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Jimmy Smith trying to shake off disappointing start to 2015

Posted on 29 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Asked how he shakes off one of the most difficult games of his NFL career, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith demonstrated by literally shaking his arms and shoulders while smiling.

Even when dealing with an 0-3 start, it’s important to have a sense of humor — and a short memory — when competing in an NFL secondary. That’s not to say that Smith didn’t take his poor performance hard on Sunday, declining to speak to the media after giving up the game-winning touchdown pass to four-time Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green in the 28-24 loss to Cincinnati.

“I took the loss as a loss,” said Smith, who apologized Monday for being “too emotional” to talk after the defeat. “It wasn’t so much that I was just so down on myself, it was just a loss. I didn’t play as well as I wanted to, so all of that affected it.”

Signed in the offseason to a four-year, $41 million contract extension through 2019, Smith appeared ready to pick up where he left off last season, returning a Peyton Manning interception for the Ravens’ only touchdown in a 19-13 season-opening loss to Denver. However, the 27-year-old cornerback has struggled since then, allowing a long touchdown to Amari Cooper in the Week 2 loss at Oakland before being torched by Green in Week 3.

In three games, Smith has been thrown at 28 times and has allowed 18 receptions for 275 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions, according to Pro Football Focus. It’s a stark contrast from a year ago when the 2011 first-round pick was targeted just 39 times in eight games and allowed 20 receptions for 163 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception. A Lisfranc injury that required season-ending surgery last November short-circuited a Pro Bowl-caliber campaign and forced Smith to spend much of the offseason rehabbing, but he was mostly a full participant in training camp and played in two preseason games.

The early-season woes have led many to wonder if his left foot is still an issue 11 months after the injury. A problem to the foot area can be debilitating at a position requiring backpedaling and such frequent changes in direction, but Smith wouldn’t comment on the possibility of any lingering effects.

“People come back from injuries; they play,” said Smith, who’s missed 17 games due to injuries in his young career. “Until this season is over, I’ll never talk about my foot.”

Identified as one of the leaders of a defense trying to fill the void of the injured Terrell Suggs, Smith said he isn’t lacking confidence despite allowing Green to make seven catches for 126 yards and a touchdown when they were matched on Sunday. He cited his preparation and film study as the biggest reasons why his recent play won’t shake his confidence moving forward.

Of course, the proof lies on the field where he’s appeared hesitant to engage in press coverage such as when he was beaten badly by Cooper on the 2015 first-round pick’s touchdown in Week 2. His early third-quarter interception of Andy Dalton on Sunday was a flash of what he’s capable of doing, but Smith hasn’t carried the same swagger on the field that he did a year ago when he had appeared to finally arrive as one of the best cornerbacks in the AFC.

The struggles have been across the board in the secondary as the Ravens currently rank 29th in pass defense. Miscommunication, technique flaws, and poor tackling have plagued Baltimore in each of the last two weeks, but Smith views these issues as correctable with better preparation as well as “effort and will” to bring down ball-carriers.

“There are times when we’re playing at a high level; it’s just we’ve got to be way more consistent,” Smith said. “Even though they’re huge plays, it’s a minor technique that we’re missing or that we’re not completing. So, it’s not even the calls; it’s things we have to fix and clean up, and we’ll get that done.”

Trying to rebound from the first 0-3 start in team history to save their season, the Ravens need Smith playing at his highest level in order to do so. Other than the passing combination of quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Steve Smith, there may not be a more important player to the Ravens’ success than Smith when he’s playing at his best.

For what it’s worth, teammates and coaches haven’t lost faith in him despite the last two weeks.

“Jimmy is one of our best corners,” linebacker Elvis Dumervil said. “He’s one of the good players on our team — great guy, great teammate. Some days you give up plays; some days you make plays. That’s just the National Football League, and I wouldn’t want to take any other corner but him.”

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Ravens-Bengals: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 26 September 2015 by Luke Jones


It’s a word unfamiliar to the Ravens at this early stage of a season under eighth-year head coach John Harbaugh as they find themselves 0-2 for the first time since 2005. Not only must they beat the Cincinnati Bengals to avoid the first 0-3 start in franchise history, but a Thursday road game at Pittsburgh awaits just four days later.

In other words, the Ravens know their season could be all but doomed before Columbus Day if they don’t answer the bell for these next two games. The Bengals, however, would like nothing more than to continue their recent success against the Ravens while improving to 3-0 in the young 2015 season.

