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Ravens get some help in AFC North during bye week

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Ravens get some help in AFC North during bye week

Posted on 16 November 2014 by Luke Jones

As the Ravens were enjoying their bye this weekend, they could thank J.J. Watt for providing some help in their quest for an AFC North title.

Watt’s impressive performance on both sides of the ball led the Houston Texans to an impressive road win over the Cleveland Browns. The All-Pro defensive end and 2012 Defensive Player of the Year recorded a sack, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, five tackles, and a first-quarter touchdown catch in the 23-7 final.

The loss knocked the 6-4 Browns out of first place as they’re now tied for second with Baltimore and Pittsburgh. Of course, the Steelers travel to Nashville to take on the Tennessee Titans Monday night.

While the Texans helped out the idle Ravens, the New Orleans Saints laid an egg at home in a 27-10 loss to Cincinnati, which propelled the 6-3-1 Bengals back into first place in the division. Dominated at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, the Saints lost their second straight home game after previously winning 20 in a row at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Considering how unpredictable the 4-6 Saints have been this year, it’s difficult trying to figure out which team will show up against the Ravens next Monday night. But you can bet head coach John Harbaugh will remind his team throughout the coming week that the Saints are no longer invincible at home as they had looked the last few years.

As for the rest of the AFC playoff landscape, the Kansas City Chiefs beat Seattle for their fifth straight victory, which leaves them tied with Denver for first place in the AFC West after the Broncos were beaten in St. Louis. At 7-3, the Chiefs are making a loud statement for a playoff spot for the second straight season as they currently hold the top wild-card spot in the conference.

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

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Ravens staking claim as one of NFL’s best with fast start

Posted on 19 October 2014 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — The Ravens staked their claim as the best team in the AFC North with a 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday to move into first place ahead of Cincinnati.

With their fourth 5-2 start in the last five years, the Ravens have put themselves in prime position to return to the playoffs as they approach the midway point of the 2014 season. But how much does that mean as we approach the final week of October?

“Meaningful in Week 7, so, it’s good to be there in that situation at this time,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “But you have to build on it, you have to keep getting better. We’re not a good enough team to do the things that we want to do right now, so we have to keep improving.”

Baltimore may not be a flawless team — there’s no such thing in the modern NFL — but it’s difficult to look at the numbers and not be impressed with what Harbaugh’s group has done through the first seven weeks of 2014. Even with 14 teams having played only six games at the end of business on Sunday, the Ravens have allowed the fewest points (104) and own the best point differential (plus 89) in the NFL.

Yes, they appear to have drawn the right year to play the woeful NFC South — a division where 3-3-1 Carolina currently sits in first place — but you can’t control which teams are on the schedule. The Ravens are not only beating the teams they’re supposed to beat, but they’re throttling them, which doesn’t often happen in the parity-driven NFL.

Already securing four wins of 20 or more points, the improved Ravens offense has received much of the attention, but the defense is taking major strides with its second straight game collecting five sacks, the first time that’s happened since the 2006 season. It was no surprising feat to limit the hapless Tampa Bay offense last week, but holding Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ third-ranked unit to just seven points was an impressive task.

With the pass rush coming alive and the play of the secondary stabilizing, the confidence on the defensive side of the ball is growing. Several defensive players spoke after the game about the speech linebackers coach Ted Monachino offered Saturday night, challenging a talented group of outside linebackers to raise its level of play to where it belongs.

It’s safe to say the message was received on Sunday as Ryan was hit nine times a week after Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon was hit 15 times.

“We’re dangerous, and we’re real serious. We’re coming out playing with an attitude,” said rush specialist Pernell McPhee, who added two more sacks on Sunday to continue his strong season. “Our [secondary] needs us, and I know we need them. I think [defensive coordinator] Dean Pees is doing a great job of calling the plays and setting us up to get the sacks. We’re just focusing in and trying to play ball.”

Much credit should go to Pees, who has shown various looks up front by moving around Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, and McPhee to cause confusion while using a safety-by-committee approach in the secondary. Matt Elam and Darian Stewart started the game, but rookie Terrence Brooks and the returning Will Hill also saw extensive action at the safety position.

