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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 09 November 2013 by Luke Jones

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Off to their worst start since the 2005 season, the 3-5 Ravens have never been in such a position in the John Harbaugh era as they meet the division-leading Cincinnati Bengals for the 35th time in franchise history.

Hoping their return to M&T Bank Stadium for the first time in nearly a month will snap a three-game losing streak, the Ravens trail the Bengals by 2 1/2 games in the AFC North and will see their playoff hopes on life support if they drop their third consecutive division game. However, Baltimore has won four of the last five meetings with Cincinnati as the Bengals are still chasing consistency with a talented and deep roster.

The Ravens listed five players as questionable on the final injury report of the week — four of them key defensive players — while Cincinnati will be without inside linebacker Rey Maualuga and will be playing its first game since the season-ending ACL injury suffered by Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins in Week 9.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens lead the all-time series with Cincinnati by a 19-15 margin and are 12-5 in Baltimore. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens are 6-4 against the Bengals, which includes a 4-1 record at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to win their first game since Oct. 6 and move closer toward the .500 mark to begin the second half of the season …

1. Underused wide receiver Deonte Thompson will catch the first touchdown of his career. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s use of Thompson has been perplexing as the second-year wideout has been effective whenever afforded opportunities and has caught just over 64 percent of attempts on which he’s been targeted (nine of 14), the highest success rate of any wide receiver or tight end on the roster. Flacco has struggled in the vertical passing game this season, which was understandable early in the year, but the returns of Jacoby Jones and Thompson have given the Ravens adequate speed to complement No. 1 receiver Torrey Smith. It’s difficult to envision the offense being fixed due to an ineffective offensive line and an inadequate number of consistent weapons, but the Ravens need to throw caution to the wind in taking more deep shots. With Smith once again receiving the most attention, Thompson will slip free for a long score.

2. The absence of Atkins will not be an elixir for the Ravens’ inept running game. It’s true that the Cincinnati defense is more vulnerable after its recent rash of injuries, but the Baltimore running game has been effective for only 30 minutes — the second half of the Miami game in Week 5 — of the 480 total played this year. A poor offensive line is undersized at center and left guard and Ray Rice once again showed a lack of explosiveness last week in Cleveland despite his claims of finally being 100 percent healthy. Caldwell will likely explore further use of the pistol formation to give the Ravens more options in running the ball while working out of a three-wide, shotgun spread formation extensively, but expecting the Ravens to suddenly start running the ball effectively is based on hopes and dreams and nothing about their performance this season. It’s only common sense to assume the Ravens will average under 3.0 yards per carry and accumulate no more 70 or 80 rushing yards until they show otherwise.

3. A banged-up secondary won’t be able to handle the many Bengals weapons, allowing quarterback Andy Dalton to throw for two touchdowns and 250-plus yards. Everyone knows how dangerous Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green is, but the emergence of fellow wide receiver Marvin Jones spells bad news for a secondary listing Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, and James Ihedigbo as questionable for Sunday’s game. The Ravens’ 14th-ranked pass defense has been vulnerable to missed tackles and big plays, which doesn’t bode well against an offense with talented pass-catching options at receiver, tight end, and in the backfield with rookie Giovani Bernard. Cornerback Lardarius Webb will do a respectable job against Green when the Ravens shade safety help in his direction, but there isn’t enough quality coverage to go around in shutting down the league’s seventh-ranked passing attack, meaning the Ravens must pressure Dalton heavily to give themselves a good chance.

4. Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth will have another shutdown effort against linebacker Terrell Suggs. Browns tackle Joe Thomas receives all the accolades while Whitworth just made his first Pro Bowl last season, but the Bengals lineman has arguably given Suggs more trouble than any other blocker in his 11-year career. Of Suggs’ 7 1/2 career sacks against Cincinnati, only 2 1/2 have come since 2006 when Whitworth was drafted in the second round out of LSU. Without Whitworth playing in their last game, the Bengals gave up five sacks and Dalton turned the ball over four times as he was harassed all night. The Ravens will win on Sunday if they can repeat Miami’s performance in forcing the bad Dalton to come out, but that pressure will need to come from defenders who aren’t lined up against the Bengals left tackle. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will try to move Suggs around a bit, but big performances will need to come from Elvis Dumervil, Arthur Jones, and others.

5. With their backs against the wall even more than they were last week in Cleveland, the Ravens will fall short once again in a 27-20 final. In the history of the Harbaugh era, the Ravens have been able to rise to the occasion when they’ve needed it most in the regular season. Meanwhile, the Bengals have had success over the last couple years but still fight the trap of reverting to the “Bungles” from time to time. It might not be a must-win game for the Ravens in terms of the mathematics of the playoff race, but falling to 3-6 virtually ends their playoff hopes with five of their final seven games coming against teams with winning records. Those trends would lead you to believe the Ravens will find a way to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat against a team with more talent, but “that was then, this is now” as author S.E. Hinton would say. A familiar script of a slow start offensively coupled with a solid defensive effort void of game-changing plays will lead to another close defeat for the Ravens.

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Three defensive starters listed as questionable for Bengals game

Posted on 08 November 2013 by Luke Jones

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens presented a healthier outlook on Friday with the return of three defensive starters to the practice field but listed five as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Linebackers Terrell Suggs and Daryl Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith all took part in the final full workout of the week, and the latter two were listed as questionable on the final injury report of the week. Safety James Ihedigbo, cornerback Corey Graham, and wide receiver Brandon Stokley were also designated as questionable.

Listed as probable for Sunday’s game, Suggs (foot) was added to the injury report as a non-participant on Thursday but appeared to simply be given a day off based on his pre-practice theatrics on Friday. Upon seeing reporters while walking out to the practice field, the 31-year-old linebacker walked with an over-the-top limp before breaking into a brisk jog, indicating he would be ready to go for Sunday’s game.

Daryl Smith (thigh) and Jimmy Smith (groin) both missed practices on Wednesday and Thursday, but their presence for the final full practice of the week was an encouraging sign for their status against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. The third-year cornerback exited last Sunday’s loss in Cleveland early when his groin tightened up on him.

