Tag Archive | "Dennis Pitta"

Pitta’s impact slow to be felt in Ravens offense

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Pitta’s impact slow to be felt in Ravens offense

Posted on 24 December 2013 by Luke Jones

The mere sight of Dennis Pitta returning to the field less than four months after a horrific hip injury was a victory itself, but the Ravens had visions of the tight end providing their underwhelming offense a major boost.

Pitta provided exactly that in his 2013 debut against Minnesota on Dec. 8, catching six passes for 48 yards and a touchdown, but his impact hasn’t been felt in the two games since in which the Ravens have been held to just one touchdown. The fourth-year tight end has caught only six passes for 58 yards over the last two contests when Baltimore failed to score a touchdown in the win over Detroit and only produced seven points in the 41-7 loss to New England.

It’s fair to assume that Pitta is still working his way back into the flow of the offense after such a long layoff, but opponents aren’t taking much pity as he faced bracketed coverage against the Lions and a physical brand of play from the Patriots. Often being held up at the line of scrimmage, Pitta managed just four receptions for 34 yards on seven targets against the New England defense and saw a slighly-errant Flacco pass go through his hands for an interception in the third quarter.

“Whenever he was aligned within striking range of the box, the defensive ends came out and took shots at him,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think they were hitting him pretty much every opportunity within five yards on crossing routes and things like that. They did quite a bit to keep him under control.”

Entering training camp with expectations of an increased role following the offseason trade of Anquan Boldin, Pitta has been missed by quarterback Joe Flacco in the league’s 19th-ranked passing game. However, it’s clear the Ravens have tried to bring him along slowly as he’s played in just over 42 percent of the Ravens’ offensive snaps in his three games, down from last year when he took part in roughly 60 percent of plays.

When he has been on the field, Pitta has seen more extensive time in the slot than in the past with 67 of his 79 total routes run from that position, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s a dramatic increase from last season when the pass-catching tight end ran only 64.6 percent of his routes from the slot position when Boldin was still a major presence at that spot.

Perhaps the biggest issue facing the Ravens with using Pitta so far this season has been too much predictability as a pass play has been called on 88 percent of his snaps. Pitta is certainly not known for his ability as a run blocker, but calling such a high number of passing plays eliminates the anticipated advantage of defenses not stacking the box against the run because of the need to account for him in the middle intermediate portion of the passing game.

Pitta is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason, which further complicates the aftermath of his hip injury. The 28-year-old has alleviated concerns about being healthy enough to resume his NFL career, but the Ravens haven’t been able to truly gauge whether he can be a bigger slot threat in a way similar to what Boldin provided. And Pitta certainly hasn’t been able to use this season to show he belongs among the elite tight ends and cash in with a hefty contract.

It will be interesting to see how the offseason plays out as the Ravens clearly want Pitta back but will be working with limited cap resources and will have other positions of need to address. Should general manager Ozzie Newsome and Pitta’s agent Justin Schulman not be able to reach a long-term agreement, the Ravens could use the franchise tag, which is projected to be a reasonable $6.8 million for tight ends in 2014.

Players and their agents are often unhappy to receive the tag, but this situation might be unique with Pitta not having much of an opportunity to create a big market for himself after his 2012 season in which he caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. A one-year contract might be the perfect way for the Ravens to assess the tight end’s true worth and for Pitta to have another year to try to elevate his value for next offseason.

For now, however, the Ravens will continue to work Pitta back into the offense in hopes of winning Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals and advancing to the postseason for a sixth consecutive season.

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Patriots: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 21 December 2013 by Luke Jones

The Ravens renew what’s become one of the best rivalries in the NFL in recent years Sunday when the New England Patriots pay a visit with playoff implications for both sides.

A rematch of the last two AFC Championship games is compelling enough, but the Ravens enter Sunday with a chance to punch their ticket to the postseason for the sixth straight year with a win and losses by Miami and San Diego. New England will clinch its fifth consecutive AFC East division title with a victory at M&T Bank Stadium.

