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Ravens-Bills: Five predictions for Sunday

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Ravens-Bills: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 28 September 2013 by Luke Jones

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Making only their second regular-season trip to Buffalo in the 18-year history of the franchise, the Ravens will try to move to 3-1 at the quarter pole despite a plethora of injuries and offensive inconsistency in the month of September.

At 1-2 and playing rookie EJ Manuel at quarterback, the Bills don’t appear to be a major threat on paper, but their losses to the Patriots and Jets were by a combined nine points and they possess the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. However, the Bills’ injury situation is even worse than the Ravens as they have already ruled out five players for Sunday’s game.

It’s time to go on record as these teams meet for the sixth time in the regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 3-2 edge. The Ravens are 0-1 at Ralph Wilson Stadium after dropping a 19-14 final there in 2007 but won the most recent meeting between Baltimore and Buffalo, a 37-34 overtime final at M&T Bank Stadium in 2010.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens look for their first road win of the season …

1. The Ravens’ struggling running game will eclipse the 100-yard mark for the first time this season. Much has been made about the abysmal 2.6 yards per carry average on the ground — 31st in the NFL — but Baltimore has faced talented front sevens in each of the first three games. The Bills are tied for 30th against the run and gave up 182 yards on the ground to the Jets last week, leaving the Ravens no excuse to get their running game on track in Week 4. Ray Rice isn’t guaranteed to play, but backup Bernard Pierce will receive a larger-than-normal workload even if the former is available. Players and coaches continue to say the offensive line and running game are close to being righted and they’ll take a step in the right direction this week. A strong performance against the Bills doesn’t mean the running game is “fixed,” but it will make everyone feel a lot better.

2. Wide receiver Torrey Smith will exploit a banged-up Buffalo secondary for a long touchdown score. Bills cornerback Leodis McKelvin and free safety Jairus Byrd are both listed as questionable and cornerback Stephon Gilmore is out for Sunday’s game, leaving what’s already a questionable secondary — ranked 19th in the NFL — that much flimsier. Smith is off to a strong start this season, but the Ravens have been forced to use him differently as he’s caught more short-to-intermediate passes and was even lining up in the slot a fair amount in the Houston game. However, the Ravens made it a point to go vertical to Smith early in the second half against the Texans and the big yardage eventually paid off with a touchdown later in the drive. The third-year wide receiver will find the end zone for the first time this season, adding to his already-impressive numbers through the first quarter of the year.

3. The Baltimore defense will surrender its first touchdown since the season opener, but Dean Pees’ unit will force two turnovers. The Ravens have made a major statement over the last two weeks to convince observers that the season-opening debacle was the aberration and not who they are defensively. However, Pees talked earlier in the week about his defense needing to force more turnovers as they only have three takeaways in their first three games, which is tied for 10th in the AFC. With the offense struggling to find its identity, the Ravens will need their defense to not only perform at a high level on a weekly basis but create short fields for their offensive counterparts. Manuel has thrown only one interception in his first three games, but a ferocious pass rush could force a sack-and-strip play if the rookie isn’t aware in the pocket and the secondary will be the benefactor of the pressure upfront. The Bills’ read option won’t give the Ravens too much trouble as there’s too much speed and discipline in the front seven for Fred Jackson or C.J. Spiller to have huge days.

4. Flacco will continue his trend of posting pedestrian numbers while being efficient on third down and taking care of the football. Nothing about the Super Bowl XLVII MVP’s stats impress you or will garner Pro Bowl consideration to this point in the season, but you have to admire the way he’s played without his top two receiving options from last season. Beyond Smith, the Ravens lack speed at the wide receiver and tight end positions, making it a necessity for Flacco to read defenses better than ever and to trust what he sees. Flacco’s highest completion percentage (62.8 percent) has come on third down this season as the Ravens are converting 44.4 percent of their third-down opportunities (eighth in the NFL) with very little help from the running game. He won’t have a 300-yard game, but Flacco will throw two touchdowns and — just as importantly — won’t have any big turnovers to give the Bills a chance to swing the momentum of the game.

5. The Ravens won’t make it pretty, but they will remain in control in a 24-16 win to improve to 3-1. No one thinks the Bills are as good as Baltimore, but expecting the Ravens to blow out anyone — unless they have the benefit of a defensive score and a special-teams touchdown like last week — on the road with their inconsistent offense is wishful thinking until they prove otherwise. The running game will appear competent but is still a work in progress and Flacco will be efficient once again, but the defense will be the biggest reason why the Ravens will improve to 3-1. Buffalo appears to have potential with Manuel at the helm, but the rookie isn’t ready to deal with another relentless pass rush after he was sacked eight times by the Jets last week. The score will remain close, but the Ravens won’t struggle to the point of making you think they’re in serious danger of losing to Buffalo, either.