The inside linebacker received treatment for his thigh injury throughout the week and painted an optimistic outlook for his chances of playing against the Bengals. Coach John Harbaugh was noncommittal about the status of Daryl Smith and Jimmy Smith.

“That’s the whole goal,” said Daryl Smith when asked if he expected to play. “I’m feeling good and looking forward to Sunday. A couple days rest on it and rehab, and I should be ready to ride.”

A concerning development from Friday’s injury report was the addition of starting strong safety James Ihedigbo, who was limited with a toe injury in the final practice of the week despite working fully the previous two days. This is sometimes an indication of an injury taking place during practice, and he did not appear to be limited during the portion of practice open to reporters Friday morning.

Graham (calf) took part in Friday’s practice after sitting out a day earlier and expressed optimism that he would be ready to play on Sunday.

With both Smith and Graham listed on the injury report and less than 100 percent, the Ravens elected to place second-year cornerback Asa Jackson on the 53-man roster to add depth to a secondary. Jackson practiced all week after completing an eight-game suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy and provides another special-teams option on Sundays.

The Ravens officially placed left guard Kelechi Osemele (back) on season-ending injured reserve to make room for Jackson.

“Asa looked good. He looked like he was in shape,” Harbaugh said. “Like always, working the little nuances of the game and stuff like that after a few weeks off in terms of knocking the rust off. But I thought he was surprisingly sharp and looked good.”

Stokley (groin) was present and suited up to work after missing the first two practices of the week. He hasn’t played since Week 3 as he’s battled the groin ailment for more than a month while other receivers on the roster have gotten healthy.

For the Bengals, starting tight end Jermaine Gresham (groin) missed his second straight practice on Friday and is listed as questionable. Reports from Cincinnati indicate he will be a game-time decision against Baltimore.

Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard (ribs) was limited in practice all week and was deemed questionable, but the play-making back is expected to play.

Cincinnati ruled out starting inside linebacker Rey Maualuga as he continues to recover from a knee injury and did not practice all week.

The referee for Sunday’s game between the Ravens and Bengals will be Walt Coleman.

Sunday’s forecast calls for a high of 60 degrees with winds up to 21 miles per hour, according to Weather.com.

Here’s the final injury report of the week:

OUT: G Kelechi Osemele (back)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Corey Graham (calf), S James Ihedigbo (toe), CB Jimmy Smith (thigh), LB Daryl Smith (thigh), WR Brandon Stokley (thigh)
PROBABLE: LB Terrell Suggs (foot), WR Marlon Brown (finger)

OUT: LB Rey Maualuga (knee), DT Devon Still (elbow)
DOUBTFUL: LB Mike Boley (hamstring)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Giovani Bernard (ribs), TE Jermaine Gresham (groin)
PROBABLE: G Kevin Zeitler (hamstring)

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Our Ravens/Bills “Slaps to the Head”

Posted on 29 September 2013 by WNST Staff

After Baltimore Ravens victories, Ryan Chell and I award players who made positive contributions with “Pats on the Ass” during the Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show on AM1570 WNST.net.

The Ravens fell to the Buffalo Bills 23-20 Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium, meaning there were no Pats to be awarded.

So instead of offering “Pats on the Ass”, Ryan and I offered “Slaps to the Head” postgame. A slap on the side of the head from a coach tends to come along with them saying something along the lines of “you’ve gotta do better than that.”

Same rules as there were with Pats. Two offensive players, two defensive players, and a Wild Card (Special Teams player, coach, or another Offensive or Defensive player). One player gets “two slaps” (or a slap on both sides of the head), it’s the opposite of a “Player of the Game” honor.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches after each game.

Here are our five Ravens that have “gotta do better than that.”

Glenn Clark’s Slaps…

5. Ray Rice

4. Terrell Suggs

3. Elvis Dumervil

2. Dallas Clark

1. Ed Dickson (Two slaps)

(Ryan’s slaps on Page 2…)

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Graham happy to shake label as solely special-teams player

Posted on 30 January 2013 by WNST Staff


(on growing up in Buffalo) “It was very exciting. I had a great time in Buffalo. My whole family is still there. I enjoyed playing high school football there in the Catholic league. It’s very good competition. I enjoyed it. If I could do it all over again, I would go back and do it again.”

(on his 1700 yard season) “Is that what it was? I was alright. Not too bad of a year. In high school I was a running back and kind of a receiver. If you were throwing the ball, I was the receiver. If you were running the ball, I was the running back. But I had my high school coach. He did a great job of getting me involved in all things. He was like my mentor. Even when I was in college, I went back to train with him. He was a great coach for me and we had a pretty good team. Our basketball team was pretty good but our football team was alright. We could get it done. We had some good times.”


(on his influences in Western New York) “My brother was the one who influenced me the most as far as getting me above the fray to play football. He was the one that pushed me to be the best I could. (He had me) running early and training in the morning and doing all types of stuff. Him and my coach, I would say, they were the two people that influenced me the most.”


(on joining a Super Bowl bound team after leaving Chicago) “This has been amazing. It’s been unreal. I think everything this year has been amazing. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I not only got the opportunity to get a chance to play, but I got the opportunity to play with guys like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. It’s been amazing. We’ve been riding a long time and now we’re here in the Super Bowl. We have one more step to go, but it’s been an amazing ride so far.”


(on the team being a family atmosphere) “It’s been great. That’s one thing that I was hoping for. In Chicago it’s like that too. The teammates were very close. Everybody was close to each other. Everybody got along. I didn’t want to go to an organization that was the opposite. You hear some stuff on SportsCenter and some stuff on websites talking about how players are fighting each other and they don’t get along with their coaches. It’s the complete opposite here. It’s a family oriented organization. They treat their players good. It’s a first-class organization. There’s nothing more I could ask for.”