It’s time to go on the record as the Ravens play Cincinnati for the 39th time in franchise history as they own a 20-18 mark. Baltimore has lost three straight and four of the last five to the Bengals, who last year handed the Ravens a season-opening loss at M&T Bank Stadium and swept the season series for the first time since 2009.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens try to improve to 46-11 in home games under Harbaugh, the second-best mark in the NFL since 2008 …

1. As Jimmy Smith tries to lock down A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard will present matchup problems with a combined 125 receiving yards and a touchdown. Last week was a forgettable performance for the Ravens’ top cornerback, but he will bounce back to prevent Green from singlehandedly wrecking the game. The third-year tight end Eifert is emerging as a dangerous weapon and strong safety Will Hill is dealing with a knee ailment, a worrisome combination. Eifert and Bernard matching up against Ravens linebackers will favor Cincinnati and the pair will help Andy Dalton move the chains on several occasions on Sunday.

2. The Ravens will get their running game on track as Justin Forsett rushes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Through two games, Baltimore has averaged just 2.1 yards per carry in under-center formations as Forsett has largely been bottled up. The Ravens have gained 91 yards on 13 carries from the shotgun, but that’s not a viable long-term plan, putting pressure on the offensive line to open running lanes. The Bengals defense gave up 5.2 yards per carry a week ago, and you can bet that Harbaugh wants the Ravens to get back to their roots in all phases of the game after an 0-2 start. That means heavy doses of Forsett, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Buck Allen, and more running room will be there.

3. Elvis Dumervil will pick up his first sack of the season, but the pass rush will remain largely ineffective. The Ravens hope that Jason Babin can bring some life to a front seven missing Terrell Suggs, but putting consistent pressure on the quarterback will be an issue for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, the Bengals offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack yet this season and the Ravens only sacked Dalton twice in two games last year with Suggs and Haloti Ngata having one each in the second meeting. Dumervil will slip by Bengals tackle Andrew Whitworth for a takedown, but this is not a good matchup for a group trying to find its way and going against a passing game that gets the ball out quickly

4. Rookie Maxx Williams will catch his first career touchdown. The offense took some encouraging steps forward last week in Oakland with Crockett Gillmore catching two touchdowns and Kamar Aiken adding 89 receiving yards to shake off a brutal first-quarter fumble, but the Ravens need their 2015 second-round tight end to become a bigger part of what they do in the passing game, especially with limited speed at the receiver position. The Bengals’ otherwise-stout defense is average at the linebacker position and offensive coordinator Marc Trestman will try to create favorable matchups for the talented but raw Williams. He’ll take advantage with a touchdown inside the red zone.

5. Joe Flacco will fight off the demons of past Cincinnati performances to lead the Ravens to a much-needed 23-21 win. These are the desperate times in which you lean on your stars, but Flacco has thrown more than twice as many career interceptions against the Bengals than any other team, making this one difficult to predict. Cincinnati is the more balanced team on paper and the early-season results for both teams speak for themselves, but Flacco plays better at home and will play an efficient game with minimal mistakes to lead the Ravens to a win. It won’t be pretty as the defense will bend plenty without breaking and the offense will struggle to finish off a few drives, but the Ravens will make just a few more plays than the Bengals to earn their first win of 2015.

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Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees listens to a reporter's question at a news conference after an NFL football training camp practice on Saturday, July 26, 2014, in Owings Mills, Md. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

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Defensive pride on line for Ravens against Cincinnati

Posted on 24 September 2015 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — First, it was Ravens head coach John Harbaugh suggesting his defense didn’t play with the level of effort it needed in a shocking 37-33 loss in Oakland.

On Thursday, defensive coordinator Dean Pees went further in criticizing his unit’s performance as the Ravens now try to avoid the first 0-3 start in franchise history when they welcome the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals to town for the home opener. Not only are the Ravens trying to escape an early-season hole, but pride is on the line for a defense that’s been the identity of one of the most successful franchises in the NFL for the better part of two decades.

Playing their first game without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, or Terrell Suggs since 1998, the Ravens turned in one of their worst defensive performances in recent memory against the lowly Raiders.

“We did not play with energy,” said Pees, who also hinted that his defense hadn’t practiced well in San Jose, Calif. last week. “When you don’t play with energy, you end up with six penalties, numerous missed tackles and several big plays, and that was the whole bottom line. For whatever reason, we didn’t play with energy. The players are responsible for that and so are the coaches. It’s up to us to get them to play with energy and play at a high level, and it’s up to them as players to produce at a high level.

“Sometimes, we have to take the role of leaders as coaches, and we have to do some things and just expedite the process a little bit and get them to play harder.”