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Ravens prepared to contain Bills’ Manuel, read option

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Ravens prepared to contain Bills’ Manuel, read option

Posted on 26 September 2013 by Luke Jones

(This blog brought to you by Atlantic Remodeling. Visit www.atlanticremodeling.com to learn about their Red Cent Guarantee!)

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens spent time throughout the offseason preparing to stop the read option after the offensive attack took the league by storm during the 2012 season.

According to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, the Ravens spent every other day during organized team activities and training camp completing a read-option period during practices to prepare themselves for matchups like Sunday when they travel to Buffalo to take on rookie quarterback EJ Manuel and standout running back C.J. Spiller. Under new head coach Doug Marrone, the Bills’ have used the read option at points during their first three games, giving the Ravens their first look at the wide-open rushing attack since facing San Francisco in Super Bowl XLVII last February.

“You enjoy a challenge. If you’re a football player, you don’t want the same thing every week,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You want a little different [offense], and we love that we get the opportunity again to play against one of these up-and-coming quarterbacks [and] dual threat like EJ Manuel. It’s going to be a challenge.”

The Bills’ version of the read option appears to be working well on the surface with their rushing attack ranked fifth in the NFL, but the transition has been a work in progress as Manuel and Spiller haven’t always made proper reads and the offensive line’s blocking has been suspect. Of particular concern is Spilller, who is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry after averaging an astonishing 6.0 yards per rushing attempt a year ago.

Fortunately for Buffalo, backup Fred Jackson has picked up the slack by running for 169 yards on 32 carries, making him another dangerous weapon to watch for when the Bills try to run the read option. Patience and following one’s assignment is the key to slowing the novelty offense that hasn’t found the same success this season around the league as it did last year.

“Have good eyes,” said Pees, who credited mobile backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor for giving the Ravens a good look in practices. “That’s the No. 1 thing. When you’re playing any kind of option team, when you start looking at things you shouldn’t look at, that’s when you get beat. If I’ve got the quarterback, my eyes have got to be on the quarterback. It’s a little bit like in coverage. Most of the time when a guy gets beat in coverage, it’s because of the eyes.”

Manuel was sacked an astonishing eight times in the Bills’ loss to the Jets last Sunday, so the Ravens will be licking their chops to make life miserable for the rookie quarterback. However, pocket containment will be vitally important as Manuel is a bigger threat to take off and run compared to the three starting quarterbacks the Ravens have faced so far this season.

The Florida State product has carried 13 times for 76 yards in three games, but the Ravens rank sixth in the league with 11 sacks.

“You just definitely have to make sure we can contain him every time,” linebacker Daryl Smith said. “If whoever is coming off the edge, whether it’s an end or linebacker, if they take the inside move, the quarterback definitely can escape and has the speed to get out and get the first down or do whatever he wants to do. We’ve been talking about it this week and definitely have a plan to make sure we always have edges on the defense.”

Looking for improvement from McKinnie

After appearing to be laboring during Wednesday’s practice, left tackle Bryant McKinnie appeared more active and mobile a day later as the Ravens hope to see improvement from the 34-year-old veteran.

The entire offensive line has struggled to block in the running game — an area that’s never been McKinnie’s biggest strength — but the left tackle has struggled in pass protection the last two weeks and was flagged for two facemask penalties in the first half of the win over the Texans.

“There’s always a work in progress in that area, and I think he’s working at it, trying to get better at what he does,” said offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, who emphasized a need for everyone — including him — to improve. “He’s a professional and he’s trying to improve every single day. [Run-game coordinator Juan Castillo] does a great job with those guys. They work and they work extremely hard. I think Juan is getting him to the point where he’s moving in the right direction.”

McKinnie’s three-year tenure in Baltimore has been bumpy to say the least as he didn’t start a game in the regular season last year and reported to training camp overweight this summer and was held out of the first day of practice for veterans.

Thompson in mix as kick returner

With Pro Bowl return specialist Jacoby Jones still sidelined with an MCL injury in his right knee and No. 3 running back Shaun Draughn dealing with a high ankle sprain, the Ravens could have a new face in the return game in Buffalo.

Wide receiver Deonte Thompson has practiced on a limited basis for two straight days and is listed as the Ravens’ backup kickoff returner behind Jones on the depth chart. In his rookie season, the speedy wideout served as the kick returner before a critical fumble against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 5.