(on getting to play defense) “It’s been unreal. That’s what you ask for. You wait five years and I finally get my chance to play on the defense. I couldn’t ask for anything more. When you get an opportunity you make the best out of it.”


(on why he thinks he didn’t get to play defense in Chicago) “I don’t know. It’s different reasons. My second year I was fortunate to get the opportunity to start in eight games and I felt like I played pretty well. But things happen for a reason. They ended up getting different things out of me. They wanted me to be the special teams guy there and so I went out there when I got a chance and made the best out of my opportunity and tried to be the best special teams player in the league. When you’re doing that, sometimes you get labeled like that. It’s tough like that. Sometimes it’s hard to get that label off.”


(on when Baltimore told him he would get to play defense) “No team will tell you that, but it was as simple as this. Obviously they brought me in for special teams but he told me if I showed that I deserved I could play on defense that I would get that opportunity. That’s all I was asking for was the opportunity. I wasn’t asking for any coach to say, “Well yeah, you’re going to play on defense” because that’s based on play. I was just saying if I showed that I deserved to play, will you find a way to get me on the field, and he said yes. That’s all I needed to hear.”


(on the Bears trying to re-sign him) “The Bears did try to resign me. They tried to re-sign me. It wasn’t like they just told me to go ahead and walk. My special teams coach said that he wanted me to be there. Obviously, I wanted to be there with him, but I knew I had to move on and do something bigger.”


(on asking Lovie Smith about why he wasn’t playing on defense) “It was different situations. There wasn’t much to say, really. I would ask him what I needed to do to get better or show that I needed to be on the field and he would say, “Corey, you’re doing everything that I asked you to do.” I don’t know what the situation was, but he fit me as a special teams (player) and he wanted me to be that, and that’s just what it was. I felt like I was playing pretty well when I was there my last two years. I felt like I could have been on the field, but it’s a different defense. In Chicago, basically, you have your two corners, you have your nickel, and that’s it. It’s not a system like here where you sometimes have six defensive backs on the field at the same time and stuff like that. It’s a system where they can create packages and put guys in to get you there. In Chicago it’s a cover two system. It’s simple. You have your exact spots and that’s it. When you watch teams like the Ravens and the Jets, you see different guys, different sets, a lot of guys on the field, a lot of defensive backs. I knew in coming to a different system that I’d have the opportunity to show why I should be out there.”


(on whether or not the offer from the Bears was competitive with the offer from the Ravens) “It wasn’t competitive. It’s funny how things work. Not only was this the best situation, but it was the best situation financially for me also.”


(on his previous contract in Chicago) “It wasn’t a bad contract. It was a one year deal for $1.5 million. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. You go there and you show what you can do. I was fortunate to go out there and make the Pro Bowl and I just tried to do the best I could on special teams. Going into that season, I had a really great training camp and I thought I’d have the chance to play on defense, but things didn’t work out for me. I knew that eventually I was going to try something different.”


(on whether or not other teams were interested in signing him this year) “Yes, I had the opportunity to go to several teams. It was Detroit, Chicago and Seattle. The year before I could have went to a few teams also, but I wanted to be in Chicago at that point. I felt like I would have gotten the chance to play on defense. I didn’t know that going there. I wanted to be there and live there. My family was happy. I wanted to be there. I knew after this year that it was time for me to go.”


(on the offer from Detroit) “I felt like I could definitely have the opportunity to play in Detroit. I just didn’t know if it would have been the best situation. I looked into everything. I wanted to play on defense and that was probably the most important thing. Obviously financially you wanted to get the best situation also. I wanted to go to a competitive place. I wanted to go where I could do well. Don’t get me wrong, Detroit had an up-and-coming team. They made the playoffs last year. When it came down to it, I just felt like Baltimore was a better situation financially and as a team. The offer was closer than Chicago but it wasn’t near Baltimore.”


(on what his view of the Lions was when he was comparing teams) “It was alright. The coaches were really cool. It seems like they really want to improve their building. It’s different. When you go to an organization and you see the way they do things in Baltimore, this is a top of the line organization. It’s tough to compete with Baltimore. I couldn’t tell you exactly what Detroit is missing. You just know it when you see it. They had done well and they have a bunch of young talent, but it’s just different. You can’t really call out exactly what they’re missing. I had a sit down here in Baltimore with the head coach and I thought this was a better situation. Detroit had a lot of things up and down with their defensive backs, but I just felt like I was wanted here more in Baltimore.”


(on the Ravens defensive scheme playing to his skills) “I pretty much think I could play any scheme, but I like it. I love this scheme here. It’s not predictable. A lot of guys can do a lot of things, especially a player like me that can play inside and outside. I think I fit well with this system.”


(on what time he ran in college) “I didn’t run because I broke my ankle in my senior year of college in the fifth game of my season. At the combine, I had a boot on my foot still. I had to get a plate and two screws in my ankle, so it hurt me a lot. I wasn’t able to really run like that my senior year. When I ran it on my junior day before I broke my ankle I was actually pretty fast. I was a 4.3 (second) guy. I ran a 4.37 (second 40-yard dash). I broke my ankle my senior year and I wasn’t really able during my whole first year in the league. My first year was tough. I was probably at about 70 to 80 percent.”


(on playing for the Bears) “I loved being in Chicago. They drafted me and gave me an opportunity to play when, to be honest with you, I didn’t even know if I’d get the chance to play in the league. You go to a D1-AA school and you break your ankle and you can’t run at the combine and show what you can do. When you come back and try to run it at pro days, you might be at 70 percent. You’re just hoping just to get by. I was blessed just to get an opportunity to play in this league. I was hoping I would get picked up as a free agent. I didn’t care. I just wanted to get the chance and they gave me a chance. I was whipping all over the place. I was thankful they gave me the chance to play on special teams and I gave it everything I had. It wasn’t until my second year when I started in eight games that things started to change. I knew what I could do at this level. I was playing against the best receivers in the world and I held on so I felt good about it. After that season, everything turned. I was at starting corner and they moved me to safety for two weeks and when I went back to corner I was behind everybody at corner. I didn’t agree with the way things went.”