The poor performance has been discussed ad nauseam, but hearing Pees question the energy and leadership of his defense lends credence to the notion that the Ravens would sorely miss Suggs after the 13th-year linebacker suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1.

A return to M&T Bank Stadium should automatically lift the energy level for a Ravens defense that has allowed the fewest points per home game (15.3) in the NFL since Harbaugh’s arrival in 2008. Baltimore will need to build on its 45-11 home record since 2008 to remove the sour taste of the first two road games, but the Ravens will play a Bengals team that handed them a home loss in last year’s season opener.

“We don’t want to be 0-2, but it’s still early in the season and our urgency will go up,” said linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who has collected 16 of his 26 1/2 sacks with the Ravens at home. “We just have to keep stacking practices. We just have to go get a win. That’s what it’s all about. We all just have to play our ‘A’ game.”

The Ravens defense believes it more closely resembles the group that held Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos without an offensive touchdown in Week 1 than the unit that was torched by second-year quarterback Derek Carr in Oakland, but they have to prove it against a Bengals offense that has scored a total of 57 points in its first two games.

A week after stuffing the run, playing mostly-sound pass coverage, and consistently pressuring the pocket, the Ravens couldn’t get out of their own way, making everyone wonder about a defense without Suggs or offseason departures Haloti Ngata and Pernell McPhee. The Jekyll and Hyde profile of the first two weeks has led everyone to question which is the real Baltimore defense.

“It’s not a matter of, ‘OK, are we good, or are we bad?’” Pees said. “We have to improve. We have to play like we played in the first week all the time. Every day, every practice, every game — that’s the intensity we have to play with, and if we don’t, it’s our fault as coaches.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Ravens have had poor defensive performances from time to time over the years, but the head coach and the defensive coordinator both questioning the group’s effort and energy after Sunday’s loss is largely uncharted territory with such dynamic on-field leadership over the years. It’s a sentiment that only highlights the narrative of the veteran players no longer residing in the defense.

Facing their first 0-2 start in a decade, the Ravens must lean on its young defensive standouts such as cornerback Jimmy Smith, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, and nose tackle Brandon Williams to not only make plays but to emerge as leaders.

“Losing a player like Suggs is hard, and that’s one less player someone else has to worry about,” Williams said. “But at the same time, someone else needs to step up, whether it be me or anyone else on the line to step up and just make plays.”

Of course, you’re only as good — or bad — as your last game. Asked whether Sunday’s performance against the Raiders had damaged the confidence he has in his defense, Pees recalled his tenure in New England in which the Patriots would use the 2003 season opener — a 31-0 beating they took at the hands of the Buffalo Bills — as a reminder to never take too much away from one performance.

After that embarrassing loss, the Patriots won 17 of their next 18 games to win the Super Bowl that season.

“One game never defines you — good or bad,” Pees said. “It didn’t define us after Denver. It won’t define us after Oakland.”

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Five numbers behind Ravens’ 37-33 loss in Oakland

Posted on 22 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Every week, we’ll examine five numbers stemming from the Ravens’ latest game, this one being the surprising 37-33 loss at Oakland in Week 2 …

1 — Combined tackles from Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, and Carl Davis
Skinny: With issues at outside linebacker due to the season-ending injury to Terrell Suggs, the Ravens need the early-round draft investments they’ve made on the defensive line to come up big and they didn’t in Oakland. The lack of a pass rush and poor coverage in the secondary were bad enough, but the Ravens also allowed 5.1 yards per carry, much of that due to the ineffectiveness of the defensive line.

10 — Years it’s been since the Ravens started a season 0-2
Skinny: Maybe the Ravens should refrain from wearing the commemorative jersey patches for their 20th season in Baltimore. They also wore a jersey patch in 2005 for their 10th season in Charm City when they last started 0-2. It’s certainly been a credit to the organization that 0-2 starts have been few and far between, but the timing of the last two are a strange coincidence.

11 — Missed tackles by the Ravens counted by Pro Football Focus
Skinny: Truthfully, you might have expected the number to be even higher as Baltimore posted its highest total of tackling miscues since last season’s Week 9 debacle in Pittsburgh. Much attention has been paid to the lack of a pass rush on Sunday, but the poor tackling on short passes was even more detrimental since the ball was coming out quickly quite often.

62 — Snaps played by Elvis Dumervil
Skinny: This was Dumervil’s highest single-game total in his three seasons with the Ravens and is a concern as the defense tries to account for Suggs’ absence on the field. Baltimore needs to have the fresh Dumervil who collected the franchise’s single-season record with 17 sacks a year ago. A worn-down version of him trying to be Suggs will only make the pass rush worse over the course of the season.

