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Yanda injury puts more pressure on Ravens defense to be special

Posted on 17 September 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens deserved to feel good about their 24-10 win over Cleveland Sunday to improve to 2-0 on the young season.

The defense was its own toughest critic after the game for allowing seven plays of 20 or more yards, but the Browns managed only 10 points, went 2-for-12 on third down, finished 0-for-1 in the red zone, and committed five turnovers. You’ll gladly take that kind of defensive performance in those four major categories while working to iron out the other kinks.

But the loss of six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda to a season-ending ankle injury put a damper on the post-game locker room and was on the minds of even those on the opposite side of the ball. That’s how badly this one hurts for the Ravens.

“He is a leader. There is not a word in English dictionary that can describe — well, I can’t find one right now — what Marshal is to us,” said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Yanda’s teammate for the last decade. “It hurts. That hurts to lose your bell cow. But, the Ravens, our motto is ‘the next man up.’ We are going to miss him.”

The offensive line had already lost above-average right tackle Rick Wagner to free agency, starting left guard Alex Lewis and 2017 fourth-round guard Nico Siragusa to season-ending injuries in training camp, and fourth-year interior lineman John Urschel to a surprising retirement in late July. Those types of losses test an offensive line’s depth, but Yanda has long been the glue and heart of the group. He’s that rare talent who raises the play of those around him, meaning an already-suspect unit becomes even more troubling without him moving forward.

Other than quarterback Joe Flacco, Yanda was probably the player the Ravens offense could least afford to lose.

The Ravens did manage to rush for 69 yards on 20 carries in the second half to help protect a 21-7 halftime lead after Yanda was injured on the first play of scrimmage in the third quarter, but it’s not as simple as plugging in recently-acquired journeyman Tony Bergstrom at right guard and assuming all will be fine. It’s the latest challenge — and the biggest one yet — for an offense that’s been ravaged by injuries over the last 3 1/2 months.

“Even before I came here, everybody in the league knows about Marshal, how special he is, his excellence on the offensive line, and the way guys gravitate toward him, the leader that he is,” 14th-year tight end Benjamin Watson said. “It’s definitely going to hurt. Football is a team game. We’re going to put 11 on the field, and someone is going to play.”

Making the injury more frustrating is that the offense showed progress from Week 1 when it rode the coattails of a defensive shutout and really only needed to run the football at a functional level. Against the Browns, Flacco used an array of bootlegs and play-action passes to throw for two touchdowns and 217 yards with only one interception. The Ravens also rushed for 136 yards and averaged a solid 4.3 yards per carry.

But you can’t help but feel the Yanda injury represents at least a couple steps back after the stride forward on Sunday. Filling that colossal void won’t be easy, putting more pressure on the defense to continue playing at an elite level in the meantime.

Perhaps the group is up to the challenge after forcing 10 turnovers in the first two weeks of the season, an output incredibly just four shy of Baltimore’s total number of takeaways for the entire 2015 season. The competition will get tougher in the coming weeks, but this Ravens defense looks like it can be special.

It will need to be with the offense now forced to find its new footing after losing the best guard in football.

“No one can replace Marshal Yanda — no one person,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But I think we traded for [Bergstrom] for a reason, and our scouts believed in him. It looks like a good trade. Everyone is going to have to collectively raise their effort level, their execution level to make up for the loss of a player like Marshal.”

Fair or not, that “everyone” will include a defense that’s already been rather spectacular.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 17 September 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens aim to continue their dominance over Cleveland that spans nearly two decades.

Playing their 20th home opener at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon, Baltimore looks to improve to 2-0 after a superb defensive performance in Cincinnati last week to kick off the 2017 season. Meanwhile, the Browns try to rebound from a close home loss to Pittsburgh and avoid an 0-2 start in head coach Hue Jackson’s second season.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro (ankle) and outside linebacker Tim Williams (illness) are both active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week. Campanaro completed an early pre-game workout and showed no lingering effects from the ankle issue that surfaced during Friday’s practice. Williams’ availability is a positive development with outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith out after suffering a knee-ankle injury in Week 1.