“Deonte demonstrated a year ago that he has the skills to do that,” said Rosburg, referring to Thompson’s 25.9 yard per return average in 15 attempts. “He’s had success, too, and he understands it. He’d probably be pretty excited about that opportunity should it come his way.”

Should Draughn be inactive, the Ravens would likely turn to either Thompson or fellow wide receiver Tandon Doss, who returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown last week.

Ravens glad Miles now on their side

Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg smiled when asked about the acquisition of former Cincinnati safety Jeromy Miles off waivers earlier this week.

A rookie free agent from the University of Massachusetts in 2010, the fourth-year safety can play in all phases of special teams and would figure to play a prominent role considering rookie safety Brynden Trawick was active for all of the Ravens’ first three games. With Miles serving as a prominent special-teams player in the Bengals’ units, the Ravens were very familiar with him.

“We’ve had to block Jeromy Miles for the last few years,” Rosburg said. “We’ve had him blocking us the last few years. We’re excited he’s on our team doing those things for us, because he’s been a force in our division. We’re really happy he’s on our team.”

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., April 29

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Drew’s Morning Dish — Mon., April 29

Posted on 29 April 2013 by Drew Forrester

I refrained from reading any national or local re-caps of the 2013 NFL Draft over the weekend.  Why?  Mainly because I didn’t want to hear or see what folks thought about individual teams and how “well” they did in picking players who have never played a game in their life that mattered.

I laughed right along with everyone else on Thursday night when the Bills stumped all the talking heads by going with E.J. Manuel instead of Ryan Nassib.

You probably giggled too, right?

“The Bills…” you said.  ”What on earth do THEY know about picking a quarterback?  Geez, just go back and look at their recent list of failures.  J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick…”

My guess is that most people were saying the exact same thing about the Ravens in 2008 when they took that Flacco kid out of Delaware in the first round.

“The Ravens…what on earth do THEY know about picking a quarterback?  Geez, just go back and look at their recent list of failures.  Kyle Boller, Chris Redman, Derek Anderson, Anthony Wright, Steve McNair.”

See what I mean?

There’s no sense in judging any of these picks until we see how they all play out, including guys like Manuel and Geno Smith and Manti Te’o.

Just let ‘em play.  We’ll see who knew what they’re doing in this year’s draft in 2015.

And save the silly draft report cards for the experts who have to give grades so it looks like they know what they’re talking about.

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Caps and Rangers again, huh?

Fourth time in five years, I believe.

It’s getting to be old hat, but the two teams usually provide for some interesting hockey in the post-season.

I’m taking the Caps in five games.  I know, I know, that’s very risky considering the Capitals are perennial playoff gaggers.  But I don’t think this Rangers team is any good and, particularly without Marian Gaborik, I just don’t think they have the firepower to overcome this suddenly offensive-minded Washington squad.

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That Billy Horschel guy who won this week’s PGA Tour event in New Orleans is the real deal.  Watch and see…he’ll be on the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup team.  Dude’s a player.

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Buck’s obviously a little concerned about bullpen overuse already and it’s only April 28.

How else can you explain his decision on Sunday for not bringing in Jim Johnson to close the 8-6 lead in the 9th inning?

I’m not criticizing him for it, mind you.  I think it was the right thing to do.  He knows a lot more about these guys and their durability than we do.  Plus, if you really like to pin losses on people, go ahead and put the blame for Sunday’s debacle on Pedro Strop.  He inherited a 4-run lead on Saturday and, per his typical form, put enough guys on base that Buck had no choice but to go with J.J. to close the game out.

So, what you saw on Sunday was a by-product of the manager simply not wanting to go back to the well for the 6th time in seven games and use his closer.

Nothing would wreck the season – as evidenced by the display produced by Brian Matusz and Strop on Sunday in Oakland – like an injury to Jim Johnson.

If you have to almost-intentionally eat a loss in late April and then perhaps again once every 6-8 weeks just to keep your best pitchers fresh and healthy, go ahead and do it, I say.

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Greg Norman blasted golf’s drug testing procedures over the weekend during a trip to Australia.  Rather than subject players to urine tests, as is the case now, Norman is demanding blood tests for golfers on the PGA TOUR.  He’s adamant about it.  The 2-time British Open champion even went as far to say, “Anyone who uses an illegal substance to improve their performance or their physical well-being is cheating, period.  And there’s no room in the game for that.  It sickens me.”

Sounds to me like a guy who knows something’s going on with someone, in particular, and it’s The Shark’s way of putting him on notice.

As I read through the quotes, he was just a little too emphatic about it for someone who is “just trying to send a message” about fair play.

Norman knows someone’s cheating.  He won’t say who.  But he knows.

 

 

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