351 — Net passing yards for Derek Carr and the Raiders offense
Skinny: Why is this number significant? It’s the highest total allowed by a Baltimore defense against a non-Pro Bowl quarterback since rookie Andy Dalton and Cincinnati finished with 364 net passing yards on Nov. 20, 2011. If you want to eliminate Dalton since he made his first Pro Bowl later that season, Ryan Fitzpatrick would be the last signal-caller never to make a Pro Bowl to post that many net passing yards against the Ravens when he finished with 382 as Buffalo’s quarterback on Oct. 24, 2010.

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Replacing Suggs against run understated challenge for Ravens

Posted on 16 September 2015 by Luke Jones

While discussion has centered around replacing the injured Terrell Suggs’ pass-rush ability and emotional leadership, that doesn’t tell the whole story of the challenges lying ahead for the Ravens defense.

The addition of veteran Jason Babin should help the pass rush, but the 35-year-old isn’t known for being stout against the run, though he played well in that capacity for the New York Jets last season. Head coach John Harbaugh has already confirmed that Elvis Dumervil will assume duties as the rush linebacker on first and second down, meaning the 31-year-old will have a much larger role than he did in his first two seasons in Baltimore. With Suggs and the run-stopping Courtney Upshaw playing the outside linebacker spots in the base defense, Dumervil rarely saw action on early downs against most teams.

Dumervil may not be a major liability against the run, but he will be replacing a player who’s been one of the NFL’s best at setting the edge for over a decade. Even with his advancing age, Suggs graded as Baltimore’s second-best player against the run last season and was first in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.

His pass-rushing counterpart the last two years will now see his most extensive action since his days with the Denver Broncos when he was primarily a three-down player.

“I’m not going to toot my own horn, but I’ve played in the league — I’ve started on first and second down,” Dumervil said. ” I have experiences; [it is not] like something new for me. But I am excited for the opportunity, especially in this defense. I think that’s a really good position to play, and I get to rush more. That’s kind of what I love to do.”

It’s that ability to wreak havoc on the quarterback that may be compromised with the need for Dumervil to play more extensively. One of the biggest reasons for the success of the pass rush over the last couple years was defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ ability to rotate Suggs, Dumervil, Upshaw, and former Raven Pernell McPhee to keep them all fresh and to mask their weaknesses.

Once the Ravens have a better idea of how much Babin and rookie Za’Darius Smith can offer as part of the rotation, managing reps should become easier with the hope of keeping Dumervil — and everyone else — fresh for the duration of the season. Baltimore can’t afford to have Dumervil’s pass-rushing ability diminish, but replacing Suggs against the run is easier said than done.

“I think you take that all into consideration. It will all be part of the consideration,” Harbaugh said. “He is definitely capable of playing on first and second down, and he’ll be out there on first and second down. But there will be some kind of a rotation like we always do, and it’ll be geared toward the guys we have.”

Babin baffled by Jets release

Meeting with media in San Jose following his first practice with his new team, Babin said he couldn’t have asked for a better situation than joining the Ravens.

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t miffed by the Jets’ decision to release him at the end of the preseason. Babin was set to make $1.5 million with New York and was not a special-teams contributor, factors that can make any veteran backup vulnerable when final cuts are made.

“I don’t worry about what I don’t control,” Babin said. “But yes, obviously, it was a surprise. Looking at it, I think the coach said they want to win, but then in hindsight, the general manager talked about building. Who knows what exactly is going on? But that’s in the past and I’m here now, and I’m ready to play some ball.”

Pressure remains on Ravens offensive tackles

After being completely overwhelmed by Denver’s edge rushers in Week 1, the Ravens’ offensive tackles won’t find their job against Oakland on Sunday to be much easier.

The Raiders’ outside trio of Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack, and newcomer Aldon Smith will present another major challenge, and left tackle Eugene Monroe missed Wednesday’s practice as he continues to recover from a concussion. Monroe’s potential absence would leave James Hurst to start on the left side as both he and right tackle Rick Wagner try to bounce back from a nightmarish showing against the Broncos.

“Obviously, their outside guys, you have three really good players out there that rotate,” said Harbaugh about the Raiders’ trio. “I’m sure [Smith] is going to be in the game even more and more as we go forward; we would expect that. They’re a very formidable front seven.”

Signed just a couple days before the start of the regular season, the troubled Smith wore out his welcome with the 49ers after countless off-field issues, but no one can dispute his ability to impact a game. Smith made the Pro Bowl in 2012 before concerns over substance abuse and legal issues limited him to just 18 games over the last two seasons, but the 25-year-old already has 44 career sacks entering his fifth season.