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CB Graham admits it’s difficult to keep focused during Super Bowl week

Posted on 30 January 2013 by WNST Staff



(on his journey as a football player) “Amazing, amazing. You know, it’s been a long journey for me. I’ve had the opportunity to play for a lot of great teams and I’m fortunate to be here with the Baltimore Ravens and be in the Super Bowl.”


(on preparing for the Super Bowl) “You know we just, we try to make things the same, try to get used to being down here in New Orleans. It’s a different atmosphere. So we try to make things similar to what they would be every other game week and try to stay focused and continue to do things the way we need to do them to prepare for this game.”


(on whether or not he expected to be here) “When you get drafted to a team that’s in the Super Bowl the year before you get drafted, you kind of assume that you’re going to be here. Coming in I’m like, “Wow, it’s a great team. I’m pretty sure we’re going to get back to the Super Bowl,” and look at me now, 6 years later. This is my first opportunity. So I’m trying to embrace it. I’m trying to enjoy and make sure that I’m taking in everything that New Orleans has to offer and just trying to have fun, but then again prepare for the game and make sure that I’m ready, because that’s the most important thing.”


(on being at the podium next to Ray Lewis) “It’s funny how things work out. Now I’m in the Super Bowl getting the opportunity to play with him for this big game, especially knowing that this is the last year he’ll play football. Look at me now, at media day, sitting next to Ray Lewis. It’s just been amazing.”


(on being grateful to have the opportunity to play on defense) “That’s everybody’s hopes and dreams, that I would get an opportunity to go out there and play, even when I was in Chicago. That’s what they asked from me at the time was to go out there and play special teams. If that’s what they’re going to ask you, you go out there and do the best that you possibly can. I’m fortunate and happy that I’m finally getting the opportunity to show what I can do on defense. I always knew I could do it. But it’s good to show everybody else that I can do it, to show them that I can play out there and I deserve to be out there.”


(on any difference in preparation for the Super Bowl versus the regular season) “Coach is trying to keep everything the same. He wanted this to be as normal of a week as it could possibly be. Obviously being down here is going to be a little different because of all the stuff going on, all the family here and everything of that nature. He’s trying to keep it the same, with the same type of practices, the same preparation. Hopefully we’ll go out there and play the best we possibly can because we’ve prepared as best we possibly can.”


(on keeping focused this week) “It’s been very difficult, to be honest with you. Everybody in your phone book is calling you and asking you if they can get tickets to the Super Bowl. Everybody assumes they’re free. It’s a tough situation. I just tried to put it all off on my wife and let her handle all that, all the hard work. I just try to prepare and get ready for the game which is the most important thing. You come out here, and it’s a great thing, but we’re here for one reason and that’s the most important thing is to play the game and have a good game and hope we win the game.”


(on Randy Moss) “It’s Randy Moss man. He’s been a great in this game for so long. The things he’s been able to do have been outstanding. He’s still got some of that breakaway speed in his legs and he’s still doing a good job. You always have to be prepared and ready for a guy like Randy Moss, because you never know. He’s able to go over top and go deep all the time. I don’t know exactly what coach is going to do as far as that matchup, but we’re just looking to play ball. I don’t think we should have to double anybody if we go out there and ball out and do what we’re supposed to do. Whether it’s Randy Moss or anybody who is a guard that can make plays, I don’t think we’re going to be doing that much doubling.”


(on distractions at the Super Bowl) “Honestly, I’ve put most of that off on someone else. There’s going to be a lot of distraction, there’s going to be a lot of family members. They’re going to want you to do things, to go out to eat, to go here and go there. Just tell them you’re getting ready for a game or you have to prepare for the game as best you can. Put it off on your wife or your girlfriend or whoever you’ve got. Don’t try to do anything, just try to keep the week as normal as possible. Go about the week the same way you would if you were in Baltimore.”

– more –


Super Bowl XLVII – Tuesday, January 29, 2013







(on Bernard Pollard’s comments on safety and rule changes in the league) “I don’t know as much about what Bernard was saying, but I did read it a little bit. It’s a tough situation. As a defensive player it’s tough on us. Pretty much you can’t hit anybody these days. You just have to find a way. Obviously player safety is important and as a player we know that that’s something we need to look into, but as a competitor also, you need to be able to play the game a little bit and it’s making it a lot tougher on us. When guys are going across the middle, when guys are catching balls, you’re scared to hit guys now because you never know what’s going to happen. It’s just such a small window for defenders to hit guys. I’m not saying it’s a problem, I’m just saying we need to find a way to meet somewhere in between.”


(on whether changing the strike zone will help safety concerns) “Yeah, the strike zone is small now. You can’t pretty much hit a guy anywhere. He’s defenseless at all times. If you think about it you’re pretty much defenseless anytime you’re catching the ball, so it’s tough. Obviously if you teach it to kids at a young age it might help a lot, because us growing up as kids, we didn’t care. You just hit a guy wherever you can hit him. Guys will get concussions and guys will get a long term effect from those hits, so we have to do something about it but as a defender, this league is very tough on us in finding ways to hit guys and tackle guys. I don’t want it to get to a point where everyone has to hit guys in the legs every time because they’re scared to hit guys up top. That’s just going to cause more injuries because guys are going to have torn ACLs and stuff like that. You don’t want guys going at full speed and chopping their legs out every time, but that’s what it’s going to come to.


(on his faith/religion) “We have a lot of guys on this team that believe in God a lot. They have a lot of faith. We have faith in each other. Every time we step out on the field we believe in what each other can do. We believe in the guy next to us. We believe in holding everybody accountable. We couldn’t do it if we didn’t have faith. We continue to believe in each other, and it’s gotten us this far. Your faith is always going to help you because you have to believe. Sometimes you’re going to be in tough situations where things might not be going your way, but it’s all types of trials and tribulations. For me, it was in college when I broke my ankle in the fifth game of my senior year. I didn’t know if I was ever going to play football again. I didn’t know if I was going to get drafted or to get picked up as a free agent or anything. At the time of my pro day I didn’t thing I was going to be able to run, but I was able to do it because I believed in myself and believed in God and he pushed me through it. I was fortunate to get an opportunity to play in this league.”