These teams have dealt with their fair share of changes since the last time they met in Foxborough last January, but they find themselves in a familiar position with new faces emerging to replace the big names of past years. Counting the postseason, Sunday marks the seventh time the Ravens and Patriots have met in the John Harbaugh era — it’s been a 3-3 split — with few teams having as much success against New England coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady as Baltimore.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens try to clinch another winning season under Harbaugh and set up an AFC North championship game against Cincinnati in Week 17. Baltimore is just 1-6 in the all-time regular-season series against New England, but the Ravens hold a 2-1 edge over the Patriots in the postseason.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look to continue their four-game winning streak and keep themselves in position for January football …

1. Joe Flacco’s knee injury will affect his mobility, contributing to him being sacked four times for the first time since late November. One of the major factors for Flacco’s improved play down the stretch has been his ability to move around in the pocket and occasionally take off to gain yards on the ground, but the mild MCL sprain of his left knee figures to impact that to some extent. Trying to assess Flacco’s mobility during practices this week was impossible as quarterbacks only played catch from a stationary position during the open portion of practices, but he was still dealing with some swelling late in the week. The Baltimore offensive line has only allowed five sacks over the last three games, but Flacco will be more likely to stay in the pocket this week, leading to a few more sacks with defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich coming off the edges.

2. New England cornerback Aqib Talib will match up with Dennis Pitta, but the Ravens tight end will catch a touchdown. The Patriots have used the 6-foot-1 Talib against talented tight ends such as New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Miami’s Charles Clay, so don’t be surprised to see him covering Pitta from the slot position while New England tries to use Cover 2 to contain the deep-ball threats of Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones on the outside. Talib is listed as probable on the final injury report, but he’s been dealing with a nagging hip issue, which might explain why defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and Belichick moved him inside last week in Miami. Talib will prevent Pitta from having a huge day, but Flacco will still find his favorite target inside the red zone for a touchdown after the tight end wasn’t targeted once in three red-zone trips last week in Detroit.

3. Brady will find rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson for a touchdown to help the Patriots’ recent red-zone woes. New England ranks 16th in the league in red-zone offense, and the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski has only made that area of the field more problematic for the future Hall of Fame quarterback as he lacks a big target to throw to. The Patriots were only 1-for-4 inside the 20 in last week’s loss to the Dolphins, but the return of the 6-foot-3 Dobson will help complement smaller receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. The Ravens must also keep tabs on Shane Vereen and his receiving abilities out of the backfield, but the league’s fourth-ranked red-zone defense will make the Patriots scratch and claw all day. Even with their personnel losses, the Patriots rank sixth in the NFL in points scored and Brady will connect with Dobson for a touchdown.

4. Backup running back Bernard Pierce will earn a season high for rushing yards with Ray Rice less than 100 percent. Rice and the Ravens have downplayed the mild quadriceps strain he suffered in the Week 15 win over the Lions, but it’s difficult not to be concerned considering how tough this season has been for the three-time Pro Bowl selection. Pierce has experienced his own struggles — averaging only 2.8 yards per carry — behind an offensive line that’s underperformed. If the Patriots do match up Talib with Pitta and rely on two high safeties against the vertical threat, the Ravens will receive better looks in the box against the league’s 31st-ranked run defense that’s surrendered 132.5 yards per game. It’s difficult to trust the Ravens to run the ball effectively against anyone at this point, but Pierce will eclipse his season high of 65 rushing yards set in Week 3.

5. An improved effort inside the 20-yard line will go a long way as the Ravens win a 23-17 final over New England. Baltimore has won four straight games but has only gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over that stretch, leaving a slim margin for error and too much reliance on kicker Justin Tucker. That being said, Flacco has gotten the best of Brady in recent years and the Ravens are feeling more urgency than the Patriots with their playoff positioning. Sunday will be a nail-biter and you can never count out Brady when the stakes are high, but the Ravens will once again rise to the occasion to finish 7-1 at home. The offense will have a respectable effort on the ground and make a few big plays through the air to complement another strong defensive effort as the Ravens set up a massive Week 17 showdown with the Bengals.

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It’s approaching “last call” for coats, so let’s have a holiday open house!

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It’s approaching “last call” for coats, so let’s have a holiday open house!