Former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was known for bringing “organized chaos,” but Pees’ decision to substitute so frequently in the secondary reminded the 65-year-old coordinator of his college coaching days at Miami of Ohio when he used various personnel looks in a 1986 upset win over a top 10 LSU team in Baton Rouge. Of course, Baltimore didn’t face that kind of a talent disadvantage Sunday, but it illustrates the creative lengths used to help mask what’s been a deficiency of the defense to this point in the season.

Time will tell whether the safety rotation will continue, but the best weapon to neutralize a shaky secondary has been the major heat in the pocket. It’s also created more opportunities for turnovers as defensive backs got their hands on several Ryan passes despite not coming away with any interceptions.

“Those dudes are our best friends,” said cornerback Jimmy Smith about the pass rush. “They get in there, they disrupt things, they cause havoc, they make quarterbacks panic and throw the ball in the air. And on our end, we have to do a better job of coming up with some more turnovers. We’ve had a lot of opportunities, and we have a lot of drops.”

Unlike last season’s 8-8 team that remained static with issues on each side of the ball showing up on a weekly basis, these Ravens appear to be improving as the year progresses. Their only loss since Week 1 came on the road two weeks ago against Indianapolis, a team that’s won five straight games and only beat them by seven points at Lucas Oil Stadium.

It’s true that no one should confuse Tampa Bay or Atlanta for juggernauts, but the Ravens have a tremendous opportunity to not only seize commanding control of the AFC North but to make an emphatic claim as one of the best teams in the NFL if they can take care of business in trips to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. It won’t be easy playing on the road against their two biggest rivals, but the Ravens have looked like the class of the division through seven weeks while the Bengals have gone 0-2-1 since their bye with two road losses of 26 or more points.

The Ravens continue to show improvement on both sides of the ball while stacking wins as they now have a chance to pay back Cincinnati for its Week 1 win in Baltimore.

“We have everything that we want to do right in front of us,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “We just have to go out there and continue to play well. We have a tough opponent next week that we didn’t play necessarily good against, at least for a half, in the first game. We have to come back out there and prove ourselves. They’re a good football team, and they’re going to be hungry, and we’re [playing] there. It’s going to be a tough test; I can’t wait for it.”

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 23-21 win over Cleveland

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 23-21 win over Cleveland

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

After every Ravens game this season, we’ll take a look at five numbers that help explain the outcome …

2 — The number of field goals missed by former Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff
Skinny: The Ravens were fortunate to come away with a win in Cleveland, and they can thank their former kicker for another wide-left try that brought back a not-so-pleasant memory. Cundiff’s second kick was blocked by Asa Jackson, but the Ravens defensive back acknowledged after the game that the attempt came out lower than normal. Both sides made mistakes that could have cost them the game, but Cundiff’s fourth-quarter misses were pivotal in keeping the Ravens within striking distance.

3 — The number of incompletions thrown by Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer on the final two drives
Skinny: Overall, it was a brutal day for the Ravens secondary as Hoyer completed 19 of 25 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown, but three of those six incompletions came on the Browns’ final two drives of the game when they simply needed some first downs to run out the clock. Instead, the Browns went three-and-out each time and the Ravens finally cashed in on their final drive to set up a game-winning 32-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. As poorly as the defense played for long stretches of Sunday’s game, the group was able to come up with two big stops when the Ravens needed them.

3.1 — The yards per carry allowed by the Ravens defense
Skinny: Baltimore’s outside linebackers still need to do a more consistent job of setting the edge, but a stout Cleveland running game found little room to work save for a handful of plays. Even though Hoyer played well, the Browns would have likely been able to put the game away had they ran with any consistency. Over Cleveland’s final two offensive drives, the Ravens gave up six rushing yards on three carries and forced two punts to keep their hopes alive. The front seven may not be getting enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but playing the run hasn’t been too large of a problem through three weeks.