Flacco not becoming “hype man”

With Suggs officially being placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, Joe Flacco was asked who would be firing up the team with a speech at the end of pre-game warmups, the veteran linebacker’s chore ever since future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis retired.

The even-keeled quarterback quickly shot down any notion that he would be the new “hype man” while pointing out that Lewis and Suggs were such naturals doing it and how it needs to be something that isn’t forced.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be ready to play, and we’ll be juiced up come Sunday at 1 o’clock, 4:30, 8 o’clock, whenever it’s going to be,” Flacco said. “We don’t necessarily need a hype man, and I don’t think I’d be doing such a great job of that anyway. I’m sure somebody will come up and feel excited about themselves, and we’ll let them go at it.”

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Nov 24, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; New York Jets outside linebacker Jason Babin (58) against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

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Harbaugh on Babin: “We like the way he plays”

Posted on 15 September 2015 by Luke Jones

(Updated: Wednesday 5:30 p.m.)

Aiming to fill the void left behind by injured six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Ravens agreed to a one-year deal with veteran pass rusher Jason Babin on Tuesday.

The team officially announced the deal on Wednesday afternoon while sending Suggs to season-ending injured reserve. The 35-year-old outside linebacker was on the practice field in San Jose on Wednesday as the Ravens continued preparations for their Week 2 game in Oakland.

Babin spent 2014 and this year’s preseason with the New York Jets before being released earlier this month. The 6-foot-3, 267-pound edge rusher accumulated just two sacks in 16 games (two starts) last season, but he received the third-highest overall grade from Pro Football Focus among Jets defensive players, receiving positive marks against the run and as a pass rusher.

“He’ll provide us another player at that position who’s a very good player,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “We like the way he plays, like his style, like his mentality — tough, smart, hard-playing guy. I think he said it best — his résumé is the tape. He was playing for the Jets in the preseason, and we watched that very carefully, and he looked like he’d fit us well.”

The 2004 first-round pick has accumulated 64 1/2 sacks in his career while also spending time with Houston, Seattle, Kansas City, Philadelphia, Tennessee, and Jacksonville. Named to Pro Bowls in 2010 and 2011, Babin collected 12 1/2 sacks with the Titans in 2010 to earn his first invitation to Hawaii before signing with the Eagles and racking up a career-high 18 sacks the following season.

Of course, the Ravens aren’t expecting Babin to fully replace Suggs as Elvis Dumervil is slated to assume the rush linebacker spot while Courtney Upshaw will remain at the strong-side backer position. However, Baltimore wanted to add a veteran to the rotational mix with rookie fourth-rounder Za’Darius Smith, who was inactive for the season opener.

The Ravens would likely be happy if Babin could give them 25 to 30 snaps per game as a situational pass rusher to help ease the burden on their incumbent linebackers. He averaged roughly 30 snaps per game with the Jets a year ago, but that included four starts in which he played more extensively.

“You’re not going to change everything you do, obviously,” said Harbaugh when asked about making adjustments to the defense without Suggs. “You try to get a player that fits what you do, and to me, that’s the smartest way to do it. It makes for the least amount of changes, and Jason fits us really well.”

The Ravens worked out Babin as well as 34-year-old outside linebacker Shaun Phillips on Tuesday in San Jose, Calif., where they are preparing for Sunday’s Week 2 matchup with the Oakland Raiders. Unlike other veteran pass rushers such as Phillips and Dwight Freeney, Babin being with another team during the preseason likely brought more confidence that he was in good football shape.

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Harbaugh on offensive tackles: “They’ve got to do a better job”

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Of all the Ravens’ problems on the offensive side of the ball leading to Sunday’s season-opening loss in Denver, none were more surprising than the horrendous play of the offensive line.

Not only was the Baltimore offense held to six points — Jimmy Smith’s interception return provided the other seven in the 19-13 loss — and 173 total yards, but quarterback Joe Flacco was harassed throughout the afternoon. The Broncos may have only collected two sacks, but Flacco was pressured on 64.7 percent of his dropbacks, an astonishing rate for an offensive line regarded as one of the best in the NFL entering the season.

On Monday in San Jose, Calif. where the Ravens are preparing for their Week 2 meeting in Oakland, John Harbaugh expressed his disappointment with the play of his offensive line. The Baltimore coach acknowledged the challenge of competing against a superb defense, but he added that they didn’t see any strategic surprises from Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips during Sunday’s game.

Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda was the only member of the offensive line to receive a positive grade from Pro Football Focus, but it was the play of tackles Rick Wagner, James Hurst, and Eugene Monroe that was particularly problematic. The Broncos’ four outside linebackers — DeMarcus Ware, Von Miller, Shaquil Barrett, and Shane Ray — combined for 19 total pressures on Flacco. 

