Tag Archive | "cincinnati"

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Cincinnati bearing strong resemblance to last year’s Ravens

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The 2016 script for the Cincinnati Bengals should sound familiar to the Ravens.

A heartbreaking playoff loss the previous January.

The departure of a popular offensive coordinator and the loss of several key free agents.

A difficult early-season schedule that included four of the first six games on the road.

And a growing list of injuries.

At 3-6-1, the Bengals find their season all but ruined without a miraculous turnaround. The injuries to Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green and shifty running back Giovani Bernard felt like the final nails in the coffin last Sunday, but consecutive post-bye losses by a total of five points have dropped Cincinnati out of serious contention in a mediocre AFC North.

It all sounds a lot like the Ravens’ circumstances a year ago that resulted in a 5-11 season, the franchise’s worst in nearly a decade. At the same point last year, Baltimore was 3-7 and already out of playoff contention.

“We haven’t won close games,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’ve had opportunities in the fourth quarter of football games. We’ve had leads. We’ve had opportunities, and we haven’t closed the games out.”

Of course, the Bengals’ woes guarantee nothing for the Ravens, who haven’t made things easy on themselves all season. Three of their five wins have come against the two worst teams in the AFC — Cleveland and Jacksonville — and just one of their victories has been by more than one score.

And don’t forget about that five-game losing streak against the Bengals, a drought dating back to the 2013 season. The Week 16 rematch with Pittsburgh is the most crucial game remaining on the schedule, but two games against Cincinnati — Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium and then the regular-season finale at Paul Brown Stadium — will be critical in determining the Ravens’ fate.

“We have to find a way to beat them,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “If we do not start beating the Bengals, then we are not going to win any division championships. That is especially true this year. To me, the whole thing goes through Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. We are going to have to win a couple other games, too, but it is the division. This is a division game. It is as simple as that.”

Starting fast is a goal every week, but the Ravens are facing a team that has one victory — against the winless Browns — since late September and will be without its best player. If ever there were a time for Baltimore to come out of the gate trying to step on the neck of an opponent, Week 12 is it.

The Bengals are down and know they likely need to win out to have any chance of extending their string of five consecutive trips to the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Ravens know they need to win these next two home games — including next week against Miami — to keep pace with the Steelers and put themselves in good position for a brutal final quarter of the season that includes road games at New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati.

On Sunday, the Ravens can’t afford to give hope to a struggling team that still has some talented players on both sides of the ball.

“We want to continue to build and get better,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, whose 19 career interceptions against the Bengals are the most he’s thrown against any team. “I think it is huge to get going just to get our crowd in it and to get everybody excited — to get our guys excited. These guys have played us well. We have not beaten them in a long time. It is definitely going to be a tough game, but early on will be a big part.”

We know this is a flawed Ravens team expected to once again be without top cornerback Jimmy Smith, but their problems don’t run as deep as those of the Bengals, whose penalty-riddled collapse against Pittsburgh last January now looks like the moment their window of opportunity slammed shut. Baltimore is trying to show its own window is still open despite going 10-16 since the start of last season.

There’s no excuse not to beat the struggling Bengals if the Ravens want to be taken seriously the rest of the way. A loss would drastically change their outlook for their five remaining games.

Peppered with questions from the Baltimore media this week about how the losses of Green and Bernard impact his struggling team, Lewis said the Bengals still plan on showing up at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday. No matter how Cincinnati might look right now, the Ravens can’t afford to take their AFC North rival lightly.

“Five straight is five straight. Numbers don’t lie,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “They have kind of had our number. We are going to see what we can do to change that.”

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Dumervil questionable, J. Smith doubtful to play against Cincinnati

Posted on 25 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens may welcome back a key member of their defense against Cincinnati, but another is expected to be absent for the second straight game.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) is listed as questionable to play against the Bengals on Sunday while cornerback Jimmy Smith (back) is doubtful after missing practices all week. Dumervil was a full participant all week after returning to the practice field last week and could see his first live-game action since Oct. 9 against Washington.

Dealing with a frustrating recovery from offseason foot surgery, Dumervil has appeared in just two games all season, failing to register a statistic in 45 total snaps. The 32-year-old collected a total of 32 1/2 sacks in his first three seasons with the Ravens, who have struggled to mount a consistent pass rush this season.