75 — The number of receiving yards produced by Steve Smith in the fourth quarter
Skinny: Through three quarters, the 35-year-old wide receiver had caught just one pass for 26 yards on three targets, but that changed when Joe Flacco began looking his way often in the final 15 minutes. Targeted four times in the fourth quarter, Smith made four receptions and was the only receiver the Ravens quarterback trusted in crunch time. With Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones struggling to get acclimated in Gary Kubiak’s offense and Dennis Pitta exiting in the second quarter, Steve Smith’s ability to beat Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden for the 32-yard reception on the final drive was obviously the biggest play of the game.

157 — The number of rushing yards reached by the Baltimore offense for the second straight week
Skinny: The Ravens finished with 160 yards on 33 attempts, but hitting the 157-yard plateau in two straight games illustrates how far the running game has come under Kubiak. Baltimore ran for that many yards in a game just once (against Chicago) all last year, but a productive running game makes Flacco that much more efficient when he goes to the air. The Cleveland rush defense has been a mess this season, but it was nice to see the Ravens commit to the run despite starter Bernard Pierce being out and they learned Lorenzo Taliaferro can be a major contributor sooner rather than later.

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Old and new give Ravens exactly what they need in Cleveland

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Old and new give Ravens exactly what they need in Cleveland

Posted on 21 September 2014 by Luke Jones

There was plenty to be concerned about throughout the Ravens’ narrow 23-21 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

The disheartening hip injury to tight end Dennis Pitta, the immense struggles of the pass defense, and the early inconsistency of wide receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones are points of concern as the Ravens turn their attention toward next Sunday’s meeting with the Carolina Panthers. But the continued dependability of veteran Steve Smith and the emergence of two young offensive players — rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro and second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk — helped Baltimore improve to 2-1 in their stretch of three consecutive AFC North games to begin the 2014 season.

Despite turning 35 and coming off two straight seasons in which his yards per catch average declined from the previous year with the Carolina Panthers, the veteran Smith has been better than advertised in his first three games with the Ravens as he caught five passes for 101 yards on Sunday. No play was bigger than his 32-yard catch on a slant-and-go route to beat Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden on the final drive of the game to set the Ravens up on the 13-yard line, leading to Justin Tucker’s game-winning 32-yard field goal moments later.

It was just the latest example of the 14-year wideout laughing in the face of Father Time and the critics who doubted how much of an impact he would bring to the Ravens’ passing game. While Joe Flacco threw a deep ball that clanked off the hands of Jones to start the fourth quarter and connected on just two of eight targets to Torrey Smith throughout the day, the quarterback looked in no other direction but Steve Smith’s on the final drive of the game when the Ravens were staring at a 1-2 start with under two minutes to go.

And with Pitta possibly done for the season after suffering a second dislocation to his right hip in the last 14 months, Flacco will need the veteran Smith to continue being a dependable target on third down and in crunch time. Through his first three games, Steve Smith has caught 18 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown and has collected at least 71 receiving yards in each contest, a benchmark he didn’t reach once in his final season with Carolina.

Of course, Steve Smith wasn’t alone in the offensive heroics Sunday as Juszczyck and Taliaferro emerged as key contributors with the former entering the day having never caught a pass in the NFL and the fourth-round rookie tailback never registering a carry. Both made their names known against the Browns on Sunday.

Juszczyk caught a 9-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter and finished with three receptions for 54 yards. His presence as a receiver in the flat will be even more critical now to complement tight end Owen Daniels with Pitta’s status in doubt.

Receiving his first opportunity to carry the ball with Bernard Pierce out with a thigh injury, Taliaferro took full advantage of a shaky Cleveland run defense to pick up 91 yards on 18 carries, showing impressive speed and physicality that reminded many Ravens fans of Jamal Lewis on Sunday. Of course, plenty of credit needs to go to the offensive line as veteran Justin Forsett also averaged 5.7 yards per carry, but you do wonder if Taliaferro has already begun wrestling away the starting job from Pierce, who missed his first NFL game in three seasons Sunday but has dealt with nagging injuries throughout his career.