The Ravens’ most notable healthy scratch was second-year wide receiver Chris Moore, who is listed as the primary kick returner on the team’s official depth chart. The 2016 fourth-round pick is coming off a disappointing training camp and did not play a single offensive snap in Week 1.

On Saturday, the Ravens promoted running back Alex Collins and cornerback Tony McRae from their practice squad, waived running back Jeremy Langford, and placed cornerback Sheldon Price (concussion) on injured reserve. Both Collins and McRae are active for Sunday’s game.

For the second straight week, the Ravens deactivated three of their eight defensive linemen on the 53-man roster, making one wonder how much longer they can continue to carry so many players in that positional group.

The Browns will be without the first overall pick of the 2017 draft as defensive end Myles Garrett remains sidelined with an ankle injury. He was officially declared out on Friday.

Sunday’s referee is Gene Steratore.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Baltimore calls for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures reaching the low 80s with winds up to six miles per hour and only a 15 percent chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing purple jerseys with white pants for their home opener while the Browns don white tops with white pants.

Sunday marks the 37th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with Baltimore enjoying an overwhelming 27-9 advantage dating back to 1999. The Ravens are 16-2 against Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
WR Chris Moore
CB Jaylen Hill
DT Willie Henry
OL Jermaine Eluemunor
LB Za’Darius Smith
DE Bronson Kaufusi
DE Chris Wormley

CLEVELAND
QB Cody Kessler
WR Reggie Davis
OL Marcus Martin
OL Zach Banner
WR Kasen Williams
DL Myles Garrett
DL T.Y. McGill

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 15 September 2017 by Luke Jones

What will the Ravens defense do for an encore?

After recording their first shutout since 2009 in a 20-0 victory over Cincinnati, the Ravens host Cleveland in M&T Bank Stadium’s 20th home opener. And a defense that picked off Bengals veteran Andy Dalton four times and collected five sacks will face a rookie quarterback. Under head coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore hasn’t lost a home game to a first-year quarterback.

A victory would give the Ravens their fourth 2-0 start in Harbaugh’s 10 seasons while the Browns are trying to avoid an 0-2 start that would put them in a last-place tie with Cincinnati. Both teams are on the road next week.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens look to improve to 17-2 against the Browns in the Harbaugh era. Baltimore swept the season series last year and is 27-9 against Cleveland and 14-4 against the AFC North opponent at home in the all-time series.

Below are five predictions for Sunday afternoon:

1. Buck Allen will lead the Ravens in receptions filling in for the injured Danny Woodhead. Much discussion this week has centered around the novelty of Michael Campanaro taking on Woodhead’s responsibilities, but a 191-pound receiver isn’t a threat to run between the tackles or pass block in the backfield. It’s easy to forget after Allen’s disappointing 2016 campaign, but he caught 45 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns in 393 offensive snaps as a rookie. He’s the best in-house bet to try to replicate Woodhead, and the Ravens need him to do a decent impression for the offense to click.

2. Baltimore will register its first defensive touchdown in nearly two years. Despite finishing tied for fourth in the NFL with 28 takeaways a year ago, the Ravens defense wasn’t able to take any of those back to the end zone, which hurt with a below-average offense that often struggled to finish drives. Lardarius Webb came very close last week with his interception off a batted pass that was returned to the Cincinnati 2. Given the ability and depth of this defense going against a rookie quarterback, Sunday feels like the overdue time for the first defensive score since C.J. Mosley’s fumble return on Sept. 27, 2015.

3. Browns quarterback DeShone Kizer will show some moxie orchestrating a touchdown drive despite being sacked four times. The second-round pick from Notre Dame had his moments against Pittsburgh, but the challenge is even tougher on the road against a defense vying to be the NFL’s best. Kizer was sacked seven times in Week 1, but a few of those were a result of him holding the ball too long. The Ravens aren’t going to shut out their opponent and have five takeaways every week, but they’ll still create pressure against an offensive line better than the one they faced in the season opener.