“I think he looked good in practice. Again, it’s going to be up to the medical people to determine [if he plays],” head coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s always been a medical issue. It’s good to see him out there at practice taking a good number of reps. He didn’t take every rep, but took a good number of reps in the rotation. We’ll just have to see when the time comes whether he’ll get cleared to go.”

With Smith not expected to play, the Ravens are fortunate that five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green will not suit up for the Bengals. Green injured his hamstring in last Sunday’s loss to Buffalo and was officially declared out on Friday afternoon.

The Baltimore defense has struggled without Smith on the field, but the Bengals’ lack of a high-impact receiver without Green should lessen that concern. The Ravens started rookie Tavon Young and returning veteran Shareece Wright at the starting cornerback spots against the Cowboys last week as Smith continued to nurse his back issue.

“I think they have a better handle on exactly what it is right now specifically,” Harbaugh said. “They have a good handle on it. It’s more muscular, so that’s good news. If it clears up and he can go, he’ll play. If it doesn’t and he can’t be close to 100 percent, we’ll just have to wait until next week. But we’re confident in the guys we have as well.”

The Ravens officially ruled out guard Alex Lewis (ankle) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh). Tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) sat out Friday’s workout and is doubtful, meaning he will likely miss his fourth consecutive game.

Baltimore listed guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and defensive tackles Timmy Jernigan (shoulder) and Brandon Williams (back/hand) as questionable, but all three are expected to play on Sunday.

In addition to ruling out Green, the Bengals listed starting strong safety Shawn Williams (hamstring) as doubtful to play in Week 12.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Clete Blakeman.

The Ravens will wear its black jerseys on Sunday, the first time this year the alternate top has been worn.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast calls for mostly sunny skies with temperatures reaching 53 degrees and winds up to 12 miles per hour.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: G Alex Lewis (ankle), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh)
DOUBTFUL: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), CB Jimmy Smith (back)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder), DT Brandon Williams (back/hand), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

CINCINNATI
OUT: WR A.J. Green (hamstring)
DOUBTFUL: TE C.J. Uzomah (calf), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: LS Clark Harris (groin), S Derron Smith (thigh)

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Ravens once again practice without Jimmy Smith on Thanksgiving

Posted on 24 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens were once again without Jimmy Smith on Thanksgiving as they moved closer to a Week 12 meeting with Cincinnati.

The sixth-year cornerback continues to be sidelined with the back injury that forced him to miss his first game of the season last Sunday. Head coach John Harbaugh has expressed optimism at a couple different points regarding his status, but you do wonder how long the back issue could linger as he’s missed all but one practice over the last two weeks.

Fortunately for the Ravens, the Bengals will be without top receiver A.J. Green, who will miss this week’s game with a hamstring injury. Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant caught two touchdowns against a Baltimore defense lacking its best cornerback.

“Whether Jimmy is in there or not, we have to step our game up — myself included — to get off the field,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We just didn’t execute and didn’t make the plays needed. They made the plays, and credit Dallas for doing an excellent job in the second half. You live, you learn.”

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams (back/hand) and guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder) returned to practice as full participants after receiving Wednesday off. Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) also practiced fully as he hopes to make his return to live-game action for the first time since Week 5.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (shoulder) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) were limited participants for the second straight day. The latter hasn’t played in a game since before the bye week.

Harbaugh gave veteran days off to linebacker Terrell Suggs and center Jeremy Zuttah on Thursday.

The Bengals were once again without starting strong safety Shawn Williams, who continues to nurse a hamstring injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (back), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), C Jeremy Zuttah (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot), DT Brandon Williams (back/hand), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR A.J. Green (hamstring), CB Josh Shaw (hip), TE C.J. Uzomah (calf), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Clint Boling (shoulder), LS Clark Harris (groin), RB Ryan Hewitt (foot), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), S Derron Smith (thigh), WR James Wright (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: QB Andy Dalton (right shoulder), WR Brandon LaFell (knee)

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J. Smith, B. Williams absent as Ravens prepare for Cincinnati

Posted on 23 November 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were without two key defensive starters for Wednesday’s practice as they turn their attention toward the struggling Cincinnati Bengals.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith and nose tackle Brandon Williams were absent from the portion of practice open to reporters. Smith missed his first game of the season with a back injury in Week 11, leading Dallas receiver Dez Bryant to catch two touchdowns against an undermanned Baltimore secondary.