The rookie was decisive and aggressive when carrying the ball in contrast to what we’ve seen from Pierce, who has often looked unsure of himself running in a zone-blocking system the last two seasons.

Sunday’s win was far from perfect as the Ravens face plenty of questions both on and off the field, but a 2-1 start is nothing to be unhappy about as the offense is receiving contributions from younger players as well as the big-play ability of Steve Smith.

The disappointing loss of Pitta won’t be easy to overcome, but the Ravens offense continued to move in the right direction on Sunday thanks to the old — just don’t tell that to Steve Smith — and new.

 

 

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Pitta carted off field with dislocated right hip in Cleveland

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Pitta carted off field with dislocated right hip in Cleveland

Posted on 21 September 2014 by Luke Jones

Less than 14 months after enduring a devastating injury to his right hip, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta suffered a dislocation to the same hip in the first half of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

After catching a short pass from quarterback Joe Flacco late in the second quarter and attempting to turn upfield, Pitta twisted awkwardly and went down without being hit. Medical personnel immediately called for a cart to take Pitta off the field as teammates and coaches looked on with grave concern.

“I don’t know how serious that is,” head coach John Harbaugh said immediately after the Ravens’ 23-21 victory. “I haven’t heard. He told me on the field that it wasn’t as bad as before. I don’t know what that means.

“Just going to be praying and hoping for the best there. We’ll get more information, but that’s just so, so disappointing.”

Pitta was taken to a local hospital for further examination. The fifth-year tight end is feared to be lost for the season, but further testing will determine if he suffered a fracture in addition to the dislocation.

The injury occurred to the same hip Pitta dislocated and fractured on July 27, 2013. The 2010 fourth-round pick was able to return for the final four games of last season, but this latest injury is extremely concerning coming so soon after the first hip injury.

Pitta has caught 16 passes for 125 yards this season. Confident that Pitta had recovered fully from his first hip injury, the Ravens signed Pitta to a five-year, $32 million contract that included $16 million guaranteed this offseason.

“It’s not easy,” said quarterback Joe Flacco about the starting tight end’s injury. “Dennis is a good friend, he’s a good teammate, and he’s a hell of a player. It’s tough to see that happen.”

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Browns: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 20 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens will attempt to go 2-1 against the AFC North to begin the 2014 season, but the Cleveland Browns stand in their way while feeling good about themselves following last week’s surprising win over the New Orleans Saints.

While Baltimore has benefited from extra rest after a Thursday night win over rival Pittsburgh in Week 2, Cleveland has used a strong running game led by Towson product Terrance West while committing no turnovers through the first two weeks of the season. The Browns’ summer quarterback controversy between veteran Brian Hoyer and rookie Johnny Manziel has also subsided with the former off to an efficient start in his return from a season-ending knee injury last season.

Sunday marks the 31st all-time meeting between these AFC North rivals with the Ravens enjoying a 22-8 advantage and a 10-5 edge at FirstEnergy Stadium. Baltimore is 11-1 against the Browns since 2008 with last year’s 24-18 loss in Cleveland the first defeat over that stretch.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their sixth game in seven tries in Cleveland in the John Harbaugh era …

1. Torrey Smith finally gets his 2014 season going, making six catches for 95 yards and a long touchdown reception. Aside from a long touchdown to Steve Smith on a broken play in the season opener, quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t taken many deep shots, but that could change on Sunday with the Browns looking to clean up their run defense and fully aware of Gary Kubiak’s use of Steve Smith and the tight ends in the short-to-intermediate passing game. Torrey Smith has been held to just four catches for 60 yards in his first two games, but that will change on Sunday as he catches a 40-plus-yard touchdown to beat Cleveland cornerback Buster Skrine in the first half.

2. The Browns running game picks up 130 yards on the ground to win the time of possession battle. The Ravens defense was very physical against Pittsburgh, but it’s difficult to determine how much of that was about playing their biggest rival in a prime-time game and handling an inferior offensive line. Cleveland has averaged an impressive 5.1 yards per carry and won’t match that impressive clip, but West and fellow rookie Isaiah Crowell will grind out tough yards to keep the Baltimore defense on the field too long. A key matchup will be Pro Bowl center Alex Mack going up against second-year nose tackle Brandon Williams, and the Browns will have the edge there to find some running room inside.