(on his team coming together over tough times) “Any situation where you’ve got guys in your organization or your team that are going through trials and tribulations, it’s going to bring guys together. We’re like brothers. We believe in each other. The guy next to you is the guy you lean on when you’re going through tough times. As a team and an organization we lean on each other and that’s what brings us together and makes us stronger.”


(on why things are different on the Ravens this time around) “Well, I was with the Chicago Bears for the past five years and coming here and being in Baltimore, I’ve seen that it’s a different group. It is an amazing group of people here. Guys believe in each other. Guys are accountable. Guys hold each other accountable. Guys trust each other. Guys do well for the guy next to them. It’s just a different group of guys. When you have people on your team like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Matt Birk – guys with so much faith and belief – it pushes you. It helps you be a better person. It helps you play to the best of your ability.”


(on San Francisco’s offense) “They have a dynamic offense and their quarterback is making a lot of plays for those guys. He’s able to run the ball. He can throw the ball very good, and he’s got a bunch of playmakers on offense with him. They’re a tough group to prepare for because they cause so much havoc in the way they run the ball or run the pistol or the option or things of that nature. You just have to prepare. Guys have to be gap sound and good with their assignments, but it’s a tough team to prepare for.”



– more –


Super Bowl XLVII – Tuesday, January 29, 2013







(on whether or not San Francisco reminds him of any team in the AFC) “I don’t know about that but it’s very similar I would say to Washington. We were fortunate to play those guys this year and that’s a very similar offense with RG3 (Robert Griffin III) and the way he’s about to throw and run the ball with the dual threat. It’s very similar and you have to be gap sound, technique sound, and you have to play football.”


(on what he expects from San Francisco’s wide receivers) “A lot. The group is playing pretty good right now to be honest with you. They’ve got (Michael) Crabtree. He’s making a lot of plays. They’re got Randy Moss who is still a very good deep threat. They’ve also got a great group of tight ends. Vernon Davis and (Delanie) Walker, they’re both making a lot of plays out there. It’s a tough group to prepare for but we’ve been looking up a lot so we’ll continue to study them and do what we have to do to prepare for this game.”


(on his biggest challenge on the field) “Honestly my biggest challenge on the field, me personally, is my eyes. I have to pay attention to my guys. They do a lot of double moves and triple moves and things of that nature. When you’re in the slot, they do a lot of different stuff so I have to make sure I keep my eyes on my guy and don’t get too caught up in trying to make too many plays and jumping routes and stuff like that. Me as a defender, if I keep my eyes in the right place I’ll be successful.”


(prompted to answer questions like he’s hashtagging a tweet – one word answers) (Beyonce Knowles) “Fantastic.” (Winning the Super Bowl) “Epic.” (Your coach beating his brother) “A must.” (The one thing you won’t do while you’re in New Orleans) “Lose.”


(on growing up in Buffalo) “A lot of ups and downs. A lot of stuff going on. Everything wasn’t always peachy and great, so I think it just pushed me to be a harder person. I went through a lot of trials and tribulations but it’s made me a tougher person. I went through everything from my family, to bad injuries, to my brother being incarcerated, people being gone, my father not really involved in my life. It was a lot of stuff but it’s made me the person I am today.”


(on sharing this experience with his brother who is coming to watch the game) “It’s going to be outstanding. He’s the one who got me involved in football. He was the one since I was 5 years old who put a football into my hand and showed me how to play, (showed me) what to do and what not to do and how to work hard. He was the one who’s done everything for me and it’s great that he’s going to be here to enjoy this moment with me.”


(on being a city kid to make it to the NFL) “It’s not typically the guys from the city (who play in the NFL). They have the talent but most of the time they go to public schools and they don’t get the right education. Sometimes they get swarmed up in too much going on outside of football and I was fortunate. To be honest with you, it was probably my brother. He kept me away from all that. He made sure that I got good grades. He made sure that I went to the better schools. He made sure that I was doing the right thing, that I was working out, that I was training. He was the one that didn’t allow me to get caught up in some of the things that some of the kids in the city get caught up in in Buffalo. There was a lot going on around me with my family and my cousins and some of my friends, but I ignored that. I was at a basketball court or I was at the track, or I was at some type of camp. I was trying to get better and pushing towards my ultimate goal which was to play in the NFL. I was going to go to college no matter what.”

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Brady standing in way of Ravens’ redemption run to Super Bowl

Posted on 16 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have made no secret about their satisfaction in seeing the New England Patriots once again on the same stage in which they fell painfully short last January.

With few believing they could reach their second straight AFC Championship game after being left for dead just a few weeks ago, the Ravens are embracing the opportunity but also know the truth about Sunday’s game in Foxborough. The game they’ve worked toward over the last 12 months only has one acceptable outcome in their eyes.

“Nothing matters unless we’re going to win in New England this weekend,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Then we’re back to the same position we were in last year.”

As compelling as their run has been to watch, the same man is once again standing in the way of their first Super Bowl appearance since the 2000 season. While the Ravens were finally able to topple Peyton Manning, future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady has goals of his own, mainly atoning for last year’s Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants. The most successful quarterback of this generation, the 35-year-old hasn’t won a championship since the 2004 season and has twice fallen in the Super Bowl since then.

Leading the top-ranked offense in the NFL in yards and points scored, Brady will try to do what Manning couldn’t do in Denver last Saturday. And the Baltimore defense will try to pick up where it left off in the divisional round when it held Denver’s explosive offense to just seven points in the second half after the Broncos returned a kickoff for a touchdown to begin the third quarter.

Even with every reason to be confident, the Ravens know that Brady will be waiting and ready after the Patriots scored 41 points against a tough Houston defense last week.