4. Joe Flacco will connect with Mike Wallace for a long touchdown in an otherwise run-heavy day for the offense. The Ravens won’t carry the ball 40-plus times again, but it’s easy to be committed to the run when holding a lead at home like they will Sunday. That said, offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg does want to see more from Flacco and the passing game with some tough games approaching in the not-too-distant future. Browns cornerbacks Jason McCourty and Jamar Taylor are shaky at best, meaning Wallace will find enough space for a deep ball after a quiet Week 1 performance.

5. The Ravens will steadily remain in control in a 23-10 win to improve to 2-0 on the season. Cleveland has an improved roster and now needs to find out whether Kizer can be that elusive franchise quarterback the organization has lacked for decades. The Ravens will have their struggles moving the ball consistently against a decent front, but the Browns offense just isn’t going to do enough to seriously challenge in this game. It will be interesting to see what kind of progress Cleveland has made when these teams meet again in December, but the Ravens shouldn’t have too much trouble in Week 2.

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Ravens rule out Z. Smith; declare Campanaro, T. Williams questionable

Posted on 15 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens could find themselves thin at outside linebacker for their home opener against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

As expected, outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith was declared out with a knee and ankle injury sustained in last week’s win over Cincinnati, but rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams was listed as questionable on the final injury report after missing practice time with an illness this week. The third-round pick from Alabama did return to the field on a limited basis Friday, but his absence could be detrimental to his game-day status after he was already a healthy scratch in Week 1.

If Williams were to be inactive, the Ravens would have only three healthy outside linebackers in starters Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon and rookie second-round pick Tyus Bowser. In past seasons, the presence of Albert McClellan would help as the veteran can play all four linebacker positions, but he was lost for the season with a torn ACL last month.

Baltimore added wide receiver Michael Campanaro to Friday’s injury report after he was a limited practice participant because of an ankle issue. He was listed as questionable for Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium.

With veteran running back Danny Woodhead placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury earlier this week, many have identified Campanaro as someone who could see more targets from the slot and in the underneath passing game. Of course, injuries have mostly derailed the start of the River Hill graduate’s NFL career.

After missing practices all week, cornerbacks Jaylen Hill (hamstring) and Sheldon Price (concussion) were officially ruled out for Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Browns confirmed that defensive linemen Myles Garrett (ankle) and T.Y. McGill (back) will not play in Week 2. Veteran guard Kevin Zeitler (thumb) was removed from the final injury report after practicing fully on Friday.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (concussion), LB Za’Darius Smith (knee, ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Michael Campanaro (ankle), LB Tim Williams (illness)

CLEVELAND
OUT: DL Myles Garrett (ankle), DL T.Y. McGill (back)

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Ravens place Woodhead on IR, promote Langford from practice squad

Posted on 14 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens officially placed running back Danny Woodhead on injured reserve and promoted former Chicago running back Jeremy Langford from the practice squad on Thursday.

On Wednesday, head coach John Harbaugh alluded to the possibility of Woodhead going to IR after confirming he would miss “multiple weeks” with a left hamstring injury suffered in the first quarter of the season-opening win over Cincinnati. The 32-year-old dealt with a hamstring injury to the same leg in the preseason.

Woodhead would be eligible to return to practice in six weeks and could be activated as soon as the Nov. 19 contest at Green Bay. Teams are allowed to bring two players back from IR this year after only being permitted one in past seasons.

Langford gives Baltimore a third healthy tailback on the active roster behind starter Terrance West and backup Buck Allen. The 25-year-old appeared in 28 games for the Bears over the last two seasons, rushing for 737 yards and 10 touchdowns on 210 carries and catching 41 passes for 421 yards and a touchdown.

The Ravens welcomed safety Eric Weddle back to the practice field Thursday after he missed the previous day with what was officially listed as an illness. Rookie outside linebacker Tim Williams was a new absence due to illness after not being listed on Wednesday’s injury report.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (knee/ankle) and cornerbacks Sheldon Price (concussion) and Jaylen Hill (thigh) remained sidelined.