Posted on 20 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

I can’t thank everyone enough for coming out last night to Buffalo Wild Wings White Marsh with coats to donate for our annual WNST.net holiday coat drive. We have THOUSANDS of coats here at The Zone Superstore Studios, but when it comes to charity-we will have to admit we’re greedy.

We need more and we only have until 10am Monday to collect them.

So here’s my final hurrah. We’ve gathered all of the stuff we have left over from our various giveaways and events in recent weeks (and actually added some new stuff in as well!) and we’re giving you one final chance to trade us winter gear for it to help the great people at Helping Up Mission and Goodwill of Maryland.

There’s a lot of stuff on our swag table. Let me give you a rundown.

Five coats (or jackets/sweaters/hats/pairs of gloves/snow boots/ski pants/etc.) will get you one of the following:
-A “Crush 19″ t-shirt
-A “Free The Birds” t-shirt
-A copy of “100 Things Ravens Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die” by Jason Butt
-An autographed football from Ravens LB Jameel McClain (a couple are also signed by LS Morgan Cox)
-A pair of tickets to see “Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime” at Rams Head Live January 4
-A pair of tickets to see “Masters of Illusion” at The Modell Performing Arts Center at The Lyric February 11

Ten coats will get you a copy of Gary S. Williams’ book “The Art of Retirement” autographed by Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott.

The first person to bring 25 or more will get a copy of “Jonathan Ogden: Baltimore’s First Raven” autographed by the Hall of Fame former Raven himself!

All giveaways are while supplies last.

And everyone who brings by even ONE coat will be registered to win a pair of tickets to WWE Monday Night Raw January 6th at Baltimore Arena.

And this is the part that will probably be most interesting to more than a few of you. For a second straight year, my buddy Zack Merrick from the band All Time Low is graciously offering to come by and co-host this afternoon from 3-6pm. He’s willing to meet and greet/take pictures with/sign autographs for anyone who brings by at least FIVE winter weather gear items.

Here’s Zack from last season quizzing Ravens TE Dennis Pitta during one of our weekly player shows.

This is what Zack helped us raise a year ago…

So today’s the day. It all goes down this afternoon at The Zone Superstore Studios…1550 Hart Rd. in Towson. If you have any questions, email me glenn@wnst.net or call our office 410-821-9678. You can start coming by IMMEDIATELY and Zack will be here at 3pm.

As with every good Open House, we’ll have some great guests calling in on “The Reality Check”, including Dennis Pitta, Ravens DL Chris Canty, Maryland football coach Randy Edsall, former Raven Mike Flynn and “Nasty” Nestor Aparicio will make his weekly football picks with us.

Happy Holidays

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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

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Ravens, Patriots both hope red zone doesn’t mean “stop” on Sunday

Posted on 19 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s the dirty little secret that can’t be overlooked despite a four-game winning streak that’s put the Ravens in control of their path to a sixth consecutive playoff appearance as they welcome the New England Patriots to Baltimore on Sunday.

While improving on a 4-6 start to move two games above .500 with their Monday win over the Detroit Lions, the Ravens have gone 4-for-14 inside the red zone over their last four games. Finishing drives inside the 20 with a touchdown just 42.9 percent of the time, coach John Harbaugh and his team know they can’t continue to depend on good fortune and 61-yard field goals to overcome the league’s 29th-ranked red-zone offense.

But fixing the problem is easier said than done at this late stage in the season.

“There are things that we’ve come up with that we’ve noticed that we have addressed and will continue to work on,” Harbaugh said. “That’s as much as I would like to share with you at this time.”

Of course, the Ravens coach doesn’t feel like broadcasting the details, but a simple look at the offensive personnel makes it easier to explain. A strong running game is clearly ideal once you push closer to the goal line, but the Ravens’ struggles in that department are nothing new by now.

The Ravens’ passing game largely depends on the speed of receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, but the red zone is constricted and depends more on size and precision, two areas in which there have been deficiencies this season. Until the recent return of tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens have lacked a big receiving target inside the 20 beyond rookie Marlon Brown, who has made plays but needs to run more precise routes to be a consistent threat.

And while veterans Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley — the latter now on injured reserve — earned reputations as brilliant route-runners earlier in their career, their declining speed neutralized their ability to find windows in coverage near the goal line this season.

