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Ravens need to steady October ship, build momentum for pivotal stretch

Posted on 11 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco didn’t exactly go full Aaron Rodgers mode this week, but the sentiment wasn’t too far off.

Speaking on Michael Crabtree’s recent drops and how the veteran wide receiver approached the quarterback about his struggles during the plane ride home from Cleveland, Flacco passed along good advice to Crabtree — and to the rest of the Ravens and their fans for that matter.

“We’re all out there trying to do our part and make plays that are going to change the game,” Flacco said. “I think sometimes you just have to relax, and let the game come to you.”

Make no mistake, the 12-9 overtime loss to the Browns was an ugly one for the Ravens, who failed to reach double-digit scoring for the first time since back-to-back defeats to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh early last season. You couldn’t help but feel it canceled out what was thought to be a breakthrough the previous week when Baltimore beat the Steelers for its most impressive road victory in years.

But a win at Tennessee makes everything OK again.

Playing four of their first six games on the road and being one of only three teams in 2018 with a stretch of three consecutive road contests that concludes Sunday, the Ravens would have gladly taken a 4-2 start when the schedule was released back in April. Their plus-55 point differential is the best in the AFC, and they’re still tied for the third-best record in the conference after losing to a Browns team that is better than it’s been in recent years. With the top-ranked scoring defense in the NFL and an offense ranking in the top 12 in most statistical categories, the makings of a playoff team are certainly there.

A second straight loss, however, changes the mood substantially.

A 3-3 record with three straight games against 2017 playoff teams — New Orleans, Carolina, and the Steelers — before the Week 10 bye puts the Ravens in all-too-familiar and uncomfortable territory. Late-season losses to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati the last two years have been the final nail in the coffin, but poor Octobers since their last Super Bowl have regularly left the Ravens little margin for error down the stretch.

There’s no apparent rhyme or reason for a 6-15 mark in October games dating back to 2013, but it’s the kind of trend John Harbaugh’s team needs to buck to be playing in January once again. Thirteen of those games did come on the road, but a 2-6 home mark makes that a flimsier excuse. It’s why the Ravens haven’t entered their bye with a winning record since 2014, leaving them a steep climb in the second half to qualify for the postseason.

A 3-0 start to begin the 2016 season became a distant memory after an 0-4 October that featured a home defeat to an 8-7-1 Washington team and a road loss against the eventual 5-11 New York Jets. Falling 26-9 at home to the Steelers last year was bad enough, but dropping one at M&T Bank Stadium to an eventual 5-11 Chicago team two weeks later was inexcusable. Injuries in each of those stretches the last two years were a factor, but squeezing out an extra win in either case would have painted a different picture in late December. Frankly, it’s the difference between the playoffs and mediocrity.

That’s why you can’t help but feel Sunday’s game against the Titans — who won a playoff tiebreaker last year thanks in part to their Week 9 win over the Ravens — is as important as it gets for mid-October in terms of both playoff implications and Baltimore maintaining its early-season mojo. A win gives the Ravens their first 4-2 start since 2014 — the last time they made the playoffs — and leaves you thinking they’re capable of winning 10 or 11 games.

A loss makes it feel like you’re watching the “same old Ravens” of the last few years.

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Twelve Ravens thoughts following 12-9 overtime loss at Cleveland

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lack of quality plaguing Ravens running game more than quantity

Posted on 09 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh noted his team had run the ball 25 times when the inevitable question came about the run-pass ratio from Sunday’s 12-9 loss at Cleveland.

Baltimore had also run a season-high 84 plays, but the 11th-year coach made his position clear on Monday.

“I don’t understand the question, why it’s a topic,” Harbaugh said. “You have to do whatever you have to do to move the ball and score points. We’ve been doing a pretty good job of that up until this last game. We just need to put more points on the board. Nine points — three, three, and three — is tough to win games that way. That’s the bottom line.