3. Terrell Suggs collects his first sack of the year in a difficult battle against Browns tackle Joe Thomas. The six-time Pro Bowl linebacker has more career sacks (15) against Cleveland than any opponent, but only seven have come since 2007 when the Browns drafted the seven-time Pro Bowl selection Thomas. Even though the Ravens insist Suggs has played very well and Pro Football Focus has graded Suggs as the team’s best defensive player through two weeks, the 12-year pass rusher has collected only one sack in his last 10 games dating back to last season and hasn’t been making high-impact plays since the first half of 2013. Suggs and fellow rusher Elvis Dumervil need to put heat on Hoyer, and Suggs will break through for his first sack since Week 16 of last year.

4. Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins beats a rusty Lardarius Webb for a touchdown catch from the slot. With Webb listed as probable on the final injury report, it appears the Ravens will have their full secondary at their disposal for the first time since the beginning of training camp. However, it remains to be seen how much rust the sixth-year corner will need to shake off even after practicing fully for the last three weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns are without suspended wide receiver Josh Gordon, but the shifty Hawkins has been very effective out of the slot where he has lined up more than half of the time, leading the team with 14 catches for 157 yards. He’ll catch his first touchdown on a quick out route as Webb misses the tackle on the play.

5. A fourth-quarter touchdown run by West is the difference as the Ravens’ road struggles from last season carry over to Sunday in a 20-17 loss to Cleveland. It’s easy to be encouraged by what Baltimore did playing at home last Thursday night, but the Ravens have almost always played well at home even in some of their worst seasons. A 2-6 road record in 2013 is difficult to forget, particularly because it was the Ravens defense that struggled in allowing 26.4 points per game on the road compared to 17.6 points surrendered per home contest. A typical, ugly game between the Browns and Ravens will play out once again, but the Cleveland defense bounces back from its poor start to the season while the Baltimore defense is worn down by the running game in the final quarter.

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Ravens list Webb probable, Pierce questionable against Browns on Sunday

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Ravens list Webb probable, Pierce questionable against Browns on Sunday

Posted on 19 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have listed Lardarius Webb as probable for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns, which paints an encouraging picture for the starting cornerback to make his 2014 debut this weekend.

Webb has practiced fully for three straight weeks after missing all of training camp while dealing with a back injury. He was deemed inactive in Weeks 1 and 2 after being listed as questionable on the final injury report for each of those games.

Starting running back Bernard Pierce is listed as questionable after being added to Thursday’s injury report with a thigh injury. The third-year back practiced on a limited basis on Thursday before being upgraded to full participation on Friday.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (knee) is doubtful after missing practice all week and is reportedly recovering from a meniscus injury that could keep hiim sidelined for a couple weeks.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (stomach bug), cornerback Asa Jackson (concussion), and left tackle Eugene Monroe (knee) are also listed as probable for Sunday’s game.

Meanwhile, the Browns have ruled out running back Ben Tate (knee) as expected and designated standout tight end Jordan Cameron (shoulder) and outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (shoulder) as questionable.

Here’s the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
DOUBTFUL: DT Timmy Jernigan (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Bernard Pierce (thigh)
PROBABLE: QB Joe Flacco (illness), CB Asa Jackson (concussion), T Eugene Monroe (knee), CB Lardarius Webb (back)

CLEVELAND
OUT: RB Ben Tate (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Jordan Cameron (shoulder), LB Barkevious Mingo (shoulder)
PROBABLE: WR Travis Benjamin (knee), DL Desmond Bryant (wrist), DL John Hughes (hamstring), P Spencer Lanning (shoulder), OL Paul McQuistan (ankle), CB Buster Skrine (thumb)

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Secondary remains fluid as Ravens turn attention toward Cleveland

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Secondary remains fluid as Ravens turn attention toward Cleveland

Posted on 15 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Returning to work to begin preparations for a Week 3 showdown with the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens weren’t offering clues about the projected state of their secondary.