Those shortcomings along with some untimely penalties have added up to a small margin for error that quarterback Joe Flacco has often been unable to overcome, forcing the Ravens to depend on the right leg of kicker Justin Tucker to convert field goals. In their 18-16 win over the Lions, the Ravens were 0-for-3 on trips inside the 20 and needed a franchise-record six field goals to pull off the victory.

“Just little things, one thing here and one thing there,” Flacco said. “When you don’t take advantage of the one play that you get down there to score a touchdown or if you are giving yourself one play to do it, if you have one little slip up, then you are putting yourselves in a tough situation to really convert and put the ball in the end zone. That is kind of what happened to us the other night. We didn’t take advantage of some of the good opportunities we had and left ourselves in bad situations and then didn’t convert.”

The Ravens hope that Pitta’s return will boost their shoddy red-zone play over the final two weeks of the regular season and beyond, but the play-making tight end wasn’t targeted once in their three red-zone trips against the Lions and finished the game with only two catches for 24 yards.

His 6-foot-4, 245-pound frame and reputation for running exceptional routes should help considerably on both third down and near the goal line, but Pitta acknowledged that Detroit used some bracketed coverage to neutralize his dangerous abilities.

The book is certainly out by now on his reputation as Flacco’s favorite target on the current roster.

“It just depends on who is open, what coverages they deploy, and how we respond to them,” offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. “That could change up. Some guys are going to have big games; some guys are not going to have a great game. We usually have somebody that shows up week after week.”

Of course, Sunday’s game will provide a major test in future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady, but the Patriots have been dealing with their own offensive struggles with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski to an ACL injury and the recent absences of rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson.

Entering Week 16 ranked 16th in the league in red-zone offense, the Patriots were 1-for-4 inside the 20 in their loss to Miami last Sunday — their first game since Gronkowski’s season-ending knee injury — as Brady was forced to throw to 5-foot-10 Julian Edelman and 5-foot-11 Danny Amendola inside the 20. The two are talented route-runners and productive receivers, but they are targets unable to go up and get the ball in traffic like the Pro Bowl tight end Gronkowski.

With the 6-foot-3 Dobson back at practice this week, he and talented receiving back Shane Vereen are likely to see opportunities when New England moves inside the red zone, but neither should be considered an easy fix to the Patriots’ offensive problems.

That said, the 10-4 Patriots have found success throughout the year despite Gronkowski missing all but seven games this season. Much like Flacco adjusting to life without Pitta and departed wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Brady has continued to succeed without the likes of Gronkowski, former slot receiver Wes Welker, and tight end Aaron Hernandez this season.

“When they haven’t been full-strength, they have found ways to win football games,” Flacco said. “I think we’ve had a lot of those same situations, and we’re just now starting to capitalize on them and win them. Earlier in the year, we probably weren’t able to win quite as much, and these guys have.

The casts have noticeably changed on each side of the ball, but Sunday’s contest is still likely to come down to which quarterback makes more plays as Flacco has gotten the best of Brady over the last few meetings between the teams, including last January’s AFC Championship game.

It’s apparent that neither offense is clicking on all cylinders with the end of the season quickly approaching, putting more expectations on each signal-caller to carry his team on his back. The Ravens have essentially been in must-win mode for the better part of a month while New England still needs one more win to lock up its fifth consecutive AFC East championship.

The battle inside the 20 will be critical like always, but the Ravens will be facing the league’s 21st-ranked red-zone defense while the Patriots must deal with the fourth-ranked unit in those situations and Brady has often struggled against Baltimore’s defensive schemes throughout his career.

Both Flacco and Brady will need to be at their best to give their flawed units a chance to succeed in what figures to be another classic matchup between the Ravens and Patriots. But with so many changes everywhere you look on these rosters, the spotlight will be even brighter on the quarterbacks than usual.

“Being able to execute under pressure, being smart, knowing the situation, keeping their poise, knowing how to handle [adversity],” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “[It’s] all the things — the play, the defense, clock management — [and] just good situational football. Each situation is a little bit different, no matter how much you practice it or how many situations you practice. [It’s about] being able to adjust and have that gamesmanship, poise and intelligence on the field to make good decisions at critical times.”