“Our tackles, they’ve got to do a better job,” said Harbaugh, who added that the Ravens should have provided extra help in pass protection. “They have to set square, and they have to punch on time. And when they do that, they’ll do well against anybody, and when you don’t do that, you’re not going to do well against anybody. That was really an issue for us in the course of the game.”

Monroe exited the game after the opening series with a concussion and didn’t return, leaving second-year tackle James Hurst to be eaten alive by Ware. Rick Wagner wasn’t any better on the opposite side as he struggled against Miller and didn’t look like the Pro Bowl-caliber right tackle he was last season, a possible indication that he’s still knocking off rust from last December’s Lisfranc injury. The 2013 fifth-round pick was sidelined for spring workouts before he began practicing at the start of training camp in late July.

Of course, the offensive line also failed to establish the running game, gaining just 73 yards on 23 attempts. This allowed the Broncos’ pass rushers to pin their ears back and tee off on Flacco in the pocket.

“We stuck with the run game,” Harbaugh said. “We were patient with it, but we need to get more out of it than 3.2 yards a carry. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the offensive line, it’s the running backs, it’s the scheme, it’s the formations — it’s all of it. We all take responsibility for that.”

Because of an exceptional 2014 season, the Ravens’ offensive line deserves the benefit of the doubt after just one poor performance, but the group needs to play much better moving forward.

Replacing Suggs

Much has already been written about the Ravens’ challenge in replacing injured linebacker Terrell Suggs, and Harbaugh predictably expressed confidence that their internal options would rise to the occasion. However, he didn’t rule out the possibility of adding a veteran free agent to help fill the void left behind by the franchise’s all-time sacks leader.

“We still believe we have the pass rushers that can get the job done, but we’re still in the process of evaluating our options, personnel-wise,” Harbaugh said. “There’s a chance we can bring somebody in. We’ll look at all those options over the next couple days.”

Harbaugh said that Elvis Dumervil will assume Suggs’ rush linebacker position on first and second downs with Courtney Upshaw remaining as the strong-side outside linebacker. Rookie Za’Darius Smith and veteran Albert McClellan will also be part of the equation.

Smith returning punts

At age 36 and serving as the Ravens’ No. 1 receiver, Steve Smith didn’t appear to be a likely answer as the primary punt returner, but that’s exactly what he was on Sunday against the Broncos.

Smith returned two punts for 32 yards and could continue to serve in that capacity, according to Harbaugh. Michael Campanaro was listed as the primary punt returner on the Week 1 depth chart, but the second-year wideout missed the last couple weeks of the summer due to injury.

“If ‘Camp’ gets more reps, he can go back there and do it,” Harbaugh said. “We have [Lardarius Webb], who practices all the time. He can go back there and do it. I think we have guys that can do it and be effective. But I kind of like Steve back there. He looks good to me back there.”

Recuperating Raiders

While the Ravens dealt with the loss of Suggs and the concussion to Monroe on Sunday, the Raiders did not escape the injury bug in their season-opening loss to Cincinnati as starting quarterback Derek Carr (thumb) and starting safeties Charles Woodson (shoulder) and Nate Allen (knee) all went down.

A magnetic resonance imaging exam on Carr’s thumb was reportedly encouraging, but it remains to be seen whether he can return for Sunday’s game. A Monday ESPN report said the Raiders fear Allen suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while Woodson would undergo an MRI on his shoulder.

Taliaferro on Twitter

It’s no secret that injured running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (knee) is moving closer to a return after he practiced on a limited basis late last week, but the 2014 fourth-round pick shared that sentiment on his official Twitter account following Sunday’s game. That didn’t sit well with Harbaugh when he was asked about it on Monday afternoon.

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“I’m going to have to talk to him about that,” Harbaugh said. “Taliaferro, [Timmy] Jernigan — way too much chatter out there on social media. Maybe, Kevin [Byrne], make a note of that.”

The aforementioned tweet was deleted on Monday evening.

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Replacing Suggs no easy task for Ravens defense

Posted on 14 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Seeing the reaction of his Ravens teammates upon learning the news of Terrell Suggs’ season-ending Achilles injury on Sunday reiterated that you can’t fully quantify the veteran linebacker’s worth.

A leader on the field and in the locker room, Suggs is the last remaining member of the old guard of Baltimore defense that included Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata and brings more than a decade of experience and knowledge to meeting rooms. Known for his humor and ability to keep a locker room loose, the 32-year-old is also the undisputed leader of a unit that’s continued playing at a high level despite undergoing seismic changes since Super Bowl XLVII.