“But this run-pass balance thing, I don’t understand why it’s a topic.”

He’s right about both his offense — which ranked in the top 10 in multiple categories entering Week 5 — and the overall run-pass obsession many have when spitting out stats about win-loss records and running the ball a certain number of times that confuse correlation with causation. Simply put, teams run when they win, not win because they run. You sometimes wonder if some would prefer running the ball more — no matter how effectively — to their team actually winning games, but today’s NFL is a pass-heavy league and analytics-based principles such as throwing more frequently on first down improve your chances of winning compared to the traditional three yards and a cloud of dust. Like it or not, that mindset isn’t changing anytime soon.

The difference Sunday from previous weeks, however, was that the Ravens weren’t passing the ball effectively while they averaged a season-best 4.6 yards per carry, well ahead of what they’d done in the first four games. Joe Flacco produced 2018 worsts in both yards per attempt (5.3) and completion percentage (51.8 percent) on Sunday, but Baltimore continued to chuck it anyway with the veteran quarterback recording a season-high 56 attempts, territory in which few quarterbacks consistently function well. There were certainly occasions when offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg could have worked an additional run into the mix.

Passing on 11 of 14 plays inside the red zone was particularly questionable as Flacco threw an ugly interception on a second-and-goal play from the 2 in the second quarter that proved to be one of the most critical plays of the game. Harbaugh and the Ravens frequently view the goal line to be four-down territory — which is the correct mindset — so why not try to pound the ball into the end zone again after Buck Allen was stopped on the previous down?

It’s true that only six teams have more rushing attempts than the Ravens through Week 5, but they also lead the NFL in offensive plays run and only 10 teams have rushed less frequently than their 36.3 percent. When you match that with Baltimore winning all three of its games by double digits and trailing by multiple possessions in just one game (Cincinnati), you’re probably justified if you want to roll your eyes the next time you hear Mornhinweg say they want to run the ball. The Ravens are currently a passing team, and that had worked very well until Sunday.

The warranted criticism from Week 5 aside, the problem with the Ravens running game has been quality much more so than quantity. Clamoring for more rushes doesn’t exactly make a ton of sense when you rank 30th in the league in yards per carry (3.4). That’s not to say the ground game doesn’t need to improve with Sunday’s poor passing performance being a perfect example why.

“Yes, we’re concerned. We want to run the ball well,” Harbaugh said. “We’re working as hard as we can to do it. If the question is: Are you working hard at the run game? Yes, we’re working really hard at it. We want to be a really good running team just like we want to be a great passing team and great at everything else. We work hard at what we think we can do well.”

After adding three veteran wide receivers and drafting two tight ends, the Ravens passing more frequently than they did last year when they ran 43.6 percent of the time — 12th most in the NFL — seemed inevitable, but why has the running game struggled so much?

Assistant head coach Greg Roman and offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris were viewed as miracle workers last year when the Ravens averaged 4.0 yards per carry and finished 11th in rushing yards per game despite having four new starters along the offensive line. Even with the departures of center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Austin Howard, the healthy returns of guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis brought optimism that the unit would improve from a year ago.

The group has held up well in pass protection, but Lewis, center Matt Skura, and right tackle James Hurst have graded particularly poorly in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. As was the case on Sunday when Alex Collins ripped off a 19-yard run on the first play from scrimmage and Allen picked up 17 yards on a third-quarter run, most of their rushing success has come on the outside, which makes sense when two of your three interior linemen have been below-average run blockers.

It’s also worth noting the Ravens have been in the shotgun much more frequently this season — 63 percent compared to 48 percent last year, according to Sharp Football — which certainly impacts the dynamics of a ground attack. That’s not to say an offense can’t run effectively from the shotgun, but it’s a more passing-minded formation and the Ravens are also running a little less frequently out of the gun than they did last year (18 percent compared to 22 percent, per Sharp).

