignment moving forward.

“Those are different packages that we had in,” Harbaugh said. “Some of the packages are more passing. Some of them are more running. Some of them have to do with pressures. Some of them are more base calls. We’re just trying to have guys out there for what they do best and try to get our matchups as best as we can. That’s really what it was. We try to put guys in positions to do what they do best.”

No matter who else is out there, the Ravens secondary will only be at its best down the stretch with a healthy Smith back on the field.

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