Tag Archive | "Dennis Pitta"

Uncertainty surrounds tight end position for Ravens this offseason

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Uncertainty surrounds tight end position for Ravens this offseason

Posted on 28 January 2015 by Luke Jones

Perhaps it’s fitting that the Ravens hired a relative unknown to become their new tight ends coach with so much uncertainty surrounding the position this offseason.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday that former NFL tight end and 2014 coaching intern Richard Angulo was being promoted to oversee a position that could look very different for the Ravens next season. With Owen Daniels an unrestricted free agent and Dennis Pitta’s future still unclear, only 2014 third-round pick Crockett Gillmore is a sure bet to be in the mix next season.

Gillmore is looking forward to working with Angulo after both men were new to the Ravens this past season. Handling offensive quality control duties under former coordinator Gary Kubiak, Angulo worked two seasons as the offensive line and strength and conditioning coach at Trinity International University before coming to Baltimore in 2014. The 6-foot-8 Angulo made 17 catches for 155 yards and a touchdown in a six-year career with stops at St. Louis, Minnesota, Chicago, Jacksonville, and Cleveland.

“He helped me out a lot last year,” Gillmore told WNST.net on Super Bowl Radio Row in Phoenix. “He’d come in and we’d work on some little things, but he’s done a really good job throughout my [learning] process. He’s a player. He’s been around the league, so he has that insight. It’s really pretty much a fresh start for us. He was around, but he had other duties. Now that he can just focus on this, I’m really excited to see what he can do.”

With new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman bringing former Chicago Bears tight ends coach Andy Bischoff with him to Baltimore, many assumed he would have the same title in Baltimore, but Harbaugh hasn’t shied away from hiring younger position coaches after hiring running backs coach Thomas Hammock and wide receivers coach Bobby Engram from the collegiate ranks last year. Bischoff will instead be an offensive quality control coach with Angulo coaching the tight ends.

Angulo will hope to have some veteran experience to work with as the Ravens would like to re-sign Daniels at the right price. After Pitta was limited to just three games before suffering a second devastating right hip injury in a 14-month period, the 32-year-old Daniels caught 48 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns.

Harbaugh has expressed cautious optimism regarding the football future of Pitta whenever asked for updates over the last couple months, but the eighth-year coach declined to offer specifics last week about the results of the tight end’s recent meeting with specialists.

“I did get kind of an overview of that report from our trainer that I wouldn’t really want to share until Dennis has had a chance to kind of consider all of the ramifications of it,” Harbaugh said. “But I think we’ll have something on that in a couple of weeks, kind of on Dennis’ time frame. We’ll see where that goes.”

For now, Gillmore is the surest thing on the roster despite only making 10 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown in the regular season. However, the Colorado State product became a bigger part of the offense as the season progressed and caught six passes for 98 yards over the final five games of the season counting the playoffs.

A year ago at this time, Gillmore was just coming off playing in the Senior Bowl and in the midst of the draft process. Now, he’s glad to be an NFL player attending the Super Bowl on Sunday before diving into his first full offseason.

“I know there’s a lot to work on. Nobody’s perfect, but I feel really good about the season I’m coming off of,” Gillmore said. “I did what I wanted to do as far as getting on the field and making an impact in the passing and running games and special teams. I want to continue to build on all three aspects.”

The Ravens will likely take a look at the draft as well as free agency if Daniels departs via free agency, but they’re hoping Gillmore’s late-season improvement is a sign of more to come from a tight end who has admitted to having more of a blocking mentality than that of a pass-catcher.

Catching both of his touchdowns — one in the wild-card round — against the Pittsburgh Steelers was a good start in helping his popularity in Baltimore.

“I like that. I like spiking it into the stands,” said Gillmore as he smiled. “I like scoring on Pittsburgh. I like beating Pittsburgh.”

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Ravens “cautiously optimistic” about Pitta returning next year

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Ravens “cautiously optimistic” about Pitta returning next year

Posted on 13 January 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens head coach John Harbaugh remains hopeful that tight end Dennis Pitta will be able to resume his NFL career after suffering two serious hip injuries in the last two seasons.

Harbaugh had no new information about the future of the 29-year-old, who was lost for the season after dislocating and fracturing his right hip for the second time in 14 months in a game against the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 21. Pitta signed a five-year, $32 million last winter that includes a $4 million guaranteed salary for the 2015 season, meaning there is virtually no chance that Baltimore would consider cutting him this offseason.