“He is a smart guy. We all know that is the reason he is probably a Hall of Fame quarterback,” cornerback Corey Graham said. “He is smart with the ball. He makes great decisions. He looks for matchups, and we have to just go out there and make plays.”

The Ravens’ multiple-look defense has given Brady difficulty over the years compared to most units as the Patriots were held to just 23 points in last year’s AFC Championship. The New England offense fared better in the Ravens’ 31-30 win in Week 3, but Brady acknowledges how difficult it is to play against a unit led by Lewis and free safety Ed Reed. In five career regular-season games against the Ravens, Brady has thrown five touchdowns and three interceptions and has posted an 83.3 passer rating, a modest mark for such a decorated quarterback. He has posted worse ratings against only four other teams over the course of his 13-year career.

His playoff loss to the Ravens on Jan. 10, 2010 was the worst performance of his postseason career as he threw three interceptions and lost a fumble in the 33-14 final.

Of course, the Baltimore defense hasn’t been the dominating unit this year that it was for more than a decade, but the Ravens were able to create pressure and force Manning into mistakes in the second half as the Denver quarterback turned the ball over three times in defeat. Instead of their simple “bend, but don’t break” performance, the defense made countless big plays in the second half to keep Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense within striking distance.

“It’s not like you beat this team 50-0,” Brady said at a press conference on Wednesday. “It’s always a tight game, there’s tight coverage, there’s tight throws, there’s tough reads, because schematically they do quite a few things.”

The discussion last week centered around the countless chess matches between Lewis and Manning, but the Ravens’ battles against Brady have been just as compelling. New England won’t hesitate to use the no-huddle offense and quick snaps on occasion to catch the Ravens on their heels, especially after Baltimore played a total of 174 plays and 77:38 on defense over the last two weeks.

The Ravens take pride in disguising their schemes and changing up coverages, the latest example coming on Denver’s final offensive play when cornerback Corey Graham and Lewis flipped coverage on wide receiver Brandon Stokley and baited Manning into throwing a critical interception. However, New England will try to use similar tactics in hopes of creating a mismatch with its wide array of offensive weapons.

“They switch it up. When they make plays, they hurry up to the line, and they speed the game up on guys,” Graham said. “If you’re not ready, if you’re not prepared for it, it will catch you off guard. They have been catching a lot of guys off guard, a lot of guys not set up and prepared for the play.”

Even when the correct matchups are identified, defensive backs and linebackers must play disciplined as Brady will try to look off receivers and make defenders pay for the softer coverage they typically employ to prevent the big play. The Patriots also won’t hesitate to go against the grain such as when they sent backup Shane Vereen deep on a 33-yard touchdown out of the backfield against the Texans.

The Ravens’ best chance in slowing Brady is to make him uncomfortable in the pocket like they did to Manning in the second half in Denver, but even then, the task in the secondary is daunting against the likes of Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez in the short-to-intermediate portion of the field — an area in which the pass defense has been vulnerable all year. In many cases, the ball simply comes out too quickly to get to the veteran signal-caller when he employs three-step drops.

“We have to have great eyes. We can’t stare him down in the secondary,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We have to be on our men. They have great receivers and running backs. We have to go out there and play our game.”

Unlike past seasons when playing the Patriots, the Ravens must also account for the New England running game as starter Stevan Ridley rushed for 1,263 yards this season. The offense is one-dimensional as it’s been in the past when you could simply count on Brady to throw it 50 times with an ineffective rush offense behind him.

The Ravens were clearly content in keeping plays in front of them against the Broncos, evident by using Reed and Pollard in two-deep coverage for much of the game, but it will be interesting to see what defensive coordinator Dean Pees dials up against New England. Brady attempted only 19 passes that traveled more than 30 yards in the air all season and lacks the deep threats that the Broncos possessed in both Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, but the Patriots are never afraid to change things up.

Baltimore is in store for another chess match, again playing one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the game. And while the Ravens have been described as a team on a mission, there’s no arguing that the Patriots are motivated to not only get back to the Super Bowl but to finish the job after last year’s narrow loss.

Even though the Ravens beat the Patriots in the postseason three years ago and were one end-zone catch away from doing it again last season, they also know Brady is 5-1 in conference title games. As was the case last week, it won’t be easy to survive and advance for the underdog Ravens.

“That does not scare us,” Pollard said. “We’re going to go out, and we want to outhit you and outplay you and we want to go to the Super Bowl.”

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Ravens embracing opportunity for second chance in New England

Posted on 14 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — In the moments following the improbable 38-35 double overtime win over the Denver Broncos Saturday night, running back Ray Rice labeled the Ravens “a team of destiny.”

So, why wouldn’t the New England Patriots once again be standing in the way of Baltimore’s first trip to the Super Bowl since Jan. 2001? If you believe in such storybook treks, defeating the Indianapolis Colts and toppling Peyton Manning for the first time since 2001 were appropriate opening chapters, but a return trip to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough would be the ultimate climax.

The painful ending to last season’s AFC Championship was one that drove the Ravens throughout the offseason as they desperately worked — and hoped — to land themselves back in the same position. Even after a Week 3 win over New England in Baltimore earlier this season, another meeting with Tom Brady, Bill Belichick, and the Patriots was impossible not to think about in many Ravens players’ minds.

“I think we personally kind of wanted to play the Patriots again,” defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. “If we were to go to the Super Bowl, it would be great to go through Foxborough and win there. It’s another matchup that I think that we’re excited about, and hopefully, we can get it done this time.”

Meeting in the postseason for the third time in five seasons, the Ravens and Patriots have built a rivalry similar to the one between New England and Indianapolis last decade as it seemed Brady and Manning were always on a collision course in January. The teams have met five times overall in the John Harbaugh era with all but one game — the Ravens’ 33-14 victory in the wild-card round of the 2009 season — being decided by fewer than seven points.

While games with New England may not challenge the annual meetings with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Harbaugh acknowledged how familiar the Ravens are with the Patriots and how familiar they are with playing in Foxborough.