“Jimmy is still working on his back issue,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “Hopefully he’ll be out there tomorrow. We’ll see.”

Harbaugh said Williams was receiving the day off before he was officially listed with back and hand issues on Wednesday’s injury report. He played a season-high 49 defensive snaps against the Cowboys.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil (foot) and tight end Crockett Gillmore (thigh) were present and working. Sunday marked the eighth missed game of the season for Dumervil while Gillmore missed his third straight contest since sustaining an injury during a bye-week practice.

Guards Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Alex Lewis (ankle) and running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh) were not present on Wednesday. After saying Monday that Yanda made it out of the Dallas game in OK shape, Harbaugh gave the five-time Pro Bowl selection an extra day to rest his left shoulder.

Coming off a 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, second-year tight end Nick Boyle was back on the practice field. It remains to be seen whether the Ravens will activate him for Sunday’s game, but he brings blocking ability that the tight end position has lacked in recent weeks.

“I think Nick really feels like he missed out,” Harbaugh said. “He says, ‘What do I do? I work out, and I think about football, then I go work out again, and I think about football.’ He’s got a football head. That’s who he is [and] what he thinks about. That 10 weeks — 11 weeks actually — was very painful for him.

“I’m hoping he makes somebody pay for his pain on that by playing well whenever we’re able to get him out there.”

Meanwhile, the Bengals were without five starters on Wednesday, a list including cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), wide receiver Brandon LaFell (knee), and safety Shawn Williams (hamstring). Five-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is out indefinitely with a hamstring injury suffered in the Week 11 loss to Buffalo.

Bengals running back Giovani Bernard suffered a season-ending knee injury on Sunday and was placed on injured reserve earlier this week.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: G Alex Lewis (ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (back), RB Lorenzo Taliaferro (thigh), DT Brandon Williams (back/hand), G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Crockett Gillmore (thigh), DT Timmy Jernigan (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: LB Elvis Dumervil (foot)

CINCINNATI
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR A.J. Green (hamstring), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (knee), WR Brandon LaFell (knee), TE C.J. Uzomah (calf), OT Andrew Whitworth (non-injury), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Clint Boling (shoulder), QB Andy Dalton (right shoulder), LS Clark Harris (groin), CB Josh Shaw (hip)

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Ravens in position to take advantage of down AFC North

Posted on 15 November 2016 by Luke Jones

The Ravens haven’t really looked the part of a division champion through the first nine games of the season.

They didn’t win a game in the month of October.

The offensive line can’t stay healthy and the offense ranks in the NFL’s bottom 10 in most statistical categories.

Three of their five victories have come against two teams who’ve gone a combined 2-17.

Their highly-paid quarterback has thrown as many interceptions as touchdowns and is in the midst of one of the worst seasons of his career.

And yet the 5-4 Ravens are in sole possession of first place and have the only winning record in the AFC North entering the latter half of November. Flawed as they might be, the rest of a struggling division envies Baltimore’s position with Thanksgiving right around the corner.

Since divisional realignment took place in 2002, the champion of the AFC North hasn’t won fewer than 10 games. Including the history of the old AFC Central, you’d have to go back to 1990 when Cincinnati went 9-7 to find a division champion with fewer than 10 wins.

Barring dramatic improvement from Baltimore, Pittsburgh (4-5), or Cincinnati (3-5-1) over the final seven games, no team appears likely to reach that 10-win plateau. It’s no sure thing that anyone even reaches nine wins, either, especially when you’re reminded that the Ravens still have to face four non-division teams currently sporting winning records.

With the Bengals’ loss to the New York Giants on Monday night, the AFC North fell to 7-19-1 in non-division games in 2016. Even removing winless Cleveland from the equation, the AFC North holds the worst winning percentage in non-division games among the NFL’s eight divisions.

In short, it’s been a bad year for a proud division that’s sent at least two teams to the playoffs in seven of the last eight seasons. But the Ravens are in solid position to take advantage of the mediocrity.

John Harbaugh’s team faces a difficult task playing at Dallas on Sunday, but three of Baltimore’s next four games after that will be played at M&T Bank Stadium. Winning all three of those home games against Cincinnati, Miami, and Philadelphia would put the Ravens in position to finish 9-7 if they can win just one more road game down the stretch. The Christmas Day game at Pittsburgh would be the most meaningful from a potential tie-breaking standpoint.