Those intangibles aside, how do the Ravens go about replacing the six-time Pro Bowl selection and 2011 AP Defensive Player of the Year?

It won’t be easy.

To be fair, we’re talking about a player who will turn 33 next month and is fighting a battle against Father Time that nobody wins in the end. This may have been a season in which Suggs rapidly declined, but he played like a Pro Bowl-caliber player in 2014 and the Ravens were still counting on big production from him this season.

Further complicating the challenge is the Ravens already needing to replace the production of situational pass rusher Pernell McPhee, who signed a long-term contract with the Chicago Bears in the offseason.

In addition to combining for 19 1/2 sacks a year ago, Suggs and McPhee registered a total of 32 quarterback hits and 77 quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. They combined to play 1,415 defensive snaps and rushed the passer on 886 of those.

Who will step up or step in?

Naturally, it won’t be a one-for-one approach as McPhee often lined up as an interior rusher in passing situations, a role in which you were already going to see more of defensive linemen such as Timmy Jernigan and Carl Davis this season. Elvis Dumervil (628 defensive snaps in 2014) and Courtney Upshaw (542 snaps) will see expanded roles, but there’s a hidden cost to those two playing more. You don’t want the 31-year-old Dumervil to wear down and become less effective as a pass rusher while Upshaw has rarely shown the ability to disrupt the pocket when given opportunities in the past.

One of the secrets of the Ravens’ ferocious pass rush a year ago was defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ ability to divide the workload among Suggs, Dumervil, Upshaw, and McPhee at the two outside linebacker positions. It kept the veterans fresh and shielded the younger linebackers’ limitations over the course of a full season.

Now, the Ravens will have no choice but to lean more on Dumervil and Upshaw while turning to rookie fourth-round pick Za’Darius Smith, who was likened to McPhee when he was drafted out of the University of Kentucky. Maybe he’ll be ready to contribute immediately, but the Ravens deactivating him for the season opener doesn’t suggest he’s on the verge of making a major impact in his first season.

Who else is out there beyond simply shifting reserve Albert McClellan to outside linebacker or promoting rookie free agent Brennen Beyer from the practice squad?

General manager Ozzie Newsome could kick the tires on a veteran such as Dwight Freeney or Shaun Phillips to serve in a situational capacity — the Ravens currently have less than $4 million in salary cap space — but no available options will come close to replacing Suggs, who PFF graded as Baltimore’s second-best defender against the run a year ago. Many fixate on sack totals to assess an outside linebacker’s worth, but Suggs is a three-down player who played nearly 250 more snaps than any other Baltimore outside backer a year ago and has been exceptional playing the run in addition to wreaking havoc on the quarterback over the years.

His injury doesn’t spell doom for the 2015 season as the Ravens have continued winning despite injuries to star players in the past, but there’s no clear answer to replacing his strong play or leadership.

At least not one you feel good about.

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Suggs suffers season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1 loss

Posted on 13 September 2015 by Luke Jones

As if an ugly offensive performance in a season-opening defeat to Denver wasn’t enough, the Ravens lost six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs for the rest of the season due to an Achilles injury.

The 32-year-old tore his left Achilles tendon while pursuing quarterback Peyton Manning in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 19-13 loss to the Broncos. Suggs hobbled to the sideline before eventually being carted to the locker room at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced the news in his post-game press conference.

“You try to define why things happen,” Harbaugh said. “Here’s a tough break for a guy who’s done nothing but work above and beyond [and] at least as hard as he’s worked his whole career. I’d say more. He’s prepared himself and [has been] the kind of leader that you just admire so much. This guy has been such a leader for us.”

The 13th-year linebacker suffered an Achilles tear in his right heel in the spring of 2012 before returning in mid-October that year to help the Ravens eventually win Super Bowl XLVII.

Suggs is the franchise’s all-time sacks leader and was named the NFL’s AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. The 2003 first-round pick ranks fifth among active players with 106 1/2 career sacks and is the longest-tenured Raven on the current roster.

The injury further depletes an outside linebacker group that was already trying to fill the void of free-agent departure Pernell McPhee. Fourth-year linebacker Courtney Upshaw and rookie fourth-rounder Za’Darius Smith will now be expected to fill bigger roles in helping 2014 Pro Bowl pass rusher Elvis Dumervil put heat on opposing quarterbacks.

Smith was a healthy inactive for Sunday’s game in Denver, which doesn’t inspire great confidence that he’s ready to make a significant impact at this early stage of his first season.