Only one of the five opponents Baltimore has faced this season is allowing fewer than 4.1 yards per carry and only Cleveland ranks in the top 10 in Football Outsiders’ run defense efficiency metric. In other words, the Ravens haven’t exactly been running against the 2000 version of themselves in the season’s first month.

Surely concerns over Collins fumbling the ball haven’t helped, but he leads all running backs in forced missed tackles per touch, which reflects a lack of running room and a need to keep giving him opportunities to break longer runs. Allen is a capable short-yardage back and better in the passing game, but his 2.8 yards per carry average compared to Collins’ 3.8 reflects less explosiveness. Neither back has the dynamic talent of a Ray Rice, but the pair did the job for the Ravens last year, making it difficult not to look at an offensive line still trying to find its footing in the running game.

Perhaps Sunday’s defeat serves as both a necessary reminder that you can’t do it all with the pass and a sign of better things to come for the ground attack, but the week-to-week volatility of the NFL makes it difficult to predict.

“You just keep working. You keep grinding,” Harbaugh said. “When we come out and run for 200 yards — which we will — it’s not going to be ‘fixed.’ The next game is going to be a new game. It’s not like you’re going to come out and run for 200 yards every week. Every week is a new week in the National Football League. You see a different defense, you see different fronts, different guys are healthy, different guys aren’t healthy, plays get made, plays don’t get made — things happen.

“I don’t think it’s as much of a trend as everybody wants to look at it. The big-picture trends just really aren’t there.”

Maybe so, but it’s difficult envisioning the Ravens getting to where they want to be by season’s end without having a better running game in their back pocket when they need it.

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crabtreedrop

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Critical question comes into focus during Ravens’ ugly loss

Posted on 07 October 2018 by Luke Jones

Michael Crabtree had the chance to rewrite the story of a poor performance for both him and the Ravens offense in Cleveland on Sunday.

His third-down drop on the opening drive of the game had cost the Ravens a chance at a long field goal or a fourth-and-short situation inside the 40-yard line. On the next drive, he dropped a slant on a second-and-3 that would have put the offense inside the red zone and instead led the Ravens to settle for a field goal two plays later. Those were just two of many mistakes made by an offense that arrived at FirstEnergy Stadium flying high after a 3-1 start to 2018.

Still, with a minute to go in regulation and the Ravens trailing 9-6, Crabtree could have made it all better.

Signed to a three-year, $21 million contract in large part for the 25 touchdowns he’d caught over the previous three seasons in Oakland, Crabtree dropped a perfect pass from Joe Flacco in the back of the end zone on third-and-10 from the Cleveland 14. Instead of taking a 13-9 lead and likely stealing an ugly road win, the Ravens settled for the game-tying three points before eventually falling 12-9 on a Greg Joseph 37-yard field goal with two seconds left in overtime.

As much as last week’s win in Pittsburgh looked like a potential breakthrough for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2014, Sunday felt like an all-too-familiar story for an offense that couldn’t live up to its end of the bargain. And it brought a lingering question about the Ravens’ passing game into sharper focus.

So much had been made about the balanced production for Baltimore’s wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs with eight or more players having caught passes in each of the first four games. Entering Sunday, eight players were on pace to catch 30 or more passes after only five Ravens made 30 or more receptions a year ago. Spreading the ball around is great when you’re clicking like the Ravens did over the season’s opening month, but it won’t always be that easy as we witnessed against an improved Browns defense.

When you’re struggling as Flacco and the offense did on Sunday, you need that safety net — “old reliable” if you will — to bail everyone out at the most critical moment. Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Smith fit that description to varying degrees over the last decade, making the play no one else was able to make at the most critical times. After not having that guy last season — Mike Wallace did his best down the stretch — the Ravens tabbed Crabtree to be that go-to target on third downs and inside the red zone. He didn’t need to be a 1,000-yard receiver, but they wanted him to handle the dirty work.