With starting cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) still waiting to make his 2014 debut and reserve Asa Jackson sustaining a concussion against Pittsburgh last Thursday, the third level of the defense remains fluid as the Ravens look to improve to 2-1 in their three AFC North contests to begin the regular season. Head coach John Harbaugh didn’t shed any light on the status of Jackson or Webb when he met with reporters on Monday afternoon.

“I’m just not going to get into injuries,” Harbaugh said, “because there is just no strategic advantage for us in doing it and putting that information out there. … I’m really optimistic about all our guys — I will say that, with [Jackson] included — but I’ve been optimistic in the past and guys haven’t played. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

Webb has practiced fully over the last two weeks, but the sixth-year defensive back missed all of training camp and the preseason after suffering back spasms on July 25, the second day of full-team workouts. The Ravens and Webb are reportedly targeting this Sunday’s game for him to make his return, but doubts will remain until he’s suited up to play on Sunday.

After going with the trio of Jimmy Smith, Chykie Brown, and Jackson in the nickel package in the season opener, defensive coordinator Dean Pees used a different alignment against the Steelers with strong safety Matt Elam defending the slot and reserve Jeromy Miles playing safety in the nickel alignment. Smith and Jackson started the game at the outside corner spots — with Brown on the sideline — before a concussion ended Jackson’s night in the first half and forced Brown into duty.

With Brown shaky in outside coverage throughout the summer and Jackson missing a couple tackles from the nickel spot against the Bengals, the Ravens went with the versatile Elam to provide more support from the nickel against the run. Harbaugh complimented Elam’s ability to pick up the intricacies of playing the position to provide more flexibility for the Baltimore defense.

“We’re blessed with safety depth, so it’s not a bad thing to get those guys on the field,” Harbaugh said. “But a guy like Matt being in there playing [the nickel] gives you a nice little run-nickel package, because he’ll fly around and hit you and tackle you. He’ll be the first to tell you he tackled better in the second half than he did the first half. It builds our defensive package in good ways, because now you have a guy in there playing that can really defend the run, too.”

Against Pittsburgh, Elam played all 59 defensive snaps — most of them from the nickel position — while Miles participated in 48, a major change for a fifth-year safety primarily known for his special-teams ability.

West playing hometown team

Former Towson standout and Northwestern High product Terrance West’s NFL career is off to a strong start with the Browns, which has drawn plenty of attention from Ravens fans who clamored for the organization to draft him back in May.

West became the first rookie running back to collect at least 90 yards from scrimmage in his team’s first two games since Chris Johnson and Matt Forte — two Pro Bowl running backs — did it in 2008. In the wake of the Ray Rice release, it would be understandable for the Ravens to lament the inability to come away with the local product after he was selected with the 94th overall pick by Cleveland. Baltimore selected safety Terrence Brooks with the 79th overall pick and tight end Crockett Gillmore at 99th after West had just come off the board.

“Terrance is a guy that we really liked, as you know,” Harbaugh said. “We had designs on him in the draft, certainly, and Cleveland jumped up there and got him, and he has not disappointed. He has played really downhill, [and is a] hard runner, make-you-miss type of back [who] understands the scheme they’re running really well.”

West is receiving a heavier workload than anticipated with Browns veteran Ben Tate currently sidelined with a knee injury.

Hill reinstated before Week 7?

Despite reports suggesting suspended safety Will Hill could have his ban reduced under the terms of the NFL’s new drug policy, Harbaugh offered no indication whether that would happen when posed the question.

Hill is in the midst of a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. After receiving limited reps in the summer due to his situation, he could be an intriguing option at the safety position whenever he is reinstated.

“I have no sense of [a possible reduction] at all,” Harbaugh said. “No one has spoken to me about that, and I don’t know a thing about that right now. I’m interested in it though.”