The offense is likely to remain the Ravens’ Achilles heel with the injuries along the offensive line, but a defense ranking first in yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, and third-down defense and ranking in the top five in several other statistical categories is eager to prove it belongs among the more special groups in franchise history. The Ravens will have their chance to show it with several tough opponents on the horizon.

The path will be difficult, but it’s looking better than the rest of a down AFC North at the moment.

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Eight days change outlook of season for Ravens

Posted on 13 November 2016 by Luke Jones

Just over a week ago, the Ravens were coming off the bye with their season dangerously close to circling the drain before Thanksgiving.

Two victories and two Pittsburgh losses later, Baltimore wakes up Monday in sole possession of first place in the AFC North. That winless October now feels like a long time ago as the 5-4 Ravens are the only team in the division above .500.

Even if you still aren’t ready to believe in the Ravens with their well-known issues, the Steelers (4-5) are now in the midst of their own four-game losing streak after falling to Dallas in the closing seconds at Heinz Field on Sunday. It wasn’t a divisional showdown like the Ravens’ 21-14 win over Pittsburgh the previous week, but the game felt no less pivotal for the struggling Steelers, who will now play four of their next five on the road.

The Steelers were considered the early class of the division after winning four of their first five, but that is no longer the case in mid-November as Ezekiel Elliott’s last-second touchdown changed the landscape of the AFC North on Sunday evening.

The attention now shifts to Cincinnati’s Monday road game against the New York Giants as a win would move the Bengals (3-4-1) into sole possession of second place. In two weeks, the Ravens will try to snap their five-game losing streak against the Bengals that dates back to the 2013 season.

Of course, seven weeks remain in the regular season with the Ravens playing road games against two first-place teams — Dallas and New England — and against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the final two weeks. Their final two home games come against Miami and Philadelphia, who both own winning records and are better than anyone expected them to be at the start of the season.

No matter how mediocre the rest of the division looks, it still won’t be easy for Baltimore.

The Ravens’ problems on offense can’t be dismissed despite a 22-point second-half outburst against Cleveland on Thursday, but a very strong defense and the Steelers’ struggles suddenly make the path to a division title appear less daunting. Pittsburgh will have an easier task next week with a road game against the winless Browns while the Ravens must play at one-loss Dallas, but Baltimore will be firmly in the division mix at Thanksgiving no matter what the Steelers and Bengals do.

You can’t ask for more than that after losing four straight in October.

The chances of a wild card appear bleak for any AFC North team with the AFC West currently sporting three seven-win teams, but a 9-7 record is looking more and more like the mark to win the division.

And even with the difficult remaining schedule, that goal looks more attainable after a fruitful eight days for the Ravens.

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Fresh off their bye, Ravens have no choice but to get well quickly

Posted on 31 October 2016 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens returned to work Monday aiming to start anew.

Using a much-needed bye week to get their bodies and minds right after a winless October, they won’t have long to wait to set the tone for the second half of the season. Playing two games in a five-day period is always a challenge, but those contests are against familiar AFC North foes — a de facto first-place Pittsburgh team that could be without Ben Roethlisberger followed by winless Cleveland — both at M&T Bank Stadium.

It certainly could be worse from a scheduling standpoint with the Ravens able to get a head start on the game plans for both opponents during the bye.

Head coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the good timing of the condensed stretch, but the urgency is clear if the Ravens want to make something out of the remainder of the 2016 season.

“I want to knock some of this disappointment off,” said Harbaugh as Baltimore still carries a four-game losing streak. “This is something you carry around with you. It’s not what you want. It is not the goal. The goal is to win these games and have the kind of record that you think reflects how hard you have worked.”

Despite falling to 3-4 after a 3-0 start in September, the Ravens and their fans have cited the wide-open nature of the division with the Steelers sporting the only winning record as reason for optimism. A win on Sunday propels Baltimore into a first-place tie with a chance to then move back over .500 against the woeful Browns just four nights later.

It gets tougher after that for the Ravens, however, while the schedule softens for both the Steelers and second-place Cincinnati.