Instead, he entered Week 5 tied for the league lead in drops before adding three more against the Browns. He’s caught just 24 of his 46 targets in five games, the lowest percentage of his 10-year career. The slow start comes after Crabtree caught 58 passes for 618 receiving yards last season, his lowest totals since an injury-abbreviated 2013 campaign.

That’s not to say he won’t regroup to fill that intended role, but Flacco needs someone on which to lean in crunch time of close games. The speedy John Brown has been his most productive receiver, of course, but he’s more home-run hitter than the guy you’re targeting on third-and-7, at least based on how the Ravens have used him to this point. If it isn’t Crabtree, perhaps slot receiver Willie Snead or even rookie tight end Hayden Hurst eventually becomes that guy to make contested catches and move the chains when it matters most.

Someone has to do it if the Ravens expect a different result the next time they’re fighting for their lives late in a game. It’s a position they weren’t in during their three double-digit wins, but they’re sure to be in that tight spot again sooner than later.

To be clear, the Ravens wasted other opportunities as an ugly Flacco interception at the goal line cost them points in the second quarter, a Justin Tucker field goal was blocked at the end of the first half, and a Buck Allen fumble led to a Cleveland field goal midway through the third quarter. Baltimore didn’t really deserve a win after playing so poorly on the offensive side of the ball, but no play was bigger than Crabtree’s last-minute drop that could have made all those missteps — including the veteran receiver’s own — disappear.

There was other blame to go around, but that was the exact moment for which Baltimore had signed him in March.

Instead of escaping Cleveland with a victory, the Ravens offense took a step back and left a critical question unanswered for the coming weeks.

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Ravens-Browns: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 07 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aim for their best five-game start since 2012 and will do so with first-round rookie tight end Hayden Hurst making his NFL debut in Cleveland.

The 25th overall pick of the 2018 draft underwent surgery for a stress fracture in his foot on Aug. 24 and is active after missing the first four weeks of the regular season. Hurst returned to the practice field on Sept. 26 and is apparently ready to go despite still being listed as a limited participant all week. Hurst’s arrival further strengthens a tight ends group that surprisingly ranks fourth in the NFL in receiving yards (321) and second in receptions (31) through the first four weeks, according to Pro Football Focus.

After being activated on Saturday, cornerback Jimmy Smith will make his season debut after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. Smith is also making his return from last year’s torn Achilles tendon and will see his first action since Dec. 3. With rookie cornerback Darious Williams being waived to make room for Smith and rookie Anthony Averett again out with a hamstring injury, the Ravens will have just four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns, but dime back Anthony Levine and reserve safety Chuck Clark are capable of playing the nickel in certain packages.

The bad news is the deactivation of defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who suffered a setback with a lingering foot issue late in the week and missed practice on Friday. Pierce sat out Week 3 with a foot injury before playing against Pittsburgh last Sunday night. His absence is not an encouraging development with the Browns ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

With Pierce out, defensive tackle Willie Henry (hernia surgery) will make his season debut despite only returning to practice on a limited basis this week. Comments from coaches this week suggested the Ravens likely would have preferred holding him out one more game, but Pierce’s health certainly forced the issue.

Outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring) is active after being listed as questionable on the injury report, but he didn’t appear to be 100 percent during Friday’s practice, which is something to monitor during Sunday’s game.

There were no surprises among the Cleveland inactives as reserve linebacker James Burgess (knee) was ruled out on Friday. Starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) and starting outside linebacker Christian Kirksey (illness) will play after being designated as questionable.

The referee for Sunday’s game is Clay Martin.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast in Cleveland calls for cloudy skies and temperatures near 70 degrees with winds 10 to 15 miles per hour and a 20-percent chance of rain.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while Cleveland is donning its all-brown “Color Rush” look previously seen for Thursday Night Football in Week 3.

Sunday marks the 39th all-time meeting between these AFC North teams with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 29-9 advantage. The Ravens have won five straight meetings and are an overwhelming 18-2 against the Browns in the John Harbaugh era.