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Vikings

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens/Vikings

Posted on 10 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Matt Elam recovers Toby Gerhart fumble forced by James Ihedigbo at Vikings’ 25 (1st quarter)

4. Jacoby Jones returns Blair Walsh kickoff for 77 yard TD (4th quarter)

Should have been even bigger. 

3. Dennis Pitta 1 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco on 4th & goal (4th quarter)

God it’s good to have him back. 

2. Marlon Brown 35 yard catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

As Marlon told us Monday, this might have actually been the biggest play of the game.

1. Marlon Brown 9 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

I wanted to out-think it, but I simply couldn’t.

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Playmakers emerging just in time for Ravens’ final push

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Playmakers emerging just in time for Ravens’ final push

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — No words do justice to the finish of the Ravens’ thrilling 29-26 win over the Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.

Five lead changes and 36 points scored in the final 125 seconds of play? You just had to see it to believe it.

But more importantly for the Ravens, the furious sequence that concluded with quarterback Joe Flacco throwing a 9-yard dart to rookie Marlon Brown in the back of the end zone with four seconds remaining resulted in Baltimore saving its season — at least for now. The action resembled an epic heavyweight fight with haymakers thrown back and forth in the final round, but the miraculous feel to the win conjured up visions of Jacoby Jones’ game-tying 70-yard touchdown catch against Denver in the divisional round last January.

“I think this is probably crazier,” Flacco said. “That one was probably a little more exciting, just because of what was on the line. But when you look at this, similar things were on the line, just not at the same time of year.”

With three games remaining against first-place teams — two of them on the road — the Ravens couldn’t afford a loss to the underwhelming Vikings, who were the better team for much of the afternoon in wintry conditions that brought play to a crawl at different points in the game. Sunday’s contest wasn’t as much of a “must win” as it was “you better win” against a team without a road victory all season.

Some of the Ravens’ biggest deficiencies plagued them again as the offense generated very little through the first 55 minutes of the game beyond a first-quarter touchdown aided by a questionable fumble call. The defense performed reasonably well until another fourth-quarter wilting in which it gave up 20 points, a theme far too common for an otherwise above-average unit.

The running game improved in the second half as Ray Rice found solid running room to collect 67 yards on 17 carries, but the unit also failed in several short-yardage situations as it has for most of the year.

By now, the Ravens’ biggest flaws are unlikely to be fixed with only three games remaining in the regular season. However, they maintained their grip on the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race and the recent emergence of Flacco and Jones coupled with Sunday’s return of tight end Dennis Pitta could just be what the Ravens need to advance to the postseason for the sixth consecutive season.

To be fair, Flacco played poorly for much of the game completing just 21 of 40 passes for a touchdown and three interceptions while collecting only 154 yards until the final two drives. His receivers didn’t help much as several drops contributed to drives stalling and the Ravens punting for much of the afternoon.

But the sixth-year quarterback was on point when it mattered, going 7-for-10 for 91 yards and two touchdowns the final two times the Baltimore offense touched the ball. His strong finish followed two of his best performances of the season against New York and Pittsburgh as it appears Flacco might be getting hot at the perfect time after persevering through several factors working against him all season.

On Sunday, he completed his 18th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime and his third of the season.

“I see a lot of calluses on his character,” coach John Harbaugh said. “Joe is our guy, and to me, that’s all you really need to say.”

For the first time this season, Flacco was able to lean on Pitta, who completed a remarkable comeback from a devastating hip injury suffered just over four months ago in the first week of training camp. The Ravens have missed his presence in the middle of the field and inside the red zone as he was expected to fill an even larger role this season with the departure of veteran slot receiver Anquan Boldin.

It was Pitta’s 1-yard touchdown catch on fourth-and-goal with 2:05 remaining that put the Ravens back in front and triggered the frenzy of back-and-forth scoring.

He looked rusty early, failing to make a couple catches that he’d normally rein in, but his presence was felt down the stretch as he finished the game with six catches for 48 yards and drew a questionable pass interference call on the final drive that set up the Ravens inside the Minnesota 30. Two plays later, Pitta made an 18-yard reception to bring the Ravens to the 9 before Brown capped off his strong seven-catch, 92-yard performance with the game-winning touchdown catch.