“I will say that I’m cautiously optimistic because of the injury,” Harbaugh said. “I think all of us would [say], “OK, is this going to be good?’ We want to make sure he’s going to be totally healthy, totally safe — as much as is reasonable in football — to make make sure that hip is sound and everything before our doctors would ever clear him. In the end, it will be up to the doctors and Dennis to determine that.”

Pitta has expressed a clear desire to continue his playing career after being limited to just seven games in the last two seasons. The 2010 fourth-round pick was emerging as one of the better tight ends in the NFL before suffering the first hip injury on July 27.

A vigorous rehab and the timing of the injury allowed Pitta to return for the final month of the 2013 season, but the second injury led to a slower rehabilitation process in hopes of giving the hip proper time to heal and get stronger. Many have wondered whether Pitta should play again after twice suffering an injury considered so rare in football.

Harbaugh said he spoke to Pitta on Tuesday as the tight end hopes to receive an update on his hip later in the coming days.

“He’s going to see a couple specialists this week, so I’m kind of looking forward to seeing what they say,” Harbaugh said. “But he’s working out today, so that seemed to be positive to me.”

In 50 career games in Baltimore, Pitta has made 138 receptions for 1,369 yards and 11 touchdowns as one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets.

Corners on mend

In addition to having five cornerbacks on injured reserve during the 2014 season, Harbaugh revealed Tuesday that Rashaan Melvin will undergo shoulder surgery that will keep him sidelined until organized team activities in the spring.

The former Miami Dolphins practice squad member started the final three games of the regular season and both postseason games and had played well before being torched by the Patriots for two touchdowns in Saturday’s playoff loss. However, the 6-foot-2 Melvin is regarded as an intriguing option as a depth cornerback for next season.

“If everything goes well, he should be back for OTAs and for minicamp,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t think we had any other surgeries at this time after the [magnetic resonance imaging exams] came in, so that’s good news. It’s the best we’ve probably been.”

Harbaugh revealed encouraging news about the status of No. 1 cornerback Jimmy Smith, who suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury in late October. Smith remains in a walking boot, but it appears that he’ll be ready to go in plenty of time for spring workouts.

Smith is in line to make $6.898 million for the fifth-year option the Ravens exercised on his rookie contract.

“Jimmy will actually go into the offseason healthy,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll be running here in a couple weeks, so he’ll get a chance to get a full offseason in. Maybe four weeks might be the number off the top of my head. It’s pretty encouraging that way.”

Harbaugh, Ravens staff heading to Arizona

Harbaugh confirmed that he and his staff will coach one of the Pro Bowl teams opposed by the Dallas Cowboys staff in Arizona on Jan. 25.

The Denver Broncos staff was originally supposed to be the AFC representative before head coach John Fox parted ways with the organization on Monday, opening the door for the Ravens to receive the invitation. Harbaugh sees it as a fun event while also taking advantage of the opportunity to get to know other players, which could pay off at some point down the road.

“We get to coach a little bit more, which is nice,” said Harbaugh, who added that the Pro Bowl practices would be brief. “I mentioned a few times regarding Steve Smith and other players  — you get to know guys. I got to know Steve really well way back at his first Pro Bowl. That’s always a fun part of it in getting to know some of the players around the league.”

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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

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Ravens secondary still waiting on Webb to get up to game speed

Posted on 25 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — After much anticipation for the 2014 debut of Lardarius Webb last Sunday, the Ravens only needed to see Andrew Hawkins easily shake free from the veteran cornerback to realize the time wasn’t yet right.

The shifty receiver completely turned around Webb on a simple out route that went for 24 yards on the opening drive of the third quarter to put Cleveland in Baltimore territory, and it all but ended Webb’s day as he played only four defensive snaps in the eventual 23-21 win for the Ravens. Three weeks of full participation in practice hadn’t compensated for Webb missing nearly all of training camp after being sidelined with back spasms on July 25. Since returning to practice at the end of August, Webb has needed to knock off rust and improve his flexibility in bending for the critically-important backpedal that all cornerbacks need.

“We found out really quick,” said defensive coordinator Dean Pees about Webb’s performance in Cleveland. “And I had a great talk with him on Monday, and he understands. When I saw it [coaching] in the press box, I said, ‘He’s not there yet.’ And game speed is faster than practice speed. There’s no way to simulate it. But he has to keep practicing, and he has to feel very confident that he can do it. That’s half the battle playing the back end; you better feel confident that you can do it.”