Below are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
CB Anthony Averett
OLB Tim Williams
OL Hroniss Grasu
DL Zach Sieler
DL Michael Pierce

CLEVELAND
QB Drew Stanton
WR Damion Ratley
CB Denzel Rice
CB Tavierre Thomas
LB James Burgess
OL Earl Watford
DL Chad Thomas

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 06 October 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens aim for their first 4-1 start since 2012 when they travel to Cleveland for a Week 5 meeting with the Browns on Sunday afternoon.

That’s significant not only because it was the last time they won the Super Bowl, but the Ravens have made the playoffs and advanced to at least the divisional round every time they’ve won four of their first five games to begin a season, something they also did in 2000, 2006, 2010, and 2011. In contrast, a 3-1 start hasn’t always guaranteed January football as Baltimore missed the playoffs in 1997 and, most recently, two years ago. Coming off their biggest road victory in years in Pittsburgh last Sunday night, the Ravens have no room for complacency as they still play three of their next four away from M&T Bank Stadium — a stretch that includes three opponents that made the playoffs a year ago.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens and Browns meet for the 39th time in the regular season with Baltimore holding an overwhelming 29-9 edge and an 18-2 advantage in the John Harbaugh era. Cleveland hasn’t beaten the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium since the 2013 season.

Below are five predictions for Sunday:

1. Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield will be intercepted twice in his first test against a top-tier defense. Mayfield’s arrival could mean the days of automatically chalking up two annual wins against the Browns are coming to an end, but Wink Martindale labeling Mayfield “this generation’s Brett Favre or John Elway” predictably drew mocking from even coaches in Cleveland. Mayfield will want to test the returning Jimmy Smith, who will rotate with outside corners Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr. That will lead to a pick for Smith, who will be playing for the first time since Week 13 of last season.

2. Willie Snead will stand out in another good performance from Joe Flacco. The Cleveland defense has given up plenty of yards, but the group leads the NFL with 13 takeaways and has more talent, meaning Flacco will need to play smart. The Brown lost starting corner Terrance Mitchell to injured reserve last week and have been vulnerable at the nickel with neither T.J. Carrie nor Briean Boddy-Calhoun holding up well. To offset the pass-rushing ability of Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, and surprising rookie Genard Avery, Flacco will lean on Snead and the tight ends over the middle.

3. Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Duke Johnson will each score a touchdown to keep it close. Carlos Hyde has the most carries in the league and is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry while the rookie Chubb ran for 105 yards on three carries last week. No matter how talented Mayfield is, Cleveland will try to borrow the formula Chicago used to beat Baltimore last year when the Bears ran for over 200 yards and kept the pressure off Mitchell Trubisky. It won’t be nearly that extreme, but Chubb’s explosiveness and Johnson’s receiving ability will help keep the Ravens defense off balance.

4. The Ravens special teams’ edge will shine through at a critical moment. The likes of Mayfield and Garrett may eventually lead Cleveland to prominence, but the special teams have remained on brand as Cleveland has had kicks blocked and surrendered long returns early in the season. Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric ranks the Browns last in the NFL in special teams. The Ravens have had their own hiccups, specifically with the punt team, but Justin Tucker and Sam Koch always give them an edge. The Browns will “Brown” in a crucial spot to help the Ravens maintain a lead.

5. Baltimore will grind its way to a 24-16 win. Four of the last five meetings in Cleveland have been decided by a single possession and each of the Browns’ two losses this season — both on the road — have come by one score, meaning the Ravens have no excuse to feel too confident in their second of three straight away from home. Mayfield will be making his first home start after coming off the bench two weeks ago to lead the Browns to their first win since 2016, meaning the Cleveland crowd will be fired up more than usual for a game against the team that once played there. The Ravens will be tested, but the composure displayed at Heinz Field last Sunday will show up again in a workmanlike win.