“We’ve been there a number of times. It’s definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t know how they feel about that part, but we have tremendous respect for the New England Patriots.”

The Patriots own the advantage as they’ve won three of the five meetings between the teams since 2009, with no win bigger than last year’s 23-20 final that gave them the AFC title after the late failures of Lee Evans and Billy Cundiff.

As remarkable as their postseason run has been after losing four of their last five games to close the regular season, the Ravens know who stands in their way of achieving their ultimate goal, and they understand they will once again be considered a significant underdog as oddsmakers have favored New England by 9 1/2 points.

“They have the history,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “They have been there, and we want to get to where they have been. They were there last year. They knocked us out, and we want to get to that point, get this win, and get to the Super Bowl.”

As was the case last week, Ravens players expressed no interest in what the outside world thinks about their team, but they embraced the opportunity for a second chance to right the wrongs left on the field in Foxborough last season. And as the images of Evans’ drop and Cundiff’s miss are replayed all week, Baltimore is ready to turn the page for a different ending this time around.

“The feeling that we had in that locker room, I think we all wanted to get back to the AFC Championship,” Ngata said. “And then to actually have it be back in Foxborough, it’s a good story.”

Ayanbadejo apologizes for Patriots comments

After posting a series of critical comments about the Patriots on his official Twitter account Sunday evening, linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo backed off his stance Monday as many were critical of the veteran special-teams player for conjuring bulletin-board material before New England had even officially advanced to the conference championship.

The 36-year-old apologized for drawing negative attention to himself and the Ravens six days ahead of the AFC title game.

“I made selfish comments on twitter last night that reflected poorly upon myself, my teammates, and the organization,” Ayanbadejo tweeted Monday morning. “For that I apologize.”

It remains unclear how Harbaugh handled the situation at the team’s training facility in Owings Mills, but the Baltimore coach had little interest in discussing Ayanbadejo’s comments when asked to respond during his Monday afternoon press conference.

“That’s all stuff that just isn’t really relevant,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all stuff that I don’t think is worthy of the conversation right now.”

Ayanbadejo didn’t play any defensive snaps in Saturday’s win and was part of the coverage units that allowed two return touchdowns to Denver’s Trindon Holliday.

Earlier Monday, he didn’t receive much of an endorsement from his defensive teammate Ngata when the four-time Pro Bowl selection was asked whether he agreed with the linebacker’s assessment of the Patriots’ hurry-up offense.

“I’m not going to comment on that stuff,” Ngata said. “That’s all about him and his deal.”

Jones, Graham special contributors


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Dickson, Ellerbe, Graham, J. Jones sit out Wednesday’s practice

Posted on 28 November 2012 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With a chance to clinch the AFC North division title against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the Ravens hit the practice field on Wednesday with four key players missing from action.

Tight end Ed Dickson, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Corey Graham, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones did not practice in the first full workout of the week while five other players practiced on a limited basis.

Dickson and Ellerbe are considered to be the biggest concerns in terms of their availability for Sunday’s game as the starting tight end is dealing with a knee injury while the inside linebacker suffered an ankle injury in the 16-13 win over the San Diego Chargers. Coach John Harbaugh said Monday he expected each player to be very limited in practices this week with the thought that they would both have a chance to play against the Steelers.

“I feel pretty good,” Dickson said prior to missing Wednesday’s practice. “I’m as far along as I can be on a Wednesday, and I want to continue to rehab it and get ready.”

Graham was listed as missing Wednesday’s practice with an illness while Jones rested the sore ankle that was re-aggravated during Sunday’s win.

Cornerback Chris Johnson, defensive end Pernell McPhee, and safeties Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed were all limited participants.

Harbaugh confirmed that linebacker Ray Lewis was in the building rehabbing on Wednesday, which is something he’d done away from the facility prior to this point, but did not practice. The 37-year-old linebacker is eligible to return to the practice field on Thursday, but the Baltimore coach gave no indication when he would begin working with the rest of the team.

“We’ll just play it day by day as far as whether he practices or not,” Harbaugh said. “He is not imminent to return to play or anything like that, so to me it’s really a non-story. He’ll go out there when he’s ready to practice when the elbow holds up, and when that happens, we’ll let you know.”

For Pittsburgh, quarterback Ben Roethlisbeger practiced on a limited basis as most media reports are giving him no more than a 50 percent chance of playing against the Ravens on Sunday. Head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday the plan is to prepare as if backup Charlie Batch will start this week while Roethlisberger tests out his injured right shoulder in practices.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley was absent from Wednesday’s practice and is considered doubtful after sustaining an ankle injury in the Steelers loss in Cleveland.

The Steelers received good news, however, with the returns of wide receiver Antonio Brown and safety Troy Polamalu, who are both expected to play in Baltimore if they don’t suffer any setbacks.

OUT: CB Jimmy Smith (abs)
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Ed Dickson (knee), LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle, knee, finger), CB Corey Graham (illness), WR Jacoby Jones (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: CB Chris Johnson (thigh), DE Pernell McPhee (thigh), S Bernard Pollard (chest), S Ed Reed (shoulder), WR Torrey Smith (thigh)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Anquan Boldin (knee), DT Terrence Cody (elbow), TE Dennis Pitta (neck), LB Terrell Suggs (ankle)

DID NOT PARTICIPATE: T Mike Adams (ankle), T Willie Colon (knee), QB Byron Leftwich (ribs), T Max Starks (back), LB LaMarr Woodley (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Jerricho Cotchery (ribs), QB Ben Roethlishberger (right shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: WR Antonio Brown (ankle), S Troy Polamalu (calf)

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Rice’s miracle play grabs headline, but Ravens defense made comeback possible

Posted on 25 November 2012 by Luke Jones

Ray Rice’s miraculous catch and run on fourth-and-29 will go down as one of the greatest regular-season plays in the 17-year history of the Ravens and will be remembered in the years to come.