The secondary has struggled without a healthy and effective Webb as the Ravens’ pass defense is ranked 24th in the NFL and is allowing 262.3 passing yards per game. The combination of Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown hasn’t inspired confidence when either has played opposite Jimmy Smith in the base defense, and the Ravens haven’t received good play at safety where Matt Elam and Darian Stewart have struggled.

Webb hasn’t been listed on the injury report this week as the Ravens prepare for Sunday’s meeting against the Carolina Panthers, which suggests he could see an expanded role from what we saw in Cleveland. The 6-foot-2 Smith is likely to match up with 6-foot-5 rookie Kelvin Benjamin — who leads the Panthers with 19 catches for 253 yards — but the rest of the Panthers’ group of wide receivers doesn’t inspire fear beyond tight end Greg Olsen, who has caught 16 passes for 224 yards through three games.

Pees has tinkered with various alignments in the back end of the defense including the use of Elam as a slot corner, which reflects how little depth the Ravens have had at the cornerback position. A healthy Webb, who is at his best playing inside in the nickel package, would give Pees some flexibility to show different looks since Jackson is also capable of playing the nickel position. However, the Ravens need to finally see a version of Webb ready to play 60 to 70 snaps per game at a high level before making any decisions about the makeup of the secondary.

“We would be fortunate if we had both those guys, because each one of them could play [inside],” Pees said. “The other guy would go outside. We have to make that determination once he’s back.”

Even with Webb’s absence taken into account, Pees isn’t pleased with how his pass defense has performed, even acknowledging Thursday that he needs to do a better job of mixing coverages and pressures as the Ravens have relied heavily on a mostly-ineffective four-man rush and soft zone coverage through the first three weeks of the season.

Elam and others pointed to miscommunication being a problem after Sunday’s game as Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer threw for nearly 300 yards last Sunday, but Pees bristled at the suggestion, perhaps implying that he wants to see defensive backs take more accountability for mishaps. The signature play of the secondary’s problems came in the fourth quarter when Elam was beaten by Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel for a 70-yard reception that included the second-year safety looking back at Jackson instead of touching the wideout down before he got up from the ground to gain extra yardage.

“‘Miscommunication’ would not be one of the words I would have used,” said Pees in evaluating the pass defense. “I would have said very poor technique in the back end. There are a couple of them [where] there wasn’t any communication [needed]. Just line up and play and play your position. We were beat on a three-deep coverage that I don’t know what communication is there other than, ‘Get your [butt] deep.’”

Three-headed monster

The Ravens have a three-headed monster shaping up at the running back position that they haven’t enjoyed since 2008 when Le’Ron McClain, Willis McGahee, and Ray Rice combined to rush for 2,027 yards in John Harbaugh’s first year as head coach.

Justin Forsett, Bernard Pierce, and Lorenzo Taliaferro have all made major contributions to the league’s eighth-ranked rushing attack in the wake of Rice’s release, so it isn’t easy predicting who will receive the biggest workload moving forward. Pierce practiced fully on Wednesday and Thursday, but the Ravens continue to monitor his improvement from a quadriceps injury that sidelined him for last Sunday’s game.

Taliaferro’s 91-yard game in Cleveland has led many to conclude he should be the starter moving forward, but the Ravens have maintained all along that they’ll go with the hot hand in the backfield. And they figure to have another good opportunity Sunday with the Carolina defense allowing 145.3 yards per game on the ground.

“I still go out there just as I did since I got here,” Taliaferro said. “Just make sure I do my job and compete. Even though it’s during the season and not so much of camp now, we’re still competing not just for each other’s job, but to make each other better.”

A rush-by-committee approach is nothing new for offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who guided a number of rushing attacks years ago in Denver where unknown names such as Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary would suddenly emerge as 1,000-yard backs.

Pierce and Taliaferro bring more power and physicality in their rushing style while Forsett is more of a change of pace on third down, but Kubiak also pointed out other differences such as ability to pass protect and the special-teams contributions made by Forsett and Taliaferro that factor into the overall distribution of playing time.

“Lorenzo and Justin are three-down players that play in pass-protection situations, nickel situations, and those types of things,” Kubiak said. “That’s where Bernard needs to keep coming as a player, in my opinion, but he’s working at it and doing that.”