Welcome back, indeed, to the Ravens tight end.

“I remember when I got injured, I didn’t know if I was even going to play football again,” Pitta said. “Being able to stand here and talk about a victory and being a part of that is special for me. And just being a part of this team and being able to fight the way we did today is pretty remarkable.”

Jones provided the big-play ability for the third straight game as his 77-yard kickoff return allowed the Ravens to regain the lead with 1:16 left and showed once again how much of a home-run hitter he can be for a team that’s lacked offensive firepower for much of the season. His Week 1 knee injury and the lackluster performance that followed an extended layoff now appear to be distant memories.

Just as he showed all last season, Jones is entering the zone where he appears to be a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the football.

“I finally got back there, and so the chemistry with my guys that are blocking for me, we’ve got that chemistry going,” Jones said. “And health — I’m feeling good again. I’m feeling like the old [No.] 12.”

Only time will tell how significant the Ravens’ win over the Vikings was on Sunday. For now, it will simply go down as one of the most exciting games in franchise history as five touchdowns were scored in the final 125 seconds of a game for the first time in the 1970 NFL merger era.

But the timing of Pitta’s return to go along with Flacco’s late-game heroics and Jones’ return ability will be needed even more over the season’s final three weeks.

The Ravens still haven’t played a complete game, but they have flashed encouraging signs over a three-game homestand that pushed them over the .500 mark for the first time since early October.

“We’re starting to get healthier,” Flacco said. “We’re starting to put it together as a team. We just need to start putting it together for a full 60 minutes and see where it takes us.”

They barely put it together enough to pull off a miraculous win Sunday to save their season.

The Ravens can only hope to build from there.

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Our Ravens/Vikings “Pats on the Ass”

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Our Ravens/Vikings “Pats on the Ass”

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Creative Deck Designs Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan and I select five different players/coaches each.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 29-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Chris Canty

4. James Ihedigbo

3. Ray Rice

2. Marlon Brown

1. Jacoby Jones (Pat on Both Cheeks)

(Continued on Page 2…)

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Ravens-Vikings: Inactives and pre-game notes

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Ravens-Vikings: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 08 December 2013 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Sunday brings the arrival of December football as the Ravens welcome the Minnesota Vikings to town for what figures to be a wintry mess at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday afternoon.

A win puts the Ravens above the .500 mark for the first time since early October and keeps them in position as the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoff picture. Needless to say with an imposing three-game stretch against projected playoff times to conclude the regular season, the Ravens have little margin for error against the 3-8-1 Vikings, who  haven’t won a road game all year.

The Ravens will welcome the return of tight end Dennis Pitta, who was activated from injured reserve-designated to return on Saturday. Pitta wasn’t expected to play extensively against Minnesota, but the Ravens also elected to list Dallas Clark as inactive, which is a good indication that they feel comfortable with Pitta handling a bigger workload. His presence on third down and inside the red zone will provide a major boost to the Baltimore passing game in the final quarter of the season.

While Pitta returns to action in Week 14, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is officially out with a left ankle injury suffered in last week’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Coach John Harbaugh was optimistic earlier in the week that Dumervil would be ready to go, but he was unable to practice all week and listed as doubtful on the final injury report.

Dumervil’s absence will lead to an increased role for second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw, who was already likely to see extensive snaps with Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and the ground attack figuring to be featured extensively by Minnesota. Reserve pass-rush specialist Pernell McPhee could see more opportunities in passing situations with Dumervil sidelined.

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley is active despite being listed as questionable on the final injury report with a knee injury suffered against Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night.

For the Vikings, Peterson is active and will start despite being listed as questionable with a groin issue.

As predicted, weather will be a significant factor in Sunday’s game as snow began collecting on the turf more than two hours prior to kickoff. Forecasts are calling for up to a few inches of snow with precipitation switching to sleet and freezing rain later in the day.

The all-time series between the Ravens and Vikings is tied 2-2 with Minnesota winning the last meeting in 2009. The Ravens are 2-1 against them at M&T Bank Stadium.