With Ray Lewis and Ed Reed now retired and Haloti Ngata in Detroit, Suggs was the undisputed leader of the Baltimore defense, making his loss even more difficult to swallow for a team with high expectations in 2015. Now, the Ravens will depend on younger players to pick up the slack for one of the best players in franchise history.

“These are the things in life that happen,” Harbaugh said. “Adversity’s all about how you respond to it. It’s about how you react to it. It’s how you come back and play the next game and how our young guys step up and how our older guys wrap their wings around those younger guys and they play the way they need to play.”

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Ravens-Broncos: Five predictions for Sunday

Posted on 12 September 2015 by Luke Jones

Beginning their eighth season with head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco leading the way, the Ravens once again have high expectations as they travel to Denver on Sunday.

Playing the Broncos in Week 1 for the second time in three years, Baltimore hopes to wipe out the memory of the 2013 opener in which Peyton Manning threw an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes in a 49-27 loss. Of course, much has changed for both teams since then with players coming and going and former Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak taking over as head coach of the Broncos this season.

It’s time to go on record as the Ravens play Denver for the 11th time in the all-time regular-season series and each team owns five wins. Baltimore carries a 1-4 regular-season record in Denver, but Harbaugh’s team did win its only playoff game against the Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Ravens are 2-0 against Denver in their playoff history.

Here’s what to expect as the Ravens open their 20th season and try to improve to 6-2 in season openers under Harbaugh …

1. Steve Smith catches a long touchdown pass to exploit former teammate Darian Stewart in coverage. Knowing how underwhelming the ex-Ravens safety was playing the deep ball in 2014, Baltimore would love to have rookie Breshad Perriman’s speed to stretch the field against the weak link in the Broncos secondary, but the first-round pick hasn’t even practiced since spraining his knee on July 30. The Ravens will try to go vertical using the 36-year-old Smith, who is still capable of using a double move to blow past his man and catch a long bomb from Flacco against the right coverage. He’ll do exactly that against Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib and Stewart will be late with over-the-top coverage.

2. Lardarius Webb will not be able to keep up with Emmanuel Sanders while Jimmy Smith does his best to lock down No. 1 wideout Demaryius Thomas on the opposite side. It’s fair enough to wonder what we’ll see from Smith coming off last October’s season-ending foot injury, but at least the 27-year-old was able to play in the preseason. Webb has practiced for the last couple weeks and Harbaugh said he looks like the “old” Webb after dealing with a hamstring injury in August, but you can only hope the coach meant a better version than what we witnessed a year ago. Webb has a lot to prove and Sanders was a 2014 Pro Bowl selection. He’ll be good for a touchdown catch and 85 receiving yards.

3. Terrell Suggs will collect two sacks and get the best of Denver rookie Ty Sambrailo off the edge, but pressure up the middle will be scarce. The 13th-year rush linebacker should be licking his chops going against the second-round pick, but the key to disrupting Manning is pressure up the middle, making the expected absence of Timmy Jernigan problematic. Last year, the Ravens used a combination of Pernell McPhee, Haloti Ngata, and Jernigan for their inside rush, but none of them will be on the field for Sunday’s game, putting a lot on rookie Za’Darius Smith and run-stopping nose tackle Brandon Williams. Broncos center Matt Paradis is inexperienced, but the Ravens won’t have enough to exploit him in passing situations, leaving space for Manning to get the ball away quickly.

4. Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown will struggle to gain separation as the Broncos bring heat off the edges to disrupt Flacco’s timing. While Stewart might be a liability, the Broncos have a stout trio of cornerbacks in Talib, Harris, and the young Bradley Roby. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips can use either Harris or Roby inside, which gives their defense the ability to show different looks in coverage. The Ravens have expressed confidence in Aiken as a starter, but I’m not convinced that he’s ready to be more than a No. 3 option, especially without a deep threat on the field. He and Brown will only combine for 50 receiving yards as the Broncos play tight man coverage and relentlessly try to bring outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware off the edges.

5. The Denver defense will be the biggest factor as the Ravens offense struggles to move the ball consistently in a 26-16 loss to the Broncos. As much as Manning has dominated the pre-game conversation, Denver’s real strength is its defense with few weaknesses at any level. Baltimore will do a decent job establishing the run, but Flacco will be too dependent on Smith to make plays through the air, which will stall a couple promising drives. Ultimately, I see the Broncos taking a step back this season, but they’ll be too much to handle with a top 5-caliber defense and a healthy Manning early in the season. If this one were to be played later in the year, I’d like the Ravens’ chances a lot more, but Denver will score late to put a close one out of reach.

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