Of course, the biggest reason for the dramatic improvement of the Ravens’ running game has been the offensive line where running lanes have been created consistently unlike last season when the running game averaged only 3.1 yards per carry.

And their strong performance makes the debate over who will carry the ball less significant.

“I think we’re really confident in our running game, and I definitely think that starts with our offensive line,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “They have done a great job in this system, and they really lead the way. And I think you can see that [because] we had three different backs all have big days.”

Replacing Pitta

The offseason arrivals of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels have eased the season-ending loss of Dennis Pitta a bit, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be growing pains within the Baltimore offense.

Of course, the Ravens are more equipped to handle Pitta’s hip injury than they were a year ago, but they will still depend on Daniels and rookie Crockett Gillmore to pick up the slack for one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets. Phillip Supernaw was promoted from the practice squad to take Pitta’s place on the 53-man roster, but it remains to be seen what kind of role he can carve out for himself beyond special teams.

“It does make you stop in some of your preparation,” Kubiak said. “‘What happens in the game if this guy goes down? Now what do I go to? What personnel [groups] do I want to be in?’ Those are some things that you have to look at a little bit differently when you have these types of things happen.”

Juszczyk is another option who could see some more opportunities as the fullback has the ability to line up at tight end. He caught three passes for 54 yards and his first touchdown against the Browns last Sunday.

His emergence in the short passing game would be a welcome addition with Pitta no longer an option.

“I don’t think my role will change too much,” Juszczyk said. “I think I’ll be doing a lot of the same stuff I’ve been doing, but maybe more of it.”

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Ravens promote tight end Supernaw to 53-man roster

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Ravens promote tight end Supernaw to 53-man roster

Posted on 23 September 2014 by Luke Jones

The Ravens promoted tight end Phillip Supernaw from the practice squad to the 53-man roster after placing Dennis Pitta on season-ending injured reserve on Tuesday.

Supernaw was signed by the Ravens in the spring after spending two years in Houston under Gary Kubiak. The 24-year-old was primarily a member of the Texans’ practice squad, but he did appear in one game last season. Supernaw was cut from the roster at the end of the preaseason before being signed to the practices squad.

With Pitta out for the season after dislocating his right hip for the second time in 14 months on Sunday, veteran Owen Daniels and rookie Crockett Gillmore move up the depth chart with Supernaw becoming the No. 3 tight end. The Ouachita Baptist product’s familiarity with Kubiak’s system made him preferable over a number of tight ends the Ravens reportedly tried out on Tuesday.

To fill Supernaw’s spot on the practice squad, the Ravens signed tight end Emmanuel Ogbuehi. Undrafted out of Georgia State in 2013, Ogbuehi has spent time with Washington, Miami, and Cleveland and was most recently on the Browns’ practice squad earlier this month.

The Ravens also re-signed wide receiver Deonte Thompson and waived running back Fitz Toussaint earlier on Tuesday.

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

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Pitta out for 2014 season after undergoing hip surgery in Cleveland

Posted on 22 September 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ worst fear became reality Monday as tight end Dennis Pitta underwent surgery on his dislocated right hip and will miss the remainder of the season.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the news a day after Pitta injured his hip for the second time in 14 months, leaving many to ponder his future after he was injured while trying to turn up field while catching a simple short pass in the second quarter of the Ravens’ 23-21 win over the Browns. Pitta remained hospitalized in a Cleveland hospital overnight before undergoing the surgical procedure Monday afternoon.

“We do not have the results of the surgery, specifically, yet,” Harbaugh said. “We do know that he’s going to be done for the season.”

Pitta’s absence now leaves the Ravens to rely more heavily on veteran Owen Daniels, rookie Crockett Gillmore, and second-year fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who has the versatility to line up at the tight end position and caught three passes for 54 yards on Sunday. Harbaugh acknowledged that the organization will be looking to add another tight end, but it remains unclear whether the Ravens will promote Phillip Supernaw from the practice squad.

The disappointing news for Pitta comes so soon after a rigorous four-month rehab last year that allowed him to return for the final four games of the regular season after initially injuring his hip on July 27, 2013. Some medical experts have offered opinions that Pitta’s career could be over after suffering a second traumatic injury to the same hip.