A late awakening by quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense completed an improbable 16-13 comeback victory over the San Diego Chargers and pushed the Ravens to 9-2, matching their best start in franchise history.

But none of it would have been possible if not for the stout performance of an undermanned, banged-up Baltimore defense at Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday. As much grief as he received early in the season, first-year defensive coordinator Dean Pees deserves a pat on the back after the last two weeks in which the Ravens have held opponents to a combined 23 points in two road victories.

The injuries are well-documented and the struggles have been scrutinized throughout the season, but the defense came to play in what appeared to be a difficult matchup against a Chargers attack that’s struggled all season but still possesses the weapons to be dangerous on any given Sunday. The Ravens held San Diego to 13 points, surrendered 280 yards, and sacked quarterback Philip Rivers a season-high six times in their most impressive defensive performance of the year.

San Diego was just 3-for-15 on third down and 0-for-1 in the red zone as the Ravens continued an incredible streak of four straight games without allowing a red-zone touchdown. Baltimore has kept opponents out of the end zone in their last 10 trips inside the 20-yard line.

The numbers barely make you blink in the context of what’s been one of the greatest defenses in the NFL for more than a decade, but a simple look around the field reminds you just how impressive the group has been recently. A 10-point effort against Pittsburgh was brushed off because backup Byron Leftwich was at the helm for the Steelers, but to hold Rivers and the Chargers to 13 points in nearly 75 minutes of play Sunday is worthy of recognition.

That is, if you can recognize who’s making the plays. By no means have they become a no-name defense — Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ed Reed are still on the field, even if less than 100 percent in each case — but the Ravens continued to receive contributions from unlikely sources.

Replacing inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who left the game with an ankle injury, 36-year-old special-teams standout Brendon Ayanbadejo was a factor in pass coverage, making four tackles and defending a pass in extensive action. Filling in for the man who was already replacing the injured Ray Lewis and has arguably been the Ravens’ best defender this season, Ayanbadejo made several key tackles in the second half to help stall San Diego drives.

Another special-teams player, cornerback Corey Graham, continued his strong play in the secondary by making five tackles and defending two passes as he continues to fill in effectively for the injured Jimmy Smith. He and Cary Williams held up well against taller wide receivers Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander in what looked like a mismatch on paper heading into Sunday’s game.

More impressive than anyone, however, was third-year defensive end Arthur Jones, who collected the first two sacks of his career and added another tackle for a loss as he manhandled the Chargers up front. Largely considered a disappointment in increased action this season, Jones has played his best games of the season the last two weeks, making the extended absence of Pernell McPhee little more than an afterthought at this point.

The key to the defensive prosperity on Sunday was the Ravens’ pass rush as Suggs, Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, and rookie Courtney Upshaw collected sacks in addition to the two secured by Jones. Baltimore took advantage of a poor San Diego offensive line and made Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket, allowing the secondary to tighten its coverage.

Aside from a lone drive for a field goal surrendered in the game’s final 41 minutes, the defense was exceptional, forcing four three-and-outs in the second half and keeping the Baltimore offense within striking distance when it finally awoke from its game-long slumber midway through the fourth quarter.

The numbers won’t blow you away and the defensive stars aren’t playing at the same level they did in the past, but Pees has seemingly cracked the code to repair the crisis this defense was facing during its bye week. In the four games played since the break, the Ravens have allowed a total of 58 points after giving up 43 alone against Houston on Oct. 21.

Maybe it was Pees’ decision to move upstairs to the coaches’ booth. Perhaps unheralded players are finally living up to the mantra of “next man up” that’s constantly uttered in the Ravens locker room.

Whatever the case, the defense is figuring it out and it makes the 9-2 Ravens that much more dangerous down the stretch — even with their many flaws that will once again be discussed this week.

It’s not the Ravens’ dominating defense of old, but the unit saved the day on Sunday.

Even if the late-game heroics of Rice and the offense will be what everyone remembers.

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Ravens CB Smith out indefinitely after undergoing groin surgery

Posted on 15 November 2012 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 2:55 p.m.)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ depth at cornerback took another serious hit Thursday after the announcement that 2011 first-round pick Jimmy Smith has undergone groin surgery in Philadelphia.

Smith sat out Sunday’s win over the Oakland Raiders after he was unable to loosen up the injured groin during pre-game activities. The 24-year-old was listed as active but was unable to play, prompting coach John Harbaugh to express concern following the game about the need to reevaluate the defensive back earlier this week.

The Ravens say they expect Smith to return before the end of the season.

“That’s a tough loss obviously,” veteran cornerback Corey Graham said. “Jimmy makes a lot of plays for us. He’s been playing here all this year and last year also. It’s big for us, but other guys have to step up. You’ve just got to go out there and make plays and find a way to get it done.”

Smith had replaced top cornerback Lardarius Webb in the starting lineup after the latter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on Oct. 14, the same day on which Smith first tweaked his groin. The cornerback had been limited in some practices, but he had never appeared to be in danger of not playing prior to sitting out in Week 10.

Graham is expected to assume starting duties after he played in Smith’s place in the 55-20 win over the Raiders. Second-year cornerback Chykie Brown played in the nickel package as Graham slid inside to cover the slot receiver.

“We’ve got to get the next guy ready and just get ready to go,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “I have a lot of confidence in them. They played OK. There were some plays they made and some plays they didn’t make. I think both of them are improving every day, and we’ve got to do a good job of putting them in the right spot.”

To boost their depth in the secondary, the Ravens signed former Oakland cornerback Chris Johnson earlier this week.

The 33-year-old is being brought up to speed quickly and could see action as early as this Sunday despite not even going to training camp with an NFL team this summer. Johnson made 29 starts and recorded eight interceptions for the Raiders from 2007 through last season.

It would be quite a set of circumstances for a debut with the Ravens facing their biggest rival at Heinz Field.

“I’m still catching up myself, but coaches and some of the players have shown me how to do it and what this rivalry is about,” the speedy cornerback said. “They say there’s nothing like Pittsburgh-Baltimore.”

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