Baltimore’s remaining nine opponents sport a .522 winning percentage with the four road foes — Dallas, New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati — owning a combined .683 mark. The challenging second-half schedule was why so many opined that the Ravens needed to win at least five of their first seven games, but that potential margin for error is long gone.

Meanwhile, the Steelers’ remaining schedule sports a winning percentage of just .396 with their five road opponents a combined 13-25-1. After a Nov. 13 meeting with the NFC East-leading Cowboys at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh has just one more game on its schedule against a team currently above .500.

If the Steelers can tread water until Roethlisberger returns to good health — a big if with three of their next four games on the road — they are the consensus favorite to win the division, making Sunday’s game even more crucial for the Ravens.

The Bengals have stumbled out of the gate to a 3-4-1 start, but their eight remaining opponents have combined for a .458 winning percentage and their four road opponents are just 12-18. Cincinnati hasn’t looked nearly as formidable as it did a year ago, but each of its four losses has come against a first-place team.

Winning the division is always the goal, but that’s especially true in a year in which the AFC West currently holds three teams with just two losses each, making that division the mid-season favorite to claim the two wild-card spots. Of course, there’s plenty of football to be played across the league, but counting on enough mediocrity elsewhere to sneak in as a 9-7 wild card could be a particularly tricky recipe this season.

That’s why the Ravens must win the next two games to not only eliminate the foul taste of October from their palates but to begin stacking enough wins ahead of a brutal final month that features road games against New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. The last two road defeats to the New York Giants and New York Jets were painful enough, but Harbaugh made it clear on Monday how critical the next two contests in the Ravens’ home building are.

“We need to win these games,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t care where they are being played. We needed to win the two on the road the last two weeks; we didn’t. We need to win these at home.”

The remainder of the season depends on it.

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Five Ravens predictions for rest of 2016 season

Posted on 29 October 2016 by Luke Jones

It’s been a tale of two months for the Ravens.

A 3-0 September brought much optimism before an 0-4 October littered with injuries dramatically changed the tone of the season. All seven games were decided by a single possession, but offensive struggles, costly penalties, and questionable decision-making should have everyone — the front office, coaches, and players — feeling the heat as the Ravens face the prospects of missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years, which hasn’t happened since Brian Billick was fired at the end of 2007.

There is reason for optimism, however, with the Ravens trailing first-place Pittsburgh by just one game in the AFC North and still having five division games ahead. On the flip side, five of their final nine games come against teams currently sporting winning records and only one — their Week 10 meeting with Cleveland — is against a team with a worst record than their own 3-4 mark entering the weekend.

While inviting you to laugh at my preseason prophecies for the 2016 Ravens, I offer five updated predictions for the second half of the 2016 season …

1. Joe Flacco will throw for 4,000 yards for the first time in his career and bounce back somewhat from a rough first half. It’s no secret that Flacco has struggled behind an injury-riddled offensive line and without top receiver Steve Smith, but some help should come after the bye. A more consistent running game is a must as Flacco is on pace to finish with a career-high 704 passing attempts and is averaging a career-worst 5.96 yards per attempt. If the Ravens offense can keep their starting line on the field, Flacco should be able to improve his efficiency with fewer attempts and more runs. That said, it will be ironic that he’ll finally eclipse the 4,000-yard mark in one of his worst seasons.

2. Darren Waller will emerge as a surprise offensive weapon in the second half. Many have discussed Kenneth Dixon taking on a bigger role, but Terrance West has done all he can to cement his status as the starter for now, which may limit the rookie’s opportunities until he can show the explosiveness he had in the summer. This offense is in need of presenting tougher matchup problems, and Waller seems to be a solid candidate as a former receiver with good size and athleticism at the tight end position. Dennis Pitta’s comeback has been a great story, but Waller has more big-play upside at this point and could be an intriguing weapon inside the red zone, an area where Baltimore has struggled.

3. The Ravens will snap their drought against Cincinnati, but road woes will cost them the rest of the way. It’s been nearly three full calendar years since Baltimore beat the Bengals, but Marvin Lewis’ team has had its own issues this season and is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010. In a few weeks, the Ravens will snap their five-game losing streak against a Bengals team not sporting as much talent as in recent years. However, road games against Dallas, New England, and Pittsburgh spell bad news for a team with little margin for error despite starting 2-0 on the road. The Ravens have shown little evidence this season of being capable of beating a good team on the road.