For now, the Ravens will await the initial results and hope there wasn’t significant damage to the hip area beyond the dislocation and a likely fracture. The first injury did not damage any ligaments or cartilage, which helped facilitate a quicker return, but medical experts will surely look at the structure of his hip with even more scrutiny this time.

“I don’t know the ramifications of that long term,” Harbaugh said. “The specialists will probably give us some information on that, so I really don’t know. I’m going to be really hopeful for Dennis’ return, and I’m sure we’ll learn about that in the coming weeks.”

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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-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

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Ravens-Steelers: Five predictions for Thursday night

Posted on 11 September 2014 by Luke Jones

All eyes will be on Baltimore as the Ravens welcome the hated Pittsburgh Steelers to M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.

However, few outside Baltimore and Pittsburgh are thinking about the game itself as the Ravens continue to deal with the fallout stemming from the release of the second Ray Rice video and the subsequent decision to terminate the running back’s contract Monday afternoon. This meeting is normally regarded as one of the best rivalries in the NFL, but you’d have to think long and hard to find another example of a Ravens-Steelers game with so little buzz surrounding the actual play on the field.

But that doesn’t make it any less important for the Ravens as they try to avoid what would be a very disheartening 0-2 start in the AFC North. According to NFL Network research, no team in NFL history has ever made the postseason after dropping two straight divisional home games to begin a season, making Thursday’s game as close to a “must-win” affair as you can have in Week 2.

Head coach John Harbaugh has earned a reputation for rallying his teams to play at their best when dealing with adversity, but the Ravens have never dealt with a situation quite like this, making you wonder how mentally and emotionally fresh they’ll be on what was already a short week.

Thursday marks the 37th time these AFC North rivals have met in the regular season with Pittsburgh holding a 20-16 advantage. The Ravens are 9-9 against the Steelers in Baltimore and have won two of the last three played at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to even their record at 1-1 and bounce back from their disappointing season-opening loss to Cincinnati …

1. Running back Bernard Pierce will lead the Ravens in carries and pick up 70 yards with a touchdown. It was easy for Harbaugh to send a message to Pierce after his fumble late in the second quarter last week when he was still working under the assumption that Rice would be returning for Week 3, but the Ravens now need Pierce to be a large part of what they do with their running game all season. Veteran Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro will get their opportunities — the former was very good in pass protection last week in addition to running for 70 yards — as Harbaugh says he will go with the hot hand moving forward, but Pierce still gives the Ravens the best chance to have a successful running game in the short-term future and is a good fit on paper for Gary Kubiak’s one-cut zone stretch scheme.

2. Outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil will take turns exploiting the tackles on the Pittsburgh line to record a combined three sacks. Suggs may have provided more of an impact than the completely-invisible Dumervil did against the Bengals, but neither were able to disrupt the timing of Andy Dalton, something that can’t be repeated against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As always, the pass rush needs to be careful not to simply chase Roethlisberger from the pocket where he’s at his best improvising down the field, but more help needs to be provided to a secondary that should have cornerback Lardarius Webb available. Steelers tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert are weak links on the offensive line, giving Suggs and Dumervil no excuse not to feast on Thursday night.

3. Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell will pick up where Cincinnati’s Giovani Bernard left off, registering 120 total yards and a touchdown while giving the Ravens problems as a receiver out of the backfield. Though much bigger than the shifty Bernard, Bell caught 45 passes for 399 yards out of the backfield in 13 games as a rookie and added six receptions for 88 yards against the Browns in Week 1. The Ravens struggled against screens and underneath throws while protecting against the deep ball last week, so Pittsburgh will test them again with those types of plays until Baltimore shows it can stop them. And with Pittsburgh being another team that likes using the no-huddle offense, you do wonder if a bigger back like Bell will start to wear down an old front seven as the game progresses.

4. The Ravens will use more up-tempo offense and quarterback Joe Flacco will go to tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels early in this one. Just as the Steelers undoubtedly saw how the Ravens defense struggled to defend screens and other underneath throws, Kubiak had to take notice of the Browns’ success using the no-huddle attack against Pittsburgh in the second half and should use that to his advantage in hopes of getting Flacco going early. You’d never know it from the final numbers when he targeted Pitta and Daniels a combined 20 times, but Flacco threw to the tight-end duo only once before the final drive of the first half. Ravens wide receivers cannot have a case of the drops like they did last week, but look for Flacco to throw more short stuff to Pitta, Daniels, and Kyle Juszczyk to get into an earlier rhythm before taking some longer shots down the field.