Below is Thursday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (concussion), LB Za’Darius Smith (knee, ankle), LB Tim Williams (illness)
FULL PARTICIPATION: S Eric Weddle (illness)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DL Myles Garrett (ankle), DL T.Y. McGill (back)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: OL Kevin Zeitler (thumb)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DL Caleb Brantley (finger), WR Kenny Britt (knee), RB Duke Johnson (chest), DL Danny Shelton (knee), TE Randall Telfer (knee), OL Joe Thomas (knee)

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Ravens weighing options with Woodhead’s status

Posted on 13 September 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens haven’t yet decided on the status of running back Danny Woodhead, but they know he’ll be sidelined for an extended period of time.

Head coach John Harbaugh confirmed the 32-year-old will miss at least a month after re-injuring his left hamstring in the first quarter of Sunday’s win at Cincinnati. Woodhead was carted to the locker room after pulling up lame running a pass route on Baltimore’s opening drive.

It’s a frustrating development after the veteran newcomer missed a large portion of training camp with the hamstring issue and had caught three passes in his first regular-season series with the Ravens.

“Danny looks like it is going to be a while,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a hamstring; it’s a little unpredictable. But it is going to be multiple weeks on Danny. We’ll just have to see how Ozzie [Newsome] wants to handle it in terms of the roster and things like that. It is going to take Danny at least four weeks to get back, and we will see where it goes from there.”

The Ravens could elect to place Woodhead on injured reserve with the intention to bring him back later in the season. Such a move would clear a spot on the 53-man roster in his absence and would allow him to begin practicing as soon as six weeks from now should he be designated to return. Woodhead would be permitted to return to game action after eight weeks.

Practice-squad running backs Jeremy Langford and Alex Collins remain candidates to be promoted to the active roster if the Ravens desire another healthy running back for Sunday’s game against Cleveland.

“Those two guys have done a really good job studying the offense,” said Harbaugh, who also didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a back from outside the organization. “They are healthy guys. Those are two very good options for us. We will see by the end of the week where we are at with running back.”

The Ravens received better news on outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith after he was carted to the locker room with what was announced as a left knee sprain early in the second quarter of Sunday’s game. Smith wasn’t present for Wednesday’s practice with what was listed as a knee and ankle injury on the official injury report, but he is not expected to miss significant time.

That comes as a pleasant surprise considering how much he appeared to be hurting when the injury occurred.

“It was a painful one. On the field, I wanted to give him a leather strap and a shot of whiskey just to deal with the pain and to get him off the field,” said Harbaugh, drawing laughter from reporters. “But he came through OK. I don’t know if he’ll be up for this week, but he’ll have a chance next week.”

In addition to Woodhead and Smith, safety Eric Weddle did not participate in Wednesday’s practice. He was officially listed as having an illness on Wednesday, but he did miss the final play of Sunday’s game after taking a low hit to the left leg area. Weddle spoke to reporters after the game and was in good spirits, leading one to believe he hadn’t suffered any kind of serious injury.

Cornerbacks Jaylen Hill (thigh) and Sheldon Price (concussion) remained absent from practice after sitting out the season opener.

The Browns were without defensive lineman Myles Garrett (ankle) and offensive linemen Joe Thomas (knee) and Kevin Zeitler (thumb). Garrett, the first overall pick of the 2017 draft, is unlikely to suit up, but Cleveland head coach Hue Jackson said Zeitler will play despite undergoing a procedure on his thumb.

A 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle, Thomas is four snaps shy of 10,000 consecutive in his future Hall of Fame career. In other words, there’s no doubt about his status for Sunday as the team frequently rests him during the practice week.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Jaylen Hill (thigh), CB Sheldon Price (concussion), LB Za’Darius Smith (knee, ankle), S Eric Weddle (illness), RB Danny Woodhead (thigh)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DL Myles Garrett (ankle), OL Joe Thomas (knee), OL Kevin Zeitler (thumb)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DL Danny Shelton (knee)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DL Caleb Brantley (finger), WR Kenny Britt (knee), RB Duke Johnson (chest), TE Randall Telfer (knee)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-3 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 23 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles concluding a disappointing 3-4 homestand with a 6-3 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Streak continued with Baltimore giving up at least five runs for the 19th consecutive game, which is now one shy of the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies’ major league record. If it helps, try to envision the banner being unrolled on the Warehouse to some John Tesh music.