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jimmysmith

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Seven Ravens players designated as questionable for Cleveland game

Posted on 05 October 2018 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Saturday 1:30 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have designated seven players as questionable and ruled two others out for Sunday’s AFC North meeting with the Cleveland Browns.

Outside linebacker Tim Williams and cornerback Anthony Averett won’t play after missing practices all week with hamstring injuries while the list of questionable players is headlined by defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot), outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith (hamstring), and rookie first-round tight end Hayden Hurst (foot).

Pierce hadn’t been included on the injury report all week before missing Friday’s practice, a concerning development since he missed the Denver game two weeks ago with a foot injury. Smith practiced on a limited basis on Friday, but he didn’t appear close to 100 percent during the media viewing portion of the workout, leaving Baltimore’s depth at outside linebacker potentially vulnerable. Hurst was still only a limited participant in practices all week, leaving some question as to whether he’ll be active against the Browns after missing the first four games of the season.

One player not listed on the injury report who will make his 2018 season debut on Sunday is cornerback Jimmy Smith. The Ravens officially elevated Smith to the 53-man roster on Saturday as he’ll officially make his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

“He obviously did a really good job of staying in shape [and] worked hard over the period of time that he was away,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “That was good to see. He’s getting in football shape; I think he mentioned that. That’s part of it. You have to play the game to play the game. But I feel good about where he’s at and anticipate him playing on Sunday and playing well.”

Baltimore waived rookie cornerback Darious Williams to make room for Smith on the active roster, leaving the Ravens with four healthy cornerbacks against the Browns. Williams appeared in three games and would seem to be a logical candidate for the practice squad if he clears waivers.

Cornerback Brandon Carr (knee), defensive back Anthony Levine (hamstring), and running back Alex Collins (knee) were all full participants on Friday, leaving little doubt about their status for Week 5. Collins wasn’t even listed on the final game status injury report, backing up Harbaugh’s Friday assertion that the starting back was fine.

After practicing all week on a limited basis for the first time since undergoing hernia surgery in late August, defensive tackle Willie Henry was listed as questionable for Sunday.

“He looked good. Willie hasn’t done quite as much because of the nature of his injury,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll just have to see about that and see how he responds to practice today and things like that. Really, the other part of that is going to be the roster and where we’re at with the 46-, 53-[man roster] numbers and the injuries and things like that. That will all kind of play into that decision. He probably could go. Whether he will or not, I’ll probably know within 24 hours.”

Starting left guard Alex Lewis was a late addition to the injury report after being limited with a shoulder issue on Friday. Whether it’s the same shoulder that was surgically repaired last August is unclear, but Lewis was listed as questionable.

Meanwhile, the Browns officially ruled out reserve middle linebacker James Burgess with a knee injury and designated starting outside linebcker Christian Kirksey (illness) and starting safety Damarious Randall (heel) as questionable.

According to Weather.com, the Sunday forecast for Cleveland calls for partly cloudy skies with scattered thunderstorms and temperatures reaching the mid-70s. There is a 40-percent chance of rain with winds five to 10 miles per hour.

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

BALTIMORE
OUT: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), LB Tim Williams (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Brandon Carr (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot). DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), G Alex Lewis (shoulder), DT Michael Pierce (foot), LB Za’Darius Smith (hamstring)

CLEVELAND
OUT: LB James Burgess (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Christian Kirksey (illness), S Damarious Randall (heel)

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jimmysmith

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J. Smith, Henry back at practice as Ravens rest several others

Posted on 03 October 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens officially welcomed cornerback Jimmy Smith back to the practice field after the expiration of his four-game suspension to start the 2018 season.

Smith took part in Wednesday’s workout and could be active as soon as Sunday’s game in Cleveland, further strengthening the NFL’s fourth-ranked pass defense. Head coach John Harbaugh said his staff will evaluate Smith throughout the week as he is also returning from last year’s torn Achilles tendon and will need to show he’s ready for live-game action. The 30-year-old played sparingly in the preseason, appearing in two of Baltimore’s five exhibition contests in August.