The referee for Sunday’s game will be Pete Morelli.

The Ravens will be wearing purple jerseys with black pants while Minnesota dons white jerseys with purple pants.

Here are Sunday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
LB Elvis Dumervil
TE Dallas Clark
DT Brandon Williams
WR Deonte Thompson
S Omar Brown
S Brynden Trawick
C Ryan Jensen

MINNESOTA
CB Josh Robinson
DT Chase Baker
G Jeff Baca
TE Kyle Rudolph
QB Christian Ponder
WR Rodney Smith
T Mike Remmers

Follow WNST on Twitter throughout the afternoon for updates and analysis as Drew Forrester, Nestor Aparicio, and I bring live coverage from M&T Bank Stadium throughout the night.

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Ravens-Vikings: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Vikings: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Concluding a critical three-game homestand while also currently holding the No. 6 seed in the AFC, the Ravens welcome the Minnesota Vikings to town for a game they know they should — and must — win.

Three games against projected playoff teams await to conclude the regular season, so the Ravens have no room for a letdown against 3-8-1 Minneesota in their penultimate game of the year at M&T Bank Stadium. Of course, a forecast of a wintry mix Sunday could create some interesting playing conditions for both teams.

Sunday will mark the 2013 season debut for Dennis Pitta, who was activated from injured reserve on Saturday afternoon. The Ravens hope the fourth-year tight end will be able to knock off enough rust against the Vikings to make him a difference-maker starting next week in a Monday night game at Detroit.

Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil is unlikely to play after being listed as doubtful with an ankle injury. However, the Vikings’ propensity for leaning on their running game already made it likely that second-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw would see increased playing time on Sunday.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens have the opportunity to move above the .500 mark for the first time since early October. The all-time series against the Vikings is tied 2-2, but Minnesota won the last meeting between these teams in 2009, a 33-31 final at the Metrodome.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look for their first three-game winning streak of the season …

1. Pitta won’t see more than 20 snaps against the Vikings, but he’ll catch a red-zone touchdown to give the Ravens a much-needed lift. The fourth-year tight end will likely see a limited number of snaps as the Ravens wait to see how he responds to live contact, but a good week of practice allowed the organization to pull the trigger to activate him. The Ravens put together six scoring drives in last week’s win over Pittsburgh, but the offense is 1-for-8 inside the red zone over the last two games, a mark that must improve in the final quarter of the season. Pitta caught 10 touchdowns inside the red zone in 2011 and 2012 and will rein in his first of 2013 to boost the league’s 24th-ranked red-zone offense and build more optimism for the big three-game stretch to conclude the regular season.

2. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson will become the second player this season to reach the century mark on the ground against Baltimore. Every opponent knows exactly what it needs to do against the Vikings, but stacking the box with eight defenders hasn’t prevented Peterson from leading the league with 1,208 rushing yards. The 2012 NFL Most Valuable Player averages 3.1 yards after contact per attempt, meaning gang tackling is a must against such a physical runner. The key for the Ravens will be to contain Peterson enough to prevent a big day and force them to pass the football more than they’d like, something Chicago couldn’t do in an overtime loss last week. Baltimore will do a better job than the Bears, but he’ll still hit triple digits against the Ravens, joining Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy as the only other back to accomplish that against the Ravens this season.

3. The Baltimore secondary will intercept quarterback Matt Cassel twice to set up the Ravens offense on a short field. The Vikings have had major issues at quarterback all year, so the absence of starter Christian Ponder won’t make a major difference with the Ravens actually being more familiar with Cassel. Likely using a single-high safety extensively with safeties James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam taking turns playing closer to the line of scrimmage to stop the run, the Ravens will depend on Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb to be strong in coverage. Minnesota has some capable weapons in Greg Jennings, Cordarrelle Patterson, and Jerome Simpson at wide receiver, but that’s been true all season with the Vikings still ranking 25th in passing offense. Cassel will be forced to make some throws playing from behind, and the Ravens will be waiting to cash in on his mistakes.