2. The pitching earned the headline, but the offense left a small village of men on base early. When you only manage two runs from a total of 10 baserunners in the first three innings, it’s going to haunt you. The Orioles were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

3. Remember when Wade Miley was pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA because of so many escape acts over the first seven weeks of the season? His ERA has climbed nearly two whole runs over his last six starts.

4. Seth Smith hit his fourth leadoff home run of the season with an impressive opposite-field bomb into the visitors bullpen. Meanwhile, Seattle just moved Yovani Gallardo and his 6.30 ERA to the bullpen. I’d say that trade worked out well.

5. Unfortunately, Miley gave up the lead to the Indians in a matter of three batters to begin the second inning. That’s been an all-too-familiar theme for Orioles starters all season.

6. The third inning was even worse as Miley allowed four straight batters to reach — two via walks — after retiring the first two hitters to begin the frame. His poor command culminated with Austin Jackson’s two-run single that gave Cleveland the lead for good.

7. Miley went to three-ball counts to 10 of the 24 hitters he faced. As bad as that sounds, I honestly would have guessed a higher total than that. He needed 72 pitches just to record his first nine outs.

8. The most maddening at-bat of the night came from Ruben Tejada, who didn’t receive the memo that Indians starter Mike Clevinger was struggling with his command. After Hyun Soo Kim walked to put two men on with one out, Tejada grounded into an inning-ending double play on the first pitch.

9. Manny Machado had a superb night with two walks and two opposite-field hits, one being an RBI double in the ninth. Over the last six games of the homestand, he went 9-for-22 with three homers, three doubles, three walks, and eight runs batted in. He’s now hitting .302 in June.

10. Longtime “Wheel of Fortune” host and Orioles fan Pat Sajak tweeted what many of us were thinking watching a game moving at a glacial pace over the first several innings. There was little to enjoy about that viewing experience.

11. Adam Jones received the night off with the Orioles now going on the road to play their next six games on turf against Tampa Bay and Toronto. The veteran center field being more receptive to occasional days off says plenty about how he’s feeling right now.

12. Buck Showalter missed Thursday’s game to welcome his first grandchild into the world. Of course, that prompted some fans to ask how soon young Winston would be ready to pitch for his granddaddy. In all seriousness, I’m glad the Orioles manager was able to be there for the special day.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 12-0 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 20 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles being shut out for the fourth time this season in a 12-0 loss to the Cleveland Indians, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The Orioles made history in the wrong way Monday by allowing five or more runs for the 16th consecutive game, setting a new AL record formerly held by the 1937 St. Louis Browns. They’re four shy of the 1924 Philadelphia Phillies for the major league record (dating back to 1913).

2. Jason Kipnis led off three straight innings for the Indians, who sent nine hitters to the plate in both the fourth and fifth and eight in the sixth. The Orioles gave up 11 runs over those three frames, but Cleveland also left 13 runners on base for the night. Astonishing.

3. Dylan Bundy faced one batter over the minimum through the first three innings before surrendering four doubles, a walk, and a hit batter in the fourth. Seeing him struggle to command his pitches and go off the rails like so many other Orioles pitchers was just deflating.

4. Despite pitching three scoreless innings to begin the night, Bundy went to three-ball counts to five of the first nine hitters he faced and gave up some loud outs. Both he and Buck Showalter acknowledged after the game that all wasn’t well even before the fourth inning.

5. This outing could have simply been some regression to the mean for a young pitcher who entered Monday with a 4.46 fielding independent pitching mark or Bundy could be tiring from the heaviest workload of his career. His average fastball velocity of 91 mph was his slowest in a month.

6. Vidal Nuno has now given up eight earned runs and three home runs in 2 2/3 innings since being recalled last week. He’s shown no signs of belonging in the major leagues with a 10.43 ERA in 14 2/3 innings with the Orioles.