Odds & ends

Harbaugh defended linebacker Courtney Upshaw’s technique on the penalized hit against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the opening drive of Thursday’s game, insisting he did exactly what he’s been coached and to play it differently would have put him at risk for injury. “We’re never going to put our player in position to coach him to drop his head. Football has always been about seeing what you hit — heads-up football keeping your eyes up.” … Asked about the chances of seeing Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel on the field, Harbaugh said the Ravens will be prepared for the first-round pick while also going out of his way to praise starter Brian Hoyer. “He’s the best quarterback they’ve had in a number of years. He’s playing great. Then, they have Johnny Manziel as part of their arsenal. So, it’s something to contend with for sure.” … The Ravens signed rookie free agent cornerback Lou Young to their practice squad Monday to fill the spot vacated by cornerback Jamell Fleming, who was signed by the Kansas City Chiefs to their 53-man roster last week.

 

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Dorsey’s Dugout – NBA Free Agency Frenzy

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Dorsey’s Dugout – NBA Free Agency Frenzy

Posted on 18 July 2014 by Nick Dorsey

 

LeBron James

In one of the better sports stories in years, LeBron James returned back to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers where it all began. The King left Miami after four seasons, winning two out of four NBA Final appearances during that stretch.

The return of the King to Cleveland shocked many because there are still plenty of lingering images of destruction that come up when talking about James departure for Miami. Fans crying, burning jerseys and an owners hateful letter calling out the Akron native for his lack of loyalty. LeBron James made the best decision to go back to Cleveland for many reasons.

When the dominoes began to fall, the four-time MVP’s former team Miami looked to be dismantling with key pieces looking to move on elsewhere. With uncertainty of the quality of players that would surround him on the floor, James made the right move to leave.

Cleveland has some nice pieces on the roster as it stands, including NBA All Star MVP Kyrie Irving running the point. There are other players as well, but the future is uncertain for some of the other young Cavaliers.

There have been rumors swirling around that Cleveland might deal Dion Waiters, Andrew Wiggins and a first rounder to acquire Kevin Love from Minnesota. General manager of the Cavs, David Griffin, should make the trade for Love because it would make them a title favorite out of the Eastern Conference.

Trading a young player like Andrew Wiggins with the kind of potential he has seems like a bizarre idea, but it would be the better move for the Cavs. Wiggins is not a sure thing, but with acquiring Kevin Love you know your getting an All Star player. The former Bruin is a three-time All Star who has a great post presence with the ability to shoot from the outside as well.

As the roster currently stands, Cleveland has Wiggins playing the shooting guard position. The Jayhawk standout played the small forward position at KU and was not known as a great jump shooter. He better suits playing the three spot in the NBA, but on Cleveland that’s the spot that the King currently occupies.

If Griffin makes the trade for Kevin Love, the Cavs become the instant favorite to represent the East in the Finals. With a new big three that consists of Irving, Love and James they would be difficult to defeat in a seven game series. It is a win-win move for Griffin, especially since Love has expressed interest in signing a long-term deal in Cleveland.

Carmelo Anthony

The choices were narrowed down to either the Windy City or returning back to the Big Apple and Anthony chose to return back to the Knicks. Melo decided to sign the big deal and put his faith in Phil Jackson to build a winner in New York.

While Phil Jackson certainly knows what he is doing when it comes to winning in the NBA, Melo should have chose the Bulls as his next destination. Chicago is in a much better position to win now and is a better fit than the New York Knicks.

Chicago is a playoff team already without Anthony and his skills could have elevated the Bulls to another level in the East. The Bulls have a proven coach in Tom Thibodeau whereas the Knicks are going with Derek Fisher, who is about to coach his first team ever. Not only does Chicago have the better coach, they also have the better team by far.

The Bulls are a defensive powerhouse in the NBA and their most glaring need is a player that can close. That need was definitive in their first round exit against the Washington Wizards. Some of those games in that series were close down the stretch in the fourth quarter, but Chicago was unable to find a consistent scoring threat that could close out a game.