4. Jimmy Smith will continue to recapture his 2013-14 form with a strong second half. Lost in the disappointment of the losing streak has been the recent improvement of Smith, who played well against Odell Beckham Jr. — who exploded only after Smith sustained a concussion — and Brandon Marshall in the last two games. This might be the best the 2011 first-round pick has looked since before his 2014 foot surgery. No matter how the Ravens fare the rest of the way, Smith needs to play at a high level as he is slated to carry the second-highest salary cap figure on the team in 2017. This organization can’t afford to have another high-priced contract fail them like others have over the last few years.

5. The Ravens will lament their winless October as they finish with a 7-9 record. Baltimore isn’t as bad as its four-game losing streak reflects, but that doesn’t mean the Ravens will improve enough to qualify for the playoffs as they try to stay healthy after the bye. Yes, they’re in every game with 21 of their last 23 contests decided by only one score, but isn’t that a textbook profile of a .500 team? This roster is too dependent on aging players now struggling to stay healthy and doesn’t have enough high-impact young players ready to be a part of the next great Ravens team. The current team isn’t special and doesn’t show much evidence of being on the verge of something special, which is a frustrating place for a proud organization to be.

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Five questions about the Ravens’ 2016 schedule

Posted on 15 April 2016 by Luke Jones

The 2016 schedule is officially set for the Ravens and below are five questions to ponder:

1. What will the Ravens’ record be at the bye?

I’ll abstain from predicting Baltimore’s record when the draft hasn’t even taken place yet, but it is interesting to note that six of the Ravens’ first seven games will come against non-playoff teams from a year ago. However, this is a bit deceiving as the New York Jets finished with a 10-6 record in 2015 and the Oakland Raiders may have the best young roster in the league after adding even more talent this offseason.

Still, I’m not sure I’ll like the Ravens’ chances of getting to the playoffs if they’re anything less than 5-2 by the time they hit their Week 8 bye, especially when they play road games at New England, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati in a four-week span to close the regular season.

2. Has a team ever played back-to-back road games at the same venue?

We’ve seen Week 17 opponents meet in the first round of the playoffs in the same stadium, but I’m curious to know how many times a team has played road games against the New York Giants and the New York Jets in consecutive weeks. At least the Ravens should be very familiar with MetLife Stadium by around 4:15 p.m. on Oct. 23.

No, I’m not interested enough to do the research to find out if and when it’s happened before, but I’d gladly thank you if you are willing to do the work.

3. What will the “Color Rush” uniforms look like for the Ravens-Browns game on Nov. 10?

The Color Rush uniforms we began seeing for Thursday games last year will return, so it will be interesting to see what that might look like for the Ravens. Truthfully, the all-black uniforms are no longer special at this point, so what about purple jerseys and purple pants for that nationally-televised game?

Let’s hope the mustard-colored pants from last year never see the light of day again.

Would Cleveland wear orange jerseys and orange pants to go with orange helmets or would the Browns sport an all-brown getup? Remembering how ugly their new uniforms looked last year, do we really want to know?

4. How do we feel about the Ravens playing in the afternoon on Christmas Day?

It’s probably just me being a whiny sportswriter — to be clear, I do love my job — but do we need multiple NFL games on Christmas? It was one thing for the Ravens to play on Christmas night 11 years ago, but an afternoon game is intrusive for many people wanting to celebrate the holiday with their families — in Pittsburgh or Baltimore.

Do you really want Aunt Edna bugging you about when you’re ever going to get married or have kids while you’re trying to watch Joe Flacco drive the Ravens the length of the field in the fourth quarter?

For Ravens fans unhappy about only having two prime-time games in 2016, this one practically counts as a third since it will be a nationally-televised game on NFL Network.

5. Why are the Ravens finishing the regular season in Cincinnati again?

Many are complaining about the Ravens now having 10 of their last 11 Monday night games on the road when they travel to New England on Dec. 12, but going to Paul Brown Stadium to conclude the regular season for the fifth time in six years is ridiculous.

Imagine the uproar if the Ravens had to go to Heinz Field for Week 17 every year. How irritated would Pittsburgh be to go to Baltimore or Cincinnati to conclude the season on an annual basis?