5. It will be close with Pittsburgh as it always is, but the home-field edge gives the Ravens just enough to pull out a 24-21 win that they really need. Only four of the 14 Ravens-Steelers games in the Harbaugh era have been decided by more than three points and the last five meetings have all been determined by three or fewer. The Ravens have dealt with plenty of distractions away from the field this week, but they know they cannot afford to fall to 0-2 with both games against AFC North foes. The best teams are able to rise to the occasion and come together under trying circumstances like these while lesser teams fold and begin looking for excuses. You get the sense that Thursday night will tell us a lot about who the Ravens are as a football team in 2014 — good or bad.

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Live From Owings Mills: CB Jackson remains out of practice Wednesday

Posted on 13 August 2014 by Glenn Clark

OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens returned to the practice fields at their 1 Winning Drive facility Wednesday, the penultimate open session of their 2014 Training Camp.

Two injured Ravens returned to the practice field following Tuesday’s day off. OL Ryan Jensen (leg) and S Brynden Trawick (back) were both back on the practice field-both had been out since Saturday. Additionally, TE Dennis Pitta (ankle) was on the practice field again after missing Sunday’s session and being limited in Monday’s activities.

CB Asa Jackson missed a third straight day of practice Wednesday dealing with an ankle injury, continuing to deplete a unit that is already missing Lardarius Webb (back). Webb is not expected to return until at least the end of the preseason. OL Will Rackley was not participating in Wednesday’s practice-he continues to work his way back from a concussion suffered at the start of Training Camp. DL Terrence Cody remains on the active Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list as he recovers from offseason hip surgery.

TE Owen Daniels was not present for the session Wednesday either, offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak confirmed after the session there was no injury issue-the veteran had just received a day off.

Defensive Linemen Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles) and Brent Urban (knee) remain on the roster but are both expected to miss the entire 2014 season.

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Pitta slowed by ankle sprain as Ravens, 49ers practice for final time

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Pitta slowed by ankle sprain as Ravens, 49ers practice for final time

Posted on 11 August 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens concluded their final day of practice with the San Francisco 49ers while tight end Dennis Pitta continued to be limited with a minor injury.

The starting tight end missed Sunday’s workout with what was originally described as a “tweak” by head coach John Harbaugh before suiting up for Monday morning’s practice. Pitta did not do much of anything during the 2 1/2 hour practice and appeared to be limping as he watched from the sideline.

“Dennis has an ankle sprain,” Harbaugh said. “He went for about 30 minutes [of individual work] and then we put him down.”

The Ravens sustained a number of injuries over the weekend with the most severe being the season-ending Achilles injury suffered by defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore. Cornerback Asa Jackson (ankle), safety Brynden Trawick (back), and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen were also absent on Monday after getting hurt during the first two practices against the 49ers.

Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back), guard Will Rackley (concussion), and defensive tackle Terrence Cody (physically unable to perform list – hip surgery) were also missing from Monday’s practice. Speaking with reporters after signing autographs for fans in attendance, Webb expressed optimism that he’ll be back soon, but the veteran defensive back wouldn’t specify a timetable for when he’ll practice for the first time or whether he’ll play in the preseason since being sidelined with back spasms on July 25.

“I would love to play some preseason, but I’ve been through some injuries,” said Webb, who has suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments in both knees in his NFL career. “I’ve been in the same position many times. I hate to say many times. We’ll see.”

With Webb and Jackson out with injuries, the Ravens used third-round rookie safety Terrence Brooks at the nickel position with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown lined up on the outside during 7-on-7 work and full-team drills against the 49ers. Brooks played cornerback as well as safety during his collegiate career at Florida State, but it’s a clear reflection of how thin the Ravens’ depth is in the secondary.

The Ravens and 49ers practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts on Monday after two days wearing full pads. Baltimore players will have the day off on Tuesday before returning to the Owings Mills facility to continue preparations ahead of Saturday’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys.

After much speculation and discussion over whether players from opposing teams would engage in any fighting during the three-day period, the Ravens and 49ers made it through their time together without a single skirmish of significance.

Orioles pitcher Bud Norris attended Monday’s practice in Owings Mills as the California native is a 49ers fan. The right-hander was scheduled to start against the New York Yankees on Monday night.

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