Adding Carmelo to the mix would fill their need of a closer and help bolster their lackluster offense. One of the criticisms of Anthony throughout his career is he is not a good defensive player. The Bulls already have great defense throughout the lineup so Anthony would not of been as much of a liability on the floor for the Bulls.

Carmelo put his trust in Phil Jackson to build a winner and maybe one day his faith will be rewarded. In the short term, Chicago would have been the better opportunity for Carmelo Anthony to win a ring.

Heat Rebuild

Once LeBron bolted for his hometown, it was almost certain that Chris Bosh would take the max deal he was offered from Houston. Instead of joining Howard and Harden, Bosh made a surprising decision to stay with the Miami Heat.

A franchise that seemed as if it was going to be completely dismantled, had hope restored once Bosh re-signed. Pat Riley has built contending teams several times in Miami before and did an excellent job once the King left. Retaining Bosh was huge for the Heat and they also managed to bring back Dwayne Wade.

Two pieces of the big three remain in Miami and although Wade is not at the level he once was, it’s a nice start to retooling. Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts were not sexy enough names to woo LeBron, but they do provide solid depth for the Heat.

Miami added Shabazz Napier through the draft and brought back point guard Mario Chalmers. The pieces were coming back together and Riley did the best he possibly could at filling the James void by signing Luol Deng.

The former Duke star has been a Bull for the majority of his career until last years short stint as a Cavalier. Deng is superb defensively, but injury is a concern with Deng. Since the start of the 2011 season, Deng has missed 54 games due to injury. If Deng can stay on the floor, the Heat will be contending for the Southeast division title.

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Bovada makes Cavs favorite to win title with LeBron, Wizards 33/1

Posted on 11 July 2014 by WNST Staff

Courtesy of Bovada, (www.Bovada.lv, Twitter: @BovadaLV).
“There is no question that with the recent news of LeBron going back home to Cleveland that they are the favorites to win the NBA Championship next season at 4-1. With the Eastern Conference being much weaker and essentially only a handful of teams that can give LeBron and the Cavs a run for their money, it would be a shock if they do not at least make the Conference Finals. The Heat in turn, who now may lose Bosh also, have gone from 4-1 to 50-1, basically the Cavs and Heat flipping odds from what we had them the day after the Spurs won the Championship. This shows how much of an impact a player like LeBron has on odds. The last comparable situation was when Peyton Manning signing with the Broncos dropped them from 75-1 to 10-1 in a blink of an eye.”

Kevin Bradley, Bovada.lv Sportsbook Manager

 

Odds to win 2015 NBA Championship 

Cleveland Cavaliers                   4/1

San Antonio Spurs                    5/1

Oklahoma City Thunder              6/1

Chicago Bulls                            7/1

Houston Rockets                      8/1

Los Angeles Clippers                10/1

Indiana Pacers                          18/1

Golden State Warriors               25/1

Portland Trailblazers                  25/1

Dallas Mavericks                       33/1

Los Angeles Lakers                   33/1

Washington Wizards                  33/1

Brooklyn Nets                           40/1

New York Knicks                       40/1

Toronto Raptors                        40/1

Memphis Grizzlies                     50/1

Miami Heat                                50/1

New Orleans Pelicans                50/1

Denver Nuggets                        66/1

Phoenix Suns                            66/1

Atlanta Hawks                           75/1

Boston Celtics                          75/1

Charlotte Hornets                      75/1

Detroit Pistons                          100/1

Minnesota Timberwolves            100/1

Milwaukee Bucks                       200/1

Orlando Magic                          200/1

Philadelphia 76ers                     200/1

Sacramento Kings                     200/1

Utah Jazz                                  200/1

 

Average Points per game in the 2014-2015 NBA Regular Season – LeBron James        

Over/Under                   25.5

 

Average Rebounds per game in the 2014-2015 NBA Regular Season – LeBron James  

Over/Under                   7.5                                           

 

Average Assists per game in the 2014-2015 NBA Regular Season – LeBron James       

Over/Under                   7

 

Will LeBron James win the 2014-2015 NBA MVP?

Yes      3/2

No        1/2

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