4. Bernard Pierce will gain more rushing yards than Ray Rice in another timeshare of carries on Sunday. Coach John Harbaugh downplayed Pierce receiving nine carries to just 12 for Rice against the Steelers, but the more-physical Pierce averaged 3.9 yards per carry compared to 2.7 for Rice on Thanksgiving. With the possibility of snow collecting on the turf, it will be interesting to see how both teams fare, but Pierce simply looked more explosive against the Steelers and deserved an increased portion of the workload. Aside from a strong day against a run-challenged Chicago defense a few weeks ago, Rice hasn’t been himself all season while Pierce appears to be healthier now than he was early on. Rice will still get plenty of opportunities — and likely more carries — but Pierce will be more productive.

5. Wintry conditions could make things interesting, but the Ravens will dispose of an inferior team with a 24-13 win over Minnesota. It only takes one or two fluke plays in snowy weather to completely change the outcome of the game, but the Ravens have more experience and have played in plenty of poor weather this season, giving them the edge in that department. The Baltimore offense isn’t equipped to blow out anybody, but the Ravens have moved the ball better in recent weeks and quarterback Joe Flacco has arguably played his best football of the season over the last two games. Winning the turnover battle and improved efficiency in the red zone will add up to a relatively comfortable two-possession win for the Ravens as they’ll turn their sights toward a very difficult three-game stretch to try to secure a playoff spot in the AFC.

 

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Pitta set to make 2013 debut after being moved to 53-man roster

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Pitta set to make 2013 debut after being moved to 53-man roster

Posted on 07 December 2013 by Luke Jones

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta has worked more than four months to come back from a hip injury that appeared all but certain to end his 2013 season in late July. He’ll complete that journey against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Facing a 4 p.m. deadline on Saturday for Pitta to be eligible to play in Week 14, the Ravens moved the fourth-year tight end from injured reserve to the 53-man roster. Many thought rookie safety Brynden Trawick might be placed on injured reserve to make room for Pitta on the active roster, but the Ravens instead elected to waive running back Bernard Scott, who didn’t appear in a game for Baltimore.

The Ravens will likely limit Pitta’s snaps in his first live-game action since Super Bowl XLVII when he caught a touchdown pass to help Baltimore win its second championship in the last 13 years. Pitta took part in full-team drills this week after being limited to individual drills the previous two weeks leading up to games against the New York Jets and Pittsburgh.

“Ultimately, it’s up to me and how I feel,” Pitta said after Friday’s practice. “It’s a rare injury in sports, so the doctors are relying on me to see how I feel and how my body responds and all that. We’ll see.”

Pitta returned to practice on Nov. 20 after he was placed on IR with the designation to return in early September. After Pitta suffered a dislocated and fractured hip on July 27, the Ravens initially feared he would be lost for the season, but corrective surgery and subsequent magnetic resonance imaging revealed no ligament or cartilage damage in the hip area.

A fourth-round pick in the 2010 draft, Pitta caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns last season and added three more touchdown catches in the postseason. After veteran Anquan Boldin was traded in the offseason, Pitta was expected to see more time in the slot and more passes thrown his way this season before he was injured in the first week of training camp.

He is also scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, giving him extra incentive to return to action and prove he is the same player that he was before the serious injury. Of course, the Ravens are hoping Pitta can breathe life into their 29th-ranked offense and 19th-ranked passing game.

“Just having him out there makes him a threat,” fellow tight end Ed Dickson said. “Off the top of my mind, I think of the red zone. He’s a big target [and] he runs great routes. Dennis knows this offense better than anybody.”

With a wintry mix predicted for Sunday’s game, Pitta will not only be thrown into the middle of a playoff push but experience the harsh elements of December. The Ravens hope that Sunday’s tuneup will be enough for Pitta to gain the necessary confidence in playing three consecutive games against projected playoff teams to close the regular season.

A certain unknown remains with Pitta returning to live-game action and not knowing how his surgically-repaired hip will respond to contact. Reviews of Pitta’s performance in practices this week were positive, but practicing is a different arena than playing in games with high stakes.

“You always want to see how you’re going to respond after getting hit like that,” Pitta said. “It’s not something you can simulate in rehab or even in practice. It will be nice to kind of take that first hit and just see how it feels.”

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