“We’ve been playing really well without him, and having him back is just a major plus,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “Jimmy, when I first got here [last year], that was kind of the guy I kind of connected with being from California and all that. We all love ‘Jimbo.’ Happy to have ‘Jimbo’ back. He’s going to obviously help improve our team.”

As expected, defensive tackle Willie Henry practiced on a limited basis for the first time since having surgery for an umbilical hernia in late August. The 2016 fourth-round pick appeared on the verge of earning a starting role this summer and started the first three preseason games before being sidelined. The Ravens hope Henry can build on his successful 2017 season in which he emerged as a viable interior pass rusher, finishing with 3 1/2 sacks and five batted passes at the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens held out eight players from Wednesday’s workout with defensive backs Brandon Carr (knee), Anthony Levine (hamstring), Anthony Averett (hamstring) headlining the list. Carr and Levine were limited last week with the same ailments before playing in the win over Pittsburgh while the rookie Averett may miss his third straight game this Sunday. Harbaugh gave four veteran players the practice off for non-injury reasons.

Tight end Hayden Hurst said before practice that he would be “full go” this week after practicing on a limited basis all last week and sitting out against Pittsburgh, but he was again listed as limited on Wednesday as he works his way back from a stress fracture in his foot. Starting running back Alex Collins was also limited with a knee issue.

The Browns held out starting wide receivers Jarvis Landry and Antonio Callaway with knee soreness on Wednesday while starting safety Damarious Randall was sidelined from practice with a heel injury.

Below is Wednesday’s full injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: CB Anthony Averett (hamstring), WR John Brown (non-injury), CB Brandon Carr (knee), WR Michael Crabtree (non-injury), DB Anthony Levine (hamstring), S Eric Weddle (non-injury), LB Tim Williams (hamstring), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Chris Board (concussion), RB Alex Collins (knee), DT Willie Henry (abdomen), TE Hayden Hurst (foot)

CLEVELAND
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: LB James Burgess (knee), WR Antonio Callaway (knee), WR Jarvis Landry (knee), S Damarious Randall (heel)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DT Trevon Coley (wrist), DE Myles Garrett (wrist), QB Tyrod Taylor (back)

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 2-1 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 23 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles’ misery continuing in a 2-1 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Baltimore is scoring 3.17 runs per game — worst in the majors — and has plated one or zero runs in five of 10 games at Camden Yards and three or fewer in nine of those. Seven of the 11 Orioles players to bat Monday are hitting .200 or worse. Uncle.

2. Upon intentionally walking Manny Machado in the third, Carlos Carrasco needed 22 pitches to retire the next eight batters before walking Machado in the sixth. That’s one more pitch than the 21 Brandon Belt saw in one at-bat Sunday to set a major league record. Is there even a plan?

3. Speaking of that Machado intentional walk, the Orioles should expect much more of that if the lineup is going to continue being a one-man band.

4. It’s a shame a strong start from Kevin Gausman was wasted as he made one mistake on a two-run homer by Yonder Alonso in the second. The Indians had some other hard contact, but Gausman recorded his third straight quality start and gave his team a good chance to win.

5. Gausman retired 21 of the 23 final batters he faced, finishing his night by striking out Jason Kipnis on a 96.4 mph fastball to end the top of the eighth. Did I mention he deserved better?

6. An “immaculate” inning occurs when a pitcher strikes out the side on the minimum nine pitches. Gausman accomplished that impressive feat in the seventh. According to statistician Ryan Spaeder, he was the first Oriole to do that since B.J. Ryan in 1999.

7. Gausman’s average fastball velocity of 93.9 mph was easily his best of the season as he repeatedly hit 95 and 96 and even touched 97. That should quell concerns about him lacking his typical fastball early this season.