7. I hate to say it, but Indians hitters wouldn’t have been able to generate nearly as much exit velocity if a batting tee had instead been set up at home plate. These are the kind of thoughts that creep into my mind during these blowouts.

8. If we’re being honest, even a good performance from Bundy would have been wasted with the way Corey Kluber was dealing for the Indians. The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner retired 15 in a row at one point and struck out 11 in a three-hit shutout.

9. Old Toronto nemesis Edwin Encarnacion collected his 1,500th career hit with a double in the fourth inning. Contrary to popular belief, half of those have not come against the Orioles, but he does have more hits (129) against them than any other team.

10. Francisco Lindor, arguably Cleveland’s best player, went 0-for-6 and was the only Cleveland starter without a hit. So, there’s that.

11. I liked Adam Jones’ approach trying to go the other way against Kluber to try to account for his nasty curveball. It resulted in a first-inning single and decent contact again in the fourth. He’s gone the other way more this year than he has at any point since 2006.

12. The Orioles have won just five of their last 16 games with four coming against National League teams. They’ve lost nine of their last 10 against AL clubs. Any possibility of trading leagues with Washington?

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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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Twelve Ravens thoughts following Week 10 win over Cleveland

Posted on 12 November 2016 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens moving back above .500 after a 28-7 victory over winless Cleveland on Thursday night, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Watching Terrell Suggs get the best of nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas was special. He’s playing with one arm and isn’t the consistent game-wrecker he used to be, but the 34-year-old turned in a vintage performance with a strip sack and a pass defense leading to an interception.

2. He recovered nicely to throw three touchdown passes, but Joe Flacco looked jumpy and frenetic in the pocket throughout the first half. The Ravens can only hope his second-half rebound is a sign of better things to come, but that third-quarter interception in the end zone was ugly.

3. Marty Mornhinweg should continue using the crossing routes and slants we saw in the second half against the Browns. There’s no reason not to use the speed of Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman while letting Flacco get rid of the ball quickly.

4. We’ve talked plenty about Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, but nickel cornerback Jerraud Powers turned in a strong performance. He broke up a pass the only time a Cleveland quarterback threw his way and intercepted another that was knocked up into the air.

5. You could tell how relieved John Harbaugh was to be able to smile and exhale over the final few minutes of Thursday’s 21-point win. Twenty-two of your previous 24 games being decided by a single possession will take a toll.

6. Jeremy Zuttah has had his struggles this season, but he’s the only Baltimore offensive lineman to start all nine games. Give the center credit for pushing through back and ankle issues to play 72 of 82 offensive snaps, especially after left guard Alex Lewis left with an ugly ankle injury.

7. It’s looking more and more like the offensive line problems aren’t going to be fixed this season. Lewis had looked good at left guard the last two games while the status of five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda remains in question. Those are crippling losses.

8. Some of the gold numbers were difficult to read, but I give the “Color Rush” uniform a passing grade, especially compared to those of other teams. I’d like to see the striping on those purple pants added to the Ravens’ black pants that are too dull.

9. Every time Michael Pierce turns in another strong performance, I can’t help but think it pushes pending free agent Brandon Williams a little further out the door. The rookie free agent recorded a tackle for a loss and batted a pass at the line of scrimmage.

10. Josh McCown had past success against the Ravens, but Hue Jackson’s decision to bench Cody Kessler was still baffling. Kessler wasn’t great, but that was a quick hook for a rookie who had outplayed Flacco to that point and orchestrated a touchdown drive in the first half.

11. They can’t do it exclusively, but the no-huddle offense needs to become a bigger part of what the Ravens do after it led to two touchdowns in the second half. It could put some strain on the defense, but you have to do whatever it takes to get Flacco going.

12. Watching Steve Smith’s eyes light up when asked about doing the Ray Lewis dance reminds us how much the 37-year-old still feels like a kid. After getting permission from Lewis to do the dance, Smith watched some YouTube videos to make sure he got it right. Having fun matters.

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