The Bengals’ losing past still resonates with many, but they’ve beaten the Ravens five straight times and are the only team in the AFC North to have made the playoffs in each of the last five years. The Monday night thing is quirky, but at least Baltimore has had plenty of prime-time home games over that time.

The Ravens shouldn’t have to go to Cincinnati for the final week every year.

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Ravens-related thoughts from wild-card weekend

Posted on 11 January 2016 by Luke Jones

Some have perceived a softer culture for the Ravens since Super Bowl XLVII, but Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict reminded us Saturday that there’s a fine line between attitude and recklessness.

Baltimore may lack the big personalities and swagger that it once had on the defensive side of the football, but the Bengals linebacker has proven time and time again that you simply can’t trust him. His personal foul on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown on Saturday was just the latest example of a player lacking any regard for others on the field and playing too recklessly in a critical spot. This came after replays showed him driving his knee into the right shoulder of Ben Roethlisberger on the sack that took the Steelers quarterback out of the game.

The Ravens are no strangers to Burfict’s antics as offensive lineman John Urschel pointed out the hit on rookie tight end Maxx Williams in Week 17 on Sunday. Former Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith called Burfict a “dirty” player last season, and ex-Ravens Ray Rice and Bobbie Williams had issues with the Bengals linebacker in his rookie season.

To be clear, the Ravens would benefit from having more attitude on the defensive side of the ball. They certainly would like to have the play-making ability demonstrated by Burfict on his late interception that looked like it would seal the Bengals’ first playoff win in a quarter-century before Jeremy Hill’s fumble.

But the famous rant from Mike Singletary describes Burfict perfectly: “It is more about them than it is about the team. Cannot play with them, cannot win with them, cannot coach with them. Can’t do it. I want winners.”

Intimidation and ferocity have been traits of many great players over the years, but only when those qualities can be harnessed, something Burfict was incapable of doing when it mattered most.

Was Mallett watching?

A fake Ryan Mallett Twitter account garnered some attention during the Houston Texans’ embarrassing 30-0 loss to Kansas City on Saturday, but you hope that the real Mallett did reflect as Brian Hoyer turned in one of the worst playoff performances by a quarterback in recent memory.

It’s fair to point out that Hoyer posted a solid 91.4 passer rating this season, but Mallett had a golden opportunity in Houston that he completely squandered as he’s more physically gifted than the Texans’ current starter. There’s no way to know for sure if Mallett would have fared any better against the Chiefs, but Houston was a much better opportunity for him than Baltimore in terms of playing time if he’d simply been more of a professional.

To his credit, Mallett has done all of the right things since signing with the Ravens, but Saturday should have been a reminder to him of what might have been. Now, he plays for a team that strictly views him as a backup behind an entrenched franchise quarterback.

He’ll be lucky to receive another opportunity like the one he had in Houston, but you hope he’s learned his lesson if that day does come.

Thankful for Tucker

While many thought of Billy Cundiff when Minnesota’s Blair Walsh missed a 27-yard chip shot that would have won the game for the Vikings, the reliability of Justin Tucker also came to mind.

To be fair, Walsh is a former Pro Bowl kicker and had missed just one kick inside 30 yards in his four-year career, but the 2012 sixth-round pick had also failed to convert four extra points this year, showing he hadn’t been as reliable from shorter distances. Meanwhile, Tucker has never missed from inside 30 in his NFL career and has missed just one field goal try inside 40 yards in his four seasons.

A miss such as Walsh’s could happen to anyone — these guys are human, after all — but Sunday likely reminded general manager Ozzie Newsome how lucky he’s been to have Tucker and how the Ravens can’t afford to let him go this offseason despite his issues from beyond 50 yards this past year.

Winning trumps all 

With John Harbaugh and the injury-ravaged Ravens speaking so much about their heart and resiliency at the end of the season, you hope that they take some notes from the Chiefs as they won their 11th consecutive game on Saturday.

At one point, the Chiefs were 1-5 and had lost their best player — four-time Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles — to a season-ending knee injury in October, but Andy Reid’s team did more than just to keep fighting and to play teams close every week. Of course, the Ravens weren’t as talented as Kansas City and lost the likes of Joe Flacco and Steve Smith as the season progressed, making a turnaround of that magnitude virtually impossible.

But you also don’t want players to take too much satisfaction from a 5-11 record, no matter who was on the field by season’s end.

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