8. In contrast to Gausman’s “immaculate” inning, Danny Valencia struck out three times on a total of nine pitches, swinging and missing three straight times on the first one and looking at three straight in his next at-bat. He did mix in a double in the seventh inning.

9. Adam Jones’ frustration was apparent after he grounded out to end a threat in the eighth inning, throwing his bat, helmet, batting gloves, and shin guard. The center fielder is hitting just .240 with a .396 slugging percentage.

10. Chance Sisco struck out three times, but he delivered the only Orioles run of the night with an RBI single in the second. Monitoring his development is one of the few interesting aspects of this last-place club right now.

11. Trey Mancini coming off the bench to face Andrew Miller certainly wasn’t the easiest matchup, but it bodes well for his potential return to the starting lineup on Tuesday. He took batting practice and was feeling optimistic about his knee prior to Monday’s game.

12. Tim Beckham could be replacing Mancini on the sideline after he left the game with a groin issue and has also been dealing with a sore Achilles. Beckham is batting just .179, but the Orioles were already lacking the infield depth to handle the absence of Jonathan Schoop. What’s next?

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 7-3 loss to Cleveland

Posted on 22 April 2018 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles continuing their struggles in a 7-3 loss to Cleveland, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. After a 3-for-4 performance that included two home runs, Manny Machado is slugging .713, which is higher than the on-base plus slugging percentage of every other member of Sunday’s lineup except for Pedro Alvarez. He’s doing his best to try to carry an inept offense so far.

2. It’s difficult to recall the Orioles starting a less impressive bottom third of the batting order than Anthony Santander, Caleb Joseph, and Luis Sardinas. Of course, the fifth and sixth spots — Chris Davis and Tim Beckham — haven’t been much better.

3. Opponents entered Sunday 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position against Andrew Cashner, but we witnessed a market correction as he allowed four runs on eight hits and two walks over six innings. I’ll still gladly take his 3.60 ERA through his first five starts.

4. Cashner was strong through his first three innings before laboring mightily the second and third times through the order. However, his strikeout numbers continue to be surprising as he recorded seven over his six frames.

5. He received an assist from the strategy to have Rajai Davis bunt with runners on first and second and no outs in the third after Sardinas had just made an error. I understand Cleveland has struggled offensively, but that helped short-circuit a major threat so early in the game.

6. The Orioles struck out only once through the first six innings against two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, but that allowed him to keep his pitch count at a reasonable 74. They weren’t hitting the ball particularly hard despite him lacking his typical swing-and-miss stuff.

7. Normally you’d admire Santander forcing Kluber to throw 12 pitches in a seventh-inning strikeout that drove up his pitch count, but that merely paved the way for Andrew Miller to enter in the eighth. Pick your poison.

8. Speaking of Miller, Sardinas striking out on four pitches in the eighth was as predictable as it gets. I suppose that’s the joy of having a two-man bench over the weekend with Trey Mancini temporarily sidelined.

9. Brad Brach needed to keep the deficit at one and give Manny Machado a chance to tie it in the ninth, but he was tagged for three runs. His 5.19 ERA and Mychal Givens’ 5.91 mark haven’t given the bullpen a chance to stay afloat without Zach Britton.

10. The Orioles entered Sunday last in the majors at minus-14 defensive runs saved. The defense may not have factored too heavily into this loss, but it continues to be difficult to watch.

11. Mark Trumbo will resume his minor-league rehab assignment Monday, but he’ll need to stack some at-bats after missing so much action dating back to early March. Meanwhile, Pedro Alvarez has seen his average fall to .214 after going 0-for-11 over the first three games of the Indians series.

12. This is the fifth-fastest Orioles club to fall 10 games below .500 and is tied for the third-worst start in franchise history after 22 games with only the 1988 Orioles (1-21) and the 2010 team (4-18) being worse. At least they have 140 games to turn it around, right? Right?

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